Blogging Orthodoxy 7: An Eternal Golden Thread

Blogging Orthodoxy continues with :

Chapter 8: The Romance of Orthodoxy

I consider The Romance of Orthodoxy to be the weakest chapter of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. At first glance there doesn’t appear to be anything that we haven’t heard in the previous chapters. To this point Chesterton has already talked at length about how a mystical love of the universe is needed to value life and how mystical skepticism is needed to reform it. He has reviewed in detail the dangers of trying to conceive of the world as purely rational and visited the mistakes humanism has made when attempting to achieve reform without understanding the concept of the ideal. With all of this already said, one might wonder why Chesterton spends his eighth chapter rehashing many of these same points. But although The Romance of Orthodoxy may seem entirely redundant, I think Gilbert does have a point. However laboriously, by the end of the eighth Chapter, Chesterton has built towards a singular question, perhaps the question for anyone reading a book about Catholicism and not Catholic themselves: Despite the fact that there may be some, possibly incidental, truths in the Faith, why actually be Catholic?

Though Chesterton answers this question mainly in his last chapter, it was this question that dominated our reading group’s discussion on The Romance of Orthodoxy. And for good reason. Our patron was certainly speaking for everyone when he pointed out that this question was the question that our modern age has saimtsfor the Catholic Church. Not Why do You believe in God? not Did Jesus really rise from the dead?  not even Why are you Christian? but Why be Catholic?  It’s a question that Catholics hear all the time. And no one ever has a really good answer.

I admit, it is a hard question because the question is inseparable from historical record. God and Jesus may be eternal and unsullied, but the Church is very much a being of history and as most people are aware, it has had quite a long one. Moreover, unlike Muslims, Atheists, and Buddhists, Catholics for, the most part, are singularly conscious of their Church’s historical misdeeds. I’ve noticed that, despite believing in the Church’s mission, Catholics tend to avoid asserting that their Church has historically bore witness to the gospel of Jesus. And, given this record, it’s probably no surprise that secular people can’t take the concept seriously either.

Even after coming to believe in God, I found the concept of the Catholic Church being a force for any kind of good in history to be utterly ridiculous. Of course I knew enough history to discount many of the common atheists myths surrounding Catholicism spun by those like Christopher Hitchens and it was not necessary to dispel common exaggerations about the relative violence of the Church to other factions in history. But nonetheless, beyond statistical nitpicking, there was human reality of the Church’s terrible role in history that had to be confronted. It may be true that the Spanish Inquisition killed only around 3000 people, but, for an institution that claims every human is the image of God, the inquisition was an atrocity more revolting than the 20 million souls trod under by Genghis Khan. And so the central question remained.

A common, and not entirely inadequate, response is that the Church itself is fallen and flawed like all other human institutions. I have to say, this perspective, while truthful, didn’t satisfy me initially. If the Church was truly the cornerstone of Christ’s teaching on earth then it must be much more than one fallen entity among many. If the history of human existence is one long line of tarnished treasures, why should one particular piece be worthy of adoration?

I began to see a better explanation when reading The Screwtape Letters where the demonic Screwtape counsels his understudy on how the Church on earth can stand in contrast to the divine Church as seen from time immemorial.

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church screwtapeas we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew.

Though C.S. Lewis’ target with this passage was pettiness among parishioners and not grand historical crimes, his thoughts formed in me the first inkling of a concept I later came to accept. There might be something in the Church beyond what is superficially seen in the institution. The true Church might be less like a tarnished golden chalice and more like a small golden thread, that while almost invisible against the backdrop of the soil that covers it, still leads onward towards its luminous source. And as I looked at the Church in history, there did seem to be just such a thread running through it. The Catholics referred to it as The Lives of the Saints.

Often times the word Hagiography is used loosely to condemn whitewashed and arduously positive biographies. But I found nothing arduous or whitewashed about the lives of the Saints. The Saints were flawed individuals but in their moments of grace they became something far greater than themselves and the times in which they lived. The saints were real. More real than other historical figures and more real even than the figures that occupy our contemporary StatueTriumphjpgworld. Most people, from politicians and celebrities to ordinary grocers and policeman, are carried along with the flow of history, working from within their time and place to do the best they can. But the Saint stands still, the ebb and flow of their time and culture folding around their lives like the waters of a stream against a stationary rock. In communion, the Saints stand apart from history like a series golden links. The institutional Church, as we see it today, acts simply as a container for this more glorious witness. It keeps the doctrines, the sacraments, and the records of the Saint’s coming. But in the end, it is simply an observer, in waiting, and in anticipation of something greater than itself.

