Friday, May 26, 2017

Ways to Entertain a Six-Month-Old

Entertainments Generally Acceptable to the Infant:
(assuming proper safety measures are in place)
Exercise with funny sounds
Exercise with funny objects in hands
Exercise with funny baby in hands
Movement is good, mom!  Let’s move all the places all the time!!!!
Bathroom cleaning
Any cleaning
Killing bugs
Mozart concertos on the piano
Beethoven bagatelles on the piano
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star one handed on the piano with baby accompaniment
Anything on the piano if it takes less than thirty minutes
Singing hymns
Singing Puccini
Singing Patty Cake
Rosary (out loud on the floor)
Mass (out loud on the floor)
Anything that is loud and on the floor
Did I mention the floor?  People, just get on the floor!  Everybody, on the floor or I shall wail!

Entertainments Not Generally Acceptable to the Infant:
Research on computer
Writing on computer
Reading news on computer
Emailing on the computer
Facebook on the computer
Don’t even look at your magic black talkie hand-box, lady!

I would happily embraced the concept of Luddite baby who makes me a better person through denying my access to soul-sucking technologies (oh, such excellent genes this child has! look at him reactioneering all over the place—the floor; I mean the floor—returning things to the chaotic state of nature …).  Except there’s one more thing my baby won’t let me do, which puts a whole ’nother complexion on the matter, namelich:


I think my baby wants me to be illiterate?  Solidarność?

Homeschooling is going to be so much fun.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Further Considerations Regarding Anger and Appetite

After more consideration of my query regarding Trump’s putative Shakespearianforbearers—if he took my (imaginary) Buzzfeed-style, PaulCantor-authored quiz, would he be Antony (eros) or Coriolanus (thumos)?—I have come to the tentative conclusion that he would be Coriolanus.

So yes, this is properly not an Unanswered Question post—
consider it more of a Tentative Answer post.

Hear me out, mon frères, because I know you’re shaking your heads; and remember that this is a dichotomous query: there’s no third box for Trump, to elevate or debase him beyond the given options.  After all, what is the internet about if not oversimplification in the interests of entertainment?

Trump’s great flaw, most people agree, is his ego; speaking on the bright side, his self-confidence is his greatest asset.  More specifically, he is braggadocious.  He wants to be seen as huge.  This contrasts one aspect of Coriolanus’s character—after all, the desire not to show off, not to be praised, is pivotal in the plot of Shakespeare’s play (as it was in Shakespeare’s source: Plutarch’s life of Coriolanus).  But as anyone who knows the play well will recall, Coriolanus’s modesty is actually a form of humble bragging: he doesn’t want to show off before the plebs because he thinks himself above even their praise.

Now obviously, that’s not Trump’s issue.  He does not seem to see himself as above, or above wooing, those who voted him into office.  But the very way he courted them, in loud, expressive terms, along with his avowed tendency to fight back at anyone who resists him, is thumotic.  And recall too that the great scandal of the presidential race for Trump involved bragging about being able to do something, and in a scenario were such bragging would increase his reputation.  Even his eros has thumos.

In contrast, consider his erstwhile opponent, Mrs. Clinton, and her husband, the former president.  The accusations against them have usually involved coverups of one sort or another, and coverups generally designed to conceal acquisition: of money, oftentimes; and for the former president, of affairs as well.  Their tendency to grasp—again, I am flattening everything to fit this dichotomy—is, in the broad sense of the words used here, erotic.  Their gods live mostly in their bellies.  Trump’s lives mostly in his chest.

That’s not a judgment about the morality or immorality of either, or a comparison of who’s worse or which ring in Dante’s hell they would go to (or, please God and allowing for deathbed conversations and all that, what respective rings on Mount Purgatory they’d find themselves on).  It’s simply an observation by a writer who tries to see things schematically: who likes to get the big washes of color down before filling in the details of the portraits that make people interesting, and (for better and for worse) human.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Saints Also Belong to Their Times

I am rereading St. Francis de Sales’s Treatise on the Love of God (which, by the way, I recommend to anyone who has or can muster a tolerance for flowery language).  The circumstances of my first reading are somewhat shrouded by the mists of time, but I think it must have been about the period when I started graduate school.

No, it hasn’t been that long; it just feels that way.

Graduate school certainly has had its effect, however; for the preface and first chapter, which I remember finding a bit dull, proved “quite the opposite, in fact.”  The more you know, the more you catch.  This time, two things struck me, both on a purely secular level, but both having perhaps spiritual morals (if I may so speak).

