None the Wiser

[Thoth, a god of wisdom and current consul of Teotihuacan, journeys to the bottom of Yggdrassil the world tree, in order to discuss with an ancient god of wisdom, Mimir, about the new radical, Cartaphilus, whether to oppose him or endorse him. Thoth removes Mimir’s decapitated head from the Well of Urd.]

Mimir: Who bestirs Mimir from the comforts of oblivion?

Thoth: It is I, son of Ra, and I seek your advice.

Mimir: Well met, Thoth. But we gods of wisdom hardly need advice.

Thoth: Yes, but your wisdom is distinct from mine: it is not as contaminated by the hysteria of contemporary ideologies. All the same, I request your wisdom regarding this new radical, Cartaphilus.

Mimir: Cartaphilus, the impetuous immortal? You have traveled very far just to discuss a misguided liberator.

Thoth: These days, the merest mention of his name is tantamount to political suicide.

Mimir: He reminds me of the original liberator. Prometheus.

Thoth: Indeed. It seems both Prometheus and Cartaphilus share an unhealthy obsession with mortals.

Mimir: Quite. Whereas Prometheus condemned the mortals of Midgard to consciousness with his myopic intelligence, Cartaphilus condemns mortals of the universe with his call of radical emancipation.

Thoth: Hubris is another thing Prometheus and Cartaphilus have in common.

Mimir: The Olympians were prudent to hide the sources of life from mortals. But that arrogant Prometheus decided to reveal them. The irony is that, despite his claims of lucidity, Prometheus ended up being the father of all misfortunes of the mortals.

Thoth: He was always scolding mortals for being too comfortable with original idyll and their lazy conformity to the laws of animal nature.

Mimir: By introducing self-consciousness to the species, Prometheus divided man from the sources of life he used to enjoy. That compelled man to analyze those sources and reflect on their meaning. Consequently, original happiness was replaced with the curse and torments of titanism.

Thoth: Mortals were doing quite well without self-consciousness? They had hitherto been merely drooling apes. You could hardly tell them apart.

Mimir: Yes and yet, consciousness began a spectacle in everyone that ceased only with the end of the human species.

Thoth: Despite all his foreknowledge, Prometheus never anticipated this.

Mimir: A feckless and blundering humanitarian, a deadly philanthropist whose excuse was illusion. Prometheus, by handing man over to history, banished him from the perfect present.

Thoth: We did applaud Zeus for punishing Prometheus, and applauded Heracles for freeing him with equal vigor.

Mimir: At once the first zealot of science, and the worst modernist, his sufferings console man for his pyrrhic victories. As an instigator of indiscretions, Prometheus idealized knowledge and action and consequently ruined existence. This dereliction of knowledge and destructive curiosity ended the golden age.

Thoth: Undoubtedly. But what to do with our modern-day Prometheus?

Mimir: Cartaphilus, like most moderns, is in a hurry to expedite the onset of a utopia and institute it for perpetuity. His impetuousness does not come from anxiety but from the idolization of euphoria, a secret and morbid craving for Hyperborea.

Thoth: He is convinced that his revolution will be the final one.

Mimir: Because he thinks it’s up to him to complete history for all mortals. History belongs to him alone; thus, he must close it. As if Truth has finally has chosen to reveal herself!

Thoth: Has Truth made a great error?

Mimir: Error is but the fate of others. Never Cartaphilus’.

Thoth: Cartaphilus desires victory over his race, his peers, over us gods, and seeks to revise our work and correct its imperfections. He claims that whosoever doesn’t try or doesn’t think it his duty to try, has given up his destiny, from either wisdom or weakness.

Mimir: Pithy sophism. Prometheus tried to one-up Zeus. But Cartaphilus, a soi disant demiurge, tries to one-up us all and inflict the humiliation of a utopia superior to ours. That is Prometheus all over again, Titanism to a whole new level. The desire to equal the gods by stealing our powers.

Thoth: As long mortals are shackled by sin, they will never enter paradise. Thus they must be freed.

Mimir: Cartaphilus and every other utopians are consciously or unconscious Pelagianists.

Thoth: Yes. Pelagius, who denied the fall, rejected Adam’s lapse the ability to indoctrinate posterity. Adam only suffered a personal turmoil, and disgraced himself alone, and didn’t know he would bequeath the human race his flaws and misfortunes. Mortals are born free, good, and lack original sin.

