Category Archives: human culture

Knowledge is Capricious

Daniel Boorstin, a noted American historian declared in his book, “The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself,” that, “More appealing than knowledge itself is the feeling of knowing.” Boorstin in this quote had gleaned from his study of history that the comfort of “the feeling of knowing” often, if not most of the time, would triumph over knowledge itself.  Throughout history we have records of cultures in which “the feeling of knowing” proved to lead to their demise while letting that “feeling” give way to some critical thinking could have allowed them to continue, though with a moderated view of reality.

It is comforting to feel that one knows, permitting one to “know” that one knows.  It is so comforting that human nature has hard-wired us to prefer “knowing that we know” in the interest of preserving our tribe.  But when the world grows so small…as we are now experiencing…then “knowing what we know” begins to compete with other tribes who “know that they know” with equal conviction. Then violent conflict ensues unless leadership is available which will direct us to tolerate the notion that diametrically opposing ideas of reality can co-exist. There is no need to attempt to obliterate “them” just because we see “them” as, “not knowing correctly.”

The core issue is the comfort of “feeling that we know” not understanding the wisdom of poet W. H. Auden who told us that, “feeling knows no discretion but its own.”  Auden knew that our view of the world is not a rational matter, but one whose origin lies beneath the surface in the murky realm of feelings, closely akin to the unconscious.  But to recognize this truth is to take away the certainty that we can have in believing our beliefs and discounting anything or anyone that threatens them.  Another word for this realm of feelings is the heart, that center of our being which is unlocked only when we are willing to forego the tyranny of rational thinking and permit the grace of a non-tyrannical rationality which is quickened with the intuitive wisdom of the heart.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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Rebecca Chopps On Our Country’s Malady of the Soul

Barack Obama has answered the bell and has come out swinging, addressing the Republican morass of recent decades that has created our country’s present debacle, and yes, taking not-so-veiled jabs at the figure-head and spokesman for this roiling cauldron of chthonic energy.  I stumbled across a book just last week by Rebecca S. Chopps entitled, “The Power to Speak: Feminism, Language, and God,” which is relevant to this cauldron as she explores how language, including religious language, can be used to give expression to hidden dimensions of the heart, individually and socio-culturally. But for this “revelation” to occur, there must be a voice/voices from beyond the pale of the status quo who see into the heart of the poisonous mindset which is always oriented primarily to maintain the prevailing power structure.  Chopps writes as a feminist but also as a Christian…apparently…though if she calls herself a Christian she is certainly beyond the pale of the Christian power structure that would “legitimate” her wearing that label.

Here I will share a couple of paragraphs from Chopps’ book:

Proclamation, in feminist discourses of emancipatory transformation, resists and transforms the social symbolic order.  Proclamation is a form of resistance to the practices and principles of modernity that control, dominate, and oppress.  But proclamation resists by way of transformation, seeking to provide new discourses by a variety of strategies, methods, and ways, and to transform the ruling principles and order into ones that allow, encourage, and enable transformative relations of multiplicity, difference, solidarity, anticipation, embodiment, and transformation.  Transformation occurs by creating new images of human flourishing, new values of otherness, and multiplicity, new theoretical practices of solidarity and anticipation.

This is reminiscent of one of the most powerful of Paul Tillich’s sermons, “The Shaking of the Foundations” in which he argued that the purpose of the church is to, “rattle the cage” (my term) of the status quo.  But the status quo does not want to be “rattled” and will arm itself to the teeth in an effort to deny any affront to its comfy zone of satisfaction, where “they bask, agreed upon what they will not ask, bland, sunny, and adjusted by the light” of the unquestioned assumptions which give them privilege and power.  This is also obviously so with the power structure of religious culture though often those most ensconced in that power structure are basking even more in the comfort of a falsetto humility which does not permit any consideration or discussion of their motivations.

I conclude with another paragraph from Chopps:

Through discourses of emancipatory transformation, proclamation enables those marginalized voices who so often have not been heard, to speak: to speak of the beauty, hope, pain, and sorrow they have known on the margins.  Proclamation also speaks within the ambiguities of the order, the ambiguities, for instance, of the bourgeois who, though promised freedom in his autonomy, discovers few genuine possibilities for the community, relationships, and love he so desires.  Unable to find any “authentic meaning” the bourgeois attempts to fill in the empty spaces of his or her soul through the attainment of material goods that great momentary satisfaction with increasingly diminished returns.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Emily Dickinson and John Donne Speak to Us

Emily Dickinson knew the human heart, as do any poet who is worth their poetic salt.  Therefore, she knew about meaning and understood that it was obtained only in the inner most depths of the heart which she captured with the following poem:

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
Dickinson knew that meaning comes from “heavenly hurt” and that it leaves, “no scar” to the casual observer, those who look only on the surface of things; but those who can withstand the pain will find, “internal difference—where the meanings are.”  This “internal difference” allows an ephemeral “certain slant of light” to daunt the citadel of the heart and bring into question certainties which had, to that point, been biases and premises unsullied by the “certain slant of light” of conscious awareness.  It is in the resulting disarray, confusion, doubt, and fear that “meaning” can surface in our heart and allow “words fitly spoken” to flow from our inner most being.

