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:


"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.


"'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.


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.


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.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There

James--a One Cosmos Prayer Partner whose love offering has been received and whose book is on the way--is intrigued by Taoism. Although he does his best to put Taoist principles into practice, he is having difficulty understanding the idea of non-action. He is powerfully drawn to the idea despite the difficulty, and has asked if I or Petey have any thoughts on matter.

I have tremendous affection for Taoism, which is full of profound and universal wisdom that is easily compatible with Judaism, Christianity, or any other spiritual path. As a matter of fact, when I began my off-road spiritual adventure, it was initially as a Taoist, or perhaps a Zen-Taoist hybrid. This is because out of all the religions, these two are perhaps the most free of what most modern people would regard as “superstition” or “magic.” There is nothing in them that offends the rational intellect. The ego, yes--the intellect, no.

However, ultimately I could only get so far with Taoism, because it lacks a potent source of grace. In other words, it’s a “do it yourself” (or Tao it yourself) religion. In my case, my practice took a quantum leap forward once I obtained some nonlocal assistance. However, that by no means negates the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching. Again, its insights can apply to most any spiritual (or even non-spiritual) practice.

First of all, for those of you who are out of the loop, wu wei is one of the central concepts of Taoism. Although literally translated as “non-doing” or “non action,” it is probably more accurately thought of as “not forcing.” The apocryphal writer of the Tao Te Ching, Lau-tzu, gained his insights by simply observing the way nature worked. Nature doesn’t “do” anything, and yet it gets everything done in a most efficient way. Non-action means living in accord with the way things are, for example, in the way that water naturally overcomes whatever is in its way and flows toward its destination. It doesn’t mean that you don’t cut the wood, but that you cut it along the grain--you don’t force things. Think of a blind man who moves in his environment by learning how to avoid obstacles.

Non-doing means not acting in the way you would like things to be, but in terms of the way they are. In other words, it means acting in accord with objective truth, with the natural order of things, not with mere opinion. It means living in alignment with with pre-existent reason--with the logos.

Non-doing is sometimes seen as passivity, but it is not that at all. For example, great athletes are in a state of non-doing, while mediocre athletes attempt to force things--they don’t allow the game to “come to them.” Great athletes don’t consciously deliberate about the many options available to them. There’s a saying in baseball, “don’t think. You hurt the ballclub.”

Similarly, great jazz musicians enter a state of non-doing during collective improvisation. There is no way they could respond as quickly as they must if their minds were thinking about all the possible directions they could take their solo. If the mind gets involved, it’s already too late--the moment is gone. By yielding to the moment, a sort of transcendent beauty, or pre-existing pattern becomes immanent and is revealed in the music. It cannot be imposed, only discovered.

The great jazz pianist Keith Jarrett might be the most articulate practitioner of musical non-doing. He writes that a jazz musician "goes onto the stage hoping to have an encounter with music. He knows that the music is there (it always is), but this meeting depends not only on knowledge but on openness.... It is a discrimination against mechanical pattern, against habit, for surprise, against easy virtuosity, for saying more with less, against facile emotion, for a certain quality of energy, against stasis, for flow..." It is "like an attempt, over and over, to reveal the heart of things."

Interestingly, this was the approach to psychotherapy recommended by one of my mentors, the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion. His advice to the practicing therapist was to “suspend memory, desire and understanding” before each session. In other words, the idea is not to force things, but to allow them to develop of their own accord. Premature understanding of the patient is often a defense against depth, against the fear of not knowing, against the emotional turmoil that must be tolerated and allowed to evolve and coalesce. Each session with the patient is a step into the formless, infinite void that must be approched with faith. Out of that faith, understanding will emerge, but it cannot be forced.

The principles of the Tao are very much at odds with contemporary left-liberalism, which forever tries to impose order and outcomes, as opposed to classical liberalism, which trusts that the chaos of liberty spontaneously leads to a higher and much more robust order. For example, the Tao states, “I let go of economics, and people become prosperous.” “When taxes are too high, people go hungry.” “When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit.” “If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.” “Try to make people happy, and you lay the groundwork for misery.” “Stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself.” Leftists hate the idea that there is infinitely more embodied wisdom in a free market than in the shrewd sophistry of Paul Krugman, and that most societal problems will solve themselves if you allow them to. Indeed, many of our most troubling contemporary problems are a result of some meddling liberal "solution" that was put in place 30, 40, or 50 years ago.

In many respects, President Bush governs in a Taoist way. For example, the Tao is deeply skeptical of intellectuals and abstract concepts: “The more you know, the less you understand.” “He who tries to shine dims his own light.” “The master doesn’t talk, he acts.” “True words aren’t eloquent; eloquent words aren’t true.” What could be more heretical to the silver-tongued devils at the New York Times? This is one of the main reasons they despise him, because his natural simplicity is a rebuke to their unnatural, convoluted, and "nuanced" complexity.

Perhaps the ultimate lesson of Taoism is that language can introduce all sorts of redundancies into existence. We do not “have” an experience. We are experience. Experience is an encounter between a knower and known, but in reality, knower and known are simply two sides of the same coin: there is no knower without a known, and no knowledge without a knower. External and internal reality are bound together by a mysterious process that we do not understand, and to which we add nothing by escaping into some symbolic representation of it. You do not live your life. Rather, life is lived through you. Thoughts arise. You don’t think them. But you can learn to let them go.

Jesus, at least in terms of his practical wisdom, was clearly of a Taoist bent: “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to your stature?” “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” When he says “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” he is saying something analogous to living and being rooted in the Tao.

Oh, and what does Petey think? He agrees with Lao-tzu that if you try to be a Taoist, you're wasting your time:

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.*

*All exerpts from the Tao Te Ching are taken from the excellent Stephen Mitchell translation.