Monday, December 29, 2008

Notes on a New Novel

Tallyho, Cornelius! is a pastiche of two of Michael Moorcock’s fantasy cycles: Jerry Cornelius and the Second Ether. Many contributors to the avant-garde magazine New Worlds wrote Jerry Cornelius stories in the 60s and 70s, and what I offer is a 21st century adaptation. I was very fortunate to gain Mr. Moorcock’s support in this project. As well, he has contributed a lengthy blurb for the back cover.

In this latest interpretation, Jerry Cornelius—the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Cornelius—is an Anglican theologian promoting the New World Order. In keeping with Moorcock’s Jerry, his interests include physics and computer programming. Jerry’s opportunistic brother Frank is Bishop Francis Cornelius. The plot of the novel is driven by the Reverend Dr. Cornelius's "contact" with the Second Ether, which disrupts his theology of globalization. I’ve integrated some of Ray Kurzweil’s ideas into my adaptation of Moorcock’s Second Ether. Set in New York (where I live part of the year), the novel speaks to both sides of the Atlantic.

Michael Moorcok has said that Jerry Cornelius is as much technique as he is character. Jerry Cornelius has been called the first cyberpunk hero and this is probably correct. Jerry Cornelius also anticipated the contemporary “slipstream” movement in experimental fiction which author Bruce Sterling (who coined the phrase) describes as ". . . a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility” (SF Eye #5, July 1989). It is easy to say that this sensibility is simply a continuation of the sixties psychedelic “franchise,” and as such there are many ways to create such effects, but I think at bottom of the slipstream movement is a unique treatment of history that is something else entirely.

Go back and look at the original Cornelius novels and we see there is a lot of the first half of the 20th century in there--the persistence of a culture even as the psychic infrastructure supporting that culture breaks apart. . . and is JC an exponent of this process? Both as a character and as a technique?

And isn’t it wonderful how this culture and this character persist as consistent and recognizable ontological reference points even as the centripetal forces of history draw it (and him) apart?

In Tally-Ho, Cornelius! a balance was struck, uneven perhaps, among three concerns: 1) the JC material as it stood before I made my contribution, 2) the mythographic patterns and templates I identified in the Second Ether (outlined in the chapter I wrote for Clyde Wilcox and Mack Hassler’s New Boundaries in Politics and Science Fiction), and 3) the sorts of things I had to do to satisfy my own “artistic” quirks and agenda. Many of these dynamics work themselves out in the colloquy between the Reverend Dr. Cornelius and Little Capricorn; where the former is the “secret superhero” behind a thousand masks of social respectability; while the latter, being a “real superhero,” is the unrestrained genius that acts out superhero impulses unfettered by the mitigating masks of social personae. I think it is interesting to note here that in African-American slang, “to trip” means to slip out of control and act-out the quirky emotions of our eternal dialogues.

