Social order and blood sacrifice

Any true religion has to make some concession to the goods we seek superstitiously, since it’s simply too hard for us to avoid seeking after them, and without a remedy superstition is inevitable. We have to allow for the real presence of the god in the holy place, a set of rules given by the god, and an oracle of (some) events to come.  And probably a blood sacrifice. People might be ashamed to admit they want such things, but they’ll keep looking for them all the same, and any founder of a social order – whether God or man – needs to take this into account.

Notes on the subject as opposed to the object, (1)

If your account of the subject treats it as an object, you are leaving something out. But it’s hard to avoid doing this when we make the subject the soul or soul-action, a faculty, a “thinking thing”, the monad,  a homunculus or “self” that is at the levers of the body, a brain or brain portion or modular interaction or feedback loop, etc. Even if these things were realities they would not explain subjectivity in its opposition to objectivity. The “discovery of the subject” in Modern philosophy progressed by an interior logic to the point where we had to confront the radical opposition of the subject to the object, which was confronted in Medieval times as the opposition between the intentional and the entitative. Even then, however, there is a drag in such discussions that tend to play down or forget about the opposition. There is a tendency in the mind to monism: metaphysicians and scientists both sink towards understanding all being as object.


Notes on Visions of Johanna, (III)

Visions of Johanna is a poem that was meant to be sung, and has five verses that describe five parts: an introduction, a description of Louise, a description of Little Boy Lost, a symbolic and abstract account of the theme of the poem, and an eschatological  account of the theme.  We started with the fourth part since it makes the general theme clear: the trial or contest between what passes away and what is infinite. The “vision of Johanna” just is the vision of what is permanent, worthwhile, lasting, and transcending time even while giving meaning to it. This is not to say that Johanna is simply an abstract idea, since poetry (and literature in general) transcends the difference between the concrete and the abstract. Othello is not less of a concrete individual for being all jealous men; and all characters do not cease to be real individuals – and can even seem as more perfect individuals – when they are written as types (in this sense, poetry is more divine than philosophy since God must be understood as both abstract and concrete.)


Aint it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet?

We sit here stranded, though we all do our best to deny it.

And Louise holds a handful of rain, tempting you to defy it.

Lights flicker from the opposite loft;

In this room, the heat pipes just cough

The country music station plays soft, but there’s nothing, really nothing, to turn off.

Just Louise, and her lover so entwined.

And these visions of Johanna, that conquer my mind.

The poem open with the night playing tricks on us, that is, we are in the presence of something fearful, and threatening  or at least a source of worry that breaks over us. The next line makes it clear that the fearful thing is something we are confronting in a moment of honesty: we’re all doing our best to deny it. The terror or worry is arises from the night breaking through a lie that we are living during the day, namely we’re stranded. Now one only becomes stranded on the course of journey: there is somewhere we are trying to go or at least should be going, but we were stranded along the way. There is somewhere we ought to be going (one can’t be stranded without a fixed goal), but the means we took couldn’t get us there. Our desires, in other words, were to some good end but the means we took were not the sort that could deliver the goods. The opening thus strikes the same note as the Divine Comedy: “midway on our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood, the right road lost”. The reason for being lost is given in the next line, Louise holds a handful of rain, tempting you to defy it. Rain is fertility, and given the character of Louise throughout the poem, the sense seems to be that Louise (though remaining a concrete character) is carnality or promiscuity that we’ve become wrapped up in and unable to distance ourselves from.

The following three lines describe a world of background noises, where there is nothing outside of Louise and her lover so entwined.  The introduction ends with his admitting that the vision of Johanna conquered his mind – that is, it invaded him and he fought against it. He did not want to come to realize that he was stranded in a world of mechanical background noise, where the only action was sex, which Louise uses to hold you right where you are.


The angelic mind as practical and moral

Following Augustine, St. Thomas claims that forms flow from the divine mind in two ways: on the one hand into entitative existence, on the other hand into the intellect of the angels (and given that bodiless things cannot not know by abstracting, it’s hard to see what other account one could give). But in flowing into the angels, they are received not only as speculative but also as practical, not only as science but also as moral. In this sense the angel constitutes and becomes involved in the entitative nature of things from  within so far as this existence is the terminus of a practical or moral action.