Mimir: That is a very generous observation, yet very false. Pelagianism is the heresy of utopians.

Thoth: Whether consciously or unconsciously, Cartaphilus subscribes to pelagianism, the idolatry of progress. Revolutionary ideologies are its conclusions, in which mortals make up a mass of sentient beings freed from original sin, infinitely malleable and, self-directed, capable of anything.

Mimir: What an optimistic vision of the nature of mortals! There’s no evidence that their nature is any good. Only those with an inferior will are spontaneously good, and the rest must devote themselves to be good. Whosoever succeeds does so only at the cost of efforts that embitter them. Evil is inseparable from action, and therefore, all action is necessarily directed against another person or thing, and at most, against themselves. Mortals will only at another’s expense.

Thoth: So, the only way Cartaphilus could construct a society where mortals never harm one another is if he limited it to anemic ones.

Mimir: The nature of mortals follows a dynamic principle, one that sustains the fever of change and provokes events. If this is absent or removed, then utopia is possible. Mortals are resistant to true happiness, even though they long for the institution of an ideal society that promises happiness. If that takes place, they will suffocate in it.

Thoth: In other words, satiety is much worse than poverty.

Mimir: Mortals need tension and challenges in order to evolve. What could they do with perfection?

Thoth: True. Cartaphilus, as an anarchist is the last and greatest of all pelagians. His freedom rejects all religions, including those of the most progressive gods, and substitutes for them a new variant of worship – self-love – more brilliant and impossible than the existing ones. Cartaphilus curses the religions and demands their abolition because he sees them as an obstacle to the free expression of mortal nature that was fundamentally good. Now it’s because mortal nature was corrupted that religion was born.

Mimir: Were religious instincts to vanish, then mortals would give themselves up to evil without any restriction whatever.

Thoth: Cartaphilus’ idea of destroying all authority indeed remains the greatest ever conceived.

Mimir: Alas, the human race who fathered Cartaphilus is now extinct. But perhaps they had to fade to vanish from current age to validate his theories?

Thoth: Well, we don’t even have the luck of believing in destruction because we gods are already secularized anarchists. Also, we already understood the urgency and ultimately, the uselessness of destruction. No matter how succinct our denials are, we cannot destroy the objects of nostalgia.

Mimir: The dreams of mortals survive our wisdom. Even though they have given up on the geographical reality of paradise, it resides in them a dimension of their original ego. Can they recover it?

Thoth: Cartaphilus is convinced of that possibility if his program becomes a reality.

Mimir: And once they do, will they realize the ultimate glory? It is not their gods they will see but the eternal present freed from becoming, and eternity itself perhaps.

Thoth: The remedy of the ills of mortals resides within themselves, in the timeless principle of their nature. Even if we gods proved this principle to be false, mortals are convinced that some part of them escape duration.

Mimir: It is useless to recover the old paradise or march towards utopia. One is inaccessible and the other is unattainable.

Thoth: The only paradise lies deep within their being. In order to find it, Cartaphilus must have inspected every past and possible paradise, loved and hated them with clumsy zealotry and scrutinized and rejected them all with competent disappointment.

[Silence interrupts them.]

Mimir: You did not come here for advice.

Thoth: You are every bit the god of wisdom. Nothing escapes your attention. Admittedly, I traveled far away from the pretentious and self-serving rhetoric of Teotihuacan to hear the strongest case against Cartaphilus. Yours.

[Thoth bows, and departs.]

Mimir: There is no difference between a god and a mortal who substitute one illusion for another. The fables of golden age are equal to the vapor of utopia.

Modern Philosophy’s loss is Literature’s gain

In my readings I came across a fascinating theory by Stephen Toulmin that concerned the relationship between modern philosophy and literature. Philosophy underwent a paradigm shift in the 17th century, a time that was torn by religious wars (only 30 years of European peace between 1560 and 1715). Thinkers who grew tired of the pettiness of their time urged for a theoretical approach that was atemporal, all-inclusive, and independent of context. They were convinced that a pure theory, a formal logic that was free of the taint of history or culture could issue forth truths that avoided the vicious reality of violence (war, punishment, etc.) and the practical wisdom of rhetoric. Continue reading Modern Philosophy’s loss is Literature’s gain