A Defense of Free Speech

Into blind darkness enter they that worship ignorance; into darkness greater than that, as it were, they that delight in knowledge (Isa Upanishad).

On March 20th, 2018, Faith Goldy was going to give a presentation at Wilfrid Laurier Universities’ Paul Martin Center.

LSOI (Laurier’s Society for Open Inquiry), the group hosting the event, claims that they invited five professors to challenge her views, but that none of them accepted. Thus, the debate was turned into a presentation.

Yet, before Goldy could give her controversial presentation the fire alarm was pulled. With the sound of alarms, Goldy left the campus and adjourned to the adjacent Veteran’s Green Park with her audience.

LSOI promised that they would invite Goldy back for a second appearance. 

This promise underscores the need to make a definitive judgement as to whether the WLU should allow Faith Goldy, and others like her, to be able to speak on campus.

I argue that it is in the interest of the school to rule in favor of allowing the speaker to return and give her presentation uninterrupted.

The university should allow the presentation because otherwise they may fall prey to dogmatism, the regulation of speech may lead to inequities, and free speech is in the interest of the marginalized groups they seek to protect.

Before diving into the ethics, I wish to discuss Faith Goldy’s position. She describes Euro-Canadians as the “native people” of Canada. She proposes a solution to stop the “ethnocide of the White race” and save European Canadian Identity.

One of her claims is that “High IQ Chinese are taking over the class rooms,” and that universities should do the opposite of affirmative action to Asian applicants, i.e. select against them in the admission process.

Commonly accused of being a “white supremacist” she counters that the reason for her measures are the opposite of white supremacy. She does not think that White people are the smarter superior race, on the contrary, it is because Asians, Jews and Indians are smarter “races” she takes her discriminatory stance.

This discriminatory stance is to “save” White people from becoming subservient to new “masters.” Also, she adopts what many would call an anti-Semitic stance.

Goldy says, “the first time we got an immigrant over-class was in 1881 with the great wave of Ashkenazi Jews” (who are “literally the smartest race on the planet”) came to Canada.

But wait, there’s more.

I want to make it clear that these are Faith Goldy’s views and not my own. It would be deceitful and unjust to omit these views to reader when discussing this controversy, especially when I seek to defend her presence here at WLU. For my own part, I abhor this line reasoning.

But, this article is not about what I think of Faith Goldy, it is about the effects that come with regulation of free speech.

The first reason why the university should allow freedom of speech is because it negates a slippery slope into dogmatism.

Universities are meant to be the anvil of new ideas, paradigm shifts, and revolutionary ways of thinking. When institutions regulate the speech of their constituencies, they tend to build their own echo chamber.

The fallout of this policy is that it creates a continuous cycle of reinforcing the status quo. As John Stuart Mill points out, dogmatism presupposes one’s own righteous stance on an issue.

Historically, it is hard for intellectuals to claim any level of infallibility in regard to evaluating “Nazi” points of view. In fact, people forget that the original Nazis were part the university intellectuals of their day.

The Einsatzgruppen were swarmed with highly educated members. Dr. Ohlendorf, one of the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen even had two PHD’s.

Intellectuals may be wise, but they’re not infallible. As long as that is the case they can never justify dogmatic policies for what are often grey areas.

Even if they are correct about Faith Goldy, who is to say they will continue to give correct evaluations of the speakers after her? Dogmatism is avoided completely when one ceases to regulate speech.

The second reason why universities should allow controversial speakers to discuss is because they may have a few good points to make, even if they are racist bigots.

There is always the possibility of a “diamond in the rough” when it comes to notorious orators regardless as to whether they are racists.

For example, many of the pro-slavery arguments that came from South of the United States were despicable. But even these Southerners made some good points that the US Northerners were afraid to confront.

The pro-Slavers contrasted the well-being of their slaves with the wretched lives of black factory workers in of the North.

Pro-Slavers might have been dead wrong about everything else, but they made great point when they showed that the horrors of industrial capitalism for blacks were not that far off from the conditions of a Southern slave.

If the North seriously confronted that statement, they might not have waited till the 1960’s (over 100 years later) to initiate social programs against poverty.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. That saying might be true for Goldy and other controversial speakers after her.

The third reason why controversial speakers like Goldy should be allowed to speak is because the violation of rights such as free speech endanger the public good in the long run.

Politics can be unpredictable.

You might have a party in power who “justly” silences the “unjust.” But what happens when power changes hands?

After initial censorship, that the silencing of others has been normalized, so now who is going to stop the misusing of that power?

The forth reason why free speech should be allowed is because it dissolves hate speech in the long run.

Dialogue is the crucible of changing thought. The best way to destroy hate speech is by argument, reason, and public discourse.

John Stuart Mill points out how if we do not fearlessly discuss truth then it loses its lively quality and becomes a dead dogma.

Speech is more then just fact and fiction, communication is the fabric that holds our societal consensus together. If we cease to be engaged in grappling with what we believe in as a society, then we might forget why we believe in the values we profess.

As time passes and truths become unquestioned, we forget over the generations why we believe them.

Members of our community begin to stray ideologically from the truths we have established in the past. Free speech is how we recover those members who have been lead astray.

For example, take Harvey Milk’s famous Hope Speech in 1977. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay congressman in the USA. He was a civil rights leader for the gay community.

After years of toil, abuse, and violence the gay community questioned the continued protest as opposed to going back in the closet.

In his Hope Speech, Harvey encouraged them to hang on to hope. Here, he extended his sympathy to the hardships of the gay community.

But at the same time, he utilized the power of free speech when he told them “unless you have dialogue, unless you open the walls of dialogue, you can never reach to change people’s opinion.” 

Far from telling the LGTBQ+ community to remain silent, he told them to speak out.

He advised them all to come out of the closet, so that they could show the world that they were not pedophiles or a sexual menace, but that they were people like anybody else.

Free speech may seem like it is against the wishes of the marginalized, but, it is their most powerful weapon. Can we really afford to take that away because some members of the population feel offended and unsafe?

The whole point of a PRIDE parade was to offend the sensitive conservative onlooker. The flamboyant display was meant to be an act of provocation to the members of society who preferred that gays remain behind closed doors.

The idea was to be proud instead of being ashamed.

Once upon a time, it was the LGBTQ+ community who were seen as the dangerous misfits who made the world unsafe for society.

John Stuart Mill and Milk were right. They knew that free speech led to ideological cohesion, not fragmented hate. Truth brings people together more than it drives them apart.

Free speech allows for the hateful to be confronted.

When it is illegal to express ones hate in public then one keeps it a secret. When this happens, hate is preserved behind closed doors and whispered behind the backs of future victims.

The hateful do not change their minds just because we make it illegal for them to hold a hateful stance. Instead they simply go on unopposed.

For example, if I was a racist and the school made it illegal for me to express my racist views, then I would never bring it up in public.

My hateful opinion would go unchallenged and I would simply become a secret racist who went around committing quiet acts of racism.

If I am allowed to express myself, then I increase the chance that others will confront my views. This increases the possibility of swaying hatful people through dialogue to reasonable positions.

The worse thing we could do is let hate to speak out unchallenged. When society failed to mobilize an ideological counter to Faith Goldy, we missed our chance to shed light on the darkness of her thoughts.

I’m not saying we would change her mind, but we might have changed the minds of audience members grappling with these demons.

I concede that there are times when one should break the law to do what’s right. I sympathize with the person who pulled the fire alarm on that day. But was this person really doing what was best for society by pulling the fire alarm?

I do not think so.

I argue that allowing free speech was the right thing to do, not shutting down dialogue. Because a true conscientious objector breaks the law for the good of society, and this person did more harm than good, thus I deny labeling them as a true conscientious objector.

I would not be surprised if they thought that they were doing the right thing, but they were misled.

These are the reasons why I think Wilfrid Laurier University should allow Faith Goldy to speak again upon her return.

It’s not because I agree with her views. On the contrary, I think they are horrible. But if we regulate free speech we fall into the greater darkness of dogmatism. Intellectuals are smart, but they are far from infallible.

Free speech may take a while to prove its worth, but in the long run it becomes the safe guard of the marginalized. It is the arguably the most powerful tool for keeping society engaged and on the same page.

Furthermore, it is our obligation as citizens to take on these speakers. We should not support these horrible views, rather we owe it to the marginalized to stand up on their behalf by debating these orators.

More importantly, we owe it to members of the community who are struggling with these ideas and those who have been blinded by them. Since Socrates, our task has been to take people out of the cave of illusory shadows and show them the light (even if they make us drink hemlock for doing so).