The first was the following passage:

Soon afterwards his Highness came over the mountains, and finding the bailiwicks of Chablais, Gaillard and Ternier, which are in the environs of Geneva, well disposed to receive the Catholic faith which had been banished thence by force of wars and revolts about seventy years before, he resolved to re-establish the exercise thereof in all the parishes, and to abolish that of heresy, and whereas on the one side there were many obstacles to this great blessing from those considerations which are called reasons of State, and on the other side some persons as yet not well instructed in the truth made resistance against this so much-desired establishment, his Highness surmounted the first difficulty by the invincible constancy of his zeal for the Catholic religion, and the second by an extraordinary gentleness and prudence. For he had the chief and most obstinate called together ,and made a speech unto them with so lovingly persuasive an eloquence that almost all, vanquished by the sweet violence of his fatherly love towards them, cast the weapons of their obstinacy at his feet, and their souls into the hands of Holy Church.

And allow me, my dear readers I pray you, to say this word in passing. One may praise many rich actions of this great Prince, in which I see the proof of his valour and military knowledge, which with just cause is admired through all Europe. But for my part I cannot sufficiently extol the establishment  of  the  Catholic  religion  in  these  three  bailiwicks  which  I  have  just  mentioned, having  seen  in  it  so  many  marks  of  piety,  united  with  so  many  and  various  acts  of  prudence, constancy, magnanimity, justice and mildness, that I seemed to see in this one little trait, as in a miniature, all that is praised in princes who have in times past with most fervour striven to advance the glory of God and the Church. The stage was small, but the action great. And as that ancient craftsman was never so much esteemed for his great pieces as he was admired for making a ship of ivory fitted with all its gear, in so tiny a volume that the wings of a bee covered all, so I esteem more that which this great Prince did at that time in this small corner of his dominions, than many more brilliant actions which others extol to the heavens.

It’s a beautiful bit of prose, and a lovely little tribute to … well, if I’ve got my dates right, King Henry of Navarre.  Yes, that’s right: the dude who was reviled in England for becoming Catholic when he ascended (in order to ascend?) the throne of France, reportedly observing that Paris was “worth a Mass.”  (Talk about Machiavellian ragione di state!)  He also, of course, in his younger Huguenot days, narrowly escaped the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.  As Catholic king, he extended toleration to Protestants and (wait for it) was assassinated by a fanatical Catholic.  Apparently some people called him “Good King Henry.”  Who knew?  St. Francis, at any rate, seems to have thought his conversion sincere.  And no: it probably wasn’t royal boot-licking on St. Francis’s part, because Henry had been assassinated six years earlier, in 1610.  (The Treatise was published in 1616, the year of Shakespeare’s death.)

In any case, St. Francis notes his previous tendency, “while I was not yet bishop, having more leisure and  less  fears  for  my  writings,” to dedicate his works “ to  princes  of  the  earth,” avowing a new intention:

but  now  being weighed down with my charge, and having a thousand difficulties in writing, I consecrate all to the princes of heaven, that they may obtain for me the light requisite, and that if such be the Divine will, these my writings may be fruitful and profitable to many.

There’s the Renaissance for you: patronage, independence, and the reformation of one’s life in a few short paragraphs.

The second thing I noticed was the way in which the first chapter rung changes on common themes in Renaissance culture: paradox, order, the macrocosm/microcosm, beauty as a telos … To make a comparison for modern readers: It would be like a priest today mounting the pulpit to deliver an opening salvo dealing with Minimalism and Karma. St. Francis is trendy, in a sixteenth-century sort of way.

Since it’s Sunday, and you may be in want of a good sermon, I’ll just leave that complete first chapter right here.