To me the key difference between the Rev. Dr. C. and Jerry’s other avatars is found in his psychic continuity and the persistence of his persona. In his introduction to The Cornelius Chronicles John Clute writes, “The presentation of the self in everyday life in the inner city is a form of theatre where identity is a role and where entropy is high...” This presentation and the level of entropy can be adjusted by the author, who can figuratively “set the dials” and increase or decrease the persistence of identity or the level of entropy. In transplanting Jerry out of the inner city, it seems to me the secure and privileged high-church Anglican JC should have a higher level of apparent continuity, moreover as his professional training pointedly cultivates such continuity because it is central to the job of priest, and, eventually, central to the post of cathedral dean. But the reality of human theatre--choosing roles, wearing masks, playing with and against each other--remains the same at all levels. And likewise, entropy—a physical as well as social constant—remains a consistent a force that shifts the landscape and drives the actions that the players chose, or chose not to chose. As a well-connected authority of the high church, the Reverend Dr. Cornelius both represents and enforces the continuity of the individual and collective personae of everyone in society. His job is to keep us glued together because our cohesiveness—the integrity of our individual personae and the social interactions these personae make possible—are necessary to advance the integrity and the power of his friends at the top of the social pyramid; or indeed, are necessary for our collective survival. His little friend Capricorn, however, being a “superhero,” or, indeed, being an exponent of that very top of society that the Reverend Dr. Cornelius serves, is thus Jerry’s friend and his foil, his counterpoint, the model of the freedoms he seeks, and his master. JC’s encounter with Cappy is an encounter with the freedoms he has been aspiring to his whole life. In meeting Cappy, JC encounters the “billionaire masters” of our emerging global civilization; alternatively, in this encounter JC is the middle class fulfilling of its aspirations. In befriending Capricorn, JC meets up with the myth of his own liberation. But considering what Cappy really is, at the end of the day JC’s achievement and his success becomes the dissolution of the same rigid patterns of personality that have allowed him to ascend in the first place. Ironically, he has worked his whole life in order to achieve the dissolution of the most important tool—his persona—that he needed to get to the top. People today seem to have two avenues to achieve this kind of success: the first is to be extremely rich; the second is to give it up and drop out of the system entirely, and I think all of us are familiar with the strange aura of dissolution radiated by both the very lowest and the very highest strata of society—it’s something that very often frightens us middle class folk. Interestingly enough, however, little forays into this dissolute realm in the form of novels, church worship, music, film, TV and travel define the underlying character of our middle class “recreation.” Now while all this is going on it’s important to keep in mind the Rev Dr C’s religious vocation, moreover his position near the very top of the religious-political complex. Perhaps it all comes down to Michael Moorcock's line in The Entropy Circuit where Jerry says, “To the fearful all things are chaotic. That's how you get religion (and its bastard child, politics).”

To me the great fun is in the mythographic possibilities that open up when JC and the Second Ether interpenetrate. At this point of intersection the shamanistic doors swing wide apart. Michael Moorcok's In Lighter Vein: A note on the Jerry Cornelius Tetralogy, neatly describes the system of “referentiality” that is represented in the JC material, and which is key to my understanding of mythographic poetry, be it Blake, Milton, or what have you:
Part of my original intention with the Jerry Cornelius stories was to 'liberate' the narrative; to leave it open to the reader's interpretation as much as possible - to involve the reader in such a way as to bring their own imagination into play. This impulse was probably a result of my interest in Brecht - an interest I'd had since the mid-fifties.

Although the structure of the tetralogy is very strict (some might think over-mechanical) the scope for interpretation is hopefully much wider than the conventional novel. The underlying logic is also very disciplined, particularly in the last three volumes. It's my view that a work of fiction should contain nothing which does not contribute to the overall scheme. The whimsicalities to be found in all the books are, in fact, not random, not mere conceits, but make internal references. That is to say, while I strive for the effect of randomness on one level, the effect is achieved by a tightly controlled system of internal reference, puns, ironies, logic-jumps which no single reader may fairly be expected to follow.

Thus far the responses to the novel have been very positive. In correspondence, Steve Aylett has suggested to me that the Reverend Dr. Cornelius does not “feel” like Jerry Cornelius, and I agree (but do not sympathize) with his impression. They are different characters, but they are also the same person. The basic thematic elements, issues of technique and “band name” referents are all there. The corporate logo is in place and just how far does (or can) Jerry Cornelius transcends his corporate logo? Moreover, the Reverend Dr. Cornelius feels like Jerry to me. This all gets into the nature of human identity, too, and this is a crucial philosophical theme in Moorcock’s original vision. Another reader, John Neffay, has suggested that in my presentation of Oona I rely too much on past incarnations of Una Persson. My Oona certainly could have been developed further. The question I had while writing the novel, however, was what a more-developed-Oona would have contributed to the overall scheme of the novel? That is, beyond a minor foil and a “tool” that he cynically uses, how relevant is she to the Reverend Dr. Cornelius? Perhaps she might play a greater role in a possible sequel if she can contribute to the diffuse field of internal reflections and epiphenomena that make up a Jerry Cornelius novel. Meantime, the Reverend Dr. Cornelius is what the novel is about, just as he is what he is about. This novel is in many ways an interior monologue. And for that matter, does Little Capricorn, the "Devil Boy” as Francis calls him, even exist? Or is he a figment of the Reverend Dr. Cornelius’s imagination, or the representative principle of imagination that drives him toward his success, or is it toward his dissolution?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Diplomatical Simian

