for Pierre Whalon
The reactions to my previous Chronicle demonstrated that I had failed to make the point of my reaction to Patrick Buchanan’s denial of overall human “equality” clear even to many of those explicitly interested in GA. Your higher score than mine on an examination makes you better qualified for a given position without affecting our fundamental equality as human beings. The point is not that Buchanan seems likely to disagree with this statement, but that he does not feel able, as he would have a generation or so ago, explicitly to affirm this basic sense of equality, in contrast with the equality of results demanded by “equity.” I think this can most simply be explained by the impossibility in today’s political context, regardless of one’s own religious convictions, of affirming this equality’s “theological” basis in “endowed by our Creator”—which Jefferson, as a Deist, was able to assert as a belief shared by all the Declaration’s eventual signatories. In our secular age, such justifications have become unusable even for good Catholics as I presume Buchanan is.
Whence my theme in this brief Chronicle: the assertion of the fundamental ontological non-difference between generative-anthropological and theological understandings of the human. The thrust of generative anthropology, if not of “ecumenical” discussions in general, is to show that the differences between the religions, and between religion and secularism, even most expressions of atheism, are not at root ontological distinctions. The faith that postulates the ontological nature of this difference is one of personal commitment that should have no influence on the solidarity that connects the human race as the species linked by différance. A characterization whose paradoxicality itself requires some further explanation.
When Jefferson wrote “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” the mistake of our secular age is to focus on the word “Creator” and thereby to make human moral equality dependent on a “theological” faith. Without concerning ourselves with Jefferson’s own religious/ontological beliefs, let alone with his judgment as to the relative capacities of the different races, we must understand that the real burden of this phrase is the explicitation of “created equal.” This is the affirmation that all humans inherently possess these “unalienable rights,” which is to say that these rights are on the one hand the property of each individual, but on the other that they exist only insofar as they are shared by all. Such a status could not exist among creatures incapable of the reciprocal transmission, not merely of information, but of information concerning this information, that is, of an indefinitely extended chain of communication whose potentially infinite recursivity guarantees an indefinite degree of reciprocity.
The attribution of these increated rights to the Creator is not a throwaway sop to the religious. It makes the important point that, in addition to the “natural” conditions that reign in the universe of matter and other life-forms, an additional force is required to explain these rights, a force concerning which I think I have made sufficiently clear in recent Chronicles in what sense I consider the human “sense of the sacred,” born in the originary interactions I have elsewhere described, as the anthropological equivalent of the Judeo-Christian “living God,” leaving aside the obvious differences in what this “living” quality consists of in the two cases. The sacred is the ground of the shared reciprocity of the human community that expresses itself most fundamentally in language, which is at the same time an affirmation of the unanimous acceptance of the “will” of the sacred in deferring our appetitive reaction to the originary object of desire and henceforth to any object that we consider from the perspective of our implicit membership in the human community.
I certainly have no desire to claim that my descriptions are those of an empirical scientist, although no doubt the hypothetical phenomena I describe would entail measurable physiological and neurological components—essentially the same elements as involved in Chomsky’s famous polemic with Skinner over the reflexive vs recursive nature of language, which Chomsky made no attempt to deal with in biological terms.
Chomsky’s implicit ontology was secondary to his linguistics, so that his analysis of recursion allowed him to claim victory over Skinner without such detail. Yet, needless to say, “infinite” recursion is beyond our physiological/neurological capacity, and from the GA standpoint this is precisely the point at which we can claim that Chomsky’s argument against Skinner would have needed the originary hypothesis to be truly complete.
Whereas my claim is much simpler. Even in their very first use of the sign, without any syntax whatever, recursive or otherwise, save that implicit in the relationships among the signers and their common referent, these creatures have become human: they have experienced Derrida’s différance, they have Sartre’s pour-soi inhabited by a néant, and as a concession to Heidegger (and Gérard Bucher), we can even say that they are conscious in a new sense of their mortality, not “instinctively” but by reflection, whence their susceptibility to the sacred will deterring them from a potentially fatal attempt at appropriation.
It is this addition of a new “layer” of consciousness, that of representation—as I continue to call it despite the supposed “naivete” of the term—one that allows for and indeed is constituted by paradox, that defines the human. For this additional layer is not an individual achievement; it is conceivable only as a means of communication within a community, not simply because a language event requires in principle at least two parties, speaker and hearer, but because the sense of the sacred that institutes the first différance, the deferral of “instinctive” reaction, is generated by the mimetic contagion of the group whose presence makes instinctive action, not physically impossible, but on reflection inadvisable.
But “on reflection” means here not simply realizing one’s personal danger in rejecting the sacred sense of interdiction, but realizing it collectively, as a renunciation that is at the same time understood, with increasing clarity as the originary event proceeds, as contributing to a communal project, a movement toward the peaceful sharing in the concluding feast of what had been a potential object of violent contention.
Jefferson’s “created equal” is the refined residue of this experience. And indeed, for the purposes of the Declaration, it matters not whether the “Creator” in this sentence refer to the Judeo-Christian God, to a nameless Deity—or simply to the sacred-driven collective experience of the originary event that created humanity as a new ontological category, a new form of being.
This is the fundamental lesson of the originary hypothesis, and of generative anthropology, from which all the rest follows. Or as Hillel might have put it in days of old: this is the whole of GA; the rest is explanation; go and learn.