At the bare minimum, this saves us from the ultimately fantastic idea that the angelic custody of the world consists in their flying after things and pushing them around, but we need a better account of what this action consists in. What does the essence of things around us consist in given that the things around us trace back to the divine mind through the mediation of other practical intellects?

And yes, since this is a statement about the angelic nature, it is true both of the good angels and the demons.

Pro-life notes

-As a matter of policy, it’s easier to explain the choices one thinks shouldn’t exist than the lives one thinks shouldn’t exist.

-In one sense, all sides agree that it is getting rid of a person: a woman’s career would not be intolerably inconvenienced by having to deal with a mere pet.

-Neither a pet nor a benign tumor can give that tremor of realization that, given the state we are in, everything is different now.

-The upshot is that even if the entities aborted are not persons, in killing them we are still acting to eliminate a concrete individual. We are no longer doing what contraception or even abstinence does: trying to avoid conception in general or a baby in general. Now we are avoiding an entity with a fixed birthday. It may not be a person now, but if this is the case then you are not trying to strike out what it is now.

-I remember in the ’80’s that getting an abortion could be dramatic and even funny: cf. Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Airplane!  The humor died early on, and now most of the drama is from characters who find a way to avoid abortion. True, we have come to see the act as “tragic”, but it is a peculiar sort of tragedy that cannot make the protagonist pitiable or able to evoke sympathy from the audience. All the same, we wouldn’t use abortion as a tool to make us dislike an antagonist either.

-Pregnancy is now seen as intrinsically alienating in sexual relationships, since the flip-side of total autonomy and independence is being totally on ones own. The very act that builds society is so autonomous that it isolates from all society. A woman who was a day before in a relationship, a part of a family, or a girl among a circle of friends, all of a sudden finds out she is pregnant and the whole stage goes dark, leaving her alone in a single spotlight. 

The proper object of the human mind

When Thomists and other scholastics say that the proper object of the human mind is being concretized in the sensible, or the illuminated/abstracted phantasm, “proper object of the human mind” means “an object peculiar to the human mind”. The claim is that neither apes nor angels have ever seen being concretized in the sensible, or, if you like, the only time an angel has ever seen such a thing is when he was considering the immanent action of a human being. His awareness of such an object is entirely mediated by a consideration of the human mind – there is no immediate awareness of the object we spontaneously and immediately perceive. Even a divine nature has no immediate awareness of an illuminated sensible object, because apart from a human mind there is no such thing.

Notice that proper object is not the same thing as an object one is restricted to, or, even if one does take it this way, “proper object” is taken as located between limits of pure intellection and pure sensibility, and so one who speaks of a proper object is also able to speak of points of contact with higher and lower sorts of knowledge.  The contours of the proper object can only be given by the negative space of pure intellection and pure sensibility. While it’s clear to us that we can only understand an angelic object by negation or eminence, it is also true that to understand the conscious objects of non-human animals also requires negation and the emptying of something eminent from its object. Animals might, for all I know, see “brown”, and an analysis of some of their eye structures would seem to support this, but there is no evidence for (and nothing but evidence against) that they have ever seen a brown thing, or the thing called brown. Human beings all see some supporting reality “behind” or “underneath” brown, whether it is an Aristotelian or Nominalist substance, a Platonic idea, a Berkelian  or Idealist mind, a Pythagorean/ Galilean geometry-number, a positivist fact, etc. (The Buddhist sunyata or sense that “nothingness” is what is behind all things is still at least logically the same as those ideas that put positive reality behind the sensible. Does anyone think that rats, or even apes, could see sunyata?)  Even if one defined a thing in a functionalist or pragmatist manner, to be either of these is to take some fact about things on principle, and mere functional action is not the same thing as being functionalist on principle.

The world of sensible things is something only we can experience from within. We are in continual danger of collapsing the “sensible” into  “thing” (that is, into the reality “behind” or “underneath” it, a reality that includes even “emptiness”) and the thing into the sensible.

