You entered my life last night, and you left it last night. Did we break up? You never could tell me your name. You were for me but nine numbers and two letters – lying in silent dignity. Your once radiant eyes now dimmed, your once glorious tresses now ruffled; only your manicure remained unscathed. Your new perfume, Eau d’Isopropanol, barely disguising your onsetting putrefaction.
You must once have been stunning, now fallen in bloom. If we had only met in another era, would you have looked at me; would I have let out a quiet sigh, as you passed by in front of me, maybe in one of those spring dresses that French women wear so alluringly.
The ring on your finger, the tattoo on your breast (I never knew your name – but here we have no secrets now, no discretion) – tell me that you loved him passionately. It was just a few days ago that you were a woman, a daughter, a wife, a lover, a mother.
But now, you are condemned to me. I know you never wanted me, yet now you feebly reach for my hand, in this upside-down world.
Behind those tubes (do they come out, or go in?), you let out a shuddering groan, “Hail Mary…please…” A prayer learned long ago, forgotten also long ago… once, in a former life… “I swore she would be my love in this life and for all eternity, the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God…” But where were you, where are you now?
With tender memories, of a time when life was still innocent, my gloved hand gently takes yours, and from behind my visor, from behind my mask, accompanied by the rhythmic beeps of life-support machines vital for the dying, I recite, wearily, the words tattooed onto my brain. How could I refuse you anything?
A spasm, a last attempt to escape destiny, you pull me towards you – you look at me with resigned terror – a weak murmur, a quiet sigh, as your hand slips out of mine. And the machines change their tone to indifferently announce your new status…
I would have liked to have said goodbye, but the door opens at once; underpaid nurses disconnect you, as if in a trance, their eyes bloodshot. Not a tear is shed, not a word said. I never knew your name, but I quickly scribble down your number on the body-bag that now awaits you. Departing without ceremony, you leave, leave forever… but for where?
I barely hear the impassive Flemish matron, in her guttural French, order the cleaners to finish in fifteen minutes, as we conscientiously await your evanescent successor.
Where are you now? Is death what it is supposed to be, or it is just more false advertising? I never knew your name, nor you mine. I did not love you, yet you broke my heart…
Here, you are already forgotten, at best a statistic for those who still have care enough to watch the news. But I cannot forget you… a part of me died with you. Wait for me. I shan’t be long.
See you soon, my unknown angel.
With much tenderness, RMK Brussels April 5, 2020
This is a first-hand account by a health professional in Belgium, who witnessed some of the devastation wrought by Covid-19. The original is written in French, of which this is a translation by N.Dass.
The image shows, “The Sleeping Beauty,” by John Collier, painted in 1921.
This month, the Postil is pleased and greatly honored to publish an interview with Howard Bloom, whostarted in theoretical physics and microbiology at the age of ten and spent his early years in science. Then, driven by the desire to study mass human emotion through the lens of science, he went into a field he knew nothing about, popular culture. He founded the biggest PR firm in the music industry and worked with superstars like Prince, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Billy Joel, Queen, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Billy Idol, Joan Jett, Styx, Hall and Oates, Simon & Garfunkel, Run DMC, and Chaka Khan. Bloom went back to formal science in 1988 and, since then, has published seven books on human and cosmic evolution, including The God Problem, Global Brain, and The Lucifer Principle. Called “next in a lineage of seminal thinkers that includes Newton, Darwin, Einstein, [and] Freud” by Britain’s Channel 4 TV, and “the next Stephen Hawking” by Gear magazine, he is the subject of BRIC TV’s documentary, The Grand Unified Theory of Howard Bloom.
Grégoire Canlorbe(GC): As an entrepreneur in the public relations industry, you were particularly active under the Reagan era. How do you explain that the eighties saw both a return to some conservative values and an explosion of creativity and coolness in music and movies?
Howard Bloom (HB): That’s a very good question. I’ve never thought of that connection before. My wife had been a socialist when I met her in the 1960s. And then in the 1970s she became a conservative. So she was siphoning money out of our bank account and giving it to Ronald Reagan’s political campaigns—without telling me. She knew I hated Reagan. But I never connected Ronald Reagan with what was going on in popular music at that point. In the 1960s popular music was the music of rebellion. Rock music was about raising your fist and saying to adults: “I have a right to be an individual. I have a right to exist.” Rock was in tune with the hippie philosophy: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” And, “We’re here to overturn the establishment.” In other words, rock and roll was part of a rebellion whose political activists were working to toss people our parent’s age out of power. That was the 1960s. But there was no overt philosophy—there was no ideology—of rebellion in the 1970s and the 1980s. However if you look at the attitude of the artists who emerged, it was sheer rebellion.
Joan Jett got onstage and raised her fist. And the way she raised her fist was the strongest part of her message. She was a woman. And as a woman, you were expected to be like Grace Slick or Janis Joplin: the guys had the guitars, the power instruments, and you did not. You simply crooned into the microphone. But Joan was saying: “I’m going to take over the fucking guitar, myself. I have the power. I own the power on stage. And I am going to rebel as a self-contained entity not needing the “weapons” of “males with guitars.” My band? Hey, that’s just an extension of me.” Joan’s was the rebellion of girls who had been raised with working mothers. And for a middle class girl to be raised by a working mother was something brand new. It was a result of the invention of indoor plumbing, the washing machine, the drier, and the dishwasher. Women were no longer the slaves of water-hauling and clothes washing. And the women’s liberation movement had given them the freedom to compete with men in the workplace. Now the daughters of these liberated women had a very new experience of what it meant to be female. And that sense came to a head in Joan Jett. Or it came to a fist. But as for men, I mean, look at several of my other clients. Billy Idol also raised his fist in a gesture of rebellion. Did the anger of these fists have anything to do with the Reagan era? It’s hard to tell.
John Mellencamp also came to the lip of the stage with his fist raised. If you were here, I could show you the difference between the raised fist of each of those three artists. Each made a slightly different muscular statement—a statement made with muscles. And then, there were bands that were already slipping into acceptance of a parent’s generation, and acceptance of an older generation. Not rebellion, but acceptance. And those were bands like Spandau Ballet, Berlin, which were both my bands, and a bunch of others. Later, the whole attitude of rebellion would disappear from popular music. At least, it would be minimized significantly. In fact, Michael Jackson would live with his mother, his father, and his brothers—an unthinkable act among the rock rebels. And that business of raising your fist on stage would no longer be part of the package, if you were a rock ‘n’ roller. In Michael Jackson it would be replaced by fierce pointing.
The Reagan era was relatively prosperous, which was good. And it’s only when you have a prosperous age that kids can afford to be thoroughly rebellious, because when you have an age like the 2000s and the 2010s, when adult kids are still living in their parents’ houses, kids can’t afford to rebel. They need the comfort, the shelter, of their parents to move forward. So, that helps explain why the attitude of rebellion disappeared. And I don’t see rebellion in the music, today. Admittedly, listening to music has totally changed. Working with music has totally changed. I listen to Pandora. I don’t know the era of the bands that Pandora is playing to me, but to me, that attitude of rebellion has gone—maybe I just don’t understand these bands well enough. I don’t know the physical stance, the muscular message, of bands like The Eagles of Death Metal and the Queens of the Stone Age or of stars like Joe Bonamassa and Jack White—not to mention trans-racial artists like Keb Mo.
GC: Your babies, Prince and Michael Jackson, both died in the past ten years. How did you react to learning of their disappearance? As a critic of hard ecologism (or eco-nihilism), how do you assess the lyrics of Jackson’s pieces such as “The Earth Song” or “Heal the World”?
HB: Michael Jackson died on my birthday, June 25th, 2009, and I always felt I had conversations that I needed to complete with Michael. It took me years to realize why. My initial response when I started getting calls from the manager of Michael’s brothers in roughly 1982 was, “No, I don’t want to work with the Jacksons.” The Jacksons were easy. If you have a talking dog, the dog can get on the phone and say “Michael Jackson,” and any editor in the country will drop everything and offer the dog a cover story in exchange for an interview. And I don’t do easy things, so I was not interested. I do hard things—I do crusades. And then, I got a call from the Jacksons’ manager, the same guy I’d been saying no to for four months, saying, “The Jacksons are gonna be in town this weekend, and they’d like to meet with you.” And, Grégoire, you know my background. I did not grow up with other kids. I did not grow up with adults. I grew up with guinea pigs and lab rats and an aquarium full of guppies. So I didn’t know about normal human rituals, but I had heard this phrase that if you want to say no to somebody, if you’re going to be a mensch, if you’re going to be a real man, you have to say no to their face.
So I agreed to a meeting with the Jacksons and I took the elevator up to the 54th story of the Helmsley Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue at 50th Street in Manhattan. And I walked down the corridor and I knocked on the door, and the door opened four inches. And the minute the door opened, I knew I was going to have to work with the Jacksons because you could see these four guys plastered up against the wall as if something really dark and ominous was in the room, and nobody could tell what it was. And it took me about 10 or 15 years to figure out what I felt the Jacksons had hired me for. Once I finally figured it out, I realized they had hired me to save their brother’s soul. Because there was trouble—there was big trouble. So, when Michael died, I felt that my job was not finished. I had not succeeded in my task. The whole story of tracking down the villain who did Michael Jackson is in my new book Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me: a Search for Soul in the Power Pits of Rock & Roll.
Michael spent 50 years on this planet, and for 25 years, he was rising towards superstardom. The biggest superstardom anyone had ever seen. Then for 25 years, for half of his life, he was dangling on the cross. He was crucified by the press, of all things. And I felt that the job of saving his soul was unfinished. And I felt the conversations that we were missing, that we had never had, that we should have had. But I always thought there was plenty of time, and then, all of a sudden, the night of my birthday, as a present, I got the news that Michael Jackson had died. I was devastated—I was floored. The story of the night I was told Michael Jackson had died is in the opening chapter of Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me. When they closed the coffee shop where I was working in those days for the night, I went up to the park for my walk through the meadow, looking up at the stars. And then, I was walking back from the park down the street. And normally, the streets in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at that hour—it was about 12:30 at night—are abandoned. They’re deserted in my neighborhood. But that night, there were two kids, about 19 years old, sitting on a stoop. And as I walked past them, I heard a voice.
I had my headphones on, so I didn’t know what the voice had said. I was listening to a book. And then, I realized when I got another hundred feet down the street that it had said, “Michael Jackson is dead.” And I wondered, “Are they saying that to me because they know that I’ve worked with Michael Jackson? Or, are they just saying that to anybody who passes by?” So I turned around and walked back up the street and took my headphones off and said, “What did you say?” And they repeated, “Michael Jackson is dead.” And I said, “Why did you say that?” expecting that they would say they knew me from the Tea Lounge, the cafe where I worked. And they just said, “We’re trying to tell everybody.”
So it became obvious that they were saying it to me because I was a generation or two older than they were, and they wanted nobody over the age of 30 to get away without realizing that a greatness had passed, that somebody of tremendous importance had just died. And I don’t remember whether I told them that I worked with Michael or not, but knowing me, I probably did tell them. Michael’s death was shocking. As I said, I still have conversations I need to finish with Michael. And one of the most disturbing things about death is its finality. You can no longer talk to those people who are gone—not at all. There is no longer any chance whatsoever of having a conversation.
Prince is a whole different matter. I felt more in response to Michael. Look, when I was 10 years old in Buffalo, New York, no other kids wanted me. My parents didn’t have time for me. So I had been alone since I was an infant. One afternoon I was in my living room and there was a book open in my lap. And the book said the first two rules of science are these: “The truth at any price, including the price of your life.” And it told the story of Galileo and they got it all wrong. As if he’d been willing to go to the stake to defend his truth. That was false. Galileo swore that everything he’d written was false in exchange for house arrest. But I needed the heroic version of the story. The book said that the second rule of science is, “Look at things right under your nose as if you’ve never seen them before, and then, proceed from there.” And it told the story of Anton van Leeuwenhoek—it got a bit of that wrong, too. He was one of the two men who invented the microscope. But those two rules became my religion. And Michael Jackson was the living incarnation of those two rules; he was those two basic rules come to life. The first rule: “The truth at any price, including the price of your life” is the law of courage. Michael had courage. He would not let anybody fuck with his kids. And the second law: “Look at things right under your nose as if you’ve never seen them before” is the law of curiosity, awe and wonder. And Michael had awe, wonder and surprise in a degree that I had never expected to see from any quarter.
Prince and I had something in common in that we had both built our own mini-societies. I helped put together, by accident, the hippie movement. Since other people’s cliques wouldn’t have me, the only cliques in which I could live were cliques that I fashioned myself, and Prince had that quality too. You know, when he was a teenager in Andre Cymone’s basement, he put together a culture—a mini-culture—his own mini-culture based on the idea that sex will liberate you, sex will set you free, and that sex will make violence unnecessary. That was actually an idea he got from the culture that I had helped start, the hippy culture. Remember, our motto in the hippy movement was “make sex, not war.” We created a sexual revolution. Though we didn’t actually start the ideas of that revolution—that idea of free love got started around 1800, 160 years earlier. But I did not have as many unfinished conversations with Prince. He was so vigorous in the whole time that I knew him. He was so well built despite the fact that he was only five foot two, or something like that. It was impossible to imagine him being gone.
And so, there wasn’t as urgent a need to finish a conversation with him, though I did feel I had unfinished conversations with him. After all, we’d risen together. I’d helped take him from an unknown 19 year-old—that’s what he said he was at the time, he may have been 22—to superstardom, and I had used everything that I had ever learned in years of studying star-making in order to get him there. And we did have things to say to each other. But it wasn’t the same thing. Michael was to me twice as important as anybody I had ever met in my life—at least twice as important as anybody that I had ever met in my life.
Prince, for all of his remarkable workaholism and all of his tremendous productivity and all of his astonishing ability to command an audience on stage, was a normal mortal. Michael was not like a mortal at all. Michael was like an angel or a saint. In other words, he was the living incarnation of some sort of divinity—specifically, the divinity that comes from his astonishing degree of awe and wonder. “Earth Song” is probably my favorite piece of Michael Jackson’s music. It’s just gorgeous, musically. The lyrics aren’t anything special, because they’re about standard ecological clichés. But remember, Michael was not just a lyricist; he was a musician. He spoke through his music. He spoke through his dancing. And what a powerful song that “Earth Song” was!
So, Michael was showing you his soul through his songs, through co-writing things like “We Are the World,” “Earth Song,” and “Man in the Mirror,” which basically says, “If you’ve got something important to do, start it now”—the same message as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a T.S. Eliot poem I grew up on. Michael showed you where his values were with those songs—although, not completely. If I hadn’t spent the night that I described in the book, sitting in a trailer outside of a huge studio complex, listening to his explanation about why he was canceling his tour, and then, trying to give him an explanation of why cancelling his tour would do damage to the kids that he took so seriously—the tens of thousands of kids he carried around in his heart—I would never have understood Michael’s intense commitment to his audience, to his kids. Again, that’s a story in Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me: a Search for Soul in the Power Pits of Rock & Roll. And it’s an amazing story.
But Mother Nature loves those of her kids who, like Michael Jackson, oppose her most. Nature proceeds by breaking her own rules. And we are the next generation of nature’s lawbreakers. We carry nature into her future by inventing new things. For 13.7 billion years, nature has been going from nothing but a big bang of space, time and speed to an increasingly complex universe, from elementary particles to atoms, from atoms to giant sweepings of atoms called galaxies, from galaxies to the stars and planets, and then, to big molecules and life. In other words, nature has never stopped creating in the entire 13.7 billion years of this universe’s existence. And we are just her next tools for creation. So, we have an obligation to create. We have an obligation to innovate. We have an obligation to break nature’s laws—on behalf of nature and her restless creativity.
Now, this isn’t to say that we have an obligation to destroy the ability of this planet to sustain life, far from it. But it’s we humans—specifically us Western civilization humans—who invented the idea of ecology and invented the idea that we should “heal the world” instead of destroying the ecological systems on the face of the planet. And this is the very first time in human history that we’ve had massive protest movements that have been given institutional sanction, that have been made a part of the system. And it’s the first time in human history, in the course of the last 150 or 200 years, that we have had peace movements, that we have had anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism movements—and then, ecological movements. We have had Greta Thunberg shouting “How dare you?” just like Michael Jackson was singing “All I wanna say is that they don’t care about us.”
But even that is unnatural, to have protest movements. And it’s through those protest movements that we have self-correction mechanisms. The job of humans is to do things as unnatural as plants taking to land, as trees taking to the sky, and as the invention of photosynthesis. Because that is the way the universe proceeds. She breaks her own laws. She busts through her previous limitations. Nature rebels against the shackles of her nature. She constantly springs what my books call shape shock and supersized surprises. And nature, or the universe, never goes backwards. When she seems to go backwards, as when she exploded her first stars, a million years into those stars’ existence, she uses that catastrophe to create whole new realities. Long before those star deaths, when the first generation of stars was born, there were only three different kinds of atoms: hydrogen, helium and lithium. And in the collapse of dying stars, nature created eighty-nine new kinds of atoms. That’s what nature does with the process of destruction: she creates.
