THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS …
sometimes referred to as The Seven Cardinal Sins – I like that.
Serf musings regarding social engineering attempts to narrow down the complexity of individual human personality for ‘noble’ ends, noble ends often requiring a noble lie. Hat / tip to the Greek philosopher Plato in ‘The Republic,’ a blue-print for utopian engineering and an act of pride in itself.
A Sensitivity Warning: the following will include a plethora of CAP-LETTERING due to the SERIOUSNESS of the subject being discussed, SEVEN DEADLY SINS – Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony ‘n Lust. Herewith a serf haiku over-view:
No History w/out Hubris…
The Study of History and ‘Those SINS.’
History’s supposed to be a proper study of mankind, claimed Italian historian, Giambattista Vico,( 1668-1744) arguing ahead of his time that since man himself has created history and the societies which are its study, man is especially adapted to be an object of human knowledge. This meant that if history was to become a serious study of humans interacting with their world, certain misconceptions concerning its ‘purpose’ and the nature of historical explanation, had to be overcome.
One misconception that had to go was the study of the past as moral instruction, history ‘teaching a lesson’ Much of Middle Ages history was of this kind, events regarded in a providential light, God’s purpose over-ruling human action. Another narrowing of human action requiring critical review was ‘scientism’ or ‘historicism,’ involving explanation in history as the outcome of inexorable laws of destiny. Claiming that history obeyed scientific laws, arch historicists, Georg Hegel and Otto Spengler saw history driven by laws of political or cultural destiny, historicist Karl Marx, viewed humans as puppets constrained by economic laws. As discoverers of laws in history, donning the powerful cloak of science, Hegel and Spengler, however, chose to discard the scientific discipline of testing and eliminating error, any nation presently prevailing just happening to be the destined victor, Karl Marx failed the prediction test, his stages of history theory falsified by events.
A third problem to be overcome concerned bias in historical perspective, what to do to transcend the myopia of present point of view and the opacity of time and space.
Context’s the thing.
Problems of historical perspective in explanations of historical events required a broader approach to the study of the past. For historian John Dunn, the problem could only be overcome by understanding the biographical or social experience a past argument or event was designed to meet. Dunn argued that to abstract an argument or event from the criteria which it was designed to meet was to convert it into a different argument or event. To understand the argument of a past thinker, we need to ‘substitute the closure of the context provided by the biography of the speaker for that provided by the biography of the historian.’ (J Dunn ‘The Identity of the History of Ideas.’ Philosophy 43,1968 p98.)
For Karl Popper, like John Dunn, overcoming the personal bias of the historian requires contextual analysis. Popper argues a critical approach to understanding the ‘logic of the situation’ of protagonists. By locating the decisive elements in an actor’s problem situation, a historian has a good chance of understanding and explaining past events. (‘Objective Knowledge. An Evolutionary Approach.’ Oxford, 1979.Ch 4.)
Accurate situational analysis beyond reading the correspondence of decision makers may require the spreading of a large net involving geographical data and other resource data or identifying impacting events, past or present, at home or abroad.
A critical and provisional study of history, so followed, I’d argue, pursued in context and for its own sake, can reveal us to ourselves in all our variety, a panoply of human motivations, interacting and overlapping …FEAR, AMBITION, OPPORTUNISM, DECEIT, PRIDE and more, a rich and chastening experience.
The Western Literary Canon.
But what about experience gleaned from the fictional characters in literature, from the pages of the great books of the Western Canon?
In an earlier edition of Serf Under _ ground, I put forward a proposal with reference to reading literature, viz, ‘That literature, in mysterious ways, expands our human consciousness and understanding of our human condition,’
Now I know you’re likely to disagree with this in a number of ways. Considering that we’ve all experienced the difficulties of communicating with real people in the here and now, and considering difficulties in historical studies, overcoming present bias to identify human problem situations of the past, what’s to be gained from fiction?
My answer is that behind these fictional characters and plots hides a silent creator, the author, a real person. The canon of literature that avid readers turn to for enjoyment and more, again and again, books that include many points of view and modes of exploring them, are written by authors with rich imagination and perception, who turn the characters in their creations into living human beings involved with particular aspects of human experience.
