Thursday, January 22, 2009

What a Tangled Web...

[HST 327, French Revolution and 19th Century Europe]

So, at this point, we've been going through the build-up to the French Revolution. Stuff that I'd probably gone over before in my learnings, but for some reason, it made a lot more sense to me, and I'll explain farther below. Suffice it to say, I've got quite the outlook on it, now. It's very interesting, too. We haven't quite gotten to the Revolution yet, but the overall picture is still pretty interesting to watch developing. I'll also have to do this from memory, as I'm kinda too lazy to grab my binder.

In class, a lot of the very roots of one cause (not the only one, but one of the primary causes) of the Revolution got explained. This was everything that led up to the Enlightenment idea. It started with the idea that, previous to the Scientific Revolution (and even before) you had a shift in the way that science worked. You had gone through the Scholastic period, where men looked at faith and reason as informing each other.

Slowly but surely, there turned out to be a divide between the two, and eventually a corrosion of trust in the ability of faith to be true, because of the Protestant insurrection in Europe, which eventually split Europe into Catholic and Protestant portions, both of which were warring. Men looked at this, and wondered just how valid faith could be, when it apparently wasn't able to arrive at an undivided answer, and led to violence. Thus, all that was left was reason.

Cue the intellectuals. Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Voltaire, etc., etc., etc. You began to see a group of people called "Philosophes", who had sweeping ideas for government, and no way to practically apply them. They were also widely ignored by the government, and everyone else. So, they never actually got much of a chance to get their ideas debated, only to spread hypotheses which were untested. And then, they get wound up in with the Absolutists, which means Austria, Russia, and Prussia. They develop the idea of "Enlightened Absolutism", which is basically their compromise with the only people who will finally listen to them. Enter intellectual superiority complexes for those Absolutists. Followed by a couple of wars.

The rather important thing about these wars is that France got involved. And they happened to get the short end of the deal, even when their side won. End result: they lose their colonies around the world to Britain, and spend lots of money. Pretty poor deal for them. That's not going to help anything when events go south.

Then along comes Louis XIV, the "Sun King". He decides that he's going to be a glorious absolute monarch. He wants to limit the authority of the nobles, and so he comes up with a brilliant plan called "Versailles". See, the power of the nobles is based in the land they own. If they're away from their land, they don't have that power. He keeps them at Versailles, distracted by shiny things, and they comply. He even gets them to fight each other for social standing, sticking them in meaningless intrigue. Very clever of him. He also ends up costing France a pretty penny.

Louis XV doesn't get an easy bit of life either, in some regards. He has to keep all this stuff up, keeping the nobles in check, and his monarchy has a bunch of problems that bleed over to Louis XVI. This includes horrible finances, and some bad bureaucracy. But hold on, this isn't the interesting stuff. Because it's now that the wheels start to turn...

Louis XVI. Poor guy. He gets a France that is really strapped for cash. The American Revolution is also supported by France, which costs them money as well. Not only that, but intellectuals see America as proof that their ideas work. So there's problems there. The immediate problem, though, is that there's a big budget deficit. Enter the Estates-General.

These are the people that the King needs to ask for money, if his personal estates can't furnish it. There's three Estates: the clergy (dominated by the rich bishops, also containing the dirt-poor priests), the nobles, and everyone else. Louis was afraid that the Estates would force demands upon him, so he didn't want to call them into session, also seeing as it had been very many years since they had last come around.

Now here's the tangled politics of the Third Estate, the "everyone else". See, they'd always been outvoted by Estate 1 and Estate 2, because each estate got exactly one vote. So before they all met, the Third Estate was pushing for a vote per person. This would give them dominance, not only because they outnumbered the other two estates, but because the poor priests of the First Estate and the poor nobles of the Second Estate sympathized with the Third Estate. So, already, there was an alliance being formed here.

The Estates also put out surveys, so to speak, before they went into session, collecting grievances against the king, which usually amounted to "We want to own land and not pay as high a rent," from the peasants. And when they finally come into session, WHAM! Louis wants to talk about money, but the Estates General have other ideas.

So he shuts them down, tells them to disperse. The Third Estate and its sympathizers (remember, the poor clergy and the poor nobles) stick around, and form the National Assembly, and start to write a Constitution. Louis goes, "Oh shoot!" and shuts them down. Leading to...the "Tennis Court Oath". Not happy with being shut down, this huge group pledges not to disassemble until they have written a Constitution.

It's not here yet, but already I can see each piece of the puzzle shooting into place, coming together into a devastating conclusion. I'm very interested to watch just how it does happen, and I think it's because I'm really looking at plotting as a writer, now. With my experience in drama and from watching some TV shows, I'm starting to see the idea of how plots come together and gear towards a conclusion, and I love it when I can see that very same thing modeled in real life. Because history really is a story, and can be fascinating when seen as such.

(Sorry, philosophical people. I'll stick more philosophical stuff in, too, but this was really cool)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Deepness of Love, etc.

