Of War And Islam

History is about expansion and contraction – of ideas, of economics, of ambitions, and of the pursuit of power. A crucial element in this pulsation of human action is war.

Recalling von Clausewitz’s famous observation provides a meaningful framework for discussion: “We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses…War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”

Earlier, von Clausewitz defines war as, “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.”

Raymond Ibrahim actively engages with von Clausewitz in his latest book, Sword and Scimitar, by examining war as the fulfillment of the will of Islam. He looks at eight critical battles which marked how two worlds (one Moslem, one Western and Christian) view each other, down to the present.

Indeed, the encounters between these worlds stretch back more than a millennium, which means that Islam is not something new that suddenly burst into Western consciousness on and after 9/11. Rather, Islamic terrorism is part-and-parcel of a very ancient struggle which has expanded or contracted, sometimes favoring the West and sometimes giving the upper hand to Islam.

War in this context is to be understood as jihad, through which Islam subdues all those that oppose the will of Allah and the example of Mohammad. Ibrahim therefore defines jihad as, “warfare to spread Islam,” and quoting Emile Tyan, he explains that jihad must continue “until the whole world is under the rule of Islam . . . Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad can be eliminated.”

Here, the famous ideological two-fold division of the world, into the “House of Islam” and the “House of Faithlessness,” takes on its proper meaning. Moslems inhabit a reality which can never accommodate the Other, for to accept infidelity (kufr) as a viable way to live out a human life is the denial of Allah, and thus cannot be permitted. This gives the lie, of course, to those that would promote multiculturalism.

This outright rejection of the Other (termed the dhimmi), as unacceptable because he is innately hostile to Allah, renders no other outcome than continual conflict, until the Other is no more – either he is Islamized or annihilated. Here, the concept of the jizya is often trundled out (which is protection-money that non-Moslems must pay in order to live as second-class inhabitants inside Islamic territory).

But such a levy does not mean acceptance or accommodation of the Other. It simply means that each non-Moslem life is a “possession” of Islam, which yields monetary recompense. The dhimmi must pay to live. Ibrahim quotes from a Moslem jurist: “their [infidels’] lives and their possessions are only protected by reason of payment of jizya.”

At its core, therefore, Islam is a political ideology, constructed to change society into the House of Islam, governed by the laws of Allah and the example of Mohammad (Shariah). Accordingly, more than any other faith system in the world, it is the expansion and contraction of war, which defines the character and purpose of Islam.

Violence is not an evil that must be neutralized by way of love (as is the Christian view), in order to win peace. Rather, bloodshed and fear are necessary, and on-going, tools to bring about the end-game of Islam, which is the subjugation of the world. In this way, the practice of Islam in the world is radically different to the practice of Christianity – love produces a certain type of civilization; fear and violence produces another.

A serious problem in the West right now is the lazy habit of assuming that all religions are exactly like Christianity and are therefore to be “handled” in the same way. This is yielding destructive results.

This further means that Islam has always sought war, in order to vanquish its enemies, since such destruction is a holy act, which will meet with much reward in heaven. Thus, a Moslem who engages in jihad is termed a ghazi, or one who raids the territory of the faithless (the kafirs), and slays the unbelieving – because they are Allah’s enemies.

Thus, each Moslem should strive to be a ghazi. Shedding the blood of non-Moslems is meritorious, and much pleasing to Allah. As one Islamic chronicler states: “The Ghazi is the sword of Allah; he is the protector and refuge of the believers. If he becomes a martyr in the way of Allah, do not believe that he has died—he lives in beatitude with Allah, he has eternal life.”

This means that without war Islam loses not only steam but its very purpose, for the world outside Islam is to be changed through violence and the fear that the threat of violence produces. In the East, Islam was, and is, in contention with paganism.

In the West, it fights Christianity (even though the West is now more pagan than Christian). As Ibrahim observes, “Muslim armies went to war against the West more often as religious rather than as national or ethnic forces, and their warring against the Westerners was so seen as mostly a monolithic struggle against Christendom rather than particular European states.”

