Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bone: Writing For The New Age

Identifying self with the counting number one brings the individual into seeming being, as counting a particular finger of a hand as a separate item brings one aspect of the whole into focus and, the process turned back on itself, defines hand as sum of five.

“The individuum”, says Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, “is ineffable.”

To wit: “What is counted as one individual item is unsayable.”

The sense of individuality—that you are yourself and no one else and also singular—is the function of a mask in a drama. The mask is the persona who speaks as the counting number one. In theater the unspeakable becomes speakable. But every persona is an aspect of the play, even when the play is only one character.

For the ancient Greeks only the leading characters of tragedy spoke as individuals. The chorus, which sang together as the many, provided the sea on which the tragic heroes and heroines met their shipwreck as individuals.

In one sense the flaw of the hero or heroine in the very mode of Greek tragedy as a medium is in every case the tragic figure’s individuality.

The history of Christianity in the West is a play upon the construction of separate selves out of an ancient pagan world that no longer exists. The stage is the God of the Old Testament whom the Jewish priests had already separated from the Tribe, as the hand is separated from the fingers when only what is counted is the focus.

The Tribal God, elevated to the status of God of All by the Jewish priests, is elevated by Christ, the anti-priest, into the God ruling not the Tribe, but every finger counted as one on the hand.

Beginning in henotheism and ending in a universalized monotheism, the Jewish priests constructed—that is separated out—one God of and for all.

Christ in turn variegated one God for all into one God for every individual counted as an individual and cardinal number one.

The Sanhedrin led by the High Priest saw into the bottom of the matter: in Christ’s teaching it was not the one God which was under attack but the all that was the Tribe.

“Have you not thought it through”, says Caiaphas the High Priest to the Sanhedrin, “that it is more expedient for you that one man—heis anthropos—die for the people than that the whole nation—holon to ethnos—be destroyed”? (John 11.50).

Interestingly enough, John adds as an aside that Caiaphas was not speaking on his own—aph’ heautou—but in his capacity as High Priest was truly prophesying the death of Christ for the same whole that was the ethnos or nation.

The logical aspect, once clearly seen, is the ground of enduring myth and speculation, for it is a drama acted out by roles defined seemingly as singular--Christ, Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate and so forth--but is none other in its bones than a piece of theater whose plot is the ancient Greek philosophical problem of the one and the many.

Caiaphas, not as one man—heis anthropos—but as High Priest and voice of the ethnos—condemns an individual to die for the calculated good of the whole.

And, according to John, Caiaphas does so as an act of valid prophecy, though perhaps unknowingly to him as an individual.

The twist is that Caiaphas’ prophecy is to the effect that the whole that is the hand will be benefited by the sacrifice of a finger, but is in that very statement about the separability of an individual—heis anthropos—the recognition of individuality as what can be defined and cut off from the life of the group not only without harm but to advantage.

In denying the life of the particular man--heis anthropos--as beneficial to the Tribe, therefore, Caiaphas actively recognizes the individual man who must be condemned as Christ, and in essence redefines the ethnos of the tribe he seeks to preserve as the sum of a plurality of members defined as individual and separable without loss.

This drama, published to the world that followed as various versions of “Christianity”, is the seed from which grew the modern pathology of individualism in both the secular and sacred worlds of the West, ultimately abstracted by Leibniz into the philosophy of monadology, in which the universe is a collection of monads, that is, a plurality of completely isolated and separable individuals counted as the sum of a collection of cardinal number ones.

Monadology, then, is the ultimate abstraction of the modern Christian, that is mainly Protestant, eschatology.

With the extension of one version of Christian metaphysics to economics, Calvinism--as Max Weber saw in attempting to add a non-material and metaphysical dimension to Marx--reconstitutes the whole of productive activity in the profane world as the stage upon which the sum of the elect evidence their particular salvation as a countable sum of individuals, that is, as separable and distinct fingers comprising the one and only saved hand.

Society as the sum of countable individuals is society as simple arithmetic. The logic is more entertaining and dramatic.

From the sacred Christian drama in which the individual, Christ, sacrifices for a new all, which sacrifice both Caiaphas and John agree on, the Calvinism of modern Protestant Capitalism moves to a diametric opposite materially, that is, to the sacrifice the whole for the individuum, understood as the individual self and ego of the Capitalist.

In one version this is the return to the primordial war of all against all—bellum omnium contra omnes—of Thomas Hobbes, which, nicely enough, can also be translated as the “war of each against each.”

This does not mean, however, that the Capitalist mentality is always and ever in a war of dog against dog. Even Capitalists, as Marx saw, operate collectively as a class, just as Leibniz’s monads could mirror one another and communicate through symbols, as well as act in concert.

What Marx did not see as significant—in fact implicitly accepted in his economic analysis—is that the collective action is the collective action of individuals each separable and countable as one.

[copyright EAC December 2009]

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