Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bach to the Future: Alternate Realities, Part Two

This subject of alternate realities is a rich one. I had intended to finish Part Two today, but the exigencies of caring for His Majesty have intervened, so I'll just address some of yesterday's thought-provoking comments and finish as much as I can of Part Two. We may well continue this discussion all week.

Dan said that what was intriguing about Bach's idea of alternate realities "was how he would travel and visit the 'other Richard' at some point in the future, to see how his life had turned out." Bach experienced a realm where millions of interconnected lines represented various choices he had made at some point in his life. "Here, a turned-down business deal and the lines split of left and right, here, a relationship gone awry, here," etc.

I am inclined to see this simply as an exercise of Bach's imagination, a sort of exalted Monday morning quarterbacking. It is not a bad thing, as I will attempt to explain.

Occult lore does speak of higher dimensions of time, including a fifth dimension where all the possibilities of a given moment exist. Think of it as a sort of plane that is pierced by the line of time, where only one possibility can be realized. Supposedly there is a sixth dimension as well, which contains not just the possible, but the actualized possibilities of each moment. Finally, there is a seventh dimension, which I identify as the eschaton, or telos, the fulfillment of eternity that is drawing history toward it. It is the omega point, or what I call "O" in my book.

I have in the past posted on what I call "Nocturnal Metahistory," which is a way of talking about the vertical, hidden, "night time" of history, where events are being dreamt in the womb of eternity before manifesting in the daylight of conventional history. History in the latter sense involves the past actions and reactions of human beings. It is history as remembered and recorded, which is only a tiny subset of History in itself.

Now in the neo-Platonic Gagdaddian view, History, the Aeon, is thought of as a sort of rotating, hyper-dimensional object that throws an illusory shadow we experience as history. When eternity breaks into time, it bifurcates into a left side and a right side, or more exactly a day side (the horizontal) and a nocturnal side (the vertical). In reality, History cannot be understood without reference to these horizontal and vertical streams. The horizontal aspect of History is well known to us, consisting of the “stream of time” that historians dip into to retrieve facts, documents and events.

Contemporary historians who focus exclusively on the horizontal have forgotten all about the “vertical,” about the matrix of History where things inwardly incubate before becoming events in time, and where events in time go to be “worked over” in the dream logic of the night (this is what Finnegans Wake is all about). But all historians also unwittingly operate “vertically,” in the sense referred to above. That is, they approach the historical enterprise with a “topdown” view which organizes their search and allows them to “see” what is significant in History (at least to them).

The analogy with an individual person's history is exact. For example, patients come to therapy with a narrative of their past life, chronicling their experiences with parents, their education, their friendships, loves, passions, conflicts, etc. But as a psychologist, I am not so much interested in this horizontal narrative as I am of evidence of influences coming from a vertical dimension called the unconscious. All along, their lives have been shadowed by this unconscious, which has continuously created, shaped, sabotaged, or prevented events in the horizontal. Similarly, a historian is like a dreamer trying to interpret the dream, without knowing it is a dream and that he is one of its dreamers. Is it possible to be in but not of the dream of horizontal history?

The great discovery common to all religions is the existence of a vertical influence operating both personally and collectively, this one coming from a “higher” dimension rather than from the unconscious below. Now, as I have mentioned before, there is something analogous to memory that operates in the vertical. In this sense, just as we are able to remember what has happened to us in the past, it is possible to "remember" our future--not in the horizontal sense, as if we can predict the future--but in the vertical, as in making our future self--our real self--present. This is something that is known to all traditions, called by Plato anamnesis. It might also be called "reading the book of life." This realm consists more of forms without content, but it is possible through imagination to give content to the form.

This, in my opinion, is likely what Bach was doing--"remembering" his true self, but clothing it in the form of imagining an alternate future. You might call it "qualitative" memory, in that it remembers what is of eternal value and is worthy of resurrection, so to speak. We all must search for the being without whom we are not real. Bach saw where his dead self was leading, and instead gave birth to his true self--a variation of being "born again."

Hoyden said "I can relate to being unable to grow in spiritual, or vertical realms, while holding onto beliefs and feelings that are not in harmony with the higher realms." Yes. I believe we should always make choices based on whether they will facilitate a lifestyle compatible with vertical liftoff. That's something I always intuitively did, even before I knew I was on a spiritual path.

JWM says "I can point to several instances in my life where seemingly insignificant decisions resulted in life changing consequences. Every one of those decisions propelled me in a life affirming direction. Those moments often were accompanied by- how do I put it? Transcendental events? That voice that just calls out in your head and says, "Stay here."

Yes, exactly. Vertical recollection. In my book, I use the symbol (?!) for these important experiences. We can ignore them or pay very close attention to them. These moments are dense with another kind of time, where we can feel the potential of the moment. Fortunately, when we are on a wrong path, life will randomly provide these "forks in the road," where we can "repent," turn around (the literal meaning of repent), and reorient ourselves. But the number of these tends to be finite. You have to take advantage of them before the aperture closes again, perhaps for good.

Kahntheroad asks, "How can we tell if a synchronicity is a signal from our higher self rather than a ploy of mind parasites? Does our higher self ever use synchronicities to compel us towards situations with immediate negative consequences with, perhaps long term positive implications? Or are such negative consequences always a result of our own failure of interpretation or execution?"

It is difficult to provide a simple answer to that question, for each case is different. First of all, as you ascend in the vertical, you will notice an increase in synchronicity--meaningful coincidences--because time "thickens" there. Because of the symmetrical relations of the supramental domain, things that are separated in time and space can be copresent, as in a dream. Yes, it is possible to confuse synchronicities with mere coincidences. The difference is that synchronicities are truly meaningful, deep, and personally instructive--some much deeper than others.

Kahntheroad also asked, "Do you think you're being a tad bit hard on the new agers? Before coming across your work I must say that, in addition to studying traditional religions, I also benefited from listening - with a critical ear, of course - to some of these 'gurus.' For example, someone like Wayne Dyer talks about a broader spirituality, personal responsibility and is even able to get away with quoting Jesus on a PBS."

Remember, the purpose of this blog is not to try to change people whose approach to spirituality is working. So if Wayne Dyer works for you, that's fine.

I am personally skeptical of the whole new age chitlin' circuit racket of cheap enlightenment. Have you ever seen some of the nutty ideas and outlandish promises in those magazines? Most of it is just retrograde born-again paganism. I do not believe it is appropriate to speak of these matters lightly to a large and indiscriminate audience, as if it is "spiritual entertainment." I always try to steer people back to actual religions, because they embody uncreated wisdom with unplumbable depth. With the new agers, you tend to hit bottom very quickly. A lot of it is frankly narcissistic--the student flatters the teacher's ego and the teacher gratifies the student's ego, each reinforcing the other in a narcissistic cycle. Real spirituality, like real therapy, is more of an insult, or narcissistic injury. As Jesus said, "I came not to send peace, but a sword."

Also, real teachers tend to send seekers away, not to encourage any and all comers. For example, Sri Aurobindo wrote in a letter, "I do not readily accept disciples, as this path of Yoga is a difficult one and can be followed only if there is a special call." In another letter he balked at the notion of creating a mass movement, noting that he had no interest whatsoever in fame or publicity, in that it would simply interfere with the work he was trying to accomplish. "For serious work it is a poison.... a movement in the case of a work like mine means the founding of a school or a sect or some other damned nonsense. It means that hundreds or thousands of useless people join in and corrupt the work or reduce it to a pompous farce from which the Truth that was coming down recedes into secrecy and silence."

Monday, February 13, 2006

Alternate Realities: One is Too Many, a Thousand is Not Enough

From reader Dan, "OK, HERE'S a question: are there alternate realities based on choices, much like Richard Bach wrote of?

I don't know anything about Richard Bach, but I looked him up on Amazon and see that he is the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and went on to write a number of other wildly successful new-age books. Unfortunately, when you write a book such as mine, you inevitably get lumped in with the new-agers such as Bach, but I hope I share nothing in common with them except competing for the same shelf space. Wait, they don't believe in competition. Or scarcity. I should say our "cooperation" in choosing this moment to create a reality in which there is the illusion of a single space for two books. In reality, because of quantum indeterminacy, there are parallel universes where my book has sold as many copies as Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and Neil Diamond has even set my book to music. Then I sued Neil Diamond for musical malpractice. No wait. That was in this reality.

For some reason, it is de rigueur in the new age world to believe in "alternate realities based on choices." Because of pioneering new-age manifestos such as Fritoj Capra's Tao of Physics, there is a widespread belief that Heisenberg's uncertainty principle means that reality is created by observing it, and that if we choose to observe it in a different way, then we can create a different reality. This is such a thorough misunderstanding that it is difficult to know how to respond.

For starters, the uncertainty principle is not so much a statement about reality as a statement about what we can say about reality. That is, looked at in one way, the quantum event is a particle. Looked at another way, it is a wave. But it's still one thing. We just can't say what. It's a limitation of language, a reminder that language falls short of our ability to describe what is going on at the subatomic level. And it is never a good idea to mistake a deficiency in language for a key to truth. Truth isn't purchased that cheaply. It's one of the reasons new age books are a paradigm a dozen.

Obviously, there is only one reality. Reality by definition is one, or else it is not reality. If there are two realities, then they are independent of each other, and one of them will be unknowable to us. But if they are related, then they are related on a higher level that unifies them. They are part of a system.

Having said that, reality is a gradient, or spectrum, if you like. Depending on where you stand in the spectrum, it will appear as a different reality. Take for example, Helen Keller. Perhaps it is an apocryphal account, but there is nevertheless a true principle involved. If you have seen The Miracle Worker, you all member the scenes before Helen understands language. Being "deaf, dumb and blind," she is thoroughly engulfed in the senses and buried in the body. She lives in a purely physical, material reality. Then, with the assistance of her teacher, Annie Sullivan, she learns the symbol for water, and is magically ushered into an entirely new domain, the realm of abstract symbols. Suddenly she is liberated from a brute material existence and enters the human world.

