The World as Will and Misrepresentation. Essays by Hugo Grinebiter

May The Force Be With You

I take my title from the modern pop-culture greeting, so common as to be known even to me, who am far from being a fan of Star Wars. When people start putting “Jedi” on their census forms, perhaps we should consider what people actually mean by it. What exactly is The Force supposed to be?

More urgently, perhaps, we might as ourselves why we have chosen precisely that word as a shorthand for something-or-other. The thing that Jedi Knights are supposed to employ for good, the heart of the universe, is given a name that in other contexts means either a body of soldiers, the police, or thumping somebody to make him do what we want – but was this really a good idea? I doubt people truly want to go round saying, “May the Military Formation be with you” or “May Violence be with you”. But that is what they risk suggesting.

As a term of physics, on the other hand, “Force” is part of a very unfortunate metaphorical conglomeration chosen several centuries ago. The operations of a “clockwork universe” were described in terminology taken from human concepts of rules and coercion. (Biology had to wait its turn, the model 17th-century sciences were mechanics and chemistry.)

Calling an observed correlation or regularity a “Law” of Nature was by no means logically inevitable. It was driven by a belief in a creating deity that could hardly, in those days, be publicly repudiated. The nearest that age could get to a godless universe was Deism, according to which the Sky Man wound up the clockwork and set it ticking, but then refrained from day-to-day interference. In theory observed regularities might instead be called just “patterns”, but since the concept of god was modelled both conceptually and emotionally on human kingship, taking the terminology from human legislation was probably unavoidable. The term “Laws” thus implies someone standing behind Nature and giving her orders. Or at least, it implies a something that compels the phenomena to happen in “obedience” to these “laws”.

But that compulsion is just precisely the thing that we cannot observe. As far as I know, David Hume was the first to point out that we do not see this thing called “causation” happening. What we do see is regularity, or correlation. If X occurs, then Y occurs. It always occurs, and occurs close in time and space to X. That is what we observe, end of story. We must go beyond the empirical evidence to speculate that in some way Y had to happen. Our minds, conditioned by millennia of reward and punishment under monarchs and warlords, attribute to the phenomena of the natural world the coercion that we know in our own flesh. Even consciously regarding phenomena of mechanical or planetary motions as entirely inanimate, does not stop us projecting onto them the familiar patterns of human power.

Motivation for our own action we understand so to speak from inside, which means understanding what is nowadays called social engineering. The king threatens to flog us, behead us or torture our families if we do not do as he says; or at best he bribes us to do his will; we then imagine a similar coercion happening to inanimate objects, and denote this by the impersonal-seeming word “force”. But the term “force” is not actually impersonal, it is a metaphor. A third party can observe the king giving us a motivation to do something, but we cannot observe an equivalent “compulsion” acting on a billiard ball, or on a planet.

Ultimately, therefore, the term “force” is just hand-waving – it says that stuff always happens, with the question of why it happens remaining beyond our reach. Names such as “gravity” are merely ignotum-per-ignotius dodges for transferring the problem to a higher level of generality. When Sartre said that Nature had no laws, only habits, he was using another anthropomorphism; but at least he reminded us that we could have used a language other than that of obedience to law and coercion by superior force.

The attraction of the ideas of law and force must surely lie in the illusion of someone – rather like the warlord we already know – operating the gears and levers of an inanimate universe in much the same way that the warlord dispatches his soldiers and police. If there really were such a personage, we might then influence him, both to benefit ourselves and to punish everyone who annoys us. We project our own intra-group violence and its later elaboration in “law” onto the whole universe, because it has to be all about us. And yet the universe is under no obligation to conform to our monkey-hierarchy metaphors.

In the last analysis, asking “why?” of any inanimate phenomenon is therefore a category mistake, a projection onto the universe of what we know about ourselves – namely that we have “reasons” for doing things. Unless the universe as a whole is actually sentient and has reasons not unlike our own, asking why things happen is sheer anthropomorphism. The Thusness of things may not require a Why.

The Battle Of Gettyburqa

While I was living in an African country, with a culture wildly promiscuous yet strangely bashful about nudity, the former colonial power was having conniptions about allowing the burqa on beaches. At one time and place it was actually banned, with an explicit rider that went far beyond the idea that a woman could go nude or topless if she wanted to. No, women going to the beach were now informed that they were obliged to show skin, or else. Not to do so was un-French. Apparently “Society” was still in the business of saying what clothing a woman could don, except that now she had to wear the opposite of what it had mandated a hundred years ago.