The photo shows, “What Freedom!” by Ilya Repin, painted in 1903.

True Westerners Aren’t Racists

The soul of the West is Christianity – an ideology that is incompatible with racism.

The term racism is like a coin that is so worn down by “the Left” that it has lost its face and become shear metal. But what does it mean?

A racist is someone who believes that a human being’s ideology and behavior is derived primarily from the genetic code of that human being. This idea isn’t that bad, but the racist adds a dangerous corollary.

The racist believes that the natures of human beings are or so radically diverse that they are irreconcilable – i.e. “They, and their children, are so fundamentally different from us that they will never be reconciled with the blood of ‘our’ people.”

This is the true racist.

From this Pandora’s box, we get Nazism, KKK, and every other form of extended tribalism.

Then the question is raised “Who among us is the superior race?” – suddenly everyone raises their hand, and pride goeth before the fall.

Racism, like all ideologies of hate, requires the participation of the oppressed as well as their oppressors.

Enslavement ensues, and chained limbs lead to shackled minds as the subjugated dance to the tune of their oppressors.

They too begin to adopt the devilish maxim “They, and their children, are so fundamentally different from us that they will never be reconciled with the blood of ‘our’ people.”

The only sight worse than a soul haunted by hatred is a soul who has hopes in hatred.

The same stones that laid the foundations of suppression are cast back by the ruins of former slaves.

These practices are incompatible with the belief that love conquers all.

There has been increasing talk about “Western civilization” and what it means to be a “European,” but does anybody even know what that means?

What is it that differentiates the Western world? What is so unique about European civilization?

Here’s a hint – it wasn’t racism. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

What is the West? Christianity is the hallmark of Western civilization, the ultimate climax of Hellenic and Judaic thought, and it is inherently anti-racist.

Racism isn’t new, and we have dealt with it before. The ancient world was fluid with movements. We have known for sometime that the people a few a villages over act quite differently then we do.

Racism goes hand in hand with Tribalism. A group of families makes a clan, and a group of clans make a tribe.

Tribalism is based on blood-rights, Nepotism, blood-feuds, and other racist practices.

The Hebrews moved away from this foolishness.

The Christians were reared in a tradition of honoring the blood of the Covenant over the water of the womb. They treated strangers kindly because Jews saw themselves as former strangers.

When Christ was with his disciples, he was told that his mother and brother were waiting for him outside. He responds with the claim that those who follow God are his mother and brothers.

Ever wonder why Christian call each other familial titles? Why do they say things like Brother John, Mother Teresa, Sister Margret, and Father Christopher?

There was a debate in the early Church whether Jews should allow Gentiles to become Christians.

At first Peter said “No” and Paul said “Yes.” Spoiler alert! Paul won.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ, Jesus.”

To the true Westerner, racism is heresy of the highest order.

But, this is not to say that we should all adopt a” multiculturalist” society where we all believe that no set of ideas is better or worse than any other set of ideas.

On the contrary, Westerners should reject bad cultural practices (like racism), but they shouldn’t fear others based on genetics (or else they become racists).

Nobody should care if the stranger changes the colour “your people’s” skin, but they should care if the stranger changes the colour of “your people’s” hearts.

So, when these morons “thinkers” preach that the only way to save European civilization is to spare its genome, they’ve already forsaken the European identity they sought to protect.

The genes that determine the color of our skin are a plastic aspect of our evolution. The genes that allow us to love (i.e. allow us to know God) are conserved, written in our hearts.

The photo shows, “In the Sunlight,” by Konstantin Makovsky, painted in the 1880s.

Lenin: Master Of Terror

When we think of the Soviet Union, we mostly think of it as a fully realized totalitarian state. We think of Stalin, of World War II and of the Cold War. Lenin is a shadowy figure to most of us, usually lumped in with the chaos that preceded and surrounded the Russian Revolution.

As a result, biographies of Stalin and histories of the Cold War are a dime a dozen, but there are few objective biographies of Lenin. Lenin, though, was the true author of Soviet totalitarianism, and, more importantly, he, and he alone, was the indispensable man to the creation of Communism as a realized state, even if he did not live to see it.

His life, therefore, is important, in that it illuminates history, and also in that it provides, in some ways, an instruction book for those seeking change today.

You would think I, at least, would know more about Lenin that I do. My father was a professor of Russian history, my mother’s family fled Communist domination in 1945, and I grew up through the ending stages of the Cold War.

But really, until I read this book, by Victor Sebestyen, I knew very little, other than that Lenin was the fulcrum around which Communism turned from a mere extremist ideology of babblers and dreamers to an iron hand that nearly crushed the world. (And also that his body was, oddly, still embalmed and on display twenty-five years after Communism itself died.)

Sebestyen’s book does an excellent job of covering Lenin’s life, in highly readable prose and without getting too bogged down in details. This book also has the advantage of being written after many archives were opened following the fall of Communism.

Although those archives didn’t change the major outlines of Lenin’s life and career, Sebestyen adds quite a bit of personal flavor about Lenin that was missing until those archives became available, especially regarding his irregular relationship with his quasi-mistress, Inessa Armand.

I find myself finding Lenin strangely attractive, in these latter days, when everything old is new again. Not his goals, which are silly and pernicious, or his fanatical devotion to an ideology, which, no matter the ideology, is always a mistake.

But his discipline and his methods of acquiring power show a purity and consistency of purpose which is totally lacking among conservatives today, who instead spend their days on the disorganized defensive, and he always demonstrated a grasp of reality which is totally lacking among progressives today. (Lenin also loathed modern art, and always dressed nattily, both to his credit).

I don’t think I’ll be putting up a portrait of Lenin anytime soon, or ever, but after reading this book, I am beginning to think his personality and methods will reward close study (although, as with Milton’s Satan, one must be on his guard not to be seduced).

Pre-Revolutionary Russia seems very far away from us. Poor, corrupt, and intensely authoritarian, wracked by violence on a scale incomprehensible to us (tens of thousands of government officials were assassinated in the last few years of the Romanovs’ rule, and then there was the whole World War I thing), it is difficult at first to see many parallels to our time.

Still, there are more than a few, and even where there are no parallels, there may still be lessons. Sebestyen agrees, citing the loss, then as now, of “confidence in much of the West in the democratic process itself,” “Lenin would very probably have regarded the world of 2017 as being on the cusp of a revolutionary moment. . . .

The phrases ‘global elite’, and ‘the 1 per cent’ are now used in a decidedly Leninist way. It is unlikely that Lenin’s solutions will be adopted anywhere again. But his questions are constantly being asked today, and may be answered by equally bloody methods.”

Lenin (that is, Vladimir Ulyanov, his real name) was born in 1870 and died in 1924, at only 53. He was born in Simbirsk, a sleepy provincial town, to bourgeois parents—his father was a successful civil servant in the education ministry, a moderate liberal whose attempts at education reform were largely frustrated by the 1881 accession of Alexander III (whose more lenient predecessor was assassinated).

Lenin’s father died in in 1886, when Lenin was only 16, and the following year, his brilliant and idolized older brother, Sasha, was hanged for his role in an assassination plot against the new Tsar. This, along with the social isolation that descended as a result on the family, gave Lenin a lifelong hatred of the Tsars and the bourgeois, before he became a Marxist ideologue.

I suppose this is yet another example of how personal events often shape great men, from Alexander Hamilton’s illegitimate birth on Nevis to Donald Trump’s poverty-wracked upbringing in Appalachia.

Lenin’s education was somewhat irregular, since he was denied the usual university placements due to his brother’s politics, and due to his own, which quickly became radical, although he was not a leader of any groups at this time.

Still, he managed to become highly educated, while being formed by books like Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done?, a strident work of fiction about an iron-willed revolutionary, which Sebestyen says is nearly unreadable today but which greatly affected Lenin, who consciously modelled himself on the book’s hero.

Not that he completely ignored pleasures—his greatest was nature, especially walks in nature. (It is strange in these days of constant connectivity to read how Lenin, even at busy and critical times in his life, would take multi-week vacations in the country, doing nothing and being functionally unreachable by other Bolsheviks).

Naturally, he practiced as a lawyer for some time (successfully getting the necessary certificate of loyalty and good character from the Okhrana, the cruel but buffoonish Tsarist secret police, in 1891), but quickly became a full-time Communist agitator, a job he kept for the rest of his life.