To borrow from another line of Dickinson poetry,  she called this intrusion into our consciousness of this, “slant of light,” a “splinter in the brain.”  This “splintering” is a violation, a penetration, not unrelated to what the famous poet John Donne had in mind when he noted that God would not be able to penetrate the stubborn rational fortress of his egoic self, “except thou ravish me,” which would come only after the answering of his prayer, “Batter my heart, three personed God.”

Feminism, Consciousness, and Memory

I recently discovered a feminist philosophy professor from LeMoyne College, Karmen MacKendrick, who has written about one of my favorite subjects—difference and sameness.  The following is a selection in a review by Richard A. Lee, Jr. of one of her books:

The issue in Fragmentation and Memory is the question of the relation between unity or wholeness and difference or fragmentation. The argument could be put quite generally and abstractly: wherever there is a drive for unity or wholeness, there fragmentation will always and necessarily be found. More specifically, MacKendrick argues that it is fragmentation that is, in fact, primary and that the obsession one finds with unity and wholeness is, in fact, derivative of this primary fragmentation. The key to this is memory. In a sense, memory as always fragmented remembers this primary fragmentation.

“My dull brain is racked by things forgotten,” said Macbeth.  Shakespeare knew that our memory was a house of cards, teetering on the bedrock of the unconsciousness.  He knew that individuals like Macbeth…and I’m sure himself…were “weak links” who felt the seepage from that forbidden territory.  And groups of individuals, even countries, can also experience this seepage also, as is the case currently with my country, the United States.  We are demonstrating what can happen when a mouth piece for a country’s hidden ugliness appears on the scene, giving voice and action to its reptilian brain.  For always, there is, “Only a tissue thin curtain in the brain (that) shuts out the coiled recumbent landlord.”  (E. L. Mayo)

In the very early stages of our development, what will become a mature psyche begins to take shape in the depths of chaos, termed above as “primary fragmentation.”  Mackendrick asserts that this memory, which our ego wants us to take as so sacrosanct, is actually “derivative” of this chaotic, fragmented stage of development.  But Shakespeare realized, with the Macbeth character, that the “derivative roots” of memory are still there and influence tortured souls, as well as gifted souls who can sublimate the anguish of their “racked brain” into works of art, literature, and religion; this is naming but a few disciplines that can facilitate this redemptive sublimation.

The unconscious is always present.  It is present in a subterranean “structure” that is always already underway when we born, providing a fabric of assumptions, premises, and even biases which provide a safe cocoon in which we can find our footing in the tribal culture into which we are born.  The challenge comes in maturing enough to accept at some point the presence of these “subterranean” influences, a realization that strikes terror in most hearts who prefer living on the surface of life.  To accept these influences is to encounter the feeling of being out of control as we embrace our mortality and fragility, devoid of the safety the cocoon provided in our youth.  This is the existential predicament that comes with being a human being and emerging from the cocoon which would otherwise stifle our interior life.  This is what Jesus had in mind when he posed the question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Auden, Despair, Picnics, and, “Build that Wall!!”

W.H. Auden is probably the poet I quote most often here. The story of his life and his beautiful poetry has been a great inspiration because it encourages us to look beneath the surface of things and find that the effort is worth the pain of the process. The first step in this process is to recognize there is a “surface of things,” an insight which in itself is challenging; for any culture imprints into the depths of our being that the “surface of things” is something to take as a given and not to be questioned.  To ask one to question the existence of this “surface” is like asking a fish to see water.

In the following excerpt of Auden’s, “New Years Letter,” the reader is encouraged to peek beneath this surface of life though with a warning that only, “despair can shape the hero who will dare the desperate catabasis,” and face the “snarling abyss” which always lies beneath the surface of life’s contrivances. However, it must be noted that despair is not necessary for all who travel Auden’s road to redemption.  “Despair” is for the “heroes” such as poets, artists, religious and even political visionaries.  Most of us mercifully face only a watered-down version of despair and encounter a mid-life crisis, or some persistent duress which cues us to also look beneath the surface in our non-heroic manner and do battle with our relatively tame horde of demons.  Auden and his sort were faced with, “slaying the demons” and most of us merely have to step into the ring for a moment with our “benign” demons, and gain the wisdom from the encounter that is there to be had, and then return to our very routine life.  But the wisdom gained from the encounter can empower us to lead a more productive and meaningful life.

Auden described the superficies of life, those amusements which distract us from the gut-level issues of being a sentient human being as a, “jolly picnic, on the heath of the agreeable, where we bask, agreed on what we will not ask, bland, sunny, and adjusted by the light of the accepted lie.”    Here Auden brings to our attention the façade of normal, everyday, routine life which is too subtle to actually notice.  This “jolly picnic” is delightful for some…let’s say, for example, “the haves,” though the “have nots” are not so fortunate and look sullenly, angrily, and despairingly at the picnic, wishing they could have been invited also. Auden also notes that those who have been invited to this picnic always, “bask” in comfort, “agreed on what we will not ask,” tanned and relaxed in the comfort of the, “accepted lie.”