Again, there is the one world but there are degrees of reality. I ask you, which world is more "real," the first world inhabited by Helen--the fully material--or the second world--the abstract and symbolic? Reductionist and materialistic science would say the first world gave a more accurate representation, since our minds are just illusory side effects of a particularly complex brain, itself an accidental outcome of blind material forces. Of course, when the materialistic scientist says this, there is no reason to take him seriously, since according to his paradigm, his ideas have no reality and no ultimate truth value at all. After all, how can matter know anything, much less the truth of its existence? That's pretty grandiose for a piece of mere matter.

As I have mentioned before, the world of science is the horizontal world of quantities, of time, of linear cause-and-effect. The vertical world runs perpendicular to this, and is the realm of qualities, of spiritual evolution, of truth, beauty and love, among other things. Not only is it governed by a different kind of causation, but it is also ruled by a different form of logic, called "bi-logic." This is not the place for a full explication, but everyday Aristotelian logic is what we call assymetrical, whereas bi-logic is symmetrical. Both the Freudian unconscious and the spiritual supra-conscious operate along the lines of symmetrical logic, which includes five main features: timelessness, placelessness, non-contradiction, symbolism, and an absence of clear distinction between "imagination" and "reality."

Now before Helen Keller entered the realm of abstract thought, she lived in a world that was both concrete and infinite. It was the world of the eternal zero, the endless void of the infinitely finite. Once she entered the world of abstract symbols, she had a way to bring local meaning from the infinite into the finite. There is still just the one world, but now she had evolved vertically in such a way that the world appeared entirely different. There are countless such vertical worlds. For example, this is what happens when you "inhabit" a religion. You literally enter a world. Is it real? Yes. Is it accessible to science? No. It does not exist in the way that the blunt instruments of science require to perceive it. Ex-ist literally means to "stand out" in the same way that an object does. As such, even though God is real, he does not actually exist. He just is.

There are many such degrees of reality, both high and low. Psychoanalysis mostly deals with the lower planes of symmetrical logic, while spirituality deals with the higher ones. Based on an obscure cosmic principle Petey has told me about, you can only reliably ascend in the vertical to the extent that you have cleaned up the mess in the lower vertical. Otherwise, no matter how far you ascend, you will continually be "snapped back" into the lower realm--the realm of atemporal mind parasites who work their magic through the miracle of symmetrical logic. Although they are from "the past," they are "always here." They have the quality of omnipresence, which is why many people--many, many people--especially from certain Arab countries--confuse them with God. Many of these entities also have the quality of omnipotence, in that they are always watching and judging, like a malicious eye in the sky.

We live in the same reality as the Muslim world, right? Yes and no, in the sense there is single world with degrees of reality. The Muslim world of cartoontifadas, beheadings, terrorists, and systematic female abuse is steeped in symmetrical logic, whereas secular liberal world has largely been reduced to a barren, asymmetrically logical world without much of the higher vertical breaking through anymore. Through the magic of symmetrical logic, Muslims are able to freely reverse such categories as victim-terrorist, being offensive-being offended, weak-powerful, primitive-superior, etc. Since they do not respect Aristotelian logic, they are not bound by the rule of non-contradiction, and can inhabit a spiritually malicious dream world where everything is its opposite--Jews are weak and vile, yet they control the world, the Muslim world is backward and impoverished, yet Islam is superior to all religions, etc.

Also, as mentioned above, the secular liberal desert of the European and American left has lost access to the vertical world of spiritual reality. As happens with soul-corrosive socialism, too many of their citizens have been reduced to comfort-seeking animals in the horizontal wasteland. This is one of the reasons why Europe is doomed. They have exited the vital spiritual world in favor of a horizontal socialist paradise in which all of one's material needs will be ministered to but which no one will defend, because it is uncomfortable to do so. When Rome fell, it was largely a result of horizontal barbarians. This time Europe will fall as a result of an invasion of vertical barbarians. In America we have our vertical barbarians as well. But only about 49% of the population. Nothing to worry about.

To be continued tomorrow, timelessness permitting.

*****

Introductory:



More difficult:




Challenging:

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Mindfulness over Martyrdom

This is kind of a long post, but Petey promised it would come together at the end, and I must admit he was almost right.

In Victor Davis Hanson's weekly gem Losing Civilization, he draws the same connection I do between the totolerantarians of the left and the totalitarians of Islam, noting that the cartoontifada "represents an erosion in the very notion of Western tolerance.... Insidiously, the censorship only accelerates. It is dressed up in multicultural gobbledygook about hurtfulness and insensitivity, when the real issue is whether we in the West are going to be blown up or beheaded if we dare come out and support the right of an artist or newspaper to be occasionally crass."

Obviously, we "do not threaten to kill Muslims when they promulgate daily streams of hate and racism in sermons and papers, and much less would we go about promising death to the creator of 'Piss Christ' or the Da Vinci Code. How ironic that we now find politically-correct Westerners--those who formerly claimed they would defend to the last the right of an Andres Serrano or Dan Brown to offend Christians--turning on the far milder artists who rile Muslims.... The Islamists are sad bullies, who hunt out causes for offense in the most obscure places, but would recoil at the first sign of Western defiance."

The cognitively and spiritually bereft idea of multiculturalism causes the West honor totalitarians "who embrace or condone polygamy, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, political autocracy, homosexual persecution, honor killings, female circumcision, and a host of other unmentionables to threaten our citizens within our own countries."

At risk of pointing out the obvious, is it not clear (to paraphrase someone) that tolerance is indeed the virtue of the man with no convictions? It is actually moral cowardice, and as such, opens up a free space for bullies to operate unhindered. Contemporary liberalism is illiberal to the core. There is a hidden unity between the postmodern left and the pre-modern Islamists: it is a tacit conspiracy between those who make a god of their religion and those who make a god of their irreligion, and forcefully demonstrates the emptiness at the rotten core of liberalism (yes, on the spiritual plane it is possible to be simultaneously empty and rotten).

There is a story about a British magistrate in colonial India who interfered with the venerable act of tossing a resistant widow on the funeral pyre of her dead husband. A villager protested that the magistrate had to understand that this was just their sacred practice of sutee. The magistrate responded that we also have a sacred law that involves hanging people who burn widows.

Why is no one in the liberal MSM willing to step forward and remind the Muslim world of our sacred law of freedom of expression? After all, isn't this the crown jewel in the secular iconography? Not anymore. It has been replaced by a higher good, political correctness, which is now the holiest ideal of the left, itself a perversion of the Christian cognitive template that the equates the innocent victim with God. The secular liberal confuses this equation and regards any victim as God.

As I mentioned before, this also highlights the fact that the liberal victim is not really a victim, but an aggressor. Of course there are true victims, but officially sanctioned liberal victims use their victim status to generate real power in the world. Victims can say and do anything, and certainly do not shy away from throwing their weight around. They have real power and know it. And they are protected from consequences of using that power illegitimately, in ways that you or I could never be.

This is why liberal victims are always bullies. They don't have legitimate power or knowledge, only illegitimate power and knowledge. The cartoon jihadis are just a bunch of pathetic losers immersed in a pseudo-religion that only deepens and justifies their moral, intellectual, spiritual and economic squalor, but with the complicity of the left and their elite media, pointing this out makes you the aggressor, so that any reaction on the part of the victim is given sanction. The real headline of this farce should be, "Muhammad Implicated in Middle East Failure to Launch: Millions Left Angry, Stupid."

In a piece entitled What Is a Picture of Muhammad, Anyway?, Robert McHenry notes that a picture of Muhammad is only a picture of Muhammad if you accept it as such. In other words, no one knows what the prophet actually looked like, panties be upon him. So you have to want to be upset in order to decide that this or that picture actually represents Muhammad.

McHenry points out that "This is not unlike our response to a small child's drawing that looks like mere scribbling: 'Oh, yes, dear, that's a lovely picture of Aunt Louise.' If only one of the artists had meant to depict Muhammad, neither we nor our panel of Muslims would have been able to pick out his work from the field. What is objected to, then, is not an actual thing or an observable act--but an intention, a state of mind, a point of view."

McHenry then gets into the more general question of exactly what constitutes an insult? For example, "A says or does something, whereupon B reacts with strong negative emotion." But "A may or may not have intended to evoke that response; the response does not depend on A's intentions. We blur this fact in ordinary speech when we say that A has given offense. It would be more apt to say that A has provided the occasion for offense."

There you have it in a nutshell. Just as you would a child, someone has to take the Islamic world by the hand and firmly tell them: "No. We have not offended you. You have chosen to be offended. Your feelings are your responsibility, not ours. You are free to have them, but no one cares about them. And don't you dare act out your infantile rage."

There is something deeply wrong with people who can only be offended, never shamed. As Mark Steyn points out, if a Muslim wants to be offended by something, why not be "hurt" and "humiliated" by all the evil people who actually call themselves Mohammad? "The leader of the 9/11 plotters? Mohammed Atta. The British Muslim who self-detonated in a Tel Aviv bar? Asif Mohammed Hanif. The gunman who shot up the El Al counter at LAX? Heshamed Mohamed Hedayet. The former U.S. Army sergeant who masterminded the slaughter at the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania? Ali Mohamed. The murderer of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh? Mohammed Bouyeri. The notorious Sydney gang rapist? Mohammed Skaf. The Washington sniper? John Allen Muhammed. If I were a Muslim, I would be deeply offended that the prophet's name is the preferred appellation of so many killers and suicide bombers on every corner of the earth."

