Monday, January 16, 2006

Smiling Through a Bad Mahmoud

I hate to say ayatollah ya' so, but it looks like Iran is well on their way to having a nuclear weapon. Frankly, I wasn't so worried until they detected large shipments of leather crossing the border into Iran. This can only mean one thing. They're trying to build a suicide belt large enough to deliver a bomb.

It's pretty odd when you can be less than twelve months away from the atomic bomb but more than twelve centuries away from the atomic age.

As usual, the Europeans are busy trying to appease the Iranians. But you know what they say: if you feed the allahgator, he'll just blow you up last. And then he'll shed Qur'acodile tears.

But at least this is triggering a debate in the Muslim world. Traditional Muslims are rightfully outraged at so-called moderates trying hijack Islam and reduce jihad to a mealy-mouthed internal struggle with oneself instead of a glorious war of conquest and colonization to impose a worldwide caliphate.

I don't know. I think we need a moratorium on the inane "hijacking Islam" phrase. Instead, we ought to consider LoJacking Islamists, so we know where they are at all times.

Of course, some people say that Israel has nukes, so why can't Iran? Yes, but blurring the distinction between terrorists and their victims is clearly anti-semantic. Or is it allahgory?

If Iran feels so threatened, here's an idea: why don't they just build a big fence to keep all the Jews out?

People say that Islam and Judaism are similar, since they're both based on the inerrant word of God, but I'm not so sure. After all, thinking critically about the Torah makes you Jewish, whereas thinking critically about the Koran makes you an infidel. Apparently there are other differences as well. I saw a bumper sticker that read "Jesus saves. Moses invests. Mohammed plunders."

Some people say we need to be more culturally sensitive, perhaps teach the Koran in our schools. After all, it's only fair, since they teach Mein Kampf in every Muslim country. I have a better idea. I think we might begin by showing deep respect and sensitivity to the Islamic tradition of blowing up people with whom we disagree.

Personally, I do think we've got a wrong-headed approach. Instead of questioning terrorists and flushing the Koran down the toilet, how about questioning the Koran and flushing terrorists down the toilet?*

And Kofi Annan is very concerned about the situation. This is bad, because you know what happened the last time he was this upset--he nearly skied himself senseless in Switzerland. Plus he's already busy dealing with his son's misbehavior. The other night he had to send Kojo to bed early without his oil-for-food.

But Cindy Sheehan doesn't care. She still thinks President Bush is the biggest terrorist in the world. Which only goes to show you. To lose a son is a tragedy. To lose your mind is just plain careless.

I'm kind of surprised not to see "Gunga Dan" Rather over in the Middle East, doing a kiss-ass interview with President Ahmadinejad. You know, after he was canned, CBS said they'd let Rather do sixty minutes. Apparently, not a second more.

It's too bad, we almost got "number two" in al Qaeda, the infamous Dr. Zawahiri. He's an Islamic pediatrician, which means that he cares for children from the time they're born until the day they blow up. He still gets the occasional call from a worried parent, asking for a psychiatric referral for a teenager obsessed with not killing himself. His prescription is always the same: "Take out two infidels and call me in the morning." By the way, did you know that Zawahiri graduated summa boom loudly from Holy Martyr Medical School?

They recently held a counter terrorism conference in Saudi Arabia. In fact, they say that never has so much evil been arrayed at one table since Yasser Arafat dined alone. Where else can the president of Libya hobnob with the president of Iran? "Mr. Gadhafi, meet Mr. Godawful." They're calling it an "Arab think tank." Now there's an oxymoron. Shouldn't it be "rage tank," "resentment tank," or "seethe tank?" Or how about "whine cellar?"

But I don't know if they can solve the terror problem so long as Saudi banks are funding it. That's right: the loan arranger is really a mosqued imam! Where else but a Saudi bank can you visit your moolah and mullah at the same time? True, they're not supposed to charge interest, but their loans have cost many people an arm and a leg. In order to get one, you have to provide a lot of collateral. Damage, that is.

Amazingly, the president of Iran doesn't believe the Holocaust happened. That's right, he's even suggested a "scientific conference" to investigate the matter. He's actually open to a change of heart. If their scientific conference "proves" that the Holocaust really happened, he'll be saying "hey, I think we can work with these people."

But I just don't think this Ahmadinejad is going to back down. He's an example of what I call ghoul under fire.



*Yes, I know we didn't really flush any Korans down the toilet.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Weekend Sermon: What's Before the Beginning & After the End?

If, before beginning serious investigations, we were jestingly to say that all beings are striving after contemplation--not merely those endowed with reason but unreasoning animals as well, even plants and the earth that begets them--and that they all, in their degree, attain to contemplation of reality here below, who would listen to such nonsense? --Plotinus

I'm guessing that a majority of readers will not fully understand why my book begins in the unconventional, "jesting" way it does--in the middle of the sentence it ended with, and with the word nothing, followed by a few pages of possibly indecipherable puns, neologisms, and homologues. A fair point. Allow me to explain.

In beginning and ending the book this way, One Cosmos is very loosely based on the circular structure of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Indeed, I found that this was the only way to illogically begend the book, since the big bang seems to have evolved out of a nothing that vastly transcends the horizon of dualistic knowability, while the highest state of consciousness returns us to the “nothing” of pure emptiness (which at the same time is the unmanifest plenum containing the potential for everything).

Despite the best efforts of science, we remain engulfed in a Mystery--the mystery of our origins, of our present being, and of our final destiny. Science searches outward, toward the periphery, looking at the data of the senses and the mathematically projected past to find the answers. Mysticism reverses our gaze from the periphery to the center, looking for our source and origin in the mysterious withinness of the cosmos--by following that withinness all the way back "upstream" to its non-dual source.

An esoteric cosmology--including Genesis--is only secondarily about the creation of the physical world. It is primarily about the mysterious manifestation of reality from the darkness of nonexistence to the light of conscious experience. Out of the Great Unborn, the timeless womb of eternity, forms and beings are ceaselessly given birth. As I hint at in the book, we are all beneficiaries of this voidgin birth.

This timeless ground, or "divine nothing," is the one place in the cosmos where we may truly gain first hand knowledge of the source of All, since the cosmos is psychic through and through, and we share that psychic life (or so we have heard from Petey). I like to use the analogy of a lampshade with millions of pinprick holes in it. Looking at the shade from the outside, it will appear is if there are a multitude of little lights. But in reality--looking within--there is but one source of light, the luminous source at the center.

Consider this statement from one of the greatest Christian mystics, Meister Eckhart: "If anyone wishes to come into God's ground and his innermost, he must first come into his own ground and his innermost, for no one can know God who does not first know himself." Here, "the eye with which I see God is the same eye by which he sees me."

This is the real meaning of esoteric cosmologies--that, on the one hand, they tell the story of the outward manifestation of the cosmos. But at the same time, they convey "hidden" knowledge of the inward procession of phenomena from the noumenal within, from a zero point of infinity at the heart of our own being. It is a matter of listening to and "hearing" this timeless wisdom that is perpetually sounding in our own depths.

Consider it this way: the big bang did not just happen once upon a timeless, some 14 billion years ago. Rather, a cosmos mysteriously explodes into being every moment, in every individual's consciousness. Likewise, an entire cosmos comes into being with each new birth, and a whole unrepeatable world fades into oblivion with each death. And it's all happening now.

In this view, the vexing duality of mind and matter are resolved in the only way they can be--by showing how both poles of the dialectic arise from a single, nonlocal source, outside space and time. Every moment--that is, the ineffable now--represents a ceaseless flowing out of eternity into time, accompanied by a simultaneous "flowing in" of time back to eternity.

The beginning of my book--through page seventeen--attempts to convey in poetic language the "flowing out" of the Infinite One into the dynamic many--for example, "The molten infinite pours forth a blazen torrent of incandescent finitude, as light plunges an undying fire into its own shadow," or "He expectorated a mirrorcle, now you're the spittin' image." On the one hand, these statements could be about the big bang. On the other, they could be about our own consciousness.

The end of the book--pages 252-266--simply reverses the process, taking us on the ascent from the many back to the One. Again, the reality of the situation is that this is occurring on a moment-by-moment basis. You might even say that this perpetual process represents the "interior life" of the Godhead (with certain modifications introduced by the Christian trinity or Jewish Sefirot that I won't get into here; both, in their own ways, are trying to describe this "interior life" of God.)

Thus, a sample from the end of my book reads as follows: "Reverse worldward descent and cross the bridge of darkness to the father shore; on your left is the dazzling abode of immortality, on your right is the shimmering gate of infinity." Here is another example, as we approach the singularity at the bigending of cosmic history: "Returning to the Oneself, borne again to the mysterious mamamatrix of our birthdeath, our winding binding river empties to the sea." Here we are "cured of plurality" and we experience "the blissful wave of the immortal now rising forth from the effulgent sea of existence." We are back before the beginning, the "Unborn body of the bodiless one, dark rays shining from a midnight sun, your phase before you were bearthed and begailed, empty tomb of a deathless child."

Traditional cosmologies--like any other spiritual truth--will not yield their meanings to the cognitively greedy accustomed only to linear, scientific ways of knowing; one cannot simply grasp at them, but must approach the endeavor with open hands (and more importantly, open heart and mind). And whatever you do, don't be serious. Sincere, absolutely. Serious, never. For,

Could it be true that in jesting we are contemplating? Yes. As do all who jest, in jesting we contemplate. --Plotinus

Friday, January 13, 2006

Memes, Literary Schemes, and Dietary Extremes

Next up: Four websites you visit daily:

First and foremost, amazon.com. At least for me, it has become the greatest research tool imaginable, and there is no way I could have written my book without it. Once I had instant access to every book ever written, my own little project took a a quantum leap forward toward its eventual fruition.

