Monday, July 10, 2006

Worst Post Ever!

Unfortunately, I have very little timelessness to post this morning--only 54 minutes and counting. I have to be in a godforsaken place called Lancaster at 9:30. It’s got to be one of the uglier locales in all of California. They must have a full-time staff of anti-aestheticians working for the city in order to ensure that no natural or manmade beauty interferes with the unified theme.

I still wanted to say something about ancient child-rearing practices, but that will take too long. Therefore I will select what looks like a fairly straightforward question from the cosmic hopper.... Let’s see.... Here’s one from a reader known as The Bunnies:

“I'm curious as to your thoughts on some of our ideological allies in the war on terror who seem also hostile to some of your other beliefs. Objectivists are right on the money when it comes to the war and most economic issues, but they loathe religion and think that it's all horizontal (although I think they think differently than they think they do, but that's another issue). Or, what about Christian fundamentalists who see the need to pursue the war on terror but would damn your religious views as heresy and gladly surrender on every issue if only abortion could be illegal (they exist).”

Hmmm....

(Still waiting for coffee to work.)

Hmmm....

This is an excellent question, and I suppose it goes to the heart of the genius of our two-party political system. When I was a young idiot, I used to believe the nonsense that we should have many political parties, like Israel or Europe. I thought it was antidemocratic to have just two.

But the whole point of having two parties is like.... it’s sort of like marriage.... no, not really. Well, maybe. I know that in Europe, they also don’t take the two-party marriage seriously, and men are almost expected to have mistresses.

Obviously, having a two-party system works counter to the extreme factionalism we see in Europe. If America were like Germany, we would have dozens of parties--a Randian Objectivist Party, A Pro-Life Party, an Anti-gun Party, and a party of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, Questioning, Intersexed, and Curious, all having proportionate representation in the government.

So the two-party system makes for some strange bedfellows. But when you think about it, there does seem to be some kind of deep psychological structure that determines one’s surface political attitudes. In other words, it’s probably only half-correct to say that the major parties artificially lump all of these disparate political viewpoints together. Rather, it is clear to me that there is a strong element of personality style, temperament, or “inclination” involved. It’s not a coincidence that the Democratic party is the party of weirdos, because weird people need other weird people around them in order to not feel weird--to convince themselves that they are “normal.” Moral weirdness, economic weirdness, spiritual weirdness, sexual weirdness, artistic weirdness.... All of these people can find a home in the Democratic party.

Likewise, there are many inadequate definitions of what it means to be a “conservative,” some of which are mutually exclusive, such as libertarians and traditionalists or free marketeers and anti-globalists. And yet, these different attitudes may share an underlying personality style or “attitude” toward the world.

For me, for example, the majority of leftists just seem frankly ignorant or emotionally immature. It is very easy for me to see the Democratic party as the party of the children and the Republican Party as the party of the adults. Of course, this is a huge generalization and obviously doesn’t apply to all Democrats. But as a party or ideology, I don’t see how contemporary liberalism can have any appeal to an emotionally, cognitively, or spiritually grown-up person, whatever the obvious and very real drawbacks of "Republicanism."

While there are obviously some grown ups on the left, they seem to be motivated more by their fear or hatred of the right. I know many such people. In fact, I was once one myself. I may not have known what I was, but one thing I wasn’t was a tight-assed, greedy, moralistic, war-mongering conservative.

Of course, I was engaging in pure projection then. But you can see how powerful that mechanism is. What most strikes me about dailykos or huffington post--aside from the adolescent anger and sheer stupidity--is their truly invincible projection. The way they characterize conservatives is a hoot. It’s so over-the-top, so Austin Powers Dr. Evil, that you have to just laugh. I have never seen them accurately characterize what conservatives believe or why they believe it. Normally you would mark this down to intellectual dishonesty, but I don’t think it's that at all. Rather, they truly believe these things about conservatives because they truly feel them. So that is the real source of their faux unity--the infantile projection into conservatives. It's not a real unity at all, merely an emotional reaction--which is why they really can't get organized around any coherent intellectual core, as can conservatives. The fact of the matter is that moderate Democrats are just as creeped out by their own base (in both senses of the word) as you and I are. Just ask Joe Lieberman or the editors of The New Republic.

Well, this post is sort of hopeless.... 12 minutes to go.... I think I’ll just spell check and get out of here.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

On Meditation and Prayer: How to Depart and Bewholed (7.1.08)

Let’s pull another reader’s question out of the cosmic hopper, this one from Twisted Knickers, who asked, “I'm another one of those in the back of the class trying to keep up, and I'd appreciate it if you could recommend some books on learning to meditate. Or, maybe you could offer some meta-advice on how to navigate through the choices.”

“I'd also like to hear your thoughts on the contrast between traditional Christian meditation and the 'Eastern' types of meditation.”

In fact, yesterday I received an email from another reader with a similar question, who asked about a book entitled The Power of Focusing (which I have never heard of). “My question to you is whether you've heard of ‘focusing,’ whether you have any experience with it, and if you would recommend a person in search of the Truth to give it a try?”

In my view, there is nothing magical about meditation per se. I myself practiced it for many years without really getting anywhere, and I am sure this is true of many spiritual seekers, especially those drawn toward Buddhism. Many irreligious or anti-religious Westerners are looking for what they regard as a “rational” alternative to religion, so they turn to things like Zen, which is largely an atheological psycho-spiritual technology. Ultimately I found Zen and similar "bare witnessing" approaches to be rather dry, although there are obviously many wise and lovely aspects to Buddhism--it's just a matter of personal choice, or one's dharma, to quote a buddha-ism. (I also have a lot of problems with what I regard as the immoral non-violence of Buddhism, but that’s another subject.)

According to one of a handful of authorities I turn to in these matters, Frithjof Schuon, “meditation cannot of itself provoke illumination; rather, its object is negative in the sense that it has to remove inner obstacles that stand in the way, not of a new, but of a preexistent and ‘innate’ knowledge of which it has to become aware. Thus meditation may be compared not so much to a light kindled in a dark room, as to an opening made in the wall of that room to allow the light to enter--a light which preexists outside and is in no way produced by the action of piercing the wall.... The role of meditation is thus to open the soul, firstly to the grace which separates it from the world, secondly to that which brings it nearer to God and thirdly to that which, so to speak, reintegrates it into God.”

I find this to be a most adequate description, because it is in accord with my own personal experience and with another one of my nonlocal authorities, Sri Aurobindo. (Yes, I know, Schuon would have a lot of problems with Sri Aurobindo, who was not a strict traditionalist, but that’s between the two of them.) For Aurobindo, the only purpose of meditation is to silence the lower mind or “frontal” personality in order to make an opening in what he calls the “psychic being.” For our purposes, we may think of the psychic being simply as the vertical self that is both “deeper” and “higher” than the ordinary, worldly, conditioned ego.

In short, as I tried to get across on pp. 219-224 of One Cosmos, the dual purpose of meditation is to 1) achieve stillness or mental silence, and 2) to maintain openness, surrender, or self-offering. I specifically define “faith” as a sort of “expectant silence,” as we do our part to make ourselves a receptacle for a power or grace that transcends us. We are literally attempting to make contact with the spiritual world (or person), which always engenders an influx of forces. Again, the important point is not the meditation--which is only a means--but preparing ourselves for the subtle energy of grace.

Depending on various personal factors, the grace appears in different guises. For some it will be more of a higher emotional experience, for others, awareness of the sacred. For some it will simply manifest as an unaccountable change in personality, for others, newfound abilities or a deeper understanding of spiritual matters. It is not at all uncommon to actually feel this energy, often in the heart region or above the head. In fact, tantric yoga attempts to commandeer this energy and “take heaven by storm,” so to speak, which I would not recommend. Occasionally things can get out of hand.

Schuon is again exceptionally clear when he writes that “the contact between man and God [in meditation] becomes contact between the intelligence [he is referring here to the higher mind] and Truth, or relative truths contemplated in view of the Absolute.... Meditation acts on the one hand upon the intelligence, in which it awakens certain consubstantial ‘memories,’ and on the other hand upon the subconscious imagination which ends by incorporating in itself the truths meditated upon, resulting in a fundamental and as it were organic process of persuasion.”