“That for the Beauty of Human Nature God Has Given the Government of
All the Faculties of the Soul to the Will.”
Union  in  distinction  makes  order;  order  produces  agreement;  and  proportion  and  agreement,  incomplete and finished things, make beauty. An army has beauty when it is composed of parts so ranged in order that their distinction is reduced to that proportion which they ought to have together for the making of one single army. For music to be beautiful, the voices must not only be true, clear, and distinct from one another, but also united together in such a way that there may arise a just consonance and harmony which is not unfitly termed a discordant harmony or rather harmonious discord.
Now as the angelic S. Thomas, following the great S. Denis, says excellently well, beauty and goodness though in some things they agree, yet still are not one and the same thing: for good is that which pleases the appetite and will, beauty that which pleases the understanding or knowledge; or, in other words, good is that which gives pleasure when we enjoy it, beauty that which gives pleasure when we know it. For which cause in proper speech we only attribute corporal beauty to the  objects  of  those  two  senses  which  are  the  most  intellectual  and  most  in  the  service  of  the understanding—namely,  sight  and  hearing,  so  that  we  do  not  say,  these  are  beautiful  odours  or beautiful tastes: but we rightly say, these are beautiful voices and beautiful colours.
The beautiful then being called beautiful, because the knowledge thereof gives pleasure, it is requisite that besides the union and the distinction, the integrity, the order, and the agreement of its parts, there should be also splendour and brightness that it may be knowable and visible. Voices to be beautiful must be clear and true; discourses intelligible; colours brilliant and shining. Obscurity, shade and darkness are ugly and disfigure all things, because in them nothing is knowable, neither order, distinction, union nor agreement; which caused S. Denis to say, that “God as the sovereign beauty is author of the beautiful harmony, beautiful lustre and good grace which is found in all things, making the distribution and decomposition of his one ray of beauty spread out, as light, to make all things beautiful,” willing that to compose beauty there should be agreement, clearness and good grace.
Certainly, Theotimus, beauty is without effect, unprofitable and dead, if light and splendour do not make it lively and effective, whence we term colours lively when they have light and lustre.
But as to animated and living things their beauty is not complete without good grace, which, besides  the  agreement  of  perfect  parts  which  makes  beauty,  adds  the  harmony  of  movements, gestures and actions, which is as it were the life and soul of the beauty of living things. Thus, in the sovereign beauty of our God, we acknowledge union, yea, unity of essence in the distinction of persons, with an infinite glory, together with an incomprehensible harmony of all perfections of actions and motions, sovereignly comprised, and as one would say excellently joined and adjusted, in the most unique and simple perfection of the pure divine act, which is God Himself, immutable and invariable, as elsewhere we shall show. God, therefore, having a will to make all things good and beautiful, reduced the multitude and distinction of the same to a perfect unity, and, as man would say, brought them all under a monarchy, making a subordination of one thing to another and of all things to himself the sovereign Monarch. He reduces all our members into one body under one head, of many persons he forms a family, of many families a town, of many towns a province, of many provinces a kingdom, putting the whole kingdom under the government of one sole king. So, Theotimus, over the innumerable multitude and variety of actions, motions, feelings, inclinations, habits, passions, faculties and powers which are in man, God has established a natural monarchy in the will, which rules and commands all that is found in this little world: and God seems to have said to the will as Pharao said to Joseph: Thou shalt be over my house, and at the commandment of thy mouth all the people shall obey. This dominion of the will is exercised indeed in very various ways.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sherwood Forest and Other Endangered Regions

Part five in a series.  Read the first four parts here, here, here, and here.

It should be evident, from my previous posts in this series, that I consider our modern cultural obsession with consent to be problematic.  The problem is not insistence on consent: that is, or should be, a no-brainer.  The problem is that consent has become an obsession while other important things fall by the wayside.  In obsessing over what I’ve called consent (which might also be termed “choice,” were that term not already appropriated), the modern mind marginalizes decent stories (Passengers) while lauding silly ones (LaLa Land).  More seriously, the modern mind marginalizes decent people’s decent behavior, reacting to it with the same sort of furor which truly outrageous behavior deserves (see the previous post in this series).  And all of these mini-furors tire the public mind, to the detriment of real people who suffer real things.

Less seriously but closer to home: as a literary scholar I suspect that the modern obsession with consent makes it nearly impossible for many critics to read old works with anything like a sympathetic eye.  I’m not even speaking of the distant past—heaven help Shakespeare—I’m thinking of Olivia de Haviland’s poor Maid Marion in The Adventures of Robin Hood, and how her eventual capitulation to the eponymous hero’s wooing would be deconstructed; or (to give an example which has already availed the internet of many a field-day) of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”  That latter is admittedly a fuzzier case; but we are fast approaching a place where people will no longer be able to tell the difference between Persuasion and a certain trilogy whose protagonist operates under the ironic name “Christian”—simply because the former involves a military man who once upon a time tried to persuade the (obviously shell-shocked!) heroine to marry him.  I haven’t read this particular instance of critical fantasy yet, but I am certain the day when I shall encounter it approaches apace.

Probably right after someone describes Dean Martin’s
“Let Me Tell You ’Bout the Birds and the Bees”
as an instance of mansplaining.

But I’ve wasted far and enough ire on instances of the problems inherent in putting all our eggs in the consent basket.  How do we (culturally) dig ourselves out of the hole?

The only real answer is that the entire cultural mindset would have to shift towards a fuller understanding of love and interpersonal relations in general.

