Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Gospel According to Tolkien

But the “consolation” of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy-story. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite—I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
Thus from J.R.R. Tolkien "On Fairy Stories" (22) and he goes on--and this is the point of my posting this post today: has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.
This last spans pages 23-24 in the linked material, and it should explain why I present this today. In the Incarnation, our sense that the world is, in some way, enchanted was validated and outstripped. The world is far more than enchanted. The God of history has come in human flesh. The child of promise has come, and how great was the promise! The promises are quite fantastic, defying what is natural. But these promises fit naturally into the world that we, as Christians, live in.

In the land of Faerie, what happens follows a different logic than we are accustomed to in our everyday lives. The poet and the novelist understand its workings better than the physicist or the psychologist. There is an atmosphere of possibility, as it were.

Why shouldn't the dead rise, if it be God's will? This is how the incarnation infects reality with what we first get a taste of in Faerie-land. And yet, there is no guarantee that the dead will rise. There is, after all, that conditional "if it be God's will" and God is wiser than we are about what works out for the best in his world, and we will see on that day, when we see another Eucatastrophe, when Jesus Christ comes again from heaven, that God has been just and good and right in all he has done. And here is reason to trust his promises: Jesus came, the God-man, to die for our sins when we were dead in them. It is as if the curtain had fallen on the play of the world, all was lost, we were doomed, and then, as we turn to leave the theater in dismay, the curtain rises, and another act begins, and this act we have recorded fourfold in the Gospels, and it is real--not a mere play, which we could walk away from, but reality which, if we accept it, must fundamentally alter how we stand in the world.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wittgenstein and Transgenderism

1. What is it to be a man? We are constantly having to remind ourselves not to look at the subjective sense of the word, but at how we would say of someone else that he is a male.

2. Is it possible to be in error about this sort of thing? If I happened to say I were woman, that would be wrong.

3. If someone who appeared to be a woman insisted she were a man, what difference would it make? Perhaps she goes into the men's restroom. Of course, then the sign "Men's" would no longer function as it used to--the sign would have changed.

4. Suppose someone who appears to be a woman to me comes and tells me that she is a man. Under one use of the word, the one we are accustomed to using with infants, she is wrong. How would I convince her? I would explain, "No, you must not understand what you are saying, that word only applies in a context like..."

5. What do we do when we disagree about what a word means (how it is to be used)?

4. When the use of a word changes, the concepts associated with it shift, as it were, and we have trouble matching up what was said before with what is said after.

6. The words "man" and "woman" as they are used by those who affirm the possibility of transgenderism being, at worst, neutral, seem to be subjective terms, like "believe" and "pain". How do I know someone else is transgender? Perhaps there are indications--he acts like a woman. Of course, this requires us to agree on what it is to "act like a woman".

7. Suppose there is nothing it necessarily is to be a man or a woman. Then have these words lost all sense? What difference would it make, then, whether I were a man or a woman? Which bathroom I use? But then I should change whether I was a man or woman simply by changing which bathroom I used. And if we were to do away with the distinction between the restrooms and locker rooms and such...?

8. Why is it that a man who claims to be a woman wants to change his appearance to fit with what we think of women as looking like? Is that what it is to be a woman? But he didn't look like that when said he already was one.

9. If I were to wake up one morning to find I was a fully functional woman physically, would I be a woman? Well, that's how I use the word, and others, too, would be inclined to say "he's turned into a woman!"

10. If there is a particular way of using "man" then there are also a whole host of ways to misuse it. In the new way of using it, what would count as misusing it? If I were to tell someone they were a man, and they claimed otherwise, would I be misusing the word? Then no one can lie about whether they are a man or a woman?

11. I fill out a form which asks about my gender: male/female. At the end of the form, I sign, saying the information in the form is complete and correct to the best of my knowledge. To sign there, does it matter how I answered the gender question? Suppose that were the only question on the form. Then what sense would signing there make? Perhaps I am saying that this is how I normally answer, but why couldn't I be male one day and female on another (according to this new use of the words)?

