Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Repost: "Our Gender Is Not an Accident"

When a man wants to be a woman, or a woman a man, is it because nature gave them the wrong body? Or did something else go wrong?

The idea that a person's sex is a mere biological accident that can be changed to suit one's chosen gender has wide currency today. But, according to psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, this intellectual fad is not at all helpful to people who are genuinely confused about their sexual identity.

Dr Fitzgibbons, who has nearly 30 years' clinical experience behind him, is the director of a private practice outside Philadelphia and leads the team of the Institute for Marital Healing. He has made a specialty of forgiveness therapy in the resolution of excessive anger, and has co-authored abook on the subject with Robert D. Enright, published by the American Psychological Association.

In this interview with MercatorNet he explains why a sex-change operation is not the answer to gender identity problems.

MercatorNet: Are there people who are genuinely confused about their sexual identity—whether they are male or female?

Rick Fitzgibbons: Yes, there are people who are confused due to the seriousness of their emotional pain and conflicts which interfere with cognitive functioning. Many of these individuals have failed to embrace the goodness and beauty of their masculinity or femininity in childhood and in adolescence for numerous reasons.

Unless treated properly, they may go on to hate their masculinity and femininity. Their sadness and lack of acceptance by peers or a parent can lead them to believe that they may be able to escape from their emotional pain and find greater happiness, acceptance and confidence being of the opposite sex.

MercatorNet: It is possible to have a female person "inside" a male body, and vice versa?

Fitzgibbons: No, it is not. A person may feel this way because of emotionally painful experiences primarily with those of the same sex. Initially, they fantasize living as someone of the opposite sex in an attempt to escape from their pain. An excessive fantasy life then can lead to cross-dressing, to a greater identification with the opposite sex and even to a delusional belief that one is of the opposite sex.

MercatorNet: Can a person's sex be changed — surgically or in any way?

Fitzgibbons: No, each cell of a person's body contains chromosomes which identify that individual as either male or female. It is not simply a question of different genitals. Before birth prenatal hormones shape the brains of boys to be different from those of girls. Mutilating surgery and hormone treatments can create the appearance of a male or female body, but it cannot change the underlying reality. It is not possible to change a person's sex.

MercatorNet: What do follow-up studies show in regard to sex-change surgery?

Fitzgibbons: Dr Paul McHugh reported in an article in First Things that when he was the psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins, he studied the outcomes of such surgeries. The study found that while most of the clients said they were happy with the outcome, the various psychological problems which accompanied their feeling that they were the other sex remained unchanged. They still had the same difficulties with relationships, work and emotions. Dr McHugh concluded that "to provide a surgical alteration to the body of these unfortunate people was to collaborate with a mental disorder rather than to treat it."

MercatorNet: What are the reasons why people seek to change their sex?

Fitzgibbons: The most common causes are a lack of acceptance and rejection in childhood and adolescence by peers and by the parent of the same sex, deep resentment toward these individuals, hatred of their bodies, intense fears of being betrayed and hurt, and a deep desire to be protected in the world. Less common causes are rejection by the parent of the opposite sex and the belief that if they were of the opposite sex they would receive the warmth and love from that parent which they did not receive as children.

A less common conflict is seen in some boys and men who have powerful artistic and creative gifts, which lead them to experience a strong attraction to the beauty in the female world and to an identification with femininity. This artistic response can begin early in childhood and can lead to a desire to be female. In rare cases, a parent wants a child to be of the opposite sex and dresses and treats the child as being of the opposite sex.

Finally, many of those who seek surgical “sex change” suffered from undiagnosed and untreated gender identity disorder (GID) as children.

MercatorNet: Can these emotional conflicts be successfully treated? Does the desire for sex-change surgery change after such treatment?

Fitzgibbons: Yes, it is important not to take the desire for sex change surgery at face value, but to uncover the emotional conflict which has led people to think they would be happier or safer as the other sex. The recognition of emotional pain with peers or with a parent leads to the awareness of significant anger which can be resolved through a process of forgiveness. At the same time it is necessary to treat poor body image, low self-esteem, sadness and fears.

As with the treatment of substance abuse disorders, spirituality can play an important role in the healing process. We regularly recommend that Catholic patients work with a spiritual director. Also, in those with faith a major goal of treatment is to help individuals to see accept their unique masculinity and femininity as a positive gift from God.

As the emotional conflicts are treated effectively the appreciation for one's unique and special personhood increases. Subsequently, the desire for sex change surgery is resolved.

MercatorNet: How can parents identify gender identity disorder? Can it be successfully treated in childhood?

Fitzgibbons: Gender identity symptoms include strong cross gender identification, exclusive cross-gender play, a lack of same-sex friends and cross-dressing. Children with these symptoms should be treated as though something may be very wrong. Parents and pediatricians should not minimize or overlook these serious symptoms.

The psychiatric literature clearly demonstrates that children with GID can be successfully treated if both parents cooperate in the solution, especially fathers. According to Dr Kenneth Zucker and Susan Bradley, experts in the treatment of gender identity problems in children, treatment should begin as soon as possible. I have an article on this subject on the website of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality.

MercatorNet: Last year the Guardian newspaper in Britain commissioned a review of more than 100 international studies of post-operative transsexuals, after interviewing people who regretted having such surgery, and this research found no robust evidence that the surgery is clinically effective. Why do some scientists insist, even against the evidence, that sex can be changed? What is the bigger issue at stake here?

Fitzgibbons: In spite of the scientific research, the support for the idea of "sex change" operations has continued to grow. In fact, there have been several articles discussing whether it is advisable to begin the "sex change" process in adolescence or even before.

I have personally had the clinical experience recently where a troubled mother found support from two child psychiatrists at different major East Coast university medical centres [sic] to begin transitioning her nine-year-old son to a female. Fortunately, the judicial system blocked this medical recommendation, warned the mother and gave primary custody of this boy to his father.

Dr Paul McHugh, whom I referred to earlier, has summed up the philosophy behind this mindset well: "One might expect that those who claim that sexual identity has no biological or physical basis would bring forth more evidence to persuade others. But as I've learned, there is a deep prejudice in favor of the idea that nature is totally malleable. Without any fixed position on what is given in human nature, any manipulation of it can be defended as legitimate. A practice that appears to give people what they want — and what some of them are prepared to clamour for — turns out to be difficult to combat with ordinary professional experience and wisdom. Even controlled trials or careful follow-up studies to ensure that the practice itself is not damaging are often resisted and the results rejected."

People are coming to believe that they can create, use, change and destroy life as they so choose.
Source: Carolyn Moynihan, interview with Richard Fitzgibbons, "Our Gender Is Not an Accident," Catholic Culture website, accessed July 21, 2015, http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7730.

Henry of Huntingdon on the End of Time

[118] 1. This is the year which holds the writer. The thirty-fifth year of the reign of the glorious and invincible Henry, king of the English. The sixty-ninth year from the arrival in England, in our own time, of the supreme Norman race. The 703rd year from the coming of the English into England. The 2,265th year from the coming of the Britons to settle in the same island. The 5,317th year from the beginning of the world. The year of grace 1135.

