“Know thyself!” and a Credible Defence

When we look at the world stage, we see two forces at work, even though they are sometimes intertwined and difficult to distinguish. One holds that man is incapable of creating peace and harmony in the long run, and therefore must be governed either with wisdom or with discipline. The other holds that peace and harmony are possible, but require self-mastery nurtured by autonomy and responsibility. Both reveal an awareness of our nature, and the split goes through our own hearts. On the one side we project our fears onto others and take the fight outside, and on the other the fight is within, because we are aware of our shadow. So, the question isn’t really subjugation or independence, but a question of whether we know ourselves well enough, to take the fight where the problem is.

“Know yourself” is the first of the Delphic maxims inscribed in the forecourt of the temple of Apollo. It isn’t just a maxim that should be applied to those who boast. It isn’t just a praise of knowledge of the human body. It is a maxim that points to that which drives us, our motivation, and our intention. The two other maxims were “nothing to excess” and “surety brings insanity”, which underline that point. The excessive exploitation of anything reveals that we have not known our motivation and intentions, and certainty has been the rod of iron that has subjugated humankind for too long. Both lead to destruction, as we have seen over millennia. Know yourself and know that your mind has two very distinct functions that must act together, to love and discern.

To love is to embrace the reality in which we live, to appreciate its diversity and beauty, but discernment helps us to know whether something is dangerous or poses no threat. We seem to have lost this cooperative spirit, and our discernment has shifted to whether something is desirable or repulsive, sympathetic, or unsympathetic. We have lost the ability to appreciate our reality, we value nature only as a resource and imagine we can make it better. But we have misjudged our intentions, did not see our excessive behaviour, and have been blind in our certainty. Delphi send its regards.

These are the reasons for our historical struggle for the “good,” which is interpreted in many ways and rarely found. The struggle has cost many, many millions of lives, has made the vision of hell a real experience, and has made the vision of heaven unattainable for mortal man. The fallacy is recognizable when liberators threaten hellfire or dictators promise freedom, and we have fallen for these lies for so long. It may be that the weariness of age softens a human heart, and when the fire in youthful hearts has sunk to embers over time, it warms rather than burns, but at bottom it is a growing disillusionment with the righteousness of causes and a witnessing the unspeakable suffering caused that suppresses self-righteousness.

Perhaps this is what is missing in our societies, and instead we have indifference and apathy, except when we think something is beneficial to us. When we look only for what benefits us, in true individualistic fashion, we overlook the other, more important aspect of embracing our reality, including the reciprocity that benefits the whole. The balance between the individual and the collective, the parts and the entirety, is missing. In a holistic view, excessiveness, overconfidence, and certitude endanger the cohesion of the whole. If a society has difficulty in seeing itself as a whole, how then will humanity realise its shared identity?

So, we have seen that if the individual does not know himself, what follows from that endangers not only himself, but the larger group and eventually the whole species. Today, then, the question is whether a society should put itself in a position to defend its population, which must be answered unequivocally in the affirmative, even though we know that war is completely contrary to moral wisdom. The prerequisite, however, is the explicit intention to defend, not to attack, but it must be a credible defence, or it will be ignored. In Germany, after the wars, there was a consensus that it must never again be possible for Germany to start a war. This has turned into a policy of harmlessness, and harmless is the totally inadequate German military with planes that do not fly, weapons that are not accurate, and vehicles that spend more time in the garage than out. It is as if the politicians were intent on having a military that cannot fight a war rather than not wanting to fight one.

Again, the maxim “know thyself” applies, and after the war, Germans believed they could not be trusted with a military. But that is an evasion of the problem. It is a question of balance, of avoiding excess, and of doubting the absolute certainty with which one assumes that one has the right to attack another. We know that in the right circumstances anyone can be violent, even the most pitiful. This means that under the right circumstances, an ideologically motivated leadership could choose to attack another country, as we have seen. Therefore, as no country should simply be overrun, and no human being should be oppressed and threatened with death, every country needs a credible defence.

Nightmare

I awoke with a start in the darkness of the night and threw my legs out of bed. My heart was pounding, but I had no memory of what nightmare might have awakened me. I pulled my legs back into bed and pulled the covers back up against the cold air. I wondered only briefly why I had been startled as fatigue drove me back to sleep. A few hours later, my wife called me, and I reluctantly got out of bed and went to the bathroom. It was 5:30 and we were going to the gym. When I entered the living room, she said, “Putin has invaded Ukraine”. A nightmare, I thought.