I don't know how other people write their books, but it's probably not in the way I did. For, just like my life, it was a matter of simply following where my curiosity led, and then trying to make sense of what I discovered. As I explain in the book, it all began as a skeletal vision during meditation of how the story of the cosmos might be told in one continuous, circular narrative. Originally, it had the working title of "Singularities," the idea being that the sudden creation of the cosmos out of nothing--the big bang--was followed by several more, equally sudden ontological mutations, specifically, the appearances of Life, Mind, and spiritual Realization.

Because the book began only as a "vision," I really had no idea whether or not I would be able to transpersonalate the vision onto paper. But at each step along the way--often with the assistance of amazon--I encountered the right thinker at the right time, to either reinforce my own ideas or help provide solutions to riddles I had been puzzling over, some of them for years.

When I started the project, I went to my personal library and pulled from the shelves every book, irrespective of the field or topic, that contained truths without which any vision of the whole of reality would be, in my view, incomplete. And when I say "truth," I don't just mean that in the banal, colloquial sense of the term. Rather, there is a way of knowing truth that is literally a physical sensation--call it the erotic effect of the logos, if you want. I'm sure many of you are familiar with it--when Truth comprehends you, rather than you it.

So I removed all of these shiver-inducing books from the shelves (my wife actually took a picture--if I knew how to post photos, I would) and literally placed them on the floor in no particular pattern, staring at them while waiting for Petey to tell me how they were connected to one another, how they comported with my hallucivision. The problem was how to unify the "truths" from these seemingly unrelated fields into a more generalized "Truth" applying to all of them, without reducing one to the other. In gazing at the books, it gradually occurred to me that they were obviously linked together by an evolutionary thread, in the sense that the cosmos was here prior to the biosphere, the biosphere prior to the emergence of self-aware minds, and minds prior to the discovery of non-dual awareness of mystical union.

However, as I explain in the book, if my own spiritual experiences revealed Truth--a point on which I increasingly had no doubt--then the question was not simply to explain how matter eventually came alive, started thinking, and realized its essential divinity. Rather, the central question became, what must the cosmos be like for such a transcendent experience to be possible? (And please, I'm not trying to set myself apart here--these spiritual truths are available to most anyone who seriously sets out to discover them, just as musical truth is available to you if you undertake the discipline of learning how to play an instrument.)

A related issue was the importance of envisioning the largest possible world consistent with spiritual reality, rather than artificially narrowing the world down in order to somehow wedge in a traditional notion of God. (Which, it seems to me, is what the ID theorists attempt to do. But even if ID did prove the existence of a creator, one must still engage in a spiritual practice to know anything about the creator. Spiritual truth is realized, not deduced or gleaned solely from books, including the book of nature.)

Again, the book was written in an entirely intuitive manner, in which I gave free rein to my freakishly hypertrophied curiosity. I would be in the midst of reading one book, see an obscure source cited in the bibliography, and instantaneously be able to look it up on amazon. There is no way this process could have been as free, fluid and spontaneous if I had had to drive over to some big research library and follow up on every single holy hint or ecclesiastical clue that Petey whispered into my ear.

For example, there was one point that I was fascinated with the topic of human sacrifice. Why on earth did every primitive culture known to man engage in this barbaric practice? There are surprisingly few books on the topic, but I was able to quickly get my hands on all of them--everything except for a "how to" manual, but I'm sure I could have found one if I had tried. During the writing of the book, I had at least several books a week--often several a day--arriving at the drawbridge outside my suburban liberatorium. Sometimes the books were helpful, sometimes not, in which case I would simply sell the book back on amazon marketplace.

Speaking of which, I probably couldn't have afforded to write my book without amazon marketplace. It's not that I have a fixed "budget" for my book buying. However, I was able to spend many thousands of dollars a year on books because I was able to actually sell the ones I didn't need, and make a lot of the money back.

But the primary benefit of amazon was that it allowed me to quickly follow up on a cognitive or spiritual trail when it was still "hot." I learned to pay much closer attention to the little flares that are constantly sent from above through intuition--little thoughtlets bubbling beneath or above the surface, waiting to be fished out of the formless infinite and given a voice. Often they don't come back. When they're near the surface, you have to relax your way into their realm and haul them out.

The identical thing is going on now with my present project. Once again it has begun as a vague vision that I don't know if I will be able to complete. But that's what makes it interesting. I would never want to write a book that I already understand, or has essentially been written before. It's another "meta" book that will require instant access to a whole range of subjects, so once again, my multiple daily visits to amazon will be central.

Four blogs I visit daily? Lileks, Little Green Footballs, ShrinkWrapped, and Dr. Sanity (I often leave comments on the latter three).

Four of your favorite foods:

Well now that's an interesting question, because it completely changed in July of 2004, when I was diagnosed with type I diabetes. Interestingly, that is the same month I submitted the final manuscript for my book and my son was conceived. In short, that fateful month represented a Triple Crucifixion of body, mind and soul.

That is, the end of the book was a real death, in that the vision that propelled me to write it had been the organizing principle in my life for several years. For that mad dash toward the eschaton to come to an end was a bit of a jolt. Took some adjusting, to tell you the truth.

And having a first child at my age--I was 49 at the time--was definitely a death. In fact, as I once heard Christopher Hitchens say, when you meet your son, you're looking at your own funeral director. Shudder! Then again, when you look into his eyes, you're also staring into eternity, into eyes that will be looking at the world long after you're gone, hopefully with some tools you gave him to do so in a deep and fruitful way.

On a more mundane level, fatherhood is the end of total self-absorption, which was actually okay by me. I was ready for the death of the old Bob. By completing the book, his work here was through anyway. He had done his best. Now it was time to allow someone else to be "bearthed and begaialed." One life was over. A new one set to begin. Plus, I'm old enough to know the secret of life. That is, you can never really fix your own life. You can only wreck someone else's. (That was a joke. Except for Palestinians.)

Right. Back to the food question. My diabetes has rendered the question moot. Before July of 2004, I might have responded "pizza." But my one post-diabetes experience with pizza made me realize that I'll probably never have it again. The white flour actually elevates your blood sugar faster than pure sugar, so I have simply cut it out. It has been relatively easy for me to be completely fanatical in controlling the disease, so that my average blood sugar may well be lower than yours. It takes a lot of work, but I would like to be around to see my son drop out of high school.

I guess I'm lucky, because I always loved eating as much as anyone I know. However, at the same time, I could also, to a certain extent, take it or leave it. Although I'm pretty slender, people would be amazed at the amounts of food I could put down. I could easily devour a whole extra large pizza in one sitting. In restaurants, I would finish my meal and two thirds of my wife's plate, all without gaining a single pound.

But now, in order to preserve what function I have left of my pancreas, I limit my carbs to what I need to stay alive, and stretch them out to six small meals during the day. No more eating contests at the all-you-can-eat Mongolian Barbecue with my friend Dr. John Corso, with bemused wives looking on at the grotesque spectacle. No more eating half a cheesecake in one sitting. No more wolfing down that 12" sub for a little snack.

But in a way, the diabetes is a perfect disease, if you must have one. It's not like dying instantly, or being told you have six months to live. And yet, unless you're an idiot in denial (which so many diabetics are), you must live with death shadowing your every meal. It's an end-loaded disease, so every dietary decision you make today has consequences 10, 20, 30 years down the line. Surprisingly, I don't really mind. In fact, I've never given it much thought. I just do what I need to do. I feel like those Buddhist monks who meditate over corpses in order to transcend death. For me, every meal is a meditation over my own sorry hide. You could say I'm a sorry hide and seeker.

Still left:

Four TV shows you love to watch
Four places you’d rather be
Four albums you can’t live without

Thursday, January 12, 2006

All About Meme: The Eternal Vacation at the Edge of the Known

Continuing with the Meme of Four:

Four places you've lived: I have always preferred to live at the edge rather than the center, an area where civilization abuts nature, where the manmade world ends and the simply "given" world begins. Although I enjoy visiting, say, New York, I could never live there. It would feel completely unreal to me. Like Hesse's Steppenwolf, I like to skirt about the foothills just outside civilization, occasionally coming down for nourishment.

I think this is a metaphor for where I like to live conceptually, at the edge or boundary of the known--where the known comes right up against the unknown. All of our sophisticated knowledge is like a giant spotlight. The spotlight is so bright, that we think that is all that exists. However, the vast majority of reality is outside the spotlight. I think of those astronomers who have to go to places far away from any sources of human light in order to see the starry heavens. To give birth to a novel idea, you really have to get far way from the influence of what the grazing multitude down in the valley think they know about the world.

Likewise, it's very difficult to unplug yourself from our modern cognitive light and to make your way in the dark. This is why people crave mystery. For ninety-nine percent of our existence, humans lived in an utter mystery. We awakened to an awesome cosmos that was here waiting for us, and yet knew nothing about it. Just as our primitive furbears set up safe little encampments around the fire, our civilizations are nothing but the same little campfires writ large. We revere real artists because they are the ones who make the "raids on the inarticulate" outside the boundary of the well-lit known.

So I've lived in several beach communities--Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, and Port Hueneme, which at the time, was a quite underpopulated place about 25 miles north of Malibu. It was like having the entire beach to ourselves. I've also lived in Chatsworth, which is in the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley, in the foothills of the then unpopulated mountainous region. Currently I live in a horseshoe shaped area that is completely surrounded by open space, where I take my mountain bike and do some of my best non-thinking.

