“The condition of human nature … is such that it has to be led by things corporeal and sensible to things spiritual and intelligible.” – St. Thomas Aquinas
As always, St. Thomas has not only arrived where we want to go centuries in advance, but he has done so with precision and the poet’s flourish.
Still, every generation must grapple with the world as they find it.
The contemporary search for proof of God’s existence often runs through the sciences, namely physics, though the atheists fancy that biology can do their work for them. Neither is necessary to show that God exists, nor can either possibly show that He doesn’t exist.
Rather, what grew out of that search, for me, were the ready analogies that physics offers for spiritual phenomena. I learned, for example, that the very laws of physics break down as one approaches the first instant of creation, the Big Bang. Seeing the Universe issuing forth from the command of God, I found it remarkable that there was nothing but the spiritual realm, when all of the sudden laws, mathematics, particles, energy, space and time came “screaming” into existence. The abstract realities – laws, mathematics – reached terminal velocity, like a satellite re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, and the resulting fire and fury resulted in forces, space, time, and matter, immediately and inexorably falling into order.
That analogy is not exactly what I mean, but a bridge to it.
That spiritual realm persists – it has to – even while our physical world lives and grows, fights and loves, and decays and dies into the matter that forms new life. And how do we know the spiritual realm exists? The first analogy…
It would be odd for any creature to have a sense which senses falsely. Biologically speaking, this would be extra baggage, more body to protect and feed. There are even instances of fish which had sight, when a group of them came to be effectively trapped in a a cave for many years. In order to save energy, they evolved the loss of their eyes.
In other words, there was first light, and so the eyes developed and were useful. Then there was no light, and the eyes were not useful, and soon they atrophied away.
Now when many billions of people around the planet claim experience or evidence of the spiritual realm, are they like fish with eyes and no light? Why haven’t we evolved the loss of this spiritual sense?
What if, instead, the organ (the soul) survives because there is something that it detects, which proves useful for living in a physical reality?
There is much here; we will explore it.
It is good to remember, from the outset, that attributes applied to men are fundamentally transformed when they are applied to God.
You may call a man “holy,” and get a picture of a radiant presence, even a halo. You might imagine him self-possessed, patient and long-suffering, with a peaceful magnetism.
When we call God “holy,” we mean a furnace of holiness, a star going supernova, a light so bright it puts out your eyes. It is a blast unrelenting, rendering all else to dust and incinerating even the dust, so all that remains is the perfect purity of His Spirit.
One is the vessel, the other is the source. One is derived, the other is the original.
Holiness is a fitting introduction to jealousy. The holiness of God dictates that nothing else could exist, unless He permitted it to be so. And His holiness requires that there be very good reasons for anything else to exist.
What could those reasons be?
We advance: The Christian faith teaches that these reasons are rooted in God’s great love. The creation of the Universe, the creation of man, the endurance of sin, the suffering and redeeming work of the Savior – these are all effects of the cause, that God is a loving God.
Now when is it that a man becomes jealous? It is when he desires something very much, to the extent of claiming possession.
This should not be reduced to contractual ownership, the way I might own a car (which I might also desire very much). That is an economic relationship. We are discussing covenantal relationships, which include a spiritual dimension, something real but non-material.
You could not pay me enough to possess me as a husband, there is no material consideration great enough to earn you – from any man – the limitless gift-of-self required.
Likewise for he who is the bridegroom of the Church. Could you have paid Jesus Christ any consideration for his passion and death which would have adequately compensated him? What sum would represent an equal exchange?
It is absurd to ask. Likewise for the husband and wife. (This is truly why prostitution is regarded as sinful – it infinitely devalues a person’s worth, manifest in her body).
Now, that which is possessed – what if it is threatened, stolen, or seduced away?
We see this in Hosea, where the prophet is compelled to marry a prostitute, who subsequently commits adultery. Predictable, but no less painful.
God selects this as the metaphor for His relationship to Israel, and there is no compulsion except for His own will. He is compelled, in fact, by His love.
What does love have to do with it?
