Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Parable

A man went on a journey and came to a communist country. In the main square of every town and city in the country were statues of Marx, and his bearded face looked down from walls at every side, one or two or twenty stories high. Tall red banners billowed wherever the man looked, and the stirring strains of the ‘Internationale’ blared from loudspeakers on every major intersection. The newspapers of the state incessantly proclaimed the wisdom of Marx, the perfection of his insights, and the excellence of the system he had devised. His image and his writings were treated almost as sacred things, as if they were the idols and sacred texts of some deity of the Age of Ignorance.

But in this country the man saw riding past rich men in golden limousines, men of the Party, or the army, or of any one of a thousand corporations which the state allowed to flourish there, and he saw that it was these few men who controlled the means of production. This man also saw men begging in the streets, and women forced into prostitution, and children who went hungry while food rotted in the storehouses. He saw men who had no work, and starved because of it, and men who did no work, and feasted like Elagabalus. Everywhere were the splendid buildings of a vast and relentless bureaucracy, as officious and protocol-ridden as the bureaucracy of the bygone tyrants, and in quiet corners remained the churches and temples of the old times, where parasites fed off the superstitions of the people.

The man journeyed on, and crossed a river and a range of mountains, and came to another country where the name of Marx was unknown. There were no statues, and no murals, of any leader or teacher of the past. The banners of this nation were of green and violet, and the songs that played on the radios of its towns were simple songs of love and death.

But in this country the man saw neither rich nor poor: all men had a sufficiency of work to occupy their talents, and a sufficiency of goods to meet their needs. He saw that the workers controlled the means of production, not through a few chosen representatives, but collectively. In this nation the man saw no government buildings, save the odd post office, for the state had withered away almost to nothing. Neither were there any temples or churches that preserved the baleful superstitions of the past, only here and there a museum of atheism.

Now, which of these countries do you suppose did the will of Marx?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spero: All the Other Bits

Well, not quite all the other bits. I have gotten cold feet and left something out.

"I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s” - William Blake

Or should that be:

"He had passed from Hegel into Hume, thence through Pragmatism, and thence through Logical Positivism, and out at last into the complete void." – From That Hideous Strength, by C. S. Lewis. (Is that Wither? Or Frost? I can’t find the passage in my copy.)

I think I had reached as far as ‘What to do next?’ on my originally foreshadowed plan. This is of course *the* big question of Life the Universe and Everything.

And I’ve said that before, so I’m repeating myself.

I shall therefore sum up my Spero document, with a few extra things that have occurred to me along the way.

I. I have entrusted the writing of these words to a common man;
they will never be what I want to say but only their shadow
.” – Jorge Luis Borges

Science is the faith that the universe is rational and comprehensible.

Why should we hold this irrational faith rather than an irrational faith in magic, Scientology, astrology, or fundamentalist Christianity? Ultimately, we have to point at the fruits of this faith. What has holding this faith enabled us to do? What has it produced? How does this compare with the fruits of other faiths? Here the scientific worldview easily stomps over all the others as far as its ability to materially improve the well-being of real human beings and other creatures in a measurable way.

Think of the worm Bilharzia, which is one of the plagues of Egypt. It bores its way into the urinary bladder or the rectum, and there often sets up a peculiarly unpleasant form of cancer. For thousands of years men and women had prayed to Osiris, to Jesus, and to Allah, for deliverance from this agony. Bilharzia carried on. In 1917 Christopherson discovered that this disease, provided cancer had not developed, can invariably be cured with antimony tartrate.’ – J. B. S. Haldane

Religion is the faith that the universe is good.

We have a duty to be optimistic. We should not believe that the universe is, in its essence, just a mass of suffering and futility. We should hold an irrational faith that the criminal horrors of the universe can be harmonised into a system in which the universe is in essence a good thing. Why should we hold this irrational faith? Again, the only real excuse is that it is justified by its fruits. How much of lasting value has been created by people who held the faith that the universe was basically bad? That nothing was worth doing? I assert, not very much.

II. ‘The more the universe seems comprehensible the more it seems pointless.’ – Steven Weinberg

If this were true, would it be so bad? Wouldn’t it be much worse if the universe had a point, and it was a point that we didn’t think much of? A point that sucked. I can’t think of anything that would crush our spirits more.

My discussion of absolute morality in terms of ‘upness’ might have suggested that there is ultimately just one outcome that is ‘most good’, one ‘point’ for the universe. But this is an accident arising from my use of an insufficiently good metaphor. Similarly, my analogy of the history of life as a role-playing game with God as the GM might have suggested, to those more familiar with campaigns in the style of ‘DM of the Rings’ than ‘Darth and Droids’, that God is hustling us along towards one ideal universe. But this is not really what I believe. Someone (probably Chesterton) has observed that all tyrants are boringly the same, while the Saints are gloriously different: and the more saintly, the more different. There are an infinite number of ‘best’ universes. Which one we end up in depends on what we do. In metagame theodicy, as its pretentious name suggests, the actions of the players in playing the game not only create the universe, but determine the point of the game.