This struck me as a highly peculiar thing to enact, since in all other contexts having one’s body looked at was supposed to be such a dreadful fate. Two questions occurred to me: were all the people insisting that Frenchwomen should be legally compelled to show their skin on beaches male lechers? And if the showing of a bare midriff was now the admission ticket to society itself, at what age should it start and finish? That is, was it now the case that a 15-year-old Muslim girl ought not to show skin but that her mother should be obliged to do so?

A few years later the Alternativ für Deutschland ran a poster campaign showing two frolicking young ladies underneath the text, Burkas? Wir steh’n Bikini. Whether the pun of my title comes from the party itself or from some Web proliferator, I do not actually know.

One need not be a SJW to wonder, “Who is this ‘we’, kemosabe?” The AfD’s first person plural makes me almost uncomfortable as did the French burqa ban. Perhaps my unwillingness to leap from personal tastes to state coercion makes me the last of the liberals.

Obviously nobody on either side has been legislating for males anyway. Which in my case is just as well, as I have fair skin and use the textile method of sunblock in rather the Victorian manner. Like Prufrock, then, let me “wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach”.

Taking Up Space – The Real Basic Instinct

I vaguely remember Sartre writing that man’s most basic drive was “to fill holes – even the most obscene”. The rider has to be an insincerely contemptuous reference to sex, and don’t ask me what his Simone thought about this or about what woman’s basic drive might be. My takeaway is, however, that Sartre was trying to stand the conventional view on its head and suggest that it was by no means the case that all man’s penetrative and investigatory activities were a sublimation of the desire to fuck. Rather, sex itself was not actually primary but merely one example among many of an underlying hunger that one might as well term metaphysical. Perhaps we might call it a thirst for completion.

Whether or not you think this particular unifying principle works, trying to identify basic human imperatives can still be a rewarding game or perhaps more than that. I should like to add another candidate to the usual collection of the will-to-life, the will-to-power, integration, transcendence, Eros/Thanatos, and so forth.

What is it, then, that may furnish us with an unified explanation of such diversely annoying human behaviours such as: barging and shoving, standing in everyone’s way, taking as much time as possible to use public facilities, littering, overconsumption, stomping on heels, sending the whole group to ask the same question at the tourist information, ghetto-blasters, roaring, squealing and yelling and yappy dogs? Do these not seem different? No, underlying all these and many other behaviours is the desire to take up space in the world, in fact to take up too much space in it. You do not need to seize political power in order to have a disturbingly large footprint on the planet, the thing is available to everybody – at the micro level and generally with no resources. Never mind Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, a car with a powerful woofer – and/or without a muffler – can with far less effort give you 15 seconds of everybody noticing your existence.

Some of this list needs further explication. The “category of barging and shoving, standing in everyone’s way and hogging of public facilities” varies widely between cultures. Englishmen used to be brought up to be what our mothers called “considerate” about these things, while it seems that Japanese still are. Italians may shove in line in order to get something, but the worst offenders in Europe are probably the people of Bergen. These shove and barge not only when they want to be served first, but simply because, like Everest, you are there. They love, for example, to stand in shop doorways so as to prevent ingress or egress, and on a ten-foot-wide empty pavement they will walk right into you. It is surely impossible to explain this in any other way than the desire to occupy the space that ought rightly be shared with others, even indeed the space on which others are currently standing. That must make them feel good; if not, why do they not walk a separate line like everyone else? It is in the same spirit that they linger in front of ATMs, counters, and anything else after their business is done. “I am in your way, ergo sum!”

A particular technique I have observed among Mid-Westerners visiting Europe is that one person asks the tourist information office or railway ticket counter a long series of questions. Will the information then be shared? No, the next member of the partywill advance and ask exactly the same ten complicated questions. And then the third, fourth and down to the least and last member of the tour group. There can be no purpose to this other than the impact on locals and other travellers: “You all have missed your trains, ergo sum!”

Freud wrote about untidiness in terms of “anal aggression”, but the psychodynamics of potty-training and the fascination of childish poo might well be subjected to Occam’s Razor; it is ingenious, all very ingenious, but it would be conceptually simpler to attribute the messing of both one’s own nest and the public space to the drive to take up more space in the world. “My sink is full, ergo sum” and “My rubbish is on your street, ergo sum”.

