In my last post, What is the Totality of a Human Life?: Individual and Communal Intent, I proposed that `intent’ in the sense used by Thomas Aquinas and by biologists and lawyers is a way to help us understand human being in its totality, encompassing individual and communal manifestations of human being—and probably divine human being as well.
These basic points come from my still developing worldview:
- It is our natures as human animals, lived out in some sort of common life, which unites the small, flesh-and-blood communities of human being.
- It is a common understanding of higher, abstract realms of created being which makes possible larger-scale, more abstract communities. Ultimately, a very large-scale community, an instance of communal human being, needs something like a—possibly only partially shared—common understanding of all that exists. The ultimate community, being the fullness and completion of human being in union with God, is the Body of Christ. This Body looks like a civilization with the Christian Church as the central organ, not much like a `pure’ church. [Common understanding isn’t a purely `rational’ state but rather a state of the entirety of human being: mind and heart and hands.]
It is by way of proper intents that we can truly realize that communal understanding of created being, can encapsulate it in our own being. This is a—usually—slow movement and slow development. It takes years for even a mathematical genius to truly think like a mathematician. It takes years to turn a young man into a soldier. It takes years of effort to learn how to raise children—one reason for the importance of Grandma and Grandpa.
In a more general way: there is not a sudden qualitative change—disruption?—from lower human animal to some sort of higher human animal centered on God or at least on the entirety or part of His Creation. We are a part of this physical universe, this world when the universe is seen in light of God’s purposes. We moved from a `pure’ animal intelligence which is a, shall I say, direct encapsulation of experience of responding to opportunities and dangers. Human beings have more complex brains, including regions which allow enough of a concept of past and future that we pass on traditions and plan for what might come. Perhaps building upon this raw human understanding of the flow of time, we have a capacity for abstract thought of a more general sort.
It’s not only thought (mind) but also heart (feelings) and hands (behavior and habits) which make up human being. The heart and the hands must also be appropriate to the community, especially such a complex community as a civilization. Yet, as I’ve said before: it is the mind which leads the way into a future, especially a future in a complex civilization which demands consciousness and rationality. And so it is that I’ll move on, finally, to talk a little about the unity, coherence, and completeness of human being, individual and communal—where there is a larger-scale community (even a civilization) at issue.
There is clearly some sort of balance among, roughly speaking, human beings who are individuals or small-scale communities or large-scale and—often—centralized communities. Is balance the right word? Is there a better word which communicates the dynamism involved?
A mess of sorts comes into view. Human being is mind and heart and hands even when we consider human animal nature; when we consider human personhood or human (complex and rich) communities, human being has to be unified and coherent and complete—at least in terms of some sort of intentional trajectory or growth and development heading toward some goal, some desired state of human being. Keep this in mind. I’ll propose the use of intents, deciding upon future goals and moving toward them, growing and developing; the trick will be to somehow allow proper freedom to individual human beings and various scales of communal human being while keeping it all together—in a loose manner of speaking.
Let’s try looking at an important stage in the development and growth of the Christian West, which development and growth were toward some only partially seen goal of becoming a truly Christian community in politics and in economics and in art and in music and in all other domains of human life.
Very roughly speaking, the peoples of northwestern Europe in the early Medieval Age or later were baptized, typically for the convenience of their leaders who were impressed by the qualities of the Christian kings and lesser nobility of the Anglo-Saxon world. There had been intermarriages and trading arrangements and even some peaceful transfers of territory and those probably increased. Countries grew closer or even absorbed each other by way of treaties or conquests. Unity and coherence were generally increased—often greatly so—by methods not always so consistent with Christianity. More importantly, most individuals and most smaller-scale communities found themselves suddenly in a world which was centered around this God-man who seemed so strange to warrior peoples and farmers worshiping fertility goddesses and gods of death. The overall structure of divinity in this new world was still stranger with a Father and a Son and a Holy Spirit—no goddess to have borne the Son and so on. It took centuries for a religious conversion to take hold, a conversion brought about by admiration for a people who were Christian (the Anglo-Saxons and some related peoples mostly in the British Isles) and by a need for political unity and coherence.
