“A man who has no claim to an imperial crown, does not grieve because he is not an Emperor”

So, theologically speaking, I’m more and more of the mind that the existential angst of modern man vis-a-vis matters of the afterlife for the non-baptized is due to the (foolish) collapse of the distinction between the natural and supernatural. This has screwed up our eschatology to the point that we can’t even speculate of a non-supernatural afterlife – a life where humanity enjoys a perfection of it’s natural powers thought does not participate in beatitude (limbo). Don’t even get me started on how the lack of a distinction has really limited our ability to look beyond the horizon of the natural – Can you define the Theological Virtue of Faith? How about distinguish between the Natural and Infused Virtue of Prudence?

Upshot – I like limbo as a speculative thought. Why can’t my afterlife have multiple worlds?

Sancrucensis

Man cannot attain to beatitude without the gift of supernatural grace. Therefore, he who dies in original sin is deprived of eternal life; but he is not, therefore and thereby, subjected to any sorrow or suffering. Not being proportioned to beatitude, he is incapable of enjoying it. He does not, however, suffer from the loss; because God rectifies his will, conforming it to His own, and taking from it the desire of that which is impossible to it. A man who has no claim to an imperial crown, does not grieve because he is not an Emperor. Neither does such a soul suffer any sensible pain. On the contrary, it is endowed with all perfection proper to human nature—such as the knowledge of all natural things, and even the contemplation, by means of creatures, of such as are Divine. It enjoys all the happiness which human nature can enjoy. Furthermore…

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On “Mastership” in St. Thomas

So, for those of you who weren’t aware of the full depth my anti-liberal, radical traditional (in?)sanity, I’m a monarchist. Man will again be truly free only after the last president is strangled with the entrails of the last revolutionary – well, maybe not strangled, but I may be okay with burning at the stake after hung.

It’s music to my hears to hear the lucidity of Thomas expounding this truth flowing from Aristotle through the Middle Ages up to the glories of the recent Papal Magisterium (good luck finding a non-rupturist denial of monarchy in Vatican II, Paul VI, John Paul II, or Benedict XVI – I continue my silence on the current, rightfully-elected, and blessed-by-God holder of the Petrine See).

See PJ Smith on the latest expounding of this beautiful font of truth: An addition to Felix de St. Vincent. And if you ever are in a mood for glorious political philosophy and theology check out the Josias, where all the cool integralist kids hang out. Seriously, put away that Alt-Right crap, stop with the red pill. Tradition. That’s where the edgy awesome is.

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Comic Books and Deconstruction

Jasyn Jones, aka DaddyWarpig, has done a fisking of Warren Ellis’ Planetary. I haven’t read Planetary or much Ellis, though I’m interested in doing so. Still, I want to make a few comments contra Jones on the nature of deconstructive works.

Let me first say that I’m by-and-large in his corner. The relentless nihilism and brutality-shock of the media he’s describing is something I heartily reject. That being said, the deconstructionist view of a lot of these works has merit. The merit’s just not in it being edifying fun (and that it’s peddled as such is a problem).

[For some background on what I mean by deconstruction, I recommend looking at the Nerdwriter’s video on Logan and Under the Scope’s video on Deconstruction in Anime.]

Let’s go through a few examples of deconstruction I do know and make some comments. I’m a fan of Moore’s Watchmen. It’s smart, it’s edgy, it offers fantastic food for thought. Moore is at the top of his writing game and Gibbons’ manipulation of nine panels a page still wows me with it’s complexity-in-simplicity.

However, the book is not edifying or fun (or at least it shouldn’t be). Moore’s basic philosophy is trash, the pessimism of power or people doing the right thing. The book is dark and grim and drags you through the worst of human filth. And the way it craps all over the only character willing to do the right thing no matter the cost is just messed up.

If someone like comics and superheroes, I would not recommend Watchmen (and am pained when it always is). It’s not a pure superhero book. It’s an attempt to analyze the worst aspects of power – power being a major theme of the genre – especially in a world where moral absolutes seem to be non-existent (and everyone knows such a world doesn’t exist…).

