Monday, October 22, 2007

A Tocquevillian Look at American Egalitarianism and Egoism (Part II)

Well, now I endeavor with the most timid of spirits to enquire into the nature of reading and literacy in our democracy in these contemporary days and how perhaps our equality of economic stature has tended us toward an egoism which sadly may undermine our uniting societal fiber, although there is a clear hope for a corrective.

I have always thought it something of an oddity that our culture has tended to lead us all away from being in touch with the important news items of our days and can be assured that this is the case since I too am a product of that, only recently beginning to work my way from the ignorant womb which encourages the childish attitude which so readily declares, “I care little for the goings on in the outside world, for it is nothing more than pageantry and arrogance which affects me but the slightest.” I always equated this condition to be linked to perhaps a dwindling care in our culture for anything which required more than the smallest amount of reflective thought and never wholly attributed it to the growing individualism in the country. It had always seemed to me that the most individualistic persons would take heed of the movements of the world in order to secure a more prosperous future by means of being better informed than those who were viewed as being in direct competition with them. However, after reading a section in Democracy in America on the nature of the press and the arts in democratic societies, I begin to question this tenet of mine and find that we are perhaps in the place of an intellectual stupor precisely because we have become so disconnected from the greater whole of humanity through our relative, independent affluence.

As I spoke of in my last post, it is very evident that the rugged individualism which often is promoted in democratic/republican societies easily and quickly leads to something of an isolation of the individual from the greater structure of the community. (Of course, I must assert firmly that I do not think that rugged individualism is an ill without qualification, for I am in many ways a staunch old-school liberal/libertarian who only yearns for a societal connection to be established among individuals – as opposed to utter fragmentation.) The world becomes more of a realm of individual choice and delectation because humanity, becoming more equal and independent, views much more of the world to based upon the principle of personal choice and self-direction than the common descent of man through the ages toward a certain goal. In many ways, this is quite a remarkable and salutary benefit of individualism, for it elevates all choices to almost an ontological level which affects the whole being of the individual in his or her choices and tastes. However, the danger always lies in the tendency to forget that the world not only is to be built up by us but also that the whole of reality is also a given which we can neither deny nor forsake on the path of personal amelioration and edification. In forgetting that the world (and hence the whole of our communities) are something which we must accept a priori, we forget that we have a true relationship not only to those choices which we have made but also the body of humanity which is inextricably united to us by means of historical and sociological bonds.

There are two prime examples of this detachment of individuals from the substratum of humanity, namely within the two tiers of community which are common to the entire Western world and indeed all of humanity as technological progress marches onward. First of all there is the question of a detachment of one generation from the next, something which seems to be of great strength in many cases as we blur the lines of parenthood and friendship as well as chip away at the respect which the young should have for elders in the community. However, this commonly lamented lack of interest in our previous generation is, to my mind, merely a passing trend which marks nearly every generation and often is surmounted by all, although such realizations lamentably come too late.

More important to me is the continued development of consumer-driven media which is particularly characterized by the culture of the iPod and iTunes as well as the on-demand nature of online news. Now, let me first of all say that I think that great good comes of all these media, for individual choice is perhaps the strongest force for the affixation of a human person to causes which are of the greatest import to all of humanity, linking the human person and his or her choice to each other with greater and truer strength than perhaps any other force in the known world. However, the danger lurks here in the fact that we are also seeing a rapid decline in much of the periodical (newspaper/magazine) industry, for less interest is taken in the local affairs of our provinces as well as in the larger community created by the regular readership of a newspaper. It is as though we do not have the stability which is necessary to retain a sustained connection to a single free association which is created by the choice to be a devoted reader of a given chronicle of news. De Tocqueville struck me deeply when he commented that a lack of readership for the press is more indicative of a lack of communal spirit than it is of a lack of pecuniary means of paying for the reception of the evening post. In the final analysis this is very true, for the readership of a given media is implicitly a community in which rebukes, praises, laurels, and lances are all proffered by the readership to the editorial staff, and this is also found in the readership of magazines.

Now, of all my fears listed in my first entry, this one area is the one for which I have the least amount of despondency, for there are many signs of hope which point that we may yet remain a society united in our literary tastes if only we make sure not to be wholly obliterated by the power of individuation which is possible by means of online pick-and-choose media. The hope which I have is that local reading groups – which much to my delight still exist in great numbers (although more for my elder generations than my own) – will function as a focal point for much unification for the somewhat disparate tastes which are growing in the current age of self-driven media. Perhaps of more import to me is the growth of online communities which are devoted to common reflections on many media sources upon a unified platform. It is quite conceivable that there will come a time when we can combine our reflective possibilities in a new synergy which will create something more of an extended tribe of humanity with even greater power than the felicitous media hybrid of the telephone and the talk radio show.

However, the danger which I fear is that we will become more interested in our own sundry choices in media, a path which certainly will lead us only further apart and into that egoism which certainly will diminish our character as a people. Such a tendency could ultimately lead to a despotism which unites all of society under the solitary banner of “freely chosen media” which means that we will no longer have any choice but to choose to be isolated in our reading tastes, a reality which will without a doubt have foul ramifications for our powers to freely assemble as a sovereign people. Marshall McLuhan considered the media to be defined as any of those methods by which mankind extends its inner life into the physical sphere. If we approach a point in which we no longer desire to extend our own lives into the extensions of our brethren, we will find it a difficult task – at best – to unite ourselves but under an external force, for when we no longer freely assembly, we must do so under duress, as we will have forgotten what it means to undertake the task of human unification.

Blessings and all the Best.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Tocquevillian Look at American Egalitarianism and Egoism (Part I)

While reading a selection in Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America, I was struck by something in his reflections on the dangers of individualism and – more importantly – the relationship between the press, free civil associations, centralized government, and individualism. Much of what I had read from a conservative / neo-conservative standpoint regarding Democracy in America had focused on Alexis de Tocqueville’s stress on the existence of freely-convened civil associations and their necessity for the continued existence of liberty in a democratic society. To my mind, this stream of thought led me to believe that Democracy in America must surely be nothing more than a Frenchman’s panegyric reflections on the benevolence and generosity of the American spirit. It was not until I read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty that my interest in de Tocqueville was raised once more as I saw Mill reflect on the dangers of the tyranny of the majority and cite de Tocqueville as an influence in his thought. Upon further examination, I have come to see that Democracy in America is much more of a prophetic work regarding the influences and products of egalitarianism in democratic society.

Of all things that struck de Tocqueville about America and growing democracies was their tendency toward material egalitarianism and social unification (or de-stratification). Coming from a lesser aristocracy and from a European clime which had only so recently seen the downfall of some forms of aristocratic governance, this lack of social stratification in emerging democracies must have struck him deeply, for the entirety of the later portion of his work serves merely as a reflection on how egalitarianism affects the individual and social mentalities of the populace. Perhaps the most prodigious effect of this material equality and lack of stifling stratification was the fact that people quite easily established themselves as islands of individualism, separate from the greater portion of humanity. Often individualism is used pejoratively, although it also can have a meaning more akin to the expression “rugged individualism” which often denotes the attitude of the pioneering spirit. Nonetheless, this individualism also can lead one to the pernicious state of egoism or – as Fr. Justin Nolan O.S.B., one of my philosophy professors in college, would say – utterly crass individualism which forgets that there is a greater social unity.

Whatever the title be, egoism or crass individualism, one cannot doubt that such isolating forces can do nothing but tear a society apart. To assert such is both trite and common sense – at least in its assertion. However, what is more intriguing is the line of thought which leads one from social equality to crass individualism. We often glory over the middle class in America – and for good reason – for it is the middle class which can so often drive the kernel of society to either great things or mediocrity, given only its temperament and direction. So often, it is the middle part of society which works very hard to continually ameliorate past mistakes and expand the circle of their pecuniary and social influence, bringing forth new and better products for all of the society. It is this middle class which establishes a multitude of families which are able to brave some financial storms and not worry about whether or not food will be on the table on a given night. It is therefore this middle class which establishes that demographic of people which is – to varied degrees – assured of its own self-sufficiency.

