Being British

David Myatt

David Myatt

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In the course of my somewhat idiosyncratic life I have several times been asked that particular question: what I consider being British means. As a child of the British Empire – who grew up, as a Catholic, in places as diverse as East Africa and the Far East – I can only now, in the twilight years of my life, honestly answer the question because my previous answers over decades were – or now seem to me to be – based on some believed in ideology or on some religious faith.

Which recent answer of mine, however unpopular it might currently be, is to refer the questioner to two things.

First, I refer you and them to what a member of the ‘British Establishment’ recently said at a traditional ceremony in Sandhurst:

“In the face of such challenges, Britain’s traditional qualities – fair play, civility, a sense of humour in adversity – remain as precious as they’ve always been.”

Second, I refer you and them to the book Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by Evelyn Waugh. Or, perhaps more pertinently, to the 1981 television series of the same name starring Jeremy Irons which series for me at least so captures the ethos of that novel and of what being British means and implies.

For there is in those Sandhurst remarks everything quintessentially British – fair play, civility, a sense of humour in adversity – just as in the aforementioned television series there is everything that made the British Empire what it was, despite mistakes and despite the past machinations of selfish, money-obsessed, people; despite the various past ideologies of various politicians, and despite how that Empire history has now apparently been re-interpreted for various political and/or ideological reasons.

For that Britishness – at home, overseas – was, in essence, an embodiment of manners, of a gentlemanly and lady-like way of behaving: a certain standard, and a desire to introduce others to certain cultural values and that standard of personal behaviour. As well as representing our British understated elegance of culture; our tolerant acceptance of diversity and difference; our dislike of displaying emotions in public and often in private; and a certain personal modesty. And of course not only a particular personal equation of dichotomy of belief and way of life sometimes (but not always) solved by the notion of communal duty, but also that interior doubt about (and sometimes a guilt regarding) one’s self born of a feeling that ultimately we are accountable and have obligations to our family, our culture, our faith.

Above all there is – in those Sandhurst remarks, in that novel, and that television series – a presencing of a particular wordless attitude to life such as a reading of Cicero – and an appreciation of the life and loves of Alexander the Great, of the poetry of Sappho, of the New Testament – might, in our reading of their texts in their original language, have disposed us toward. An attitude that even today is sadly not embraced – because perhaps not understood, not empathically felt – by the majority, despite a century and more of State education. Deo Gratias that such an appreciation is still taught in such schools, such places, as still revere what once was termed a ‘classical education’: a learning of Latin and Ancient Greek and hence a reading of texts and authors in their original language.

For one finds in so many classical texts excellent similes of what being ‘British’ (cultured, modest, and possessing the virtue of εὐταξία) means and implies, as in this particular example:

ἐκεῖνός γε μὴν ὑμνῶν οὔποτ ̓ ἔληγεν ὡς τοὺς θεοὺς οἴοιτο οὐδὲν ἧττον ὁσίοις ἔργοις ἢ ἁγνοῖς ἱεροῖς ἥδεσθαι ἀλλὰ μὴν καὶ ὁπότε εὐτυχοίη οὐκ ἀνθρώπων ὑπερεφρόνει ἀλλὰ θεοῖς χάριν ᾔδει καὶ θαρρῶν πλείονα ἔθυεν ἢ ὀκνῶν ηὔχετο εἴθιστο δὲ φοβούμενος μὲν ἱλαρὸς φαίνεσθαι εὐτυχῶν δὲ πρᾷος εἶναι [1]

The denotatum – British, Athenian, Ciceronian (to name but three) [2] – may over millennia change but the ethos seems to remain if only (apparently) now remembered and embodied by so few.

David Myatt
2015

Extract from a letter to a friend

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[1] Xenophon, Agesilaus, 11.2

“…this person, whom I praise, never ceased to believe that the gods delight in respectful deeds just as much as in consecrated temples, and, when blessed with success, he was never prideful but rather gave thanks to the gods. He also made more offerings to them when he was confident than supplications when he felt hesitant, and, in appearance, it was his habit to be cheerful when doubtful and mild-mannered when successful.”

[2] Editorial Note, 2018 ev: As Myatt wrote in a footnote in his book Tu Es Diaboli Ianua, he uses “the term denotatum – from the Latin, denotare – in accord with its general meaning which is to denote or to describe by an expression or a word; to name some-thing; to refer that which is so named or so denoted. Thus understood, and used as an Anglicized term, denotatum is applicable to both singular and plural instances and thus obviates the need to employ the Latin plural denotata.”