Harold Bloom, in his book, ‘The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of the Ages.’ (1994.) defends the concept of a body of great literature existing through history to be read for the lustres, a concept which should scarcely need defending, but a concept under attack from Marxist and Foucault inspired anti-canonists.
Bloom examines twenty-six writers that he chooses to write about in The Western Canon, from the five hundred or so canonical writers that he names in the appendix of his book, great literature from different historical eras and countries from Homer and the Greek tragedians to playwrights, poets. novelists and essayists of the twentieth century.
So what is this thing with the writers that Harold Bloom calls the canon? The answer, more often than not, turns out to be strangeness, ‘a mode of originality that either cannot be assimilated, or that so assimilates us that we cease to see it as strange … the cycle of achievement that goes from The Divine Comedy to Endgame, from strangeness to strangeness.’ (H.B. P3)
Strangeness ‘n Originality.
Bloom argues that Shakespeare’s originality and strangeness has become so assimilated by us that we cease to see it as strange. He places Shakespeare at the centre of the Canon because he excels all other Western writers in cognitive acuity and power of invention.
Bloom argues that Shakespeare gives us most of our representations of cognition. He goes further, observing that Shakespeare largely invented what we think of as cognition, that most of what we know about how to represent cognition and personality in language was permanently altered by Shakespeare.(P46.) There isn’t anyone before him who actually gives you a representation of characters speaking out loud whether to themselves or to others, and then brooding out loud on what they have said, and in the course of pondering, undergoing a serious or vital change, becoming a different kind of character.
Where Shakespeare took the hint, says Bloom, – is from Chaucer, Shakespeare’s only precursor in reflective character; the self aware revelations of two characters in ‘The Canterbury Tales,’ the Wife of Bath that gets into Falstaff, and of the Pardoner, that gets into figures like Edmund and Iago. As to how Chaucer comes up with it, says Harold Bloom, shows Chaucer’s own startling originality.
The Canterbury Tales and the Seven Sins.
‘Here is God’s plenty,’ said poet John Drydon, speaking of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. And it is… Though no religious pilgrimage to Canterbury this, instead, for most of the travelers, a pleasure jaunt with tales told along the way, mostly secular tales of love and marriage told in popular mode, chivalry and courtly romance, satire and animal fable.
Chaucer’s tales are a witty analogy to Dante’s grim pilgrimage in ‘The Inferno’ through the nether regions of Hell. Sins there are a-plenty but Chaucer’s large consciousness, like Shakespeare’s, can’t be prescribed by constraints of the times. Though set against a world of Medieval Christian morality, Chaucer’s tales, while including moral and spiritual allegory and sermons, transcend the didactic.
Chaucer is no preacher but instead a comic ironist, who creates in The Canterbury Tales, a structure of preamble and tale told by each individual pilgrim in which they introduce and reveal themselves to us by their own words, a device exploited by later grand ironists, Shakespeare and Jane Austin.
Master of ceremonies on the journey is the ambiguous character, ‘Chaucer,’ – not the creator, ‘Chaucer,’ but another ‘guileless Chaucer,’ one of the company of travelers, and this allows readers, in the absence a guiding voice, to make their own discoveries about each character’s nature and concerns.
The two most individual and self-aware characters in the tales are the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner. In these characters, Bloom observes, Chaucer has anticipated by centuries that inwardness we associate with the Renaissance and the Reformation, a self- consciousness that Shakespeare quickens into self over-hearing and subsequent will to change. ( B. P 105.)
Lots of self awareness in the Wife of Bath. In her prologue, twice as long and more interesting than her tale, she celebrates her extraordinary vitalism and sexual exuberance. Widow of five husbands and would take a sixth, her preamble is a stream of consciousness reverie that almost seems to break lose from the tales. The Wife of Bath gives us a vivid account of her marriages and battle for sovereignty within them and also her dissent from the strictures of the church on multiple marriages, followed by a commentary on men’s moralizing about women’s vices:
‘By God, if women hadde written stories,
As clerkes han written hir oratories,
They wolde han written of men more wickednesse
Than all the mark of Adam may redresse.’
(W/B. Lines 693-696.)