Four places you’ve been on vacation. Now that's an interesting question. I almost never take what you would call a vacation. And yet, I take a vacation every day. Remember yesterday, I mentioned my boyhood dream of never working on a full time basis? One of the reasons for this was so I'd be able to take a daily vacation, to completely slip the moors of the space-time continuum and live in the deep and formless expanse of unstructured time.

After all, this is the experience people are after when they go on an expensive vacation, isn't it? Life becomes so stale, so routine, so boring, that they crave novelty. They work hard all year, save up some money, and then go to some exotic locale, where the sights are different, the sounds are different, the flavors are different, and even the smells are different. As such, it provides a spurious sense of aliveness, as all of your senses have come back on line, where they should have been to begin with. Novelty is always here, but it seems that for many people, they don't appreciate it unless their senses are being bombarded with fresh stimulation. People that are addicted to invasive and hypnotic things like television, computer games, or barbarous rap music are hopeless in this area.

I have taken the opposite tack of trying to refine my senses so that every moment seems like a novelty. This requires a lot of "unsaturation" of the mind, aided by daily meditation. The idea is to experience the world as arising and dissolving away on a moment to moment basis. It's always new. We just have to realize it.

Every day I try to complete my work by mid-afternoon, and then knock off so that I can enter the unstructured world a few microns away. This has admittedly been more difficult since my son was born nine months ago. Then again, he's in that realm all the time so it would not be an exaggeration to say that he has become my new guru. We take walks together (actually, I do the walking, he's in the front pack), and I watch him watching the world. It's all radically new to him--literally like a waking dream. His eyes are almost bugging out of his head as he takes everything in, studying, gazing, categorizing. What a place to be! He has a much more favorable known-to-unknown ratio than we do. And yet, if we can only open our minds a little, we can recapture that state of radical wonder. We just have to do it in a different way, for example, with ideas rather than things.

One thing I recently discovered is that when I take my camera with me on my mountain biking excursions, the experience is radically altered. Although the area is quite beautiful, it is possible to completely miss the experience. The beauty is actually impossibly rich, and yet, it can go unnoticed. Which means that it might as well not be there. But by virtue of bringing the camera, I regard reality in a completely different way, almost the delighted way I imagine that God would experience things. The beauty is everywhere--from the smallest to the largest scale. I play with angles, with light, with perspective, and all of a sudden, the aesthetic possibilities are truly limitless. Go at one time of the day and you see one tree, go later in the day and it's a different tree. It's an entirely new landscape in the morning, on a rainy day, in the spring, or in the dead of winter. And each is packed with beauty just sitting there waiting to be appreciated.

But why? Why is there beauty? I can imagine the cosmos being neutral, or ugly, but why beautiful? My dog doesn't think it's beautiful. Sure, there are some interesting smells, but her olfactory sense can be directly traced to some Darwinian utility. But what is the Darwinian utility of aesthetic arrest? I've heard a lot of explanations, but I find them rather pathetic--about as sophisticated as the literal creationists who think the world is 6,000 years old. If you want to talk about one of the weaknesses of the Darwinian paradigm as an all-encompassing explanation, that would be a good place to begin. We have so many "luxury capacities" that natural selection connot possibly account for, unless you are suffering under the weight of the most crimped and hidebound imagination possible.

The imagination, properly understood, is the true estate of man. It is the leading edge of the evolving cosmos, where the eternal breaks into time, where the roiling infinite spills over into the finite, and where we become fully human--in the post-biological sense.

Still left:

Four websites you visit daily
Four of your favorite foods
Four places you’d rather be
Four albums you can’t live without

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Meme, Myself & I

Since I can't think of anything else to post about, I've submitted the infamous meme of four to myself:

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: I've really only had three. Psychologist since 1988, retail clerk from 1976-1988, and mostly unemployed, vapid and shiftless beer guzzling bum from 1973-1976 (and a bit thereafter). However, this Dionysian period proved to be quite formative, laying the foundation for my future interests and passions. That is, the loathsome excesses of my early adulthood led directly to an abiding interest in the possibilities of consciousness.

To back up a bit, I actually independently discovered the concept of Slack quite early in life, and by the age of ten conceived the notion that, whatever I should become as a "grown up," it would never involve full time work. I have hewn to this childish, er, childhood philosophy ever since, although it has of course deepened into a mature eccentricity.

There is something about my edenic childhood summers from which I never recovered. Call it a reverse trauma if you want--an AM-U-ART. I always detested school, and to this very day, I well remember the anticipation of that trackless oasis of slack extending over the sunlit horizon from June onward. No school. No work. No time. Just the day-to-day exhilaration of pure, spontaneous play: of unalloyed being. Wake up. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Sleep. Very Zen-like, don't you know.

So much of our "doing" in life is actually a defense against being. Most people actually do not know what to do with spare time, with nothing, and are immediately compelled to fill it with something, no matter how trivial. The great psychoanalyst W.R. Bion built much of his theorizing around the idea that the mind is something to which we must adapt. In other words, unbidden thoughts appear out of nowhere, causing disturbing ripples on the smooth surface of being. What do we do with them? How do we manage them? If you really take the time to notice, you will see that for most people, their problem is not this or that conflict or complex, but the mind itself. It is a persecutory presence which must be managed by an elaborate network of defenses, instead of tackled head-on.

This is one of the reasons why I was always attracted to the Eastern religions (including Orthodox Christianity), for they too recognize the ubiquitous problem of "thoughts without a thinker," and prescribe definite means to deal with it. Buddhists call it "hand to hand combat without hands," while the early fathers of Christianity called it "unseen warfare." This is a war you must win in order to be able to enjoy being, or life itself, that is, the unqualified joy of simply being alive, prior to "doing" anything: walking with Dobbs at all times.

Four movies you could watch over and over: Funny you should ask. After graduating high school in 1973, I entered college as a business major. But by 1976, I had flunked out. Or to be perfectly accurate, I simply quit going in the middle of the semester. There was no way I was going to pass my classes anyway: accounting, money and banking, statistics. It wasn't for lack of trying. It's just that I had a sort of intellectual ADD that absolutely prevented me from mastering anything I was disinterested in. In other words, I couldn't artificially muster the passion necessary to focus my mind on something I couldn't care less about. Still can't.

But after a couple of years toiling in the market, I decided to try to return to college. It wasn't that I minded working in the market. In fact, I was quite happy working there. I enjoyed the camaraderie with my beer-drinking mates, our proletarian pastimes, those inebriated days innocently frolicking together on heterosexual Brokeback Mountain. And the job actually paid quite well, with medical benefits I could scarcely afford today. (I'm not even sure if such benefits exist today--just walk into any doctor, any time, and they pay for everything.) My thinking at the time was that, if I was going to be a "lifer" in the retail clerks union, at least I'd get a college degree, so people would see that it had been a choice--not something I had to do because I had no other options in life.

The only reason I'd chosen business as a major was that I couldn't conceive of anything else I might do. But a friend in the market was attending the same college (CSUN, the Harvard of the San Fernando Valley), and told me he was majoring in film. Film, you say? You're kidding! You can't go to college and major in something as frivolous as that! But I was wrong. I had always been very athletic, so the only other real possibility was P.E., but now I had found something even less challenging: I'd major in watching movies!

But as it so happened, this was one of those real turning points in my life. I was lucky enough to cross paths with the right teacher at the right time, the estimable Professor John Schultheiss. For up to that point, I had never had a teacher who was so passionate as he was about his subject. But that was not all. The way he could extemporize and pull various strands of an argument together, it almost looked as if he were in a trance, weaving the lecture out of his own psychic substance. This was so different than the typical robotic dullard that presided over a classroom, that it alone awakened something inside of me--call it an incipient sense of a love of Truth, if you want to get Platonic.

Later in life I realized that when anyone does what Professor Schultheiss did in the classroom, it creates an automatic charisma, because one is literally "in-spired" or "en-thused" when speaking in that unscripted but highly informed way. (It's also a lot like jazz improvisation, where one must spend a lifetime of study but then forget all about it when playing, in order for the performance to be fresh and vital. The ability to do that in any field is the mark of a true master.)

As it so happened, Professor Schultheiss's writing assignments were far more weighty and demanding than any other teacher I had ever had, but some theretofore unfamiliar impulse caused me to keep taking his classes--five or six, if I recall correctly. And that is what really began to turn things around for me, because not only did my papers get high marks from him, but on one memorable occasion he actually approached me and asked if I was an English major, because Radio-TV-Film students normally don't write so well. This was probably the first time any teacher had really praised me, and here it was coming from the only teacher I had ever really admired.

Schultheiss influenced me in another way, in that one of the virtues of his lectures was that he brought to bear so many other subjects in his discussion of film, including philosophy and psychology. As such, even though I did not have an undergraduate degree in psychology, when I did later attend graduate school in psychology, I was actually better prepared than my colleagues because of my background in treating "film as literature." In graduate school I later specialized in psychoanalysis, which is a heuristic science that analyzes character along different lines, so it came naturally for me to look at people as victims of their own bad movie that they themselves had unconsciously written, directed, and starred in.

We especially studied a lot of the great, but often unknown, films noir of the 1940's and early 1950's. Many of these film noir writers and directors were indeed influenced by psychoanalysis, and the best film noir captures that eery and preternatural sense of being pulled down into the "undermind," where a different sort of "night logic" presides. Doh! The fell clutch of circumstance!

