Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Greatest Liberal Rock Songs (Revised & Updated, with Readers' Picks)

Now that someone has put together the list of the Fifty Greatest Conservative Rock Songs, someone ought to do a list of the greatest liberal rock songs. Since I have an hour to kill, I think I'll give it a whirl.

Perhaps, as R.J. Eskow argued (see yesterday’s post), this is unnecessary, since all rock music is by definition liberal. It is liberal because, according to him, it “raises blood pressure, stimulates adrenaline, [and] creates sexual stimulation and physical aggression.”

Of course, I disagree with Eskow. Nevertheless, even if we were to stipulate that all rock music is liberal, still, some is obviously more liberal than the rest. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of rock music, at least until recently, was surprisingly apolitical -- or at least the politics was implicit and ambiguous, such as in Bob Dylan’s best work (very early on he saw through the left and stopped writing the kind of tedious and didactic songs they enjoy, such as Masters of War).

It’s true that when there is an explicit political message in rock music, it is virtually always from the left. In fact, this is what makes the songs so unartful, ham-handed, and generally lame. It is what makes them so wince-worthy. As we have discussed before, there is a vast difference between art and didacticism, the latter being a form of pornography.

In no particular order, I’m just going to rely upon my memory to call up some of the greatest liberal songs of all time. The list will obviously be incomplete, and readers are welcome to add to it with suggestions of their own.

The first song that comes to mind is War, by Edwin Starr. Although it is now over 35 years old, it still expresses the universal leftist sentiment about the military and about the need to defend ourselves from evil. In fact, the king of moonbat rockers, Bruce Springsteen, has taken to singing it in concert. Its boneheaded lyric asks the famous question,

What is it good for?

The answer, of course, being absolutely nothing! (say it again, y’all!).

For the left, the problem is never the existence of evil. They scoff at that unsophisticated notion. Rather, it is the existence of people who fight it. For war itself “is an enemy to all mankind.” It “can't give life, it can only take it away!,” as every Jew who survived the Holocaust or every Kurd who escaped Saddam’s torture chambers knows.

They say we must fight to keep our freedom,
But Lord knows there's got to be a better way.

Sure there’s a better way. As the girl who spoke at the New School commencement put it last week, “We have nothing to fear from anyone on this living planet.... We can change the universe by being who we are.... it really is just that simple.” It seems to me that this approach has a long way to go before it can even be considered simplistic, let alone simple.

Even before Neil Young, there were America-bashing Canuckleheads making an extravagant living by attacking the country that makes their frivolous lives possible. American Woman, by the Guess Who, expresses sentiments that are still widely shared by our leftist friends to the north, who, in a recent poll, ranked the United States as the most dangerous country on earth:

American woman, said get away...
Don’t come hangin’ around my door
Don’t wanna see your face no more
I don’t need your war machines
I don’t need your ghetto scenes
Colored lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else’s eyes
Now woman, get away from me
American woman, mama let me be.

Of course, not all Canadians share the sentiments of their their pinheaded elites. I am told that normal Canadians who live outside the major cities, especially in the western provinces, are much more appreciative of the security and prosperity made possible by the United States. They know that the American “war machine” actually shoulders their share of the world’s defense, so their government can waste money on other things.

But leftist elites have always had trouble relating to the middle class. Secretly they have contempt for the middle class, whom they regard as clueless boobs for not being default leftists. They just can’t figure out why a middle class American would ever vote Republican, since Democrat elites know what is best for them. The song Pleasant Valley Sunday, written by Carol King, mockingly expressed the contempt that leftist superbians feel for suburban Americans who are not bitter activists and who simply want to enjoy their lives:

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care

See Mrs. Gray she's proud today because her roses are in bloom
Mr. Green he's so serene, he's got a TV in every room

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land...

Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul...

Carol King is a wonderful songwriter, one of the greatest ever. But give me a break with the "creature comforts." I think she owns a village in Idaho.

Of course, a major theme of contemporary liberalism is gender identity confusion. For this reason, I have chosen I’m a Boy, by the Who, which expresses the anger and confusion of a child whose mother is obviously a doctrinaire feminist who believes that sexual differences are simply cultural constructs:

I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But my ma won't admit it
I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But if I say I am, I get it!

Remember “The Eve of Destruction,” by Barry McGuire? Liberals like to make fun of fringe religious groups that predict the end of the world, and rightfully so. But hysterical mainstream liberals have been predicting the end of the world since I was a little kid, whether it's alar in apples or nuclear power plants or giving toy guns to boys. In the 1980s it was global cooling. Liberal scientists were unanimous that the world was catastrophically cooling as a result of manmade influences. It was even on the cover of Time and Newsweek. Now they unanimously agree (except for the ones who don’t) that the world is catastrophically warming.

For the hysterical left, it’s always the Eve of Destruction, like with Al Gore's new movie, which is the feel-bad hit of the summer:

Al Gore’s mind, it is implodin’
Penguins dyin’, cities floatin’
If cars are so bad, how come he isn't strollin’?
He don’t believe in oil, but what's that SUV he's rollin'?

What is it with the left’s perennial fascination with authoritarian regimes, whether Castro, or Arafat, or the Sandinistas? In “Washington Bullets,” the Clash sang,

For the very first time ever,
When they had a revolution in Nicaragua,
There was no interference from America
Human rights in America

Yup, for the first time, human rights in America. For the left, it’s a topsy-turvy world. Because of their anger at America, it causes them to ally themselves with anyone who opposes America. For example, the other day, leftist heavyweight intellectual Noam Chomsky, who was also a champion of the totalitarian Sandinistas, argued that the policies of Hamas were “more conducive to a peaceful settlement than those of the United States or Israel”.

It’s like the criminals are the good guys and the police are the bad guys. That’s what Eric Burdon sang in “San Franciscan Nights”:

Cop's face is filled with hate
Heavens above,
He's on a street called "Love"
When will they ever learn?

Cops. Selfish bastards. They’re nothing at all like the beautiful people of the left. As Joanie Mitchell put it in “Woodstock,”

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Yes, that would be the same reality-based garden where we have nothing to fear from a single person on this planet. Even if he wants to blow up the garden.

I’ll admit it, when I was in high school and had a devastating crush on Suzie Campbell, who sat next to me in biology class, I didn’t really get “Love the One You’re With.” Sure, it sounds good on paper, but unless you’re a rock star with groupies at your feet, or a President with interns under your desk, how do you get the opposite person of the complementary gender to cooperate?

If you're down and confused

Yes, that would be me.

Concentration slips away

Exactly! How did he know?

Don't be angry, don't be sad
Don't sit cryin' over good times you had
There's a girl, right next to you
And she's just waiting for something to do

Right on, dude!

Turn your heartache right into joy
She's a girl, and you're a boy
So get it together, make it nice
You ain't gonna need, any more advice

Wait! Don’t go away! I think I do need some more advice!

If you can't be with the one you love,
Love the one you're with
Love the one you're with
Love the one you’re with

Stop taunting me!

Like I said, there are surprisingly few explicitly political rock songs, but there are a number of repeat offenders such as John Lennon, David Crosby and Graham Nash. Nash is another guy who doesn’t see evil as the problem. Rather, it’s the military. In Military Madness, he sang,

In an upstairs room in Blackpool
By the side of a northern sea
The army had my father
And my mother was having me
Military Madness was killing my country

Not nazi madness, totalitarian madness, anti-Semitic madness, Islamo-fascist madness. Just “military madness.” And as we already know from Edwin Starr, war itself is evil. It can’t give life, it can only take it away. Presumably, Nash's father was insane for fighting the nazis:

And after the wars are over
And the body count is finally filed
I hope that The Man discovers
What’s driving the people wild
Military madness is killing your country

Similarly, Donovan, in The Universal Soldier (written by Buffy Saint Marie), blamed the individual GI:

He's the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can't go on.

He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can't you see,
This is not the way we put the end to war.

Such a terminally adolescent view of the world. Perhaps the Doors, in their epic, The End, touched on the reasons for this pervasive developmental arrest:

Father, yes son, I want to kill you.
Mother... I want to... f*** you!!!!!!

I think I can sum up liberalism with just a few more anthems. First, as John Lennon observed, All You Need is Love. Just don’t ask for details of how this would work in practice. For if you read dailykos or huffingtonpost or listen to Air America, you immediately realize that the Who were correct: I Can’t Explain. Why? Because, as Morris Albert crooned, liberalism is based upon Feelings, nothing more than feelings...

Still, what does it hurt to live in a parallel reality-based world? The number one liberal anthem, as always, is Imagine:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing John's brownstone

I don’t know... I imagine other things...

Imagine no Islamists
It isn’t hard to do
No damn bin Laden
And no Zarqawi too
Imagine all the people
Living in the same century....


The readers speak:

"One Tin Soldier," from the movie Billy Jack
"Sky Pilot," by Eric Burdon
"Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag," by Country Joe and the Fish (Also, let's not forget the brilliant "Fish Cheer" at Woodstock)
"The Flower Children," by Marcia Strassman
"San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," by Scott McKenzie
"At Seventeen," by Janis Ian
"I Got You Babe," by recovered liberal Sonny & terminal case Cher
"When the Music's Over" and "Five to One," by the Doors
"Street Fighting Man," by the Strolling Bones
"Get Together," by the Youngbloods
"God Save the Queen (The Fascist Regime)," by the Sex Pistols
Rage Against the Machine, Their Entire Angry Corpus
"Little Boxes," I believe written by Malvina Reynolds
"American Skin--41 Shots," Bruce Springsteen (try getting past his security & see what happens)
"Woman Is The N-Word Of The World," by John Lennon (who would be the first to admit that he had some major issues with abusing women)

There were some obvious ones I purposely left off the list, such as:
"Give Peace a Chance," by John Lennon (who was, not coincidentally, giving heroin a chance when he wrote it)
"Almost Cut My Hair," by crackhead felon David Crosby (with CSNY)
"Long Time Gone," by felonious crackhead David Crosby (with CSN)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Devil's Devil Music

Not much time this morning, so I guess I'll just start an argument.