This, I believe, accounts for what Dilys has called the “draining the swamp” aspect of true meditation and prayer--why it not only opens us to the higher, but has the practical effect of “deconditioning” the lower mind as well. This is again why I am not a big fan of “empty” meditation of the Zen variety (and I should reemphasize that I’m only talking about myself here, and what has worked for me. I’m not knocking Buddhism. In fact, I would be happy to hear testimony from any Buddhists out there who can balance out my perspective.)

Another point to consider is that meditation is only an “exercise” or an adjunct to the spiritual life. It cannot be its purpose or end. Just as exercise has the purpose of making the body more healthy in general--not just while one is exercising--meditation is something that should carry over into one’s moment to moment life. In other words, in so far as it is possible, we should make the effort throughout the day to live in that silent and open state, in which we are not so involved with the ceaseless barrage of mechanical chatter and internal propaganda coming from the lower mind. Most of these "thoughts" are probably coming from mind parasites anyway.

This is why I am so drawn to Orthodox Christianity, because it really emphasizes everything we have been discussing above. Another of my authorities, St. Theophan the Recluse, writes of how the lower mind is entangled with the world like an opium addict. It cannot get enough of what it really doesn’t need: ”There is a lot of motion, but no life.” And “the reason there is no life in such a life is that it does not occupy and nourish all the aspects of human life, but only a small portion of it. And this small portion stands in last place, not even touching the center of human life.”

St. Theophan writes that “within each person is a spirit, the highest aspect of human life. It is the force that draws that person from the visible to the invisible, from the temporal to the eternal, from the creation to the Creator.”

Writing of the ego, or frontal personality, St. Theophan notes that we might think that someone is “deep in thought.” But “in reality, he is deep in emptiness.... Observe yourself, and you will see that the greater part of our time is spent on such empty and straying thought. Some days, not a single substantial thought enters the mind.”

Not a single substantial thought. How true. This can actually happen to an entire lifetime--much more often than you might think. But here again, this is why I believe it is so important to have a religious framework for one’s “thinking.” As I have had occasion to mention many times in the past, the very purpose of an authentic, revealed religion is to be able to think about the otherwise unthinkable. Through meditation, concentration and prayer, we may take this thinking deeper and deeper--or higher and higher--into the vertical. Put it his way: religions are vertical languages that go hand in hand with the horizontal language of math and science. Evolution is the evolution of both.

St. Theophan’s specific advice regarding meditation and prayer is to think of it as the state of standing before God with the mind in the heart. Body, soul, and spirit all have their own special ways of knowing, and this is the way to know God, as opposed to “knowing about” God with the mind. Another Orthodox text simply says to “establish peace and recollection within yourself and ask for the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost.” St. Theophan says it is “simple: it is prayer--children talking to their Father, without any subtleties...”

And one more thing: don’t look for immediate “results.” Rather, just do it for its own sake. Just make it a routine part of your life, like exercising or brushing your teeth. In my case, I’ve hardly missed some sort of physical workout a single day in my adult life. One has to adopt the same attitude as it pertains to exercising the Spirit. It’s the least you can do to devote at least 15 or 20 minutes a day to turning your mind to higher things, so that higher things may turn to you.

Meditation / Concentration / Prayer: These three words epitomize the spiritual life, while at the same time indicating its principal modes. Meditation, from our standpoint, is an activity of the intelligence in view of understanding universal truths; concentration, for its part, is an activity of the will in view of assimilating these truths or realities existentially, as it were; and prayer in its turn is an activity of the soul directed towards God. --Fritjhof Schuon

*****

One more thing--as a general text on meditation I can actually recommend Meditation for Dummies. It really covers the waterfront, and isn't for dummies at all. (This is proven by the reviewer who complains that the book contains "too much filosophy.")

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Healthy Child-Rearing and the Ideocide of the Left

In Chapter 3 of The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It from Itself, Harrison gets into the question of how culture influences behavior, how cultures change, how cultural values are transmitted from generation to generation, and how we might intervene to promote positive cultural change. You might say that it addresses the question of how we might perform psychotherapy on a pathological culture.

It has always surprised me that more historians and anthropologists don’t look at child-rearing practices to try to understand the basis of cultural health, pathology and change, and why some cultures are so much sicker than others. But hardly any do, mainly because of the dominance of the politically correct view that no culture is better or worse than any other--except for Western culture, which is the worst. And yet, how could it not be? If you have a culture that systematically abuses children in the most grotesque way--say, the Palestinians--why should anyone be surprised that they are arguably the most comprehensively depraved people on earth?

Likewise, being that Jews have been practicing more humane child-rearing for millennia, why should anyone be surprised that, pound for pound, they have contributed more to human excellence than any other human culture? How is it that Jews, who represent two tenths of one percent of the world’s population, have won 15 to 20 percent of the Nobel Prizes, and perhaps constitute an even higher percentage of the world's greatest comedians? On the other hand, the Palestinians have won exactly one Nobel Prize, and it was given to one of the most depraved monsters who ever drew breath. And the Palestinian contribution to comedy has been negligable, or at least unintended--e.g. the wild-eyed imams with their crazed Friday evening sermons, the comical s'alapstiq "work accidents" in which they accidentally blow themselves up, Arafat's sham marriage to a goy named Suha, etc.

Harrison cites a couple of scholars who have attempted to quantify the link between child-rearing practices and cultural progress, in particular, progress toward democracy, economic prosperity, and social justice. As I noted in my own book, the further back in history you go, the more evidence there is of abominable child-rearing practices--what we would now call outright abuse. Perhaps this is why, as Harrison notes, “Early humans were neither democratic nor egalitarian during the first 80-90 millennia of human existence.” Instead, we see ceaseless war, violence, oppression of women and children, and frankly crazy cultural beliefs and practices. The romantic idea that humans were ever peaceful “noble savages” has been thoroughly debunked by anyone who cares to actually look at the evidence.

One of my problems with contemporary liberalism is that around 40 years ago it lurched into romantic irrationalism--cultural relativism, multiculturalism, and the like. For example, Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously identified the pathologies of African American culture in the late 1960’s but was absolutely pilloried by the irrational haters of the left. If only his ideas had been put into practice then, millions of black lives would have been materially and spiritually improved, and saved from prison, poverty and early death. But instead, the left adopted the ideology of victimhood to explain black cultural pathology, with disastrous results.

I don’t think we should shy away from calling this leftist philosophy what it is: child abuse. For to indoctrinate a child with a victim mentality is to murder his soul. Here is what psychologist Jerome Kagan says all American children should be taught in order to grow up psychologically healthy (and remember, this book was written by an avowed liberal--my kind of liberal--Lawrence Harrison):

1) First, children should be taught that “it is possible for every person to improve his or her economic or social position through education and the conscientious application of individual talents.” Conversely, backward and pathological cultures “hold a fatalistic belief that they are passive victims of social forces they are unable to change...” As a result, “improving one’s talents in order to work toward a goal is unlikely to result in a better life; this attitude might be called the ‘helplessness ideology.’”

Thus, when I say that a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or Ted Kennedy or the whole intellectual apparatus of the left are child abusers, I am not being polemical or bombastic. I am being completely literal. I can’t even imagine indoctrinating my child with such a psychologically crippling ideology. As a matter of fact, the black middle class continues to grow so rapidly precisely because so many blacks reject this self-defeating ideology of helplessness. They teach their children that, while there are always individual racists of all races, America is not only not a racist country, but that African Americans are more prosperous and wealthy here than blacks anywhere else on earth. Not only are most whites not neutral about race, but they actually want to do whatever they can to assist blacks, short of being coerced at gunpoint by the government. In other words, there is still an enormous reservoir of good will toward blacks in this country because of past racial injustices, despite the damage that has been done by disreputable racial hustlers such as Jesse Jackson and his ilk.

2) Kagan writes that all children should be taught that “the political and judicial system is generally fair and just and, therefore, conformity to the law is expected and violations are punished.”

Here again, black scholars such as Thomas Sowell or Shelby Steele fully understand this. If there are a disproportionate number of blacks in prison, it is simply because they commit a disproportionate number of the crimes. It’s as simple as that. And crime is not caused by poverty. Again, this is one of the most persistent and seemingly ineradicable liberal beliefs. Black crime only took off in the 1960’s when they became far more affluent. There was far less black crime prior to the 1960’s. Much of the problem flows from number (1) above, in that, beginning in the late 60's, so many blacks were inculcated with a victim mentality which essentially teaches them that they are entitled to a life of crime because the entire American system is racist, corrupt, illegitimate and rigged against them. In this view, crime almost becomes a moral imperative. If I believed it, I would probably become a criminal. Why not?

