Friday, October 28, 2005

Nocturnal Metahistory, Part One

History has two broadly different meanings. Capital "H" History is first and foremost the past actions and reactions of human beings -- History in itself, so to speak. In light of this, small "h" history is the attempt to give an account of these actions and reactions -- history as remembered and recorded, which is only a tiny subset of History in itself.

These two senses of history tend to generate a pair of antinomies with regard to how it is viewed. Looked at in one way, we can say for all intents and purposes that History consists of an infinite number of particular events, more than any mind could ever begin to retrieve, much less know. After all, History is not just the great wars, inventions and political movements, but what Napoleon had for breakfast before the battle of Waterloo, what sort of carpenter Jesus was, and what an anonymous slave was thinking about as he dragged giant stones across the desert to construct the Great Pyramid. Judged by this criteria, the overwhelming majority of History is not even remotely recoverable.

But although historians write as if they are dealing with historical facts, this isn’t so. No historian worth the name would operate in such a fashion, trying to additively assemble a thing called “History” by piling fact upon fact, and then calling the pile “History.” Rather, the historian is guided first of all by an intuitive sense that there is a thing called “History.” No one actually makes observations of the world and leaps to the conclusion, “ah ha, History exists!” Nor does the historian regard all historical facts as being of equal importance. Rather, historians again simply apply a sort of heightened common sense to pull out facts that appear meaningful or significant for any number of reasons, some explicit, others implicit. But if written history is nothing more than that, what good is it?

The nub of the problem is whether there is a spiritually real History anterior to history, whether History is on the same plane as history, or whether there is no History at all, and history is only something imaginatively derived in a posterior way by means of abstraction. In the modern world, there are many scientific rationalists and logical positivists who would maintain that History is simply history -- just a material process, a journey of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing. Likewise, academia is dominated by deconstructionist types who not only do not believe that real History exists, but that history is whatever they make it out to be. Nothing in History exists as an objective reality; rather, there are only subjectively biased historical texts concealing some ulterior motive, generally the drive to dominate and oppress others.

In the neo-Platonic view, History, the Aeon, is thought of as a sort of rotating, hyper-dimensional object that throws an illusory shadow we experience as history. When eternity breaks into time, it bifurcates into a left side and a right side, or more exactly a day side (the horizontal) and a nocturnal side (the vertical). In reality, History cannot be understood without reference to these horizontal and vertical streams.

The horizontal aspect of History is well known to us, consisting of the “stream of time” that historians dip into to retrieve facts, documents and events. Contemporary historian who focus exclusively on the horizontal have forgotten all about the vertical -- about the womb of History where things inwardly incubate before becoming events in time, and where events in time go to be “worked over” in the dream logic of the night. But all historians at least unconsciously operate vertically, in the sense referred to above. That is, they approach the historical enterprise with a “topdown” view which organizes their search and allows them to “see” what is significant in History (at least to them).

What does it mean to say that something has historical significance, that it is important? Only that the fact in question is a particular that illuminates, or is illuminated by, the values of the historian. But if that is true, then History has only the value given to it by the historian, and is only valuable as long as the illusion lasts.

Is it possible to look at this problem in another way? History had a beginning, of that we may be certain. Regardless of where you situate the point in time, there was a moment when a particular species on a particular planet violated all that had happened before, broke with nature, and “lifted” itself out the stream of mere duration, so that the stream could be observed. Up to that time there was only the stream, then suddenly humans discovered that they were “floating” on the stream that carried them along. By virtue of this fact alone, we see that we are not equivalent to the material stream. But at the same time, our lives are lived in and on the stream, and the stream appears to be antecedent to our having been there.

Since the selection of historical facts is guided by what the historian regards as important or meaningful, I would like to suggest that the most important historical fact is the presence of both history and historians, and what makes them possible, specifically, another dimension of History operating perpendicular to the horizontal flow of time: vertical history. This type of history is not a product of history, but is the origin of history, the basis of history, and the ultimate point of History. What this approach attempts to do is look at horizontal, exterior history for evidence of vertical, interior history.

The analogy with an individual person's history is exact. For example, patients come to therapy with a narrative of their past life, chronicling their experiences with parents, their education, their friendships, loves, passions, conflicts, etc. But as a psychologist, I am not so much interested in this horizontal narrative as I am of evidence of influences coming from a vertical dimension called the unconscious. All along, their lives have been shadowed by this unconscious, which has continuously created, shaped, sabotaged, or prevented events in the horizontal, even (or especially) if they have been completely unaware of it. Similarly, a historian is like a dreamer trying to interpret the dream, without knowing it is a dream and that he is one of its dreamers. Is it possible to be in but not of the dream called history?