2. This, then, is the year from which the writer of the History [of the English People, 1000–1154] wished his age to be reckoned by posterity. But since I gave no hope to those starting this book that they might turn back to moral purity, this computation will show what point in Time we have reached. Already one millennium has passed since the Lord's incarnation. We are leading our lives, or—to put it more accurately—we are holding back death, in what is the 135th year of the second millennium.

3. Let us, however, think about what has become of those who lived in the first millennium around this time, around the 135th year. In those days, of course, Antoninus ruled Rome with his brother Lucius Aurelius, and Pius the Roman was pope. Lucius, who was of British birth, ruled this island, and not long after this time, while those emperors were still in power, he was the first of the British to become a Christian, and through him the whole of Britain was converted to faith in Christ. For this he is worthy of eternal record.

But who were the other people who lived throughout the countries of the world at that time? Let our present kings and dukes, tyrants and princes, church leaders and earls, commanders and governors, magistrates and sheriffs, warlike and strong men—let them tell me: who were in command and held office at that time? And you, admirable Bishop Alexander, to whom I have dedicated our history, tell me what you know of the bishops of that time.

I ask myself: tell me, Henry, author of this History, tell me, who were the archdeacons of that time? What does it matter whether they were individually noble or ignoble, renowned or unknown, praiseworthy or disreputable, exalted or cast down, wise or foolish? If any [119] of them undertook some labour [sic] for the sake of praise and glory, when now no record of him survives any more than of his horse or his ass, why then did the wretch torment his spirit in vain? What benefit was it to them, who came to this?

4. Now I speak to you who will be living in the third millennium, around the 135th year. Consider us, who at this moment seem to be renowned, because, miserable creatures, we think highly of ourselves. Reflect, I say, on what has become of us. Tell me, I pray, what gain has it been to us to have been great or famous? We had no fame at all, except in God. For if we are famed now in Him, we shall still be famed in your time, as lords of heaven and earth, worthy of praise, with our Lord God, by the thousands of thousands who are in the heavens. I, who will already be dust by your time, have made mention of you in this book, so long before you are to be born, so that if—as my soul strongly desires—it shall come about that this book comes into your hands, I beg you, in the incomprehensible mercy of God, to pray for me, poor wretch. In the same way, may those who will walk with God in the fourth and fifth millennia pray and petition for you, if indeed mortal man survives so long.

5. Someone will ask, 'Why do you talk in this way about future millennia when the conclusion of Time will come in our own epoch and we are in daily and trembling expectation of the end of the world?' This is my answer. The day on which you die is for you the end of the world. But Christ is the conclusion of Time. He did not choose the first part of Time for His coming, but the last, in which the law and the prophets and their meaning came to an end with the coming of what they signified. But since no one knows the extent of Time except the Father of all, what I have written is my opinion, which I derived a long while ago from Herbert, bishop of Norwich, a very learned man. He used to say, 'According to my judgement and what I can conclude by reason, truth will endure much longer than symbol, light than shadow, the thing signified than what signifies it, the time of grace than the time of law. If the symbol and the shadow preceding and signalling [sic] the grace of Christ stretched, let us say, for 5,000 years, would the light and grace of Christ be so much the greater? We see the folly of the theory of those who thought that after the Lord's Passion the world would last only a thousand years, since Christ will come in the last age. [...]'


Source: Henry of Huntingdon, The History of the English People, 1000–1154 [Historia Anglorum], trans. Diana E. Greenway (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 118–119.

Repost: The Nude in Baroque and Later Art

Since the Renaissance, the nude has remained an essential focus of Western art. Whether embracing or refashioning classical ideals, artists from the seventeenth century to the present have privileged the nude form and made it an endlessly compelling means of creative expression.

In Baroque art, the continuing fascination with classical antiquity pressed artists to renew their approach to the nude and the antique tradition. Thus Hendrick Goltzius' remarkable view of the Hercules Farnese from behind and below [ca. 1592] alters the muscular texture of a revered ancient statue, while Andrea Sacchi's portrait of Marcantonio Pasqualini [cf. Marcantonio Pasqualini (1614–1691) Crowned by Apollo, 1641], a highly esteemed singer of his day, inflates the status of the sitter by including two nudes representing the mythic musicians Apollo and Marsyas. Other nudes help to heighten the drama of narrative works, such as Guercino's painting of Samson captured [cf. Samson Captured by the Philistines, 1619], in which the decision to represent the hero as the lone nude, muscular but powerless in the midst of armed adversaries, highlights his present weakness as well as his former strength. The female nude took on fresh meaning in the art of Rubens, who with evident delight painted women of generous figure and radiant flesh [cf. Venus and Adonis, ca. mid– or late 1630s]. The Baroque taste for allegories based on classical metaphors also favored undraped figures, which were used to personify concepts such as the Graces and Truth.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as esteem for classical culture ran high, so too did the prestige of the nude. The academies of the period directed young artists to develop their skills by drawing the naked form of ancient sculpture as well as live models, and many successful artists continued such exercises long after their student days [cf. Louis Lagrenée, Seated Male Nude; or Pierre Paul Prud'hon, Seated Female Nude (recto)—interesting to note of this latter, female nude models were not allowed at the Académie Royale; thus this was probably drawn in a private setting (see http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1972.118.226a,b)] . Nudes are ubiquitous in the ambitious history paintings of the period as well as sculpture and decorative schemes. Proponents of the Neoclassical style made nudes closely based on ancient examples, like Canova's Perseus [cf. Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1804–6], which repeats the pose and body type of the widely admired Apollo Belvedere. Artists associated with the Romantic movement assumed a freer attitude to the nude and to antique subject matter more generally. Camille Corot, for instance, included mythological tales in some of his landscapes; an early example [cf. Diana and Actaeon, 1836] represents the woodland spring where the goddess Diana among bathing nymphs prepares to punish Actaeon for catching sight of her naked. So as not to offend nineteenth-century morals, artists tended to depict naked figures within contexts removed from the everyday, such as mythology or the imagined Orient, and yet the careful constraints imposed on the nude somehow heighten its eroticism, as in Alexandre Cabanel's Birth of Venus [cf. The Birth of Venus, 1875].

When academic ideals faced challenges in the later nineteenth century, the delicate status of the nude was quickly exposed and subverted. Édotard Manet shocked the public of his time by painting nude women in contemporary situations in his Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe and Olympia (1863 and 1865; both Musée d'Orsay, Paris), and Gustave Courbet earned bitter criticism for portraying in his Woman with a Parrot [cf. Woman with a Parrot, 1866] a naked prostitute without vestige of goddess or nymph. In sculpture, artists sought new proportions and narrative coherence for the male nude as well as the female. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux pointed to the dramatic contrast between powerful physique and desperate situation in his group of nudes representing Ugolino with his sons [cf. Ugolino and His Sons, modeled ca. 1860–61, executed in marble 1865–67], and Auguste Rodin challenged classical canons of idealization in his expressively distorted Adam [cf. Adam, modeled in 1880; 1910].