Perhaps you have heard of the list on National Review of The Fifty Greatest Conservative Rock Songs.

Although there are some good choices here, I’m sure that I could come up with a better list if I put my mind to it, since I’m pretty much of an idiot savant in my knowledge of rock music history. I’ll admit that I can only claim any real expertise to somewhere around the early 1990's, when rock began to be displaced by rap and hip-hop anyway.

Although I could be wrong, I am unaware of any true innovations or genuine artistic breakthroughs after that. It’s not that there haven’t been some decent performers. It’s just that they are recycling settled forms from the past. Rock has basically become just a genre exercise, like groups that perform rockabillly, doo-wop, power pop, or prog-rock. It’s all been said and done before. It reminds me of when I would go to Disneyland in the 1960’s, and they would have big bands from my parents' era, a bunch of old guys trying to bring the past to life. Now you might see Aerosmith in the midst of their Lifestyle Support Tour on the Tomorrowland Bandstand.

As a matter of fact, most artistic movements have a beginning, middle and end. There won’t be another Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. There was a time that Dixieland jazz was at the cutting edge, but it never will be again. Then came big band swing, bebop, cool, hard bop, free bop, and jazz fusion. Each of these successive genres came and went. Although there are people who still do them, they are just shadows of the past, when the genre was vital, innovative and exploratory.

Interestingly, this makes contemporary rock extremely conservative in the negative, or passive sense of the word--it’s decadent and exhausted, with nowhere to go, just like contemporary liberalism. Liberalism is about the past. It’s extreme form, “progressivism,” is about driving the car while looking into the rearview mirror, so it should come as no surprise that progressives were outraged at the thought of conservatives encroaching on their sacred art form: rock music.

I found an amazingly obtuse article to this end on puffingtonhost, Right-Wing Rockin’: The Hypnotized Never Lie (bad link... no time to fix). The author, R. J. Eskow, hauls out all of the usual clichés, writing that “All the kids are talkin' about the National Review's new list of ‘the 50 greatest conservative rock songs of all time.’ Heh, heh. It looks like the righties are assuring us that they're 'hep.' You can almost hear the squeak of pencil protectors against Ban-Lon as they insist: Yes, sirree, we're down with what the young people are doing.”

That’s a big giveaway right there. I recognize that obnoxious, juvenile attitude, because I used to share it when I was an idiot. It goes like this: liberals are cool. Conservatives are uncool. End of issue. No actual thought is required.

You don’t have to lurk about the leftwing blogosphere or Air America for very long to discover this pervasive adultolescent attitude. Cognitively it’s a very pre-formal operations way of thinking--basically a sort of tribalism based upon status, status revolving around “coolness.” The content of what it means to be cool will change in arbitrary ways, but the point is always to be among the cool and to project the uncoolness outside the group. This is one more reason why liberalism is so conspicuously “content free” to those who can view it coolly and objectively from the outside.

Eskow, who is obviously very cool, makes the trenchant observation that just because conservatives are “pro-war business tools in thrall to religious extremists, that doesn't mean we don't know our 'beat groups' and 'rhythm combos.' We read Teen Beat too, you know! And conservatism can be fun.”

Now there’s another interesting giveaway, because it directly parallels liberalism itself. Unaware of the irony, Esky notes that rock music can never be conservative, because “words are less important than the sound in rock & roll.” Like liberalism itself, rock music is a merely a cacophonous “sound.” The sound of liberalism is the message. As if we didn’t know that. As if Eskow’s piece doesn’t drive home the point.

And what is the liberal message of all rock music? Well, for one thing, it’s very cool. Your parents wouldn’t like it at all, dude: “people receive rock & roll as a rhythmic construct and a sonic texture. The effect is physiological. Real rockin' music raises blood pressure, stimulates adrenaline, creates sexual stimulation and physical aggression.”

There you have it. Rock music is inherently liberal because it releases adrenaline and makes you want to fight and copulate. In other words, it is entirely reptilian and subhuman. To perform or enjoy it, a medulla will suffice. This would apparently explain why Eskow is such a medullard. For him, rock music bypasses the neocortex and simply stimulates the hormones, just like those crazy pastors and preachers said it did, back in the 1950’s.

For Eskow, the content of rock--musical or lyrical--doesn’t matter. You could sing the “the foreword to ‘God and Man at Yale,’" but the effect will nevertheless “be subversive to everything conservatism represents.”

And what does conservatism represent? In a delightfully clueless display of unintended irony, Esky notes that the present administration, or “cabal,” is “demonstrably the incarnation of evil. Modern conservatism is Satanic.”

So for clueless liberals, rock is still the devil’s music. But they merely project the devil into conservatives. But isn’t the whole point that “devil music” is cool?

Since conservatives are lawless devils, Eskow notes that “I Fought the Law” might be a good conservative choice. Of course, "robbin’ people with a six gun” is “cruder than the Halliburton-style corruption that dominates the conservative movement, but it may be apt nonetheless. What's striking about the song is the sheer amorality of the singer's explanation for his life of crime."

In fact, Eskow wonders if “the National Review will be coming up with a list of ‘Top 50 Conservative Hip-Hop Songs’ soon. That’s one I'd like to see, given the Right's inclination toward easy money, bling, infidelity, theft, gas-guzzling cars, and shooting people in the face.”

So now we’ve come full circle. Rock music is all about releasing cool, “outlaw” sexual and aggressive energy, so it has to be liberal. But because it is about those things, it must be conservative. Make up your mind. Is it the devil's music? Or the devil's music?

Whatever. It’s cool. The Dude abides. Preserved in amber, where it’s always 1967 and the grown-ups are way uncool.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Unspeakable Nonsense: Glishing the Unglishable

While we’re on the topic of Word and words.... I’m reading this book entitled Mystical Languages of Unsaying, by Michael A. Sells, about apophatic, or "negative" theology. Apophatic theology deals with the problem of how we can talk about something--God--that is beyond all description. In other words, how do we use mere words to capture that which is by definition beyond words?

I was attracted to the book because it discusses many of my favorite mystical theologians: Plotinus, Denys the Areopagite, John the Scot Eriugena (very underrated ninth century Christian mystic), and Meister Eckhart. I’ve only just started it, so at this point I must unsay whether or not I can recommend it for your reading pleasure.

This is ironic. I googled “Michael Sells,” and it turns out that he was involved in the controversy at the University of North Carolina, in which they required incoming students to read the Koran. As a matter of fact, Sells was the one who wrote the text to be used. The problem was, he assembled a bowdlerized version of the Koran, removing all of the naughty bits that might give us the correct, I mean, incorrect, impression of Islam.

I found an interview with Sells, in which he defended his decision by stating that he didn’t want to confuse the students with all those irrelevant parts of the Koran that deal with 8th century Arab politics--you know, dismembering infidels, killing Jews, beating your wife, all that crazy stuff.

Excuse me... I’m no Arab scholar... but... when you say “Arab politics”... why the qualifier, “8th century?” Isn’t that redundant? And those parts you excised from the Koran... might they have anything to do with why the Islamic calendar is running, oh, about 800 years slow?

So in Sells’ case, he “unsaid” some of the most important parts of the Koran--instead of “Mystical Languages of Unsaying,” we get “Mystifying Students With What’s Best Left Unsaid.”

So now it’s hard for me to enjoy the book, even though there are some good parts. I keep thinking about the disingenuous intellectual dishonesty. Stupid cognitive dissonance!

Switching gears now.

They say you can’t prove the existence of Spirit, but that’s not true, any more than you can’t prove the existence of love or beauty. Of course you can, but only to someone who’s inclined to accept the appropriate proof. In my case, once I began achieving a bit of “vertical liftoff” ten or eleven years ago, I began to “discover” things about Spirit. Or at least I thought I was discovering them. Turns out I wasn’t, any more than I discovered Lake Tahoe on vacation just because I had never been there before.

Two things about these “discoveries” were striking. First, I suddenly had the capacity to understand the meaning of spiritual writing in a way that I never had before. Somehow I understood its “within,” or inner significance. Secondly, instead of a process of “learning,” it was more like a process of confirmation. In other words, I would think that I had discovered something by myself, only to discover that others before me had discovered the same thing.

This book, Mystical Languages of Unsaying, is a case in point. It helps me understand exactly what I was attempting to do with language in the prologue and epilogue of my book. In those two parts of the book I attempt to use language to describe what is clearly beyond language--specifically, what is “before” the big bang and what is “after” our separate existence, whether you want to call it ego death, transcendence, union with God, whatever. Language can’t go there, so it must be deployed in a special way so as to not mislead. In short, you have to “unsay” what you want to say.

Mystical languages of unsaying are used in order to deal with the problem of God’s transcendence. In order to talk about God at all, we must give God a name. But as soon as we do, we have placed an artificial linguistic fence around God. It’s no longer God we’re talking about, only “God.” So how do we get around that?

Through what is called “negative” or apophatic theology. This idea--which is especially prominent in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, and Vedanta--is that everything we say about God must, at the same time, be “unsaid.” It’s a way to talk about God without fooling ourselves into thinking we know what we are talking about--a way for language to “turn back upon its own propositions.” As I put it in the book, it is a way to make perfect nonsense.

