29 May 2017

Nietzsche - and Dilbert - Revisited

Insanity is rare in individuals. In large 21st-century organizations, it isn't just the rule: it's something they call global stability.

11 May 2017

Why Our Winning Formula Is Trump-Proof: A Tale of Two Anglospheres

Here's something I think I more or less grasp. But as is often the case, I may need some help in one or more areas.

What I've been noticing is a certain historiographic(?) tendency at work, in recent years, in the English-speaking world.

The tendency is for the last third of the Twentieth Century to really beat up on the first two-thirds. Or rather, more precisely, for certain educated people in our century, who read, study or are interested in history, to use the last third of the Twentieth as a stick (or at least a rod of comparison and correction?) with which to beat up on the first two-thirds. Almost as if the earlier part of the century had been everywhere, without exception, so very much stupider, and more evil, and in general more grossly inferior in every respect to the later part that - lo, the period 1900-1966 has virtually nothing at all to teach us wise hypermoderns. Except, of course, by way of negative example. In short, a true and brutal wasteland, from start to finish - and in ways that even dear old Father Eliot (our Age's literary founder?) could never have conceived, much less calculated.

And not just in the world at large. Or in admittedly awful places like most of Europe and Asia at the time. But even - and sometimes especially - in what is nowadays often called the Anglosphere.*

*And perhaps deservedly so? After all, if the penchant for, say, totalitarianism was bad enough in oppressed places like Germany, Russia, China and Japan, think how much worse - how much more insidious and deadly - it must have been in those Anglophone and other white imperialist countries whose oppression drove those poor Germans, Russians, etc, to such madness?

Now I realize that not every apparent bully is wrong. And sometimes the seeming victim fully deserves the beating he gets. All the more reason, it seems to me, why we should try and understand how much more racially, culturally, economically, sexually enlightened times like ours can feel tempted to look down on other eras that are less enlightened. And even feel amply justified doing so. And especially when the previous era's want of enlightenment makes it seem less productive, by today's enlightened standards. Or less efficiency-driven. Or less willing to assign, to those main drivers (as we all know today) of both innovation and customer satisfaction - namely, the Executive Management Levels of Business - a more deservedly central place in the human scheme of things.

So, at least, runs my understanding of the dominant rhetoric of our time. Now I also realize that any rhetoric - even of an official or mainstream kind - may be at best a very poor mirror of what's actually happening in a culture. At the same time, I think the official rhetoric often reflects pretty accurately what many or most people want to be happening in their culture. Or what they think or believe is happening. Or if nothing else, what they'd like other people to believe is happening.

Anyhow, here is the message I've been getting, concerning a principal difference between two historic Anglospheres: (1) that of our time - including that latter third of the Twentieth Century which, I would argue, we moderns have mostly inherited and maintained - and (2) that of the first two-thirds.

And I have yet to be convinced that the message is essentially wrong.

In the English-speaking world of roughly 1900-1966, business was generally understood to have a key place and a necessary function in society. So it was understood, I take it, by many if not most people - including not a few who disliked capitalism, or at very least thought it ought to be run differently (e.g., by the State, by workers' co-operatives, by management-labor boards, etc). Whereas in the period roughly from 1966 to more or less the present, it became almost axiomatic to most people - including many who didn't especially like or trust business - that the place of business was in fact everywhere. And particularly incorporated business. And that a progressive, dynamic, innovative society was one that did not so much understand business as having a key function within some larger social scheme, but rather understood itself - the society - as being but one of the many places, facets and functions of business.

In the first two-thirds of the century there arose an expectation that was to some extent fulfilled. The expectation was that business would use technology, innovation and growth (TIG) to correspond itself to, and to integrate its products ever further into, the lives, first of its customers, and then of consumers generally, in its host countries. Whereas in the final third of the century the expectation was almost diametrically the opposite. It became more and more widely assumed that business - and in particular global business - would use TIG (technology, innovation and growth) not only to conform but to integrate, first its immediate customers, and then consumers in general throughout the globe, ever more fully into the life, needs, procedures, schedules, products, etc, of business. Alpha and Omega, you know.

Now I'd like you to note two (2) chief points from what I've discussed. The first is beyond dispute. The second is - well, in any case it ought to be beyond dispute.