He plays at the leash-end

Whilst "culture" grinds the crank

He plays with ottava rima strains

When the muses raise his rank

Octaves he knows many more

Than scan within an inch

Of monkey sandman's drizzle laughter

Imagine how must he itch

To tell off the offices

And the clerks who make a crouch

In bowling to their engines

In plain rooms boldly numbered

See how in a drop of day

They've lost time that so encumbered

Now so free the mortal strain

(As seen on TV, never mind the color

It's all black and white, all problems

Solved in half an hour

Audio then visual)

Ecce sweet refrain:

The sinecure's been sequestered!

Hurrah! Huzzah! Hoobaloo!

Thus all meek before the melting mob

And the center stays smartly centered

Beneath the gaze of micromanager

Whose hurdy gurdy gently groans:

"Dot your 'i' and cross your 't'

Review the 'p' and 'q' and

And . . . presto!"

So drop the idiom, drop the drone

Your song is nearly done

As for your predominance

Preeminent, tall, and novel,

All blue-jeaned and professorial

Well, something's much less, it surrounds:

Have you seen the flatness of the terrain?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Philosophical Antecedents to the Second Amendment

I leave it to legal scholars to thrash out the wording of the US Constitution and the supposed (or actual) ambiguities concerning who has the right bear arms—be it officially convened militias or independent individuals—and instead direct my attention to ponder the deeper philosophical questions the document gives rise to. To us highbrows, the thought of an armed populace seems abhorrent, at best ridiculous; but, nonetheless, the philosophical antecedents stepping up to the Second Amendment represent a fascinating thread in intellectual history evoking the very fundamentals of our traditional Western understanding of the universe, humanity, and the latter’s relationship to (and place within) the former.

In their broadest considerations, the framers of the American Bill of Rights were operating under the Augustinian assumption that the world and the people in it were corrupt, and ergo the activity of people in that world was corrupt as a matter of this essential nature. This assumption was central to Luther (an Augustinian), Calvin, and Arminius, and looking into the way these people interpreted the “fall” is instructive, and in the liberal interpretation of the concept Gnostic and antinomian notions are very important as well, especially to the Protestant traditions that lead to our constitutional rights, including the bearing of arms. Augustine claimed that political entities had a right to protect themselves. Coercive rule itself was a necessary evil upon which the well-being and preservation of society depended. Nevertheless there was no actual virtue in the state’s authority, as Augustine neatly expresses in this anecdote from The City of God (VI:4):

When [Alexander the Great] asked [a captured pirate] what he meant by infesting the sea, he boldly replied: ‘What you mean by warring on the whole world. I do my fighting on a ship, and they call me a pirate; you do yours on a large ship, and they call you Commander.
The story is suggestive of the ironic scene Golding deploys at the conclusion of The Lord of the Flies, where the boys are rescued from their island of barbarity by men from the warship ominously hovering above them in the ocean, and that ocean leading out to a world at war. Early Protestants would share Augustine’s perspective in regards to the authority of the state, and thus the state, despite its corruptions was “tolerated” out of necessity. But the sense the state itself was a corruption remained a problem, and this unsettling "truth" became something else again as the Protestant movement followed a modern turn to liberalism during the seventeenth century in the Netherlands and England.