So, for example, on page 10 of my book, it says “What a punnish ontic! [Combining Upanishads + ontology.] Is the author of this cacography [combining cacophony, or discordant noise, with what is possibly pure caca] an ainsoferable gnosis all [the Ain Sof is the Kabbalist word for the ultimate reality beyond name and form] or just an inrisible [i.e., risible, or laughable] mythmatician?... My yokes are easy, my words enlight [a reference to Jesus' statement that 'my yoke is easy, my burden light'].”

At least I was hoping that my yokes would be easy. Frankly, I was a little worried that the humor was overly broad. Turns out that my yokes may be hard and my words obscure, at least for a lot of people. More on that below.

Hello? Is anybody still with me?

Anyhoo, about a week before I finished the book, I discovered that I was hardly the first person to use jokes and puns to try to unsay ultimate reality. The Jews--it figures, doesn’t it?--specialized in a comedic approach to interpreting the Torah. Various esteemed rabbis would read between the lines of scripture and invent a midrash to illuminate a passage. Midrashim are often full of paradox, puns, wordplay and other midrashcally rabbitorahcal devoices, almost like zen koans.

And I only really dove wholeheartedly headwrong into the amuzing Meister Eckhart after I finished the book. His apophatic language is so full of punning and paradox, that it landed him in some real trouble with the religious authorities, who said to him, "how would you like an apophat lip, Meister?"

Sells writes of what he calls “performative intensity” in negative theology. In other words, when writing in this way, the “performance” of the language cannot be separated from its meaning: just as in case of the genome or the mathematical constants that undergird the cosmos, semantics can by no means be reduced to syntax. Again, the language itself is paradoxically trying to take you where language cannot go--it is trying urgently to say something that cannot be said. Yes, you can reduce apophatic theology to cataphatic, or positive theology. But as soon as you do this, you have eff’ed up the ineffable and screwed the inscrutable.

This has gone on a bit long, hasn’t it? Next week I hope to continue this line of thought and deconstruct some of the more mystifying passages at the beginning and end of my book, in order to shed some additional obscurity on what it is I was apparently attempting to unsay. As I said, I think it will help you ruahlize that my yokes are easy and words (hopefully) enlight. Who knows, you might even have a guffah-ha! experience.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Words and How they Get that Way

To post or not to post.... Sometimes I wonder if I should continue posting something every day, especially on a holiday weekend, when there will be fewer readers anyway. A number of people--both readers and fellow bloggers--have counseled me to slow down, predicting that I’m going to burn out. Plus, if you post less often, the posts will have more impact.

However, I’m afraid that the reverse will happen--that if I slow down, then I’ll burn out. For one thing, it would give me too much time to ruminate about what I’m writing, and probably paralyze me. There’s something to be said for just sitting down at the same time each day and banging something out--just making it a part of life, like flossing or exercising.

The disadvantage I have, of course, is that I am not actually a writer, nor would I ever claim to be. Nor are most bloggers writers (not that there's anything wrong with that). In my case, I simply try to convey ideas as clearly as possible. I have too much respect for real writers to call that writing. Lileks is a writer. Van der Leun is a writer. Iowahawk too. They are exceptions. For example, because Lileks is a writer, he can write about the most mundane and trivial details of his life and lift them to a higher plane, making them humorous, touching, provocative, even spiritual--all those magical little things that writers can do with words.

And when I say “magical,” I mean that literally. This was one of the themes of Joyce’s work: that through the magic of language, we can alchemically transmute the lead of our mundane, day-to-day existence into the gold of transpersonal experience. Perhaps more than any other writer, Joyce realized that the world is not made of atoms, or quarks, or molecules. Rather, it is composed of language. Therefore, changing our relationship to language can change everything.

“Epiphany” was Joyce’s word for those everyday moments when we are able to perceive the rays of the transpersonal sun shining through an object or experience. In reality, it is happening all the time--it can’t not happen--but we can miss it depending on the depth of our relationship to language. Without language, experience simply rolls off of us like water off a duck. (See--if I was a real writer, I could come up with a fresh metaphor.)

Language deepens our subjectivity, which paradoxically extends both within and without. For example, when you learn the language of psychoanalysis, you have tool for extending your consciousness into the deeper regions of the great within of consciousness, both in oneself and in others. It allows your own consciousness to literally extend like a probe into the recesses of another person’s mind.

But there is nothing special about psychoanalysis. In reality, any genuine expertise involves esoteric knowledge that allows the person to see and experience things that the uninitiated cannot. For example, when I had my stress treadmill done last week, the doctor obviously saw things in the EKG which mean nothing to me. For him, a whole world of meaning opens up before his eyes, whereas for me, it’s just squiggles on a piece of paper. For me, it is an impenetrable object. For him, his subjectivity extends into the squiggles and illuminates them from within.

I guess I’m writing about this subject because it came up just last night. Up until then, my son--who is now thirteen months old--pretty much treated the world as an object. Toys--any toys, no matter how complicated or elaborate--were merely for banging or “throwing overboard.” He was basically confronted by a world of endlessly diverse noisemakers.

But last night something suddenly “clicked.” I suppose most parents notice the obvious external markers, such as when a child first crawls or walks. But I am always on the lookout for interior markers--those signs that show that his consciousness is extending, both within and without.

Anyway, last night he suddenly got the point of one of his toys, and sat there mesmerized by it for about fifteen minutes, quietly playing by himself. Normally he’s incredibly restless, active and energetic, but suddenly he was calm, focussed, and attentive. This is a microscopic version of what it means for our subjectivity to deepen.

Theoretically, there is no limit to this deepening process. In my opinion, growth--especially spiritual growth--involves an ever-deepening extension of this interior horizon. Again, this horizon extends in both directions, inside and out. The deepening connections in my son’s mind allowed him to see the deeper connections, or “withinness,” of the external world. Subjective growth involves "colonizing" more and more of this withinness.

For again, what is the external world if it isn’t language? It’s just nothing, a brute object that confronts us. Even the most materialistic science is nothing more than a special language that allows a physicist to peer more deeply within the realm of matter. This is never something the scientist sees with his physical eyes. Rather, the equations of quantum physics are a probe, analogous to the stick that the blind person uses to navigate while walking. The blind person deploys the stick forward into darkness, and it sends messages up his arm and into his brain, allowing him to form a picture of the space around him. It is no different with physics. Physics is just a stick in the dark, like reaching around for your shoes in the back of a dark closet.

Which brings us to the very special language of religion. For religion is also a probe that we, in our metaphysical blindness, may use to illuminate the space around us. In fact, if your religion is “working” for you, this is what is happening. Naive secularists always think that the primary purpose of religion is faith or comfort or morality. Yes, it is all of those things, but for me anyway, it is primarily a way of knowing. By immersing oneself in it, it extends in magical ways into regions that are otherwise inaccessible to the psyche--for example, into the realm of the sacred or holy. The realm of the sacred that is illuminated by religion is every bit as real as the weird quantum realm that is illuminated by modern physics. Except that it is more real. Indeed, the conviction of the ontological priority of the sacred is one of the things that accompanies the experience of it.

In certain respects, the invocations in the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of John are parallel commentaries on one another. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The former statement has to do with ontology, the latter with epistemology. For the separation of the heavens and the earth forms the deep structure of all being; it is the separation of the horizontal and vertical, thereby making the experience of experience possible. Without this primary duality, there is only God. But with this bifurcation, the world is split down the middle into object-subject, quantity-quality, eternity-time, form-substance, and other primordial complementarities.

But the divide between these complementarities is not unbridgeable. This is because the the Word is anterior to that primordial creative act of God (it was "with God" and "was God"), and is therefore present in each of the complementarities. The world is intelligible because it is thoroughly infused with the same Word that inheres in our consciousness. Thus, the world is structured as a pair of mirrors reflecting back upon themselves through a deepening relationship to language.

This is what is meant when it is said that we are “made in the image of God.” This is the anthropology that inevitably follows from the above ontology and epistemology. This is why the more human we become, the more divine, and the more divine, the more human. And it all happens in the magical space between the two mirrors, where language carries messages back and forth, in an ever deepening and ascending spiral. We don’t evolve. The Word does.

And the Word is God.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Poison Ivy League*

(Now updated, edited, and even spell- and grammar-checked!)

I learn a lot from Dennis Prager. Like me, he is considers himself a classical liberal, so he is very hard on the left for their hijacking of liberalism. However, he always emphasizes that his contempt for leftist ideology doesn’t mean that individual leftists can’t be fine, albeit misguided, people. Nor does it mean that all conservatives are somehow good and decent people. Prager always tries to make it clear that when he is talking about leftist thought, he is making generalizations about an ideology, not making judgments about individuals in an ad hominem way. There are liberals whom one would be happy to have as neighbors, and conservatives that one wouldn’t want to touch with a barge poll.

Living in a very blue state near a bluer city, marrying into a blue-blooded family, working in a deep blue profession, I am very used to this idea. The majority of people I deal with on any given day are going to be liberals, and they obviously aren’t monsters. Most conservatives simply believe that liberal thought is rooted in emotion, illogic, hysteria, rebellion, and a lack of wisdom. It doesn't necessarily make you evil, even if the consequences of your ideas would be catastrophic if enacted.

But the reverse doesn’t seem to hold true. Rather, liberals do not believe that conservatives are merely wrong. In fact, they rarely engage conservative ideas at all without first caricaturing them. Instead, they believe that conservatives are evil. I consider this a sort of ironic boomerang effect of rampant secularism. Since the secular left denies real evil, such as Saddam or communism, it locates it in the patently non-evil, such as President Bush.

