Pentecost (Eastern), 2015

  1. Diabolical Discourse
  2. Concrete thinking, Abstract thinking
  3. Thinking and speaking Christianly to the Culture
  4. Turing tests, Android love, and atavism

1

“Do you know what the word ‘symbol’ means in the original Greek?” he asked. I said I did not.

“It means ‘to bring together,’” he said.

“To integrate,” I replied.

“Yes. Now, do you know what the antonym for symbol is?”

“No.”

“It is diabolos, which means to tear apart, to separate, to throw something through another thing.”

“So when something is diabolic, it means it is a disintegrating force?”

[R]eflection on the symbol/diabol distinction sent me online looking for more. Lo, the Google results give me this entry from a dating website, in which the author quotes from a bestselling 2004 book The Art of Seduction, by Robert Greene. From the website:

In the book, Greene talks about the importance of language in seducing someone. Seduction, as you know, is a matter of how and what you communicate to your target, and is thus, extremely important in your interactions.

Greene makes the distinction between two types of languages – symbolic and diabolic language. To quote him here:

“Most people employ symbolic language—their words stand for something real, the feelings, ideas, and beliefs they really have. Or they stand for concrete things in the real world. (The origin of the word “symbolic” lies in a Greek word meaning “to bring things together”—in this case, a word and something real.)
“As a seducer you are using the opposite: diabolic language. Your words do not stand for anything real; their sound, and the feelings they evoke, are more important than what they are supposed to stand for. (The word “diabolic” ultimately means to separate, to throw things apart—here, words and reality.) The more you make people focus on your sweet-sounding language, and on the illusions and fantasies it conjures, the more you diminish their contact with reality. You lead them into the clouds, where it is hard to distinguish truth from untruth, real from unreal.”

As an indirect seducer, you must focus on using diabolic rather than symbolic language. Your goal is to stimulate your target’s imagination, enveloping her into your spirit. Do this, and she will not be able to resist you.

(Rod Dreher, The Dis-Integrating of Reality, bold added, italics in original)

No, I’m not branching out into how to groom women for a “fun date.” I’m vexed instead by how diabolical (in this sense) much of our public and commercial discourse is, and even by how some bosses practice what might be called “Management by Seduction.”

2

In a recent TED talk, Ted Flynn explained some of why our IQ scores are higher than our ancestors’ scores. A lot of it is that they little use for abstractions, which dominate intelligence tests.

In almost everything he writes, Wendell Berry laments our age’s abstraction from anything concrete, and now in two books (no, make that three!), Matthew B. Crawford has (less poetically) explored that as well.

I’m far beyond college, but this sounds like an excellent topic for a freshman symposium somewhere: “Living in Human Bodies in an Age of Abstractions,” or something like that. The class, of course, would be chock-full of jargon and abstractions, but I can’t see how to avoid that.

3

In his 1991 book Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth, Newbigin insists that Christians should not shy away from presenting the Gospel in public as the truth about all of reality. As a long-time missionary in India, he understood what it was to be a Christian in a predominantly non-Christian culture. When he returned to the West later in life, he found a culture that had become profoundly post-Christian, a culture in which assumptions of the Enlightenment and its heirs had almost totally displaced Christian ideas. He saw Christians who had succumbed to the Enlightenment’s insistence that religion be marginalized into the private sphere. Religion might serve to motivate believers to perform good works in public, but its truth claims could not inform public institutions because they do not conform to the standards of”public reason,” which require all religiously based ideas to be safely left in private. As Stanley Fish has explained, with the advent of the liberal state and society, religion is “honored” and “protected”

by kicking it upstairs and out of sight. If the business of everyday life – commerce, science, medicine, law, agriculture, education, foreign policy, etc. – can be assigned to secular institutions employing secular reasons to justify actions, what is left to religious institutions and religious reasons is a private area of  contemplation and worship, an area that can be safely and properly ignored when there are “real” decisions to be made. Let those who remain captives of ancient superstitions and fairy tales have their churches, chapels, synagogues, mosques, rituals and liturgical mumbo-jumbo; just don’t confuse the (pseudo)knowledge they traffic in with the knowledge needed to solve the world’s problems.

Sadly, LessIie Newbigin saw many Christians assenting to the presuppositions about sacred and secular that muted their public witness. But confining the message ofthe Gospel to the hearts of believers was, in his view, to misrepresent Christ’s claims:

The incarnate Word is Lord of all, not just of the Church. There are not two worlds, one sacred and the other secular. There are differing ways of understanding the one world and a choice has to be made about which is the right way, the way that corresponds to reality, to the reality beyond all the show which the ruler of this world can put on.

No doubt such a depiction of the Gospel will be dismissed as arrogant triumphalism by many of our contemporaries. This did not seem to bother Newbigin; in fact, he seemed to think that faithfulness requires the ruffling of some feathers.

When we affirm, as the Church must, that freedom is not the natural endowment of every human being but is something to be won by acknowledgement of the truth, and that in the end the truth is something given in the sheer grace of God to be received in faith, there is bound to be anger. There is bound to be the feeling that the free society is once again threatened by dogma. I think the Church cannot evade the sharpness of this encounter.

Those last two sentences are critical to understanding the call to “change our minds” at the heart of the Gospel. We should not be afraid when people (like St. Paul’s Greek contemporaries) regard the Gospel as foolish or threatening. The call to abandon idols for the God who made the world and everything in it is frequently unwelcome. Nonetheless, one of the reigning idolatries from which our society needs to repent (personally and collectively) is a misshapen understanding of freedom. Any Gospel announcement that avoids the sharpness of an encounter about the meaning of freedom is incomplete.

(Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio in a May 2015 fundraising letter.)

4

A few writer/thinkers I respect are worried about concern themselves in some articles with android/human relations in the (near) future.

Do I mark myself as atavistic, incapable of new forms of abstraction, by my inability to relate to stuff like Turing tests and speculations about machine feelings?

Is it the case, in other words, that Tipsy/Android Love = Tipsy’s Grandfather/Abstract analogies?

Or have the writer/thinkers that concern themselves with such things chasing the wind?

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.