A good word for Jacques — loose reflections on myth

This blog (or whatever you call it) is not intended as a loaf to consume, but as grains of yeast you can put into the flour of your own thinking. In that spirit, then, I’d like to encourage readers who aren’t familiar with Jacques Ellul to check him out, and may his thought leaven your own.

A little biographical background. He’s listed variously as professor, sociologist, philosopher, theologian . . . pick one. Ellul was a French polymath, sometimes also described as a Christian anarchist. But these titles and categories fail the context exam.

Three signature events in Ellul’s personal formation were (1) his conversion, (2) living through the most destructive war in history, and (3) an automobile accident.

Ellul was born in 1912, and was recognized as a prodigy by his parents. When he was 16, his family fell into poverty, and this prodigy found himself translating (Latin, French, German, Greek) to make money. His later interest in Kierkegaard was sparked by an experience he had at age 17 while translating Faust, when he suddenly “knew” he was in the presence of God. At university, later that year, he studied Marx. While he was delving into Marx, however, whose sociology he found useful for the rest of his life, he found that Marx and Marxism were inadequate to the more existential questions of life, and he turned to Kierkegaard for that. By 1929, a close friend had also gotten him interested in the theology of Karl Barth. He joined the Reformed Church shortly afterward. So there were his main intellectual influences.

When the war came and the Vichy regime took control of France, he was fired from his teaching post for being a “foreigner” who’d spoken ill of the Third Reich. His father was Maltese and Serbian (the reason they were “foreigners”) and was killed by the Germans in 1942. Jacques Ellul and his wife (Yvette, also declared a “foreigner”) hid out in the countryside for the rest of the war and joined the Resistance, not as fighters (he was a Christian pacifist), but hiding and smuggling resistance members and Jews away from the Nazis. Jacques and Yvette were profoundly affected by their experience of the war and its horrifying destruction.

After the war, in 1947, his six-year-old son was killed in a car wreck. He never spoke publicly about this, but by all accounts he was emotionally gutted by the loss, and his refusal to speak of it even decades later was a matter of its mere mention being almost unbearable.

It was the combined experience of the war and the death of their son that fueled his lifelong suspicion of what we now call “technology.” This post will focus on how myth functions in Ellul’s critique of technological society.

For the record, I’m relying on multiple sources here, but what provoked me to post was a second reading of Michael Morelli’s excellent book, Theology, Ethics, and Technology in the Works of Jacques Ellul and Paul Virilio. (Worth a read!)

Before we get to myth, we need to sketch out Ellul’s terminology about “technology.” There’s a bit of conceptual stretching required because (1) Ellul was French and (2) because Ellul didn’t conceive of “technology” in the way we do — as meaning the concretized whole of technical innovation. I’m simplifying a lot, but for Ellul, “technology,” like psychology, anthropology, and all the other “-ologies,” meant speaking of or the study of. So when he says “technology,” he means the study of something — that is — discourse, as opposed to the something itself. He never speaks of technology as some whole thing, because what he critiques is a social dynamic that includes something called technique, which likewise doesn’t mean for Ellul what we mean when we use the phrase, and propaganda.

First, technique. Not like “Larry Bird’s fallback shot was a highly effective technique.” Technique, for Ellul, signified the capture of persons by technological society. Think about getting rid of your “smart” phones, these walk-around computers with their “enabling” apps. When you assess all the ways in which you’ve become dependent on them, you begin to recognize what Ellul called technique, a latticework of material, psychological, and sociological relations that capture the person in the web of “technology,” yes, but also the sociology of technique . . . we are the captives of efficiency. Like the factory worker who is subordinated to the machines s/he works with, whole societies are now subordinated to the workings of standardized, technological grids.

James Fowler summarizes:

Ellul’s issue was not with technological machines but with a society necessarily caught up in efficient methodological techniques. Technology, then, is but an expression and by-product of the underlying reliance on technique, on the proceduralization whereby everything is organized and managed to function most efficiently, and directed toward the most expedient end of the highest productivity.

The idol of The Technological Society (the English translation of one of Ellul’s signature titles) is efficiency, an idol that accumulates money for the powerful, for sure, but one that also eclipses the question “should we” behind the question “can we.” Ellul noted that technique (with its idol of efficiency) is immune to tradition, religion, culture, and ethics; which gives rise to the need for justification, and herein rises the role of propaganda, which is constructed on the terrain of myth.

First, propaganda.