Although the classical tradition lost its cultural supremacy in the twentieth century, the appeal of the nude remains strong in modern and contemporary art. The rejection of academic manners in pursuit of a new form of truth reduced the appeal of Venus but promoted the unadorned nudes of private life. The innocent bathers of Renoir's late career [cf. Young Girl Bathing, 1892], Degas' artless-looking scenes of women washing and dressing [cf. Woman Bathing in a Shallow Tub, 1885], and Balthus' straightforward girl looking in the mirror [cf. Nude Before a Mirror, 1955] are formally unlike the idealized nudes of earlier art, yet in their undisguised humanity they are kin to the nudes of antiquity.


Source: Jean Sorabella, "The Nude in Baroque and Later Art," in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2008), http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nuba/hd_nuba.htm.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Repost: The Nude in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

The development and eventual dominance of Christianity in late antiquity profoundly changed the needs of patrons and the output of artists. Unlike paganism, Christianity required no images of naked divinities, and new attitudes cast doubt and opprobrium on nude athletics, public bathing, and the very value of the human body. The early Christian emphasis on chastity and celibacy further discounted depictions of nakedness. In this climate, there was little motive to study the nude, and unclothed figures are thus rare in medieval art. Among the notable exceptions are Adam and Eve, whose story casts undress in an ominous light. In late antique works like the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (ca. 359; St. Peter's Grottoes, Vatican City), the ideal forms of Greco-Roman nudes are transformed into the first exponents of sin. The weakness and defenselessness of the naked man and woman are stressed in medieval art, and this tradition extends into the fifteenth century in such works as Giovanni di Paolo's Expulsion from Paradise [AD 1445].

The rediscovery of Greco-Roman culture in the Renaissance restored the nude to the heart of creative endeavor. Nude figures based on antique models appear in Italy as early as the mid-thirteenth century, and by the mid-fifteenth century, nudes had become symbols of antiquity and its reincarnation. Donatello adapted the idealized proportions of Greek athletic figures for his celebrated statue of David (ca. 1440; Bargello, Florence) and thus presented a biblical hero in classical guise. In a widely circulated engraving, Pollaiuolo used nude figures in vigorous poses to suggest the range of human action [cf. Battle of Naked Men, 1465]. In the next generation, Michelangelo made his own colossal statue of David, again conceived as an antique nude (1501–4; Accademia, Florence), and elsewhere he devoted unique artistic energy to the male nude. His enthusiasm for the subject was such that he introduced nudes even in religious paintings, including the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, and he used studies of the male form to imbue figures of every sort with Herculean massiveness and power [cf. Studies for the Libyan Sibyl, 1508–12].

The female nude of classical inspiration also returned to favor in the Renaissance. Venetian painters invented a new image of Venus as a recumbent figure, lying naked in a landscape or domestic interior. Although they reflect the proportions of ancient statuary, such figures as Titian's Venus and the Lute Player [ca. 1565-60] and Venus of Urbino (1538; Uffizi, Florence) highlight the seductive warmth of the female body rather than its ideal geometry. As interest in mythological subjects increased, artists found new approaches to nude figures, male and female. Small bronzes such as those by Antico [cf. Paris, ca. 1500] translated classical figures for private delectation. Titian's Venus and Adonis depicts the naked goddess from behind [ca. 1576], and Lucas Cranach's Judgment of Paris contains three almost identical nude divinities, each in a different pose and perspective [ca. 1528?]. Although the story of Cranach's picture derives from a classical source, the slender proportions of the goddesses depend on Northern European convention. A very different, more classical approach characterizes Albrecht Dürer's engraving of Adam and Eve [1504], whose idealized bodies contrast sharply with the thin and fragile figures of late Gothic art.

In addition to adult male and female figures, Renaissance artists also developed a nude type for the Christ Child. As analyzed by Leo Steinberg, the depiction of the baby undressed in his mother's arms, with sex prominently exposed, was meant to express the theological status of Christ as God made man. Although the child in these pictures frequently behaves with lifelike humanity, the body is based on antique forms as well as direct observation, as may be seen by comparing an ancient portrayal of the naked Eros [cf. Statue of Eros sleeping, 3rd-2nd c. BC] with a Renaissance rendering of the naked Christ Child [Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome and Mary Magdalene, ca. 1490].


Source: Jean Sorabella, "The Nude in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance," in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2008), http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/numr/hd_numr.htm.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Repost: The Nude in Western Art and its Beginnings in Antiquity

Figures with no clothes are peculiarly common in the art of the Western world. This situation might seem perfectly natural when one considers how frequent the state of undress is in every human life, from birth to the bath to the boudoir. In art, however, naked figures relate very little to these humble conditions and instead reflect a very complex set of formal ideals, philosophical concerns, and cultural traditions. Though meaningful throughout the sweep of Western art, the nude was a particular focus of artistic innovation in the Renaissance and later academic traditions of the seventeenth century and after.

The nude first became significant in the art of ancient Greece, where athletic competitions at religious festivals celebrated the human body, particularly the male, in an unparalleled way. The athletes in these contests competed in the nude, and the Greeks considered them embodiments of all that was best in humanity. It was thus perfectly natural for the Greeks to associate the male nude form with triumph, glory, and even moral excellence, values which seem immanent in the magnificent nudes of Greek sculpture [cf. Polykleitos, Statue of Diadoumenos (youth tying a fillet around his head)]. Images of naked athletes stood as offerings in sanctuaries, while athletic-looking nudes portrayed the gods and heroes of Greek religion. The celebration of the body among the Greeks contrasts remarkably with the attitudes prevalent in other parts of the ancient world, where undress was typically associated with disgrace and defeat. The best-known example of this more common view is the biblical story of Adam and Eve, where the first man and woman discover that they are naked and consequently suffer shame and punishment.

The ancestry of the female nude is distinct from the male. Where the latter originates in the perfect human athlete, the former embodies the divinity of procreation. Naked female figures are shown in very early prehistoric art, and in historical times, similar images represent such fertility deities as the Near Eastern Ishtar. The Greek goddess Aphrodite belongs to this family, and she too was imagined as life-giving, proud, and seductive. For many centuries, the Greeks preferred to see her clothed, unlike her Near Eastern counterparts, but in the mid-fourth century B.C., the sculptor Praxiteles made a naked Aphrodite, called the Knidian, which established a new tradition for the female nude. Lacking the bulbous and exaggerated forms of Near Eastern fertility figures, the Knidian Aphrodite, like Greek male athletic statues, had idealized proportions based on mathematical ratios. In addition, her pose, with head turned to the side and one hand covering the body, seemed to present the goddess surprised in her bath and thus fleshed the nude with narrative and erotic possibilities. The position of the goddess' hands may be meant to show modesty or desire to shield the viewer from too full a view of her godhead. Although the Knidian statue is not preserved, its impact survives in the numerous replicas and variants of it commissioned in the Hellenistic [cf. Statuette of Aphrodite, ca. 150–100 BC] and Roman [cf. Statue of Aphrodite, 1st or 2nd c. AD] eras. Such images of Venus (the Latin name of Aphrodite) adorned houses, bath buildings, and tombs as well as temples and outdoor sanctuaries.