He made them. He conceived and created them from nothing. They were something much less and much more than a flight of fancy, so little did He require their existence and so much did He desire it.
And He saw His image in them, and said it was very good.
Then, over and over, Israel His bride was unfaithful to Him, worshipping other gods and disobeying his laws. Their desire to be fulfilled – which would find ultimate satisfaction in God alone – was gorged with vapid, vulgar imitations. They were seduced, deceived, and led astray.
There is a touching sequence in certain stories of a husband who goes astray, and finds himself in ruin until his wife comes to rescue him. She will often be forced to defy his “friends,” those who have participated in his downfall and desire for the party to continue. She rightly sees that what he wanted was not good for him, and she quite literally fights to protect him from it. There is sometimes a parental thread within the fabric of a marriage.
Likewise, Hosea loves Gomer for what she is, and it is not good for her to be a prostitute. When she reverts to that darker life, he goes after her. It is a cause for shame, it is humiliating and painful – but it is virtuous and true. Here in Hosea 3:3, we begin to see how love and jealousy lose their distinction:
“You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.”
Which is this? Love? Jealousy? Love expressed as Jealousy?
Far from competing, this jealousy – jealous for the good of the other, jealous in protecting from evil – is the manifestation of love. If Hosea wasn’t jealous, we would have to wonder if he loved Gomer at all.
It is much harder, deeper, and sheerer with God. To be unfaithful to Him is to invite destruction into your life. To love Him in return is to embrace everlasting life.
If those are the stakes, no wonder God would be jealous for us. If He did not thunder from Heaven and flood the Earth and punish sins, we would have to wonder if He loved us at all.
In our time, Christmas is a lovely thing. It is universally observed as a time for giving, family, good works. Only a little more narrowly, it is the great holy day, brought out as something better than any heirloom or treasure, recognized as the arrival of a singular hero, God Himself.
The comfort of family and traditions veils the shock. Consider the infant!
A baby in the room will elicit warm smiles, soft coos, sure hands to cradle her. The infant receives and cannot offer, cries but cannot articulate, trusts but cannot protect herself from harm.
At Christmas, we are not often reminded that the world is still enemy territory. Christmas is the time when it feels as though the world could be otherwise – perhaps there could be peace on Earth.
But that is not the pretense for the Incarnation. The pretense is that the world is fallen, is in need of redemption. The pretense, as Christ later says, is that men are wicked, this generation is faithless. They cannot grapple with the mess they’re in. It will destroy them.
Now, if you had all power and determined to fight and win this conflict, would you begin by emptying yourself of all that power and appearing as an infant behind enemy lines? This is the paradox that would destroy all reality: That God made Himself utterly vulnerable to death.
That baby in the manger is everything. And he has nothing, can say nothing, can protect nothing.
We with finite powers may begin to answer this: If we had all power, we might storm the earth, take the holy innocents trapped behind enemy lines, and speed them to Paradise. And then, if we had the stomach for it – and we would, being holy – we would destroy whatever remained in water and fire, and begin again.
But who, exactly, would you have rescued?
All are under the grip of sin. None are innocent. You would return to Heaven empty-handed, and turn around and destroy all those you meant to save.
Do you see the predicament? We are willing captives. We choose this every time we sin. Meanwhile, God loves us and wishes to redeem us to unimaginable glory.
If He comes in force, we are likely as not to resist! Our guards go up, and all of the things we value more than we should, all of the priorities we have placed above Him – these things we cling to in defiance of Him.
Not you? Do it now, then. Go where He has been calling you. Give up the sins, give up even the good things which nevertheless stand in your way. Leave all things behind – do not look back – and follow Him.
See it now? You are the enemy’s territory. Your heart is behind enemy lines. God cannot rescue you by destroying you.
Make no mistake. There is evil, and it must ultimately be destroyed. Violently, with a permanence so profound you will not remember it existed.
Yet you are redeemable, and one of the ways you can observe this is by your response to an infant. Do you offer a smile? Does your hope awaken? Would you protect the baby from harm?
It was a master stroke, wasn’t it? God almighty, appearing as an infant invader?
