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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The New Segregation(s) and the Path of Evangelization

So this is going to take a tortuous path. My brain works weird. But in nutshell, we’re discussing this:

Thomas Cole - 1836 - The Course of Empire 4 - Destruction

One hell of a party this has been. (Thomas Cole – The Course of Empire 4: Destruction)

And how to uncomfortably make it out alive. Let’s begin.

For one reason or another I’ve been watching the recent brouhaha around Vidcon. At this year’s conference, a certain wing of youtubers, the “skeptics” or “anti-SJWs” made their presence known. While overlapping a lot with what some would call the alt-right, the major hobby horse of these guys and gals is a rejection of at least the current trends in feminism and gender theory.

Scandal popped up in a few places, fed into by drama around a prominent feminist youtuber, Laci Green, “taking the red pill”, and things really hit the fan when another feminist youtuber, Anita Sarkeesian, called out one of her detractors in the audience in a manner unbecoming of a panelist discussing harassment. This fueled fire on both sides with each taking the moral high ground and it looks like the dumpster fire is only beginning.

Wasting time watching this trainwreck both on youtube and on twitter, I came across this little comment, put out by Anita:

Yes, this is from way back…

The comment gave me a lot of pause. First of all, I’m fully on board with gender-segregated classrooms, though probably for reasons Anita would find atrocious. Single-sex education keeps kids from obsessing so much about the sexual “other” and (ideally) moves socialization between the sexes to the purview of the family rather than the unsupervised hotboxes of hormones and social anarchy that are school “cultures”. Basically, segregating sexes would allow us to reform traditional gender roles. Not a feminist end.

But racial segregation? This comment had Anita’s detractor reminding her of certain historical circumstances in the US. Like Jim Crow.

I was at first tempted to agree with those detractors. Then again, you have places like Evergreen State College. Here the yearly celebrated “Day of Absence”, where the school’s population is separated by race to reinforce the importance of an integrated community, became a sort of raucous sit-in including the pseudo-hostage taking of the cooperative president. The activists were predominantly of the typical “SJW” crowd. This was basically voluntary segregation, with calls for the removal of all perpetrators of “the patriarchy” from places of public worship, er, practice. If anyone disagreed, their opinions were deemed invalid if they were “cis”, “white” and/or “male” – depending on who it was, of course.

This just seems ludicrous. Wasn’t much of the history of the 20th century about removing barriers between peoples – men and women, whites and black, gays and straights, rich and poor? We’ve done a messed up job of a lot of it, sure, but what’s currently going on smacks a lot of resegregating the populace, of upending much of this work.

Further, while there are definitely white supremacists all in favor of it, this appears to be primarily an impulse from within the minority (now or soon-to-be diverse majority?) communities – a silencing of those deemed to be the children of the oppressors, inheritors of their mantle in a panoply of forms.

This call for some form of societal segregation isn’t only a liberal phenomenon. On “my side” of things, there’s also Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option and its variations. In a nutshell, it is call for committed orthodox Christians to recognize that our society holds values hostile to our own and to create intentional communities which can act as “parallel poleis”. Many only see it as withdrawal, which to some degree it is, but it is also about building communities which can be founded upon perennial human virtues and Christian faith. It’s a form of self-segregation.

That final point about the Benedict Option, building communities around some shared values, points to why this call for new forms of segregation are arising not from without but from within these communities. There has been a fallout, a collapse of any central values in our society. We don’t have much of anything that binds us beyond sharing the public spaces. Thus these communities see little to seek to integrate into – and some see what’s left of the center as something they don’t want to integrate into.

Our lack of shared central values is made worse by the existence of many opposing values among the various communities. Radical Feminists seek to create cultures where womanhood is valued without reference to masculinity. LGBT communities seek to make sex and gender personal decisions and expressions with little reference to the social role of sexual relations. SJWs are looking to build societies where historically oppressed minorities become at least vocally dominant and rectify the sins of the historically oppressive majority.

On the other side of the coin, the “anti” communities, seeking to push against the above, often glorify freedom – freedom of speech (libertarian) or of inquiry (skepticism), though it really boils down to freedom of conscience, where conscience is understood as following what you believe is right no matter what. These folk tend not to coalesce as much as the above, save in response to the above. They don’t share a predominant value save freedom, but in recognizing that another is having their freedom trampled (even if this freedom is being used in defense of an opposed value – see the odd bedfellows of right-leaning atheists and theists) they have come together as a force against the above.

Then you have the traditional Christian communities, which were dominant less than a hundred years ago and are seeking to hold on to that dominance (moral majorities and the like). Their thesis is that Christian values, if not Christianity itself, needs to be the central core of society. Even those still in favor of the separation of Church and State, still believe that some non-denominational or even non-theist “natural law” need to be at the heart of things. (Of course, that this “natural law” comes from the Christian tradition is just a happenstance… right?)

Upshot: The core values of these communities, the thing which defines their worldview, are incompatible. Thus they are seeking to at best withdraw from the infidel, or to silence them, or even to remove them. We’re seeking to segregate.

I think this is especially important for Christians to recognize. Dreher and others are quick to point out that traditional Christians are on the cusp of experiencing persecution. This is true, but it’s not because of the rise of some new moral majority. There may be such a majority around an issue like gay-marriage, but the divisions in our culture are so great that Christians will be persecuted for little reason other than being one among the many warring factions that need to be purged or silenced to restore social stability. The segregation we’re seeing is the beginning of this warring.