1) How much more globally egalitarian and non-discriminatory business has become in our time as compared to the earlier period. Because while it may be true that in the earlier 20th century business was expected to conform itself to its clientele, the fact is that the clients themselves were largely drawn from its host (i.e., mostly oppressive white imperialist) countries. Whereas in the period leading up to our time, the assumption is that business will naturally try to conform to itself customers and clients of every description throughout the globe, in a way that does not merely disregard, but overcomes, and indeed dissolves borders.

2) If you've been wondering why business - and our economic culture in general - has in our time become not only so much more dynamic, inventive, innovative and productive (than in that bad old barbarous earlier 20th century), but so much better at improving the real quality of life of both workers and consumers everywhere (and not just in places like China and India) - well, now you have your answer.

02 May 2017

The Road Back from Emmaus

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
                                                                                       Luke 24: 15-24 (ESV)

Notice, the hardest road is always the one to Emmaus. We only know Jesus in the here and now, and what He has been to us in this only-too-limited, 3-years-or-so space of our puny lives. What we really don't know (in those immortal words, not of Luke, but of St John the Evangelist) is where He has come from. And from whom. So how could we possibly imagine - much less draw hope and solace from - where He's going to?

We - you and I, Cleopas and his companion - have only known Jesus as one adult among so many others, among all the rest of us, however exalted-yet-incredible that one unique Life. And that's the crux of our predicament. That's why no amount of tales of an empty tomb or a (surely?) grotesque resuscitated corpse could, even if true, ever be of any real comfort or reassurance to us: we haven't yet seen His whole Divinity, doing what it alone does best - imbuing, refreshing, revivifying the whole of His humanity, and ours. In order to know physically, sensibly (assuming it were possible) His entire God-in-manhood, we'd have to be able to see something like - I don't know, His entire human life? from conception to crucifixion? - simultaneously. But now suppose you had known Him from the very onset of His life, or indeed the very instant of His conception. Would that have given you what is in a sense the supreme faith, the knowledge that a Divine humanity is different? That it is Something so instinct with love as to be able to outlast, rebound from, overcome, defeat, even this unspeakable horror, that you saw with your own eyes just yesterday?

The question as I see it, then, is whether, if we had a certain Mother's kind of love, we would be able to believe through the nightmare of crucifixion, to the ecstasy of resurrection and ascension.

As usual, I can only offer my own opinion.

In a sense, origins are everything, because only they encompass everything that follows. In a sense, every oak is its acorn. Even redemption itself would fail to pierce us to the Chaucerian root, except that like its God it is retroactive, and so changes us wholly, in every room of the expanding house of our lives. Which is to include, of course, not just main and showcase rooms, but attic, cellar, larder, etc. To say nothing of those most exquisitely green, secret, shadowy surrounding grounds and pools (at least when their Gardener is allowed to breathe and rain on them). Redemption always accompanies us to our beginnings, because only from there does any thing move forward. Thank God we have a God to whom time is merely a point on a line that can be shifted at will. How else, indeed, are we going to grasp the totality of any creature (much more any creator), than by loving and knowing its first breath, its most vulnerable and receptive, its most longing, hungering, remembering point? So why the dismissal of infants? Why refuse them, of all creatures, Baptism?

We orthodox Christians confess the Incarnation. Which is to say, our God didn't choose to become and redeem only the pristine, complete humanity of Adam. Notice how He doesn't come barging in on us, Athena-like, as a full-grown, fully-wise adult; rather does He slip in largely unnoticed, He comes "all so still": an all-needy infant, a playful curious child, a difficult adolescent, with real, worrying parents. Jesus embraces the whole of Adam, not just as he came forth from God, but as he comes down to and from us. And so of course the Son encompasses, descends into, excavates, irrigates, cultivates our whole human nature not just at its Edenic pre-eminence, but at its most fallen lowliness, and its most infantine helplessness. Nor does He leave His Deity standing in the doorway (as we might imagine it) - tight-lipped, arms folded, tapping foot - but takes It with Him! through every furthest, most forgotten room, closet, passage-way, window and staircase. Jesus enters into, He immerses Himself in the "very least" of our humanity, so as to saturate every merest cell with no ordinary divinity, but One even we can digest.

Milk for babes, as they say, before there can be any question of solid food. But if the childhood of God leaves us cold, how are we ever going to warm to, embrace, digest, His maturity? If we can't the taste the savor, the riches, the abundance of His mere birth (or even His conception?), how will we ever stomach the poverty of crucifixion?