He had to come claim your heart, first. Only then could He lead you out.
Our Mother is patient and kind.
The first joyful mystery is the Annunciation. This, of course, refers to the moment when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear the Son of God Most High.
One often reflects on the magnitude of this announcement. From then-Cardinal Ratzinger:
The salutation to Mary (Lk 1:28-32) is modeled closely on Zephaniah 3: 14-17: Mary is the daughter Zion addressed there, summoned to ” rejoice”, in formed [sic] that the Lord is coming to her. Her fear is removed, since the Lord is in her midst to save her. Laurentin makes the very beautiful remark on this text: “… As so often, the word of God proves to be a mustard seed…. One understands why Mary was so frightened by this message (Lk 1:29). Her fear comes not from lack of understanding nor from that small-hearted anxiety to which some would like to reduce it. It comes from the trepidation of that encounter with God, that immeasurable joy which can make the most hardened natures quake.”
Now see: Could more than a day have passed since Mary prayed to God to send His Messiah?
Oh, how God answers prayers.
This thought has appeared elsewhere, but it warrants repeating: The first Glorious Mystery is the Resurrection.
That’s the first mystery of glory. A man rising from the dead.
And then there’s more…
My reflections during the Rosary are often in words, concepts. But once, when I arrived at the Crucifixion of our Lord, words failed me, even within my mind.
Yet I had an image of Christ on the cross, so I just looked at Him.
The Luminous mysteries are unique in that they contain “The Proclamation of the Kingdom.” But this is not a story proper – there is no clear thing happening, but a man speaking.
Still, it had to be done – Jesus had to announce the purpose for which He had come. In that, I suppose the story, as it were, is as much about us hearing the proclamation as it was for anyone, in any time.
In other words, the Kingdom is always arriving. What will you do with this?
“Joyful” mystery – finding of Jesus in the Temple. Personally, I am struck by the interpretation of this event which says this is the nearest Mary came to experiencing sin, which is a loss of intimacy with God. She, for a period of a few days, felt His absence most acutely.
The second Sorrowful Mystery – I am shaken by the fortitude of Christ at the pillar, being cut to ribbons by the centurions’ whips.
We were made – my God, You made us – with nerve endings that would give us awareness of the world around us, and also of our physical condition. When something is harmful to our bodies, it hurts.
Here, after centuries of perfecting the art of torture, we see the full exploitation of this ostensibly useful feature: Those nerves, down to the tenderest tissue, are slashed and ripped away from the Body. What the body simply is, is torn away. It is painful even in the abstract.
And for love of all the world, He does not quit, or complain, or break.
The crown of thorns represents the full ignorance of man. You could not capture it more perfectly.
The Transfiguration sometimes strikes me – if one may speak this way – as one of the most important stories in all of Scripture. It is the pre-resurrection assurance of glory. It is one thing to have a voice from Heaven at the baptism – and that is enough! – but to have the same voice, and then to see the Man, resplendent in light.
It is everything short of rising from the dead. It is a stone’s throw away from creating ex nihilo.
And finally, for now, the assumption of Mary. By this point all of the mysteries have been lived out, before her eyes, except those which elevated her to her final glory.
She has seen the culmination and climax of salvation history, the entire hope of the whole history of her people. The Lord Himself now dwells on earth as Holy Ghost, setting the world on fire. There is no more doubt about the course of history.
What of her, then? Was that enough, to live through all of this?
It might be enough. And yet, all of that – all of it – points to something more. Something higher.
So Mary will not descend to the grave, but is lifted to Heaven. What a love our Lord has for her! How she carries His original hope for all of mankind!
And I cannot begin to fathom the celebration that occurs at her coronation…
Let us add a little depth to the metaphor.
The human being – and the human race, by expansion – possesses two drives which we in the modern world call “Progressive” and “Reactionary.”
Left and Right, or “To subdue the earth” and “To heed the natural order.”
Now, the metaphor is that of Cthulhu, swimming. The current pulls everything to the right, toward the natural order, terminating in a sheer fall – certain death. Therefore, Cthulhu swims left, to escape the turbulence and danger of the natural order.