Propaganda, in Ellul’s analyses, is of two kinds — political and sociological. We’ve been trained by propaganda to associate the term propaganda with the former in its most brutal and vulgar forms, like Nazi propaganda or the propaganda of present-day North Korea.

Political propaganda aims directly at producing social conformity in the service of some social engineering project, often backed by direct force. Ellul calls this vertical propaganda.

Sociological propaganda, which cloaks its own nature as propaganda far more effectively, is horizontal, pervasive, popular, saturative, and tricky.

A first instance of sociological propaganda is schooling. Schooling presents itself as a transmission belt of something called knowledge and-or skill, and schooling smuggles in propaganda (by its very existence) as way-of-life. Of course, the school day might begin with political propaganda in saying the Pledge of Allegiance; but the rest of the day is spent battering children with drills and guided “discussions” that are ostensibly preparing the kids for entry into adult society at some later date. Schools prepare children for adult society by indoctrinating them with a conception of society (a sociology), which is treated almost as a fact of nature — something immunized against doubt or criticism. Political propaganda is stirred in through civics and history instruction; but the bells that signal when to be seated in the classroom are one of many forms of a school’s sociological propaganda — specifically propaganda of technique.

Ellul disputed the idea that “education” was some kind of prophylaxis against propaganda — still a shibboleth of liberal managerialism. On the contrary, he said, the more “intellectual” one is, the more susceptible to education’s “pre-propaganda.” Intellectuals trade in more second hand information. They feel more compelled to assert and absorb opinions about everything. And they’ve “convinced themselves” (they’ve been convinced by “educational” propaganda) that they have the capacity to “judge for themselves” (then tell everyone else what to do).

Media is a constant source of sociological propaganda; advertising contains sociological propaganda; public relations pumps out sociological propaganda, and so on.

“It is difficult to determine what constitutes propaganda in our world and what the nature of propaganda is,” writes Ellul. “This is because it is a secret action.” Let’s unpack that a bit more. (LINK to English translation of Ellul’s Propaganda)

Ellul warned us that our conception of propaganda as “tall stories” built on lies for political purposes blinds us to propaganda as constitutive of technological society . . . all technological society, including our own. He listed the various definitions of propaganda that circulated among academics to show how variant they were and decided to treat the subject not as an encyclopedia entry, but as a sociological phenomenon. That is, he didn’t want to define first, then assemble his “evidence” to correspond to a predetermined definition.

Propaganda “is the expression of modern society as a whole.” (Ellul)

Propaganda, for Ellul, serves an integrative function in the service of efficiency, and is itself subject to constant optimization by the same standard. This is just as true in the US or UK as it is in North Korea. DPRK, in fact, is lagging in propaganda, because it lacks the technological mastery and psychological subtlety of the more “advanced” societies.

What propaganda integrates into a technological regime, even our own, are the personalities of its residents. The quality of propaganda is measured by how well it answers the unconscious needs of the people at whom it is aimed.

A key precondition, according to Ellul, for modern “horizontal” propaganda is loneliness, or what David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney wrote about in a book by the same title — the lonely crowd. In an increasingly atomized and uprooted society — a society of technique — the person becomes a collection of statistical averages, on the one hand (algorithms?), and on the other seeks some form of identity in established groups, as opposed to families and communities. The need to integrate with these “crowds” in order feel that one belongs, his or her psychological defenses are lowered, rendering that person more comform-able. A “crowd” dynamic can then happen — think of a mob or a rock concert or a cult or a clique.

I’m thinking now of a Jeep ad that cycled incessantly for a while on YouTube. In the ad, there were familiar “sacred” vistas in the United States, with a stated reference to America, the scenery was selected for its intense natural beauty, and the occupants of the Jeep were laughing, attractive, adventurous youngsters, powering around the corners of dirt trails creating rooster-tails of dynamic dust, while exciting music played in the background, then arriving at some transcendentally beautiful lookout. The oral message combined with the visual in an appeal an appeal to unrestrained fun and religious ecstasy. You can have it all . . . buy our Jeep.

I could dismiss this ad. “It’s just an ad.” I could reduce this ad. “It’s to sell Jeeps.” But I’d miss the “secret action” of horizontal propaganda. I’d miss the integration of references and symbols and images and the ways in which this ad aimed at the desires and unconscious needs of the viewer. I’d miss the secret action of way-of-life. I’d also miss the role of myth.

