Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose
Photo: Journey Worker Productions, CC SA 3.0 (C)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

McKibben, some notes on history of ideas

(Such is Life)

Im reading a new book by Bill McKibbin, who I'd never heard of before but is quite famous it seems. Indeed, my reading for the last few days has been the odd combo of:

A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes.  Second expanded edition, with a new Introduction, by Alcuin Reid. Ignatius Press, 2011. (ISBN 978-1586175221).


McKibben, Bill. Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist. Black Inc. publishing. 2013. (ASIN: B00ED7ZNKI. Kindle edition)

Evelyn Waugh's complaints about the mass into English find very little I do not have emotional resonance with, although his actual arguments are sketchy at best. In my head this week, Latin mass = organic, guitars in mass  = inauthentic consumerism. I'm having a dose of the crankies at the moment in terms of liturgy. Joseph Shaw's series of posts on the Death of the Reform of the Reform movement vis a vis forms of the mass have hit a few mid sized battleships for me on these issues:

But there is something there in terms of articulation, intelligibility, signification and transcendence of meaning that's worth thinking through. I just havent done it to completion yet.

(Still thinking it through. Some pig's trotters...)

Bill Mckibben (b. 1960, Vermont USA resident) seems to be a curious mix of academic and activist. Im still trying to figure him out. Quality activism, but a bit too Obamaish for my taste; he seems to have a not very long historical view on the people he is trying to overcome - mostly big oil and corporate America are his kep 'opponent concepts'. It is interesting though in terms of making me rethink my views on technology, capitalism, environmental ethics and virtue. Ive been thinking of writing something bigger on the concept of Locke, western technology and the ruination of the environment, planetary technology, and 'human ecology'.

Here's a few links to follow where Ive been going -

(It cant come soon enough, and I really hope +Benedict helps out with the ghost writing - especially to add at least token mentions of infused grace, infused faith, hope and charity via the sacraments).

Two links on attempts to theorise the nature of the oppositional system -

Rod Dreyer is still trying to work it out, and occasionally links to neoreactionary people. The second one is by Mike Lofgren, an ex congressional staffer, who basically writes on the system behind the parties in US politics in terms of the security people and the corporate people combining to form the 'deep state'. Lofgren's is a quite bad example of this sort of theorising, because it just treats the people in power as plutocrats and defence hierarchs, and doesnt go further to ask - what do they identify as their fundamental driving principles - the notions that they couldn't give up, that are the frame and not the content, however 'realist' or 'pragmatic' they are acting?

I want to introduce the notion that the Washington consensus/the Anglo-western military-industrial-complex people are fundamentally Lockean (with a religious or a utilitarian tinge as you please), and that this complex of ideas has emerged over the last few centuries, and that there are certain shortcomings in their world view and ethics that mean that they cannot generate a tenable solution to our planetary and human ecology problems by themselves. To do this, I have to make an argument requiring an excursion into Heidegger on technology, Augustinian frui and uti, the church on technology; a short brief on what happens to early modernity's semi-'augustinian' Christian principles when they go through the glorious revolution's anglican-divine meatgrinder, and end up as complacent secular-even-if-religious Lockeanism (Eg. William King, Edmund Law, Isaac Watts, by contrast, for example, with the reliably great Richard Challoner - but was Challoner's theology already 'compromised'? Im not sure, but from the Challoner Ive read, it doesnt feel like it). Within that impoverished frame which we have been bequeathed, there are all the microfights that make up the last two centuries - shades of compromised protestantism fighting secularlism and creeping rationalist unitarianism.

The point is, to get the Lockean view, one has to only twist the story about the relation of human happiness, human virtue and human good around a little bit, for things to eventually become rotten inside but apparently functional and beautiful for most practical interactions, so everyone continues with it until now, where the planetary scale of our interaction with technology means we have to address the core and its rottenness. 

If I get this right and set it out well, it would provide a framework for dealing with both lefty positions like Bill McKibben (who, my sinking intuition tells me, is basically framing a form of environmentalism that is suitable for your 19th C Unitarians' great-great-great-granddaughter's consumption), and Rod Dreyer and the neoreactionaries' attempt to frame all sorts of half-baked 'conservative' Burkean, stop-the-world-I'm-comfortable sorts of positions.

To be continued.

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