3) Kagan writes that “individual who are members of a social category that has experienced prejudice are entitled to dignity, freedom from bigotry, and an opportunity to improve their lives. The [leftist] belief that members of some social categories are inherently less talented or less virtuous than a majority” is “a formidable obstacle to the goals being sought.”

This is why racial quotas are such a pathological and self-defeating policy. If you impose a racial quota, the culture in question cannot receive the vital feedback it needs from reality in order to self-correct. It amounts to punishing Asian or Jewish culture for its success and rewarding black culture for its lack thereof. This most certainly does not help black culture--quite the opposite--and it’s questionable whether it even helps individuals without robbing them of their dignity. Imagine, for example, that your child needs a lifesaving operation. There are only two doctors, one of whom was admitted to college and medical school because of considerations of “diversity.” I don’t care what your race is--which doctor are you going to choose?

Harrison writes that children must be taught from the outset that they are not primarily members of a “race.” Rather, “identification with the nation must be stronger than identification with tribe, clan, or region.” I have always believed this, which is why I used to be called a liberal, whereas now I am called a conservative. I haven’t changed. It’s just that liberalism has been hijacked by illiberal leftist ideologues.

4) Lastly, Kagan notes that children should be taught that “the accumulation of wealth, which usually brings status, is a virtue; it should not be assumed that a person has violated some ethical standards simply because he is more advantaged....”

Of course, denying the Left its envy and class warfare would mean an end to the Left, so it is unlikely that they could ever accept this prescription. Instead, they will continue to teach their children that America is unfair, that it is controlled by a wealthy few, and that no one can get ahead without Democrats and a large, intrusive state.

Kagan concludes that it is every family’s responsibility “to praise perseverance, academic achievement, and autonomy in its children and to chastise the avoidance of responsibility, school failure, excessive dependence, and passivity.”

Wait a minute! This kind of healthy child-rearing, er, right-wing propaganda, would amount to cultural genocide--the complete elimination of an entire primitive people--the Left!

*****

Tomorrow: more on ancient child-rearing practices, both in antiquity and today, in the Muslim Middle East.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Child is the Father to the Maniac

Reader Mary asked the question, “Would you develop your thoughts on the vertical evolution of child rearing? You mentioned awhile back that the amazing accomplishments of the Jewish people throughout history stem from their ‘scandalous’ ways of raising their children. As a parent of teenagers, any insight to help understand parent/teenager relationships would be appreciated.”

To answer the last question first, I’m not sure I can help with the teenager business. There are advantages and disadvantages to having a child relatively late in life, as I did. One of the advantages is that, by the time my son is a teenager, there’s a better chance I’ll be dead.

The latest research on the subject shows--as if we didn’t know--that the adolescent brain literally disassembles and rewires itself during the teenage years. Obviously this is more problematic for some teens than others... such as, I don't know, me. The psychoanalytic idea is that we go into a relatively conflict-free period from around five or six until adolescence. But when adolescence hits, there is an idruption of all of the unresolved, unconscious psychosexual, developmental attachment issues from the first few years of life. In other words, if the teen had an insecure, ambivalent, chaotic or abusive attachment as an infant, it’s going to come roaring back in adolescence, as the adolescent looks for situations and relationships in which to act out their infantile emotional conflicts.

This is an especially dangerous time for boys, because the rewiring of the brain literally disrupts the ability to understand the consequences of danger. Teenage boys often engage in impulsively risk-taking behavior for this reason. For girls, it’s apparently more of a hormonal problem. From what I understand, the surge of hormones is so overwhelming that it can often cause a kind of sudden moodiness that almost looks like bipolar or borderline personality disorder. Now I understand 1) why my first girlfriend treated me the way she did, and 2) why I was attracted to her.

Having said that, I don’t treat adolescents. My wife actually knows a lot more about the subject than I do. Perhaps she’ll chime in later.

Looking back on my own extended adolescence, I’m not sure how I survived it. Things were relatively tranquil until 17, when I discovered beer. When you toss drugs and alcohol into the brain-dismantling and general impulsivity, predictable consequences ensue. Which is to say, unpredictable consequences. I suppose you could say I was crazy, but it didn’t feel like it at the time.... jumping out of moving cars, drinking and driving so frequently that I got quite good at it, getting drunk twice a day on special occasions, like New Years... This period of time didn’t last all that long--couldn’t have lasted that long--but it was enough for a lifetime.

I know it probably sounds disingenuous, but even then I am quite sure I was searching for the vertical, for some sort of extraordinary, liberating experience. It is not so much that I felt oppressed by life, but I definitely concluded quite early on that there was nothing of much interest in the world as such. Instead, I was quite sure that the key to life was in our relationship to the world, and that we could alter this relationship by altering our consciousness. Of course, I was steeped in the ethos of the 1960’s, which maintained that an alternate reality was always just a few microns away.

For whatever reason, I was always very susceptible to a kind of uncontainable joy or exhilaration--even ecstasy--that had nothing to do with the outward circumstances of my life. For this reason, I never developed the idea that outward circumstances mattered--grades, college, career, etc. I never thought for one moment that any kind of worldly accomplishment would alter the basic existential equation of my life. If anything, I always suspected that deeper entanglement in the world would only lead me away from the liberation I was seeking. I’m not even saying that it’s a good or bad thing, but I could never have tolerated an ordinary life with an ordinary job, no matter how extraordinary. Even now I long for the day that I can fully commit myself to nothing, the operative word being commit. That's when this blog will take off into hyperspace.

Where were we? Oh yes. Vertical child rearing. One of the problems here is that the vast majority of parents throughout history--and certainly in the world at this time--are completely clueless about the horizontal aspects of parenting, let alone the vertical. In other words, it has only been in the last 50 years or so, specifically in Western Europe and America, that we have realized the critical importance of early attachment, and how this shapes the personality for the rest of one’s life. Even in the West, studies routinely show that about a third of mothers and infants are securely attached, about a third ambivalently attached, and about a third insecurely or chaotically attached. You can see videos of this, and if you are remotely sensitive about what it’s like to be a helpless, preverbal infant, they are quite heartbreaking. Frankly, the mothers are so clueless that you want to just shake them. (Hasn't that ever happened to you in a store, seeing how some mothers treat their children?)

One of the key ideas in attachment theory is that, from the moment they pop out of the womb--and even in the womb--you must treat your infant as a fully human subject with all the rights and dignities we give to any human being. You don’t treat them as an object or an extension of yourself. You explain to them what you’re doing, respond to their vocalizations, and even give words to the frustrations they are feeling. It’s amazing how this calms them down. And although I enjoy playing “rough” with my son (and he loves it as well), I never do so in such a way that he feels out of control of the situation. I’m always sensitive to his reaction, so that he can feel that he has control over things--even when I'm dangling him over the balcony.

Of course, there’s always a random element to child rearing, if only because of genetics and basic temperament, which is apparently not subject to change. Furthermore, one of the biggest challenges is that for any life trials must come, and it is through trials that our character is revealed, tested, and developed. So you cannot shield your child from pain and suffering, although naturally you try to shield them from meaningless pain.

One of the biggest conundrums for me is in fact how to formally introduce the vertical into my son's life when the time comes. Frankly, I’m still working on this. I have to allow for that fact that his basic temperament and orientation to the world are most likely going to be completely different from mine. In my case, I was as close to a “natural mystic” as fate and temperament would allow, so my basic orientation was always to the vertical--to such an extent that the formal religious involvement of my childhood only interfered with it.

But I am assuming that most people require the formal introduction of a specific religion in childhood in order to give shape and structure to the vertical.

There is also the issue that, by the time a man is 40 years old, he has pretty much “seen it all.” I don’t mean to say that I am jaded or disillusioned in a bad way. But I am definitely disillusioned about the world as such, especially given my temperamental head start. As they say, “it is not I who have left the world, it is the world that has left me.” Nor is this to say that I have lost my passion for life, much less become cynical. It’s just that a proper human being naturally turns to more inward and upward things at around mid-life. I am never bored unless someone is boring me--usually a horizontal someone.