Now, a good reader-writer can use it like a grinding stone to offer a better look at heroism, offering a response to Moore’s pessimism. Still, that doesn’t make the work edifying. Good food-for-thought, definitely, but not edifying or fun.

There’s something similar to be said for the works of Mark Millar. I really like his Ultimates, mostly as a study on a world where heroes are government agents (the Avengers movies are Ultimates movies really). But there’s a lot messed up in those books’ reworking of the Marvel universe (rehashing the Hank Pym abuse stuff, bringing Cap to a dark place, etc.). I would be less remiss about recommending it, but at the end of the day it’s not really a pure superhero book. It’s attempting to deconstruct the genre to its core, but it doesn’t, by and large, get to that core.

Millar’s Red Son succeeds better. It’s a reimagining of Superman as a Soviet instead of an American hero. Superman is still the paragon of cultural ideals, but they just happen to be “Truth, Justice, and the Communist Way.” You also see a Batman who goes mad trying to dethrone this “benevolent” tyrant, a Wonder Woman devoted to said “benevolent” tyrant, and a Green Lantern whose will is forged in the crucible of a concentration camp. Millar tears these heroes down in smart ways, revealing a lot of profound points.

And he ends Red Son with a reconstruction – Superman recognizes his waywardness, Lex Luthor is able to bring about freedom, and the world becomes a brighter place (we’ll remain silent over Millar’s last page time-travel crap). He successfully strips down the heroes to show them at their heart, but it took some damaging work to get there.

Deconstruction has a point – to better place the tropes of a genre in new light. It should act as a challenge – stripping things down so that the heart of it can be put on a pedestal and cherished for what it is.

All this being said, the real problem isn’t the deconstructions themselves, but that these deconstructions, as deconstruction, are posited as “superheroes grown up.” At best, deconstructions are growing pains – writers trying to stretch the genre into a new level of maturity. Deconstructions are a puberty point for a genre. But puberty is not adulthood.

A lot of writers today fail to see this. There’s a fan-fictionish quality of a lot of writers today. They see the way to tear apart a thing, to paint it with something garrish and wallow in it. But they don’t actually bring this change they brought about to a maturity, a maturity which should reinforce the genre in new and surprising ways. We see the arrested development of the creative.

But the fans are also to blame for just wallowing in this, even praising it, rather than demanding something more edifying and properly fulfilling. I’ll let others talk about the proper divisions of fans, but at least the professional fans (the blogs, media outlets, commentators, gate-keepers, critics) are definitely co-conspirators in this arresting of creative development. They poo-poo the purer stuff which hold the seeds of real maturity and wallow in the fanfictionish-deconstructive stuff which hold back that maturity.

As an aside, I think this may have a lot to do with Alan Moore’s cold-shoulder to comic fans. Yes, the man may have written Watchmen, but he also wrote Tom Strong after. Tom Strong is very much a traditional “science and reason will save the day” hero, even a patriarchal figure in being a buffed up and protective Reed Richards. Perhaps his appraisal of today’s fans as desiring a “a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence” is in their inability to get beyond his juvenile work of deconstruction in favor of the more robust reconstruction he pointed to with Tom Strong. They need to stop stewing in the shock of tearing down and move on to the hard but fulfilling work of building up values and virtues.

My interpretation of Moore is kind of pseudo-psychoanalysis – I don’t think he commits to similar values and virtues to myself – but I find it hard to believe the man who wrote some of the greatest comics in the industry, even helped to bring them into and through the growing pains (others arrested the development), thinks comics are trash. Though he may think the fans are unworthy of what he’s done.

So summing up a response to Jones (you know, how I started this ramble): Maybe Ellis needs to be respected for what he’s doing; a deconstruction. Though prudence should have us see he’s doing nothing more than that, and so shouldn’t be praised beyond that. And maybe we need to take a cold hard look at the kind of things we’re finding “edifying”. There may be something wrong with us.