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Source:
https://web.archive.org/web/20160701124040/http://www.davidmyatt.ws/being-british.html
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Myatt: Breaking My Silence

David Myatt

David Myatt

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Editorial Note: We republish here an item by Myatt written in 2016 and which is “an extract from a letter to a friend” in which he discusses the murder of a Catholic priest in France by supporters of Daesh, aka ‘Islamic State’. The letter is interesting both for its autobiographical content, which includes discussions with Special Branch police officers, and for Myatt’s post-2010 view of Western culture and societies.

The translation of the quotation from Homer’s Odyssey is by Myatt from his translation of Books 1-3, which is available here: Myatt: Odyssey, Books 1-3.

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Breaking My Silence

As someone brought up as a Catholic, who in his early years was educated at a Catholic Preparatory School, who entered the noviciate of a Catholic monastery, and who – perhaps unusually – also some years later converted to Islam, lived for a decade as a Muslim, travelled in Muslim lands, and studied the Quran and Sunnah in Arabic, I am dismayed, unsettled, at the killing of an elderly Priest in a Church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in France by two persons who (according to information received so far) were radical Muslims and probably inspired by the Middle-Eastern group ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fil ‘Iraq wa ash-Sham, named in the lands of the West as Daesh, Isis, and ‘Islamic State’.

So dismayed, unsettled, that I have the temerity to break my self-imposed, years-long, silence regarding ‘current affairs’ and ‘current events’. For such a killing of such an elderly religious figure – taken hostage with (according to current and informed reports) two nuns during Mass – is just so dishonourable, so cowardly, that it yet again places (for me at least) into perspective “what is at stake”, remembering as I do that quotational phrase because it was said to me in 2001 by a Special Branch (SO12) British police officer shortly after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

What is at stake – as that Special Branch officer, and so many of his colleagues, intuitively knew – is the culture of the West itself, manifest as that culture is in such modern societies as those in Britain, France, and the United States, and created as such a culture has been by hundreds of years of communal and individual hardship and pathei-mathos. For the lands of such a culture are – despite their many imperfections, and in comparison to so many other non-Western lands – places of relative safety and peace and opportunity for the majority of their citizens. Places of law, and order, where so many know – and try to do – what is right, what is just, what is honourable. And places where so many other people, world-wide, hope and seek to reach and live.

Of course, such truths are not what I, personally, believed for many decades, seeking as I so often did to undermine such Western societies by political, by revolutionary, and even by terrorist, means. But as I mentioned in a fairly recent essay:

“The reality of The United States of America – in its vastness and its diversity (social, religious, racial) – is, as so discovered via my own recent pathei-mathos, so very different from the answers propagated by those who, lacking such a personal pathei-mathos extending over years of such a diverse America, personally or ideologically fixate on ‘this’ or ‘that’ perceived or even real causal personal problems as exist in a land such as America. Yet the reality of America is of many people – both in government and otherwise – who, from the best of intentions, seek and have saught to make their family, their local area, their State, their nation, a better place.” [1]

What therefore can be done, and is there as some have assumed a clash of ‘civilizations’ with “us” contrasted with “them”?

As to what can be done, my own fallible answer born as it is from some four decades of experience of extremism and pathei-mathos, is that it seems incumbent upon us to know, to remember, how and why our Western societies came into being, how and why they have been progressively reformed over a century and more, and why it is incumbent on each one of us to be prepared to do what is honourable in the immediacy of the living moment.

In this I recall what another member of SO12 said to me following my arrest in 1998 following allegations of ‘conspiracy/incitement to murder’ and ‘incitement to racial hatred’. Which was that he was simply doing his duty, in an honourable way, according to what was laid down: according to the oath of his office and thus according to the accumulated law of the land, and that it was not for him or his colleagues to judge since such judgement was the prerogative of an established Court of Law so constituted in its longevity that a fair trial was possible. He had guidelines, a supra-personal and well-established duty, while I realized I had none, having been guided for so long only by hubris.

As to whether there is a ‘clash of civilizations’, my own fallible answer is that there is not; that here, now – as so often in our human past – there is only a clash between the honourable and the dishonourable, and that while such modern societies as those in Britain, France, and the United States, are far from perfect they do often manifest for perhaps a majority what is decent, honourable, especially when compared to the majority of past societies, so that when dishonour occurs in such societies – when some dishonourable deed is done – there are usually individuals, be they Police officers, or soldiers, or journalists, or some citizen, who will seek to redress that dishonour.

For honour is only and ever honour, always the same, while the dishonourable, the cowardly, can hide behind, and have for millennia hidden behind, some cause or ideology or religion or some personal excuse that they or others have manufactured and denoted by some name. For the fault is not that of some religion named Islam; nor of some extremist version of that religion. The fault is ourselves, our human nature; our propensity – and seemingly, sometimes, our need – to be violent, to find in some cause or some ideology or some religion, an excuse for our desire, our need, to be selfish, dishonourable, violent, or establish a ‘name’ for ourselves.