Thus, Islam exists to wage war in the world. The winning of territory is simply the consequence of this purpose. In the words of Mohammad, “I have been made victorious with terror.”

This means that a negative view of Islam (both in the East and in the West) is a historically grounded response to the violence inherent in Islam. It is not simply “racism” or Islamophobia (both these terms become useless in the context of jihad, by virtue of which each terrorist is a ghazi).

How opposing the violence of jihad can possibly be racism or Islamophobia is never properly explained by those who deploy such terms, especially when the similar opposition brings out the same negative response to Islam among non-Moslems in the East.

Ibrahim raises such crucial issues, which makes his book that much nuanced, for it is more than a richly textured presentation of military history. Although each battle is comprehensively analyzed and detailed, with much insight into the “construction” of terror by Islamic warriors, Ibrahim also uses the subject of war to lay out a social critique (of both Islam and the West), because war also builds an outlook, a point of view, a mindset.

It is a given that Islam as a religion enjoys sociopolitical protection by the Western elite. In this regard, Ibrahim raises a very fundamental point – Islam has never changed; it is still engaged in subduing the world for Allah, by following the example of Mohammad. The West, however, has changed, and in the process has entirely abandoned its own history. This has put the West in a position of weakness, in that it has gotten into the habit of appeasing the violence of Islam.

The Islamic mindset is the same as it was over a millennium ago. The best defense that the West can now muster is multiculturalism, borderless post-nations, relentless hedonism, and appeasement. This puts the West in a perpetual posture of weakness, for it can no longer thwart Islam’s will.

In this regard, Ibrahim ends his book with a dire warning: “…if Islam is terrorizing the West today, that is not because it can, but because the West allows it to.”

A little earlier, the words of Alan G. Jamieson are highlighted: “At a time when the military superiority of the West—meaning chiefly the USA—over the Muslim world has never been greater. Western countries feel insecure in the face of the activities of Islamic terrorists…In all the long centuries of Christian-Muslim conflict, never has the military imbalance between the two sides been greater, yet the dominant West can apparently derive no comfort from that fact.”

This paradox is easily understood, of course. Islam has not lost its will and still wants to impose it on the world. The West, on the other hand, no longer has a will of its own and therefore no longer understands what it is supposed to do in the world. The only thing it can offer is endless self-indulgence and the pursuit of pleasure. All the while, Islam pursues power. Who will win? Perhaps, Islam is the West’s wakeup call. But the problem now is – what shall the West wake up to?

Raymond Ibrahim’s book should be required reading for all those interested in understanding the future of Islam in the world. It would appear that the West no longer wants a future.

The photo shows, “Bedouins Taking Aim,” by Adolf Schreyer, date unknown.

War In Two Works

“They were afraid of dying, but they were even more afraid to show it.” This sentence encapsulates the contradictory posture that war imposes on human beings, and this contradiction leads to the recognition that war itself is an absurd act, bereft of any meaning, and existing solely for its own sake.

Thus, war can only invoke and provoke a bleak vision, and an absurdist response, which forms the basis of both Fernando Arrabal’s “Picnic on the Battlefield,” and Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” In fact, both these works explore the theme of war as an absurd act, in which meaning of any sort cannot possibly exist.

Arrabal’s Picnic on the Battlefield explores this absurdity to the fullest by working on a premise that is both laughable and grotesque. First, there is the improbable appearance of Zapo’s parents on the battlefield, who have come out to have a picnic with their son.

War for them is nothing more than some field outing that their son is on, and they have decided to join him. When the reality of war is brought home to the parents, Monsieur Tépan asks: “But why are you enemies?”

Suddenly, through the shared suffering (the bomb attack), there is some sort of realization that Zepo is a mirror image of his own son Zapo; there is no difference between them.

But this realization is quickly swallowed up Madame Tépan’s remark: “Your father is the only whose capable of thinking such ideas; don’t forget he’s a former student of the Ecole Normale and a philatelist.”

This remark reinforces the absurdist view that there cannot be such realizations in war – there is only the enemy which one must try to kill. In war, there is only kill-or-be-killed.

