One Cosmos Light: Tastes Coherent! Less Absurd!
But clearly, not everyone prefers a coherent absurdity. When you think about it, we are faced with four possibilities. Either the world is a
1) Coherent absurdity
2) Incoherent absurdity
3) Incoherent non-absurdity, or
4) Coherent non-absurdity
While we’re at it, let’s define our terms. Coherent means “logically consistent,” with specific reference in this case to a logically consistent metaphysic, while absurd means “meaningless”or “lacking in order or value.” More specifically, it is “the state or condition in which man exists in an irrational and meaningless universe and in which man’s life has no meaning outside his own existence.”
Why do I bring this up, you ask? Well, I’m in the midst of a week-long relative swarm because of my son’s first birthday. I personally have very few living relatives, and those who are alive are more like me. I've never been interested in these kinds of organized and choreographed events, especially when the celebrant has no say in the matter and enjoys every day as much as the next anyway. So these relatives are all from the Mrs. Gagdad side. Mrs. Gagdad is now on my side of the family, both literally and metaphysically, but that is another story.
Anyway, it is fair to say that I am the white sheep of the family, in the sense that there is almost no area of agreement on any matter of political, religious, philosophical or cultural substance. That’s okay. These are good people. I actually understand them thoroughly and take them as they are. However, the reverse is not true. They do not understand me at all. Importantly, they don’t know that they don’t. They simply assume that I am either like them, or, in the case of divergence, not yet like them. Or else just eccentric.
I’m sure you know the feeling. For example, the air was full of casual, matter-of-fact Bush denunciation. This is a first principle, not something that need be justified or defended. Religion is both stupid and dangerous. Again, this is just a given. One relative is an eminent historian who has written widely acclaimed scholarly books. To paraphrase him, he would rather “open up a vein and bleed to death” than be accused of trafficking in anything called “truth.” No one is naive enough to believe that “truth” is a criterion of good history. Truth simply inheres in sentences, not history and certainly not in people.
I long ago abandoned arguing or trying to make any point that could possibly sway him from his position, or even make an impact, for that matter. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. Sometimes I do get sucked in, and I always regret it. In fact, that’s part of the reason I’m writing about it now--to try to regain my bearings, because it’s always a disorienting experience. I can’t even imagine the pressure a callow undergraduate must feel from being immersed in a whole environment like this, day in, day out. You have to be extremely strong to resist conformity. You can understand why leftist academia simply churns out more confused leftists.
To his credit, this man is absolutely authentic. He does not even attempt to conceal his contempt for my views. Again, I don’t take it personally, because he certainly doesn’t. He read the first page of my book and said it brought to mind the story of a German villager who had stumbled upon a volume of Kant. He read a couple of pages, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I should have such problems.”
The implication being, of course, that my ideas are hopelessly abstract and ethereal, while his are solidly rooted in reality--despite the fact that he confesses up front that he has no “truth” to convey, only self-justifying sentences. This in itself is interesting, for I imagine that it is a widespread sentiment in academia (again, speaking of the humanities, not the sciences). Many academics--this relative is no exception--have spent their entire lives in academia. Especially in the humanities departments, their ideas are never tested against reality, so they never have to deal with the real-world implications of their ideas--for example, what the impact would be if everyone simply abandoned the concept of truth.
I, on the other hand, live and work in the real world. I work in the field of forensic psychology. I am a historian of sorts. I need to take a thorough history of a patient, so that I can answer very specific questions.
I’m trying to imagine what would happen if I wrote a report that said, “you know, let’s not kid ourselves, Judge. There’s no such thing as truth. There are only sentences that can be constructed in such as way that they either justify themselves or not. So I’m going to tell you a story about the plaintiff, but don’t be naive enough to evaluate it in terms of whether it is “true.” Rather, evaluate it in other terms: does it decenter and liberate our Eurocentric judicial discourse? Does it subvert the hegemony of your courtroom's heteronormative presumptions? Does its transgendered gaze playfully subvert your postcolonial categories of logic? Does its queered stance give voice to the inherently sexed nature of guilt/innocence? Does its ironic pose not demonstrate the absurdity of a bad faith judicial system that pretends to seek "truth" in good faith? Does its "brownness" speak for the marginalized Palestinian "other" living under the boot heal of Zionist whiteness?
I should have such problems. In the real world in which I live, I must deal in coherent non-absurdities. A report that is incoherent--that is, either internally or externally inconsistent--will be picked apart on cross examination. And a report that is absurd will obviously be a non-starter.
I believe the world of the academic left is largely a world of incoherent absurdity. To cite just one example that is close at hand, if you were to listen to the above-referenced relative in unguarded moments, you would hear him constantly make sweeping statements that he seems to be claiming as truthful. Otherwise, why make them? I maintain that you cannot engage in any kind of rational discourse at all without an implicit understanding of Truth. In other words, rational discourse is guided by a Truth that we cannot necessarily possess, but which we perpetually aim for. We do this quite naturally, although in truth, it is actually a supernatural capacity that is built into us. To deny Truth is to live in absurdity, and to live in absurdity is to try to deny Truth.
There is also a world of coherent absurdity. This is the world of science--not the scientific method, with which I have no quarrel at all, but the materialist metaphysic that is embraced with science as its justification. This is “scientism,” the excessive reliance on the methods of science to disclose the nature of reality. Clearly, science, unlike, say, deconstructionism, is fully consistent and coherent, or at least aims to be. But it is nevertheless absurd, in fact, every bit as absurd as any doctrinaire leftist subhumanities department. Science is a closed system that makes perfect sense within itself, but generates metaphysical absurdity the moment we even attempt to explain the mysterious presence of the scientific knower. For if consciousness did not exist, science would have no trouble explaining it.
We next come to the realm of the incoherent non-absurdity. This is the realm of pre-reflective religiosity. In fact, many sophisticated moderns shun religion because it seems to them incoherent, that is, illogical, even childishly so. They would prefer to honestly live in an absurd universe than forsake logic to live in a comfortable delusion. Coherence is their God, even if elevating it to the supreme good is patently incoherent.
Lastly, we come to the realm of the coherent non-absurdity. Does such a thing exist? As a matter of fact, that is what this blog is about. It is what my book is about. For I believe that the universe is both coherent and ultimately meaningful. This coherence and meaning are not to be found where the secular leftist, the scientist, or even the exoteric religionist look (although in the latter case, they are infinitely closer to the truth). Rather, coherence and meaning are actually two sides of the same process, for meaning is revealed through coherence, and ultimate meaning is revealed in ultimate coherence.
Look at it this way: science is the reduction of multiplicity to unity. A good scientific theory will tie together a whole mass of disparate data and reveal their hidden, inner coherence.
Likewise, religion is the ultimate case of reducing multiplicity to unity. This unity goes by many names, but it is not to be understood as a mere object or aggregation of particulars. Rather, it is the ultimate subject through which the entire universe coheres and toward which it is oriented. It is the prior condition that makes the world intelligible at all, and even more mysteriously, makes us capable of knowing it.
The problem is, how do we convey the idea that the solutions to our most stubborn existential dilemmas and conundrums are found not in any secular philosophy, but in religion?
That’s my big problem. We should all have such problems.
"I'm just a baby, but I agree with my GagDad. It's absurd to think that this impressive thing just landed here all by itself... Although I suppose it could be an ironic phallocentric gesture."