At this point I have probably lost my secular audience and I’m sure someone is going to accuse me of looking at Catholic history with rose-tinted glasses. Couldn’t one take the most shinning examples of any institution and hold them aloft? How would this then justify the Catholic Church above other institutions? Again, without answering these objections directly, I would like offer a caveat. From my own experience, it is actually rare for institutions to justify themselves by pointing to a past communion of truly good people. Much more common is to look back at the powerful and argue that their evil actions weren’t really evil, or that their evil actions were necessary do to the particular situations of the age. But the Saints have no reason to be recognized but for their goodness. Some are meek and others powerful, but their common communion is only virtue. Here, there is something truly unique: a link to the past that is more divine and accessible than any other past heroism can provide. Few have the intelligence to be an Einstein, the power to be Caesar, or the wealth to be a Rockafeller, but the goodness of a Catherine of Sienna or a Saint Francis of Assisi is available to every person at every moment of their lives. We have but to reach forward and accept it.

It seems the modern world is sorely in need of just this conception of Saintly continuity. We all have an innate desire to look back and see an unbroken chain of idealism leading from the past on into the future, and of course we fasten upon the great leaders and thinkers of our history to serve this purpose. Right-wingers have their obsession with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, while the left has their devotion to Margaret Sanger and Harvey Milk. But modern history is none too slow at finding the flaws in any of the great idols of our past. Behind every Jefferson there is slavery, Northern rose window of the cathedral Notre-Dame in Chartres, Francebehind every Sanger there is Eugenics. The great leaders and thinkers of the past are all compromised just as every empire that is old is also brutal. So modern man is left, looking back at a history of moral ambiguity, disconnected from any concept that his ancestors had anything to teach him.

I believe it is this very disconnect that enables the progressive view of history to become so popular. With a past of unmitigated misery and evil, we may want to believe in a present and future that will inevitably be better, not just in material comforts, but in human goodness. But this progressive vision does nothing but impede our ability to live as good people in our daily lives. With the idea of goodness inevitably expanding, we forget the very important reality that, in any age, being virtuous is difficult. To be good, truly good, is a task so herculean as to be almost impossible, and we discount this fact at our own moral peril.

I must now return to the question posed at the onset of the discussion: Why Be Catholic? For myself, it is because I see the Church as a historic moral teacher, not through the institution, but through the narrow paths walked by the saints in obscurity. The Catholic Church has committed many crimes, but this does not set it aside from any other historical institution. Every cause and great leader is flawed from Pericles and the Athenian Democracy to George Washington and our current Republic. I get the sense that when most people look back on their ancestor’s history they are in fact looking for some progressive thread through which to learn moral lessons. And here the institutional Catholic Church has played a prophetic role. It has discovered just such a thread in the live of the Saints. And although it is flawed as an institution, the Church may act as a sign post for the greatest moral teachers the world has ever known.

At the close of this article, I am reminded of an oft-repeated Catholic adage-“there is only one true tragedy in life and that is to not be Saint”. There is certainly truth in that statement, but if it is entirely accurate then the world is quite a tragic place. Of course, we have all known great individuals living selfless lives of grace, but they are quite rare. For the most part we plod along, not willing to fight against the current of our modern age and personal desires. The path of true righteousness is narrow. It is not a golden carpet that will roll out easily in front of us. We are not good by nature and, as such, teachers are needed. So Christians must tirelessly search for the good people in the narrow and dirty places of the world looking for the living Saints that can continue to guide us. As in all ages past, we will stumble and struggle to find this thread of true human compassion, but as difficult as the task may be it is absolutely necessary. For if we desire to be bring any true goodness, the loss of that golden thread of Sainthood may be the world’s only true tragedy.

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Obama is right: privatizing metadata storage would be a nightmare

I’m glad this decision to try to force companies to store meta-data for possible “legitimate” state uses is finally being reversed. The policy would have been open to the worst possible abuses both public and private. The article does a good job of explaining why.

