The Road to Mordor, by Alan Lee
This post is a part of the online book Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien.
Along with the development of the modern sciences the so-called reductionisms have got status of whole research programmes. After Darwin many thought, that everything could be explained biologically. In Logical Empiricism materialism lived onwards in the form of Physicalism, which was about, that all sciences eventually can be reduced to classical physics – or eventually to ”the intersubjective controllable language of things”. Psychologism was one of the other ravaging reductionisms in the twentieth century. Freud and Jung thought separately, that they had the key to the understanding of diverse cultural phenomena because of the storeroom of the unconsciousness. Moreover there was Historism, which followers thought that they could generalize hermeneutics also to include the exact sciences. The latest craze in reductionism is Social Constructivism.
Surely – many are the people, who become seduced by the reductionisms. Maybe not so strange after all: all reductionisms imply a simplification, a manageable solution to all problems, a key, which saves the supporters for having to think fundamentally over the philosophical questions – which after all only a few are capable to.
What is reductionism? Science can´t give answers to the problems of world views and views of values (metaphysics and ethics). Single branches of sciences can´t out of hand answer questions about values or moral standards.
However this they nevertheless often do, but then it ends in reductionism. And there has not been a lack of trying to understand Man from one or the other single branch of science. As mentionedin the Introduction: They have for example claimed, that Man fully could be described and explained with the methods of natural science. This happens in various forms of Naturalism, Positivism and Behaviourism. Or they have thought, that psychology, sociology or history can give the total and superior understanding of, what a human being is. These viewpoints are described respectively as Psychologism, Sociologism and Historism.
These viewpoints are forms of reductionism; that is to say: they reduce or devaluate Man to a phenomenon of a single type. The problem is then to lead all other sides of Man back to this single type, for example to explain ethics, politics and mathematics as pure historical or psychological phenomena. Here the reductionisms always end in various forms of explaining away, which often is direct absurd.
The reductionisms observe Man from fragmented viewpoints, for example as organism, as physical-chemical system, as society being, as psyche, as producer and user of language and meaning. But what becomes of the Wholeness? What unites all this knowledge to a total image of Man?
The reductionisms view themselves as scientific approaches, but they are not. It is here the fundamental invalidity in the reductionistic viewpoints arises, since their basis not is building on philosophical argumentation, but on the claim, that they are founded in science. But science is as mentioned not able to answer problems of world views and values (instead of explaining them, they are often making fun of them). Reductionisms are philosophical viewpoints, which under cover of being science seek to answer questions of values or moral standards. No single branch of science gives anything else than a limited perspective on Man or reality. If the reductionisms should be taken seriously, then they shall contain a unifying perspective on all knowledge about Man and nature.
Our wonder over Man becomes philosophy, when it reaches the question of Man and nature as such. Philosophy throws out answers to the question, argues for the answers and investigates their consequences. This happens first of all by reflecting and meditating over the things, not in an experiential-scientifical way.
Philosophy is in that way a deepening of our everyday understanding. It is a reflection over well-known subjects. Its answers lie in continuation of our immediate knowledge and understanding. Similar you can say, that philosophy is a deepening of the forms of understanding, which lie in for example science, art and religion.
Philosophy seeks for oneness and coherence. This means, that it both ask for the fundamental trait of the essence of Man and nature, and for how all other traits of Man and nature are connected therewith. The answer to, what the essence of Man and nature is, has to throw a light of transfiguration over everything we know about man and nature.
Philosophy asks the most universal question about Man and nature, the common or universal which all of us have part in, in spite of the fact that we can behave so different and be studied in so many various ways. Here it is about what, we can call the essence of Man and nature (the Inner Side of Man and nature), and the question is solved, not by experimenting, collecting systematical observations and from them draw up theories. It is only solved by reflecting and meditating over everything we already know about Man and nature, and by searching for oneness and coherence in it.
The sciences ask limited questions about Man and nature, or questions about specific sides of the human life and nature. Philosophy asks the most universal question about Man and nature. The sciences collect systematical experiences and throw out theories, that can be determined by new experiences. Philosophy uses alone the tool of reflection and meditation.
Reductionisms are philosophical viewpoints, because they seek to answer the question about Man and nature as such, but as philosophical viewpoints they are cognitional and ethical shipwrecks.
Unlike much science fiction, fantasy uses realistic settings. Middle-earth is our earth. It is not a never-never land, or even another planet. It is not a different place, only a different time. The setting of Tolkien´s fantasies is literally real.
One of the main uses of fantasy, Tolkien says, in “On Fairy-Stories”, is “recovery”, the ability to see the natural world more clearly by dipping it in myth and strangeness. In other words, we need to return to the classical priority of contemplation over action. “Recovery” of a clear view of nature (the cosmos) is one of the primary purposes of fantasy, according to Tolkien:
Fantasy is made out of the Primary World, but a good craftsman loves his material…By the forging of Gram cold iron was revealed; by the making of Pegasus horses were enobled…
It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine (p. 59).
