Catch a Falling Man... Before it's Too Late
This morning I am startled into recollection and inspired by Van der Leun’s beautiful zazen’s grokkings, The Star. Inspired how, you might ask? That I can’t yet say. We’re about to find out.
That is, if the baby doesn’t start screaming. He has a little thing called rotovirus. I will spare you all the vomitaceous diarrhetails, but suffice it to say, I got less sleep than usual and it is now later than usual, so we’ll have to see how far I can proceed into the wild godhead. Either way, I’m afraid it’s going to be a bit sloppier than usual. Perhaps I’ll be able to edit later as time permits....
I’m trying to pluck a quote, but you had best read the whole thing slowly, because it resonates with a certain aftertaste in the soul.... I’ll bet the French have a word for it, but if we do, I can’t think of it.
Theirs was the Age of Myth; a world where night was not clad in the web of lights that now obscures the stars. It was a world lit by flaring torches, dim oil lamps, guttering candles, the phases of the moon and the broad shimmering river of the Milky Way. When the sun went down and night ascended, life withdrew into homes....
The night sky, now so thin and distant, so seldom really seen, was to them thick and close at hand. They reclined on their hill sides, their roofs, or in rooms built for viewing the moon and the stars. They watched it all revolve above them. Remembered. Kept records. They saw beings in the heavens -- giants, animals, the origins of myth -- and knew that in some way it was all connected.
One of my favorite philosophers, Frithjof Schuon, expressed the counterintuitive view that ancient man was normative and that -- especially since the Renaissance -- we moderns have strayed into a hellish deviation that he equates with the kali yuga, or decadent “end times,” of Vedic lore. Modern secular humanism, he wrote, “is the reign of horizontality, either naïve or perfidious; and since it is also -- and by that very fact -- the negation of the Absolute, it is a door open to a multitude of sham absolutes, which in addition are often negative, subversive, and destructive."
We like to think that we have finally emerged from mankind’s long cognitive sleep or evolved out of our spiritual childhood, but Schuon insisted that it wasn’t so. Essentially, whatever we have gained in the realm of quantities -- the horizontal -- has been at the cost of alienation from the realm of precious qualities -- the vertical. Since the vertical is mankind’s true birthright, no amount of “quantity” can ever take its place. Rather, it can only result in getting more of what we really don’t need -- unless we are extremely conscious and careful.
Which, in a way, is one of the main themes of my book and this blog. I am acutely aware of the pathologies of modernity and postmodernity. And yet, is there a way to reintegrate the vertical into our modern world, or is it a hopeless task? For those readers who simply do not comprehend my condemnation of the error of leftism in all its forms, this is precisely why I do so, for I believe it results in a truncated, twisted version of man, with no hope of ever producing a society in which human beings can recapture their lost verticality.
With regard to the modern secular world, Schuon wrote that “there is nothing more inhuman than humanism, by the fact that it, so to speak, decapitates man: wishing to make of him an animal which is perfect, it succeeds in turning him into a perfect animal; not all at once -- because it has the fragmentary merit of abolishing certain barbaric traits -- but in the long run, since it inevitably ends by ‘re-barbarizing’ society, while ‘dehumanizing’ it ipso facto in depth.” The recent passage of the bloodiest century of all has left us with one brutal lesson, “that one cannot improve man by being content with the surface while destroying the foundations.”
Who knows -- rescuing mankind may not even be possible with the classical liberalism of the founders, but I simply know of no other system that comes close to being able to create and maintain a flourishing horizontal world for the purpose of verticality, interiority, and contemplation. John Adam’s said, “I am a revolutionary so my son can be a farmer so his son can be a poet.” Truly, my grandfather in England toiled for the railroad so that my father could emigrate to the United States and be a businessman so that I might abide in primordial slack and circumnavelgaze the divine with my cyberfriends. I can only hope that my son can do the same thing in his own way, irrespective of whether he turns out to be a man of action or of contemplation.
To see something special; something beyond you. To follow it wherever it leads. To always remain prepared for miracle and amazement. That's the inner music of the story of The Star. Like all stories that survive, it is one of the heart and not of the head, and like the heart, it will endure (Van der Leun).
In the end, I must respectfully reject Schuon’s belief that the historical present is beyond redemption, but I do not do so casually. There is great truth in what he says, and Van der Leun’s essay illuminates this. I myself am very much aware of how much our culture has deviated from its vertical bearings in just my lifetime, and Van der Leun touches on this as well: “In 1957, when I was twelve years old, we all lived in a far smaller universe with far fewer stars for God to destroy by way of cosmic birth announcements.” Our conception of the material universe has expanded since then, but this has not brought with it a simultaneous expansion of the mind. Instead, it seems to have engendered a dissipation and dispersal of the mind, as it can no longer come up against any “edge” to define itself.
I am reminded of how the first thing babies seek when they come into the world is not food, not love, but containment, for even food itself is simply something that serves to contain an infinite and boundless experience we call “hunger” but which the infant can only know as a persecutory presence within the horizon of its being. Eventually, with good enough mothering, this persecutory presence will be tamed and contained by a word, hunger, but food will nevertheless always be associated with its more primitive cognitive, even existential, foundation (which is why we have “eating disorders,” obesity, the plague of type II diabetes -- people eating not for the purposes of nourishment, but for emotional containment).
I think what Schuon means about the superior vertical ambiance of antiquity is that it more adequately “contained” and answered to man’s vertical needs than any watered down gruel that modern science can offer us. For man was not made for science, nor was science made for man, at least in terms of a place to live spiritually. This is a new, alien world we are living in, as we have essentially allowed a method for investigating material reality to eclipse and dominate the more direct modes with which man has always encountered his universe. Van der Leun writes that, with the passage of time,
“more intricately argued sciences would rise upon the structures of the proto-sciences of astrology and alchemy. These new fact-based sciences would push the first sciences into the realm of myth, speculation, superstition and popular fantasy.
“The new sciences, you see, were much, much more about ‘Reality.’ They would never be tossed aside as so many playthings of mankind's youth. The authority of astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry and others was as certain as the pole star. Unlike astrology and alchemy, they would never be questioned.... We could see (almost) into the moment of Creation. We could see (almost) into the mute heart of matter. We had the proven method. We had the hard evidence. Nothing was, in time, beyond our knowing. There was no doubt. We were Alpha and Omega.”
There are few things that modern man “endures less readily than the risk of appearing naïve; everything else can go by the board so long as the feeling of not being duped by anything is safeguarded” (Schuon). But in reality, it is the height of naïvety to believe that man can escape from naïvety on every plane, including the celestial plane which has always served as a sacred symbol of something far surpassing us.
Our over-educated blind men insist that we doubt all of "the original myths that have made us and sustained us as individuals and as a people across the centuries. In their pointless world, they would have us cast off the old myths and embrace their ‘new and improved myths -- complete with evidence'; myths made of purposeless matter ‘hovering in the dark.’"
Yes, our soulless elites are engaged in the endless project of evicting us from the interiority of things. And yet, as Van der Leun concludes, “every year a bit more it seems, a tide has shifted in the hearts of men and we turn like a lodestone to the deeper myths of the human heart; that place where The Star will always shine, always within and yet always beyond us.” If so, there lies our salvation, the rediscovery of man, and with it, God.
The sacred is the projection of the Immutable into the mutable; as a result, the sense of the sacred consists not only in perceiving this projection, but also in discovering in things the trace of the Immutable, to the point of not letting oneself be deceived and enslaved by the mutable.... The sense of the sacred is also the innate consciousness of the presence of God: it is to feel this presence sacramentally in symbols and ontologically in all things.... --F. Schuon