This ruggedly individualistic middle class, the decrease of which is being lamented greatly by the political demagogues in this portion of the never-ending election cycle in our country, was at its apex of formal establishment in the generation of my grandparents, Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. It is of little surprise that the riots of the sixties and seventies where brought into being by the children of these iconic American workers who were able to provide for a period of great prosperity which solidified America’s central role in the world. It was commented by theologian Hans Kung that Pope Benedict XVI was able at first to be something of a (mild) radical in his early academic life because liberal exploits are easily undertaken when one has the surety of conservative stability. It was such for the hippies and other such protesters who took to causes great and small during the tumultuous period of my parents’ youth. For their own part, this generation was able to ride out the storms of their lives and establish a prosperous existence as well, effectively leveling much of the playing field in America for my generation.

However, as we come to my generation and the present day, it is quite easy to see that the individualism of the sixties, seventies, and (in a different form) the eighties was quite different from the rugged individualism of my grandparents. The world was much more comfortably established (not in all places, including my birthplace in southwestern PA) and able to be safely isolated from the vicissitudes which often accompany reality. It is my generation, more than any before, which seems to lust inordinately for the security of socialism and wholly believes, without much qualification, that it is right to say, “Nobody should ever tell me that my opinion is wrong.” Upon the stable foundation of the established, safe middle class, our culture is quickly moving toward a land in which we are ready to pay any price to maintain our individual egoistic spheres at the expense of liberty. De Tocqueville reflected that such is the natural tendency of those established in a secure social setting, for equality is much more palpable to maintain and also much more difficult to remove quickly when compared to liberty.

However, my intent in the next few blog entries will not be to take on the trite subject of individualism in America and its normal symptoms. Instead, I intend to focus on how we can easily see individualism in our habits of reading, musical activity, civil activity, and view on government. I will look at each of these individually and will then cap things up to give my thoughts a framework related to Alexis de Tocqueville’s prophetic reflections. I think that it is important to listen to these words of the past, for they may be able to stir us from some of the lethargy which is the end egoism of that rugged individualism which has made America such a great beacon of hope for the world. More importantly, as we approach what appears to be yet another involution of the world and find that individuals are becoming globalized (to use Thomas Friedman’s thought on the matter), it is of prime importance to me to reflect on what forces will destroy the beautiful possibility of a truly united world. Crass individualism will unquestionably destroy that possibility but a proper industrious spirit of individualism with free social bonds may be that which saves us from the only other method of world-wide unification, namely oppressive despotism.

Until my post on the morrow, highest blessings,

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"How (and Why) a Libertarian Came Home to PHP"

Now, for those few of you who have followed my pontifications on this blog, you will note three striking characteristics of my demeanor and philosophy of life. First and foremost, I add entries to my blog with that sort of capriciousness which only befits my otherwise ADD-riddled life. However, in the realm of philosophical considerations, you will have noticed that my mental landscape is dominated by two forces which most would think are intrinsically inimical to each other. Namely, I take a pontifical tone and stance on many issues because of my passionate adherence to the philosophical religion known to the world (with varied degrees of disdain and adulation) as Roman Catholicism. However, my cognitive paths are also shot throughout with steams of libertarianism, a fact which I do not find inimical to my convictions as a Catholic. (It only takes a brief reading of the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae from the Second Vatican Council to realize that there are intellectually justifiable reasons for holding both of these views.) Nonetheless, there are times when the vying forces of absolutism and liberalism come into direct contact, unleashing something of a quandry which can, even over the most ridiculous of topics, throw me into an existential crisis.

My friends, such a crisis came to full head in a late, lustful little fling which I had with the programming language known as Ruby. In my past experiences with Ruby, limited that they were, I perceived something of an elegant fluidity to the constructs of the language (as well as the libraries available for my delectation). For some unknown reason, my first, pubescent glance at this language in college gave me something of an unknown giddiness which made me desire for some time to delve deeper. However, my path took me down the road to free-wheeling LAMP-stack development using PHP as the interface to the database persistence.

Having moved to Virginia several months ago and knowing very few people in the area, I have had quite a bit of time to indulge my personal pleasures of the flesh - reading and programming. (Yes, I am quite aware that I am a pitiable nerd but am also proud of said fact.) In a moment of overwhelming temptation, I decided finally to jump into Ruby and Ruby on the Rails Framework like so many other programmers now-a-days. Having spent the previous two years doing quite a bit of work in PHP and Javascript, I was much better prepared for the intricacies and wonders which one can do with ease in dynamic scripting languages. My new excursion into the land of Ruby was indeed one of bliss-filled, exuberant wonder. At first the language dazzled me with its consistency, its object orientation, and the particular beauty (and ease) of passing around code blocks. Although my experience with Javascript had exposed me to this, I had always found the dynamic code execution of PHP to be a bit clunky-feeling (albeit wholly possible) at best. The Rails framework aside, the language in its core was all that I dreamed it could be. After having contemplated the very Forms of programming, I seemed to look back at PHP as though it were in the cave of my limited vision, thinking, "Well, PHP does have great libraries and documentation, but the sheer beauty of this experience seems to belie that you purchase such ease to the detriment of the higher parts of your soul."

However, it was at this moment of exhilaration that I realized that I could not turn my back on my beloved PHP with such an effete, snobbish tone. The very fact that PHP allowed me to sink into the depths of terrible practices with ease unknown to much of mankind (except those gladly in touch with the lower-bowels of the coding world) could never be a justification for my abandonment of the language. To do so would break a cardinal rule of my Libertarian nature, mainly that you cannot dismiss anything on the pretext of its potential abuse.

In many ways, Ruby is the aristocratic, successful, yet-lovable cousin of PHP. "He" speaks with the eloquence of the highest degree yet also remains wholly accessible to the mind which is open and bright enough to comprehend the elegant parts of his speech. He is consistent almost to a fault, following proper procedure and etiquette for all sorts of situations. PHP, on the other hand, is quite a bit more in character like me. "He" comes from the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, wears checkered shirts, and drives a simple little Chevy Cavalier. If he desires, he can be intellectual in his speech, although he often wishes he could permanently slip into a nearly-unintelligible accent and jungle of provincial colloquialisms. Often he slaps things together, like a cowboy or an ADD-ridden child, writing out code which creates the most cryptic of mazes which baffles even him to his very core when attempting to recall the purpose of his exploits at a later time. However, there will never come a moment that he will say, "I can't do that because it just doesn't make sense to do it that way" or (more likely) "that doesn't follow convention, so I won't even attempt to do it that way." Instead, PHP will look you in the eye respond with lilting voice, "Ah, Hell, let's give 'er a try." Often these escapades end with the participants looking backward and reflecting, "Boy, that's uglier than sin sweating from a hog's back." However, once in a while, these exploits allow for the expansion of technique and the formation of new practices for the community at large. Once in a while, a dazzling gem comes forth wholly unseen from the vantage point of more conservative realms of coding which are highly predictable and efficient but often blinded to the latent power of the utterly unbridled human spirit.

Perhaps I just sound like a crazy wind-bag who has taken by far too much time to elaborate on the most meager of his thoughts. Nevertheless, this very reflection touches on one of my deepest-set philosophical convictions. I love the elegance of doing this within the conservative "frameworks" of well-tested conventions like those found in the Ruby (particularly on Rails) community as well as (to the N! ^ N! degree higher) in the Java community. However, in my heart of hearts, I'm a boy of the hills of Pennsylvania and a Libertarian American at heart. I look at both the provincial founders of our country whose brilliance lifted the yokes from our necks with the simple message which could easily have sounded like nothing more than the angry tirade of a yokel defending his farmland to ears less trained in liberalism. I will study Ruby, just as any good philosopher studies all philosophical systems, for where the Truth is, it is uttered by the One Spirit of God. Each reflection of the Gem of Truth expands our mind a bit more, teaching us anew how to see the whole in light of the parts and the parts in light of the whole. However, I will always remain, at heart, a yokel of a PHP coder.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

My Revolting Experience

Last Friday, I decided that I would go to Washington DC in order to do some sight-seeing at a Smithsonian museum or some other location on / near the Mall. Much to my surprise, the trip became nothing more than a galvanization against the District and so much that is represented by it. I arrived at Metro Center and hopped off the Metro Rail, thinking that I was at Union Station. I quickly realized that I had made a misstep but had some degree of my bearings, at least enough to allow me to work my way toward the Mall. Although the heat was utterly oppressive, I rather enjoyed being out doors, given the fact that I work inside as a software engineer during the day. As I made my way toward the Mall, I passed the Departments of Agriculture and Energy and eventually came to the Smithsonian Castle. I had a sinking feeling the entire way as I walked along these roads, seeing sundry (and numerous) monuments and the massive buildings of bureaucracy, all of which were being funded from public tax dole.