There is a point Tolkien makes later in “On Fairy-Stories” that may seem to be a point about epistemology, or theory of knowledge (which we will return to later), but it is really a point about cosmology. It is the point that although fantasy is creative, it is also realistic; its truth conforms to the real world rather than (re) creating it. It is therefore a rational activity, in the ancient, deeper, more basic meaning of “rational” (knowing reality). (We tend to mean by “rational” only “logical”.) Since fantasy is rational, and since the cosmos is really full, fantasy too is full. Fantasy is a flight to reality, or, a spiritual waking up to reality.
The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know orcould not perceive truth (facts or evidence), the Fantasy would languish until they were cured…
For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it…If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen (p. 54-55).
Here Tolkien actually is into something very important in ontology which invalidates both materialism and idealism: in order to establish unambiguous description (and thinking) one must be able to discriminate between subject and object, dream and reality, etc. In chapter 5, Epistemology, part 4: The Core – Rediscovering Truth, I will return to this with my concept of The Core in everyday language.
Kreeft says that one could say that of the five aspects of a story – plot, characters, setting, style, and theme – it is the setting that is the most important in The Lord of the Rings. The real “hero” of The Lord of the Rings is Middle-earth itself. There are many detailed descriptions of topography that Tolkien learned to love on his many walking tours with the Inklings. This is why the maps are so important. Tolkien says, “I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit…The other way about lands one in confusions…it is weary work to compose a map from a story” (Letters, no. 144, p. 177).
As the Elves are central in The Silmarillion, Hobbits are central in The Lord of the Rings: thus the greater importance of the natural setting in The Lord of the Rings. For Hobbits are far closer to nature that Elves or Men. They even live in the earth, in holes, a natural symbol for the depth of their earthiness.
Elves, though more transcendent to material nature than Men, are at the same time closer to it.
The Ents are the closest of all to nature. In fact, Tolkien makes nature itself live in the Ents. The Ents is also a good description of the above-mentioned spiritual “waking up”. In Tolkien´s world, nothing in nature is dead but all is alive, so much that modern readers will call this cosmos “magical”. Kreeft believes a better word is “biblical”. In Tolkien´s cosmology, he says, the earth as well as the heavens is not dumb but declares the glory of God.
The things in Tolkien´s cosmos are not only beautiful; they also have something like personalities. The division between things and persons is not alone as absolute there as is in our culture. Yet neither things nor persons and modern subjectivism demeans material things.
Ever since Descartes, says Kreeft, the Western mind has separated matter and spirit, body and soul, physical and spiritual, as two “clear” and distinct ideas” that have nothing in common; the above-mentioned instrumental view of nature. Matter takes up space and does not think; mind thinks and does not take up space. But before Descartes it was not so. The distinction was there, but not total. There was an in-between category, life, which Descartes eliminated. He thought of even an animal as a complicated machine. No wonder it is Descartes who is the inspiration for the so-called brain-in-jar hypothesis, which also is the inspiration for the movie The Matrix, and the most extreme reductionist view we have today: The Simulation theory, which we will return to in the chapter on epistemology.
But Tolkien restores the ancient, pre-Cartesian cosmology in which things are not that neat. Even inorganic things like mountains are alive; the distinction between trees and Ents (thinking, treelike tree herders) is not absolute; and in general the whole world of things is more personlike, mindlike, spiritlike, than in the Cartesian machine-universe.
Kreeft says that there are at least three killers of this old cosmology in the modern mind. One of them, of course, is materialism. Another is Cartesian dualism, which sells out half of the world – everything made of matter – to materialism, reducing everything except mind and spirit to passivity and mechanism. The third is idealism (spiritualism), and the Gnostic New Age philosophy of “Create your own reality.” This idea sells out the whole world and reality, most extremely seen in the very popular simulation theory, which, as we shall see, also materialists are advocates for. Both materialism and idealism are attractive because they are simple, and don´t require much thinking. They are reductionisms.
Both materialism and idealism are self-refuting views. Reductionisms are philosophical viewpoints, because they seek to answer the question about Man and nature as such, but as philosophical viewpoints they are epistemological and ethical shipwrecks.
Reductionisms are philosophical, political, religious/occult theories, that seek legitimacy by claiming, that they are scientific theories, while the fact is, that they either not are testable/able to be falsified, or that they abuse the use of abductive reasoning.
Add to this that there are two versions of reductionism, which very broadly defined could be termed as materialism and idealism. This is important since it seems that these two versions are in war with each other (in atheist fundamentalism this war is clearly set between atheism and religion).