Unlike most cult leaders, Lenin lacked interest in vices of the flesh. He was not corruptible by money, women, or, really, power. He didn’t smoke or party. His forte was discipline and focus. No doubt connected to this, from the beginning Lenin betrayed zero human sympathy beyond his immediate family circle.

In 1892 he opposed famine relief in the Volga, because the famine was desirable to show that capitalism was incompetent and dying—never mind that thousands of peasants were dying too. This well illustrates ones of Lenin’s guiding principles, that “Our morality is new, our humanity is absolute, for it rests on the ideal of destroying all oppression and coercion.”

As Ryszard Legutko has pointed out, there is a very significant overlap of theory and practice among so called “liberal democracy” and Communism, and one reason Communists were never punished is that the “liberal democrats” currently in control of most of the West had much more sympathy for Communism than for traditional currents of thought.

More broadly, across the West today, any action, however damaging to real human beings, is justified by the Left by a call to “emancipation,” identical to Lenin’s, with the same disregard for actual people. Certainly, the Left would love to take advantage of a famine or any human disaster even now, if it could be tied to increased emancipation.

Their disinterest in the epidemics of opioid addiction, dependency, and despair afflicting the deplorable, Trump-voting white lower classes is evidence enough of that. If they could cause a famine among those people, they would, and laugh.

Much of the book is taken up with narration of Lenin’s combat with other elements of the Left, tied to a never-ending whirl of conspiratorial international meetings, avoidance of arrest by various police forces, struggles for control of newspapers, and hard work to smuggle into Russia and distribute those newspapers.

Those newspapers had a great effect within Russia and gave the Bolsheviks much of the power they accumulated. Such media not only sways opinion, but can create opinion from whole cloth, and also provide readers with a sense of comradeship and non-isolation, which is why today’s Left so aggressively and increasingly censors conservatives online.

Naturally, Lenin was eventually arrested, and as was usual under the Tsars, merely sentenced to a few years of internal exile, which he used to study hard.

As Sebestyen notes, “The Tsarist penal regime was far more benign for political prisoners than it would be in later years under the Soviets, where torture and summary execution were the norm.” (Not that it was all fun and games—plenty of people died as a result under the Tsars, especially those exiled to less salubrious places than Lenin was).

Eventually Lenin left Russia, moving to Germany, then England, then Switzerland, all the while continuing revolutionary activities. He worked incessantly, primarily on writing, both journalism and books.

As always, he stayed focused. Most of all, he consistently offered a simple message of “optimism and hope. He told his followers that they could change the world in the here and now, if they followed a set of essentially easy-to-comprehend steps and believed in a few fairly straightforward propositions.”

Along the way Lenin collected various followers and allies (most of whom he later broke with), from Leon Trotsky to Grigory Zinoviev. Sebestyen covers all this with verve, adding bits and pieces of interesting information. For example, I did not know that that suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, lionized today, was a Communist, and a vicious one at that.

And, then, came Lenin’s moment, created by World War I and the incompetence of Nicholas II (whom Sebestyen regards with very strong distaste for his ineptitude).

The economic collapse and dissatisfaction of the masses of peasant soldiers created the conditions without which the Bolsheviks would never have had the chance to grasp power (not that the soldiers had any interest whatsoever in Bolshevism—what they wanted was “anarchistic freedom,” and Lenin had that on offer, or so it appeared).

But they, in the person of Lenin, did have that chance, and they grasped it. Not to overthrow the Tsar, as many ill-informed people think, but to overthrow the democratic successor government, in a coup vividly covered by Sebestyen, which succeeded even though its imminence was the worst-kept secret in Russia and it was incompetently executed.

It is a commonplace that the Kerensky government was run by fools, and that is very evident in the account given here. They responded, when the British offered to stop Lenin from returning on the “sealed train” provided by the Germans, that since Russia’s new government “rested on a democratic foundation . . . . Lenin’s group should be allowed to enter.”

And rather than seizing Lenin when he arrived, killing him and throwing his body into a canal, as had been done with Rasputin and should have been done with him, they dithered. They did not know their enemy. This is not surprising, though.

As history repeatedly shows, the vast majority of those who are threatened by bad people in any way, rather than meeting the threat with action, prefer to retreat into half-, or quarter-, measures, or into fantastical hopes that somehow they will be rescued by an external agency.

As Benjamin Franklin, and not the Bible, said, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” But helping themselves is something people usually find hard to do.

My main interests in Lenin are two, although they are closely related. My first interest is that Lenin shows us how the Left always thinks and operates, then and now, since Lenin first established the template for successful Left dominance.

Therefore, studying Lenin has tactical value in the wars to come. We can closely examine how and why this is so through a particular ideological obsession of the modern Left, which this week has yet again raised its ugly head—gun control. (It is also an obsession of the past Left—one of the Bolsheviks’ first edicts was to confiscate all privately held guns, under penalty of summary execution for failure to comply, something that the odious Shannon Watts and Michael Bloomberg would, if they were being honest, doubtless completely endorse).

For the Left, gun control is justified not by its demonstrated, or even possible, benefits to society (though laughable claims along those lines are mouthed for propaganda purposes). Rather, it is justified by its purposes, which are to ensure that the ruled know that they are ruled, to ensure they continue to be ruled, and to signal to the rulers, the Left classes, their supposed moral superiority.

Gun control is not a policy choice; it is the opium of narcissistic tyrants.
So, to take one example of Left tactics, Lenin continuously used violent language which, in his own words, was “calculated to evoke hatred, aversion, contempt . . . not to convince, not to correct the mistakes of the opponent, but to destroy him, to wipe him and his organization off the face of the earth.”

Or, as Sebestyen characterizes it, “Communist Parties everywhere, even following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, learned that it made sense to play the man, not the ball—and how to do it with ruthless efficiency.”

But Sebestyen is wrong—it’s not Communist Parties, it’s also the entire progressive Left, and has been since Lenin (whose broad program they have always supported). These tactics of “hatred, aversion, contempt” continue to be on full gruesome display at this very moment in the disgusting, hate-filled propaganda campaign being waged by the Left (who totally control the news-setting media, and thus the narrative, by deciding what constitutes “news”), to demand mass gun confiscation, in response to school shootings that occur largely because of their social policies.

The good news, I suppose, is that Lenin was using a new tactic, successful largely because nobody knew how to respond to such tactics—either his Left opponents, whom he steamrolled, or his Right opponents. We do know how, and that’s to hit back twice as hard.

We just have trouble executing the right tactics, because the Republicans are run by weak men who are happy to bow and scrape to their betters as long as they are thrown a few crumbs and invited occasionally to the right parties.

To take a second example, during a 1922 famine, “Lenin deliberately used the famine as an excuse to launch an assault on the clergy [to seize liturgical vessels and other metals]. . . . ‘We must seize the valuables now speedily; we will be unable to do so later because no other moment except that of desperate hunger will give us support among the masses.’ ”

This use of unrelated, manufactured or fictional crises as the moment of action, whether because the masses are desperately occupied with their own concerns (as Rahm Emanuel famously openly admitted under Obama) or in order to propagandize the masses by manipulating irrational and immature emotions (as with gun control) is also a universal tactic of the Left, also largely invented by Lenin.

Its modern counter is less obvious than the counter to violence in language and action, and probably requires structuring and maintaining permanent and binding organizational brakes on rapid legislative or executive action, the opposite of the “more democracy” constantly called for by the Left.
And to take a third, closely related but distinct, example, the Left does love themselves a good Reichstag fire.

The Bolsheviks used a 1918 assassination attempt on Lenin by a (non-Bolshevik) leftist as an excuse to eliminate opponents and generally consolidate their power through a wave of mass terror.

With gun control, the exact same tactic is used—not by killing opponents, or not yet, but by suspending all normal processes of republican debate and decision-making, demanding that “something must be done”—naturally, something that aligns perfectly with their pre-existing ideological goals and plans, no possible deviation from which can be discussed, much less implemented, and which must be implemented immediately, though no reason for the urgency is given, or can be given, other than the need to impose their desires on the rest of the nation.

The classic example of this is the repeated use in state legislatures of “emergency” procedures to pass gun control measures after a shooting, formally eliminating any debate or public input, and demands for similar action at the federal level.

So far, so generic, really. The modern Left is unscrupulous and often evil, no doubt, but this is not news, and I am being repetitive, if you look at other writings of mine. More interesting, I think, is my second interest in Lenin—as a model for how a reactionary movement might acquire power in America.

By definition, nearly, a reactionary movement contemplates a formal concentration and reallocation of power, rather than a formal diffusion, as some conservatives would have it.