Wait here just a minute. I’ll go fetch an example from one of them big ol' liberal websites. I’ll be right back.

Perfect. This one is by Philip Slater, former Harvard sociology professor. His brilliant and subtle piece on puffingtonhost is entitled “Understanding Neo-con.” For a neo-con, the word “morality” doesn’t mean what you think it means. Rather, “it is just as likely to embrace hating and killing your neighbors, particularly if they are gay, Arab, or physicians who perform abortions.” Furthermore, “it means the suppression of sexual desire. And since sexual restrictions the world over have invariably been applied primarily to female sexuality, it requires no great leap [no, none at all] to realize that ‘morality’ in Neo-con means the suppression of women. Neo-con ideas about the proper role of women in society vary little from those of the Taliban.”

American conservatives. Taliban. What’s the difference? True, American conservatives and their allies are actually the mortal enemies of the Taliban and their ilk--the only ones actually willing to extinguish their ghoulish existence from the face of the earth and make certain that they tally their awful bans no more. Whatever.

Likewise, “patriotism” for a neo-con means “giving unconditional support to the nation's political leaders even if their policies are undermining the nation's future, plunging it into debt, polluting its land, water, and air, alienating its friends, and multiplying its enemies." In the twisted logic of Neo-conese, "those who died in the bunker with Hitler were more ‘patriotic’ than the generals who tried to save Germany by getting rid of him; Poles who supported the communist leaders in Poland were more ‘patriotic’ than members of Solidarity; Serbs who supported Slobodan Milosevich were more ‘patriotic’ than those who wanted to see him tried for war crimes.”

Bear in mind that this man is a professor who has taught at many of America’s elite looniversity bins. He teaches young adults that American conservatives represent a loathsome combination of Talibanism, nazism and communism. If he were half as clever as Petey, he might call them "totalibanazinarians."

I don't know if any word has fallen further in esteem in my lifetime than "professor." Perhaps "judge." Hard to believe now, but these were once by and large considered to be disinterested and wise people to whom one would look up, not down. Now when you hear the word "professor," the first thought that comes to mind is "fool." There are so many aspects of "the left"; in fact, the "economic left" is almost irrelevant compared to the cultural left, the entertainment left, the judicial left, the media left, the educational establishment left. The incredible damage they have done to our educational system alone is reason enough to oppose them.

Here’s another foolish wackademic, Jan Clausen. She teaches, ahem, creative (as if we can't tell) writing at the New School. She was the proud organizer of the protest by students, faculty, and staff in response to university president Bob Kerrey's choice of Senator John McCain as their commencement speaker. It was an odd choice to begin with. Why a U.S. senator? What, were there no b-list actors available, no heterophobic rappers?

Clausen poignantly describes the compelling reasons for the students' “brave decision to challenge Senator McCain's condescension to the graduates and his championing of an illegal war.”

I suppose creative writing can only be so creative before it falls off the map into mere psychotic babbling, or what we in the psychology biz call "word salad." “Brave decision?” Yes, these students agonized over the implications of obnoxiously disrupting McCain’s speech. Once the decision was made, there would be no turning back. Like Jesus in Gethsemane, they sweated blood and prayed to their pagan god to let this cup pass from their pierced lips.

After all, it wasn’t just about the illegal war. In fact, the war is not illegal anyway, so that’s just stupid. Rather, there was a “range of reasons” for the courageous and difficult decision, “widespread consternation and a sense of helplessness. ‘It's awful--but what can we do?’ seemed to be the dominant sentiment."

A liberal, America-trashing movie star is unavailable to speak at our commencement, and we are rendered helpless with consternation. Yes, we are deeply consterned. What are we to do? How can we even be expected to commence without the proper polemical commencement advice?

The illegal legal war is one thing. But this beast McCain is a man who “hurt the school's queer community [in asking them] to join in honoring a politician who has supported a range of homophobic legislation”--you know, like opposing legislation granting special rights to homosexuals.

All those months McCain spent being tortured by the North Vietnamese? Hello?! That didn't advance the homosexual agenda one iota. That was just his own narrow and selfish will to survive. Perhaps it would have been better if the Vietnamese had succeeded in killing him. At least he wouldn’t be around to hurt the feelings of the New College queer community.

According to Clausen, “The actual speech was, predictably, so lacking in analytic rigor that it would have gotten poor marks from any composition teacher for its weak argumentation, though not its rhetoric.” That is, McCain “wrapped a hard little nugget of violent nationalism in yards of fluffy platitudes that obscure the ugly reality of an invasion based on lies, greed, and disregard for the basic humanity of ordinary Iraqis.”

Professor Clausen? She’s the opposite of McCain. Her creative writing combines yards of fluffy analysis with impenetrably hard little pellets of bombastic rhetoric.

Not brave, you say? Ha! Unlike McCain in Vietnam, many students had their orange protest fliers confiscated. Those were the orange protest fliers, dammit--you know, the ones with the hardest nuggets of fluffy platitudes! "One student was threatened with arrest for trying to enter the building with his fliers[!]" Or maybe he was almost threatened with arrest. Or maybe his fly was open. Whatever. Either way, the threat was real.

Unlike the threat of Islamo-fascism. But the Islamists do get high marks for their little hard nuggets of violent rhetoric. So long as they don’t miss the big picture and hurt the feelings of the New College queer community.


Related: James Taranto's take.

Prelated: Van der Leun's Bad Thoughts.

Incestuously interrelated: Looniversity Memories.


*Elvis Presley - Poison Ivy League lyrics (excerpt)

The ra-ra boys will
go to bed so early tonight
Before exams they need a lot of rest
They gotta make good for dad
They gotta make good so bad
They'll even pay someone to take that test

[Very prescient. This song was written before Ted Kennedy was busted for that.]

Poison ivy league, boys in that ivy league
How can they flunk, they're so full of bunk
That poison ivy league

[It's true. If you regurgitate the leftist bunk, you cannot flunk.]

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Freedom, Truth, and Objectivity (5.28.08)

The prerogative of the human state is objectivity, the essential content of which is the Absolute. There is no knowledge without objectivity of the intelligence; there is no freedom without objectivity of the will; and there is no nobility without objectivity of the soul. --Frithjof Schuon

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Forget the blather about a “Creator.” Could nonsense such as this ever pass muster in a contemporary leftist university, where the only self-evident truth is that there is no truth, self-evident or otherwise?

This imaginary “Creator” supposedly endowed us with “liberty,” which is to say free will. But every leftist knows that we don’t really have free will. Rather, we are victims of our environment and our genes. For example, poverty causes crime. Unless you happen to be rich. Then greed causes crime. Unless you haven’t committed any crime. Then it’s just a crime to be rich. But don’t be confused--there’s no objective right or wrong anyway.

Multiculturalism is the doctrine that race, not values, determines consciousness. For example, there is “black consciousness.” Perhaps you didn’t know this, but blacks are born leftists. However, occasionally you will see a conservative black person such as Thomas Sowell or Ken Blackwell or Shelby Steele. One is tempted to say that these deviants represent birth defects, but they are probably just trying to imitate “white consciousness.” Whites are inherently racist, so in a weird way, these self-hating black conservatives are also racist.

What about white liberals, you ask? Since liberals represent all that is good and decent, how have these white people transcended their own inherent racism? And since it is fair for liberals to attack black conservatives for “acting white,” is it fair for conservatives to attack liberal caucasians for “acting black?” Try it some time.

“There is no knowledge without objectivity of the intelligence.” “There is no freedom without objectivity of the will.” Freedom is a paradoxical thing, for if it simply means that we are subjectively free to do or believe whatever we want, what good is it? It’s just another, more subtle form of tyranny, the tyranny of unconstrained, ultimately meaningless choice on the horizontal plane.

The classical (not contemporary) liberal draws a sharp distinction between freedom and liberty. Freedom is the mere absence of constraint, the right to do whatever one wishes. It implies no verticality at all. Liberty, on the other hand, is constrained by Truth, both as it applies to knowledge and our will to act.

In fact, what good is academic freedom unless it is actually converging upon objective truth? One of the problems in the Arab world is that they have neither freedom nor liberty. They are obliged to believe lies--lies about Israel, lies about America, lies about women, lies about Christianity. But it is possible to have the opposite problem, the obligatory belief that truth doesn’t exist, so that one person’s belief is no higher or better than another’s. Moral and intellectual relativism are not just forms of tyranny, they are a manifestation of hell, for hell is any place where one cannot appeal to Truth.

Ironically, the person who believes that truth exists and that he is free to discover it is far more constrained than the person who either doesn’t believe in objective truth or who lives in tyranny. For example, if you read, you will see that in the Arab world you are absolutely free to believe the most vicious and vile lies about Jews. Likewise, on American college campuses, you are free to believe the most brazen lies about American history, or about President Bush, about religion, or about capitalism.

But the person who believes in truth doesn’t have that kind of freedom. For he is only free to believe what is true, and what kind of freedom is that? In other words, such a person is not free to believe that 2+2=5, or that men and women are identical, or that children do just as well with two fathers as a father and mother, or that objective truth doesn’t exist, or that natural selection alone explains human consciousness, or that high taxes are a good way to reduce poverty, or that we have no transcendent moral obligations. And yet, the truth supposedly "sets you free.” How does that work?

It seems that objective truth is the key to true freedom, both as it pertains to knowledge and to action. Objectivity is often thought of as empirical knowledge of material reality, but this is a misleadingly narrow definition. Rather, according to Schuon, objectivity must be understood not as “knowledge that is limited to a purely empirical recording of data received from outside, but a perfect adequation of the knowing subject to the known object.”