This puts me on a rather different developmental track than my son. I can hardly tell him not to devour the apple, even though the consequences are preordained. Like God, I have to even provide him with the forbidden tree with all the trimmings, knowing full well that he’s going to fall under its hypnotic spell and go in for the whole beautiful catastrophe. I suppose you can only hope that your prodigal son will be like the prodigal son.

I’ve rambled on for too long. In the book we have been discussing, Lawrence Harrison’s The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It from Itself, he gets into the specific parenting skills that differentiate progress-prone from progress-resistant cultures. I had wanted to get into that, but now I’m out of time. If anyone’s still interested, perhaps I can do so tomorrow. I had also intended to touch on the child rearing practices of ancient peoples, including the Jews, so if anyone’s interested, let me know.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Today's Score: Conservatives 25, Progressives 0

My dear cosmonaughts, we’re still discussing all the central conservative truths found in Lawrence Harrison’s new book, The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It from Itself. On pp. 36-37 of the book, Harrison lays out a helpful summary of those traits that are characteristic of the “progress-prone” culture vs. the “progress-resistant” one. They fall under four main headings: “Worldview,” “Values and Virtues,” “Economic Behavior,” and “Social Behavior,” with a total of 25 subcategories, or "factors."

Beginning with Worldview, it seems to me that the characteristics of progress-resistant cultures are almost an exact description of modern liberal victimology. Regarding the subcategory of “destiny,” the liberal victim is beset by “fatalism and resignation.” With respect to “time orientation,” their obsessive focus on past or even present grievances discourages working hard for the future. Under the heading of “wealth,” liberals clearly regard it as a “zero-sum” enterprise, which lies at the heart of their income-redistributing policies. Likewise, knowledge is “abstract, theoretical, cosmological [hey! I heard that], not verifiable.” Exactly. As we have had occasion to discuss many times, liberal academia (specifically, the humanities) is filled with deranged, kooky, abstract, unverifiable and utopian cranks. The rest are just crazy.

The one last subcategory for Worldview is religion. Here you might think that the left has the upper hand, and in most contexts you might be correct. But Harrison makes no distinction between pre- or irrational religiosity vs. the type of sophisticated religiosity we discuss on this blog. Thus, there is no question that the secular left is more rational than primitive African animists or practitioners of Haitian voodoo (even if they themselves would deny that fact because of their PC belief in cultural relativism). But I don’t believe for a moment that modern secularism is more rational than my transrational religious philosophy. In fact, by comparison, merely secular philosophy is a sophisticated child's game. Furthermore, it remains to be seen if the secularized, hyper-rational societies of Western Europe will even be able to survive their irreligiosity. By and large American religion hardly dismisses the world--rather, it promotes achievement and material pursuits. It is probably too material for my tastes.

So for the category of “worldview,” conservatives trounce the left four to one or possibly even five-zip.

The next heading is Values and Virtues, which has three subcategories, “ethical code,” “the lesser virtues,” and “education.” Here again, I don’t see how any intellectually honest person can give the nod to the left. Progress-resistant cultures have “elastic” values, while progress-prone ones are “rigorous within realistic norms.” Progress-prone cultures emphasize small virtues that actually end up making a huge difference, such as tidiness, courtesy, “a job well done”.... to which I might add, politeness, not cursing in public, and being free of off-putting tattoos, tongue piercings, and pagan "body art." To the progress-resistant culture, these small virtues are unimportant. (The thing that most strikes me about dailykos or huffingtonpissed, aside from the shrill adolescent anger, is the constant, unnecessary profanity. I'm all for the necessary kind.)

The last subcategory is Education, and here again you might think that progressives are at least in the game. But just look what the progressive educational establishment has done to our educational system. They have been in complete control of lower and higher education in this country for at least 50 years, and it is a disgrace. Furthermore, they are specifically opposed to truly progressive policies that could turn things around, such as fostering competition by introducing vouchers into the system. And let’s not even talk about what progressives have done to the university in my lifetime. For one thing, I don’t have enough time. I have to be out of the house in 45 minutes.

The next main factor is Economic behavior, which has seven subcategories. This one is so self-evidently in favor of conservatives that it’s hardly worth debating. Progress-prone cultures believe that competition leads to excellence, that advancement should be based on merit, and that work is one of the primary purposes of life (the “protestant work ethic”). They try to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship, risk-taking, innovation and investment.

Conversely, the progress-resistant are suspicious of prosperity--it is a threat to equality because some will get rich, thus provoking envy. They are uncomfortable with competition, as it is a sign of aggression and a threat to both equality and privilege (such as the privileges enjoyed by the teachers union or by tenured wackademics or New York Times editors). And, of course, they are constitutionally opposed to the idea of merit, and instead believe that the government should get involved in giving special privileges to different racial, cultural and gender categories.

So for economic behavior, it’s conservatives 7, progressives bupkis.

The last main factor is Social Behavior, which has the most subcategories, ten. Some of these are frankly rather bland and neutral, and it is fair to say that most Americans of whatever political stripe share them: belief in the rule of law, a belief in checks and balances and dispersed authority, and the responsibility of elites to society. Others are a bit misleading, for conservatives clearly believe in gender equality, they just don’t believe in gender equivalence.

Other categories that are less innocuous fall clearly in favor of conservatives. For example, the progress-resistant culture has a much stronger identification with the narrow community--i.e., multiculturalism. Progressives believe in dividing the country along racial and gender lines, so that one’s primary identification is not, say, “American” but “African American.” Likewise, the progress-resistant culture emphasizes the collectivity rather than the individual (except when it comes to the right to show your breast on TV or ride a bicycle naked in public to protest the war).

The last category is Church-State relations. According to Harrison, the progress-prone culture is “secularized” and believes in a “wall between church and state,” whereas the for the progress-resistant culture, “religion plays a major role in the civic sphere.” How true. The adverse impact of mixing church and state is never more clear than when the religion in question is “Progressivism.”

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Progressives: The Hurrier they Go, the Behinder They Get

In Chapter three of my book I survey history and culture, looking for evidence of what I call “mind parasites” that are ultimately rooted in different different styles of child rearing and which are responsible for so much cultural pathology, including the pathology of Islamism. Although my ideas may appear somewhat speculative, I believe that they cannot not be true once you understand the underlying principles involved.

I just finished a new book that confirms many of the things I wrote in that section, The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It from Itself, by Lawrence Harrison. Although Harrison calls himself a liberal, the book absolutely demolishes many ideas that are central to contemporary liberalism--most particularly, multiculturalism, cultural relativism, and any kind of liberal victimology, for the book demonstrates with hard data how cultural beliefs, attitudes and values are the key to understanding the evolution of society. The book is actually somewhat shockingly--but thoroughly refreshingly--politically incorrect, and says some things that even Petey would probably hesitate to blurt out in public.

In the preface of the book, Harrison--a long time USAID director--notes that all of the underdeveloped or underprivileged countries or cultures he worked in were plagued by the same things--disrespect for law, lack of cooperation with one another, acquiescence to (and extertion of) unbridled authority, passivity when encountering problems, lack of civic consciousness, lack of trust, and pursuit of narrow personal interest. It is much easier for scholars such as Jared Diamond to blame geography, insufficient resources, or “guns, germs, and steel” for the failure of so many cultures, but this entirely begs the question of why certain groups--most notably, the Jews or East Asians--thrive wherever they are allowed to take root. In each case, they have a "portable culture" of extremely healthy and adaptive values that stand them in good stead.

Harrsion approvingly quotes the great scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, who wrote that “When people realize that things are going wrong, there are two questions they can ask: One is, ‘What did we do wrong?’ and the other is ‘Who did this to us?’” The latter question leads to paranoia, conspiracy theories and liberal victimology, which is why the Islamists and international left share a common cause--they have the same underlying assumptions about reality and about who is at fault for it.

The book shows how deeply rooted are some of the pathologies of the left. I did not know this, but even in 1948, the American Anthropological Association opposed the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that each culture must decide for itself “what is true, good, beautiful, and efficient,” and no cultures were any better or worse, just “different.” Thus, “liberals” found themselves at odds with a document calling for such things as the right to life, liberty, and security of person, equality before the law, and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The more things change....