And in a passage that anticipates some of Shakespeare’s characters’ introspective soliloquies, the Wife of Bath reflects on how time has transfigured her and we see her consideriing a deliberate change from her early natural vitalism to a more self-conscious cheerfulness. She can’t be what she was, but she will continue in a way suited to her heroic personality:
‘But – Lord Crist! – whan that it remembreth me
Upon my yowthe, and on my jolitee,
It tikleth me about myn herte roote.
Unto this day it dooth myn herte boote
That I have had my worlde as in my tyme.
But age, allas, that al wol envenyme,
Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith.
Lat go. Farewel! The devel go therwith!
The flour is goon: ther is namoore to telle;
The bren, as I best kan,now moste I selle;
But yet to be right mery will I fonde.’
(W/B lines 469-467.)
In her ‘likerous tale concerning dominance in marriage, there’s no surprise about who wins. There is a surprise, however, in her dissertation on ‘gentilness’ or ‘nobility’ that suggests an unexpected aspect of her nature, perhaps something that she’s unaware of herself…
‘Looke who that is most virtuous always,
Pryvee and apert, and mooste entendeth ay
To dothe gentil dedes that he can;
Taak hym for the grettest gentil man.’
(WB.Tale. Lines 113-116.)
Can’t constrain the Wife of Bath too narrowly to a mere ‘deadly sin of lust.’
The ‘gentil Pardoner’, forerunner of Shakespeare’s great nihilists Edmund and Iago, is a figure who marks the limit of Chaucer’s irony. The Pardoner’s prologue and tale, as Bloom observes, are not comic but lethal.
The most depraved of Chaucer’s characters, as he says of himself, he is’ a ful vicious man,’ he is also the most intelligent and imaginative, delighting in his mastery of persuasive preaching to deceive the gullible:
‘My hand and my tongue go yerns
That it is joy to see my busyness
Of avarice and of such cursedness
Is all my preaching for to make them free
To give their pence, and namely unto me
For my intent is not but for to win,
And nothing for correction of sin.
I reck never when that they be buried
Though that there soules go a black berried.’
(P. Lines 397-406)
The Pardoner’s theme is cupidity motive for his own calumny, trading in indulgences and fake ‘holy’ relics, ‘I preach nothing but coveitise.’ And greed is the subject of his tale. His macabre tale involves an ancient figure like the Wandering Jew, who meets with three young revelers on a drunken quest to accost and kill Death. The ancient man, who seems to be Death’s messenger, directs them to a lonely place where they will meet with Death. The revelers find a heap of gold sovereigns and plans change. Unwilling to share the spoils, they plot against each other and bring about their mutual destruction. ‘Ralix malorum est Cupiditus.’
At the end of his awesome tale, the Pardoner outrageously offers his services of mock redemption to his fellow pilgrims, arousing even the tolerant Chaucer to anger… What is he doing? It’s as though he is provoking disaster. Is he a doom –seeker aware of the emptiness of his boast that only greed motivates him? In the tale he tells he opens up the abyss of eternal damnation for sinners. Perhaps he sees a parallel between himself and the ancient stranger in his tale? Tomorrow and tomorrow…
Tinker, tailor …
Oh those aspirations to narrow down human diversity for Utopian ideals. From Plato’s Utopia to UNESCO’s Millennium Goal vision, social engineering programs, however noble the motive, don’t end well. We see Plato’s Republic- a blue-print to arrest all change, necessarily tailoring the plebs into docility requiring a ‘noble lie’ to bring it about And still these top-down efforts continue. In the name of social equity, one size fits all, Western Civilization, in its education programs is abandoning that basic individualism inherited from thinkers of classical antiquity like Pericles, Socrates , Euripides aor Cicero and from the creative geniuses of the Renaissance like Giotto, Brunelleschi, Leonardo, Michelangelo.
Transformative Learning, at Home and Abroad.
Here in Oz, not so many decades ago, before K-12 Core Curriculum began it’s social agenda transformation of State education, schools generally taught subject content, concepts and skills which, when taught by good teachers, emphasized critical thinking and developing student autonomy. Values education, such as it was, focusing on respect for self and others, reliability and honesty, was promoted separately from curriculum subjects. Now values education permeates every subject area in schools and would seem to be the education’s main goal, transformative education for pre-determined socio-political ends.