The ad is designed to sell Jeeps, but there’s not a single reference to money in the ad. There are iconic and sweeping scenes of “America!,” which tickle awake public school indoctrinations and deeply-enculturated feelings about the City on the Hill . . . hook. Before any critical faculty can kick in, another spurt of fantasy-dopamine is stimulated by joyful camaraderie — those attractive, laughing people who we can imagine as our friends. In almost all ads — excepting the ones whose appeal is ironic humor — the presence of the product is accompanied by broad smiles, touching, belonging, even sublimated erotica, that run counter to our actually-lived, mundane, often desperately alienated and lonely lives . . . hook, hook. References direct and indirect to the enjoyment of sacred nature . . . hook . . . paradoxically alongside the trope of conquering nature, appeals to power for the powerless, the dusty rooster-tail as one powers through the turn, accompanied by phrases like “grand adventure” . . . hook.

The personal appeals to acquisitiveness, sex, belonging, and power are constructed (and these ads are very carefully constructed by professional psychological manipulators) on foundations of myths — national, e.g., and psuedo-spiritual — which are themselves embedded on a mythical master-narrative, progress, which, according to Ellul, has two faces: Big History and Big Science. (see here my discussion of Kara Slade’s book, The Fullness of Time, which delves deep into the History-Science master myth . . . Dr. Slade is, like Ellul, strongly influenced by her readings of Kierkegaard and Barth.)

Ellul does not define myth as we sometimes do in popular discourse, as some outdated fiction or as a synonym for lies. He uses the term myth to describe a necessary constant in all societies.

It seems to us that there are four great collective sociological assumptions in the modern world. By this we mean not only the Western world, but all the world that shares a modern technology and is structured into nations…. That man’s aim in life is happiness, that man is naturally good, that history develops in endless progress, and that everything is matter.

The other great psychological reflection of social reality is the myth. The myth expresses the deep inclinations of a society. Without it, the masses would not cling to a certain civilization, or its process of development and crisis. It is a vigorous impulse, strongly colored, irrational, and charged with all of man’s power to believe… In our society the two great fundamentals myths on which all other myths rest are Science and History. And based on them are the collective myths that are man’s principal orientations: the myth of Work, the myth of Happiness (which is not the same thing as presupposition of happiness), the myth of the Nation, the myth of Youth, the myth of Hero.

Propaganda is forced to build on those presuppositions and to express these myths, for without them nobody would listen to it. And in so building it must always go in the same direction as society; it can only reinforce society. A propaganda that stresses virtue over happiness and presents man’s future as one dominated by austerity and contemplation would have no audience at all. A propaganda that questions progress or work would arouse disdain and reach nobody; it would immediately be branded as an ideology of the intellectuals, since most people feel that the serious things are material things because they are related to labor, and so on.

It is remarkable how the various presuppositions and aspects of myths complement each other, support each other, mutually defend each other: If the propagandist attacks the network at one point, all myths react to the attack. Propaganda must be based on current beliefs and symbols to reach man and win him over. (Ellul, Propaganda)

Ellul, particularly in New Demons, also challenged a liberal intellectual article of faith about the “secularity” of twentieth century modernity — that is, that it had abandoned myth in favor of some totalizing, desacralized, and “fact-based” positivism.

To begin with, he made note that the claims by intellectuals of some “secular” society were the “ought-to” fantasies of those same intellectuals, who disingenuously ignored the mass of exceptions to their claims. In other words, they dishonestly represented their “ought” as “is.”

His definition of myth, which he specified in the face of many and divergent definitions, was functional, as opposed to phenomenological (though, of course, it has powerful phenomenological consequences). Myth, in his framework, orients our understanding of our environment — which contains sources of both threat and restoration/redemption— through symbolic and narrative power. He asserted that myths (the narrative symbolic structures of the sacred), so defined, are inescapable — a constant and necessary feature of human societies. Myth is the ground of meaning-making. This is as true of modern societies as it is of the San Bushmen or the pre-Colombian Pima Maricopa.

The sacred provides “points of reference,” says Ellul. Without it, we’d be quickly exhausted by the inability to make decisions. The sacred establishes necessary discriminations: pure/polluted, permissible/forbidden, and so on.