Since the nudes of ancient Greece and Rome became normative in later Western art, it is worth pausing to consider what they are and are not. They express profound admiration for the body as the shape of humanity, yet they do not celebrate human variety; they may have sex appeal, yet they are never totally prurient in intent. The nudes of Greco-Roman art are conceptually perfected ideal persons, each one a vision of health, youth, geometric clarity, and organic equilibrium. Kenneth Clark considered idealization the hallmark of true nudes, as opposed to more descriptive and less artful figures that he considered merely naked. His emphasis on idealization points up an essential issue: seductive and appealing as nudes in art may be, they are meant to stir the mind as well as the passions.


Source: Jean Sorabella, "The Nude in Western Art and its Beginnings in Antiquity," in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2008), http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nuan/hd_nuan.htm.

Repost: The Progressive Condition: The Cynical Art of Michel Houellebecq

“What we have today is the hegemonic figure of the liberal subject who, like Nietzsche’s Last Man, is concerned only with the pursuit of private pleasures + ideals of happiness.”

– Slavoj Žižek

Michel Houellebecq is known for his abrasive and vulgar wit, as a pamphleteer of literature; a pornographer of the neoliberal market place of ideas in its darker contours, a sexploitative tourist of the flyways within a global system that has lost itself among the labyrinths of its own economic nightmares; and, as a man who has been accused of obscenity, racism, misogyny and Islamophobia among other things. But beyond the surface tension of the mediasphere hype he is more a product of our free-market era than its perpetrator or victim. One might even suggest that he incarnates the Progressive Condition that is both our glory and possible demise: he is the Last Man in its hollowed out core tumbling toward that narrative aporia beyond which none of us will remain human.

As Ben Jeffery will put it Houellebecq’s narratives inhabit that space in the negative undertow of the enlightenment, a realm where “we are able to see ourselves as merely creatures, rather than God’s creatures, and nature as purposeless matter, rather than divine plan. Humans are just animals, and, unsurprisingly, that knowledge gives precedence to biological impulse; to strength, health and beauty over weakness, infirmity and repulsiveness – and it makes self-interest paramount” (Jeffery, Ben (2011-11-16). Anti-Matter: Michel Houellebecq and Depressive Realism (p. 15). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition). This notion of rational self-interest has been one of those elements that that runs through most thought for the past two-centuries, a thematic or leit-motif of our Progressive Condition.

The original progressives held the consistent conviction that a “public interest” or “common good” really existed (Nugent, Walter (2009-12-04). Progressivism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Kindle Locations 258-259). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition). In our time this notion has taken on the fabric of a lie, a fiction that democrats continue to support in theory, republicans laugh at, but in practice both agree is just that: a nice idea that is best left in the shadows or hinterlands of the public unconscious. It’s in this society of moral bankruptcy and decay that Houellebecq situates his characters. They are much like himself (and much of his fiction comes right out of his life) cynical in the sense of Diogenes: a street art that shits on the most respectable citizens as if this was just the natural order of existence. As Sloterdijk in his Kritik der zynischen Vernunft (English: Critique of Cynical Reason) will inform us of Cynicism after Diogenes:
Its insights disclose the questionable and ridiculous aspects of the grand, serious systems. Its intelligence is floating, playful, essayistic, not laid out on secure foundations and final principles. Diogenes inaugurates the Gay Science (Nietzsche) by treating serious sciences in a tongue-in-cheek manner. How much truth is contained in something can be best determined by making it thoroughly laughable and then watching to see how much joking around it can take. For truth is a matter that can stand mockery, that is freshened by any ironic gesture directed at it. Whatever cannot stand satire is false. To parody a theory and its proponents is to carry out the experiment of experiments with it. (Critique of Cynical Reason, translation by Michael Eldred; foreword by Andreas Huyssen, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1988, 288)
So that Houellebecq’s humor is both subtle and full of satiric intent, tongue-and-cheek cynicism that neither takes itself seriously nor expects to be taken seriously. Against a postmodern nihilist reading of his works one might actually see in it a critique of our eras Progressive Condition. Sloterdijk believed that this condition of our time was best typified by the difference between ancient and modern forms of cynicism, suggesting that unlike ancient Greek Cynicism the modern one no longer stands for values of the natural and ethical kind that bind people beyond their religious and economically useful convictions. Rather, it has become a mode of thought that defines its actions in terms of a “final end” of a purely materialistic sort and reduces the “ought” to an economic strategy aimed at maximizing profit. This new grittier market realism, what Mark Fisher will call “Capital Realism“, and Ben Jeffery as simply – “Depressive Realism” underlies most of Houellebeq’s novels and stories. His satires are for the most part taken at face value rather than as ironic and satirical statements about our eras cynicism in its rawest forms.

As Houellebecq will say through one of his characters: ‘Contemporary consciousness is no longer equipped to deal with our mortality. More than at any time or in any civilization, human beings are obsessed with aging. Each individual has a simple view of the future: a time will come when the sum of pleasures that life has left to offer is outweighed by the sum of pain (one can actually feel the meter ticking, and it ticks inevitably towards the end). This weighing up of pleasure and pain which, sooner or later, everyone is forced to make, leads logically, at a certain age, to suicide.’ (Jeffrey, pp. 15-16) This pop-cult psychoanalysis of our condition as a Freudian pleasure/pain dialectic that leads to suicide is seen almost everyday in various pop-cultural spheres: musicians, artists, performers, etc. committing suicide through drugs, self-inflicted wounds, et. al..

In his book on H.P. Lovecraft he will relate the basic condition of our era:
For humans of the end of the twentieth century, this cosmos devoid of hope is absolutely our world. This abject universe, where fear spreads in concentric circles from the unnameable revelation, this universe where our only imaginable destiny is to be crushed and devoured, we recognize absolutely as our mental universe. (Michel Houellebecq. Translated by Robin Mackay. H.P. Lovecraft Against the world, against life, Believer Books; First Edition edition (May 1, 2005))
This is the world according to Houellebecq, our world in its downward devolution into that strange and twisted thing it is. A market world where the maximization of everything is accelerating us into that disjunctive era where the lines between the human and inhuman blur, and we enter the machinic phylum like “dogs in the street barking”.


Source: S.C. Hickman, "The Progressive Condition: The Cynical Art of Michel Houellebecq," Alien Ecologies blog, June 12, 2015, accessed July 18, 2015, http://darkecologies.com/2015/06/12/the-progressive-condition-the-cynical-art-of-michel-houellebecq/.

Pope Francis on the Technocratic Paradigm

106. The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation. Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed”.

107. It can be said that many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole, human and social, are seen in the deterioration of the environment, but this is just one sign of a reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life. We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.

108. The idea of promoting a different cultural paradigm and employing technology as a mere instrument is nowadays inconceivable. The technological paradigm has become so dominant that it would be difficult to do without its resources and even more difficult to utilize them without being dominated by their internal logic. It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all”. As a result, “man seizes hold of the naked elements of both nature and human nature”. Our capacity to make decisions, a more genuine freedom and the space for each one’s alternative creativity are diminished.

109. The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration. Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. They are less concerned with certain economic theories which today scarcely anybody dares defend, than with their actual operation in the functioning of the economy. They may not affirm such theories with words, but nonetheless support them with their deeds by showing no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion. At the same time, we have “a sort of ‘superdevelopment’ [sic] of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation”, while we are all too slow in developing economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources. We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.