GC: You are regularly travelling into Asia for professional reasons. How do you account for the fascination that Asia and especially Thailand turned out to exert on the eighties’ action movie—with John Rambo (played by Sylvester Stallone) seeking refuge in Thailand… or Jean-Claude Van Damme defeating a Thai champion to the acclamation of a crowd that calls him “the white warrior”?
HB: I’ve been in Seoul, Korea, twice. One of those visits was to keynote a United Nations conference on governance. I’ve been to Chengdu, China, once. I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, twice. First, to put together a two-day intensive training program for CEOs and general managers called “Re-perceiving leadership,” and the second time, because I co-founded and co-chaired the Asian Space Technology Summit. So, that’s my Asian experience. Oh, yes, I went to Kobe, Japan, to lecture on harvesting solar power in space and transmitting it to Earth.
We – the West – started dealing with Asia two thousand years ago when the Silk Road was opened and China started exporting silk to Rome. The wives of Roman senators – the wealthiest women in Rome – tried to one up each other by wearing the ultimate status symbol, robes made of Chinese silk. And then, we fell out of contact with Asia again when we, the West, lapsed into our dark ages, and contact began again with Marco Polo about 1250 A.D. China has been a land of riches and it’s been a land of wonders for those two thousand years. China, through almost all of those two thousand years, has been the greatest exporting nation on earth—and the most innovative. Plus, we’re so fascinated with societies that are radically different from ours that we developed exploration and anthropology. China has almost always been ahead of us. Except in curiosity about other societies—to China, societies outside the boundaries of the Chinese empire were too barbaric to merit attention.
In the West, the idea of anything strange and exotic attracts us. At least, it attracts us when we’re not in dark ages. When we are in dark ages, we pull a blanket over our heads and hide—we don’t want to know about things that are alien. But we are so fascinated by alien cultures that we dream up alien extraterrestrials, people from other galaxies. And many of us are certain that these aliens exist and that they’ve been making contact with Earth for a long time. The difference and the strangeness are exhilarating – especially the strangeness of a culture that’s almost as old as ours, being only about two thousand years younger, and which has produced astonishments, marvels! I mean, the Japanese and the Chinese invented the use of tea as a beverage. They invented the teacup, the saucer, and the fine porcelain these things are made of. They invented the teapot and the tea ceremony. They invented all of these things that to people like Voltaire were mesmerizing.
Voltaire lived in a time that was fascinated by Asia, fascinated by India, fascinated mostly by China, and also fascinated by Japan. And we’ve been attracted to Asian culture ever since because of the East’s radical difference and the light that difference has shed on our own culture. Thailand, specifically, I can’t answer that question, except Thailand was Ceylon, and Ceylon seems to have played a big role in the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, in the story of Sinbad the Sailor. And until the last 100 years, Ceylon was a magical place, a place where strange and magical things happened.
GC: Clint Eastwood, who spoke favorably of Trump in 2016, instead announced his support for Michael Bloomberg in the coming 2020 presidential election. To what extent do you recognize yourself in such an endorsement?
HB: I was hoping that Bloomberg would become the Democratic nominee for President. Bernie Sanders is a brilliant man, and one of his brilliances is his ability to boil an entire platform down to five sentences, something that Hillary Clinton definitely was not able to do. And another of Bernie’s brilliances is to be honest if he’s asked a question, like four days ago: “How do you feel about the Russians, about the idea that the Russians are supporting your election?” he was asked by a reporter. He came to the camera and said immediately, “The Russians had better get out of our elections!” I wish Donald Trump would say that. But for all of his brilliance, Bernie Sanders doesn’t understand the capitalist system.
The Western system, the system I outlined in The Genius of the Beast: a Radical Revision of Capitalism, has brought material miracle after material miracle to the face of this Earth. And the Western system is based on a balancing act between private industry, government and the protest industry. Or, to put it differently, the genius of the Western system is based on a balance between socialism and capitalism. Government provides things like roads and the Internet, which government invented. DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) invented the Internet. You could call that socialism if you wanted to. Then there’s the protest industry, which we talked about a minute ago: the peace movement that received the tool of civil disobedience in 1848 from Henry David Thoreau; the anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism movement that had its first global conventions in 1899, and the environmentalist movement. And when you keep those three elements in balance—private industry, government, and the protest industry—you have a brilliant system that produces astonishing results. But Bernie doesn’t understand the private enterprise part of the system. He doesn’t understand billionaires. He thinks there should be no billionaires whatsoever.
Right now the American government space program at NASA is dead—it’s absolutely down. It’s spending huge amounts of money, but it’s not accomplishing anything, at least when it comes to humans in space. It’s accomplishing wonderful things when it comes to doing science in space, science done with automated equipment like our wildly successful Mars Rovers. But the only thing that’s keeping manned space alive and showing us hope for the future—for getting beyond this planet, for putting towns on the moon and putting cities on Mars—is Elon Musk, a billionaire, Jeff Bezos, another billionaire, and, possibly, Richard Branson, another billionaire. But that initiative is not coming out of governments at all. If we didn’t have billionaires, we wouldn’t stand a chance of gardening the solar system and greening the galaxy. We wouldn’t stand a chance of bringing space to life by bringing life to space.
First billionaires buy things that only they can afford. Then 20 years later, we can all afford them. But it takes the billionaires cutting through the interference. It takes billionaires carving out the next step, or at least, being there to pay for the next step. Michael Milken, the guy who invented junk bonds, has founded a cancer research institute that’s doing some very important work. Bill Gates is funding very important stuff all over the planet. We need billionaires. Frankly, we don’t need billionaires who are billionaires because their fathers made the money, or their mothers made the money. We need billionaires who are capable of making the money themselves because in order to make those billions, they have to make a major contribution to society. Bernie doesn’t understand that.
Bloomberg does understand that. He started as just a normal middle-class kid and he built an empire that’s worth 59 billion dollars. He built it by offering new services and improvements on old services. He has managed and organized people by the thousands. Donald Trump never managed much more than about four employees, or maybe 10 at most. Donald Trump was running a very small business based, to a large extent, on lying and cheating. But Michael Bloomberg has done it the honest way. Michael Bloomberg is a failure in debates. But he has demonstrated his platform through something more important than words on a debate stage. He has demonstrated it through actions. Look at the charities that he has been supporting very generously over the course of the last 20 years: leading the anti-gun movement and underwriting education for inner city black kids who do poorly in the public education system.
My cousin Deborah Kenny founded something called the Harlem Village Academies that take kids at random off the streets of Harlem and put them through an education that helps them get into college. Then her kids stay in college – they graduate. It’s remarkable. And Bloomberg has funded these educational programs. He has funded an entire anti-gun organization. My nephew has been one of his community organizers for those anti-gun groups. Bloomberg has funded environmentalist organizations. He doesn’t need to win in a debate. He wins through the actions that he takes.
GC: President Trump is occasionally said to have introduced a “punk” spirit in politics. Yet Donald Trump has established himself as a womanizer; as a President he is now establishing himself as a man of peace, breaking with the interventionist neoconservative doctrine, as well as endeavoring to set up peace in the Middle East between Sunni nations and Israel—and to trigger the fall of the Mullahs in Iran. From this angle, is he not rather in line with the hippie motto “Make love, not war”?
HB: That’s a very interesting way of looking at things. We’ll eventually see the impact of what Trump is doing. You know, the economy did very well under Barack Obama for the last six years of Barack Obama’s term. It did very well under the first three years of Donald Trump. In fact, it set new records during those three years. Then came the Covid-19 virus and ended the longest period of economic growth in American history. However, the Obama administration created more jobs in its last three years than the Trump administration created in its first three years. Remember the first rule of science, the one that I latched onto at the age of ten, the rule that Michael Jackson embodied: “The truth at any price, including the price of your life.” One of the things that bothers me about Donald Trump is that Trump tells 12 lies a day, and he just makes it up as he goes along. He has no allegiance to the truth. And his truth changes every day—he contradicts himself. And I can’t stand that—I just cannot stand that destruction of truth. To me, a democracy depends on truth. So does the successful conquest of Covid-19.
I didn’t read Trump’s peace plan when it came out. I was probably busy appearing on the radio or something and researching another topic. But before the peace plan was announced, Trump’s plan was to get the Saudis and the other Sunni nations together and get them to make peace with Israel so that the Sunni nations could take advantage of Israel as an ally; and so together they could face off against Iran. This is exactly what Saudi Arabia wants to do. It wants to lead an alliance against Iran. The Saudis are scared to death of Iran. I, as a Zionist, very much welcome peace with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, and all of the middle-eastern Sunni countries. And I am horrified that the world lets Iran get away with having its people chant in the streets, “Death to America, death to Israel,” because the Iranians really do mean death.
They can’t rain death down upon the United States with their missiles—at least not yet—but they can do it with Israel very easily. And I am appalled that the world tolerates it when Iran puts: “Destroy the Zionist entity” as a slogan on the sides of its missiles as it test-launches them. I’m appalled that the world would allow an entire nation to get away with an overt genocidal policy. So, what Trump is doing in the Middle East looks good to me. The difficulty is when Trump is gone. Of course, Trump has no intention of ever going, and Trump wants to be replaced by his son Donald, and then by his daughter Ivanka. But if Trump is ever gone, there is such revulsion against Donald Trump in the United States that that revulsion will also be used against Israel because Trump is just poison in the minds of American Democrats. And I’m a Democrat and a liberal. So it’s tricky for me to acknowledge that Trump has done some things that I approve of.
GC: In his autobiography Billy Idol recalls his collaboration with you on the occasion of a hectic episode of his career. “In late February 1987, I found myself on another coke-smoking binge, walking into a police anti-crack sting in Washington Square with another lady friend, Grace Hattersley. Everyone else in Manhattan had read in the newspaper that day that there would be a police operation in the park that night. The police only insisted on arresting one of us, and Grace kindly decided to take the fall for me. A true gift, since I could’ve been deported had it been me who was arrested. Nonetheless, it ended up on the front pages of all the New York papers. “Just prior to this incident, I had taken a meeting with my press agent, Howard Bloom, who was telling me we needed a major press event to help announce the tour, so when I saw him the day after the front-page exposure, I said to him, “Well, how’s that for press coverage?” and he responded in an exasperated tone, “I didn’t mean that kind of press.” The story didn’t end there. Grace gave a press conference, mentioning that she was my girlfriend, which enraged Perri, who decided to call her own press conference to announce that she was my real girlfriend. The day after Grace’s media chat, Perri appeared at hers, opening up her shirt to display a leopard-print bra to the photographers as she exclaimed to the assembled press: “I’m Billy Idol’s girlfriend. I know something like this may split up some people, but we’ve been through a lot.” That settled it. When I headlined Madison Square Garden later that year, I opened the show with an insider’s remark, “From Washington Square to Madison Square,” and the audience roared with laughter.” How do you remember this tragicomic incident for your part? How do you assess the present situation of Billy Idol’s career with respect to that of Mick Jagger or Iggy Pop?
HB: I think Billy’s book is brilliant – and it’s brilliant for what it reveals. What disturbed me about Billy was his use of drugs. And I thought he was only on cocaine. But it turns out, when you read his book, that he was not only on cocaine; he was on heroin and he was on alcohol. Then, it also turns out that he was freebasing cocaine. Well, I actually knew about his free-basing. But to discover in his book just how hideously he was into drugs was horrifying for me. And, through his book, to see that he’s gotten off of those drugs and can write about it is, to me, admirable. God knows what my response was. I vaguely remember that incident in the park that Billy is talking about, but the most important thing that I remember was trying to save Billy’s life, and trying to save him from drugs. And, hopefully, we accomplished that because he was on his way to death. And that would have been terrible because he’s actually a brilliant man. And he certainly lives out his personality in a very big way.
So, I’m glad we managed to stop him. I mean, basically, what happened was this. His parents came into town, and I was very upset about what was happening to Billy with drugs. And his parents met with everybody on his team. And all the people on his team said, “Oh, Billy’s doing wonderfully. He’s doing just fine!” because they didn’t want to lose their jobs. Being associated with Billy Idol meant money, and it meant power to them, although it hadn’t when I first started with Billy. His career was about to die when I started with him. I came up with a strategy that basically brought him back to life and made him a source of money and power. But his parents were getting false reports about Billy. They had us come into the room one by one. So, finally, they had me come into the room where they were sitting, and I said, “Your son is killing himself, and we have to stop him.”
I explained the drug problem to his parents, and his parents took him away from his manager Bill Aucoin. Bill Aucoin was also freebasing and would destroy his own career with freebasing. Unfortunately, because I loved working with Bill Aucoin, Billy’s manager—I loved the man. But it’s that crusade to get Billy off of drugs that I remember the most about working with Billy. I last saw him about seven years ago on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, a TV New Year’s eve celebration, which is a big deal in the United States. I was astonished. He looked in the same physical shape that he had when he worked with me. He was ripped. It was hard to believe. I mean, you look at Christina Aguilera back from her heyday and how she looks today; and back then, she had this gorgeous figure, and now, she’s a little plump, round thing. And Billy has not succumbed to age at all.
I haven’t heard what he’s doing musically today. My Pandora station never plays me Billy Idol. So, I don’t know what his music is like these days. It’s my impression that he is still an icon, that he is still some sort of a musical force and some sort of a personality. But I can’t be sure because, you know, media is fragmented these days, and I don’t follow music journalism at all. I’m too busy doing politics and science. I’ve tried to reach out to Billy a couple of times, but I haven’t gotten any answers back. However I did get a series of emails and calls from his manager recently asking me to be in an upcoming documentary on Billy. And when I went into Manhattan to do the interview, the documentary’s director promised he would let Billy know how deeply I still feel about him. We’ll see if that message gets through.
GC: In your book The Genius of the Beast, dedicated to cracking the mysteries of Western creativity, you introduced the notion of an immaterial form of capital—one made from our Promethean dreams. You called it the “infrastructure of fantasy.” Did the way you came up with that idea have something to do with Billy Idol’s song “Flesh for Fantasy”?
HB: That’s a good question. I don’t remember the lyrics to that song. But my concept is to take things from the realm of fantasy into the realm of flesh, and turn them into realities, which is something we humans do better than any other creatures on the face of the Earth. In fact, to the best of our knowledge, we’re the only ones who have fantasies. Much as we spend time studying animal behavior, we haven’t seen fantasies in animals. So, to the extent that Billy’s song is about moving things from a rebel fantasy to the realm of reality, I’m all for it. We are nature. And all of the things that we admire and think are natural are as unnatural as could possibly be.
Take a tree, for instance. About roughly 400 to 600 million years ago, just after the Cambrian explosion, plants took to land, despite the fact that this was quite a fanciful proposition. I mean, plants needed water to survive. It was water in which life pulled itself together. The idea that you could take plants to land, a place with very little water, was completely unnatural. Land in those days was all virgin rock, and rock was hostile to life. Stone didn’t contain the water that life needed to keep its cells alive. After all, most of a cell is water. And where were you going to get the water to sustain a cell if you left the ocean behind and you went to the surface of this very hard, impenetrable rock? In addition, there were ultraviolet rays, the radical climate change of summer, fall, winter and spring, and a multitude of other threats on that hostile, barren surface. For the first plants to get to land was an impossible proposition—and totally and completely unnatural. And yet plants did it. And the first plants that evolved on the land were capable of getting about three inches high.
That’s almost eight centimeters. But going “Fuck you!” to nature’s most basic law, the law of gravity, and lifting themselves three inches high was violently and radically unnatural. And then came trees, and trees were even more of a “Fuck you!” to nature. They were even more unnatural. They lofted themselves thirty to sometimes one hundred and fifty feet high. Which means they had to lift 100 gallons of water a day from the earth to the sky just to survive. That’s totally going against the law of gravity. And remember, gravity is one of nature’s most basic laws. So if you and I had been sitting around a coffee table at the beginning of the universe, back in those days, I could have proven to you that trees could not possibly exist. But the fact is that nature advances through the efforts of her unnatural children—through having children who will be unnatural and defy her. And everything futuristic that happens with this universe—everything that defines the future of the universe—takes place through those rebels who are unnatural, who are as unnatural as Joan Jett, John Mellencamp, and Billy Idol raising their fists.
