Gender mayhem and the new Babel

30154-babel-800w-tn

The announcement last weekend that the British Equalities Minister Justine Greening wants to change the law so that people are free to specify their gender on their birth certificate regardless of medical opinion, provoked dismay and outrage among conservative people. Not all liberal people were happy with it either – but for the libertarian gender-benders it was like the dawn of a new age.

Tim Stanley, in the Daily Telegraph, took a critical if sober view of it. He didn’t think it would really fly. I wouldn’t be so sure, given the extent to which the very foundations on which common sense and the politics of the common good have been so badly warped. Stanley acknowledged:

Life is messy and the individual should navigate it with free will. But it’s precisely out of deference to the complexity of the human experience that we cling on to certain principles – principles that reflect not just our ideals but the realities of our nature. Biology is one of those realities, and it helps define us as men and women. Because biology is so vital, if you try to rewrite the principles to please one tiny minority, you impact upon the lives of absolutely everybody.

He adds, The Tories are meddling in affairs that are well beyond their intellectual grasp or the country’s willingness or capacity to accept change. Greening is asking the British public not only to accept a radical notion that most will find exotic but to rewrite the daily narrative of their own lives – and behave as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. It is, I suspect, too big an ask.

In The Times (London), Clare Foges struck a warning note suggesting that it would be unwise to be complacent. Storing up trouble for our children now and in future generations was what was on her mind.

Many of the adults among us may dismiss this with an inward roll of the eyes, too polite or too wearied by political correctness to demur. But children are increasingly presented with these complex and confusing ideas as unarguable fact. They are being led to believe, on social media and in schools, that gender is simply a lifestyle choice.
On Facebook, users can choose from a buffet of 71 gender options: polygender to two-spirit person. Last year the children’s commissioner sent a form to schoolchildren asking them to pick one of 25 genders that they identified with (withdrawn once the press started to take an interest). Girlguiding has said that boys as young as five who identify as girls can join the Rainbows or Brownies. Scores of schools have abolished “boys” and “girls” from their dress code. One of the country’s leading private schools, St Paul’s Girls’, now considers requests from students to be known either as gender-neutral or as boys. Pupils aged 11 to 15 “can have discussions at any time to explore their gender identity”. No doubt where St Paul’s leads many other schools will follow.

How did this happen, we might ask ourselves? What wrong turning led us to this Chaos? Losing our grip on the Cosmic reality that is God, denying the divine, must surely be somewhere near the heart of it.

Romano Guardini, puzzling over the paradox of an omnipotent God allowing himself to be ignored by his creatures, asks us rhetorically if man can actually turn his back on God? How come it is possible  – if God is really the all-powerful One standing at the beginning and end of time, in history and in eternity, in us and above us in heart and heaven, – that he can be denied, blasphemed, even—incomprehensible mystery—overlooked and forgotten?

Frightening as the prospect is, he confirms:

It is possible—this and more. For it is also possible for God, the one Reality, to exist, and for man, his own creature to declare: God is dead! Man can behave as if God did not exist. He can act, judge, proceed as if nothing existed but himself, man, and the animal, and the tree and the earth. It is possible for man (who has a vital soul through which he exists as man, through which he is joyful or sorrowful) to insist that he is soulless. All this is possible because seeing and understanding, serious contemplation and acceptance of reality are vital processes, hence dependent on man’s will and profoundest disposition. Thus also his capacity for negation is illimitable.

And the consequences are what we have now got. Our capacity for negation is in overdrive.

Roger Scruton put his finger on it in his new book, On Human Nature, when he says:

Take away religion, take away philosophy, take away the higher aims of art, and you deprive ordinary people of the ways in which they can represent their apartness. Human nature, once something to live up to, becomes something to live down to instead. Biological reductionism nurtures this “living down,” which is why people so readily fall for it. It makes cynicism respectable and degeneracy chic. It abolishes our kind——and with it our kindness.

And it is precisely the milk of human kindness which Foges tells us we should be relying on in our efforts to deal with our differences and our diversity. She wants our guiding instinct in these matters to be kindness and warns that in seeking to support the tiny minority of children who feel trapped in the wrong body we run the risk of creating a world of confusion and anxiety for the rest.

But ultimately where does kindness come from? Even in a civilization which acknowledges the existence of God there is a struggle to maintain it against our inherent tendency to selfishness. But in any world we know of – contemporary or historical –  where the existence of God is denied our record is horrific. Individuals who have lost their faith in God can be sustained in their humanity by the mores ingrained in them by a believing society, but when that society itself rejects God, and surrenders itself to the values of self-centred and utterly narcissistic individualism, then we all re-enter the tower of Babel. That is what is now threatening us.