What we – in societies such as those in Britain, France, and the United States – have evolved, so slowly, so painfully over a century and more are some reasonable guidelines, a sense of duty, regarding what is honourable and what is dishonourable.

As Homer declaimed well over two thousand years ago:

τὸν δ᾽ ἐπαλαστήσασα προσηύδα Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη:
‘ὢ πόποι, ἦ δὴ πολλὸν ἀποιχομένου Ὀδυσῆος
δεύῃ, ὅ κε μνηστῆρσιν ἀναιδέσι χεῖρας ἐφείη.
εἰ γὰρ νῦν ἐλθὼν δόμου ἐν πρώτῃσι θύρῃσι
σταίη, ἔχων πήληκα καὶ ἀσπίδα καὶ δύο δοῦρε [2]

David Myatt
July 26th 2016

Extract From A Letter To A Friend

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[1] In Praise Of America And Britain, 2015.

[2]

“Then Pallas Athena – angry at this – said to him:
Before the gods! How great is the need here for the absent Odysseus –
For him to set about these disrespectful ones with his fists!
Would that he would arrive at the outer gate of this dwelling
With his helmet on and holding his shield and two spears”.

Odyssey, Book I, 252-256 [Translated by DW Myatt].

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Article source:
https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/breaking-my-silence/


One Exquisite Silence

David Myatt

One Exquisite Silence
(pdf)

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This particular collection of autobiographical poems by David Myatt – first privately circulated under the name DW Myatt in 2010 and with a revised edition printed and published in 2012 under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License – was mentioned by former White House speech-writer Ben Coes in his best-selling novel Power Down. Ben Coes worked in the White House for both President Reagan and President George Bush.

The poems express a little known side of Myatt’s character, the pagan itinerant mystic whose poetry like that of many poets often expresses intensely personal feelings.

This collection of Myatt’s poetry is also available in print: DW Myatt, One Exquisite Silence, ISBN 978-1484179932.

RDM Crew
October 2018


Summer Days Walking Roads

David Myatt

David Myatt

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Herewith another autobiographical poem by David Myatt from his collection One Exquisite Silence.

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Summer Days Walking Roads

Day hides the stars that might shine tonight
As my life when the loneliness comes
Among the hills:
I have touched the joy that goes
Seeping down into darkness
Rooting my soul that thus a storm
Cannot wash it away.
Here – a smile to capture worlds
With hidden words
When I believe a night has no terrors
Like my own
And I sleep at peace
Beneath the dome of stars.

I – passing the world
The way each day passes to a week –
Shook dust from my clothes
And walked barefoot toward a village green.

It was no use –
I had only to forget to remember
The silence where I in gladness sang
Stopping those spirits who had waited by their trees
For one like me to visit them,
Again.

So I sit on the damp grass
Waiting
For a world of love.
Then, smiling, I shake away the dew
To walk barefoot across the village green.

David Myatt
1974


Related:

Only Time Has Stopped


Only Time Has Stopped

David Myatt

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The following poem by David Myatt – aka DW Myatt – is taken from his autobiographical collection titled One Exquisite Silence, available at https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/one-exquisite-silence/

This particular collection of poems by DW Myatt was mentioned by former White House speech-writer Ben Coes in the best-selling novel Power Down. Ben Coes worked in the White House for both President Reagan and President George Bush.

There may arrive a time, if our Western civilization survives – may our folk and our gods ensure it – when Myatt may well be remembered for his poetry rather than for his extremist pasts or because of allegations regarding Occult involvement.

RDM Crew
October 2018

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Only Time Has Stopped

Here I have stopped
Because only Time goes on within my dream:
Yesterday I was awoken, again,
And she held me down
With her body warmth
Until, satisfied, I went alone
Walking
And trying to remember:

A sun in a white clouded sky
Morning dawn yellow
Sways the breath that, hot, I exhale tasting of her lips.
The water has cut, deep, into
The estuary bank
And the mallard swims against the flow –
No movement, only effort.
Nearby – the foreign ship which brought me
Is held by rusty chains
Which, one day and soon
And peeling them like its paint,
Must leave.

Here I shall begin again
Because Time, at last, has stopped
Since I have remembered the dark ecstasy
Which brought that war-seeking Dream

David Myatt
1978


Myatt: Expiation And Penance

David Myatt

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In Defence Of The Catholic Church
Part Two: Expiation And Penance

Two of the guiding practical principles of living as a Roman Catholic seem to me, on the basis of personal experience and fallible understanding, to be expiation and penance, related as they are to what was termed the Sacrament of Confession – now re-named the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation – and thence related to one of the founding principles of the Roman Catholic Church: that an ordained Priest has the religious authority [1] to give absolution for the “sins” [2] a person has committed, and the authority to specify what penance is required for expiation, but which absolution is dependant on the person making a full and truthful confession and being repentant.

