Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D



Rebuilding:
Getting Back to the Real



  




Have you ever thought about what your sense of yourself would be like if you lived in a world without mirrors? Imagine how you'd go through life if your only idea of the nature of your appearance were had by seeing the faint glimmering of your reflection in the still waters of a dark pond or in a small piece of polished metal, or by seeing the reactions of others around you. Think of how deeply your mental image of yourself is shaped by mirrors, and how profoundly that image affects how you think about yourself and move in the world.

Now consider that that image you have in your mind is -- well, a "mirror image." Completely backwards. As reflective of what you truly look like as these words are easy to discern:





And now consider the effects of photography, what Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. called a "mirror with memory" -- but a type of mirror that is even more deceptive than the one that hangs over your bathroom sink. That "the camera never lies" is a lie: lenses and focal lengths distort, angles deceive, depth is lost, and lighting can form shadows or "bleach out" features in ways that change everything about how a photograh's subject is perceived.1 And then we have to contend with the trickery of software photo editing. Still though, photographs are taken as representative of the real and are used to manipulate our desires and very identities, such as in advertising or on Instagram. "Photography's powerful ability...is rooted in its simultaneous affinity to reality and fantasy. As Oliver Wendell Holmes had observed, the power of the disembodied image is that it can free itself from the encumbrances posed by material reality and still lay claim to that reality. At the same time that the image appeals to transcendent desires, it locates those desires within a visual grammar which is palpable, which looks real, which invites identification by the spectator, and which people tend to trust." 2

Photographs strung together to form video are particularly deceptive, especially now that we have CGI and deepfake technology to trick us. And what's been done to the eye has been done to all of our sense organs. We live in a world of Naugahyde posing as leather, Auto-tune making stars out of "singers" who can't hit their notes, currencies backed by nothing, and NFTs -- digital files that are now being sold as art for many millions of dollars. More and more, we live in a world of simulacra -- simulacra which are too often taken not only as the real, but as the ideal and attainable -- as the realer than real, the better than real. The hyperreal.

Do yourself a favor and listen to this section of a discussion between Benjamin Boyce, James Lindsay, and Michael Young about the ideas of Jean Baudrillard.3 A very abbreviated transcript is below for those who'd rather read:


Michael Young: So imagine that we have some wild strawberries growing in an ancient city, say in Rome or something. And me and James, being ancient Romans, are walking around in our togas and we find the ancient strawberries, and we pick the strawberries, and there are some that are bigger than the others and there are some that are smaller than the others, but they're all ripe, and some of them are a little more juicy, but me and James are eating the strawberries. Those strawberries are real. Me and James just look at the strawberries, we just see the strawberries, we have knowledge of the strawberries from walking around, then we're eating strawberries.


We're gonna fast forward now to about -- oh, 1960. And now we have a strawberry factory which just grows strawberries all the time. And it selectively breeds the strawberries so that we only get the biggest, juiciest, reddest, loveliest strawberries, and then we pick them. And then only the biggest, reddest, juiciest strawberries imaginable get sent out. So the average person sitting in their home only knows the flavor and the taste of the biggest, reddest, juiciest strawberries. So we have what you might call a productive copy of the strawberries. Right? We're making the strawberries, but they're still, in a sense, they're real strawberries. It's just strawberries on evolutionary steroids.

But then, James and me, having our knowledge from ancient Rome, 'cause we're still alive, say, "Hey, we can make strawberry candies." So what we do is we distill out of the strawberries the flavor of the strawberries, and we double the strength of it so it's way stronger than any strawberry that you can ever have wanted. It's way stronger -- it's twice as strong, or ten times as strong -- and we're going to add sugar to it. And we're going to create a strawberry candy.  

Well, fast forward to the 1990s, and the Jolly Rancher company says, "Hey, look, what we're going to do is we're going to do that same thing, but you know what? The strawberries are really expensive, so we're going to design a thing that tastes like the strawberries, and we're going to replace that wonderful, natural cane sugar that you guys used -- we're going to replace that with high fructose corn syrup, and then we're going to make the Jolly Rancher. So now the Jolly Rancher is the strawberry Jolly Rancher that tastes like the strawberry candy that tastes like the wonderful 1960s selectively grown strawberries which taste like the original strawberries.