110. The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. This very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective or from a single set of interests. A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today. Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal. Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence. In the concrete situation confronting us, there are a number of symptoms which point to what is wrong, such as environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and of community living. Once more we see that “realities are more important than ideas”.

111. Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalized logic. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.

112. Yet we can once more broaden our vision. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral. Liberation from the dominant technocratic paradigm does in fact happen sometimes, for example, when cooperatives of small producers adopt less polluting means of production, and opt for a non-consumerist model of life, recreation and community. Or when technology is directed primarily to resolving people’s concrete problems, truly helping them live with more dignity and less suffering. Or indeed when the desire to create and contemplate beauty manages to overcome reductionism through a kind of salvation which occurs in beauty and in those who behold it. An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door. Will the promise last, in spite of everything, with all that is authentic rising up in stubborn resistance?

113. There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life. If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything. Otherwise we would simply legitimate the present situation and need new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness.

114. All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.


Source: Pope Francis, "Laudato Si' ('On Care for Our Common Home')," Papal Encyclical, promulgated May 24, 2015, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html.

Repost: Nick Land: On Savage Atheism

A central and insistent tenet of Schopenhauer’s philosophy is that intellect, personality, and consciousness are extremely superficial and derivative characteristics of complex nervous-systems, and are thus radically untypical of the nature of the cosmos, which is driven by impersonal and unconscious forces.
– Nick Land, A Thirst For Annihilation (Routledge, 1992)

The point that Land makes in this small section on the battle between German Idealism and the Kantian cosmology which Schopenhauer detested is that Kant and his followers brought back religion by way of the back door. Kant himself destroyed the pre-critical proofs of God only to rebuild and construct a new theistic cosmology in which he installed “faith guided by moral necessity” at the center of the human project. Both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on the other hand would break free of this hidden monotheistic agenda and replace it with – as Land puts it: a “savage atheism”, that attacked the very foundations of the humanistic project and its anthropocentric cosmology and philosophical presumption of human exceptionalism. While Schopenhauer considered theism to be the “apotheosis of immorality: a wretched attachment to the principle of identity” his student, Nietzsche would go even further and develop a philosophy and cosmology that put life itself at the service of “unconscious trans-individual creative energy”.

For those of us who see the future connected to a disconnect or bifurcation from the human into the inhuman Land reminds us of Nietzsche’s original diagnosis:
The end of humanity does not lie within itself, but in a planetary artistic experiment about which nothing can be said in advance, and which can only be provisionally labelled ‘overman’. For overman (“Übermensch“) is not a superior model of man, but that which is beyond man; the creative surpassing of humanity. (pp. 15-16)
David Roden outlines in his book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human the ‘disconnect thesis’ such a possibility of the posthuman future in which humans might just be a thing of the past: “I have characterized posthumans in very general terms as hypothetical wide “descendants” of current humans that are no longer human in consequence of some history of technological alteration” (Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human [Kindle Locations 2411-2412]. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition). What he argues for is that the difference between humans and these future beings “should be conceived as an emergent disconnection between individuals, not in terms of the presence or lack of essential properties. I also suggest that these individuals should not be conceived in narrow biological terms but in “wide” terms permitting biological, cultural and technological relations of descent between human and posthuman. (Roden, KL 2423-2426)
However else it is possible to divide Western thinking, one fissure can be teased-open separating the theo-humanists—croaking together in the cramped and malodorous pond of Anthropos—from the wild beasts of the impersonal. The former are characterized by their moral fervour, parochialism, earnestness, phenomenological disposition, and Aborting the human race sympathy for folk superstition, the latter by their fatalism, atheism, strangely reptilian exuberance, and extreme sensitivity for what is icy, savage, and alien to mankind.
– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Antihumanism: A Savage Atheism

In a specifically pointed critique of Jaques Derrida’s post-structuralist project of ‘deconstruction’ Land will tell us that we should not confuse his anti-humanistic philosophy with Nietzsche’s antihumanism. Land will show that the threads of a libidinal or energetic materialism that runs from Kant, through Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, to Freud and Bataille among others should not be confused with the deconstructionist phenomenological approach of Derrida and his anti-realist kindred. The difference between Nietzsche’s “aggressive genealogies that wreck unity on zero, and Derrida’s pursuit of the interminable borderlands between presence and absence” are light years apart. Derrida falls in line with those of the German Idealist traditions and the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger in aligning themselves with Hegel’s superficial phenomenology of reason, identity, and negation as modes of presence. (ibid. 17) Derrida’s limpid repetitions of the oppositional matrix of signs, signifiers, and signified in an endless binary writing that as Land will suggest operates in a triangular mode of opposing both sides of the binary opposition using a “partially concealed pseudo-concept with incoherent predicates that typify his concept of “presencing” or “writing” which is consummated in a given deconstruction leads to an insipid reading of history and existence as a form of endless equivocation. This endless inability to decide on the undecidable leads to a rather limpid nihilism of the word rather than an aggressive mode of revolt against the Word.

As Land will suggest of another post-modern laborer in the field of undecidability and irony Jean-François Lyotard follows his master, Derrida, in a false and limpid “disinvestment of monotheism”, one of forgetting God rather than revolting against the religious stance in itself. What Land despises in Derrida and Lyotard is there [sic] supposition that atheism is an instance of negation, rather than a transmutation or transvaluation of its sense. (ibid. p. 18) Instead Nietzsche offers against the negation of a limpid antihumanistic display of negative theology a much more insidious critique of Christianity. As Land tells us:
Zero is fatally discovered beneath the scabrous crust of logical negativity. It is obscurantism of the most tediously familiar kind to suggest that the ‘nothing’ of nihilism is an indissoluble theological concept. The nihil is not a concept at all, but rather immensity and fate. Nietzsche describes atheism as an open horizon, as a loss of inhibition. The ‘a-‘ of atheism is privative only in the sense of a collapsing dam. (idid. p. 19)

Source: S.C. Hickman, "Nick Land: On Savage Atheism," Alien Ecologies blog, June 9, 2015, accessed July 18, 2015, http://darkecologies.com/2015/06/09/nick-land-on-savage-atheism/.

A Brief History of the Rosary

The first documented mysteries to be associated with the Marian Psalter (150 aves) was in about 1275 and the mysteries were three in number: Annunciation, Nativity, Assumption. Additional mysteries then developed--all joyously themed. These mysteries are mostly found in the modern non-sorrowful mysteries, but there were others like the adoration of the Magi or more heavenly Marian ideas, like her being given the role of Illuminatrix, or having her wishes united to Christ's and answered by Christ (ie her role as Mediatrix), or her eternal joy.

The next development was the addition of the Pater Nosters in the 1400s. I forget the name of the person who spread this, but he suggested meditating on the Passion of Christ on the Paters. This is when roses became more formally associated with the Marian Psalter--he said the prayers were like Roses sent to the Blessed Mother, Aves were white roses and the Paters (with Passion meditations) were red roses. The Sorrowful meditations were pretty much identical to the Sorrowful mysteries now in most versions of the Psalter back then, but one less popular version had more Marian-themed sorrows (similar to the seven Dolors we recognize today). The number of mysteries still varied though. Some had more general themes, rather than specific mysteries (ie "heavenly joys of Mary"), some versions had ten total mysteries, some had sets of seven (not sure how that worked), one had ninteen (I can see how these odd ones didn't stick as long...), etc..