["Love and Responsibility", by Karol Wojtyla, read for THE 341, Christian Marriage]

Okay, so here begins the very thing that inspired this whole blog. I suppose I should also add that the subject of love, particularly intrapersonal love, has been something that I'm constantly trying to wrap my head around and understand, probably because I've ended up learning a lot about close friendships recently. And right here, the future JPII starts to give the readers an incredible shedding-of-light into this very complex and often misunderstood area of humanity.

Now, I won't be summarizing the whole thing, so I'll just make a brief mention of the first part of the reading, his thoughts on the verb "to use". He notes that each person is a subject of actions, and at the same time ought to be an object of actions, as the direct end of an action, instead of the means. He also adds that the reason love works is because there are two subjects acting towards the same common goal, which makes them each an end to the other. I thought that was a very interesting idea, that each person cooperates to achieve love. And then I basically got on a philosophical and intellectual and personal "high", for lack of a better term. Because I read the next assigned section, the chapter on the "metaphysics of love".

Okay, wow. This guy knew what he was talking about, mostly because he's totally grounded in faith and reason, and because all good is eminently rational in the end, even if we can't see it right away. And here, he basically sheds all manner of light on the subject of love, particularly between men and women.

Here's the bit which really blew me away. He starts talking about love between men and women, and gets onto the topic of attraction. I'm sure that most of you are familiar with this concept. But right here, it got boiled down in a very interesting way. First, it's associated closely with Love itself, as an integral part of it. And then, it gets defined in such a way that starts to bring everything together...See, here's how The Great puts it: "To attract someone means more or less the same as to be regarded as a good." He goes on to explain things thus: when we feel an attraction to somebody, what we are really doing is finding the good in that person, and responding to that good which we find, a response of desiring to have that good. Of course, that's not the most interesting part. It's something he says after this explanation that makes so much make sense. It's about discerning an attraction towards someone.

"In these circumstances the subject [of feelings of attraction] does not inquire whether the other person really possesses the values visible to partial eyes, but mainly whether the newborn feeling for that person is a true emotion."

I read that, and I was like..."Dude! That makes so much sense!"'s just amazing. What he's saying here is basically a cut to the core of all hopeless romantics and sentimentals. Think on it, the scenario of a young man or woman meeting a member of the opposite sex, and then developing feelings for them afterwards. What is the first question they ask? "Oh, but do I really like them? Or is this just a feeling that'll go away after a while. Because I really want it to be something real." Hey, I've done that myself. And the moment I read this, it was one of those "Oh, DUH!" moments. And here's why: I figured out how simple it was to commence discernment.

It's not a fuzzy process of testing your emotions and seeing if they stick around. In fact, it's a very friendship-building process. The question you should be asking isn't "Are my feelings real?" but rather, "What gives me these feelings?" To distill the source of the attraction, which means to identify the good in the other person which the attraction stems from. Are you attracted to them because they're pretty/handsome? Because they're smart? Because they're romantic? Once you figure out the why, you know that your feelings are founded on something, and you can evaluate that something. Not only that, but the reason that it builds friendship is that when you are attracted to someone, and even "falling in love" with them, you are discovering more and more good in them which you are attracted to.

That's probably one of the most powerful things I've found, because it's so practical, and it makes so much sense. It's not sentimental and silly, but very grounded in truth and reality, especially grounded in the transcendent Truth.

There's more that follows, though, and it's even more powerful and beautiful, and I really don't have time to cover it all here. Shortly put, it's about the different aspects of love. The first one discussed is desire. When you love someone, you desire them as a good, in this aspect. For example, you recognize that there is something about them that leads you closer to God, and you desire that, so you stick around them, so that it comes to you. This type of love, though, must eventually evolve into the love of Goodwill, where you place the good of the other above your own good. And here's the really awesome bit.

These two loves seem to contradict each other. But the fact of the matter is, according to JPII/Wojtyla, they coexist and flourish with one another in the context of reciprocal love. In this sort of love, the other is desired as a co-creator of love, and so the desire to commit oneself to strengthening and growing this love is entirely selfless, instead of selfish. And that, alone, pretty much blew my mind. He then went on to discuss sympathy versus friendship, sympathy being the experiencing-together with another person of emotions or events, which on its own is not friendship. Rather, friendship is the commitment to the other, and a sort of giving-of-self on some level.

However, he says that sympathy develops into friendship, as we stop relying on emotional experiences and go towards the good found in others. This is just like how the love from desire grows and integrates the love from goodwill, something which can eventually blossom into Betrothed Love, which is the next step of reciprocal love, leading to the culmination, Married Love.

JPII, that was amazing.

(Note: you all should really just read Love and Responsibility on your own, as it's just amazing, and I can't begin to convey how everything works together in this brief blog post. Don't take me as the final authority by any stretch, there's a lot more to what I read than this scant summary up here)