But whoah, wait, someone's going to come along and they're going to make a soda -- a Jolly Rancher soda, a Jolly Rancher strawberry soda --mmmm -- which tastes like the Jolly Rancher which tastes like the candy which tastes like the strawberry which tastes like the original wild strawberries. But hold on a second, we're going to make -- 7-11 comes along and says we're going to make, hey, you know what would be really good?   If we made a Slurpee of the Jolly Rancher strawberry soda! So eventually the Slurpee of the Jolly Rancher strawberry soda takes off. Man, everyone just loves it. And everyone's drinking it, and eventually -- you know what? I have a son, and my son loves the Jolly Rancher strawberry Slurpee from 7-11. And my son is out walking, drinking his strawberry Slurpee, and that's all he's ever had. I don't buy strawberries for my kid, because there's Covid, so all he ever has is the strawberry Jolly Rancher soda Slurpee from 7-11. And now as he's walking around one day, he looks over and he sees this odd bush of, like, green and red things that are growing, and they're kind of funny, and they're kind of misshapen, and he goes, "Oh, those look like -- that look kind of like the logo here of a strawberry!" And he goes and he picks it and he [tasting] goes, "Well, it kinda tastes like my Slurpee, but the Slurpee's way better. The Slurpee is cold and refreshing, and oh, it's so sweet and the flavor is so powerful. That's what a real strawberry tastes like."  

So now we've gotten to the point where we started with wild strawberries and we ended up with an ice-cold sugary corn syrupy thing which tastes like a cold soda carbonated water fructosey-syrupy thing which tastes like a candy fructosey-syrupy thing which tastes like a strawberry sugary candy thing which tastes like a selectively grown strawberry which tastes like a wild [strawberry]. And we are completely divorced from the original strawberry. And now the flavor of strawberry is associated with the Slurpee. Right? That's the thing. The Slurpee is the thing that we care about. It's more real than real. It is a hyperreal thing...

... The poet Philip Larkin declared that sexual intercourse wasn't invented until 1963 because prior to that we had something else. We have now birth control pills, we have recreational sex coming up in the '60s, but before that, we didn't have that. So sexual intercourse as a casual phenemon disconnected from family was not invented until 1963, right? This kind of -- that kind of analysis is going to be really useful because they're going to look at the trans movement that's currently happening, and they're going to say, look, back in ancient Rome when me and James were picking the strawberries, we see women, and they're just women. And then we fast forward -- zip! -- to the 1960s, and all of a sudden we have women, but they're wearing make-up. And their hair is done. And they're on birth control. Hang on, she has make-up on. Her skin is better than skin. It's more real than skin. Her hair is prettier than real hair. Then -- wait a second, she's on birth control. So now we're having a sexual act which is not a reproductive act. So is it really a sexual act? And then what we're going to do is we're going to keep pushing that 'til we get to breast implants and chin implants and more facial feminization... 

So finally we come up in the...1960s with the make-up, the hair and everything else, and then you're going to move forward to the 1980s where you're going to have breast implants. Now you have the make-up, and the hair, and the breast implants, and then you're going to move into the '90s, where you have the make-up, the hair, the breast implants, and the Photoshop. And then you're going to move forward 'til they have the make-up, the hair, the breast implants, the butt implants, everything is shaved perfectly, you're going to have labioplasty, and then you're also going to, on top of that, have Photosop, and then you're going to, on top of that, have a feminization filter via Twitter and Instagram which is going to give you a nice glow which is filmed from every concievably perfect angle. And they're going to say, "Look, it's a simulacrum of feminity," and then you're going to have the trans movement, and what are they doing when they're trying to transition from male to female? The target they're aiming for is the Instagram version of the simulacrum of femininity. And then around that, they're going to form an identity. So its a hyperreal identity that's not even based on anything that really exists. They took all the stuff that was added -- they took the hyperreal picture of what feminity is, abstracted that out, and then said that's the new thing we're aiming for, which creates itself a new effect.

Benjamin Boyce: It's more woman than woman...

Michael Young: ...The typical porn star actress is the strawberry Slurpee of women...

While I disagree with some points made, and think that we can and should keep searching out the real (more on that below), the diagnosis is spot on: we live in a world in which our tastes, desires, and very ideas of who we are -- or who we should be -- are shaped by simulacra. In addition to the outright propaganda that poses as news and entertainment, there are very subtle ways in which our minds are being trained to think only in terms of that which doesn't really exist at all.

You may be thinking, "But I like Strawberry Jolly Ranchers and Strawberry Slurpees!" Well, I wouldn't refuse either if they were put before me, and Catholicism isn't a Luddite religion: what concerns me isn't the ordinate enjoyment of simulacra and various hyperreal phenomena; what concerns me is our increasing inability to distinguish between the real and hyperreal, and how that inability affects our relationships with others and how we perceive ourselves. Consider the young men who desire the female equivalent of the strawberry Slurpee, and the young women who desire the male counterpart. Their tastes shaped by porn and Hollywood movies, neither will settle for a real person; they want hyperreal fantasy instead. They want what doesn't exist. And consider how each sex knows what the other sex wants, and tries to become that which can't really exist at all. That's where we find ourselves.