Here is McHenry's key insight. That is, "It would appear that the reason for choosing to be offended is that it is believed to elevate the offended one to a superior moral position. 'You have offended me! I am now authorized to blame, censor, censure, denounce, excoriate, fault, etc., you.' Or, in some cultures, riot, burn, and kill. In short, all the nasty things that we humans enjoy so much that we feel instinctively that we need moral sanction to do them, and no sanction is quite so available, so ready to hand, as the bad behavior of others."

That point is worth pondering. But only for a lifetime. If you are the type of person who is easily offended, part of the reason you do it is to elevate yourself and give yourself a false air of nobility and righteousness! Once offended, then your own dreadful superego is put to sleep, freeing you to do what you wanted to do all along, which is vent your primitive, instinctual aggression. The victim is God, and vengeance us his.

Now, let's tie this together with the contemporary left, which has no ideas, only attitudes, stances, and emotions. Let us further stipulate that ideas emanate from a realm that we can equate on a spiritual level with life. Someone who is full of ideas is full of life. Someone devoid of ideas--of creativity--is functionally dead on the psycho-spiritual level.

Still, biological life goes on, and one must consume something in order nourish the mind. So leftists have gotten into the habit of consuming death in order to nurture their movement. In Speak of the Dead (HT David Webber), Noemie Emery observes that "since September 11, liberals have found a new weapon of preference, and that weapon is martyrdom. They have discovered grief as a tactical weapon. They tend to like grief they can use. They use it to arouse guilt and sympathy to cover a highly partisan message, in the hope that while the message may be controversial, the messenger will be sacrosanct and above reproach. Since 9/11, they have embraced this tactic repeatedly, and each time with a common objective: to cripple the war, to denounce the country, to swing an election, but mainly to embarrass and undermine the president."

This article was written some six months ago, before the most recent example of liberal necgrophilia at the King funeral. She cites a number of similar instances of what I call "dining on death." For example, there was the time they "accused Republicans of insulting the dead of September 11 by selling a photo of George W. Bush on Air Force One on that day." Then there was the attempt "to capitalize politically on the shock and sorrow from the deaths of Paul Wellstone, his wife, and his daughter." Or remember the " 'Jersey Girls', four young widows whose husbands died in the Towers, whom Gail Sheehy formed into a Bush-bashing regiment, and who ended up campaigning for John Kerry and cutting commercials for him"? And of course, the pathetic death-mom, Cindy Sheehan.

Now, what do these all have in common? They are all represent attempts on the part of the left to come up with gold-plated victims to carry the banner of their otherwise unpalatable ideas. If a certified victim leads the charge, he or she is immune from criticism, because criticism will offend the victim and the victim's supporters, and offended people are righteous and superior. And if they are righteous and superior, they are a priori right without even having to make any substantive argument at all. This is why the left is always right, even though they no longer even know how to argue rationally. "We're for the little guy! You know, the victim."

The immaculately empty-headed Maureen Dowd said it best: "The moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute." The victim is God. But only the liberal victim, mind you. You can be sure that she does not accept the absolute moral authority of those mothers who have lost a son in Iraq but strongly support our aims there, or who think that Cindy Sheehan is a morally reprehensible dingbat.

Emery draws the obvious conclusion that "for Dowd and her ilk, moral authority stems less from service or suffering than from the potential to cause serious trouble for Bush." The entire sad process has nothing to do with legitimate debate, rational argument, morality, or even bereavement--except the unbearable grief of having watched your political power dwindle in election after election. Cindy Sheehan is simply "the vehicle for a collection of losers, who will use her, and then toss her over and out once she has served their purposes, or more likely failed to do so."

Finally, how do we tie this rambling post together with a nice ribbon and make it personally relevant? At New Victorian there was a recent post entitled Happiness is Not Normal, discussing a "new" form of psychotherapy that, instead of trying to change negative thoughts and beliefs, involves learning how to observe them and let them go. It focuses "less on how to manipulate the content of our thoughts and more on how to change their context--to modify the way we see thoughts and feelings so they can't push us around and control our behavior." The trick is "disidentifying with thoughts--seeing them not as who we are but as mere reactions," similar to mindfulness meditation, which involves "observing thoughts without getting entangled in them, approaching them as though they were leaves floating down a stream."

This is the practical meaning of turning the other cheek. We saw President Bush practicing it at the King funeral, behaving with his usual affable gallantry in response to the petty, mean-spirited, inappropriate, sanctimonious, and small-minded Jimmy Carter, who turned the proceedings into a liberal satanic eucharist: death as the occasion to nourish one's depleted ego. I don't even personally know anyone who is so tasteless and ill-mannered that they don't know how to behave at a funeral. Do you? But it's not a matter of taste or civility. Rather, what you and I find repellant, Carter and all of the people who cheered and left wildly approving posts on dailykos are nourished by. That's a scary thought.

I have been practicing a from of mindfulness for about eleven years now. Of course, doing so prevents you from being easily offended, so you lose the benefit of taking offense in order to feel morally superior to others. Nor can you just act out whatever feeling you have in the moment, even if you are under the illusion that someone provoked it. And you can't decommission your superego anymore and give yourself a free hand to act out your feelings. Nor can you nourish yourself on death and make yourself into a victim in order to avoid rational debate with others.

Bottom line: you can't be a Muslim or a contemporary liberal. I don't usually like to make judgments based on skin, but in this case it's difficult not to. After all, their skin is thinner than ours.

*****

Coming tomorow, part one of Alternate Realities. (Check your local reality; not intelligible in certain ultra-liberal precincts; void where prohibited by secular thought police )

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Magic Eightbob Time

Today's post will be a bit late. It is now 6:30, and I have agreed to look after the beast at 7;00, thus allowing Mrs. Gagdad to sleep in. Not enough time to work out what I want to say. I'm in the process of downloading it from the beyond right now, and the ingredients have not yet coalesced. It has something to do with death cults (including leftism), grief, martyrdom, the moral vanity and superiority of the easily offended, the affable gallantry of President Bush, turning the other cheek, and disidentifying with one's thoughts and unpleasant emotional reactions. At the moment I don't see how, but Petey promises me that it will all "add up."

In the meantime, does anyone have any questions? As before, I would be happy to field any and all inquiries, except, of course, from our resident troll. The questions can be for me, for Petey, for Mrs. G., and can be about any topic you wish. Again, if I don't know the answer, I can probably point you in the right direction, or at least come up with something that will plausibly convince me that I know what I'm talking about.

Most of the questions last time around were quite challenging and thought provoking. Unless they are particularly straight forward, I'll probably devote an entire post to each one. Last time I tried to answer two or three at a time, and the posts got too long and disjointed.

The blog is probably going to be changing if not ending soon. I'm getting a little antsy dwelling in the known, and would like to return to my normal state of affairs, which involves pushing into the unknown. If the blog is to continue, it will have to involve more of that. So many blogs already do such an outstanding job disseminating the known to those who would like to know it. Is there any interest in a blog that disseminates the unknown to those willing to unknow it?

Answer hazy. Ask again.

UPDATE--

Thank you all for the kind words. I'm extremely touched.

Just to clarify--this has nothing to do with the family. I actually have plenty of time for them. Nor does it have anything to do with being burned out. It really does just have to do with what I said. It's not a matter of time. It's a matter of timelessness. But timelessness takes time.

There's a certain level of depth that can only be achieved with a lot of unstructured time spent in the bewilderness. Doing the blog means that I have less time to make those "raids on the inarticulate," to develop new ideas, to or to deepen and synthesize some of the new ideas that are bubbling around in my brain.

The realm of the known is like a big, bright spotlight that illuminates everything in its path. We can even imagine that the spotlight shows all there is. But obviously, the vast majority of reality lies outside the spotlight. For a long time, I've felt that I've been making progress in venturing beyond the edge of that light. In fact, I sort of measure a given day in terms of whether or not I made any progress in that direction.

I literally think of it as a frontier. Just as humanity moved westward until the external frontier closed in the late 19th century, I think of the interior horizon of the cosmos as the new frontier. We've only just begun mapping it. So to the extent that the blog prevents that, that's the problem. How do I continue it and retain my inward mobility in the vertically expanding cosmos?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Complaint Department: Do Sick Cultures Produce Sick People?

Yesterday I received several emails from someone who was unable to post his comments on the blog. He is not my usual many-monikered troll, but someone who's comments deserve serious consideration. He is apparently a psychiatrist--or at least an MD--who falls squarely within the politically and academically correct view that one cannot say that certain cultures are more likely to produce mentally ill individuals.

He says that I commit "the same logical error that ShrinkWrapped" makes, which at least places me in illustrious company. That is, "You cannot make a jump from cultural personality styles to individual psychopathology. There are far more shame cultures on the planet than guilt cultures, which we assume to be superior... Mediterranean cultures, including Moslem, are normatively paranoid and shame-motivated."

In other words, there are more shame cultures than guilt cultures, so therefore the latter cannot be deemed superior to the former. It's all arbitrary--perhaps even just the usual ethnocentrism that causes one to inevitably think that one's own culture is superior to others.

We could go further and say that the majority of cultures throughout human history have practiced human sacrifice. It is an absolutely universal practice that appeared all over the globe. As such, we cannot say that individuals from cultures that refrain from human sacrifice are any different from those, such as the Aztec, who systematically murdered some 20,000 sacrificial victims a year, cutting out the beating heart of the victim and drinking their blood in order to appease an angry sun that might otherwise extinguish without a constant supply of fresh blood. It's just a different belief, that's all. In the Aztec world, Jeffrey Dahmer would be just a regular guy.

Slavery was also universal. Thus, we cannot say that there is anything different in the personality makeup of someone whose empathy causes them to instinctively recoil at the thought of enslaving another human being, vs. someone that has no such empathy and thinks slavery is a wonderful idea.