It never ceases to amaze me that liberals think they are doing these people a favor by supporting their cultural pathologies. As is always the case with leftist thought, it is a monstrous arrogance and condescension masquerading as compassion. Harrsion quotes a brilliant African scholar named Daniel Etounga Mangelle, someone I relied upon in my book. At a conference, he responded with sarcasm to such liberal nonsense:

"I am going to tell the truth. We Africans really enjoy living in shantytowns where there isn't enough food, health care, or education for our children. Furthermore, our corrupt chieftaincy political systems are really marvelous.... It would be boring if free, democratic elections were organized all over Africa. Were that to happen, we would no longer be real Africans, and by losing our identity--and our authoritarianism, our bloody civil wars, our illiteracy, our forty-five year life expectancy--we should be letting down not only ourselves but those Western anthropologists who study us so sympathetically and understand that we can't be expected to behave like human beings who seek dignity.... So let us fight with the full support of those Western scholars who have the wisdom and courage to acknowledge that Africans belong to different world.”

It is so glaringly obvious to me that the vast majority of really destructive racism comes form the left, not the right. Undoubtedly individual racists exist, but they are nothing compared to the institutional and ideological racism of the left. Professor John McWhorter, who happens to be black, describes in the book the devastating impact of liberal racism on African Americans. He writes that since the 1960s, the core of black identity has been “rebellion and disaffection.... Misbehavior and criminality are not the only ways this is expressed. Even the most educated blacks with the most assimilated demeanors get their 'black authenticity' stripes to the extent that they subscribe to the notion that being black remains a battle forty years after the Civil Rights Act.”

McWhorter writes that young blacks are indeed “victims”--not of what they call “racism” but of liberal ideology. This pathological and self-defeating world view would have utterly perplexed “the black Americans who worked so hard before the 1960s to pave the way for blacks to make the best of themselves in an imperfect world. Realizing that culture is the main problem now rather than racism or societal inequity, our task is to pull black America out of [its] detour, freeing us from self-fulfilling prophecies of recreational racial indignation and returning us to a clear-eyed, proactive race leadership that will allow us to truly 'get past race' for good."

As I said, I can't believe this book was written by a so-called liberal. It actually gives me hope for the future.

I’m running a little bit late, so this will have to be a two- or three-parter. I especially want to get into what the book has to say about specific child-rearing practices that are at the root of cultural pathology--of what I call collective mind parasites--and 25 specific attributes of progress-prone and progress-resistant cultures. Ironically, you will learn that at least seventy five percent of the “progress-prone” attributes are what we would call patently conservative ideas, while ninety percent of the “progress-resistant” ones are--you guessed it progressive. As always, the hurrier progressives go, the behinder they get.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

If Only Mustachiod Homophobic Terrorists Drove Gas-Guzzling SUVs into Buildings In San Francisco, The Left Would See the Threat

What the heck... I guess I'll post something anyway. Don't worry--I can stop blogging any time....

Psychology is such a stupid field. You have no idea. A while back I read something to the effect that there were around 250 distinct schools of psychological thought, and my guess is that perhaps 240 of them are utterly frivolous, shallow, and generally silly.

This is especially true of academic (as opposed to clinical) psychology. The adult playground of academia generates kooky ideas in every field for the simple reason that it is so insulated from reality and from the implications of its ideas. This is why, for example, the only place Marxism is taken seriously is in academia. If a small business owner were to toy with the idea of running his business along Marxist lines, he would receive immediate sharp and corrective blows from economic reality.

Today’s L.A. Times features an editorial by a Harvard psychology professor, Daniel Gilbert, entitled If only gay sex caused global warming: Why we're more scared of gay marriage and terrorism than a much deadlier threat.

In it, Gilbert begins with the logically self-refuting claim that “NO ONE [emphasis his] seems to care about the upcoming attack on the World Trade Center site. Why? Because it won't involve villains with box cutters. Instead, [cue Simpsons anchorman Kent Brockman--ed.] it will involve melting ice sheets that swell the oceans and turn that particular block of lower Manhattan into an aquarium." Fully accepting the most hysterical prognostications of agenda-driven weathermen at face value, Gilbert says “The odds of this happening in the next few decades are better than the odds that a disgruntled Saudi will sneak onto an airplane and detonate a shoe bomb. And yet our government will spend billions of dollars this year to prevent global terrorism and … well, essentially nothing to prevent global warming.”

This is the first time I've ever heard someone refer to terrorists as merely "disgruntled." Obviously they are far from gruntled. That goes without saying. But they are also hideously evil beasts of depravity bent on destroying civilization as we know it. For starters. And I'm sure they don't give a hoot about the weather. They're obviously used to warm climates.

In any event, let’s try a little thought experiment. Let’s announce to the world that we are immediately suspending all efforts to stop terrorists from hijacking airplanes. It’s too expensive. It’s just not worth the time and trouble, considering Professor Gilbert's reasoned assessment of the incredibly low odds of an attack. Let’s stop airport security, baggage checks, profiling of any kind. You aren’t a sophisticated psychology professor at an elite university, so you’re probably too stupid to ask, but what do you think would happen? For that matter, what do you think would happen if Israel made no effort to stop suicide bombers from crossing its border?

Gilbert, the brilliant psychology professor, wonders “Why are we less worried about the more likely disaster?” Don’t worry, he has the answer: “Because the human brain evolved to respond to threats that have four features--features that terrorism has and that global warming lacks.”

In other words, we really don’t have free will--except for Gilbert. Somehow, he managed to overcome natural selection and see beyond his genetic programming. Not so the rest of us trousered (as opposed to tenured) apes. We are just Darwinian machines, programmed to see enemies where they don’t really exist.

Professor Gilbert explains. You see, “global warming lacks a mustache. No, really. We are social mammals whose brains are highly specialized for thinking about others.” So the reason why we are concerned with terrorism is simply because it has a human face (although technically it is an inhuman face). On the other hand, global warming has no human face, so we don’t worry about it.

Except for all of the hysterics who do, including Gilbert. Indeed, they even try to give it a human face, a face that looks just like George Bush. And we are presumably "frightened" of gay marriage because it too has a human face and mustache, although in fairness, not all lesbians have mustaches. Hasn't he ever seen Tammy Bruce?

Gilbert claims that “The second reason why global warming doesn't put our brains on orange alert is that it doesn't violate our moral sensibilities. It doesn't cause our blood to boil... because it doesn't force us to entertain thoughts that we find indecent, impious or repulsive. When people feel insulted or disgusted, they generally do something about it, such as whacking each other over the head, or voting. Moral emotions are the brain's call to action.”

Again, this is demonstrably false. Global warming is a highly charged moral issue to the left. Can anyone listen to Al Gore and not tell in an instant that his blood is boiling and that he's hoppin' mad? Gilbert writes, “Yes, global warming is bad, but it doesn't make us feel nauseated or angry or disgraced, and thus we don't feel compelled to rail against it as we do against other momentous threats to our species, such as flag burning.”

What? Has this man never heard of dailykos? When have they not been angry and nauseated by some abstract fear that somehow never materializes, like the imminent takeover of the country by homophobic gaia-hating theofascists?

Gilbert writes that “The third reason why global warming doesn't trigger our concern is that we see it as a threat to our futures--not our afternoons. Like all animals, people are quick to respond to clear and present danger, which is why it takes us just a few milliseconds to duck when a wayward baseball comes speeding toward our eyes.” But this simply contradicts his earlier statement that we are obssessed with things that pose no real or immediate threat at all, like terrorism. Which is it?

Finally, the fourth reason we don’t care about global warming is that “we barely notice changes that happen gradually, we accept gradual changes that we would reject if they happened abruptly.” I don’t know about that one. I’m not sure if I would notice the one degree increase in global temperature if it had happened in one minute instead of the one hundred years over which it has occurred. Then again, maybe Gilbert is more sensitive than I am.

Oh my: “The human brain is a remarkable device that was designed to rise to special occasions.”

What kind of nonsense is this? It’s the kind of nonsense that is taught in elite universities. The brain is a fancy gadget or “device.” It was “designed,” but not really, because there was no designer. Rather, it’s just a random reflection of the environment it evolved in. And it “rises to special occasions.”

Which begs the question. For me and for approximately half of the country, September 11 was a “special occasion.” But somehow, we are unable to convince the other half of the country--including Professor Gilbert--of its specialness. We see the evil as clear as day, while the other half--including Gilbert--doesn’t see the evil at all, regardless of whether or not it has a human face. Instead, they focus their attention on obscure and abstract future threats from the weather.