It places in front of and around man a certain number of boundaries, of limits. Thus it defines a domain in which man is free, together with a forbidden, or rather, an untouchable domain. The domain is one of actions, rites, places, and times. The points of reference and the limits always have a very firm, and finally, a very pragmatic quality. It is always a matter of knowing what it is possible to do, and sometimes how and where to do it. From then on, the sacred defines a certain order of action, for it is precisely that action which cannot be carried out thoughtlessly. It is appointed in a given space. (Ellul, New Demons)

Myths are narrative instantiations of the sacred. Jean-François Lyotard, author of The Postmodern Condition, referred often to “little narratives.” Myths, therefore, are not interchangeable in form, Ellul insisted, even though myth could be described as transhistorical in function. For Ellul, there is a metanarrative (on which Lyotard prematurely pronounced death), and that metanarrative is the environment, not in the popular modern sense, but as the inescapable constant of social/material/temporal context within which human beings require the “points of reference” provided by myth.

One all-embracing definition of myth robs it of just that which makes it a myth. According to this, a myth is the interpretation of a very direct relationship between man and the temporal structure of his life. Outside that relationship his life is dust and absurdity. It doesn’t seem to me that any overall definition is possible which would apply equally to our twentieth-century myth and those of three thousand years ago. […] If myth is a mirror of man’s reflection, if it is an explanation of man’s action, if it is a grasp on and a justification of man’s situation hic et nunc, if, finally, it is an image of the most mysterious depths of man in confrontation with a given reality, then it cannot, by its very nature, be the same now as then. Myth necessarily appears in specific forms, but its characteristics and reasons are constant and common to all. (Ibid.)

Ellul, defining myth as a sociological constant, denied that “secular” society had done away with myth. It is “rational” modernity’s denial of it’s own mythological character which Ellul challenges. We haven't abandoned myth at all. Older myths — like Biblical myths which openly understood themselves as such — have been supplanted by new ones, which appear in disguise (as “secret actions”).

The modern liberal meta-myth is that of progress, which we might outline as having four main components: (a) human beings are inherently good, (b) the human being’s highest good is “happiness,” (c) only material things matter, and (d) humanity is on a teleological road to self-perfection.

I’d recommend to readers a book by Eugene McCarraher, called The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity, for a thoroughgoing and highly detailed account of politicians, boosters, and advertisers employing the language of sacrament and religious transcendence in the service of business.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has more than once noted how in the militaristic American state, God has become a private affair and the shared-sacred has become the nation, its idol the flag, and its liturgy war. Social cohesion requires the sacred, expressed in myth.

Myth also serves that more potentially sinister co-function . . . justification; and this is where it dovetails with propaganda, which is an aspect of power. Myth underwrites justification with its unquestioned points of reference.

We might add that the need for myth is more than requiring mere points of reference; it answers the human need for beauty and transcendence, of which modern mythology is in short supply. Henri de Lubac said as much, that the human soul thirsts for contact with the “infinitely important,” and that this desire “cannot be permanently frustrated without an essential suffering.” We see, with modernity’s every success in privatizing and marginalizing the great faith traditions, rash after rash of ephemeral spiritual fads, like famine victims trying to eat tree leaves or desert crash victims trying to drink urine.

Just look back at our Jeep ad, to which we need to add something, a segue perhaps, or a very provisional and incomplete conclusion to this reflection on Ellul.

I’m going to jump a bit over from Ellul now, to Philip Rieff. Myth, in Ellul, is considered functionally and sociologically, but we’ve already drifted into phenomenological and psychological territory. Rieff paid particular attention to a therapeutic turn in the late modern outlook, or the transition from the person to the self — which hatched in the nest of the progress-narrative and the hegemony of technique.

In the emergent culture, a wider range of people will have “spiritual” concerns and engage in “spiritual” pursuits.

There will be more singing and more listening.

People will continue to genuflect and read the Bible, which has long achieved the status of great literature; but no prophet will denounce the rich attire or stop the dancing.

There will be more theatre, not less, and no Puritan will denounce the stage and draw its curtains.

On the contrary, I expect that modern society will mount psychodramas far more frequently than its ancestors mounted miracle plays, with patient-analysts acting out their inner lives, after which they could extemporize the final act as interpretation. (Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic)

Rieff is himself not all that well-known, but he had quite an impact not only Alasdair MacIntyre, but Christopher Lasch as well. I mentioned (MacIntyre influenced) Stanley Hauerwas and his criticism of the church subordinating itself to the state-militant as the locus of our culturally-coordinating myth. Rief sees the therapeutic society as an outgrowth of the transition from person to self as narrated through the ideal (stated above) of self-perfection.