This is why Madame Tépan’s remark is so efficient at cutting away any meaning that one may seek to give to war – for war is entirely a meaningless act. Thus, the absurdity is heightened by the fact that the play ends with the death of the four characters who have suddenly hit upon the idea of ending the war by refusing to fight.

Instead they dance (a life-affirming act); and it is exactly at this point – a point in which they have achieved a semblance of meaning and harmony that war intervenes and they killed. War can only be an absurd nightmare, from which few escape.

This sense of absurdity continues in Tim O’Brien’s story, “The Things They Carried,” in that it too describes the nightmarish quality of war, in which to kill is a normal act, and the days in which does not kill are abnormal. Only death has true meaning in war: “The guy’s dead…which seemed profound – the guy’s dead…” And death brings no final meaning, no moral, as Sanders asks, but finds none: “Yeah well…I don’t see no moral.”

Cross and his men live in a landscape of nothingness, and when they die, it is an even greater, vaster nothingness. All the soldiers are entirely cut off from all meaning – their sole purpose is to survive. It is a realization that Cross comes to at the end of the end of the story.

War is no place for idealism. Martha is not a virgin, nor does she love him; she just offers him a semblance of an imagined world outside Vietnam. But like everything else around Cross, she is nothing more than a daydream – perhaps she is part of the nightmare.

Cross comes to this realization, but he is not moved by it. He notes that it is sad – but he has the work of surviving to do; he cannot wallow in self-pity: “He was realistic about it. There was that new hardness in his stomach.”

Thus, it is not the soldiers who will change the environment around them, but the environment that changes the soldiers, for they are “trying to fight and survive in the human waste that surrounds them…[and] they are themselves human waste.”

For Arrabal war is grotesque and meaningless and exists only to perpetuate destruction and annihilation. Likewise, O’Brien also writes about the absurdity of war, where humanity itself is continually denied, and where there is no room for life and love – only the will to survive, and the will to kill: “He would shut down the daydreams. This was not Mount Sebastian, it was another world where there were no pretty poems or midterm exams, a place where men died because of carelessness or stupidity.”

 

The photo shows, “Gassed,” by John Singer Sargent, painted in 1919.

Bertrand Russell An Assessment

The core of Bertrand Russell’s philosophy is certainly logic. But overarching this agenda is the theme of language and the physical world.

In fact, he uses logic to uncover the structures of language and of the world, which leads him to see a cohesive force existing between the two. When both are reduced to their simplest level, an immediate and intimate connection is revealed, which ultimately is a relationship based entirely on denotation.

Thus, in the simplest elements, or “atoms,” of language, we have the demonstrative pronouns “this” and “that,” and in the atoms of the physical world we find the sense data, which are little pieces of information that our senses collect. Therefore, for Russell, the connection between language and the world is created by demonstrative pronouns, which are used specifically to refer to the sense data.

This is in fact a naming process, which then becomes our immediate practical connection with the world outside. The theme of language and the world serves as the necessary justification for Russell’s logic to exist in the first place.

However, this theme also launches Russell’s inquiry into the nature of natural language, that is, the languages spoken by all of humankind. Once we begin to reduce language into its naming capability, which interestingly enough is also its atomic existence, its “this” and “that,” only then do we confront the need to see how and why it exists as it does.

Language exists in order to give meaning to the world outside us, but it extends that meaning in different ways. Yet natural language is also filled with denoting expressions, and we, as speakers of natural language, want to see these expressions as names. However, this is not the case.

According to Russell, denoting expressions (for example, “some people,” “all people”) are not names at all because they have no meaning in themselves. In fact, these expressions do not refer to specific objects in the physical world.

Rather, they are incomplete symbols, by which he means symbols that do not have meaning in isolation, but that their meaning becomes evident only in a certain context. Therefore, when Russell seeks to explore the atomic existence of language, he is in fact seeking to uncover the workings of a logical language (an ideal one), in which all names would only be proper names, which in turn would only refer to data.

 

The theme of language and the natural world further shows us that natural language is in fact misleading; it continually deceives us, for it cannot properly refer to the world outside, since the objects it seeks to name, it cannot properly name because of confusion.