That is, if the Enlightenment project of ever greater autonomy and atomization is defective, and as part of that project the Left has consistently advanced their goal of concentrating power to themselves while pretending to increase democracy (that is, allowing democracy as long as it reaches the correct conclusions), breaking both the Left concentration of power and the forms of sprawling, ever-expanding democracy is necessary to remake the political system.

Presumably this would involve some form of restricted franchise and a return to a mixed form of government (e.g., returning to the Senate being elected by state legislatures), but the details do not matter here. We can simply call it the “Program,” for now. The question is, how is the Program to be accomplished? And here Lenin is instructive.

I don’t mean Lenin in the substance of his ideas, essentially 100% of which were pernicious, and the vast majority of which were outright evil. Nor do I mean Lenin in the substance of his implementation, which, flowing from his ideas, necessarily implied and required terror and mass murder.

Rather, I mean Lenin in his efforts to gain power so that he could implement his program, which is just about 180 degrees from the Program.

So, how is Lenin instructive? Here, a few thoughts. Lenin thought long term, but with an eye to the main chance, which he took when he got it, unlike most men in his position, who would have dithered. “There are decades when nothing happens—and there are weeks when decades happen.” “Timing is all.”

But without his discipline and focus, he would have had no chance at all, willingness to risk everything or not. And, while an ideologue, he was willing to be flexible in his interpretation of theory, rather than getting bogged down in debating ideological purity (as Communist splinter groups, as well as conservatives, have always been prone to do, while the successful Bolsheviks, like today’s Left, paper over differences to achieve power).

All these practices allowed Lenin to seize opportunities created by chance the mistakes of his enemies. “We made the Bolsheviks masters of the situation,” said Sukhanov, an opponent of Lenin [on the Left]. “By leaving the [1917] Congress [of Soviets] we gave them a monopoly on the Soviets. Our own irrational decisions ensured Lenin’s victory.”

Yes, but only Lenin’s ability to take advantage made the Mensheviks’ mistakes matter.

These are all mental tactics. Practical tactics are just as important, and often just as difficult to execute. I mentioned newspapers, the media, above—not its control, which Lenin grasped as soon as he took power, but the earlier dissemination of ideas through media, both for their own contagion, and to buck up your allies.

Behind newspapers, behind organization, behind everything, though, is funding—obtaining, and keeping on obtaining, cold, hard, cash. Far more than other Left groups, the Bolsheviks were able to scoop up enormous amounts of money from a huge range of sources—not just the bank robberies famously conducted by Stalin, but from a mélange of non-radical liberals hoping to show their bona fides, cynical business magnates covering all the bases (they thought), and the German government.

According to Niall Ferguson, the Germans alone supplied Lenin with the modern equivalent of $800 million, in gold currency. The Program requires cash, not some mutterings on little-trafficked websites like this one, and principle only takes you so far. And, of course, the Program requires people, who are organized, both by the desire for common participation in a goal, and by that cash. Lenin excelled at all these practical tactics, and he was indefatigable.

How exactly to fit these tactics into the implementation of the Program I am working on, and will discuss in detail on another day. But certainly the tactics of today’s American conservatives bear no relation to Leninist tactics, which is to say, they bear no relation to the tactics necessary to break the autocracy of the Left. (This is doubtless why Steve Bannon referred to himself as a Leninist, or so it is said, which the ignorant took to mean that he was referring to himself as a Communist).

Continuing what we are doing will not result in anything but the continued domination of the Left over American life and culture, and the necessary degradation and diminution of America, and the West in general. Thus, I will offer a full solution, and it will not be ideological. But you will have to wait a while.

What I will not do is write persuasive arguments about policy. Not so long ago I regularly engaged the Left in discussion, primarily through Facebook (since the New York Times has not come knocking on my door). As far as gun control arguments go, I always decisively won every argument.

This is not because I am so awesome, but because gun control proponents, with zero exceptions, have no idea what they are talking about, and rely exclusively on shrill emotion, backed up by lies. I am off Facebook, for the most part, and totally off for Lent and Eastertide.

But today, in order to push back slightly against the organized flood of violent hatred directed at gun owners, I changed my profile picture to the NRA symbol. Two Left friends of mine immediately commented. What they said, I don’t know, except that one mumbled something about “blood money” (today’s meme, organized and distributed centrally to the drones like my friend).

I don’t know what they said because I deleted both comments without reading them. What profit to talk, since they are not interested in reasoning, but in moral preening and tyranny?

On many issues, such as guns, and perhaps on the most central social issue of all, how we shall be governed, the time for talking is over, on Facebook and elsewhere, with friends or with enemies. The time for action is here. The only question is how much chaos will result before the world is remade.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The photo shows, “In the Basement of the Cheka,” by Ivan Vladimirov, painted in 1919.

Is Marx Still Useful?

Although Marxist concepts have largely been ridden over by the march of capitalism, a process that Marx himself certainly did not foresee. However, this does not mean that capitalism is dominant because of inherent superiority. Marx’s Communist Manifesto is precisely important because of capitalism’s dominance – because it is the only system that can provide an effective critique of capitalism, as it exists today.

Capitalism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is certainly ubiquitous. Goods and services spread into all kinds of hidden nooks and crannies of society, where there is the slightest potential for profit. This is the grand beneficial attribute of capitalism, as we know it today.

However, capitalism as implemented in our times makes an unreasonable and unrealistic assumption – that economic prosperity requires constant expansion of the entire system (growth).

That is, more goods and services must be provided constantly to ever-growing markets, which require a constant population growth and/or the acquisition of buying power by people who never had it before. In order to keep the system growing, increasingly resources must be consumed to make the goods for the ever-growing markets and more and more energy must be expended to make them, to distribute them, and to collect and dispose of the waste.

It is the ever-expanding, ever-growing status inherent in capitalism that The Communist Manifesto actively seeks to analyze.

The analogy that immediately comes to mind is that of an aging star, whose ever-expanding propensity leads to a might implosion. Added to this effect is the role of leaders, which is continually cut down, where the desire is to see less government.

Therefore, there is an absence of political leaders (in politics and in economic infrastructures) that want to actively promote a policy that contradicts the ideology of perpetual growth.

The Communist Manifesto begins its critique at very center of the capitalist system – the worker, upon whose labor the entire system depends. Thus, the class struggle assumes a central position in the Marx’s work, where we read about the “doctrine of the conditions of liberation of the proletariat.”

This was a doctrine that sought to culminate in scientific evidence that the laws of history and the economy require development towards the expansion of capitalism and the victorious revolution of the working class against capital. It involves total divergence from ethical socialism.

Thus, The Communist Manifesto takes a striking and original stand: the future of mankind’s intellectual progress and the future of the proletariat were identical.

Intellectuals used to concern themselves with classical writers and with the great contemporary artists and scientists could now identify their cause with the cause of the working classes.

They could change the world, not just study it and comment on it. It is this notion of change that is so crucial to the Manifesto and makes the work so very relevant to our times, since capitalism always desires the status quo; change is the kiss of death for capitalism.

Further, the Manifesto sees through the liberal linguistic habits as curtains of mist that conceal the reality of capitalism. In fact, the whole of nature our society is certainly determined by the prevailing technology of consumption and production.

And yet, the great gap in our society is between those who own the technology (the capital) and those who work with it. Around this gap, the bulk of the classes form in our society: the bourgeoisie or middle class and the proletariat or working class. The family itself has become a reflection of this class society in which the man is the property-owning ruler and the woman, the property-less proletarian.

This notion still persists today, despite tendencies to the contrary. Consequently, the owners of technology become ever richer and more independent and the working class becomes ever poorer and more dependent. Thus, a class struggle ─ an omnipresent dynamic force in social life ─ is created.

As well, the Manifesto puts forward a scientific theory of production relations and class struggle. It predicts that the technology exploited by capitalism confers immense welfare on its owners, and that workers will turn against them when the time is ripe for them to rise in revolution.

Only after that revolution will the good society emerge. Marx is certainly right in his criticism of natural rights: rights are neither congenital nor eternal. Nor are they given finally in a social contract. Rights are taken, exercised and given in conflicts and negotiations, and confirmed, developed and undermined in legislation and customs.

The surest relevance of the Manifesto lies in its advancement of ethical socialism, which ultimately has converged with the dictates of capitalism. Therefore, private individuals can own companies, though preferably also work in them. Solidarity becomes vertical, applying to one’s own company: directors and engineers are counted as members of the workers’ collective.