Was completeness served at all? Only in the long-run as those continental Germanic peoples built more complex communities with a greater variety of human being partly by developing richer and more complex forms of art and music and philosophy and theology and so on. But all roles in these larger-scale communities were made richer and more complex—to the confusion and frustration of many not prepared for these roles which seemed to them merely alien and confusing.
It’s likely that those continental Germanic leaders who, for example, accepted baptism for themselves and their peoples from St Boniface (an Anglo-Saxon nobleman and cousin to those continental Germans), were adopting a more complex view of the world around them (did they grasp the concept of Creation at all?) which brought them immediate gains in unity and coherence and completeness at the level of confederations of tribes (something like proto-states and proto-archdioceses) and a lot of longer-term gains for their successes at that same level. They also damaged the unity and coherence and completeness of smaller-scale communities and of individuals which found themselves with goals inconsistent with these new-fangled goals of Christianity. In the long-run, those smaller-scale communities and individuals also had a chance for greater unity and coherence and completeness or, at least, their descendants had such a chance.
It’s not as if the larger-scale quest for unity and coherence and completeness always dominates, or should always dominate, the smaller scale entities including individuals. In fact, it’s not likely that such aspects realized at the larger-scale will filter down unless, or until, the smaller-scale communities and the individuals are prepared for what is essentially a re-organization of some fundamental aspects of their own human being. What about changes which occur at some lower level: the tribal level which still exist in many parts of the world or the level of professional communities which has played so great a role in good and bad aspects of Western enlightenment or the level of individuals? I’d advocate these changes from below as better than changes from above—usually. Best of all would be changes which occur gradually and steadily at all levels and scales of human being.
But all of the movement through time which I’ve described above adds up to such a mess…
Through time. We need a way to guide this movement, this growth and development, by allowing individual human being and all scales of communal human being to move toward goals appropriate for those individuals and communities.
There is no such way to control this messy complex of intentional movement, growth and development, at all scales of human being. There may well be a variety of ways which work at one scale or another and which work at various levels of consciousness. Even those must work successfully in the way of open systems existing in complex environments, responding to those environments and—at least in the case of earthworms and human beings—greatly changing those environments as part of the response to opportunities and problems.
Let’s return to the messiness of this complex of processes. I’ll make a few general claims and a few claims about the most important, and most dangerously out-of-control, community in our age: the United States of America. Then, I’ll leave all of this to stew in the back-regions, yes—unconscious regions, of our minds.
- When intents on one scale differ from those on one or more other scales, unity and coherence and completeness can be damaged—perhaps fatally.
- When intents of one important community differ greatly from those of other communities and individuals on various scales, unity and coherence and completeness can be damaged—perhaps fatally.
- When intents of one or more important communities are unrealistic, unity and coherence and completeness can be damaged—perhaps fatally.
Western (Christian) Civilization is in bad shape, largely because one of its energetic frontier regions, the United States, has behaved badly, incompetently and criminally at times through 1988 or so and incompetently and criminally on a consistent basis in the years since. This goes beyond sad; the American people have trusted blue-blood criminals and their allies and those people have not only murdered and stolen (perhaps committing some of the spectacular crimes of the 1960s), they have also destroyed the United States and the West which needed it by moving the United States toward goals which are immoral and also inconsistent with American capabilities and inclinations and talents.
It is in barbaric but promising regions such as the United States, that a weakening civilization can revive. For that to happen, the people(s) of those energetic frontier region(s) must have conscious and unconscious intents which are consistent with the needs of the civilization which is their greater home in nearly all human aspects: spiritual and cultural and intellectual and political and economic and so forth. The American leadership became full of something smelly and empty of appreciation for reality by at least the years following World War II, years in which the powerful financial interests and allied groups were exaggerating the power and danger of communist countries and distorting the relationships between Chinese `communists’ and Russian communists, setting up the CIA as a servant organization of those financial interests, squeezing most productive business interests out of the circles of power, destroying the local political machines in the interests of the two national political machines, etc. Al Capones with higher IQs, social connections, degrees from Yale and Harvard and Cornell and so on.