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Comic Books and AltRight Mythmakers

Alt-Right response to Modern Myths

I’ve been watching the progress of the Alt★Hero Project for the past half month. The brainchild of alt-right blogger, author, and publisher Vox Day, Alt★Hero is a response to the growing complaints of cultural and political leftism in Comic Books. I don’t plan on backing it, but I am interested to see if it actually completes and what comes of it. That it now includes Chuck Dixon, creator of Batman characters Bane and Stephanie Brown, gives it an air of legitimacy, but we’ll see what happens.

The biggest target by Alt★Hero and the other comic reactionaries is Marvel Comics, where there’s been clear shifts in their editorial decisions which skew toward the what many consider the left – emphasis on diversity, affirmation of non-traditional sexual mores, and feminist philosophizing characters being some of the biggest examples.

There’s a goodly part of me which sympathizes with the reaction – the traditionalist Catholic lacking an active party tends toward such enemy-of-my-enemy sympathies – but I have a hard time going in whole-hog. I had (and have) a similar problem with GamerGate and the Sad/Rabid Puppy phenomenon in the sci-fi book world. It tends to reduce the matter to “Ideology or Fun, and we choose fun”.

There’s a kind of anti-intellectualism here that I can’t abide. And it’s one which seems to ignore substantive ideology in favor of arousing and stewing in passions and desires.

What are Superheroes?

Part of Alt★Hero’s message is that it’s about a return to “old school comics”, when things were about storylines and not social justice. This isn’t honest.

The content of the ideology has been different, but superheroes have never been without ideology, and most of their strongest storylines are ways of exploring ideology. This is a feature, incidentally, it shares with the great science-fiction of the mid-20th century, and even the pulp era (Conon was as much fun-adventure story as it was Howard’s exploration of the Noble-Barbarian, Anti-Civilization myth).

Go through the superhero history to see it. In their first incarnations, superheroes were propaganda. Developed in the interwar period, they were originally symbols of the dominant American-Democratic way of life (Truth, Justice, and the American Way). Think Superman and Captain America.

In the mid 20th century, they also took on our developing consciousness of the powers of science and the breadth of the cosmos. Think of the reboot of the Flash, the Green Lantern, and the introduction of the Hulk. The stories also took on countercultural aspects. The X-Men became a fable of minority struggles. Green Arrow took on matters of economic social justice. And it was quite easy for a medium depicting attractive men and women in form-fitting costumes physically sparring to be co opted by the sexual revolution (I bemoan it, but it happened and is with us to this day).

They also lend themselves to savior complexes. Superheroes can be defenders of the righteous, protecting citizens from those who wish to destroy all that is good and wholesome. They can also be those who free the oppressed, raise up the down-trodden, and face down the enslaving overlord. So both loyalists and revolutionaries.

And what may make them such great symbols of these ideologies, most superheroes come from the liminal horizon, being both of the society and outside of it. This is the great contradiction in a vigilante figure like Batman, or the man of two worlds in the case of Superman or two times as in the case of Captain America. The heart of the X-Men drama is whether they are just a unique form of man (Xavier) or a new form of transhuman (Magneto).

Alt★Hero, Ideology, and Indulging in Passions

Projects like Alt★Hero, at least in its rhetoric, doesn’t want to admit this complex relationship with ideology. It wants to pretend there was some edenic point in comic history where only pure story existed – and this story was mostly about awesome fun.

Which is where I really have a problem with most of the Alt-Right efforts at making artifacts of culture. While it ostensibly appeals to older values – gender roles and norms, the “nation-state”, personal liberties and rights – it’s rhetoric always involves primarily a kind of bombastic deification of sensual desires. This is present through-and-through in the meme culture of the Alt-Right – outrage feeding, lulz inducing, Deus Vult intensifying, the whole run of it. It’s also present in a lot of the culture’s use of the image of women – the more they excite the red-blooded male the better. See some of the boilerplate around comic artist Frank Cho.

In Alt★Hero, this problem is embodied in a character like Rebel. We know nothing about her powers, history, or personality. What we do know is she wears daisy-dukes, a Confederate flag top and mask, and likes washing her mustang in a bikini.

