Chapter 24. Holy Poverty

Some pictures point at particular ideas, quite self-evidently. Others need an interpretation, and with the interpretation, point the reader and viewer to those ideas. But whichever is the case, in pointing to x, the picture points away from what is besides x. Thus also can the significal designer achieve: first the pointing towards what matters, and also in doing that, the pointing away from what does not. And where the image does not achieve that self-evidently, the burden of the significal designer is to develop and promulgate such interpretants that achieve the desired semiosis.

In this sense the effected photo-semiosis in these significal designs which promulgate interpetants and images, is likened to positive law, as a kind of artificial extension of the natural law, which is the interpretant that is already promulgated already, given that the natural law is naturally the first principles of practical reason. Like the legislator that promulgates positive law in order to realise the natural law, either by prescribing what is to be done, or what is not to be done, so also the significal designer, through promoting the designed photo-semiosis, raises the viewers’ mind to the good that should be done in accordance with the natural law, and in so doing distract their minds away from what is not worth thinking about, and which is evil to consider and to do.

Now, positive laws can be enforced, and sometimes coerce persons to obey, and avoid violating the natural law. Other times, laws that are a determination (determinatio) of the natural law give men a way of achieiving the natural law’s prescriptions. Images and interpretants do no such things. But they do what positive law cannot: they reach where the law cannot and should not: the so called, ever expanding “private sphere”. Shall the law tell us how we should think of certain symbols, or colors, or shapes, and what they are to mean to us, and what thoughts they are to lead us to think? Shall it teach us how we should decorate our homes, and what we are to think of its arrangements? I am not yet thinking about external moral acts, but am here referring only to our moral meaning making and thinking. Surely this is not the business of the law: its purpose is not to presume to shape our thoughts, of which it is ill competent to judge, and to punish.

Of course, now that one mentions the more serious matter of external acts : by and by such spheres of privacy are enlarged, and indeed in many contemporary societies, it is intolerable and unimaginable that any socialism and its law would dare to dictate our personal moral preferences, even if for the ethically better. Even moral paternalism which is well intentioned, and indeed warranted, but when mixed with the law, frightens us with its power, and so finds great resistance. And would not such a lethal pedagogy of the law, sometimes, be counter-productive, making persons slaves to fear, rather than obedient servants to reflective practical thinking?

In today’s world, a gentler form of persuasion is also needed, to complement the law, and to go where the law gradually cannot: and hence the significal designer’s work is like a preacher’s invitation from the pulpit, weak and powerless, but which finds a place in people’s minds precisely because, in its poverty, it really cannot do anything, and so ironically, might even get a few good things done.

Nor shall any empirical testimony or psychological science demonstrate the efficacy of their persuasive power: this would undermine their hope of reaching anyone at all, paradoxically! For once such powerful determinism is proven or established, who will dare invite them into their homes? Where then, can there still be intellectual freedom to assent or dissent? Indeed, every evidence-based confirmation of a moral pedagogy could well be the reason to reject such a pedagogy! Thus its claim is no more than the infallible presentation of the ethical ideas (see Infallible Propositions), not the conversion of the person.

In this way, significal designers, with their photo-semiosic projects made available to and thus mingling with the lives of city dwellers, are an order of poor preachers. And they must remain poor preachers, without power, and without any ability to coerce, and hence quite useless, if they are to be of any use. For holy poverty, then, we give thanks.