I quickly decided that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with any of it any longer and made my way toward Union Station. Everywhere I looked, however, all I could catch sight of were buildings which were wholly supported and run by bureaucrats who funded their operations by means of supplication, annually petitioning the ruling class in the Capitol Building for more cash and often receiving it (or at least some exorbitant amount). There were small museums which had $500,000 in matched funds and more costly museums like the Smithsonian. There was the Capitol Building itself which housed the senators and representatives who play their little partisan games each and every day. I was certain to take in massive, ominous structures like the Department of Energy, held aloft upon pillars like the Parthenon upon the Acropolis of Athens. Like that civilization crumbled to leave pillared artifacts, so too will America have such similar remnants in coming days. Such talent being wasted in the public sector brought me nearly to tears. I thought of Mr. Roy Uptegraff Jr., a deceased man whom I never even knew except through association with his business in Scottdale, PA. I remember spending time in the conference room at this small business, looking at the various tomes which he had on the manufacture of power transformers. By all accounts which were given to me, he was a man who served the public on various committees but also had a passion for his business, a passion which was completely at his own liberty to strive after, a passion which he pursued to the very day of his death. These engineers at the Department of Energy, doubtlessly intellectually brilliant, are left to languish under the bureaucracy and never soar to the heights which their own liberty affords.

And then came the museums... Many people would argue that we should preserve our history, for history is so often doomed to make its circuitous course of destruction. I agree that we should preserve, embrace, and hold fast to our history, to our traditions, to our heritage. However, we do not hold on to that tradition if it is merely "stewarded" by the government. Stewardship always implies that something greater exists, that a king shall return to Gondor to take his throne once more. Many argue that society will not support the work of museums and historical institutions of their free will. Some may say that the government should therefore steward this heritage on our behalf. I say this is worthless in the final analysis. The citizenry should care about their heritage, and if they do not, it is far better that they forget it and pay the consequences without delay. In the end, that is what liberty is all about. Liberty is so very glorious and dreadful precisely because it lets you eat the fruits of your labor, for good or for ill. It makes all things which are good become very good indeed and all things wretched into the most sobering of experiences. In my opinion there should be no steward whatsoever. A nation which desires not to remember the lessons of the past should quickly experience the consequences of such nearsightedness. To have it any other way merely delays the inevitable, for the populace will be weaned from any such knowledge and will ultimately fall. Far better would it be for the fall to be from a ledge upon a small book shelf than from the precipice of a deadly cliff.

I intend to follow this up with what I love about where I live and also about how I was brought up. All things deep down inside of me scream those lessons from my childhood: If you are going to work, work hard (a lesson that took me some time to learn), and there is no such thing as a free meal. As I walked through the putrid streets of our nation's capital, I realized that we are a people who are being ruled by those who promote less than mankind's full realization, promising the free meals of security and peace today. I don't want any of these plates today because I want the next generation to be able to eat as well.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Long-Delayed Return

Well, in the midst of everything in my life right now, I have managed to avoid posting much. However, while doing some random searches, I came across a blog entry on degree inflation. I couldn't resist responding but ended up more so pontificating on my opinions (little surprise there). Since my response was so lengthy, I figured I would post it here for the whole four of you who read this guy. For the original post to which this is directed, please see:

I just stumbled upon this entry while reflecting on degree inflation in America and am most pleased that you have taken time to reflect on this. I try to see things as part of a whole cultural complex (but am often too myopic in my vision because I'm merely one lone software engineer in Virginia with a limited vision). However, it seems to me that the current situation of degree inflation is directly related to two things.

First of all, the developed West has a tendency toward cultural homogenization (or perhaps it is merely affluence has a development toward that). I would argue that such homogenization generates the sense that intellect is defined in categories of educational degrees (since you can easily lump people into categories then). This I know personally because I have struggled on and off with the question of pursuing a PhD and still really don't know if I want to do so. Deep down, I would much rather just be my own man, drawing my knowledge from as many sources as possible, weeding past the bias of others (and avoiding it all in lieu of a hiatus when so desired). However, the cultural force of egalitarian homogenization tend to make us define ourselves in such monotonous terms. This first point misses the fact that intellectual brilliance is a nothing other than lightening out of a clear sky. (For this, I often like to think of J.R.R. Tolkien whose chief renown and influence came from a by-product of his linguistic work. The world is continually shocked by the brilliance of his mythology precisely because he is not part of the entrenched, homogenized caste of “professional authors”.) However, our minds have seemingly been trained against viewing things in such "risky" categories (which almost elude categorization) but instead opt to view the world through the only lens which we know, namely that of homogenized, easily discerned, categories.

I would go further and say it is a product of cultural narcissism which impels one to desire a title after his or her name. Once again, I know that in my own self-doubts, I have thought, "Well, I could prove myself with [PhD,S.T.D.,J.D.,M.D......] after my name and would therefore be vindicated in the eyes of others." Of course, such self-centered narcissism is fully seen to me looking "externally" at my thoughts and ambitions. However, we once again are somewhat conditioned culturally to have that narcissism because of the affluence of our culture and easily miss motivations for a degree. This subordinates our individual brilliance to a degree. (Narcissism is one of those tricksters which generates the exact opposite of its desire. The desire for an image rarely can generate it but instead, as in this case, leads to a fleeting surface-deep image and nothing more. It neglects the fact that risks must be taken, reputations risked, and slowly developed in ways that often require steps of faith, for they seem to be incongruous with the main stream of culture and thought. Think of how odd relativisitic physics seemed to those in Einstein’s time or, more pungently, how unimportant Jesus must have seemed to the point of annihilation. However, look at how these men – and so many others – have influenced the world for so very many years. ) Indeed, degree-Narcissism derails the human task because it places an immutable boundary on the unbounded task of “how do I best contribute to the edification of the world” with the boundary of “how can I do well in the world today.” The former is infinite and unbounded while the latter is bounded and limited to a certain epoch (at best, a moment at worst)

Of course, we have such difficulty coming to the "divine corrective", so to speak, for all of this. In my opinion, the best option is a good dose of reality. All we have to do is look around to see what is the root source of true happiness and success in the world. In the final analysis, it is merely a matter of passion which drives talent (and even hones in those categories which may be called, for lack of a better term, non-talent). Reality teaches us that the beige often endures in its own day but dies a quiet death and is forgotten but the truly brilliant (and this means much more than intellectual – the brilliant of mind, heart, soul) have a chance to live forever. Safety and security are predicated upon being beige, for brilliance, like the sun itself, is a dangerous affair (but a glorious one). Perhaps it explains the bitterness of those who are safe-and-secure (be it in a protected industry, academia, union, etc -- not to imply that all in any of those groups are safe-and-secure in their mentality, just that some are) toward those who are successful in the world. Such individuals trade in the risk for safety and security (a very tempting wager, I am aware), only to look on the outside at those who have thrown their whole lives into the mix. This envy goes three ways: (1) Hatred – think of all the anti-movements that exist. (2) Nihilism – Think of those who just don’t care because they are “beat down”. (3) The most important: It can drive people to realize that reality may have a message, namely, “Take the risk; live life amidst all the risks – and glories.”

Homogenization allows for relative safety and security but never for a blinding flash of brilliance, unless one leaves the beige crowds to stand out with resplendent radiance. It takes an individual to drive a people. It takes that flash to remind people that each of us can do great things if we only follow that driving passion which, in the end, is naturally evident to each of us. Then education becomes a tool which is used as needed to that end. It then leads us out of darkness into the light and concomitantly makes us be a “light on the hill for all to see.” For some, this may be continually done in the academic realm, for such is their vocation in life (and it will be glorious if such is the case). For others, however, it may well be that such e-ducation will only take place fully in a realization external to that. Achievement thus becomes a question of “how have you edified the world today?” The degree never even comes up. When confronted with the truly brilliant, we stand in awe of their radiance and pay no heed to the externals, instead finding ourselves wholly immersed in an experience of the very depths humanity.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Live Earth, What’s it Worth?

