Communards

Communards

Although this piece ends satisfactorily, the beginning of the narrative is lost. Attempts to re-transcribe the exchange were unsuccessful. We surmise that this is the result of experiential overlay; however, it is possible that the lost section was never recorded in the first instance.

“…but of course both notions are incorrect. And why is that? It is because we are now firmly in an age of reason, an age in which the old orthodoxies and tribal affiliations of the past lose their meaning. So for example; the incorrect notions are replaced by what? By a more civilised phenomenon. The Basilique becomes a monument celebrating our great culture. In doing so it draws people from far and wide to marvel. Come, come, admit it, your footsteps have led you past it. It was magnificent, no? Ah, I see by your faces that you agree, and therein resides the problem. The world sees our culture, impressive, yes; but our struggle, our sacrifices, our identity, all subsumed into a mass of stone. And this attracts pilgrims. Good robust art made into an object of worship.”
“How do you say we should worship?”
“We should not!”
“Are visits and pilgrimages against the natural order of things?”
“You cannot catch me out so easily. I rail against superstition which is the problem and suggest a remedy.”
“Being?”
“The superstitions of the masses become exposed by education. With sufficient education, matters are driven by logic. A liberty of the mind. Superstitions will be withered away by the fire of knowledge.”
“Is there room for God in this?”
“Why is God necessary?”
“How can there not be God?”
“What need? A grandiosely titled being is no less imaginary than smaller superstitions.”
“Then what are your beliefs?”
“They are my own affair. But I shall inform you of my opinion. Religion is an opiate for the masses. Who can be free when addicted to such a drug?”
“I have heard the argument put so.”
“Can you not agree that such a drug makes the control and oppression of the uneducated a simple thing?”
“Were only it so simple.”
“But see, education exposes the myths of religion and reveals the truth of our condition. These are notions used to empower the ruling classes. How can this be acceptable?”
“Is it not the case that a tool does the work it is designed for?”
“Oui, yes.”
“That a tool will be most efficient, regardless of the character of the wielder?”
“Yes, certainement.”
“And so if the tool becomes misdirected, is directed towards personal gain, even mischief. Will the tool lose its efficacy?”
“The tool of course is as good as it was made. Subject to damage over time, or due to circumstance. It’s use to inflict mischief or harm will not affect its efficiency.”
“My point precisely. And does the tool object to its use?”
“Well no, it does not. But I conceive the view that you try to lead me to uncertainty. A Socratic touch. Touché. Very well. I will follow your reasoning to discover your design.”
“Now your own circumstance. You have no affinity to the idea of God; perhaps you have outgrown or rejected this.”
“You are correct. This matter I discuss frequently with my fellow artists. The inhabitants of a rational world can discard the idea of God. Many of us agree with each other on this very point. Did not Darwin….”
“A digression into Darwin later, but not yet. My question now is, having agreed this matter amongst yourselves; does this shared belief merely mark the token for entry into your social set?”
“What social set? We are no fishwives. We are a rational commune and debate vigorously.”
“You debate… what?”
“Our positions. Whether we agree with each other, or not. And so forth.”
“So, you do not debate like fishwives.”
“Of course not. We have strong beliefs and convictions, which we debate vigorously.”
“Your debate concerns all including them. Should you not debate with fishwives?”
“Fishwives would hardly find our discourse of interest.”
“Are your beliefs consistent with those of the state? Does it concur with your view?”
“Non; no. That is precisely the point.”
“Yet the state is your tool. It must embody you.”
“The state is inept. And where it is not inept, it is corrupt. In this age where education and science can improve our lives, the Third Republic dabbles and dallies with dreams of empire. Pah! Leave that to la perfide Albion and its pirates turned shopkeepers and traders, your pardon monsieur.”
“So you seek to change the state?”
“Precisely the opposite. It cannot change. This we accept. We create what works. Once we have achieved this, how can it survive? It must surely disintegrate.”
“Yes, if you steal the citizens of the state. What if it demands that you desist?”
“We will defy it. We will manage our own affairs; what right-thinking person would prefer a return to ignominious incompetence.”
“And should your commune successfully defy the will of the state, what then?”
“Then our dreams are complete. To the victors go the spoils.”
“You mean as in war, when nation fights nation?”
