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So, for a while I was pulling out my tattered copy of the Federalist Papers to hurl at _debate_ posters. Now I seem to just want to burst the bubbles about human nature and its "perfectibility." I really think no man has done more damage to Western political philosophy than Jean Jacques Rousseau. But his spirit is found all to often among those who search for ways to bring justice and equality to our world. In any case, it is remarkable that they are still look for ways to create a utopia or make changes to the fundamental nature of man after all we have witnessed in the past century. Such heartfelt goals, such aspirations for a society without prejudice or coercion. Too bad they have ever lead to large numbers of people getting lined up and shot. "The noble savage"...bah! "The essential goodness of man"...phooey. The man sent his own bastards to be raised in an orphanage rather than attempt the many benevolent reforms he prated about. This is not up snuff, I admit, but I'm drooping with sleep and want to put something up. Maybe I will edit this and better organize these snippets into a coherent post. Maybe not.

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Just like to put my 2¢ in about humanity's survival and evolution. I think it likely humanity will survive with or without the West, but the idea that human nature is evolving is, in my opinion at least, a joke. Love poetry from 2000 years ago can touch our hearts today. Adventures dreamed by a Sumerian priest, a blind poet in Greece, a monk in Medieval Europe, and a Renaissance Spaniard still thrill and inspire us. Hate, lust, greed, revenge, charity, mercy, friendship these qualities have been acknowledged throughout history and failures concerning them will be a struggle for our descendants as well. Human nature is static. Look at the cave paintings in France, done in the dim past by a people with a culture we can scarcely imagine, yet those paintings are as human as anything in a SoHo gallery. Civilizations adapt and evolve, that is clear, but human nature does not. Or at least has not, up till now.

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In broad strokes, yes, human nature is pretty much the same as it has ever been. It is why we can still read the Epic of Gilgamesh and be moved. As different as our cultures and world views may be from ancient Sumerians, that life is fleeting and bittersweet, that love can offer both great joy and sadness, that we want to discover a meaning to this existence, these basics remain constant. Unfortunately, our greed and hate, our lust and foolishness, our proclivity for evil, our ability to fuck up a free lunch, these are also constants. Utopias have always assumed that if we just could learn to be better the problems of society would resolve themselves. But we cannot learn to be better. "Man's heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?." (Jeremiah 7:16) We are who we are, warts and all. It is better to acknowledge that we are flawed and work to build a society that can ameliorate suffering and provide some justice and equality under the law. If we think we can recast ourselves in an imaginary likeness of who we want to be it will inevitably lead to the very worse excesses, those born of idealists.

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But human nature does not want to share equally at any time. Not even among the early Christians. Equal sharing a la communism has never been demonstrated, even among the Saints.

"But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him."

Acts 5: 1-6

If you'll notice Ananias was not compelled to contribute to the Church's communal purse. Peter says quite clearly, "Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" That means it was his own private property, hardly an hallmark of communism. The sin here lies not in the holding back of the money from the community, but lying about it. Had Ananias simply said,"Here's X% of the price of my land." he would have lived. But even so, the failure of the early church to retain this utopian spirit speaks volumes for the impossibility of utopia in this life. Remember the church was in awe of both the very recent coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the rapid growth of the faith and the miracles preformed by Peter and company.

"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were of one mind, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people."

Acts 2: 41-46

These people were highly motivated and had first hand knowledge of things Christians today must take on faith, like the Resurrection, and still could not maintain a voluntary, lasting communal system. What does it say for mankind that a utopia cannot be sustained even as the lame are made to walk, the blind see and the deaf hear? Human nature is corrupt and unequal to the challenge of a truly egalitarian, communal system. It is to the credit of the Church that it did not coerce the people into such a system, but allowed them the liberty of conscience. The faith demands generosity and charity, not the abnegation of property.

thank you and thank you.

Date: 2003-04-08 11:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] canonfire.livejournal.com
On Rousseau, I could not agree more fully. He has infected us more than we can know. Thank you for posting that.

On literature and human nature, we are brothers in arms. Thank you.

On Ananias, you bring up novel points I had not considered and will chew on as I cannot fall asleep. It is nice to find such reflection here on LJ. It is few and far in between. I am tired of the knee-jerk commentary concerning Christianity and the Bible. Thank you.

you are entirely welcome

Date: 2003-04-09 11:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] policraticus.livejournal.com
That villain Rousseau, his philosophy and its credulous followers exasperate me to no end.

