Principalities, Powers, Invisible Hands, and the Modern Author

We live in a weird world. And one very difficult for a writer to deal with if he has ambitions to speak truly about the story I call the world. We modern human beings literalize metaphorical and even mathematical ways of speaking while we’re incapable of exercising the imagination that would allow the formation and understanding of new metaphors. For now, mathematicians and other scientists seem to be able to exercise their peculiar, and very important imaginations, though some popular-level books written even by serious scientists would lead me to fear that scientists are just the other side of the same coin on which we find the Biblical Literalists and so-called Creation Scientists. We might be seeing the end of a major phase of creative scientific thinking as literalization continues to strangle the modern imagination.

As far as I can see, an author can speak about demons and angels and ghosts, gods for that matter, and risk being taken as a believer in those entities. Or that author can be openly skeptical so that he loses many seemingly necessary ways of speaking about complex events and about the moral meanings which inhere in even the most geophysical of events. I’m assuming in my fictional and non-fictional writings that this dilemma is not simply a passing phase but is rather a sign that God is forcing us to grow up in some important ways. We are to leave our pagan ways behind, or else we risk falling back into a world dimly light by pagan thought. Even Christianity would be re-paganized to a dangerous extent — though Christianity has never been fully de-paganized.

In some of my unpublished novels, especially “A Man for Every Purpose”, I try to point out the sheer reasonableness of our environments and the mystery which comes in as a man tries to make sense of it, seeing first a universe and then a world if he’s able to bring a sense of moral order to that universe. The true mystery of literature lies in those processes of seeing a universe and then trying to bring a sense of moral order to the universe. This is no less true of philosophy, science, mathematics, and any theology which tries to understand God through His Creation.

What has this to do with Principalities, Powers, and Invisible Hands. Simple. They are ways of speaking, as I noted in “To See a World in a Grain of Sand” with respect to the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. Some modern scholars have even claimed that nearly all (maybe all?) of St. Paul’s references to such as Principalities are references to pseudo-entities such as the invisible hand, which is really a way of speaking about the way that a society informally organizes itself when the members of that society share a system of moral beliefs and behaviors with that particular mix of moral order and disorder. (I’ll speak only to the order in this sort of a mixture.)

In my only published book, “To See…”, I discussed the true nature of the Invisible Hand and also emphasized that we see invisible-hand effects not only because of the moral order but also because that moral order is shared by a high percentage of the members of that society. It’s quite possible that the United States was doomed, that our moral order would have decayed, even if we hadn’t so many home-grown exploiters destroying moral order for fun and profit just because we don’t share a moral order across all regions and across all ethnic groups and across all levels of society. This is not to imply that any particular region or ethnic group or level of society has a greater degree of moral order; it is only to say that we don’t share the same view of moral order.

As I discussed in “To See…” and in some of my entries on my two blogs ( Acts of Being and To See a World in a Grain of Sand ), I have seen Satan in the genial faces of the modern middle-class, nice and empty of thoughts. There is still the problem of depicting the working of this Satan in the world. This Satan does not appear directly, a warrior of evil, who confronts us face-to-face. In fact, this Satan does not appear at all in causes but in the effects of his invisible hand. This is to say that this Satan is a pseudo-daemon in the same way that centrifugal force is a pseudo-force. There is no daemon (force) but only the appearance of a daemon (force) because of some effects. We feel centrifugal force as if there were really a force pushing us outward when we ride a merry-go-round — in fact, the inertial efforts of our bodies to continue moving in a straight line causes this illusion of an outward-pressing force. We think to perceive Satan, personalized evil in general, when we see the results of men interacting in a way that is not morally structured in a proper way.

That’s a mouthful but anyone who has even the most intuitive — but not superstitious — idea of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand or St. Paul’s Principalities and Powers will understand the general concept. The problem seems to be that we have no good ways to speak of the evil, or other effects, that results when real-world entities chaotically interact and produce seemingly simple effects. In the cases that concern me now, we see morally ill-structured, unthinking human beings interacting and thinking themselves innocent of the results. Unthinking human beings do not foresee the evil possibilities in, say, the restructuring of human dependencies that comes with the adoption of something like the Social Security system in the United States. Soon enough, people are dependent upon the central powers and not upon families. When families begin to break up and, as an example of one specific effect, young people are disordered in their sexual behavior, we think that Satan must be behind it because we are nice pople taking care of our legitimate needs and desires.

And the problem of a modern author is made more clear. How do we speak in such a way as to tie the large-scale evils of the modern age back to the unthinking actions of human beings acting as atoms in social collectives? We are willing to accept the good effects of our social collectives but we are blind to our responsibility in the evil effects our collective actions.

I’ve just about said as much as I wish to say in this blog-entry but I’ll make a couple historical comments to help my readers understand what I’m saying.

Without giving many details, I’ll claim that an important part of the process by which the Roman Plebians were pauperized and made politically impotent was the construction of a large welfare system and the growth of a large body of civil servants that would be labeled ‘social-workers’ in the modern world. The overall process was made possible by the destruction of the normal, flesh-and-blood dependencies of those Plebians (ultimately of the Patrician families as well) by making people dependent upon various sorts of welfare systems. The construction of those welfare systems was made possible by a conversion of a stable economy into a highly liquid economy which could be exploited by financial speculators and politicians in the central government wishing to collect large taxes to fund both their welfare and military expenditures. (This should be sounding familiar at this point.)

Franz Jaggerstatter was a man executed by the German Army during World War II because he refused to serve in the Austrian Army, telling his judges that God would not approve of his fighting for an evil government, or words to that effect. Gordon Zahn, an American who taught at the University of Chicago, wrote a book about Jaggerstatter — “In Solitary Witness”. In that book, we learn that, following the Nazi take-over of Austria, Jaggerstatter dropped his involvement with fraternal and charitable movements because they had become fronts for the Nazi efforts to make people dependent upon them. He refused to participate in the sorts of charity which forged bonds of dependency between the Nazis and his fellow-citizens.

Explore posts in the same categories: Christianity, literature, philosophy, Religion

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