This past weekend the world was filled with the regalia of the Live Earth concert series which was supposed to be a rock event to mobilize the masses to fight global climate change. Now, all considerations of the effective strategies for fighting climate change aside, let’s just consider the actual message of the media used (oh, Marshall McLuhan would be thrilled to read that). At any rate, I am a huge believer in the ability of various media to be used with various messages, with that message dictating a great portion of the moral content of an event. However, I do not believe that this concert can do anything to mobilize those who are supposedly culpable for climate change.

The primary cause of any pollution (in the broadest sense) on the earth are somehow tied to a crassly-individual, irresponsible mentality which is additionally consumptive to the detriment of the world. Pollution is the byproduct of consumption in some form, and consumption is (blindingly brilliant in its observation) driven by individualism. Now, I think that neither individualism nor consumption are negative a priori, only when they are practiced in such a way that they cut people off from each other and from the totality of the cosmos. The Live Earth concerts, by using mass marketed music as the message-vector, spread a content far deeper than a message that “we can all save the environment.”

For one, it was a venue for contemporary western music which is highly individualistic (or even nihilistic) in its reception. This is primarily visible in the mob-like throng which waits, without much individual definition, at the feet of the stars. While I personally enjoy an experience of such a concert (particularly with a mosh pit), I don’t think at all that I should go to one if I want to inculcate an other-centered mentality. No, the “otherness” of the concert crowd is effectively a melting away into the great sea, with either a total loss of self (without regard for any other beings in the pit) or an acute awareness of one’s alone singularity. In either case, there is no other (and – hence – no whole) remaining, so there is no possibility of group action. The mob denies this possibility by cutting the individual off from all others. While such egoism is not directly concomitant with the concert mob, it is indeed the message of the mosh-pit’s media (once again, McLuhan would be giddy).

Need we really even think about how this plays up the consumerism of those attending the concert? Major rock stars, at a venue with flashy lights, and a former vice president, all available with tickets for sale. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is a consumerist’s pleasure stop. One is able to fall into the trap of following the mob of consumers precisely because it is fashionable to consume such entertainers all for self-centered motivation and not to do anything constructive. The concert promotes thoughtless consumption and thus undermines its own message by such promotion. Once again, consumption is not a negative thing a priori but must always be done truly for the greater whole (no matter what the mob may dictate is “fashionable”).

Now, I only have a cursory knowledge of the event as a whole, so I will stop my pontificating at this point. However, as I watched the news last week, I couldn’t help but have these brief reflections on the topic. It is preposterous to think you can fight consumerism with the crassest of all consumerism; it is unconscionable to think you can fight unthinking, uncaring individualism with the worst kind of individualism. The very media of the concert venue destroys the message in this case because it is completely out of consonance with that message. The message we need is “Crass consumerism and individualism must stop! We must take up a new moral message, a new consumerism, a new individualism; we need a new venue for man’s action, a new dialogue of humans, a new embrace for all of humanity!”

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What is America? A Fourth of July Reflection

Good morning to all of you. May your celebrations of the first steps of America into the world be enjoyable and blessed. I normally wouldn’t pull out my laptop to get on the Internet while on vacation but have decided to take some time to reflect on those things which have stood out to me this past year. (Oh the wonders of the contemporary world which allows me to pick up random internet connections!)

I have found myself asking, “What is America? What is the foundational aspect of America, and what is it that we celebrate when we sing her praises?” When all cards are put on the table, when all cogitations shine forth from the minds of thinkers far and wide, it seems to me that one must affirm that America is not as much a country as it is an idea. In specific, that idea is that human liberty is the only means by which a good society can be born into the world and be sustained in its existence. In its founding, America acknowledged that the individual must not be squashed under the slithering Leviathan of the government, that the individual was the locus of dignity from which the state receives any of its power.

In our constitution, “We the people,” acknowledged the faults and foibles of humanity, laying down laws in order to codify the necessary precautionary steps which should be taken to prevent human corruption from tainting our unity. In this, the Constitution is a limitation on Freedom, or more importantly, a directional molding of our freedoms. It is through this lens that I have begun to understand more what the promise of America is.

It is impossible to deny that Humanity, as a corporate whole and as individuals, is fallen and continues to sin day after day. It does not take a prelate of the Catholic Church to affirm this most fundamental reality. Sin is the great destroyer of unity, breaking bonds among people, disabling trust, freezing Love in the harsh ice block of fear and resentment. Any group of people who is sinful will not long work together as a “we” but will instead become nothing more than an agglomeration of separated “I”s, no longer working in concert but in unharmonious discord. Sinful man requires direction (and Love) in order to overcome the disunity born of the Fall, and this very fact is the basis for the Constitution and for all laws which are right and true. The law is not only a means of limitation but also a means of admonition and purification leading back to freedom. (Ultimately man is not made for Law but for Freedom, although Freedom is only wholly possible where sin no longer abounds.)

It is in America that we realize that there must be flux and limitation to the extent and application of legislation, for any nation which is comprised of those who require continual control cannot sustain itself very long without crumbling into decadence and barbarism. Alexis de Tocqueville, who spent some time studying the rising American democracy in the nineteenth century, was acutely aware of the strengths (as well as the weaknesses) in America’s foundation. There are three quotes by him which should excellently focus our considerations here.

Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.

America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

Many people laud the progress of socialist democracies in Europe, presenting them as a corrective for our “unfair” liberal democracy in America. I would argue that socialist democracies are merely a liberal democracy which has passed many laws to control the freedom of individuals in an attempt to make the nation more unified in goodness. However, I also would argue that this is like setting up a colony under water in order to remain dry. It might seem that this contradicts my early thoughts. However, I said there is a limit to such legislation in America. The limit of legislation comes with the realization that individuals must ultimately be formed by their own use of freedom. A liberal democracy cries aloud with Alexis, “Americans must be good in themselves! If we aren’t we shall fall!” Law works to repair the faults of individuals, but only so that individuals can stand on their own to make the free choices based on their own experience and own goodness. People must freely choose goodness for itself and not out of fear of retribution. Man must act in secret as he would act in public if all relationships are to be cemented and unified.

So we come in the end to something of a preliminary answer to the question of “What is the idea which is America?” It is namely this: The human person is the singular building block of any great society. No amount of legislation can make a nation which runs itself. The idea of America is that the goodness of the people will provide for the goodness of the State, that the public does not drive the private but that the private (and hence, freely chosen) firmly steers the movements of public progress. Freedom is at the core of Creation, a precondition for the entire cosmic symphony which ultimately brought forth Man as part of the rise of consciousness and Love. Such freedom is ordained by the Creator and is the only path which may lead to a good humanity, a good populace, a good world, and, ultimately, a good universe. Goodness must be chosen for its own merit by the locus of freedom, the individual person.

Freedom is not corporate by nature but is something which is grasped by the individual and redirected to corporate reality. This is the “Idea of America,” an idea which will be of increasing importance as we ultimately work toward a world which is unified in our common humanity. Humanity can only be joined if humans are good, and humans are only conditioned by the Law, not defined thereby. In the final analysis, goodness is chosen and not imposed; all who believe this, no matter what their location or time period, are Americans in the truest sense.

May the Almighty bless you and yours on the Fourth of July and unto the ages of ages. Let us always celebrate the centrality of the individual in establishing the whole of unified humanity. Let Freedom, Goodness, and Love reign now and always!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

No Breeze in Breezewood

I was thinking today about an experience which anyone on the east coast of the United States of America should have at some point before they die. There is a marvel of architectural design right in the center of the wonderful state of Pennsylvania, right along I-70 in Breezewood. During the past several weeks, I have been making trips to the Maryland/Virginia/D.C. area to interview for software engineering positions. During such trips, I would often enter the aptly-placed Sheetz in Breezewood in order to refresh myself and purchase coffee. Because I am already jittering from massive coffee intake at this point, I would feel a jingling in my bladder as my happy little neurons start the wondrous process of placing my body in the "I-have-to-pee" state. (For you computer scientists out there, this is state P-sub-192834 on the Matthew Minerd simple state machine.)