I am not an academic psychologist. I am a clinical psychologist. We have a well-worn word that applies to both Gilbert and his kind: denial. It is at the basis of the “culture of conniption,” that is, the hysterical left that is always having a conniption about some vague threat that never materializes, because it is much more comforting than having to face the real thing.

Lileks said it best:

“ABC news has asked viewers to send in evidence of global warming. How is it affecting your life? ABC news wants to hear from you. This is like Life magazine asking readers in 1952 to describe the communists under their beds. Bald?  Slavic? Ruddy? Drunken? Well, I can help. Naked hairless blistered ocelots prowl my yard; mutated day-bats flutter around the eaves, and the other day a polar bear got up on two legs and pushed around a fume-belching two-stroke-engine lawn mower as some sort of ironic protest....

“I am not susceptible to disaster scenarios. I do not believe we have ten years to prevent the inevitable collapse of civilization. As long as I can remember I have been fed end-times scenarios--death by ice, death by fire, death by famine, death by smothering from heaps of clambering humans scrabbling for purchase on an overpopulated world, death by full-scale nuclear exchange, death by unstoppable global AIDS, death by a two-degree rise in temperatures, death by radon, death by alar, death by inadvertent Audi acceleration, death by juju. Doesn’t mean we won’t die of juju. But somehow we survive. The only thing I take away is a vague wistful wonder what it would be like to live in an era when things were generally so bad that the futurists spent their time assuring us it would be better. Say what you will about the past, but at least they had a future. All I’ve ever had, according to the experts, is a grim narrow window of heedless ignorance bliss followed by a dystopian irradiated world characterized by scarcity, mutation, and quite possibly intelligent chimps. You have no future. Oh, and don’t smoke!”

“Bah.”

“I’m a stupid optimist. Either the vehicle that takes me to the boneyard will get six miles per gallon of processed dinosaur, or it will run for ninety days on a milliliter of Sea-Monkey urine. Either way, all in all, we’ll make it.”

*****

Here's an idea for Professor Gilbert. Write an article about why the disgruntled Islamo-fascists are more worried about infidels than the weather. They're almost as crazy as us!

Part 2: Write an article about what motivates an, ahem, sane and sober man such as Al Gore to produce a propaganda film about the weather that contains so many easily verifiable distortions and exaggerations that almost seem calculated to alarm?. Why does the left habitually sacrifice truth to activism? Is this distortion consciously or unconsciously motivated?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

"If the Times Stops Helping the Terrorists, the Terrorists Will Have Won"

Our unelected Overlords at the New York Times have come out from under their cone of silence to reveal yet another secret, that is, When Do We Publish a Secret?

This ought to be rich. But what I really want to know is when the Times will publish a useful secret (useful to Americans, not terrorists), say, the exact deductions on your income tax returns that automatically trigger an audit? Nah, that might hurt the government’s war on your wallet.

“SINCE Sept. 11, 2001, newspaper editors have faced excruciating choices in covering the government's efforts to protect the country from terrorist agents.”

Oh yes, we can tell. They must weep every time they have to publish something damaging to the war effort. Weep, I tell you!

Liberals just can’t help playing the victim card. It’s in their bones. Every day is an excruciatingly painful choice: shall we merely undermine the war effort, or actually assist our enemy?

“Each of us has, on a number of occasions, withheld information because we were convinced that publishing it could put lives at risk.”

Sorry. You don't get credit for common decency. What about the many other occasions you purposely chose to put American lives at risk?

“Last week our newspapers disclosed a secret Bush administration program to monitor international banking transactions. We did so after appeals from senior administration officials to hold the story. Our reports--like earlier press disclosures of secret measures to combat terrorism--revived an emotional national debate, featuring angry calls of 'treason' and proposals that journalists be jailed along with much genuine concern and confusion about the role of the press in times like these.”

Liberals cannot help thinking in terms of feelings. It most certainly is “an emotional debate,” in that it centers entirely around the Times’ visceral hatred of President Bush. Remove that from the equation and we wouldn’t be having this debate.

The Times, of course, is not angered by treason. They're above that sort of thing.

“We agree, however, on some basics about the immense responsibility the press has been given by the inventors of the country.”

What a monstrously pompous inversion. The founders gave no such special responsibility to huge, self-serving media conglomerates. Rather, they created a government whose purpose was to protect the rights of individuals, not “the press” and certainly not “The Times.” The Times has no special rights that any ordinary citizen doesn’t possess, but they obviously consider themselves above the law, including the constitution. If I did what the Times had done, I would be arrested, tried and jailed as a spy, and rightfully so. There is no fourth branch of government called “the press.” There are only people with blogs, most of them idiots, a few of whom go to the trouble of printing and distributing their blathering, like the Times.

“Make no mistake, journalists have a large and personal stake in the country's security.”

That’s true. Right through the heart.

“We live and work in cities that have been tragically marked as terrorist targets.”

Liberal always call evil a “tragedy.” Then they call tragedies, like Katrina, “evil,” at least if they can blame it on a Republican.

“Reporters and photographers from both our papers braved the collapsing towers to convey the horror to the world.”

Special pleading. How come they haven’t conveyed the horror every day since? Why the blackout? How come they don’t show the horrifying beheadings on the front pages, instead of conveying the horrifying inconvenience of Gitmo or Abu Ghraib day after day after day?

“But the virulent hatred espoused by terrorists, judging by their literature, is directed not just against our people and our buildings. It is also aimed at our values, at our freedoms and at our faith in the self-government of an informed electorate.”

How convenient. This is a new twist. When President Bush says that they hate us because of our values and our freedoms, liberals, including the Times, always snicker. For the Times, it’s always something we did to inflame the terrorists.

“If the freedom of the press makes some Americans uneasy, it is anathema to the ideologists of terror.”

What dopes. The issue isn’t freedom of the press. The issue is fifth columnists (all five now available through Times Select) within the press misusing their freedom to help the terrorists. The terrorists love that kind of freedom of the press. I can assure the Times that none of them are complaining about the invaluable assistance they are receiving from the Times.

“Our job, especially in times like these, is to bring our readers information that will enable them to judge how well their elected leaders are fighting on their behalf, and at what price.”

Sounds like this program was doing a pretty good job at a small price until you needlessly blew their cover.

By the way, as lowly readers, our job, in times like these, is to judge whether our unelected elites are fighting on our behalf or for the other side.

“If a war is being waged in America's name, shouldn't Americans understand how it is being waged?"

Er, no, not if the tactic in question it is perfectly legal, and if revealing it will undermine the effort and embolden the enemy. In any event, no one would ever accuse the Times of understanding how or even why this war is being waged.

“Government officials, understandably, want it both ways. They want us to protect their secrets, and they want us to trumpet their successes.’

It’s true. Strange as it may seem, Americans would prefer that you actually be on America’s side instead of revealing its secrets, trumpeting our failures, and exaggerating the successes of our enemies.

“How do we, as editors, reconcile the obligation to inform with the instinct to protect?’

Now you’re asking us? For starters, if a program is legal and effective, and congress is being fully briefed on it, why not overcome your perverse “obligation to inform?”

“Often the judgments are painfully hard. In those cases, we cool our competitive jets and begin an intensive deliberative process.”

Of course it's painful to needlessly reveal secrets that may result in the deaths of fellow citizens. Obviously you succeeded in overcoming the pain. Next time try respecting it.

“Finally, we weigh the merits of publishing against the risks of publishing. There is no magic formula, no neat metric for either the public's interest or the dangers of publishing sensitive information. We make our best judgment.”

In other words, we have no idea why we did it. We just did, knowing full well that it was a a legal and effective program and that disclosing it would assist the enemy and place American lives in jeopardy. Memo to the Times: that is a magic formula, in that it lacks all reason.

“We understand that honorable people may disagree with any of these choices... ”

Precicisely. That's what makes us honorable. We fail to detect the honor in your utterly self-serving position.

“But making those decisions is the responsibility that falls to editors, a corollary to the great gift of our independence.

The responsibility does not fall to a special breed of human beings called “editors.” Rather, it is a responsibility shared absolutely equally by all American citizens. In any event, you are trying to deflect responsibility for what you've done, or you would accept the consequences, including the legal ones.

“It is not a responsibility we take lightly. And it is not one we can surrender to the government.”

