Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Laborem Solis sive Eclipsis Moralis: Stultificationis

AMERICA, ALAS, HAS BEEN DUMBED DOWN. It is certainly not that our people lack the natural capacity, but as a result of certain factors--educational, social, familial, cultural--there has been a dissipation of intellectual capital. Some of it is the effect of technology. Like anything in this world, there are advantages and disadvantages to technology. The television is a marvel: but it has lead to commercialization, to soundbites, to "montages of half-second images, too short for reflective intelligence." Electronic games have gotten extremely sophisticated--the development from "Pong" to the latest electronic Nintendo game is mind boggling. But every hour spent on these shallow entertainment media is an hour away from learning a musical instrument, reading Shakespeare, the Bible, learning another language (perhaps Hebrew, Greek, or Latin?). Our means of communication have blossomed, but has the quality of our communication increased? Email, texting, twittering tend to dumb down expression into bytes, not sentences and paragraphs. Political discussions become soundbytes, 30-second commercials ending with "I approve this message," and are not well-thought out, well-crafted arguments such as those found in the Federalist Papers or the Anti-Federalist Papers. How many of our students know (negatively) even two of the common logical fallacies, or (positively) the Aristotelian rules of syllogism?

We, of course, could go on and on with our plaint against the state of modern culture and education. But however long we complain about the situation, it remains the reality of the times that we live in a "post-literate" society. This presents a problem in regard to educating people on the natural moral law because the natural moral law--being based upon reason--relies on reason's tools. While much of the natural moral law is sort of built in, and so we find it in primitive man, it is in primitive form when in primitive man. The natural moral law thrives in cultures of civilization much more readily that cultures that are primitive. And our culture, despite its technological sophistication, is, from the standpoint of depth, quite poor, nearing barbarism.

Post-literate societies like ours are the ones that present the problem. One must do either a lot of reading or a lot of listening to participate in traditions of reflection, and in either case, a lot of remembering. The people of our time do none of these things. Instead we look at sparkling pictures that appear for a moment, then vanish.

Budziszewski (2003), 170.

The dumbing down occurs not only in our words, and in our speech, but in our pictures, and even in our religious imagery. Budziszewski refers to this as "visual illiteracy." Compare the depth of the intricate symbolism and message behind St. Benedict's Medal with the banal, shallow WWJD.*
[I]t is as though a great fire had consumed all our books and memories, except that it is more like a great smoke which fills our houses and dulls our minds and makes it difficult to complete any thoughts. . . . [B]ut [w]e are put together in such a way that although we can be pushed and pulled and drowsied by flickering images, we cannot be satisfied by them; we know too much even in oblivion. Fallow knowledge troubles our sleep. We lie under the prickling enchantment of the image carved into our hearts, which is stronger than the counterspell and can never be quite scratched out.
Budziszewski (2003), 171-72.

The dumbing down of America presents a significant hurdle in educating people about the natural moral law, especially in its more remote determinations.

*The medal of St. Benedict has two sides. The face shows an image of St. Benedict holding a cross in his right hand, a book (Benedict's "Rule for Monasteries," whose first words exhort the monk to "walk in God's ways, with the Gospel as our guide"). In the background, to the right of the Saint is a broken chalice, a reference to the story of the poisoned cup that shattered when St. Benedict made the sign of the cross over it. To his left is a depiction of a raven which is in the process of taking away some bread, a reference to the story of a raven who saved Benedict from an enemy that had sent him poisoned bread. What are these meant to convey, but that we ought to be wary of things that seem holy, inasmuch as they may have hidden poison behind them. Above these images one finds the words, "Crux s. patris Benedicti (Cross of our Father, St. Benedict) a reference to the cross on the back of the medal. The Latin words encircling the image of the Saint read: Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur (May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death). On the reverse of medal is a cross. It has the letters CSSML on the vertical arm, which mean Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux (Holy Cross Be My Light). On the horizontal arm are the letters NDSMD, which stand for Nunquam Draco Sit Mihi Dux (May the Dragon [the Devil] Never be my Guide). In the background in circles are the letters CSPB which stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The Cross of our Holy Father Benedict). Encircling the cross are the words PAX (Peace), and the letters VRSNSMVSMQLIVB, which stand for Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself).

The example of how such symbolism dumbs us down is how Representative Rangel thought it a valuable addition to the budget discussions to ask the question, "What would Jesus do?" Obviously, adding such an intractable question, "What would Jesus do?" to the already intractable question "How do we resolve the budget crisis?" is unhelpful, to say the least, and false piety, absurdity, and hypocrisy, to say the most. Budziszewski calls this the "infantile regression of public reflection." Budziszewski (2003), 169.

No comments:

Post a Comment