Guardini contemplates this reality when he writes, in his reflection on the last chapters of the Revelation of St. John, that:

Unconverted man lives in the visible world judging all that is or may be by tradition’s experience and by the rules of logic. But when he encounters Christ, he must either accept him and his revolutionary approach to truth or lose him. If he attempts to judge also the Lord by the standards of common experience, he will soon notice that he is dealing with something outside experience. He will have to discard the norms of the past, and take Christ as his new point of departure. When he no longer attempts to subject Christ to immediate reason and experience, he will recognize him as the supreme measure of all possible reality.

A big part of modern man’s ‘problem’ with God is surely rooted in his refusal to accept God as God and not as something in his own image. Doing this is no risk to his innate pride and self-centredness. But God is not made in our image. We are made in his image, and made by him. Ignoring that spells big trouble. Guardini continues:

The intellect jealous for its own sovereignty rejects such recognition, which would put an end to its world-anchored self-glorification, and surrender it into the hands of the God of Revelation. This is the ‘risk’ any would-be Christian must take. If he takes it, a profound revolution begins…. And to the degree that the searching individual experiences such spiritual revolution, he gains an amplitude, a superiority, a synthesizing power of reason that no natural insight can match.

Those of us now facing this new Babel, this incomprehensible confusion in our society and in the hearts and minds of so many, have a difficult choice to make. We are being faced with a world-view which has attempted to compromise with the substance of our nature and identity because it has abandoned one of the defining truths about our existence – we are the creatures of the Living God. If there is to be any hope of rescue from this state, Guardini, back in the 1930s, told us what must be done:

The term ‘Christian culture’ must be purged of all that is questionable in it. The gulf between Revelation and the world must reopen. Perhaps a new period of persecution and outlawry must come to shake Christians back to a living consciousness of the values for which they stand.

Mankind, once again, has a great adventure before it.

 

On recession, regression and renaissance

They said it would take ten years. It did, just about that. I’m no measurer of economic development and progress but it does seem that the Great Recession is over and the waters of a kind of prosperity are lapping the shore once more. In Ireland we are more or less on out feet again, if some recent headlines are to be taken at face value.

“New property millionaires are being created at a rate of a dozen a week. There are now close to 4,000 homeowners in Ireland whose property is worth €1m or more”. Not to mention the spectacle of cranes flying over the City of Dublin. It is now ranked fifth in the world for prime retail rent growth.

That headline and those cranes might be a two-edged sword and doubtless will be causing some to cross their fingers in the hope that it is not a sign of a boom before the next bust.

File_007 (1)
A Dublin skyline

But what about the more crippling recession – or rather, regression? Any sign of remission there? It is a regression wider, deeper and ultimately more damaging than any in the material order and it is still draining the blood from the living tissue our civilization. We now live in nations where values have become so fragmented and have been so weakened by their fragmentation that they no longer seem up to the task of holding our societies and communities together.

However, there are voices calling us to our senses. Eugene Vodvolaskyn, Russian academic philologist and novelist is one. Joseph Ratzinger, emeritus Pope Benedict XVII, is another. Philosopher Roger Scruton is a third. There are more – but where are their disciples, without whom they will just be voices crying in the wilderness.

rian_01481857_vodolazkin_468
Eugene Vodvolaskyn

All three of these see a two-fold development in our culture which is near the heart of the disintegration which threatens us: excessive individualism and secularization. It is twofold because the one leads to the other. Indeed, like malign cells in the body, they complement each other and feed off all around them. Excessive individualism has no room for the Other – and certainly no room for God. Secularism, by eliminating God, has nowhere to lead us except to worship the Self.

Scruton in his book, On Human Nature, reminds us of how Milton conjured the truth of our condition from the raw materials of Genesis, and in doing so set a standard for art which was truly human. We might add Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes, like Milton, inheritors of the treasures of the High Middle Ages who have never been surpassed in their vision of what is is to be human and divine. Modern man and much of his literature, his philosophy, his politics, in his flight from God is a wrecker.

“Take away religion, take away philosophy, take away the higher aims of art,” Scruton writes, “and you deprive ordinary people of the ways in which they can represent their apartness. Human nature, once something to live up to, becomes something to live down to instead. Biological reductionism nurtures this ‘living down,’ which is why people so readily fall for it. It makes cynicism respectable and degeneracy chic. It abolishes our kind — and with it our kindness” (P.49).

