Political Seance, Part 2
Clearly, political maturity has been a long time coming for human beings. Because of the very design flaws that allow us to become human to begin with--neurological incompleteness and plasticity, infantile helplessness, and extended neotany--various personal and cultural mind parasites get more or less hardwired in, so that the field of politics becomes a displaced struggle with the projected ghosts of the nursery. Forget about the grave. Leftists demand cradle to cradle welfare. Only the size of the cradle changes.
The plasticity of language is a vehicle of creativity, but it can also easily accommodate itself to infantile omnipotence. But the left takes this omnipotence to a new level, challenging the entire truth-bearing capacity of language. Language is very much tied up with reality, so if we attack language, then perhaps we can alter reality. This is what political correctness is all about. If on college campuses you cannot say that men and women are different, then through a sleight of language, you have made them the same.
Nietzsche's famous "death of God" soon was soon followed by an all out assault on the living Word, or logos. The official name of this death of the Word is "deconstruction," although it is really more of a murder, with murderous consequences. For if truth is relative and perception is reality, then no one’s ideas about the world are any better than anyone else’s. Fact is reduced to opinion, and conformity to opinion is ultimately maintained by the group or institution that has the power to enforce its version of reality.
Ironically, this achieves the opposite effect intended by its "liberal" proponents. That is, if we cannot judge the merit of competing ideas by assessing their relative truth value, then either everyone will have their own private truth, or truth will be enforced by the state or some other powerful collectivity. On college campuses, no one is unsophisticated enough to believe that truth exists; however, you'd better not utter the wrong truth, or you will come face to face with the Dark Cosmocratic Power that has replaced the Luminous Word.
In one version of history, the "secular revolt" may be traced to the alienation and disenchantment caused by the scientific and industrial revolutions in the 17th and 18th centuries. (Although "vertically" and metaphorically, I believe we may trace the trouble back to a certain charismatic and seductive serpent who whispered the false promise, "ye shall be as gods"). There was a deep sense that the organic unity of the world had been fractured--a widespread perception of a sort of breach with the natural order of things, and with it, a collective mourning over the loss of timeless and familiar ways and customs. The romantic movement of the early 19th century was actually a reactionary and nostalgic yearning for an idyllic past, answering to the sense of loss of community and oneness with the rhythms of nature. This backward looking movement idealized the primitive and sought to unleash the subjective and irrational passions (countering the rational and objective detachment of science).
Up to this time, one's personal identity had been based on such objective standards as a clearly defined role within an organic hierarchy, or merger with a large extended family. With modernity, this gave way to an uncertain identity that had to be forged for oneself in the world. The philosopher Charles Taylor (see his magisterial Sources of the Self in sidebar) calls this "an epistemological revolution with anthropological consequences," as it led to a new kind of human being that had never before existed on a mass scale: the modern, self-defining subject in a world devoid of intrinsic meaning.
Virtually all modern ideologies, movements and philosophies are somehow aimed at addressing this problem of alienation, of recapturing the broken unity of the world. Communism, nazism, European fascism, the beat movement, the hippie movement, the free love movement, the environmental movement, the new age movement--all are futile attempts to turn back the clock and return to a mystical union with the "volk," with nature, with the proletariat, with the instincts. You can see this phenomena in today's leftists, who clearly long for the "magical" 1960's, which represented a high water mark for a resurgence of romantic merger with the group, free expression of the primitive, and idealized notions of recreating heaven on earth: "All you Need is Love," "Give Peace a Chance," "Sing a Simple Song of Freedom," etc. As the scientist E.O. Wilson put it in another context: Beautiful theory. Wrong species.
We can see how contemporary liberalism fits the bill as a bogus cure for modern alienation. For example, multiculturalism devalues the concept of the individual in favor of the ethnic group, while socialism in all its forms favors the large and powerful mommy state that unites us all (and suppresses--for any time government does something for you, it does something to you). Leftists are uncomfortable with the painful idea of competition, but replace it with the notion of individual expressiveness. Everyone's natural impulses are beautiful, and we must not judge them, much less try to elevate them. Deconstruction throws all objective meaning into question, so no one has to have the disappointing experience of being wrong or denied tenure, no matter how stupid one's ideas. The burden of personal responsibility is mitigated, because one's being is determined by accidental factors such as race, class and gender, not one's owns values, decisions and actions. Skillful knowledge acquired by intense effort (or just being born smarter) is replaced by an obnoxious, hypertrophied adolescent skepticism that knows only how to question but not to learn. It is grounded in a sort of bovine materialism that is not the realm of answers, but the graveyard of meaningful questions. The primitive is idealized, because it is within everyone's reach.
But most importantly, radical secularism fails as a religion because it has no God, only demons: George Bush, Christian fundamentalists, Israel, tax cuts for the rich, Diebold, stolen election, Halliburton, Fox News, Abu Ghraib, Karl Rove, corporate profits, disparities in wealth, strict constructionists, parental notification, talk radio, guns, and so many more. On the other hand, the sort of classical liberalism to which I ascribe--now embodied in the modern American conservative movement--recognizes that politics must aim at something that is not politics, something higher, not lower. The alienation of the world can be healed, but not in the flat and horizontal line of secular history, or in the endlessly recurring cycle of primitive fusion with nature, but in the ascending, evolutionary spiral.