But if ethical socialism had been given a chance of shaping the market economy, the more offensive aspects of capitalism (such as dismissals without notice and large-scale exclusion of many employees) and the least egalitarian aspects of capitalism (such as unearned incomes and positions of power that the capitalists can bequeath to children who do not perform productive work) would presumably never have evinced their present development.

Thus, in conclusion, we see that the Manifesto’s relevance lies in its change wrought upon present-day capitalism, in the shape of ethical socialism, whose catalogues of rights propounded by reform parties have constituted the most attractive elements.

In broad terms, one could say that the more the election campaigns and political exercise of power in the advanced industrial countries have been concerned with promises on rights, rather than with the hope of revolution, the more successful they have been among the voters.

The social science of our own day concedes that people sharing the same life situations develop common needs and values that may find expression, for example, in political demands.

These demands may very well be clad in a language that resembles ethical socialism’s catalogues of rights. Here, modern political sociology has a more subtle view than Marx had. There is much more political dynamite in ethical socialism than Marx thought.


The photo shows, “Train Platform,” by Hans Baluschek, painted ca. 1925. 

The Films Of Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky made seven full-length films, as well as a few short ones. His work full participates in the grand tradition of Russian film established by people such as Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin.

As such, Tarkovsky’s films have a character that is uniquely visionary, while imbued with history, especially evident in his epic “Andrei Rublev” which portrays the life of the famous monk and icon painter, who strives to create beauty in the harsh brutality of the Mongol invasion of Russia. Given his ability to use history, it is not surprising that Russian authorities saw his films as works of dissent. This led to great hostility to his work and inevitable censorship; and worst of all, neglect. He died in exile in Paris 1986.

Tarkovsky’s films also show a marked use of dream sequences that resonate with deep meaning, and serve as symbolic reference points for the entire film itself.

In one sense the dreams that these films present serve to subvert the entire construction of reality that is being portrayed; and this subversion is made evident by the juxtaposition of the dreams as the ideal, while the mundane is represented as brutal, cruel, and senseless.

As well, there is the important distinction to be made in the conflict that this juxtaposition raises, namely, the very Russianness of the dreams and the prevalence of western ideas in the mundane reality within which these dreams occur.

It is important to bear in mind that Russian culture is replete with this western/eastern conflict, wherein the identity of Russia itself is marked.

The question again and again asked is this – is Russia fundamentally eastern or western. Tarkovsky’s dream sequences in his films address this fundamental question. Thus, dreams in Tarkovsky’s film fulfill two notions: they are a representation of the ideal, and they address the issue of Russia’s identity.

The immediate impression that one receives while watching a Tarkovsky film is the manner in which the quintessential image of Russia is blended with a ready acceptance of everything that is western.

We are presented with actions, faces, words, suffering, and deprivation. This is the mundane aspect of any Tarkovsky film. Against this immediate backdrop is the dream, which in fact is really a memory, a recurrent nostalgia for a way of life that has long vanished, or perhaps never existed.

This is what makes these dream sequences ideal – in that they are mythic, and they partake in mythic structures, in that they present an often “heroic” hyper-reality, which functions as a commentary of the actual reality of the characters in the film.

This is especially evident in Tarkovsky’s early films, such as “Ivan’s Childhood,” and “Mirror,” where he explores the sustaining power of both nature and the Russian tradition.

It is also interesting to note that in these two early films this ideal setting is dominated by the figure of the mother. These films are idyllic pastorales that also expound the ideology of “Mother Russia:” the vast stretches of forests, simple peasants, and domed churches. Thus, dreams are an attempt to capture the lost moment, the perfect harmony that once existed, but is now vanished, and can only be captured in dreams.

This need to dream becomes essential to the verity of the film because there is only bleakness otherwise; and this bleakness is the result of love, either for another person or the land, that is, Mother Russia; and this love is a continual heartbreak.

There is an absurdity to this love, because this love can absorb pain and can also share out joy. In “Ivan’s Childhood” and “Mirror” we see this love being demonstrated in the mother figure that animates both these films with love, sacrifice, as well as vulnerability. Thus, dreams are feminine, just as Russia is seen as the “motherland” rather than the “fatherland.”

The same process is evident in “Solaris” where we meet Kris Kelvin’s mother, who properly has little relevance to the plot of the film, but represents the capacity to dream. It is important, therefore, to bear in mind that dreams are also catalytic – they allow for existence despite the harshness and the unyielding bleakness.

In effect, for Tarkovsky, dreams are akin to memories and reminiscences, and all three crowd his films, and serve as forces of coherence and order. Thus, dreams are also an attempt to bring order to chaos. It is chaos that pervades the characters lives in Tarkovsky’s films. When they dream they seek to fashion this chaos into a semblance of order; and that order is minutely married to the ideal and idyllic Mother Russia.

Dreams, then, become a commentary on the familiar by way of memory, which in turn is an idealized projection. Thus, there is a sense of otherness to the dreams in Tarkovsky’s films. This otherness inhabits the subconscious, which is often ignored, given the demands of daily reality.

However, Tarkovsky uses dreams to bring about self-realization and the possibility of authenticity. Dreams, in effect, bring wholeness and completeness, because they link the fragmented self with the wholeness of the past – and this past can only be ideal because it is complete.

Thus, the characters dream in order to become whole. Similarly, they also remember and hallucinate, which are no more than extended paradigms for the perfected, ideal dream world.

This contrast between reality and the dream leads to a film that does not have a linear plot, nor does a Tarkovsky film fulfill stereotypical expectations. Rather, his films are elliptical and often “intellectual” and are therefore often deemed as obscure.

This is best described by his method of making films in different languages, such as “Nostalgia,” which is partly in Italian, and “Sacrifice,” which is partly in Swedish. This use of different languages also mirrors the nature of dreams – because the mixing of languages follows a process similar to dreams.

Thus, Russian is placed within the context of Italian or Swedish, which is certainly a jarring experience. Similarly, a dream is placed with the context of mundane reality, with equally jarring consequences. What we perceive as normal is in fact informed by the unexpected and the unusual.

People speak Swedish or Italian in a Russian film because they trail a different set of values, cultures, and a different history. And on an individual level, dreams allow us to access different values and cultures, and even history.

Thus, the dissonance is not with the juxtaposition, but it is with the context – what we expect is not what we often get. And this is the jarring fact of modern life.

In effect, dreams become a commentary on modernity itself. Society, which should provide us with solace and comfort, in fact isolates us and therefore fragments us, so that we become little more than individuals who can only respond to what lies outside of us, rather than becoming controllers of our own lives.

It is this process of action and reaction, which is so much a definition of modern life, that Tarkovsky’s dream sequences seek to address and understand.

Given this penchant for using dreams in this way, it is easy to charge Tarkovsky with being too allegorical and perhaps too obscurely moody.

For example, we have the horses appearing at the beginning and the end of “Andrei Rublev; there is the ticker-tape sequence in the last cathedral scene in “Nostalgia;” or the scattering of paper at the end of “Ivan’s Childhood.”

These sequences are exactly what dreams are all about, or why Swedish and Italian are spoken in a Russian film. They are part of the dream world that Tarkovsky wants to create; and this dream world is often irrational, inexplicable, strange, obscure, and at puzzling. But we need to realize that dreams also contain depth of meaning, which can only be recovered by a process of realization.

As well, n “Sacrifice,” Tarkovsky’s last film, Alexander’s lengthy speeches can be construed as verbal dreams, especially since these speeches are placed within the context of scenes such as the fire and the lonely road.

Thus, dreams may complicate reality, but they also lead us away from the process of conditioned responses; and perhaps this is why dreams are difficult to understand, just as Tarkovsky is often difficult to understand.

However, this difficulty is also a very important aspect of dreams for Tarkovsky – for by making things difficult, Tarkovsky emphasizes the process of alienation that we feel in the modern world. Often, we are placed in contexts that we know nothing about. Often we are baffled by life, and what it all means.

Tarkovsky’s films mirror this alienation. His allegories and his wordiness show our own psyches at work – how we handle a complicated reality within which we must live our lives. Dreams attempt to make sense of the vast chaos that stretches before; they serve to integrate ourselves within ourselves.

Of course, they cannot integrate us within society – that is not Tarkovsky’s concern – because to do so would in effect create another dream. When a solution is offered as to how life should be lives, or how happiness, fulfilment can be achieved, we veer into propaganda, where struggle always leads to happiness and fulfilment.