The further he swims left, the less imminent the danger. He might finally relax in the water, even become playful. Yet, dangers still exist, and since he knows everything to the right becomes more threatening, he swims left.
And now the water is much calmer, still pulling but requiring very little effort to resist. Cthulhu might begin to impose his own design on the river, building a place to be seated by the bank or small dams to break the water. He will lose the exercise of those muscles which preserved him in the rapids, in favor of skills that enhance his pleasure and comfort in these less troubled waters.
New dangers await. Stagnant water harbors bacteria. His muscles have atrophied – if he wanders too far down river, he will surely drown. Other creatures compete for food, and even as the apex predator he can be overwhelmed by a mass of them. Moreover, there is an indescribable sense of discomfort, of not quite fitting in one’s environment, which the great beast cannot understand. That, quite simply, is that he was made to rule in stronger waters, to challenge himself, to conquer mighty forces.
Proceeding left has always brought him pleasure and comfort – progress – and so he swims further left.
The metaphor can continue, but it will become complicated, even convoluted – if it has not already, for your tastes. Let us look and see something.
There is a sense of melancholy about this metaphor, I think. That is, Cthulhu – the complete body of a human society – is never finally satisfied and safe. And someday he will die, his body carried along, ever more rapidly over the edge.
The human restlessness is such that it will want to challenge the rapids at times, but not for long. Wanting for some activity to challenge his mind and body, imagining even that his survival still depends on it, man swims ever Left, requiring that he impose his will more and more completely on reality.
Somewhere up the river, he thinks, is Utopia. Then he will be happy.
Now, “up” is correct, but the river is two-dimensional. The way out of the river is not upstream, but up, out-of-stream.
If this seems like nonsense, or incredible, or the perfect answer – welcome to religion. Religion is the pull of humanity up out of the river of this world. It is the third dimension, which might elicit these varied responses from two-dimensional creatures. One’s subjective response does not render it void.
Indeed, a properly ordered religion must position itself up, out of the river, and from that height throw down a rope. If Cthulhu – a human society – will grab it, he will be saved both from the dangers of the Left and Right. And it must be a strong rope, held up by a mighty arm.
We come to some paradoxes then.
If leftism is subjugation of the earth – the drive toward civilization, away from natural order – then isn’t more leftism equivalent to more civilized institutions and behavior?
If rightism is respect for the natural order, then isn’t more rightism a drive toward primitive living, before industry, science, and all the rest?
They seem quite the opposite.
That is, conservatives seem to prefer everything that happened in America from 1776 through the 1950’s, give or take a few years. Conservatives love ‘murica – liberals aren’t accused of that.
They prefer industry, they prefer making the most of all potent energy resources, they prefer capitalism and business, they prefer social traditions (very orderly, structured).
Liberals, for their part, are more closely associated with the back to earth movement, to doing what one feels, to giving the benefit of the doubt where certain practices go against the cultural grain.
They have been marching since the 1960’s, starting with the sexual revolution and gradually conquering the media, education, and politics. In many cases, they have undone what existed, rather than build new institutions. (Same-sex marriage is not a new institution – it is the loosening of an old one).
If this big idea is correct about leftism and rightism, we have already alluded to the next layer: Whatever leftism established a generation ago, rightism is now defending. Whatever leftism is pushing, no one wished for a generation ago.
There is yet another layer.
In America there is a Christian tradition, one inextricable from its founding. The Christian religion is properly ordered, so that it forms tight institutions, bright lines, and produces many goods on Earth.
For any progress to be made – and we are in the age of the Progressive – these institutions, this Christian grip on the structure of society, must be undone. The work of leftism, in this case, is to erase whatever may be attributed to the natural order, or to God, in favor of what man might do for himself.
It is, indeed, a push to subdue the earth. And men.
Meanwhile, modern rightism looks like a paradox, because it ought to be a drive toward the natural order – but it looks like a drive toward anachronistic technology and social structure, and filthy fossil fuels, and unjust wages.
Think of someone who is not conservative, if you want a true sense of rightism. Think of a reactionary.
