Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page
Filed under: Irish, Theology | Tags: Acedia & Me, Andrew J. Bacevich Sr., Ann Enright, David Bloom, David Canning, Enoch Powell, Evagrius Ponticus, John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought, Kathleen Norris, Robert G. Kaiser, Sir Charles Dodds, So Damn Much Money, Syrnge : A Celebration
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Consciousness and fertility. Ann Enright is an Irish writer born in the 1980s who writes: “The wars we fought about contraception, abortion, divorce were not about virtue–or only incidentally so–it was about breeding. It was about maintaining stock. The nation faced a demographic shift towards the young. We could not believe that the nation had to overproduce just to keep still. ”
In January 2010, when I read this line in a book Syrnge : A Celebration, I did not know the perspective (based upon when she was born) from which she wrote. I understand more after reading a bit last month about an academic paper, “Contraception and the Celtic Tiger” about fertility. Harvard economists David Bloom and David Canning had in the winter of 2003 suggested the great importance of the demographic fact the average Irishwoman had 3.9 children in 1970, whereas that number was less than two by the mid-nineteen-nineties.
As restrictions on contraception, in place since 1922 through 1979, were lifted in 1979, and the birth rate began to fall. From a Harvard perspective, with the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet view of the world, Ireland was suddenly free of the enormous social cost of supporting and educating and caring for a large dependent population. Ireland was 18 years behind the United Kingdom in accepting the Pill as a form of birth control. Margaret Sanger coined the phrase “birth control” and raised $150,00 to fund the development of the first human contraceptive pill first invented at a laboratory in Mexico in 1951 by Carl Djerassi.
On December 4, 1961, Health Minister Enoch Powell made the announcement in the House of Commons that women would now be able to obtain oral contraception on the National Health Service, giving no guidelines as to whom the pill should be given. It seemed the first time that women had to decide to take a pill beyond a medical reason but for social concerns.
Sir Charles Dodds, Britain’s leading expert on the drugs contained in the Pill and who heads a research institute at Middlesex Hospital, said in December 1961 the pills could have long-term side-effects.
WikiLeaks. And Trust. Governments in panic, for social concerns, over breached security. When governments had tried to communicate through emails. Someone this week finally recognized the risk in the new world order,long-term side-effects for social concerns, by removing communications through computer systems. The computers that place all financial markets at risk. With programmed computer trading. Of stocks and bonds. And currency.
For trust of government. The G20, that group of major rich and developing nations. The ones that wage wars, for social concerns. The challenge of demographics to any nation. The new anti-crisis measures against invisible foes, in weapons of mass destruction unleashed in monetary wars. In currency markets, as currency policy was used to finance war, so that not many citizens in the United States had to think about the war.
Andrew J. Bacevich, Sr., Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History at Boston University, writes of the multiple illusions that have governed American policy since 1945, with the over-reliance on military power in contrast to diplomacy, to achieve its foreign policy aims, exceeding the capacity of the all-volunteer force and which are highly unlikely to achieve their political aims. With skepticism of easy solutions, especially those involving force, when engaged in multiple wars, when “war’s constant companions are uncertainty and risk. War can never be considered a useful political tool, because wars invariably produce unintended consequences.” And long-term side-effects.
Hearing all of the claims of exceptionalism, living beyond a financial means was the theme of the New Millennium. In the promised lands of politics in Ireland, in Greece, in Spain. And in the United States.
“Much careful quantitative work remains to be done,” the Birmingham Medical School’s journal advised in the Queen’s Medical Magazine about the Pill, “before the biological action of these drugs is understood and before any recommendations of these drugs for routine use by the medical profession.”
Yeah, rich people dealing with loss, or just trying to hang onto their wealth, at all costs. And the governments that was held up by pillars of wealth. By banks. The same banks which made bad decisions about loans. And local government with no power to print money, over-extended. With drought in Russia. With the worst grain harvest in Canada since 2002. And with lower than expected grain harvest in the United States. With manipulations of small commodity markets by the Market players.
The new world order when governments, for social concerns, would not leave the lender high and dry. High and dry because of their bad loans. “The euro will be defended at any cost.” When, per the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, held-to-maturity sovereign debt accounting for almost 83% of all bank holdings in the debt of major rich and developing nations were assumed to mature at par. In the age of television and other media. And now a word from the sponsor. Defending against invisible foes, in The Market. Switching the pain of loss from the creditor, the lender, to the taxpayer. When no insurance had ever been paid on these bonds, like the FDIC system. When nations threatened private wealth through currency valuation. If nations did not simply default on bonds. With fear of runs on banks were replaced by runs on governments, with their tax policies.