Then there are the problems of the media by which so much of the hyperreal is delivered to us. Because of the very nature of digital technology itself, we're being made more and more unfit to live in the real world.

The older generations living today—digital immigrants—developed their basic physical skills before the Internet. Millennials, on the other hand, became the first digital natives: they were socialized in an environment that rewards not effort but mere presence expressed by clicks. Since clicks are so easy to make, the exposition of people’s presence to one another becomes enormous. The reward of recognition, promised by a click, sinks in an incredible noise. In the old physical world, people competed through the intensity of effort; in the new digital world, they compete by the intensity of presence. Hence the movement toward extreme opinions, rage on social media, and political polarization, only natural in a society that rewards the intensity of self-identification more readily than it rewards effort.

This development affects the entire society across generations. But older people remember when physical restrictions and face-to-face communication imposed both positive and negative incentives not to exaggerate personal differences. Mitigating differences and compromising were a winning, or at least more or less safe, strategy in the physical world. In the digital realm, the active signaling of an identity is the condition of successful socialization. Studies show that digitalization of social networking not only intensified peer pressure but also confused social and physical reality for younger people.

If digital immigrants firmly distinguish the old physical world from the new digital world, for digital natives it’s all a single hybrid reality where offline activities and old-fashioned face-to-face communications are the somewhat disturbing, but so far unavoidable, continuations of a more comfortable digital existence. Compared with the digital world, which confers instant rewards for a mere click, the physical world requires too much effort. Since more and more activities migrate into digital, digital natives increasingly withdraw from the physical, the most unpleasant part of their hybrid reality. The hybrid reality contributes to the so-called delayed adulthood: millennials and Generation Zers have less or later sex, start fewer families, drive fewer cars, leave parental homes later (if at all), and so on.

Interestingly, instead of the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” that Marc Prensky introduced in 2001, David S. White and Alison Le Cornu suggested in 2011 the terms “visitors” and “residents” as better descriptions of different people’s (and generations’) engagement with new technologies. Indeed, younger generations reside in the digital, while predigital generations just visit it, though increasingly often. However, the opposite is also true: digital residents just visit the real world for some residual needs, but they always hurry to return to the digital environment.

The old world is still putting up a fight. Legacy systems of family upbringing and education still require sizable effort in exchange for delayed rewards. But such a balance is unnatural for digital natives. Parents bribe their children with tablets to keep them entertained and buy themselves some time. The touchscreen devices stimulate children’s curiosity with the click’s irresistible instant reward and thus shape their sensorium and their moral evolution.

Digital natives are fit for their new environment but not for the old one. Coaches complain that teenagers are unable to hold a hockey stick or do pull-ups. Digital natives’ peripheral vision—required for safety in physical space—is deteriorating. With these deficits come advantages in the digital realm. The eye is adjusting to tunnel vision—a digital native can see on-screen details that a digital immigrant can’t see. When playing video games, digital immigrants still instinctively dodge bullets or blows, but digital natives do not. Their bodies don’t perceive an imaginary digital threat as a real one, which is only logical. Their sensorium has readjusted to ignore fake digital threats that simulate physical ones. No need for an instinctive fear of heights or trauma: in the digital world, even death can be overcome by re-spawning. Yet what will happen when millions of young people with poor grip strength, peripheral blindness, and no instinctive fear of collision start, say, driving cars? 4

Indeed. Young people today don't know how to carry on conversations and haven't mastered basic social skills. They're bored and restless unless they have phones to gaze into. Their attention spans are too short to allow them to read books. They're unable to do basic things like change a light bulb, tire, or baby's diaper. They're becoming obese and unhealthy. They're terrified of the opposite sex, and don't know how to approach members of it. Because of the hyperreality of porn, thirty percent of young men under the age of 40 suffer from erectile dysfunction, formerly an issue associated only with older men. 5 We've got a huge problem, and we'd better fix it before it's too late.



Fixing Things

If you have children, do not allow them to use digital media at all until and unless they've mastered reading, basic math, basic social skills, basic physical skills (e.g., throwing and catching), and have shown competence at a low-tech skill of choice, such as playing a musical instrument, building things out of wood, drawing, etc. When they have shown themselves to have mastered such basics and you do allow them to use computers, restrict their use to no more than an hour a day or whatever's necessary to complete homework, keeping any computer they have access to in a public part of the home. Limit television to an hour or so a day. Don't get them smartphones, and don't allow them on social media. If they must have a phone for some reason, get them phones that only make phone calls or allow texting and email. Get them involved in scouting, camping, and other groups and activities that have them active and learning skills in the real world. Surround them with the tools and materials they need to engage in hobbies and master things they're interested in. Make sure they have access to plenty of books, whether by purchasing them or by making frequent trips to the library.

