Peter Volkofsky | Author & Life Coach

Peter Volkofsky is an author, spoken word poet and life coach. In 2017, Peter published his thriller Mia's Magic Wand. In 2015 he published Beautiful Quest as an Ark House imprint. Peter has been married to his wife Penelope for thirty-three years and together they have reared seven children.

Catalytic (cat•a•lyt•ic)

(adj.) a process that precipitates an event

The Vision

Individuals and teams reaching their goals.

PETE'S BLOG

2 Comments8 Minutes

The Pub-Tab Fella

 

[part four of The Road to Economic Triage and Mercenary Sexuality]

I've been on the road for an hour. The windscreen is smeared with dead insects, which act like a magnifier for the early morning sun, and to make matters worse I'm getting sleepy. Turning on the air-con to give myself a cold-snap, I wake up a bit, but that doesn't last long and I contemplate pulling over for a proper nap. But 'no!' there's the slow-down signs of a town, which signal the approach of what I'm hoping will be a 'place of coffee'. Out here they're regarded as 'coffee-getting places' for the tourists and travellers 'cause they don't normally lower themselves to the serious business of employing goths dressed-up as baristas behind gleaming monstrosities of steam and milk.

As I cruise along the abandoned grey strip, the town looks dead, despite the fact that it's already 8:15am. Everything is shut—everything except the bakery that is, where the friendly Asian guy works. And there he is, looking like he just got out of school and just got out of bed but, as always, cheerful as ever. And there's his mate hanging around outside waiting for a chance for them to have a smoke. The whole thing reminding me of what it was like to be eighteen and sorting out the tedious early-morning or late-night stuff of the sheep or the cattle or the shop or whatever it was —for dad—who's got eyes in the back of his head (even from a distance) and will be sorting the more serious side of things at a saner hour—like his dad used to do to him—which is quite a cool and young-son-thing to do even though you complained about it at the time and sometimes even suggested that dad was a bit slack.

So here we are, ordering a coffee. Uh-oh! I'm twenty cents short. The boy explains that the shop up the road has eftpos. So now we're at the 'other shop' getting the eftpos deal where you have to spend ten bucks first. And this guy—who's quite a bit older—has more of the pub-tab look about him: 'heart of the town' fella with an old mate already tipping out his trials and tribulations to him while I wait. Then his mate leaves, we do the eftpos-deal, and (as I'm about to leave) I ask him a question.

'Can I ask you a question?'

'Sure?'

'I'm a preacher, so it's a preacher's kind of question.'

'No problem mate.'

'If it's true that our deepest longings will never be fulfilled in this world, is it fair to conclude that we were made for another world?

There's a long pause and then he says, 'I gotta tell you something mate ... I've never told anyone this ... I've been an alcoholic. But I'm getting back — to — '

He hangs his head, looks at the floor and stays looking at the floor.

'It's Ok mate...'

'I can't believe you asked me that question,' he says, with his head still down. 'My dad passed away just recently ... and I've made a mess.'

'Do you call out to the Man Upstairs?'

'I do mate,' he says, continuing to look at the floor. 'But I'm a bad fella. I've done bad stuff. I'm not religious you have to understand. But yeah I pray.'

'The Lord's Prayer is a good one.'
'Yeah I do that one mate, but I'm a bad man.'

'Well I think you belong to the Man Upstairs.'

'No mate—not me,' he says still holding his head down.

'Yeah—you came out of his heart.'

Finally he lifts his head, tears filling his eyes. And he looks at me, and looks at me.

A customer walks into his shop, we talk some more and then, on my way to the door he calls out, tells me his name and shakes my hand. I'm overwhelmed as I walk back for my coffee, which is so ready that the young guy has come looking for me.

I pay for the coffee, walk out onto the footpath, find a table, open my laptop and turn to chapter nineteen of my novel-in-progress where the main character is reflecting on a tragedy ...