She’s reduced to an image of sex, plastered over with national pride, thrown into the face of the “enemy”, and then praised with the laughter of her creators and fans. Alt★Hero’s plans for her in their cosplay goals already make clear she and other female figures, wrapped in old-timey symbols, will be the face of the series. It’s an opportunity to indulge the passions and just soak in them.

And that’s what most of the alt-right cultural reaction (GamerGate, Sad/Rabid Puppies, Alt★Hero) seems to always come back to. They do profess an ideology, but one which skews toward the no-nothing in favor of indulging in passions and deifying desires.

“Let us enjoy what we want to enjoy.” “Cultural recreations influencing morality is BS.” “Get your Social Justice out of here!” “Story not ideology!” “Fun, not propaganda!”

It’s sex that’s the biggest flashpoint (as it apparently is for everything today), but it’s not only in matters of sex. We indulge in violence to an unhealthy degree. We give ourselves over to passions at a moment’s notice. We laud the sensibly astounding over the profoundly quiet. These are not new problems, but giving into them and defending them is not the way forward.

Of course, the smartest among the movement try to put a better veneer on this. They try to affirm that they believe in things like the sublime and beautiful (and then back it up with pictures of wow-cool violence and woah-hot gals). They believe in Christianity (and then run to a lowest-denominational moralism). They affirm the values of the West (though fail to give a substantive definition beyond romantic pining – a wide problem among AltRighters and Conservatives).

In general, the intellectual defense of the movement is a hot mess.

I will give Alt★Hero’s vision its due. It and a lot of the work around Castalia House, Vox Day’s publishing arm, are attempting to foster confident new mythmakers. These mythmakers are incredibly important today. We need stories which affirm the values eroding around us. We need stories which give hope and courage to those who must live in this time of tribulation. We need stories which honor peaceful beauty, which illuminate self-sacrifice, and embody the virtuous. Stories which order man to the Common Good.

What we don’t need are stories, videogames, and comic books which leave men in their own disordered passions and desires. And that’s where I think most of the Alt-Right cultural reaction in all its variety of forms is leaving us.

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On Penance and Prayer

My mother had a friend ask how prayers given in confession could be considered penance. I wrote this up and figured it might do good to have it floating around in space. A thought-starter if nothing else.


When we think of penance, we often first think of “something I don’t like.” We’ve been conditioned to believe that penance, for it to be penance, must be something we don’t like. For those with a philosophical background, this is the legacy of (an arguably degenerate) Kantian Ethics, a predominant secular ethical theory of the last centuries.

In truth, penance is first and foremost about the restoration of justice, the making up of some wrong. This need not be an unpleasant experience. In fact, the heart which is truly formed in the Good will find the restoration of justice to be a delightful experience. This is the experience of absentmindedly bumping someone in the hallway and, in penance, helping them pick up the things they dropped – one, if he is good, does so joyfully even as he apologizes in sorrow.

Penance can be, secondarily, painful because it involves the reorienting of our self away from a sin to which we are attached. If we steal a book, returning it is penance. The restoration of justice entailed in the act should be a pleasant experience, but for the thief habituated (attached) to fulfilling his desires indiscriminately it will be painful. For one who is attached to any sin, the detachment will be painful. Those who have gone through this effort (the Saints and holy men and women of the Church) will affirm the sweetness of it – though usually only after the fact and a time of great pain.

The penances we are given after confession must be understood in this context. Often we are given prayers. These need not be painful or unpleasant, especially for those making good regular confessions. Each prayer is an offer for one to move deeper into conversion to Christ, to participate in Christ and the Church’s restoration of eschatological justice, justice involving not just the here and now but all things.

While it is imprudent to do so without guidance from a Spiritual Director, one may take on more “unpleasant” penances for a variety of integrated reasons – detachment from sin, reparation for sin, union with Christ. These, though, to be truly perfect, must be experienced as sweet. The Saints who took on such penances did not complain of them and were not repulsed by them. They had achieved a sanctity which allowed whatever was distasteful in these penances to be overshadowed by the great sweetness of seeking out God through them. Again, such actions, under ordinary circumstances, should not be taken on save under Spiritual Direction.

