Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gargoyles! Or, Turtles All the Way Down...

Which ought to be subtitled, "Yes, Professor ___, GKC really is a Philosopher" where you can supply the professor or author's name of your choice. At first I was going to call today's posting "GKC: Too 'Practical' To Be A Philosopher" or "Evolution Is Nonsense When It's Not Science" but I liked the gargoyle imagery better. Halloween is next week, after all, and you may wish to modify your plans once you read what I have to say today. Hee hee.

You know what a gargoyle is, don't you? It's a nasty-looking demon head, usually found on medieval cathedrals, with a BIG gaping mouth. The mouth is connected to a rainspout, so when there's a storm, it looks like the demon is puking. Yes, slowly but surely we are nearing that greatest, and most-misquoted of all GKC's words, the "toucan" quote about angels taking themselves lightly. [CW1:325] The associated line, which comes on the next page, is the relevant one for our consideration: "...solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity." [CW1:326] The one thing it is said the devil cannot stand is to be made fun of, and what better way to joke at the Universal Failure than to make him into a drain! Ha HA! You think this is NOT Chestertonian. It is, and I can show an even better example. GKC is considering an old puppet-play which was the original tale of Faust, a doctor (possibly a philosopher?) who summons demons:
The learned doctor has been ransacking all the libraries of the earth to find a certain rare formula, now almost unknown, by which he can control the infernal deities. At last he procures the one precious volume, opens it at the proper page, and leaves it on the table while he seeks some other part of his magic equipment. The servant comes in, reads off the formula, and immediately becomes an emperor of the spirits. He gives them a horrible time. He summons and dismisses them alternately with the rapidity of a piston-rod working at high speed; he keeps them flying between the doctor's house and their own more unmentionable residences till they faint with rage and fatigue. There is all the best of the Middle Ages in that; the idea of the great levellers, luck and laughter; the idea of a sense of humour defying and dominating hell.
["A Drama of Dolls" in Alarms and Discursions 42-43]
I would heartily like to find this script - it is not in the Faust I obtained from Dover - and as yet no one has been able to locate this particular version. But, perhaps because I am a computer scientist and have some experience in - er - giving instructions, let us say - I think this one of the funniest bits of comedy: the subjection of the powers of Hell to act as nothing more than an overworked piece of machinery. Hilarious! The servant had the right idea: like gargoyles, the demons really ought to be put to use somehow. Some modern Dante might put them into his updated cosmology as the black holes at the center of the galaxies - the demons wanted the whole world to revolve around them - and now it does. It's that practicality, which is the grand ally of humility - remember St. Francis unites these two words in his praise of Sister Water, who is humble and useful and precious? Yes, (gollum) indeed. And it is that usefulness we are seeing as we read GKC, especially his Orthodoxy.

The reason why some gargoyles, I mean some philosophers, refuse to consider Chesterton as a Philosopher - indeed, one of the first rank - is because they are not really philosophers at all! I don't know where the infection came in; I am not enough of a historian to know, and at present I have no time to trace the issue to the point of failure. But every so-called "philosopher" who refuses to be practical with his philosophy is by that very action cast out of the Order of the Lovers of Wisdom. I am not bitter about this; I am too practical to be bitter. I merely point to Boethius, a great philosopher of the past, who described the robe of Philosophy as having been torn by violence - the robe, which she had made herself, bore the Greek letters Pi and Theta - symbolising the Practical and Theoretical, linked together. If that is too esoteric a citation, I can put it more plainly: if you are too theoretical, you shall never publish any books - or even journal articles! (You might get ink on your fingers. Remember GKC and the Cyclostyle ink?) And if you do write such things, you are most likely being hypocritical. There are plenty of very solemn people, claiming to be "traditional" who argue against technology - on bloggs! Amazing. There are even some that have web sites; I've heard them whine about technology, especially the internet. It's funny. All this was recognized decades ago by A. N. Whitehead, in a quote I learned from one of Fr. Jaki's books:
Those who devote themselves to the purpose of proving that there is no purpose constitute an interesting subject for study.
[A. N. Whitehead, The Function of Reason 12 quoted in S. L. Jaki, The Purpose of it All 57]
We shall hear more of such wonderful ridicule of the evolutionists as we get into today's study - it's hilarious, and so badly needed at the present time. (Note: an evolutionist is quite a bit different from a scientist, though sometimes it can be hard to tell them apart. We'll explore that topic eventually, but if you are anxious to learn, start with Jaki's Chesterton a Seer of Science.)