I assume that you and I cannot even contemplate what it would be like to have sex with a child--we can't even go there, so to speak--but we are no different that the ancient Greek men who were emotionally incapable of loving women, and instead used young boys as their sexual outlet. Just a different cultural practice, that's all. Sex is just an instinct. Its object is of no consequence, be it a goat, a child, a woman, or a watermelon.

In the ancient world, the Jews were mocked and ridiculed because of their oddly humane treatment of women and children. In fact, it is my belief that it was precisely this humane treatment of women and children that caused Jews to create psychologically healthier people and to rocket ahead of other human groups. This is why, on a per capita basis, they have contributed more to human progress than any other group, despite the most horrible treatment from other groups. But the view expressed by my reader would suggest that, for example, there is no difference in the mental health of the average Palestinian vs. the average Israeli. One believes life is sacred, the other worships death. Just a different belief, that's all.

In fact, that's exactly what the reader says: "Mediterranean cultures, including Moslem, are normatively paranoid and shame-motivated." In other words, if someone from a Muslim culture is a paranoid anti-Semite and has dysregulated shame, it's normal. There is no judgment a psychologist can make one way or the other as to the general mental health of the individual. He even favorably quotes Nietzsche's famous cliche that "In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." As if culture is anything other than human personality writ large, and personality a private culture.

The reader goes on to say that wife abuse is indeed "normal" in Iraq and Iran. But "Normal is a statistical concept, not a statement about good or bad." He refers to the famous Milgram Experiment, apparently in the belief that it means that, just because people do bad things, we cannot judge them as bad. It seems to me that this is missing the deeper meaning of the experiment. After all, how do we even know that the subjects of the experiment did something bad if we do not a priori know that it was bad?

I could conduct a similar study and easily prove that a significant majority of human beings are not operating in Piaget's highest stage of cognitive development, formal operations. Does this mean that the ideas of a concrete operations thinker are just as valid as those of someone in formal operations? As a matter of fact, that is exactly what the average postmodern academic would say. It is arrogant for us to distinguish between nuclear physics vs. Indian rain dancing, or psychotherapy vs. going to the hajj and stoning satan to rid yourself of demons.

The reader states on the one hand that while he believes in unconscious motivation, he also believes that personality is "probably heavily genetic in itself, develops and is shaped by a cultural as well as a family context the way a sapling grows towards the sun." Such a view flies in the face of the most cutting edge research on early attachment and its role in most all forms of psychopathology.

In other words, it is hardly as if a child comes into the world with no objective needs at all, and that his personality will more or less turn out the same no matter how he is treated. I know that this is the dominant academic view, and that there is a lot of bogus feminist research trying to prove that mothering and attachment have no major impact on a child's psychological health, but I couldn't disagree more. It is proven to me every day in my clinical practice. Of course there are some temperamentally resilient children who seem to survive unscathed despite having been abused. But does this mean that it's okay to abuse children, and that there is no psychological difference between someone who abuses children and someone who recoils at the thought?

By the way, I see patients from virtually all cultures around the world, so I have rather intimate familiarity with how a particular culture distorts and warps the personality in more or less permanent ways. It is not so much that this or that culture merely produces this or that kind of personality. Rather, I am able to readily discern how a given culture produces a certain type of character pathology. Does it mean that all individuals from the culture are mentally ill? Of course not. But there is no question that it makes it more likely. Of this I am utterly convinced.
 
As I may have mentioned before, as a psychologist looking at culture and history, I am not particularly interested in ignorance, which, after all, can afflict anyone and is perfectly understandable. It simply means that you don't know something. What is far more interesting from a psychological standpoint is what I call motivated stupidity, that is, the widespread belief in some patently false belief based on underlying emotional need.

I believe the attitude that dismisses the crazy beliefs of the Muslim world is another example of the hard bigotry of no expectations. It causes real damage, because it panders to the worst in human beings and lets them off the hook. It is like a bad therapist who simply supports a patient rather than interpreting, clarifying, and sometimes confronting.

For example, I believe the Palestinians receive no criticism from the left (and the world community at large), not because they think so highly of them, but because they have think so badly about them--in fact, they actually have no expectations whatsoever about them. In other words, it is not because the Palestinians are so wonderful that they are immune from criticism, but because everyone knows that it would be absurd to hold Muslims to the same standards as Christians, or Jews, or Zen Buddhists--to any standards of decency at all, really. No one is shocked at the barbarity of the Islamic world, whether it is committed by terrorists, or perpetrated in the name of the Saudi or Iranian governments. Imagine being foolish enough to have any moral expectations of the Chinese, or the Palestinians, or the Saudis, or the North Koreans. We expect them to behave barbarously. And they never fail us. And when they do behave in their predictably bestial way, it is never their fault. It is either overlooked completely, or blamed on some provocation, some "underlying cause."

My reader and I have just carried on a dialogue in which we were able to observe culture in an abstract way by standing "outside" of it and looking at it the same way that a scientist observes the material world. Is this not in itself inherently superior to cultures that cannot stand outside themselves and view themselves from the standpoint of another? Or is the developmental acquisition of such objectivity no better than being hopelessly immersed in the subjective and emotional, like a child?

I think you know my answer.



*****

By the way, I believe this reader has his own blog. If he has a response, I will be happy to direct you to it.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Why Are Shame Cultures So Shameless?

Who hasn't wanted to approach a cartoon jihadist and ask, "Hey, I thought you guys were from shame cultures. So how come you're not ashamed of yourselves for behaving like such pathetic asses? What gives?"

Shame is not a healthy or adaptive emotion around which to organize a culture, any more than it's a good idea to organize your personality around being easily shamed. Vulnerability to intense shame is a biological marker of psychopathology, whether individually or collectively. It is the sine qua non of what I call a "mind parasite," or internalized pattern of disturbed interaction with early caregivers.

Shame is an important social emotion that was selected by evolution for a very useful purpose. That is, it tempers our narcissism and helps to socialize us. Remember, evolution selected humans as a group animal first--our individual identity is a very recent historical development superimposed upon our primordial "groupishness." Shame is one of the evolutionary mechanisms for inhibiting certain kinds of undesirable behaviors that the child might otherwise find quite pleasurable.

Shame and embarrassment are completely absent in the infant up to the age of at least 12 months, and are generally first observed between 14 and 18 months. By 15 to 16 months, the toddler is particularly susceptible to narcissistic "deflation." Think of the ecstatic, hyper-aroused baby looking into its mother's face for mirroring and confirmation.

Shame first arises in this intersubjective space, depending upon the mother's response to her baby. A rejecting or neutral response leads to a sudden "decrescendo" of affect that feels subjectively like a downward spiral, as if the floor as been pulled out from under one. Shame throws a social "flood light" upon the individual, causing a desire to bury one's face or disappear from view.

Shame is actually a biological state that becomes hardwired in, a sudden switch from sympathetic arousal to parasympathetic dampening. It can be observed outwardly in the infant through such "end products" as loss of social smile, averting the eyes, loss of muscle tonus, and blushing (caused by sudden vasodilation).

We do not come into the world with the ability to autoregulate shame. Rather, it is one of those things that will achieve a "set point" depending on the quality of early attachment experiences. Ideally, shame will be experienced only gradually and in small doses, so as to not overwhelm the child's ability to deal with it. But early and frequent experiences of shame can be a source of transmission of severe emotional disorders associated with the under-regulation of aggression.

When we talk about "shame cultures," we are actually talking about cultures that have failed for whatever reason to produce people who can autoregulate shame. In other words, we are dealing with shame dysregulating cultures. Our own culture has a subculture of such individuals--they are called "narcissistic personalities."

The narcissistic personality is exquisitely vulnerable to dysregulated shame, and therefore builds a personality around the attempt to avoid shame and humiliation at all costs. That is, they cannot have the experience of shame in its regulated state. Rather, it immediately becomes dysregulated, plunging them into existential despair, depression, and confusion. Things like grandiosity, exaggerated self esteem, and a sense of entitlement are all designed to undercut the catastrophic emergence of shame.

Thus, the shame-prone narcissistic personality often becomes the shameless personality, because his shame is just too painful to experience. It cannot be tolerated, so it is simply bypassed or otherwise avoided. These are very brittle personalities. They always show a preponderance of shame over guilt (which is a later and more sophisticated developmental emergence), and they are quick to experience narcissistic rage in response to any narcissistic injury. They are extremely vulnerable to humiliation, and may respond to even a hint of it with self-righteous rage or "humiliated fury."

Now I ask you, whom does this remind you of? What kind of person--what kind of culture--would go ballistic with narcissistic fury at the rumor of a cartoon that insults one's narcissistic ego ideal?

Let us bear in mind that the dysregulation of shame is ultimately rooted in psychotoxic parenting, characterized by an insecure, depressed, angry, or otherwise emotionally unavailable mother. In the Arab Muslim world, women are third class citizens, while boys are elevated to the status of godlike little tyrants with an abundance of unearned self-esteem. In other words, they are valued for doing nothing, just for being boys. These boys are raised by adoring, doting and narcissistically disturbed mothers who project their own idealized, unrealistic ego ideal into their male children, producing an unbridgeable gap between the child's actual self and and their impossibly idealized self.

Voila! Through the systematic denigration of women, the culture self-replicates by churning out grandiose, narcissistic, entitled, angry, and brittle men who project their own devalued, degraded self into women and infidels. In this manner, the cultures of the Muslim Middle East are largely shameless culture filled with men who are disoriented by a world that doesn't mirror the bizarre entitlement they feel is their birthright. This wrong and disappointing world must be angrily torn down and destroyed, replaced with one that will properly mirror their inherent greatness.