The first materialist version for example claims that Man fully can be described and explained with the methods of natural science. This happens in various forms of Naturalism, Biologism, Positivism and Behaviourism. It is clear that this first kind of reductionism (scientism and pseudoskepticism) are more accepted than the second openly anti-scientific version.
The second idealist version claims, that psychology, sociology or history can give the total and superior understanding of, what a human being is. These viewpoints are described respectively as Psychologism, Sociologism and Historism. It is particular this version which openly claims to be a supporter of anti-science, and accuses the other part of being reductionistic, and demand so-called alternative sciences. This is what we see in the more popular culture of New Age. The reductionist element comes in because they also call their own practices science, though alternative sciences. Therefore reductionism.
The first version is mostly the supporter of scientism and pseudoskepticism. Scientism is a term generally used to describe the cosmetic application of science in unwarranted situations not covered by the scientific method. Pseudoskepticism (or pseudoscepticism) is a term referring to a philosophical or scientific position which appears to be that of skepticism or scientific skepticism but which in reality fails to be so.
The sciences ask limited questions about Man, or questions about specific sides of the human life. Such questions are then solved by experimenting, collecting systematical observations and from them draw up theories. The sciences collect systematical experiences and throw out theories, that can be tested through new experiences, or serve as the best explanations.
So, one crucial principle in science is, that a certain theory has to be testable. Another crucial principle is the use of abductive reasoning (inference to the best explanation).
Is it testable whether God exists or not? No! Is it testable, that the human consciousness only consists in some physical-chemical reactions in the brain, or that it only is a social construction? No!
Is the best explanation for crop circles, that they have been made by extraterrestrials? Although it is undoubtedly true, that strange patterns are sometimes found in cornfields (crop circles) - it doesn´t follow that they must have been made by extraterrestrials. There is a wide range of far more plausible alternative explanations of the phenomenon, such as that they have been made by pranksters.
Pseudoscience is philosophical, political, religious/occult theories, that seek legitimacy by claiming, that they are scientifical theories, while the fact is, that they either not is testable, or that they abuse the use of abductive reasoning.
The reductionisms observe Man from fragmented viewpoints, for example as organism, as physical-chemical system, as society being, as psyche, as producer and user of language and meaning. But what becomes of the Wholeness? What unites all this knowledge to a total image of Man and nature? The reductionisms´ explanations of this always end up as philosophical shipwrecks. Reductionisms are philosophical viewpoints, which under cover of being science seek to answer the question of Man, or reality as such. But no single branch of science gives anything else than a limited perspective on Man or reality. If the reductionisms should be taken seriously, then they shall contain a unifying perspective on all knowledge about Man and nature.
It is unfortunate that the reductionisms are so accepted, because it is them that have created distinctions such as “Jewish” and “Aryan” physics; “bourgois” and “socialist” biology; IQ tests; eugenics; personality typing - and a lot of other political inferences from science that have had catastrophical consequences.
Where New Age pseudoscience typically is based on the claim that science has to integrated with occult and religious viewpoints, then the pseudoscience of reductionism typically is based on that science has to be integrated with (or is the same as) atheistic and/or political viewpoints.
What can be a serious problem in the future, is that a new kind of pseudoscience is trying to unite New Age pseudosciences with some of the pseudosciences of reductionism. Most clearly this is seen in the simulation theory.
Both New Age pseudoscience and the pseudoscience of reductionism are common in sharing some kind of scientism; that is: they overestimate the importance of science, for example by claiming:
1) that philosophy and religion need to be founded in science
2) that certain single branches of science can give an explanation of everything
3) that certain single branches of science are self-sufficient and that philosophy and religion are superfluous.
In New Age it happens in the demand of “alternative sciences.” In reductionism it happens in the form of pseudoskepticism.
On historical grounds alone, Tolkien is quite correct; the appropriation of magic and its transformation into modern science is one of the most important events (and closely guarded secrets) of the past three centuries. And in contemporary terms, the domination of financial and technological magic over enchantment – often through exploiting it (something in which New Age, advertising and public relations are masters) – is something we see confirmed everywhere in Middle-earth today, just as we continue to hear a greate deal about all this Progress is not only good for us, but unavoidable in any case. As he wrote in a letter:
So we come inevitable from Daedaleus an Icarus to the Giant Bomber. It is not an advance in wisdom! This terrible truth, glimpsed long ago by Sam Butler, sticks out so plainly and is o horrifyingly exhibited in our time, with its even worse menace for the future, that it seems almost a world wide mental disease that only a tiny minority perceive it.