Driving down the hill from the PA Turnpike, I glance to my right, seeing the rising red awning which signals my approach to the bastion of traveler's delight, the Sheetz Brothers' Gas Station. The crimson view penetrates my retinal cones, rods, and even my arteries, infusing my entire being with hopes of respite from the road behind. As the scarlet symphony fills me from vision to blood, my stallion approaches the stall in the lot of this Mecca of traveler and college student alike. Exiting from my carriage, I enter into a land of bliss, filled with food on demand and blissful liquid to quench my arid throat and recaffeinate my bloodstream.

As I take in the pure surroundings of this hopeful land, I am inundated by subliminal cerebrations caused by the grand communication from my urinary tract to my lower and then higher consciousness. With a swagger in my step, I think of all the great times had in this Promised Land, flowing with coffee and shmuffinz. Without diminished hope, I enter the bathroom and approach the furthest urinal stall because, hey, I'm on top of the world. Whoever else comes in should take a shorter walk for their personal relief. As I finish my business, I feel the slightest of tapping on my arm, a sensation which increases in magnitude as a hard surface attempts penetrate the space occupied by my right arm.

Looking to my right, I realize a sad truth: This Promised Land is marred by sin like they Egypt from which I have sojourned. Even here, the land is scarred by the incapacity of Man to live in harmony with creation. Like the insidious priests of Ra, who denied me respite along the turnpike other than at their high temples of "service plazas," these Baal-influenced architects have marred the sanctuary of Man's bladder. Here, my friends, the crimson palace falls apart, for a bathroom stall is only accessible by means of passing through the furthest urinal's assigned space. Here, harmony cannot be had if two men must interact within this inter-stall neutral zone. Sin propagates more disharmony and prevents unity by such insidious setups.

Leaving the bathroom, I hang my head in sadness, paying for my coffee without making eye contact with my server. I quietly thank the poor person who must work in such close proximity to this atrocity of architecture, marveling at her fortitude and strength to maintain joy in such a bleak atmosphere. Returning to my travelling stallion, I realize that this pit stop has occurred before. However, I never have learned my lesson on this topic. I suppose I hope for a solution to this problem but never realize that it will have to come from without, for neither the users nor the owners can/will rectify this lamentable situation.

A tear falls from my eye as I see Zion fallen without visible hope of redemption and continue my journey into the dark.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Of Bishops and Congress

While things are still very busy in my life, I have sent an early copy of my book to a potential publisher in order to have it rejected. Therefore, I feel the need to continue my writing in some form (while I leave my brain sizzle) and will therefore do so online at this very spot. (I know you feel oh so very honored to have my return.)

Political undertakings are nothing more than man's attempt to mitigate the effects of sin by means of mandate and control. Now, as an American (and a Truth-seeking thinker), I absolutely believe that no person was ever made whole (or even in part) by any mandate or control. I will acknowledge that some control is necessary in order to assure the security needed for individual expression. Beyond that, politics becomes nothing more than a ruse. Additionally, I feel that even in its best moments, political action is nothing more than a fallen act by fallen man.

In the midst of the current debate on Immigration reform, the Catholic Church in America is becoming part of the debate on the reform. I must say this worries me profusely (as does all direct Church interaction with the State). In the final analysis, I believe that the prophetic role of the Church will never (EVER) be realized by cooperation with any government. Be it abortion, immigration, or what you will, I earnestly believe that the Church must take all pains to proclaim the Truth separate from all political considerations and legislations. Therefore, as the current debate begins to unfold, it is my heartfelt desire that the Catholic Church will stand prophetically on the side of the Truth, always ready to criticize those areas of political action which are opposed to the Truth. The splendor of Christ is more than legislation in all of its forms. I hope that the Church in America realizes that Religion and Politics must walk a careful balance. It would be lamentable if politics, which ends in coercion and compromise, were to mingle with Christianity which requires freedom and the Absolute. The City of God is made of individuals united to Truth in Person, Christ, not of those who are united in legislation. It is by far better to defend the former than capitulate to the latter for the sake of expediency.

Monday, May 07, 2007

An Intermission

Several things have brought me to the point of making sad news to the whole four of you who read this blog. I will be suspending my activities for a while to allot myself extra time to work on finishing my science fiction novel, An Experiment of Elimination. I am effectively at the point of vexing, unending redaction and desire to have an expanded version to several of my readers by late July. However, this will take more time than I have now amid the various other things I am involved in (and working on). Therefore, for the time being, my posts will be much more sporadic and even less organized than usual. In the meanwhile, have a most excellent end of spring and beginning of summer. I will be around once in a while, so check back at your leisure.

Best Wishes and Blessings,

Monday, April 30, 2007

Capitalism, the Human Person, and America (Part IV in a Series)

Yesterday we began to run aground upon the limiting factors for work and its scope for human development. In this, we must make explicit the fact that work cannot be found to be the sole source of human satisfaction and development. Work remains an endeavor for profit and sustenance in its primary form. It is required of the worker that he work in such a way that he fits into the corporate culture in a profitable way first and foremost, although his humanity does, as we have seen, demand something more than merely to be a cog in the large machine. Because of this, it is not intrinsically meant to be the means by which humanity finds all of its fulfillment, as though work could be the only bread upon which we live our lives. It merely remains a part of the larger puzzle of our daily lives, being bound by the limitations which our nature places on all of our activity.

It would therefore be absurd to assert that work must always be gratifying to the individual worker, although it must be tempered by the Law of Love. It means that work must be subservient to the nature of humanity, one which is dual-fold. Gaudium et Spes from the second Vatican Council discusses this fact under the guise of two-fold interiority-exteriority of man. The human person derives his dignity from his ability to reflect in his depths but does not reach his fulfillment there. As we have said in past days, the human person also must derive his fullest growth from his dialogue with other beings. To the extent which work does not allow for this interiority-exteriority for human development , it should allow freedoms for this development outside of the workplace by means of wages and time flexibility.

Indeed, I think it most appropriate to see work as one element among many in life. When viewed this way, it retains its own boundaries but also can become part of an organic whole of our daily activity. When talking to my uncle once, we discussed the fact that work seems very often to intrude on our play and our play upon our work. I think this is wholly appropriate and is a means by which we can asses the quality of our work and life situation.

There is much wisdom in remembering the words of Qoheleth, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” There is a place for work and a place for recreation, making some distinction between everything. However unity is found in the fact that we not only have multiple material purposes in our lives but also a singular, essential purpose for our existence: to love. Therefore, there is also a time for loving at all moments of existence. All things are subservient to this, including the task of human work.
Capitalism, the Human Person, and America (Part III in a Series)

And so, we arrive now at a point at which we must attempt to define the nature of a good work structure in a positive way. I would argue, of course, that this requires that the work at hand adheres to what American’s hold a central tenet, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” although I would a twist to this and add that these must be upheld precisely because of man’s ontological stature in creation. What separates man from the rest of the created order is his capacity for self-reflection, a capacity which allows for the dialogue of being, namely love.

In many ways, I agree with John Steward Mill’s assessment that it is through choice that humanity defines itself. As a corollary, I would add that the final definition of man is to be found in the freedom to choose Love above all else. Therefore, this requires the ability and room to have choice and self-determination in work and concomitantly requires that work have openness to self-development at best or flexibility which allows for that outside of the workplace at worst. The three realities of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are merely three sides of the same reality, for they are all related to the central principle of the supreme happiness of man, namely Love.

Work must make some accommodation for the deep strivings of humanity in its desire to reach out to the other and develop the self in an other-centered way. While this may only be indirectly possible, it must allow for some relative development of the person and not quash the self-reflection which makes us most radically human. In a very practical way, this can be enacted by means of several methods, although I am not looking to write an exhaustive treatise on this. (Many greater minds would have to come together to truly exhaust this subject which is being briefly treated here.)

