Greek word salad with crotons
January 28, 2016 § 2 Comments
Around here we like to argue about basic errors which can interfere with our capacity to think clearly about reality, or even to think about reality at all — as opposed to being trapped in the storybook carnival of the post-cartesian mind.
Admittedly it is gratifying to be a character in our own stories, because – as the supreme author of our own stories – it lets us play God. That gratification has a shelf life though, because the real world is not something we are actually able to escape. Even suicide simply accelerates our encounter with the Most Real of All Actual Things.
One of the most common ways we avoid conclusions we don’t like is to stop thinking about whatever subject gives rise to those conclusions. And one of the simplest ways to inspire quietism in folks with a conservative disposition is to give them examples from antiquity: to show that, whether X is good or evil, it has been with us in some more or less nascent form always. There is nothing new under the sun.
If X has ancient roots then it cannot be some new and dire wickedness perpetrated by modernity in unprecedented ways and on unprecedented scales. Sin has been with us since well before modern times; so blaming sin on modernity is pish posh. There is no point in opposing it, and certainly there is no reason to attribute it to modernity. Go back to sleep, child.
Conversely, the unique atrocities of modernity cannot be attributed to X if X is found to have ancient roots. Modern atrocities must have some other cause. If liberalism has ancient roots it is sacred; the unique wickednesses of modernity must be attributable to something else.
The great thing about the claim that there is nothing new under the sun is that it is mostly true, as long as we don’t take it too seriously. No reasonably informed person would deny that modern political insanity has some roots in ancient Greece, for example. They teach us that it does in grade school, or at least they did when I was in grade school, and they aren’t wrong about the lineage. They are just wrong about what is substantively good and bad about it all. Democritus was a Greek, after all. The Greeks had parasites and disease too.
“Nothing new under the sun” is often just a rhetorical device to say, in different words, “nothing to see, move along”, “see no evil”, or “lets just all stop thinking and talking about this.”
It is worth applying some introspection to that particular rhetorical device.
The roots of feminism (just as an example) could be similarly historically traced and tendentiously argued. So nothing to see, move along. “This feminism thing has always existed alongside patriarchy, and the feminists – the right kind of feminists – always had the better argument.”
As with nominalism and in some ways related to it, once we concede the metaphysical frame we have already fallen on our swords and might as well not talk about anything at all. Feminism, you see, means just what I say it means, nothing more, nothing less. It is just the acknowledgement that women are people too. By definition it has no connection to atrocity. Christian Game, I mean feminism, is the good kind of feminism. By definition anything bad about feminism doesn’t belong in Christian feminism, so opposing feminism in general can only amount to disagreement about definitions.
If our goal is quietist capitulation to evil we’ll be receptive to nominalism and arguments from antiquity which purport to excuse or downplay the wickedness of modernity or certain sacred doctrines of modernity. That’s fine I suppose; as long as we don’t object to our minds being covered in filth, infected with disease, and peppered with parasites.
Some folks do mind that though. We all run through the modernist weeds every day: even the Amish can’t fully escape it. For those of us who don’t want to wake up with our minds covered in blood sucking parasites it does not seem out of bounds to suggest regular tick checks, to see what we might have picked up, before heading off to sleep.