Dispatches from Portland’s OldTime Gathering

PortlandOldtime

Oldtime Music under the Gnostic Symbols in Stained Glass

Heading back from this year’s Oldtime Music Gathering held at the Scottish Rite Masonic Lodge in Portland. This work by the Poet Yeats came to mind :

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’d wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.

– W.B. Yeats – A Coat

Happy MLK day.

devilViolin

Violin Scroll carved with the head of “El Diablo”

Masons

The heads of the Masonic Masters of Times Past

For the Weekend : Seven Quick Takes #7QT

Using a tried but true internet meme. Seven quick reactions to interesting things on the internet this week.

1.) Math : One of the Strangest Numerical Identities Ever

Who would have thought that 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 ……. = -1/12? The guys at the youtube channel NumberPhile have the details:

The result is sound but a little deceptive. The idea a non-converging series having a finite numerical identity is already such an abstract concept that it’s hard for me to really expect a rational looking result moving forward. Still the result is weird, valid and apparently applicable to string theory. But how can you add bunch of positive numbers together and still get a negative one?

2.) Privacy – Good News : Obama Scales back the NSA spying program

The Obama Administration looks like it’s finally embarrassed itself enough and is now making some retractions on spying. Though, I suspect this ultimately may amount to little more than a strategic repositioning. It looks like there is still going to be some kind of data retention mandate that forces the third parties to retain data in case the government has “legitimate” reasons to make queries. Of course, we all know that we can count on large corporations to securely hold vast collections of personal data they do not expect to profit from. Right?, right?

3.) Privacy – Bad  News : Target’s Personal Data Breach May Be Worse than expected

So, unsurprisingly, Target has lost an astronomical amount of customer data including e-mail, telephone numbers, and PINs. It’s looking like negligence on the part of Target played a role in the breach but I am not expecting anyone to ultimately care about this. Even if we can expect a large amount of identity theft coming from the data showing up on a Russian hacker site, is the public really going to link the increase in identity theft back to bad corporate data management?

4.) Folk Music : Is Inside Llewyn Davis Accurate?

It looks like a number of folk singers have pushed back against the portrayal of early 60s Greenwich Village. No comment here, but the discussion is quite interesting.

5.) Entertainment :  The Academy Award Nominated Animated Shorts

Probably the highlight of the Academy Award season is the Animated Shorts category. It’s usually worth it to catch the shorts in theaters and now we have the lineup with trailers:

This year’s fare seems a little disappointing however. Most look like very straightforward Pixar clones. In fact, I’m finding myself looking forward more to a feature-length nomination, namely, The Wind Rises , Miyazaki’s last film detailing the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the father of Japanese aviation and the infamous creator of the Zero.

6.) Religion : Atheist “Church” in Schism Several months after starting

I blogged several month’s ago about the coming of an “Atheist Babylon”, where atheist communities would schism along ideological lines so stark that most non-believers would prefer to associate with like-minded believers rather than their atheist brethren. Sure enough in the news today:

The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC (Atheist congregations DL). Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.

Moore promises that his group, Godless Revival, will be more firmly atheistic than the Sunday Assembly, which he now dismisses as “a humanistic cult.”

Someone still needs to explain what “humanistic cult” means to a militant atheist, it sounds like something a conservative Catholic would say.

7.) Data : What will the Impact of Big Data be on Pharmaceutical Marketing?

Finally, a new speculation about uses of data-mining in the pharmaceuticals industry. This looks like a long shot to me, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. I might start worrying if the results are more successful.

Anyway, Happy Martin Luther King Day Weekend! I’ll stay updated.

Culture, Speech Codes and Implicit Bias

I recently came across a brialliant keynote by Megan McArdle to the libertarian-leaning FIRE organization about the increasing prevalence of campus speech codes. What follows is a more philosophical examination of free expression beyond the typical “administrators who suppress student speech are bad”, I recommend it for anyone who has half an hour.

Like most people who find themselves on the “wrong” side of what college administrators typically consider correct, I’ve had an interest in the growing attempts by campuses to lock down expression in the name of sensitivity. But I think Megan has nailed why these codes emerged in the first place (and no, it’s not leftist academics secret desire to re-institute Stalinism). In most cases, it seems that the speech codes are an attempt to replace the missing cultural commonality that was lost when American Universities became multicultural in the late 70s and early 80s. Stringent speech and behavior codes, in effect, were an attempt to run a multicultural student body under a mono-cultural system of support this time with progressive empathy filling in for the old WASP sense of decor. Basically, it’s a way to avoid the problems, and benefits, of living in a multicultural campus. No one wants to have uncomfortable interactions and the speech codes continue the illusion that none are actually necessary.