Such personal confession, penance, and expiation, are evidential of how a practising Catholic interacts with the Divine and is thus personally reminded of what is spiritual, eternal, numinous, and beyond the causal everyday world. As I wrote in my essay Numinous Expiation,

“One of the many problems regarding both The Numinous Way and my own past which troubles me – and has troubled me for a while – is how can a person make reparation for suffering caused, inflicted, and/or dishonourable deeds done […]

One of the many benefits of an organized theistic religion, such as Christianity or Islam or Judaism, is that mechanisms of personal expiation exist whereby such feelings can be placed in context and expiated by appeals to the supreme deity. In Judaism, there is Teshuvah culminating in Yom Kippur, the day of expiation/reconciliation. In Catholicism, there is the sacrament of confession and penance. In Islam, there is personal dua to, and reliance on, Allah Ar-Rahman, Ar-Raheem, As-Salaam.

Even pagan religions and ways had mechanisms of personal expiation for wrong deeds done, often in the form of propitiation; the offering of a sacrifice, perhaps, or compensation by the giving or the leaving of a valuable gift or votive offering at some numinous – some sacred and venerated – place or site.” [3]

This personal – and via the Confessional, this priestly – connexion to the Divine, with the attendant penitence, penance, personal expiation, seems to me to have been somewhat neglected when non-Catholics, and even some Catholics criticize the Roman Catholic Church for their past response to those accused of placing their personal (often sexual) desires before compassion, empathy, and humility.

That is, such criticism is secular; based on what is temporal, causal, such as some secular law or some personal emotive reaction, with the spiritual – the eternal – dimension to mortal life unconsidered. Which spiritual dimension is for Catholics based on allowing for personal expiation by spiritual means such as confession, penitence, and penance.

This allowance for such personal expiation by such spiritual means is what, according to my fallible understanding, informed the treatment by the Catholic hierarchy of many of those accused of placing their personal desires before obedience to their God.

For judgement according to such a spiritual dimension was, rightly or wrongly, often considered more important than secular recompense and secular punishment. Understood thus, there were no – to use a vernacular term – “cover-ups”, just the application of certain spiritual considerations, considerations which are the foundations of the Catholic faith based as such considerations are on the belief in the Eternal Life – in Heaven or in Hell – which awaits all mortals, one portal to such an Eternal Life in Heaven being, according to Catholic faith, the sacrament of confession.

Another aspect of this Catholic priority of the spiritual over the secular is the sanctity (the seal) of the confessional and which sanctity is adjudged to be more important than secular laws relating, for example, to disclosure of or information regarding actions deemed to be criminal.

            As for my personal opinions on the matter, I have none, for who am I – with my decades of hubris, my knowledge of my plenitude of mistakes – to judge others, to judge anyone? I have tried to rationally understand both the secular and the spiritual dimensions involved, having personal experience of both, and as so often these days remain somewhat perplexed by our human nature and by the need so many humans, myself included, still have for a belief in a spiritual dimension whereby we can connect ourselves to the numinous, to the Divine – however the Divine is presenced to and in us – enabling us to perhaps find some peace, some happiness, some solace, some answers, among the turmoil, the suffering, the changement, of the secular world.

My portal to the spiritual remains ‘the way of pathei-mathos’, the way of striving to cultivate, striving to live by, the virtues of humility, empathy, compassion, honour, non-interference, and self-restraint. A very individual way devoid of mythoi and anthropomorphic deities.

Perhaps it would be easier to believe in God, to accept again the Catholic expiation of the sacraments of Confession and the Mass. It would perhaps be even easier to accept some tangible votive wordless means in the form of offering some paganus propitiation, some libation, some talismata left, at some numinous paganus site.

But as Aeschylus so well-expressed it,

ἔστι δ᾽ ὅπη νῦν
ἔστι: τελεῖται δ᾽ ἐς τὸ πεπρωμένον:
οὔθ᾽ ὑποκαίων οὔθ᾽ ὑπολείβων
οὔτε δακρύων ἀπύρων ἱερῶν
ὀργὰς ἀτενεῖς παραθέλξει [4]

What is now, came to be
As it came to be. And its ending has been ordained.
No concealed laments, no concealed libations,
No unburnt offering
Can charm away that firm resolve.

Which type of sentiment I feel philosophers such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius also saught to express.

David Myatt
4.x.18

In Defence Of The Roman Catholic Church, Part One

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[1] Qv. John 20:22-23,

λάβετε πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἄν τινων ἀφῆτε τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἀφέωνται αὐτοῖς ἄν τινων κρατῆτε κεκράτηνται

Receive Halig Spiritus: if you release anyone from their errors, they are released; if you hold onto them, they are held onto.