But life is often harsher than that, and Tarkovsky wants to make sense of this harshness, and thereby soften it by cushioning it with memories, dreams and even hallucinations.

As well, dreams provide a metaphysical experience in that we move into an inner world of the characters, within the context of the outer world of history and politics and personal struggles.

This inner world is the realm of dreams, where narrative is subverted and lost time is remembered. This inner world also functions to highlight the perfectibility of the individual. However, whether this perfectibility is available to human beings is a question that cannot be addressed in Tarkovsky’s films because wide gap that lies between the world of dreams and the world of reality.

It is this gap that is the source of tension and lack that permeates and affects the characters in a film such as “Sacrifice,” especially Alexander, whose discourses can only be verbal dreams at best.

And his discourse stands in direct opposition to the flow of reality outside, such as the road, which leads forever onwards, but we cannot know to what ultimate destination. In the same way, the horses that bookend “Andrei Rublev” are allegories of the disruptive force of dreams, which barge into the passive flow of mundane reality with all of their escapism, their visions of perfectibility, and their allure of a pastoral, peaceful, and harmonious past.

As discourse, dreams become the lens through which society and the individual are read. They are not so much as wishful thinking, or repressed desire; rather they are a very real force, which can shed light on the disparity of life, and the process of alienation that is part of the modern experience.

It is for this very reason that dreams function as allegories. For example, “Ivan’s Childhood” is layered with many war stories. These stories do not function to give meaning to the larger plot; however, they do serve as allegories of perfectibility.

Through their lens we confront values such as loyalty, memory, and courage. These stories also serve to create a dream world, which is a combination of hallucination and reality, which is rather typical of Tarkovsky’s method.

This combination is reflected in the narrative as well, in that the mother often intervenes, as the war stories are being told. As well, we have the juxtaposition of Ivan’s child-like innocence and his ability to kill as a guerilla fighter.

Even here we see the particular combination of the ideal and the real – the child-like Ivan is also a seasoned killer. Perhaps this is why Ivan dreams of a hand in the beginning of the film, for a hand can both build and destroy.

In this way, Ivan as a character frequently crosses the boundaries between dream and reality, and thereby he justifies his own life, which is a complex unity of innocence and bloodshed.

Once when we are given perfectibility in dreams, we are therefore also shown a dis-junction between the inner and the outer worlds.

This is well portrayed in “Andrei Rublev,” here the religious fervor of the icon painter Rublev is juxtaposed with a harsh, medieval world that cares little for beauty and art.

The traditional icons underscore the process of perfectibility, where despite the disjunction that one experiences in the world outside, the inner world becomes a complex realm where wholeness and harmony can be achieved and the emptiness of the modern world thwarted.


The photo shows “The Former,” by Ivan Vladimirov, painted ca. 1919.

Sin: A Brief History

What is sin? Is it merely religious transgression, or is it the very foundation of human culture? If we understand culture to be the expression of humanity’s search for meaning, then the idea of sin is the nub of all that makes us human: our need for morality, our need for private choice and private space, our erotic desires and pleasures, our fears, our notions of good and evil, right and wrong, and our religious hopes.

Because sin is an intensely human experience (the intriguing notion that other living things also sin disappeared very quickly in the course of civilization), it is found in all parts of the world, and from the very earliest recorded history.

The notion of sin is found in the earliest of human cultures; perhaps sin is the earliest expression of human desire, for it sets us apart from the instinctive drive of the animal world. Desire is very different from instinct because it is constructed by individual and social necessity.

The sinful individual is intensely human, because to sin is to be wrong, which implies the knowledge of rightness. The first stirrings, the pale residue of sin may be discerned in the most ancient of human expressions – animism. What does sin mean for an animistic culture?

This question brings into focus the interplay of the cosmological ramifications of personal choice and action – our deeds when right are constructive; when wrong are sinful and destructive. But for the shaman, sin is an imbalance between the community and forces that may bring harm. This imbalance may be remedied by ritual propitiation alone.

Thus was sin associated with personal and social obligations, wherein it became the duty of the community to restore the correct balance between the social group (the humans) and the more powerful forces inherent in the world at large.

When we begin to look civilization, we become more deeply involved with sin, because sin becomes not only a communal problem but an individual one. Therefore, the earliest civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China) saw sin in legalistic terms, as a contractual breech, for it was a transgression against society – individual action destroys the community.

This gave birth to the various law-codes which were the very first to evaluate and quantify sin – in order to establish remedial redress. This led to the establishment of the idea of paying for one’s sins; that is, the association of sin with personal responsibility.

Once this connection with the individual was established (as, for example, described in The Epic of Gilgamesh), then the idea of sin was translated into religious terms, in that the individual could sin against society and against the gods, both of which involved different methods of payment.

The Greeks saw sin as harmatia (literally, “to go amiss”). This view brought the notion of personal shortcoming into the equation, in that sin resulted when a person had personal defects (such as hubris).

This led to the development of ethics (duty, what ought to be done); that is, human beings should strive to be perfect. When they stop striving to be perfect, they sin.

Thus, with the Greeks, sin acquired philosophical shape; it was no longer misguided personal action, an upsetting of some sacred balance, or a willful act which could be compensated – rather, sin became a method whereby one could understand what was good for human beings and for society.

The Romans maintained this idea, adding only the concept  of civic identity – sin (peccatum) became deviation from the norm, from what the larger population maintained and believed.

It is with the Jews that sin takes on questions of purity and defilement. The Hebrew term for sin, avera, is closely associated with another Hebrew term, avon (“lust).

Here, we see for the first time the association of defilement with desire and thus with sin – a sinful person lusts after more than what he or she has and thus becomes physically dirty, an outcast, since his desire leads him or her astray, and he or she becomes defiled (who should not be touched), and who needs not only ritual cleansing, but also spiritual cleansing. Here lies the link of sin with evil.

For the Hebrews, sin became an offence against God, because a lustful person sought more than what God has allotted him or her. Further, it is with the Jews that sin becomes associated with atonement, through prayer. Here, an intriguing link with sin and language is established, in that it is possible to erase defilement by verbal redress. The importance of the word for the Jews (akin to the Greek concept of language) becomes part of the process of overcoming sin. Thus, we see for the first time, the link with repentance, which will be fully validated by Christianity.

The association of sin with evil stems neither from the Greeks nor the Jews; this legacy is found further east – in ancient Iran. The idea of good and evil (the Devil) is the contribution of Zoroaster, the semi-legendary sage of Persia of long ago, who taught that falsehood is the greatest sin, which can be overcome by truth, and that sin the emanation of the evil forces of the universe, who seek to subvert the inherent goodness within humankind.

The torch of the Roman empire passed to the Christian West, and the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian concepts of sin (falsehood, deviation and defilement) were incorporated into Christian culture – but with a twist – in that humankind was now regarded as sinful not because of personal acts or deeds, but because of their state of being – that is, a person was born sinful, through no fault of his or her own. It was with Christianity that sin became solely associated with theology.

Since sin was innate, the need for atonement was therefore far greater, in that individual deeds were no longer enough – God Himself had to step in (through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ).

Further, the only way sin could be innate was to regard the soul itself as sinful. But because God was also now associated with sin, the notion of atonement was superseded by the concept of repentance (one had now only to trust God and recognize that one’s soul was indeed sinful and therefore needed God’s help).

Consequently, various human failings humans were seen not as being harmful to the body and the community, but to the soul itself. Sin no longer upset the balance, or defiled a person – it now robbed the soul of eternal life. Christianity gave sin a far larger role in human life than it previously had had, in that sin was now associated with redemption.

The Christian notion of innate sinfulness led to further refinement of sin: the association of sin with hell (the proverbial Seven Deadly Sins), fear, sexuality, pleasure, and desire.

However, in the Christian scheme of things, and in a paradoxical way, not every instance of sex, pleasure and desire were sinful – only the utter engrossment in their pursuit was sinful, which made the person forget the true purpose of life (faith in God).

Thus, sin became s measuring rod of how religious, how faithful, how honest, how true, how noble a person could be.

Is the concept of sin still relevant? In our age where religion and morality are no longer central to the way we live, does sin exist today? We have associated it with global morality (greenhouse gases, rampant consumerism, greed, genocide).

How will we continue look at sin in the burgeoning technological age? Despite our desire to be pluralistic, we are inheritors of a very clear understanding of sin (as traced in the previous chapters), to which we resolutely adhere. Sin is now firmly connected with guilt (the result of excessive pleasure, or hedonism). Perhaps this perception of sin fits our age of unbounded consumerism and materialism.