Pinpointing these two maladies as key issues to be faced if our civilization is to be rescued from this regression, Vodvolaskyn traces the degeneration in this way:

“In the modern age, the individual required recognition. Faith required lack of faith so that the believer would have a choice and so that faith wouldn’t be a mere everyday habit. This train gathered speed but didn’t stop. It kept moving even after reaching its station. It now seems to have gone pretty far beyond its destination. The cult of the individual now places us outside divine and human community. The harmony in which a person once found himself with God during the Middle Ages has been destroyed, and God no longer stands at the center of the human consciousness.”

Vodvolaskyn echoes the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his famous “Warning to the West“, given after his exile from Russia.  Humanism of the modern age, the former tells us, takes it that the human being is the measure of all things. While, he says, the same could be said of the Middle Ages, there is one vital qualification. “For medieval man there was one correction: The person is the measure of all things, if it is understood that the measure was given by God.”

Roger Scruton adds that thinkers in the eighteenth century compounded the degeneration. He rightly points out that our academic political philosophy has its roots in the Enlightenment, in the conception of Citiznship that emerged with the social contract. That contract replaced inherited authority with popular choice as the principle of political legitimacy. Not surprisingly, he says, it has had little time for piety, which—if acknowledged at all—is confined to the private sphere” (P 126).

The concept and definition of “person”, explored by Scruton in his book, is a key to the entire crisis. Our civilization has now such a garbled concept of the person, its nature and dignity, its unified essence as body and soul, that it has all but shipwrecked us on the rocks exposed by the receding waters.

Without the correction supplied by medieval man, in Vodvolaskyn’s view, humanism becomes inhuman. With excessive individualism, the rights set down for the individual multiply. The Russian foresees a demand inevitably coming for a right to cross the street against a red light. Take that literally or metaphorically. Ultimately, he argues, because our concept of rights is anti-humane at its core, it activates the mechanism for self-destruction. “The right to suicide turns out to be our most exemplary liberty.”

Ireland, not too long ago was still a safe place to negotiate the world, to raise a family, to pursue the good life. It was holding on, albeit somewhat superficially, to the more metaphysical world view characteristic of the Middle Ages which Vodvolaskyn identifies. It is no longer so, at least in the urbanised and materialistic sectors of its population. While there are still many there who feel that true value and virtue have been swept away by fickle modernity, there are many others rejoicing and celebrating the change.

What has happened to Ireland is what is likely to happen to any cluster of humanity whose moral compass is put in the hands of entertainers, celebrities and a political class whose members care more about their media image and so-called legacy than about the true good of the people.

Ireland may be fast approaching a cultural condition illustrated by Vodvolaskyn in the following anecdote. He recounts an encounter, some 20 years ago, with a Dutch pastor, an advocate of The Netherland’s culture of tolerance, who took him on a tour of Amsterdam.

“The Dutch people are tolerant, he told me, and hence in Amsterdam, there are no ethnic or religious minorities, an achievement made possible by the fact that although a majority of residents are of Dutch descent, only around 25 percent call themselves Christian. His enumeration of the achievements of Dutch tolerance concluded with an account of the removal of a stanza about the help of God from the national anthem of the Netherlands. As you can understand, explained the pastor, various people have various gods, and they can be offended that the anthem names only the Christian God. This is a triumph for tolerance, isn’t it? Listening to him, I thought, if this is a triumph, what would catastrophe be like?”

That was before the spectre of jihad made its appearance on Dutch soil. One wonders what the pastor is thinking today.

Vodvolaskyn, in an essay entitled ‘The New Middle Age’, published in First Things over a year ago, as a philologist might be inclined to do, identified the world as a text.

“As in the Middle Ages, the world itself is becoming a text, though the texts vary in these two cases. The medieval world was a text written by God that excluded the ill-considered and the accidental. The Holy Scripture, which gave meaning to the signs that were generously scattered in daily life, was this world’s key. Now the world is a text that has any number of individual meanings that can be documented. Think of the blogger who describes, minute by minute, a day that has passed.”

But the modern age, with its false humanism, centered exclusively on man, repudiated the Christian vision. The progressivist delusion clouded the picture and abandoned the vision of a unified world where the past and the present were one force.