In regard to the term Spiritus in my commentary on John 1:31, I wrote:

τὸ πνεῦμα. Almost without exception, since Wycliffe’s Bible the Greek here has been translated as “the spirit”, although the ASV [the Anglo-Saxon Version] has gast (gast of heofenum), whence the later English word ‘ghost’. However, given what the terms ‘spirit’ and ‘ghost’ – both in common usage, and as a result of over a thousand years of Christian exegesis – now impute, it is apposite to offer an alternative and one which is germane to the milieu of the Gospels or which at least suggests something of the numinosity presenced, in this instance, via the Gospel of John. Given that the transliteration pnuema – with its modern association with terms such as pneumatic – does not unequivocally suggest the numinous, I have chosen spiritus, as referenced in respect of gast in Wright’s Anglo-Saxon And Old English Vocabularies.

In regard to the translation Halig Spiritus in my commentary on John 5:33, I wrote:

I have here used the Old English word Halig – as for example found in the version of John 17.11 in the Lindisfarne Gospel, ‘Du halig fæder’ – to translate ἅγιος rather than the later word ‘holy’ derived as that is from halig and used as it was by Wycliffe in his 1389 translation of this phrase, “in the Hooly Gost”, which itself echoes the ASV, “on Halgum Gaste.”

The unique phrase in Halig Spiritus – in place of the conventional ‘with the Holy Spirit’ – may thus express something of the numinosity, and the newness, of the original Gospel, especially as the word ‘holy’ has been much overused, imputes particular meanings from over a thousand years of exegesis, and, latterly in common parlance, has become somewhat trivialized.

[2] As I have noted in several essays, and in my translation of the Gospel of John, I prefer to translate the Greek term ἁμαρτία not by the conventional ‘sin’ but rather by ‘error’ or ‘mistake’. As I wrote in the essay Exegesis and Translation,

One of the prevalent English words used in translations of the New Testament, and one of the words now commonly associated with revealed religions such as Christianity and Islam, is sin. A word which now imputes and for centuries has imputed a particular and at times somewhat strident if not harsh moral attitude, with sinners starkly contrasted with the righteous, the saved, and with sin, what is evil, what is perverse, to be shunned and shudderingly avoided.

One of the oldest usages of the word sin – so far discovered – is in the c. 880 CE translation of the c. 525 CE text Consolatio Philosophiae, a translation attributed to King Ælfred. Here, the Old English spelling of syn is used:

Þæt is swiðe dyslic & swiðe micel syn þæt mon þæs wenan scyle be Gode

The context of the original Latin of Boethius is cogitare, in relation to a dialogue about goodness and God, so that the sense of the Latin is that it is incorrect – an error, wrong – to postulate/claim/believe certain things about God. There is thus here, in Boethius, as in early English texts such as Beowulf, the sense of doing what was wrong, of committing an error, of making a mistake, of being at fault; at most of overstepping the bounds, of transgressing limits imposed by others, and thus being ‘guilty’ of such an infraction, a sense which the suggested etymology of the word syn implies: from the Latin sons, sontis.

Thus, this early usage of the English word syn seems to impart a sense somewhat different from what we now associate with the word sin, which is why in my translation of John, 8.7, I eschewed that much overused and pejorative word in order to try and convey something of the numinous original:

So, as they continued to ask [for an answer] he straightened himself, saying to them: “Let he who has never made a mistake [ Αναμαρτητος ] throw the first stone at her.”

ὡς δὲ ἐπέμενον ἐρωτῶντες αὐτόν, ἀνέκυψεν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· ὁ ἀναμάρτητος ὑμῶν πρῶτος ἐπ’ αὐτὴν βαλέτω λίθον.

Jesus here is not, in my view, sermonizing about sin, as a puritan preacher might, and as if he is morally superior to and has judged the sinners. Instead, he is rather gently and as a human pointing out an obvious truth about our human nature; explaining, in v.11, that he has not judged her conduct:

ἡ δὲ εἶπεν· οὐδείς, κύριε. εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· οὐδὲ ἐγώ σε κατακρίνω· πορεύου, ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μηκέτι ἁμάρτανε

[And] she answered, No one, my Lord. Whereupon Jesus replied “Neither do I judge [κατακρίνω] you, therefore go, and avoid errors such as those.”