So back to the question: four of my favorite films are Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, A Place in the Sun, and Night of the Hunter, for each in their own way has to do with the main characters being suddenly dragged or seduced into that murky underworld of being, the dark side of their own selves. It is a parallel world where the logic of the unknown dreamer who dreams us governs the action, and the unThought unconscious is destiny. Back to the idea of our thoughts thinking us, instead of vice versa.

I've already gone on too long with this exercise in self-indulgence. To be continued. Or not.

Still to come:

Four places you've lived
Four places you’ve been on vacation.
Four websites you visit daily
Four of your favorite foods
Four places you’d rather be
Four albums you can’t live without

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The MSM-Democratic Propaganda Mill

I do a fair amount of work in a thoroughly corrupt industry known as the California Workers' Compensation system. This system, which began with the noble idea of avoiding litigation and treating injured workers in a fair and efficient manner, has become a hideous bureaucratic monstrosity, especially when it comes to allegations of psychiatric injury. (Although thanks to Governor Schwarzeneggers' recent reforms, it's not nearly as bad as it used to be.)

That is, the system was set up to assist people with obvious injuries--say, a meat cutter who accidentally severed a finger. It was not designed to deal with a paranoid or narcissistic personality who is stressed out at work because he unconsciously provokes others and is universally disliked. Or with an incompetent person who is simply upset because he is being criticized at work. Or someone who is fired, and then retroactively decides that he was stressed out during the entire time he as employed.

Especially when it comes to psychiatric injuries, the legal process often comes down to a battle of competing experts. There is the applicant side--the person alleging that he has been injured--and the defense side--the the workplace or workers comp carrier that will have to cover the injury.

The reason why the system is so corrupt is that patients quickly became ancillary players in the process. Instead, the system became a way for doctors and lawyers to make vast amounts of money on the backs of injured workers. Therefore, there developed a built-in incentive to claim injuries, even if no injury was present. Lawyers began luring patients into the system with advertising, assuring them that they would receive extensive medical care at no cost to them. Medical "mills" were set up in conjunction with the lawyers, so that workers would be sent to any number of useless, wasteful, and expensive medical evaluations.

As such, someone, say, with a back strain, might be sent to an orthopedist, an internist (in case the pain is causing an increase in blood pressure or a stomach ache), a chiropractor, a neurologist (perhaps the pain is causing headaches), and a psychiatrist or psychologist (in case they had become depressed or anxious as a result of the alleged pain). (Would it surprise you to learn that these mills, like a certain political party, defend their dubious practices by suggesting that they are truly "looking out for the little guy?" Or that thousands of jobs will never be created for the "little guy" as a result of the high cost of doing business in California because of spiraling workers' comp costs? )

These psychiatric mills issue thoroughly predictable reports which always--always--maintain in the most florid terms you can imagine, that the injured worker has developed dozens and dozens of psychological symptoms, that they are completely psychologically disabled from them, that they require extensive treatment, and that, even then, they will never, ever be the same. Often, believe it or not, the worker does not even know that a psychiatric injury has been filed on their behalf (especially workers from third world countries who don't even have a frame of reference for what it is a psychologist does). They just do as directed by their attorney, by going for appointments and filling out the paper work. Many times I've asked a patient, "Dr. X says you are hearing the voice of your supervisor. Is that true?" The patient will be surprised, and often offended, to learn that they are being depicted as psychotic.

In fact, I have seen many cases in which the report is already written: all the doctor does is insert the name of the patient into a pre-formatted report, with all of the same boilerplate language and adjectives--lots of adjectives. In an applicant report, adjectives generally substitute for facts and details, as they often do in any bad writing. Other times the doctor's staff will even forget to change the pronoun in the report from "him" to "her," as in, "Mr. Jackson says that she and her husband now have no sexual intimacy, whereas before his boss yelled at him, they enjoyed sexual relations six times a day."

My job, as an ethical evaluator, is not to submit a report that is simply the mirror opposite of the other side's report, but to find out what's actually going on--to determine the truth of the matter. I will spend many hours with a patient, reviewing their current condition, their allegations of injury, their past history, medical records, investigative reports, and sometimes even sub rosa video tape in order to arrive at my conclusions, each of which will be thoroughly supported by facts, logic, and evidence. I try never to speculate--in fact, the system dies not allow idle speculation, only opinions based on medical probability.

I see an almost exact parallel between the corrupt workers comp system and our current political scene. On the one side we have the applicants and their mills--the Democrats and the MSM--on the other side, the defense--the Republicans and the alternative media. The Democrats operate by throwing out as many outrageous statements as they can think of, hoping that something will "stick," and perhaps persuade the trier of fact: the American public. Therefore, when dealing with the MSM and their political action wing, the Democrats, you must constantly wade through the most outrageous, wholesale lies and distortions--America is a racist, sexist and homophobic country, Bush is a liar, Bush wants to impose a theocracy, Bush is a torturer, Bush is spying on us, the economy has never been worse, the environment is being ruined, Bush caused the hurricanes, Bush hates black people, etc., etc., etc. You know the dreary drill.

Just yesterday, I believe someone counted at least seventeen demonstrably outrageous lies in Ted Kennedy's opening remarks at the Alito confirmation hearings. Of course, since the MSM is part of the corrupt system, they will not do their job and determine the factual basis of Kennedy's allegations. Rather, they will simply repeat them.

It is now up to the alternative media to serve the identical purpose in the political system that I do in the workers comp system: to independently evaluate the issue, gather the facts, dispassionately assess the situation, and arrive at a logical and reasoned opinion. Are there ethical Democrats and unethical or careless Republicans? Of course. For example, although I might ultimately agree with much of what a Sean Hannity says, I don't trust him or rely upon him to tell me the truth, for he is the equivalent a Republican "mill." He will come down on the side of the Republicans, no matter what. Joe Lieberman would be an example of an ethical Democrat, for example, willing to independently assess the truth of the Iraq war as he sees it.

But by and large, the reason why it is so difficult to engage leftists in debate is the same reason why it is so difficult to deal with an applicant report. There is almost nothing in an applicant report that I can rely on as being factually true. It might be. It might not be. You just have no way of knowing. You have to assess the situation independently.

Democrats say this is a racist country. Is that true? Not in my analysis. Obviously there are some individual racists, but the country itself is remarkably free of racial animus. Was President Bush lying when he said he believed there were WMD in Iraq? I've seen no evidence for that, only lurid accusations. Is this the worst economy since the Great Depression, a "jobless revovery"? Not based on the facts I have seen. Is Bush spying on his political enemies? I have no basis for believing that. Were blacks disproportionately killed in hurricaine Katrina? As a matter of fact, no. Is Bush running the highest deficit in history? Not if you place it in the proper context as a percentage of GNP. Are terrorists covered by the Geneva Convention? Not based on my understanding. Did Saddam have intimate and extensive ties to the international terror world? No doubt.

So being a neo-con paleoliberal has come quite naturally to me. It just means ignoring the distorted allegations of the MSM-Democratic propaganda mill, independently evaluating the "patient," and arriving at conclusions based on fact, logic and reason.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Thought and Language: Do Not Saturate Before Using

ShrinkWrapped is conducting an interesting experiment to determine if it is actually possible for leftists and neo-cons to engage in substantive debate without it quickly degenerating into name-calling and mutual demonization. To make things manageable, ShrinkWrapped is going to narrow the focus down to the differing perceptions between left and right as to the existential threat posed by Islamofascism. Obviously, those of us "on the right" regard it as a much more serious threat than do those on the left, who generally believe the threat has been manufactured by the President in order to consolidate power and impose a theocracy of his own. Not much middle ground between those two positions, for they aren't just "opposite," they're operating in two irreconcilable realities.

Although I am hoping for the best, I am personally pessimistic, as the first day of the experiment didn't seem to go particularly well. Partly my fault (you should read all the comments to get a sense of how it went). As I posted on ShrinkWrapped, "It's very simple. Leftists are naive about human evil, and always have been. For example, during the cold war, leftists refused to characterize the Soviet Union as evil, and castigated those who did. The identical pattern is occuring now with regard to Islamofascism. This has all sorts of ramifications. For example, if one cannot recognize true evil, one will see the non-evil as evil. As such, the left saw Ronald Reagan as evil, and now see George Bush as evil.... Leftists suffer from a poverty of imagination on the one hand (with regard to the true evil of Islamofascism), but an excess of it on the other hand (with regard to the fantasied evildoings of President Bush)."

Harsh words, perhaps, but are they inaccurate?

I find it virtually impossible to debate with most leftists, not just because they are wrong, but because they cannot possibly be right. In other words, they are not even wrong, for being wrong presupposes some rational basis upon which one can reason someone into, or out of, a position. Not so with with the typical leftist of contemporary America. As I posted, it would be pointless "to debate Cindy Sheehan as to whether George Bush is a bigger terrorist than Osama bin Laden, Howard Dean as to whether Republicans enjoy seeing children go to bed hungry, John Kerry as to whether this is the worst economy since the Great Depression, Kos as to whether Americans working in Iraq are mercenaries that deserve to get killed, Kennedy as to whether the Iraq war was 'cooked up' in Texas for political gain, and Michael Moore as to whether those with whom we are fighting in Iraq are 'minute men' analogous to our own founders."

The psychoanalyst W. R. Bion used the term "saturated" to describe a particular kind of pseudo-thinking commonly encountered by the psychologist. That is, the proper use of language in a healthy mind fosters the evolution of thought. A word or concept is saturated when it cannot do this--it is already so full of meaning that it loses its capacity to actually facilitate thought. Words and concepts can become so overloaded with personal meaning that their use for communication with others becomes extremely problematic. Among other problems, when words are saturated, there is no space left for them to accumulate meaning through experience: the word has become functionally dead insofar as its capacity to allow a space for thinking about internal or external reality.

