Ideas Have Consequences Book Club: Ch. 1 – The Unsentimental Sentiment

I think I read the first three pages of this chapter 5 times before I could proceed with comprehension.

I do welcome comments and discussion even from those who aren’t reading along. Here is the not-as-brief-as-I’d-like summary. :)

Definitions

  • sentiment: an attitude, judgment, or thought prompted by feeling; a specific view or idea.
  • sentimental: being governed by emotional idealism; guided by feeling rather than reason or thought.
  • metaphysical: relating to reality beyond what the senses can perceive; transcendent reality; abstractions.* donée: the set of assumptions that drives a dramatic narrative

  • heuristic: problem-solving strategies based on experience (like rules-of-thumb, intuition, and common sense) rather than exhaustive research or mathematics or algorithms.

Summary

There are three levels of cultural participation:

  1. Specific ideas about things. That is, what you think about particulars; the daily thoughts about immediate matters.
  2. General beliefs or convictions. That is, your principles and basic doctrines, acquired through tradition or reflection.
  3. Metaphysical dream of the world. These days, we say “worldview”; your filter for interpreting history and events and actions. It is the story you see happening when you look to the past, the present, or the future. This story, or dream, also conveys the criteria for evaluation, how you judge between good and bad or better and worse or should and shouldn’t.

Before reasoning about something or seeking understanding of something, we must be engaged, interested, drawn – having some sort of feeling, being affected, is a prerequisite to inquiry, philosophy, reasoning.

What is Culture?

  • “A matter of yea-saying”: a collection of affirmations about the world
  • “A way of looking at the world through [a collection of] symbols so that [experience] take[s] on significance and man feels that he is acting in a drama.”
  • A true culture must be grounded in thoughtful order rather than sentimentality.
  • A set of assumptions about life that give a vision for what life and man should aspire to be, giving significance to choices and actions.
  • The metaphysical myth of a culture is the source of its heuristic principles that inform man’s sentiments without plunging him into either sentimentality or brutality, and also directs him away from pragmatic justification.
  • It is a man recognizing the noumenal, the transcendent, the abstract, and acting upon that rather than self-interest that dignifies him.
  • It is moving from particulars to universals, from particulars to principles and evaluations, rather than remaining immersed in the immediate, in passions, in facts. This is refinement, and a cultural heritage makes it easier on a man by giving him conventions and traditions.
  • “Culture is sentiment refined and measured by intellect.” It is style: measure, which gives structure.

  • The man of culture wants the idea of a thing more than the immediacy of a thing. He wants to generalize, abstract, even “fictionize” a thing. He gives a thing adornments and coverings. The barbarian rips them aside to get at the thing itself. The man of culture understands sacrilege and profanation.

Culture, then, pushes a man with affirmations about life and pulls him with conceptions of what he should be. It gives significance to the “sound and fury of his life” by putting it into a greater context and narrative. Unity in practical matters is only possible if founded upon unity of a metaphysical vision, upon a common worldview.

Modernity’s Problem(s)

That it does not matter what a man believes is a statement heard on every side today. [… But] what he believes tells him what the world is for. How can men who disagree about what the world is for agree about any of the minutiae of daily conduct? The statement really means that it does not matter what a man believes so long as he does not take his beliefs seriously.

  • Not only is there no widespread agreement and acceptance of a metaphysical dream, of a uniting myth, the commonality is that even individuals are often lacking such a perception. But a worldview, a set of assumptions about the purpose and meaning of life, is what gives not only unity to a nation or culture, but also identity and roots to each of its members.

Our ideas become convenient perceptions, and we accept contradiction because we no longer feel the necessity of relating thoughts to the metaphysical dream.