The essay is available at https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/exegesis-and-translation/ and was included as an Appendix to my Mercvrii Trismegisti Pymander (ISBN 978-1495470684)

[3] The essay is available at https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/numinous-expiation/

[4] Agamemnon, 67-71

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All translations by DWM


Source: https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/expiation-and-penance/


Suffering And The Human Culture Of Pathei Mathos

David Myatt

David Myatt

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Editorial Note: This substantially revised version of an essay written by David Myatt in 2013 was included as an appendix to his 2017 monograph Tu Es Diaboli Ianua: Christianity, The Johannine Weltanschauung, And Presencing The Numinous. {1}

It is interesting because it brings together his new philosophy of pathei-mathos (that is, his revised numinous way) – and his own learning from experience – with his life-long interest in the exploration and colonization of Outer Space. As he wrote way back in the 1980s,

“It is the vision of a Galactic Empire which runs through my past political life just as it is the quest to find and understand our human identity, and my own identity, and our relation to Nature, which runs through my personal and spiritual life, giving me the two aims which I consistently pursued since I was about thirteen years of age, regardless of where I was, what I was doing and how I was described by others or even by myself.”

RDM Crew
September 2018 ev

{1} The 45 page monograph is available both in printed format – ISBN 978-1982010935 – and as a gratis open access (pdf) document here: https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/2017/12/23/tu-es-diaboli-ianua/

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Suffering And The Human Culture Of Pathei-Mathos
Extract From A Letter To A Personal Correspondent

            In respect of the question whether I am optimistic about our future as a species, I vacillate between optimism and pessimism, knowing as I – and so many – do from experience that the world contains people who do good things [1], people who do bad things, and people who when influenced or led or swayed by some-thing or someone can veer either way; and given that it seems as if in each generation there are those – many – who have not learned or who cannot learn from the pathei-mathos of previous generations, from our collective human πάθει μάθος that has brought-into-being a culture of pathei-mathos thousands of years old. Historically – prior to, during after the time of Cicero, and over a thousand years later during and after the European Renaissance – this culture was evident in Studia Humanitatis, and is now presenced in works inspired by or recollecting personal pathei-mathos and described in memoirs, aural stories, and historical accounts; in particular works of literature, poetry, and drama; in non-verbal mediums such as music and Art, and by art-forms such as films and documentaries.

This culture of pathei-mathos reveals to us the beauty, the numinosity, of personal love; the numinosity of humility, and compassion; and the tragic lamentable unnecessary suffering caused by hubris, dishonour, selfishness, inconsiderance, intolerance, prejudice, hatred, war, extremism, and ideologies [2]. A world-wide suffering so evident, today, for example in the treatment of and the violence (by men) toward women; in the continuing armed conflicts – regional and local, over some-thing – that displace tens of thousands of people and cause destruction, injury, and hundreds of thousands of deaths; and evident also in the killing of innocent people [3] by those who adhere to a harsh interpretation of some religion or some political ideology.

Do good people, world-wide, outweigh bad ones? My experiences and travels incline me to believe they may do, although it seems as if the damage the bad ones do, the suffering they cause, sometimes and for a while outweighs the good that others do. But does the good done, in societies world-wide, now outweigh the bad done, especially such large-scale suffering as is caused by despots, corruption, armed conflict, and repressive regimes? Probably, at least in some societies. And yet even in such societies where, for example, education is widespread, there always seem to be selfish, dishonourable, inconsiderate, people; and also people such as the extremist I was with my hubriatic certitude-of-knowing inciting or causing hatred and violence and intolerance and glorifying war and kampf and trying to justify killing in the name of some abstraction or some belief or some cause or some ideology. People mostly, it seems, immune to and/or intolerant of the learning of the culture of pathei-mathos; a learning available to us in literature, music, Art, memoirs, in the aural and written recollections of those who endured or who witnessed hatred, violence, intolerance, conflict, war, and killing, and a learning also available in the spiritual message of those who taught humility, goodness, love, and tolerance. Immune or intolerant people who apparently can only change – or who could only possibly change for the better – only when they themselves are afflicted by such vicissitudes, such personal misfortune and suffering, as is the genesis of their own pathei-mathos.

Thus, and for example, in Europe there is the specific pathei-mathos that the First and the Second World Wars wrought. A collective learning regarding the destruction, the suffering, the brutality, the horror, of wars where wrakeful machines and mass manufactured weapons played a significant role.

All this, while sad, is perhaps the result of our basic human nature; for we are jumelle, and not only because we are “deathful of body yet deathless the inner mortal” [4] but also because it seems to me that what is good and bad resides in us all [5], nascent or alive or as part of our personal past, and that it is just so easy, so tempting, so enjoyable, sometimes, to indulge in, to do, what is bad, and often harder for us to do what is right. Furthermore, we do seem to have a tendency – or perhaps a need – to ascribe what is bad to being ‘out there’, in something abstract or in others while neglecting or not perceiving our own faults and mistakes and while asserting or believing that we, and those similar to us or who we are in agreement with, are right and thus have the ‘correct’, the righteous, answers. Thus it is often easier to find what is bad ‘out there’ rather than within ourselves; easier to hate than to love, especially as a hatred of impersonal others sometimes affords us a reassuring sense of identity and a sense of being ‘better’ than those others.