I believe this is one of the key problems that underlies leftist thought. It is so saturated with meaning that it is absolutely useless for conveying ideas to anyone who doesn't already believe them--anyone who isn't already franticly twirling about in the end-times liberal Ghost Dance.

To illustrate my point, I went straight over to Petey's favorite idiotarium, huffingtonpost, knowing that there would be many fine examples of what I'm talking about. I plucked one off the top, entitled Bush as Bad Theatre, by a playwrite named Sherman Yellen. Although I am a film school graduate, I'd never heard of the man, but that doesn't mean anything. Apparently he's quite eminent in show biz circles, having won two Emmys and a Peabody Award, among other various encomiums.

Yellen's bio states that, having grown up in New York under FDR, he "has watched with great sadness the Bush administration’s dismantling of social programs and social progress in this country." That's quite an accomplishment to have escaped my notice, but no examples are given. I can't help wondering if it didn't really happen. Yellen "believes it is the obligation of artists to speak out against the erosion of our democracy during these troubling times." Again, no examples of the erosion he's so concerned about. No need to give any. Everyone who agrees with him already knows exactly what he's talking about, wink wink.

In fact, in the piece, one searches in vain for anything resembling an unsaturated thought--anything that can actually convey a fact or create curiosity in the unpersuaded, but persuadable, reader. Again, note the difference between Yellen's brand of saturated writing vs. writing that would allow a space for you to engage your curiosity as to just what has him so manifestly overwrought:

--"Bush is our own Tartuffe, Molière's insufferable pseudo-religious comedic character who uses his so called piety to gain power over the lives of others.... it is Bush's voice we hear as Tartuffe pronounces, 'How dare you even hinder or annoy when I've the means to ruin and destroy. You should have thought before my toes you trod. Attacking me, you set yourself 'gainst God.'"

Got it? Bush uses religion and so-called piety to gain control over others, whom he will ruin and destroy in the name of God if they resist. (Yellen is a pretty brave--even reckless--fellow to trod on this vindictive President's toes.)

Okay. Next?

--Bush "would serve nicely as a foolish father in a sit-com, or a ridiculous boss in an office comedy, but he is the Commander-in-Chief who can and does send young men and women to their deaths. Sadly, he does not even have the true villain's consciousness of when he has done wrong. This is why apology and admission of error is so difficult for him. He believes in his God-given rectitude in all situations."

Right. Bush is so stupid, he doesn't even know how wrong and evil he is. Plus, he thinks he is infallibly guided by God. This is convincing stuff. How foolish of me not to have recognized it myself.

Next?

--"Nobody can accuse George Bush of eloquence or locate his courage and love of country as he labors to strip it of its natural wonders, and sell his power to its worst exploiters. What he shares with Henry V is a ruthless ambition wed to a sense of royal entitlement. As Henry exploited his soldiers' patriotism, Bush exploits his nation's fears."

Haven't you been curious about what happened to all the natural wonders of the country? Stripped! That's right. Gone. Kaput. Bush did it while he had you looking the other way, at those two big buildings that fell down on TV. Because he thinks he's king. Plus he's not even eloquent. Not like a deep-thinking, silver-tongued New York playwrite, anyway.

Any more Emmy-worthy thoughts from our serious thinker of the left?

--"Like most incurious people Bush starts with a belief and then searches desperately for the evidence to support it. This faith-based approach to the world is one that most often has tragic consequences for others, rarely for the man himself, protected by his power and by the fear he has exploited in others.... In his heart of hearts he still believes that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to be found if only we had the right dogs to sniff them out."

Incurious. When Yellen calls Bush "incurious," this is code for "not interested in what fascinates secular New York intellectuals who have never encountered an alien thought in their hermetically sealed cognitive bubble." Thus, it is Bush who "searches desperately" for evidence to support his beliefs. In fact, Bush was so desperate in his search that he somehow got every single intelligence agency in the world to confirm his wacky beliefs about WMD--before he even became president!

Yellen continues his analysis:

--"... in Bush we have a man who cannot understand and feel the emotional weight of any situation, or recognize the consequences of his actions. If becomes clearer over time that he has never learned in the course of his misadventures, as he kept failing upwards toward the Presidency, the most essential lesson of life -- the value of other people's lives. For this inherited characteristic we need only look at his mother, Lady Barbara..."

So, not only can President Bush not think or understand consequences, he cannot even feel! Now we are in the realm of the truly monstrous--the reptilian. Bush is a sociopath: he places no value on other people's lives. And there's not a thing he or you or I can do about it, because it's an inherited trait from his beastly mother.

Yellen saves the most devastating critique for last. That is, President Bush cannot be dramatized, no, not even by an Emmy award winning playwrite!

--"A character such as Bush who lacks such consciousness may preside over a country but he cannot command a stage. Bush's smirk is a poor stand-in for Richard's hump." Yes, the hopelessly "boring," "self-righteous, unexamined bad behavior," that "we see in Bush on a daily basis" is just impossible to bring to the stage.

Noooooooooooooo! Not that! You can't make a TV movie out of his life? Scott Peterson? Sure. The Menendez Brothers? Of course. Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan? Yellen would write that script in a New York minute. George Bush? No way. Worse yet,

--"We have three more years of Bush as the main player in our national drama, three more years of platitudes, certainties, grinning, winking, cajoling, but never owning the consequences of his own actions. Since he cannot change his act, we will continue to get what we see -- an empty man propped up with a foolish sense of his own worth, taking us from one new disaster to another..."

Hmmmm. Platitudes. Certainties. Inability to change. Empty. Foolish sense of his own worth. And, I might add, saturated. Who does that remind me of?

What's that, Petey?

I won't say it. That would just cheapen the debate.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Weekend Sermon: Raids on the Wild Godhead

I try not to let too many things actually bother me, because being bothered doesn't help you resolve what you're bothered about, and just takes you out of your center to the periphery of existence. And if you don't live life from your center, you're not really living, but being lived. Moving from the center to the edge takes us from the depths of being to the shallow end of the gene pool.

Nevertheless, one thing that really bothers me about our elite secular fundamentalists is that they seem to think it's easy to know God--as if it simply involves believing some nice fairy tale and leaving it at that. Well, for some people that is undoubtedly true. In yoga terms, this kind of simple faith is called "bhakti" yoga, and I don't mean to devalue it. I actually envy people who can have a simple faith in the Divine, and as a result, feel the constant presence of the One in their lives.

I'll bet that coal miner in West Virginia who was buried alive was such an individual. Facing death, he left us with those beautiful, haunting words:

Tell all--
I see them on the other side
It wasn't bad
I just went to sleep
I love you

It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep.

Such a simple declaration of unwavering faith, calm courage, and even elegant beauty in the face of the abrupt end of horizontal existence! I've memorized those words. They are worth thousands, even millions of pages of secular fundamentalist drivel. I hope I can remember them in my final moments:

It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep.

Anyway, getting back to the subject of our post, it isn't that easy for most of us callous sophisticates to know God. It takes real effort, commitment, and discipline to begin to reliably cure ourselves of the materialitis and reductionosis that pervade contemporary life. It is really a moment-by-moment project of reorienting ourselves and turning things upside down and inside out--back to the way they're supposed to be. When we do that, we can begin to experience the truth of the Upanishads--that the universe is like a tree with its roots aloft, its branches down here below. Me? I am the ecstatic sap.

In our embodied state, we struggle with overcoming our default orientation to the surface, to the "outside" of things. Both religious and non-religious fundamentalists are still unwavering materialists, living in deadening servitude to matter. Our higher faculties are easily hijacked and enslaved by the lower, and the problem is only worse in a society as abundant as ours, with so many seductive distractions everywhere. The "I" that is pulled this way and that by these tempting distractions cannot remain the same and know God. Rather, we must close one I and open another, or transpose the melody of our life to a higher key, an octave or two above.

Intellectuals struggle with this, for we do not comprehend religious truths; rather, they comprehend us. The intellect must be "raised up" to the realm from which religions emanate. Again, this is something the typical secularist utterly fails to understand. You must work to intensify your mental power and then transcend it, like building a very sturdy ship, and then launching it--two very different things.

For you cannot know religious truth. You cannot even really understand it. Rather, you must undergo it. Secular fundamentalists know all about religion. But you can be sure that they understand nothing of it, for, as Blake wrote, truth cannot be told so as to be understood and not believed.

To understand is to apprehend an intelligible truth. Secularists would have you believe that it is possible to deeply understand something that isn't true, which actually makes no sense at all. As one "undergoes" spirituality and understanding grows, we move from the line to the plane, from seeing to envisioning, from thinking about God to being comprehended by God, to where the interior horizon of the imploding universe flows within itself. The negation of negation!

Achieving this new depth of vision is not a matter of piling on additional surfaces, as the intellectual does. It is changing the nature of the knower, so that a new light-infused known may be captured from the Wild Godhead. In turn, this divine light further elevates the mind so that we may better see divine things, the uncreated world from which the created world is a reflection dimly perceived through mirror and enigma.

Is it really possible to speak from the Ground, where we are unborn again and can know the youth of eternal spring within our hearts? As Meister Eckhart said, these things "are false and absurd according to the imagination of opponents, but true according to true understanding."

True understanding is the death of the conventional self. But don't worry.

It isn't bad. You just go to sleep.