Even when we start inventing technologies, we’re no different than trees. I mean, plants have invented photosynthesis. That’s radically unnatural. It means taking things that don’t exist—waves, pulses of electromagnetism called light. Those pulses are not even stuff; they’re not material at all. And the first photosynthesizers captured those photons of light and turned them into power sources for the process of life. That is a technology, and it’s a radically unnatural technology to take something that isn’t material and turn it into energy, a technology that harvests an immaterial thing for a material purpose. So the inventions that we’ve made are very much like photosynthesis. They are radically unnatural, but only to the extent that a tree is radically unnatural or that photosynthesis is radically unnatural.
GC: In Global Brain you evoked at length the immemorial fight between the increasingly interconnected human species and the worldwide intelligence of bacteria, viruses, and microbes, especially zeroing in on the confrontation between the globally proliferating HIV and the planetary brain of scientists in the last decades of the 20th century. Do you see history repeating itself with the current epidemic of Covid-19?
HB: Absolutely. Viruses and bacteria, the world of microbes, have incredible creative powers and incredibly adaptive abilities and are constantly doing research and development. And the task of humanity has been to outpace the world of microbes in doing R&D. Just a few years ago, it took two months to sequence a virus. And with the novel coronavirus—the virus that causes Covid-19—sequencing only took days. Less than two weeks—but that’s not enough. We don’t have a vaccine to fight Covid-19. We don’t have a drug to treat those for whom a vaccine is too late. Though we are testing nine existing drugs in double-blind studies. But we need to get our research and development stuff in order so that we can really do a crash program to come up with a vaccine against this virus. Right now [May 2020] the Covid-19 is beating us. It’s outpacing us—it’s winning the race.
GC: In devising a new version of a godless metaphysics, one highlighting communication and creative self-organization “from quarks to humans,” you modeled the cosmos as a big bagel. Could you tell us more about it?
HB: I came up with the Big Bagel Theory in 1959 when I was working at the world’s largest cancer research laboratory, The Roswell Park Memorial Institute in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. I was trying to solve the CPT problem in theoretical physics. The CPT problem—the charge, parity, and time problem—is this: if matter and antimatter are created at the same time in equal amounts, where is all the anti-matter? So, imagine a bagel with an almost non-existent hole, and at the instant of the beginning of the universe, the matter universe comes out of that tiny hole and rushes up the top of the bagel and the antimatter universe comes out of the hole on the bottom of the bagel and rushes down the bagel’s underside. The steepness of the slope coming out of the hole means that the matter universe and the antimatter universe are moving away from each other very fast. And then, you get to the hump of the bagel. And the fact that there’s a hump means that the matter universe and the antimatter universe have slowed down. They’ve run out of the energy that it takes to push them apart. But the matter and anti-matter universe speak a common language: gravity.
So, they start whispering to each other with their gravity. And their gravity starts pulling them at an ever-accelerating speed down the outside of the bagel toward each other until the matter universe and the antimatter universe meet on the very outer edge of the bagel, annihilate each other, and become the next hole at the center of the bagel. So, in essence, the universe is this big recurring thing like a photon, which comes down to absolutely nothing, then rises to the height of its amplitude and then, comes down to nothing again, and then rises again. Our universe is doing that. It’s first going up to the limits of its amplitude, which is at the very bulge of the bagel. And then, coming back down to nothing and then, rising to the height of its amplitude again. Or so Big Bagel Theory says.
GC: Thank you for your time.
HB: Thank you for all these years of friendship, Grégoire. That has meant a great deal to me.
The belief in the ordered character of the Universe has been present in the human thought since the times of antiquity. The contemporary doctrine of the Intelligent Design (further denoted as ID) grew, in the 1980s, out of creation science which aimed at providing scientific support for the literal account of creation as portrayed in the Book of Genesis. In most general terms, ID stipulates that the high level complexity and ordering of the living organisms in the Universe, as well as their adaptation to the demands of the environment, imply that they were purposefully brought forth by an intelligent designer and not by the workings of the laws of nature. Although the inconclusiveness of these arguments is nowadays commonly accepted (e.g. Ayala 2009, 128–149), the efforts to justify the scientific character of ID still receive considerable interests, as they appeal to simple intuitions rather than sophisticated scientific arguments.
The goal of the presented article is to subject the doctrine of Intelligent Design (further denoted as ID) to the scrutiny of the tools of a novel division of cognitive science, named, the cognitive science of religion, from both methodological and epistemic points of view. In particular, this scrutiny will allow for the assessment of the influence of the development of science on the validity ID’s inferential power. So far, it has been established with the methods of the cognitive science of religion that the argumentation in favor of ID follows upon the content specific human cognition acquired in the course of specific evolutionary scenarios that have programmed the human mind to interpret the patterns of ordering in the Universe as resulting from the action of intentional agents. To put things bluntly, we are in-born “intelligent designers,” whether we like it or not. It is not surprising that the belief in ID turns out to be the most natural and immediate response to the experience of the ordering of the Universe. Moreover, it explains why the belief is so widespread in common sense perception, and why it takes time as well as scientific maturity to leave pre-scientific intuitions behind.
The pursuit of the article’s goal will proceed in the following steps. Firstly, the conceptual content of the ID doctrine will be surveyed to establish its fundamental claims. This step will hinge upon the precise distinction between ordering and design and the mechanisms of the spontaneous emergence of ordered structures in the Universe.
Secondly, the cognitive mechanisms responsible for the preference of the human mind in placing the intentional agency as responsible for the effects of ordering will be presented.
Thirdly, based on some preliminary considerations by Grygiel, the impact of the development of science on the activation of these mechanisms will be assessed.
And fourthly, it will be claimed that although the ID doctrine cannot serve as means to draw any specific conclusions on how ordering emerges in the Universe, it constitutes a suitable metaphor to support the belief in God as the Creator of the Universe.
Intelligent Design And Its Conceptual Content
Before the unpacking of the conceptual content of the ID doctrine is accomplished, it is worthwhile to carry out a simple semantic analysis of the concepts of “order” and “design.” In regards to order, its basic meaning derives from the logic of relations to articulate the idea of precedence. No mention of the authorship of this order is ever made.
The etymology of the term “design,” however, clearly refers to the activity of specifying, or to singling out from among the many. Moreover, design is often used alternately with project. This yields meaning complementary to design, namely, that of throwing forward, whereby a certain idea is metaphorically visualized as being thrown upon a chaotic substratum.
Consequently, two semantic components of design must be taken into account: Purpose and perfection. In regards to purpose, design implies the activity of a designer, namely, a conscious agent who, driven by a specific goal, makes a deliberate choice from a large number of options available. By acting with purpose, the designer does not arbitrarily select any option available, like in a lottery, but elicits a considerable effort to arrive at a unique arrangement that fits his/her rational plan. Once this plan is placed in the framework of participation in the world of the Platonic eternal forms, it acquires the attribute of perfection.
This simple semantic analysis can be given a more precise meaning with the use of the mathematical concept of probability. The standard definition of probability understood as the ratio of the number of willed choices to the entire number of options from among which these choices can be made indicates that there might be an connection between events of low probability and the activity of an intentional agency. It seems intuitively fitting that the more unique the character of the choice, that is the lower its probability due to the precision of its selection, the more obvious the need to postulate the designer’s intervention.
According to Aristotle, events of low probability qualify as accidental: “The accidental, then, is what occurs, but not always nor of necessity, nor for the most part. Now we have said what the accidental is, and it is obvious why there is no science of such a thing; for all science is of that which is always or for the most part, but the accidental is in neither of these classes.” This assertion brings in a new element into play, namely, that of qualifying chance events as intractable by the scientific method. Consequently, there arises a clear-cut intuitive dichotomy in the explanation of the occurrence of events in nature: high-probability predictable events occur as workings of the regularities built into nature while the low-probability chance events call for an intervention of an intentional agency.
With the conceptual tools thus specified it is now possible to tackle the conceptual content of the ID doctrine. It gained its greatest momentum in the 90’s as efforts were undertaken to fight off theory of the Darwinian evolution. The main objection advanced by ID relies precisely upon the dichotomy explained above: If the natural selection responsible for the increase of complexity in the Universe rests on chance, it is unable to bring forth entities as complex as the living organisms.
An American theologian, John. F. Haught, who testified as an expert in theology at the famous trial held in the USA in 2005 against the introduction of ID doctrine into the high school biology curriculum, defines this doctrine as, “a set of ideas, as well as a vocal cultural movement, that seeks to curb the influence of Darwinism by insisting that science must invoke a non-natural ‘intelligent cause’ for such seemingly improbable phenomena as speciation and cellular complexity.”
The precise arguments in favor of ID were proposed by two of its most vocal advocates: A biochemist, Michael Behe, and a mathematician, William Dembski. Behe coined the concept of “irreducible complexity” as he argued that the functions of certain complex biological structures could not have been developed through the gradual increase of complexity. In regards to the origin of systems such as the biochemical machinery of vision he asserts the following: “They were designed not by the laws of nature, not by chance and necessity; rather they were planned. The designer knew what the systems would look like when they were completed then took steps to bring the systems about.”
In the effort to explain how one might know that a given system has originated through design, Behe continues: “design is evident when a number of separate, interacting components are ordered in such a way as to accomplish a function beyond the individual components. The greater the specificity of the interacting components required to produce the function, the greater is our confidence in the conclusion of design.”
The intriguing link between specificity and design comes more visibly to the fore in the ID conceptualized by Dembski as “specified complexity.” This is a convoluted formal argument carried out within the theory of information. In a nutshell, Dembski maintains that specified complexity appears in a given system when the system contains a great amount of independently specified information and is complex, that is, it exhibits a low probability of being formed. He illustrates these ideas with the following example: “A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sentence of random letters is complex without being specified.
A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified.” Since Dembski expressly associates the process of specification with the activity of the designer, the process may be considered as reflecting the intuitive meaning of the intentional setting aside or singling out, contained in the term “design” discussed above. Yet such singling out by itself is not of any significance unless it operates on a large population of individuals, thereby making the selection truly unique and original.
Regardless of how persuasively Behe’s and Dembski’s arguments may sound, they do not provide any explanation on how to make a transition from the objective features of the design, such as, specificity and complexity, to the subjective mental states of an intelligent designer. This is exactly where the tools of the cognitive science of religion enter in.
Intentionality and Design
The main premise for the application of the tools of the cognitive science of religion to the analysis of the ID doctrine is to establish why the human mind intuitively posits a conscious intentional agency as the cause of the ordering of the Universe. The particular suitability of the tools of the cognitive science of religion to assess the ID doctrine consists in two factors.
Firstly, these tools rely on an extremely general conception on who a god might be with no reference to any religious traditions. Barrett states that “gods, here, will refer to: (1) counterintuitive intentional agents, (2) that a group of people reflectively believe exists, (3) that have a type of existence or action (past, present, or future) that can, in principle, be detected by people, (4) and whose existence motivates some difference in human behavior as a consequence.”
The counterintuitivity which takes up the role of supernaturality in this case implies that the tools of the cognitive science of religion easily apply in situations where the causes of ordering do not have to be of divine nature at all. Secondly, the cognitive science of religion rests on the assumption that religiosity thus conceived is an evolutionary byproduct.
Accordingly, religiosity did not emerge as a result of a specific evolutionary adaptation, but arose due to the operation of the ordinary natural cognitive powers of the human mind. The first important point in the cognitive explanation of the origin of design is that the human mind exhibits a strong conceptual bias, namely, content–specific cognition, that manifests itself through an array of intuitive expectations on what the world is like and what course of the natural phenomena is to be foreseen. These expectations sum up to what is termed as “folk ontology.”
Pascal Boyer has pointed out that the religious beliefs where gods are conceptualized as intentional agents arise largely based on intuitive (non-reflective) concepts to facilitate the efficacy of these beliefs in the real-time operation. Barret has put forward the thesis that the quickly spreading religious concepts need to be minimally counterintuitive, that is, to violate folk ontology only to a certain small degree.
Additionally, these concepts must exhibit substantial inferential potential to form reflective beliefs so that sense can be made out of what is being observed and experienced in reality. It turns out that these are the minimally counterintuitive intentional agents equipped with mental states which qualify as the chief meaning-making tools.
What are the reasons for this particular applicability of the concept of an intentional agent to make sense out of reality? The evolutionary explanations of this state of affairs rely on the two basic cognitive mechanisms called the hyperactive agency detection device (HADD) and the theory of mind (ToM) otherwise called “folk psychology.”
HADD was first suggested by Stephen Guthrie and its primary function is to purposely over-interpret the perception of a self-propelled motion as resulting from the action of an intentional agent equipped with mental states. Since such a motion has no visible mechanical cause, it violates the expectation of physicality, whereby it triggers HADD, so that the attack of a predator can be avoided and the reproductive success secured. The theory of mind supplements the workings of HADD, by supplying the array of possible mental processes and motivations that might have led to the behavior perceived.
What truly counts as fundamental from the point of view of this study, however, is the HADD reveals sensitivity not only to the actual motions of a supposedly minded agent but to the traces of its activity as well. The traces may include easily recognizable objects such as deer trails and bird nests, as well as any other manifestations of ordering. If the encountered pattern does not correspond to any familiar mechanical or biological cause, the human mind will likely place an intentional agency as its cause because it has a natural bias towards explaining the perception of ordering in teleological terms, rather than stipulating the activity of natural causes.
This phenomenon has been extensively studied by an American psychologist, Deborah Kelemen. The studies performed on young children demonstrated a marked preference in explaining a given natural regularity by answering the question, “what for?”. Consequently, a design or a regularity encountered in nature can be easily clarified as the activity of an intelligent designer and – ultimately – of a creator.
Further justification of why the human mind intuitively associates orderings observed in nature with a purposeful action of an intentional agent comes from an argument based on probabilities. Some indications in this regard have been made by De Cruz and De Smedt, but they call for further substantiation.
What follows is a proposal of such a substantiation, conjectured by the author of this study. The conditions under which local ordering in the Universe may take place, are given by the laws of thermodynamics, which involve entropy as the formal measure of disorder. These laws stipulate that the local ordering reflected in the local decrease of entropy must be accompanied by the local decrease of the internal energy. The energy of a system can be lowered through work that is performed on it.
This fact agrees with the intuitive experience of having to invest a considerable and purposeful effort into achieving results that require organization of things into coherent unities (e.g., building a house). Similarly, the disintegration into chaos and formlessness occurs spontaneously in nature and its prevention always demands external intervention. This observation suggests that there may exist a link between the process of ordering and the activity of a personal intentional agency, that is, a designer.
This link becomes evident, as one considers Boltzmann’s definition of entropy given by the famous formula S = k lnΩ, where k is the thermodynamic constant and Ω is the number of equivalent microstates available to a system in a certain macrostate.
The complexity of the system, in Dembski’s terms, indicates that there is a large number of possible configurations – micro- states available to this system, whereby the probability of picking out a single one is low. Such a process of selection will result in a significant decrease of entropy, as compared to the situation in which the complexity is small, meaning that much greater force will need to be exerted in the same time period to achieve selection in a complex system. And now comes the key cognitive argument.
According to Leslie, the subjective mental representation contains three distinct levels with the representation of a mechanical force being the most basic one that supplies information to the two higher ones. Consequently, as Sørensen states, “representation of force is an implicit part in both understanding entities in the world as agents with intentions and in being an agent oneself when acting with specific goals in mind based on beliefs.”
In conjunction with the laws of thermodynamics, this statement yields a possible explanation of why the perception of order may intuitively invoke an intentional agency as its primary cause, and why such an agency produces events of low probability. Despite its conjectural character calling for a more in-depth empirical study, it seems rational to expect that the capacity of producing design qualifies as another constituent of the folk ontology, that is, the content-specific expectation of what it means to be human.
There is no doubt that the new scientific discoveries slowly but constantly shift the threshold of what qualifies as counter-intuitive. The possibility of overcoming the cognitive biases through the growth of scientific knowledge and its subsequent cultural dissemination has been convincingly argued by De Cruz and De Smedt. For instance, the introduction of one of the most fruitful conceptual tools of contemporary physics, namely, that of a field, clearly does away with the intuitive belief that motion occurs through contact with a visible cause. Since fields are invisible carriers of forces spreading over the entire space, their effects occur by having no visible mover.
More importantly, as revealed by the theory of the dissipative systems, ordering into very complex low-probability structures, such as, living organisms, does not have to mean design, because it can be brought forth by the workings of the natural laws. In short, life is a dissipative structure. According to this theory, order can naturally emerge out of chaos, so that no intervention of an intelligent designer is necessary in this process. The emergence of ordering in the Universe involves two strategies: (1) the necessity of the laws of nature, combined with (2) chance as the random character of fluctuations of the environment. Since these fluctuations fall under rigorous mathematical treatment within probability theory, the evolutionary origin of life in the Universe can be easily subsumed within the scientific rationality of a mathematical character.
