Stalin supposedly said, “Gratitude is for dogs.” I’ve always thought there was great truth in that, and have always felt dirty and guilty for thinking so. I mean, how can gratitude be for dogs when everybody knows that an ingrate is despicable? But gratitude and ingratitude are not opposites. It may be despicable to spurn kindness and generosity, but no true act of kindness or generosity is ever committed for the sake of receiving gratitude in return.
So why be generous or kind? Out of a desire (it seems to me) to participate in another person’s happiness. Gratitude is generic, perfunctory. Appreciation, on the other hand, is idiosyncratic, and the way to be appreciated is by the peculiar things we do for others. So the proper response to kindness or generosity is not to be grateful, but to be happy, and thus appreciative.
The same is true of good fortune itself—a blessing, a windfall, a narrow escape. The point is to see it for just what it is, and be glad; to change our ways, perhaps. But not to grovel and scrape. This is what I’ve come to realize about devotional worship. It’s all performative. What God would want us to take our time away from gladness, from self-improvement, from kindness, generosity, and appreciation, in order to lower ourselves to the dust?
From time to time readers and colleagues chide me for being “inconsistent,” for not being committed to an ideology, as if we must be simultaneously bound by everything we’ve ever said or done. As if we don’t wake up feeling one way and go to bed feeling another. It’s all so pretentious, so tiresome—this moral arrogance of faith and ideology. I cannot know what I cannot know, and I’d rather not be in a position of having to tolerate anybody telling me things that they don’t know either. The only criteria that interest me anymore are good and evil, reason and unreason, worth my time or not worth my time. If you’re trying to trap or denounce me with my words, you’re making me into your criterion. Will you then be “consistent,” forevermore?
I have never tried to make money from this blog. Not even a tip jar.
The minute you make your ideas a commodity, they forfeit their power. This is especially true online, where every personality is beholden to a platform, and a public beyond. Granted, it would be more difficult for me to blog without WordPress, but even if I had a million readers, I’ve not made myself an avatar here. It’s just words on a pseudonymous webpage.
This is why I’ve never vlogged or appeared on podcasts. Those media are more dynamic than the written word (more fleeting, more lost in the ether) and their dynamism comes at the cost of ever greater symbiosis with the medium. If this blog is taken down tomorrow, oh well. It’s just graffiti on a bathroom stall. It’s not my name. It’s not my image. It’s not a business or a brand. I’ve not forfeited that kind of energy to the internet.
The so-called problem of consciousness is sometimes cited in support of theology. It refers to the fact that we don’t know where consciousness comes from. We may know all about neurology, brain chemistry and the like, but scientific inquiry cannot really show us the true source of perception, of emotions and thoughts.
In Matthew 18:18, Jesus says that whatever is bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven. We’re accustomed to thinking of heaven as the afterlife, and it may be. But Matthew 18:18 is much more readily comprehensible if we think of heaven as the metaphysical realm, co-terminus with the mundane, material one; a supra-temporal canopy of memory, perception, reputation, where every physical phenomenon has an emotional and conceptual analogue. This is the firmament to which we are “bound” by our choices, our triumphs, our joys, fears, and regrets.
A good analogy for such a concept of Jesus’s kingdom is the internet. Your data, your social media avatar, your online reputation, the emanation of information this way and that, the abstracted interplay of thoughts and feelings pinging about the little labyrinths of software systems. The ways they get lost; the ways they get found. A Jewish teaching that I particularly like is that everything—everything—is written by God in one great book. The reason why the internet—the world wide web—is a good analogy for metaphysics is because it is metaphysics: artificial metaphysics. That’s what metadata collection, social media, AI, IoT, 5G, transhumanism, the Great Reset, and all this kind of shit is about. It’s about the power to see, record, inventorize… everything. It’s an attempt at the total usurpation of all metaphysical power, from the level of the individual man, ad astra.