  • Disintegrating (de-unifying) barbarism because of the desire for immediacy, leading to a dissolving of forms in order to supposedly get at the reality itself behind the forms. “It is characteristic of the barbarian […] to instist upon seeing a thing ‘as it is.’ The desire testifies that he has nothing in himself with which to spiritualize it.” He has no imagination, no ideal, no vision, no transcendency. Forms do mean restraint. Those involved in culture accept restraint; those without refuse it. However, “it is [suppositions] about a matter which give it meaning, and not some intrinsic property which can be seized in the barehanded fashion of the barbarian.” Modern culture “makes a virtue of desecreation” and is “proud of its shamelessness, determined “to enjoy the forbidden in the name of freedom.”

  • We do not educate:

No education is worthy of the name which fails to make the point that the world is best understood from a certain distance or that the most elementary understanding requires a degree of abstraction.

  • We have no manners:

Many connot conceive why form should be allowed to impede the expression of honest hearts. The reason lies in one of the limitations imposed upon man: unformed expression is ever tending toward ignorance. Good intention is primary, but it is not enough: that is the lesson of the experiement of romanticism.

  • Because we no longer accept the mores of cultural sentiments, prefering here-and-now self-gratifying existence, familial and friendly relationships diminish in neglect, often meaning “persons who will allow you to use them to your advantage” [side note: that is precisely what the hot trend of “networking” appears to me to be about]. In a cultured society “the idea of a campaign to win friends must be incomprehsible.” And “the art of manipulating personalities obviously presumes a disrespect for personality.”

Discussion Question: Self-Control

The man of self-control is he who can consistenly perform the feat of abstraction. He is therefore trained to see things under the aspect of eternity, because form is the enduring part. Thus we invariably find in the man of true culture a deep respect for forms.

First off, this reminded me of a bit from the Roots of American Order book club where it was commented along these same lines that forms have authority, which I was loathe to grant (it sounding dangerously papish to my Reformed ears); however, “a deep respect” I am on board with. A tradition does not have authority in the sense that I am obliged to seek the most traditional tradition available, or seek to implement as many traditions; instead, a tradition (even one not my own) should receive respect by default (though it might prove to be a tradition to be rejected) and should not be lightly or scornfully rejected on the assumption that I am too good to need it. That is not the same thing as a tradition or a form having authority, though the sentiments are close.

However, this section primarily struck me because “self-control” is the root goal of much of our parenting. Perhaps I feel like I am having limited success because I have misapprehended what self-control consists of. Is it a synonym for willpower? Reading this section made me realize that however I might answer that definition question, I had been parenting as if having self-control meant exercising willpower.

And it isn’t.

Firstly, of course, it is a fruit of the Spirit for Christians, meaning it is something available and given to us, not something we have to muster up on our own.

Secondly, here, Weaver says it is based on a shift of perception. It is grounded on the ability to shift focus from the immediate senses and desires to stepping outside himself, visualizing how the situation ought to be, and conforming himself to that vision. It isn’t the ignoring of his appetites, which is how I have conceived of it; it is the prioritization and shifting of appetites or affections toward the eternal, the lasting, the more meaningful. It is seeing, loving, and wanting the big picture more than the moment’s allure.

Do you agree or disagree with his definition of self-control? How does that definition of self-control impact not only our own choices (food, exercise, internet use, etc.) but also our parenting tactics?

Your Posts

So many possible interesting discussions here! We could take weeks and not go down all the rabbit trails. :) I can’t wait to see what topics are picked and what comes up in the comment-discussions. Please do join in!



8 Responses

  1. Dana
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    Here’s a link to my summary of chapter one from a 2007 Book Club hostessed by Cindy Rollins. Kelly (Badgermum) encouraged me to share, so I hope that’s okay.

    As Kelly mentioned that she has company, I am just re-entering home life after a week-long family reunion/vacation.

    Surely I can find some time in the next of couple of days to read and comment on what others have to say ~

    I found Weaver to be extremely challenging!

    http://hiddenart.blogspot.com/2007/10/ideas-have-consequences-chapter-one.html

  2. Kelly
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    Here’s my submission for this chapter: http://badgermum.blogspot.com/2012/07/ideas-have-consequences-chapter-1.html

    I’ll have to print yours out so I can read it when I can snatch moments here and and there.

