Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Progress, Or Come Again the Thunder

Rather than pontificate about the decay of the Empire ex cathedra ad nauseum, I have set myself the task of sketching the nature of the beast, since it is not quite dead, quite yet. My patron saint George Parkin Grant is dead, so that is my excuse. What is this Progress that we speak of? Christopher Lasch made an admirable start in exploring its roots and precise nature, in which he concluded it had (counter-intuitively) little to do with Christianity (except perhaps the postmillenial kind). He also observes that it is the degradation of the bio-sphere, our Homer's "Black-Kneed Earth", not merely into a Thing, but a Thing which is running out of room, that is undermining the psychological certitude of modern Progress. And yet, despite this - or maybe because of this! -

"What is less often remarked is that impermanence appears to assure a certain continuity in its own right when conceived as an extension of the self-correcting procedures of scientific discovery, which allow the scientific enterprise as a whole to flourish in spite of the constant revision of particular findings. A social order founded on Science, with its unnverving but exhilarating expansion of our intellectual horizons, seems to have achieved a kind of immortality undreamed of by earlier civilizations."

This is his most important remark in the Introduction of True & Only Heaven. What is more eternal than denying the eternal with the raised fist forever to the heavens? Even Goethe embraced this "truth" of titanism. Science (pure) pursues knowledge like a priestly caste, and distances itself from what the proles do with it. Can this be done indefinitely, or must Science begin to assume moral responsibilities for the knowledge it makes available? Do we want them to do so? In other words, Science has effectively written off its bad assets as part of the "shite" which exists self-evidently, and argues that less and less will exist insofar as we continue to give it our support. The triumphs go to it, and it alone. This is a version of the medieval argument concerning God and the existence of evil, or closely related to it. Does it work?

As much as I would like to engage in optimistic energy over the future (IronMan anyone?), the best minds believe that it is too much to believe, and certainly too little to hope for.

On the contrary, we (as Christians) assert that Science is a wonderful servant, a dangerous mistress, and a false god. The problem is that the steps between these progressions or stages is slippery and unclear. The parable of Thoth (re-told by Neil Postman) comes to mind. America's problem isn't political, it's technological/political. We are a barbarian landscape laminated with the veneer of tech apparatus. Both "Left" & "Right" increasingly take this as their starting point (except for the radical fringes, which is where Red Toryism can help). As always, mein Herr Nicholas Gomez Davila says it better:

"The reactionary is, nevertheless, the fool who takes up the vanity of condemning history and the immorality of resigning himself to it. Radical progressivism and liberal progressivism elaborate partial visions. History is neither necessity nor freedom, but rather their flexible integration. History is not, in fact, a divine monstrosity. The human cloud of dust does not seem to arise as if beneath the breath of a sacred beast; the epochs do not seem to be ordered as stages in the embryogenesis of a metaphysical animal; facts are not imbricated one upon another as scales on a heavenly fish. But if history is not an abstract system that germinates beneath implacable laws, neither is it the docile fodder of human madness. The whimsical and arbitrary will of man is not its supreme ruler. Facts are not shaped, like sticky, pliable paste, between industrious fingers. In fact, history results neither from impersonal necessity nor from human caprice, but rather from a dialectic of the will where free choice unfolds into necessary consequences. History does not develop as a unique and autonomous dialectic, which extends in vital dialectic the dialectic of inanimate nature, but rather as a pluralism of dialectical processes, numerous as free acts and tied to the diversity of their fleshly grounds. If liberty is the creative act of history, if each free act produces a new history, the free creative act is cast upon the world in an irrevocable process. Liberty secretes history as a metaphysical spider secretes the geometry of its web. Liberty is, in fact, alienated from itself in the same gesture in which it is assumed, because free action possesses a coherent structure, an internal organization, a regular proliferation of sequelae. The act unfolds, opens up, and expands into necessary consequences, in a manner compatible with its intimate character and with its intelligible nature. Every act submits a piece of the world to a specific configuration."

Welcome to Nemesis, Nietzsche. I give you the Don Colacho, Catholic counter-insurgent in the war of ideas which you helped to make seem eternal. Now that Nietzsche is dead, back to business. Against Schmitt & Agamben modern polemicists are sharpening their iron.

"In chapter 4, where I analyze the idea of 'miracle,' Schmitt's metaphor for the state of exception, I ask whether these identifications are themselves remnants of earlier debates in political theology about the status of the extraordinary – god and miracle or divine agency – in the ordinary human world. [...] Schmitt and Agamben's 'state of exception,' I think it is fair to say, has captured the imagination of contemporary political theory. In this chapter, I seek to loosen its hold on our imagination by pluralizing the particular political theology on which Schmitt's account is based and from which it draws sustenance."
But what is "pluralizing the particular political theology"? What does this mean? Is this some kind of imaginary third way? It's telling that this author feels the need to address Schmitt and Agamben, who are both driven with defining authority and power in democracies. Perhaps a fool's errand, but a brave one.

In the matrix of secular liberal-democracy, encroaching across the planet with engines & apparatus of power, the "state of exception" increasingly becomes normative. And the citizenry wishes it, for they benefit from this normalizing. As Grant said, "orgasm at home, napalm abroad".

In the distance, I still hear the thunder.

No comments:

Post a Comment