12. I am giving testimony in court and I say "I saw a woman walk out of the store..." I later learn that she calls herself a man. If the court is now looking for a woman, because of my testimony, will they have trouble finding her? No...

13. Suppose the opposite case happens: I meet the woman and find out that she calls herself a man. I then testify that I met a man... What will they look for now? Someone who identifies as a man? (Perhaps I ought to say "I met someone who claims to be a man, but looks like women tend to look")

14. A burglar discovers he has been described to the police as "a man". He is approached by a detective, "excuse me, but you match this description of a man who burgled the bank last Tuesday" "Oh, that can't be, I'm a woman!" So do the terms "man" and "woman" no longer say anything about the appearance? Should the detective assume the description was just a bit off, or should he keep looking for someone who identifies as a man? Suppose he only has a warrant to arrest the culprit under the description of being a man, then can he arrest the burglar who calls himself a woman?

15. Perhaps we may say that someone is a man, even if he identifies as a woman, but then if he says otherwise we must change. But then, of course, to avoid being wrong we must great every new acquaintance with "Hello, my name is B. B., I'm a man, and you are...?" and the other person will respond in kind. But all this has to do with is what pronouns I use with this other person, and which restrooms, etc., we each use. It can have nothing to do with how I respond to her, according to our new language.

16. If I wish to refer to someone I saw, should I say that she looks like women tend to look? Or may I still say that she was a woman? If I must expand it in this way, perhaps we ought to come up with a shorter collocation.

17. I always think ideas are fishy when they imply odd collocations. "Never say that someone is a woman until you have asked what he or she would like to be called" sounds an awfully lot like "never say 'I know...' only, 'I believe quite strongly...'" or "Always say the qualification 'x'".

18. Someone acts very strangely. May we not say that he has a mental illness until we have determined precisely what is wrong? We may, of course, be wrong.

19. Suppose someone said "If only I looked like a woman instead of a man, then everything would be better!" Well, what would they have done a century or two ago? Surely something could be done about the problem even then, and yet they could not have changed their appearance so thoroughly.

20. If someone says "Thank goodness I live in the 21st century, those medievals were so much more helpless against the problems of life than we are!" then I know they have no perspective--and I doubt they understand what the problems of life really are. (Chronological Snobbery).

21. Perhaps this is all irrelevant to how the language works now. But that requires that we detach--in our language--what we should do from what they should have done. Then I cannot say "The Christians should not have fought the crusades," since morality has, apparently, changed since then.

22. "It has not changed. It would have been good for them back then as well as us now, it is just that now we can" But why? Do we just know these things? Some morals may be embedded in our language, but not those we argue about.

23. "It is good to be true to oneself." Such a mess. What is it to be true to oneself?

24. I decide I feel more true to myself if I murder--does that justify murder?!

25. Our language has gotten so subjective over the past few years. How am I to argue with "I feel..."? What has "I feel..." have to do with it being so? They are miles apart (except in certain cases).

26. How does a child learn the concept of "man" and "woman"? These days, it is hard to imagine. Either it must tie to behaviors or appearances, but our culture refuses to tie gender to either. "Away with stereotypes!" "Your body doesn't have to limit you!" What does, then?

27. Is it now possible to say "I am a martian" and be taken seriously? Why not? If I say I am a martian, what do you expect differently of me? That I am crazy? But not if I said "I am a woman." Why not?

28. We at least seem to agree that there is something it is to be a woman, and that it matters. But what is it supposed to be if it has nothing to do with the body (transgenderism) nor with behaviors (anti-stereotypists).

29. There are those who wish to remove all gendered speech. At least they're consistent. But could you be transgendered then? It would have to be expressed differently, and it would have even fewer implications then than it does now.

30. Watching things shift, one wants to ask what everyone means when they say these words.

31. "Well, you use them all the time. We mean the same as you do." No, you evidently use them quite differently.