This was also when the Psalter began to be reduced to only 50 Aves per day in many areas. The Vita Christi Rosary spread by Dominic of Prussia (50 Aves, but with 50 mysteries on the life of Christ; although supposedly he had a 150 mystery version too) became the most popular (more on its origins below). Interestingly enough, some condemned this as destroying the Psalter. This is when Bl. Alan de Rupe wrote his work on the Marian Psalterin order to return to the more authentic version as he saw it. He supported only praying the 150 a day and refused to call it the Rosary and forbade others from calling it that too, since he saw what was called the Rosary at the time (the fifty per day) as a corruption of the Psalter. His mysteries had three groups, they were general and not specificly [sic] listed except for the last group. His general themes were: Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection (which included the Resurrection, Ascension, Holy Spirit's descent, Glorification of Christ, Final Judgment). The Dominic of Prussia Vita Christi Rosary and Bl. Alan de Rupe's version were the most popular and seemed to morph into generally what we have today (with a few changes to the mysteries here and there) as people embraced parts of each (50 Aves per day, with five set mysteries for each day).

So, where does St. Dominic's experience fit in? It is also around this time that St. Dominic's experience is first mentioned (or at least of where the earliest evidence of it is). Bl. Alan says the Blessed Virgin appeared to himself and told him (Alan) to pray according to the method she said taught St. Dominic, which she said consisted of meditiating on "the life and passion" of her Son (no specifics on the mysteries are mentioned). The reference to "life and passion" makes it sound like the Vita Christi method, but Bl. Alan on the other hand didn't seem to take it that way. On the other hand, a prominant [sic] handbook of the same period which listed various methods (the Ulm handbook), the method listed as the "method of St. Dominic" is the a variation on the Vita Christi rather then the de Rupe method. This book also contains a picture of the Rosary very similar to what became the more uniform version, with only the last mystery different (judgment rather than coronation). So its tought [sic] to say what St. Dominic's method really was, other than it doesn't seem to be what we have today--it seems it's either Bl. Alan's method or the Vita Christi method.

This bring us to the 16th century. At this time, while what we all think of as the Rosary was the most common (including the shift to the Coronation as the final mystery beginning to take hold), there was still a lot of variation into the 17th century [....] However, it was in the 17th and 18th centuries in response to the Reformation that Rome began issuing a lot of legislative documents regulating and promoting Marian devotions, etc.--which, like the liturgy, led to more uniformity. 


Source: SaintSebastian, October 26, 2012 (12:49 p.m.), comment on Poche, "Mysteries of the Rosary," Fish Eaters Traditional Catholic Forum, October 26, 2012, accessed July 18, 2015, http://www.fisheaters.com/forums/index.php?topic=3454491.msg33819436#msg33819436.

Repost: Pope Gregory XVI: A 19th Century Environmentalist

Well, I’ll admit that the title of this essay is not just a little inaccurate – if we take “environmentalist” in the narrow sense we understand it today. But if we understand “environment” more broadly – as those conditions that surround us and influence us – then, I think, calling Pope Gregory XVI an “environmentalist” is not too far off the mark.

Indeed, Gregory took the “environment” of his day very seriously; some might say, too seriously. One might think, in fact, that he fit well the stereotype of the modern environmentalist – that he lacked balance and perspective, confusing the essential with what is merely external and contingent. For, he vehemently opposed republican government and would accept no lay participation in the government of his Papal States. His 1832 encyclical, Mirari Vos condemned liberty of conscience and the freedom to publish any and all opinions. He stood resolutely against every revolution in his time – even the rebellion of the Catholic Poles against their persecutor, the Orthodox tsar of Russia. Why, Gregory XVI was so reactionary that he even forbade the building of a railroad and the installing of gas lights in the the Papal States! He despised railroads. He called them chemins d’enfer (“roads to hell”) – a pun on the French chemin de fer, “iron road.” (This, of course, suggests that Gregory had a sense of humor, which he did. Those close to him knew him to be jovial, friendly, and a lover of good conversation – thus demonstrating that even reactionaries can be fun.)

It is in his opposition to the modern technology of his day that this pope most closely approximates, at least, the caricature of the modern environmentalist. Such an environmentalist, at the very least, would see a severe curtailment in the use and development of certain forms of technology (such as air conditioning or the automobile) because they harm the natural environment and human health. The more subtle among them may even point to the effects of such technology on human culture. Certainly, Pope Gregory XVI was not thinking of air pollution or climate change when he excoriated trains. What he objected to, and what he thought inexorably bound up with the expansion of the technology of his day, were habits of mind and morality that most modern environmentalists take as self-evident truths. In a word, what Gregory objected to was Liberalism.

This Liberalism was not simply the “liberalism” of the U.S. Democratic Party; indeed, it encompasses the fundamental ideals that lie behind the American political order itself, as well as the those of most nations on earth today. At the basis of this Liberalism is the premise that man’s most natural state is one of radical freedom and autonomy; that human community is a construct to preserve individual freedom, and thus not proper to man as man. Forms of community, including political community, are thus artificial and have the character of an imposition, even if a necessary imposition. But if they are necessary, they are only so because they protect and preserve individual freedom. The limit of human aspiration remains absolute autonomy – even if it can never be fully attained.

Individual liberty is the only absolute for Liberalism. Its limitation can only be justified by liberty. Public order thus becomes the only excuse for law and government – not the common good; for, the expressions of liberty – freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of choice – imply that it is the individual who determines the content of the good. Law and government delineate a space wherein each individual can exercise maximum autonomy, nothing more.

In opposing Liberalism, Gregory was not condemning human liberty as such. It was this pope, for instance, who in his 1839 apostolic letter, In Supremo Apostolatus, sternly condemned enslavement and the slave trade. Gregory understood that freedom is proper to man; what he condemned was the principle of fundamental human autonomy. Gregory operated out of the Catholic social and political tradition that saw organized communal life as a given for man, as an expression of human nature – man as a social and political animal. Based as it is in human nature, the organized communal life has a goal or purpose, which is none other than the good of man as man: the inculcation of virtue, understood not simply as moral rectitude but the perfection of all human faculties – physical, moral, intellectual, and, ultimately, spiritual. It was in defense of this tradition that Gregory exercised all the powers of his mind and heart.