We had been expecting it to happen for some time, and now we were watching the reporters cover developments and concerns for the future. They talked about the speech Putin had given and how he viewed Ukraine’s government as illegitimate, as well as those in several former Soviet states. Putin is even said to have talked about Finland being part of Russia, even though it is a modern, progressive country that is going its own way. My head bristled at the thought that there is anyone who considers other countries to be the rightful property of Russia, and that had illegally become independent. What mind would want to undo the independence of people?

For a long time, there had been voices warning the West about this intention, which had been dormant for a while, and it came especially from Russian exiles. But there were others who warned the West against interfering in Russia’s territories, and President Trump even “liked” Putin and tried to ally with him, wishing for large military parades like those in Russia and China. Both countries were allowed to invest in the West, including in Britain, where a Russian even has a seat in the House of Lords. Germany, through lobbying by former Chancellor Schröder, agreed to gas supplies from Russia that would make it dependent, which was widely criticized in the West. And the reaction to the shooting or poisoning of opposition Russian figures was meagre and indecisive.

A nightmare indeed, especially considering Putin’s views on former soviet countries, that have become NATO members and have the right to protection by the other members. The Friedrich Nauman Stiftung quotes Michel Eltchaninoff as saying that it is hard to say why he has become so aggressive now. “Domestically, the fact is that he promised a “Russia for the people” in the 2018 election campaign: That was his slogan. In the nearly four years since, however, he hasn’t gotten much off the ground. He has amended the constitution to stay in office until 2036; he has reformed the pension system in a highly unpopular way; he has poisoned and arrested his critic and rival Alexei Navalny. But he has failed to galvanize a political movement in his favour. His popularity is visibly eroding.”

So, it seems that the domestic problems of Russia have become the problems for the West and in particular for the Ukraine. Eltchaninoff is quoted as saying that Putin is following Lev Goumilev in the pseudo-scientific idea that every nation has its own life energy, and that the superior nature of Russia as a young, new country filled with cosmic power demands continued expansion. This startles the interviewer but considering the conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific idiocies that are widespread on the internet, we can hardly be surprised. It seems to be a time of wild ideas that have overcome the disillusionment of the twentieth century, and the awareness of where war leads us, and a widespread forgetfulness has started to endanger the cohesion of societies and the fragile “peace” that Europe has enjoyed since the war.

It would be wise to take the warnings seriously that Putin is a dangerous ideologist who, according to Eltchaninoff, promotes the idea of a “sacralization of war”, for whom “In Russia, even death is still beautiful”. A nightmare indeed.

https://www.freiheit.org/de/deutschland/putins-ideologie-ist-eine-sakralisierung-des-krieges?twclid=11496820096957825027

A bigger threat than most realise

So now a situation is being forced upon us that we thought belonged in the past. There is an aggressor who not only subliminally wants to undermine the West but is also prepared to use weapons and conquest to assert its status as a political world power. To be fair, it must be admitted that the West has also waged wars in the recent past to protect its own interests, and on specious grounds. So, is it surprising that Russia allows itself to do the same? Yes, yes, the others were always the bad guys, but the same principle applies here.

Of course, it is different when one country annexes another and basically claims ownership from its inglorious past that it is not entitled to. China is threatening its neighbours with something similar, and both countries are supporting each other in the presumption that this is legal. Yes, it may be domestic political pressure and the quest for more influence in the world that is driving these actions. However, the West does the same more subtly and usually with less obvious coercion. Competition between the blocs, which act primarily with military strength, is a threatening situation for the European Union, which seeks to maintain world peace through trade and has no defence to speak of. Basically, America, Russia and China are critical of the EU in different ways, apart from the fact that Anglo-American friends share similar values – and the EU is a welcome buffer zone to Russia.

People in the EU, though occasionally suffering from a spoiled blindness, are far better off than many people elsewhere, including America. That is a laudable achievement, even if there are still injustices and inequalities within the Union. But here, too, there is oligarchic greed and subtle autocratic factions that want to subvert and overthrow the EU. Marxism was dangerously naive, but it basically got something fundamentally right: there are powers that begrudge ordinary people the rights and benefits they have won and would rather exploit them. Revolutions are rightly abhorrent to most people, as the disastrous consequences in Russia and China, as with almost all revolutions, have warned all too clearly, that they are fought too often on a feigned hope that is not fulfilled. Nevertheless, it is fundamentally true that a liberal, free life with many rights and privileges for a majority contests profit maximization.