Rieff was an American secular Jew (1922–2006) who described American post-Christendom in the eighteenth and nineteenth century as “spiritualizers” (Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, e.g.) which gave way in the early twentieth century to psychologizers (Freud, et al), the latter of which he called “the pacesetters of cultural change.”

Culture, said Rieff, serves as the transmission belt transporting myth (“the sacred”) into society. Without culture, a social context to which we can belong, we are left adrift with nothing but loneliness and fear, like Adam and Eve recognizing their own vulnerable nakedness. Culture, without an organizing myth, will experience a crisis.

Identity of the person is established in culture and among its points of reference; and culture ensures the stability and continuity of those points. What Rieff traced through history was a transition from outwardly-established identity to inwardly-sourced identity. In outwardly established identity, I am a son of someone, a husband, a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a cousin, a colleague or co-worker, a friend, an enemy, a member of this or that group or institution. As an inwardly sourced identity, I am a self; not meaning merely an aware embodied consciousness who experiences himself as distinct in the world, but a psychologically auto-managerial being who understands my identity as arising from somewhere “inside.”

“I’m on a journey of self-discovery.”

The person, in Rieff, is a social creature. As a self, I’m a self-selecting identity (in the contemporary sense), no longer a creature, but my own actual creator.

This is the liberal individual incarnate. The problem is that identity, in reality, is only possible in community. Real identity is necessarily externally-estalished, that is, social. We have to belong!

In Rieff’s American history, the self’s early cultural childhood was the spiritualizing era, it’s adulthood the psychologizing era, and its senescence the period we live in now, in the outworking of the progress myth and technique, what he called an era of “deathworks,” when high culture leads culture down a path, no longer of substitutionary myths, but of desacralization itself in a kind of suicidal cultural tailspin.

Let me give some illustrations.

In 1971, the year I returned from Vietnam, there was a television ad for Coca-Cola that featured the hippy band, The New Seekers, singing a jingle that was then turned into a pop song, called “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” It was a minute-long commercial featuring a sunny hilltop with a smiling outdoor chorus of people from around the world, singing:

I’d like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to buy the word a Coke
And keep it company

(Background chorus: “It’s the reeeeal thing.”)

[Trigger warning for Boomers; listening to the link will set off an earworm so annoying you’ll want to bite the head off a chicken — I recommend listening to Sam Cooke to rid yourself of it.]

Here we have New Age spirituality — what’s sacred is universal love (modernity is haunted by Christ) — with background myth of The Age of Aquarius (you’d have to have been there) . . . aimed at selling Coca-Cola to a credulous “target population.”

By Rieff’s reckoning, this is a class-divided holdover, an appeal by elite manipulators to those vestiges of a past predicated on the sacred, aimed at the backward lower classes and their sentimental attachments. Cultural elites, meanwhile, were bending not toward mere desacralization, but iconoclastic assaults on the sacred itself — at anti-culture, the severing of the cord between the sacred and the social.

Reiff sees this in James Joyce early, which progresses into elite anti-culture promoting things like a picture of Robert Mappelthorpe shoving a bullwhip up his own ass or a jar of urine containing a crucifix (“Piss Christ”) as high art. Self-fulfillment, self-expression in search of the next edgy thing, is paradoxically attention-seeking, the search for others to belong to one’s psychobabble sect — a perverted attempt to belong (to an in-group, or to lead one) in the postmodern necropolis. “Piss Christ” is a blatant example, one designed to provoke outrage and to garner allies (and taking refuge in the liberal principle of freedom of expression). Think of the band, Pussy Riot, vandalizing an Orthodox Church in Russia, which was widely applauded by the cultural mavens in the West (MacIntyre might have called them the aesthetic class) as “soooo transgressive.”

These provocations work, of course, as we see triggered conservatives (many of them men, many of them wanting to “conserve” an ephemeral gender order that was only ascendant in the US for a couple of decades after World War II, as if it were the highest expression of gender order [it was actually a progressive Disney-esque fantasy]), mobilizing Rieff in the service of particular contemporary political agendas.

I’d say the same thing about nationalism, another “conservative” touchstone; this part applies to Christian conservatives. Long before the Christian sacramental vision was dissolved into the cultural idols of New Ageism and the rest (where worship of the creator was displaced by the worship of an idealized creation),American churches had already, by virtue of religious privatization, been swallowed up by the idol of the nation and its liturgy of war. The spiritualizing era included Thomas Jefferson, for example, who “edited” the Bible to make it fit his philosophy, and by the likes of Emerson and Thoreau. The history of the modern state is one of continuous and unrelenting violence against community, particularity, and subsidiarity.