The great discovery common to all religions is the existence of a vertical influence operating both personally and collectively, this one coming from a “higher” dimension rather than from the unconscious below. It is what the Book of Genesis refers to in mythological terms when it says that man was created in God’s image (in that we are “mirrors” of the One who exists outside horizontal time), or in the Gospels, where John the Baptist bears witness to the (vertical) light, when the spirit “descended like a dove” on Jesus. In fact, the figure of Jesus is regarded as the essence of the vertical energies deposited into horizontal time, or the “word made flesh.” What is salvation history but the attempt to look for the meaning of History in light of its ultimate vertical perspective, the “exclamation point” or (eschclamation point) at the end (or top)?

Time for human beings is not the mere abstract duration of physics, but the very substance of our being, the “form of inner sense," as Kant put it. The soul is a mysterious point of potential freedom in space, while the human species is engaged in a sprint toward the realization of this freedom in historical time. History is really only one great event: the attempt to become conscious and return to God, opposed at every step by deterministic forces on the horizontal plane and by lower ones on the vertical.

The time allotted to us is analogous to the shutter of a camera; it opens with our birth, allowing in the small amount of light we must work with before it closes and the universe vanishes. With that light we must enter our “dark room” and develop our conception of existence--what we are, why we are here, and what is our relationship to the whole. There are photographs laying around that others have left behind--scripture, books, images and institutions. Some of them were successful in capturing the Light, others only darkness.

There is so little time, but time is literally all we have: we must work while it is day, for the night cometh, when no man can work. Saying you have no time is logically equivalent to saying that you have no life, light or freedom. If you are not free, then your time really is nothing more than duration. And if you have no light, you are free in the illusory way that an animal is--free to be led horizontally by your instincts and learned behaviors.

Time. Freedom. Light. If you don’t have one, you really don’t have the others either. Your life is history.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When Intellectuals Attack! (or Reality Happens When You're Busy Making Tenure)

Yesterday we discussed the Islamist fantasists whose real purpose is to wage jihad in order to make their transformative fantasy seem more real to them. Far from being caused by poverty or inequality, this Founding Fatwa was specifically developed by the intelligentsia -- not by the ignorant masses, but by Muslim intellectuals who have often, not surprisingly, been educated in the self-loathing ideologies of the leftist west. The Islamist fantasy of a worldwide caliphate, like psychological development, spirituality, and art, is at a right angle to history, so to speak. It is “vertical,” not on a higher plane, but a lower one. (For the vertical dimension extends above and below the flow of horizontal events.)

Destructive fantasies can come from intellectuals of all types, but they are particularly common on the left. First, it is the left that dominates academia, which is actually an idea factory for those who toil in its service, no different really from any other factory (except that it produces abstractions that may or may not have any actual utility). In order to become known and achieve tenure, the intellectual must come out with a fashionable “new model,” even if there’s nothing wrong with the old one. Truth, even if inadvertantly stumbled upon, is quickly bypassed in favor of a provocative or edgy alternative.

Fortunately, unlike Europe, America has never fully trusted (leftist) intellectuals, and with good reason. America is the only nation on earth that is consciously steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which has an entirely different intellectual genealogy than leftism. That is, as I have touched on in previous posts, its epistemology and ontology are pragmatic and logoistic, meaning that truth is embodied in concrete reality: reality is both “real” and intelligible -- it is the incarnation of a logos, or “word made flesh.”

Our job is to understand reality from the bottom up, not to impose our abstractions upon it. Concepts are fine, but only if, like bank notes, they can be cashed back in and exchanged for the Real Thing. In other words, they must be backed by the full faith and credit of reality. Deconstruction, multiculturalism, cultural relativism, various revisionist histories and leftist ideologies -- all of these attack the immanent word that makes the world intelligible, and thereby sever the sacred bond between reality and truth.

Ironically, in order to arrive at their materialism, leftists must start in the opposite direction -- away from the concrete and toward the abstract. Intellectuals tend to live in a platonic world of abstract reason, as if their abstractions are more real than the concrete world they are intended to describe.

As Lee Harris notes in Civilization and its Enemies, the educated man, in order to become “educated,” simply internalizes a set of predigested concepts that are presented to him as finished products. The mind is not trained to first deal with the practicalities of the concrete world, but to immerse itself in abstractions, which are then projected onto reality. As a result, reality is constantly coming up short for the leftist, so it becomes his responsibility to “force the issue.” (In case it isn’t clear, I am not talking about science, but the the traditional humanities and the newer subhumanities, such as Gender Theory.)

That is, if reality falls short of the abstraction, it is reality that is at fault. Petey says that this is when you need to reach for your revolver, because there is usually hell to pay when peace-loving leftist intellectuals are pissed off at reality. As Harris writes, the 20th century was the first time in history that “intellectuals had sought and gained power, with catastrophic results. No other social class in mankind’s history had ever initiated horrors on the scale of the Nazi holocaust and the black book of communism.” Repeatedly, throughout the century, we saw a group or “vanguard” of intellectuals who “believed that the world had been waiting for their appearance in order to set itself right,” and decided to “make a clean sweep of things.”