And it was after all this modern turn that was most directly the heritage of ideas that informed the framer’s thinking. Indeed, the framers of the US Constitution were heirs to the socio-religious-political tradition represented by Cromwell and the “Good Old Cause”—the movement we associate, first, with the Independents and the Army during the English Civil War of the 1640s; then the work of Shaftsbury and Locke which was realized in the ascension of William and Mary and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which brought about an English Bill of Rights claiming the right of Protestants to bear arms in their lawful self-defense. In those days, Independent Protestants had a legitimate fear of the High-English and Roman churches, as well as the political forces these churches represented. Historically, this line of demarcation recapitulates itself in the 1640s, the late-1680s and--moving to America--the 1770s and 80s (Declaration, 1776; U.S. Constitution, 1787), placing on one side the middle classes, and on the other the bankers and land owners. Respectively, in the wake of the English Civil War, these divisions followed religious lines as well, placing Baptists, Presbyterians and Independents on one side, and High-Church Anglicans on the other. In Revolutionary America, the division fell out similarly, with the Baptists and Calvinists on one side, and the Episcopalians (Anglicans) on the other. In class terms once more, the former were middle class and the latter were upper-class bankers and land owners. Politically, the former were Democratic Republicans and the latter were Federalists. As originally offered, the U.S. Constitution had no provisions for guaranteeing the Rights of the middle classes. It was a document intended to guarantee the powers and status of the upper classes, and for this reason it was rejected. Thus it was necessary to add the Bill of Rights (containing the Second Amendment), which properly guaranteed human rights as understood by the middle classes.

There is in this Lockean nexus of political thought a fundamental belief that the people have a sacred duty to resist any government that does not protect the people’s natural rights. Government could take many forms (Locke of course had some wise suggestions involving balance of powers) but the benchmark for measuring the legitimacy of any government, system or ruler was whether or not that government, system or ruler protected the rights of the “community.” Locke doesn’t say much about who makes up his “community,” but suffice it to say Locke’s “community” consisted of people who thought like himself (Independent Christians, political liberals, and, perhaps most important of all, people who amassed property through their labor, by which Locke meant everybody who worked). More generally, Locke’s community is properly regarded as the human community in toto, where the people are united as beings equal under and subject to God’s especial love and care. Whatever form or persona the magisterial (state) power takes, it is answerable to God if it fails to protect the human community. The chief instrument of God’s judgment is the people. In 1651, a generation before the Glorious Revolution, in A Defense of the People of England Milton writes, “God changes circumstances, assigns kingdoms, and takes them away . . . through the agency of men.” This is directly in line with the theological rationale Locke calls upon when he claims that people have a sacred duty to overthrow any government that fails to uphold God’s trust. The notion is essentially Christian but uniquely formed by the ancient liberal traditions of the English people and their Common Law, which provides for individual’s to be secure in their persons and their property, and that allows them to have a say in the usages of their persons and their property. In the English tradition, the state derives its power from the people; the state itself has no rights. The folk on the continent have traditionally viewed this the other way round. Back to Locke: As for the right to bear arms: if overthrowing a bad government is a sacred duty, then the people need the tools to do it, thus the Right to keep and bear arms. Thus we might cautiously cross over into the specialized field of Constitutional interpretation and assign specific meanings to the amendment, which reads as follows:
A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

The phrase "well regulated" is used consistently in the contemporaneous writings of the framers to indicate a militia that is proficient or well-trained. Although the subtext of "supervision" can properly be read into the wording, the overt significance of the phrase underscores the effectiveness of the militia as an organization to support the defense of the community and the security of the democratic-republican political system as is is formulated in the Constitution. In order to insure the effectiveness of the organization in both its political and operational capacities, the militia is a thoroughly democratized body, not officially constituted pro forma but rather naturally constituted de facto. Everyone is a member.

This stuff makes fascinating intellectual history, but it is important to realize that these ideas are not mere philosophical amusements. They are embedded in the Constitution itself, and here's where things become a bit sticky. According to the Lockean formula, usurping persons or governments attempting to take away the people's arms are obstructing the duty of the people to safe-guard their Rights; thus the people have a duty to resist any power that tries to take their arms. Of course, Congress can legally pass laws to regulate or even confiscate arms; but the antinomian (against the law) understanding that is essential to English Protestant thought stipulates that Christians are absolved from obeying any worldly law. The belief that the Gospels abrogated Mosaic law (the first five books of the Old Testament) not only influenced orderly Germanic types like Luther and Calvin, but can be seen in Augustine as well. Even in the minds of our most theocratic and authoritarian teachers, there is a profound distrust of the state. To find common ground and reconcile our various western traditions regarding who shall possess the power of arms, a healthy distrust of the state must be foremost in the considerations of those who would regulate the possession of arms, as well as those who maintain that arms are to be dutifully borne by all people.