We must of course discriminate between science and scientism (reductionism). Science as a human activity has perfectly honourable antecedents, and is not intrinsically or necessarily perverted by power-as-domination. Even today, some scientists are more oriented to the wonder of the natural world (i.e. enchantment) than its manipulation and exploitation (i.e. magic). Actually, this is discernible within Tolkien´s work. In a letter, he observed that
The Elves represent, as it were, the artistic, aesthetic and purely scientific aspects of the Humane nature raised to a higher level than is actually seen in Men. That is: they have a devoted love of the physical world, and a desire to observe and understand it for its own sake and as “other”…not as material for use or as a power-platform.
The Noldor, or Loremasters, in particular, “were always on the side of ‘science and technology,’ as we should call it…’ On the other hand, it was the Noldor who cooperated with Sauron in forging the Rings of Power, and were thus duped and betrayed by him.
Not is technology as such evil, although there is far too much self-interested nonsense about it being “neutral”; there is nothing morally neutral about a bomb compared, say, with a bicycle. Tolkien admits that “It would no doubt be possible to defend poor Lotho´s introduction of more efficient mills; but not Sharkey and Sandyman´s use of them” – and still less, in Treebeard´s words, “orc-work, the wanton hewing…without even the bad excuse of feeding the fires…”
Patrick Curry thinks the same point is evident from the Dwarves, who were created by Aulë the Smith, and in their hands “still lives the skill in works of stone that none have surpassed.” They are also constitutionally prone to greed for gold and precious stones, not to mention mithril. But when Gimli discovers the Caverns of Helm´s Deep, he is adamant that “No dwarf could be unmoved by such loveliness. None of Durin´s race would mine those caves for stones or ore, not if diamonds and gold could be there…we would tend thse glades of flowering stone, not quarry them.”
Nor is science the whole problem, even today. Nonetheless, it is true, and vital to admit, that modern science – the ideology of the reductionism called scientism – is a very different matter. It has become almost inseparable from both power and profit, says Curry, and sometimes an object of worship in its own right. As such, it is now as much a problem in our Middle-earth as it is in Tolkien´s literary creation.
Virtually every major character in The Lord of the Rings refuses to accept the Ring, knowing that no matter how morally strong, they could not resist its power. Significantly, only a Hobbit – the member of a humble and provincial, even parochial race, and one close to the Earth – becomes a Ringbearer. But Gollum, originally a hobbit, is more pitiable than evil because he is so palpably its victim – like a tribesman from the Stone Age encountering modern weapons, bulldozers and bureaucracy, who tries (although neither wanted or needed) to become their servant. In the end, of course, even Frodo fails the ultimate test. And if the Ring is taken, then the Shire will be no refuge. Tom Bombadil alone is completely unaffected by this supreme talisman of power. As Gandalf says, “the Ring has no power over him. He is his own master. But he cannot alter the Ring itself, nor break its power over others.” Nor does it appear that he alone could withstand the coming of Sauron repossessed of the Ring.
Although not Tolkien´s most felicitous character, Tom Bombadil is clearly a genius loci who embodies “the blind grace resident in Nature,” and “more specifically…of the land itself.” He symbolizes, in Tolkiens own words, “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside.” But the point about Bombadil in this context is that, as Galdor says, “Power to defy our Enemy is not in him, unless such power is in the earth itself. And yet we see that Sauron can torture and destroy the very hills.” That fact becomes brutally clear in Frodo and Sam´s agonizing journey to Mordor. It is worth quoting at some length what they found before its door:
Here nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness. The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about. High mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained, stood like an obscene graveyard in endless rows, slowly revealed in the reluctant light.
They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing – unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion. “I feel sick,” said Sam. Frodo did not speak.
Later, entering Morgul Valley, Frodo observed that “Earth, air and water all seem accursed.” And closer still to Mount Doom, they found “a huge mass of ash and slag and burned stone,” where “the air was full of fumes; breathing was painful and difficult…”
Curry asks: “Do we not see such blighted industrial wasteland today in Eastern Europe and Russia, and could we not easily find its equivalents elsewhere in ‘the West’: radioactive deserts; poinsoned rivers and even seas; clearcut and slashed and burned acres that were once rainforest, richest in life anywhere on the planet; smoking, reeking cities where life, by contrast, is cheap?”
All this has a name, by the way. The Greek oikos, which gives us “eco,” means home or abode; the latin caedere, to kill; hence ecocide. (And the combination of Greek and Latin only confirms that no good can come of it.)
The two demonical movements of the One Ring are the movement into the ego-structures (the will to power), and the movement out towards the many in ideology.