We look at the external squalor, backwardness and barbarism of much of the Arab Middle East, and are naturally shocked. But truth be told, it is simply the inevitable objectification of their disordered and dysregulated internal state. That sorry state, my friends, is a caliphate worse than death.

UPDATE--From Little Green Footballs today, with my translation of the unconscious message:

“Defending the prophet [read: regression to infantile rage] should continue worldwide,” Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, told the crowd. “Let Condoleezza Rice, Bush and all the tyrants [read: our projected tyrannical superegos] shut up: We are a nation that can’t forgive [read: we are unbearably ashamed of ourselves], be silent or ease up when they insult our prophet and our sacred values [read: when we are narcissistically injured].”

“Today, we are defending the dignity of our prophet with a word [read: we are defending ourselves from our own shame], a demonstration but let George Bush and the arrogant world [read: the real world that painfully reminds us of how pathetic we are] know that if we have to ... we will defend our prophet with our blood, not our voices [read: we will react to our unbearable shame with dysregulatred rage],” Nasrallah added.

Another nugget from LGF:

NEW YORK - Muhammed Zahny is upset - and not about the cold wind that is keeping customers away from his store on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue. “If I lose money, I don’t care,” says Mr. Zahny, who owns “Islamic Fashions.” “But if I lose respect, then I have nothing left.”

Correction. To quote that great philosopher Muddy Waters, "You can't lose what you ain't never had." You are so brittle and your shame is so dysregulated that it just makes you feel like nothing.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Democrats and Spiritual Cannibalism at the King Funeral

Disgraceful.

Democrats reached another new low yesterday in using the occasion of Coretta Scott King's funeral to launch a personal attack on President Bush, who was there not just to honor her memory, but the legacy of Martin Luther King. As Dennis Prager said in his radio show today, it is not as if she herself was an important person. Certainly she seemed to carry herself with dignity in public, and she undoubtedly meant well, but, like Jackie Onassis, she was famous for who she was married to, not because of her ideas or accomplishments. In fact, like me, I'm sure the President would find many of her ideas naive, goofy, and frankly dangerous. But that would be no excuse to politicize and degrade the solemn occasion of a funeral, much less to cynically use it as a means to score some cheap political points. There is a time and place to debate those things. Not when you're sitting in front of the body, reflecting on the meaning of a life. Unless you're a Democrat.

Of course, this wasn't the first time in recent memory that Democrats have used death as a means to resurrect their moribund political fortunes. For example, we all remember the dignified Paul Wellstone funferal.

And last November, in a post entitled The Democratic Hall of Shamelessness, I discussed the similar politicization of the death of Rosa Parks. Most notably, Charles Schumer argued that Justice Alito would use his position on the bench to undo every advance in civil rights that had been achieved in Parks' lifetime. Unlike Parks, Alito would use his "seat" do do evil. Why this constant demagogic pandering isn't offensive to most blacks is a mystery to me.

The reason why the left politicizes these occasion is that they politicize everything. For the secular left (and this includes the pseudo-religion of the "liberation theologies" of the left), politics is religion, so it is entirely appropriate to politicize a funeral. In their mind, they are actually spiritualizing it by injecting it with their sacred political iconography.

Death is rich with unconscious meaning. Human sacrifice has been characteristic of virtually all religions from time immemorial. It was the default religion of all primitive cultures, and represented a sort of natural curative remedy for ancient man. In the unconscious, there is an abiding belief that one's own death may be averted by offering up a substitute victim, and that a sort of immortality may be achieved by "ingesting" the life force of the sacrificial victim. Thus, in the absence of real religion, Democrats engaged in a sort of cannibalization of Mrs. King, consuming her spirit in order to revive their sagging fortunes. Yes, my friends, a significant portion of Democrats are not just classless and tasteless. They are cannibals--or, if you like, the "dementors" of Harry Potter fame that suck the life out of souls. Same thing. We all have spiritual cannibals and dementors in our lives.

The attack on the President began with the irReverend Joseph Lowery, who said that Mrs. King "deplored the terror of our smart bombs and missiles way afar. We now know there were no weapons of mass destruction over there… [24 seconds of standing ovation] but Coretta knew, and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. [More whoopin' & hollerin']. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war, millions more. But no more for the poor."

How stupid of Bush to have relied upon the world's intelligence agencies instead of consulting with Coretta Scott King about the WMD. She knew. But why didn't she speak up? Since she and President Bush are the only two people in the world who knew there were no WMD, it seems to me that she's as guilty as he is. Burn her!

And "no more for the poor?" Last time I checked, President Bush had not vetoed a single spending bill, and the government was spending record amounts on entitlement programs. Poverty abounds? Not for people who finish school, get married, and don't have children out of wedlock. But I suppose mentioning that would be politicizing the funeral.

Bill Clinton adopted a subtler approach, using the occasion as a campaign stop for Hillary rather than a frontal assault on the President. He mentioned that he was delighted to be in the presence of his president, his former presidents, and then, slyly looking at Hillary.... He didn't have to speak the unspeakable. The audience got it. More who-let-the-dogs-out woohooing. What's the word I'm looking for? Dignified. You know, like an Arsenio Hall rerun.

Never mind that Clinton's political mentor was that staunch supporter of segregation forever, J. William Fulbright. Unless you are fully bright, you wouldn't know that. I guess this means that Clinton wasn't just our first "black president," but our first Uncle Tom president.

In any event, his self-serving campaign ad was tasteful compared to the vile comments of America's first female President, Jimmy Carter, a nasty piece of work who holds the distinction of having been unfit to be president and now unfit to be ex-president. He immediately brought out that new liberal icon, The Government Response to Katrina, solemnly intoning that "We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi" to know that inequality exists.

First of all, it has been thoroughly debunked that the hurricaine affected blacks disproportionately in Mayor Nagin's "chocolate city." However, it is true that we have only to recall the blank face on the mayor's noggin and the vacant expression of the blanco Governor to know that inequality exists. When will people with blank and vacant faces--whether blanco o negro, en espanol--achieve equality with the alert and bright-eyed?

To thunderous applause, Carter also noted that the Kings once were "victims of secret government wiretapping and other surveillance and, as you know, harassment by the FBI," obviously a direct stab at President Bush. Can you imagine if Bush had politicized the occasion by reminding the audience that the Kings had indeed been victims--victims of the Democratic wiretapping program appproved by LBJ and Robert Kennedy in order to infiltrate and disrupt the civil rights movement? Or that, unlike his Democratic predecessors, the present spying program did not confuse terrorists who want to destroy civil rights with leaders who want to advance them?

In another reference to the President, Carter mentioned the Kings' embrace of non-violence to solve disputes. In full peaceive-aggressive mode, he said, "It is always a temptation to forget that we worship the Prince of Peace," and that the Kings "exemplified the finest aspect of American values and brought upon our nation the admiration of the entire world."

This is unlike you-know-who, who just doesn't understand that bin Laden, Zarqawi, Saddam, and the Mad Mullahs would instantly abandon their psychotic aspirations if only we adopted Carter's tried-and-true method of passive-aggressive, I mean, passive non-violence.

Remember how well that worked for Carter when he dealt with Ahmadinejad the first time around? Carter passively stood by and assisted in the peaceful transition to the first Islamic terror state in 1979. When Carter passively and peacefully left office in 1980, Ahmadinejad and his fellow Iranian terrorists immediately released the American hostages. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Carter was replaced by president who actually had a pair. Remember when Saddam peacefully abandoned his nuclear program after Israel bombed the hell out of it? Or how about when Carter's fellow Nobel laureate Arafat peacefully ended the intifada after Sharon cleaned out their terrorist nests and built a wall?

Yes, passivity and love solve all problems. Except at funerals. Then you've really got to ratchet up the rhetoric and stick it to your enemies.

ADDENDUM--What did Joyce say today?

Sobs they sighdid at Fillagain's chrissormiss wake, all the hoolivans of the nation, prostrated in their consternation and their duodisimally profusive plethora of ululation.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Never Make a God of Your Religion, or Free Your Madrasahs and Your Asses Will Follow

Yesterday we were discussing the cognitive pathologies of the Islamic world, before I was cut off by the dictates of reality. If only Muslims could be influenced by the dictates of reality. Instead, they are spurred by the inexorable demands of fantasy.

Among the ten commandments is the injunction that "you shall not make for yourself a graven image." Why would that be? And what relevance could it possibly have for contemporary people? We don't worship rocks or pictures (perhaps rock stars and moving pictures).

The purpose of this commandment is to check the human tendency to worship idols, the ubiquitous tendency to "bow down and serve" manmade gods, whether secular or religious. Idolatry occurs whenever one holds a value higher than God. Thus it is actually possible to turn one’s religion into a false god, and to value it above all else. Certainly in the Muslim Middle East, it would appear that the worship of God has been completely replaced by the worship of Islam.

For a person who is not operating in Piaget’s fourth stage of cognitive development, formal operations, it is almost impossible not to be an idol worshiper in some form or fashion. Only a person capable of abstract thought can understand that all religious talk is a symbolic representation of something that entirely transcends religious talk--that religion is not about religion, but about something radically beyond religion.

Thus, the injunction against worshipping graven images is an ingenious biblical device for saying, Thou shall not get stuck on stupid. That is, don’t get hung up in pre-operational or concrete operational thought. Rather, God can only be properly thought about and encountered in the more abstract regions of formal operations thought and beyond.

When we talk about the "third world," we are presumably talking about economic development, but there are also first, second, and third worlds of cognitive development. In fact, most of the Islamic world retains a retrograde cognitive style that features transparently infantile mechanisms such as paranoia, grandiosity, denial, and splitting. To the extent that they are literate--and even in a country as “advanced” as Egypt, some fifty percent of the women are illiterate--religious narratives are simply superimposed over a magical and mythological mode of thought. Thus, although they have a “written” religion in the form of the Koran, it is really treated more as an idol, fetish object, or graven image, as defined above.