When the real fear was over leaders of group of rich and developing nations, financed by lobbyists for banks, and Markets. Robert G. Kaiser is author of So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government. In Russia, or in the United States, the systemic problem was “hindered by an alliance between business and government bureaucracy — business pays off the bureaucracy and bureaucracy defends business from real competition.”
Ann Enright. Or a niece, born about the same time. Trying to grab hold of something. Seeing their struggles in the secular world. Caught up in relativism, with all of the opinions. And losing the sense of importance in such a vast world. Clearly estranged, corrupted, to different degrees from the past. Losing an identity. And feeling estranged from the God of the past. In a difficult world.
The demon acedia, Evagrius Ponticus wrote of, told of the struggle of people, in their ascetic struggle. Of monks, in the desert. The monk’s struggle, when prayer was more valuable than anything he could make. When the process of work was more important than the product. In doing work that fosters humility, purging his heart, firming his thought. Over long periods of time, the demon that led a monk to question his commitment to a life of prayer, as not worth the effort. It was a risky business to train yourself to embrace a daily routine that mirrors eternity in its changelessness.
When you were conscious of something within you. In a Promised Land, with a certain consciousness of God, you go through a process of deconditioning. And then comes a form of reconstruction. You become oriented over time to something within. With disciplined practice.
Kathleen Norris, author of the 2008 Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life , will give a breakfast talk in one week in an annual series which is entitled “Seeking Fidelity in Everyday Life: Acedia and Beyond.”
Acedia, with a paralysis of the soul. A monk was expected to seek out, for healing, an elder, to fight acedia with intentional stability. Because there was no place to run, and a monk had to stay in one place. In the attempt to live in peace as a monk in the dessert, embracing commitment, doing humbling tasks which ‘free us from vainglory and illusion.’ Where life is lived much like on retreat, with a continual consciousness about God and creation. The purpose of a monk’s existence to transcend one’s one self-centeredness, as a saving necessity. Sin, in the first 1200 years after Jesus, was viewed not so much a bad thought, as affecting the overall consciousness of God. Thus the old translation of the Confiteor, “I have sinned exceedingly in my thoughts, in my words…”
Acedia & Me: Acedia offers the ease of indifference. In the spirituality of the dessert. The rest that the monk is seeking is not an easy one but a rest in God, in the midst of the very intense daily routine, in the struggle. Acedia is the demon who drives a monk to other sites where life’s necessities are more easily available than in the desert, ‘to more readily find work, and make myself a success.’ Where charity has departed for my brethren.
What Huxley’s terms Accidie, in its most complicated and deadly form, a mixture of boredom, sorrow, and despair, was now an inspiration to the great poets and novelists and remains so to this day. The same boredom, sorrow, and despair are essential for artistic inspiration, and for many artists it has proven an insurmountable burden.
Kathleen Norris essentially compares the fertility within an artist to what is within the female body. She writes that demons cannot act directly on the intellect, though they arouse evil thoughts by working on the memory and imagination. Acedia could inflict the complete loss of hope and the capacity to trust in God. When desires are thwarted, a sadness sets in…desire for happier times, of youth…. Nostalgia. We end up preferring living in the past. Or investing in the future.
F. Scott Fitzgerald speaks of boredom as a necessary step in life, not an end product — a filter that allows the end product to emerge, allowing life to emerge out of what seemed dead. The artistic feeling that he/she has wasted a youth, and wrecked your own health for what? “When the world does not care if I write another word.”
“I have never considered acedia’s role, in making what Huxley ’s terms ‘the sense of universal futility, the feeling of boredom and despair, with the complementary desire to be anywhere, anywhere out of the world,” or at least out of the place in which one happens at the moment to be,’ seems indispensable for creating poetry,” to quote Kathleen Norris. “To challenge authority, convention, and traditional religion: that was the poet’s calling. To disorder the senses and embark on Rimbaud’s drunken boat, that was the sacrifice the writer made in order to reveal the full potency of human experience.”
“Poets perceiving significance when significance is at hand, we shall need minds at work from all sorts of brains…mostly the brains of poets of course. The poets on whose shoulders the future rests, might, late nights…begin to see some meaning that eludes the rest of us. In an increasingly secular age, many people do trust writers rather than priests with their confessions. But the ancient and communal role of the shaman, seer, and story-teller are not easy fit for writers in the contemporary world. Even if they are praised for what they offer through their works, they can feel isolated and lacking recourse to help.’