Tom Shippey has observed that the Ring is (1) immensely powerful, (2) dangerous, even lethal, to all its possessors, and (3) will ultimately triumph if it is not destroyed. Thus “it is a dull mind which does not reflect, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. And in addition to the distinctively modern nature of this understanding, Curry also shrewdly reminds us that the Ring is addictive in a way – let´s call it “lifestyle” – that we are all now familiar with. This interpretation can be further tightened up with no loss of meaning, indeed no allegorical special pleading or stretch of the imagination to see that our Ring is the malevolent amalgam of the unaccountable nation-state, capitalism in the form of transnational economic power, and scientism, or the monopoly of knowledge by modern technological science. Like Tolkien´s Ring, there are apparently no limits to its potential mastery of nature (certainly not those of mercy), and, once it is on the finger of its collective principal servants – that is, completely removed from any democratic accountability – no way to control it.
The Ring´s servants have no wish to control it, of course; rather, to feed it. Tolkien noted in 1945, “as the servants of the Machines are becoming a privileged class, the Machines are becoming a privileged class, the Machines are going to be enormously more powerful. What´s their next move?” There is precious little control as things are. Sporadic public protest and non-governmental organizations worry away at their edges and fight “the long defeat,” as Galadriel called it – but always under the shadow of “that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, which suffers no rival, and laughs at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength.”
This is no least because, in a twist even Sauron never thought of, most people – even those who are already living in ways that constitute the solution to its terrible problems, and will suffer the most by its adoption – seem so seduced by the megamachine´s handmaidens in advertising, the media and the movies that they can hardly wait to sign up; addictive indeed.
Tolkien has frequently been accused of a simple-minded moral Manicheism, simply pitting good against evil. Whether in relation to individuals or races, this charge is wide out of the mark. One of the glories of Middle-earth is its ontological pluralism; the alliance against Mordor is only just cobbled together (thanks mainly to Gandalf) among people with drastically different cultures, languages, habits, and agenda. The Lord of the Rings celebrates such difference and pleads, as Shippey says, “for tolerance across an enormous gap of times and attitudes and ethical styles.”
Thus Edward Teller, “father” of the hydrogen bomb, speaks for many scientists, and their corporate backers, when he states flatly that “There is no case where ignorance should be preferred to knowledge…” That may well be true for science; it is by no means always true for humanity or the world. Let us recall Saruman´s thirst for knowledge at all costs – of the “magical,” including scientific, kind – was precisely what baited Sauron´s trap in which the wizard was caught. And recalling Tolkien´s distinctinction between magic and enchantment permits us to recognize modern profit-driven and state-protected science for what it is: not the disenchantment (or demystification, or rationality) that they pretend, but modernist magic: a powerful counter-enchantment, much of whose power stems from being a spell that denies that it is one: a secular religion, literally a bad faith. With better reason than he knows, Teller´s interviewer described him as “our great master of the black art of detachment.” As Adorno and Horkheimer recognized,
In the enlightened world, mythology has entered into the profane. In its blank purity, the reality which has been cleansed of demons and their conceptual descendants assumes the numinous character which the ancient world attributed to demons…It is not merely that domination is paid for by the alienation of men from the objects dominated: with the objectification of spirit, the very relations of men – even those of the individual to himself – were bewitched.
Curry says that modern magic/science was itself literally born of a dream: that of Descartes, a founding father of modernity (and patron saint of animal vivisection), on the night of 10 November 1610, of “the unification and illumination of the whole of science, even the whole of knowledge, by one and the same method: the method of reason.” This dream eventually combined with the boundless ambitions of Francis Bacon, who advised torturing nature to extract her secrets and further “the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire,” boasting of “leading you to nature with her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave;” and of Galileo, who did so much further the technique of reducing all merely personal and therefore “secondary” experience to abstract “primary” mathematical quantities. As a result, as Horkheimer and Adorno put it, “What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order to dominate it and other men. That is their only aim.” (This, of course, is Tolkien´s definition of magic.)
In so doing, they continue, “The destruction of gods and qualities alike is insited upon,” along with “the extirpation of animism.” But note that monotheistic faith collaborates in this programme: “Reason and religion deprecate and condemn the principle of magic enchantment.” Neither can long abide anything or anyone escaping the sway of what they need to be total and universal truth; exceptions become anathema.
It has been said, with many variations, that “Mordor is Wigan or Sheffield,” or Leeds, or Birmingham. But to concentrate too much on Tolkien´s anti-industrialism is to miss the larger meaning, says Patrick Curry, and continues: “Although he did not write the following passage, any reader familiar with Tolkien´s work will immediately recognize the terrible authenticity of this description of being inside Mordor”:
Around us, everything is hostile. Above us the malevolent clouds chase each other to separate us from the sun; on all sides the squalor of the toiling steel…And on the scaffolding, on the trains being switched about, on the roads, in the pits, in the offices, men and more men, slaves and masters, the masters slaves themselves. Fear motivates the former, hatred the latter, all other forces are silent. All are enemies or rivals.
