Monday, 7 February 2011

Irresponsibility

There are, as far as I'm aware, only half a dozen people who read this blog. That's grand. The older I have become, the more hostility I have felt towards the club mentality of those with acceptable views. Various examples spring to mind. For life in academia these days, to be bien pensant (right thinking) is almost a more important qualification than a PhD. When I attended the Portsmouth Diocesan Pastoral Gathering in 2005, my announcement to the table of six delegates at which I sat that I attended the Traditional Mass (as we called it then) led to an atmosphere that made me feel about as welcome as a fart in a space suit. On the other hand, when I once helped out a schola at a traditionalist gathering, my suggestion that they sing a vernacular hymn at Communion (they had been short of ideas for a Latin one) was greeted with the sort of silence normally reserved for those who, in otherwise polite company, drink water with their soup, or refer to their 'serviettes' instead of their napkins.

Anagnostis - who will probably be the last, lone reader of my blog when all others have fled in boredom and disgust - asks me under a post below about the origins of irresponsiblity. I'm not sure I can even begin to adequately answer the question, at least so framed. But there is no doubt a link between modernity and irresponsibility, of that I'm quite sure. Let me explain.

Responsiblity seems to be something which see-saws throughout the changing phases of modernity. For example, Lutheran sola fide and Calvinist predestination, both of which I view as among the first shards of Reformation modernity, begin by placing responsible agency outside the individual and almost totally in God. The consequence: in the short term, intense asceticism, while in the long term, a disincentive for human behaviour (because my destiny does not depend on me in any meaningful way). We see a contrary movement in the advance of Enlightenment rationalism which seeks to take back all that responsibility into the hands of man (having previously given it over entirely into the hands of God). But that too is irresponsible in the same way back-seat driving can be irresponsible. But lo and behold, the age of reason is followed by the age of nineteenth-century science which attempts first to explain our thoughts by our chemical make-up (Taine) and then describes how our very identities, where we believe responsiblity lies, are a duplicitous sham (Freud).

Now, we are not responsible: our badness is society's fault (Rousseau), or it is the fault of our parents (Freud again) or it is the fault of our alienation (Marx) or it is the fault of the bad faith with which we refuse self detemination (Sartre). Genes are now thought to determine almost all we are or will ever be, and the rest is the fruit of cultural symbols which in themselves are merely the comforting, polished turds of a delusional civilisation. We are finally Straw Dogs, as John Gray, declares. 'Responsiblity' is one of those constructs which hides from us our real identity as pure, self-interested animals.

And as we have broken down the old, organic patterns of our culture, we find increasingly a sublimation of responsibilty into society-wide bodies. Schools educate our children; care homes take our elderly; bureaucrats rule the spending of our taxes; the media is responsible for our leisure; industrial farms grow our food and everybody buys rather than makes clothes - all of which must have happened in one way or another in the past, but not in a way that made our predecessors the professional consumers that we have become. All the time our responsiblity is sucked out of us from above and only returns to us in ways that we find unsustainable. Even the authenticity which our culture, above all others, seeks is anthropocentric and, thereby, sterile.

And that, if I may come back to one of my first points, is why I'm wary of clubs and club mentalities, and matey back slapping and partisan mistrust, and the binary construction of our social circles, as if we were already invited to make the division of the human race which belongs to God alone at the end of time. All these are an excuse for not taking responsiblity. All these are an excuse which allows us to believe that some code other than the love of God will enoble our choices and make them beyond reproach.

Does that answer the question, Anagnostis?

19 comments:

Left-footer said...

A fine and necessary hatchet-job on the main enemies, and very readable, too. Your blog is always worth reading, and not just because it often reflects my own views.

My blog is probably one of the most irascible, repellent, and unlovable around, but I rejoice in telling what I believe to be the truth.

Głowa do gory! Please don't get discouraged.

Richard Collins said...

As your number two club member, I subscribe entirely to your sentiments. In fact, my (traditionalist) vision of Purgatory is to be consigned to a locked room full of Traditionalists. But then, my vision of Hell is to be in a locked room full of liberal Catholics!

Ben Trovato said...

Ches - good stuff, but you forgot about post-modernity, which attacks responsibility even more profoundly by attacking the very notion of reality or objectivity. All we have are socially-constructed understandings which may always be de-constructed and re-constructed to suit one's whim....

(And btw I have fewer readers than you - so there!)

RC - see you in Purgatory!

Dominic said...

Another, largely silent, but appreciative reader here (who can't be bothered to write his own blog).

Seems I have similar ideas of hell and purgatory as another reader, too.

In any case, many thanks for this precise insight.

Ches said...

Bless you all! I hate clubs but I love company.

Ben Trovato - I was covering post-modernity in that bit about cultural symbols being the polished turds of delusion (who knows where that came from at 11pm last night?!). But not as well as you put it!