Therefore, EU citizens must be on their guard and know that their quality of life is currently only tolerated. The British have already been deceived and left the EU because the population was given false hopes by politicians who previously called them lazy and spoiled, and for whom the expansion of workers’ rights and the threat of taxation of large corporations was a thorn in the side. The hopes of Brexit supporters have not been realized and lies are part of everyday political life. It may seem like a big leap from Russia’s threat of war to the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU, but Russian influence is becoming more apparent there as well, and the goal of destroying the EU keeps slipping out when the Tories aren’t careful enough with what they say.

Hopefully peace will be restored, and escalation avoided, but there is a real danger that Russia and China will just see how far they can go, and if there is not enough resistance, they will march on. Russia poses the greatest threat to Europe, of that there is no doubt, and China is lurking in the Far East to see how the conflict unfolds. A war in Europe would change the present economic balance and undo the progress that Europe has made, and the human suffering would be catastrophic.

Reading recommendations

Very much recommended

I’ve picked up a new book recently that I highly recommend, in which the authors are having a new look at history, starting at the Ice Age and progressing through time.

Interesting is the first chapter where they look at how we Europeans looked at indigenous people in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century, and how people reading the books of those then engaged in discussions with those people were amazed at how eloquent and wise their criticism of European culture was. It didn’t take long until opposing criticism came, saying that the conversation couldn’t possibly have taken place, because the indigenous didn’t have the education needed for such eloquence. The authors say that this is probably why we have two conflicting opinions of indigenous people, one that they are primordially wise and uncorrupted, and another that says that they are primitive and dilapidated remnants of past days. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that neither position is correct and that our perception of indigenous people also infuences our perception of prehistory.

I’ll have more to say when I have finished the book, but it is a good read.

Absolutes

There are people who believe that there are things that must not be doubted or questioned, and that adherence to declared norms is the only way to behave. These people come from all levels of society and are often a bane in the lives of others, especially if they hold positions of authority or power. In some cases, they drastically force others into situations that have traumatic effects, sometimes leading to mental and physical illness and, in the worst cases, violent death. We have seen these people cause discord, fights, and wars, send droves of people to their deaths or have them punished for perceived dissidence.

The convictions of dissenting people were sometimes just a doubt of certainty, concerned with the absoluteness of an opinion, point of view, dogma, or policy, overlooking the fact that truth depends on context. How often have we heard statements that seemed correct at a certain time, but which we later reviewed with horror? How often have we ourselves said things that, when repeated, seem to us as if they could not have passed our lips? It is this experience that makes it particularly doubtful when a “truth” is taken as absolute, as if it were one thing and not part of an ongoing process of which we are all a part.

The two areas of life where this seems to have been most effective, often to the detriment of humanity, are politics and religion. It can be said, however, that every argument succeeds in evoking a contradiction that is often set as absolute as that which has evoked it. The “real” truth, it is said, lies between such positions, but it corresponds to the context and process it addresses. It is not absolute, but often situational and can be wrong the next moment. Therefore, we need to interact in a way that provides a space for clarification of intention, debate, and the presentation of perspectives.

Proposing policies to solve problems in our society needs this space, as does religious debate. The tendency to build walls or threaten each other only shows our belief that our view is absolute and that no other view can be true. This is also the current situation in the world, where competing ideologies are fighting for supremacy, claiming that there can be only one. Whether it is liberalism or authoritarianism, individualism or collectivism, Christianity, or Islam, it is a struggle for the supremacy of one ideal. It excludes the idea of perspective and the coexistence of ideas.

Sports are also a struggle for dominion, but there are rules to follow. They may not necessarily guarantee a fair fight, especially given the financial divide in professional sports, but at least there are rules. We can see, however, that the issue of prestige is not just an attribute of sport, although it is particularly evident here. The systematic doping of some nations suggests that the prestige of politics is intruding into sporting competitions.

Undoubtedly, there are situations where a decision must be made and one course of action is preferred over another, and such situations may arise spontaneously and require a quick solution, but most situations can be prepared for. Unfortunately, the bigger decisions are not prepared for and there is too little time for planning, so we increasingly seem to stumble from one disaster to the next. This suggests that we have our priorities wrong, and that the underlying philosophy is not up to the task.

Above I mentioned that space is needed to clarify intentions, which is often an effective way to distinguish between proposed truths. Understanding people’s intentions is critical to coexistence. We are often fooled by stated intentions, whether in political campaigns or religious proselytizing. George Orwell came to a surprising realization when he found that many socialists he knew did not care about poor people, but only disliked the rich even more. In the 1980s, at the suggestion of community members, I went out into the streets to find older people who would enjoy the company of a peer. I, too, was surprised to find that community members did not intend to visit them, but to have them come to their meetings. It is amazing how ideals like charity can be construed as indoctrination with one’s own views.