We have to note at this point that the bulk of the leadership of United States had set off on a new course (and old course for those who know about the Northeastern fortunes made in the `China’ (opium) trade and the slave trade in the first half of the 19th century). Seemingly respectable men, such as John McCloy, General William Donovan and the Dulles brothers—with the help of the British spymaster William Stephenson, unleashed energetic and ambitious blue-bloods upon the world. Those young men used such criminal activities as drug-smuggling and arms-smuggling at least as sources of wealth for those they thought themselves to be manipulating. Those young men probably carried out at least some of the (mostly 1960s) murders of public figures who endangered their perceived interests. They probably destroyed Nixon when he tried to set his own course of action. In their more mature years, they tied Reagan up in knots, brought promising (soft-boy) thugs such as Bill Clinton into their circles, and so on. In general, they corrupted the country—the energetic frontier region of Western Civilization—and prevented it from carrying out its possible mission of reviving the West, a noble mission indeed for those who admire that quite imperfect Christian civilization. The United States could have rescued the West and have been the core region during a new phase of Western Civilization, not necessarily a phase which would have excluded the possibility of a related civilization in Eastern Europe or more foreign civilizations in China or in India or in…
What happened to the United States leadership, leading to immense damage to the common citizen’s interests as well as the unity and coherence and completeness of the United States, was in line with the three `bad things’ in the list above. The American leadership acted as if the United States was a power unto itself, forgetting that our country is not a civilization and not even a freestanding part of Western Civilization—which is impossible, in any case. That leadership also came to be dominated by financial interests which became dominant over all productive industries but for weapons-manufacturers; those financial interests became enamored over the prospect of controlling the American economy and political system (partly by their dominance in the intelligence services as well as among the President’s top officials) and soon enough were dreaming of that worldwide empire from the nightmarish scenarios proposed by the eccentric Brooks Adams (brother of Henry Adams and grandson of John Quincy Adams—see Gore Vidal’s novel, Empire) and Halford MacKinder. (For what it’s worth, Brooks Adams saw that such a world-spanning empire would need to control the coastal regions of East Asia, Shanghai, and not just the heartland of the Eurasian landmass. The American thugocracy seems to share that insight—wherever they got it from.)
On the whole, that American thugocracy, has unrealistic intents—they think to grow into something like a world-spanning Roman Empire. For geographical reasons, because of the nature of the American Project (so to speak) and the resulting American peoples, for demographic reasons, because of the (easily distorted or corrupted) idealism of the American peoples and people, the United States makes a good fortress and not so good a cosmopolitan center for any sort of overseas empire. More than a century ago, Lord Acton—not really a fan of empires—advised Americans to focus their imperial ambitions on the Western Hemisphere. I don’t know if he would have been comfortable with the conceptual structure of intent, of growth and development, but he certainly was aware of the geographical and other specific barriers to a stable and prosperous American overseas empire.
Would an Empire of the Americas have truly become the core region of a revived West? Maybe not. Maybe it would have become a separate civilization, though I think it quite possible that the West, centered in Europe, might still have been re-energized.
In any case, I think that many foreigners—including Vladimir Putin—retain a respect for the basic American intents, the currently stymied efforts of most American human beings, individuals and communities, to grow and develop into a peaceful and prosperous people, a people willing to defend their own true interests but one wishing to order their individual and communal lives to something like Christian standards. To be sure, there are many Americans no longer certain of the truths of Christianity and many believers who don’t know how to manifest their better intents in their lives, but that’s a problem which we can deal with if we can figure out how to correct or replace a leadership class which is not only criminal and seemingly incompetent but is also driving toward goals not possible for the United States to realize, goals which would mean the formation of an imperial structure, political and economic and social, which would mean an end to the United States as most Americans wish it to be, even as that empire was doomed to failure. We are seeing hints of a terrible future and those hints have been with us during nearly two centuries of imperialistic behavior in the Americas and a century or so of imperialistic behavior overseas—think Morgan and Rockefeller, Roosevelt and Mahar. Again, see Vidal’s Empire or even the entire series of novels, Narratives of Empire.
The United States has failed, at least for now, as a great power just because we have that thugocracy, leadership class, with unrealistic intents for themselves and this country and those intents are also out of synch with those of most American human beings, individuals and communities.