Sometimes I am shocked by the depth of ignorance about what is a large part of the West's cultural heritage. Even if one does not accept the faith on its own terms it seems to me that an honest education should make a person aware of its major tenants and contributions, neither of which are inelegant or insignificant, in all candor. People who wouldn't dream of making a smug comment about Buddhism or Shintoism cast their stones with implacable vehemence at Christianity. All without any real understanding. But any real explanation would usually have to start with ABC. So, I am literally at a loss to respond. I am hardly some holy roller, or seminarian. Perhaps I have just been fortunate in my education and family.

Re: you are entirely welcome

Date: 2003-04-09 01:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fieldofshells.livejournal.com
"People who wouldn't dream of making a smug comment about Buddhism or Shintoism cast their stones with implacable vehemence at Christianity."

I used to always find it astounding when someone who preached "tolerance" lashed out visciously at Christianity, but I guess I'm used to it now. It's still quite telling about their "tolerance" (ignorance).

I enjoy your insights.

Date: 2003-04-09 02:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] skreyola.livejournal.com
Now I seem to just want to burst the bubbles about human nature and its "perfectibility."
Indeed. There is nothing we can do to perfect humanity.

Such heartfelt goals, such aspirations for a society without prejudice or coercion. Too bad they have ever lead to large numbers of people getting lined up and shot.
Right on the mark. There were a lot of things you said that I liked, but I felt it would be too much to just respond to each of them with agreement.

Just like to put my 2¢ in about humanity's survival and evolution. I think it likely humanity will survive with or without the West,
The world has fared well enough without the Roman empire, so I think you're right.

but the idea that human nature is evolving is, in my opinion at least, a joke. Love poetry from 2000 years ago can touch our hearts today. Adventures dreamed by a Sumerian priest, a blind poet in Greece, a monk in Medieval Europe, and a Renaissance Spaniard still thrill and inspire us.
"Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of
this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good." —A. Lincoln.
Modern writers should learn this, too. The classics, which use techniques now denigrated, are still wildly popular among intelligent readers.

It is better to acknowledge that we are flawed and work to build a society that can ameliorate suffering and provide some justice and equality under the law. If we think we can recast ourselves in an imaginary likeness of who we want to be it will inevitably lead to the very worse excesses, those born of idealists.
Indeed. The best government is the one designed by people well acquainted with the failings of human nature.

But human nature does not want to share equally at any time. Not even among the early Christians. Equal sharing a la communism has never been demonstrated, even among the Saints.
It is to the credit of the Church that it did not coerce the people into such a system, but allowed them the liberty of conscience. The faith demands generosity and charity, not the abnegation of property.

Many people use this as an argument for communism, or worse, as evidence the Church supported the idea of communism. As you point out, there is a difference between communism, with its mandatory inclusion, and the sort of cooperative system used in Acts, with its facet of volunteering.

Well, that's enough for me to say...
...except that I know how you feel about not getting many comments. It is most striking on the posts we feel are our best. I have nothing to say on that, as I wouldn't want anyone to say to me the kinds of things that are likely to be said about such a phenomenon.

I enjoy your insights.

Re: I enjoy your insights.

Date: 2003-04-10 09:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] policraticus.livejournal.com
As always, thanks.

Date: 2003-04-14 03:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] skreyola.livejournal.com
The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it. --Unknown

Date: 2003-04-26 03:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rillifane.livejournal.com
Indeed, the single greatest failing of Marxist-Leninism was its inability to create the "New socialist Man" despite decades of cradle to grave indoctrination and the expenditure of vast amounts of effort to educate, wheedle, cajoule, terrorize, bribe, or torture him into existance.

Re:

Date: 2003-04-26 08:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] policraticus.livejournal.com
I lay it all at the feet of Rousseau and his idea of the General Will. If people don't understand the General Will, they must be *forced* to be free.

It is the open door to tyranny, all with the best of intentions.

Date: 2004-03-06 01:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evilgeniuskatie.livejournal.com
I think no man has done more damage to Western Philosophy (re: Christianity) than Voltaire.

And here's your JJR eating JMA's cock. ~KMK

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