This “accepted lie” is essential for group coherence, providing the biases and premises which allow the group to exist in the first place.  For example, one basic premise of a group is exclusion; and Auden notes elsewhere there is no, “us” without a, “them.”  But these “lies” are necessary for the group to cohere, the problem lying only in circumstances in which the “lie” is so sacrosanct that it cannot be relaxed a mite to allow more access to those who are excluded.  But usually a siege mentality evolves in a social “lie” and letting down its guard and allowing any of the excluded to have some degree of access will be perceived as an existential threat.  Then will the cry go out far and wide, “Build that wall!”

Here is the relevant excerpt from Auden’s, “New Years Letter”:

Heroic charity is rare;
Without it, what except despair
Can shape the hero who will dare
The desperate catabasis
Into the snarl of the abyss
That always lies just underneath
Our jolly picnic on the heath
Of the agreeable, where we bask,
Agreed on what we will not ask,
Bland, sunny and adjusted by
The light of the accepted lie?
(Excerpted from “New Year Letter” – 1/1/1940)

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Misplaced Concreteness Imperils Our Soul

Psychologist Irvin Yalom noted that the fear of death keeps people from living.  By that he meant that the infantile fear of death…a necessary fear at earliest stages of development…can keep people from actually living if it is never addressed.  The ego uses this death fear to tyrannize people into living an unexamined life, to prefer the security of a self-serving, sterile environment where we can plod through our lives, “like kittens given their own tails to tease.” (Goethe)

And here is how Shakespeare addressed the same concern in Sonnet 146:

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
Thrall to these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then soul, live

 thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

Shakespeare knew the dilemma of misplaced concreteness, taking for real that which is only ephemeral.  Plato explained this with his allegory of the cave.  Jesus understood this also when he declared, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  Jesus knew that being a slave to the “cave images,” taking them to be real, would lead one to live a life which was merely a caricature of what it is to be human.  He knew that succumbing to the temptation of merely reading our script…even those that include intense versions of spirituality…would be merely to live a life of bondage, bondage to the ephemeral while excluding the soul.

Interiority is a missing dimension of modern life.  This is because we take thoughts to be the “thing-in-itself,” which parallels our tendency to take social, political, and material things on a surface level and fail to look beneath the surface into the machinations of the heart…i.e. the “soul.”  Shakespeare knew that making this mistake was to let our soul, “pine within” from neglect, even as we paint the exterior dimensions of our life a gaudy, “costly gay.”  This is most manifest in my country’s current political situation where political leaders are mired in a horrible morass of ego and greed while we lamely avow, “Well, it will all workout” or “God is in control” rather than recognizing that the “morass of ego and greed” that our government is acting out for us right now is a projection of the hollowness of our entire way of life…including our religion.

 

See following link for commentary on this sonnet—https://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/sonnets/146/

“Making Nice,” Trump, and the Social Contract

Donald J. Trump is a little boy who needs to be loved.  Never having learned the rudimentary dimensions of making himself loveable, he discovered that he had wealth and privilege to manipulate and intimidate people into a pseudo love.  One of the earliest lessons about love takes place when we enter school and find ourselves on the playground where negotiation with others involves a subtly that a child has often not had to deal with before.  The rules of “being liked” are not explicit but depend on an emotional maturity to pick up on the nuances of social life.  I like to think of it as learning to “make nice,” to not say or do the first thing that comes to your mind when you feel slighted.  It involves a tacit agreement to put up with another’s irksome attitudes and behaviors…to some degree…in return for the tacit response of others putting up with yours. This is the nuts-and-bolts of what we call the social contract.

If someone comes along to the playground who will not abide by the terms of this social contract, he will soon be known as a bully.  If you are “ugly and your mom dresses you funny” he is the one who will point it out while others will not say a thing, unconsciously knowing that you will not point out their own flaws and short comings. This reminds me of Trump on the “playground” of the debate stage in 2016 when he was rude and obnoxious, breaking all rules of civility and decorum.  On any debate stage, the candidates usually have a great dislike of others on the stage but there is an unwritten rule to not attack each other personally. Trump stomped all over that rule and as Senator Lindsey Graham put it, “The rest of ran and hid in the corner.”  When faced with a bully, one has a natural response to try to escape.

There is a certain insincerity to, “making nice.”  It is not, “telling it like it is” which Trump avowed and which many of his supporters cited as a reason they liked him.  “He’ll tell the truth, unlike those lying, hypocritical politicians we are used to,” they said.  Yes, but Trump’s “truth telling” is closely akin to that of someone with Tourette’s Syndrome who, severely lacking impulse control, will “tell it like it is,” and announce to a woman he has just met, “My you have a nice set of tits.”  This Tourette’s Syndrome man is certainly saying what nearly all other men are thinking but most of us have a social filter and would not say something like that.  (And I apologize for the “locker-room talk.”  Seriously.)