So I hope you are feeling a bit exhilarated by a sense of action, and perhaps even of debate - since we are going to get into some stern matters today. Yes, for today we begin the chapter called "The Eternal Revolution", the seventh of GKC's great book Orthodoxy.

(( read more))

You may recall that this book Orthodoxy is usually considered to be a book about Christianity, though so far we have not heard all that much about Christ. So you will be thrilled to read this opening paragraph, a smashingly good review, in which GKC drags Christ in, in an almost unbelievable manner:
The following propositions have been urged: First, that some faith in our life is required even to improve it; second, that some dissatisfaction with things as they are is necessary even in order to be satisfied; third, that to have this necessary content and necessary discontent it is not sufficient to have the obvious equilibrium of the Stoic. For mere resignation has neither the gigantic levity of pleasure nor the superb intolerance of pain. There is a vital objection to the advice merely to grin and bear it. The objection is that if you merely bear it, you do not grin. Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do - because they are Christian. And when a Christian is pleased, he is (in the most exact sense) frightfully pleased; his pleasure is frightful. Christ prophesied the whole of Gothic architecture in that hour when nervous and respectable people (such people as now object to barrel organs) objected to the shouting of the gutter-snipes of Jerusalem. He said, "If these were silent, the very stones would cry out." [Lk 19:40] Under the impulse of His spirit arose like a clamorous chorus the fa├žades of the mediaeval cathedrals, thronged with shouting faces and open mouths. The prophecy has fulfilled itself: the very stones cry out.
I think you may have noted my quoting lyrics from various rock-and-roll songs as relevant comparisons sprung to mind. Here, we see one of the more famous cross-links from GKC to rock:
I remember a debate in which I had praised militant music in ritual, and some one asked me if I could imagine Christ walking down the street before a brass band. I said I could imagine it with the greatest ease; for Christ definitely approved a natural noisiness at a great moment. When the street children shouted too loud, certain priggish disciples did begin to rebuke them in the name of good taste. He said: "If these were silent the very stones would cry out." With these words He called up all the wealth of artistic creation that has been founded on this creed. With those words He founded Gothic architecture.
["The Tower" in Tremendous Trifles]
That "a natural noisiness at a great moment" always makes me think of the almost unnoticed directions on the first album by "Rush": "For best results play at maximum volume." But there is another extension to another form of art, very fitting for us to consider with Halloween in the near future: the very curious medieval "let's all laugh at the devil" art called the Gargoyle. This is another very interesting demonstration of GKC's powerful scholastic style, where he examines even such an odd branch of art as this sculpture for the adorning of rainspouts. Elsewhere you will find this:
A South American idol was made as ugly as possible, as a Greek image was made as beautiful as possible. They were seeking the secret of power, by working backwards against their own nature and the nature of things. There was always a sort of yearning to carve at last, in gold or granite or the dark red timber of the forests, a face at which the sky itself would break like a cracked mirror.
[The Everlasting Man CW2:252]
But we are not doing that here! We are making rain spouts, and of course the best way of making such a dull and practical thing is to make it into a joke. So the great builders of the Middle Ages made the prosaic rainspout look like the devil is puking, so we can laugh every time it rains. They understood how to use even ugliness - to laugh at what ought to be laughed at. For more details on this curious art, see "On Gargoyles" in Alarms and Discursions; it will surprise you. Of course there is lots more to Gothic architecture than gargoyles: remember last week when we heard: "In a Gothic cathedral the columns were all different, but they were all necessary. Every support seemed an accidental and fantastic support; every buttress was a flying buttress." [CW1:303] Jesus tells us that Hell is the town dump of the universe, and He constantly reminded His followers of the reality of the rotting stink and fires they could see just outside Jerusalem. It's easy enough to overlook such a practical matter - but neither He nor the Gothic designers did!