Then you wake up. And remember. And live.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

End-Time Panic and The Liberal Ghost Dance

WELCOME, MY AMERICAN THINKER OVERLORDS! This is a pretty old post from not long after I started blogging, so feel free... no, feel obligated to check out some of my more recent efforts. Many people feel that my unusual writing style repays careful and thorough disregard, but I'm sure there are one or two of you who will disagree. After all, I don't mean to boast, but I have already been granted the extravagant honor of being named the Most Obnoxious Man In AmeriKKKa by the most obnoxious children in America. I hope they don't try to take it back when they find out about Lifson.

*****

The great psychoanalytic anthropologist Weston LaBarre wrote extensively of "crisis cults," which involve non-rational belief systems that cultures develop when under severe stress and faced with breakdown. Similar to the neurotic individual, at the core of every crisis cult is a welcome but false "noble lie" which "is defended with the same religious fanaticism as neurosis." As he writes, "Crisis cults are notable for their foolishness and unreality, because they tend to deny and misapprehend the real situation surrounding the society. But they all promise relief from unendurable current catastrophe." In fact, as irrational as they may appear on the surface, the crisis cult is "the would-be therapy of the traumatized culture." It doesn't do anything in the real world, but it comforts those who cling to the beliefs of the crisis cult.

In his book The Ghost Dance, LaBarre describes dozens of crisis cults. In fact, the book takes its title from one of the most famous crisis cults, the Ghost Dance of the late 19th century, when American Indians were facing the complete dissolution of their way of life--loss of their hunting territories, near extinction of the once vast buffalo herds, a series of disastrous military defeats, multiple droughts, and new and fatal diseases. The Ghost Dance was a fantasied solution to all their problems, involving the widespread idea that "a new skin would slide over the old earth, covering up the whites and all their works, and bringing upon it new trees and plants, great buffalo herds, the ghosts of the dead, and the great departed warriors and chiefs." This utopia would come about if only each person in all the tribes danced the elaborate Ghost Dance.

Another famous example is the "cargo cult" of early 20th century New Guinea. There, the natives couldn't help but notice that they had to work very hard, while the white colonialists seemed to sit around a lot, and received great stores of goods simply by sending out little scraps of paper. They reasoned that this had something to do with the mysterious cargo ships that left with native products and returned loaded down with all of the machines and other items that seemed to make the white men so powerful. The New Guineans developed the idea that these powerful objects were fashioned by their ancestors in a far-off volcano and were actually meant for them. But in order to ensure receiving them, they would have to imitate the behaviors of the white men by "sitting solemnly and speechlessly around tables," waiting for their ship to come in, so to speak.

Yesterday I ninety percent half-seriously proposed a new category of personality disorder to account for the increasing nuttiness and desperation of progressive thought, which has of late become so detached from reality. But upon further reflection, perhaps we are dealing with a crisis cult. After all, progressives are having to cope with a catastrophic collapse of their world and all of its comforting myths. As each myth crumbles in succession, they become increasingly frantic in papering over reality with the downright strange beliefs of their progressive crisis cult.

Just as a neurosis is a personal culture, a culture--especially a subculture--is often a collective neurosis. I realized quite some time ago that it is not possible to respond to the content of a dailykos, since it is so histrionic and perpendicular to reality. As a psychologist, I assumed that the hysterical, paranoid, narcissistic, or antisocial content had to do with the personal issues of the writers, but there could be another way of looking at the florid material, that is, as a collective response to the ongoing crisis at the core of progressive thought. Instead of examining their assumptions, these progressives prescribe more of the same--only worse!--in a way that seems calculated to turn off and drive away the average moderate voter who has at least one foot in the real world.

A case in point is the public's reaction ot the NSA non-scandal. I'm sure the number would be even higher if the public were totally informed about it, but as it stands, almost two thirds agree with the President that it is a pretty good idea to monitor incoming international calls from suspected terrorists. And yet, the left is now openly discussing impeachment charges, as if this will magically resuscitate their sagging fortunes. It's a classic ghost dance.

Likewise, Air America is a sad ghost dance. The primitive progressives observed the big bwana, Rush Limbaugh, and noticed that he simply sat at a table speaking into a microphone and attracted millions of listeners. They would angrily do the same thing, and watch their ratings soar! But it was not to be. The ratings ship loaded down with goodies never arrived. Nevertheless, the Air America ghost dance will continue for as long as George Soros and his ilk fund it.

Here is a fine example of a raving ghost dance plucked from huffingtonpost, entitled A Time to Slay the Republican Medusa by James Boyce, a Kerry campaign operative. Boyce is like the natives who noticed the powerful white men ruling their lives. He asks the obvious question any primitive would ask: how did they fool everyone and become so powerful?

Easy. The "appeasement of Republican Evil has led our country to the precipice where we stand today." The decent and fair-minded Democrats are "hindered by their own beliefs in equality" and "hamstrung by their sense of fair play." As such, they just don't understand "the Medusa of Republican Evil unleashed by the election of the Puppet King, George W. Bush," which will continue to "pursue its frighteningly radical agenda in the face of good intentions."

Problem is, "Decent rational human beings have a tendency to falter in front of pure evil" such as Adolf Hitler or George Bush. "Those who themselves have no capacity for evil within, respectable decent men like Joe Lieberman and Harry Reid, lack the fundamental capacity to recognize and fight evil in others. We do not need to become evil to defeat it -- but we need to recognize its presence to slaughter it." (Er, I think he has the wrong guy in Lieberman, who clearly does recognize evil. Only in Islamofascists, not George Bush.)

Boyce continues his desperate diagnosis of a crumbling world: if progressives "show any sign of resistance, the Medusa will become increasingly horrific in its actions like a wounded cornered wild animal.... [as] their dreams of their utopian world are finished, they will fight with all the weapons they possibly can without any sense of decency or conscience." (You first year psychology students out there, what is the name of the defense mechanism Boyce is squeezing every last drop from here? That's right, projection.)

This is the progressive supernatural nightmare that is happening before our eyes! "Imagine living in a world where the sole purpose of the US military is to attack countries and spread democracy through war.... Imagine no Social Security for our elders or disabled. No protection for women's rights.... Imagine a crippling national debt -- solely created for the purpose of funding vast and enormous wealth for a few who use their considerable wealth to fund and feed the Medusa in a cruel cycle which continually concentrates the wealth of the nation.... Student loans? Gone. Global warming? Accelerated because the fuels that create it drive the economic engine. Torture? Slithering from the prisons of Iraq to a jail near you. Torturing Americans in the name of the War on Terror? It's a matter of time sadly, unless, of course it's already happening.... This is the core of the true agenda."

It gets worse! "The Medusa, when cornered and threatened, will lash out with increasing ferocity and terror before it is destroyed. John Kerry was a real threat to them, and when this was recognized, the true evil surfaced.... what's truly important to realize is that we are not yet engaged in a fight to the death with them -- but they are fully engaged in a fight to the death with us." Delaying for even a second "leaves the Republican Medusa emboldened and gives it the oxygen it needs to grow and become more powerful."

Islamofascist, er, I mean, Republican evil "feeds upon weakness. Evil lives for the chance to destroy those who hesitate. Evil grows bolder when an opponent or something standing in its way falters."

Okay! We get it! The ghost dance must begin! Now!

What do we do?!!! What are the specific dance steps to kill the Republican Medusa and regain our progressive mojo?!!!

"You kill a Medusa by cutting off its head. You need to be a warrior and get blood on your hands and guts on your shoes."

Yes, but how, dammit?

By supporting the far left online community!

"The online community has the proven ability to fight and defend candidates. We need to defend them.... The online community has the proven ability to raise money and support candidates. We need to support them. We need to spread the word one person at a time, and one million people online at a time."

Excellent! God's gift to Republicans is the perpetual online ghost dance at dailykos, huffingtonpost and hundreds of other primitive progressive websites. As long as they keep dancing, our blessedly evil Medusa lives another day. I am proud to have my own personal ghost lap-dancing troll, L.A. Larry. It means the message is getting out, and the Great Liberal Ghost Dance drags on for our endless amusement. (Umm, anybody know how much I'm supposed to tip for a personal ghost dance?)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Weakness, Vanity, and Cruelty: A Glimpse into the Moral Dementia of Deepak Chopra

Honestly, how does someone become as morally confused as Deepak Chopra? What is the source of such an enfeebled ability to reason in the realm of morality? It's not just that he's wrong--rather, it is that he reverses good and evil, right and wrong, decent and indecent. So it's more than just ignorance. It's some kind of active process that is "jamming" his conscience and making it dysfunctional. It is a moral dementia.

Chopra's latest contribution over at Huffington Post is entitled "The Trail from Munich," as pompous, sanctimonious and self-righteous a review of Spielberg's new film as you could imagine. The "trail" he is referring to is the trail that leads directly from Palestinian massacre of the Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972 to the attacks of 9/11. Yes, that trail. What, you didn't know about that trail? It's the trail that was blazed by our "eye-for-an-eye approach to terrorism" that began in Munich 33 years ago.

You see, it's all our fault. The problem began not with the terrorists, but with our response to them. This is logical--no different than how crime is caused by police, ignorance is caused by education, and disease is caused by doctors.

For Chopra, the film depicts, "with sickeningly convincing brutality, how tragically that approach has failed." Follow the holy man's paradoxical reasoning closely here. You see, the terrorists have not failed. Rather, it is our "sickeningly brutal response" to the terrorists that has failed.

The message of Munich "is that we are still on the road of endless violence and that the War on Terror, no matter how many jihadists are killed, will become our own paralyzing nightmare." Exactly. Just like World War II. No matter how many nazis we killed, it just turned into our own paralyzing nightmare.

