Monday, November 18, 2019


The reference here is -- I think -- to Barr's recent speech at the Federalist Society's 2019 National Lawyers Convention.  (I've lost the post link.)  It's not quoted directly but you can read it at this link.

Barr goes to a different point of origin in claiming a human identity, one authorized by "nature," claiming that "nature" is sacred, the real source of theology.  This is a persistent strand of Western thought that defines "nature" in a specific way, quite Hobbsian:  Survival of the fittest, primacy of humans and exaltation in nature go together as a strong idea in Germany and in white America.  Survival in that frame is only meant for the best people, which are naturally them.  Ayn Rand in the woods. In contrast, Native Americans do not see nature as different from themselves -- they feel continuous and embedded.  

The "white" point of view believes that humans are naturally the peak, the goal of either evolution or creation, while all other aspects of nature are simply resources.  It enforces the idea of separation/superiority from animal brutish nature, even as nature is admired as an icon and exploited as an entitlement.  The idea underlay the invasion and forced submission of all "natural" places, like America, all "natural" people like native Americans and Africans.  Things that had bad consequences for humans, like disease, were considered unnatural.

The commentor says, "For Barr, "natural" civil society is theological. God—*his* version—is disguised as Nature. Religious ends are disguised as "natural" teleology. A religious vision of humanity becomes "human nature".

For Barr, "natural" civil society is theological. God—*his* version—is disguised as Nature. Religious ends are disguised as "natural" teleology. A religious vision of humanity becomes "human nature".

Josh Blackman, a conservative Texas lawyer who likes to address the Supreme Court on matters like gun control, interrupts to address these observations thus:

"Conservatives do not seek earthly paradise. We are preserving over the long run freedom and order for healthy development of natural civil society and individaul [sic] human flourishing. We test the propriety and wisdom under a rule of law standard."

The first speaker continues:  "It's not just Barr who does this. He comes from a long, long tradition of sophistic reasoners who try to shoehorn theological presuppositions into the nominally secular language of nature and naturalness, using arcane terminological distinctions to make it seem legit."

"Nor is this restricted to religious reasoning. Secular ideologues have also tried to secure quasi-theological authority for their values by locating their authority in Nature and Naturalness—which are haphazardly conflated with "reason," "essence," "telos," "purpose," and "good."

This view of nature has become limited and even offensive to me.  It is necessary to distinguish between this Emersonian/Thoreauvian view of nature which confirmed to the early Unitarians that they were "better" because they loved nature so much, citing the snowfall outside the sanctuary window as more sacred than communion or sermon.  It is a justification of theologized superiority, that they are the only ones sensitive enough to look at falling snow and see God.  

They recognize the mysterium et tremendum and are properly made humble, but still stay stuck in the idea that they matter, that their reaction gives them entitlement that they should use to impress others.  This is my heresy: that we are all participants but neither unique nor more than momentary.  It won't make me any friends among Transcendentalists, but it will leave me open to new knowledge and the conviction that before birth and after death and in the middle between, I am part of everything.  Everything.  Infinitesimal as each of us is, we all matter.

Going hiking is not the same as "religion", which in our times is often an historical, ethnic, socioeconomic institution not very well applied to everyone.  It's a mistake to think that I'm writing about "religion", which is a big jumble of stuff included in familiar institutions.   I don't think about institutional religion, not even Buddhism.  

I think about holiness and how a human skin-bag of complex one-celled entities -- cooperating electrochemically -- can create a person claiming an identity, can somehow feel the cellular connections as a submergence in unity.  This ethic and principle says that everything is part of everything else and therefore significant and deserving of moral protection.

Science agrees with this. But it is a category of thought that approaches becoming the kind of institution that is religious.  The difference is that scientific knowledge is always provisional -- subject to future research -- defines its method and is conscious that human "truth" is always limited.  Religion commonly wants to contradict those aspects.

Lately attention has turned to the idea of "consciousness" which is, as far as we know, unique to humans, more distinguishing than opposable thumbs and the source of our ability to use the scientific method, critiquing and improving our way of thinking.  We can experience our identity, name it,  change it.  Consciousness, through its massive foundation in unconsciousness, gives us the ability to "feel", which appears to be present in all mammals, part of their survival except that for them it is not reflective.  The fox does not reflect on its own wiliness.  It just grabs a chicken.

"Wild" can also apply not just to what is uncontrolled so far, but to the uncontrollable, that which is beyond our ability to know it either through our senses or through thought or emotion.  The unconscious is as wild as the cosmos.  It exceeds us, evades us.  This idea may make me welcome to the younglings, who are accustomed to feeling the edge of perception.  Words are not so wild as the concepts beneath them that are without grammar and possibly impossible to share without the arts.  It is the Dark.

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