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Comments on Last Jedi trailer

The latest Star Wars trailer hit. And I’m not so much underwhelmed (it actually does a damned good job of plucking the heartstrings), as I am crying inside over its direction.

I have old drafts of a post about the odd interconnection of liberalism, nostalgia, and Star Wars. Hopefully I’ll clean them up and post them. Today, I mostly want to rift off this piece by an online buddy: Heroes, Failures, and The Force Awakens.

Kestutis outlines how The Force Awakens undoes most the character work in the original trilogy. The members of the big three we see – Han and Leia – have in many ways failed to progress as characters, to become more than what they were.

In the case of Leia, she’s gone back to being a rebel leader – she has apparently given up on devoting her life to political development or has taken on the mantle of uprooter of all remnants of the empire. Either way, she’s still just the same character she was in the movie. Perhaps she’s now a general rather than a princess, but that’s a demotion in my book.

In the case of Han, we get an even uglier picture – he’s gone back to being a smuggler. Instead of just being stagnant, as is the case with Leia, he’s actually regressed. Not even the roguish rebel general he had become by Return of the Jedi, he’s back to being selfishly neutral and isolationist.

Now you can say all you want about the loss of Kylo, but family drama is old-hat to these guys. Leia’s father was the right hand of the empire, tortured her for information (twice), cut off her brother’s hand, and ultimately tried to turn same brother to the dark side. This should have been weathered differently.

Or maybe it shouldn’t have been? Maybe there was something involved in Kylo’s conversion to the dark side that sent everyone into a spiral of depression in which they undid any and all character development to return to their pre-Original Trilogy selves. If there was, we aren’t shown it (niether on screen nor through some implicit discussion), but are instead told it through Leia and Han’s Yo-Yo relationship (which is another sign of this weird stagnation – back to “are they or aren’t they?”). And if JJ Abrams is to believed, he has little idea either. We’ll see if Rian Johnson fills this in. I’m not holding my breath.

From the latest trailers, it seems we’re only getting a continuation of this character-undoing from Luke. “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” This is the man who refused to believe his father, slaughterer of jedi, enforcer of the emperor, and killer of children, was beyond redemption. This is the man who had achieved a great sense of inner peace with the force. And now he’s some paranoid hermit?

“Let the past die. Kill it. If you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.” These are Kylo’s words in the trailer, words of a man who is devoted to the legacy of Vader and is “tempted” by the light (whatever that means beyond being grimdark-cool). But I think they are a perfect fit for the at least implicit ideology of the Star Wars creative heads. I’m not so sure it’s malicious, but most everything they’ve done has had at least a whiff of trying to kill the old trilogy in one way or another to tell some new tale.

And truth be told, I’m not one who finds the new tale terrible. I’m actually interested to see where Rey goes. I like Kylo as an adversary – a passionate and petulant foil to Vader’s calm and cool menace. I like Rogue One as a war story with Star Wars aesthetics. What I don’t like is the way the story feels it needs to tear down what came before to build upon its rubble. Especially when what it’s building appears more and more to be in stark contrast to what came before. See the first trailer for Last Jedi and it’s embracing of “Balance of the Force” being equality between light and dark. See Rogue One’s footsie with moral relativism.

These are not more “adult” stories. They are the stories of either overgrown children, lost in their passions, or decadent and lazy old men unwilling to take on the responsibilities of their age.

I’m more than willing to eat humble soup (and will relish it!) if the series ends up saving itself, but I have less and less faith in its current creative team.

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Some Comments on Metaphysics and Societies

I’m a big fan of Ross Douthat. In matters prudential, we’re often on opposing sides (I’m crazier), but he, better than a lot of Conservative Catholics™, is willing to inhabit the confusing existential crisis zone where one recognizes that modernity is both baked into our DNA and is on the brink of collapsing. What such a collapse will mean for the aforementioned DNA is anyone’s guess.