The whole concept of our “footprint” was invented by the environmental movement, and an excellent one it is too. As I am endeavouring to show, it is applicable beyond one’s emission of CO2 via fossil fuels. But suppose the fundamental assumption is wrong? Suppose that the greenies were unduly generous to consider our footprint, our consumption, our waste, to be merely an unintended side-effect of our enjoyment of material goods? Suppose that it is nothing of the kind, but a fulfilment of man’s basic instinct, namely to exist, which means taking up space, which in turn means making a mess?

Any person, whether light or heavy, can walk either on the balls of her feet or on her heels. The latter creates about double the thump for the benefit of anyone nearby, let alone living beneath. So difficult is it to see any other benefit that this behaviour may well serve as shorthand for the whole syndrome of taking up more space in the world. What easier redress can be imagined for the low-status individual who might otherwise feel overlooked? “I stomp, ergo sum”.

The same goes for the voice. Some people simply have no indoor voices, they yell at one another across the kitchen as if at opposite ends of a football pitch. This costs energy, of course, but seems a price they are willing to pay. In the old days one could keep people awake all night only with the expenditure of resources, whether one’s own biological energy or the money to hire musicians. The very fact that the charivari or “rough music” was meant as a social punishment shows that people have always been well aware how distressing is nocturnal din. And yet in modern times, when you can keep the neighbours awake with the minimal expenditure of a trickle of electricity – and perhaps for that very reason – a culture has developed that considers continuous listening, or rather, consumption of sound, as an absolute and inalienable right. “You are kept awake, ergo sum”.

If people no longer understand, even theoretically, the desire of others for quiet, as surely even past roisterers did, this need be no great mystery. All we need to do is consider unbroken noise as their existential necessity, without which they do not feel that they take up any space in the world. That is to say, they fear that they do not exist. Thanks to the invention of the earbud, the existentially uncertain can now supply themselves with external validation every minute of the day without even coming into conflict with such dinosaurs as do not wish to be their auditory vassals. But external peace is no real objection, as, within their own subjectivity, their noise fills the world utterly, and accordingly so do they.

When considering roisterers and the extra space they take up in the world, we should ask ourselves whether the noise they make is the effect or the cause of what they call “having fun”. We assume that fun would be fun even if no one could hear them. It might be better to assimilate this thing called fun to the sound of the tree falling in a deserted forest. “Fun” is apparently something that cannot be had quietly, because then one would be missing out on the taking up of space in the world. And that would be no fun. Failing to identify this motivation leads us to miscategorise great swathes of human behaviour under the rubric of “humour”, whereas it is nothing of the kind. True amusement does not need to deafen the house, so something else must be going on here, meeting no definition of humour, wit, irony or anything similar.

People “having fun” do not roar, boom, squeal and giggle because anything really funny is being said. The phenomenon is akin to the way alcohol gives permission for the childish or unpleasant behaviour in which people want to indulge. The quite fictional presence of something claimed to be humour functions as a permission for roaring, booming, squealing and giggling, which is what people want to do, because it means that they take up more space in the world than someone contemplating nature or reading a book. And there is a Stadium Effect in operation: each actually quite humourless person needs to roar, boom, squeal and giggle louder than the previous player in order to be considered to have this thing called “humour” that authorises the noise. “I make a racket as if amused, ergo sum – and ergo, too, I am a better person than you sobersides.”

Finally, my universal theory might explain why some people keep horrendously yappy little dogs as opposed to a calmer kind. Instead of treating the noise as an accidental side-effect of a breed chosen for some other reason, let us assume that the hysterical aggression whenever they see another dog on a lead, or sometimes whenever they see anything at all, is the whole object of the exercise. “My dog yaps to wake the neighbourhood, ergo sum”.

Posted on February 24, 2018 at 14:07 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, A Theory Of Everybody

On Rereading The Heike Monogatari

The people of this medieval Japanese epic are all Buddhists of a sort, just as the protagonists of the contemporary Western European epics are all Christians of a sort. Their Buddhism is, it is true, syncretised with the Shintō deities, but State Shintō is still seven centuries in the future. The two dominant Buddhist schools are Tendai, with the players performing pious exercises or more likely commissioning them from others, in precisely the same way as monastic observance in Christendom; and Pure Land, a characteristic Japanese approach that seems to resemble Luther’s salvation by faith alone.

