I See Windmills by the Sands of the Seashore

Okay, this one is from my journal, 4/22/99... Gee, what can I say? The I Ching, slide rules, William Burroughs, a vision of the year 2040, and why you should never buy into the straitjacket bourgeois ideals of modern liberal man in his respectable grey suit and tie...

"The lock upon my garden gate's a snail, that's what it is... First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is..." You can take the boy out of the Sixties, but you can't take the Sixties out of the boy...

Grey, rainy day out. Think there were thunderstorms last night. I have absolutely nothing on my schedule for the day, so I may or may not get out. This may be just a day for taking it easy.

While out briefly yesterday at Half Price East, I noticed they now have a couple of copies of that book I saw a few months back at Half Price West-- by some prof at Drew Div School, The I Ching for Christians or whatnot. I am now sorta wishing I'd picked it up yesterday, as it would have saved me a trip back. I don't think the book is anything very great, it wouldn't be worth a trip back over to the West Side in any event. But if it's available now on the East Side, and at $5 in hardcover yet, then it may be worth picking it up, if only as a curiosity.

Actually, if you want a Christian take on the I Ching, I suppose the classic Wilhelm/Baynes translation would be as good as anything (and see also Wilhelm & son in Understanding the I Ching)-- Richard Wilhelm was, after all, a Lutheran minister, of the "liberal turn of the century German high culture" variety, and he does succeed admirably in bridging the culture gap between the ancient East and the twentieth century West. Better by far than most who have translated or commented on the I Ching! And better than this prof at Drew, who I gather doesn't get far beyond playing connect-a-dot between the I Ching on the one hand, and postmodernism, process thought, and the multicult on the other. In other words, if he bridges the gap to anything Western, it is only that portion of the West known as the academy. Whereas Wilhelm builds a much broader, richer, stronger bridge.

But such are the characteristic shortcomings of our world in these Nineties! Where Wilhelm found an arena for wisdom, today's academic finds only a playpen for passing fads and trends.

I was fiddling around some more this morning with my K+E slide rule, to which I am becoming more and more attached. I am now faced with the decision of whether to clean and oil its leather case, which clearly could use a cleaning, and I fear also that the hinged leather flap on top will deteriorate without treatment of some sort. Well, I'd better look before I leap, and as the old medical saying has it, "Do no harm." My attempt to remove that penned-on name from the Lutz slide rule leather case with petroleum jelly did no lasting harm, but neither did it succeed. If I'm going to use saddle soap, Venetian cream, or whatever on the K+E case, I'd better think very, very carefully before I act.

Further insights continue to come to me through that slide rule. Just yesterday it dawned on me how to calculate accurate cosines for smaller angles. Of course, for larger angles, you just use the red complementary angles on the S scale, and read off the answer on the D scale. But this is not very helpful for angles of, say, less than 30 or 40 degrees. Well, turns out that if you use the black (regular) angles on the S scale, you can read off the sine squared on the A scale, then figure one minus the sine squared, which you can locate on the LL0 or LL00 scale, where you can take the square root by raising to the 0.5 power. Lo and behold! The cosine! And to as close an accuracy as can be achieved using a slide rule.

Once I get moved in, I'm planning to keep my fairly large collection of books by and about the Beat Generation in some remote part of the house-- such as, in my bedroom upstairs! Gee, that would be all I'd need-- somebody randomly pulling off the shelf my copy of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch!

For that matter, you can find some fairly "raw" scenes in some of my science fiction paperbacks, though you'd really have to hunt. This was a fact I was conscious of way back in my high school years, when my SF books occupied that wire rack hung on the wall between two windows in my bedroom at Poynette. Still, those books sat there for years, including most of my time away at college, and I don't know that they were ever noticed.

In whichever room upstairs is not my bedroom at New Albin, I plan to have one bookcase for science fiction, and another for all my game books.

Am I going to have enough bookcases, even after Dad and I picked up those six large ones out at Shopko yesterday? Well, I don't know. I guess if not, I can always head out to La Crosse, and pick up what I need.