The secular world is a value-free flatland of nihilism and urgent nonsense, whereas the vertical world accessed by authentic spirituality is a world of hierarchical values to which we are perpetually drawn, like an attractor at the end of history. It is here where the frontier of psychohistorical evolution lies, for so long as there are free individuals endowed by their Creator with an orientation toward that transtemporal Word that pulls us into its vortex of Truth and Beauty, there will always be frontiers. While the exterior frontier might have closed in the late 19th century, the internal frontier is full of prime, undeveloped real estate for the adventurous.
As the Christian hermeticist Valentin Tomberg summarizes it, the human being is always faced with the choice between two basic attitudes or outlooks: that of existential being or that of essential Being. According to the choice he makes, he is either "orphaned" in a purely material, deterministic and "horizontal" realm with no reality higher than the individual self, or his individual being is grounded in the more essential, trans-subjective Being which is his true home. The secular leftist lives shackled in the Egyptian "house of bondage," in manacles forged by the deterministic/materialistic outlook, whereby one is situated in a fully material reality in which the past fully determines the present and the present determines the future. That is, no "vertical" causes can arise in the closed chain of cause and effect, so that one is truly imprisoned as it pertains to the moral/metaphysical/spiritual realm.
From the secular leftist outlook follows a host of disastrous ideas, such as class determines consciousness, poverty causes crime, free will is an illusion, private property is theft, hierarchy is evil, the vertical dimension is a hoax, or "dopiate," to keep you oppressed, and worst of all, the idea that a coercive state is needed to enforce equality (vs. the American belief in a Creator who endows us with spiritual freedom which it is government's primary job to protect and nurture). The freedom of mere animal passion forges the fetters that bind Western Europe to the horizontal wasteland.
The difference between spiritual progressives and secular reactionaries is that they worship different gods--or more accurately, they have entirely incompatible understandings of the meaning of One. There is an antinomy between these two Ones: there is a left one and a right One--or more precisely, a higher One and a lower one, a Luminous One and a dark one.
Tomberg uses a visual image to conceptualize the problem. Imagine two cones placed base to base. At the top there is a point, in the middle an “equator” where the bases meet, and at the bottom another point. Now imagine this as a sort of crystal. At the top is the “white point” where pure light, which is the synthesis of all colors, enters. As the light moves down toward the equator it becomes more and more differentiated into the various colors of the spectrum, until they reach their maximum degree of separation and intensity at the equator. Moving further down, the colors begin to merge until, at the bottom point, they once again lose all of their distinction and become black, which represents the blending and confusion of all colors. There is one sort of synthesis or Oneness above (the white point) and an entirely different kind of oneness below (the black point).
The white point is analogous to wisdom, for it represents the underlying unity of all the different types of knowledge available at the equator, where all of the individual colors represent various disciplines and sciences.
Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this, for it touches on the central point of my book and of this blog. The synthesis of all our seemingly contradictory truths lies “above,” toward the white light of wisdom. If two seemingly contradictory things are true, say, the Book of Genesis and the theory of evolution, then their common source of truth must be found above, not below. There is a way to resolve the contradiction, but not by finding a compromise between the two at the "equator" or by simply confusing and blending them together below.
For example, teaching intelligent design as an adjunct or alternative to natural selection is simply adding another color to the equator. Even worse, teaching it as the only truth would take both the Creator and science down to the black point, merging and blending science and theology in an unhealthy way. In fact, this is what is done in the Islamic world. Yes, they have intellectual and spiritual unity there, but it is the bad unity of the black point: One Nation Under Allah’s Big Sandal Heel, so to speak. The identical thing happens in secular totalitarian states, where diversity is not permitted. What we want is to allow maximum diversity but to synthesize it on higher level, not eliminate it on a lower one: this is the meaning of One Cosmos Under God.
Ironically, the secular left in America regard their fellow religious citizens as an incipient Taliban that wishes to enforce a black-point unity, when the opposite is true. That is, to the secular left, there is no white point above or black point below. Rather, there is only the equator, where we all live in our beautiful, diverse cultures and subcultures, none better than any other: multiculturalism, moral relativism, no objective or "privileged" truth. And yet, multiculturalism and diversity are enforced from on high despite the fact that the left supposedly does not recognize the existence of morally superior cultural perspectives. What’s going on?
In reality, the left is enforcing their absolute black point god, but simply denying it. They don't really care what culture you're from, so long as you are committed to diversity itself, and intolerant of any other view. This is nothing less than the unholy god of the black point flexing its muscle while pretending to be just another beautiful color in the rainbow.
In reality, there is no absolute system at the equator that can synthesize knowledge and explain our existence. There is only diversity and contradiction there, which is as it should be. Otherwise there would be no creation, nothing separate from the Creator. However, it is only the white light above that illuminates and unites everything below. We must maintain a commitment to that absolute white light that is reflected in all the relative truths at the equator, not to this or that relative truth enforced absolutely from below.
Or we may simply affirm the trinitarian root of all goodness, the secular curse that is found on any coin: Liberty, In God We Trust, and E Pluribus Unum. For if the ACLU had their way, you can bet that our coins would say Equality, In Matter and Collectivism We Trust, and E Unum Pluribus.