Chopra continues:

"I'm sure audiences will be surprised at how detailed and serious the morality in this film is." (In other words, we will be surprised how much it mirrors Chopra's deranged view of the world.) He states, "The motives of the Black September terrorists are credible: they want their homeland back, they want reprisal for Palestinians killed by Israel, and they want the world to notice them."

Got that? The Palestinians are morally serious and credible people. When they engage in unprovoked warfare and deliberately murder innocents just to be "noticed by the world," their motives make perfect sense.

"But unlike the terrorists," the Israelis "do not achieve [their] aims." Avner, the ex-Mossad agent who heads the assassination squad is a "morally corrupt man" who is "disowned by civilization." Not only that, but he "stands for us, the 'good' people who set out to destroy the 'evil' people, who in turn believe that they are good and we are evil." You see, in Chopra's twisted moral world, no one is good or evil except people who believe in good and evil (with the exception of Chopra, who clearly believes that people who fight evil, especially when they are conservatives, are evil).

What does the morally retarded holy man advise? We need "to see equality between Arabs and Israelis, not in terms of right and wrong, but in terms of two opponents equally victimized by hatred." No one is right and no one is wrong, except for people who believe there is no excuse for terror. Israelis who are victimized by Palestinian terror are in actuality victimized by their hatred of the terror. Get it?

But "Insofar as right-wing factions in this country drag us into a war against evil, we will also be victimized, and our claim to be civilized will weaken bit by bit." So here in America, we're all actually victims of George Bush, who has victimized us by turning us into barbarians who want to fight evil.

Again, where does this perverse morality come from? It doesn't come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Perhaps surprisingly, it doesn't come from orthodox Hinduism or Vedanta either. The Bhagavad Gita, probably the most revered teaching in Hinduism, takes the form of a dialogue between a frightened warrior, Arjuna, and the incarnate god, Krishna. Arjuna is afraid to do what needs to be done, telling Krishna,

Knower of all things,
Though they should slay me,
How could I harm them?
I cannot wish it:
Never, never....
Evil though they may be,
Worst of the wicked,
Yet if we kill them
Our sin is greater....
Let them come with their weapons
Against me in battle:
I shall not struggle,
I shall not strike them.
Now let them kill me,
That would be better.

Krishna's response:

"You ought not to hesitate; for to a warrior, there is nothing nobler than a righteous war. But if you refuse to fight in this righteous war, you will be turning aside from your duty. You will be a sinner, and disgraced.... Your enemies will also slander your courage....

"Shake off this fever of ignorance.... Be free from the sense of ego. Dedicate your actions to me. Then go forward and fight."

Krishna's response suggests that Arjuna, as noble as his pacifist sentiments might appear on the surface, is actually motivated by cowardice and by ego. Interestingly, this is exactly the conclusion drawn by the great Indian philosopher and sage Sri Aurobindo, in his celebrated Essays on the Gita. Aurobindo writes that the Gita "does not preach indifference to good and evil for the ordinary life of man, where such a doctrine would have the most pernicious consequences." He dismisses the notion that human beings are at a stage in their evolution that they can use "soul-force" alone to stop evil, as knaves like Chopra and Gandhi would have it. In the face of "soul force," the evil "in men and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes." Resort to passive resistance and "you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence."

"A day may come, must surely come, when humanity will be ready spiritually, morally, socially for the reign of universal peace; meanwhile the aspect of battle and the nature and function of man as a fighter have to be accepted and accounted for by any practical philosophy of religion."

And here is the key: for it is not "compassion which actuates Arjuna in the rejection of his work and mission. That is not compassion but an impotence full of weak self-pity, a recoil from the mental suffering which his act must entail on himself.... Its pity for others is also a form of self-indulgence... This pity is a weakness of the mind and senses,--a weakness which may well be beneficial to men of a lower grade of development, who have to be weak because otherwise they will be hard and cruel; for they have to cure the harsher by the gentler forms of egoism."

Aha! So that's where the preening, narcissistic, and self-indulgent morality of the left comes from! Or as it says in the Talmud, "those who are kind to the cruel will be cruel to the kind."

Monday, January 02, 2006

Brokeback Mountain and the Passion of the Left: Deconstructing the Deconstructers

I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain and I probably won't, but it is providing a fascinating glimpse into the deep structure of our contemporary cultural divide. I heard an ad for the movie on Air America that was so over-the-top in its praise that it struck me as downright religious.

This intrigued me, so I decided to do some investigating. I went to the website for the movie, which has links to many of the reviews. Reading the reviews made me realize that this is indeed the secular Passion of the Christ. It has so many religious overtones that the implicit message is inescapable, and demonstrates the religious underpinnings of secular belief.

In my very first post on this blog, Where Did the PC Virus Come From?, I put forth the idea that political correctness is a specifically Western perversion of Christianity, since Christianity is the religion that elevates the ultimate victim to the status of Godhood: God is the innocent victim and the innocent victim is God. But in the bi-logic of the unconscious mind, the message easily becomes distorted, so that all victims are seen as sacrificial-victim gods. Therefore, improperly understood, this Christian cognitive template puts in place a sort of cultural "race to the bottom" in competition for who is more oppressed, and therefore, more godlike. People who actually practice Christianity don't generally have this confusion. Rather, it is only secular types who are nevertheless parasitic on the deep structure of a specifically Christian phenomenology.

Therefore, in secular liberal iconography, the victim is by definition godlike by virtue of his being persecuted and oppressed. Brokeback Mountain deals with one of the holiest of holies of leftist iconography, the homosexual. Being that homosexuals are by definition victimized by a homophobic society that hates their innocent expressions of love, homosexuals are elevated to the highest realm of the leftist pantheon.

The movie strains to convey the message that those who do not celebrate homosexuality are at war with nature. Under the title of the movie, the newspaper ad even proclaims "Love is a Force of Nature." This is because in the upside down world of the secularist, who has removed God from the equation, nature becomes the highest expression to which humans may aspire. If you deny nature, you deny God.

In his review, Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times manages to get in three references to nature and naturalness. The two protagonists are "Alone in nature's grandness," and are "are drawn to each other almost without their knowing it's happening." Turan writes that the film "is determined to involve us in the naturalness and even inevitability of its epic, complicated love story." Moreover, "watching it gradually develop on screen, unfolding with a quiet, step-by-step naturalness, makes it emotionally convincing." In a world devoid of hierarchy, doing what comes naturally is the highest good.

Stephen Holden in the New York Times gets to the heart of the matter with a seemingly gratuitous reference to the writer Leslie Fiedler, who "characterized the bond between Huckleberry Finn and Jim, a runaway slave, as an unconscious romantic attachment shared by two males of different races as they flee the more constraining and civilizing domain of women." Holden adds that Fiedler's observation "certainly could be applied to the Lone Ranger and Tonto.... it might also be widened to include a long line of westerns and buddy movies, from Red River to Midnight Cowboy to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: the pure male bonding that dare not explore its shadow side."

This is a fascinatingly backward interpretation of male bonding. The entire basis of culture involves the transformation of the male of the species from aggressively competing with other males to cooperating with them in a desexualized, symbolic manner. As the psychoanalytic anthropologist Weston LaBarre wrote, culture is "the non-bodily and non-genetic contriving of bonds of agreement that enable this animal [males] to function as human. Such relationships--of father and son, and of male and male--must be forged morally....What connects father and son, male and male, is the mystery of logos and logos alone.... logos as laws, agreements, rules, and regularities of behavior."

In other words, culture is founded on the ability of males to rise above nature (including their own nature). Therefore, to elevate nature to the highest is a quite explicit assault on culture and civilization itself. Maleness is given by nature, but manhood isn't. Manhood can only be conveyed from man to man, from fathers to sons (either literally or symbolically). Males must be initiated into manhood, into the "wisdom" that holds males together. To sexualize this link is astoundingly subversive, something the Boy Scouts recognize but leftists do not. It is absolutely vital to civilization that young men be provided with a realm of male love that is unencumbered by sexuality, and there are fewer and fewer such realms available today because of the leftist assault on traditional manhood. This film is truly a shot across the civilizational bow.

Not surprisingly, one of the protagonists of Brokeback Mountain has a dysfunctional relationship with his own father. Ennis is "haunted by a childhood memory of his father taking him to see the mutilated body of a rancher, tortured and beaten to death with a tire iron for living with another man," and "is immobilized by fear and shame." Here is the reversal of the male-to-male civilizing process: a wicked father who has failed to initiate his son into the ways of manhood, and instead conveys the message that the world of the Fathers is a violent and oppressive one.

Holden draws exactly the wrong message, writing that "America's squeaky closet doors may have swung open far enough for a gay rodeo circuit to flourish. But let's not kid ourselves. In large segments of American society, especially in sports and the military, those doors remain sealed. The murder of Matthew Shepard, after all, took place in Brokeback territory. Another recent film, Jarhead, suggests how any kind of male behavior perceived as soft and feminine within certain closed male environments triggers abuse and violence and how that repression of sexual energy is directly channeled into warfare."

Even if Matthew Shepard had been murdered because he was gay, these would not be examples of manhood, but failures of the culture to properly initiate these violent and abusive males into manhood.

Jan Stuart in Newsday is also amazingly clueless in her analysis, writing that "the two intrepid young actors manage to bust up several mythologies," including "the myth of the cowboy West, a land of manlier-than-thou men who release any pent-up longings with a quick stop at the local cathouse and a long drag on a Marlboro cigarette." Again we see an explicit devaluing of the realm of the masculine, even the possibility of a non-sexualized and nonviolent realm of manhood. Not surprisingly, sex and violence are linked in the film: "Their simmering mutual attraction overtakes them by surprise, in a violent coital burst."