To appreciate this, one need not agree with everything Gregory XVI did and said. One certainly need not share his disdain for railroads and gas lights. [His successor, Blessed Pius IX, in his reign established both these technologies in the Papal States, as well as a lay advisory senate for their governance – for which he was dubbed (mistakenly) the “Liberal pope.”) But, I think, we might be indulging in a bit of disdain ourselves if we simply laugh off Greogry’s pun, chemins d’enfer. It may be, in his rejection of the “modern” technology of his day that Gregory was on to something. He may have understood implicitly what one of his successors on Peter’s Throne has stated explicitly:
We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.
Thus, Pope Francis (Laudato Si’, 107) – arguably a pope of a very different stamp than Gregory XVI. But though Gregory would very likely find some of Francis’ comments and actions appalling (and might think they justify his detestation of railroads), he might discover, in Laudato Si’, kindred sentiments. Gregory forbade the building of railroads because he saw them as avenues by which Liberalism might infiltrate the Papal States. The technology of the period was an expression of a conviction that rose with Francis Bacon’s ipsa scientia est potestas (“knowledge is power.”) It was the notion that knowledge is ordered, not to contemplation, but to craft – to subduing the world for the utility of human freedom. In other words, the function of knowledge and therefore technology is to set us free from the limitations of nature, just as politics is to set us free from the limitations imposed by all tradition, custom, and authority. Such technology, in the words of Francis, “create[s] a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups.” The powerful groups of Pope Gregory XVI’s day were those that sought the overthrow, not only of the Church, but of the human culture that Church had protected and fostered. And their boast was the power their technology gave them over the powers of nature.

[...] what is demanded is a re-evaluation of technology, of its power to influence human life and culture and a reining in of its pretensions. As Laudato Si’ (114) puts it, we “need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”

Both Francis and Gregory XVI call us to walk the narrow way to true human fulfillment, not simply hitch the next ride on the chemins d’enfer.



Unhistoric Acts of Goodness

Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Alexander broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.


Source: George Eliot, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1871), 8:370, "Finale."

Repost: Milk-Giver Icon | Not Scandalized by the Incarnation

On July 3, the Icon of the Virgin “Galaktotrophousa” (Γαλακτοτροφουσα, meaning “the Milk-Giver”) is celebrated. The Icon shows the Mother of God breast-feeding Christ. Not many modern icons use this composition, which may hide just how ancient and widespread this icon really is.

The specific Icon celebrated on July 3 (and January 12) dates from the 6th century A.D. and resided in St. Sabbas’ lavra (a type of monastic community). Before his death, St Sabbas prophetically stated that in time a pilgrim sharing the saint’s name, of royal lineage from Serbia, would visit, and to him the Icon of the Mother of God, the “Milk-Giver”, should be given as a blessing from the Monastery. God’s time is not like our time, and so it was not until 700 years later that the prophecy was fulfilled. The pilgrim was the Serbian prince Rastko Nemanjić, who had taken the monastic name “Sava” (i.e. Sabbas) when a youth. Coming to venerate the relics of St Sabbas, the elder’s episcopal staff fell at the young Sava’s feet. The monks inquired into the pilgrim’s identity, and hearing his name (and remembering the centuries-old prophecy) gave the Milk-Giver Icon along with another icon of the Theotokos, and St Sabbas’ staff. All three items ended up in the Hilandar Monastery on Mt Athos, which was founded by the Serbian Sava. The Milk-Giver Icon is still there to this day, in the Iconostasis of Hilandar’s church.

Like the dogmas of the Church, icons often arise as a response to heresy. In this light, it is not difficult to see why and how an icon of Mary breast-feeding the Christ-child would appear in the 6th century, and be associated with St Sabbas in particular. Sabbas was a strenuous opponent of the Monophysites, a group who believed Christ’s divine nature absorbed His human nature. The icon is a rebuttal of this position, as it shows Jesus Christ, truly God, suckling at His mother’s breast.

Monophysitism is just one flower of an all-pervasive weed that can has its root in one overriding feeling: scandal at the Incarnation. In other words, shock and revulsion at the idea that the All-Powerful Creator would take on corruptible human flesh, spend 9 months in the womb of a woman, pass through her vagina, and then spend the next few years a physically weak and helpless baby, totally dependent upon her. People have come up with a multitude of ways to deny this dogma of the Church. Another example is the Julian Heresy, which flourished in Egypt during the time of St Sabbas. Supported by the patriarch of the time, the belief was that Christ’s body was incorruptible (before His crucifixion). Again, the influence of being scandalized at the Son of God taking on human flesh is seen in this belief. A number of right-believing monks separated from the heretics and set up their own monasteries, which they named after the Theotokos, i.e. God’s human mother. One of these monasteries, the Syrian Monastery, still survives and it shouldn’t be surprising to see an ancient fresco of Christ suckling His mother there. Again, reacting against the misguided scandal of the Incarnation, the Milk-Giver Icon proclaims the Orthodox belief.

From the 6th century onwards the image of the Mother of God “Nourisher of Life” is always found without ever being common. Whenever it is found, both Mother and Child are stylized, with Mary’s exposed breast depicted proportionally smaller than is natural. This is because the icon is not painted to dwell upon the sensuality of Mary breastfeeding Jesus Christ, merely to proclaim it happened.

Copies of the Hilandar Milk-Giver Icon aside, today icons of this type are not very common, especially in Western Orthodox iconography. Is it because “scandal at the Incarnation” is no longer a problem among Christians? Don’t believe it. Even while openly proclaiming Christ’s two natures, the tendency to downplay or practically deny the humanity of Jesus is still something that lurks in the shadows. The Mother of God “Milk-Giver” Icon is still a powerful rebuttal to these beliefs, and a reminder that God’s love for us is not abstract but physical.


Source: "Milk-Giver Icon | Not Scandalized by the Incarnation," A Reader's Guide to Orthodox Icons blog, July 3, 2011, accessed July 18, 2015, https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/milk-giver-icon-not-scandalized-by-the-incarnation/.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Cunning Semantic Subterfuge

This is great:


We have in the studio Bertrand Russell, who talked to us in the series “Sense Perception and Nonsense: Number 7, Is this a dagger I see before me?” Bertrand Russell.

Russell: One of the advantages of living in Great Court, Trinity I seem to recall, was the fact that one could pop across at any time of the day or night and trap the then young G. E. Moore into a logical falsehood by means of a cunning semantic subterfuge. I recall one occasion with particular vividness. I had popped across and had knocked upon his door. “Come in,” he said. I decided to wait awhile in order to test the validity of his proposition. “Come in,” he said once again. “Very well,” I replied, “if that is in fact truly what you wish.”

I opened the door accordingly and went in, and there was Moore seated by the fire with a basket upon his knees. “Moore,” I said, “do you have any apples in that basket?” “No,” he replied, and smiled seraphically, as was his wont. I decided to try a different logical tack. “Moore,” I said, “do you then have some apples in that basket?” “No,” he replied, leaving me in a logical cleft stick from which I had but one way out. “Moore,” I said, “do you then have apples in that basket?” “Yes,” he replied. And from that day forth, we remained the very closest of friends.


Source: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~ericsw/btf/. Accessed July 17, 2015.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Don't let the fact that Kevin Spacey's character is a psychopath distract you from the disturbing truth that he speaks.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Memo: Theology of Apostolate and Its Modern Applications

There must be a theology of the apostolate that not only summarizes once again the timeless principles of the spiritual life in its application to apostolate work (e.g. Soul of the Apostolate) but also spells out concretely, rigorously, and simply the specific applications and consequences of these principles in a 21st century context. The following list, while not exclusive, absolutely must be addressed:

The place of social media, specifically media such as Facebook, YouTube, forums, blogs, news websites
Entertainment and the culture industry
Philosophy and psychology of technology
Forms of debate and argumentation, considerations of context
An analysis of pluralism and the fact of general cultural-historical ignorance
Pluralism will include diversity of traditionalisms
The psychology of popularity, identity, and sexuality
Tribal mentalities, in-group thinking, confirmation biases
The subtle influence of foreign mentalities into Catholicism, especially different aspects of modernism, liberalism, and Protestantism--in the areas of Biblical interpretation, morality, philosophy, politics.