For example, not only is no Muslim free to interpret the Koran in a symbolic or non-literal manner, but pathetic souls who spend their lives literally memorizing the Koran are revered as people of great spiritual achievement. They may not even understand what they have memorized--in that regard, they are more like idiot savants than anything we would recognize as a saintly person of spiritual discernment. Imagine revering someone who had wasted his life memorizing the Bible cover to cover, but never seeing into its wisdom.

Of course, the Koran is a wildly disconnected jumble of incoherent and contradictory sayings, dreams, visions, threats, and warnings. To a large extent, one may similarly regard the Bible as lacking innate coherence. The big difference is that Biblical exegesis has always involved trying to see through the contradictions to a higher unity, whereas this higher mode of cognition would be expressly forbidden in Islam.

It is almost as if Islam mandates that its followers remain mired in a lower level of cognitive development, where they cannot think abstractly and apprehend the hidden unity underlying the diversity of the world: thou shall get stuck on stupid. As is to be expected, in reacting so infatoddlerously to some silly cartoon images, they have taken an injunction against graven images and turned it into one.

Naturally, this developmentally earlier form of cognition also poses a great impediment to the emergence of scientific thought, since science always proceeds by reducing an outward multiplicity to a higher unity. But long ago, the Muslim world decided that if science discovered something that confirmed the Koran, then it was irrelevant, while if it discovered something that contradicted it, it was blasphemous. As such, they can only imitate science, but not think scientifically.

Concrete operations thought does not look for an overall unity in the universe--it doesn’t construct a logical analysis that makes all aspects of reality fit into a coherent system. Instead, it merely collects facts and tells stories. Facts that contradict the story are either omitted or else somehow fitted into the mythological framework. It is a fact, for example, that Muslim culture could not have discovered Einstein’s “Jewish physics” in a thousand years of trying. But the mad mullahs of Iran have no difficulty in being parasites on science and integrating atomic energy into the myth of inevitable Muslim superiority and entitlement.

The lower orders of cognition are inherently narcissistic and egocentric, in that the individual has difficulty decentering himself and adopting the point of view of another. Thus, in the Muslim countries reacting most violently to the cartoons of infamy, Christians and Jews have no rights at all, and are routinely depicted in the most degrading way. Throughout the Muslim world, their print and broadcast media feature the most lurid and grotesque anti-Semitic images the world has seen since nazi Germany. And yet, they are violently outraged by some comparatively benign images published in a country that isn’t even Muslim. What could be more childishly narcissistic and egocentric?

Unfortunately, one of the downsides of the universalizing tendencies of formal operations thought is that it can lead directly to the modern cognitive pathologies of cultural and moral relativism. That is, the person in formal operations can see that there are always multiple perspectives, so why should one perspective be privileged over another? Islam, Christianity, wicca, what’s the difference?

The difference, of course, is that only someone in formal operations thought has the luxury of this kind of liberal tolerance that is unknown--and unknowable--in the cultures that he is elevating to the moral and intellectual status of his own. If there is one thing that is not tolerated in the Muslim world, it is tolerance. As such, the modern “tolerant” liberal equates intolerance with just another form of tolerance.

This is how the most sophisticated thinkers and wackademics of the West conspire with the totalitarian con-op thinkers of Islam, producing a new cognitive offshoot that hamstrings us in properly dealing with our sworn enemies: totolerantarianism, or the enforced tolerance of the intolerant. This politically and academically correct stance is the sine qua non of a graven image, for it involves bowing down before a manmade ideology that equates the lower and the higher.

Thus, there is a hidden unity between the postmodern left and the premodern Islamists: it is a tacit conspiracy between those who make a god of their religion and those who make a god of their irreligion, between the intolerable and the intolerant.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Concrete Operations Thought, Graven Images, and Islamic Backwardness

First of all, I'd like to thank Petey for taking the helm of the Cosmos yesterday and sharing his, ahem, subtle commentary with us.

But Petey's assistance notwithstanding, I'm still backed up and somewhat short on slack. I was planning on writing an interesting post on Piaget's concept of concrete operations thinking and how it relates to the Biblical prohibition against making graven images, and then tying this into the Muslim cartoon controversy. But I have to conduct a psychological evaluation in a godforsaken place called Ontario, which is situated right before you fall off the edge of the world. It takes a good two hours to get there, and now I have approximately 17 minutes before I have to hit the road.

For those of you who don't know, Piaget was a child psychologist who documented how our style of thinking develops from infancy to adulthood. He may have been the first to recognize that it wasn't just a matter of the content of our thought, but its very form, or structure, that changes. His four main stages are called sensori-motor, pre-operational, concrete operations, and formal operations (more on which later).

Concrete operations thinking usually emerges between the ages of seven and adolescence, when children become more aware of the differences between thought and reality. But they still interpret reality in a very concrete and literal way, and have only a limited ability to think abstractly. Suffice it to say that much of the Arab Muslim world is mired in concrete operational thinking. In other words, we err in thinking that we simply have some cultural dispute about the differing "content" of our thought. Rather, this dispute is much more over the very form of thought.

That is--and this is, of course, a sweeping generalization--the average person of the West is in formal operations thought, while the cognitive "center of gravity" in the Muslim Middle East appears to be mired in concrete operations. This is partly because the higher stages don't just emerge on their own. Rather, they must be modeled by the culture. We generally develop to a point allowed by the culture. After that, you're on your own. History shows time and again that more primitve cultures actually punish people for developing beyond the group, as they represent a threat to the myths and cognitive structures that serve to contain their collective anxiety.

In the course of writing my own book, I came across a book entitled Stages of Faith: The Co-evolution of Religious Thought and Science, By Michael Barnes. In it, the author demonstrates how our conception of God and religion necessarily change as we move through Piaget's cognitive stages. God is a very different reality for someone in a more developed psychological stage. In fact, thinkers such as Ken Wilber and Sri Aurobindo have outlined developmental stages beyond formal operations, which was Paiaget's final stage of development.

In the Islamic world, there is no room whatsoever for these higher stages with the exception of Sufism which, as we have mentioned before, constitutes a tiny fringe of Islam.

And that, my dear bobbleheads, is as much as I can say in 17 minutes. I don't even half tome to spiel-check what I wrought. I'll have to get back to it either later today or Tuesday morning, assuming I don't drive off the edge of the world.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Islam, the Liberal Media, and the Hard Bigotry of No Expectations

I'm taking the day off, so I'm letting Petey take control of the keyboard today. Oh sure, Petey likes to hide behind a facade of so-called spiritual detachment, but I can see that he's quite hopped up by this aptly named cartoon controversy, as it demonstrates the cartoonish and loony moonbat buffoonery of our out-of-tune goons living in their liberal media cocoon.

******

Here is the headline from the San Francisco Chronicle, taken from their website:

MEDIA AVOID UPSET BY NOT REPRINTING CARTOONS ON ISLAM

"American media outlets faced a dilemma Friday that underscored the sensitive nature of depicting Islam.

"Should they publish the satirical images that have offended millions of Muslims across the globe? Or should they censor themselves, denying a chance for readers and viewers to judge the cartoons for themselves?

"Most decided against reprinting the images."

Pathetic. Does this not underscore the vast difference between the politically correct--and therefore illiberal--MSM, and the free-thinking and truly liberal blogosphere? It is unimaginable that the MSM would ever refrain from offending any group upon which they have not contemptuously conferred victim status. But if you are one of their iconic victim groups, then it's hands off: blacks, feminists, homosexuals, Muslims. If the leaders of any of these groups were intellectually honest, they too would be offended by the media coddling and condescension. But they are not. Everybody knows that feminists are fragile little flowers that are easily offended--as in the Lawrence Tribe kerfuffle--and that you cannot just come out and confront them with uncomfortable truths. They might faint or go into hysterics.

Nor can you ever depict homosexuals in a negative light. If they are less healthy, more depressed, have shorter life-spans, and are more prone to suicide, it's our fault. And don't ever publicize the fact that children from intact black families with a mother and father do as well as their white counterparts. And religion is a stupid and pre-modern superstition for people too afraid to deal with reality, unless it's a third world or non-traditional religion. Then it's a venerable belief system worthy of our respect, even if we don't know what the hell its dopey adherents are talking about.

The article continues:

"As the news value of the cartoons increased, broadcasters and print publications had to decide whether their duty to inform the public would outweigh the potential for offending Muslims."

Why is that? What does one have to do with the other? Isn't the whole story about the fact that millions of religious idiots are offended by some silly cartoons? The issue is not whether or not they should publish satirical images. The real story is that millions of people in the world are so cognitively stunted that they don't even know what satire is. Nor irony, detachment, critical distance, and self-understanding, for that matter.

Now there's a story! "Islam Implicated in Middle East Failure to Launch: Millions Left Stupid."

This highlights another point: that the liberal victim is not really a victim, but an aggressor. Of course there are true victims, but officially sanctioned liberal victims use their victim status to generate real power in the world. Victims can say and do anything, and certainly do not shy away from throwing their weight around. They have real power and know it. And they are protected from consequences of using that power illegtimately, in ways that you or I could never be.

This is why liberal victims are always bullies. They don't have legitimate power or knowledge, only illegitimate power and knowledge. They can passive-aggressively end debate an a second by playing the victim card and knocking you over the head with it. Isn't this what these Muslim barbarians are doing, with the complicity of the MSM? Aren't they really just a bunch of pathetic losers immersed in a pseudo-religion that only deepens and justifies their moral, intellectual, spiritual and economic squalor? I think so. But if you point it out, you are the aggressor, so that any reaction on the part of the victim is given sanction.

