Calling It, Not!

Tacitus begins his Annals with the remark that, "fine intellects" were "scared away" by "growing sycophancy" (gliscente adulatione). The Latin word conjures the servile movements of the dog, in other words something that man is not. The English word stems from a harsher Greek meaning, "false accuser, slanderer." In other words, again something that is not. Posturing, lies. The fine intellect retreats where words lose currency, which is precisely the stimulus for other intellects prepared to trade semblances and passing desires, flourishing in chaos where there is no stability on which to meaning may be built. C.S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, calls this the difference between propaganda and propagation.
The book contains an appendix in which the "objective truths" shared by various cultures and religions are collected in categories entitled, "The Law of Justice," for example, with subcategories, Sexual Justice, Honesty, Justice in Court, &C., or "The Law of Mercy." These laws correspond to the objective truths or values he calls the Tao, by way of shorthand - which is reminiscent of Robert Neville's "parallel sensitivities." Neither claim the cultures they are considering are the same, but argue that there are very real correspondences in man's experience or understanding of life. Lewis writes that the Tao is wrongly being put on trial by Conditioners who seek to condition mankind to ostensibly conquer nature but in actuality to make man into a raw material not to be controlled by man himself but to be controlled by nature, i.e. the appetite that is characteristic of nature.
In contrast to this is the Tao according to which values are preferred to impulses. It is like a tree "branching out ... into ever new beauties ... of application" and is in this way the Tao is something "in which to participate ... to be truly human". It is passed down from generation to generation, a measure that man can seek to live up to. It is clear in this system what man means, but Lewis writes about the modern attempt to judge these values from without, though these values can never be understood if they are to be asked for their "credentials" - they are but premises. Criticism has its place, but from within, by those living the Tao: otherwise, what looks like criticism is actually just hostility, because without participation in the Tao, there is no way to know what it is. Lewis calls the difference in criticism organic (i.e., from within) vs. surgical (i.e., from without). His criticism of the 'outside' critics' attempts to build a new system remind me of Gadamer's thorough critique of the impossibility of the objective viewpoint when applied to humanity in Truth and Method. There is no such thing as a constructed conscience; man is a subject - Lewis writes of the Tao.




The Tao is implicit even in that which is used to attack it (idealism is a fragment of the Tao "swollen to madness"), just as truth-seeking was part of science before the leading spirit of the same became to "subdue reality to the wishes of man". Man may have gained power in the plane or wireless, but he also became a target of both bombs and propaganda. He became a target due to lack of consideration of value. "When we understand a thing analytically and then dominate and use it for our own convenience, we reduce it to the level of 'Nature' in the sense that we suspend our judgement of value about it, ignore its final cause (if any), and treat it in terms of quantity."
Indeed, it is easier to play the sycophant than to be that stick in the mud who continuously stops to ask questions and reevaluate the values inherent in a situation. Yet it is precisely where humans share similar abstract orientations that stability affords the construction of meaning. Man in this instance is not abstracted (he is the Tao tree, branching out in new beauties of application) but shares an abstract vision, such as general orientation for what it means to be "good".
If there is no agreement on that, then we cannot speak of "good" workers in the workplace; the concept became redundant and is replaced by an insidious shifting landscape suited to adolatio, but this means that those getting by may not be just - or qualified for their jobs, and shoddy work will eventually emerge. I read something similar in a National Review Online article that considers the Confucian 正名, the concept of the rectification of names: "If language is not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success." And, "the demand for justice is first and foremost a demand that words and reality come back into alignment". Here is the misalignment as described by Lewis: "Man lives by bread alone, and the ultimate source of bread is the baker's van: peace matters more than honour and can be preserved by jeering at colonels and reading newspapers."
In other words, the abstract space for growth shrinks; and within this deformed network of tsantsas, "virtue has become integration and diligence dynamism". It is an interesting claim: there is nothing wrong with integration, per se; the problem arises because it has been substituted for something it is not. The sycophant is not, in the essence of being, a dog.



Book in background: Amy Butler's Midwest Modern. Brush: Lauren Harrison.

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