Of all the bloggers writing today, Megan McArdle seems to have the strongest understanding of how institutions re-enforce their own implicit bias and unanimity, not with ill-will, but through the implicit ways humans prefer to interact with others of alike mind. She’s right in identifying this force as the reason why university sociology departments are overwhelmingly non-conservative and university science departments are overwhelming non-black. The mechanism is the same. I think many people of the left acknowledge just this kind of effect when it comes to structural racism, sexism, and hetrosexim. But they are resistant to acknowledge this as a general flaw in all human organizations, particularly organizations that they prefer. Hence, I always get the sense that the liberal solution to structural racism is to ensure that the “right” people are put in power.

But at any rate, regardless of who is correct, this is a conversation worth having, though rest assured it won’t be a very a sensitive or comfortable one.

 

Momento Mori : Where Does Our Data Go When We Die?

When we shuffle off the mortal coil what eventually becomes of the terabytes of social data, chat records, photographs, and files that we leave behind us? I know some of the more macabre in the tech-community have already speculated how they would like to send forth their accumulated data into the great blue yonder; some more advanced users have even set up scripts that we activate on their deaths to publicize and delete certain pieces of information. But in the past few months I’ve noticed this very concern becoming more pronounced in mainstream blogs. I was even surprised to see PBS do a segment on this question earlier this year. Maybe this an indication of maturity on our part. The internet has been driven by people too young to ever grapple with death but this reflection was bound to come sooner or later.

But death on the internet raises a number of legal difficulties, especially as it applies to our digital property. For previous generations the matter was easy. There were the physical assets that for the most part could be bequeathed, taxed, and to which the state and creditors might have claim. Then there were the memories and  personal information that family and friends would take and keep alive as long as personal memory would allow. But in our new digital age this distinction is disintegrating. Personal information has become an asset and a an asset of increasing value.

The medieval dance of death.

The song of our data may persist well after death

Once again, the great question of who owns the data rears its ugly head. And sure enough there are already fights between families and social networking sites over whether the accounts of the dead should be opened or monetized (not that I’m really sure why a corporation would be interested in having a million dead followers). However, In a rare stroke of good fortune, it looks like the families have been winning this battle, at least for now. Some celebrities, like Roger Ebert, have even had their online identities posthumously managed and updated by their families as if nothing had ever happened. A strange digital afterlife to be sure.

I have always thought that the insecurity people would have when facing death would be to make sure that their most private secrets were shielded from the prying eyes of the public. But it seems that, for most part ,people want to have their data live in the public domain. Death may awaken the sentimentalist in us all. And I suppose I would have to agree with the sentiment. As troubling as it would be have one’s personal data tossed to the four winds, the alternative consequences seem far worse. Beyond the possibility of a Digital Dark Age emerging when historians of the future have essentially no way of accessing records from the generation before (who among the millennials keeps a physical diary or physical photos?), one simply needs to look no further than grieving parents of dead teens trying to get some access to their teenage children’s photos which for the most part remain recorded on private social networks.

There are now even websites dedicated to posthumous digital preservation. This is certainly an ambitious endeavor and in many ways it seems very much like the Mormon’s use of Ancestry.com. We may have before us, not so much a tool for the living, but a mechanism for creating a bridge to past generations long departed to their eternal reward.

The situation may become still stranger as the information revolution and birth rates continue to decelerate. As the decades pass, more and more of the information stored on the internet will be from previous generations, and one day the cadre of the living souls who surf the web may be dwarfed by the legions of the dead. Our children’s generation may find themselves navigating a massive digital catacomb wherein lies the accumulated knowledge of those gone before them. An internet where the dead whisper their wisdom to future generations. It’s a haunting but not altogether un-comforting thought. The tool that was born as the province of youth in our generation might in the future become the ultimate Momento Mori.

Blogging Orthodoxy 6 : Eternal Inevitability and the Idealist Revolution

Blogging Orthodoxy continues with…..