Will it therefore require another thousand, or two thousand, or three thousand years – or more or less millennia – before we human beings en masse, world-wide, are empathic, tolerant, kind, and honourable? Is such a basic change in our nature even possible? Certainly there are some – and not only ideologues of one kind or another – who would argue and who have argued that such a change is not desirable. And is such a change in our nature contingent, as I incline to believe, upon the fair allocation of world resources and solving problems such as hunger and poverty and preventing preventable diseases? Furthermore, how can or could or should such a basic change be brought about – through an organized religion or religions, or through individual governments and their laws and their social and political and economic and educational policies, or through a collocation of governments, world-wide; or through individuals reforming themselves and personally educating others by means of, for example, the common culture of pathei-mathos which all humans share and which all human societies have contributed to for thousands of years? Which leads us on to questions regarding dogma, faith, and dissent; and to questions regarding government and compulsion and ‘crime and punishment’ and whether or not ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’; and also to questions regarding the efficacy of the reforming, spiritual, personal way given that spiritual ways teaching love, tolerance, humility, and compassion – and virtuous as they are, and alleviating and preventing suffering as they surely have – have not after several thousand years effected such a change in humans en masse.

I have to admit that I have no definitive or satisfactory answers to all these, and similar, questions; although my own pathei-mathos – and my lamentable four-decade long experience as an extremist, an ideologue, and as a selfish opinionated inconsiderate person – incline me to prefer the reforming, spiritual, personal way since I feel that such an approach, involving as it does a personal study of, a personal transmission of, the culture of pathei-mathos – and a personal knowing and a living of the humility that the culture of pathei-mathos teaches – is a way that does not cause nor contribute to the suffering that still so blights this world. A personal preference for such a numinous way even though I am aware of three things: of my past propensity to be wrong and thus of the necessary fallible nature of my answers; of the limited nature and thus the long time-scale (of many millennia) that such a way implies; and that it is possible, albeit improbable except in Science Fiction, that good people of honourable intentions may some day find a non-suffering-causing way by which governments or society or perhaps some new form of governance may in some manner bring about that change, en masse, in our human nature required to evolve us into individuals of empathy, compassion, and honour, who thus have something akin to a ‘prime directive’ to guide them in their dealings with those who are different, in whatever way, from ourselves.

            Were I to daydream about some future time when such a galactic ‘prime directive’ exists, directing we spacefaring humans not to interfere in the internal affairs of non-terrans who are different, in whatever way, from ourselves, then I would be inclined to speculate that unless we by then have fundamentally and irretrievably changed ourselves for the better then it would not be long before some human or some human authority, somewhere, manufactured some sly excuse to order to try and justify ignoring it. For that is what we have done, among ourselves, for thousands of years; making then breaking some treaty or other; making some excuse to plunder resources; having some legal institution change some existing law or make some new law to give us the ‘right’ to do what it is we want to do; or manufacture some new legislative or governing body in order to ‘legalize’ what we do or have already done. Always using a plethora of words – and, latterly, legalese – to persuade others, and often ourselves, that what we do or are about to do or have already done is justified, justifiable, necessary, or right.

Perhaps the future excuse to so interfere contrary to a prime directive would be the familiar one of ‘our security’; perhaps it would be an economic one of needing to exploit ‘their’ resources; perhaps it would be one regarding the threat of ‘terrorism’; perhaps it would be the ancient human one, hallowed by so much blood, of ‘our’ assumed superiority, of ‘their system’ being ‘repressive’ or ‘undemocratic’ or of they – those ‘others’ – being ‘backward’ or ‘uncivilized’ and in need of being enlightened and ‘re-educated’ by our ‘progressive’ ideas. Or, more probable, it would be some new standard or some new fashionable political or social or even religious dogma by which we commend ourselves on our progress and which we use, consciously or otherwise, to judge others by.

The current reality is that even if we had or soon established a terran ‘prime directive’ directing we humans not to interfere in the internal affairs of other humans here on Earth who are different, in whatever way, from ourselves, it is fairly certain it “would not be long before some human or some human authority, somewhere, manufactured some sly excuse to order to try and justify ignoring it…”

            Which mention of a terran ‘prime directive’ leads to two of the other questions which cause me to vacillate between optimism and pessimism in regard to our future as a species. The question of increasing population, and the question of the finite resources of this Earth. Which suggests to me, as some others, that – especially as the majority of people now live in urban areas – a noble option is for us, as a species, to cooperate and betake ourselves to colonize our Moon, then Mars, and seek to develope such technology as would take us beyond our Solar System. For if we do not do this then the result would most probably be, at some future time, increasing conflict over land and resources, mass migrations (probably resulting in more conflict) and such governments or authorities as then exist forced by economic circumstance to adopt policies to reduce or limit their own population. Global problems probably exasperated still further by the detrimental changes that available evidence indicates could possibly result from what has been termed ‘climate change’ [6].

