Lumière, Odilon Redon, 1893. Lithograph, 24.6 x 17.8 in. (sheet).
In the category for Daily News on Monday, January 15, 2018, I shared a quote from Proverbs: “To answer before listening — that is folly and shame.” The folly of gossip is so ubiquitous today that we hardly think about its manifestation and consequences, but it remains a very destructive power in the emotional world of humanity. In the news and on social media, the practice of discrediting a person’s character to avoid engaging their God-given reason, arguments, and the uncomfortable truths they may be stating, often by stooping to such low forms of communication as dog-whistling and trolling the domain of their expertise, is so widespread and all-pervasive, it escapes scrutiny. But the damage to the social fabric remains and it translates easily into damaged physical environments.
What happens when we engage a person’s character, identity, or political identity instead of listening to what they have to say? We dehumanize them. It doesn’t help that every liberal institution in the West today exists for the sole purpose of pandering to identity politics, which are not only not helping create a harmonious social milieu, but in fact commit the folly of gossip in their foundational system of signification. To treat a person as a representative of their specific political group is the same as gossiping about them, answering them before we listened to them speak. This form of social interaction destroys the very origin of knowledge, intelligence, and the quality of social life, which take shape and become historical events that have the power to re-create and re-establish human reality at the very intersection between external social reality and inner reality. How did we get here?
Linguistic Transformation in Christ
To answer this question we must understand the enormous linguistic transformation Christ initiated by depositing the gospel of his life and teachings in the midst of living humanity and for the renewal of the Jewish faith. The human world does not exist in itself. It is made real by language. Linguistic features are essential not only to communication, but to the very foundations of reality, which is what makes human reality essentially different from that of other living species who may communicate, but whose reality is fully dependent on human language. Nothing more is meant when the Bible tells us that man is the ruler of the animal kingdom. Our language determines the reality of animal existence, which is why it is more imperative than ever to take care of language in order to protect animal rights. Language has a divine origin, that is to say, it takes place between individuals, between languages, and between cultures. What IS, the Jahweh of the Old Testament (I am Who I Am), has being only in language and that means between entities.
There is no reality beyond language. The pre-Christian Jews knew this to be true, which is why they based their life, culture, and traditions, in other words what makes an ethnicity, on one book, the Torah. This tradition is unprecedented and is really only seen among pre-Christian Jews and later among the Christian nations, which founded their societies on one book, the Bible. With Christ the linguistic reality principle of absolute domination of the world through language was passed onto heathen cultures. This is why different linguistic groups produce different environments. By the same token, however, all post-Christian systems based on a more diffuse form of language and on later books, like the Quran and the countless Marxist systems of organization and world order, are reduced to instrumentality, that is a closing off of language, in a sense the deadening of language, the closure of its present and its future. ONLY IN CHRIST does language remain living, forver changing, and reflective of the deepest, most profound transformations humanity undergoes, because, unlike the later examples, the Gospel represents an open linguistic system. It is wrong to understand humans as mere representatives of ethnicities, because ethnicity is subaltern, that is lacking linguistic expression, animalistic. Post-Christian systems like Islam and Marxism reduce language to an animalistic functionality and close off its divine attributes: an open future and the infinite play of the signifier between subjects it requires.
Language creates environments. Christ changed the languages of the world by introducing one basic principle: the establishment of human interiority. To be sure, the Greeks and Romans had the notion of a subject and an emotional interior, but these concepts were only made meaningful in relation to their dialectical opposite, the world of objects. Yet in Greco-Roman thought the world of objects is absolutely independent of human subjectivity. Not so in the gospel where the Word is accorded absolute primacy in the creation of human reality. In ancient Jewish and in Christian thought, interiority is purely linguistic, that is, neither object nor subject, but pure language, pure medium. As such it is absolutely protected from objectivation and understanding in human systems of knowledge and science. It is this sacredness of the interior that changed Christian languages to the core. The verb “to be” for example was suppressed in systems of knowledge and replaced with bridge structures as in the suppression of the linking grammatical structure known as copula, the verb “to be,” in the English language. The emptying of Being, Jahwen, which is inherent in the copula, is not an emptying of content, but only of the certainty of existence that is fixed in human language. In other words, God dwells between signifiers, in a rarefied state of language where it is not merely fulfilling the utilitarian functions of communication and memorization of knowledge.
Simply put, whereas pre- and post-Christian heathen systems of signification and morality are completely external and require total submission to a law that becomes reality precisely at the moment it falls to its death, language IN CHRIST refers to interior reality, which is much subtler, sophisticated, sublimated, and ultimately unavailable to vulgar linguistic structures that operate at the animalistic or instrumental level. Nothing more is meant by the final commandment to love God and one’s brethren as oneself. It bespeaks the interiorization of the law, the re-making of the law as subjectivity, the emotional substance that binds us to the world of existence and to others. The space between us is dominated by God. Reducing a human being to their political group is the equivalent of murder in God’s eyes.
Don’t live your political identity. Live your passions, the forum within that gives Christ a place to BE, and express this being in your care for your linguistic environment. It is foolishness and folly to speak before we listen, but not because Proverbs say so, rather because we thus rob ourselves of the air of love we need to live and prosper. To hear between the lines what another brethren has to say is to give them love, the love we need to breathe. For giving is receiving!
Reducing a human being to their political representation is the most malignant form of the folly of gossip. Private gossip may rob a person of their peace, but the political usurpation of their will and voice is the equivalent of social murder. Political groups are nothing more than death cults that require their members to discard their individual existence, unless they share a confession that respects the rights of the individual such as the Christian confession when it is practiced in conformity with the gospel. Even the Church has been guilty of reducing its members to political bodies at certain times in its history, but that is a separate problematic.
In the history of Christianity, gossip occupies an interesting locus for social communication. It evolved gradually from a vice, an unhealthy and destructive form of social interaction, to a sophisticated tool of verbalizing and articulating inner experience. The development of the stage monologue, for example, offered a fictitious peep into the inner world of sinners. The (early) modern stage character evolved from and inherited the characteristics of the medieval allegorical figure of vice. Bodies of work that were devoted to exploring the interior of these characters like Shakespeare’s ultimately gave rise to the now nearly extinct but once mighty and crucial to the development of the modern sciences literary canons of the the Christian vernacular languages.
In literary genres gossip is a form of knowledge. Literature elevated, purified, and sublimated gossip, which eventually gave rise to the human sciences of psychology and psychoanalysis. Today yellow press gossip still functions as a tool for the design and representation of the interior dimension of human experience in a world that doesn’t have one. In this form, gossip still serves the articulation of interiority, but it often lacks the self-awareness and sophistication of its fine literary counterparts. Much worse is the usurpation of this form of communication by external political platforms, which constitutes a regression to pre-Christian linguistic being that not only annihilates the possibility of literary expression, but also imprisons linguistic structures within structures of power. Christ liberated language from power structures, but identity politics re-root linguistic being in political power. Once the mass media degraded the literary forms of gossip to tools of political propaganda, it was forced into regression to its function of silencing the voice of the other it performed in pre-Christian times. The loss of fine literature is also a massive setback for mental health. Identity politics is a very unhealthy vice that threatens the very fabric of social harmony.
Despite the loud insistence of the mass media on dehumanizing the President of a free country, do not damage your psychological health by falling in that trap. Maintain your dignity and the dignity of the person they dehumanize. Refuse to participate, refuse folly, listen to your internal voice, and love against the odds.
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“And in the same disc of the sun shines the face of Jesus Christ,” Odilon Redon. Plate X in The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1888. Lithograph