Sertillanges and the news

“As to newspapers, defend yourself against them with the energy that the continuity and the indiscretion of their assault make indispensable. You must know what the papers contain, but they contain so little, and it would be easy to learn it all without settling down to interminable lazy sittings.”

(The Intellectual Life, pg. 148-149).

Humanity as the unity between the physical and spiritual realms (methorios in Maximus the Confessor and the fall of all creation).

[Question: why the apparently necessary connection between human moral failure (in the Garden of Eden) and so-called ‘natural evil’ (i.e., tsunamis and cholera)?  Here David Bentley Hart touches on an often overlook aspect of patristic theological anthropology which explains this necessary connection].

“Nevertheless, and disturbing as it may be, it is clearly the case that that there is a kind of “provisional’ cosmic dualism within the New Testament: not an ultimate dualism, of course, between two equal principles, but certainly a conflict between a sphere of created autonomy that strives against God on the one hand and the saving love of God in time on the other. It is a patristic notion (developed with extraordinary profundity by Maximus the Confessor) that humanity was created as the methorios (the boundary or frontier) between the physical and the spiritual realms, or as the priesthood of creation that unites earth to heaven, and that thus, in the fall of man, all of material existence was made subject to the dominion of death” (David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea, pgs 62-63).

Josef Pieper – The meaning of life, according to Plato

 

“I wish to sum up Plato’s stance [regarding the meaning of human existence] in three brief statements:

The First Statement: To perceive, as much as possible, all things as they really are and to live and act according to this truth (truth, indeed, not as something abstract and “floating in thin air” but as the unveiling of reality)–in this consists the good of man; in this consists a meaningful human existence.

The Second Statement: All men are nurtured, first and foremost, by the truth, not only those who search for knowledge–the scientists and the philosophers. Everybody who yearns to live as a true human being depends on this nourishment. Even society as such is sustained by the truth publicly proclaimed and upheld.

The Third Statement: The natural habitat of truth is found in interpersonal communication. Truth lives in dialogue, in discussion, in conversation–it resides, therefore, in language, in the word. Consequently, the well-ordered human existence, including especially its social dimension, is essentially based on the well-ordered language employed. A well-ordered language here does not primarily mean its formal perfection, even though I tend to agree with Karl Kraus when he says that every correctly placed comma is decisive. No, a language is well ordered when its words express reality with as little distortion and as little omission as possible.”

Pieper, Josef. Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1992. 35-26. Print.

Sophistry, propaganda, and the drowning out of Truth and Reality

“It is entirely possible that the true and authentic reality is being drowned out by the countless superficial information bits noisily and breathlessly presented in propaganda fashion. Consequently, one may be entirely knowledgeable about a thousand details and nevertheless, because of ignorance regarding the core of the matter, remain without basic insight. This is a phenomenon in itself already quite astonishing and disturbing. Arnold Gehlen labeled it “a fundament ignorance, created by technology and nourished by information”. But, I wanted to say, something for more discouraging is readily conceivable as well: the place of authentic reality is taken over by a fictitious reality; my perception is indeed still directed toward an object, but now it is a pseudoreality, deceptively appearing as being real, so much so that it becomes almost impossible any more to discern the truth.”

Pieper, Josef. Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1992. 33-34. Print.

Stranger Things and the difference between virtual and physical RPGs

I have been watching Stranger Things on Netflix, and thus far I love the show (for a few reasons I won’t get into here – I will only add that I’ve been successfully able to watch it occasionally rather than clothing myself in athletic gear, and watching the whole thing in one night). One thing about the show got me thinking. There is a scene at the beginning of the first episode in which the young boys are playing a Role Playing Game (Dungeons and Dragons, I believe). I played the same game (RPG) for a little while in grade 7. I stopped playing in part because I noticed even then that the game had become an obsession for me (for whatever reason I think I may tend towards obsessing about things that interest me, rather than being able to moderate my participation and enjoyment). Even so, the obsession I had with playing an RPG in grade 7 was moderated by a few things.