“What Sylvia Plath and Ann Sexton demonstrate is not that writers must nobly endure self-destruction compulsions, but that no artist can maintain such a high level of creative intensity. When one has been writing to what Sexton described as ‘a fugitive frenzy,’ one needs a way to come down. Taking a walk may work, but other means can be more tempting: marijuana, tranquillizers, booze. Drunkenness may be in the words of Bertrand Russell, ‘ a temporary suicide.’ Alcohol can also be in the words of William Styron, ‘a magical conduit to fantasy. An enhancement to the imagination.’
When you want to do something once and for all and be through with it. The ups and downs of the creative process. Driving out acedia and its counter-force that tries to steal the ability to take pleasure in oneself and the world. The demon silently stealing the enhancements of life.
Before sin was secularized in the 13th century — with a new emphasis of sin which gave the church alone the power in its ability to forgive sin, to place an importance on the priest who alone could forgive sin — Acedia was erased from the list of deadly sins, and there were left only seven sins on the list considered deadly. The use of the word ‘acedia’ then disappeared until the culture shocks after WW I. And all of the genocidal horror.
Acedia was the eighth deadly sin — the main sin confronting consciousness of God. The stress caused by the feeling you would rather be anywhere except here. The temptation to deny inner beauty and spiritual strength at my disposal. Running away from our most authentic self, fleeing from a relationship with a loving God. The endless cycle with acedia of self-defeating thought. Linked with sadness, and an aspect of laziness.
When not knowing the name of your enemy, you are put at a terrible disadvantage. Acedia and bedbugs….the return at this point in time. With the commitment phobias which plague modern society. In a world of media unable to shake boredom. Despite all the noise. Boredom, yet when repetition is the heart of learning.
Acedia instills a hatred for a place, a hatred for the very self, a hatred for manual labor. Acedia begins as a deceptive slight shift in thought, until my equilibrium and sense of well-being gives way to restlessness and dissatisfaction. Acedia operates on the border of the physical and the spiritual world. And discipline in the daily struggle slowly erodes. Obligations of friends, family, workers are seen as impediments…slamming the door behind us, we head for greener pastures. On a holy quest. Or suicide. Overwhelmed by the state of our lives. And the world.
Defined, acedia is a lust to draw others to ourselves for selfish purpose. Evagrius Ponticus who wrote on acedia, spent the rest of his life with other illiterate monks, who were unimpressed with his education and sophistication. If you had acedia as a monk, the last thing to do is to remain alone, barren, “having made no progress in my cell.” In the monks’ living quarters.
Tempted by pride, anger, acedia? Consciousness: Anger pride and acedia were the worst of thoughts, energizing a disgust with self…with others, and with God. Acedia grabs our hopes and tears away at the heart of who we are, and mocks that which sustains us. But just detecting the reasons behind the deadly sin does not correct the offensiveness, its destructiveness, the wrongness. Ignorance of the truth does not absolve one from sins of omissions. Unless the wrong is named and addressed, its harmful effects will be passed on to future generations. And so the state of the world, as the daily consciousness of God along with a concept of sin was secularized in the 13th century, writes the Protestant author.
Kathleen Norris makes a link from infertility to depression, in a world in which more and more young woman battle depression. In a world which too easily medicalizes all human experience, when anger masks fear –but when anger is actually the first seed of compassion, indicating caring. Acedia fuels acrimony that underlies relationships – absurd unworkable relationships. Acedia takes away the ability to care, along with an ability to feel bad about it. Unaware of what ails us when distraction becomes the norm.
When you were conscious of something within you, with the combination platter of boredom, sorrow, despair along with your fertility. When women with depression struggled so much more than men, with such an infinite restlessness, filling the emptiness with a busy-ness which seemed false if you were depressed. “Solitude does not help us confront the cause of our irritation.” And inactivity and idleness may be an expression of fear, of self distrust, or of self-misunderstanding.
Statistically, women suffered more than men from clinical depression. In extreme cases of depression, there is an absence of personal care in daily routine, with the laxness about daily discipline, in being tidy. Because the dirt would just return.
Examine the response to the world: a shrug and turn inward? Despair is one response to this suffering, this evil. Enduring self-destruction compulsions, when unresponsiveness feels like sinful negligence.
I was left to wonder if this consciousness about something deep within did not involve a spirituality of depression, tied somehow to fertility and the modern struggle over my own self-importance of caring. Caring about the land and the world.