The cause of confusion is housed in the very structure of natural language: in its syntax. Upon examination we realize that natural language handles all substantives in the same way: they are seen as names or designators. Therefore, natural language can never truly name the world.

Only logical language can perform this function, which can properly differentiate between a name and an incomplete symbol.

When we seek to equate natural language with the world, we fall into the conundrum of whether existence is a predicate or a property; whether it is an object to be named. Russell suggests a way out.

He proposes that we see existence as an attribute of propositional functions, that is functions that may be instantiated (that is, how we understand them). Consequently, logical language names that instantiation, that understanding, and those names that do not refer to this instantiation are in fact descriptions disguised as names, or camouflaged descriptions.

This is Russell’s way of saying that all propositions are either true or false.

The theme of language and the world can further be enlarged to include the difference between semantics and pragmatics. Semantics studies the truth conditions of sentences (which is Russell’s logical language as a tool to properly name the world), while pragmatics deals with the actual use of sentence by users in different context (the function of natural language).

And it is the truth condition that Russell is largely concerned with. However, this endeavor also proves to be a problem, since an ideal language really only exists with Russell, though he strives to universalize it. In fact, the theme of language and the world serves to highlight a distinct problem.

When we speak of creating a logical, ideal language, we fall into the very structures of natural language, which Russell wants us to escape, in that our concerns are no different: the desire to name.

Although Russell accepts the notion that naming necessarily involves a desire for truth, he constructs a system that seeks to follow the very patterns that he seeks to overcome. In other words, his logical language is no different from natural language, despite his desire to make it different, and logically consistent.

In the end, he poses questions to which there is no hope of answers. His construct of a logical language is ultimately needless since it is difficult to say whether natural language deceives us. But what is evident is that philosophers often misuse natural language, so it gives the appearance of deception.

However, this misuse is overcome by common usage, and it with this concept that the rupture created by Russell between natural language and the physical world can be closed. Common usage allows us to make statements that are both true and false about non-existent things, and such statements do not confuse us at all, nor by making such statement do we instantly start believing in these non-existent things.

For example, many people study and write about ancient gods, but none become believers as a result of their own statements. There is a capacity in natural language that allows us to interact with the world, without becoming estranged from it.

And lastly, the theme of language and the world demonstrates the fact that in the age-old philosophical problem of the divide that supposedly exists between the mind and the body, Russell seeks to order the world by way of the mind, that is, his logical language. And yet natural language shows us that the divide between the body and the mind is a false construct, a false problem, which does not need solving, but rather dissolving.

It is without a doubt, however, that Russell’s contribution to modern thought is profound. He has given a logical structure to mathematics, to the sciences and to philosophy.

Nevertheless, when he extends logic into a model that will encompass all of being, he presupposes a structure that is ultimately a reductionist one, in that everything is reduced down to its bare minimum, the atomic level.

Rather, natural language works in the way it is meant to work, and it does not behave according to the rules of logic, despite Russell’s attempts, because natural language is grounded in human behavior, and the logic of one man cannot become a universal logic for all, for we can never know the minds of other, which is where natural language resides.

And it is here that Russell’s logic and skepticism stumble, which becomes evident in the theme of language and the physical world.

 

The photo shows a portrait of Bertrand Russell, painted by Roger Fry, in 1923.

Practical Wisdom, Not Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is simply a bad label for practical wisdom. What gets taught as “critical thinking” has nothing to with thinking, life, let alone wisdom.

In other words, “critical thinking” is simply an invention of the education-industry to further enslave students’ minds (but that’s another topic).

Wisdom is even buried in the very root of the word “critical,” which derives from the Greek verb krinein, “to decide,” or “to judge.” Neither process is possible without wisdom, which is knowledgeable discernment.

To have the ability to judge or decide is not a skill – it is process of reflection, which in its root sense means, “to turn back” one’s thoughts and consider closely.

Practical wisdom, then, is to turn back and rediscover the habit of looking for meaning, value and for truth. Since humans are social creatures, we already possess the ability to think this way.

Only ideology makes us forget to follow our proper and true mental inclinations.