While this is scary, it also points out the direction evangelization needs to go. Christianity, and especially Catholicism, cannot limit itself to being a personal preference. Neither can it claim only to be an aid to societal formation. Rather, it must vocally claim to be the source of perfected society. It needs to preach the Church.

This is something that’s been elided since Vatican II. The push to “open to the world” as many read Gaudium et Spes to direct made us believe that we no longer needed to be a society founded on Christ, but rather a (growing?) part of the societies founded upon other values – whether that be national identity, freedom, race, interests, political movements, what-have-you. The Church was no longer to be the foundation of society, but simply a (hopefully important) voice at the table.

There’s a slew of reason for this reading, some I’m sympathetic to, most I’m not, but I’m not going to get into them. What’s becoming clear is that there simply isn’t a stable table anymore. What the “openness to the world” failed to realize then and is probably failing to realize now is that the world is not stable.

The West has spent the past five hundred years denying the Catholic Church as its point of the stability and descending into violence because of it. The west has then spent the last three hundred years denying Christianity and descending into violence because of it. And now the world has spent the last hundred years denying God himself and descending into violence because of it. The experience now is the painful place of looking around at the rubble and wondering what makes the foundation of a society.

The Church needs to be able to say “I AM.” I make society. We need to recognize that the world, without Christ and His Church, falls inevitably into chaos and brutality, segregating itself into oblivion, stabilizing only by violent force. This is not a call to be that violent force (though a little bit of defensive militancy would not be uncalled for), but it is a call to triumphant trust in God, Christ, and His Church to bring about peace in this world – “thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” Seek souls, yes, but seek to make them one-of-us. Not just another atomized person who claims to follow some Galilean’s 8 step program.

We need to be the Church, in all it’s triumphal Glory.

I have some disagreements with him, but Christians wanting to recognize something of how to do this, of how to live in a way that takes seriously their tradition as a basis for society, should look at Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option. I’m finishing it up now and will have some comments in a week or so. It points the way out of this segregating oblivion, though not a comfortable one (there is no comfortable one).

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Comments On: A Wizard of Earthsea

I’ve read A Wizard of Earthsea before. I knew I had at least attempted to, but not until I finished the short book did I recognize that I’ve definitely read this before. Certain scenes came out of the mist of memory as I read them, placing them in contexts I had long forgotten. I think it’s a testament to something like maturing that I probably devoured this when I was younger and was left unimpressed by it and found myself absolutely mesmerized this time around.

Le Guin’s style is beautiful. She strikes this perfect balance of mythological rhythm with modern interior reflection and it sings. Her sentences are wonderfully wrought, packed with mysterious meaning in simple unadorned language, sounding like those of a bardic priest retelling the legends of old. The narrator never becomes lost in Ged’s head while keeping the story tight to his point of view. The world is explored in short asides which never pull from the action but paint a picture of world large enough to contain the mystery that gives the scent of verisimilitude. It’s a pleasure just to read.

The story of Ged is a simple one – a prideful boy, humbled by his own mistakes, and reclaiming his confidence by confronting them. There’s images of balance throughout, and one may be tempted to reading relativism. However, I think it’d be too on the nose to reduce it to that.

I’m far more tempted to read it as a man coming to grips with his own virile might (ha! I can hear many an SJW upset at this turn). Ged is powerful and this is clear from the get go. And with that power comes pride and a desire for fame. He’s not evil. Just a man wrapped up in himself. When this finally comes home to roost, it manifests in a literal fashion as he summons some sort of shadow being. Le Guin never delves into the nature of this thing, which makes it all the more terrifying and all the more meaningful. It clearly wants to possess Ged and he’s terrified of it doing just that.

This terror defines him for much of the book. He becomes a nicer person, yes. Far more humble and desirous of helping others. But still, there’s something pathetic about him. Any great feats he performs are all in the service of running from his shadow. And the shadow is hunting him and is more powerful than him.

Things change once Ged is directed to hunt the shadow. This is not a “do away with fear” thing, but a matter of confronting the fear. His fear becomes the very way he seeks it out – as he grows in fear, he knows he is approaching the shadow.

In the end, he doesn’t defeat the shadow. Rather, he names it. No one had been able to name the thing and some even said it had no name. Ged, though, names it. And it’s his own name. The shadow becomes a part of him and he has succeeded.

The shadow was born from his own prideful use of power and one’s tempted to read it as an avatar of his power. However, the power itself is not wicked. What Ged must learn in the course of this adventure is to confront his own power, his own capacity to do so much, both good and evil, and recognize it as himself. In this way, he is able to become one with his power, live in peace with his virile might.

I’m reminded of the Christian and Aristotelian tradition of the Cardinal virtues, especially fortitude. True fortitude is about the proper application of thumos – of spiritedness or anger. Ged begins the tale full, over abundantly full, of this thumos, but it’s all directed at serving himself. In seeing it misfire, he grows scared of it, scared it will possess and destroy him. Only once he confronts it, seeks it out to name it, does it no longer have power over him. He has perfected his fortitude, his command of thumos, in overcoming his fear for the good of peace.

It’s not an allegory the story demands – Le Guin’s not writing an explicit allegory – but the mythological quality calls one to not only enjoy the story but recognize eternal truths within.

Read this book. Incredibly short, beautifully written, and wonderfully insightful. Highly recommended.

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