If it's too late for all that, I propose nine week long "Re-Boot Camps" that have the purpose of "re-setting the nervous system," forcing it to slow down and not rely on instant gratification and hyperreal stimuli. 6

Imagine a group of cabins in the country -- in a place where the Book of Nature can be easily opened --  all outfitted with the basics (running water, plumbing, etc.), but with no technology that didn't exist before 1990. In addition to the sleeping cabins are two large community cabins, one, with a kitchen, where meals take place; the other where classes, games, and dances are organized. The three main rules of the camps:

1. No phones
2. No internet
3. Participate


Campers are encouraged to bring with them the (low-tech) things they need to indulge their hobbies and interests -- e.g., musical instruments, art supplies, books, etc. They're also instructed to bring one item for a "show and tell" (more later).

Meals -- which are generally high in protein, low in carbohydrates -- are communally eaten at tables of six to invite socializing. "Conversation cards" are on each table to also stimulate conversation. For the first two weeks, seating is assigned and rotates at each meal. Thereafter, campers choose their own seating. At each breakfast, a "Book of Nature Bingo" card is handed out to each student so that they are motivated to really look at what they see outdoors; at dinner, whoever has the most filled-out card is the winner for the day.

Throughout the day, group activities are available -- horseback riding, hiking, canoeing, archery, birdwatching, swimming (to avoid problems, everyone is asked to wear knee-length shorts and a long T-shirt instead of bathing suits), etc. These activities are focused on getting the campers to use and "reintegrate with" their bodies, to socialize, and to experience the natural world in different ways. Strength-training, boxing, and grappling for boys are also available, meant to increase their confidence and sense of physical competence.

Two classes dedicated to basic life skills are offered: cooking classes start with the very basics, such as how to measure, basic cooking techniques (broiling, boiling, sauteeing, braising, baking, pan-frying, deep-frying, etc.), and result in students being able to follow any recipe with skill; shop classes get students comfortable using different tools and teach them to be able to make basic objects from wood, such as boxes or birdhouses. The two mandatory classes are "Basic Logic" and "The Cardinal Virtues," and each is offered in a way that compels and that demonstrates the importance of reason and the moral virtues to the campers' lives and to our nations.

Evenings are filled with bonfires, stargazing, game nights, dances, and weekly classic movies that demonstrate a more "slowed-down" way of life and old-school social interaction and manners. There's also a "Show and Tell Night" on which participants have to talk about an object they've brought from home, explaining its meaning and importance. The purpose of this event is to get campers used to speaking in front of a group of people and answering questions on the fly in such a situation.

There is Mass on Sundays -- the traditional Mass, it goes without saying -- and confession is available multiple times during the week.

By the end of the nine weeks, campers will be "de-toxed" from the digital world -- able to endure silence with greater equanimity, read long texts with less mental distraction, and feel more comfortable in face-to-face interactions with others. Any addiction to online pornography will be gone, their bodies will be healthier, and their minds clearer.




Footnotes:

1 When I was young, around 12, I was talking to a cousin by marriage who was a Hollywood camera man (one who worked on one of my favorite movies, "The Outlaw Josey Wales"). He told me that I'd be surprised at what some Hollywood actresses actually look like. He said that some people are just photogenic, and some aren't, and that those who are beautiful or not-so-beautiful in real life can fall into either group. As a 12 year old girl, and as someone who has never been photogenic, I was very relieved to hear that, I assure you.

2 Ewen, Stuart. All Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture. Basic Books, Inc., 1988

3 This audio comes from a discussion Benjamin Boyce hosted, on his Youtube channel, between James Lindsay, Michael Young (a.k.a. "Wokal Distance"), and himself. The name of the video is "Critical Critical Theory Theory | with Wokal Distance and James Lindsay," URL: https://youtu.be/iLoKoySvxys. Retrieved March 3, 2022.

4 Mir, Andrey. "The Medium is the Menace." City Journal. URL: www.city-journal.org/ubiquitous-digital-media-threaten-to-erode-sensory-and-social-capacities Retrieved: March 7, 2022.

5 Nguyen, Hoang, Gabrielson, Andrew, Hellstrom, Wayne. "Erectile Dysfunction in Young Men-A Review of the Prevalence and Risk Factors." Sex Med Rev. October, 2017. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28642047/ Retrieved: March 7, 2022.

6 I chose a length of 9 weeks because it's been demonstrated that bad habits take an average of 66 days to break. See "How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world," European Journal of Social Psychology Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 40, 998–1009 (2010) Published online 16 July 2009 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com)



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