What I did not find in the Heike Monogatari was what we have associated with the Japanese from the first Jesuit missionaries to James Clavell: a complete lack of the fear of death. There is, to be sure, a lot of suicide. Samurai men kill themselves by the sword, though the ritual of seppuku lies in the future; noble women drown themselves. But willing death is not at all the same thing as willing cessation of being. On the contrary, everybody in the epic reckons on coming back, quite possibly to be reunited with their loved ones in future existences. Some warriors even make death sound like a canny career move, such as the one who says, “If, as seems likely, I am named as a ringleader and imprisoned, banished or beheaded, I will consider it an honour in this life and something to remember in the next.” He makes his execution sound like a stop on the tourist trail.

Coexisting with reincarnation in the Heike Monogatari is a belief in Hell, the realm of the dead under Enma its royal employer of torturers. No character in the epic ever explains how these two concepts fit together and who gets which afterlife. In the same way, nobody is explicit about how return in another life goes with the paradise to which you will be conducted by the Amida Buddha if you sincerely recite the nembutsu. Perhaps the audience understood all this perfectly well, or perhaps the audience was itself muddled on the subject. At any rate, those in the epic who talk about the Pure Land are clearly yearning for it in precisely the same manner and degree as medieval Christians yearn for Heaven. However else we might describe the mentality of the death-defying samurai and their womenfolk in the Heike Monogatari, it is by no means a readiness for extinction. A conquest of the animal will-to-live it is not.

Posted on February 17, 2018 at 16:35 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, Religion As Design Fault

On The Truly Hidden

When mystics go on (and on, and on) about the Oneness of things, or about how everything is a unity, Hugo tends to go switch-off. It seems as much a meaningless babble as the invocations of Red Indian spirit guides by Victorian con-women wearing turbans and lots of bling.

One fine day, however, the Arabic expression Ahadiyyat al-‘ayn, or “Uniqueness of Essence”, suddenly seemed to make sense. This was because most of our knowledge is gained from comparing things and noting their similarities. Essence or Being as such, if we dare use such a simple noun for “the totality of what exists”, by definition cannot be compared with things that are like it. As Popper said of History, something there is only one of cannot support inductive generalisations. Is it really too much of a stretch to say the same of the Everything-That-Is? If we may be said to know Being, therefore, it cannot be the same sort of knowledge as when we know individual things within Being. Perhaps Hegel or Heidegger said it better, I do not know, but that was at any rate how Hugo saw it that one fine day.

Schopenhauer said something in the same general area when he cautioned that all the original forces of Nature are a qualitas occulta. As Hume had already realised, we cannot observe causation, only the repetitiousness of something happening after another thing and in close proximity. From which Kant decided that causation was a product of our own minds. All this talk of “forces” is therefore as much bullshit as that spouted by the table-tapper; we know that stuff happens, but the “forces” are as fictitious as her Big Chief who has nothing better to do all eternity than tell the paying public that their dear departeds send their regards.

In the same way, we cannot easily expound why some things are so, even when they seem intuitively obvious.This is because, says Schopenhauer, the principle of sufficient reason, in its four forms (cause, logical consequence, existence and motivation) is absolutely inexplicable. For it is the principle of explanation itself. If we call on a person to explain something, we ought to have a concept of what “explanation” actually means, and not demand that he tell us while explaining the first thing.

And yet, “Everyone knows without further help what the world is, for he himself is the subject of knowing of which the world is representation.” What philosophy does, says Schopenhauer, is merely to reproduce our concrete knowledge of the world in the abstract. Well, then, so the Everything-That-Is is after all knowable, we know it in the direct and undeniable manner that a fox knows what the hen is. But when the mystics make a meal of this knowledge, claiming to have something exclusive, they never say that theirs is the fox’s knowledge of the hens, nor yet its rephrasing in terms of philosophical abstracts. Rather, they seem to be claiming it as a third thing entirely, about which they can naturally tell us nothing more without a paid subscription.

Posted on December 28, 2017 at 15:34 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, From Rationalism to New Age

Sorry, Ma, You’re Not Moral

Immanuel Kant taught that an action is only a “moral” action if it goes counter to our inclinations. I have always assumed that by this he meant, not that it is a downright bad action, but merely that it does not fall into the category of moral actions, those that are performed because they are right. Funnily enough, in Matthew 5:47 Jesus of Nazareth is recorded in much the same vein: “And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?” If it comes easily, they both seem to be saying, then no brownie points!

Now, mothers tend to lay claim to lots of brownie points as reward for their parenting. But at the same time they also speak about their mother-love as instinctual. Well, they can’t have it both ways: if maternal love really is instinct and nothing but instinct, then they cannot claim ethical merit for possessing and following it. “Do not even the publicans so?”