Next, GKC proceeds to a kind of review in a very Scholastic manner, by a consideration of the opponents:
If these things be conceded, though only for argument, we may take up where we left it the thread of the thought of the natural man, called by the Scotch (with regrettable familiarity), "The Old Man." We can ask the next question so obviously in front of us. Some satisfaction is needed even to make things better. But what do we mean by making things better? Most modern talk on this matter is a mere argument in a circle - that circle which we have already made the symbol of madness and of mere rationalism. Evolution is only good if it produces good; good is only good if it helps evolution. The elephant stands on the tortoise, and the tortoise on the elephant.
We have seen all this about the circle in "The Maniac" [CW1:222, 231], and GKC carries the argument into fiction in the opening chapter of his The Ball and the Cross. But we have another image here, which may sound like just GKC's usual animal humour, but is really an excellent cross-link to the whole cosmological error of the ancients - what Fr. Jaki calls the "stillbirth of science" [see chapters 1-6 of his Science and Creation] brought on by the fixation on the circle, the belief that all things would eternally repeat: Jaki recounts a tongue-in-cheek view of this, which will give you the necessary detail:
Turtles entered cosmology several thousand years ago. According to ancient Hindu lore, the world is resting on the back of a tiger that stands on an elephant, which in turn is supported by a turtle. In one way or another, the turtle is imagined to be self-supporting. This story must have been in the mind of that little old lady who went to hear a prominent cosmologist lecture on the stellar universe. She became legendary because her story, apparently true, has been retold many times and in the process has taken on some graphic details, such as that she wore shabby tennis shoes, perhaps a symbol of her resilience. What the cosmologist said is not recorded, but he obviously must have spoken of immense spaces, intangible nets of world-lines and the like that can easily create the impression that the universe hangs in mid-air. Something like this must have been in the mind of our legendary little lady, and she was not pleased at all. When the scientist took some questions after the lecture, she walked up to him, wagged her finger and said with a shrill voice: "Excuse me, sir, but you’ve got it all wrong. The truth is that the universe is sitting on the back of a huge turtle." "Oh really?" the cosmologist asked. "Well, tell me, what is the turtle standing on?" The little lady was ready with the reply: "Oh, it’s standing on another turtle." The cosmologist asked again: "And what is that turtle standing on?" Her reply came promptly: "Another turtle." The cosmologist began to repeat his former question, but she stopped him in mid-sentence: "Save your breath, sonny," she said. "It’s turtles all the way down." [Jaki, God and the Cosmologists 111, quoting R. Wright’s report, “Did the Universe just Happen?” on the ideas of E. Fredkin, a champion of artificial intelligence, in Atlantic Monthly, April 1988, p. 41]
I find this elegantly funny, since there is a formal proof in computer science that an infinite series of nested IFs is equivalent to a WHILE - but you may find the Hindu infinite turtles or GKC's turtle/elephant image much easier to grasp, and perhaps even funnier. Ahem. But let us not lose sight of the fatal blow GKC deals to evolution here! This is every bit as effective as Whitehead's "purpose in proving there is no purpose" - and perhaps there is a formal proof that they are equivalent. You may begin to glimpse the boredom I find in that topic, because the matter voiced by the evolutionist is clearly not about science! Yes - for science is not about "good" - remember the quote about boiling a man to see if he emits "the green fumes of depravity"? [ILN Sept 28 1907 CW27:559] Hee hee. But all that is really only said in passing, and a serious study of this is deferred. Here you need to know that he discards evolution (perhaps you ought to read "evolutionISM" here) as error, and this is why:
Obviously, it will not do to take our ideal from the principle in nature; for the simple reason that (except for some human or divine theory), there is no principle in nature. For instance, the cheap anti-democrat of to-day will tell you solemnly that there is no equality in nature. He is right, but he does not see the logical addendum. There is no equality in nature; also there is no inequality in nature. Inequality, as much as equality, implies a standard of value. To read aristocracy into the anarchy of animals is just as sentimental as to read democracy into it. Both aristocracy and democracy are human ideals: the one saying that all men are valuable, the other that some men are more valuable. But nature does not say that cats are more valuable than mice; nature makes no remark on the subject. She does not even say that the cat is enviable or the mouse pitiable. We think the cat superior because we have (or most of us have) a particular philosophy to the effect that life is better than death. But if the mouse were a German pessimist mouse, he might not think that the cat had beaten him at all. He might think he had beaten the cat by getting to the grave first. Or he might feel that he had actually inflicted frightful punishment on the cat by keeping him alive. Just as a microbe might feel proud of spreading a pestilence, so the pessimistic mouse might exult to think that he was renewing in the cat the torture of conscious existence. It all depends on the philosophy of the mouse. You cannot even say that there is victory or superiority in nature unless you have some doctrine about what things are superior. You cannot even say that the cat scores unless there is a system of scoring. You cannot even say that the cat gets the best of it unless there is some best to be got.