Consequently, chance no longer contradicts order but becomes its seminal constituent. This suggests that, what for the scientifically illiterate generations immediately led to the acknowledgement of the workings of an intelligent designer, no longer has to have this effect for those that are scientifically informed.
Moreover, the studies of the evolutionary processes of bringing forth this growth reveal that the characteristics of these processes do not coincide with the idea of a design resulting from the purposeful activity of a designer. This is particularly evident in the specificity of natural selection that brings forth novelty, not by means of the optimization of a new project, but by means of slow modifications of the existing structures.
In order to gain more focus in addressing this problem, I have suggested the concepts of vincible and invincible counterintuitivity to reflect the dynamic nature of the scientific knowledge in its impact on the formation of a religious belief. In particular, these concepts allow for the articulation of a purely hypothetical situation, in which counterintuitivity would eventually become entirely vincible, upon the formulation of a scientific theory of everything, capable of grasping the ultimate meaning of reality. There is a common agreement, however, that such expectations amount to no more than sheer illusion.
This agreement builds on a practical and a theoretical premise. The practical premise was clearly stated by Albert Einstein who was deeply convinced that science unveils only a very small part of the vastness and complexity of the physical reality, while most of it will always remain a profound mystery. To put things succinctly, nature has sufficient amount of novelties in stock to generate counterintuitivity for many generations of researchers to come. It is not surprising that Richard Swinburne has revamped the argument from design by claiming that the abstract laws of physics call for an intentional agency to explain their origin.
The theoretical premise was clarified by Michael Heller, who pointed to three irremovable gaps in knowledge that cannot be patched up with the scientific inquiry: The ontological, the epistemological and the axiological. In case of the ontological gap, one asks the Leibnizian question of why there exists something rather than nothing – while following Einstein, the epistemological gap prompts the question of why the Universe is rational, namely, why its laws assume their particular form. Since the pertinent answers fall outside the competence of science, the problem of the ultimate origin of the structuring of the Universe will never be scientifically resolved, although it may shift to a very abstract level as evidenced by the highly-advanced formalisms of the contemporary physical theories.
Inasmuch as the development of science is an objective process of departing from intuitions proper to the folk ontology, what truly counts for the formation of beliefs in the causal activity of intentional agencies is how the human mind responds to this development. It turns out that this response reveals two constituents. They were pointed out by Barrett, as he commented on the very process of the human mind being confronted with the outcomes of the theory of evolution: “we do not simply outgrow the tendency to see the purpose in the world but have to learn to override it.”
He rests this statement on extensive empirical research, revealing that the folk ontology intuitions remain operative even in conditions of high level of scientific literacy. Consequently, these intuitions remain permanently invincible, whereby the efficacy of beliefs, useful in making sense out of routine events in real-time thinking, is assured. What is remarkable at this point is how well the human mind is actually sealed off from the possibility of conquering all counterintuitivity: Should the intuitive conceptual biases be ever overcome and should the folk ontology ever catch up with the actual state of the art in science, it is unlikely that nature itself will ever run out of surprises. And even if it finally did, the irremovable gaps will ultimately enter in and terminate all scientific inquiry.
The specificity of the mechanism of the natural selection that has been addressed at the beginning of this article points to another aspect of the invincibility of the inference of the intelligent designer’s authorship of the ordering in the Universe. As it has been already explained, this mechanism executes a short-sighted ad hoc strategy of imperfect adjustments to the existing structures to secure their proper adaptation to the environment’s fluctuations.
Since ordering does not seem to be manifest to perception in such an instance, HADD should not fire and the activity of an intentional agent should not be detected. On the other hand, however, the detection of imperfections of the evolutionary outcomes does rely on the knowledge of rather advanced biology, unavailable at the time when William Payley formulated his famous claims. Therefore, it seems justified to expect that these imperfections will not significantly obstruct the activity of the scientifically uninformed intuitions, especially that the theory of dissipative systems, based on the deterministic chaos, yields rational explanation of their origin.
In Connection With Religion
Although the contemporary ID doctrine does not reveal an explicitly religious agenda, it is hard to disentangle this doctrine from its theological significance. After all, the representation of God the Creator as an intelligent designer entered the theological thought already in the Middle Ages, through the formulation of the teleological argument for the existence of God.
Later on, for instance, the explanation of the complexity of living organisms, given in the 18th-century by William Payley, directly involved God as the principal author of the ordering of the Universe. It also seems quite obvious that many of the ID supporters, including Behe and Dembski, aimed at creating a new intellectual framework in which the prevalent scientistic attitude could be overcome and the mind of a contemporary scientifically-oriented believer reopened for the perception of the supernatural.
Consequently, the appraisal of the ID doctrine with the tools of the cognitive science of religion will not be complete, unless the impact of the presented outcomes on the formation of the religious belief is at least briefly addressed.
Barrett has drawn up the following cognitive distinction between natural religion and theology: “there is a difference between what people tend to believe in an automatic, day-to-day sort of way, and what they believe when they stop to reflect and systematically figure out what they do and do not believe.” This means that the human mind makes use of two incompatible representations of the divine: The intuitive and the theological.
Since the intuitive representation is inferentially rich and its activation occurs quickly and unconsciously, it ensures that the thought processes, with its use, guarantee immediate inferential power, thereby securing the execution of religiosity in real-time mode. The theological representation, on the other hand, is abstract, with its activation occurring slowly and consciously in a reflective mode of religious thinking. As Barrett frequently stresses, it demands an elaborate institutional scaffolding in the form of the educational institutions to provide proper instruction.
As applied to the ID doctrine, Barrett’s distinction of religious beliefs into natural religion and theology clearly supports the invulnerability of the intuitive belief in the purposefulness of ordering in the Universe to its natural explanation, by means of the evolutionary scenarios.
In light of this, it seems rational to propose that the religiously interpreted ID doctrine can be reasonably justified, only in the mode of natural religion, as it serves to sustain the belief in God as the Creator of the Universe. There is no doubt that this belief is central to any religion that attributes the origin and the existence of the Universe to the causal power of the pertinent deity. Moreover, the intuitive character of the belief in the divine design of the ordering in the Universe makes this belief permanently accessible to believers in real-time thinking. As a result, religiosity can be continuously exercised without the need to resort to elaborate reasonings to substantiate its claims.
The analysis of the doctrine of Intelligent Design, with the tools of the cognitive science of religion, has demonstrated that the human mind exhibits a marked preference towards the intuitive (non-reflective) acceptance of an intentional agency, that is a designer, as the author of the ordering of the Universe.
What is most striking, however, is that this belief seems to reveal an unusual immunity to the development of science, despite science gradually invalidating ID’s central claims, by showing that what is intuitively attributed to the activity of a designer turns out to be the result of the workings of the laws of nature. Such a state of affairs gives a clear explanation for the persistence of the ID doctrine, even in the scientifically literate circles. In brief, intuitions are extremely hard to be dispensed with. An important cognitive factor which discredits the ID doctrine is the nature of HADD itself.
Since this cognitive mechanism relies on the error management strategy, it yields no insight into the epistemic value of this belief. In short, this not a truth-tracking process, and it is likely to generate false positives. It is additionally confirmed by the fact that HADD was proposed on the basis of a specially constructed ancestral environment, in which its activity had been adaptively advantageous.
It remains beyond doubt that contemporary humans, who are scientifically literate, do not populate such environments. De Cruz and De Smedt confirm this difficulty when they state that “one cannot draw straightforward conclusions from evolutionary origins to epistemic justifications.” These considerations seem to lead to an inescapable conclusion that the ID doctrine is entirely unscientific, for it fools its supporters into mythology.
Such a drastic claim can be somewhat alleviated, as one takes into account the thermodynamic argument of why the human mind posits a designer, as it perceives ordered structures. Contrary to HADD, the mechanism involved relies on the second law of thermodynamics, which is a well-established law of nature, whereby the corresponding mental representations may refract some truth on what the world really is. As has been already indicated, an intelligent designer may be a part of what constitutes folk psychology. Consequently, the concept of the intelligent designer can be applied to formulate positive theological statements concerning the nature of supernatural reality.
Following the precepts of negative theology, however, such predication occurs metaphorically only due to the radical disproportion between the perfection and infinity of God and the finiteness of the human conceptual means that are at man’s disposal. The representation of God as the Creator in the form of the intelligent designer can serve only as the metaphor of God’s creative power to sustain the intuitive belief and cannot be used to formulate any literal theological statements on the nature of the divine act of creation.
Wojciech P. Grygiel is at the Department of Philosophy, The Pontifical University of John Paul II, Kraków, Copernicus Center for the Interdisciplinary Studies. He is also a member of the Saint Peter Priesthood. This article appears courtesy of Scientia et Fides.
The image shows, “The Ancient of Days,” a watercolor-etching by William Blake, painted 1794.
Part One – The Historical, Political And Intellectual Context: Has Spain Contributed Anything To Western Civilization?
In 1782, as part of the Encyclopédie méthodique par ordre des matières, published in France by Charles-Joseph Panckoucke, the geographer Nicolas Masson de Morvilliers expressed himself in these terms regarding the country of Spain: “The Spanish […] exercised in Europe and in the Indies, cruelties which make one shudder and which have made them odious to the peoples of the two worlds. […] Spain is perhaps the most ignorant nation in Europe. All overseas work is at an end. The monks lay down the law… […] Today, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Poland itself, Germany, Italy, England and France, all these peoples, whether enemies, friends, or rivals, all burn with generous emulation for the advancement of science and the arts […]. Each of them, so far, has made some useful discovery, which has turned to the benefit of humanity! But what do we owe to Spain? And for two centuries, for four, for ten, what has it done for Europe?”
This judgment, brutal as it is, is far from isolated in pre-revolutionary Europe. Voltaire does not have a better opinion of the historical role of Spain. He sees Philippe II (1556-1598) as a kind of “demon of the south;” the perfect counterpoint to the good Henry IV so tolerant. At a time when modern nations were really starting to take shape and stereotypes were fundamental anchors to their perception, Montesquieu is not any kinder towards Spain.
The same rabid Hispanophobia is found in many authors of the time, from the Marquis d’Argens to Father Reynal and Madame d’Aulnoy. Though Portugal suffers more or less the same fate, it is not the same for Italy, the cradle of European civilization. In addition, a similar trend can easily be seen in the following century. All of Europe is concerned with this propensity to see in the Iberian Peninsula a sort of desert when it comes to civilization, the arts and the sciences.
This is why the decision of the French authorities to censor the Encyclopédie méthodique at the request of the Spanish Ambassador to Paris, Pedro de Bolea y Pons de Mendoza, Count of Aranda, did not convince anyone for too long. Everyone knew already that the author had only openly said what all the European elites muttered under their breath among themselves.
The Bourbons of Spain: Promoters Of Enlightenment Thought
It is not for us to settle this debate here-and-now, a debate which has animated Iberian historiography for more than two centuries; nor shall we even enumerate the multiple contributions of Spain to European and world culture. On the other hand, we may still be surprised at the virulence of the above-mentioned remarks. Was there not a philosophical light which, issuing from the European Enlightenment, shone across the Pyrenees and carried across the ideas then in vogue in the other nations of the continent (progress, science, rationality, reform, education, elevation of the spirit)?
Although much less known than their English, French or Germanic colleagues, the Enlightenment thinkers and writers, in Spain, were active and fruitful. They benefited from the accession to the throne of the Bourbons from France in the person of the Duke of Anjou, Philippe V (1700-1746), whose descendants still reign today. Until the Napoleonic invasion (1808-1814), his sons, Louis I (January-August 1724), Ferdinand VI (1746-1759) and Charles III (1759-1788), as well as his grandson Charles IV (1788-1808), succeeded one another as the heads of a country which they were trying to transform deeply, in particular from an economic and technological point of view. It is the Golden Age of what is called in Spain, the Ilustración, a term closer to the English “Enlightenment,” or the German Aufklärung than to the French Lumières (although we also find the expression, siglo de las Luces in the language of Cervantes).
It is indeed French influence that is decisive in the development of this particularly obvious intellectual movement during the reign of Charles III, the Spanish prototype of the déspota ilustrado (“enlightened despot”). Having gained experience as the King of Naples and Sicily, from 1734 to 1759, the eldest son of Philippe V and Elisabeth Farnese, was closest to the Hispanic reformist movements – even if his father, trained in full Grand Siècle style by Fénelon and the Duke of Beauvilliers, had a solid intellectual background. Throughout the period, there were an increasing number of bodies created, from academies (including that of the Spanish language) to learned societies and think tanks which enlivened the life of ideas beyond the Pyrenees and renewed scientific research and technology.
However, it should not be forgotten that, as in France or England, these statesmen, philosophers and writers whom these learned bodies permitted to flourish were part of a minority (Spanish historiography speaks about them as the minoría selecta). In addition, the ministers of the “enlightened despot” did not arise from nothing, since they pursued their studies within traditional social structures (aristocracy, clergy, petty bourgeoisie), as well as in the Colegios Mayores, those universities of the Golden Age which for a long time were marked by scholasticism. Among them were a majority of golillas, jurists (letrados) trained in Salamanca, Valladolid or Alcalá de Henares, as well as their lifelong opponents, the manteístas, who came from less prestigious universities.
It is therefore within an official and oft-controlled context (some historians speak of cultura tutelada) that the Spanish Enlightenment flourished. It owed its protection, as we have said, to Charles III and his advisers, but, more generally, to royal absolutism, which favored the implementation, throughout Europe, of a series of first-class modernizing measures; and Spain was no exception to this phenomenon.
But the monarch was not the only one to have a say in Spanish intellectual life. Works published in Spain had to obtain the imprimatur from the Council of Castile, and more particularly from the Printing Court (Juzgado de Imprentas), which could censor them. The procedure was identical for foreign publications and for well-informed periodicals, such as La gaceta de Madrid and El mercurio.
Internal Opposition To The Enlightenment
In general, opposition to what some pejoratively called filosofía, or even filosofismo, was not uncommon in Spain – any more than it was in the rest of the continent. The questioning of theology as the queen discipline of the intellect, the rejection of the worldview imposed by the Counter-Reformation, the surpassing of the baroque, and the analysis of the sensory universe beyond the Aristotelian categories, in force in medieval and modern scholasticism, were all factors that shook up a cultural and educational elite reluctant to give up its place.
The unpopularity of the reforms is reflected, for example, in the revolt against the Minister Esquilache (motín de Esquilache). In March 1766, a popular rebellion broke out in Madrid, and then in other Spanish cities, against the decompartmentalization of the internal market in the midst of the food crisis, but also, and above all else, against the ban on certain elements of traditional Spanish attire.
All this contributed to undermining the beginning of the reign of Charles III. The latter was forced to accept the resignation and exile of Leopoldo de Gregorio, whose downfall was less because of the prohibition against wearing the chambergo (a soft hat with a wide brim; very fashionable at the time) than on the intrinsic limits to Bourbon reformism.
The burdens of society were quickly attributed by the monarch and the “philosophers” to the influence of the Catholic religion, which must be limited, in particular the Inquisition (which was already only a shadow of itself); and by expelling the Jesuits from all Spanish possessions.
A Thirst For Reform In Madrid And In The Provinces
At the same time as the movement to construct nation-states (which started almost everywhere in Europe at this time) the modernization of Spain appeared as an absolute necessity in the eyes of the Enlightenment of the Pyrenees. The ministers and thinkers belonging to this idea were aware that the recovery of their country, after the difficult years of the reigns of Philippe IV (1621-1665) and Charles II (1665-1700), could only come about by the adoption of solutions already tested in France, in England or in certain German principalities.
As contemporary historians point out, it was more the theme of Spanish decadence, the (necessarily subjective) perception of a decadence, rather than the reality of such a phenomenon which pushed men of letters and the intellectuals to think about the causes of the malaise which affected their country.
The reasons put forward in the 18th-century (and then during the years that followed) were numerous, often imprecise and generally not very convincing (even grotesque): The Spanish disdain for technology and manual work; the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and then the Moriscos (those Muslims who converted to Christianity as a facade) in 1613; the omnipotence of the Mesta, that association (it seems today more a lobby) of owners of nomadic sheep herds; the military drain that maintained the dominance of the Habsburgs in Europe; the constant drain of emigration to America; the deficient administration of the House of Austria, etc.
The abundant reflection generated by such considerations helped to create the feeling that it was not that Spain had problems, but that Spain was a problem in itself.
The economic and institutional obstacles to the development of Spain within the European context were real. In this sense, evoking the omnipotence of the Mesta (responsible, at least in part, for the agricultural backwardness from which the country suffered), or the dependence of royal finances on metals from the New World, or the French bank was certainly relevant. Nevertheless, the multiplication of the sources of complaints, and the obsession of some, both in Spain and abroad, with the idea of decadence, ultimately made any ilustrada philosophy sterile.