'But then it's like you overhear this snicker in the dark and you think, “Gotcha you bastard! All this bangin' on about the random, meaningless accidents of life (like these horrors)—as if we've all been doing nothing more than stumbling around in a blacked-out room—is no accident! Whatever you are, you have a vested interest in keeping this impersonal. But it is personal and it's evil! God and devil stuff!” '

'Then it takes a different tack and it's like this other voice, saying, “You know all that hope and love darling, well it's shit and that's all it ever will be.” How like the whispered lies of a molester. Telling you that because his kind of shit exists in the universe, because there are gas chambers, then every bit of hope is a lie – "so why not hop into my little Black Box with me?" Despair, it seems, has a persona and an agenda and I'm wanting to laugh, to mock the devil I suppose, for succeeding in making me into a total, belligerent fan of a personal faith. How could I ever have dismissed all this as simply the crazy music of nature? No, this is an unmasking and thanks to it, I'm taking life personally and I'm being drawn into a personal, crucifixion/resurrection kind of faith—and I love it.'

0 Comments5 Minutes

Dawkins Book-Signing Clanger

[part three of The Road to Economic Triage and Mercenary Sexuality]

'A few years ago he (Richard Dawkins) was in Washington DC promoting his most recent book. A young man was in the audience who worked for a Washington think tank—and who has read Total Truth. He put a question to Dawkins.

“If humans are machines, and it is inappropriate to praise or blame for their actions, then should we be giving you credit for the book you are promoting?”

Dawkins quickly backtracked.

“I can't bring myself to do that,” he responded. “I actually do respond in an emotional way and I blame people. I give people credit.”

We might say that in real life, Dawkins keeps walking off his own map. He acts in ways that his worldview does not account for.

The young man pressed the point further. “But don't you see that this is an inconsistency in your view?”

Dawkins replied, “I sort of do, yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with— otherwise life would be intolerable.”1a

It was an astonishing admission that in practice no one can live by the naturalistic worldview he himself promotes—that its consequences would be intolerable.'(1b)

'Tom Woolfe makes a similar observation: “At a recent conference on the implications of genetic theory for the legal system—five distinguished genetic theorists are up on stage—I stood up in the audience and asked, “If there's no free will why should we believe anything you've said so far? You only say it because you're programmed to say it.” You've never heard such stuttering and blathering in response to anything in your life.'(1c) '

It may be alright for Dawkins to play word-games like that but there are serious consequences for such thinking in the real world. The pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty has seriously suggested the rich nations may end up engaging in “economic triage” against poor nations. After all, throughout history, various nations have come up with ways to exclude certain groups from the human family by labelling them subhuman ... The idea that human rights are universal, Rorty notes, was a completely novel concept ushered in by Christianity. It rests on the biblical teaching that “all human beings are created in the image of God.”

Because of Darwin, Rorty states, we no longer accept creation. Therefore we no longer need to maintain that everyone who is biologically human has equal dignity. We are free to revert to the pre- Christian attitude that only certain groups qualify for human rights.

What criterion should we use in selecting which groups qualify? The most logical would be an economic criterion, Rorty argues. Any concept of obligation “has to be one which takes money into account.” It has to ask, “Do we have the economic resources to help these people? When this is raised, then the idea that everyone would have the same rights “is obviously unfeasible”... Thus Rorty concludes, there is no meaningful way to state that the “poor five billion citizens of the member states of the United nations” have the same rights as the rich nations.8 In response to this, Smith warns, “History shows that once we create categories of different worth, those humans denigrated by the political power-structure as having less value are exploited, oppressed and killed.”(9)

  1. 1a  The young man's name was Joe Manzari. See Logan Gage, “Who wrote Richard Dawkin's new book?” Evolution News and Views, 28 October 2006, http://www.evolutionnews.org/2006/10/who_wrote_richard_dawkinss_new,html. MY account is slightly different because it is taken from an audio tape.
  2. 1b  Pearcey N. Saving Leonardo pp: 153 B&H Publishing 2010
  3. 1c  Cited in Carol Iannone, “A Critic in Full: A Conversation With Tom Woolfe,” Academic Questions, 11 August 2008.