But given the way the educational system functions, ideals are never emphasized.

Practical wisdom is also “humanistic thinking,” which is concerned with the moral improvement of the individual and then, by extension, of society.

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

When we look for meaning and value, we begin with doubt, with hesitation, with being unsure, because we have to decide between two or even more possibilities.

Doubt gives us pause, which we often need in order to think things though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we accept that questions are an inquiry into truth, then we are led into asking a rather famous question – what is truth?

In effect, truth is an ideal. It is not a material thing, but it is something that humanity greatly values.

An ideal is an idea that possesses value and meaning. There is no human culture which does not value truth.

Of course, there have been many attacks on the notion of truth – that it is a cultural construct, or that it is closely connected to individuality (hence the term, “truth is relative”).

We’re all familiar with the usual dull arguments – since we all have different ideas of what truth is, there is no universal definition of truth; and so every culture in the world creates its own truth; my truth cannot be your truth – and some people even more radically suggest that there is no truth; or put more bluntly, truth is only a matter of personal opinion. So, if truth does not exist, why bother looking for it?

Ultimately, these are dead-end arguments since they do nothing to advance thinking, nor do they help us to understand why the search for truth is essential to practical wisdom.

Briefly, to say that there is no such thing as truth, or that truth is relative, is a contradiction since we are being told that both these statements are indeed true – and should be universally believed, which makes no sense at all. How can anyone suggest that there is no truth and then expect us to take this statement as the truth?

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

Truth should not be confused with belief (which can be personal) – we may believe one thing at one time in our lives and then come to believe something completely different later on in our lives.

For example, Nazi Germany believed in murdering Jews. Modern Germany does not believe this. Beliefs change – truth does not, because it is an ideal. So, in our example, the truth remains the same – murder is wrong.

We may misunderstand an ideal or misinterpret it, but truth does not change. This unchanging quality makes it an ideal. Ideals help us to choose and decide how we want to live our lives.

Ideals are intangible structures, blueprints, with which we derive meaning and value. Why do we feel good when we do good things? And why are we riddled with guilt when we do bad things? Why do we want to love and be loved? Why are we sympathetic?

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

When we say ideals are examples, we have begun to think symbolically. What does this mean? Simply that we get into the habit of looking for ideals by way of symbols, that is, examples. Light is a symbol for truth and goodness; its opposite, darkness, is a symbol for falsehood and evil.

Symbols give us something concrete, something material, which we can use to start thinking of an ideal (value and meaning), which cannot take on physical form.

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

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

But to think symbolically also means that we have to be imaginative. Imagination is the ability to see relationships between things and between ideas.

To use the imagination is to see the underlying truth of things. Thus, for example, to want freedom is an imaginative act, because it is insight into what we really value and what gives us meaning.

Freedom is a particular kind of relationship between the individual and society. To want freedom means that we see the essential purpose of life – to have freedom is to live as we see fit – and it also means that we see the truth of what it means to be alive.

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

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

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

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

These various aspects of practical wisdom are dependent upon the reason why we need to think in the first place.

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

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

Thinking, therefore, is never done in a vacuum. Thinking is always about context – and humanity’s context is the world.

And what is the world? It is the construct in which we live our lives – and as such, it is ideas placed upon the physicality of the planet earth to make our lives happy and fulfilling and to allow each of us to understand what gives us meaning and value.

Let us now start the process of rediscovery and come to understand what we ought to do to gain and possess practical wisdom so that we may know how we ought to live and what we ought to do in the good society.

 

The photo shows, “Portrait of the Artist Alexander Sokolov,” painted by Osip Braz, in 1898.

What Is Evil?

Consider the following: If God is perfect and good and all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?

The quick response might be, because there is a Devil. Well, then, where did the Devil come from? The answer again leads to God. Therefore, evil must be God’s creation also. This is a conundrum that has been addressed by many a theologian and philosopher.

But what does “evil” mean? If we point to the myriad instances of man’s cruelties to man, then the cause of it all is man himself. Murder, barbarity, savagery are all products of human will, human decision, and human action.