…This huge entanglement of iron, concrete, mud and smoke is the negation of beauty…Within its bounds not a blade of grass grows, the soil is impregnated with the poinsoned seeds of coal and slaves – and the former are more alive than the latter.
This is the essence of Mordor, and although Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings before the death-camps were widely known of, he seems to have perceived something essential about the terminus of modernity´s merciless logic.
Auschwitz, as is clear from Primo Levi´s account, was equally a brutal human or social desecration and a natural or ecological one. The two cannot, in good faith, be separated. Sauton´s own campaigns recognize this fact. What first announces his presence, everywhere in Middle-earth, is the “disgracing the earth,” as William Morris said, “with filth and squalor.” What follows is the loss of their (remaining) inhabitants´ ways of life and independence. And as with us, Curry says, the first and worst victims are always the weakest and most defenceless: a category that includes trees and animals, as well as children, women, the poor, and the indigenous.
Curry continues and says that Sauron´s strategy is repeated by every avaricious government today: from the wholesale destruction of Tibet, forests and monastaries alike, by China; and Saddam Hussein´s campaign against the Marsh Arabs, as much as by massive drainage as by weaponry; to Indonesia, where it is accompanied by a smokescreen of “rehousing” and “educating” the indigenous people before “developing” their forest homes, in collaboration with the World Bank. We should also note, Curry says, that the first of these is a communist crime and the last a capitalist. In other words, like the distinction between the destructive exploitation of nature and genocide against humans, this difference too is a secondary one. It is therefore not of much use in getting to grips with the problem which Tolkien addresses.
That is not surprising, says Curry. Marx had a profound admiration of and respect for capitalism, as is clear in his paeans to its power, and he supported Western imperialism. He had nothing but contempt for tradition and “rural idioncy,” and along with fetishizing the economic and the “material” he limited value strictly to whatever had been “produced” (really, only ever transformed) by human labour; thus there is none whatsoever, according to his system, in nature as such. In the best nineteenth-century way, he also approved of, and wanted to extend, scientistic materialism and rationalism. Lenin changed nothing of all this, admitting only the necessity to give “historical laws” a helping hand with brutal vanguardism. Even leaving aside its historical track-record, then, exactly what kind of basis does Marxism still provide for a radical, let alone ecological, alternative to current capitalism? This is Curry´s question.
When I´m talking about a coming Matrix Hybrid between Western Consumer Capitalism and Chinese Communism this isn´t even a prophesy. We already see the beginning. The Slovenian continental philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, sees the same: “capitalism doesn´t need democracy”, he says in an interview. He says that the economical globalization increasingly will be combined with stronger and more authoritarian national states. That is our future, and we already see it with Trump, Erdogan and Putin, as well as what is happening in China and India; an authoritarian capitalism. And he claims that the one who is the father of such a way of thinking is Lee Kuan Yew from Singapore. When Deng Xiaoping took the power in China in 1978, he went to the authoritarian Singapore and here he saw, how that system functioned. He then decided that it also should be like that in the the future of China, “and it works!” says Žižek. “But do you know what makes me pessimistic about that development? Slowly it happens – and this is very clear – that capitalism in lesser and lesser degree needs democracy.”
Curry continues and says that a regeneration of the land strengthens that of its people, and vice-versa. Strong and free societies values and protect their natural contexts (including sacred places), which return that trust by protecting and supporting them. Realizing this and acting on it, there is hope. And Tolkien does suggest that such renewal is possible, as it proved in the Shire after its devastasion by Sharkey. But hope demands clear sight of the scale of the problems we face. Taking his cue from Tolkien´s work, Curry concentrate on the decimation of the natural world. But the human cost, both physical and spiritual, is plainly implicit in his chronicle of the Third Age, and it should be understood as an integral part of the whole. John Fowles is indulging in no hyperbole when he says that “In the end what we most defoliate and deprive is ourselves.” I will return to these issues.
Truth is not compatible with scientism (reductionism). The truth, which philosophy seeks to achieve, is a truth that raises over human views, yes over the whole of the human existence. That something is true means in philosophical sense, that it is true independently of who claims it, and when it is claimed. And independently of, whether anybody at all has claimed it, thought it, believed it or knows it. Truths are therefore, in philosophical context, both time-independent and mind (thought) -independent.
Since all philosophical views qua views claim to be true in precisely this sense (also materialism and idealism), then it should be clear, that views, which try to reduce or cause explain all views, are self-refuting views.
It seems to be a common trait of the self-refuting philosophical views, that they pull the carpet away under themselves, because they seek to reduce fundamental concepts such as ”meaning,” ”beauty,” “goodness,” ”truth,” and ”validity” to something factual, for example physical, biological, psychological, social or historical. Herewith they at the same time claim, that if these conditions had been different (because they are changeable), then all our concepts about meaning, beauty, goodness, truth and validity also had to be different. But therewith they deprive themselves the possibility for being regarded as meaningful, true or valid.