Therefore,

"'CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons out of respect for Islam', the cable news giant announced Friday. CBS Evening News made a similar statement Thursday."

Yeah, right. In reality, CNN and CBS have chosen not to show the cartoons out of both cowardice and out of contempt for Islam, knowing full well that these are dysfunctional people whose feelings must be protected and given extraordinary deference, like a retarded person. These so-called journalists are cowards, bowing before the sacred icon that they have created. They worship at the altar of the Holy Victim, and thereby receive absolution for their sin, the sin of actually coming from a Judeo-Christian civilization that is superior in every way to anything Islam has ever created.

I wonder if the craven dolts at CNN even know about how other religions are regarded by Islam, how barbarously they are treated in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia?

"'We always weigh the value of the journalistic impact against the impact that publication might have as far as insulting or hurting certain groups'," said Chronicle Vice President and Managing Editor Robert Rosenthal. 'In this case, we described the cartoons and felt that was sufficient'."

Oh yes. The Chronicle would never publish anything offensive to evangelical Christians or to conservatives.

"The Associated Press also declined to use the cartoons. And because AP distributes photographs, text and video used by other news outlets, its decision had a broad effect. Speaking by phone, AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll told The Chronicle, 'The cartoons didn't meet our long-held standards for not moving offensive content. The AP is not just an indiscriminate warehouse for information. We put a lot of care into what we put on the wire'."

How can that be? Oh sure, Gagdad Bob tries to hide behind a facade of so-called spiritual detachment, but I can see that he is offended every day by something printed by the AP. Have they ever once considered his feelings?

The liberal do-gooders of the MSM are enablers that create real monsters. For if you turn someone into a victim just to assuage your own guilty conscience, you deprive them of their humanity. They are no longer real human beings, just caricatures floating about in your liberal imagination. Freed of the burdensome expectations we have of civilized human beings, the victim's aggression is gloriously liberated. A bully has been created. A monster that has the instincts of an infant in the body of an adult.

But they are victims. Oh yes, they are victims of Western liberalism, of the hard bigotry of no expectations. Because with no expectations, they have no chance to become fully human.

UPDATE--

Why do I even bother? Classic Steyn:

... If I had a sudden yen to burn the Yemeni or Sudanese flag on my village green, I haven't a clue how I'd get hold of one in this part of New Hampshire. Say what you like about the Islamic world, but they show tremendous initiative and energy and inventiveness, at least when it comes to threatening death to the infidels every 48 hours for one perceived offense or another. If only it could be channeled into, say, a small software company, what an economy they'd have.

... we should note that in the Western world "artists" "provoke" with the same numbing regularity as young Muslim men light up other countries' flags. When Tony-winning author Terence McNally writes a Broadway play in which Jesus has gay sex with Judas, the New York Times and Co. rush to garland him with praise for how "brave" and "challenging" he is. The rule for "brave" "transgressive" "artists" is a simple one: If you're going to be provocative, it's best to do it with people who can't be provoked.

Thus, NBC is celebrating Easter this year with a special edition of the gay sitcom "Will & Grace," in which a Christian conservative cooking-show host, played by the popular singing slattern Britney Spears, offers seasonal recipes -- "Cruci-fixin's." On the other hand, the same network, in its coverage of the global riots over the Danish cartoons, has declined to show any of the offending artwork out of "respect" for the Muslim faith.

Which means out of respect for their ability to locate the executive vice president's home in the suburbs and firebomb his garage.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Religious Cartoons and Cartoonish Religions

"You'd complain if you were on fire." That's what my old gagDad* would good-naturedly say to me as a kid. At the time, I'm not sure I understood exactly what he meant. "Of course I'd complain if I were on fire. Nobody wants to be on fire." But it was his way of saying "better to light a single match than curse the darkness," or "stop whining and do something about it."

At least until the emergence of the modern left, America has never been a complaining country, but an action oriented one. It was considered weak and unmanly to complain, to whine, to blame others. Classical liberalism in no way resembled its modern leftist perversion, in that it emphasized individual liberty, following the rules, making one's way in the emporium of a free market, rising to the level of one's own abilities, and letting the chips fall where they may.

But more than differentiating between ideologies, I find that ideologies and political parties differentiate between "psychoclasses"--that is, different sorts of people reflecting different levels of psychological development. Of course, I am making a huge generalization, but the modern left is the party of complainers, while the modern conservative movement is the party of Doing Something About It. Importantly, the complainers are completely detached from the realm of solutions. No matter how much things improve, the improvement is never acknowledged. It is as if the original complaint is preserved in amber, like a sacred relic.

This applies to almost any issue you care to discuss--the environment (which has never been better), the economy (which is flourishing), the war, voting rights, whatever. Consider the civil rights movement. By all rights, it achieved its purpose 30 or 40 years ago, but it doesn't matter. It is now an institutionalized grievance department run by frauds, hustlers and race-baiters like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other Democrats who are adept at exploiting and nurturing this limitless pool of human grievance and converting it into personal wealth and power. Think of the collective reservoir of bitterness and resentment as analogous to any other human energy. It is "fungible"--that is, able to be converted into valuable cash prizes, no different than positive and pro-social attributes such as personal initiative, creativity, ambition and drive.

Look at the feminist movement. It is based on so many demonstrable myths, lies and distortions, but the myths create a sort of energy through which many people are ironically able to make a nice living--for example, Justice Ginsberg, who parlayed her fierce and uncompromising female envy into a seat on the Supreme Court. Feminists still promulgate the lie that women earn 59 cents to the dollar that men earn in equivalent jobs, but this has been thoroughly debunked. It doesn't matter. If you are going to parasitically exploit the grievances of a class of people, you first must indoctrinate the "host" by peddling victimhood to them. Then the parasite is able to ride the wave of resentment all the way to the bank, the political office, the academic position, or the judicial bench.

In my local paper the other day, there was a remarkable but typical lead story with the headline "County Failing Latinos." It purported to be an objective academic study about all the ways government is supposedly failing Latinos around Los Angeles. For example, Latinos are more overwwight, less healthy, and less likely to graduate high school. But naturally, there wasn't a single statement as to whether any of these problems have to do with self-defeating beliefs and behaviors of Latino culture. It's okay to call people fat, stupid and lazy as long as it's a liberal saying it, because to the liberal, none of these things are your fault. You're a victim of the government, and the liberal is here to help you.

Why not a different headline: "Latino Culture Dysfunctional Compared to Asian Culture," or “Problems of Black Community Solved by Inculcating Mormon Values.” After all, elite California universities are vastly over-represented by Asian Americans, and Provo, Utah is the safest place to live in the country. On the other hand, our prison system is conspicuously underrepresented by Asians and Mormons. Perhaps someone should introduce an an affirmative action program to place more Asians and Mormons in prison in order to achieve diversity. After all, our prisons ought to "look like America."

Come to think of it, we rarely even hear much about Asian culture. They don't seem to complain much, despite a much greater history of real discrimination. In fact, it wasn't too long ago that they weren't even allowed to own property in much of California. Even with the W.W.II internment, by and large they simply took their lumps and moved on. On the other hand, there is a serious movement among African Americans pushing for reparations for slavery, as if that will solve any of their problems.

Isn't this what's going in in the Muslim world? It is a world of perpetual victims who literally don't know any other way to exist. In over half a century it has never even occurred to the so-called Palestinians that instead of foolishly trying to eliminate Israel, they might imitate her. But Job One for the Palestinians has always been and will remain the extermination of Israel. Once that is achieved, then they can think about schools, hospitals, roads, and anything else that creates a decent society. Yeah, right, just like every other Muslim paradise. There is no question that if Israel never existed, its current geographical area would be a squalid and undeveloped piece of generally worthless land, occupied by gang of idle complainers blaming Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon for their plight.

At Gates of Vienna there was a very illuminating discussion around a post by Ali Eteraz, who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan. He describes his experiences as a child in Pakistan, and the traditional fatalism of Islam that was drummed into him. He grew up in a place "where the harshness of life has made the exterior of its citizens tough enough to withstand the heat of the desert. The spirits of its people, on the other hand, are not as taut and unbending as their bodies suggest." Rather, the man living under the weight of Islamic indoctrination "welcomes sorrow, relishes pain, and exalts suffering. For him there is no value in the success of his relationships unless they add to one's misery; there is no value in tears because they would mitigate the sorrows — and that is not wanted. The irony is that even if one comes to realize the unhealthiness of such a way of life, the impracticability of always being life’s martyr, one dares not let go of it, because being happy now, in this life, means being damned tomorrow."

Despite transplanting himself to America, Mr. Eteraz has struggled to slough off these unhealthy attitudes: "I became fatalistic and apathetic... I remained within the folds of Islam because it gave me a framework in which to be submissive; and in being submissive, remain static. It let me believe that my inertness was tolerable, if not altogether ideal.... I always chuckle when I hear the political pundits calling people like me... the 'saving force' of Islam simply because we are not firebrands like Bin Laden.... Many pundits... have rested their hopes upon us muted ones. They expect us to free global Islam from the Tazirs and Bin Ladens of the religion."

"Somehow we cows, chewing on the cud of our paranoia-stricken life have been labeled 'moderate' as if we offer a counterweight to the extremists." But "One of the chronic conditions of Islam, moderate or otherwise, is to blame non-Muslims for the problems afflicting Islam. It’s like the alcoholic who blames his wife’s behavior for his drunken binges. It’s time for Islam to live with the hangover and sober up. And, perhaps, go to an AA meeting and start on the first of the Twelve Steps."

Amen. So now, throughout the world, Muslim jihasbeens-that-never-were are expressing their murderous outrage over some silly cartoons. Truly, they'd complain if they were on fire. Yesterday Egypt refused Israel's offer of assistance to help out with the stricken ferry boat. At least Muslims are a diverse lot. They can also complain while drowning.