Thus, we have conflicting views on Christian doctrine, with one extreme seeing in the teachings of the Gospel a morality that would make the world a better place, and another group completely rejecting such intentions and wanting to bring about Armageddon and the end of the world. Of course, there are opposing views among atheists as well, with some saying that morality is possible without religion and others saying that everything is pointless anyway. Diversity of opinion is the normal state, but it is the absolutization of one’s views that causes so much hostility. In fact, it was the Church that gave birth to Satanism, which merely turned the symbolism of Christianity on its head and caricatured Latin expressions. The opposition to the absolutism of the Church was a simple inversion of its doctrine.

History has provided us with a multitude of examples where absolutism has been shown to destroy even the best of intentions, so it must be time to reconsider our path. This does not mean that there is no truth or that everything is a social construct, but it does mean that we are processual beings who are becoming what we will be, and that truth is similar. We need to get as close to the truth as possible, consider context and perspective, and recognize that there may be a better way of doing things tomorrow.

Stunned Silence

I haven’t written much this week, probably because I’m a little stunned by the situation Europe finds itself in. I am probably naive, but I was sure that Europe had achieved peace in formerly warring countries and that trade would allow us to establish stable relations with countries that have an authoritarian style but would also benefit from the commercial interaction of a global economy.

It seems that I was mistaken in not considering the perspective of authoritarian rulers. It seems that a defence alliance, if it consists of countries that passively oppose your authoritarian system, can be perceived as offensive and threatening. Therefore, Putin sees the defence alliance as an aggressor. There is no doubt that capitalism produces a competitive society and that consumption and ultimately greed are its driving force. A population that is content with its lot, buys only sustainable, durable items, and has no need for any of the cheap, short-lived goods on offer is not helpful to such an economy. Likewise, societies based on exports must constantly come up with new, attractive inventions and make existing goods attractive for sale.

Sometimes it must be obvious even to Putin that such an economy is better when there are fewer restrictions, but of course there are problems – as we see every day. We have many dissatisfied people in the West who are vocal about their discontent, whether it is the cost of living, inflation, injustice, prejudice and bigotry, or even contrived issues that many people don’t understand. Even in the West, we see threats to social cohesion and claims that liberal governments are becoming dictatorial. There is plenty to complain about, but that is something authoritarian regimes do not like. On the other hand, more and more people seem to vote for parties that want to make liberal countries more authoritarian and propose to weed out “leftist” groups. Oddly, it is often the same people who complain about dictatorial measures in the pandemic, which begs the question.

The demonstrations of authoritarian regimes are usually characterized by troops marching in goose step, phallic missiles, and flag-waving, smiling crowds. Dissonance is scorned and quickly tuned out, and a broad, coherent harmony is enforced, showing how those in power want their countries to be. No wonder, then, that the issues presented by the left are a horror to such regimes. When contentious issues are protested in the streets and media that only see injustice for ethnic and LGBTQ minorities, while other victims are seen as part of a privileged class merely because of their “whiteness” and are not included, it is strange that Marxist ideals are expressed in such protests. Strange, because the only Marxist regimes that have ever existed have always managed to imprison protesters who have tried to destroy their strict ideals of harmony. We only have to look at what happened to Pussy-Riot to see what chance some of the issues would have under authoritarian regimes.

I have similar doubts about the historical awareness of far-right protesters, especially those whose demeanour suggests a slovenly, undisciplined lifestyle, especially given the ideals of the people they are trying to copy. Very often they are okay with being seen as a mob reminiscent of lynching in the past, thereby committing a betrayal of the conservative values they intend to uphold. The best example was a British protest of far-right mobbers waving English flags and ostensibly defending British Christianity (whatever that is). The combination of Christian values and mobster tactics can be found elsewhere, probably as resistance to the influx of Islamic people, but they invoke the Crusades of the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries in doing so, which not only took the lives of Muslims, but also massacred Jews on their way to the “Holy Land.” (As portrayed in Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History (2001) by James Carroll, a former priest, who documents the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the long European history of religious antisemitism as a precursor to racial antisemitism.)