Fortunately, this was not the view of all representatives of the Spanish Enlightenment; quite the contrary. Often moderate and pragmatic thinkers and statesmen of the period proposed more or less ambitious reforms in all directions. It seemed indeed difficult that all could succeed and some were even horrendous failures – which fed, at regular intervals, the melancholy of Spanish intellectuals, who saw in the reign of Charles III a missed opportunity to transform their country in a fundamental way.
However, it must be said, many of these measures did bear fruit so that Spain has long lived “on” the legacy of the Ilustración. We can already cite a quite few:
The creation of learned societies, reflection clubs (the future Spanish casinos in the 19th-century). These were academies and gatherings whose aim was to work for the public good and were found throughout the breadth of Spain, and not only in Madrid;
The desire to better educate the people, in particular by suppressing certain entertainment of a religious nature, such as the sacramental autos (pieces of a hagiographic character, very popular in medieval and modern Spain), but also by attacking the ecclesiastical monopoly on universities;
Decisions aimed at improving the social situation of the poorest Spaniards, in particular by fighting begging and modernizing agriculture and irrigation, whether from a theoretical or practical point of view;
The reorganization of the state, the territorial administration, and the American colonies, in particular in order to derive greater economic profit;
The repopulation of certain demographic deserts, as in the Sierra Morena, north of Cordoba;
The stimulation of nascent industry, especially in Catalonia, and the foundation of royal factories on a more or less Colbertist model.
This ferment did not come about without a series of ideological clashes that drew upon rivalries from before the reign of Charles III. The Spanish Enlightenment was not born out of thin air and did not owe its success solely to French or English influence. It had its roots in an older reform movement that consisted in the stinging denial of all those who wanted to see in Spain a nation without thought of its own.
Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): The first time I came across your name was in the second half of mid 1980s. I found an article you wrote in the English Conservative magazine, The Salisbury Review, edited back then by Sir Roger Scruton. It was an anti-feminist article – an article written by a female scholar of antiquity. Yet you wrote several books about women in ancient times, in tragedy. One can’t think of Greek tragedy without women. My question is: Where does your interest in ancient women come from? Clearly, given your stance on feminism, it was not just a fashion: A woman writing about women.
Mary Lefkowitz (ML): That article was one of several articles which I wrote about revisionist histories. In the seventies and eighties some feminists were using Greek myths to argue that early in human history there had been peaceful matriarchal societies that were eventually usurped by men, and I tried to show why myth couldn’t be used as historical evidence. I can’t imagine that there ever was a time when women were in continual charge of their societies. Until relatively recently in human history, anatomy was destiny.
ZJ: When you look at your antifeminist articles, your book Not Out of Africa, and watch today’s academic landscape, do you think fighting it, writing against it, changed anything? I can come up with a few names of female scholars in your field (Mary Beard and Edith Hall) who write about the Greeks and the Romans as if feminism and Marxism were an orthodoxy. Beard’s popular history of Rome reminds me of the Marxist interpretations of Roman history which I read in Communist Poland: Roman masses are her hero. Now the same message comes from the most prestigious British universities.
ML: Feminism, Marxism, and Afrocentrism are like religions; believers are not persuaded by arguments based on known, warranted facts. But (as I think I said) I’m not against feminism per se. Rather, what I object to is the use of mythology as history.
ZJ: The position of women in Greece was not the same as in Rome. There is no Greek Livia, Augustus’ wife, who—if we follow Robert Graves’ account —was the real force who shaped Augustus’ politics, and so many others. Given different stature of women in Greece and Rome (Greek women, from what we know, did not yield the same power, even behind the scene), how do you explain the importance of women in Greek tragedy? Did the Greeks see some fundamental difference between men and women which the tragedy explores?
ML: In fifth-century Athens women certainly did not have any political power, but women in Sparta had considerable political influence, and Artemisia of Halicarnassus in Asia Minor commanded her own ship fighting against the Greeks in the battle of Salamis. But in the Hellenistic Era, there were powerful women rulers who had even more power than Livia, e.g. the Macedonian Greek Cleopatra VII of Egypt. Such women were all from royal or aristocratic families.
ZJ: What is striking about Greek tragedies is the importance of female characters. Neither Ismene nor Chrysothemis in Sophocles’ Antigone and Electra seem to have much to contribute to the plot. They serve as a contrast to Antigone and Electra. What I mean by contrast is the personae of Ismene and Chrysosthemis—their femininity. They want to live, have families, children. Antigone and Chrysosthemis, on the other hand, are obsessed with one idea: vengeance. But for it to work, they have to turn off their emotions, forget about their feminine charm, their feminine nature. There must be a reason why both playwrights chose women to be there, why they constructed the pairs of women to act this way. Do you think there is something about women, their psychology, their nature, that Sophocles and Euripides saw and explored? After all, one could use a male character there, but they did not.
ML: I suspect that Greek women, then as now, had plenty to say, even though they weren’t officially in change – that’s apparent even in Homer. Contrasting strong women with weak women allows the dramatist to show that women can be as heroic as men in life and death situations.
ZJ: Unlike in a number of other disciplines, there are and were many outstanding female scholars of antiquity: you; Jacqueline de Romily in France; in my native Poland there were several; Lidia Winniczuk, H. Kronska, Maria Dzielska. There is Grace Harriet Macurdy, professor at Vassar College, whose book Hellenistic Queens was published in 1932! One can also invoke the name of the 18th century translator of Epictetus’ Enchiridion, Mrs. Carter. And, of course, Edith Hamilton, the author of very popular books on Greece and Rome. You can probably come up with many more names. What attracts women to Greece and Rome? You said, “Contrasting strong women with weak women allows the dramatist to show that women can be as heroic as men in life and death situations” Is it just a question of weak versus strong women? Why should we assume that the strength of women lies in their being “as heroic as men”? Why should we measure strength of women by analogy of what is valuable in men? Why not assume, as we did even in the Enlightenment period, that the virtues of women – of which Rousseau in his Emile or La Nouvelle Heloise and Laclos in his Education of Women wrote – are different and they should be measured as such? Would you not agree that to judge women against men – whether they can be like men – is to capitulate to the democratic idea of equality.
ML: How do we measure qualities like courage? How can we measure courage? Or constancy, or determination, or whatever other qualities we can think of? More men have been greater mathematicians and physicists than have women, but is that because men have more testosterone in their systems than women, or because women have not had the same encouragement or opportunity?
I suspect that what attracted women to the study of antiquity is what has attracted men to the study of antiquity: the challenge of learning difficult languages, the excitement of reading great literature. In my own case, learning Latin helped me understand the structure of English grammar. Greek seemed to me to be particularly interesting because the words seemed to be more literal, closer to what the parent language must have been like. I tried to make myself study something more practical, like Chemistry, but couldn’t stop wanting to read Sophocles. So that’s what I did.
ZJ: T. S. Eliot once said, tragedy is impossible in the Christian world, or Biblical world – I cannot remember. But the Old Testament story of Job seems to indicate that he had both in mind. I made it my habit to teach the Book of Job to students to draw a contrast between the Greeks and the Hebrews, and, more precisely, between Job’s attitude and Epictetus or the Stoics. My standard questions after reading the two texts is: “Was Job a Stoic?” If you were to look at Job from Mars, you would not know whether he reconciled himself to his fate because he had faith in God or whether he reconciled himself because he was a Greek Stoic philosopher, a man who accepted life “as it happens.” “Don’t seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen,” says Epictetus. Perfect one-line expression of the Greek mind. Was Eliot right? Tragedy in the Biblical tradition—whether the Jewish or Christian versions—seems impossible. No savior, no messiah. The universe is blind and deaf, and thus, human life is tragic!
ML: Eliot was right. You can’t have tragedy in a universe where divinities are supposed to promote human welfare and cooperate with one another. Ancient Greek deities disagree with one another. Hence the Trojan War, the death of Hippolytus, Juno’s wrath against the Trojans in the Aeneid.
ZJ: If you think of what happened to Oedipus, he does what he was bound to, but then when he discovers what he did—killed his father, slept with his mother—he blinds himself. Another proof: Fatum is blind, we must account for our “sins” even if we did not know, which makes me think of Agamemnon and the origin of a fundamental issue in European culture: Justice.
The Trojan war. It starts with the abduction of Helen. The Greeks gather at Aulis. Agamemnon goes hunting; crosses the sanctuary of the Goddess of Nature, Artemis, who demands sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia; reluctantly, he does it because the winds will not blow; he goes to Troy, comes back, he gets killed by his wife, Clytemnestra, who, to avenge the death of their daughter, kills him. The filial duty falls on Orestes and Electra, the two children, who kill their mother, and who must be killed. It is a domino effect. Those involved in the killing must suffer too. Why? Because Agamemnon unknowingly crossed the boundaries of the Goddess sanctuary. Ignorance, like in Oedipus’s case, is no excuse in the eyes of the gods. Finally, Apollo intervenes because Orestes and Electra would have to be executed for killing their mother, which they had to do.
The moral is: Vengeance is not mine; to do justice we have to transfer it to the impersonal entity, the State; family members cannot exact justice. Is this so? Is this the point where and when European civilization begins – with the recognition of creating a system where emotions must be turned off? Would you agree with such a characterization?
ML: I wouldn’t put it quite that way. Fate isn’t blind; we are. Hamartia doesn’t mean “sin,” but rather “missing the mark,” “making an error in judgment,” which is what Oedipus did when he thought he could avoid fulfilling the oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother by leaving Corinth, and the people he thought were his father and mother, which enabled him to fulfill the oracle by heading for Thebes. Tragedy reminds us of this fundamental human weakness. We always know less than we think we know. Tragedy allows us to turn our emotions on, and to reflect on the limitations of our own knowledge.
ZJ: Let me continue by moving to a special topic: Western Civilization. In Aeschylus’ Persians, the playwright makes the Persian king listen to his advisor, to understand that the Greeks govern themselves in an incomprehensible way: they are governed by the many, not one king. The explanation comes when the Persian defeat is just about to happen. Let me point out, if the Greeks were to lose, there would be no democracy, no republic if the Persians were to invade and conquer Italy, no system of government that we take for granted today.
Western civilization is a complex entity, built over two thousand years but the question is what are its foundations, the ingredients without which it would not exist. When I teach I use an image of what we call in America: a melting pot, but it is a Western Civ. pot: here are my ingredients: The Jewish/Biblical One God, love your neighbor, in the Christian form, love of all others, other nations; Greek ingredient is philosophy, mathematics, architecture, tragedy, and democracy; my Roman ingredient: Roman law, administration, architecture (arches; aqueducts, dome), republican form of government (two chambers). You mix it, you get the basic dish: European civilization from which the Middle Ages and Renaissance sprang. In it you have the foundations of Modern Europe.
Yet, all of this is today under attack: colonialism, racism, misogyny, patriarchy. Why are we so ungrateful to the Greeks and Romans? You spent your life in Ivory Tower. Life of the mind is the most precious thing, and yet, it is the academics who are destroying it.
ML: Academe hasn’t been an ivory tower since the student revolutions of the late 1960s, as the result of which curricula became increasingly politicized. Academics and students wanted to study society’s problems so they could do something about them. They wanted action and had no time for reflection. What they didn’t and still don’t understand is that knowing something about the past and human nature could help them better to understand the present.
ZJ: Several years ago, I came across the name of a Saudi Arab intellectual Ibrahim al-Buleihi, former Saudi Shura Council Member, who in an interview titled “Western Civilization Has Liberated Mankind” said many things that few professors in America would have the courage to say. Here it is: Buleihi: “My attitude towards Western civilization is an attitude based on obvious facts and great accomplishments; here is a reality full of wonderful and amazing things. [Recognizing] this doesn’t mean that I am blindly fascinated. This is the very opposite of the attitude of those who deny and ignore the bright lights of Western civilization. Just look around… and you will notice that everything beautiful in our life has been produced by Western civilization: even the pen that you are holding in your hand, the recording instrument in front of you, the light in this room, and the journal in which you work, and many innumerable amenities, which are like miracles for the ancient civilizations. If it were not for the accomplishments of the West, our lives would have been barren. I only look objectively and value justly what I see and express it honestly. Whoever does not admire great beauty is a person who lacks sensitivity, taste, and observation. Western civilization has reached the summit of science and technology. It has achieved knowledge, skills, and new discoveries, as no previous civilization before it. The accomplishments of Western civilization cover all areas of life: methods of organization, politics, ethics, economics, and human rights. It is our obligation to acknowledge its amazing excellence. Indeed, this is a civilization that deserves admiration… The horrible backwardness in which some nations live is the inevitable result of their refusal to accept this [abundance of Western ideas and visions] while taking refuge in denial and arrogance.”
‘Okaz: “Sir, you can admire this civilization as much as you want, but not at the expense of others, especially our own civilization.”
Buleihi: “My admiration for the West is not at the expense of others; rather, it is an invitation to those others to acknowledge their illusions and go beyond their inferiority and liberate themselves from backwardness. [Those others] should admit their shortcomings, and make an effort to overcome them; they should stop denying the truth and closing their eyes to the multitude of wonderful achievements. They should be fair towards those nations that achieved prosperity for themselves but did not monopolize it for themselves and instead allowed the whole world to share the results of this progress, so that other nations of the whole world now enjoy these achievements. Furthermore, Western civilization has given to the world knowledge and skills which made it possible for them, the non-Western nations, to compete with it in production and share markets with it. Criticizing one’s own deficiencies is a precondition to inducing oneself to change for the better. Conversely, to glorify one’s backward apathetic self is to establish and fortify backwardness, to strengthen the shackles of apathy, and to eradicate the capabilities of excellence. Backwardness is a shameful reality, which we should resent and from which we must liberate ourselves.”
What is your reaction to al-Buleihi’s statement?
ML: I agree with what he says. The students who chanted “Western Civ has got to go” were only considering the downside of Western Civ, which is pretty much the downside of human nature generally, anger, violence, self-aggrandizement, etc. Plato and Aristotle showed us ways in which all people could lead more constructive lives, but their visions did little to address social issues, like oppression of certain people, such as slaves.
ZJ: There is a tendency today to just go over religious traditions (plural) as if religion was never part of any culture. Why do we operate in this religious vacuum and how does it obfuscate our understanding of both Antiquity and Modernity? You probably know the movie Troy with Brad Pitt. It is, in my opinion, a very well-done movie. However, same thing: no gods! Last year in November, Joseph Epstein wrote a nice piece for the Wall Street Journal about Thucydides. I always enjoy finding something like that. The title of it is “History Made by Men, not Gods.” To ignore gods is to miss the point of the Iliad. Gods are as important as humans. I remember Sir Moses Finley’s several articles about Socrates, whose trial, according to him was motivated to a large extent by the suspicion that he really did not believe in the gods, and the Athenians, remembering well the plagues that visited Athens and devastated population during the war, thought disbelief was a serious problem. What is your view here when it comes to taking religious views seriously? Can one understand culture, Greece and Rome, in particular, by simply saying – myths, gods…
ML: I believe that you cannot understand ancient Greek literature, history or philosophy unless you take account of ancient Greek religion. Although it’s hard for us to understand, Greek theology (I prefer that term to mythology) assumes that the gods exist for their own benefit and for the benefit of human beings, and that they often work at cross purposes from one another. It provides a means of understanding why bad things happen to good people, and the forces of evil are so often successful.
ZJ: Is what I implied in my previous question a matter of changing world-view (un-religious, a-religious, atheist, skeptical, scientific, or whatever else you want to call it or; ignorance, or a-historicity), which makes us create worlds of the past that do not correspond to historical reality and from which we can’t learn.
ML: We could learn from ancient Greek religion that there is only so much we can do to shape the courses of our own lives, much less the lives of our communities or nations.
ZJ: When did the awareness of the Ancient world start dying in the US, in the West? Complaints go back to the 19th century. I have in front of me two wonderful little books by Henry Nettleship, a great scholar of antiquity: The True Aim of Classical Education and The Moral Influence of Literature, and The Moral Influence of Literature:Classical Education in the Past and at Present. Two Popular Addresses. Both books aim at explaining the importance of the classics. The decline of interest can be traced, I think, to the late 1970s. The map of heavens is Greco-Roman, so were all space programs: Geminin Apollo, etc. Then, things changed. No Greeks, no Romans. Columbia, Challenger, etc. and the nail in the coffin was… Jessie Jackson in 1988: “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western culture’s got to go.” So, the Greeks, the Romans, the West are gone. You as a teacher of the Greeks in a prestigious college are well qualified to explain: Should we feel more sorry for the Greeks, or for ourselves?