We cannot, then, get the ideal itself from nature, and as we follow here the first and natural speculation, we will leave out (for the present) the idea of getting it from God. We must have our own vision. But the attempts of most moderns to express it are highly vague.
Ah, now you begin to see the common point! Now, you understand the brilliance of GKC-the-philosopher!

You don't? Read it again. And don't confuse the sick philosophy of evolutionism with the very simple process of measuring a creature and comparing those measures with those made of its offspring - which is the real science of evolution. You have been misled by Darwin and a lot of other philosophers in lab coats. (I have a lab coat too. So there.) For more see Jaki's short chapter on GKC as "Critic of Evolutionism". But the point GKC is making is not strictly a critique of any science - it is a critique of really bogus philosophy. Darwin should have stuck to his finches.

Next, GKC proceeds to the next wrong alternative, though it may sound quite similar to the evolutionary one:
Some fall back simply on the clock: they talk as if mere passage through time brought some superiority; so that even a man of the first mental calibre carelessly uses the phrase that human morality is never up to date. How can anything be up to date? - a date has no character. How can one say that Christmas celebrations are not suitable to the twenty-fifth of a month? What the writer meant, of course, was that the majority is behind his favourite minority - or in front of it. Other vague modern people take refuge in material metaphors; in fact, this is the chief mark of vague modern people. Not daring to define their doctrine of what is good, they use physical figures of speech without stint or shame, and, what is worst of all, seem to think these cheap analogies are exquisitely spiritual and superior to the old morality. Thus they think it intellectual to talk about things being "high." It is at least the reverse of intellectual; it is a mere phrase from a steeple or a weathercock. "Tommy was a good boy" is a pure philosophical statement, worthy of Plato or Aquinas. "Tommy lived the higher life" is a gross metaphor from a ten-foot rule.

This, incidentally, is almost the whole weakness of Nietzsche, whom some are representing as a bold and strong thinker. No one will deny that he was a poetical and suggestive thinker; but he was quite the reverse of strong. He was not at all bold. He never put his own meaning before himself in bald abstract words: as did Aristotle and Calvin, and even Karl Marx, the hard, fearless men of thought. Nietzsche always escaped a question by a physical metaphor, like a cheery minor poet. He said, "beyond good and evil," because he had not the courage to say, "more good than good and evil," or, "more evil than good and evil." Had he faced his thought without metaphors, he would have seen that it was nonsense. So, when he describes his hero, he does not dare to say, "the purer man," or "the happier man," or "the sadder man," for all these are ideas; and ideas are alarming. He says "the upper man," or "over man," a physical metaphor from acrobats or alpine climbers. Nietzsche is truly a very timid thinker. He does not really know in the least what sort of man he wants evolution to produce. And if he does not know, certainly the ordinary evolutionists, who talk about things being "higher," do not know either.
And thus GKC provides "kryptonite" to destroy Nietzsche's "superman"! Granted, such dark writing as Nietzsche or Darwin is not advised, but we ought to know what their errors were, and we ought to know the remedies.