Here is someone who quite seriously would reinstitute a monarchy (with all of its quirks and flaws) and restrict the vote, and champion the formation of socio-economic classes because …
That is what happens in the natural order. In nature, the fittest survive. The powerful get what they want first, and the weak receive the crumbs. If anything.
The natural order, you understand, is not about equality. The liberal push for equality is necessarily a synthetic effort, because men are not equal. And men are not equal to women in the natural order. And no beast is equal to a human in the natural order…and so on.
The conservative is only defending what your forebears installed. The reactionary looks at at fixed point further in the past, and identifies that as the true balance in human affairs.*
Christians will no doubt have observed something here: Original sin is a move to the Left. That is, the original disobedience of God was a play for power on the part of humans. Humans wished to subdue reality, and know it. Know it for what purpose?
“…then your eyes will be open, and ye will be as gods.”
It is enough to shudder. But!
As punishment, God brought down the natural order on humanity – hard. Women would suffer in childbirth, and man would raise produce only by the sweat of his brow. And all would die.
Natural death is the far end of rightism.
So, it is correct to say that the Old Testament is story upon story of humanity in dissonance with the natural order, and suffering greatly because of it. And God, by grace, and mercy and love, saving them.
The New Testament is widely seen – if not in these terms – as a move to the Left, and all of Christianity is sometimes mocked because of this transition.
But they should not spurn the transition so quickly. By Christ’s sacrifice, God gave humanity an escape from the extreme Right, which was NOT the extreme Left. It was neither, and both. Step back and see:
If you were a two dimensional creature, how could we begin to explain the third dimension to you? You would necessarily flatten all of our words and actions, so that you could understand them in your two dimensions. We could not really explain it at all.
And you would be right, and wrong. Mostly wrong.
That’s the role of Catholicism. At its best, and its core, it says to all the world – “Yes, but none of this is quite right. Look – you are going to live forever. Forever. Now, how does that change things here on Earth?”
It might make you more of a rightist. And more of a leftist.
But mostly, it would make a resurrectionist, with your eyes cast above you, which neither the left nor the right can comprehend.
* And again, chronology is not critical in and of itself – it is something of a tape measure, to let us know how far left we’ve come. The Reactionary might also push for things that are in the spirit of a monarchy, but have not ever existed. In that sense, if he is successful, the Reactionary is looking toward the future, through the past. Chronology is not strictly useful.
If, in the course of human events, we face threats on either side, how are we to avoid them both? How, if one is simply the consequence of existence, and the other is the consequence of striving to go on existing?
The next big idea: Religion is our salvation.
This idea is reflexively rejected by some, particularly in light of hyper-current events. Religious extremism – namely radical Islam – is on the rise, and it is hard to see how massacres in the name of Allah can be associated with the common good.
We are going to have to re-establish our removed perspective. Remember, you are an alien from another planet, or you are from the future. Observe the world as though it does not immediately threaten you, a state of fear which always distorts reality. Rather, view it as an art critic, or an economist.
Now: Even if a religion is false, it can be a net-benefit as long as it is properly ordered. What does this mean?
It means that, after some distance traveled to the left, in the name of buffering society from the natural order – that is, after a population has become civilized – a powerful social force is needed to prevent further drifting to the left.
It is needed because endless drifting to the left is the road to perdition. It eventually leads to destruction not by nature, but by man. It must be avoided just as arduously as destruction by nature.
That is why religion often appears to be a conservative force, because it is restraining the leftist impulse of civilized people. The paradox is that religion itself is a civilizing force on populations that are far to the right, still close to the natural order. In that way, it is also liberal.
One of the complaints today is that Christianity is outdated, regressive; one of the complaints about early Christians is that they cared about the pagan poor more than the pagans did.
That is essentially the same Christianity, appearing on both the right and the left of two given cultures. And this is why I have been fond of saying that Catholicism is neither conservative nor liberal – it is both, in exactly the right places.
So a properly ordered religion is that which will restrain a culture from going too far to the left, or the right, to the point of destruction. There is one other thing, which separates religion from ideology.