Vodvolaskyn, being Russian, looks at the modern world from that perspective. But he is also profoundly Christian and fully aware of the historic unity of spirit which Christianity brought to what we call the West. He is also deeply optimistic about the potential which this spirit still has to transform and renew the now decaying civilization in which we find ourselves.

Both Vodvolaskyn and Joseph Ratzinger – surely not only one of the greatest popes of the modern age but also one of its wisest political philosophers – see that the changes that have to come have to take place in our hearts as well as in our culture and in our reason-based political institutions. For both of them utopian dreams are paths to disaster for mankind – as they have shown themselves to be from Cromwell’s time up to the age of ISIS.

Ratzinger points out in Values In A Time of Upheaval:

“The enthusiastic messianism of an eschatological and revolutionary character is absolutely foreign to the New Testament. History is, so to speak, the kingdom where reason rules. Although politics does not bring about the kingdom of God, it must be concerned for the right kingdom of human beings, that is, it must create the preconditions for peace at home and abroad and for a rule of law that will permit everyone to ‘lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way’ (1 Tim. 2: 2). One could say that this also implies the demand of religious freedom. Similarly, the text is confident that reason can recognize the essential moral foundations of human existence and can implement these in the political domain.”

Scruton, for his part, warns us of the totalitarian traps which the modern philosophies of Peter Singer and Derek Parfit , both icons of progressivism, set for us with their consequentialist moral reasoning.

“Both philosophers overlook the actual record of consequentialist reasoning. Modern history presents case after case of inspired people led by visions of ‘the best,’ believing that all rational beings would adopt those visions if only they would think about them clearly. The Communist Manifesto is one such Vision. It gives a picture of ‘the best’ and argues that all would work for it, the bourgeoisie included, if only they understood the impeccable arguments for its implementation. Those who stand in the way of revolution are self-interested; but they are also irrational and would change sides if they thought seriously about principles that everyone could will to be laws. Since their interests prevent them from thinking in that way, violent revolution is both necessary and inevitable.”  (P97)

Vodvolaskyn argues for a conservative project and thinks that if the West is able to move beyond its geopolitical disagreements with Russia, it will see one possible future for our common European civilization. One of his fears, which he elaborates in another more recent essay, is that if Russia attempts this by means of a harsh dictatorship of the majority, then it will fail and destabilize society no less than, say, “the dictatorship of the minority that we can observe at times in the West.”

Today as ever, he holds,—contrary to progressive conceits—it is possible for a society to recognize a place for religion and uphold traditional notions of marriage and family. For Scruton it is not only possible. It is essential. In his book he subscribes to the “deep insight” shared by Burke, Maistre and Hegel, that the destiny of political order and the destiny of the family are connected. “Families, and the relationships embraced by them, are nonaccidental features of interpersonal life.”

Contemporary progressivism’s deconstruction of the family is at the heart of our society’s catastrophic regression.

But piling hope upon Vodvolaskyn’s hope, we look for a new Renaissance. But this renaissance will not be a rediscovery of the ancient world. It will be a rediscovery of the treasures of the Middle Ages, cast aside so dismissively by those who consider the word medieval just another expletive. Western Europe, Russia, and the United States, he maintains, represent various branches of a single tree. The basic systemic feature of this civilization is Christianity, both as a religious practice and as a specific kind of culture. If European civilization is fated to survive, it will require a rediscovery of Christianity. And that will, he says, take place both on the level of persons, of  nation-states and at a pan-European level.

Once more, we live in hope.

Next up: show trials?

20130925-094506.jpg

Roger Scruton, apart from his extensive academic and literary achievements, worked to found underground free universities in several Central European countries during Soviet rule. He knows what he is talking about. He says this in the context of the latest dangerous foolishness from Italy: “You can’t imprison thought with law,” he said. The proposed law “is the criminalization of intellectual criticism on the subject of gay marriage. It’s a new intellectual, ideological crime, as was anti-communism during the cold war.”

“To me, this Bill on homophobia is reminiscent of the Moscow trials, and those of Maoist China, where victims confessed their crimes enthusiastically before being executed.

When political activists accuse opponents of “hate,” he said, there is a “moral inversion”. “If you oppose the normalization of homosexuality you are a ‘homophobe’. If you believe in Western culture, you are an ‘elitist’. Accusations of ‘homophobia’ means the end of a career, especially for those who work at a University.”

He compared this process of political manipulation to the process described by George Orwell in his classic political satire 1984. The “Newspeak” of the bill is an example of the use of langauge to create a “spell”.