His recent comments on major figures in the French Négritude movement point to the groping attempts in understanding the matter. They ring somewhat with my comments on our segregating society – not one-to-one, but inhabiting the same thought space. The question is how we live as a united society while recognizing that we are made of differing societies.

This gets me thinking about a metaphysical question plaguing philosophers throughout history – the unity/plurality of being. In a nutshell, we say things ‘are’, that they have being. However, we also say things are different because of what they are. An apple is different from a chair (an apple is not a chair) because an apple is an apple and a chair is a chair. These are common sense statements, but once you start poking at them things get very complicated.

Two errors can quickly appear. One can say that being is the same in all things – chair, apple, animal, human, angel, God. Thus, it is only the appearance which is different. We call this Monism. Such thinking gives rise of pantheism – all things are God because all things are the same thing. On the other hand, you can say all things are absolutely different – there is nothing the same about the apple and the chair. This we call Radical Pluralism. Reality is just a bunch of disconnected chunks without some real underlying harmony. Any harmony we see is simply foisted upon it by man.

There’s an analogy (Thomists, I’m getting to it…) to the way the political questions are stirring about. Is humanity fundamentally the same across all locales? Can we expect the same sorts of basic values and practices to dominate across the board? This tends to be the assumption of a lot of elite globalists and cosmopolitans, believing in some sort of universalism of values with only the appearance of difference in food and dress.

Or maybe humanity is fundamentally different? Maybe there is no possible unity of culture, society, and tribe? Maybe we are all so radically different that our first, and maybe only, loyalty is to our own nation? This is the rhetoric of those like Trump in America and the various nationalisms in Europe. It basically leads to a kind of universal isolationism, where political relations are only made for self-interest.

In addressing the philosophical problem, a solution was articulated by Thomas Aquinas in declaring that being is present throughout creation analogically. God is all being. All other things participate in varying fashions and degrees in that being. Thus a bird manifests only one way of being while a dog another. Further, certain beings manifest more of being than another – God is the plenitude of being, man less than God, and animal less than man, down the chain to particles which participate so minimally in being they are almost completely indeterminate – talk to a particle physicist about what a particle is and prepare for some interesting answers.

Key to this, though, is the recognition of some plenitude of being. This is called God, though the astute observer will recognize that this God is not necessarily the God of the bible. This is the God of the philosophers. The important point is that all creation shares in what God is, being, though in different ways and different degrees.

Our political structures of the past worked in just such a framework. There was a political ideal which contained the plenitude of being, often portrayed in eschatological visions like the Jerusalem Above, and every society was to conform itself as much as possible in the concrete to that political ideal. As no finite being could manifest the plenitude of the infinite, and thus would be different from other finite beings, so societies would as well. However, as all beings were still measured against the plenitude of being (thus morality is that which is in conformity with being), so societies, even though different in the concrete, must be united in their proportional and diverse conformity to the political ideal.

Christendom manifested this. France, England, Spain, Italy, the German kingdoms, these were all wildly diverse, though remained united in their commitment to living in conformity with the heavenly Jerusalem. This unity of ideal was manifested in the religious sphere by the episcopal union around the Pope and the political sphere by the regnal union around the Holy Roman Emperor. This continued in those later neo-imperial attempts of the post-revolutionary period (e.g. French, British, American) – colonies would be conquered and be brought into conformity with the new ideals (either in culture or in political form).

Going back to Douthat’s piece cited above, the struggle one sees in the declining west is one where we are struggling to define what that political ideal is. The past 300 years (and arguably only the past 50) have been the first time in history we’ve attempted to do this in radically and purely secular terms. We’ve banished God. Have we also banished the plenitude of being, that which protects the analogical way of unity that was manifest in Christendom and its warped successors?

That most every recent attempt at bureaucratic unity has failed when founded on secular ground and with that especially long lasting experiment called history almost ignorant of such secularity… It makes me think this whole banishing of God thing is only a form of ritual societal suicide.

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