That is, that religion admits a realm beyond the natural. Ideology is a funny business, because it ostensibly is focused on this world, and the proper values and order that a society should have…but its promises are always unrealistic. Quite literally.
Religion, on the other hand, does not restrain itself with the natural realm. Religion sees through it, beyond it, to the essence of reality.
Yes, there is a world all around you – but where did it come from? Ideology hardly cares. Mythology barely cares. Religion cares deeply, out of all proportion to the natural or synthetic order.
That is precisely why it is vital to civilization. For a society to be sustainable, it must perceive its object as something bigger and better than mere survival, so that the effort of resisting the left and the right is worthwhile. Don’t believe me?
Take away religion, and all quasi-religions. This includes the Carl Sagan brand of scientism.
Do that, and you have nothing but nihilism. You have utter despair, loss of meaning and purpose, on a massive scale. Mere survival is not enough for the nihilist – indeed, they sometimes take their lives as a result of their nihilism.
With religion, society can achieve a kind of balance in tension between the two forces. It can even rotate after a fashion, so that it becomes more leftist in certain ways and more rightist in other ways. It may be that there is no permanent balance – but all that is needed is some balance.*
Further proof – GK Chesterton’s saying that unless man believes in God, he will believe anything. The critical point is that man must always believe something, because he cannot possibly know everything. We are always drawing lines of best fit. Even this series skips over a lot of details in order to present a working model…which itself is a map.
And that is enough to tie off that thread. From here, we will consider some of the ways in which Catholicism might participate in modern politics, as compared with the present status and view of religion in politics. Furthermore, I will attempt to offer a few applications of the big ideas in this series, which may be of some use.
**It occurs to me – and surely to the reader – that we could get into some geometrical imaging here. Perhaps a triangle…a trinity!
No, I’m not ready for that. Neither is the world.
“Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” – Joseph de Maistre
We come to explore why the series is called Politics..and Catholicism. (Sure, go for a James Lipton voice there).
Earlier I made reference to properly ordered religion. We will admit, for the sake of discussion, that a plurality of religions might qualify as properly ordered, even though they cannot all be 100% true.
We saw last time that the building and development of civilization just is a move to the left of the natural order. It is an attempt by a population of humans to buffer themselves against the unrelenting current of the natural order (such forces as entropy and predation, which is entropy at 4x speed). In so doing, a population can succeed so well that they are capable of swimming beyond stasis, further left, upstream.
This Cthulhu will do, unless there is some compelling reason (or force, or impulse) not to. Some restraint, some dissonance with the population’s experience and expectations against reality, perhaps. Or else some overwhelming incentive, worthy of abandoning the promises of swimming further left.*
Before stating the expected thesis…what is so bad about swimming ever to the left, anyway? Didn’t we say that way lies Utopia? Even if it is ever receding, doesn’t this indicate the desired and everlasting march of human progress?
(Perhaps you see a river in your mind, and a far-off horizon. The Utopia is exactly like the horizon, but it is so haunting and alluring – not almost spiritual, but actually so – that the emptiness of the horizon reflects a world where natural dangers are erased, and life is lived tranquilly, with perfect understanding of everything. Even the present feverish pitch of sexual fixation and exposure is suffocated and vanished, only a means to this godlike end. Yes, I have tasted and seen…)
The problem is two-fold, and unfolds like proofs for the existence of God. On the one hand, you have the historical account – every time we’ve tried Utopia, it ends in absolute disaster. Look to any revolution and the events that follow. It is easy to point to Stalin’s Soviet Union, but consider the “enlightened” French Revolution, when so many rationalists found themselves enraptured in a murderous frenzy.
On the other, it is a practical impossibility, which is why it so often ends in bloodshed. People cannot be depended on to act with perfect virtue, no matter what traits are called virtuous. You can call stealing good, or murder innocent – and people will violate them. In order to silence the signal of human discord and rebellion, those humans must be exiled…or exterminated.
It is not only discord, but it is also the human inability to completely comprehend everything, which is necessary for controlling all variables in an environment (including an artificial one). Ask a film director how difficult it is to make a movie exactly according to his vision – and then he has no control at all over the theater, or your living room.