In other words, objectivity has to do with aligning our understanding with what it is we wish to know, whether it is a rock, a mathematical equation, or God. “An intelligence or a knowledge is ‘objective' when it is capable of grasping the object as it is and not as it may be deformed by the subject.” It is “conformity to the nature of things,” independent of interference by individual tendencies or tastes.

As such, objectivity is even a kind of “ego death” in the face of the reality of the object. But there is a payoff, in that “the subjective compensation of this extinction is the nobility of character,” a vertical nobility that is our true human birthright. Moreover, in our logoistic cosmos, the transcendent Object (Brahman, the Father) is ultimately the immanent Subject (Atman, the Son). Therefore, in the final analysis, objectivity is none other than the ultimate Truth “in which the subject and the object coincide, and in which the essential takes precedence over the accidental--or in which the Principle takes precedence over its manifestation--either by extinguishing it, or by reintegrating it.”

Thus, through objectivity, we actually become who we are, undistorted by the accidents and contingencies of existence. "Without objectivity and transcendence there cannot be man, there is only the human animal; to find man, one must aspire to God.”

In short, because we have the capacity for objectivity, we partake of the Absolute, which is absolute freedom. We are not really free to know God. It is only God who is free to know himself through us. Deny this truth, and we live in another absolute--the false absolute of arbitrary and unlimited horizontal freedom. The purpose of freedom is to enable us to choose what we already are in the depths of our being. This is that famous point whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere: there is only this one center, and you are it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Unhappy Kampfers

In case you didn’t make it all the way through yesterday’s post, it ended with the following paragraph: “So are One Cosmos readers intolerant? You bet--if they agree with me, they are. Intolerant of the totolerantarianism that masquerades as ‘unconditional positive regard,’ the horizontal license that mocks vertical liberty, and the tyrannical absolutism that passes itself off as moral and cultural relativism. The unity of mankind cannot be found in its superficial diversity, only in that unchanging end toward which its diversity is converging. Mankind is one because the transcendent Truth to which human beings have unique access is One. Leftism in any form whatsoever proceeds in the opposite, descending direction: E Unum Pluribus, out of One, many. Gravity takes care of the rest.”

Sometimes I wonder if some of my most important points aren’t buried in a post. When you’re dashing about cyberspace, going from blog to blog, you probably just skim around, looking for the essence of what the blogger is saying.

Anyway, I want to focus on those last few sentences “The unity of mankind cannot be found in its superficial diversity, only in that unchanging end toward which its diversity is converging. Mankind is one because the transcendent Truth to which human beings have unique access is One. Leftism in any form whatsoever proceeds in the opposite, descending direction.”

There are two ways to misunderstand what I wrote. One is to imagine that I was just being poetic or metaphorical, when I was actually being quite literal. The other is to be offended by it, when I was simply being descriptive about what I regard as the deep structure of all leftist thought. In other words, it’s not meant as an insult. Rather, an honest leftist should nod his head in agreement and say, “yes, exactly. That is how we differ. You believe in some imaginary transcendent unity, while I am a hardheaded realist who honors the obvious diversity of human beliefs. There is no ultimate truth, and if there were, human beings could not know it.”

As I hinted at in the post, thinking either ascends toward a transcendent unity that is actually the organizing principle and substrate of thought; or, alternatively, it descends into a bewildering multiplicity and fragmentation, where the unity of thought is lost. Genesis treats this critical existential choice with the symbol of the tree. There are two, and only two, trees from which we may “eat.” Depending upon which one we choose, there will be predictable results. One leads to ascent and union, the other to descent, fragmentation, and illusion. And with illusion comes all sorts of secondary and tertiary ill effects, because one’s existence will be organized around a primordial lie.

This may appear overly abstract, so I thought I would provide a concrete example, taken from a prominent left-wing website. I don’t think I’ll even provide a name or a link, because the purpose of this is not to insult or ridicule the person. Rather, I just want to demonstrate the frivolousness of leftist thought as it pertains to metaphysical questions. Whenever the “reality based community” discusses religion or spirituality, you can bet that they will do so in a way that is far more naive and silly than the most unfun fundamentalist.

This writer begins his meditation by saying that “We are programmed. Programmed by our DNA to act as we do. If we had the DNA of a turtle we would move slowly and have a shell. If we had the DNA of a horse, we would be sleek and sinewy and have the unremitting urge to gallop.”

Stop right there. If we are merely programmed by our DNA, is this statement an exception? Or is this writer somehow violating his own DNA by communicating something called “knowledge?” Conversely, if he is only programmed to say what he is saying, why should we believe him? Do we have a choice as to whether or not to believe him? Or are we programmed by our DNA to believe or disbelieve him? Why even write an article and try to prove a point to someone, when the reader doesn't have a choice to agree or disagree with it anyway?

The writer acknowledges that “there is some little thing inside us that allows us to choose from option A and option B. It is not a random decision guided by a random switch.” He confusingly suggests that this little thing is “life. Its essence.”

In other words, there is nothing special about human beings. Rather, this “life essence” is “shared by the turtle, the horse and me. The other animals appear to be happy to ride the DNA treadmill. But it is maddening for us--how can we think and know but still share the same essence as the dumb turtle? How can we be so much smarter and it doesn't affect our essence?”

Hmm. Objection. Assumes facts not in evidence. Has he proven the point that there is no relationship between human intelligence and human essence? In fact, the ontological gulf between humans and animals is so wide, that no materialistic or deterministic philosophy could ever bridge that chasm.

He goes on: “The turtle is so content because he is unaware there is a riddle. We don't have a choice stronger than the turtles; we are simply more aware of the choice we have. Aware enough to know awareness, but not aware enough to understand it.”

Further confusion. Free will is an illusion--”We don't have a choice stronger than the turtles.” Rather, we are just turtles who are aware of the "turtle choices" facing us. Does that make any sense at all? Isn’t a turtle who is aware of choice a fundamentally different creature than a turtle who isn't?

No. There is really no choice, only “internal will. It is the strongest of all forces [emphasis mine] and it is so plain that it can fit into the turtle just as well as the horse. It does not distinguish between tortoises and porpoises, different looks and purposes. It does not care that we have toes or tails. It does not seem to be effected by our knowing glare. We sit outside its window and look at it in the darkness--and amused by our shape and struggle, it sits unmoved.”

This is exactly what I meant by leftist thought descending downward until it reaches its logical limit. This is the same limit reached by Nietzsche and Schopenhaur: if God is at the ascending limit of the arc of thought, pure will is at the descending limit. We are not really alive, we are simply “lived” by an impersonal will that blindly expresses itself through us. Therefore, we might as well admit this, and realize that the struggle of the will is all. My will over yours, or yours over mine. That is the epic struggle--the unholy political kampf--in which the leftist is engaged.


Tomorrow, time permitting, I think I'll discuss Schuon's statement that "there is no freedom without objectivity of the will," for that is a key that opens many mysteries.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Transcendent Unity of Mankind

The prerogative of the human state is objectivity, the essential content of which is the Absolute. There is no knowledge without objectivity of the intelligence; there is no freedom without objectivity of the will; and there is no nobility without objectivity of the soul. --Frithjof Schuon

I just finished reading a lengthy piece at New Criterion, The Treason of the Intellectuals and the Undoing of Thought, by Roger Kimball (HT: Van der Leun). Like Van der Leun’s essays, this is not ephemeral bloggeralia but serious thought that should be reflected upon and not merely skimmed.

In fact, this is one of the themes of Kimball’s piece--that in contemporary culture there is no difference between high and low, trite and serious, deep and shallow. Now, with the advent of blogs, the problem is only heightened. Or let us just say that blogging is a double-edged sword. As small as my audience is, in the past, there would be no way I would have any audience at all. However, because of Petey’s meta-law--”bad ideas drive out good”--the worst people with the most dangerous ideas now have giant platforms to propagate their pernicious nonsense.

This came up in our recent drama involving a reader who writes that, “I assumed that because you and the rest of the One Cosmos community were obviously so intelligent and articulate, there would be an openness to discussion to political and religious perspectives differing from your own.” He claims that his perspective “is not readily subject to definitive labels but is fluidly transforming into something that increasingly draws from all aspects of the political spectrum,” and that “whatever one's religion or spiritual path might be, compassion, kindness, and what one famous psychotherapist called ‘unconditional positive regard’ should ideally inform one's every interaction with others, even when we don't like what they believe or have to say.” (Just so it's clear, I was not making reference to this reader with my comment above about "the worst people with the most dangerous ideas.")

This is a fine example of how the Left is always able to play the “compassion card” in order to promulgate ideas that are patently absurd and/or dangerous. For I do not say that I possess objective truth. Rather, I say that objective truth exists, and that I attempt to align myself with it. Now, to even suggest that objective truth exists places you in diametrical opposition to the entire project of the intellectual Left, which is to say that truth is relative, that no culture is better than any other, that “truth” is simply a function of power, that "perception is reality," etc.

I think I can speak for all One Cosmos readers--at least those readers who understand my message--that it is a gross distortion to suggest that we are not open to “a discussion of political and religious perspectives differing from our own.” My book alone disproves such nonsense, as it draws upon virtually every discipline and religion known to man. By comparison, leftist thought is ridiculously hidebound and parochial. What we are absolutely closed to is any discussion that suggests that truth is relative and that all points of view are of equal value.

For the most part, One Cosmos readers seem, like me, to be classical liberals (classical liberalism has an entirely different intellectual genealogy than contemporary leftist liberalism). My philosophy is precisely the opposite of this reader, who says that his “is not readily subject to definitive labels but is fluidly transforming into something that increasingly draws from all aspects of the political spectrum.” In other words, his philosophy is not grounded in anything permanent or transcendent, but simply in whatever various people happen to believe at the moment, no matter where they are in the political spectrum: presumably left, right, Marxist, socialist, radical environmentalist, feminist, homosexual activist, whatever.