01 April 2017

Timeless Truths (except, of course, that this time is different)

Whatever other conditions your business may thrive under - all other factors being equal - it will surely thrive to the extent that it makes your customers happy.

Whatever else may make your customers happy, they will always be happier, to the extent they find your business a welcoming and comfortable place to deal with.

Whatever else you may want your business to project, it will always project welcome and comfort to the extent that it exudes friendliness, not just to your customers, but to those who serve them.

*                              *                              *                              *
Then again, what do I know? I'm just a stupid customer.

18 March 2017

A Beautiful Woman (at the end of the bar)

All those poets, storytellers, playwrights, etc,  who write with a straight face about how one's - anyone's - heart would break for the loveliness, they're right after all. There are real live Ophelias in this world, by whom only a Hamlet would be mad (or fool) enough not to be bewitched. There are also women - and by no means only Ophelias - of whom only one Lover is worthy, and whom only one Lover can satisfy, and in just one kind of Place (however much they may pretend otherwise, elsewhere, in the meantime).

And so of course I'd be lying if I told you I was even a small part of their answer. Or indeed anything remotely resembling the Question. But by the same token, if only they could know (even as I'm hardly the one to convince them) how much he . . . this . . . we (any of us) . . . definitely aren't . . .

16 March 2017

A Man and His Dog: A Love Story

Alright, so you've read my subtitle. But what do I mean by love?

I'd like you to picture the kind of fuss and worry, fret, strain, and all-round uptightness, that seems all but guaranteed to make the object of one's charity at least as burdened as the one being charitable. The kind of charity, in short, in which busy Man finds delight, playfulness and interest nowhere, and tedium, drudgery and obligation everywhere that Love turns His gaze. That, I think, is the most popular brand of unselfish love I see going on around me today. And not just towards dogs.

I mean, considering how it travails and torments itself, it must be unselfish, right?

15 March 2017

Jeffersonian Ironies; or, America Just Before Lincoln (and possibly beyond?)

"One has to admit, we Americans are a combatively independent bunch. A few not unprejudiced observers might even call us fractious. Those are the envious, the timid, the chumps. Not that they don't have a point. I mean, look how contentious and argumentative, and bitterly disagreeable, how 'Says you!' and 'Yeah right!', how 'Whaddaya mean?' and 'Like HELL it is!' we are. And not just about politics and religion, but about - well, practically anything you can think of. Including, I'm told, slavery. Which only means that, with our indomitable wills, both singly and collectively, why, we're the classic textbook definition of the word 'unstoppable.'

"So why even try stopping us? Because if we're not the one country - or, more precisely, the one culture, civilization, IDEA - most fit to rule the world, who is?"

Mind you, I'm not saying anyone actually spoke those literal words in Tocquevillean America. Only that our US history might have attained some breathtaking heights of self-honesty if they had.

But what is it that could produce and fuel such blithe confidence? Anyhow, here's a speculation:

Imagine everything in heaven and earth being as simple and straightforward as, well, the Declaration of Independence. Imagine there being nothing of real, abiding interest in human affairs to talk about (or even, strictly speaking, to think about); nothing to reflect on, or consider, or wonder at; nothing to discover, or explore, or be surprised by (whether pleasantly or otherwise), or enraptured with. Particularly if you're one big, dynamic, superior, human-tidal-wave of a country poised for serious overland expansion. There are no unexpected twists or turns, no strange curvatures of geography or history, no Burkean particularities to understand and accommodate, to be patient with or sensitive to. Indeed, there is no abiding truth - nothing we do or choose or undertake - that can't just as well be conformed to a straight or perpendicular line. Because, you see, it's all self-evident. Those (surely) are the only truths worth believing in, or acting on. And if all you can do is impose them on some stupidly recalcitrant reality (whether natural or human), all to the good. And if you find they can't be lightly interwoven into the pre-existing fabric, or gently seeded into the pre-cultivated soil, why, so much the better. Just slap 'em down, and steamroll 'em over.

I mean, what's the worst that can happen? The "stuff" beneath your feet, or beneath your plans, will either submit to your overriding, commanding, abstracting Will as if it ne'er had nature of its own. Or else it will change you (the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812), and all your plans and agendas (the spoils system, the Mexican-American Warthe Ostend Manifesto), beyond your every conceivable intention or expectation.