Work that allows for the liberty for love and the life well lived could be merely enacted by means of true intra-business collaboration which allows people to work together at their “work bench” in such a way as to not be isolated. Indeed, in order that man be truly happy, he requires ontological dialogue which can never be fed in a cubicle-laden world which is designed thus to provide barriers between workers. At the same rate, liberty does demand that some boundaries be drawn merely to allow the individual to choose those tasks, conversations, and events in which they would like to be involved. Additionally, the greatest strength lies in the removal of iron fists from management (although this does not require disorder or a lack of managed regulation). Perhaps the best means by which to allow the free pursuit of a happy work life is to allow the “breathing room” for collaborative freedom among groups of employees, for this will allow for the freest, most personally-desired acts of self-determination.
Capitalism, the Human Person, and America (Part II in a Series)
In order to appropriate an answer to this question, we first must ask the opposite, “Precisely what aren’t acceptable systems for work development?” Since the main lens through which we are viewing this problem is that of individual freedom and self-development, I would say that the most appropriate three categories of non-acceptable work systems would be: (1) Socialistic, (2) Totalitarian, and (3) Egalitarian.

It should come as no surprise to any of you that I would find any sort of socialistic schema to be unacceptable for the human person. However, in this age in which socialism is given such saccharine treatment, it would do us well to take a look at its necessary unacceptability. The fundamental presupposition of Socialism is that the individual (to varied degrees) cannot be trusted with his or her self-development without the control of the society. The only way for “social justice” to be enacted is by the socialization of labor and capital, thus making them common goods held by the society at large. In doing thus, the individual is robbed of liberty to choose and therefore becomes merely a cog in the large machine of the given society. For this reason, socialistic systems of corporate governance are insufficient for proper human development.

I don’t think it takes much for someone to admit that a totalitarian regime lacks the elements necessary for dignified work. Since totalitarian systems do not allow the latitude for viewpoints separate from those in power, the individual is silenced in an unacceptable way. Once again, there is little chance for self-expression and self-development in such a system which does not permit differing choices to be made by the worker. Therefore, no matter how soundly structured and efficient, the totalitarian regime remains at best a materialistic solution for the corporate world which ignores the primacy of the spiritual capacities of man.

We come at last to egalitarian systems, a subject which endeared by so many people who perhaps have bigger hearts than I do. I hold nearly equal contempt for socialistic and egalitarian systems, although for different reasons. The fundamental assertion of egalitarianism is that we are all equal in all ways. This assertion plays well to our ears because it is a distorted truth at best, for we are all equal in opportunity and dignity. The individual person, no matter what he or she shares with the human species in general, is also a person of grand contrast and difference in strengths and weaknesses. Egalitarian systems fail to address these differences and therefore level off all of humanity into a single category. This is a double-edged sword of unacceptability. First of all, it remains to be seen who decides what this single category of acceptability is and how low its expectations ultimately are. Worse yet is the aforementioned fact that the assertion that all of us are equally special is tantamount to declaring that none of our free choices are special and extra-ordinary and are therefore unnecessary.

Capitalism, the Human Person, and America (Part I in a Series)

Well, I have returned after a hellish week of work. I was unable to post on Friday because I was basically bed-ridden thanks to an immune system which was impaired by sleep deprivation.

Since my days as an EDI-programming intern at U.S. Steel, I have thought about the goods and ills of Corporate America, by which I mean large corporations in America. Wheedling away in my cubicle, I remember feeling like a worthless cog in a giant machine that had no major axis, only a direction of profit, although even this direction was somewhat missing from my little corner of the large world of steel production. Coders throughout my area worked on new projects which were guided by those above (although there was doubtlessly some interaction in this process). However, a few “blessed” individuals like me were given the pleasure of merely fixing the mistakes of the past and implementing quick-fix programs which would be here today and gone in three weeks.

In such an environment, self-determination is nearly crushed under the weight of the machinations of the corporation. The true driving force of each day was definitely not the work which I was doing but was instead always drawn from the hope I got in my interactions with those in my work group. I remember many days of drawing from the wisdom and wit of those older than me and also passing on my paltry wisdom of X12 and AISI COMPORD to those who were newer to the institution. These interactions gave me some sense of self-determination, some sense of choice in my actions, and thus unleashed me from what was often a daily routine of coding.

While America has been the context for such big businesses as U.S. Steel, it also remains a tutor for such businesses and offers an important lesson. John Stuart Mill would argue that in choosing man makes himself realized most fully. I will admit that in many ways I cannot controvert this assertion. While Mill was a British philosopher after the days of the American Revolution, his ideas are much in line with the individualism which grew up in America. Concomitantly, his primacy of freedom can speak to the American world of work through the lenses of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” particularly in the term of “liberty.”

To be an American is to assert the dignity of the individual first, but not at the expense of the whole. Indeed, for the American, it is precisely when the individual is so recognized that the whole functions most fully. This means that the individual must have Mill’s idea of self-determination, freedom to choose and actualize their person, a freedom which certainly comes with its own rule of judgment against its abuse. This would mean that stifling environments which exist at times in Corporate America should be improved with systems which are more embracing of American freedom. However, this begs the question: “What are these systems and what makes them advantageous?”

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Soon to Return

I must apologize for my lack of posting these past two days. Because of business commitments and life issues, I will be unable to post until Friday, April 27, 2007. Until then, fare thee well!


Monday, April 23, 2007

Truly Respecting Life

Recently, there was a debate at Saint Vincent College about the fact that President George W. Bush will be speaking at the Commencement of the class of 2007. I must admit that I do not understand the great emotional strife over this issue. I don’t agree with the president on a variety of issues but nonetheless think it is an honor to have the President of the United States of America speak at my Alma Mater. However, I digress from what I wished to talk about.

One of the presenters, a young man for whom I have respect, made a comment about how respect for life must be central to our choices as Catholics. He continued by saying that the President does not have respect for life in other countries, particularly because of the war in Iraq. Now let me preface my thoughts with the fact that I agree that respect for life extends beyond the normal polemical boundaries of abortion and euthanasia. Additionally, let me say that I think that it may be impossible to change the course of relations between Shia and Sunni Muslims by the imposition of Western force. However, misinformation and misdirection do not constitute a direct disrespect for life as an intrinsic part of the war in Iraq. Additionally, this argument seems to presuppose that the death counts in Iraq are directly the fault of America instead of the religious zealots who are perpetrating such acts in the name of their sect of Islam. While the US may have destabilized the region, it is neither strapping bombs to people’s backs nor killing a vast majority of the Iraqis who have died in the recent violence.

Now this being said, there is a profound middle ground which should be struck between “feel good” respect for life and the imposition of democracy by force. Much world poverty is absolutely saddening but also continues in part because of a lack of the structures which have made the West so powerful and wealth-generating. A true respect for life is not merely a matter of fiscal humanitarian aid to the countries which are most needy in the world. Instead, it is a combination of fiscal aid with the more important tasks of working to ensure just social constructs that allow for the vox popoli to be heard and not squashed. It requires market freedom (not absolute but very, very free) by means of which human determination can shine forth to generate the wealth necessary to sustain the poorest nations among us. To this extent, a radically different agenda is needed, one which is not from the standard liberal or conservative play book, although it has elements from each. In the post-industrial world, our respect for life extends beyond our internal issues over the atrocities of abortion and euthanasia; it requires that we pass on that which is best in our culture to those in most need. Only thus to we respect the sanctity of each life in the wide world.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Foretaste is in the Bread

Yesterday, I referenced a lecture which I attended at Saint Vincent College at which Dr. Brant Pitre spoke on the relationship between the Lord’s Prayer and the Exodus. At one point in this lecture, he discussed the foretaste of the Promised Land as found in the Manna in the wilderness. In Exodus 16:31, the bread is described as tasting like honey, an indicator that it was a foretaste of the Promised Land which would flow with both milk and honey in abundance. When he discussed this, several thoughts popped into my head.

I was reading a book by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan called Sabbath: Day of Eternity in which the Rabbi explains that the rest of the Sabbath is not a practical matter of “setting aside a day for God” but is instead a day in which Creation participates in the very being of God, in his immutable eternal being. The exposition of the Sabbath was in the providing of the Manna in the Desert: “See the Lord hath given you the Sabbath, and for this reason on the sixth day he giveth you a double provision.” Rabbi Kaplan argues that it was from the first day when no Manna was provided that the community of Israel knew when the Sabbath was to be celebrated. Therefore, there is a double link here, for the Manna is, as stated above, the foretaste of the earthly Jerusalem but is also the means by which God opens the community up to the participation in His being.