You may find that argument confusing. It's an idea, after all, and (let us say it together): "Ideas are alarming!" Wow. Perhaps you'd like it better in another style of presentation? Here is the parallel from GKC's fiction:
[Syme, our hero asks Gregory the anarchist:] "First of all, what is it really all about? What is it you object to? You want to abolish government?"

"To abolish God!" said Gregory, opening the eyes of a fanatic. "We do not only want to upset a few despotisms and police regulations; that sort of anarchism does exist, but it is a mere branch of the Nonconformists. We dig deeper and we blow you higher. We wish to deny all those arbitrary distinctions of vice and virtue, honour and treachery, upon which mere rebels base themselves. The silly sentimentalists of the French Revolution talked of the Rights of Man! We hate Rights as we hate Wrongs. We have abolished Right and Wrong."
"And Right and Left," said Syme with a simple eagerness, "I hope you will abolish them too. They are much more troublesome to me."
[GKC The Man Who Was Thursday CW6:490]
Of course we know that was Darwin's plan because he actually wote it in a letter, and gave away the show, as Jaki tells us: "Sin is too blatantly a spiritual entity to have place in the radical materialism which Darwin, throughout his scientific career, meant to promote by his evolutionary theory. All doubt on that score has been made unscholarly by the full publication in the early 1970s of Darwin's notebooks from 1837-39." Jaki goes on to give us this grand insight into the error of Darwin the philosopher, which very interestingly links his thought to our "superman" by quoting "the precept laid down by Darwin himself": "Never say higher or lower." [This is from S. L. Jaki's The Only Chaos 147; his footnote reads: Darwin's handwritten note fastened with a clip in his copy of Chalmers' Vestiges of Creation. See More Letters of Charles Darwin: A Record of His Work in Hitherto Unpublished Letters, F. Darwin and A. C. Seward, eds. (New York: D. Appleton, 1903), vol. 1, p. 114.]

I think we have quite disposed of that matter, and can now proceed to hear GKC completing his review:
Then again, some people fall back on sheer submission and sitting still. Nature is going to do something someday; nobody knows what, and nobody knows when. We have no reason for acting, and no reason for not acting. If anything happens it is right: if anything is prevented it was wrong. Again, some people try to anticipate nature by doing something, by doing anything. Because we may possibly grow wings they cut off their legs. Yet nature may be trying to make them centipedes for all they know.

Lastly, there is a fourth class of people who take whatever it is that they happen to want, and say that that is the ultimate aim of evolution. And these are the only sensible people. This is the only really healthy way with the word evolution, to work for what you want, and to call that evolution. The only intelligible sense that progress or advance can have among men, is that we have a definite vision, and that we wish to make the whole world like that vision. If you like to put it so, the essence of the doctrine is that what we have around us is the mere method and preparation for something that we have to create. This is not a world, but rather the material for a world. God has given us not so much the colours of a picture as the colours of a palette. But he has also given us a subject, a model, a fixed vision. We must be clear about what we want to paint. This adds a further principle to our previous list of principles. We have said we must be fond of this world, even in order to change it. We now add that we must be fond of another world (real or imaginary) in order to have something to change it to.
Perhaps you are feeling a bit uncomfortable at this last paragraph. It seems to be a conclusion, but it also seems to be a transition, which is fairly typical in GKC's work. I have debated omitting it, but have decided I shall include it again next week. The argument is rather dense here, but I need to make a division somewhere, if just for the practical reason of my postings - if this were a book, it would not be as awkward. I think it may be helpful for you to review, as GKC did, this handful of nonsensical views, if only to begin to have a sense that they are wrong. As you read and think and study, you will be about to understand why they are wrong, and argue the issues for yourself. But they are very common, even 100 years afterwards - people are still harping on the same philosophy that gave us the Nazis and the Communists, pretending that there may be something good in it after all. It's time for you to throw it on the trash heap... or perhaps make a gargoyle.

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