Then you are not an American, for this is a representative republic in which we routinely “surrender” power to our elected representatives. It is not up to dictatorial elites, to the New York Times “editocracy,” or to unelected judges to arrogate that power from the people and their elected representatives. This is a power that free people take very seriously, and we cannot surrender it to a bunch of journalistic perverts who will do anything to weaken President Bush, even if it means giving aid and comfort to those who wish to destroy us.

Oh, and after all that, what is the answer to the question "When Do We Publish a Secret?"

"We're the Times, the fourth branch of government above the other three. Therefore, When we f***ing feel like it."

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Agony and the Apostasy: On Pulitzer Prizes and Prize Putz Louses

Sick are they always; they vomit their bile and call it a newspaper. --Nietzsche

Van der Leun has written a a piece about our elite media that is so psychologically and spiritually astute that there’s almost nothing I can add. Maybe I’ll try anyway.

The Times is the very definition of an “elite,” having “self-selected itself as a vehicle worthy of wielding a power we normally reserve for those named by our citizens in elections,” specifically, “the right to say what is and what is not in our public interest” and “to knowingly risk the lives and well-being of the soldiers and citizens of this Republic at will.”

Obviously, nothing could be more illiberal and undemocratic than a couple of wealthy and insulated pinheads lost in the 1960s--Pinch "Me? I'm Dreaming" Sulzberger and Bill Keller--taking it upon themselves to arrogate power that is only properly vested in the people and their elected representatives.

But these men are not just driven by the usual ideological or venal motives, which is what makes them all the more dangerous and all the more able to live in denial of what they do. That is, they are perverts who enjoy the thrill of betrayal and the rush of stripping away the veil--any veil, whether it is the veil of decency or a veil of security. As Van der Leun writes, they “really enjoy how it feels. And they enjoy it, they revel in the pleasure of it, at the level of bodily sensations parallel to that of the orgasm. In common parlance, ‘they get off on it.’” The joy obviously doesn’t come from the journalistic aspect--which is dubious at best--but from the transgressive component. It is the transgression that creates the perverse pseudo-journalistc thrill.

This kind of perversion doesn't qualify for a DSM diagnosis. It's worse than that. The DSM only deals with the mind, but this is a perversion of the soul. All perverts live for their perversion, and soul-perverts are no exception. Although they are enslaved by ther perversion, they rarely feel that way. Rather, they often feel superior to those who do not know the transcendent joys of their particular illicit pleasure. They might even feel sorry for those confined to the licit kind. Part of the purpose of the perversion is to transform shame into pride. But perverts often need the association of other perverts to accomplish this transformation--somewhat like the reverse of a 12 step program, a support group to support what is wrong in them and make them feel right about it. The first step is to acknowledge your helplessness before a power that is lower than yourself, but to elevate it to the Most High.

Thus, journalistic perverts everywhere are coming out of the woodwork to support their fellow perverts at the Times Two. The other day, I saw Tom Brokaw weigh in, assuring us that he didn’t know of a single person who actually thought that the terrorists didn’t know about the the SWIFT program anyway. If that is true, then why did Bill Keller say that he agonized over the decision to reveal the program? Why the agony if it wasn’t a secret anyway? Brokaw strikes me as more pretentiously (because stupid) stupid (because pretentious) than a pervert. In any event, he is denying Keller the very purpose of the story, which was the agony of journalistic longing followed by the ecstatic release of publication.

In truth, the non-pervert cannot understand the motives of the pervert, and the pervert long ago lost any ability to empathize with the lowly, bourgeois non-pervert. They live in two divergent worlds, with entirely different frames of reference. A couple of days ago I canceled my subscription to the L.A. Times, but in truth, I had canceled it long ago. I had only recently re-upped for the Sunday edition, after having not looked at the paper in years. Even before canceling it in the wake of the SWIFT story, I found the entire paper to be suffused with a palpable soul-creepiness--not just the editorial page, but the front page, the entertainment section (obviously), the book review, the business section, even the real estate and sports sections. All of it is colored by a strange world view that I and most normal Americans do not share.

Richard Weaver saw this coming. In his Ideas Have Consequences--which was published in 1948--he discussed the effect of the new journalistic cosmology on the soul. As the medieval peasant might have looked up and seen “a revolving dome of fixed stars,” today we see something similar in looking at the daily newspaper; we see "the events of the day refracted through a medium which colors them as effectively as the cosmology of the medieval scientist determined his view of the starry heavens. The newspaper is a man-made cosmos of the world of events around us in time. For the average reader it is a construct of significances which he no more thinks of examining than did his pious forebears in the thirteenth century...” It presents “a version of life quite as controlled as that taught by medieval religionists, though feeble in moral instruction...”

When you uncritically read a newspaper or passively watch television news, you are participating in someone else’s metaphysical dream, not your own. And it is generally a sick dream with horrifying, infrahuman assumptions about reality.

You can be absolutely certain that Keller and Sulzberger are not only unashamed of their treason against the Good. Rather, they are proud of it. And as Augustine taught, “all the other vices attach themselves to evil, that it may be done; only pride attaches itself to good, that it may perish.” A normal soul loves what is good and therefore despises evil. The abnormal soul does not love what is good, but “the place of a suppressed devotion never remains empty.” Thus, the essence of perversion, on the soul level, involves passion and pride. Passion, in its classical sense, means to flee from God, while pride is to “rise up against Him” (Schuon). The proud man has “the propensity to brook no humiliations while readily inflicting them, upon others,” especially if they are Richeorge Nixbush and their illegal war on Viet Saddam. But don't ever question the Times' pervatriotism. They're better than patriots--they're dissenters!

The two--pride and passion--go together and are generally insatiable, thus the need to repeat the drill again and again. There is a reason why God shuns the proud. Pride is related to smug self-satisfaction, while humility is linked to honest and accurate self-assessment. The self-satisfied soul “is one who is saturated with his own imaginary worth which he projects onto his scanty knowledge and mediocre authority.” This is why they must give Pulitzers every year, so the biggest offenders may honor themselves again and again to keep the illusion alive. They can put this one right next to Walter Duranty's.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bellyaching about the Heartsick

Cosmonaught Lisa has been studying the enteric nervous system and came across the concept of the “abdominal brain”: “Studies have shown a vast overlap in neuropeptides of the brain and gut. This is a secondary autonomic nervous system that operates independently of the cephalic brain. Possibly more connected to the unconscious, and maybe even more directly connected to the divine because it does not have to think/do so hard because it just being/is. Perhaps when we feel something just isn't right and we feel it deep in our gut our enteric brain is working/being connected to the divine. Does this ring true?”

My gut instinct tells me it is true, although I can’t really explain why. Just sort of a fulness in my tummy.

I’m much more familiar with the idea of the heart-intellect, which is a universal spiritual archetype, than I am with the belly brain, but I can google as well as the next guy, and here’s what I came up with:

“In mammals there exist two brains of almost equal importance.... One is the cranial brain, the instrument of volitions, of mental progress and physical protection.  The other is the abdominal brain, the instrument of vascular and visceral function.  It is the automatic, vegetative, the subconscious brain of physical existence.  In the cranial brain resides the consciousness of right and wrong.  Here is the seat of all progress, mental and moral... However, in the abdomen there exists a brain of wonderful power maintaining eternal, restless vigilance over its viscera.  It presides over organic life.  It dominates the rhythmical function of viscera.... The abdominal brain is a receiver, a reorganizer, an emitter of nerve forces.  It has the power of a brain.  It is a reflex center in health and disease.... The abdominal brain is not a mere agent of the [cerebral] brain and cord; it receives and generates nerve forces itself; it presides over nutrition.  It is the center of life itself.  In it are repeated all the physiologic and pathologic manifestations of visceral function (rhythm, absorption, secretion, and nutrition).”

The author goes on to say that “the abdominal brain is centered in the solar plexus" and "is the primary control center of an extensive peripheral nervous system containing a number of ‘little brains.’” This is consistent with the idea that consciousness does not just reside in “our heads,” so to to speak, but that our bodies are permeated with it. Of course this makes sense, because nature does not know the artificial divisions we make, say, between brain and nervous system. Everything in our bodies is interconnected--both subjectively and objectively--in an inconceivably complex manner. That, by the way, is one of the reasons it is such a pain in the a** to have diabetes. Even if perfectly controlled, as in my case, you just don’t feel the same. One hormone changes all the hormones and enzymes in an irreducibly complex manner.