  3. Lisa H.
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    I like the definition of self-control given above, as it seems consistent with the biblical meaning, yet as you mention, form can change depending on your worldview. For the believer, even, there is room for varying forms. Christ allows us a freedom within the realm of our self-control, so long as we “conform” to Christ, and His eternity. I believe that is what we might call a grace.
    As for parenting, the shift in training the “willpower,” as you put it, to helping children see the big picture and put off immediate gratification for the greater glory of the eternal, beautiful, good, and true has helped immensely. I realized this years ago, thankfully, but not soon enough. Again, it is a work of the Holy Spirit. If Christ Himself were to make Himself manifest to their barbarian eyes today, how many would still desire their own way?
    The idea that we have no manners has struck me often the last several years. Manners are unifying. Courtesy and self-restraint are the beginning of unity, leading to kindness, an attribute of God, in Whose image we are made.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      I had never thought of the connection between manners and unity, but I think you’re right. Manners are a type of convention, which is a shared expectation.

  4. Brandy @ Afterthoughts
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    I am so glad you said you had to read it over and over to comprehend it because I did, too! In fact, after reading it a few times, I began writing my way through it (with pen and paper!) because that was the only way for me.

    I wanted to post quotes for the Intro, but was unable last week. I’ll probably do those tomorrow before moving on to the Ch 1 post. Where do you want me to link? To your introduction post? Or to this more recent linky since my post is more recent? I’ll use your answer for future reference, too.

    I’m still trying to take the education rabbit trail. You are right that there are SO many possibilities, so I think choosing one (education) is going to help me keep my focus. But who knows. I think I could blog on this book every single day and not run out of options…which is a sure sign it is a good book!

    So glad Dana and Kelly have shown up around here. It’s like old times. :)

    • Mystie Winckler
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      I’d prefer it if the links were related to the link-up post’s title. So, link up an Intro quotes post to the Intro summary post. I extended the time links could be added so they’ll all be open for the entire book club. :) Thanks!

      Yes, there are many rabbit trails to take! I hope getting a few different people writing about it will give us a chance to visit several. :)

  5. Pilgrim
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    I have to agree with the others that are having a hard time following the beginning part of the chapter. I wonder if it is because they are concepts that are so far removed from the way we normally think today. I truly appreciated your outline Mystie. I had not considered the self control aspect in the light that you placed it and it is VERY helpful. I guess that is why CM constantly encourages telling stories of the brave and bold – to show people who saw the bigger picture and put aside their own immediate wants. I am still trying to figure out how you do this in the day to day.

    Brandy has the book “Give them Grace” in her side bar which encourages that in a slightly different way – not so much picturing the desired behavior but remembering the story of our Savior that has covered our sins and offers us grace. It encourages you to place your child’s sin, failure, mistakes in context of the “big picture” of
    Christ’s sacrifice. I try to remember that when we all fall short around here – but it is a different way of approaching life for me.

    I am thinking that putting these two “stories” together – the desired behavior and the sacrifice made for our own weakness – could help children do the good and trust God when things don’t go as they should. I think it would help avoid some of the “try harder” mentality but also provide Christ’s love as the basis for desiring to do right. I have NO idea how you would do this in practice though.

    Two of my favorite quotes from the chapter:
    “which threatens to be the world of our future, is an arena in which conflicting ideas, numerous after the accumulation of centuries, are freed from the discipline earlier imposed by ultimate conceptions.” I think we are living this now – without any higher ordering every idea is “valid” and there are a lot to choose from.

    “those who have no concern for their ancestors will, by simple application of the same rule, have none for their descendants”. How many times does the Bible tell us to remember His works and share them with our children. This is why!

    Okay, one more:
    From Matthew Arnold “if one were searching for the best means to efface and kill, in a whole nation, the discipline of self respect, the feeling for what is elevated, he could do no better than take the American newspapers.” (1888) What would they think about TV??

    Hope everyone is well!