The uses of Rieff don’t make Rieff wrong. (He wrote, in fact, “A universal culture is a contradiction in terms.” Nation-states historically impose national culture on local culture in order to destroy local culture.)

Progressives aren’t off the hook with Rieff, though, just because a few conservatives try to wrangle Rieff for their own agendas. I saw a progressive “infleuncer” two years ago, during the jouissant, symbolic, and utterly ineffectual frenzy to tear down statues, suggest that leftist protesters should tear down statues of “white Jesus.” Deathworks. (As usual, this “left” political instinct was as idiotic as calls to “abolish the police.” “Tax the rich” was a fine slogan, well-received by laboring classes, until AOC turned it into a pop-poststructuralist performance at an elite gala.)

Rieff’s vision, like Ellul’s, both of which now seem uncannily prescient, reached more broadly and penetrated more deeply than the partisans of these momentary political tempests. Decades ago, Rieff and Ellul were looking not at an ever accelerating cycle of fashionable reaction to technique (in Ellul’s case) and its correlative therapeutic orientation (in Rieff’s), but at what has progressively happened to the person captured by modernity, and the ways in which myth (or the sacred) functions . . . and eventually fails as it transitions inevitably into deathworks . . . in producing stable, flourishing societies and persons.

Ellul was steeped in Kierkegaard and Barth, but also Marx, the later of whom’s greatest contribution (in this writer’s view) was where he deviated from his master, Hegel. The dialectic between technique, as material condition, and the self-absorbed therapeutic individual, may not be utterly determined by technique, but it’s certainly determined by it in the sense of being completely dependent upon it. One reason we’ll never restore the 1950’s ideal of the white, American, patriarchal, nuclear family is that the conditions out of which this Disney fantasy grew have disappeared into the maw of time.

Referring back now for a moment to the worship of creation instead of creator — a mark of the late spiritualizing era, and of the outbreak of lonely and desperate spiritual fads — the liberal individual, embedded in technique, inevitably becomes the inward-turning psychological individual, no longer a creature at all, but a self-creator. We actually believe that we can “invent (and re-invent) our-selves,” which demands we supplant the contextual person with the self. This is how we’ve been rendered suggestible to lunatic hustles like transhumanism. Rieff said that every cultural crisis (or “dissolution”) entails a crisis (or “dissolution”) of personality.

What happens to us when we are stripped of the sacred, and with it, of meaning and purpose?

I’m going to get more overtly Judeo-Christian here for a moment and cite — as Ellul did often — a different myth, the creation narrative in Genesis. In this narrative, the Creator provided the first human creatures with everything they needed, including the company of God. The temptation that led to the Fall was becoming the Creator, able to discern what is right and wrong, good and evil. God recognizes their disobedience when they declare their vulnerability (nakedness), whereupon the man blames the woman and the woman blames the serpent, and the original couple are cast out of the garden and into a terrifying world. Then one of their offspring commits the first murder, a fratricide, whereupon he goes out and builds a city. In Meaning of the City, Ellul picks up the narrative here:

Cain is not the city and Abel is not the country; but the relationship between them also illuminates (not exclusively) the relationship between the city and the country. All of man’s history is not limited to the history of the city and its progress. But they have nevertheless intermingled, and neither can be understood alone. The two realities are realities for God, and only in him can we know exactly what they are. But the problem becomes serious when the city kills the country, when Cain kills Abel. When that happens, man and history are so thrown out of kilter that nothing can modify the new situation. But — and here is what is important — it can be no other way. Cain could not stop being himself. From the beginning he had to kill Abel. The city, so mediocre, so puerile with its poorly carved blocks artlessly stacked upon one another, with its scanty population still rustic in nature — this city was, from the day of its creation, incapable, because of the motives behind its construction, of any other destiny than that of killing the country, where God put man to enable him to live his life as best he could.

So I’ll leave it there. Again, it’s just yeast. Do as you will; make ciabatta or baguettes, cinnamon rolls or beer. Your call.




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Stan Goff

Stan Goff

Author of the books “Hideous Dream,” “Full Spectrum Disorder,” “Borderline,” “Mammon’s Ecology,” and “Tough Gynes.”