We do not need to go all the way up to God to find out why such brutality is always on display in the world.

This savagery of man to man is commonly known as “moral evil,” where people or governments do vile things to others.

If we point to earthquakes and tsunamis and disease, which kill people just as well as humans can, then we are speaking of “natural evil.

But are either of these “descriptions” actually true? Is there really “moral evil” and “natural evil?”

Perhaps the philosophers and theologians are grabbing at straws. Perhaps they do not really know what evil is, and have no idea how to describe it.

Augustine is likely correct when he says that natural evil simply does not exist. Hurricanes and landslides do not occur in order to kill people. Rather, they occur because all creation does what it does, even when animals kill in order to eat. People are only harmed when they get in the way of nature’s doings.

For this reason, all nature is inherently good. Nothing exists in nature intent on doing harm. Here we should bear in mind the Great Chain of Being, as first described by Plato – from nothingness, up through material objects, human beings, and then up towards God.

John B. Storer, for example, upgraded this idea in his book, The Web of Life, in that all things are connected and depend upon each other.

Nowhere in this web, in this chain, do we see the operation of evil – actions done solely to bring harm to others. Aquinas suggests that even a pebble knows God’s love, because it is sustained in creation and does not simply vanish. All things in nature exist because they are needed and are therefore good. This is the opposite of evil – which is never needed.

To point to “moral evil” means pointing to some sort of “moral deficiency” that permits one person to bring harm to another. But what does this mean in a society that no longer believes Christianity to be a viable explanation for anything in life?

We can exhume Hume and declare that “evil” is that which brings “unhappiness,” while “good” is the opposite of that. But this is hardly a satisfying. Or, as Wittgenstein puts it, “The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man.”

Thus, we live in two different worlds. Is there really any wisdom in saying, as Hume does, to “avoid unhappiness,” or “pursue happiness,” if we do not know what “happiness” and “unhappiness” are, let alone where they come from.

What produces this “happiness” which Hume wants us to acquire?

Certainly not deeds, for people do all kinds of pleasant things, but that does not necessarily make them happy. They may even do good things, but that does not make them happy, or even unhappy, either.

If we pursue only happiness, who do we have to make unhappy? What if evil itself may be a source of happiness for some?

Hume’s argument disappears when we look at the depth of evil that indeed does make some people happy, such as, pedophilia, necrophilia, and the list descends all the down to the lowest depths of Hell.

This means that when we speak of evil, we can only speak of harm that comes to people (including the doer of evil himself). Injury, violence, betrayal, hurt, trauma, outrage, atrocity, depravity, torture, and murder – such, and more, are the parameters of evil.

In other words, evil is inert without human volition and human desire. When we are speaking of evil, are we not really speaking of sin, because sin is that condition most peculiar to human beings?

Sin is more than intent – it is action completely devoid of goodness, and it is action that veers into nothingness in that Chain of Being, which is why evil is always destructive.

That which we recognize as goodness, or the good, is the natural state of the world, which is why we see more harmony and peace, even though the disruption of both by wickedness may appear to be frequent. A light cannot create darkness – only the absence of light creates darkness.

To put it another way, evil is parasitical – it cannot exist without its host, the good, just as a lie cannot exist without its host, the truth.

Evil needs goodness to exist, but goodness does not need evil at all, because existence or being cannot be other than what it is – harmonious and peaceful. It can be nothing but good, because it has no need of nothingness.

Thus, evil is the manifestation of sin, which is that little bit of nothingness, darkness, that state of deficiency within each human being. What is the source of this deficiency, of sin, is a matter of theology, for even psychology cannot really grapple with the mind.

How deficiency, or sin, reveals itself to other people – therein lies the evil. So, we can now say that evil is suffering which we bring upon ourselves, and which we bring upon those around us.

Is evil, then, not like a grudge which can only hurt? So go many of our actions, so go much of our politics.

Consider the story of Henry Tandey (whether true or not is unimportant in this instance), who was the most decorated soldier of World War One.

In 1918, in the French village of Marcoing, during a fire-fight, Tandey had a young German soldier in his gunsight. The soldier was wounded and appeared dazed and disoriented.