“Just so.”
“Would you destroy your enemies?”
“We expect this to be necessary. Is not pain the price of progress?”
“What else would you destroy? The weak? The innocent? Society? Would you welcome la Terreur?”
“Ah, but we are more civilised now. Even so it is for the victorious to choose how the losers may organise their affairs. We have prepared.”
“In war, the exultant victorious drown out the cries of the victims and justify the spilled blood of the despoiled. How is that a civilised state of affairs?”
“We know the mistakes of la Terreur.”
“So you would lop off the heads of the rulers and replace them with your own? With the view that being a critic of the state is adequate preparation for great office?”
“Our revolution would not destroy all of society.”
“So revolution is your only solution?”
“God is a consequence of like-minded people sharing a common objective. So it must have been in time immemorial. Over the ages, with the rise of civilisation, what we believe and how we behave becomes important in itself. Special significance is imbued into our values and our beliefs. Comprends-tu, mon ami? We formalise and make totems of them. By this measure, I hold that we make religions and gods of our values and beliefs. Man-made gods, man-made belief systems that eventually, become so rigid, they impede progress and so are unfit for purpose. But the world changes all the time and the law is: adapt or die.”
“Darwin, yes?”
“I established my interest. You sensed my return. Symmetry?”
“Very well. Darwin.”
“Bon.”
“Only because I am reminded of an ancient Chinese curse.”
“Does it run ‘May you live in interesting times’?”
“Yes.”
“Why?”
“Consider, Thierry, a world that changes all the time.”
“Oui, yes. A world such as our own.”
“Now let changes be gradual and small.”
“Bon. No problem.”
“Darwin can declaim in a most excellent fashion: resources are limited but stable over time. His confidence in this is justified?”
“Oui. We have logical consistency. An excellent conclusion.”
“A conclusion that is nearly always correct.”
“Mais? But you have an exception.”
“What when not all changes are gradual?”
“Then there is sudden change?”
“Ah, Thierry. There is another effect.”
“Do explain, s’il vous plaît.”
“All answers come through science?”
“True. Well, perhaps some do not but they lack importance.”
“Yet in science there is a fashion. A tide.”
“Fashion? In science?”
“One where prevailing ideas dominate… until replaced.”
“Merely good ideas driving out the bad, peut-être.”
“On the contrary – at a fundamental level. Take a Darwinian assumption; ‘stable over time’; this fits well into the world view of minds fixed on gradualism.”
“True, but what of it?”
“Would not evidence of sudden and catastrophic change be a catastrophe to this assumption and thus to such beliefs?”
“Brusque et catastrophique?”
“Then science must change its answers.”
“Naturellement.”
“What can science provide if it is merely a matter of fashion?”
“No. You cannot assault the foundations of science in that way. C’est la méthode scientifique. Even if I grant you the logic of your suppositions – and I do not need to… I have listened to you gamely. Will you now defend the idea of God?”
“I am at your disposal.”
“You Anglais place reverence on strange symbols; tea drinking, fair play and cricket, your Monarchy….”
“With undue reverence, almost like a God?”
“Oui. You let beliefs and values become totems and symbols of worship. Why? Where is the rationale? Your customs are merely activities whose purpose has been long ago forgotten; repeated to obtain comfort or imagined spiritual benefit.”
“You need not be an Englishman for this to be the case. In any event, the English were – are pragmatic about this.”
“Exactly what infuriates me. You are pragmatic; even about yourselves.”
“Scratch an Englishman and find an opportunist of the first degree. And in each opportunist, discover one who takes short-cuts, or is lazy.”
“So, my Englishman, do you accept that the oppression of its flock is at the heart of religion? Will you defend your concept of God?”
“Not every denomination has the oppression of its flock at its heart.”
“But a denomination is just a social group. So they must suffer the same failings.”
“Yet by their contributions good works are undertaken.”
“But how, mon ami? The faith of those sects is neither consistent with Roman Catholic practice nor with science.”
“Comparison to other religious practice is irrelevant. Of supreme importance is denying the power of any man to stand between an Englishman and his God. When we stand in His presence, who can claim to be superior or inferior?”
“But this is just belief. How can you have faith without facts? Where is your doubt?”
“The universe is vast and we have barely scratched the surface of the smallest speck in it. It is sufficient that the Word is God – it would be imprudent to assume otherwise.”

Kindle cover

Back to Appendix II – the Quest for Meaning

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