Our reader is certainly free to believe any and all fashionable political ideas he wishes to believe, but he cannot do so and call himself American (and please, I do not mean this primarily in a patriotic, but a philosophical sense). For our founders most definitely believed in permanent and transcendent values that it was the purpose of government to protect and conserve. In other words, they did not cobble together an ad hoc philosophy based upon whatever ideas were floating around at the time. Rather, they deeply meditated on our human nature and our divine blueprint, and tried to design a political system that accounted for the former but facilitated the latter. They would have been appalled by any philosophy that denied antecedent truth or elevated the relative to the absolute.

But our reader is not in accord with our Founding Fathers. Rather, he holds the deviant postmodern view that “whatever one's religion or spiritual path might be, compassion, kindness, and what one famous psychotherapist called ‘unconditional positive regard’ should ideally inform one's every interaction with others, even when we don't like what they believe or have to say.”

This is leftist thought par excellence. While it sounds generous and compassionate, nothing could be more tyrannical and totalitarian, for this type of pseudo-thinking begins in amorality but inevitably ends in immorality. How can it not? To give “unconditional positive regard” to everyone? Who is worthy of such an attitude except for an infant? Furthermore, to value everything without condition is logically to value nothing, for it obliterates the very hierarchy that informs you of what is worthy of value.

This type of sinister piffle goes directly against the idea of the transcendent unity of mankind. In other words, I believe that because Truth is one, so too is mankind. Take away the notion of transcendent truth, and we are left with a bunch of warring tribes, all with their relative nonsense--as Kimball says, “African knowledge,” “female language,” “Eurocentric science,” or “the idea that history is a ‘myth,’ that the truths of science are merely ‘fictions’ dressed up in forbidding clothes, that reason and language are powerless to discover the truth--more, that truth itself is a deceitful ideological construct: these and other absurdities are now part of the standard intellectual diet of Western intellectuals.” “Whether working in the academy or other cultural institutions, they bring us the same news: there is ‘no such thing’ as intrinsic merit; ‘quality’ is only an ideological construction; aesthetic value is a distillation of social power; etc., etc.”

"Unconditional positive regard" is the Ultimate Value for a person who has none. Does it include respecting “those religious codes which demand that the barren woman be cast out and the adulteress be punished with death? What about those cultures in which the testimony of one man counts for that of two women? In which female circumcision is practiced? In which slavery flourishes? In which mixed marriages are forbidden and polygamy encouraged? Multiculturalism... requires that we respect such practices. To criticize them is to be dismissed as ‘racist’ and ‘ethnocentric.’”

Leftist thought is actually profoundly anti-Enlightenment, for it fosters a spurious freedom: “Enlightenment looks to culture as a repository of values that transcend the self, postmodernism looks to the fleeting desires of the isolated self as the only legitimate source of value. Questions of ‘lifestyle’... come to occupy the place once inhabited by moral convictions and intellectual principles. For the postmodernist, then, ‘culture is no longer seen as a means of emancipation, but as one of the élitist obstacles to this’.... In order to realize the freedom that postmodernism promises--freedom understood as the emancipation from values that transcend the self--culture must be transformed into a field of arbitrary ‘options.’”

So are One Cosmos readers intolerant? You bet--if they agree with me, they are. Intolerant of the totolerantarianism that masquerades as “unconditional positive regard,” the horizontal license that mocks vertical liberty, and the tyrannical absolutism that passes itself off as moral and cultural relativism. The unity of mankind cannot be found in its superficial diversity, only in that unchanging end toward which its diversity is converging. Mankind is one because the transcendent Truth to which human beings have unique access is One. Leftism in any form whatsoever proceeds in the opposite, descending direction: E Unum Pluribus, out of One, many. Gravity takes care of the rest.


UPDATE--Beautiful example from LGF of metaphysical gravity pulling leftist thought all the way down:

" A Keller school district parent said political correctness has run amok [i.e., exists] at her daughter’s elementary school, where the principal chose to omit the words 'In God We Trust' from an oversize coin depicted on the yearbook cover.

"Janet Travis, principal of Liberty Elementary School in Colleyville, wanted to avoid offending students of different religions, a district spokesman said. [You know, all those religions that distrust God.]

"Michael Linz, a Dallas attorney with the American Stifle Liberties Union, said the district’s move was appropriate, sensitive and constitutional. [Well... sensitive, anyway.]

"Ackerman suggested that the school could have used a different symbol for liberty, such as the Liberty Bell or the Statue of Liberty, if it was concerned about giving offense. But Gardner said those symbols may not be acceptable to everyone, either."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Consciousness as a Multidimensional Organ (5.18.08)

While I do not believe in a specious "God of the gaps" to try to account for what we don't know, I do believe that we are immersed in a universe of irreducible mystery, and that this mystery includes several fundamental problems that will never be solved by science. These mysteries represent limits to our cognition, and while we can think about them rationally , we can never arrive at any satisfactory intellectual answer.

For example, science will never comprehend the mystery of existence--that is, why there is an ordered something instead of mere nothing. Science simply assumes this order, for without it, science would be impossible. This mystery is so hopelessly insoluble that we generally stop even asking about it after childhood. Science actually provides no sensible answers to this question at all. Only esoteric religious metaphysics even begins to touch the issue.

Another irreducible mystery is life itself. We all act as if we know what it is, but it would be much more accurate to say that we know what lifelessness is, and that life seems to be a bizarre and unexpected violation of this general rule.

Even more bizarre and problematic is the existence of consciousness. We have this astounding gift of inwardness, and yet, what is it for? Why would the universe evolve into a subjective horizon containing love, beauty, truth, justice, poetry, music....

We can know so much, and yet, we cannot know anything about these fundamental mysteries of existence, life and consciousness--at least not with reason alone. According to the Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace, "Despite centuries of modern philosophical and scientific research into the nature of the mind, at present there is no technology that can detect the presence or absence of any kind of consciousness, for scientists to even know what exactly is to be measured. Strictly speaking, at present there is no scientific evidence even for the existence of consciousness!" Another way of saying it is that, if consciousness did not exist, science would have no trouble explaining the fact.

That is, the only evidence we have of consciousness consists of direct, first person accounts of being conscious. And yet, not everyone is conscious in the same way or of the same things. Although we don’t know what consciousness is, we do know that there are degrees of it. Every psychologist navigates through the use of a developmental model of some kind, in which consciousness unfolds and develops through time. But why? Other animals don’t have degrees of consciousness within their own species, but the gulf between certain humans is as great as the gulf between a dog and Beethoven, or between Nagarjuna and the typical One Cosmos reader.

In my view consciousness is an organ, just like any other organ in the body--heart, lungs, kidneys, etc. But those are material organs that exist in three-dimensional space. Consciousness, however, is an immaterial organ that operates in multidimensional space and time. In short, it is the first hyper-dimensional organ of the cosmos.

What is an organ? Two things, mainly. First of all, it is a differentiated structure. In other words, it is not just a blob or an aggregation, but a definable form that has an identifiable structure. Yesterday, during my nuclear treadmill, I got a good look at my heart. Even with a material organ such as the heart, no one can draw a sharp line say "this is where the heart ends and the vascular system begins." And yet, the heart is an obvious structure with valves, chambers and arteries.

The second characteristic of an organ is that it performs a function through cooperative activity. The heart pumps blood. The lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. The kidneys filter the blood.

By implication, organs have a third characteristic, that is, pathology. If an organ is defined by a function it is supposed to accomplish, then pathology means failure to accomplish that function.

Although no scientist has ever seen consciousness, it nevertheless has a structure and a function. Part of its structure is a reflection of the structure of our brains, but not all of it. For example, the brain has an obvious horizontal structure in the form of a left and right brain with very different functions that, in a healthy individual, will harmonize in a higher dimension.

Likewise, the brain has a clear vertical structure, in the sense that we have what might be called a reptilian brain, over which there is a mammalian brain, and on top of which is the neocortex: our "human brain."

But this three-dimensional physical structure does not exhaust the structure of consciousness, which is hyper-dimensional, meaning that it exists in a space of more than three (or four) dimensions.

This is a thorny problem, because our normal thinking--especially scientific thinking--takes place in three dimensions. We cannot think scientifically or rationally in higher dimensional space. Take, for example, causation. In the three dimensional world, causation is relatively easy to conceptualize: A causes B, B causes, C, C causes D, etc. D cannot cause A, nor can A and D occupy the same space at the same time.

So how does one "think" in higher dimensional space? As a matter of fact, we do it all the time. For example, dreaming is a form of hyper-dimensional thinking freed from the limitations of the outer, three-dimensional world. This is also how we might understand the cliché that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." The genuine poet uses language to express realities that transcend the lower-dimensional world.

Think of it this way: the mystery of the dream is that it is the brain’s attempt to represent in three dimensions a space that actually far exceeds three dimensions--like trying to represent a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional plane. Imagine, for example, people living on a two dimensional plane--a sheet of typing paper. They know nothing at all about the three dimensional world.

Now imagine if you could pass your three-dimensional hand through the sheet of paper. What would it look like to the people in 2D? First they would see five separate points grow into circles, as the fingers touch the paper and move through it. But then the five circles would disappear and become one larger circle--the wrist. Let's say that these people in 2D are very careful scientific observers of empirical phenomena. No matter how much they study the data, they would have no idea that the disparate phenomena are all actually aspects of a higher dimensional object that they cannot see.