Now, if we look at the Eucharist, in which Christ proclaims, “This is My Body … This is My Blood,” we see much of the same typology. This Bread from Heaven draws on the rich tradition of the Manna (a favorite Eucharistic theme) and has quite the basis to do so. It is here that that the Community, the Church, participates in God’s divine being in its fullness, by receiving His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It is not the taste of the bread that matters but instead the participation in the breads very essential change. More importantly, however, it points to the central eschatological argument of Christianity.

The Eucharist, like the Manna, is not merely tasty bread along the road but is instead a road-marker which is an anticipation of its eschatological end. The Manna in the desert was a honey-flavored foretaste that received its character as “foretaste” precisely in its relationship to the Holy Land. The eschatological end of the Manna of the Eucharist is the foretaste of God’s being. Therefore, the eschatological end of the Christianity is not a place or a political plan, but instead it is a Being, it is a loving, human face. In precise terms, it is the Being of Christ, the alpha and omega, the one who is the end point of all history (its last thing – eschaton). Therefore, the Eucharist is an eschatological participation in He who is creation’s eschaton, the Resurrected Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What About Utopia? (Part II)

So we left off yesterday discussing the fact that Christianity does not approach the issue of utopia as such but instead turns our eyes to eschatology, or the study of the “last things.” It is precisely this type of eschatological thinking which was at the center of much of Christ’s preaching, although its actual form was different from those who first heard him. As I discussed earlier this month about Palm Sunday, the general conviction at the time was that Christ was the political Davidic Messiah who would set the peoples free from Roman enslavement and establish the New Jerusalem. To use the language from a lecture I attended last night by Dr. Brant Pitre, Christ was viewed as the New Moses who would lead the people in an exodus to a New, Earthly, Jerusalem.

However, in Christianity, there is a radical shift from what seems like political eschatology to something which seems like nothing other than an aberration, namely a focus on the person of Christ in Christology. To many, this is what is repulsive in orthodox Christianity which still holds the person of Christ as central, far surpassing the moral message of Christ (although the latter is an unquestioned corollary to Christ’s personhood). This begs the question: Has Christology replaced political eschatology or established a new kind of eschatology? Since this entry is not about the defense of this but merely its exposition, let us leave this at the affirmation that the Eschatology of Christ is truly a message of Christology, even during His lifetime (“Behold, the kingdom of God is among you”). This redirection to a person and not a political event makes Christian eschatology one which never finds intra-historical fulfillment. Instead, it signifies that all of creation awaits the return of its Omega Point, in the fullness of time (just as at the fullness of time He became incarnate).

This is important because it answers the problem of the Fall as mentioned yesterday. Eschatology lays one requirement for love at the feet of humanity, namely that love must never secondary to some grand plan to make the world perfect. Instead, love must be an interpersonal encounter which seeks the betterment of the other. It therefore also places a limit on our political powers, although it does not constrict them entirely. Instead, it hones our vision on to the fact that sinfulness will never allow for the establishment of a utopia on Earth. It means that the complete fulfillment of our striving must be the result of an eschatological in-breaking by means of which humanity is ultimately lifted up from the mire of sin to the fullness of human life.

Insofar as it is Christological, the center of Christianity is indeed this eschatological center. It is “the Way” by means of which we experience a foretaste of the eschaton which is only possible when humanity is united without sin, a task only possible in union with him who is called “the Way.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What About Utopia? (Part I)

So often, we hear the word “utopia” used either in hopeful salivation when someone is thinking of the future or in unmitigated disdain by those who strongly assert that utopian ideals cannot possibly be realized. However, the term in and of itself remain something of an enigma to all, for it has evaded full definition and has therefore taken on sundry meanings from being a “workers’ paradise” to a “land of milk and honey.” Nevertheless, I think that we must first consider what is the central matter at hand in a utopia before we cogitate on the possibility of its realization.

In some way, the humanity remains at the center of all utopianism. This may take the form of the whole of human society living a certain way or, on the nearly polar opposite, the unfettered freedom of the people. Nonetheless, since man is the one creating utopian visions, he is also the reference point for those ideas. However, to understand the necessary characteristics and functions of a possible utopia, we need another vantage point, namely an answer to the question “What is the good life for human beings?” This becomes the point at which philosophy and theology enter with their assumptions and arguments. For my purposes, I would like to show that both liberal democracy, as well as Christianity, come to the table with a beautifully-gilded, two-edged sword on the topic of utopia.

Both liberal democratic ideals as well as Christian morality teach that the “life worth living” is one which must be freely chosen. Although the objective content of this life are somewhat different in either one, freedom and free will remain central to their understandings of humanity. For the democratic liberal, choice becomes the moment of actualization of the individual, the moment at which he or she enters time and asserts his or her inner being in the concrete actions of life, actions which in some way must be aimed to the common good. In a way, Christianity takes this and also adds the assertion that humanity’s fulfillment requires the expression and reception of love, something which is wholly impossible without freedom. Therefore these two ideals set out a utopian vision where the individual requires the freedom to choose “the good life” because it is only by means of that choice that they participate in its realization.

However, this sword is two-edged. Liberal democracy also has a separation of powers as well as a continuous affirmation that one group should not rule. More directly asserted, this points to a central reality in Christian thought: The Fall and its continued effects among in reality. Christian doctrine recognizes the fact that people will always sin, that they will always fall short of the complete realization of the “life well lived.” Although it is less direct, liberal democracy has a relationship to this belief that fulfillment comes not in purely human hands. However, Christian revelation and philosophy takes this reflection a step further by redirecting us to eschatology.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Separation, Faith, and Love

Christians often lament that we are “far from the home we love,” that is far from eternal unity with God. My question for you is this: Are you ready for that eternity, and if not, how will you become ready? The answer must, of course be, by means of life here and now. Primarily, I am thinking about the nature of physical and perceptual separation and how this plays into Love.

One of the classic clich├ęs is that “distance makes the heart grow fonder.” Thought of practically, this is of course true, for any relationship which lasts a prolonged separation of persons comes out with a special bond. I think of those I know who dated with great success while in college away from their beloved and see now the fruits of their labor shown forth in multifarious expositions of compassion. Even a negative weasel like me finds great solace in seeing this kind of actualized love.

Well, if this is the case for physical separation on Earth, how much greater the case must be in the separation of God from his creation. If undertaken with the proper disposition of the heart, the striving of creation for the Creator is much more intense than any interpersonal love between separated humans. Faith is intense when an employer hires a new employee, even if that person has impressive credentials. How much more so is Faith expressed in those persons who believe in an unseen Creator who nonetheless is involved in the world and who has come to the world in the form of a man?

It doesn’t stop at Faith, though, for Love and Faith are interlocked. Love requires faith in the beloved, it requires a trust in the reciprocity of their love. Since Faith is much greater in that which is neither seen nor experienced directly, Love abounds as well. This distance, because of the great amount of Faith which it requires, enables the greatest amount of Love. The world becomes the “training ground” of the soul by making it truly pine for the Living God beyond all else; it trains us to seek God first with an intense love. While this love may require amelioration in the afterlife, its beginning in this life most definitely prepares the human for an eternal beatific vision.

Of course, this post can’t end there, for we have ended up speaking of Faith and Love; Hope too must enter. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is the realization of hope in another, a choice for an unknown hoped-for. Hope moves to Faith and Faith to Love, and Love is what remains as the center of all our activity. We walk in Hope and in Faith of a better tomorrow, but it is the journey of Faith today that makes that better tomorrow of True Love possible.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Turn the Radio Off

There was a story last week that got lost in the Imus mix but managed to intrigue me enough to remain in my brain until now. Although it appears that the bill will not be passed, there was proposed legislation in Michigan to buy an iPod for every student there “for educational purposes.” Now, all theories of Apple influence in this bill’s promotion aside, this is perhaps the most asinine idea that I have heard in a while (and not because I think they will be used for “non-educational purposes”). Indeed, let’s just assume that these children would utilize these iPods only to get educational podcasts (and also assume that the government doesn’t regulate that selection – now there’s a bogus reality if I ever proclaimed one).

