Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Signs of Imperfection

"The Church of England bore everywhere upon it the signs of human imperfection; it was the outcome of revolution and of compromise, of the exigencies of politicians and the caprices of princes, of the prejudices of theologians and the necessities of the State. How had it happened that this piece of patchwork had become the receptacle for the august and infinite mysteries of the Christian Faith? This was the problem with which Newman and his friends found themselves confronted. Other men might, and apparently did, see nothing very strange in such a situation; but other men saw in Christianity itself scarcely more than a convenient and respectable appendage to existence, by which a sound system of morals was inculcated, and through which one might hope to attain to everlasting bliss."

Excerpt from Giles Lytton Strachey, "Eminent Victorians"

The crusading human instinct for settlement and order is at times perturbing. This in spite of its worthy aim. The manifestation of the campaign may be both trifling and inestimable, from the fussness of straightening cutlery at table to the morality of the rule of law in our highest courts. Its result is most often relieving but propriety on almost any level is exhausting. Small wonder we much prefer as a general notion to put things into their place and leave them alone.

Yet the controls of imperfection demand review. Respectability and decency, orthodoxy and protocol align with the interests they promote. It is no accident for example that the evolution of democracy was a hesitate process at the helm of the ruling classes who had a notorious mistrust of the masses.  Just to be clear about the motivation it is not far removed from the parental guidance of children; that is, a combination of purpose and security (though admittedly the enterprise is occasionally jaundiced more by egotism than altruism).

What amuses me is the overall ambition for regulation. The term regulation has become distorted lately by the contortions of the Republican Party in the United States of America.  On the one hand the "red" party proclaims its adoration of an unregulated existence (usually aimed at denying or disrupting what they conveniently call the liberal or social goals of environmentalists or similarly publicly-spirited individuals). On the other hand the same people call for highly restrictive health decisions of women by opposing the entitlement to abortion or by legitimizing the most esoteric enforcement of the constitutional entitlement to carry firearms, both of which aims require a vivid legislative presence (and paradoxically contain a highly questionable contradiction of freedom of the individual).

It is this very abuse of the meaning of order which in my opinion infuses so many of the arguments surrounding seemly and ethical social conduct. There is little chance that the thread of self-interest will ever be removed from our public institutions - any more than we can expect everyone to have the same opinion. But this does not quell the authenticity of our zeal for alternative structures.  Already the historic gravity of religion is undergoing a serious evaporation. Everywhere in the Western world there are former ecclesiastical properties for sale. Likewise the political progress of women and blacks is escalating daily. The popular recognition of the ambivalence of sexual identity is growing.  While dangerous and threatening forces remain to contradict such elemental rational, social and physical realities the path to divergence is beyond doubt.

The enormity of vast militarism to promote what are identified as national interests means that the scope of influence must reduce to corresponding simplicity. In the process the outcome is one of "revolution and compromise, exigencies and caprice".  It takes no brilliance to recognize that the strongest elements of society will prevail in the dispute.  Not exactly the best way to deal with imperfection! But all the more reason to continue the fight!

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