Perhaps the solution lies in that other Lockean assumption that says human beings can tolerate each others' differences as they seek liberal consensus in those areas where consensus can be sought, and proceed reasonably and without violence in the direction of common objectives that can best benefit the members of the human community. The instrumentality of the U.S. Constitution is directed toward this express purpose.

I am no expert in these matters, and rather stumbled upon them in a roundabout fashion as I was pursuing recreation in the works of Milton, Locke, Jefferson, and Hawthorne.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wittgenstein in 90 Seconds

In a series of architectural notes Wittgenstein made while building the spare and block-shaped family home in Vienna, the philosopher proposed that aesthetic reactions consist of feelings or impressions associated with distaste—“discontent, disgust, discomfort”—and the expressions of these forms of aesthetic distaste were formulated as instructions for reform and improvement—“Make it higher! . . . too low! . . . Do something to this.” If I am not wrong, these notions may lead to a characterization of Wittgenstein’s philosophy at its highest level. This characterization is as follows:

The essential thrust of Wittgenstein’s philosophy is the search for an appropriate response to phenomena. In order to identify this elusive appropriate response, it is necessary to construct a critical synoptic surview; that is, an imaginative overview or “story” in which the phenomena in question can be regarded with clarity and precision. Our conceptual confusion, however, can cloud our overview and lead to an inappropriate response, be it in our understanding, in our pronouncements, or in our actions. Our use—but of course more essentially our misuse—of language can lead to conceptual confusion and philosophical credulousness, and hence the attention paid in analytic philosophy to the use of language; thus the analysis of propositions is the activity, but the philosophy itself is the quest for an appropriate response, and an understanding of the world that both supports and is incumbent upon that appropriate response.

In an age which has mythologized science—or, indeed, in past ages which have mythologized sympathetic, superstitious and magical relationships—and as well amongst a species (Homo sapiens) which tends toward uniformity, conformity, rationalization, and following the habits of custom—empirical explanation is generally accepted as the end of all serious intellectual inquiry. While offering empirical explanation is the appropriate response to some phenomena—exploiting a pharmacological reaction for medical purposes, for instance—empirical explanation is an inappropriate response to other types of phenomena, such as aesthetic phenomena, which are more appropriately approached with the idea of getting hold of some sort of understanding. This understanding chiefly consists of understanding where we stand in relation to the phenomenon we are examining.

Interestingly enough, our understanding—our nurtured and cultivated understanding, which is rooted in an understanding of our feelings—can and has reformed our science, which (since Bacon, Locke and Newton) has been taken from a level of pursuing empirical explanation to a level of an on-going skeptical-empirical enquiry. In our cultivated response to poetry we have learned that our poetry (our mythological expression) is in a state of “semiotic flux” and transformation. When our myths become fixed, they stultify and breed orthodoxy and barbarism. Our myths must therefore become supple and changing, yielding softly to the shifting impressions of the poetic consciousness. Civilized science—the skeptical-empirical method—is in a like state of flux. Aristotle’s notion of potentiality and actuality is revised by Galileo’s emphasis on the quantitative measurement of the physical characteristics of motion, which is revised by Newtonian mechanics, which is revised by Einstein’s relativity, which is revised by quantum mechanics, and so on. These different models are “right” for different times, at different scales, for different tasks, and they all the time progress along a path weaving in and out through ever more subtle and deft articulations of understanding. We don't believe in them, but rather believe in what they can show us, or what they can do for us. They are not essential models, but tools we pick up and set down as we go about engineering new methods for dealing with (and in) the world.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Princess of the Black Stone Bailey

A free priest, away and merry
Easy to rove the dreaming downs
Saw a princess framed in window stone,
The Princess of the black stone bailey
Above the gates that groaned apart
To admit his ringing bell and holy form
From an open air,
While the green hills, bending road
And slanting skies
Bid him walk the other way.