8 Richard Rorty, “Moral Universalism and Economic Triage,” paper presented at the second UNESCO Philosophy Forum, Paris, 1996. Reprinted in Diogenes, vil.44, issue 173 (1996) – quoted by Pearcy N. Saving Leonardo p.60

9 National Public Radio in San francisco ... Smith, 'Welcome To Our Brave New World'

0 Comments7 Minutes

After School Cartoons & ‘Human Strip-Mining’

 

'Byjerkerno mysterium tremendum et fascinans'

[part two of The Road to Economic Triage and Mercenary Sexuality]

Lying on my lounge room floor, I watch a random cartoon show that's an endless cycle of stories revolving around anxiety, fear, shock, disgust and flippancy (1aa)—all dressed up with a cast of distorted zombies, disfigured werewolves, and witches who look a bit like the friendly little emo- kids (they are actually friendly, nice, sort of kids I've discovered) down at the mall. I'm not the one who's chosen to watch this, by the way—one of my offspring has—and I'm wondering how on earth I'm going to politely explain to them that this is rampant nihilism. That the thinking behind this is what inspired 21st century thinker Richard Rorty to challenge the idea that human rights are universal.

Rorty points out that this was a completely novel concept ushered in by Christianity, and that it rests on the biblical teaching that “all human beings are created in the image of God.” Because of Darwin, Rorty argues, we no longer accept creation. Therefore we no longer need to maintain that everyone who is biologically human has equal dignity. We are free to revert to the pre-Christian attitude that only certain groups qualify for human rights.(1b)

His thinking is supported by many others (like Adrian Woolfson) who says, “We are on the cusp of a new Enlightenment ... we can finally entertain the possibility of modifying our own nature and creating artificial life.”(3) But the use of the word 'Enlightenment' sets alarm bells ringing for anyone who knows anything about some of the darker gifts of the previous bold and brazen 'Enlightenment (4)': 60million people killed by the Soviet Communists; 35 million by the Chinese communists; 21 million by the Nazis not to mention one quarter of the population of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. (5)

And it doesn't stop there, out of nihilism comes 'personhood theory', which according to Pearcey, states that 'just being part of the human race is not morally relevant. Individuals must earn the status of personhood by meeting an additional set of criteria: the ability to make decisions, self-awareness and so on ... many ethicists have argued that non-persons may be used for utilitarian purposes such as research and harvesting organs. Wesley Smith(7) describes this as a proposal for “human strip-mining”.' (7a)

So—here we are in our lounge room 'swimming in' it—lightened-up of course with double- meanings, a harmless-sounding nerd vocabulary and occasionally references to 'normal-life' motifs like family, housing markets and mothers. Finally I make my 'comment' and we get talking about nihilism, which—I explain to my daughter—is the idea that life is meaningless, and not just meaningless: stupid in fact, a horrible joke.

She turns the telly off and starts talking about something happier and I'm feeling like a kill-joy for bringing a word like 'nihilism' into an after-school cartoon—although I don't know that she cared all that much for the show anyway.

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1aa 'But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour- plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it ... ' [letter 12 Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis]

1b Richard Rorty, “Moral Universalism and Economic Triage,” paper presented at the second UNESCO Philosophy Forum, Paris, 1996. Reprinted in Diogenes, vil.44, issue 173 (1996) – quoted by Pearcy N. Saving Leonardo p.60

3 Adrian Woolfson, An Intelligent Person's Guide To Genetics (New York: Overlook Press, 2006), preface

4 ( the Enlightenment )a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by 17th-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent exponents include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.

