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Sunday Night Journal, April 9, 2017

One of the books I've been reading as background for the book I'm writing is Theodore Roszak's The Making of a Counter-culture. Roszak may have been the one who coined that term. If he didn't, he certainly contributed to its widespread use. The book came out in 1969 and I recall reading it at the time and thinking it was pretty good, but I also was a bit dismissive or patronizing toward it, as the work of a liberal who didn't really understand the radicals he was analyzing. And when I started re-reading it a week or two ago I didn't expect much: platitudes, maybe, or naively optimistic and idealized impressions.

Well, I seem to have been wrong. It is a really fine book, and still very much worth reading in spite of the fact that much of it is specific to its time. I got about halfway through it earlier this week, then various other things got in the way and have prevented me from finishing it. I'm writing about it now because the coming week, being Holy Week, is going to be even busier, and I don't want to wait for two weeks because the book is really exciting.

Roszak is erudite, very intelligent, and very perceptive, or at least he was in this book. It's not just that he does in fact have a pretty good idea of what was going on with the hippie-radical youth culture of the '60s, but that he scoped out, correctly, that it was in essence a religious movement. 

He is, unfortunately, wrong about the potential of the movement he describes to bring about the spiritual renewal which he very astutely sees as the fundamental problem of modern technocratic civilization. The movement proved to be just a sort of sect within what we broadly and clumsily call progressivism, secular humanism, and the like. I expect I'll have more to say about it in a couple of weeks.


I've also been reading a book called Turning the Tide by Earl H. Tilford. It's a history of the political changes at the University of Alabama during the 1950s and 1960s. Much of it is about the response of the university to the civil rights movement, and it's quite an interesting picture, revealing that the university administration was mostly on the side of desegregation, but had to navigate very carefully the sentiment of the state at large and Governor George Wallace in particular. I'm reading it because the last few chapters concern the student leftist movement of the late '60s and I wanted to refresh my memory about the events of 1969-70. There are some  photos of student demonstrations. As far as I can tell I'm not in any of them, but I remember a couple of the occasions. In one photo, students hold signs proclaiming the imminence of fascism. Almost fifty years on, and student radicals, and many of those who were student radicals in my day, keep telling us it's coming, indeed here. It never arrives, and meanwhile many of the ideas they espouse, especially those having to do with sex, drive more and more of the machinery of society. Don't think for a moment that Donald Trump's weird presidency means the reversal of that trend.


I'm amused every time I hear an anti-Trump demonstrator say something along the lines of "We won't let him divide us." Way too late for that. Way too late.


Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of hours watching two of my grandsons, ages 5 and almost 7,  play on the bay shore with two little girls of their same age, daughters of a friend of their mother. It was a beautiful day, bright but not hot. The water is still too chilly for me to want to get in, but after a little hesitation the children went in and apparently got used to it. It was an almost idyllic afternoon, unmarred by any of the quarrels that often break out among children. 

Their relatively innocent happiness is always beautiful to see, but it seems so fragile and vulnerable that, gloomy soul that I am, I can't help seeing a shadow from their future over them. I say relatively innocent because of course only someone who has never been around children can believe that they are not sometimes brutally selfish, dishonest, etc.--sinful, in short, often in ways so simple and transparent that they seem funny to adults better schooled in wickedness. This afternoon my wife and I were playing a game with the boys that involved putting a number of small items on a tray covered with a towel, taking away the towel and giving everybody a thirty-second look at the things, then covering them again and having everyone write down as many as they could remember. The younger boy looked under the towel before he was supposed to.

"Lucas, you're not supposed to see what's under there yet," I said.

"I didn't."

"Right. You just lifted the towel and looked under it, but you didn't see anything?"


They may live fairly happy lives--I certainly hope and pray that they will--but even at best they are most likely going to suffer blows that they can't even imagine right now. I want desperately to protect them, but of course I can't. I found myself wondering, as I sometimes do, why God allows the world to go on and on with every child coming into the world bound, one way or another, to suffer a fair amount of pain, and in many cases an enormous amount of it. Is the sweetness of days like this worth it--whatever "worth it" might mean: how could we ever make that calculation? I found myself thinking of Ecclesiastes:

So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.

Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.

Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

But that is a form of weakness. Either God (assuming he exists) is the cruel deity some make him out to be, or he is both more tender and more strong than we can imagine, and is teaching us strength, among many other things--to be like him in that way as in others. So while the children ran back and forth across the beach, in and out of the water, I prayed the Divine Mercy litany, counting the prayers on my fingers since I didn't have my rosary in my pocket, as I generally do. I had left it at the house because I figured I would end up in the water at some point, which I did, wading out with the littlest girl, who wanted to go in but was afraid to without a grown-up hand to hold.

It is worth it. I suppose I've had about the average amount of pain in my life, and I certainly would not want not to have lived. 


I couldn't remember exactly where that sentiment from Ecclesiastes was found, so I Googled "better not to have been born." Among other things I found a book called Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence. It's apparently a quite serious case for the minimization of harm as a rationale for the human race to voluntarily cease existing. 

David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. Although the good things in one's life make one's life go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence.... The author then argues for the 'anti-natal' view---that it is always wrong to have children---and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a "pro-death" view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.

Nothing like that sort of thing to snap me out of my morose thinking. There are some ideas that should just be rejected on contact, spat out as soon as tasted, or rejected without being tasted because they stink. David Benatar is "currently Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at the University of Cape Town, South Africa," according to the book's entry on Amazon. 


Amid all the talk of the "Benedict Option," it occurs to me that even more fundamentally what many, even many Christians, require right now is the Puddleglum Option. You remember Puddleglum, the gloomy but faithful marsh-dweller in C.S. Lewis's The Silver Chair? In order to keep himself, Eustace, and Lucy from falling completely under the spell of the Queen of Underland who is convincing them that the outside world does not exist, Puddleglum stamps on her enchanted fire with his bare foot, and the pain helps to break the spell. It is becoming an act of deliberate resistance in our culture to insist on certain fundamental realities. 


Cath stat

I always like--well, maybe like is the wrong word--I always find very meaningful the reading of the Passion narratives on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, because the congregation is usually assigned the words of the crowd. None of us can be sure that we would not have been among those crying "Crucify him!"


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Interesting the picture at the end, Mac. How many parishes still cover the statues? I've only been Catholic for ten years and don't recall ever having seen that until yesterday at St. Catherine of Siena. When I asked about it I was told it is not as much in vogue but that in the old days the crucifix behind the altar would also be covered. I found it fascinating.

I don't think it's all that unusual, but I don't really know, either. Maybe it's coming back. St. Joan of Arc does it. This picture as I guess you can tell is at the cathedral.

Our parish covers all statuary / crucifixes, and a parish we attended this weekend while travelling also did so. It's a tradition that I like.

I've a friend who knows David Benatar personally. He calls him "the Angel of Death".

I think it's becoming a pretty good rule that when you see the philosopher of ethics coming you should run away.

At the parish where I work all the statues are covered except the crucifix which is at least 30 feet of the floor.

It is definitely worth it. I think similar thoughts about my grandchildren all the time, but their very coming into the world carrying the breath of God is such a real good in itself. And while they cause me so much suffering sometimes, they also heal me in some way. I spent a good part of the morning with my next to youngest granddaughter and she was charming. Her mother, my daughter-in-law, is going to be baptized Saturday night, so please say a prayer for her--and for the little one who will not go bonkers when she, and her parents, and I are on the altar.

It's Jill and Eustace.


Puddleglum is my hero.


Oh yeah, I had a very faint sense of something wrong when I typed "Lucy" but I was in a hurry and ignored it.

That's wonderful about your daughter-in-law.

Wonderful news about your daughter-in-law, Janet! I will certainly pray for her. It will be my own 14th anniversary -- which seems incredible.

There are some ideas that should just be rejected on contact, spat out as soon as tasted, or rejected without being tasted because they stink.

David Benatar sounds like Schopenhauer, whose ideas I was exposed to as a freshman in college. Deep down I think I knew they stank, but being so young I was mostly just upset and confused.

Funny, when I googled "David Benatar", the results page featured photos of Peter Singer.

Kind of like Thomas More and John Fisher--only the dark side.


Saints of evil?

When you Google John Fisher, you usually get a Thomas More in there.


Oh, I see. I thought you were probably making a point that I was missing. :-)

I was.