That Steiner book [The Origins of Natural Science] has me thinking. If only you excise from it a few of the sillier "Steinerian" passages, it actually reads like an intelligent book on the intellectual history of modern science. And, what's more, the book thus redacted is right on the wavelength I've been on in this season of unemployment! Well, I don't know quite what to make of that. I would not want to be known as a Steinerian. But as they say, "Truth is wherever you find it"-- something I've always strongly believed, ever since back in my late teens I first became aware of the deep flaws in modern Western thinking.

Odd-- I was one of the very few people I've ever known, who has been able to "see" these flaws. And for all the change and development my thinking has undergone over the past 25 years, I can't say that on this particular question my thinking has undergone any great shift. I used to call the Enlightenment the "Endarkenment"-- an appellation I still think fits. I remember sitting there in my dorm room in college, pondering the tremendous, immovable, self-satisfied certainties of good modern liberal Western thought-- which often seemed to me like a mixture of settled, heavy-jowled intellectual prejudice, and tortuous rationalization, all in the service of confining our thoughts and our feelings oh so carefully within the tight, rigid confines of modern, "respectable" secularity. "Mantoday can believe..." "Mantoday cannot believe..." "Mantoday can no longer believe..." Language like this, I came to see as a preface to cant.

And on that point, I see things the same today as I did back when I was eighteen. When some respectable, grey-suited authority figure tells you, with an air of unchallengeable, vaguely intimidating self-certainty, that certain ideas or beliefs or attitudes can "no longer" be entertained, for hand-waving reasons which are promised but never delivered... watch out! God, how often I encountered that kind of approach in the academic world! And how unwavering I was in my opposition to it! Very odd, when you consider how completely isolated I was in my opposition. I was very nearly Athanasius contra mundum. Yet I stood firm.

I thought then, as I still think today, that when you meet with this line of patter, you are meeting with the "early warning defense system" of modern Western secular culture, in all its incoherent mixture of relativism and self-certainty. If anything has changed since the Paul Burgess of 1974 pondered these matters in his college dorm room, it is that cracks have appeared in the granite edifice of this very selfsame secular modernity.

In 1999, unlike in 1974, the striding Goliath of unquestionable Enlightenment scientism and rationalism, of settled bourgeois secularity, of relative absolutism and absolute relativism, of "Oh come now!" in defensive reaction to all rumors of transcendence-- this walking giant appears today to be very vulnerable indeed, and moreover he is stumbling. Five smooth stones and a sling may in truth be all it takes to bring him down.

Not that I am very pleased with many of those who are rejoicing at his impending fall. Deconstructionists are a cure worse than the disease. Postmodernists, when you can pin them down, are seldom much better. And New Agers, for all their dewy-eyed good intentions, are nothing more or less than what Spengler called Second Religiousness-- one more symptom of civilization in decline. I feel like siccing Kierkegaard on them.

But cultural sea changes take time. Over the past 25 years, I have been privileged to have a ringside seat to what I truly believe is a cultural shift the likes of which we have not witnessed since the time of the Renaissance. We have witnessed only the first stages of it. God willing, I may live to see it carry itself through. I may live to see the next phase in place, and up and running.

I doubt I will be wholly pleased with the outcome. Who ever is? But I do trust that "wiser heads will prevail," whatever that means. Yes, I could sketch what I think our culture might be like, another forty years down the road. As with all such sketches, the picture would be fairly impressionistic, and there would be a good deal of guesswork involved. But I think I have at least some limping idea of where we are going, and I think it is going to look very little like the much-touted "postmodernism," very little like the much-ballyhooed dreams of today's cynical, entrenched Sixties leftovers.

I see windmills by the sands of the seashore. And I see men wearing leather skullcaps. And I see a dog trotting on ahead of the horses in harness, as they plow a straight furrow in the fields. I see an old man at his prayers, an open book on his lap. And I see bags of rice, burlap bags, being unloaded from a three-masted ship down at the docks. I see a woman talking with something that is neither mechanical nor organic, as in an earlier age you might have consulted your slide rule. And I see the sun rising in the east, rising upon a world where political correctness and ideologies of slaughter in the name of justice are dead, as dead as the Marxism that begot them, vanished away like the mercantilism or the water monopolies of old. I see a world where the age-old task of philosophy is once again to understand the world, and not to change it; to appreciate the world, and not to circumscribe it. And I see a world where idolatries of chrome and ugly concrete are left to crumble away, and people are content to let God be God.