I gotta dream … I gotta dream …
Like everybody else I gotta dream!

Baring that, an intellectual understanding of what truly diminished consent entails is the most powerful (and perhaps the only) defensive tool that comes to mind.

What would diminished consent actually look like?  I think it is helpful here to consider Aquinas.

Yep, it’s almost always helpful to consider Aquinas.

Specifically, Aquinas’s intellectualist account of how human beings act sheds some light on the problem.  In the Summa (II.I.6.4, “Whether violence can be done to the will?”), Aquinas explains that

As regards the commanded acts of the will, then, the will can suffer violence, in so far as violence can prevent the exterior members from executing the will's command. But as to the will's own proper act, violence cannot be done to the will.

The reason of this is that the act of the will is nothing else than an inclination proceeding from the interior principle of knowledge: just as the natural appetite is an inclination proceeding from an interior principle without knowledge. Now what is compelled or violent is from an exterior principle. Consequently it is contrary to the nature of the will's own act, that it should be subject to compulsion and violence: just as it is also contrary to the nature of a natural inclination or movement. For a stone may have an upward movement from violence, but that this violent movement be from its natural inclination is impossible. In like manner a man may be dragged by force: but it is contrary to the very notion of violence, that he be dragged of his own will.

Two principles can be taken from Aquinas’s account of the will as suggested in this passage.  First and most obviously, Aquinas calls involuntary those cases where a person is physically prevented from doing what they want to do, or physically forced into doing what they do not want to do (e.g., to use an innocuous example, being tickled while not wanting to laugh).  Second, and more to the present purpose, Aquinas sees all acts of will proceeding from knowledge.

This sounds commonsensical: we can only act on the information that we have.  We can only decide to drink or not drink the glass of water if we know that the glass is there, that it has water in it, that water is drinkable, that our throat is unblocked, etc.—a great many things that we might not actively think about, but which we nonetheless know at least in the background of our consciousness, and which (upon reflection) we discover are essential to our choice to drink this glass of water here and now.

Returning principle in hand to the problem of consent, we can further apply Aquinas’s insight to the problem in the form of a new principle, as follows:

Setting aside situations where physical force is used, one consents to a proposal or action only if one has sufficiently full knowledge of what the proposal or action entails.

Taking this back to the cases with which we began, of “Beauty and the Beast” and Passengers, it seems fairly clear that Belle and Aurora do know what they’re getting into: they’re quite aware of the flaws of the gentlemen involved—indeed, hyper-aware.

But what about things like addiction? (I hear a reader say).  And what about Stockholm Syndrome, anyway?

I’m not going to deny that people make some really bad personal choices even in cases where physical force is not immediately (sometimes not at all) present.  But I think we can parse those cases—and I think it’s helpful to parse them—as cases where the intellect is not fully operating; cases where, while the relevant information may be in some sense “available,” it is not regarded by the victim, who sees or pays attention to only the “favorable” parts of the story in front of them.  (Cf. Aquinas’s account of how all choices, including mistakes and sins, occur via apprehension of some good.)  This is not to blame every person who fails for a con artist (“You should have thought harder!”): after all, one does not blame a child for failing to take seriously concepts which they cannot understand.  But it is to say that, when one examines whether a literary character like Belle or Aurora is a victim of their circumstances, one has to start by asking not “What bad stuff did the romantic interest do?” but rather “Did she know—really know—his whole story, good and bad both?”

But I suspect that for a diehard consentivist (if I may coin a term), even ensuring intellectual thoroughgoingness would not prove sufficient.  For the idolatry of consent is really at bottom an idolatry of the will that cannot suffer the will to be moved by anything but itself, acting purely and simply in the cold white light of utterly unbiased—and thus free—choice.

Probably all consentivists are part of an evil voluntarist conspiracy,
that one first detected by Richard Weaver
and most lately denounced by Rod Dreher.

For the (rare and extreme) cases of thinkers who put an absolute premium upon consent, the intrusion of any emotion appears to be tantamount to insanity.  As soon as the will moves towards a good contemplated by the intellect, so soon do they call foul.  And then “Love is merely a madness”; for in it one is drawn by another.  In this Kantianesque landscape emotionless acts in which the body moves but the mind remains aloof, acts formerly on the periphery of love, have become the most valued and the least critiqued, because everything else is a little mad, and nothing mad is free.  For the truth of this, I submit to you the latest revelations from any modern American college campus; let us tremble for civilization, and thank goodness for the knowledge that in truth, being human …

We’re all a little mad here.