Stand by for Nous
Temporal news is almost always bad news. That’s not a coincidence, because time itself is pretty much bad news. I mean, some good things obviously happen in time, but they are always followed by bad things. And then good things. And bad things again. So even good news is bad news in a way, because you know in the back of your mind it won’t last. That was the Buddha’s key observation, and who could argue with him? Copithorne, I guess.
Primitive people had a more direct understanding of the structure of time, which is one of the reasons they offered sacrifices when things were going well. They thought that by doing this--by giving up a little bit now--they could prevent the gods from forcefully taking it away later. It was a way to try to provide some air shocks for the cycles of time, to smooth out its rough edges. It worked, but only in the way liberal programs work. Which is to say it reduced anxiety and made everyone feel good.
As a matter of fact, according to Helmut Schoeck, this instinct is so deeply implanted in the human psyche that it prevented economic development for millennia. People were actually deeply anxious if times were too good, if there was too much abundance, so they would destroy surpluses in order to try to appease the envy of the gods. Now human beings have a more refined way of destroying surpluses, called “credit cards.” Paradoxically, it can be somewhat disorienting to be completely “in the black,” so to speak. For some reason it can make you feel more precarious and vulnerable, so people quickly go into debt to feel more secure. At least then your little surplus can’t be taken away.
I look at the DSM as a catalogue of psychological fossils. What we call a mental illness is simply an adaptation to the impossible conditions of being human, of being self-aware primates with a surprise expiration date. I believe that the further back in history you go, the more likely you are to find whole populations whose average mentality would meet the criteria for one of the mental disorders found in the DSM.
I honestly don’t know how historians and anthropologists interpret the crazy behaviors and beliefs of the past without recourse to knowledge of human development and psychopathology. Instead of calling it what it is, they bend over backward--and sometimes foreward, as in the case of Islam--to normalize any behavior they encounter, no matter how irrational or frankly crazy. Even as a kid I could never understand this, and now it’s only worse.
In California, for example, there’s a law that says that any textbook must depict any group in a positive light. Therefore, if, like me, you want to know why the Aztec ate people or Palestinians murder Jews, you can’t find out. You can’t even ask. Or if you do ask, you can only get an answer that puts a positive spin on it, like “the Aztec ate people because they thought they were occupied,” or “the Palestinians murder Israelis because they believe the sun will go dark without Jewish blood.”
So time is the bad news for humans. On the other hand, religions are here to tell us the “good news.” This news is not really news, because it is not of time. Rather, it is of eternity, even though it takes time to hear it. And what is the good news? The good news is that, contrary to what our physical senses tell us, the cosmos is not a meaningless prismhouse, a nonstop colliderescape, a closed system. Rather, it has an exit and an entrance, a vertical passageway out of the transient world of decaying form, perpendicular to the inexorable march of time that is gradually making every day a more or less bad hair day for me.
Really? Yes, or so we have heard from the wise. To be “saved” specifically means to be saved from time and from what it is eventually going to do to you and to everything and to everybody else, even Cher. It’s obviously a delicate balance, because without time we could have no existence at all. But because of time--that baldheaded cheater--existence is irretrievably F.U.B.A.R.
Human beings are saved in the degree to which they conform themselves with their theomorphic, atemporal blueprint. Imagine a cross, if you will, with horizontal and vertical axes. The horizontal axis represents time, the vertical axis eternity. The miraculous now--the mysterious peep-whole through which the cosmos peers out upon itself--is actually the central point of the cross, where eternity pierces time and we are unborn again. It is where, like it or not, we are crucified, straight through the heart.
JWM made a pertinent observation yesterday, writing that,
“The whole question of the soul brings up a peculiar thought. I'm thinking of feral children. There have been a few cases of children raised by animals, or otherwise separated from human contact during their developmental years. They never learn to speak, or think. They are human insofar as they have human DNA, but they never become fully sentient beings. They remain at a subhuman level mentally and emotionally. Feral children never learn to speak.”
Exactly. I actually discuss these feral children in my book. While they are genetically no different than you or I--i.e., their hardware is fully human--they have no access to the vertical, and as such, are not really human at all. The human genome only accounts for our horizontality. In the absence of the vertical, we would all be Dennis Rodman or Paris Hilton. In the absence of the vertical, a human being is not an animal but a monster.
This is one reason why artificial intelligence will never succeed, because it will never, ever, encompass vertical intelligence. Rather, it will simply be a mirror of the type of intelligence possessed by the nerds who believe in it. Just warped and hypertrophied MENSA-type intelligence--MENSA machines without the social graces.
JWM goes on to note that,
“In the beginning was the word... It's as though an infant has only the potential to become fully human; if the potential is squandered, something less than human is the result.
"I wonder if it isn't the same with the soul. I've been reading the gospels, and I notice the oft used metaphor of plants bearing fruit. I am beginning to wonder if the soul itself isn't that fruit. That a soul isn't automatically implanted into a body at birth, but only the potential to grow a soul, just like there is only a potential to acquire speech and a fully developed human mind. Perhaps some of the deadly, or internally dead people who are identified as sociopaths, are soulless in a very literal sense of the word. Like the feral child.”
Yes. The soul is indeed a seed, a seed that is subject to growth, depending upon the conditions it encounters. Some of these conditions are karmic and out of our hands, while other conditions are malleable because of the inexplicable gift of free will. The soul is in the image of God, but only in the way that an acorn is in the image of the oak. The image is potential, not fulfillment. The purpose of life is for the image to become the likeness. It is paradoxically for us to become what we already are.
“Walking on water wasn’t built in a day,” as some beat up old poet put it. In short, timelessness takes time. And that’s the good news/bad news of existence. Do you want the good news first or the bad news?
The bad news? The bad news is that we’re stuck here together in time, drifting away alone alost along the riverrun to an unknown but ultimately calamitous destination.
The good news? The good news is hidden in the title track to the film Easy Rider, written by Roger McGuinn with a little assistance from Bob Dylan:
The river flows
It flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes
That’s where I want to be
Flow, river flow
Let your waters wash down
Take me from this road
To some other town