Such a paradise cannot be achieved on this side of Glory. It is utterly opposed to Glory, moving ever to the left, where men are made into gods, and all the natural order is destroyed, terminating in the abyss.
In other words, that way lies irreversible damnation. Once walk through the gates – leave all hope behind.**
What shall it be, then? The primal, fearsome end of the natural order, which is death? Or the everlasting oppression of one man, or some men, dominating all the others, destroying that which conflicts with their designs?
Enter religion. And you thought they invented “Hell” just to scare you.
*Here we have an understanding why suffering typically provokes a move further to the left – over time a population will inevitably lose members. The reflex – not the reason, mind you – is to swim further away from the danger, not to live in harmony with it. Therefore, a wealthy country experiencing relative peace will come to find smaller and smaller losses as intolerable as the great losses it once suffered. If we have swum this far upstream, the rhetorical question goes, we can surely swim further and provide comfort/security/wealth to even more of our population.
**Yes, Hell is real.
Bring yourself back to the early days of humanity.
For all of us, even the experts, this is going to be a guess. There is a saying that the least educated person in a historical period is more an expert of his time than the best scholar today. This seems obviously true, and more true the more one thinks about it.
As little as we know about a culture within history, so much less do we know about a culture prior to history. The densest and most surely communicated channel just doesn’t exist – that of language.
The first human population had to be focused on survival (what else was there?) and build from there. Build what?
It appears that they built a system of the division of labor – hunters and gatherers – as well as migratory patterns in response to environmental stressors (eg. availability of food and weather patterns). All of these practices are very much aligned with the natural order – as far to the right as humans get, if you will. In fact, taken as pure concepts – which they surely weren’t in practice – you have virtually no subjugation of nature happening here. Rather, you have nature leading the dance, and human beings following her lead.
I say they surely weren’t pure concepts, because toolmaking in human predecessors dates back a couple million years. This would certainly be an imposition of human design on nature, the first small step in subduing the earth. Such artifacts are the earliest signs of leftism (if you will).
One might persist that innovations like knifes and spears simply brought humans onto a level playing field with their would-be predators. Indeed, other animals also demonstrate rudimentary toolmaking. Moreover, a spear is surely not a gun, which seems to give greater advantages to the human over the animal.
All such debate ends, then, with the dawn of agriculture. Somewhere between 13,000-11,000 BC, we find evidence of cultivation, even seedless figs! Farm animal domestication occurred around the same time, all of which enabled the development of permanent settlements.
This imposition of human design upon plants and animals, I maintain, is a leftist impulse. I am just a guy thinking, of course, you may call it whatever you wish. But I think you will begin to see some phenomena explained the longer you entertain this idea.
Now these are the first great leaps of humanity. Writing developed +/- 10,000 years later, and this enabled the communication across space and the transmission across time of incredible amounts of information. This accelerated learning and innovation, as there was a steady and growing foundation of information to build from.
Skip ahead +/- 3,600 years, and you have the printing press (notice the diminishing time between major advancements). Gutenberg’s invention is credited with all manner of advances, including a higher literacy rate, the faster spread of more information, and the wider spread of that information.
The more disparate innovations are shared, the more they accelerate innovation. One mind makes a leap forward; another observes it and has some mental door unlocked for him. He enters the next room and makes another leap forward.
Along the way, and directly related to these innovations, are advancements in science and technology. And these too, according to our earlier big idea, are leftist moves in human activity. Simple knowing – as in science – is arguably neutral, but you see how easily “and technology” follows.
And technology is certainly an imposition of human will on nature. Look around you! Subdue the earth, indeed.
These innovations occur in other areas of human endeavor, as well. We have not plumbed deeply at all, and I will scarcely mention such others – law, politics, economics, culture. They read like the headings of an old newspaper, things which might change over time, which people like to know about.
The sum total of these is what we call civilization. The impulse to impose our will on the existing order is a leftist impulse, while the impulse to accept and preserve the existing order is a rightist impulse. The leftist impulse drives toward utopia, which is always receding in the distance; the rightist impulse drives toward the natural order, which took us tens or hundreds of thousands of years to escape from.