Tandey felt sorry for him and lowered his rifle. The two looked at each other, the German soldier made a gesture of thanks and walked away.

In 1923, Fortunino Matania was commissioned to do a commemorative painting of the Kruiseke Crossroad, near Menin. It depicted a scene after a battle, with a soldier carrying on his back a badly wounded comrade. The soldier depicted doing this charitable deed is Tandey.

This image became rather popular, and a copy of it eventually ended up in Germany sometime after 1936, where it made its way to the Berghof, the retreat of Adolf Hitler.

It is said that when Hitler first saw the painting, he at once recognized Tandey, who had once spared the life of a wounded, dazed German soldier, because that soldier was Hitler himself.

Now, by not committing an evil act (killing a wounded, dazed enemy soldier) did Tandey do the right thing?

One can only imagine what the world would have been like had he pulled the trigger – those 50 million lives would have been spared that ultimately perished in the Second World War, and there would be no Holocaust, no concentration camps, no evil legacy of the Nazis whatsoever.

But how was Tandey to know, standing in that little French village in 1918, what that German soldier in his gunsight would become?

How can anyone know what the future holds? Tandey did not pull the trigger because just briefly in that utter darkness of the First World War, there yet flickered the light of goodness inside him, which expressed itself in him lowering his rifle. That is all that can be expected of any human being.

The fault lies not with Tandey, but with Hitler, who could not use this brief encounter with goodness to illumine the great darkness in his own soul, a darkness that some twenty years later released untold horror upon the world.

Each one of us is called to overcome the defects in our souls, to subdue out potential for sin – by strengthening the goodness within us.

Only with our goodness can we overcome evil, which is nothing but the outward manifestation of that “crooked timber of humanity,” as Kant describes it.

Evil cannot exist alongside goodness, because it cannot know it, just as darkness cannot know the light, nor can silence comprehend music.

Goodness lies beyond words, beyond the material, for it belongs to the transcendental, which is the same as saying the eternal being of God.

This is not a call to be mindlessly blissful, which is foolishness. Rather, it is a call to get into the habit of placing our lives within the context of eternity. That is true goodness, which is always the rising above the mundane, to search for light in the depth of darkness.

 

The photo shows, “The Road Of the War Prisoners,” 1877, by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Agony Of The West

Being rooted is perhaps the most important and the least understood need of the human soul. (Simone Weil, L’enracinement)

 

The West has arrived at an impasse, which may be summarized by a simple question – how is it to exist? For many decades, the ritual of sparagmos has been enacted, a relentless tearing apart of the living body itself.

This sundering is deemed urgent and necessary by present-day Bacchants who, by all thyrsi available (legislative, educational, cultural), busy themselves with destroying Western religion, ideas, history, culture and morality, all of which are despised as “oppressive,” or “regressive.” The rallying cry is, “Progress!” and, of course, “Vae victis!”

Leading the thiasus are “theorists,” such as, Will Kymlicka, who act as maenads that shout out utopic oracles and therefore are much fawned upon by the political elite and various ivory-tower types. Before long, these exclamations become government policy – so that a nation may be made “better” than what its particular history actually created.

The appetite for perpetual social engineering is deep indeed.

the West can no longer say why it should continue to exist

And what do these builders of brave-new worlds envision? A state without history, without culture, without memory – a rootless people, intent on cultivating intensely private worlds wherein they may find that which is lacking in public space.

But why must this be done? Why this self-destruction?  Why is the root of the West deemed noxious?

A gallimaufry of explanations bestir themselves to swirl into some sort of answer. Just take your pick:

  • A kleptocratic globalist elite seeks to strip away the wealth of nations so that it may reign supreme in a new world order. The desire to be the “king of the world” is ancient and potent.
  • A withered Marxism holds sway over the educational and cultural industries, wherewith students and citizens are trained and conditioned to be rootless and nationless, for the benefit of ideologues.
  • A feminized culture that cannot think past modes of nurturing, so there are only winners, never any losers – all goaded by a feminism that is openly allied with radical Islam.
  • A militant secularism hell-bent on destroying all vestiges of Christianity to usher in a new age.
  • A frenzied technocracy which ceaselessly designs highly complex gadgets to entertain and divert simpler and simpler minds, thus ensuring itself of limitless growth. This machine MAKES fascists, because an unthinking population is the most compliant.
  • A heady self-deification (selfism) which is packaged as “freedom” or “rights,” and which therefore cannot separate hedonism from responsibility.
  • Large geopolitical players who are eager to flex muscle and use cash to recruit pliant henchmen (i.e., politicians) to make geographical room for all their ambitions.