*Interestingly, my father served in the British Army in occupied Palestine, back when it really was occupied--by the British Army. He didn't talk much about his experience, but he was impressed--if impressed is the right word--by the barbarism of the local Arabs. He didn't have a bigoted bone in his body, but I remember him casually mentioning that they had the ability to steal your watch while your arm dangled outside the window of a moving train. A prescient comment in light of the uniquely criminal and murderous culture that continues to flourish there. As Mark Steyn has observed, they are "the most comprehensively wrecked people on the face of the planet" through no one's fault but their own, but with big assists from the U.N. and their Arab neighbors. The Palestinians are the all-purpose complaint department of the entire Muslim world. All problems are somehow related to them.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bobsday, Temporal Resonance, and Building Your Own Portapew

It’s finally happened. I’m almost too busy to post. I don’t know what to do except to imitate Lileks and free associate about my day. But that guy is a real artist. In fact, I think that’s one of the definitions of real art--to take the mundane substance of the day and transubstantiate it into something higher. It’s like alchemy: somehow turning the boring lead of day-to-day life into the gold of eternity.

That’s what Joyce was trying to do in Ulysses. For those of you who don’t know, Ulysses, although it is some six or seven hundred pages long, takes place in a single 24 hour day, mostly in the life of a single person wandering around Dublin on June 16, 1904 (for Joyce lovers, this day is celebrated each year as Bloomsday, in reference to one of the lead characters, Leopold Bloom).

Ironically, the book is an “epic,” but obviously not in the usual way. Instead of a sweeping panorama of history with larger-than-life heroes, we are given minute details of the thoughts and actions of the three main characters as they go through a rather typical day. To make his point, the chapters of the book are structured so that the one day pilgrimage of Bloom resonates with the 19 years of wandering by Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey. Seemingly random occurrences throughout the day resonate on a deep, archetypal level with the myths of antiquity. Thus, Joyce is also saying something quite novel about the structure of time itself--that it is not mere empty duration, but full of rich archetypal resonance if only we learn how to see it.

Joyce was a loose proponent of the philosopher Giambattista Vico’s cyclical structure of history, which begins with the age of chaos, followed by the age of gods, then the age of kings, and finally, our present age: the age of mere men. But even in the secular, unheroic age of the Last Men, we still have access to everything that preceded us and lies beneath the surface flow of temporal events--again, if we know how to appreciate it. It’s as if time has its own unconscious.

That is, we now understand that our waking ego is surrounded on all sides by a huge reservoir of unconscious energies, both high and low. It is the same with time. If you cut across it vertically, it is hyperdense with multiple meanings. It is like a fractal, in the sense that any point of it contains the whole of it.

Here again, at the risk of belaboring a metaphor, this is what it means to live vertically. One of the purposes of any spiritual practice is to “dilate” time in order to enter its vertical dimension--to leave secular time and to enter sacred time. For Jews, this is what the sabbath is all about: exiting chronological time and entering a different space that is resonating with every previous sabbath, which are somehow all copresent. In reality, there is only the one eternal sabbath to participate in and partake of, where we may get off the endless merribundity-go-round, relux and rejewvenate.

Likewise, what is the Christian mass but an entrance into deep time, where you are sitting by the Lord and participating in the Last Supper? Isn’t this what it means to transform bread and wine into flesh and blood? This is where God is located, where we apprehend more than the cold hand of mechanical reason ever could.

So back to my day. I actually do, in so far as it is possible, try to live my life in this manner. I don’t imagine that there is some other, better life located somewhere else, either in the past, or in the future, or happening to someone else. There is only this life, which, like a machine, drags us along ceaselessly in the horizontal. We don’t have much control over that.

Where we do have control is in the vertical, but only if we work at creating a little space or “slack” from which to operate. We must learn to be the spacious and tranquil I of the hurrycon--the sinister conspiracy to make you hurry up and lose your center--and reverse figure and ground, so that time is seen as a sort of overflow, or “boiling over” from eternity into time, a dancing and ever-changing revelation of the eternal mind in the things of time.

To put it another way, we must build a sort of portable “internal monastery” that we carry with us. Regarding the world from this monastery, we see it not just as mere information to be processed, but as a marvelous gift capable of stimulating a sense of wonder and gratitude.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Leftists, Islamists, and Failure to Launch: It's a Peter Pandemic

Failure to launch is a big problem for humans. Not just on an individual basis--as in the case of the adolescent in an adult body who is still living with his parents, trying to figure out what to do with his life--but with mankind as a whole. Why are human beings--who have such incredible potential--such persistent underachievers?

To a certain extent, people remain stuck in adolescence because they can. It’s amazing what human beings can achieve when they don’t have a choice. Thankfully, when my father emigrated to the United States in 1948 after being discharged from the British Army at the age of 21, he didn’t really have any choice but to be an adult. Failure to launch was not an option. Although he had only an 8th grade education, he eventually became a corporate executive and sent all four sons to college.

Someone--maybe Petey--once said that “misery rises to the level of the means available to alleviate it.” This is one of the reasons why liberal programs don’t work. No matter how much better off people are, if they are unhappy and envious at their core, they will find a way to express it.

A corollary to this would be that “immaturity rises to the level of the means available to nurture it.” In this regard, historians now understand that “adolescence” is culturally constructed to begin with. You don’t have to go too far back in history to see that there was only childhood and adulthood, with nothing in between. Only when societies become relatively affluent can they afford a period of adolescence, during which time young adults toy with different identities and enjoy a life of leisure and extended learning before committing to an adult identity. But only when cultures become extremely prosperous is there no compelling reason for adolescence to end at all. You really can "die before you get old."

Today the transition to adulthood can be delayed indefinitely. In fact, children are not even taught that there is a “destination” or “goal” to life. Imagine, for example, a sex education class that taught children that marriage was the appropriate outlet and goal of sexuality--in other words, that sexuality had a meaning and an objective direction.

Of course, once you have chosen one option in life, all of the others are forever foreclosed. If you choose one career, it means all the other possibilities are ended. If you marry one woman, you are really denying yourself the rest of womankind, and who would want to do that? It seems that many people would prefer to live in the realm of infinite (but unrealized) potential rather than finite, but real, existence.

Could this be part of what drives the pornography obsession? Now, for the first time in history, human beings have access to this infinite storehouse of alluring images that provides a perverse illusion that the ideal is real. It is a pathetic state--an inherently adolescent one. Whenever someone is acting on a dark compulsion of this nature, it provides an exhilarating sense of spurious freedom. But because it is spurious it must be repeated again and again. It is entirely circular and self-enclosed. It goes nowhere.

But I am actually more interested in the more general failure to launch that afflicts mankind at large. What is the cause of this? For example, there is no question that this is the problem we face in the bulk of the Arab Muslim world. Something in their cultural DNA has left them mired in an historical and developmental eddy, sitting on the launch pad below, just where we left them 700 years ago. What happened? Why didn't they launch?

As I have discussed in a variety of contexts, humans inhabit a horizontal and a vertical world. Among other things, the vertical world is the world of psychological and emotional development. We are the only animal that comes into the world with an infinite potential that may or may not be fulfilled in this lifetime (actually, being infinite, it is never completely fulfilled). Other animals--assuming that they aren’t eaten or die prematurely for some other reason--inevitably reach their developmental goal and achieve maturity as defined by their species. But not humans. Yes, barring some kind of unusual disease, all humans grow to physical maturity. But it is fair to say that the vast majority of human beings down through history--right through to the present day--do not make it to psychological maturity: they do not come close to fulfilling their developmental potential.

This is a question that has always intrigued me, because it goes directly against the grain of any facile Darwinian explanation. That is, I believe that human development is guided by a telos or an end state that we are supposed to achieve. But unlike other animals, there is no way this end state can be accounted for by natural selection, because it never existed in the material world--it remains latent unless or until it is realized. In short, while we certainly have our genetic blueprint, we also have some sort of nonlocal “archetypal blueprint” that draws us toward it. But any number of personal, cultural and historical conditions can conspire to prevent us from realizing this blueprint. For example, if you are a woman in Saudi Arabia, what are the chances you will have the opportuntiy to become who you are? Approximately zero. But if women can't become who they are, neither can men--which is why there are so few adult men in the Arab Muslim world.

Another way of saying this is that human beings alone among the animals are somehow built for transcendence. Not only do human beings have the capacity to rise beyond and surpass themselves, but this is our essential nature. No one looks at a pig and says, “Why don’t you grow up and start acting like a proper pig?” But we ask this of humans all the time. In fact, it is the question that answers the question of what a human being is.

Failure to launch is ultimately failure to transcend. As Meister Eckhart wrote, “When the higher incorporates the lower into its service, the nature of the lower is transformed into that of the higher.” But it also works the other way around: when we fail to transcend, the higher is incorporated into the lower, creating a perverse version of itself. Thus, we have the counterfeit transcendence represented by radical Islam, which thoroughly conflates the higher and lower, so that the most bestial acts are celebrated as divinely inspired.

Likewise, here in the United States we have an entire political party that has been hijacked by children suffering from FTL syndrome: Dailykos, huffington post, the Hollywood crowd, Air America, Howard Dean, Michael Moore, Ted Kennedy, Cindy Sheehan, the perpetual adultolescents of leftist academia--all are in one way or another living in the bubble of immaturity that our affluent society provides. They are failures to launch, and they hate the symbolic parents that remind them that it’s time to move out of their childhood room, get a real job, and grow up.

ADDENDUM--

That's a coincidence. Today is Groundhog Day, the illustrious film of that name being one of the great meditations on emotional and spiritual Failure to Launch.