As for the future, it is interesting to note that we have projected sin into outer space – we seek new worlds because we innately fear that we have irreparably destroyed our own.

Are we unwittingly enacting the myth of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden? Is the exploration of outer space an act of redemption, atonement, for the way we have defiled the earth? Is the realization of our sin (the selfish way that we continue to live) make us hope and dream that we can begi again on some distant planet? And will we take sin along with us?

Sin is still firmly grounded in the need for salvation, even if we understand salvation in secular terms – that is, the desire to redeem ourselves from our own willful and destructive acts.

To trace the history of sin is to trace the history of humanity itself. The idea of sin has been part of the human experience from the very beginning.

In fact, we may conclude from this history that each culture and civilization has understood sin in its own way; or rather created sin in its own image.

Perhaps human beings need sin in order to be human, since ultimately sin is the conceptualization of frailty and imperfection – and the strong desire to transcend both these shortcomings sometime in the future.


The photo shows, “The Remorse of Orestes,” by William Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1862.

Plato And Virtue: A Brief Analysis

In the Meno, Plato explores the process through which virtue can not only be defined but also acquired.

The problem of understanding the acquisition of virtue stems from a crucial question that arises early in the work: Why do worthy people in one generation cannot pass on the values they have acquired on to their children?

This larger question leads to the further, more detailed, questions. Can virtue be taught if we do not know already what it is? And if virtue can be taught, then awareness of this knowledge can change one’s life, in one or several ways.

If virtue is already embedded in the human soul (assuming that virtue partakes of the larger good, or the beautiful), then learning must be merely recollection. Thus, there is a link between knowledge and true belief.

This leads us to the awareness that all learning is a remembering. Socrates demonstrates this by teaching the slave boy geometry by asking questions.

However, Socrates did not teach the slave boy anything – he was merely helping the slave boy remember what the slave boy already knew; Socrates is merely reminding the slave boy through his questions; he is helping him remember.

Thus, the slave boy seeks the beautiful for a reason – because he has an idea and seeks a way to give birth to this thought. Therefore, he is drawn to the beautiful. However, he is merely giving birth to something that he always and already possessed.

Nevertheless, this attempt at explaining virtue ultimately fails leading us to “Meno’s paradox,” wherein Plato expounds his theory of recollection. The paradox hinges on the problem of acquiring knowledge, and clearly understanding the knowledge thus arrived at.

Meno’s paradox states that either we know what we are searching for, or we do not. If we know what we are searching for, then the search is pointless, since it would be difficult to search for something that we already know.

And if we do not know what we are searching for, the search is impossible, because how can we search for something that we will never know? Therefore, to search for knowledge is either pointless or impossible.

In effect, when we search for knowledge, we are engaging in a process that is all or nothing. A question akin to this process is whether we can know something partially, and then we search to expand our knowledge.

But this again implies that if we have partial knowledge, we still have acquired knowledge about that something. Consequently, both empirical and non-empirical inquiry disintegrates.

It is at this stage that Plato expounds his Theory of Recollection, wherein he argues that we have knowledge prior to birth, and that the soul knows everything, but forgets it.

Therefore, the acquisition of knowledge is merely a recollection of all that we have forgotten. The slave-boy is test case for this theory. First of all, the slave boy gives two misguided answers. Then, Socrates guides the slave boy to true belief. Lastly, Socrates suggests that this true belief can be made into true knowledge.

Virtue, then, is knowledge, and this it can be acquired through education and training – although it is crucial to realize that this acquisition is an act of remembrance by the soul. And one soul may by nature have a greater aptitude than another for acquiring virtue.

Thus, we see that virtue is an innate quality that can be made to emerge under the proper guidance and education.


The photo shows, “The Pet Lamb,” by Eastman Johnson, painted in 1873.

A Return To Humanistic Thinking

True thinking is practical wisdom. To have the ability to judge or decide is not a skill – it is process of reflection, which in its root sense means, “to turn back” one’s thoughts and consider closely. To think critically is to turn back and rediscover the habit of looking for meaning, value and for truth.

Since humans are social creatures, we already possess the ability to think this way. But given the way the educational system functions, ideals are never emphasized.

Perhaps it might be better to refer to critical thinking as “humanistic thinking,” since it is chiefly concerned with the moral improvement of the individual and then, by extension, of society.

How can we rediscover the habit of critical thinking? We can do, by focusing on those aspects of our cognition that skill denies, such as, doubt, questions, ideals, symbolic thinking, the imagination, harmony, and moral judgment.

When we look for meaning and value, we begin with doubt, with hesitation, with being unsure, because we have to decide between two or even more possibilities. Doubt gives us pause, which we often need in order to think things though.

There are two important characteristics of doubt: skepticism, which is a state of disbelief but also an invitation to view an idea or proposition carefully; and wonder, for we ask, how can this be?

Doubt is the very beginning of reflection, of turning thoughts over in our minds, because doubt allows the mind to open up to possibilities unknown.

Doubt breaks down the barriers of assumptions and launches us into the process of building anew. We must be courageous doubters in order to search for value and meaning.

Once doubt pervades the mind, we begin to ask questions. Most people fear questions because nothing uncovers ignorance (a state of mindlessness) faster than a question.

When we ask questions, we are not looking for answers but seeking, inquiring after, the truth (which is faithfulness to reality, both material and ideal). Answers are about with demonstrating skill. But we ask questions to discover the truth.

As a result, there is a strong link between questions and freedom, because only people who are truly free can ask questions; those enslaved in any sense cannot ask questions, because questions have the potential of destabilizing the status quo.

Thus, questions are a threat to those in power. And as for enslavement, it comes in many forms – the most pervasive in our culture is the avoidance of complexity. We want everything to be to be simple.

And here is a strange conundrum: we live in a world that is highly complex and the technology we use daily is highly complex – and yet we put this complexity to simpler and simpler uses, such as language pared down to is bare minimum, as in a text-message. We all have skill with technology – but we are thinking less and less with language.

Here’s an important question to ask – does a good worker need to doubt and ask questions? Or does a good worker simply need to consistently demonstrate skill and expertise? If we cannot formulate questions, are we truly free?

If we accept that questions are an inquiry into truth, then we are led into asking a rather famous question – what is truth? In effect, truth is an ideal. It is not a material thing, but it is something that humanity greatly values. An ideal is an idea that possesses value and meaning.

There is no human culture which does not value truth. Of course, there have been many attacks on the notion of truth – that it is a cultural construct, or that it is closely connected to individuality (hence the term, “truth is relative”).

In other words, since we all have different ideas of what truth is, there is no universal definition of truth; and so every culture in the world creates its own truth; my truth cannot be your truth – and some people even more radically suggest that there is no truth; or put more bluntly, truth is only a matter of personal opinion.

So, if truth does not exist, why bother looking for it? Ultimately, these are dead-end arguments since they do nothing to advance thinking, nor do they help us understand why the search for truth is essential to critical thinking.

Briefly, to say that there is no such thing as truth, or that truth is relative, is a contradiction since we are being told that both these statements are the truth – and should be universally believed, which makes no sense at all.

How can anyone suggest that there is no truth and then expect us to take this statement as the truth?

We have only to look at the world around us – and we find that humanity continues to conduct itself with the idea of truth – people in all cultures want to be right and not wrong, they want to be good and not bad.

Truth should not be confused with belief (which can be personal) – we may believe one thing at one time in our lives and then come to believe something completely different later on in our lives. For example, Nazi Germany believed in murdering Jews. Modern Germany does not believe this.

Beliefs change – truth does not, because it is an ideal. So, in our example, the truth is: murder is wrong. We may misunderstand an ideal or misinterpret it, but truth does not change.

This unchanging quality makes it an ideal. Ideals help us to choose and decide how we want to live our lives. Ideals are intangible structures, blueprints, with which we derive meaning and value.

Why do we feel good when we do good things? And why are we riddled with guilt when we do bad things? Why do we want to love and be loved? Why are we sympathetic? These are all questions of ideals, of truth, of value, of meaning.

Through ideals, we become educated in our goodness. And the truth is – we want to be good. Think of it – all those things that we cherish (love, kindness, hope, goodness, decency, etc.) are ideals.

When we say ideals are examples, we have begun to think symbolically. What does this mean? Simply that we get into the habit of looking for ideals by way of symbols, that is, examples.

Light is a symbol for truth and goodness; its opposite, darkness, is a symbol for falsehood and evil. Symbols give us something concrete, something material, which we can use to start thinking of an ideal (value and meaning), which cannot take on physical form.

