The Ego and the Substance of Nothingness
This is one of the reasons why intellectuals are more often than not confused people -- not just intellectually confused but morally confused. They are lost in the fog of speech. No place in America, for example, is more anti-Semitic and secular than the university. You might think that the two are separate issues, but they clearly aren’t. A religious person is much more likely to be able to recognize good and evil when they are staring him in the face.
Today Dr. Sanity links to a piece that touches on this obligatory anti-Semitism among the educated elites of Europe. The author writes that “At a dinner after my lecture, a professor remarked, as if it were a generally accepted platitude: ‘Of course, the only terrorist state in the Middle East is Israel.’ Nobody contradicted him. The delegitimization of Israel in the British academic world has become one aspect of a new and more powerful wave of outright anti-Semitism....”
Yesterday I heard a wonderful interview with the historian Niall Ferguson on the Dennis Prager show, regarding his new book The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. I haven’t read the book, but it sounds quite good. It seeks to answer the question, “why, if life was improving so rapidly for so many people at the dawn of the 20th century, were the next hundred years full of brutal conflict?” Why, for example, was Germany, of all places, at the vortex of this unprecedented storm of human evil? After all, by 1900, they were without a doubt the best educated and most culturally sophisticated people on earth.
Now, among other things, I am not historian. That’s just one of the many things I had to pretend to be -- others including physicist, biologist, anthropologist, and theologian -- in order to write my book. Many of my ideas would undoubtedly offend the rank and file historian, so it was extremely refreshing to hear an eminent historian agree with some of the broad historical outlines in my book.
For example, you will often hear professional historians such as Elton John make the demonstrably false assertion that religion is responsible for more death and destruction than any other force in history, when the opposite is true: in the twentieth century, some 200 million people died as a result of wholly secular, atheistic, and anti-religious ideologies. This figure dwarfs the number killed in religious wars, both in absolute and relative terms, as a percentage of the population. In fact, Ferguson agreed with another one of my conclusions -- that one must go all the way back to man in his pre-civilized state to see murder rates this high. (This was another controversial assertion in my book -- that human beings in their natural state were hardly innocent “noble savages,” but homicidal maniacs from the outset: Homo psychosus, as it were.)
It is no wonder that in Genesis 6:6, God expresses sorrow that he created human beings, to such an extent that he “grieved in his heart”: the world “was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.” Here is a fine example of how much more wisdom there is in a single line from the Bible than there is in entire anthropology departments of elite universities. God is not a multiculturalist. He despises almost almost all of them.
Amazingly, Ferguson -- who teaches at Harvard -- said that the taxi driver transporting him to the airport was likely to possess more wisdom than the entire Harvard history faculty. (He must have realized he was safe in making this assertion, as no elite leftist historian would ever stoop so low as to actually listen to talk radio.) Ferguson also highlighted the truism that -- then as now -- it was religiously committed people who were far more likely to recognize and fight the evil in the world. In the 20th century the great evils came from secular and atheistic ideologies, but this century the greatest threat comes from a “religious” source, Islamism. But even that’s not quite accurate, because Islamism is specifically a weird blend of Islam, Marxism and fascism. Furthermore, it is greatly enabled by secularists all over the world, from the sophisticated elites of Europe to the idiotorial pages of the New York Times (which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its helpful propaganda on behalf of Stalin; at some point along the line they will undoubtedly be awarded another for their invaluable assistance to the current enemies of civilization).
“Yes Bob, but what does this have to do with the ego?” I’m getting there. Every religion, properly understood, has precisely to do with the “extinction” of what we are calling the ego, and it’s replacement with another center of consciousness. In my book, in order to avoid the linguistic confusion alluded to above, I simply employed the “empty symbols” of (•••) for the ego and (¶) for this other being that is “behind” or “above” (•••). (By the way, the multiple dots stand for unintegrated mind parasites; the (¶) is inherently unified [relatively speaking], as it is the otherwise inexplicably unified part of us that mirrors the divine unity -- “as above, so below.”)
So, if I were your spiritual teacher -- which I am not, but that’s another one of those things I had to pretend to be in order to write the damn book -- I would tell you this: yes, the “ego” of which various traditions speak does exist, but it is for you to discover it and understand its nature. And yes, this other entity -- the (¶) -- most definitely exists, but in the latter case, it is even more critical that you discover and “become” it. A religious practice can provide you with the means to discover it, but it cannot simply give it to you. Or, to be perfectly accurate, there will probably come a time (or two or three) in your life that it will be spontaneously given to you by something called “grace,” another word that requires an empty pneumaticon so that we don’t pretend to know what it is. [In my book I used the downward arrow symbol for this gratuitous “cause,” and the symbol (?!) for its startling effect on (•••).]
Now, after the conclusion of the Ferguson interview, I began brooding on the mysteries of language. It was a long drive, and I had about another hour to kill or give birth to, so I opted for the latter. It occurred to me that it is not a Big Mystery that clever human primates are able to use mouth noises to stand for for things. To a certain extent, many animals can do this. For example, my nineteen month old can howl like a coyote and respond to his missing mates prowling the hills around my neighborhood.
But the much more mysterious property of human language is that it is not just able to convey symbols but to convey the substance of thought. No, even more, it is able to transmit the substance of being from one being to another.
Take, for example, a comedic genius, a Richard Pryor, a Groucho Marx, a Jackie Gleason -- even a Howard Stern (a pox on his merely profane imitators). Have you ever noticed that they don’t actually have to make an explicit joke in order to be funny? Rather, when they speak, their language somehow conveys the “substance” of comedy -- a very real and palpable substance that inferior comedians cannot transmit. For example, you will notice that Al Franken thinks he is one of the people who can do this, when he manifestly cannot. Which is why he evokes wincing, not laughter. Jack Benny he is not.
It is the same with music. Technical proficiency has nothing to do with the ability to convey the substance of music. Not only that, but perhaps you may have noticed that when a great musician speaks, they even convey music in their speech -- as if they cannot help being musical.
Naturally, the same holds true of intelligence. There are many people who, no matter how educated, cannot convey the substance of intelligence in their words. And there are other people who can speak very simply, and yet, their words make intelligence palpably present.
And of course, it is exactly so with spirituality. The key in writing about spirit is to convey its reality directly from being to being -- language must not just symbolize it, but partake of its rhythms and proportions.
Now, one of the most mysterious and inexplicable things Jesus ever said -- at the time, it would have been dismissed as “insane” -- was that some day his message would be known and taught throughout the world.
What? Why? An anonymous peasant who never wrote down a word of his teaching, ignominiously put to death as a common criminal? And yet, the bizarre prediction came true. Not only that, but these words will still be remembered and spoken long after the words of most any living academic.
What we call genuine scripture or “revelation” is language that conveys the substance of spirit. These words endure because they embody timeless truths that we are not only able to “understand,” but to “make present.” But not with the ego.
To be continued.
The Substance of Joy. Hey, it's the reason why we keep him around, because he can also be the Substance of Annoyance.
Yes, cows are known to break dance when they are particularly overjoyed.