Beautiful, the princess wise
Of the black stone bailey
Above the full-swung gate
Where the priest now stood.
How her metal hair should
Send a lathe-spun light
At once twice yellow, full bright
A burst star, flying
Beams of wild delight!
How knowledge beneath her brow
Should glow in her eyes a cool appreciation,
Open, alert, placid blue, soft consummations
Of softer desires and darkened dreams
Like placid skis behind gothic spires
That beckon with piercing insinuation,
Or can repel again
With softly narrowed attenuation.

A book against her breast was open
Where was written her devotions,
But this princess other words
She knew, a siren's song,
A Kirke's creaking incantation
That ever calls the shadow-life
Lost shades to Aeaea:
Alongside her missal prayers
Discernment exceeding comprehension
To enjoin a free priest
Of self-same learning!

He now mounts the bailey stair
Rising up in spiral gyre
To join her in the tower lair,
Like Icarus a sun to see,
Or like the scores' gray fulmers
Who cry "Wind!" and pierce the sky.
So he enters the tower room,
Withal the bailey attic
Her quotient-musk fills the air.

Open hand he shows and lifts
From her breast the missal book.
"Friend," says he soft
And gentle shakes his bell,
"Speak to me your bailey prayer."

In like stillness she makes answer
His honest request
And coldly whispers four old lines
So all may be redressed
In man and woman
In bird and beast
Over Earth in higher Heaven:

"To Love we Forgive
To Forgive we Love
For Rebirth we are Born
Forever, save Death, we Live."

Such these words the free priest heard
Whispered by the round-eyed Princess
In the sky-borne
Black stone bailey.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Today in the Britain Nu-Labour Built

1. You can be arrested (and disappear) without charge.

2. You are now liable to arrest for information given to you by someone else.

3. You can't protest without Police consent, and they'll film you while you do it.

4. Your DNA can be taken and held for the most trivial, or indeed innocent of reasons.

5. You can be prohibited from doing otherwise lawful acts on nebulous "anti-social behavior" grounds.

6. Dissent and contradiction are being stamped on; this is designed to chill internal government dissidents, dissuading them from leaking documents while frightening opposition politicians off from receiving, let alone acting upon, leaked information.

7. The government helps undocumented aliens find work, selectively disregarding the law, even as unemployment levels remain high.

8. High-profile militants with violent agendas are tolerated to enhance the government’s argument there exits a permanent "special security" situation.

9. Widespread hooliganism is tolerated, even as law-abiding citizens are prevented from protecting themselves.

10. Micromanaged behavior training in schools.

11. Over-prescription of mind-numbing antidepressants like Prozac and behavior-modification drugs like Ritalin.

12. Security cameras are everywhere, even in parks, wood and green spaces.

Has Britain become a totalitarian state? Or is it in a transitional phase, moving in the direction of tyranny?

Such a transformation will be difficult to recognize according to the various projections of C. S. Lewis, Anthony Burgess and Stanley Kubrick.

Lewis cautions us to watch the universities, where we can expect corporate take-over marked by a philosophy of moral relativism and bureaucratic stoicism superintended by a positivist vision of scientific utopia.

In Kubrick’s interpretation of Burgess’s violent novel, it will appear as the early flickering of a bad trip just round the edges.

Ignore the flickering to your peril, ye Britains.

"What's it going to be then, eh?"

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"I was the Hottest Fighter-Bomber Commander in the Air Force"

I recently finished Going Downtown: At War with Hanoi and Washington by Col. Jack Broughton.