There are no moderates, sides must be chosen.

Torn asunder by such assaults, the West can no longer say why it should continue to exist. Its root, its meaning used to be Christianity, where personal morality and public virtue converged to fashion a civilization that others envied.

an unthinking population is the most compliant

Western reality now stands emptied of meaning – and thus virtual reality reigns supreme, where individuals are “free” to cut-and-paste whatever meaning their whims invoke, for they have been taught to believe that reality is fluid and choice is king – “life is what you make it.”

This leaves only two real possibilities for the West.

Either it dies off and disappears and lets others take over (needless to say, the cultures of these others do not have a good track record when it comes to building societies that are the envy of the world).

Or, sparagmos can lead to resurrection, a renaissance, where the culture of the West may be recovered – and its root (Christianity) may again be nurtured.

How is this to be done?

Certainly not through politics, which has decayed into a sport, where team loyalty pits one citizen against another, and winning by all means is key. Thus, politicians by nature have evolved into creatures without vision, who exist solely to have a go at the levers of power so they can then retire with burgeoning bank-accounts (see above re: geopolitical players).

Certainly not through education which long ago abandoned truth and is now nothing more than a warehousing facility for the young (extended daycare centers) in the grand debacle that is the state trying to raise people’s children. Thus, a degree now means knowing which correct beliefs to spout, and which correct political posture to espouse. Merit and wisdom were the first casualties.

Certainly not by way of the family which has been effectively dismantled (hence the mindlesspronoun wars”), where parents are “friends,” who exist solely to please their progeny; and as the kids grow older, the greater grows the fear of these parents, lest they be unfriended.

And certainly not through churches (especially the mainline Protestant kind), which belong in the thiasus, for they eagerly negotiated away all their core doctrines – and now stand for nothing at all. In the process, these churches transformed their flock into heathenish Bacchants, lest they be deemed “regressive” in the eyes of the world. The Founder of the church himself made this pertinent observation – you cannot serve two masters. The churches have chosen which side their bread is buttered on.

In other words, institutions of any kind are incapable of saving the West from itself because these institutions are themselves the enablers of its destruction – annihilation is never chaotic; it is systematic, meticulous and thorough, and always initiated and sustained by well-run institutions.

annihilation is never chaotic; it is systematic, meticulous and thorough

This leaves only one avenue – the piecemeal winning of minds by valiant men and women who must recoup those good ideas which created the West (Christianity at all costs).

But such work is treacherously slow, for it involves the process of conversion – where bad ideas must be replaced with good ideas. And this can only be done one bad idea at a time, one possessed soul at a time, one confused brain at a time.

How can life be good without good ideas?

And there is no guarantee of success, since the destruction by the Bacchants is so total and there may not be any living root left to nurture into new growth. Perhaps the seed must be planted anew.

And yet, even if one mind is converted, the conversion of many more becomes possible, and Western civilization may yet hope to sprout into the good sunlight of truth.

But let us not be fooled. There are many dark days ahead and much failure; the proverbial, “Blood, sweat and tears.”

We shall first have to witness the self-desired destruction of Western civilization. And then, like busy tillers and sowers, we must clear away the rubble, lay out the vineyard and husband what remains of the vines – or plant new ones.

Perhaps the time truly has come for the West to die, a time for the dead wood to be lopped off and burned – so its civilization may be planted in truer, richer soil. Without death, there can be no resurrection.

To paraphrase a famous admonition – what has it profited the West, that it gained the whole world and yet lost its soul?

 

[Photo credit: J. Struthers]