Saturday, March 12, 2016

Some Recent History of The Heresy Inclination-as-Identity

It is interesting to look at the novel Brideshead Revisited for some "Interwar" (as it is later called) currency about various ... well, as Catholics, we should say, various disorders of the will.

Antony Blanch says of himself "I may be inverted...", and you can translate that into the terms now in fashion as you like, the narrator Charles Ryder calls himself "agnostic", and ... Sebastian Flyte doesn't deign to describe himself at all, that I recall. Others lament "something chemical in him", and the French Doctor "diagnoses" him as "alcoolique"—and even Charles finds this a bit too noncommital. I had a similar experience the last time I consulted a physician about a complaint: I was having chronic tiny blisters on my hands, associated with various discomforts, and the "diagnosis" was "palmo-plantar pustulosis", which is to say "you have tiny blisters on your soles and hands" only in Latin — though, no, they never appeared on my feet at all. But I digress. (and they seem to be all better, now!)

Contemporaries might have described Sebastian as "a dypsomaniac", but this is simply an individualized way of saying "he suffers dypsomania". Similarly, a leper is one who suffers leprosy. My point is that these are all descriptions, descriptions of accidents, and not necessarily intended as categories of persons. Now, this is not to say that society at large has ever been reticent of identifying the patient with his disease, but it was usually unusual (I think) in patients themselves. Neither has society's simplifying instinct been always a bad thing: it is an instinct towards quarantine, which often enough has been the best option for preserving the City. (Even at the same time: to comfort the sick and the prisoner is also a good thing, a work of Mercy).

Curiously, about the time Sebastian was getting lost in Tunisia, over in the United States was developing a fledgling Movement, whose Creed begins, "My name is N., and I am an alcoholic". And the fact that the patient is called by this Creed to actively identify with that he suffers seems to be an important feature of how AA-taught sobriety works. As Catholics, we might say that what AA-faithful do is "avoid the Near Occasion of Sin" (which is to say, always decline the First Drink), itself a good practise, but the way they are usually meant to manage that avoidance is to always remember "I am an alcoholic".

True: I am a sinner; but it is frightfully important that I be not my sins, for they can have no place in Heaven.

And so, I wonder if this apparently successful movement (AA), whose apparent success seems to hinge on radical identification of persons with particular passions (sensu lato) inspired today's radical identification of persons with various other particular passions — all of them, incidentally, inducing altered brain states when indulged, far more profoundly than does alcohol. The way Satan has some power to work prodigies by which he convinces some of lies, a heresy begins by seeming to work some good in a small way, and the less one questions it, the easier for that heresy to open more cracks in dark corners. Some folk suffering dypsomania find the discipline to remain sober, so last century; now "it's 2016", and one can argue morals from the Nature of Things only out of "animus" or "mean-spiritedness", saith the Associate Justice. Because now, one is not allowed to "suffer" fruitless attractions, but only to "be X.".


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