This is how dream consciousness operates. A dream might be thought of as analogous to that hand passing through the sheet of paper. In dreams, various elements are connected in a hyper-dense manner that violates all notions of linear logic. Time is abolished, in the sense that you can be in two different times in your life, or your adult self can be side by side with your child self. But if you don’t know how to read the dream, you will see merely a linear, if somewhat crazy, narrative. You won’t know how to unpack all of the different dimensions. As a matter of fact, human history is just such a "crazy dream," with many subterranean connections that will go undetected by the secular mind.

As I have labored to point out in the past, religious metaphysics, properly understood, represents objective knowledge of reality. But clearly, in order to understand reality objectively, we cannot limit ourselves to its illusory three or four dimensions. Rather, we must somehow learn to think in a hyper-dimensional manner analogous to the dream.

Authentic scripture must be understood in this manner. There is no language known to man that is more hyper-dimensional and dreamlike than scripture (some parts of scripture much more so than others--like dreams, scripture waxes and wanes in its dimensional carrying capacity).

And we might also understand, say, Jesus, in the same way. If we limit ourselves to a naive scientific view in trying to understand Jesus, we will simply generate fundamentalist banality or logical absurdity. But if we assume that Jesus is analogous to that multidimensional hand passing through four-dimensional history, now we’re getting somewhere. For where is the “body of Christ?”

I think I saw it pass this way just a moment ago.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Liberal Racial Ghost Dance

I shouldn't say this, but I probably won’t be reading Shelby Steele’s new book, White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, but only because I rarely read any book where I know ahead of time that I will probably agree with every single word.

The point of the book is so brilliant, so simple and so true. And yet, he will be vilified and treated with contempt by all of the usual liberal suspects, just as, say, Noam Chomsky or Edward Said might be vilified by the right. This is one more reason why I despise the left, because how can you respect people who attack truth and thereby undermine the basis of thinking? Anyone who thinks it is somehow equivalent to dismiss a paranoid, agenda-driven hack such as Chomsky is a deeply lost soul.

It is the same moral confusion that causes someone to equate those who are intentionally murdered by Islamic thugs with those who are accidentally killed in our attempt to liberate them from Islamic thugs, or to equate Israel’s attempt to defend itself from terror with terrorists who wish to destroy Israel, or to maintain that putting murderers to death is the same as murder. During the cold war, the left routinely equated the U.S. and Soviet Union as two equally bad empires. This kind of moral and intellectual confusion pervades the left.

Yesterday we spoke of the existence of defense mechanisms against the upper vertical. Broadly speaking, the upper vertical would be the realm of truth, beauty and morality. We can also apply Bion’s concept of “attacks on linking” to the upper vertical. Understood this way, it would involve a sort of willed stupidity that dismantles the ability to think clearly, not just in the realm of truth, but in the realm of morals as well. For that matter, it would also explain the ugliness and barbarity that now pervades the art world. Apparently, one cannot merely attack the true without also damaging the good and the beautiful, since they are all reflections of one another.

One of the reasons you cannot debate a leftist is that they do not (and perhaps cannot) meet your argument on the plane from which it arises. Instead, they attack that plane and try to drag you down to the level from which their minds operate. This is why they never address the content of your argument, but attack your motivations.

This is so pervasive that it is hardly worth commenting on: if you are against government enforced racial discrimination, you are a racist; if you are against the redefinition of marriage, you are a “homophobe”; if you are against the Kyoto protocols, you wish to destroy the earth; if you are in favor of tax cuts, you simply want to line the pockets of the wealthy; if you are in favor of the liberation of Iraq, it’s just for the oil; if you want to control your own retirement, you just want to give a boon to mutual fund companies; if you are against inefficient socialized medicine, it’s because you want poor children to be sick; if you want to control the borders, you hate Mexicans; etc. The list is endless.

Steele sees through the leftist lies about race so beautifully that if he weren't black, he would be tarred as a vicious racist. In his book he addresses the “conundrum” of why black progress began to reverse itself only after all of the liberal “Great Society” programs of the 1960’s. He notes that for any group that has been recently freed from oppression, “freedom shows them their undevelopment and their inability to compete as equals.” For many, this realization is too painful to bear, so it is converted to “black rage,” but Steele is astute in pointing out that this kind of infantile rage can only be acted out when the person knows deep down that the object of their rage is benign and won’t lash back in kind. This, by the way, is why there is no “Arab rage” directed at Arab governments, only at irrelevant and benign targets such as Israel and the U.S.

In psychoanalysis, “projective identification” is a term used to describe what happens when one person projects into another and “inducts” them into their psychodrama. Thus we see a dance of mutual projective identification between rage-filled blacks (which, I should emphasize, is undoubtedly a loud minority of blacks) and guilt-ridden white liberals who can spuriously eliminate their guilt by adopting a condescending attitude toward blacks: in short, as Steele puts it, "we'll throw you a bone like affirmative action if you'll just let us reduce you to your race so we can take moral authority for 'helping' you."

It matters not one bit that most of these liberal programs are not only ineffective, but that they actually harm blacks. The point is not to have an impact on external reality, but on internal reality: to purpose is to reduce black rage and mitigate white guilt. In this regard, the left certainly is the “reality based community,” since it is rooted in the very real and enduring internal world of psychological fantasy. In many ways, as any psychoanalyst can tell you, this world might even be less subject to change than the external world, which by comparison is relatively easy to manipulate.

Thus, in this classic liberal ghost dance everybody feels better. Plus, the fact that the programs won’t work guarantees that “black rage” will continue, so that the dance can go on ad infinitum. In this little charade, blacks are supposed to be grateful to their liberal masters. If, like Steele, or Thomas Sowell, or Clarence Thomas, or Ken Blackwell, they are not grateful, then they will be attacked by the left as "Uncle Toms." But as Steele points out, “When they called you a nigger back in the days of segregation, at least they didn’t ask you to be grateful.”


UPDATE-Classic example of leftist educational nonsense that has no interest in truth, only in feelings. It shows how, once you abandon truth as the criteria, raw power comes in to fill the void and determine what is "true," one more reason liberalism is so illiberal: it makes lying to children mandatory by law. HT: Larwyn.

PC textbooks full of skewed history

California has tinkered with the past in a foolish attempt to make students feel good about themselves.
By Diane Ravitch
May 16, 2006


"TWENTY YEARS AGO, I was invited by then-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig to join a committee to revise California's history curriculum. Over 18 months, we produced a document that added more time for the study of American and world history and called for the teaching of the dramatic controversies that make historical study engaging and honest.

"Immediately, however, a wide variety of religious, racial and ethnic groups demanded changes in the document to recognize and honor their history. Blacks, Jews, Native Americans, conservative Christians, Arabs, atheists, Armenians, Poles and others lined up to complain at public hearings about references to their groups.

"What made their complaints powerful is that California, unlike any other state, has mandated by law since 1976 that instructional materials used in the schools must provide positive portrayals of specified groups.

"When it comes to males and females, for instance, the Legislature decreed that "equal portrayal must be applied in every instance." That means, among other things, that an equal number of male and female characters must be depicted in "roles in which they are mentally and physically active, being creative, solving problems … " and that male and female characters in textbooks must show a "range of emotions (e.g. fear, anger, tenderness.)"

"California's textbooks and other materials must instill a "sense of pride" in students' heritages and may not include "adverse reflection" on any group. Cultural or lifestyle differences may not be portrayed as "undesirable." Members of minority groups must be shown "in the same range of socioeconomic settings" as those in the majority.

"And it's not just gender and ethnicity that is "protected." Older people, people with disabilities and people who pursue various occupations have been written into the law.

"So it's not surprising that in recent months gays and lesbians have stepped forward to demand a place at the state's capacious table. They too want their roles to be portrayed positively in textbooks purchased by the state....

"Just a few months ago, Hindu organizations appeared before the state Board of Education complaining that they were offended by references to their religion in the history textbooks — including descriptions of the caste system and depictions of the treatment of women (one group wanted a reference to the fact that women had "fewer" rights in ancient India changed to say that women had "different" rights). Even though scholars insisted that the historical references were accurate, the organizations objected that their religion had been subjected to an "adverse reflection."

"Because of its social-content guidelines, California will never see an end to these rancorous debates about who wins recognition in the textbooks....

"The state's social-content guidelines should be abolished. They put the state Board of Education into the absurd position of deciding which facts are historically accurate and which should be included or excluded, a responsibility for which it is manifestly unqualified. The guidelines are an open invitation to interest groups to politicize textbooks.

"Telling publishers that their books must instill pride only guarantees a phony version of feel-good history...."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Demon Haunted World of the Spiritually Repressed Left

I am still intrigued by Lee Harris’ essay, in which he highlights the psychologically transformative value of leftist thought. Leftism is romantic to the core, allowing the average nobody to imagine that he is a somebody by participating in the righteous fantasy of socialist revolution. Secularists like to poke fun at the “Left Behind” books, but their own thinking is no less absurd and mythological.

“[T]he revolutionary socialist's life is transformed because he accepts the myth that one day socialism will triumph, and justice for all will prevail. What mattered for [Georges] Sorel... is not the scientific truth or falsity of the myth believed in, but what believing in the myth does to the lives of those who have accepted it, and who refuse to be daunted by the repeated failure of their apocalyptic expectations... the myth of socialism will continue to have power, despite the various failures of socialist experiments, so long as there are revolutionaries who are unwilling to relinquish their great myth.”