On Dennis Prager’s radio program yesterday, he noted that, to the left, there is no way that we can win the war on terror, because they compare the messy reality on the ground to their leftist utopian ideal. No matter what happens in Iraq, it will by definition be at odds with the unrealistic ideal. Over the weekend, I believe it was Dick Durbin who said that if the Iraqi constitution passes it will be bad, and if it doesn't pass it will be equally bad.

Likewise, no economy can ever compete with leftist fantasies of full employment, high wages for everyone, and an absence of poverty -- of “sugar candy mountain.” In reality, by any historical standard, our present economy is about as good as reality gets: five percent unemployment, three or four percent annual growth, low inflation, low interest rates, record home ownership, and record tax revenues leading to a shrinking deficit between three and four percent of GNP.

But to the left, this is “the worst economy since Herbert Hoover,” since it compares so unfavorably to their utopian fantasies. By comparison, European socialist economies are mired in unemployment and stagnation. However, there is no question that their economic ideas are more beautiful.

This also explains why controlling the Supreme Court is so critical to the left, for it has become the primary means of forcing their abstractions onto an unwilling world by judicial fiat. To paraphrase Justice Scalia, the left wants "moderate judges," which apparently means people who will strike a balance between what the constitution says and what they would like it to say. In reality, they want judges who would redefine my aunt as a trolley car if they thought it would reduce greenhouse gasses.

And this is where the left converges with the Islamists. They share a common enemy, which is not just the United States, but the embodied truth it represents, that is, the Judeo-Christian tradition. Both leftists and Islamists worship at the altar of their sacred abstractions, and see reality as a defective form of their fantasies. When a Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore refers to the terrorists as “freedom fighters,” they aren’t kidding. They are cheek to jowl with the Islamists, hunkered in the safety of their delusions, fighting against the tyranny of reality.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

How do you Conquer a Fantasy?

Projective identification is one of the most important concepts in psychoanalysis. Whereas projection is a defense mechanism through which we unconsciously project something from ourselves into someone else, projective identification goes deeper. It involves first projecting into someone else, and then forcing the other person to actually take on the quality that has been projected into them. While projection is a neurotic defense mechanism, projective identification is much more primitive and troublesome.

It is actually not difficult to tell when one is on the receiving end of projective identification. That is, you suddenly feel is if you are unwillingly being enlisted into someone else's psychodrama, and being forced to play a part. The person acts toward you as if you have the qualities they have projected into you, and may goad you into responding in ways that confirm to the projector that you actually have those qualites -- that they aren't projections at all.

Psychologists see this all the time in more primitive "borderline" patients, who may suddenly experience the therapist as, say, an abusive or witholding parent. It is also ubiquitous in marriages, because intimate relationships bring more primitive parts of ourselves closer to the surface. And it is the primary mechanism of the Islamists.

Although he doesn't use the term, Lee Harris's excellent book "Civilization and Its Enemies" describes the phenomenon perfectly. First, he points out why the process is invisible to us. That is, people who have gone through the "civilizing process" forget that this took millennia, and have no understanding of those who have not completed the journey. They "forget how much work it is to not kill one's neighbors, simply because this work was all done by our ancestors so that it could be willed to us as an heirloom" (Harris).

Just because we no longer have any enemies that we need to primitively project our bad qualities into, we are deluded into thinking that we actually have no enemies, or that if we do, there is some rational, logical, "root cause" that can explain it--that if we are only nice enough, or compassionate enough, they will come around. But this is completely ineffective with projective identification, because the projector emotionally needs you to have the qualities they are projecting.

In reality, an enemy is someone who regards you as an enemy, whether or not you deserve the title. We clearly had an enemy for thirty years before 9-11, not because Islamists were our enemy, but because we were their's. We couldn't see it because it was a completely irrational process, based on projective identification.

But with sufficient provocation, we have finally been enlisted into the Islamist's psychodrama, taking on the role so vital to their psychological equilibrium. In other words, we are not their enemy because we are evil--because we have done anything in the real world, such as placing our soldiers on Saudi territory, or supporting Israel. Rather, as Harris points out, we are evil because we are their enemy.

If we do not realize the depth to which we are the enemy of the Islamists, it is almost a sort of condescending insult to them, just as it would be to a patient in therapy if the therapist dismissed their experience of us as deluded or immature. First, there is an obvious psychological need for the projective fantasy, or it wouldn't be there to begin with.

As Harris explains, a fantasy ideology such as Islamism is not a rational response to the world arrived at in a logical, sober manner. Rather, it is a transformative belief, meaning that its primary purpose is to psychologically transform the person who believes the fantasy. And believing the fantasy is an end in itself--it has no purpose other than to make the fantasy seem like reality. Therefore, the real reason for 9-11 wasn't actually to bring down western civilization. Rather, it was to further the fantasy by getting us to play along with it.