ML: For ourselves, of course. Western Civilization has many shortcomings. Greek philosophy has not solved all the world’s problems, because it is essentially elitist and relies on the existence of a working underclass. But the critical thinking that it encourages offers the best means of finding equitable solutions for the disparities in our society.
ZJ: This leads me to the question that made you to be probably the most known classicist in America. The controversy in which you were involved. It concerned the book by Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. Can you briefly say what the book claims before I ask you about your role in this controversy? You responded to Bernal’s book with your own book: Not Out of Africa: How “Afrocentrism” Became An Excuse To Teach Myth As History. Something must have deeply gotten to you that made you write an entire book to debunk a myth. Was it just scholarly integrity or something else? After all, not all scholars of Antiquity bothered to write a sentence. Why did you pick the fight? What do you think motivates people like Bernal to write such books?
ML: I believe that Bernal (an Englishman) resented the prestige associated with studying Greek and Latin in British public schools (=of course, elite British private schools) and may have had an unimaginative Classics teacher at his school, because he believed that learning conjugations and declensions numbed the minds of anyone who studied Classics. My experience with learning Latin was just the opposite: it helped me understand the structure of the English language and encouraged me to think about the etymology of words. Greek was even more exciting because it was even more foreign and harder to put into English. The first Greek text that I bought was the New Testament, which I was able to read on my own because the syntax was easier than that of earlier Greek prose writers. Reading the first sentences Gospel according to John in Greek helped me understand how much had been lost in translation.
ZJ: We’ve come to the point in our conversation when I have to ask you about PC in America, at American universities. It is a destructive force. No one, perhaps with the exception of Allan Bloom in the 1980s, understood how influential and destructive certain trends can be. Serious academic life is close to being gone, and it is not only because of myths about African origins of classical civilization, or relativism, that Bloom was concerned with. No one even uses this term today. Today we look at everything through the lenses of sexism, racism, misogyny, feminism, colonialism (the last term is a bit passé).
ML: Political correctness is an orthodoxy, like that of a monotheistic religion. (Ancient polytheism was much more open: new gods could be added ad lib.). Monotheists look down on polytheism as superstition. Any questioning of orthodoxy is heresy, punishable by exclusion, exile, etc.
ZJ: Do you think we can survive this level of intellectual barbarism which we see around? It is a total disregard for truth, scholarly procedures, life of the mind, and it is not an ordinary American on the street who is supportive of it, but the academics.
ML: We survived the orthodoxy that existed when I was a schoolgirl and an undergraduate (1940s and 1950s) and for a few decades afterward. White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism was the norm, so Catholics and Jews were treated with caution and some suspicion, African Americans were segregated even in the North; all of these were subject to quotas as students and faculty members at many schools and universities are in this country.
ZJ: I started my university education there, in Poland, not in Stalinist times, to be sure, but never experienced what my students are experiencing in America today. Some of them see that something is not right, but are too afraid to say anything. Only last week, a female student came up to me and said, “Dr. Janowski, do you realize you are the minority of one here; in other classes students who disagree with professors are berated; other students attacked me.” My student’s feelings are now common. Many of them are afraid. Do you see a way out of it?
ML: The way around it is to do what you are doing, to encourage students to think independently and to question orthodoxies.
ZJ: What role can and should Classical education play in rebuilding sanity? Is there a way of explaining the importance of classical education to the general public, to give support to what appears obvious to me and you.
ML: Learning about foreign and ancient cultures requires us to think, to use our imaginations, and to get out of ourselves into very different worlds. Ancient Greece and Rome are particularly worth studying because their writing and thinking and art have had such a profound influence on Western culture. But I am not suggesting that we should regard those cultures uncritically; quite the contrary. And we should acknowledge their debts to other ancient cultures, such as those of Egypt, India, and the different civilizations in Asia Minor.
ZJ: Let me finish this conversation with something I tell students. I make them take a map of British Empire—the massive Empire. I say, look at it and ask yourself how one little country could colonize such vast areas. They must have had skilled people to do it. What do you think they studied? There was no department of Administration, Foreign Affairs, Public Relations, etc. They, as the Brits say, “read” Classics and History. Both give you intellectual skills to understand many things that no specialized, narrow discipline will never give you. Even today, plenty of people in the City of London, graduate from Oxbridge and make big money without a degree in business. What do you think?
ML: I agree with you. Studying ancient Greek and Roman literature is a great way to prepare for any number of careers, first because the process makes you get away from yourself and the times you live in, and reimagine other, different societies and ways of thinking, and then because the subject matter allows you to understand something about the beginnings of European civilization, and its good and bad characteristics.
ZJ: Thank you, Professor Lefkovitz.
The image shows, “Ulysses and the Sirens,” by John William Waterhouse, painted in 1891.
Among the many tools of the superbly effective Left propaganda machine, is its able control of publishing. Leftists use this to ensure that innumerable books fitting the Left narrative stay in print indefinitely, primarily for use as indoctrination tools in schools, as a glance at any modern curriculum at any grade level will show you.
On the other hand, books not fitting the Left narrative disappear—never republished, expensive to buy used, and impossible to read online because of the stupidly long terms of modern copyright law. Thus, the reprinting, by Mystery Grove Publishing, of this excellent book, by an Englishman who volunteered to fight for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, is a great service.
Peter Kemp was born in India in 1915; his father was a judge in what was then called Bombay. As I have covered at great length elsewhere, the Spanish situation deteriorated from 1933 through 1936 (really 1931 through 1936, as the Spanish Left attempted to consolidate permanent power).
During this time, Kemp was studying at Cambridge to be a lawyer. His politics appear to have been quite conservative, but he makes only passing reference to his own beliefs. Kemp’s main reason for going to Spain seems to have been a desire common among young men throughout history, to seek adventure through warfare, although he was also horrified at the widespread atrocities of the Spanish Left immediately prior to the Civil War.
He acknowledges his desire in the title, which comes from an A. E. Housman poem used as an epigraph: “The thoughts of others / Were light and fleeting, / Of lover’s meeting / Or luck, or fame / Mine were of trouble / And mine were steady, / So I was ready / When trouble came.” If he had been a man of the Left, no doubt he would have joined the International Brigades, the collective organization of those non-Spaniards who fought for the Spanish Communists, the Republicans.
It would have been far easier and socially acceptable for him to join the Republicans, too, since they had an active, successful, and extremely well-funded propaganda operation that blanketed Europe, while the Nationalists made almost no effort to persuade others, aside from occasionally arranging curated tours for newspapermen, incorrectly believing their cause was self-proving or that foreign opinion was unimportant.
Thus, polite opinion in England favored the Republicans, something that troubled Kemp not at all. His complete lack of Spanish did not deter him either. And in those days before the overweening state presumed to dictate to us the smallest details of our lives, it was easy enough to go fight in a foreign war. True, as today, the Left was better organized, and every country in Europe had official, open recruiting stations for the International Brigades. Kemp simply got a letter from a newspaper editor friend saying that he was authorized to send back wire copy, as a cover story, and off he went across the French frontier.
This was November 1936. Kemp offers a thumbnail sketch of the first four months of the Civil War, which had passed by the time he arrived. At this point, Francisco Franco had not yet assumed supreme command, nor had he amalgamated the different political factions of the Nationalists under his personal control. As a result, the Nationalist military was organized in a fragmented and ad hoc manner. (The Republican military was too, but the Nationalists were much better as the war progressed at welding together the disparate components of their forces, helped by not being subject to the Moscow-directed purging that bled the Republicans).
The core of the Nationalist fighting forces was the Army of Africa, consisting of most of Spain’s land forces that actually had experience fighting. One part of this was the Spanish Foreign Legion (which meant Spaniards fighting abroad, in Africa; it was not a collective of foreigners, like the French Foreign Legion). The other was native Moroccans, the Regulares.
Two political parties also raised separate forces. The first was the Carlists, one branch of the Spanish monarchists (favoring a king other than Alfonso XIII, who had resigned in 1931 to avoid the civil war being fomented by the Left). The Carlists were dominant in the north of Spain, in Navarre and the Basque provinces, and were old-fashioned, happy to die for King and country. The second was the Falange, the small Spanish fascist political party, who had little in common politically with the Carlists (and in fact in later years squabbled violently with the Carlists). Franco, of course, was not a fascist or a member of the Falange; most Nationalist military officers were not political.
Kemp joined the Carlist forces, the Requetés. The Falange Kemp treats with some disdain; he seems to regard them as less than competent, brave enough but prone to scheming in preference to honest fighting, and too often substituting ideology for honor. And he was warned away from joining the Legion, which was regarded as extremely tough and demanding, and less than welcoming to a foreigner who spoke no Spanish. So the Carlists it was, and they were very welcoming, if highly informal, bordering on lax, in their organization.
From here, Mine Were of Trouble is personal narrative of Kemp’s experiences. For the most part, the Spaniards were glad to have him fighting with them, though sometimes he was the target of suspicion from military bureaucrats. He fought with the Carlists in various skirmishes and battles, including the Battle of Jarama (February 1937) and the Battle of Santander (July 1937).
He very much enjoyed his time with the Carlists, and was quickly promoted to alférez, a junior officer rank, sometimes translated “sub-lieutenant,” meaning in practice he commanded part of a platoon, apparently ten to twenty men at a time. But he disliked the Carlists’ lack of discipline and technical training; they substituted suicidal courage for better entrenchments and the use of modern guns and gun techniques. Kemp wanted to learn “first-class soldiering.” So, late in 1937, he joined the Legion.
The Legion was divided into twenty banderas, and Kemp was assigned to the 14th, a new bandera composed of disparate parts. His welcome was frosty – he was viewed with suspicion, as a foreigner, and as a Protestant, something the Legionnaires associated with Freemasonry, one of the main avenues by which leftist poison had entered the Spanish body politic.
Still, using time-honored tools to overcome such military suspicion, hard work and bravery, Kemp soon enough became accepted by his men, and by most of the officers, even though some of the latter never warmed to him, less from suspicion and more because they felt he could never truly understand the existential evil of the Spanish Left, which drove many of them personally, since nearly all had had relatives murdered in Republican-held Spain.
Kemp led a machine-gun platoon, with four obsolete guns with zero spare parts as their only rapid-fire weapons, so soon enough, it was three guns, and then one. In November 1937, his unit moved southeast, to the Guadalajara front close to Madrid, as the Nationalists successfully liberated more and more of Spain.
The book’s narrative is compelling, and not just the battle scenes. Kemp does an excellent job of describing the landscape of the various areas in which he spent time, initially in the north, and later both west and east of Madrid. The reader gets a good feel, in particular, for the rugged nature of much of the terrain.
He also describes the towns and villages in which he was billeted (as with most wars, waiting occupied much of his time), as well as their inhabitants, nearly all of whom strongly supported the Nationalists, both in general and especially after roving bands of Republican militias had come through early in the war, tortured the local priest to death, killed other citizens, and moved on. At no point does the book drag. You might even call it a page-turner.
Occasionally Kemp diverges to discuss events to which he was not personally a witness. Notably, he discusses the April 1937 bombing of Guernica, which took place not far from where he was then stationed, and was the supreme propaganda triumph of the Communists and their international supporters during the entire war.
Kemp strongly believed that the Republicans burned the town themselves, as they had many other towns from which they had been expelled. That was the Nationalist line at the time, in opposition to the massive global campaign spreading the lie that the Nationalists, with the help of the Germans, had bombed a non-military target to terrorize the population.
No doubt Guernica was a wholly legitimate target, and the bombing wholly appropriate, if not executed entirely competently. (Bombing civilian towns without a military presence was actually a Republican specialty; Kemp notes that early in the war, Toledo, a Nationalist town, had been so attacked). But objective modern historians (as opposed to Communist mouthpieces like Paul Preston) generally conclude that the Nationalists were lying that the destruction was caused by the Republicans burning the town, in a crude and unsuccessful attempt to counter Republican propaganda.
Kemp offers all his experiences with no sugarcoating. In the Legion, there was extremely rigid discipline, with corporal punishment for minor infractions and the death penalty for any insubordination. The good result of this was that looting and rape, commonly committed by Republican forces, was nonexistent.
The bad result was that in Kemp’s bandera, though it was against Nationalist policy, many prisoners, and all of certain categories, were shot out of hand. Those categories included members of the International Brigades, blamed for prolonging the war by preventing the early liberation of Madrid. Of course, Kemp would have been shot too if captured; he knew that at the time, and he quotes a British captain in the International Brigades whom he talked to after the war who leaves no doubt.
Early in the war, both the Republicans and the Nationalists took few prisoners, but by this point the Nationalists had mostly stopped that practice, and the Republicans, consistently losing, didn’t capture that many fresh prisoners, having murdered most of them already, along with any Nationalists they could find in the cities, towns, and villages they controlled. (Kemp notes that when international bodies such as the Non-Intervention Committee began to organize prisoner exchanges, they found almost no Nationalist prisoners held by the Republicans, and large numbers of Republicans held by the Nationalists).
Tactically, of course, this is a poor decision—as Niall Ferguson wrote in The Pity of War, refusing to accept surrender needlessly prolongs wars. Regardless, Kemp thought that his own superior officers were perniciously fond of killing prisoners, and relates at horrified length how an Irish deserter from the International Brigades presented himself, claiming he had been impressed into the Brigades. Kemp got permission from his immediate superiors to send the Irishman away as a POW, but the colonel above them curtly ordered Kemp to shoot the prisoner, which he did (or rather he had two of his men do it), something he found extremely difficult.
Back at the front, the war ground on and the Nationalists implemented Franco’s slow strategy. (It was later called plodding and unimaginative, which perhaps it was, and also called an attempt to kill as many Communists as possible, which perhaps it also was. We’ll never know; Franco was famously taciturn).
Kemp fought in the Battle of Teruel, which was bitter and more of the same, featuring hand-to-hand fighting in olive groves and the intermittent appearance of light tanks, often turning the tide at the last minute, including once when Kemp’s unit was about to be overrun. Many of Kemp’s friends died; he gives full credit to his opponents for bravery and competence.
He was stationed for a few weeks in Belchite, a village that had been destroyed earlier, which was left destroyed after the war and was used as the backdrop for the BBC series, The Spanish Civil War. It is here, late in the book, where the most jarring passage of book occurs. Kemp relates how four Western journalist friends of his, two American and two British, were driving near the battle when a shell hit their car. Three were killed. The fourth, the survivor, he mentions only here: Kim Philby.
Of course, in 1957, when this book was published, Kemp could not have known that Philby, a traitor since the 1920s, was one of the most evil men of the twentieth century, responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of millions. He was in Nationalist Spain masquerading as a journalist in order to spy for the Communists, and in fact this incident, since it brought him to the favorable attention of the Nationalist authorities, strengthened his ability to spy, bringing him into direct contact with Franco, with the goal of furthering Franco’s assassination by the Communists. But Kemp knew none of this. It is strange how history works, and how it could have been different had we been more lucky, and Philby killed in 1937.
Kemp was wounded several times, and had to recuperate, but was back in action by May 1938. Not for long, though. Fighting near Aragon in July, a mortar bomb exploded next to him, shattering his jaw and hand, burning his throat, and nearly killing him. Recuperating for months, he asked permission for leave to return to England to convalesce, which was granted.
First, however, Franco asked to see him, and he had a thirty-minute interview, consisting mostly of Franco talking about the dangers of Communism. Franco concluded by asking Kemp what he would do after the war, to which Kemp said presumably he would fight in the British military “in the coming war.” Franco responded, with a “wintry smile,” “I don’t think there will be a war,” to which Kemp’s response was, “I wonder what he really thought.”
By March 1939, the Spanish war was over, and Kemp did not return to Spain for some time, although he fought with great distinction in World War II and thereafter. But that is another story, told by Kemp in other books.
Today, of course, the modern successors of the Spanish Communists would ensure that a man like Kemp had no peace after the guns fell silent. Those who fought for the International Brigades received nothing but lionization, and to this day are unjustly and foolishly praised, but even in his time, Kemp was threatened by his local police chief in England that he “might find [himself] liable to prosecution under the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1880, or some such date.”
Kemp died in 1993, but we can be certain that if he had lived longer, the European Left, both in Spain and England, would have tried to prosecute him as a “war criminal,” by which they mean any person who opposed their totalitarian aims of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I often complain about this, that the Left ensures that its enemies are hounded to the grave and beyond, while the Right fails to do the same and, an equally great failing, fails to fight back adequately. Maybe this is a historical anomaly and in the decades to come the roles will be reversed; one can hope.
You will not find here new lessons on the Spanish Civil War, but you will find lessons that are not commonly known. This book is interesting in its own right, and a quick read. I highly recommend it. Most of all, it’s a vivid exposure to the reality that the side that deserved to win the Civil War, and fortunately did, was the Nationalists, who bore little resemblance to the caricature that nearly a century of Left lies has planted in the rest of the West. More people should know this, and Mine Were of Trouble is a good place to start.