The trust issue. “Acedia operates,” Kathleen Norris writes, “on the border of the physical and the spiritual world.” And with the change from a rural society to the urban environment, there are so many questions of trust. When women now had the mobility that men alone used to have. In the urban world with so much mobility in the Promise Land. Women and their cycles, tied so much to a desire for fellowship of caring. And the side-affects of this desire for a birthright of caring, tied to God. Kathleen Norris wrote chiefly of her story about one family and depression, fighting for survival on a very personal level, leaning on the warmth and goodness of someone, of her God, for strength. In her story as a care-giver, she chronicles her husband’s eventual death.
Names. First names. Last names. The seeds of fertility. As fertility mixes with futility on issues of meaning and ways of life. Facing the deep part of spirituality day to day, from having to carry a fertility around with you everywhere since you had entered puberty.
The system. With so many people educated to believe that fertility systems were only based upon science. When so few people now actually worked the land, at this point, anyway, of corporate farming.
The system. Fields lying fallow. The system of crop rotation to work the land. Were these man-made systems, like economies? The land which required work, that people might eat. Having to carry a fertility around with you everywhere, to eat.
Monarchies. Feudalism. Capitalism. Slavery. Communism. With a system of crop rotation, watching systems of land ownership collapse. Conquistador lines, and inheritance. All of the systems, of man’s inhumanity to man. Conquistadors dealing with immunities, and resistance to strains. As fields in cycles lay fallow, native people died. Sometime with the governmental systems. Or with financial systems.
The blights of institutions, systems of rule, seemed man-made. People dealing through all generations with hunger. Was the Great Famine, in Ireland, man-made, like the famine in Ukraine in the 20th Century?
Through all generation, God again and again provides the fertility in the land. With fertility affecting every moment of your life, and the accompanying fellowship of caring involving the inner hunger for self-importance. Facing pain, questioning meaning and importance, and self-importance?
Depression: I heard a movie maker say last night that one million humans per year commit suicide, with an additional twenty million people per year attempting suicide. Why else would someone contemplate suicide, beyond issues of living with pain, if not questioning a self-importance? And what was wrong with the system? Charlie Rose failed to ask if these were world statistics or statistics about the United States.
The system. Crop rotation and fields lying fallow were these man-made systems, a kind of institution like religions, based upon hunger? These spiritual governmental systems, with all of their flaws exhibited over time. And rich people trying to hang onto their wealth, at all costs. With the growing despair. The self-destructive compulsions and addictions of men and women. Amidst the escalating private wars over fertility, while men had historically been left to focus about a fertility of the land, when so little focus was on the fertility of a woman. The dramatic changes which took place over the last century as people left the land for the city. The change in demographics when the role of women has changed to so drastically to become providers. While men had historically been left to focus about a fertility of the land, there was all of this new independence. Because men did not determine the future of the world as much as women. Through all generation, God again and again provides the fertility in the land. And women worked through issues of personal fertility. And trust.
“The wars we fought” — all wars chiefly involved death — were never about virtue. (There was a certain irony to hear a young Irish writer talk about war, in a nation that officially sat out World War II; a writer from a nation that wanted the right to guarantee neutrality, before joining the European Union.) The stories about this deepest desire and inner hunger which moved people to each other were about virtue and love and self-importance. Particularly family stories about a fertility, fighting for survival on a very personal level, leaning on the warmth and goodness of someone, for strength. Maybe even God. And governments the world over with their fertility concerns as a public policy, in connection to the long-term side-effects of financial markets, to currency, and to hunger. With the social concerns of who would be able to eat, based upon the market price of food.
The modern struggle over the art of reproduction was about the role of self-importance in such a vast world. The price of fertility, the cost of a pill, somehow involved my own self-importance, and its long-term side-affects. My fertility, in the Promised Land, in a time in the New Millennium which maybe come to be known as the Greater Depression.
Facing the modern struggle over the art of reproduction — fertility not breeding— was based upon a covenant of caring, and involved my own self-importance of caring. If the covenant was so personal, centered upon sex and circumcision, for the love of the peoples, wasn’t birthright and inheritance over belief, too. Belief. And Trust. And Truth. About the future. One that eventually was going to deflate the concepts of life and involve death. But for now involved life. My fertility which engaged the future and made my mark on the Promise Land. This desire for a birthright of caring, true fertility, which always involved a sense of self-importance along with a sense of the Fear of the Lord — my fertility — somehow tied to God and to the land.
The struggle was about people losing the sense of importance in good times, living with this human condition of sexuality, fertility and the soul. And Irish people– fighting wars about contraception, abortion, divorce– that still wanted the right, in good times and in bad, to guarantee neutrality. On matters of good and evil.
While the twenty-first century wrestling match over my own self-importance was refereed by Biblical stories written for such a vast under-populated world. And the Ann Enrights of the world recognized that a woman’s role had changed for good.