5 Statistics cited in Saving Leonardo by Pearcey N. p.238, 2010 - B&H Publishers

7 Author of Culture of Death
7a cited in Saving Leonardo by Pearcey N. p.58, 2010 - B&H Publishers

 

0 Comments10 Minutes

The Road to Economic Triage & Mercenary Sexuality: Part One

Sunset

There's something surreal about walking into a space called a 'shop'. The street you walk along, the big slab of glass, the posters, the counter and the merchandise all make it easy for you to meet a total stranger, give them some money and walk away with a piece of merchandise without even having to know the name of the guy you gave the money to. For all you know he might be a liar and a cheat, he might be the most amazing person you'll ever meet, he might be agonising over some awful mess in his family or he could be about to drop dead.

Today, it's the bike shop, and I'm a bit irritated that we're down to actually having to spend money on a spidery piece of machinery that you can lift with one hand and which might blow away in the wind. And while the facts and numbers are getting sorted, we get talking about other facts: my son has just finished his HSC; he's actually #6 child.

'By the way,' I say to him. 'Can I tell you about a good parent question I discovered? It goes like this, “What's it been like having me as your father?”

The man behind he counter looks at me in astonishment as I explain to him that I've been working my away around to asking that question of each of my older children—and yes, you do need to put your rhinoceros hide on first.

'So when is a good age to ask them?' he says.

'Maybe seventeen?' I say.

Our conversation quickly moves onto what might be called the 'other real things of life': hope, faith and meaning. And we are no longer just a customer and a merchant, we are two human beings talking about the stuff that makes us human. And all this in a shop filled with machines, which I grudgingly have to admit are stunning creations—and to go with every machine, hundreds of magnificent little spare parts.

As I walk away with my bike-part, I can't help thinking about another 'fact': that my friend in the shop, and the people now walking past me in the street, are being made to think that all that hope and meaning stuff is just a noble lie and—worse than that—a prison, which limits our freedom and puts our destiny in the hands of religious creeps. 'Come on people,' goes the sales-pitch. 'If you will only let go of all that stick-in-the mud stuff you will be free to embrace the absolute freedom of Total Quality Life (TQL) where questions about what is allowed or what is right and wrong are out the door and the only guide is your personal lifestyle preference. You need to wake-up to the fact that the universe is nothing more than a shopping mall—you create whatever meaning you want damn it!' Kind of like the bike shop—without pesky things like that conversation about family, hope and meaning.

Nancy Pearcey in her book Saving Leonardo explains it this way ... 'The assumption that drives all these futurist scenarios, says embryologist Brian Goodwin, is the Darwinian claim that there is no such thing as a species—that what we call 'species' are merely temporary groupings in the ever-shifting population of evolving organisms, eddies in the genetic stream. Because of this Darwinian assumption, Goodwin explains, “we've lost even the concept of human nature”. As a result, life becomes a set of parts, commodities that can be shifted around” to suit some geneticist's vision of progress.1 A cosmic 'bike shop' if you like.

Another way of putting it is to use a literary metaphor: Biologist Thomas Eisner says a species is not a “hard-bound volume of the library of nature” but instead a “loose-leaf book, whose individual pages—the genes—might be available for selective transfer and modification of other species.” This is a highly revealing metaphor, because it suggests that if there is no author of the book of life, there is no basis for regarding organisms as integrated wholes.'2

That conversation in the bike-shop about parenting, fatherhood and learning to listen and love our children, is starting to look kind of irrelevant in this so called 'truer world' where we humans are 'merely temporary groupings in the ever-shifting population of evolving organisms'. The idea of purpose and meaning starts to look irrelevant. Their obvious rejoinder is, 'Purpose? I dunno about that. I'm thinking of tweaking my sex life with some DNA from a rhino, and yeah, we've been looking at Lemur prices, 'cause we thought we might hit our kids with some lemur gear—over the holidays—just to get a bit of peace and quiet you know.'