220 years on (pt III)

The mottoes of the United States are annuit coeptis  and Novus ordo Saeculorum. That is, “[God] approves of [our]undertakings” and “A new order of the ages”. The two are connected: the very new order of the ages is one in which God’s action in politics is only to look on with approval.   But God does not set up our institutions or give us laws, nor does any representative of the civil religion ask him what he wants. God does not take an active role in the system, whether (to put it charitably) ensuring that a king will always be born of a king, ready to rule others Dei gratia or (to put it as Jefferson did) ensuring that some men are born with saddles on their backs, and others born booted and spurred, ready to ride them by the grace of God.

Although in the New Order God does not act or arrange political affairs his approval is still necessary. God may not do more than approve, but he cannot do less either. God must be invoked in a civil religion- we are, in fact, very reticent to elect the irreligious.

If you search the word “God” through this speech given today you can see many of the aspects of the civic religion.

220 years on, (pt. II)

Sutherland points out that the accounts of the death of Louis XVI and even the contemporary paintings sanitize it, probably because they are unable to understand what really happened. In actual fact, after beheading the king the executioner began throwing his blood from the scaffolding on the crowd, and the crowd itself rushed the scaffolding to dip handkerchiefs in the blood of the king.  This was a Catholic culture and crowd, and any Catholic can see what they are doing: making a sacramental covenant. The goal (as always) was that the covenant be written on the heart, and to the extent that we believe no man is a king (or that “all men are created equal”), the goal was achieved. Americans achieved this same thing without Kangaroo courts, sacramental symbolism, or a reign of terror, but the thing written on the heart is the same.

220 years on

Though the belief is still common enough, very few persons are (cosmological) deists, believing that though God exists he simply created the universe and left it to itself. But all Americans political deists: those on the right are so in a theoretical and even devout way and those on the (new) left are so in a garbled way. God gives us our rights  and then he leaves us to govern ourselves. There is no continuous involvement of the deity to give us kings or a system of laws.

Kings and queens and

Norman Cantor argues that, for 5000 years, the typical mode of governance was by god-kings. By “god-king” he means a ruler that is not simply a monarch, but a monarch seen in what Catholics might call a sacramental light, sc. as God’s representative among human beings. He was not a citizen who was  elevated to executive office, but rather a person on whom divine favor had descended or who in one way or another was seen as descending to the people to rule them. A king is not just a prime minister or president with a crown, and the fact that a king could be born into his office was not seen as election by chance. Nature itself was bringing forth the one who was fit to rule. Cantor says this run of god-kings lasted “until the end of the eighteenth century”, although this was probably just because he didn’t want to labor the precision we can give to the moment when the Monarchies ended: January 21, 1793, 10:20 AM, with the execution of Louis XVI. 220 years ago tomorrow.

Within the overall 5000 year run of god-kings, France had been ruled by them for a thousand years by the time they killed Louis, and given that this was only 220 years ago it’s not clear that any of us have had the time to adjust to the change yet. If one crushes five millenia down to a single year, our 220 years since the end of god-kings only puts the end of that year about two weeks ago. I doubt we’ve had enough time to figure out if the change is going to last. But it seems permanent: who can imagine himself giving obeisance to a king? Who could believe that birth could give one a just claim to political primacy? I don’t know anyone who looks at persons or at birth in that way.

“All men are created equal” is more controversial than it sounds. The negative way of saying the same thing is “No man is a king” – at least no man is a king by right. The divine favor does not descend on one man, who in turn descends to his people to rule them. That said, we also curiously see our own political order as divine: we are created equal and endowed by the Creator with inalienable (and thus divine) rights. So maybe we actually believe every man’s a king. But it’s just this sort of problem that leaves it as an open question whether this state of affairs can continue. To say that God chooses a king to rule at least gives us a given political structure and rule that we can say is God-ordained, but to make God create all men equal does not. The responsibility for the political structure depends on human beings in a way that it did not before, and this early on one can’t be sure that we’re up for it.

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