What’s Wrong with the World

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The things which belong unto thy peace

And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation."

We humans usually don't know what's good for us. Jesus addressed the City of Peace and said that its inhabitants would not know the things that belonged unto their peace.

It is often said by conservatives, and rightly, that ideology is a great danger. The ideologue gets hold of one truth and makes it into the only truth, the only thing that matters. He sacrifices all else to that one thing. That one ideal might be equality, beauty, health, or love, but when one makes second things first, the second things always turn vicious, and horrors follow.

But there is another point, compatible with that point, that must be made too: When second things are made first, they destroy themselves. The ideologue does not even know what is best for the ideal he professes.

Take love, for instance...

It's been said times without number that the sexual revolution wasn't really about love. But there were people who thought it was. If you had told them that the revolution they were founding would ultimately destroy love, even romantic love, even sexual love, they would not have listened. They would not have believed. Yet it was true, as numerous broken-hearted, broken-bodied men and women, men and women who have tried sex without honor can attest.

And now, in this our day, health is another god, another second thing made first. In the name of health we harvest the dead, we destroy embryos, our scientists promise us cures of all diseases if only we will dispense with ethical limitations on research. They are wrong, of course, and much of the promise is hype. But beyond that, we are in the process of losing all sense of what actually constitutes health. Doctors are under pressure to cooperate in the destruction of unborn infants as part of their profession. How is that serving health? Suicide on demand, for any reason whatsoever, assisted by doctors, is all the rage. What does that have to do with the medical profession's job of helping people to be healthy? Yet restless people whose relatives have had trouble finding people to cooperate in their suicide would actually like writing suicide prescriptions to be mandatory upon doctors. Bodily mutilation of healthy limbs is being considered as a "treatment." This is not serving bodily health and integrity.

In other words, the utilitarian attempt to elevate health as a good above innocent human life and above all ethical restraints has turned out to be profoundly anti-human and, consequently, is undermining the medical profession and the very notion of health itself.

If human beings knew the things that belong to their peace, then their perception of some good--love, health, beauty--would guide them to do the right thing. But they don't. They never seem to see it coming--the self-destructiveness of topsy-turvy priorities. They never seem to realize that when second things are made first, you end up with nothing, not even the second things.

It is time to ask ourselves what things belong to our peace. If we believe in healthy bodies, love, beauty, and human joy, we cannot serve these things best by treating the human body as mere matter. We will lose it all, and our house will be left unto us desolate.

Comments (8)

Good post Lydia, and especially interesting because it highlights (what seems to me at least) to be the main philosophical impetus behind the disturbing trends you mention: misconception of the Good. When humans lose sight of the True Good, as we have done by and large, secondary goods are held up as ends in themselves, without reference to the hierarchy in which they exist or the ends which they serve. And as you said, that always ends up badly.

"...but when one makes second things first, the second things always turn vicious, and horrors follow...

Aren't those horrors here now? In truth, we know little about "love, beauty, and human joy," not the understanding of them as Christ wishes for us to have of them. You're being kind in writing that we make the 'second things first.' From what I see and read everyday, too many of us settle for far less than even 'second.' I think that when we begin to perceive ourselves as no more than 'mere matter,' then nothing but mere matter is what we become.

I stumbled onto this site, but hope you've cross-posted this elsewhere. Everywhere you can.

Today, obesity is seen as a bigger moral issue than abortion.

Second things first, indeed.

Well said, Lydia.

I mourn the loss of holiness that once invested everyday life in many small ways. The sense that there is a sacredness to marriage, to pregnant women and babies (the deference once paid), the idea that the old and infirm deserved special consideration, and that life, at its core, was holy.

Not that these were universally practiced and everyone acted virtuously, but in general, lip service was paid, men often behaved gentlemanly, children respected authority, and there was a general fear of God. Good manners were a part of it, knowing that they facilitated peace, and that others mattered.

I miss the basic acceptance of most people that there was a God and the rules were good for us; they made us better people.

What I find a little surprising is how quickly we've gone from "no God" to "man is just a bunch of molecules." Virtuous pagan Platonism doesn't seem to hold any attractions for the modern mind. And once one goes to straight materialism, ethics is doomed. And a genuine sense of normative notions like health as well. I've realized.

Although few would disagree that "health" is a worthy goal, many define it in terms that predispose a descent to the horrors described. Increasingly, health is understood as the mere absence of pain, morbidity, and disability. This purely negative definition is the essence of veterinary medicine and necessarily leads to a utilitarian manipulation of the body when applied to humans. Any intervention that lessens corporeal suffering, including mental, beneficently contributes to health. In this materialist conception, the consequences for one's patient ends with the patient's death. Why not suicide or euthanasia, if the patient's suffering is diminished and his autonomy is respected?

With an increasing emphasis on public health, the emotional, financial, and somatic discomfort of individuals other than the sick (parents of an afflicted child, taxpayers, caregivers to the elderly, a pregnant woman who prefers not to be, etc.) are understood as burdensome symptoms of social illness that justify medical treatment of individuals on behalf of the greater society. The ethical principle of justice deems that physicians are ultimately accountable to this society rather than to their ill patients. To quote Caiaphas: "It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."

At no point need a physician intend to harm someone in order to do so. Who really believes that fetal stem-cell researchers harbor maleficence against zygotes? Now, medicine is fully enlisted in the utilitarian project. And having pursued "health" while respecting the sacred and oft-referenced ethical principles of benficence, autonomy, justice, and non-maleficence, all can sleep well with no pangs of conscience.

A more traditional definition of health is the state of body most conducive to the flourishing of the whole patient, both body and soul; this definition negotiates the Scylla of materialism and Charybdis of dualism while testifying to the essential integrity of each human person. But with such metaphysical baggage, this conception is conspicuously absent in medical schools and public policy alike.

Quite right, Lee. But of course, materialism is itself a metaphysical position, and it's one that is becoming increasingly aggressive.

What has been surprising me a bit (can of worms alert) is the move towards even removal of healthy limbs and the creation of disability as a "treatment." It hasn't become mainstream yet, but there is a push in that direction, and it may become mainstream in my lifetime. From a utilitarian point of view, creating an amputee where the person's limbs are entirely healthy (for example) would seem extremely inefficient. And it would also unnecessarily "burden" the family and society. The person is then going to need physical therapy, prosthesis, perhaps in extreme cases even a wheelchair, depending on how far this "injuring as treatment" ends up going. Yet I gather the move is from "health" to "mental comfort" to "feeling in tune with your body image" to "damaging your healthy body if that makes it in tune with your body image and greatly increases your mental comfort." So we move from health to deliberate damage of a healthy body in just a few short steps. It will be interesting to see (in a morbid kind of way) how long the medical profession holds out on this one. I'd say probably about as long as it takes the psychiatric profession to pronounce on the matter.

Yet I gather the move is from "health" to "mental comfort" to "feeling in tune with your body image" to "damaging your healthy body if that makes it in tune with your body image and greatly increases your mental comfort."

That's it exactly. Like many other goods, the understanding and application of which we previously inherited from our benighted forebears, "health" is now just another malleable nose of wax, the substance and worth of which are entirely at the whim of those who happen to be alive in these enlighted times. Not only is health now divorced from our nature as ensouled beings, it also is increasingly disconnected from the bare biological facts of species-appropriate behavior in the objective material context of this planet.

Yes, I'm sure the APA could hold another vote to declare any other disorder "healthy", or disquiet "pathological."

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