Chapter 7: The Eternal Revolution

Orthodoxy can be quite idealistic at times. This is probably no surprise coming from a man like Chesterton who preferred to talk about fairies over general elections. The preference was not simply fanciful. To Chesterton, it always was more worthwhile to discuss ideals. Ideals were more honest. I know this can alienate modern  readers who prefer realism to discussions over first principles. Probably many people get this far in Orthodoxy and wonder what Chesterton’s assertions aboutChesterton loyalty, optimism, and pessimism have to do with real-world policy. In the chapter The Eternal Revolution, Gilbert addresses this point of practicality. The key, to practical success, Chesterton says, is to have a clear and unchanging ideal. Only with a fixed and abstract vision of the good can anyone ever get anywhere.

Though frustrating to realists, I think most people will agree that an unchanging ideal is the first step to reform. First we have an ideal vision and only then can we work diligently towards its realization. Regardless of how hard, if we persist we will get closer to seeing our ultimate goal finally realized. But modern society has made two blunders that have clouded this common sense approach to reform. The first is to imagine that “progress” is inevitable. The second is to assume that if something has failed many times then it cannot rightly be considered ideal. Though these conceptions are looked on as “progressive” they are in fact huge bulwarks against any reform. Certainly if we are evolving inevitably, no action would ever need be taken. Moreover, if the standard of progress itself were changed every time difficulty was encountered, society would remain practically immune to alteration. Reform can only proceed when we understand a common and unchanging vision of what the future should be like.

Our reading group seemed more or less content with this definition of reform. But of course what type reform? Even the emergence of “reform” as topic in the context of the Catholic Church briefly sparked controversy. This, I think, embodies the first and foremost objection that a skeptic would raise to Chesterton. Reform towards who’s ideal? A skeptic might rightly ask. People speak about having a common vision but when it comes down to it, there is no agreement. For now I will not directly answer this objection; but I offer that our own group’s disagreement, while adamant, did not indicate a true division. The argument like most arguments, was actually an indication of a common ideal.argue

In fact, it didn’t take more than a few reminders that we all sought the same thing –  a Church carrying forward the teachings of Christ – to bring the argument to a close and move the litigants to a renewed feeling of comradery. Of course, we all knew that the disagreement still stood but ultimately what was being argued over wasn’t the ideal but the means to achieve that ideal. In fact, if there was no shared ideal, the disagreement never would have taken place. I would submit that one can only really argue with people who share common core values. When we argue over means to achieve an end, we can, in the heat of the argument, accuse our opponents of being obtuse and regressive. But when the fundamental values are not held in common argument itself cannot be mustered. We usually just scratch our heads in incomprehension.

Chesterton predicts that any loss of common values will lead to social and political to stagnation. Certainly this is in keeping with common political complaints from both the left and right in modern times. It is easy to see how two sides, unable to properly communicate about ends, will never come together to forge a political means. But here I must disagree with Chesterton’s concern about the endpoint of a society unable to believe in unchanging ideals. Rather than stagnation, I have come to anticipate the exact opposite; a sort of implicit and unthinking progress where the human race gradually slouches into an easy future that no sane person in their right mind would endeavor to create.

Though rare, there are those that believe that the principles of right and wrong can change. I used to believe this myself. It seemed only logical at the time. If human society were to evolve, the morals and principles of humanity should evolve with it. I had only a vague notion of what it would mean for core principles to  “evolve” (since there would be no principle by which to judge its evolution). Still, the idea seemed logical enough. Since all other human qualities could be improved upon, and our ideals were among human qualities, our ideals themselves could therefore be improved. I didn’t finally come to interrogate this idea until I found myself face to face with those who held it more consistently than I ever could. 

In my last post on Orthodoxy, I recalled a discussion I had with an atheist who firmly believed that he would live forever due to technological extensions on life span. Surprisingly enough, as I grew familiar with the atheist community, I learned that these sentiments were not uncommon. The followers of similar ideas called their coming utopia “The Singularity”. There is much to say about this concept, but in a nutshell it recommends the construction of a omnipotent and omniscient AI that can solve all known problems in the world. This AI will then hee1bestow immortality and unlimited pleasures upon the human race. The only thing holding this grand vision back? You guessed it, Christianity, religious superstition, and naive humanistic values that restrain “progress”.