Left-footer said...

"polished turds of delusion" - wish I'd said that: poetic, worth of Milton at his angriest.

umblepie said...

Eagerly await all your posts and am rarely disappointed. Long (temporal that is!) may they continue.

Richard Collins said...

"polished turds of delusion" Was that original or was it Brendan Behan :)

Ches said...

Original!

Recusant said...

And another quietly lurking reader here. One who also finds reasons not to want to join any club of like-minded sheep.

Anonymous said...

I'm here too! I enjoy your thoughtful analysis of various issues. The fact that I have never commented to date is evidence of, how uniquely amongst the blogs I regularly read, I find myself in agreement with most of what you say and feel I couldn't put it better myself . . . plus how blissfully free your blog is of the trolls who write the same comments regardless of the subject matter of the blog in question, but whose bait often provokes a rise from me.

Keep up the good work and your independence of mind which makes you so wonderfully difficult to categorise. Your students are very fortunate.

In Domino,

Toby

GOR said...

I suspect the lack of responsibility also has origins in our young lives. “It wasn’t me!” “I didn’t do it!” or “The Devil made me do it”. While we were taught repeatedly to take personal responsibility for our actions, the lesson was not always learnt. Paraphrasing Voltaire about Common Sense: personal responsibility is not very common, or even personal.

But it does go back even further than that. The seeds were laid very early on. “The serpent tempted me…” “The woman gave it to me…” Of course that left the Devil holding the bag, but then it was his bag. But it shouldn’t be ours…

Ches said...

Bless you, Toby.

GOR, quite right, quite right! The original irresponsibility ... and the original conspiracy too.

Sensible Trad said...

Many years ago a wise old priest said to me that 'knowledge brings with it responsibilty', and we can't simply cast that knowledge aside when it becomes inconvenient. He was absolutely spot on; many of our problems are caused by people avoiding responsibility when they know the truth about a particular matter. Just two examples. Many people go up for Holy Communion every time they attend Mass when they have not been to confession for years (and they know it), and many priests give Communion to all and sundry who they know should not be receiving (and they know it). They have the knowledge but avoid the responsibility.

Incidentally, I am not a blogger so I have no readers. I am a new reader so you now have seven.

Ches said...

Welcome, Sensible Trad.

Anagnostis said...

Yes Ches! Everything you write here is wise and true (except the bit about having no devoted readership, obviously - I could have disabused you on that score. Out of all of these good people, I'm just the loitering slacker who provokes others to make efforts he can't rise to himself).

Responsibility seems to be a function of freedom and knowledge, both of which are under attack from determinisms of various sorts, as you outline so ably. Its antithesis is bound up with the sense that our actions and decisions are unfree, or unrelated to consequences we can reasonably predict or comprehend, or for which it will be someone else's business to pick up the tap in any case; or that our judgement can only operate authentically in subjection to some relentless ideological axiom or institutional necessity; or perhaps, unacknowledged if we're Christians, the intimations of futility all around us are whispering nevertheless in the depths of our souls.

Life is first boredom, then fear.
Whether or not we use it, it goes,
And leaves what something hidden from us chose...


I like this:

All the time our responsiblity is sucked out of us from above and only returns to us in ways that we find unsustainable. Even the authenticity which our culture, above all others, seeks is anthropocentric and, thereby, sterile.

...but this is better:

All these are an excuse which allows us to believe that some code other than the love of God will enoble our choices and make them beyond reproach

Ultimately, responsibility is a function of love; which for us Christians is always hypostatic – Personal. It's exercised by persons towards and in respect of persons/Persons. Whatever strips or diminishes or obscures personhood – God's, neighbour's, self's – corrodes responsibility by relegating love to an abstraction.

How all of this applies to Christian bishops responsible for the Tradition and for the souls of their flocks, in the context of the world and the Church we inhabit today, is for each of us - with the responsibility to speak the truth, in love - to come to his own (provisional) conclusions.

sub tuum praesidium said...

Here is yet another regular reader without a blog and normally too lazy to comment. I can't always understand everything you say in your posts but that doesn't matter. It's good to try!
I loved your post about the yoms and also really appreciated your comments on Fr. Blake's anaxios which were very reassuring. So thank you for your blog and God bless.

JARay said...

I think that I did "sign up" as a supporter of your blog Ches. I don't always turn here, I must admit but when I do I am never disappointed. I too am one of those who has no blog of his own. I suppose that I am more of a reactionary (is that the right word?) in that I react rather than initiate. I could never come up with new ideas which are thought provoking but I can be provoked into responding to someone else's ideas. Fr. Ray Blake (mentioned above) is amazing at producing new ideas on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget me...

Fr Brendan Arthur ;-)