Several years ago I read Col. Broughton's Thud Ridge and since then I’ve wanted to pick up this book to learn more about the Turkestan incident and Broughton’s court martial. Two of his men flying F-105 Thunderchiefs had fired in self-defense upon the Russian cargo ship Turkestan in Haiphong Harbor, a breach of the Rules of Engagement, and to protect them Broughton destroyed their gun camera film. As Broughton reports, General John D. Ryan, a gruff and ambitious SAC uber-boss who eventually made Air Force Chief of Staff, pulled strings throughout the Pacific to railroad Broughton on the charge of conspiracy against the United States Government (the court martial eventually fined Broughton $40 for destruction of government property). Meanwhile, around this same time several Navy pilots breached the rules of engagement in a similar scenario. When Washington complained the Navy responded, "Leave us alone, we’re fighting a war!" and the matter was dropped. Evidently the Air Force wasn't as loyal to its troops as the Navy; and indeed Broughton makes a point of arguing that this was the kind of loyalty that marked the Air Force of the past. Such loyalty to his troops (one of whom, flying as his wingman, had saved Broughton's life over Hanoi) was what led Broughton to destroy the gun camera film. As Broughton points out, however, several weeks previous to Turkestan while visiting his family in Hawaii he had come to an unsettling conclusion over his frustration with Washington and its mishandling of the war. He writes, "I was looking for a fight."

Going Downtown is the story of bureaucracy and the ruthlessness of ambitious men, of top-down administration and inept national policy. Broughton advances a pretty credible argument that such a system was destructive not only to its stated goals (which were ambiguous at best, mere political expedients as protean and shifting as the political winds) but also destructive of its very best people. Broughton exclaims with mixed pride and dismay as he watches his career disintegrate, "I was the hottest Fighter-Bomber commander in the Air Force." Reading his story, I believe him. Broughton is the very template of intelligence, competence, honesty, dedication, raw guts and integrity. When confronted about the whereabouts of the film he does not equivocate. He stands his ground and states, "I destroyed it!"

Going Downtown is an angry book, and not only is that anger rooted in feelings of righteous indignation, but there is also something of the old hunter in there, which is a potent force indeed. I am struck both by Broughton’s gung-ho attitude and the counterpoint of Air Force and Washington politics. While I am in sympathy with Broughton’s criticisms of Johnson and McNamara, who he flipantly refers to as "Lyndon" and "Robert," I am also leery of Broughton’s mindset, which is after all that of a professional soldier. There is to me something incompatible between that professional mindset and what I believe American political culture is supposed to be about. The irony, perhaps, is you can’t operate complex weapons systems like the Thunderchief with citizen amateurs, but you also can’t have a democratic country along the lines of the American model with a military as professionalized as we had then (and have today).

Strike that. You can operate Thunderchief wings with citizen amateurs, but you can’t get citizen amateurs to follow bad policies formulated by people like McNamara and Johnson.

The type of military that fought WWII was a thing of the past by Vietnam. Broughton and the operations people at that time were more in step with that WWII mindset than the professional machine that Johnson and McNamara exploited (and in the case of the Thunderchiefs and their crews) almost completely destroyed. Broughton’s actions during the Turkestan incident amounted to mutiny, and the way the generals went after him shows he sent a shock wave behind closed doors in the Pentagon and the White House. Now one of their best boys on the track to general was kicking loose from their control, and they were worried more were going to follow.

Although the charge was reduced to a small fine, Broughton was “tainted” as far as the Air Force was concerned, and he would never make general, a promotion he was promised, ironically, just a few days before Turkestan. Broughton took early retirement and spent nearly two decades going through doubt and bitterness afterwards, but through his mutiny and through leaving the Air Force he crossed over from being a professional warrior to becoming an American-who-fought-for-his-country. I’m not sure you can call a lock-step professional warrior a true American. Could it be that mutiny is at the root of our political identity? Reading Melville, Hawthorne and Jefferson, one might believe so.

I’ve also read Ed Rasimus’s excellent books on his experiences flying Thuds and Phantoms in Vietnam, When Thunder Rolled and Palace Cobra, which provide further evidence of the corruption that can be imposed upon a professional military, especially a professional military that’s cynically used by politicians like Johnson. One gets the sense that while career-track professional warriors manuvering for promotion can be coerced into fighting expensivie drawn-out wars, citizen-soldiers are rather motivated by patriotism and the desire to go home, and in war they fight to win quickly and win decisively. There is for the citizen-soldier no profit in quietly supporting ambiguous national policies or kow-towing to self-defeating Rules of Engagement.