Not a brilliant point or anything but it was a point.


"There are some ideas that should just be rejected on contact, spat out as soon as tasted, or rejected without being tasted because they stink"

Cough...Ayn Rand...cough, cough.

Sometimes when I'm embarrassed by dumb things I thought or said when I was young I think "Well at least I didn't fall for Ayn Rand."

I was about to write that I'm afraid I might have fallen for Ayn Rand if I had ever read her, but on second thought-no. I don't think I ever could have accepted the treating people like dirt business.


When I was in high school I did read a short book of hers, Anthem. I don't think it made a big impression on me one way or the other. I also read one called For The New Intellectua (eye roll). I think the title appealed to my teenage vanity. No, I'm sure it did. Yeah boy, that's me, a New Intellectual. But it didn't do a whole lot for me either. I'm not sure I finished it.

Now that I think about it, I think I may have taken away one idea from the latter book: that "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" discourages ability and encourages need. She wasn't 100% wrong about everything. But then I doubt Benatar and Singer are, either.

Seems to me that if you really believed what Benatar professes to believe, you would feel it incumbent upon yourself to undo the harm caused by your coming into existence. I suppose he has an answer for that like, "Someone has to be around to inform the rest of you ignorant, reproducing blots on the planet."


You might appreciate.

The Rock Revolution

Haven't hadn't time to watch this yet but looks interesting.

The section about your grandchildren, and the pain we experience, had me in tears. I appreciated Janets's comments on this too.

"I think it's becoming a pretty good rule that when you see the philosopher of ethics coming you should run away."


"it occurs to me that even more fundamentally what many, even many Christians, require right now is the Puddleglum Option"


I'm especially worried about boys growing up now, with hard-core pornography so easily available. Can't imagine what that does to the 14-year-old male psyche. Not so great for the female, either.

I've watched about 20 minutes of that Leonard Bernstein video (the Rock Revolution thing Robert linked to above). It's interesting and inadvertently funny: he's so *very* earnest about Listening To What The Young Are Trying To Tell Us.

I was gonna take your thoughtful-though ontologically antithetical-journal entry in stride, but the end caught my eye (I don't always read all the way to the end. Is this a sign from Above?) and I had to respond. Considering your reflections both on the cruel deity from whom my atheism is a relief, and the tradition of a good ol' full-throated 'crucify him!'. I remember reading somewhere (possibly inflenced by Freudian archetypes of sons killing then deifying the Father) that the Crucifixion is a revenge fantasy of humanity, that our 'merciful' creator enjoys the decrepitude of the body, the litany of labor and the squalor of society, then literally hung out to dry by procrustes at large. Kinda dovetails some of your more critical asides. In my flights of fancy, when I accept, ad hoc, god as some semiotic construct with epistemic coherence, I can't imagine gratitude playing any role in our mutual evaluations-he's whimsical and inscrutable, I'm resentful and desultory. If this existence was someone's idea, it wasn't a good one.

An even worse idea is that Jesus validates our suffering by partaking of it. Um, no. How about instead of the grand gesture of a rough weekend for our sins (for he so loved the world etc etc), ol' JewRex, the Gangrene Nazarene, had abolished crucifixion? or just cruel and unusual punishment in general. As a conservative I'm waiting for christians to take responsibility for the messianism and air-headed virtue signalling of the Left-the first modern instance of a child disowning its parent.

The emotional responses in the comments to benatar and Ayn freakin Rand (is she-progenitor of OBJECTIVISM- beyond rational, itemized counterargument or are yall to lazy to properly eviscerate the opinionated dead?) are as bad as the suppurating smugness on r/politics (am I dating myself?) and if admin over here is as self-aware as his album reviews suggest, may be cool it on the groupthink, and kool-aid. Jeez, someone tell Rush Limbaugh, CNN is leaking drive-by cheap-shotters as assiduously as it is anti-Trump slander. Is this standard on the intellectual, throwback, hold-the-line, uncucked (yep, datin myself) patriotic faithful? If you had to choose amongst materialist philosophies, is Objectivism so bad, is Antinatalism so wrong? Both are premised on 'fallen' worlds, and in response one espouses the freedom not to do certain things, the other the obligation to not do one very dumb thing (bring harmable sentience into a brutal world)-or is suffering not one of the 'certain fundamental realities' you alluded to?