I believe that some issues pertaining to the above categories can be resolved logically by a thorough explanation of the universally accepted principles of the theology of the apostolate and spiritual life.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ceremonial Law vs. Moral Law

The same Leviticus straw men keep appearing.

There are two types of law in the Torah: 1) moral law; 2) ceremonial law.

See following humorous video for advancement in self-education:

Repost: Thomas Storck on "Sex and the Cartesian Body"

[...] American culture during the 1950s was dominated by a Cartesianism that tended to regard a human being as only a mind and hence to look upon the body as just so much inert matter. As far as sex was concerned, there was a kind of pretense that there was no such thing. TV shows portrayed married couples sleeping in separate beds, for example.

[...] If we can speak of “a woman trapped in a man’s body” or “a man trapped in a woman’s body,” are we not assigning the same value to the flesh that, fifty years ago, we derided as anti-natural and anti-sexual? Some have even been willing to physically or chemically mutilate their bodies if their minds demanded it. This is a return to Descartes with a vengeance!

If we can and should celebrate the fact that God made us bodily creatures, then I do not understand how we can think that a body can be simply a biological mistake, merely because our mental attitudes and desires say it is. Certainly instances exist where a body does not neatly fit into one or the other of the two sexes and no one will want to belittle the anguish that persons can undergo because of what they feel is a mismatch between their bodies and their minds.

Moral theology has long recognized these cases and made provision for them. But it did so by assigning priority to the bodily structure in determining whether someone was a male or a female. To do otherwise is to revert to that Cartesian disvaluing of the body which is one of the perennial temptations of modern American culture.

If the body and the mind seem not to agree, why must we reflexively give preference to what the mind seems to want? A human being is more than his mind or his soul, and God created the human body and its actions as good. [...]

The annals of human behavior contain many examples of psychic abnormalities whose genesis can be impossible to discover and which can manifest themselves in some pretty bizarre desires and actions.

It is simplistic to view a desire expressed by the mind as a fundamental expression of the human personality, merely because one feels it strongly. In light of what we know, as well as what we don’t know, about the workings of the mind we should hesitate to make any absolute pronouncements that result in treating our bodies as so much matter to be manipulated at will. To focus solely on what we think we want and ignore the obvious reality of our bodies is to return to that Cartesian trivializing of the body that the counterculture of the 1960s did well to reject.


Source: Thomas Storck, "Sex and the Cartesian Body," Ethika Politika website, June 24, 2015, accessed July 1, 2015, https://ethikapolitika.org/2015/06/24/sex-and-the-cartesian-body/.

Pope Benedict XVI on the Relation between Church and Culture

Human culture, of which [the Church] is a guarantee, has developed from the encounter between divine revelation and human existence. The Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria. Yet just as an individual without memory has lost his identity, so too a human race without memory would lose its identity. What the Church has learned from the encounter between revelation and human experience does indeed extend beyond the realm of pure reason, but it is not a separate world that has nothing to say to unbelievers. By entering into the thinking and understanding of mankind, this knowledge broadens the horizon of reason and thus it speaks also to those who are unable to share the faith of the Church.


Source: Benedict XVI, "Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI on the Occasion of Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia" (address presented in the Vatican, December 21, 2012), accessed July 1, 2015, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2012/december/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20121221_auguri-curia.html.

Pope Benedict XVI on Gender Theory

[...] It was noticeable that the Synod repeatedly emphasized the significance, for the transmission of the faith, of the family as the authentic setting in which to hand on the blueprint of human existence. This is something we learn by living it with others and suffering it with others. So it became clear that the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human. The challenges involved are manifold. First of all there is the question of the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment. Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for? Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his “I” ultimately for himself, without really rising above it. Yet only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. [Note: And by extension, marriage is no longer intelligible.] Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.


Source: Benedict XVI, "Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI on the Occasion of Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia" (address presented in the Vatican, December 21, 2012), accessed July 1, 2015, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2012/december/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20121221_auguri-curia.html.

The Backfire Effect and Confirmation Bias

Confirmation biases can be used to explain why some beliefs persist when the initial evidence for them is removed. This belief perseverance effect has been shown by a series of experiments using what is called the "debriefing paradigm": participants read fake evidence for a hypothesis, their attitude change is measured, then the fakery is exposed in detail. Their attitudes are then measured once more to see if their belief returns to its previous level.

A common finding is that at least some of the initial belief remains even after a full debrief. In one experiment, participants had to distinguish between real and fake suicide notes. The feedback was random: some were told they had done well while others were told they had performed badly. Even after being fully debriefed, participants were still influenced by the feedback. They still thought they were better or worse than average at that kind of task, depending on what they had initially been told.

In another study, participants read job performance ratings of two firefighters, along with their responses to a risk aversion test. This fictional data was arranged to show either a negative or positive association: some participants were told that a risk-taking firefighter did better, while others were told they did less well than a risk-averse colleague. Even if these two case studies were true, they would have been scientifically poor evidence for a conclusion about firefighters in general. However, the participants found them subjectively persuasive. When the case studies were shown to be fictional, participants' belief in a link diminished, but around half of the original effect remained. Follow-up interviews established that the participants had understood the debriefing and taken it seriously. Participants seemed to trust the debriefing, but regarded the discredited information as irrelevant to their personal belief.

Source: Wikipedia, "Confirmation Bias," Wikipedia website, June 26, 2015, accessed July 1, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias.


[323] We find that responses to corrections in mock news articles differ significantly according to subjects’ ideological views. As a result, the corrections fail to reduce misperceptions for the most committed participants. Even worse, they actually strengthen misperceptions among ideological subgroups in several cases. [...]

The backfire effects that we found seem to provide further support for the growing literature showing that citizens engage in “motivated reasoning.” While our experiments focused on assessing the effectiveness of corrections, the results show that direct factual contradictions can actually strengthen ideologically grounded factual beliefs – an empirical finding with important theoretical implications. Previous research on motivated reasoning has largely focused on the evaluation and usage of factual evidence in constructing opinions and evaluating arguments (e.g. Taber and Lodge 2006). By contrast, our research – the first to directly measure the effectiveness of corrections in a realistic context – suggests that it would be valuable to directly study the cognitive and affective processes that take place when subjects are confronted with discordant factual information.


Source: Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, "When Corrections Fail: The Persistance of Political Misperceptions," Political Behavior 32 (2010): 303–330, http://climate.engin.umich.edu/figures/Rood_Climate_Change_AOSS480_Documents/Nyhan_Belief_Facts_Politics_PoliticalBehavior_2010.pdf.


It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. [...] If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger. [...]

This effect is only heightened by the information glut, which offers — alongside an unprecedented amount of good information — endless rumors, misinformation, and questionable variations on the truth. In other words, it’s never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they’re right.


Source: Joe Keohane, "How Facts Backfire," Boston.com website, July 11, 2010, accessed July 1, 2015, http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/.