Ironically, what this means is that, even though we have no real enemy and the Islamists have only a make believe one, because of projective identification, we end up with a real enemy. However, underneath it all is a fantasy that we must eradicate, and the only way to do that is to bring reality to the Islamic world. Saturday's referendum in Iraq was a step in that direction.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

How to Survive a Natural Disaster and Be Somebody, Part One

Yesterday on his radio program, Michael Medved had on Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who made the provocative (but actually obvious) assertion that people in Judeo-Christian cultures are much more likely to survive natural disasters such as the earthquake a few days ago in Pakistan. For example, several years ago there were earthquakes of identical magnitude in Iran and Paso Robles, California. In Iran, some 30,000 souls perished, whereas in Paso Robles, only two unlucky victims lost their lives.

Lapin's point wasn't that God somehow favors Christian nations and punishes Muslim or pagan ones. Rather, it was that only in the Christian West was there the development of science and advanced technology, and with it, the ability to deal with the ravages of nature--floods, earthquakes, fires, famines, plague, etc. Local officials may have been inept in dealing with Katrina, but one can well imagine how many thousands would have died under the same circumstances in a second or third world (or non-protestant Christian or Jewish) country.

The sociologist Rodney Stark has written a fascinating book that touches on this topic, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch Hunts, and the End of Slavery. He marshalls the most recent scholarship disproving the cliche that Christianity was at odds with science, and shows instead that it was essential for the rise of science.

Put it this way: the scientific revolution occurred just once, in just one civilization--something like 99.98 percent of all scientific inventions and discoveries have occurred in western Christendom. Everywhere else, science either never appeared, or it petered out after some initial advances--for example, in China and the Islamic world. And the reason science could not be sustained in these civilizations is specifically religious.

Judeo-Christian metaphysics facilitated science in several unique ways. Remember, the practice of science is based on a number of a priori assumptions about the world that cannot be proven by science. Rather, they must be taken on faith--indeed, it would not be going too far to say that science is based on a foundation of revelation.

In short, Christianity depicts God as a rational being who created the universe in a rational, predictable, and lawful way that is subject to human comprehension. In other words, science is based on the faith that the world is intelligible, that human beings may unlock its secrets, and that doing so actually brings one closer to God. (Bear in mind that I am attempting to condense 100 pages of detailed evidence and argument into a paltry couple of paragraphs.)

Only does Judeo-Christian metaphysics posit the doctrine of God creating the universe "out of nothing" at a specific point. Images of God in non-Judeo-Christian religions are either too irrational or impersonal to sustain a scientific world view. Rather, they posit either an eternal universe without ultimate purpose or meaning, or an endlessly recurring one that either goes nowhere or is subject to decay.

Although there is profound wisdom in Hindu and Buddhist metaphysics, it really could not sustain science, because it regarded the world as unreal--as maya--and taught that the best way to deal with this was liberation or escape into samadhi or nirvana. This dismissive attitude toward the material world prevented development in India for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks are not really responsible for the rise of science. While they had a lot of speculative theories, they never developed any way to empirically test them. In fact, Plato thought that it would be foolish to try, as the material world was subject to constant change, and truth could only be found by ascending to a timeless realm where the eternal forms abided.

Likewise, Islam cannot really be regarded as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Although science began to develop at the outskirts of Islam, it was eventually stymied because the attempt to formulate natural law and general principles denied Allah's absolute freedom to act in an arbitrary manner on a moment by moment basis. This has led to the stultifying fatalism that pervades the Islamic world, since Allah does what he pleases, and it is blasphemous to try to comprehend his ways.

In part two of this post, I will focus on the remarkable psychological transformation in human beings that was facilitated by the Judeo-Christian tradition and the rise of science: the mysterious and unprecedented development of the modern self in a vertical dimension perpendicular to history. We take this self for granted, but, like science, it developed to its fullest in ony one place and time, and one of the world-historical tasks before us is to generate the conditions that allow this psychological development in other, non-Judeo-Christian cultures.

In reality, geographical space is developmental time: different cultures achieve different levels of psychological development, and get stuck there. There is a historical precedent for success in this area. For example, we succeeded in vaulting the Japanese out of their developmental stagnation in a tribal group-mind, and now we are trying to accomplish the same thing in the Islamic world.

Historically, wars have been fought over territory and resources. Now the human mind is the turf, and the battle is being waged on a vertical dimension in order to "colonize" as many noggins as possible. In other words, our task in the "war on terror" has nothing to do with land, oil, or territory per se, but with the inevitable problems caused by a more primitive mode of psychological development that has access to weapons that, on its own, it could never have developed (because of its primitiveness). This is a war between different levels of psychological development.

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