The Original Blog
My first post was on 30 December 2017 – a piece called Gnostic Illusion. I am starting to draft this on 28 December 2021 with the goal of relaunching on 30.12.21 (That does not happen). At the moment, Gnosticism is a focus of interest for me. I am reading Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels. This book came out in 1979; and was not one I had encountered on the theme since then, despite having an interest and reading works by other authors. I’d read several of Pagels’ books, and I bought this one a few years. It’s been sleeping in my Kindle collection until just recently.
This was interesting because of two things. It would have been a waste for me to have read it between 1979 and 2019. And it is now clear that if the authors of the other books on Gnosticism I read had read Pagel’s book, they didn’t understand it.
What I wrote in 2017 didn’t have the assistance of Pagels’ subtle mind. It was shallow on key points, and a little off the mark. Still, the point I was making still holds, in my mind. I am still deciding whether to repost it.
I posted 2 other essays that day – In praise of Emma Restall Orr and Conspiracies and Confusions.
Emma wrote some wonderful books that inspired me deeply. They are way under-appreciated as serious sources of deep insight. Emma was a leading light in the contemporary Druidic movement in the UK, and then she walked away. After reading the original essay I googled her in the hope she was still active. She has replied, and we shall see what transpires. I will repost the in praise of Emma essay.
An Age of Conspiracy?
I have moved a long way from what I wrote in Conspiracies and Confusions. I wanted to distinguish between conspiracy theories, real conspiracies and those that are somewhere in between.
I thought it necessary to do this because of the problematic situation that arises from theories about human origins and history. Conspiracy theories are part of our culture now. They tend to be manifestly idiotic -on sensible investigation. I wrote 3 blog posts that resulted from exploring some conspiratorial activity. I will repost them, because I think it is important to appreciate that we need disciplined inquiry of even things we are disposed to find appealing.
But there are also conspiracies that are just that – attempts to distort and deny truth. These can also be harnessed to the conspiracy theory culture as well.
Conspiracy is routine. Governments are into it as a part of core business – intentionally lying to conceal motives and actions that do not serve the common good. They will argue their motives and actions serve the common good – but never truthfully argue that case. It’s a messy business. There always seems to be a background interest and influence – and maybe it has ever been thus.
Then there are existential conspiracies where facts are hidden, or denied, to protect a discourse for motives that are never made clear. The truth about UFOs and ET is perhaps the most flagrant. Here the official stance of government is at odds with the publicly available evidence.
The other classic existential conspiracy is the claim that the Great Pyramid is a tomb. There is no real evidence to affirm this. It is a claim that has become woven into the Egypt story by ignoring the demands for evidence. It’s a case of ‘must have been’ – the art of dismissing disagreeable evidence and concluding that a thing ‘must have been’ as asserted because no other explanation is possible (read acceptable).
Now it may turn out that pyramids were built and used as tombs. The point is that no actual evidence that this was their primary function has ever been provided. It has been a case of extrapolating from scant and suspect ‘evidence’ and building an impenetrable fortress of dogma. This has led to wild, and sober, counter theories. These are necessary because it is intolerable to remain inert in the face of such flagrant manipulation of the interpretation of this precious legacy in the stages of human attainment.
The Need for Doubt
There are many things that have become woven into our cultural narrative using this tactic. It does not help when conspiracy theorists make doubt no longer respectable. Those who declare themselves arbiters of the good and the true and the real must always have their motives subjected to very close sceptical scrutiny.
The word sceptical has been debased from being the foundation of disciplined doubt to being camouflage for straight out dogma denial. Doubt has become political rather than intellectual. It is easy to take apart a proposition using purely ‘rational’ methods. But that’s how we destroy truth as well. Truth is not always robust and self-evident to rational inquiry. Sometimes (often in fact) it is shy and delicate and must be nurtured into expression.
There was a time when a common outlook had to be enforced. This was a time when a culture or community was vulnerable to harm if points of view became fragmented. These days, our complex pluralistic cultures can endure a lot of diverse opinion – but only up to a point. There still must be common agreement on crucial issues – and we have to agree what those are.
This is the foundation of what we now understand, in a limited way, as religion. Shared beliefs and values were necessary for survival – and flourishing. What we believe matters, still.
There are real conspiracies that interfere with the freedom to imagine who and what we are. This has been so ever since the Christian Church determined what ‘good’ people could believe and think. Where this differs from the critical existential imperatives of tribes is in the fact that none of the dogma is demonstrably essential to survival. Humans did perfectly well under paganism, and atheism hasn’t done irreparable harm.
The Limits to Virtue – As We Imagine It
What has done harm to the human condition is materialism – but not in the short term. The harm has proven to be systemic in the sense that the very foundation of human material wellbeing and existence is being attacked while most of us think we are enjoying benefits. This is no longer a matter of rational dispute. The evidence of harm is persistent and widespread. Opposition is organised and determined. It is fair to call it a conspiracy; because it denies, rather than refutes, the evidence that contradicts. Also, it is fair to assert it favours wrong-doing, for the benefit of a few.
W.B Yates’ poem, The Second Coming’ was written in 1919. I commend the whole poem, but I want focus on 2 compelling lines:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
That is bleak assessment of ‘the best’. Let’s allow a poet’s licence and say it’s not a case of lacking ‘all conviction’ but of expressing it poorly. The image of the ‘best’ – those who assert moral and intellectual superiority – tend to be nothing of the sort. On the extreme ends of the spectrum of moral and intellectual conceit there is woeful ignorance and adherence to dogma.
The ‘worst’ see what they have to lose; and are motivated to become organised in its defence. The ‘best’ have a lesser sense of urgency, though what can be lost is nevertheless fundamental to human wellbeing. The ‘worst’ will impose their beliefs and values upon others. The ‘best’ will not, rightly so. So, the best have only the examples of their own conduct – which can be riddled with pride, arrogance, intellectual laziness and hypocrisy.
In this sense Yate’s is right. That lack of conviction comes from an inner sense of personal pride. It lacks the conviction of authentic insight, which taps humility. Yates is no mere poet. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was a deep thinker with a powerful spiritual dimension to his life.
It’s something David Brooks has been looking at in The Road Character. It’s the dilemma of our age – how to be good with depth and grace without recourse to dogma and the arrogance of certainty. I am not saying I know what the answer is. I simply acknowledge the problem.
The coming year, 2022, will be a year of testing values and putting the ‘good’ under a challenge to articulate high values in an inclusive way. By that I mean speaking to what is noble and compassionate in everyone without straying into any ideological domain and thereby excluding those whose habits of mind forbid them from following.
This is, I think, the challenge of the truly secular – a contemporary version of the catholic (universal) but without the dictates of creedal obedience. It’s hard ask; but I don’t know what the alternative is.
It’s not possible for ‘good’ to be ‘full of passionate intensity’. That doesn’t work. It becomes a mask for the ‘worst’ and it fools the many. The alternative can only be a matter for personal judgement and commitment.
What’s ahead of us is a time of challenge – to reframe our knowledge and values. Science is moving into quantum thinking, which is fatally wounding the materialist paradigm. Climate change is obliging us to rethink, reframe and re-imagine our being in the world. Social media is challenging us to reimagine civility and truth.
Indeed, we are living in cusp times in some many areas of being human. And off-stage, waiting in the wings, may be others from distant elsewheres. If their presence becomes widely undeniable, we will reach a tipping point for which we are not prepared.
I have no fixed opinions on ET, beyond thinking that the evidence is beyond hasty denial. The 25 June 2021 report from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence – Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena – was widely dismissed as disappointing. But writ large between the lines was an entirely different message.