The world over, water is symbol of life – and is it any wonder, therefore, that scientists looking for life on Mars are looking for water? The search for life in outer space is both symbolic and ideal.

We know there is life on the planet earth; and since there are planets in our solar system and in space, we have made terrestrial life into an ideal, assuming that life requires certain properties in order to exist – and it is this ideal that scientists search for.

But to think symbolically also means that we have to be imaginative. Imagination is the ability to see relationships between things and between ideas. To use the imagination is to see the underlying truth of things.

Thus, for example, to want freedom is an imaginative act, because it is insight into what we really value and what gives us meaning. Freedom is a particular kind of relationship between the individual and society.

To want freedom means that we see the essential purpose of life – to have freedom to live as we see fit – and it also means that we see the truth of what it means to be alive.

Symbolic thinking is the process of uniting ourselves with ideals. Freedom is an ideal – and we individually unite ourselves to this ideal way of living: we want to be free.

Closely allied to symbolic thinking is the concept of harmony, which is the ability to see relationships even in things and ideas that may seem at first to be diametrically opposed to one another.

In other words, it is the ability to see how things and ideas fit together. All too often thinking involves an agonistic attitude – ideas need to be “argued (demonstrated)” or even “attacked,” and “defended.”

To look for harmony is a crucial aspect of critical thinking, since a habit of seeking convergence and relationships advances thought, which means that relationships engender newer ideas.

These various aspects of critical thinking are dependent upon the reason behind why we need to think in the first place.

Critical thinking is about forming moral judgments that provide us with value and meaning, both of which suggest that we want to understand how we ought to live and what we ought to do.

Critical thinking is about educating our moral character, though which we can discover how we ought to live in order to be good in a good society and what we must do to be good in a good society.

Thinking, therefore, is never done in a vacuum. Thinking is always about context – and humanity’s context is the world. And what is the world? It is the construct in which we live our lives – and as such, it is ideas placed upon the physicality of the planet earth to make our lives happy and fulfilling and to allow each of us to understand what gives us meaning and value.

Let us now start the process of rediscovery and come to understand what we ought to do to become humanistic thinkers so that we may know how we ought to live in the good society.


The photo shows, “The Teachers,” by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky, painted in 1901.

Higher Education?

Over the years, higher education has become thoroughly vocationalized, and people now come to university and college expecting to be trained for the job market.

This means that society sees the academy as nothing more than a training facility where specific and transferable skills are acquired by individuals which can then be translated into careers and jobs in the marketplace. Inherently there is nothing wrong about such a view of education; jobs and careers are fundamental to a happy life.

But there is an essential problem here, because a primary component is being consistently ignored, which we can get to by asking a simple question. What guarantees a career or a job or a paycheck in the first place? It is not proficiency in skill – rather, it is the context in which this skill is to be practiced.

And this context, of course, is society. It is only within the context of a good society that jobs, careers – in short, the good life – can be guaranteed.

But if education is nothing other than training efficient workers who only know how to apply their skills in job situations – who will manage the needs of society so that it continues to be good, continues to be that context in which jobs and careers, and the good life, are to be guaranteed?

If no one is educated in taking care of the good society, will society continue to be good? There is a strong and direct co-relationship between prosperity and the good society.

In our own political and cultural context, the good society is the liberal democracy, which depends upon the idea that all of us must work together to maintain the goodness of our society.

In order to do so, we must be educated in the wisdom of the liberal democratic tradition. But if we only worry about training for jobs, who will have the knowledge to ensure that our society remains both liberal and democratic – that it retains its goodness? And what are the characteristics of such a society?

They are ideals that we all aspire to and expect our society to provide – namely, freedom, personal worth, individual rights, and a government entirely answerable to the people.

Notice none of these expectations depend upon skill, upon being a good worker. And none of these expectations have come about as a result of industry’s efforts. Industry can function in any type of society. It has loyalty only to profit.

These expectations are, of course, ideals – and ideals require two things: education – and humane thinking.


The photo shows, “Girls Singing On A Park Bench,” by Minna Heeren, painted in 1873.

Nahum The Carpenter: A Tale Of The First Century

Nahum is my name, my two older sisters are are Zilpah and Ilana, my younger brother is Amos. I am living in Jericho with my wife Ruth and two sons, Ezra and Ezekiel.

I am writing this on a Saturday and it is taking me a long time, you see I had to work in my father’s leather shop when I was thirteen and I have not had much schooling!   I am scribing this on a thin piece of leather and will seal it in a clay jar, I hope someone will find it someday and ask for forgiveness for me for my weakness and my betrayal.

You see, yesterday, Friday,   they crucified Jesus and I was part of the crowd yelling NAIL HIM, NAIL HIM!!!

After he was crucified the curtain in the synagogue was torn down the centre, and then the earth went dark! When that darkness came over Jerusalem I too was hit by a cloud of darkness and I was actually struck dumb and unable to speak or even move for over an hour. It was a feeling of total regret and utter humiliation and I believe it was a message from God.

Let me give you some background. I am a shoemaker, I make and repair all types of leather and twine items, but I really like to make sandals. I once gave a pair to Jesus when he came near my little shop!

My father was also a shoemaker; and he went to the synagogue every Sabbath and took his two boys when we were old enough.  When he died, I was 18, I must admit I have not attended synagogue on a regular basis, I am now 38.

About once a month the Rabbis and treasurers call on me, urging me to attend and to bring my sons. When I give them a few shekels they leave me alone.

One day I was working outside my shop, under a sycamore tree when in the distance I noticed some dust rising as a group was walking in my direction.

I had heard from customers that a man by the name of Jesus was marching around preaching and performing miracles, I was very curious so I dropped my awls and needles and went to see what was happening.

The procession had stopped and Jesus was off to the side talking to somebody. I very quietly ran behind some trees where I could see better, and not be seen,  and was surprised to see my poor and blind cousin Bartimaeus  and his buddy calling Jesus’  name. I thought about going over to him and tell him to stop, and don’t embarrass our family, Jesus does not want to see you, looking so poor and dirty, but something stopped me.
Later I was sure glad it did, because Jesus went over to him and his buddy and in no time they both had gained their sight!!! This man Jesus performed a miracle on my cousin and his friend right in front of me.

I listened to some of his sermons and saw some more miracles. After, when I returned to making sandals, I began to think about this man and his teachings. They made me feel different, I had a warm feeling inside of me, and his sermons were meaning more to me than the teachings of the Rabbis at Bet Midrash or Halachot. I really liked what he was saying!!!

I went about my work for the next few weeks, but whenever I could I would talk to someone who had also come to like this man Jesus. I got to hear lots of stories about his miracles and his teachings to love one another. My dad had always taught us to be kind to others, but this man was actually telling us to love them. We really didn’t understand at first.

Then it all changed for me one day when two older men who had known my father and were big supporters of our synagogue came by and said they heard that I gave this man Jesus a pair of sandals and that people have heard that I have been saying nice things about Jesus.

I told them they were correct and I liked his teachings. They asked me to sit down and then they started to say negative things about Jesus, how he was attempting to make changes to our customs that were hundreds of years old and some said that he had been sent from God as his son.

They made fun of him and encouraged me to forget about Jesus and concentrate on the teachings that have been passed down from generation to generation. They really did not threaten me, but they did say that my business would be more successful if I would forget about this man Jesus.

I was very confused, and undecided as to what to do!!! Do I believe what my father taught me, do I forget about Jesus, do I follow the advice of the men who visited me??? What to do???

One day after I finished some baskets I was working on I decided to walk to a bar not far away. It was crowded and much of the talk was about this stranger in our town who is supposed to be performing miracles and preaching about love.

Many of my friends there had consumed a few too many cups of wine and were getting louder and louder! They started to make fun of Jesus and suggested we do something to get rid of him. I did not really participate, but after all many of these guys were my friends and some were my customers.

When they started asking who wanted to get rid of Jesus, the majority signed up! When they asked me I reluctantly said sure me too.

So, you can see now why so many people shouted NAIL HIM, NAIL HIM!!! Me too!

I know it is only Saturday and I do not know what will happen to this man Jesus, will he have a regular burial? Will there be a big funeral, I wonder what will happen???

What I do know is that I regret my decision to reject him, and now I want to find some way to be forgiven.


When not whittling another miniature animal, John Percival can be found listening to bird song most evenings.
The photo shows, “Christ in the House of His Parents,” by John Everett Millais, painted in 1849-1850.