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 image shows, “I will join up with my companions,” a poster by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, from 1940.
The Greek and Latin classics have managed to survive up to the present day because they make it possible to grasp some fundamental truths about the nature of human existence. Ancient writers understood that these truths could most effectively be conveyed through stories. In ancient narratives of the myths, mortals come to realize the full extent of their own ignorance. To take just one example: in his drama Antigone Sophocles shows how people remain confident, that they know what they are doing until (as he puts it) they burn their feet in the fire. That “famous saying” to Antigone, who brought about her own death by burying her brother against her uncle Creon’s orders. That saying soon applies also to Creon, whose son kills himself because Antigone is dead. It also applies to everyone who watches or reads the play, because it is human nature to rely on incomplete knowledge when we make major decisions, especially in political situations that later prove to be complex and dangerous.
Even today everyone knows about the disastrous decision made by the Trojans, to bring in the wooden horse left outside their city wall as a “gift” from their enemies, the Greeks. Why did the Trojans make the choice that brought their own destruction, when they could have so easily saved themselves? All they had to do was leave the horse where they found it, outside the city walls – or better still, set it on fire. But instead they decided to bring the horse in, drag it up to their city’s acropolis, and then sit down around it.
They did so (as the Roman poet Virgil tells the story) because almost everyone (including their king Priam) was prepared to believe an attractive story told to them by Sinon, a young man captured by Trojan shepherds. He said that they had left the large wooden horse as an offering to the goddess Minerva (the Greek Athena), and that they had made the horse so large in order to prevent the Trojans from dragging it into their city, and thus to keep the goddess from supporting the Trojans if, in the future, they sought to invade and conquer Greece.
Anyone who had doubts about that story was soon persuaded of its truth by another event. The priest Laocoon (who had advised them not to take any gifts from the Greeks) had been near the seashore, sacrificing a bull to the god Neptune, when suddenly two huge serpents came out of the water, ate both his sons, and crushed him to death. The serpents then went to the temple of Minerva and took shelter around the feet and behind the shield of her statue. Hearing this, the Trojans immediately assumed that Minerva had punished Laocoön.
They opened the gates of their city and tore down part of their walls so they could bring the horse to the goddess’s temple, hoping to win her favor. That night, there were celebrations. After the Trojans had gone to sleep, the Greeks (who had been just out of sight in their ships behind the nearby island of Tenedos) sailed back to Troy. Sinon then opened the door of the horse and let out the Greek soldiers hiding inside, as the Greek army rushed in through the city’s open gates.
Virgil makes it clear that the disaster might have been prevented by asking questions and finding the answers, all of which were readily available. Why accept Sinon’s explanation for the size of the wooden horse? Why didn’t the Trojans bore a hole into the side of the horse to see if anything was inside—Laocoön had already shown them that it was hollow.
Why didn’t the Trojans also make sure that the Greeks really had gone away and were not lying in wait? The Trojans also might have asked themselves if there was another reason why the serpents attacked Laocoön and his sons. Did Minerva and the other gods want to get Laocoön out of the way so that he couldn’t stop the Trojans from bringing the horse into the city? Instead of asking any of these questions, the Trojans were eager to believe that the Greeks had given up the war and gone home.
As Virgil relates it, the tale of the Trojan horse is par excellence about the state of mind that leads to self-delusion. It isn’t just that the Trojans ignored Laocoön’s sensible advice to look inside the horse before they dragged it into the city. Why didn’t they didn’t interrogate Sinon to make sure that his story was true. Why were they prepared to trust their king Priam’s judgment, when they all had every reason not to? They knew that Priam had been warned that a male child born on a certain day would cause Troy to be destroyed, and his wife, Hecuba, had herself dreamed that she was about to give birth to a firebrand. The Trojans would never have become involved in a war with the Greeks if Paris had not been allowed to live.
Paris’s judgment was no better than his parents’: a selfish decision that he had made was the direct cause of the Trojan War. When as a young man Paris was shepherding his flocks on Mount Ida, the god Mercury (Hermes) asked him to pick which of three goddesses was the most beautiful. Each of the goddesses – Minerva, Juno, and Venus – offered Paris a gift. Minerva offered him wisdom and victory in battle, and Juno (Hera) offered him rule over all of Asia. But Venus (Aphrodite) offered him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta, the daughter of Jupiter (Zeus). Paris was bound to get into trouble whichever of the three goddesses he chose because he would anger the two goddesses whose gifts he had declined.
In such circumstances, the most sensible course would have been for Paris to refuse to make the decision – or at least to pick the most powerful goddess, the one who could best protect him against the other two. That goddess was Minerva. Instead Paris chose Venus, the weakest of the three goddesses, who gave him Helen as his reward, even though Helen was already married to Menelaus, the king of Sparta, who then came to Troy with his brother Agamemnon and an army to bring her back. So it was not coincidental that after all those years of fighting, the Greeks won the Trojan war by deception rather than by sheer force.
It seems that people will ignore well-informed and well-intentioned advice if it goes against their own desires. When a person holds two conflicting beliefs or ideas, people tend to pick the belief or idea that pleases them more, even when it does not comport with reality. Priam and the Trojans wanted to believe that the Greeks had given up their siege and gone home. They liked the idea of bringing the horse into the city because that was precisely what the Greeks supposedly did not want them to do.
The American historian Barbara Tuchman chose to use the story of the Trojan horse as the first chapter of The March of Folly, From Troy to Vietnam (1984). In that book she explores the failures of leadership over the centuries. But leaders cannot succeed without cooperation from their citizens. In Tiepolo’s painting “The Procession of the Trojan Horse into Troy” shows the Trojans struggling to push and drag the horse into their city. The people of Troy shared the blame for the disaster because in their ignorance they wanted to believe that what their leaders had told them was true. History would have looked more favorably on the Trojans if they had tried to circumvent their leaders’ commands, and if by causing delays they had managed to save themselves and their country.
“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ Has Got to Go …” (Jessi Jackson, Stanford University, January 15, 1987).
Defending Classical education, or the Classics, is not easy. Many attempts have been made, but they were rather unsuccessful. Even the best arguments of distinguished classicists and scholars of Antiquity sound like desperate plea for survival. One can also wonder why it is only the classicists who defend their discipline. One does not hear, for example, the Medieval or Renaissance scholars weeping over lack of interest in their periods, and low enrollment in their courses.
One explanation is that they know that as important as the knowledge of their historical period is, their epoch is a closed chapter, and the ideas those periods generated have little significance for our lives. This does not seem to be the case with the Classics, particularly the Greeks. Their world is, or that is what the Classicists believe, as important today as it was over two thousand years ago.
Before I explain why Classical education is important and why it died, or is dying, let me briefly recount a few historical facts. If one looks at the history of roughly six centuries in the West, the Classics had many moments of good fortune.
The first was the Renaissance, the epoch which resurrected Classical or Greco-Roman antiquity, and whose literal definition is “Rebirth.” It was a rebirth of the Greco-Roman world, the world whose institutional structures collapsed in 476 AD. However, the Renaissance was not only a rebirth. It was also the time in Western history when, after almost a thousand years, Europe achieved a comparable level of cultural development which we find in the late Roman Empire.
The 17th-century was by no means a continuation of the Renaissance. Despite the fact that 17th-century thinkers attacked the ancients, 17th century was a classical age par excellence. It was an “age of eloquence”; an age of French theatre, of Corneille and Racine, who applied strict classical rules in their plays and rhetoric. Were it not for the genius of Shakespeare, who broke those rules, the ancients would have been indisputable winners in this contest. Painters (Paul Rubens, Nicholas Poussin, Claude Lorraine, and many others) made Greece and Rome the subject of their many works.
The 18th-century was different, but equally lucky. Rome seized the imagination of the artists, major and minor. One can easily discern Classical motives in Baroque and Rococo ornaments. Giuseppe Vasi was obsessed with antiquity, just like his student, Giovani Baptista Piranesi. He was particularly taken by Rome; so were his successors Luigi Rossini and Gabriele Ricciardelli. Those who are lovers of Roman antiquity cannot free themselves from the memory of the dark ink dripping from Piranesi and Rossini’s engravings.
Late 18th-century “inventory” of antiquity, initiated by German historian and archeologist, Johann Joachim Winkelmann, was at the root of the West’s second love affair with the world of Greece and Rome. Prints with details and measurements of ancient temples and sculptures became a commonplace at the end of the 18th century. Their cheaper, less illustrious versions flooded the printing and book market in the first half of the 19th-century.
“Greeks are Us,” was the motto of all European Romantics, from Goethe to Byron, to Keats and Shelley, to Chateaubriand and Valéry, to Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki. Some of them could even compose their poems in Latin. In contrast to copper plates, which were used in the 17th- and 18th-centuries, the invention of steel-plates in the 19th century made it possible for thousands of ordinary readers of weekly magazines to familiarize themselves with the images of Greek and Roman architecture.
Albums with steel plates illustrations were printed in countless editions, and their prices were sufficiently low for anyone interested in antiquity to purchase them. The last act in the Greco-Roman tragedy of decline was the rise of the school of Neo-Classicism in painting and architecture. At the beginning of the 20th-century, the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans came to an end.
Paradoxically, this happened when Classical scholarship was at its peak, when complete critical editions of the ancient authors had been published. Individual editions were widely available, and Classical scholars could start working on their meticulous interpretations of each and every individual work that survived.
Proceeding roughly from the end of WWII, the number of hours devoted to studying Greek, Latin and the ancient authors would decline decade after decade. Today, learning Classics in most Western countries is not even required.
There are reasons why we find ourselves where we are and why the Classics have been demoted. The reading of Henry Nettleship’s “Classical Education in the Past and at Present” (1890) and John Stuart Mill’s “Inaugural Address to the University of Saint Andrew’s in Scotland” (1867), makes today’s reader aware that the mid-19th-century mind was already aware of the necessity of making room for science. The number of hours devoted to the study of different branches of science had to increase, but it was not the reason why the teaching of Greek and Latin started declining. The decline had roots in the rise of democratic mentality.
Modern times, modern liberties, Constant argued, are incompatible with the bellicose and aristocratic spirit of ancient republics; modern life is based on commercial transactions, the desire to cultivate the private realm, independent of the collective, characteristic of the ancient Greek polis. The famous painting by Jacques-Louis David of Napoleon standing by a desk, under which there are two massive tomes of Plutarch’sLives, is an allusion to where the spirit of the Empire comes from: The Greeks and the Romans.
In 1864, the French scholar Fustel de Coulanges published an influential book, La cité antique (The Ancient City). In it, he argued, that the state and religion in ancient Greece dominated every aspect of individual existence. Ancient democracy meant collective sovereignty; not individual independence protected by individual rights. Imitation of ancient republics would mean, as it did during Napoleon’s reign, giving up individual freedoms for the sake of ancient virtues.
The insights we find in Constant and de Coulanges do not make a case against Classical education, but they do point to the differences between the Greek and Roman world and Modern commercial democracies. The message was rather clear: modern man’s commercial spirit, need for privacy, and independence are incompatible with the ancient way of life. If so, it appeared more and more clear, classical education was unnecessary, or even useless.
Modern life and modern democracy called for a new, practical, form of education. Education meant no longer education to virtue – this being different in men and women – but education to democratic citizenship. The works by Rousseau (Emileand La nouvelle Heloise), or Laclos (On the Education of Women) looked out-of-date in the new world, just like reading Homer and Plutarch. Enough to contrast 20th-century books for children with their 19th-century counterparts, which were still heavily influenced by the Classics and told children stories about virtuous Greeks and Romans, to see the difference. Contrasting them with today’s children’s books, one gets the full picture. The characters are ordinary “kids,” living ordinary life, having ordinary problems. Hardly if ever they are inspired by a sense of greatness or excellence that the classics taught.
John Stuart Mill who since childhood was steeped in Classical education was reconciled to the advent of democracy, but saw it as fundamentally lacking in excellence. In his analysis of the differences between the ancient and modern mind, he finds the modern mind to be superior only in one respect.
Modern poetry, Mill writes, “is superior to the ancient, in the same manner, though in a less degree, as modern science: It enters deeper into nature. The feelings of the modern mind are more various, more complex and manifold, than those of the ancients ever were. The modern mind is, what ancient mind was not, brooding and self-conscious; and its meditative self-consciousness has discovered depths in the human soul which the Greeks and Romans did not dream of, and would not have understood.”
This is certainly true, and in this regard, the Moderns, who invented the novel – a form of writing unknown to the ancients – could indeed claim superiority. However, Mill also notices that in the manner of expression, the ancients were superior.
Their superiority stemmed from the fact that they addressed their writings to a small leisure class: “To us who write in a hurry for people who read in a hurry, the attempt to give an equal degree of finish would be loss of time. But to be familiar with perfect model is not the less important to us because the element in which we work precludes even the effort to equal them. The shew us at least what excellence is, and makes us desire it, and strive to get as near to it as is within our reach.”
Mill was not isolated in his observation, and most likely borrowed it from the French aristocrat, Alexis de Tocqueville, who, during his visit to America, observed a degenerative tendency of literary style in democratic societies. The claim of the superiority of the ancients in the realm of style, eloquence and historical analysis, to which Mill refers, invoking Thucydides, Quintilian, Cicero, Demosthenes, could, it would seem, serve as a strong argument for the mandatory teaching of the Classics in a democratic society: If the modern democratic mind cannot achieve the same level of excellence on its own, then, it follows logically, it should and ought to learn from the voices of their ancient predecessors.
This is what the American writer Henry David Thoreau postulated in the chapter on “Reading” in his Walden (1854). “For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave… Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind… No wonder that Alexander [the Great] carried the Iliad with him on his expeditions in a precious casket. A written word is the choicest of relics.”
Thoreau’s use of the word “aristocracy” reveals the essential point in the discussion over the problem of classical education in a democracy. When, in 1987, Allan Bloom, The University of Chicago professor and a lover of Plato, published The Closing of the American Mind, he was viciously attacked. His book sold over a million copies. Bloom, the critics claimed, was an “elitist,” which was another way of saying, Bloom supports hierarchy!
But Bloom’s “elitism” was of a strange kind. Bloom encouraged students to read the Classics to understand what virtuous life is. He understood that the Greek and Roman Classics contain a world’s greatest treasure which cannot be found anywhere else. Ancient Greece, and Rome which perpetuated and spread the Greek intellectual heritage, was not one of many civilizations. It was the civilization par excellence, a yardstick against which we measure every other civilization.
The college curriculum given predominance to the Classics, in the language of his critics, was “discriminating” and based on “exclusion” of other cultures. And they were right! What is an elite, if not an aristocracy, and a class? But this strange class was not, like in the past, a class with hereditary privileges, but a class of readers – readers of the Classics. Bloom’s American “aristocracy” was not an aristocracy of color, ethnicity, hereditary privilege. It consisted of several thousand diverse students each year who read Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Cicero and others.
Instead of imposing “the elitist” curriculum on all, turning the American youth into the “elite,” the partisans of change – with Rev. Jessi Jackson, a loud proponent of educational destruction — did the opposite: They decided to close students’ access to the Greek playwrights, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Plutarch, and others by doing away with Western Civilization courses.
Why did they do it? They did in the name of multiculturalism, which is nothing other than intellectual egalitarianism. It claims all cultures are equal and none should be privileged. Therefore, the authors from other cultures are as good as the Greeks and Romans. They perceived the existence of Great Books programs, as we call the Classics in America, to be a mechanism of perpetuating educational—and thus social and political—inequality. Paradoxically, in doing destroying the traditional curriculum, they did what the Founding Fathers feared.
Thomas Jefferson – the man whose obsession with equality and hatred of hereditary aristocracy finds no equal in modern times – thought of natural aristocracy as a pillar of the democratic system of government, one without which democracy is bound to degenerate.
In his letter to John Adams (October 28, 1813), he wrote “For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents… The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trust, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectual for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the office of government.”
A similar sentiment can be found in the English poet and a great literary critic Matthew Arnold: “We in England have had,” he writes in The Popular Education of France (1861; later published under the title, Democracy (1879): “in our great aristocratical and ecclesiastical institutions, a principle of cohesion and unity which the Americans had not; they gave the tone to the nation, and the nation took it from them… Our society is probably destined to become much more democratic: who will give tone to the nation then? That is the question. The greatest men of America, her Washingtons, Hamiltons, Madisons, well understanding that aristocratical institutions are not in all times and places possible; well perceiving that in their Republic there was no place for these; comprehending, therefore, that from these that security for national unity and greatness, an ideal was indispensable, would have been rejoiced to found a substitute for it in the dignity of and authority of the State.”