A recent social-activist program introduced into schools, the ‘Safe Schools, All of Us ‘ program is exciting some controversy, being a focus on LGBTI, i.e. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender bullying, involving radical program changes. While ‘Safe Schools ‘has as its kernel, a reasonable proposition that no one should be bullied for perceived differences, you would expect a school to deal with any bullying by promoting respect as a civic duty, even stepping up teacher presence in school recess yard duty if necessary, as in the past, But this eight million dollar tax payer funded program, introduced into schools without parental consent, goes way beyond this, involving inappropriate cross gender role play for eleven and twelve year old students, even looking to speech reforms, avoiding hetero-norm language, ‘boy,’, ‘girl’ references, ‘father,’ ‘mother,’ also targeted. Seems children at school are being made the cannon fodder of adult sexual politics.
Transformational Learning in the US.
Robin Eubanks, a US attorney and parent, writer of the blog, ‘Invisble Serf’s Collar,’ has written several posts on education in the United States, including this one, ‘Rewiring Students’ Brains at a Neural Level to Constrain, Guide and Motivate Desired Future Behaviors.’
Here are a few extracts, posted on 8th of June, 2016:
‘During the last two weeks documentable, official confessions of just how much our children’s very synapses and whether the regions used in thinking are rational or tied to emotions have come out on an almost daily basis…
The US BRAIN Initiative (which began in 2013) coordinates actively with Human Brain Project and goes to its programmes in Europe. Turns out part of that initiative included a Bioethics Commission http://bioethics.gov/ where we can locate the BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision report as well as the two Gray Matters reports that leave our government’s desire to interfere with internalized mental processes for political purposes in no doubt. It is also chaired by Penn Pres Amy Gutmann who was probably chosen by President Obama precisely because her 1987 book Democratic Education called on schools to shift away from the ‘well-intentioned misperception’ that schools have an “obligation to impart information.” Instead, Gutmann wanted teachers to develop the moral character of students so that they “feel the force of right reason” to reshape society.’
Citing Professor Damasio, a US partner in the HBP, Robin Eubank says:
‘There’s that ‘feeling’ hype again. I know it is not coincidental because I have a few additional writings we can survey. I have Damasio’s 2010 book Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain where he stated that “emotions are the dutiful executors and servants of the value principle.” A useful target for emphasis for planners hoping to alter the drivers of future behavior. Since Professor Damasio elsewhere mentioned “the need to manage the behaviors of humans,” forcing student thinking to be grounded in emotion would appear to be an excellent place to start. UNESCO agrees too since I located an August 2015 paper stating that the new purpose of ‘curriculum’ in the 21st century is to make sure there is no “contradiction or dissociation between the cognitive and the ethical dimension in learning.”
In order to advance the ‘concept of social justice’ and the new UN “guidelines on the meaning of education based on the ideal of building more just societies,” educational experiences must be created so that each student’s commitment to the ideals of social justice is not “an adherence that is purely rhetorical or cut off from how people actually behave.” Rounding out our support is this paper that I-Y coauthored http://iesteulada.edu.gva.es/portal/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Neuroscience-and-learning.pdf which ended with a diagram that makes it clear it is Emotional Thought, and not High Reason/ Rational Thought, that 21st century education wants to cultivate. Why? Because of its useful role in desired ” moral decision-making.” ‘
Leaving no doubt that schools are being used to force a transformational political agenda at a neural level, Robin Eubanks quottes one of the Grey Matter reports stating that ‘ one desirable goal for ethics education is ‘transformational learning’ which goes beyond cultivating cognitive learning or critical thinking to inculcate ‘habits of mind, attitudes and dispositions. ‘
Robin Eubanks concludes that this is ‘neural change and designed to motivate future behavior from a level unconscious to the neurologically reengineered student.’
The Ultimate Deadly Sin against Humanity.
So no more Socrates’ or Michelangelos’ … And nevermore a Chaucer or a Shakespeare.
Oh you Platonists!
From the confines of my
ivory tower, kinda’
like the Lady of Shallot,
but bolstered by philo-
‘I,’ no, royal ‘We’
gaze down upon
‘n tell you what you are,
and what you need to be.
beth the serf.