We all know, in our basic instincts, that we prefer civilization, the imposition of human order, upon the natural order. But the natural order just is the ruling order – if you do not resist it, or build against it, you are pulled back into it.
Does any bridge or dam last forever, unattended? Have you ever seen a building which was abandoned 100 – even 20 – years ago? The natural order is always pressing on us, always driving on.
So, Cthulhu is ever watchful of that looming eventuality, and ever swimming left against the current to escape it. That just is what civilization is. As long as Cthulhu – the collective human population – desires this protection from the pure natural order, it must swim left.
But Cthulhu is not intelligent enough, being a great beast acting on drives and impulses, to know when it has swum too far to the left. Without some respect for the natural order – which is all we have, there is no other natural order – without some understanding of it, we do not understand how to order our civilization at all.
Remember, a constant and pure drive in only one direction is the road to destruction. You only have to choose your destroyer – nature to the right, humans to the left.
To avoid this, we need some corresponding power which holds civilization in tension, which honors the rightist impulse and respects the leftist impulse, and appropriately restrains them both. This we call religion.
Let’s take another important point: Everyone is rightist about certain things, and everyone is leftist about other things.*
To thoroughly embrace either rightism or leftism, to the exclusion of the other, is a form of inhumanity. Consider that the very first humans – indeed, one of the key ways we identify a hominid as human – were making tools.
A rock in the natural order is not a knife. But it can be subdued, fashioned for that human purpose. As soon as you start acting on any human design – anything not already found in nature before we arrived – you start acting on the leftist impulse.
This is not a sin. Conservatives, you will not lose your soul by admitting it. Indeed, conservatives are often innovators! …exactly because they are willing to be leftists in certain areas.
The converse is also true. Since Cthulhu – society – is always swimming left, yesterday’s liberals will often find themselves today’s conservatives. That is because they were fixed on some cultural norm – say civil rights – which was to the left of the mainstream culture. They were part of the push, the swimming to the left, until they accomplished their objectives.
Many of them, having pushed the culture left for their own ends, were surprised when the cultural momentum continued to the left – when sexual orientation and gender identity were added to civil rights – so that they soon found themselves more conservative than liberal.
There is even a name for this – neoconservatives. Nor should they lose heart. The shift does not mean they have gone to the dark side of politics. Rather, they were fixed on some objective good, which had a subjective relation to the culture. It didn’t matter whether the culture was to the left or the right of that good – they would have pushed for it either way.
Thus the…relative…futility of defining oneself as liberal or conservative. That ground is always shifting. So we will have a general idea of your positions today – but less idea tomorrow.
The truth is, if you tell me you are a Progressive or a Reactionary, I might have a better idea of your positions – because those are both off the map. They are not subject to the volatility of the present day. We know that they would have the map dramatically altered.
But a real human being will typically find themselves all over the map. Perhaps they have been to some remote corner of the landscape, and they can say with confidence that any modification to the map would be disastrous to travelers there. Or they might say the opposite, that the map needs to be modified, because everyone traveling there is getting killed.
More typically, they have visited a number of places themselves, and discerned where the map ought to be changed (so strict conservatism is false, for them) and where it really cannot be changed (so strict liberalism is false, for them).
Most typical of all, or so is my opinion – few have been anywhere at all. The map has afforded them the luxury of having an opinion without having the experience – the authority gambit. Here you have priests and pundits alike, soothsayers and celebrities, all of those who ply their trade in the immaterial. These types you tend to find more thoroughgoing in their leftism or rightism, seldom switching sides.
Perhaps we will return to them. You may wish to know why I would lump priests in there.
Where we really must go next is to the next important truth. Why civilization itself is the primary reason Cthulhu always swims left, and why an enduring civilization is one that finds itself held in tension – which is why religion will never go away.
*I might as well say everyone is conservative about some things and liberal about other things. But I want to shift into more precise language, because conservative and liberal are positions relative to some center, which could be almost anywhere.