This suggests three new definitions of Good:

Good1 is the ability of an entity to play the game. The more freedom an entity has, the greater capacity it has to act and influence its environment, the better.

Good2 is the aggregate ability of all entities in the universe to play the game. We should not trample on Good2 to increase Good1. Maybe we need to strive towards a Loftingesque universe where everything is a player, where everything is sentient, and somehow come up with an ethics that will work in this universe.

Good3 is whatever contributes to the point which the players and God eventually come up with.

Maybe we are late in the game, and the universe does have a point. But I think we are early, and it doesn’t. But maybe one day, it will. Glory be to God, Lord of the Worlds!

Monday, March 10, 2008

T really ought to be for Twain

But Twain I have mostly covered already, except for the terrifying dialogue in ‘What is Man?’ which I plan to somehow work in today. And I have, by a shabby trick, already covered Tolkien as well. So where shall I go from here?

Were the Angel of the Lord to appear and say to me: ‘Dr Clam, the wrath of the Lord waxes great against the works of American fantasy authors of the second half of the 20th century, and before a night has passed and a day it is His will that they be destroyed utterly, and expunged from the memory of Mankind, as though they had never been,’ then, perhaps I might say, at first: ‘Bully for You, Lord.’ But then I think I would reconsider, and I would say: ‘Please, might the Marianne books be spared?’ And were the Angel of the Lord, being rational and analytical in manner - as angels are - to ask me to justify my presumption in making such a request, what would I say?

I would then be struck dumb, for I cannot justify my presumption. I cannot justify such a request. I can emote, that is all. I have been sitting here for a few minutes already with ill-formed thoughts cascading through my head trying to figure out what I would say. Perhaps after a few minutes I might be able to say: ‘I am not in love with Marianne, O Angel of the Lord, but I would love to be Marianne. If I could be any character in the works of these fantasy authors of which you speak, Angel of the Lord, how could I chose to be anyone but Marianne, who is so plucky, and so bookish, and so wanting in cant and artifice, and so much the archetype- for I would have had plenty of time to think of big words like ‘archetype’ to throw in- of the Handmaiden of the Lord? Marianne is the type of every hopeful battler on the side of the Culture of Life in a World Gone MadTM, don’t you see, Angel of the Lord? Somehow she is different from all those other fantasy heroines. I can get inside her head. I don’t imagine scenes in books like I used to when I was young, Angel of the Lord, now that I am grown, but I can see so clearly the faces hungry for justice pressed outside the windows of the library, and Buttercup’s room lined with little drawers.’

I am writing this without the Net, so I will be putting in the links to books I can’t remember the titles of later. I am also writing this without a recent memory of the books I am writing about, because I haven’t been able to bring myself to read them for a long time. You see, I discovered that their author was a Gauleiter in the Planned Parenthood organisation, with responsibility for part of their network of murder camps in Colorado or New Mexico or someplace like that. It’s a funny place, this world of ours.

For I don’t reckon there’s a militantly anti-choice author who could have written a more ghastly pro-life image than Tepper has in that book about the flying white creatures with the teeth who rape human women and dismember their children in utero. These creatures are welcomed into human societies by patriarchal oppressors, of course, who make a stupid bargain of their own immortality- in the form of flying white toothy creatures- in return for the lives of their own children. As in our own world the patriarchal oppressors of the Culture of Death wage systematic war against women in the Renegade Mainland Provinces. That book is a forceful and effective pro-life book, despite the fact that the author is still, as far as I know, proud of her anti-life work.

Then there is Beauty. The psychopath misogynist from the overpopulated future world who rapes the narrator, and the hedonist nitwit faerie-folk, there are the two halves of the Culture of Death in a nutshell. No militantly anti-choice author could have done it better. Beauty is one of those books that made me miserable. It was all so bleak and hopeless and awful. The spirit of Marianne is still there in the narrator, seen through a glass darkly, but crushed almost to nothingness by the end. I should quickly mention some of those other books. Brave New World, when I first read it, for the ironclad arguments against everything I believe in that send the Savage over the edge at the end. That dialogue in What is Man? which demolishes morality and free-will. Walking on Glass, by Iain Banks, before I figured out that it actually had a happy ending. Then something called- I think- Lamia, which I borrowed from a girl named Jackie (Morrisey?) in my year 10 home economics class. Gosh, that was a horrible book for making one’s soul feel slimy and acrid.

I never got to the end of ‘Gibbon’s Decline and Fall’. Though at the moment I am reading Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’, which first got me thinking about Sheri S. Tepper again. I remember thinking that all of the five choices offered by the Goddess to the women of Earth would lead to the extinction of mankind in a very few thousand years.

T is for Tepper because the book is not the author. Your work does not have the meaning (only) that you wish it to have. The work goes on and on, writing itself anew in the mind of each reader, long after the moving finger is still.