Remember? We are in charge now and TQL is what this is all about. “We are on the cusp of a new Enlightenment,” enthuses Adrian Woolfson of Cambridge University. “We can finally entertain the possibility of modifying our own nature and creating artificial life.”3

One cool spin-off is that if you wipe the slate of meaning, then you can forget about all the complications of the kind of guilt that comes with the 'problem' of having meaning in your life. 'In an opera written in 2002 by minimalist composer Steve Reich, the libretto juxtaposes quotations by two scientists. First Richard Dawkins asserts that humans are nothing but “machines created by our genes.” Then biologist Robert Pollack draws the logical conclusion: “I have no sense of guilt in pulling the plug on any machine.”4

It kind of makes for a much simpler life if your grandmother is no different to an ageing motor vehicle. Interestingly, it was Aldhous Huxley who—many decades ago—said, 'I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning and without any difficulty was able to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation: sexual and political.' At least Huxley had the honesty to talk about motives and assumptions.

In the next blog (of this set of three) we will look at how this kind of thinking is creating economic and sexually mercenary cultures, and the fact that people are now talking of 'economic triage' and of a superior lifestyle called 'PoMosexuality'.

 

1. Brian Goodwin, Interview by David King- GenEthics News, Issue 11, March / April 1996, 6-8. Goodwin is author of How The Leopard Changed its Spots (Princeton University Press, 1994, 2001) – as quoted in Saving Leonardo by Pearcey N. p.59 2010 B&H Publishers

2. Cited in E.O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life (New York, Norton, 1992, 1999,), 302 – as quoted in Saving Leonardo by Pearcey N. p.59

3. Adrian Woolfson, An Intelligent Person's Guide To Genetics (New York: Overlook Press, 2006), preface

4. “Three Tales” a 2002 Opera by Steve Reich – as quoted in Saving Leonardo by Pearcey N. 2010 p. 57

0 Comments11 Minutes

A Sacred Lady in a Service Station

Part-way through a long tour of our southern communities, I've come to a stop at our Swan Hill campus where a group of students have enrolled in a twelve month course called a Certificate IV in Christian Studies. Tomorrow I'll be talking with them about what it looks like to communicate faith, hope and love to our society (in fact I could translate that as 'reminding people that their work is sacred, that they are sacred and in fact that [ultimately] they are not made for this world, that we are all supposed to be helping each other on our way to 'becoming creatures so magnificent that we might be tempted to fall down and worship, or so awful that we might run away in terror' as CS Lewis says. But right now I've found a cup of tea and settled—with my laptop—into a lounge chair under a ceiling that's rather too radiant with powerful white lights.

The lounge across from me is draped in a homey-looking patchwork quilt with heavy black stitching holding the pieces together on smooth, grey, fabric-upholstery. A tall blonde in black overalls sits on it reading The Brothers Karamazov,1 and next to her—on another lounge of the same kind but with a less chunky patchwork quilt—a shaggy-haired young man sits reading the book Future Shock 2. The young man wants to know if I've read it. I explain that I haven't but I've heard good reports about it. Our conversation moves to another book The Gamble 3 (on the Iraq war) and soon we're talking about strategy and what it actually means.

While we speak, one of the community leaders, a wiry-looking man with a young boy following him, walks into the room. The son is quite distressed and we realise that the two of them are on an urgent mission to find the boy's Classic Car, which has gone missing. While we rattle around in the room searching for the car, the father—sharp-witted as ever—announces in a playful tone that this 'strategy' talk of mine (as depicted in The Gamble) is never going to make any sense to him, and before I can defend myself he challenges me there-and-then to give him a definition of the strategy of our organisation.

I shoot back that our strategy is 'Well-trained, well-supported, well-supervised, committed missional communities.'

'Here's a piece of strategy gone wrong!' he says, holding out a snapped D-bolt link from a recent accident with a piece of heavy farming machinery—of which he is the minder and master in this community. 'Great object lesson for you to use,' he adds.

'Perfect,' I tell him and laugh. 'Definitely not well-supported.'