Stuart also makes explicit the Biblical connection to paradise and fallen man, except that it is not a catastrophic fall away from God, but from nature: the movie "coaxes audiences to walk several hundred miles in its characters' shoes, luring us with the scent of forbidden fruit," as "the men attempt to re-create their youthful Eden on the sly over the ensuing years."

Mike LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle finds implicit resonance with the revelation of Sinai, writing that the film "makes no sense, except in one place in the world, the place where it started, on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. And though they come down from that mountain and go about their lives, they keep going back to it, over the course of years, because however much the love doesn't make sense, it's real - so real, it makes their lives unreal." Again, it's the reverse Sinai-dispensation of the secular left: that nature is the highest to which we may aspire, the only thing in the world that makes sense.

Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun Times also makes reference to the dysfunctional father that is at the heart of the movie, quoting Ennis: "There were two old guys shacked up together. They were the talk of the town, even though they were pretty tough old birds." One day they were found beaten to death. Ennis says: "My dad, he made sure me and my brother saw it. For all I know, he did it."

So the father not only fails in his civilizing mission, he is the murderer at the heart of the film. This is the original sin: the violent father symbolically murdering his own son instead of ushering him into manhood. Indeed, Ebert acknowledges that "This childhood memory is always there, the ghost in the room.... When he was taught by his father to hate homosexuals, Ennis was taught to hate his own feelings." This film goes way back, all the way to the beginning of civilization: Abraham, the primordial father, instead of pulling back and founding monotheism, sacrifices Isaac and initiates the Culture of the Holy Victim.

Ebert gushes that Brokeback Mountain is "the story of a time and place where two men are forced to deny the only great passion either one will ever feel."

Perpetual victims, crucified for doing what comes naturally. The Passion of the Secularist.

OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER--

Just in case it isn't clear, I am writing about deeper cultural trends, not about particular homosexuals, many of whom are obviously fine people. This is about homosexuality being used by the left as a sort of cultural battering ram, in exactly the same way that they use race and "gender." Just as the left doesn't actually care about the interests of blacks but simply uses them to advance the leftist agenda, so too do they use homosexuals for that purpose, the ultimate purpose being to attack the transcendental and hierarchical realm that actually makes us human.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year & Happy Bangday to the Cosmos!

The Cosmos is 13.7 billion years old today. I wonder why they measure it in years? A year is just one trip around the sun, but the cosmos was here way before there was an earth or a sun.

Wait a minute, what is time anyway? It's another case of having a word for something so that we lull ourselves into thinking that we know what it is, like "consciousness," "life," "eternity" and "energy."

I have this strong suspicion that many of these "limit case" words are related to each other in some way that we don't understand. In other words, life, energy, consciousness and time may all be aspects of one another and reflections of ultimate reality. We can't define them because they contain us. We can never contain them. For what is our existence but time, life, energy and consciousness?

People have had stranger notions about that old bald cheater, Time.

Here are some ideas about time from some notable personages:

In any attempt to bridge the domains of experience belonging to the spiritual and physical sides of our nature, time occupies the key position. --A. N. Whitehead

There is some sense--easier to feel than to state--in which time is an unimportant and superficial characteristic of reality. Past and future must be acknowledged to be as real as the present, and a certain emancipation from slavery to time is essential to philosophic thought. --Bertrand Russell

Time is the substance of which I am made. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which mangles me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges. --Jorge Luis Borges

For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one. --Alfred Einstein

Apart from time there is no meaning for purpose, hope, fear, energy. If there be no historic process, then everything is what it is, namely, a mere fact. Life and motion are lost. --A. N. Whitehead

What is intelligibly diverse must be unified and whole, and only what is whole and unified can be intelligibly diverse. At the same time, only what is diversified can be intelligibly one.... The reality of time, therefore, establishes concurrently the reality of a whole which is nontemporal.... Time without eternity is strictly inconceivable. --Errol Harris

It cannot be too often emphasized that physics is concerned with the measurement of time, rather than with the essentially metaphysical question as to its nature.... We must not believe that physical theories can ultimately solve the metaphysical problems that time raises. --Mary Cleugh

The mysterious now is the universal ordering principle which embodies the processual flow of eternity into serial structure. It is in this sense that human observers give rise to the cosmos that spawned them, and are the irreducible unit of there being a cosmos at all. --Petey

It is impossible to meditate on time and the mystery of the creative process of nature without an overwhelming emotion at the limitations of human intelligence. --A. N. Whitehead

Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden. --T. S. Eliot

It lived, it knew, it saw itself sublime,
Deathless, outmeasuring Space, outlasting Time.

I have escaped and the small self is dead;
I am immortal, alone, ineffable;
I have gone out from the universe I made,
And have grown nameless and immeasurable.

I have become what before Time I was.
My heart is a centre of infinity
A momentless immensity pure and bare,
I stretch to an eternal everywhere. --Sri Aurobindo

HOW IT ALL BEGINS

The molten infinite pours forth a blazen torrent
of incandescent finitude,
As light plunges an undying fire into its own shadow,
And falls in love with the productions of time,
Hurtling higgledy-piggledy
into jivass godlings & samskara monsters,
All the way down

HOW IT ALL ENDED

O Death, take us before & beyond this womentary maninfestation,
Reveal not the horizontal
but our inmost upmost vertical bigending.
Floating upstream alongside the ancient celestial trail,
Out from under the toilsome tablets of time,
Cast your I on the meager image below.
So long. So short. Whoosh!
There went your life.

Returning to the Oneself, borne again
To the mysterious mamamatrix of our birthdeath,
Our winding binding river of light
Empties to the sea.

--Gagdad Bob

Friday, December 30, 2005

Stark Raving Sanity

I'm reading the latest book by Rodney Stark, this one entitled The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. It pursues some of the same themes as his last book, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery.

The purpose of both books is to demonstrate how Christianity, far from being antithetical or hostile to science, was instrumental in there being science at all. From the earliest days, church fathers "taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase their understanding of scripture and revelation... The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians."

Real science arose in only one place and at one time in human history--in the Christian West--and for very clear and understandable reasons. Stark marshals the most recent scholarship disproving the cliché 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 only 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 died out after some initial advances--for example, in China and the Islamic world. And the reasons why science could not be sustained in these civilizations have specifically to do with religious metaphysics.

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 the absolute epitome of reason, 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.

Secondly, "with the exception of Judaism, the other great faiths have conceived of history as either an endlessly repeated cycle or inevitable decline.... In contrast, Judaism and Christianity have sustained a directional conception of history.... That we think of progress at all shows the extent of the influence of Christianity upon us." Christians developed science "because they believed it could be done, and should be done." Stark quotes one of my own favorite philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead, who wrote that "faith in the possibility of science" was "derivative from medieval theology," specifically, "the inexpugnable belief that there is a secret, a secret which can be unveiled," derived from the "insistence on the rationality of God."

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, neither could sustain science, because both 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 world delayed material progress for hundreds of years.

Stark clearly demonstrates that the ancient Greeks were not only not responsible for the rise of science, but shows how most of their ideas actually interfered with its development and had to be abandoned or ignored. While the Greeks 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.

And where the Greeks had empirical understanding--technology, crafts, even some engineering--their empiricism was quite atheoretical. Real science must involve both theory and research: "scientific theories are abstract statements about why and how some portion of nature fits together and works... Abstract statements are scientific only if it is possible to deduce from them some definite predictions and prohibitions about what will be observed."

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 weird ways.

And if science flourished in an atheistic paradigm, one would think that China would have developed it much earlier than the Christian West. But Stark shows that there were many philosophical obstacles that short-circuited Chinese science. For example, they never developed "the conception of a celestial lawgiver imposing ordinances on non-human Nature.'' Taoists "would have scorned such an idea as being too naive for the subtlety and complexity of the universe as they intuited it."

Stark's book also gets into of of my own personal passions, that is, the historical discovery of the individual self (which I wrote about in my own book). Here again, it is a mistake to think that this occurred on a widespread scale in any other time or place than the Christian West. For 99% of human history we were primarily a group animal, with our primary identity coming from merger with the collective. Christianity emphasized free will, personal responsibility, and individual sin, which helped launch the evolution of the inward horizon that has only been going on for a few hundred years, but which we in the West take for granted.

In point of fact, the interior self is a quite modern innovation, which, I believe, is one of the reasons it is subject to so many "bugs"--defense mechanisms, fixations, complexes, and other "mind parasites." We're still trying to work out the inevitable problems attendant to being a self-conscious being. And this is also why there are no "neurotics" in primitive groups. Instead, they're all crazy (such as the modern far-left). In these groups, the price of sanity is fervent belief in all of the insanites of your group. (One more reason why I loathe multi-culturalism--it's literally a psychological atavism, a devolution to an earlier mode of human existence and an abandonment of the hard work of individuation.)

The book also got me to thinking about the intelligent design debate. Personally, although I am quite certain that the universe manifests intelligent design, I do not believe it should be taught in science class, but in philosophy (or philosophy of science) class. Then again, it doesn't really matter if it were to be taught in science class, since most of the greatest scientists throughout history simply took it for granted (as I do). Secular fundamentalists are desperately worried that if we were to breathe a word of this to children, we would immediately fall behind other nations in science and technology.

Nonsense. Here's a little experiment for liberals. Let us have vouchers. I'll send my kid to a religious school, you keep yours in a secular public one. Let's see who ends up with the better science education.

Chicken?