Together, the ultra-right and ultra-left may be useful in undermining those trying to build peaceful, liberal society that tries to find a course through the landmines of contention that are strewn before us, but it constitutes sawing off the branch you are sitting on. The issues that these groups have protested may be genuine, but the way they have been radicalised means that a peaceful solution that helps as many people as possible is postponed. Those who have no time for debate, who try to cancel other opinions, or stamp out any group that presents other policies, are not only short sighted, but fail to recognise where such tactics led to in the (not so distant) past. Above all, it ignores the fact that their behaviour is a form of absolutism, detached from any kind of criticism, dictatorial and violent.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said George Santayana in Chapter XII—Flux and Constancy in Human Nature” (Volume I) – not Churchill by the way – and we can see that he was right. We need bad experiences to be imprinted in our memory so that we are careful not to do the same thing again. I remember when I attended a West German school in the 1980s, there was a program in which students were taught the developments that led to Nazi Germany to show the abnormality of far-right doctrines and their results. This led to a widespread belief in Germany after the war that the military should not be rebuilt, and afterwards, when an Army was rebuilt, the possibility of conscientious objection. Another example is the lack of serious action against the far-right in East Germany, which has led to a rise in xenophobia. During the communist era political parties were banned, but students were not educated about how Nazism came about with an aim to preventing it happening again. It may be that the supposedly communist institutions were recognized as being too similar to the Nazi ones, and so a comparison was avoided.

However, considering the horrors of the last century, it seems surreal that we are once again talking about the possibility of war, especially when statements like “there can be no winners” are being circulated. I hope that in the near future we will find a diplomatic solution so that the sword of Damocles will be removed, and we can work on peaceful relations again.

A long-awaited proposal from Bishop Marx

Germany: These are sad chapters of the Church that we have seen in recent decades, especially because many churchgoers, especially the many women in the Church, had hoped to have overcome an even darker time before. Hopes for an open church, a patient church, a church more responsive to people’s diverse needs, a healing church, and a welcoming church, were dashed over the years. Instead, church authorities looked to hide or ignore the abuse taking place in the church and abandon the victims.

It turns out that even the pope who gave himself the name Benedict, which comes from the Latin word “benedicere” meaning “to bless, consecrate, praise,” threw up his hands when it became known that there were cases of abuse among some of his priests. The man who was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, founded on July 21, 1542, as Congregatio Romanae et universalis Inquisitionis, could not bring himself to act. Yes, that’s right, the word “Inquisition” is in the title, the head of the institution that had to take action against so-called heretics in church inquisition proceedings. It was reported that when he was archbishop, he disregarded the advice of the appointed psychiatrist, and a priest was placed where abuses eventually occurred.

Benedict, at that time not yet pope but cardinal, had a conflict with Hans Küng, the Swiss-born author who had caused unrest in 1962 with his much-discussed book, Structures of the Church. Küng’s major themes were celibacy, papal infallibility, and women’s priesthood, which become relevant again today after his death. In 1979, Kung lost his teaching license but authored many books on Faith and Church and died in 2021, and Ratzinger became pope in 2005 until his resignation on Feb. 28, 2013.

Now a voice has been raised, and priests should be able to marry. In 2017, 74 men were ordained as “late-called” (Spätberufene) married priests, compared to 77 the year before. It was because there was a priest shortage. I wonder why? In my view, the burden of celibacy is one that should only be taken up voluntarily and should also be reversed if it does not suit. Especially now, after the scandals have become known, it is understandable if mothers have little confidence in incumbents, even if it is by no means true of everyone. One lesson that history shows repeatedly is that endless and uncritical trust leads to abuse of trust, not only in the church.

There are enough examples of how this trust in the leaders of ideological movements was drastically disappointed. Solzhenitsyn in his “Archipelago Gulag” shows how convinced communists were interned and even until their death still believed that they would be reinstated to office. This shows how absolute trust can be against all evidence, even when people’s livelihoods or even lives are at risk. It is a warning that we should circumspective enough to assess trustworthiness, and not assume it because of the position people have.

I believe that it would do the church good to move away from obligatory celibacy, which was official from 1074 onwards, after Pope Gregory VII said that anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy, and that priests [must] first escape from the clutches of their wives. A clear misogynist move, a fear of femininity, which had bugged the church for centuries before, as shown in the brief history of celibacy on this site: https://www.futurechurch.org/brief-history-of-celibacy-in-catholic-church

Having collaborated with women for a prolonged period of time, it seems that there are two types of men: Those that admire them and those that are intimidated by them. I personally admire women, and see the struggles they go through, not least trying to protect their children and keeping a family together, whilst at the same time holding down a job. I, like many other men, regard my wife as the best friend in my life, and the better half which makes me whole. It would only make sense for her and I to share our decisions and plans, contributing each from their own perspective. This, I feel, has been severely lacking in the Catholic church.