As a kid I had to work hard at feeding my obsession with RPGs because of the basic creaturely constraints of space and time. In Stranger Things we see how the mother of one of the characters operates as a moderating influence. She has an eye on the clock. She intervenes. When they physically disperse, the game stops. They go to their homes (or not). They eat. They go to school. They need to plan to play again. The planning itself takes time for preparation. Physical RPGs involve real-world interaction between individuals who are immersed in a narrative by way of a story teller. The games are themselves tactile, with dice and paper at least, along with your own ‘I don’t want to shower today mom’ grime and smell.

 

There is a vast array of RPGs in New Media and some of them are massive (they are actually called MMORPGs – or for the uninitiated Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games). The online form of these games means the basic creaturely constraints of space and time are negated or absent entirely. Physical community is unnecessary in order for the game to work. Our primal biological and typical way of gathering as a community of human beings for entertainment has been short-circuited by instant access to the internet wherever we are, and at any time. As a teacher at an inner-city high school in London, I could notice how World of Warcraft (for example) was having a detrimental effect on some of my students. The obsession of the game could be indulged almost seamlessly around mealtime, bedtime and home-work (if that happened). My guess is that some of the young people exerted influence on the family dynamics in order to play more, taking supper into their rooms, and spending more and more time closed away from the other members of their family. Admittedly for some of them the game was a relief from certain harsh realities.

I think it is worth thinking about space and time in general as we consider New Media. How can we  engage with New Media in, at least, a benign way if not a positive way? It has been my observation that immersion into such games comes at the expense of looking after your body and letting your mind rest. It has a detrimental impact on all other areas of your life. I think for those people who can play MMORPGs for a little while (say 3 hours once per week) there is much enjoyment to be had. It would be not so different than watching a movie. However, I think that many of these games are intentional about making it difficult to detach and do other things. Without the basic creaturely constraints, our minds are at risk of being altered and artificially stimulated to obsess in a way that does not necessarily involve the other aspects of our lives (physical interaction with other humans, the feeling of warm sunlight on our skin, showering, eating, sleeping…). Something of primal importance for us is being lost, or at least marginalized, namely story-telling and community, not to mention actual physical adventures in the forest on our bikes.

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Martin Luther writing to Melanchthon about his prolapsed rectum

“The Lord has afflicted me with painful constipation. The elimination is so hard that I am forced to press with all my strength, even to the point of perspiration, and the longer I delay the worse it gets. …..My constipation has become bad….I tried the pills according to the prescription. Soon I had some relief and elimination without blood or force, but the wound of the previous rupture isn’t healed yet, and I even had to suffer a good deal because some flesh extruded, either due to the power of the pills, or I don’t know what……

“….. At last my behind in my bowels have reconciled themselves to me.”

Aldous Huxley on Accidie (aka, melancholy, boredom, ennui, despair)

From: “On the Margin”

The cœnobites of the Thebaid were subjected to the assaults of many demons.  Most of these evil spirits cam furtively with the coming of night.  But there was one, a fiend of deadly subtlety, who was not afraid to walk by day.  The holy men of the desert called him the dæmon meridianus; for his favourite hour of visitation was in the heat of the day.  He would lie in wait for monks grown weary with working in the oppressive heat, seizing a moment of weakness to force an entrance into their hearts.  And once installed there, what havoc he wrought!  For suddenly it would seem to the poor victim that the day was intolerably long and life desolatingly empty.  He would go to the door of his cell and look up at the sun and ask himself if a new Joshua had arrested it midway up the heavens.  Then he would go back into the sade and wonder what good he was doing in that cell or if there was any object in existence.  Then he would look at the sun again and find it indubitably stationary, and the hour of the communal repast of the evening as remote as ever.  And he would go back to his meditations, to sink, sink through disgust and lassitude into the black depths of despair and hopeless unbelief.  When that happened the demon smiled and took his departure, conscious that he had done a good morning’s work.

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