So: in the West we have been liberated from bad old tradition. I'm old enough to remember when that meant a woman could pretend to be a man and a man could pretend not to be a pussy. Now it means that one can abandon male and female altogether, and identify with one of 37 or 63 or however many genders there are this week.
But why limit the number to 63? Aren't numbers just a conspiracy of the patriarchy? And why limit it to human? Why not follow your first principle where it leads, and acknowledge that there are no rational or defensible limits to who or what we are? I can be a panther or a god or a trolley car, and you can't stop me!
In other words, we are nothing, precisely. Humanness has no ground, no nature, no purpose. I am what I decide to be -- which begs the question of who "I" is anyway: where does this "I" get off deciding what I am? Who gave it the authority?
I was just reading this morning of how Castro had this authority over all Cuban beings:
Because we knew nothing else, because we were taught only one reality, Fidel came to embody not only the ideas of the revolution but also the nation itself.... All powerful, all seeing, he came to replace God at a time when the government declared the country atheist. Who needs God in the face of such powerful force?
.... [Castro] controlled what music we listened to, what books we read, what uniforms we wore, the length of men's hair, whether or not we communicated with our cousins in the U.S. (the euphemism for the US then was el exterior as if all that was ours and all that was good stood in juxtaposition to everything that happened outside that island, outside our revolutionary bubble).
But if we are nothing -- if there is no God -- what does it matter if Castro tells us who we are, or if some arbitrary voice inside us does?
You can see where this leads logically: the only way to defy all authority is to become completely crazy, such that every thought and action is random, unpredictable, and discontinuous. That is total freedom from any constraint. Surely no one would believe that, would they?
Think of anarchism, for example. "Anarchism does not offer a fixed body of doctrine from a single particular world view, instead fluxing and flowing as a philosophy." Well, no kidding! On what possible basis could it ever offer a fixed body of doctrine? That would remove the "an" from anarchism ("arch" having to do with order and hierarchy).
And then there was the whole 1960s zeitheist that grew out of the beat movement. I'd like to pretend I was never attracted to this nonsense, but that would be pretending. I read my Ginsberg, Kerouac, Kesey, and Burroughs. There is a reason why the Beat Generation lasted only one generation, though, since it is a completely unsustainable philosophy. You can have one generation of nihilists, but it ends there -- although the psychic damage will live on in any children who accidentally came out of it.
We're getting rather far afield this morning, aren't we? But as I mentioned yesterday, we'll eventually tie all of this together. Somehow.
Robert Nisbet (in Hollander) writes of being "confronted by the spectacle of seeking to escape from the very process of individualism and impersonality which nineteenth century rationalists hailed as the very condition of progress..."
In other words, history finally gives birth to the Individual, only to have these ungrateful individuals reject it on the grounds of being completely isolated from everything else. This is precisely where the romantic movement comes in: back to nature!
This impulse to eliminate the self and fuse with nature (or whatever) inspired everything from environmentalism to sexual liberation to the drug culture to the human potential movement. The basic idea is that the only thing standing between you and an ecstatic encounter with reality is you. Therefore, just annihilate this imposter, and you -- or what's left of you, anyway -- are assured a life of nonstop thrills.
Some younger readers may think I am exaggerating, but the Bob never exaggerates. I remember back in the mid-1970s, when the parents of a friend of mine got involved in the EST program. Not deeply involved, mind you. Rather, they attended a weekend seminar or two, which was the Thing To Do back then in California. "The purpose of the seminar was 'to transform one's ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself.'"
Okay whatever. In other words, it was an early example of some charismatic pneumapath Deepaking the Chopra for cash and other valuable prizes. What could go wrong?
I had intended to get into God's Gamble. Does God gamble? Einstein thought not: God doesn't play dice with the universe. Einstein was famously wrong on that score, at least insofar as quantum mechanics renders prediction and determinism impossible in principle.
But apparently -- or so we have heard from the wise -- God gambles on man. How so? Well, first of all, in giving him the gift of freedom. It is as if God is saying: I'll bet man doesn't misuse it!
The rest is history -- or prehistory, rather. No, before that even. For we are going in search of that very moment outside time when God placed his wager and (pre)man became (free)man.
To be continued...