"As a conservative I'm waiting for christians to take responsibility for the messianism and air-headed virtue signalling of the Left-the first modern instance of a child disowning its parent."

A good place to start this conversation (if you are in fact interested in having one -- many online atheists are not) is with David Bentley Hart's essay "Christ and Nothing," easily available at several places online.

Well, I *think* I understand your comments, Mr. Pauer, and they're interesting, but there are too many of them for me to respond to all of them. I'll pick one or two.

Re Ayn Rand: my response to her is not particularly emotional. What you're seeing here is offhand remarks. Not too many years ago I actually read Atlas Shrugged in the spirit of giving her a fair shake. I think it's a very bad novel full of mostly bad ideas. The best I can say of her is that she's right about some things, for instance the remark above about "from each according to..."

Anti-natalism is certainly a reasonable conclusion, maybe the only one, from the premise that this existence is a bad thing.

"If you had to choose amongst materialist philosophies..." I would be some sort of nihilist, unless I lost my nerve and embraced some kind of sentimentality. Which I think objectivism does, in spite of its superficially hard-nosed attitude.

permit me to thank admin for keeping my comment up-I know I was riding the tiger in this neck of the woods with the 'gangrene nazarene' bit. Permit me also to seek correction, wasn't the effect of Puddleglum's small, scorched step for realism to have his stinky fumes wake the children, not just the heat wake him? His species was an oily, fish-like deal, IIRC.

hello, Rob G

I am indeed interested in a conversation. In fact I fear being too monomani-ancholic to entice others...but it's not like I have high hopes. Anyway I will certainly give the essay the heisman treatment (http://gawker.com/5647036/man-who-killed-himself-in-harvard-yard-left-1900-page-online-suicide-note) and at least skim, but will I have occasion to bring my prior familiarity with 'liberation theology' to bear? Or am I going into this tabula rasa?

Mac, I, also think you grasp my comments.

With the necessary caveat of endorsing all the negative liberty, non-interventionism and non-aggression you can shake a tally stick at, I agree with you regarding objectivism. Indeed it veers Romantic(ist?)-it has that 'art pour l'art' vibe;beneath the crusty, testily-delivered advocacy of standoffish individualism (atomised ontic and social reductionism ) a la 'greed is good', it does have, shall we say, an 'art of gold'. To misquote Sartre, Existentialism is a Transmutism-to derive value in/from a world wherein Thermodynamics reigns supreme is an alchemic/Munchausen/Kiekergaard-esque leap of faith. Affirming life on its own terms-as Nietsche's Eernal return would have us, is essentially having the courage of your conniptions, the paragon of paradox(ymoron).

as for existence being a 'bad' thing, even withoutvalue judgements, it has quantifiably greater risks and efforts (call me lazy, but our word 'agony' comes from the greek word for 'work'-a sense preserved in kinesiology of muscular articulation) with intangible benefits, compared to non existence. As Schopenhauer said, the grave error is to presume we were put here to be happy...and if we're here to make *others* happy....wha are the others here for? Sanctos Ouroboros; en Toutoi nikos telos sisyphos.....we just live here, we're not responsible for any of this ****. We know how this game ends; now to act on that sainted knowledge. only way to win is not to play-and certainly not recruit!

Ad synthesiam et coagula, I have seen cursory justifications of antinatalism on Objectivist grounds, but am considering a more thoroughgoing sally to relatte these axioms. Perhaps, with the obligatory arche-titular greek god; Sisyphus Grudged?

Interesting remarks. I'm going to be occupied all day today but may respond later.

Here's the DBH essay. Hmm, I never noticed before, but he has the same initials as my father.


I haven't read it, or maybe I have a long time ago. I will re-read it.

"...existence...has quantifiably greater risks and efforts...with intangible benefits, compared to non existence."

That doesn't seem subject to debate. Either one simply perceives and knows the existence is good, or one doesn't. Or doesn't want to. I question whether anyone can truly believe, except in some kind of extreme psychological distress, that it is not. There's always a trace of the sense that it's not that existence itself is bad but that something has gone wrong with existence.

I have a personal question: is your last name that of a city in Finland? If you don't want to reply to that publicly you can email me.

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