Thus, we can see that leftism derives its power quite explicitly from the deep structure of religion. It is simply a displacement of religious impulses onto a horizontal substitute, very similar to a sexual perversion, in which the individual, say, becomes fixated on a shoe or another article of clothing for gratification. In fact, we might think of leftism as a religious perversion--an immature and inappropriate form of spiritual gratification. Noam Chomsky's obsessive mental masturbation comes immediately to mind.

This is an idea I have had in the past (I may even have mentioned it in the book), but have never completely fleshed out. That is, if the vertical extends up (into the suprasensible domains addressed by art, religion, and morality) and down (into the personal “Freudian” unconscious), then there must be ego defense mechanisms operating in both directions. The ego is just a little point in between these vast spaces above and below.

We are well acquainted with the psychological defense mechanisms that keep the lower vertical at bay--repression, splitting, denial, projection, sublimation, etc. But I’m not sure if anyone has ever applied the same notion to the upper vertical, and suggested that it is equally possible (and sometimes necessary for developmental reasons) to defend ourselves from “the above.”

To cite just one obvious example, what would happen if a person were to “repress” their impulse for transcendence? Just like the sexual impulse, it doesn’t go away. Rather, it attaches itself to another object, a substitute. Of course, it doesn’t have to necessarily be leftism. It could also be rampant materialism, a desire to accumulate wealth in a completely absurd and meaningless way--as if one could somehow be “saved” by having enough money. This might explain what would drive a billionaire to gamble his billion to acquire another billion that he will never need. When you are dealing with a displaced metaphysical problem, you will never be able to get enough of what you don’t really need. You will have created a disguised religious compulsion that will be entirely absurcular.

The mechanism of projection also takes place in the upper vertical. Projection occurs when qualities, feelings, wishes and objects that a person refuses to recognize, or rejects in himself, are “expelled” and located in another person or thing. What is there in the upper vertical that can be projected? In other words, what is the “content” of the upper vertical? A number of things, depending on the degree of being. But at the very least, there is Brahman (the formless God beyond God), the idea of God, the divine intellect (nous), the conscience (that which knows right from wrong in an objective way that is not culturally conditioned), archetypes, and even angels.

Thus, the secular existentialist who regards reality as ultimately meaningless is engaging in a sort of bizarre projection of Brahman, which is beyond name and form. It is a paradox, for this projection causes the existentialist to convert the relative world into an absolute--absolute meaninglessness. In other words, the idea of the absolute is retained, but projected onto the relative, or the phenomenal world of maya.

As Jesus said, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” But not if you are a leftist. Rather, heaven will be projected onto this world, in what the philosopher Eric Voegelin called “immamentizing the eschaton.” This is why the leftist must always attack religion, because the idea of a “sugar candy mountain” after death infringes on the leftist’s desire to make it happen now. For the leftist, Sugar Candy Mountain is Sweden... or Cuba... or even projected backwards to the good old days of Bill Clinton, when there were no terrorists and everyone loved us. There was also no homelessness, no hurricanes, no global warming, no people who refuse to purchase health insurance....

Speaking of which, you cannot have a religion without a conception of ontological evil. Being of a religious nature, I recognize ontological evil when I see it--Zarqawi, Saddam Hussein, Islamism, Yasser Arafat, Hamas. Being of a bizarro-religious nature, the leftist also recognizes ontological evil: President Bush, Karl Rove, Haliburton, Diebold, Samuel Alito, Fox, Rush Limbaugh, the internal combustion engine, oil companies, and so many more.

That’s the problem with leftism as a religion. Since they deny and split off the upper vertical, they are left with a projected world of imaginary demons haunting an accidental landscape of ultimate meaninglessness. Rage is its "gift of the spirit," envy its unholy Eucharist (or dyscharist).

Oh well. At least it keeps them off the street. Oh, wait a minute... that's another difference--those outdoor revival meetings called "demonstrations."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Economic Mythol-Gap

Capitalism is too important and complex a subject to be left to the economists...” --Jerry Muller

Yesterday we were discussing Lee Harris’ important piece on Why Socialism Isn't Dead. In it he makes the key point that socialism’s irrationality is its greatest strength. Since it isn’t operating in the realm of logic, it is therefore impervious to being logically disproved. Although it fails time and again, its failure proves nothing, as failure is simply transformed into a step along the way to inevitable success.

This leads to the startling conclusion that “the whole point of the socialist revolution is not that human societies will be transformed in the distant future, but that the individuals who dedicate their lives to this myth will be transformed... in the present” [emphasis mine]. Paradoxically, the purpose of socialism is not to achieve socialism; rather, “the myth of socialism is a useful illusion that turns ordinary men into comrades and revolutionaries united in a common struggle...”

As I have written before, one cannot transcend religion, for religion embodies objective metaphysical truth. Therefore, if one tries to sidestep it, it will simply return in the form of sub-religious magical thinking, such as scientism or socialism. Just as religion is the most fruitful way to “think about ultimate reality,” capitalism is the most fruitful way to think about economics.

But just as the person who rejects revealed religion falls back on “natural religion” (i.e., what can be revealed by the senses and perceptions), the socialist falls back on what might be called “natural economics,” that is, a flawed way of thinking about the creation and distribution of wealth that is more or less hardwired into our genes.

Remember, only a tiny, insignificant fraction of mankind’s evolution has taken place under modern circumstances. Rather, 99% of our human evolution took place in what is called the “archaic environment.” Where you situate the archaic environment is somewhat arbitrary, but let’s just go back to the emergence of archaic homo sapiens, which was half a million years ago. It is presumed by evolutionary psychologists that our human traits emerged and were selected during this period of time. Included among these traits would be our “natural” way of looking at the accumulation and distribution of goods.

So if we delve into the archaic environment, what can we learn about Economic Man? Certainly he wasn’t a capitalist. One of the most fascinating economics books I have ever read is The Mind and the Market, by Jerry Muller. What makes it so fascinating is that the book is not a history of economics per se, but a history of what people have thought about economics, which is mostly flat wrong, if not plain absurd. In this regard, it is similar to a history of medicine that looks at all of the crazy beliefs human beings have had about sickness and health. Until about a hundred years ago, you were lucky if most medical procedures didn’t actually harm you.

It is the same with economics. Until Adam Smith in the late 18th century, there was no understanding at all of how wealth was created. Hard to believe, but we are still fighting the same battle Adam Smith was, in that we cannot overcome something deeply irrational in the heart of man when it comes to thinking about wealth. By actually developing a true economic discipline, separate from all of the magical thinking that had previously pervaded the subject, Smith unwittingly detached the subject from its deeper irrational roots--as if he literally developed a “conscious economics” split off from “unconscious economics.” But this doesn’t mean that “unconscious economics” will disappear. To the contrary--like the Freudian unconscious, it will simply come back with a vengeance.

What I am suggesting is that in order to understand leftist economics, we must go all the way back to cave man economics, because that’s where it starts. And what do cave men believe? The default setting of mankind seems to be that wealth is fixed, so that it is a matter of fighting over one’s share--one persons gain is another person’s loss. People still struggle with the idea that the creation of wealth is unlimited, and that both parties of a transaction may benefit from it (such as in free trade).

In my opinion, the psychological mechanism of envy was evolved in the archaic environment as an expression of primitive economics. Remember, human beings are fundamentally social animals that evolved in small, face to face bands of only 20 or 30 individuals. Evolution actually selected these small human groups more than individual humans. Therefore, anything that facilitated the survival of these small groups was likely to be selected by evolution.

I believe envy was one of these factors, because envy is in fact a primitive form of socialist egalitarianism that helps to promote social solidarity. Remember, social solidarity is the purpose underlying what might be called the “envy theory” of primordial socialist economics, not the production of wealth. Indeed some (that is, I) might go so far as to say that nothing has changed in this regard: that the contemporary left is an expression of our primordial envy, which cannot help noticing that some members of the group possess more than others. Therefore, those with more must be attacked under the guise of equality.

Just as in the case of our primitive furbears, the purpose of the attack is not to create the conditions that advance the material circumstances of everyone, but to undo the psychologically uncomfortable conditions that make one feel envious. As Helmut Schoeck pointed out in his book Envy (listed in sidebar), the economically successful society must function as if the envious individual does not exist. It must learn to recognize him in his many guises, and ignore him.

Of course, we try our best to do that, and the United States has been the most successful country in trying to ignore its envious citizens, which is why the U.S. is such an economic powerhouse. But in America the enviers have formed their own party that revolves around the expression of their primordial envy. And in Europe the enviers have taken over, which is why European governments work so hard to appease primordial envy--and which is why their economic systems become weaker and weaker (which ends up creating even more envy, as in the rioting in France).

It is fascinating to read Muller’s history of beliefs about wealth, because it is as if the left has learned nothing. Prior to Adam Smith, it was firmly believed that only a shared, top-down vision of the public good would hold society together. The idea that a much more robust order could be achieved by each person pursuing his private interests was literally inconceivable.

You may think that we have transcended cave man economics, but just look at the furor over gas prices. The push for a windfall profits tax is the expression of pure irrational envy. Economically, it would be entirely counterproductive and self-defeating. In the long run, it would actually create more envy. But that is beside the point. Leftist ideas are not rooted in external reality but internal reality. What is important is the emotional satisfaction that can be derived from them, not their actual consequences.

You know this is true because gas prices, adjusted for inflation, aren’t even that high--comparable to 1981. Nor are gas company profits out of line with other industries. Nor, needless to say, is there any furor over all of the thousands of commodities commodities and consumer goods that have come down in price--which they inevitably do--because of the incredible efficiency of our capitalist economy.

In other words, envious man only sees that which provokes his primordial envy. The rest of economic reality goes undetected.

Out of time again. To be continued.