Given that a mother should be perfectly capable of recognising that she is just following her nature, which is an ethically-neutral thing to do, what is going on with the cult of the brownie points? The answer lies, as usual, in the human drive for undeserved self-esteem. She wants a double whammy, to be praised on two mutually exclusive grounds at the same time: once for doing what is right, in the strenuous Kantian sense, and again for harbouring maternal love, which makes her a good person.

But wait a moment; there are also such things as bad, neglectful mothers. Our loving mother therefore deserves a certain number of brownie points for not being one. The question provoked in my mind, then – and of course I have no knowledge of what it is like to be a mother – is whether she has overcome inner obstacles to be a good mother. Was she just following her nature, or rising above it? It would follow from the Kantian approach that the most moral woman would be the one who would like to abuse her child but doesn’t. If that is too peculiar for us, then we ought to be Aristotelians instead.

Posted on December 14, 2017 at 16:21 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · One Comment
In: PARENTAL STATUS TECHNOLOGY, My Son, The Doctor

Which Once You Took For Exercise Of Virtue

What Eliot describes in Little Gidding as “the rending pain of re-enactment” becomes linearly worse with age. Firstly because, as the short-term memory goes, the long-term memory notoriously improves, and secondly because for each new day, “the shame of motives late revealed and the awareness of things ill done” acquires new material to feed on. To believe that you will one day become old and wise enough not to commit acts, the shame of which will subsequently keep you awake at night, is simply an illusion.

Velle non discitur; your basic character does not change, and if you are a dork who does not know how to model social interactions at twenty, or a selfish jerk who does not care how he hurts others, you will in all probability be exactly the same at seventy, or even worse. In the words of the concise Jewish expression, “Wherever you go, your tuchas goes with you.” If the number of times you embarrass yourself or betray others in your seventy-first year is in fact smaller than the number of times you embarrass yourself or betray others in your twenty-first year, this will be solely because you have fewer social interactions to make a mess of, many of your former victims being either already alienated or dead as mackerel.

There are only two remedies for this gift reserved for old age: firstly, to believe that seniority is virtuous by definition and that everything you now do is therefore right and proper, a self-conceit that can leak backwards in time until you come to believe that you were a moral paragon in your youth as well; aging does not give people a better character, merely the conceited delusion of having a better character. This delusion is embraced by perhaps the majority of middle-aged people. The second remedy is death. Unfortunately these remedies tend to occur in that order; whereas it would be so much better if we all died before combining all our other vices with senile self-satisfaction.

Sour old braggarts insist that they are superior in wisdom to young people. Well, they are simply wrong. If human beings are very, very complex algorithms, then the typical old person is a highly simplified and limited algorithm; its behaviour now consists of little else than the same dozen lines of dialogue, or rather monologue, mostly intended to insult, irritate or at least bore the surroundings. I am astonished to find novels containing intelligent, scientifically literate and tolerant parents and other old people, because I never met any myself. I know I would have remembered meeting someone over 50 who was not devoted to ignorance, superstition and bigotry.

The reason why algorithm-based artificial intelligence has never worked is because people were trying to build a computer that acted like a young, healthy, rational human being. They ought instead have built a machine that passed the Turing Test by emulating the average querulous pensioner on the bus, weary, whiny and hung-up on trivia. You could probably use a computer from the Eighties, programmed in Basic.

Posted on October 18, 2017 at 21:27 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: PARENTAL STATUS TECHNOLOGY, O Tempora! O Mores!

The Smoke And The Small Screen

The other day I was looking down on the city from the lower slopes of our ruling mountain, in exquisite weather. After a night’s rain the air was about the clearest I had ever seen it. There was no sign of any pollution. This reminded me of what Mao Zedong answered when asked what he wanted to see from Tiananmen Gate: “factory chimneys”. I thought also of the old nickname for London, “The Smoke”, and how people used to use that name as a compliment. For lack of belching smokestacks could mean only the absence of economic activity. Would a time-traveller from the 1800s, therefore, think that we were languishing in a great depression, or whatever they called it then?

I remembered also the way futuristic illustrations used to take dense vehicular traffic, such as the Tōkyō freeways featured at the end of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, as a metonym for life itself, cf. my essay, “Gosh, Wow, Aircars!” That being so, with the roads below me very far from jam-packed, I wondered whether some other time-traveller, this time from the 1950s, would pronounce this city “dead”.