I remember being taken back by this idea, though at the time, I couldn’t put into words why. I answered snarkily to one adherent that if the future AI were advanced enough to change human biology, it might more easily remove the survival instinct and eliminate the human race. It is one thing to make humanity live forever. It is much cheaper to make them no longer care about death. But again quite strangely, my interlocutor seemed unshaken by this response. He simply stated that If the AI master exterminated humanity this would simply be the course of evolution and any sentimental attachment to our existence was simply naive primitive ethics.Of course, the other members of the group greeted this answer as being very “evolved” (whatever that means) and I remember being caught speechless and flatfooted by the entire situation. I still haven’t thought of a good counter to the argument that humanity should be exterminated by malicious AI and I don’t expect to find one soon.

But the bizarre anti-humanist techno-utopianism of the Singularity wasn’t even the end of the matter. There also was a sort of Luddite equivalent called the Voluntary Human Exctinction Movement. Born from a sort of uber-Malthusian environmental sentiment, this movement dreamed of a utopia that would be born when the human race was, not just reduced, but completely exterminated. Nature would then reclaim the planet. The members would go about encouraging self sterilization (and sometimes even suicide) all in the name of the rebirth of some garden of Eden sans Adam and Eve. Again, what I felt was not exasperation but a sort of non-verbal befuddlement.

In the imagination of the Singularity Movement and the Voluntary Extinctionists the visualizend point of the universe was bleaker than any dark age. It was an endless morass dominated by nothing that could feel compassion, wonder, joy, gratitude, or love. The vision of utopia had been so streamlined that the dreamers themselves had whitewashed themselves out of it. But there was one caveat. Even when talking to the radicals themselves, they seemed very unenthusiastic about the ultimate outcome of their journey. A much more passionate topic was how “inevitable” their vision of the future was and how they were “more evolved” for embracing this philosophy before everyone else was brought to heel by the merciless force of history. Frankly, I couldn’t help thinking of an enslaved native bragging to his still free brethren that he was the first to wear the shackles that the master would inevitably clasp on every one of them. It certainly would be a bitter victory.

I don’t want to represent the Singularity crowd or the Voluntary Human Extinctionists as representative of the atheist community at large; but in some way they have taken the conception of the evolutionary philosophy to its logical conclusion. Most atheists are very devoted to an idea of evolutionary progress. They start with the humanist morality taken from Christianity (and earlier pagan religions) and then claim that this ethic has evolved to its current state and will continue to evolve beyond its modern incarnation. The goal of humanity, on this account, is to push this force of progress forward, evolving ethics to its necessary and inevitable culmination.

But the members of the Voluntary Human Extinction and Singularity Movements have called this bluff. They have evolved past humanism. The less advanced atheists tell people to embrace the ultimate goal of progress because it is inevitable. The advanced atheists of the Singularity Movement have made the final leap and have embraced what they see as inevitable as the ultimate goal of progress.

And here we come to the core of all naturalistic and “evolutionary” argumentation: inevitability. I make no claim to know whether humanity is inevitably doomed to be destroyed by a super-powerful AI or inevitably doomed to be destroyed by a natural catastrophe and the earth is reclaimed by vegetation. But I can say, quite firmly, a future so devoid of human struggles and joys would be quite disappointing to my own values. We have made a giant mistake by imagining our ideals are something simply natural. Of course they may have developed from nature, but in our hands they are much more than simply nature.

If humanity is reduced to simply nature, no human can be free. Nature is completely deterministic and if we enslave morality to naturalistic justifications then we will eventually discover we have exchanged a real mode of reform for a truism that excuses any random emergence as either “natural” or “evolutionary”. Once we say “the good is inevitable” we are only a short way away from saying “the inevitable is good”. The tyranny of determinism will have secured its final victory. But before one stares to long into the abyss of determinism, we should remember that nothing in the future is actually inevitable. We only have to work for an ideal and the future can be exactly what we make of it.

Humanity’s ideals can define them apart from nature, but only if we conceive of those ideals as above nature. If indeed the values that guide us are supernatural then we can shake our fist at any future apocalypse however likely. More and more I believe  the eternal state of humanity may be to stand on the precipice of certain doom.liberty Of course, the believers in deterministic extermination will talk all they want about the course of “natural progress”. But as strong as their inevitability is, it can be shattered by a single ideal that stands beyond nature’s power to alter it. All that is needed is one supernatural dream and we can wage an eternal revolution against the tyranny of the inevitable.