In contrast to Jefferson, who cherished the hope that we might find a mechanism to determine and select natural aristoi, Arnold understood that hierarchy is an indispensable component of every healthy society. Abolishing institutional hierarchy – written into the very fabric of society, either ecclesiastical or aristocratical – would mean to find an alternative mechanism that would make the wise govern. Reading Jefferson’s letter to Adams reveals that he had no clear idea how to solve the technical difficulty of finding democratic philosopher kings, without which – he, Hamilton, and Franklin thought — democracy could not last.
This asymmetry between democracy, understood as a universal right to vote, and the selection of the best (aristoi) from among the mass of enfranchised masses, has been resolved by neither Jefferson nor Mil. Retrospectively speaking, Arnold turned out to be more perceptive than Mill and Jefferson. He understood that aristocracy is not just a class of privileged people, but an idea, an idea inducing a sense of higher aspiration in ordinary people to ascend “higher” than where they actually are.
Such aspiration can be propelled only by the sense of greatness which the Classics teach us. When this sense of spiritual aspiration is no longer part of social and individual existence, a society is bound to lose the sense of cohesion and aspiration, and will slide into a moral abyss and lawlessness. And when it does, we will be forced to vest in the state power it should never have.
When undereducated, ignorant and vulgar citizenry lays claim to politics, one should not expect politicians to be anything other than demagogues. The annals of Greek political history are full of examples of demagogues, like the despicable Cleon. His power and influence were due, as we learn from Thucydides, to his understanding how weak depraved masses are and how to manipulate them. Anyone who happens to wonder why modern democracies display cultural malaise and galloping vulgarity in public and political realm should realize that there is a natural connection between virtue of citizens and the quality of public and political life.
In his quest for natural aristocracy in democracy, Thomas Jefferson reminds us of the Athenian philosopher Diogenes with a lantern in day-light. The latter was looking for an honest man; the former was looking for nobility in democracy. Their respective quests seem futile. After over two hundred years of modern democracy, one can say with certainty that we are unlikely to find nobility in democracy.
The only way to ennoble democracy is to teach young people the Classics. As Henry Nettleship wrote in hisClassical Education in the Past and at Present (1890): “It must be remembered that the classics have still more than a merely literary function to perform. Greece was the mother not only of poetry and oratory, but—at least for the European world—of philosophy. And by philosophy I do not mean merely a succession of metaphysical and ethical systems, but the active love of knowledge, the search for truth. Will it be said that this spirit is not now as necessary as element in civilized human life as it ever was? In the long run it would almost appear as if it were mainly this which saves society from degeneracy and decay. The charitable instincts die out in an atmosphere of ignorance, for ignorance is the mother of terror and hatred…This is an inheritance as precious as Greek art and literary form; nay, if the continuous life of the nations be regarded, an inheritance even more precious.”
As a society, we have a choice between voluntary obedience to moral precepts we find in the Classical texts, or being forced to follow rules and regulations imposed on us by the State. Classics are not just about reading outdated works written by Dead White European Males. They also teach us virtuous behavior.
The first time I offered prayers to Mary I had a panic attack – literally. I was in college and my best friend had become Roman Catholic. We argued a bit, and he won (mostly). It resulted in my return to Anglicanism, to the “high” side. So, like a good high churchman, I got a rosary and a book, and started my prayers. Then came the panic attack.
Many Protestants are viscerally opposed to Catholicism. It’s in their heart and bones. I had no idea at the time that my bones (and heart) were as firmly orange as they seemed to be (let the Irish explain). My experience showed me otherwise. But, theology wins. I spent the next nine months reading about Marian devotion and early Christian practice. After that long “cooling-off” period, I picked up my rosary and gave it another try. No panic. I’ve never looked back.
Western devotions to Mary have forms that differ from Orthodox practices, and I’m not at all sure that the Western, Catholic understanding is the same (I’ll admit that I don’t know). My Anglican use of the rosary and devotion to Mary, which largely followed Catholic practice, certainly made my conversion to Orthodoxy ever so much easier. Indeed, her presence in the text of an Orthodox service far exceeds anything you’ll ever see in Rome.
The Orthodox veneration of the Mother of God is grounded in its understanding of salvation. As such, the veneration of Mary is an expression of the most foundational doctrine of the faith. This is generally misunderstood by the non-Orthodox for the simple reason that they do not understand salvation itself. Salvation is about a union or communion with God. It is a participation in the very life of God. We were created for this communion, breathed into us in the act of our creation. Through sin, we have broken that communion and become subject to death and disintegration.
Christ, in becoming a human being, united Himself to our human nature. He suffered death and was buried. But in His death, because He is also God, He tramples down death and rises from the tomb. Our human nature is raised with Him. When we are Baptized, the Scriptures say we are Baptized “into His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection.” In Holy Communion, we eat His very Body and drink His Blood, a true communion and participation in His life.
When this fundamental doctrine is understood, Mary’s role in history and her place in the Church become clear. Christ does not enter her womb as though it were a borrowed space. The Creed says, “He took flesh of the Virgin Mary.” Christ’s humanity is not a separate creation, but “bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh.” She is truly His mother.
The Scriptures recognize this in various ways. In particular, when Mary brings the Christ Child to the Temple on the 40th day, the Prophet Simeon prophesies the coming sufferings of Christ and adds, “…and a sword will pierce your soul as well.” This is far more than saying, “It will make you unhappy.” In Christ’s suffering on the Cross, Mary suffers as well. This is because of the peculiar union that was their relationship from the beginning.
Christians describe the life of salvation as “beholding Christ face to face.” Mary would have done this quite literally numerous times a day for nearly three years as she nursed Him. In St. John’s gospel, at the Wedding in Cana, there is a level of communication between mother and Son that transcends words.
At the wedding feast, she comes to her Son and says, “They have no wine.” She does not ask Him anything. His response is frequently misinterpreted. He says, in the Greek: “Tί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί,” (Jn. 2:4). (“What is this to me and you?”) It is a very strange phrase in the Greek, but is a direct quote from the widow of Zarephath when she is speaking to Elijah about the death of her son (1 Kings 17:18). Christ is warning His mother that “it is not my time.” But, if He acts in helping with this wedding and its wine, it will set in motion something that cannot be stopped – His kairos – His time. And when His time comes, she will be like the widow of Zarephath, a widow whose son is dead. All of this is contained in this tiny conversation of but a few words.
Her response is equally terse, “Do whatever He tells you.” This is similar to her first words to the angel, “Let it be to me according to your word.” She is ready for what will take place, including its most fearful consequences.
But all of this can only be rightly understood if we remember the nature of the union between mother and Son. It is also a union that will be our own salvation. Christ has become what we are by nature, that we might become what he is by grace. This is the great “exchange.”
Orthodox prayer gives expression to this communion. St. Paul says that the Holy Spirit prays within us saying, “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). Those words are the words of the Son (the one says, “Abba”). We do not pray as strangers, but as members of the household, now emboldened to speak with the very voice of the Son of God. It is this same voice that speaks of Mary as “Mother,” and gives her honor. That honor, or veneration, is the expression of love. Just as she loves Him, so she loves us.
In my experience, devotion to the Mother of God comes very slowly for converts to the faith. Five hundred years of Protestant thought have created a Christianity in which Mary has little place other than on Christmas cards and in badly produced movies. English translations of the Scriptures often butcher Marian passages conveying false images.
The Wedding at Cana passage cited above is frequently rendered: “What do I have to do with you, woman?” which is simply inaccurate. It gives the impression of disrespect, as though Mary were being a bother to her Son. What is deeply lacking is the spiritual consciousness rooted in salvation through union with Christ. None of the doctrines expressed in the Great Seven Ecumenical Councils make any sense apart from that awareness. Put simply, it is how both the Scriptures and the early Fathers understand our salvation. Union (communion, participation) is the fundamental grammar of Christian teaching.
When this grammar is properly grasped, it becomes clear that we cannot speak of Christ apart from Mary (nor Mary apart from Christ). By the same token, we cannot speak of Christ apart from the Church, nor the Church apart from Christ. We are told in 1 Cor. 12:21 that the “head cannot say to the feet, ‘I have no need of you,” and this in the very passage in which we are told that Christ is the “head of the body (the Church).” We cannot speak of one member of the Body apart from all the others, for the life of each is the life of all and the life of all is the life of each.
In our devotional life, this is expressed in the communion of saints, our prayers that gather all together in union with Christ: “Commemorating our most holy, most pure, most blessed lady, Theotokos, and ever-virgin Mary, and all the saints, let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.”
On the personal level, the experience of the Church has taught us private devotions as well. Within those, we begin to discover the mystical bonds that only such devotions reveal. Years ago, in a reference I have long since forgotten, I read a quote in which St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “There are things about Jesus you cannot know until His mother tells them to you.”
This part of the Orthodox life is difficult to describe. It is a perception of Christ, though with a greater fullness, one that extends into the persons of the saints. In Mary, that person encompasses an intimacy with Christ that is without equal. In my own experience, this intimacy includes the depths of her maternal love, for her Son, and for all creation.
The absence of Marian devotion and awareness has created a Christianity with an absence of the feminine. I do not suggest that Mary is a cipher for an abstract universal, or of a “divine femininity,” but it is simply bizarre to have a Christology that speaks of the “humanity” of Christ that is somehow devoid of a human mother (for all intents and purposes). Orthodox Christology begins its formal expression in the 3rd Ecumenical Council in which the largest and most central question was Mary’s title of “Theotokos” (Birth-Giver of God). Classical Christology began with consideration of Mary.
The most egregious example I have ever encountered of anti-Marian sentiment is a treatment in which she is seen as a mere “container” for Christ. It is an insult to every woman who has ever borne a child.
I offer no speculation as to the damage done to Western culture by a distorted Christology. Secularists would argue that Christology has nothing to do with our cultural constructs: such is the ignorance of our own foundations. Secular modernity is built on the foundation of a distorted version of Christianity. We are children who deny our parents, imagining that we have created ourselves.
Now that is a cause for panic. Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Do labor unions raise wages in the private sector? In order to answer this question, we must first ask what determines wage rates in the first place. Why is it that movie stars earn a ton of money, a college professor garners a middle class salary and the person who asks “Do you want fries with that?” takes home a more modest remuneration.
The answer in technical terms is discounted marginal revenue product. In verbiage more suitable for a family newspaper, it is: productivity. Why does the employer want to have the employee on his payroll? Simple; because in that way his revenue will increase. Suppose a person, call him Joe, can add to the bottom line of the firm at the rate of $20 per hour.
The company might initially offer him an hourly wage of $12, but this cannot long endure. At that rate a profit of $8 will be earned on Joe’s labor. Some other company will offer Joe $8.01, another $8.02, and a third $8.03. You see where we’re going with this.
Eventually his wage will end up exactly equal to his productivity, if we abstract from the costs of finding him, interviewing him, testing him, and other such transactions costs. Nor need the impetus arise only from the perspective of the hirer. Joe himself can look for other jobs, and his pay scale can also rise from that direction. Nor can his wage long remain above his productivity level. At $30, if there are enough Joes, and they are kept on the shop floor for long enough, bankruptcy will eventually ensue.
So, the question of whether labor unions can boost pay packets comes down to one of, do these organizations raise, lower or leave productivity levels unchanged. When put in this manner it is difficult to see how they can do anything other than lower productivity.
Even if they do not strike, their mere existence is costly. Organizing numbers of people so as to act together is not a free good. Then, when we add in all sorts of labor union activities such as slow downs, job reservations, intra-union squabbles, sign-up activities, elections, law suits, work to rule, collective bargaining, leaders’ salaries, beating up scabs, establishing picket lines, publicity, secondary strikes, boycotts, lobbying congress, etc. These may all strengthen unions, but they lower member productivity, and hence wages.
The point we are making is not that unions cannot raise the wages of all workers. It is, rather, that they cannot even boost their own pay, at least not in the long run. Yes, to be sure, it cannot be denied, that in the short run, based upon violence and the threat thereof, the pay scales of the rank and file can indeed rise.
But, if they exceed marginal revenue productivity, which has been decreasing thanks to their activities, their employers will be rendered bankrupt. It is no accident that Detroit is an economic basket case; these types of organizations were very powerful in the automobile industry. Nor should it occasion any surprise that the entire “rust belt” came into being as a result of unions catapulting compensation above productivity levels.
Unions comprised 33% of the labor force in 1955, and were down to single digits in the private sector by the 21st century. Wages rose markedly during that period. If organized labor were really responsible for this increase in worker well-being, it is more than passing curious it occurred during the time this institution was on the descendancy.
Why are labor unions falling on such hard times (except in government employment)?
Union membership in the private sector was 6.2% in 2019, the lowest level since 1910. It is nowadays one fifth that of public sector workers, who have jumped to 33.6%. In 1954, the apex of organized labor, 34.8% of the private labor force were part of the rank and file.
Several hypotheses have been put forth to explain this radical reduction.
We are now much wealthier that we were in the 1950s. Unions are needed only for the poor, to help lift them up out of poverty. That is why MicroSoft, Apple, IBM and their ilk have not been organized; they don’t need this institution, since they already have high pay. But players in major league baseball, the NBA, the NFL, earn more than these high tech nerds, and they are unionized. There might be some explanatory power here, but maybe not all that much.
Here is another. Organized labor has been afflicted by corruption, mobster infiltration. The award winning movie, The Irishman, encapsulates this charge in dramatic fashion. But this has always been roughly true, all throughout labor union history. It is difficult, then, to see this as an accurate account for the rise and then fall of this institution.
Union leaders are invariably supporters of the Democratic party. Once upon a time that was also true of the vast majority of the membership. But it no longer holds. The rank and file in the age of Trump have to a significant degree embraced the Republican party. This might account, at least somewhat, for lessened support of the organized labor movement.
The government has to a significant degree taken over the role played by unions in the past: promoting healthcare, pensions, etc. To the extent this is true, it might well at least partially explain the lessened interest in unionism.
Then there is the fact that labor has in the last little while been allocated away from customary union strengths: manufacturing, construction. It has flowed in the direction of restaurants, hotels, computers, healthcare, which traditionally, and also at present, were and are not now heavily unionized. A not unreasonable explanation, albeit a partial one at best. For it leaves open the question as to why these other zones of the economy have been so resistant to the blandishments of unionism.
Here is yet another entry into this sweepstakes. Before the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, non union members were required to pay so-called “agency fees” to organized labor. Why? It was thought that their wage increases were due to union activity, and that they were thus “free riders” on the efforts of that organization.
But the Janus finding put paid to all of that. It cited the first amendment, claiming that the free speech rights of the so-called beneficiaries were being violated by compelling them to pay their hard earned money against their will to this group of people.
Indeed, the entire pre-Janus justification was dead from the neck up. First of all, wages are determined by productivity, not union threats. Second, even if A benefits from the acts of B does not justify B compelling A to pay him for them. I smile, take a shower once in a while, wear nice clothes, all of which (I claim), inure to your benefit. Yet if I sued you for these costs, I would be properly laughed out of court.
Several of these elucidations are at least partially correct, but none of them, even all together, can paint a complete picture. Here is another consideration to add to the mix. Wages are determined, ultimately, by labor productivity, and unions, with their strikes, work stoppages, internecine battles, downing tools in “sympathy” with their brethren, lower productivity compared to the level that would otherwise have obtained.
Unions are thus akin to a tapeworm, sucking the life out of an otherwise viable company. Detroit, anyone? Once upon the time this was a reasonably viable city. But the unions kept escalating their salary package demands, which choked off the profits of the automobile firms. Several of them headed south, and many of the others are now a shadow of their former selves.
The reason Lebron James earns a stupendous salary has nothing to do with unionism; ditto for your present author taking home more modest remuneration, nor for the guy who asks you “do you want fries with that,” at a still lower level. No, compensation is determined by how much each of us adds to the bottom line.
Wages are set by productivity levels, and unions lower, not raise them. This might be difficult to see, since many members of organized labor are paid generously. But that is despite union activity, not because of it. Without the “help” of this organization, their productivity would be higher, and so would their pay.
Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He has taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). He lectures widely on college campuses, delivers seminars around the world and appears regularly on television and radio shows. He is the Schlarbaum Laureate, Mises Institute, 2011; and has won the Loyola University Research Award (2005, 2008) and the Mises Institute’s Rothbard Medal of Freedom, 2005; and the Dux Academicus award, Loyola University, 2007. Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. He was converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Block is old enough to have played chess with Friedrich Hayek and once met Ludwig von Mises, and shook his hand. Block has never washed that hand since. So, if you shake his hand (it’s pretty dirty, but what the heck) you channel Mises.
The image shows, “Vote American Labor Party Roosevelt and Lehman,” a poster by the ALP for the Presidential Election, 1936.