Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Enlightened Mind

5:28 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
Do not ask me to believe in the rational human.

No society took to the enlightenment with the same vigor as the Germans. Granted, the French butchered each other and regularly overthrew their republican governments in their illuminated fervor, but they do not compare to the Germans when it comes to how deeply the enlightenment took in the middle and professional classes. One might question what drove this exceedingly advanced attitude--and unusual stability--I do not know quite enough to say, but I intend to find out.

This advanced society continued to flourish as the most progressive and cultivated society of the middle 19th and early 20th centuries. None equaled them in the field of academics, in the sciences or humanities. Yet all know that this great society went on to wage war against most of the world, and to kill off large segments of its own people, many of whom were the best and brightest of German progress.

They held the single most evil belief which has ever infiltrated the human race; they believed in the perfectibility of humanity. That through the magic of technological, literary, and sociological advancement a lasting, peaceful, society might be attainable. All that is necessary to the completion of the project, the accomplishment of this greatest human goal, is to remove all those who would resist perfection. To remove the ultimate roadblock to universal love, one must remove the unlovable and unloving.

The Jews have always been a people apart, governed by their own rules, customs, and quirks--really kind of amusing and lovable in a modern context. Quaint, perhaps. To the Germans, however, they represented two elements. One, they were an element which would not conform and consent to lose itself in the national whole, which made them the second element, the enemy within, who must be crushed and subjugated for the sake of national unity. After all, the ends justify the means, and a unified people, working together, is a prerequisite for societal well-being.

No society is ever perfect, so those who believe in perfection only know that something must be changed. Furthermore, since we are presently embroiled in injustice, a change from where we are must be for the better, and those who oppose this change, it follows, are not only the enemies of change, but the champions of injustice; monsters, to be dealt with firmly.

Change is a constant, and societies must obviously change to adapt to revelations in science and shifts in demographics. The point of difference comes with the view taken on change. To change suddenly and without thought is to invite disaster. In the case of Germany, an eternity of national regret, and universal embarrassment for more than half a century--not to mention having fostered the most--ok, Stalin wins--second most monstrous deeds of the age.

All change must be proceeded by careful thought and examination. Change for the sake of change is not good, any more than stasis for stasis sake is any good. I believe that governments primary duty is to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens, and thereafter, to encourage them in virtue. Yes, I believe that government has an interest in creating virtuous citizens by encouraging sound mores, so long as these measures do not impinge on life, liberty, or property.

Yet, as I reflect, the best virtues for the maintenance of peace and order in the city are not strictly rational. The human capacity for rationality is infinitely limited. I, perhaps egotistically, consider myself well beyond the norm in terms of the degree to which I engage rational thought in my everyday life, but purely rational--read calculating--thought would not be a great guarantor of my good behavior. I am, however, possessed of an irrational religious idea that it is my duty to be good, to accord basic dignity and respect to those I meet, and to hold--or try to hold--to a stark moral code.

Examine, again, the Germans. The greatest atrocities they committed came after German faith had waned. The enlightenment was not kind to either the Lutherans or the Catholics in Germany. Faith in a merciful God, who would, nonetheless, come again to judge the nations, ceased to be a serious part of the physiognomy of the German mind. Man was God, his kingdom would come, and it would never end.

Rationality is cold. The hot juices sloshing around in side us might lead to mistakes, but those same hot juices are the stuff of friendship, love, and Gemütlichkeit. I have never heard of love founded on cold rational.

I will not believe in the perfectly rational human for two reasons. First, because he does not exist. Second, God save us if he does.


9:24 AM Posted by Patrick 4 comments
I enjoy receiving gifts and, even more so, giving them. But it is with a certain antipathy that I consider the feeding frenzy of the Christmas shopping season. Every night the mall is packed, and on the weekends it is hard for someone like me to move without nearly mowing someone over. But it is not their poor sense in cramming themselves like sardines into the stores that irks me. I am frustrated, rather, by their frustration.

Many of them are buying their presents without any pleasure; they expect little gratefulness. Christmas gifts, instead of being recognized as an act of generosity and sacrifice on behalf of the giver for the sake of their love of the recipient, are seen as due by the receiver; these gifts are what they are owed, by right of merely existing. So much the worse for the giver, should their offering be found wanting, because scorn certainly waits in the wings to belittle their efforts.

Parents, friends, grandparents are held to ransom by expectations, and not by expectations of thoughtfulness. It is not the thought which counts, after all, but volume. I am regularly appalled when the people shopping at work look at an item, doubt whether the intended recipient would like it, but buy it anyway, because they need more for that person. They are stuck outbidding one another, hoping to secure the esteem of their friends and family by lavishing more gifts on them than others.

The ultimate perversion is that these gifts will often be begrudged. They will not be selected and given in spontaneous and exuberant love. The relationship preserved by our present custom is less a mirror of the tender love of God the Father, giving us His only Son, than it is a mirror of the enmity between the IRS and the taxpayer; presents will be given, or there shall be consequences.

There are, of course, many who still give gifts in love and charity, and I sincerely bid them Merry Christmas, but I fear they might be in the minority. The cranky, often rude, people I deal with on a regular basis certainly do not.

I love giving and receiving gifts, but the sickness of our present Christmas tradition turns my stomach and makes it difficult to find Christmas spirit.


Monday, December 3, 2012

And Isn't it an Unfornate Happenstance, Don't You Think?

9:03 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
A little bit too much of an unfortunate happenstance.

I spent my entire day yesterday, and the majority of my night, working on a paper, which was due this evening. I failed to make satisfactory progress yesterday, so I wound up calling off of work this morning, so that I might actually turn something in before the deadline which was not the literary equivalent of a heaping mound of organic waste product.

I spent my morning, and a decent part of my afternoon, hammering out something which I would not blush to own, only to discover upon arriving at class, that the professor had pushed the deadline to the end of the school year, to give us time to get him something polished.

Gratefulness and rage mingled momentarily, giving way to maniacal laughter. I found the email telling us that he was giving the extension in my spam folder. How it got there, I know not. He was not offering us any used cars, or massages we wouldn't forget, so I could not fathom what gmail was thinking; I believe it did this to me out of spite, because I refuse to use Chrome.

On the bright side, although the quantity of caffeine I consumed last night probably shortened my life, and certainly left me without appetite for the better part of the day--I was Clive, not Joe--I have one less project on which I may procrastinate, and all the time in the world with which to finish my last assignments.