If we are right to consider the lack of smokestacks and the lack of cars six abreast to be good things, rather than symptoms of poverty and backwardness, the third question I posed to myself on the hillside that day was what new mistake we might be making to follow those made in the eighteenth century and the Fifties. What might we be confusing with Life itself? The candidate that came immediately to mind was the smartphone. I hoped that, just as we now prefer clean air to reeking chimneys, humanity might one day learn to prefer the real world around it to the flickering screen.

The Sheep-Flaying Age

I do not know whether university students are still being taught the high-minded fictions of Politics 101, in which institutions are created to serve the common good, and whether the reason why reality cannot be spoken is because it is just too depressing.

For the truth about the human race is fully known to all psychopaths, while the rest of us still believe in the tooth fairy. We are a predatory species, and we predate on ourselves as well as on everything else. Most of us are food, end of story.

The “nation” is therefore a PR fiction covering a predation territory. Rulers are those who have staked a claim to a range and are prepared to fight others for the exclusive right to consume its resources, namely us. From this it follows that “globalisation” is actually predation gone global, with a functional rather than geographical definition of territory.

Most politics and most public employment is a sub-type of this predation, in that the lions cut the jackals in on a share of the booty in return for support against other lions. The output of the system, the behaviour of the so-called government or nation, is the resultant vector of the individual interests of these sub-predators. Wars and suchlike are partly about access to resources and partly the sum of individual diplomats’ career interests.

The most ludicrous part of the whole tooth-fairy story is the suggestion that rule by the top predators is a contingent outcome and that something else is possible. No, our choices are limited to: relatively benevolent plutocracy, in-between plutocracy and malignant plutocracy. An older age put this in terms of shearing the sheep contra flaying them. We are now entering a second age of sheep-skinning within a hundred years.

Revitalising The Economy

It is not particularly fresh news that religious institutions are first and foremost business institutions, engaged in the movement of money from some pockets into other pockets. We understand how all kinds of religious building function as tangible fixed assets for the purpose of generating a revenue stream, while for their part the customers, whether magnate or commoner, make pious donations as admission price or high-yield investment. To this end, the fixed assets known as churches, monasteries and shrines are bought and sold just like mills, bridges or customs posts, or else or divided into shares that are bought and sold likewise. Not exactly into thousandths of the capital, but the principle is the same.

We also understand how the question of how to run the collectively-owned businesses that we call medieval monasteries spawned a vast management literature, and how successful models were exported and copied, while models thought to be dysfunctional were forcibly reorganised or suppressed. Creative destruction, as Schumpeter would call it. Above all, those individuals thought to embody managerial prowess were headhunted from one location to the next. Such monks would have perfectly understood the modern invocation of “benchmarking”. It has also been suggested that a particular organisation within the Christian church, the Cistercians, were the pioneers of what would later be called factory production, standardisation and the multinational.

So far, so good. But that is all the more reason to take the final step. For, until the great age of the chartered town and its self-governing burgesses, the theologians and devotional writers were practically alone in thinking about how best to organise profitable corporate entities. We might therefore do well to enquire what would happen if, every time a twelfth- or eleventh-century writer talked about “the Church of God”, the “kingdom of heaven” and so forth, we were to replace this expression with our modern cant, “the Economy”.

If, we may often suspect, that modern hypostasis or abstraction, “the Economy” is really the name given by a particular class of people to their own extorted riches, well, the same may be true of the kind of people who spoke in proprietorial terms of “the Church of God”. If the substitution works, that does not prove that the twelfth-century writers consciously had producing and consuming, buying and selling in the forefront of their minds when talking about the Church. But it might nevertheless indicate that we have been missing something important.

The Norman Anonymous, to take just one example, would then be writing that, “The king ought, therefore, not to be excluded from the governance of the economy, that is, the Christian people, because the kingdom would then be separated from the economy and destroyed.” For the relationship between the secular and the ecclesiastic power was a perennial issue, and is perhaps not so very different from what we nowadays call “the role of the state in the economy”. We may have been in error in taking the rhetoric for a greater reality than it actually is, and vainly assuming that when they spoke of the body of Christ and so on, they were talking about something “spiritual”. If, in those days, most of the economy was in the hands of the collective owner caste that wore the cowl as their business dress, then what they might really have been talking about is the right to run the enterprise as they saw fit, free of interference by those claiming to represent the people in some different sense. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?
We might even find that the programme we call Gregorian, calling for the absolute autonomy of the clerics, might – if translated in the spirit of “follow the money” – sound like something not entirely unlike Ayn Rand.

Posted on April 20, 2017 at 16:37 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: GETTING MEDIEVAL, Spiritual Business