But is the beginning of this noble option of space colonization viable in the near future? Possibly not, given that the few countries that have the resources, the space expertise and the technology necessary – and the means to develope existing space technology – do not consider such exploration and colonization as a priority, existing as they seem to do in a world where nation-States still compete for influence and power and where conflict – armed, deadly, and otherwise – is still regarded as a viable solution to problems.

Which leads we human beings, with our jumelle character, confined to this small planet we call Earth, possibly continuing as we have, for millennia, continued: a quarrelsome species, often engaged (like primates) in minor territorial disputes; in our majority unempathic; often inconsiderate, often prejudiced (even though we like to believe otherwise); often inclined to place our self-interest and our pleasure first; often prone to being manipulated or to manipulating others; often addicted to the slyness of words spoken and written and heard and read; often believing ‘we’ are better than ‘them’; and fighting, raping, hating, killing, invading here, interfering there. And beset by the problems wrought by increasing population, by dwindling resources, by mass migrations, by continuing armed conflicts (regional, local, supranational, over some-thing) and possibly also affected by the effects of climate change.

Yet also, sometimes despite ourselves, we are beings capable of – and have shown over millennia – compassion, kindness, gentleness, tolerance, love, fairness, reason, and a valourous self-sacrifice that is and has been inspirational. But perhaps above all we have, in our majority, exuded and kept and replenished the virtue of hope; hoping, dreaming, of better times, a better future, sometime, somewhere – and not, as it happens, for ourselves but for our children and their children and the future generations yet to be born. And it is this hope that changes us, and has changed us, for the better, as our human culture of pathei-mathos so eloquently, so numinously, and so tragically, reveals.

Thus the question seems to be whether we still have hope enough, dreams enough, nobility enough, and can find some way to change ourselves, to thus bring a better – a more fairer, more just, more compassionate – future into-being without causing or contributing to the suffering which so blights, and which has so blighted, our existence on Earth.

Personally, I am inclined to wonder if the way we need – the hope, the dream, we need – is that of setting forth to explore and colonize our Moon, then Mars, and then the worlds beyond our Solar System, guided by a prime directive.

David Myatt
2013
Revised 2017

Notes

[1] I understand ‘the good’ as what alleviates or does not cause suffering; what is compassionate; what is honourable; what is reasoned and balanced. Honour being here, and elsewhere in my recent writings, understood as the instinct for and an adherence to what is fair, dignified, and valourous.

[2] I have expanded, a little, on what I mean by ‘the culture of pathei-mathos’ in my tract Questions of Good, Evil, Honour, and God.

[3] As defined by my ‘philosophy of pathei-mathos’, I understand innocence as “an attribute of those who, being personally unknown to us, are therefore unjudged us by and who thus are given the benefit of the doubt. For this presumption of innocence of others – until direct personal experience, and individual and empathic knowing of them, prove otherwise – is the fair, the reasoned, the numinous, the human, thing to do. Empathy and πάθει μάθος incline us toward treating other human beings as we ourselves would wish to be treated; that is they incline us toward fairness, toward self-restraint, toward being well-mannered, and toward an appreciation and understanding of innocence.”

[4] Pœmandres (Corpus Hermeticum), 15 – διὰ τοῦτο παρὰ πάντα τὰ ἐπὶ γῆς ζῷα διπλοῦς ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος

As I noted in my translation of and commentary on the Pœmandres tract,

“Jumelle. For διπλοῦς. The much underused and descriptive English word jumelle – from the Latin gemellus – describes some-thing made in, or composed of, two parts, and is therefore most suitable here, more so than common words such as ‘double’ or twofold.”

[5] qv. Sophocles, Antigone, v.334, vv.365-366

πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει…
σοφόν τι τὸ μηχανόεν τέχνας ὑπὲρ ἐλπίδ᾽ ἔχων
τοτὲ μὲν κακόν, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἐσθλὸν ἕρπει

There exists much that is strange, yet nothing
Has more strangeness than a human being…
Beyond his own hopes, his cunning
In inventive arts – he who arrives
Now with dishonour, then with chivalry

[6] Many people have a view about ‘climate change’ – for or against – for a variety of reasons. My own view is that the scientific evidence available at the moment seems to indicate that there is a change resulting from human activity and that this change could possibility be detrimental, in certain ways, to us and to the other life with which we share this planet. The expressions ‘seems to indicate’ and ‘could possibly be’ are necessary given that this view of mine might need to be, and should be, reassessed if and when new evidence or facts become available.

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