Frank Maguire
Ever then, ever now, never past
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By Frank Maguire
July 6, 2010

"Human infirmity in moderating and checking the emotions I name bondage: for when a man is a prey to his emotions, he is not his own master, but lies at the mercies of fortune: so much so, that he is often compelled, while seeing that which is better for him, to follow that which is worse." — Spinoza, The Ethics

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity
. — Ecclesiastes 1:2 (King James Version)

"The truth which (G. K.) Chesterton is defending should be obvious. But because Chesterton has to defend it, it obviously isn't obvious. The heretics have obscured the truth, they have distracted us, they have won us over with lies. The first lie is that truth doesn't matter." — Lecture VIII Heretics by Dale Ahlquist

Names change, places change, and every human action is a variation on antecedent human actions, but one comes back to the age-old epigram, "The more things change, the more they remain the same."

The unconventional American philosopher, born in Spain, George Santayana* wrote "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I have long maintained that there are but a handful of human behaviors and myriad variations. (I recommend Roger Kimball's feature in The New Criterion, Feb. 2002, "George Santayana.")

As a professional musician, I can tell you that all music (that which has melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic content in a rational system) is but a re-working of earlier themes. I recall my dear friend, Jerry Vaughn, an exceptional player and scholar, with whom I worked over the years, from Hollywood to Cape Cod. Once in a while — though not often — I would come across a composition I thought exceptional. I would say to Jerry, "This is a good piece." Jerry, with his greater experience would answer, "It was good when Bach wrote it."

As we look at politics, we find the identical thing. Every situation is a mere variation on historical events. What is discouraging is that there is such an ignorance of history that every "crisis" seems new.

There is, however, a condition beyond ignorance that is even more dangerous. Ignorance can be largely equated with indolence and indifference. It is most often passive. It finds no reason sufficient to produce action. Who are most dangerous are those who resent history. Those who feel that they are enslaved in their humanity, who are angered into action when expected to pay respect to human conventions...to the laws, to morals, and even to manners. These are the nihilists. Such are the active destroyers.

This takes me back to a medical conference I attended at the Massachusetts General Hospital. The battle, then, was between physiologists and behavioral psychologists. The battle was heated. Finally, one medical specialist of high reputation said, facetiously, "You know, we are not really seeking an answer. Because if we settle it, it will put most of us out of business."

How true! How honest! The perpetuation of crises keeps the "experts" in their lucrative jobs. Yes, times change, but all that means is that times have changed. Human behavior does not essentially change, and G-d never changes. But obscurantist scholars, politicians, and bureaucrats, and an increasing number of theologians and eisegetic "interpreters" of the Bible — those who are known by their ultimately fruitless task of piling Pelion upon Ossa — are kept safe in their sinecures by further obscuring the obscure.

So, we go 'round and 'round. It is a type of make-work project. The real scholars seldom make the news. But the notoriety seeking sensationalists who have little legitimate to say, but say it with sophistication...they get the attention of the hawkers of advertising. "Advertising," wrote Santayana, "is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better."

The Sage of Mecosta, Michigan Russell Kirk told us 40 years ago, that our divergence from an authentic liberal-arts education would bring eventual chaos. He was right. And we are, now, victims of that against which he cautioned.

What is the source of our current problematic variation? It comes from the progressivist-meliorist pipedream that chronological change assumes human progress. The verisimilitude — the appearance of being true — of the Hegelian formula: thesis-antithesis-synthesis, implies progress. But to claim it is actual progress is an ipse dixit: "an unsupported assertion, usually by a person of standing; a dictum." If we are so sure that the thesis is not true and thus should be changed, and neither is the antithesis sufficiently true, then by what metaphysic can we believe that any arrived at synthesis will bring us to the truth? This is relativistic nonsense.

Those who hold to the Hegelian dialectic (Santayana regarded it as nonsense) believe that the process itself is progressive. But suppose, e.g., the thesis is true, and the antithesis is false, will the synthesis be more true than the thesis? Is not the synthesis then, retrogressive? In our "consensus" culture, collective agreement, for whatever noble utilitarian reason, is regarded as more important than is the actual truth. Only those who do not ascribe to absolute truth can subscribe to the Hegelian dialectic. Humans, with our misinformed hopes, believe that we are intellectually and beneficially evolving. So, in our arrogance, we repeat the errors of the past.

Santayana wrote that "Fanaticism consists in doubling our effort when you have forgotten your aim." This is good, but I would prefer to relate my more-appropriate-to-our-current -malaise "Mr. Dooley" — Finley Peter Dunne — style definition: "A fanatic is one who blows harder when findin' that no matter how much air he's displacin' he hasn't stirred a feather in the direction he was hopin' for."

I am not a cynic, and I know that there are educational institutions where true liberal-arts are taught. But, more and more grant-dependent universities believe that their survival depends upon political correctness. The wise parent will not pay the big bucks to those universities that are so fundamentally flawed.

I wrote this poem a few years back to relate to the confusion of our age of relativism, nihilism, and solipsism.

EVER NOW by Frank Maguire © 2006

I know Iago is my friend because he tells me so.
And to be certain that I call him "friend"
He tells me twice again.
It is Iago's goal that into friendship he must bind me;
So, constantly, he does remind me.

If then, upon his action I reflect,
What friend am I if I suspect?
If 'twixt his acts and words I find confusion,
Is it not my own delusion?

And if I shift 'tween friend or foe,
Am I not wary unto woe?
What is the test I need apply
To know what is the truth and what the lie?

Polonius counsels to himself he must be true;
If that is so is there a time he shan't be true to you?
For Truth is true for all, not one —
A special truth? A special Sun?
From east to west, from first to last;
The Truth is Ever Now, and never past.

*NOTE Biographical History of George Sanatayana:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Santayana
https://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/santayana-kimball-2027
http://chesterton.org/discover/lectures/8heretics.html

© Frank Maguire

 

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Frank Maguire

Frank Maguire was born in Dorchester, MA, 1938, attended schools in Massachusetts, California, and Arizona, where he completed degrees in music and English writing/Journalism. Frank has been married to Helen Isabel Maguire née Estevez of Culver City, California, since 1957. They have six children, 14 grandchildren, and 10 great grandchildren.

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