What’s Wrong with the World

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Inane Liberal (?) (Im)Pieties

One day last week, while running a number of errands on a day away from the office - the state of PA neglected to send us a renewal form for my wife's driver's license, and, on top of that, her mobile phone was pilfered - I noticed a bumper sticker new to me, printed in that semi-florid script which usually distinguishes vacuous new-agey pseudo-profundities. The text, which I have not been able to locate on the internet, read, in what is at least a passable paraphrase, "The blessing of life lies in the consciousness of the blessing."

My thoughts immediately alighted upon memories of downs syndrome folks I have known, with the realization that it was doubtful, for all of the innocent joy they often exhibited, that they were exactly conscious of how blessed it was for them to be alive. Their awareness was undifferentiated, pre-reflective, and assuredly bereft of the recursion of the bumper sticker wisdom. Hence, the bumper sticker certainly seemed to me to be designating them as untermeschen, as un-blessed life.

Then, however, I reflected upon the natural realm, and an idle thought I once had as I contemplated a cat I once owned. An exotic animal, a cross between a domestic cat and a wild Asian cat, it was spotted like a miniature leopard, and exquisite to behold - though tempermentally, it was a minion of the antichrist. I did say that it was a cat I once owned; she now resides with someone far more tolerant of the wiles of darkness. My idle thought, not profound in itself - although it can be a gateway to profundity, if pursued, I suppose - was that the cat, like so many other creatures, was beautiful, albeit entirely incapable of reflecting upon its own beauty. Its beauty, as a quality, existed as a testimony, by analogy, of the infinite beauty of the Creator, and as an object of admiration and reflection for persons such as myself. For the cat, it was nothing more than the inadvertent byproduct of physical traits with survival value.

Suppose, therefore, that our bumper sticker can be reformulated thusly: The blessing of beauty lies in the consciousness of the blessing. A logical implication of this reformulated statement will be that the blessing of the cat's beauty is not really a blessing at all, merely a misleading metaphor, at least insofar as the cat is concerned. Relative to the human perspective, of course, the beauty becomes a blessing, insofar as it affords aesthetic pleasure; this, however, is merely to instrumentalize that quality, to impute value only to the extent that human purposes are served. Such a perspective leads, and has led, to no end of mischief in our relations with the natural world

The vacuous gnosticism-lite of the bumper sticker leads logically to the diminution of all that is not-consciousness, and hence, to the devaluation of all that is, in the continuum of being, of diminished sentience. This piety, seemingly so exalted, is in reality a form of ontological violence and degradation, from which we escape only if we restate it thusly: the blessing of life is the fact of its existence. Period.

Comments (9)

Qualitarians consider "Consciousness" and "Autonomy" the key metrics to determining whether a life is worth living, or mercifully pre-empted. Today, January 22 is their Feast Day.

Here's another opinion:

What Cartesian nonsense to think of birdsong as pre-programmed cries uttered by birds to advertise their presence to the opposite sex, and so forth! Each bird-cry is a full-hearted release of the self into the air, accompanied by such joy as we can barely comprehend. I! says each cry: I! What a miracle!
~ J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year

The incorrectness (stupidity) of that bumper sticker lies in its application to fully sentient people, too. For example, if I'm grumpy and don't appreciate my child's loving morning greeting, that morning greeting is still a blessing to me. If somebody goes through life with a healthy body and never pauses to thank the Giver for his health, his healthy body is a blessing to him nonetheless. And so forth. In its most theological form (and I know this is a controversial type of example to bring up), if I'm distracted at the altar rail by Youngest Daughter's getting her shoe caught in her dress when she kneels down or any of a zillion other things and don't make a good meditation on Christ's death, the Sacrament conveys grace nonetheless.

The bumper sticker is just dumb. For millenia, people were unaware their atmosphere was filled with oxygen, but I consider the planet's inhabitants, past and future, blessed to have it.

However, thinking broadly though, what would you say to someone who argues that human conciousness entails humanity a moral worth apart from that of other higher primates? And hence, humans are "blessed" with this moral worth as it stems from their higher consciousness?

And if thou gaze long into an abyss,
the abyss will also gaze into thee.

Be careful wrestling with the vacuum of New-Age thought.

My personal favorite is the inversion:

Christianity has Pagan roots.

If one is unaware of the blessing of life, of it's potentialities and promise, than per se the blessing is lost, wasted. So I would think the bumper sticker is not quite as vacuous as portrayed. The appreciation of life becomes, is, a blessing in itself amongst other blessings, a form of gratitude perhaps.
While it may appear circular or trivial it can be construed as a principal statement from which other goods derive, the consciousness of promise, the recollection of achievement or contentment, the taking stock of one's life.

So I find myself somewhat less disparaging of this particular bumper sticker, I've seen a lot worse.

Excellent comments, all.

I'd not be prepared to endorse the opinion that birdsong is a full-throated release of the selfhood of the birds, but I would suggest that animals are individuated in ways other than that of being mere interchangeable units of their species.

It is assuredly a great mercy to us that the blessings of things are not contingent upon our perfect ratiocination or meditation upon them; were it not so, and were - for example - the efficacy of a sacrament conditioned upon such perfection, we'd never attain to higher degrees of spiritual awareness at all. The benefactions of the sacrament would be wasted, thwarted by our all-too-human imperfections. Spiritual progress is possible, however, and this is attributable precisely to grace, and to the cooperation, however feeble, of our wills therewith, and not to herculean efforts of will, by which we somehow - were this possible, which it is not - make ourselves worthy of grace.

It is not so much the vacuum of new age nonthought that terrifies, not the nothingness, but rather what dwells in the nothingness. As regards Christianity and paganism, well, the evangelical preparation is not quite the same thing as Christianity being a repackaging of paganism, which is what the sticker seems to suggest.

It is, of course, a greater blessing to be conscious of a blessing, which is merely to state that sentience is higher than insentience. But it cannot be true to state that a lack of consciousness, attentiveness, or awareness negates the objective nature of a blessing, since this is to state, finally, that to be is not in itself a good.

I think that the gist of the Coetzee quote that I posted at 5:02 a.m. (and which I find quite beautiful in its simplicity) is that "mere" consciousness is faculty enough to experience the joy of the gift of being; self-consciousness is not necessary.

But it cannot be true to state that a lack of consciousness, attentiveness, or awareness negates the objective nature of a blessing, since this is to state, finally, that to be is not in itself a good.

It indicates the type of good it is, necessary or contingent. Cogito, ergo sum is necessarily true.

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