Read more here:
http://www.ilfoglio.it/soloqui/19923
And here:
http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/italian-anti-homophobia-bill-reminiscent-of-maoist-stalinist-politics?utm_source=LifeSiteNews.com+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=29697157a3-LifeSiteNews_com_Intl_Headlines_06_19_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0caba610ac-29697157a3-397480385

Peril of Ignoring the Ghost in the Machine

A rather chilling scenario of our future has been laid before us by Roger Scruton in a review of some books dealing with the nature/nurture issue in this month’s Prospect Magazine. One of the books is Professor Susan Greenfield’s YOU AND ME: The Neuroscience of Identity, in which she asks questions about the risks posed for the moral development of children by our careless approach to the new technology of communications. This technology is dominating society’s nurture of its young more and more and the implications of Greenfield’s and Scruton’s observations are that we allowing a kind of nurture of our future generations which borders on the irresponsible.

Roger Scruton

Echoing Greenfield concerns, Scruton reminds us that nurture can as easily destroy freedom as enhance it. We can bring up children on passive and addictive entertainments that stultify their engagement with the real world and rewire the neural networks on which their moral development depends. The short-term pursuit of gratification can drive out the long-term sense of responsible agency. Moreover, if children learn to store their memory in computers and their social life in portable gadgets, then gradually both memory and friendship will wither, to linger on only as futile ghosts haunting the digital archives.

Greenfield is taking on a formidable high-tech establishment on this issue and they throw charges at her that there is no hard evidence out there to back up her fears. She recalls that the tobacco giants in the last century made exactly the same charges against those who warned of the dangers of smoking. By the time the evidence came along millions had died. As she reminds us, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

Baroness Greenfield is no Luddite. She is Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, and knows all about the powers and effects of addiction – be it to whatever kind of good thing the boffins of this world can come up with. She acknowledges the great advantages which modern communications have left us with but clearly thinks that there is a dangerous laisszez faire element in our approach to the whole thing.

“Mind change” is what she thinks is going on. It is for her “an issue that’s as important and unprecedented as climate change”. Watch her explain what she means on this Guardian clip here .

Susan Greenfield

Scruton is a philosopher and sees another dimension to the plague we may be unleashing on ourselves and on future generations. He sympathises with all her worries and sees that her argument suggests that there is a kind of human development that prepares us, at the neurological level, for the exercise of responsible choice. If we bring up our children correctly, not spoiling them or rewiring their brains through roomfuls of digital gadgetry, the sense of responsibility will emerge. They will enter fully into the world of I and You, become free agents and moral beings, and learn to live as they should, not as animals, but as persons.

In her book, Greenfield asks: what is it that makes “you” distinct from “me”? Human identity is the term she grapples with. She says that it has long been a topic of fascination for philosophers but has been regarded with aversion by neuroscientists – like herself. Her study searches for a biological interpretation of what she sees as a most elusive of concept. In it she looks into all the social and psychiatric perspectives and ultimately into the heart of the physical brain. As the brain adapts exquisitely to environment she wonders if the cultural challenges of the 21st century are threatening to change human identity itself?

Scruton, the philosopher, takes her concerns on board and once more ends up calling us to our senses with regard to what our responsible behaviour should be towards our children in the face of the tsunami of high-tech gadgetry with which they are now being swamped. If we fail to recognise the need of the young for meaningful and real contact with other thinking, feeling and breathing human beings – as opposed to virtual ones – then we are effectively denying them the right to remain truly human. The evolutionist – of whatever type – who maintains that all these things will in time be positively adapted to by human beings is, he seems to be saying, a dangerous threat to civilization because she or he is ignoring something essential in our nature. Simply because they cannot understand the mysterious elements in the human condition, they choose to ignore it. In doing so they put us in peril.

He concludes, Allow children to interact with real people, therefore, and the grammar of first-person accountability will emerge of its own accord. Undeniably, once it is there, the I-to-you relation adds a reproductive advantage, just as do mathematical competence, scientific knowledge and (perhaps) musical talent. But the theory of adaptation tells us as little about the meaning of “I” as it tells us about the validity of mathematics, the nature of scientific method or the value of music. To describe human traits as adaptations is not to say how we understand them. Even if we accept the claims of evolutionary psychology, therefore, the mystery of the human condition remains. This mystery is captured in a single question: how can one and the same thing be explained as an animal, and understood as a person?

Read Nature, nurture and liberal values by Roger Scruton in Prospect Magaazine.