Non-thinking is becoming endemic in our culture as we forget what it is to ponder the mysteries of life. In my opinion, the iPod is quite related to this and only exacerbates the problem. I barely have to fire sixteen neurons to remember images from my days at Saint Vincent College, where I could regularly see people in the gym or merely walking across our small campus with white ear buds in, drowning out the world and themselves. It seemed then (and now) to me that nobody wanted to think or discourse with another human being anymore. The constant din of music stopped thought dead in its tracks.

Now, to call iPods a tool for “educational use” constitutes a radical redefinition of what “education” means, stripping it of its Latin etymology: e-ducere, to be led out. To place the din of Apple’s noise-box into an educational policy makes that education nothing more than a non-ducation. There is no leading of the self anywhere but merely being where one is. “Education” becomes very atomistic, disconnected, and nothing other than the imparting of “facts” from the source being listened to. Ray Bradbury was prescient in his classic work Fahrenheit 451 when he discussed this very issue and how it destroys culture. Silence is necessary for human development, for it gives one time to reflect upon the world and the self. C.S. Lewis once said in The Screwtape Letters that Hell was filled with continuous noise. Given that Hell is nothing more than the radical separation of the self from any others, I believe that noise would indeed be an element of Hell, for continuous noise is most definitely not edifying for personal relationships.

These types of developments do only not affect those in education but instead profoundly play into all of our daily lives. I have often been tempted to purchase an iPod but have always stopped short because there is something that doesn’t jive with me about it. Instead, I realize that I listen to a copious amount of music and radio as it is and often find myself thinking that I should take a look at the world, cogitate, and (in the words of my favorite band, Reel Big Fish) “Turn the Radio Off.”

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tyranny in Many Unspoken-of Styles

Talk radio has been a-buzz with the Imus controversy these past couple of days, and I have basically steered-clear of it until now. I wasn’t too worried at first because it seemed like a classic case of an overly-hyped reaction to a shock-jock on the radio. However, it seems clear to me now that this is not at all the case and has instead become a sideshow of tyranny in oh-so-many different forms.

I would say that what we are seeing in the calls to have Imus kicked off the air is the very essence of the “Tyranny of the Majority.” In so many ways, the ideas of majority-rule and open democracy are absolutely grand ideas. However, it was against this one fear that the Founding Fathers protected us as a nation: that the Majority would no longer seek the Truth in its actions but instead would act in accord with appeals made by relative powers. In practical matters, we often live in a purely democratic way, using egalitarian principles to govern our actions and choices. This includes how we view the media and truly how the ratings in that industry work.

It goes without question that ratings in the media are based purely on democratic principles, for they are driven completely by the amount of listenership/viewership for a given program. As people become disenfranchised with a broadcaster, they no longer listen and thus eliminate that person from the market. In the Imus controversy, many have called for him to be fired. In a way, this is understandable and remains in the prerogative of the employer to actually answer such calls. However, what vocal minorities may do is usurp the majority on purely emotional bases instead of on ones which are completely rational. In effect, what occurs is a Tyranny of the Mass, a Mass which has been usurped by power-mongers.

Now, I have realized through this day that there is hope in this situation and all is not lost. Many (including myself) have thought this could be the death knell of free speech in the media because of the inordinate fear of groups that speech may be misused. Instead, I believe that this will become the impetus of a greater democratization of the media, so long as people are willing to take the time to work as individuals.

Much of contemporary life is full of tales of an individual striking out in a flat world to make a big name for himself or herself. This is where the hope lies. Individuals, holding the means of communication in their own hands, instead of in the hands of corporate or governmental overlords, will speak their minds and be judged by the many with something closer to impunity, so long as their intentions are pure. Where the Truth is abhorred and not proclaimed, people will not go once they see the light. This will weed out the bad seeds from the good ones. However, this hope requires a full measure of light-bearers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Political Correctness and the Fall of the West

Since I love droning on about “the Fall of the West,” I thought it would be appropriate for me to approach this beloved subject once again although from a new, perhaps more pessimistic standpoint. Many tell me I should be quiet and realize that the West has already fallen. I cannot agree with that but will admit that the West is falling. I suppose that I would like to be part of that which supports it during the fall, perhaps being a small voice to keep humanity from losing something great

The overall timbre of my blog as of late has been relatively disparaging of contemporary culture (and should be so). This points, of course, to the singular reality of our day: The West is destroying itself, and we are merely living in its death throes. A massive nail in its coffin is foul Political Correctness. This is the product of much decadence and only stokes the fires of the Fall.

In many ways, Political Correctness is the final product of years of relativism. By viewing pluralism as nothing more than a permissive setting in which everybody’s worldview is equal; relativism has brought us to the point where everybody’s worldview is equally meaningless. This has had two main effects in the culture: (1) Many have become hopeless and live only for instant gratification. (2) Many feel that they should empower their destroyed worldviews by silencing all others by means of cultural stigma. It is (2) which will be focused on in this entry.

Having been born of relativism, Political Correctness stokes those fires with great ferocity, for it cuts off all dialogue under its dark mantle of fear. A great example of this is when one discusses the Founding Fathers of America and the enduring meaning of the Constitution. Relativists who are so ready to be permissive in all things cultural will not bear that many of the Founding Fathers had difficulty with the slavery issue, leaving it for future generations in order to at least start this great nation of America. In this situation, Political Correctness silences all who would defend the founding of America on the grounds that it eventually led itself to the abolition of slavery. Instead, people would rather say that we were nothing more than an imperialist, hate-filled nation from the start. Often coupled with this is the role of missionaries in the Americas. While many tactics used were underhanded, not all was a loss, for a new, more enlightened worldview was brought to the American Continent. Although much could be gained by means of better dialogue, much progress was still made. However, the Political Correctness police will once again step in and silence me for trying to defend something to which an arbitrary stigma is attached (even though I blatantly qualify my statements).

The whole sum of Political Correctness is the silencing dialogue, the very thing it claims to overcome, and this will most definitely contribute to the continued Fall.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An Uncultured Response

Welcome back, my friends! I hope that you had a wonderful Easter and were able to take some time to relax with family and friends. I must apologize for my lack of posting an Easter reflection and an entry on Monday. I too was busy spending time with my family and friends. However, I am back in action in the tiny chair of the Coding Catholic and am ready to pontificate once again.

There is a dynamic by means of which liturgy and culture are linked, a dynamic which simultaneously enriches the liturgy and, more importantly, lifts up the culture beyond that which it could attain on its own. In the past fifty years, we have seen the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church undergo many changes to its liturgical style, many good, and some bad (in my opinion). At the core of this movement, which really had its roots even before the Second Vatican Council (and truly even before the Liturgical Movements in Europe and the U.S.) is an affirmation which has been at the heart of the Catholic Church in the existence of various Rites.

While the structure and acceptance of varied Rites has changed throughout the years, they have remained a vital component to the liturgical formation of the Church as a whole. They have brought cultural experiences (with their profound cultic links) to the Church. Each with its own liturgical and theological style, these Rites truly show how distinct communities, in a specific geographical locations, can contribute to the Church as a whole.

However, we come to America, where the Roman Rite is predominantly the Rite of Catholicism. While one may argue that an American Rite might indeed make sense, I will shape my brief thoughts on the American Church with the larger context of the Roman Rite. In America, there are two distinct (although not unrelated) cultures at play. If America is to help the Church (and world) at large, one must discriminate between these two threads.

Thread one is that of the high ideals upon which America was founded: Government must allow for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, in accord with the dignity of the individual, yet not forgetting the necessity of a degree civic unity at a federal level. Thread two is that of Paris Hilton, MTV, and (to a degree) the ACLU, in many ways that which could be defined as “popular” culture. It is precisely this second thread that frightens me when it comes to the liturgy. I would much rather “batten down the hatches” and completely close the liturgy off from dialogue with a culture that has no desire to dialogue with goodness. I therefore do not see any imperative to mix and mingle the liturgical experiences of the Church with anything which has its core in the decadent portion of American culture. It is only when the pluralism of thread two becomes like that of thread one that we should be willing to have a true dialogue.