A self-refuting view can´t be saved by saying, that it shall apply to all views except itself. For in that case you have to accept, that there exists at least one scientific and/or philosophical doctrine, which are independent of what you seek to reduce everything to, and this is precisely what the understanding itself claims, that there isn´t.
In Tolkien´s cosmology, as in all pre-modern cosmologies, everything is more alive, more dreaming, more awake. Cosmos is the Wholeness, and in the modern cosmology where everything is reduced to the part, the Wholeness is sleeping. In Tolkien´s cosmology the Wholeness is dreaming and eventually awake. Where the modern cosmology reduces the life of a dog to the life of a complicated machine, Tolkien´s cosmology expands the life of a mountain (“cruel Caradharas”) to something like the life of an animal. Nothing is mere matter. Nothing is “mere” anything. Reductionism is repudiated. More than that: there is so much life in things that we would call it “magic”.
Magic is potency, and power. But Kreeft points out that there are two very different kinds of magic – and here is one of the absolutely primary purposes of Tolkien´s entire authorship. The two magics are not just different but opposed. In fact they are at war, and our civilization is in crisis because of the war between these two kinds of magic. One kind of magic, Enchantment, is our healing, and the other – the kind exemplified by the Ring – is our destruction. In my book Karen Blixen – the Devil´s Mistress I have described this as two ways of using released collective energy:
The powers that, by realized spiritual teachers, are given to others´ disposal in healing, energy transmission and spiritual information exchange, the same powers can themselves be turned in through the Ego-structures, and therewith into past and future. In this way there can be opened creative channels, created super Egos, created political leaders and popular seducers.
This is a demonical element. This is one of the two evils of the One Ring (the other is ideology which I will return to in chapter 9, Political Philosophy, part 1: Philosophy versus Ideology).
Many gurus seem to have fallen into this temptation. In the story about the temptation in the desert, we can see these possible ways of using the energy pictured in anticipated form. Here you see the possibility of using the freedom and the power, to elevation of the Ego and the consequent power and material glory. But Jesus abstains from this deification of the Ego.
However, many false gurus have fallen for the temptation. And in the present time, where spirituality is blended with the Mythology of Authenticity - the belief in, that worship of money, success and winner-mentality, is the same as being in compliance with the universal laws - we will undoubtedly see an explosion of such super Egos – and experiences show, that the world will follow them.
In Doctor Faustus Thomas Mann describes, how the main character Adrian Leverkühn discovers and releases such collective powers and is using them to intensify his musical creativity to genius heights. He goes deliberately into a demonizing-process by making love with the whore Esmeralda, whereby he conscious catches syphilis, for then to use the inner pole-tension of this disease to heighten his creative capacity.
Afterwards the universal energy-mandala unfolds itself out through lines of genius musical works, where both those, who perform them, and those, who listen, are being catched by the magical circle.
Thomas Mann partially builds his figure on Nietzsche, and the whole of the novel is on a collective plane about, what the Germans did under The Second World War, where demonical polarized energy spread from Hitler and the secret SS-rituals.
In Adrian Leverkühn´s dialogues with the Devil are clearly seen haughtiness and superman-feeling as the motives, which control the use of the collective creative energy.
This doesn´t mean, though, that all great art is coming through because a creative person turns the collective energies in through the Ego-structures: Thomas Mann´s musical image, which intuitively and poetical seeks to understand Hitler-Germany, is for example a contra-image to Bach´s music, which toned God to honour and mankind to uplifting. To all the great works Bach added ”Soli Deo Gloria”.
If you get in contact with collective energies it is in fact a good idea to seek to express your abilities artistically, but in a way, that directs them towards the spiritual dimension. In my book on Karen Blixen I support her view that human nature is best seen in the image of an artist.
The closest Tolkien ever comes to defining Faerie is “magic”: “Faërie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic – but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician” (“On Fairy-Stories”, p. 10).
There are the two magics in a single sentence. The magic of Enchantment means, with Kreeft´s words, entering the holy city of beauty, truth, and goodness and letting it conquer you. Ultimately, it means letting God conquer you, since beauty, truth, and goodness are divine attributes; they are what God is. This is what is meant by the communicative self-forgetful view of nature. But the magic of the “laborious, scientific magician” (that is, the instrumental reason, technology, or, rather, the philosophy that makes “Man´s conquest of Nature” by technology the summon bonum) means playing God, like Sauron. It is
A magic of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents…bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form…I have not used “magic” consistently and indeed the Elven-queen Galadriel is obliged to remonstrate with the Hobbits on their confused use of the word both for the devices and operations of the Enemy, and for those of the Elves…the Elves are there [in my tales] to demonstrate the difference. Their “magic” is Art…And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation, not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation (Letters, no. 131, p. 146).