'But amazing commitment,' he points out.

'Yep.'

'And,' he continues. 'It's the committed ones who get broken first.'

'Cause we think they're so amazing they don't need support,' I add.

The poetry of what just happened makes me think of the gospels. Somehow when you read them you can't escape the feeling that Jesus—the main character—behaves as if every bit of time, space and matter is impregnated elegantly with meaning and poetry. He expects that everything is alive with this kind of thing: not in a clunky, religious way but in a natural, easy-going kind of way, so that he can—in the same breath—look at a seed and tell us that life is about dying every day and lift up a child and tell us about the greatest thing in the world. In his understanding, everything counts. And when we listen to him we feel that perhaps it's true after all that we were made for another world. In fact, three days ago I asked an unhappy-looking woman in a service station what she thought about it.

'If it's true that our deepest longings will never be fulfilled in this world,' I said. 'Is it fair to conclude that we were made for another world?'

'We must be,' she said, looking even more unhappy. Then, in a tone that sounded like she was about to cry, she added, 'There must be hope. Don't you think?'

Somehow, this ordinary lady working at a job she hated, broke my heart as I walked away and thought about the competing voices in her world telling her that all that stuff about being beloved of God is a crock and the sooner she gets it out of her system the better. An excerpt from Farewell To Arms (quoted by Nancy Pearcey) puts it this way: ' “I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice,” says a character who clearly represents Hemingway himself. “Only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates ... Abstract words such as glory, honour, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates.”4

Such twists and turns in the world of art, in its search to cope with the embarrassment of God, are always being 'tried out'. Centuries before Naturalist artists (such as Hemingway) tried to undo the influence of the gospels—the world was astonished when the sacredness of ordinary people was brazenly displayed in art galleries. 'Realism broke with this prevailing tradition,' Pearcey says, 'by emphasising the dignity of the ordinary, even humble, people. Where did this new style come from? From the doctrine of the incarnation.'

' "It was the story of Christ” that broke down the classical rules of style, writes literary critic Erich Auerbach, through its “mixture of everyday reality and the highest and most sublime tragedy." The world-changing events of the gospel took place among everyday, ordinary people. Jesus welcomed sinners and prostitutes. He invited humble fishermen to be his disciples and ate with tax collectors (despised collaborators with the Roman occupation forces). These characters would never be considered suitable for representation in classical art. But amazingly their lives became the locus of the great climax in God's plan of salvation. As a result, for the first time in history, it became "possible in literature as well as the visual arts to represent the most everyday phenomena of reality in a serious and significant context." Moreover, because Christ died the ignominious death of a criminal, Auerbach adds, it became possible to portray, in a sympathetic way "even the ugly, the undignified, the physically base." '

'Thus Jean Francois Millet, a devout Catholic, became the first to give peasants a Michelangelesque grandeur," according to art historian Frederick Hartt. "Before his time peasants had been portrayed as stupid or even ridiculous." They could be used in comedy or even genre painting, but not in serious art. Initially people were shocked by Millet's paintings because they accorded dignity to humble figures. He broke new ground because of his Christian perspective. As one historian puts it, Millet gave daily life a biblical gravity, painting the human being as “ the lifelike icon of the invisible God.” '5

Somehow, I'm feeling more than ever that the extravagant demand of the lady in the service station —that any other hope than the one which speaks of us being made for another, better world—is not worthy of being described as 'hope'. And thanks to Jesus and artists like Francois Millet, she might one day fully embrace the thought—without being intimidated—that she is a sacred being, one to be cherished in fact: really cherished in the only proper way that honours all those longings for friendship, family, love and grace.

  1. Dostoyevsky F.
  2. Toffler A.
  3. Ricks T.

    4 Pearcey N. Saving Leonardo pp: 156, 157 B&H Publishing 2010 5 Pearcey N. Saving Leonardo pp: 113 – 114 B&H Publishing 2010