What strikes me about men like Broughton and Rasimus is their combination of keen intelligence, raw ability, expertise, good humor, aggression, cynicism, and boy-scout earnestness. Such men lived through transformative times, and their response to those times is central to the story of our American character. Our nation passed through a tremendous cultural shift between 1945 and 1965. In answer to the emerging mindset of the professional bureaucratic warrior, one might say that in twenty years we had become the Germans we had previously defeated.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Do the Gospels Abrogate Mosaic Law?

A look at Milton’s statements concerning antinomianism can enhance our understanding of this fascinating question.

Milton’s writings advance representative formulations of antinomian issues that concerned Independents and sectaries in the periods during and following the Civil War. Specific theological positions are taken in Areopagitica as Milton examines Peter’s dream about the food laws; and in The Discipline and Doctrine of Divorce, where Milton discusses Matthew 19 and Deuteronomy 24.1. Writing these documents in the 1640s, Milton is careful and legalistic as he presents his arguments. He is diplomatic and prudent to convince the men of the times. However, later in the 1660s when addressing posterity Milton is unequivocally antinomian in De Doctrina Christiana (The Christian Doctrine), Chapter 27, as he treats Mosaic Law, the Gospel and Christian liberty. Here Milton writes: “all the old covenant, in other words the entire Mosaic Law, is abolished . . . not only the ceremonial law, but . . . the whole mosaic law is abolished by the Gospel.”

There is a way to bring Milton’s early and late views into unified accordance. The first step in this process is to clarify what is meant by “abrogate” and “law.”

Abrogation in the sense it is used here—de facto abrogation—has no legal status. In is not a procedure; nor is it official, authoritative or binding. It is an activity. Similarly, the concept of “law” in this instance (in any instance) might be more correctly regarded as practice. That is, law itself is not official, authorized or binding. It is an activity. And here a distinction needs to be drawn between law (small “l”) and what we might call Natural Law (large “N” and “L”).

In Matthew 19 Jesus is quite plain in saying that the law in this instance diverges from Natural Law. The Pharisees argue, asking why Moses gives instructions for a divorce procedure if it is against the law, and Jesus answers: “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Moses’ abrogation is official, but it is not strictly speaking (at this point) large “L” Legal….. But for the Pharisees in this case “official” is sufficient. Their law is simply official.

Thus when I inquire into notions of abrogation and antinomianism, I ultimately find myself asking what is meant by “law” in the first place? Rather than abrogation, I think what I see is the rejection of a law code that is not Legal. Rather than an official abrogation, what I see as abrogative in the Gospels is the concept of official law being replaced by Natural Law. And, moreover, Natural Law is not binding. That is to say, Natural Law is self-abrogating (both in terms of officialdom and activity) to accommodate particular exigencies of situation and the shortcomings of human beings. Thus when Milton says Jesus “came not to abrogate from the law not one jot or tittle,” he is referring to Jesus adhering to the Natural Law of Moses, while distinguishing from it Moses’ mere edicts. Official abrogation (authorized) as well as de facto abrogation (activity) do not violate the Natural Law, while the law itself –official law—is spurious at the outset; that is, it is a set of official arrangements composed at the service of, and in the interests of, its authors.

For Milton then, Jesus’ activity of straightening things out was an on-going tinkering as supple as the changing scenario (“as when we bow things the contrary way, to make them come to their naturall straitnesse”). Jesus's project was to align the scenario with Natural Law, which is not official but rather an activity of seeing things clearly and moving in that direction.

I am tempted to suggest this activity is the basis of any possible civilization.

As I understand Locke’s formulation, Natural Law accords with what human conduct ought to be, but this is not always in accordance with what people actually do; neither does it accord with the way things happen. Any reasonable law giver, like any reasonable founder of a new religion, must of necessity take this variability into consideration. Any establishment of law, and the benefits according to life by following that law, must be arrived at through flexible rather than proscriptive means.