Faerian magic is the opposite of reductionism: it is creativity. It makes the world richer, it glorifies the world for beauty, it amplifies nature into art. The other magic destroys nature, reduces the world to a machine for the sake of power.
And the central symbol of The Lord of the Rings, the Ring, is precisely this second magic.
Both magics have potency. Faerian magic has internal or spiritual potency, the thing the Chinese call Chi, the power over the free human spirit of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Chi is the right that makes its own might. The other magic, manifested in both technologism and totalitarianism, has external potency, power over bodies, coercive force. It is the might that makes its own right.
Kreeft says that the conflict between these two magics, these two relationships between might and right, is the central drama of the most famous work of philosophy ever written, Plato´s Republic.
Here is the most direct sentence Tolkien ever wrote about the philosophy of The Lord of the Rings: “If I were to ‘philosophize’ this myth, or at least the Ring of Sauron, I should say it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency…has to be externalized and so as it were passes, to a greater or less degree, out of one´s direct control” (Letters, no. 211, p. 279). Surely this explains why we feel weaker and smaller than our pre-modern ancestors even while our power over nature has vastly grown.
The two magics have a number of things in common or (when misused) evil. Technology becomes evil when it is turned from a means to an end. Fantasy becomes evil when it is turned into a create-your-own-reality philosophy (New Age). The ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy, between objective and subjective reality, is the first mark of sanity, and the confusion of the two is the first and most basic mark of insanity. Neither materialism nor idealism have the ability to distinguish. In order to establish unambiguous description (and thinking) one must be able to discriminate between subject and object, dream and reality, etc. Again: I will return to this.
The two magics have something else in common: they have a common origin in the power of abstraction that makes possible the invention of the adjective, as Tolkien explains in his essay “On Fairy-Stories”:
“The human mind, endowed with the powers of generalization and abstraction, sees not only green-grass, discriminating it from other things (and finding it fair to look upon), but sees that it is green as well as being grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Faërie is more present…The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitable did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter´s power – upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our minds awakes.” (“On Fairy-Stories”, p. 22).
But though the two magics are one in their origin, they are opposite in their end. Enchantment´s end is surrender, or submission, of the soul to the beauty of nature and art. This was precisely Karen Blixen´s philosophy. She also had a theory about a cosmos who has awoken from sleep to dream:
“People who dream when they sleep at night know of a special kind of happiness which the world of the day holds not, a placid ecstasy, and ease of heart, that are like honey on the tongue. They also know that the real glory of dreams lies in their atmosphere of unlimited freedom. It is not the freedom of the dictator, who enforces his own will on the world, but the freedom of the artist, who has no will, who is free of will. The pleasure of the true dreamer does not lie in the substance of the dream, but in this: that there things happen without any interference from his side, and altogether outside his control. Great landscapes create themselves, long splendid views, rich and delicate colours, roads, houses, which he has never seen or heard of...” (from Out of Africa).
So, when Karen Blixen is talking about people as marionettes in the hands of God (nature) she is talking about the mystical experience. The good marionettes give up their will and surrender to the self-forgetful oneness with nature, and therefore the oneness with their own nature. They will be rewarded with an image of a stork (an universal image of the artwork of their life). They can see the Inner Side. The movement towards this is the Luciferian movement (which in Karen Blixen means a rebellion against any authority who tries to clip your artistic wings; that is: to block your nature as a human being). The bad marionettes fight against their nature by using their will. The movement towards this is, in Karen Blixen, the movement of the mediocre (false) Christian moral order.
Technology´s end is the conquest of nature by power. And this can be seen in their opposite relationships to time.
Kreeft says that technological magic works immediately. It attempts to reduce the gap between desire and satisfaction, to eliminate the “shadow” that falls between the potency and the act (to quote T.S. Eliott´s “The Hollow Men”). But in attacking the shadow it plunges us deeper into the shadow because time becomes more and more technologized. For the chief effect upon our lives of all those millions of time-saving devices with which technology has enriched our lives has been to destroy leisure rather than to enchance it. No one has any time anymore.
But Enchantment makes time irrelevant. The Hobbits lose track of time in Tom Bombadil´s house, as we do when we read The Lord of the Rings, or when we make love, or surf, or look at the stars.
Bad enough is the attempt to conquer nature and time by this magic. Worse still is the attempt to conquer the bodies, minds, and wills of other persons. The reason this is worse is that technology amplifies potencies, and there is little or no evil potency in nature, but much in fallen men. Kreeft explains it like this: “Technology removes the quarantine set by weakness around the disease of sin.”
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