Interesting that in Zen, contrary to most other traditions, practitioners are advised to locate consciousness in the belly and to live from that region. In his magisterial Zen and the Brain, author James Austin notes that “The Zen Way plumbs depths that code for our strongest convictions,” including even the sense of taste. Eventually this primitive gustatory network "coordinates with other sensory impulses arising from the viscera.... Do you take a strong ‘visceral’ dislike to some things, find some person’s actions distasteful or disgusting? The links of taste-related circuitries may be compounding over more networks than you realize.... It is not the wisps of a few abstract thoughts which make us feel delighted or disgusted. The visceral roots of longings and loathings start very deep, even though they go on later to have extensive upward ramifications.”

By now, most of us are familiar with the yogic chakra system, as debased as the concept has become in popular culture. In talking about this system, you have to bear in mind that it was worked out in a pre-scientific world, so that the writings often include a lot of frankly mythological and fanciful speculations. But just like the ancient physicians who talk about the “four humors,” the ancient “chakrologists” were careful observers who were noting something phenomenologically real, even if they didn't necessarily understand its basis.

Running our of time here.... This is like a "speed-posting" competition.... Forgive any incoherence....

One of the reasons why psychoanalysis is so profound, is that it takes seriously the idea that we live and develop in a primate body. In other words, our consciousness is thoroughly entangled with our body. Immature babies interact with their mothers in such a way as to use them as an “auxiliary cortex” for the purpose of downloading programs from her brain into theirs. Interestingly,the latest research in attachment theory demonstrates that the right brain develops considerably ahead of the left brain during our first few years of life. Furthermore, the right brain has deep connections with the emotional limbic system, so that it is fairly clear that what we call the “unconscious” is located in the right brain. And this explains why most forms of psychotherapy are so ineffective, since they deal only with surface cognitions, when what you really need to do is “interrogate” the right brain and put its nonverbal reality into words. This is the basis of “free association” in psychoanalysis, which attempts to use language to bypass language. Our deepest traumas are literally encoded in the bodymind.

The Katha Upanishad states that “Radiating from the lotus in the heart there are a hundred and one nerves. The mortal in whose heart the knots of ignorance are untied becomes immortal.” By “a hundred and one,” the Vedic seers merely mean “a whole bunch,” which turns out to be true. In his book The Biology of Transcendence, Joseph Chilton Pearce cites research indicating how the heart “maintains an intricate dialogue with our brain, body and world at large.” He notes that half or more of the cells of the heart are neural cells like those that make up the brain. Furthermore, “the same neurotransmitters that function in the brain also function in the heart ganglia.” Pearce can sometimes be a little bit beyond the cutting edge, but he even cites research suggesting that heart transplant recipients occasionally pick up traits and idiosyncrasies from their donors.

In all esoteric traditions, the brain is felt to be an instrument of the heart, and the deepest aspect of our intellect is actually located in the left side of the chest. There is a constant dialogue going on between heart and head, likely mediated through the right brain. Which means that if you are sick “in the right brain,” you are likely to be heartsick as well.

Yesterday I was particularly heartsick upon learning of the fate of that beautiful Israeli boy who was kidnapped and butchered by bloodthirsty Palestinian savages. Naturally I thought of my own beautiful son, and the inconceivable depravity of a mind that would harm a hair on his head. And yet, such people exist. They exist in the millions. Like me, they are heartsick as well, but in a rather different way. They enjoy torturing our G.I.’s, cutting off heads, blowing up women and children. One can only wonder what sorts of parasites and psychotoxins, hidden away in the right brain and extending their tentacles into their cancerous hearts, make them enjoy the murder of children, including their own.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fourth Estate Fifth Column Deep Sixed

That felt good. I cancelled my subscription to the L.A. Times for, I don't know, the eighth or ninth (and now final time). The operator on the other end asked why I wanted to cancel the paper, and I said "because I'd like to drive over and make a citizens arrest of your editors for treason. Absent that, this is the next best option, although I'm not ruling out the former."

I was trying to think of something that would get her off the script. I think I succeeded. She seemed pretty rattled.

Interestingly, while waiting on hold, a voice came on, letting me know that my phone call might be monitored by Times management. But of course, that's for a higher purpose. It's been a very effective counter-subscriber program. It will allow them to come up with a new line in the script for when subscribers call in threatening to arrest their editors for treason.

The Infectiousness of the Morally Unrepressed

[Once again, “I” intended for this post to go in one direction, but “it” careened off course into another direction. It’s pretty much unedited free association, but it is free, for what it’s worth. It is possible that the post will strike me as trivial later in the day, when I am fully awake.... If you feel the same way, just attribute it to my charismatic lack of repression, or aesthetic “brake failure.”]

Woke up this morning, jinx all around my bed.

That’s the question, isn’t it? Is the jinx only inside our head or can it really be around our bed, in the air, the environment?

If you take the time to pay attention to subtle shifts in your own consciousness, you will notice that you are not just conscious of this or that. Rather, consciousness is a state that has “many mansions,” so to speak. Often, what we call stability of character is merely being stuck in one of these mansions.

One of the attractions of drugs--including legal ones such as alcohol and antidepressants--is that they serve the purpose of bumping us out of one mansion and into another. If you think of consciousness as a field in phase space, a particular state of consciousness is like an “attractor,” or indentation in the field. Some personalities are quite rigid, and seemingly live their entire lives in one attractor state from which they cannot escape--like a ball at the bottom of a deep valley. The subjective experience of being in the presence of one of these people is that of boredom. In other words, because of what is called counter-transference, you can feel what it’s like to be them.

There are people who have the opposite problem. In psychology, they generally fall under the heading of having “borderline personality structure,” which means that they are prone to rapid changes from one attractor to another. These people are not boring, but they are wearying. They can even be exciting, especially to the complementary type who is stuck in a rigid attractor. Often they seek each other out--one for stability, the other for excitement--usually with disastrous results.

Borderline personalities can be immensely appealing, because they give us a vicarious sense of danger and unpredictability. They can exude a kind of palpable charisma, an infectiousness that results from a pathological absence of repression. You never know what they might say or do.

In fact, this is the basis of the appeal of many musicians and movie stars. It is no coincidence that a fair number of these people are quite dysfunctional and would not be capable of dealing with the demands and responsibilities of day-to-day life. Think of a Marlon Brando, whose clearly borderline personality made him literally radiate a kind af animal intensity. I can think of any number of artists, celebrities, and stars who exude this kind of charsima, but whose personal lives are an absolute wreck. The two are not unrelated.

I just recently read the new biography of the Beatles, by Bob Spitz, and John Lennon clearly falls into this category. When you read about just how dysfunctional he was, you realize that he quite literally could not have functioned in society. When he wasn’t making music, he was dysfunctional in every way, with no inner stability at all. And yet, there is no question that he was the leader of the Beatles, at least until he began taking LSD on a daily basis for weeks on end in ‘66-’67. In the early days, the other members looked up to him as a sort of god because of what one person called his pure fuck all attitude. Without that defiant attitude, the Beatles would have gone nowhere.

When I was younger, I have to admit that I enjoyed being around people like that. I’m thinking of one friend in particular who was every bit as crazy as John Lennon. Something always happened in his presence because he would make it happen. Not only was he crazy, but his infectiousness made everyone around him crazy as well. He was like a reverse guru: he radiated a palpable vibration that could awaken something similar in the receptive follower. He crackled with impulsive, beer-fueled insanity. It even felt like a kind of salvation to be around him, because it was an escape from the mundane and routine--the tyranny of the normal. (Sometimes I wonder if Van der Leun wasn't one of these charismatic wholly men, only alive to tell the tale from the other side of it... )

Great leaders often have a bit of this insanity as well. For example, Winston Churchill was extraordinarily reckless and impulsive as a young man. Yes, you could call it courage, but it was clearly something else as well. One of the reasons he wasn’t trusted or listened to in the 1930’s is that everyone knew full well about his impetuousness and recklessness. And yet, it was exactly this “madness” that was required to rally civilization against an equally charismatic madman whose absence of repression was apparently intensely intoxicating. Don’t get me wrong--I am not equating Churchill and Hitler. It’s just that we required a sort of characterological “mirror image” of Hitler in order to defeat him.

Clearly, this is one of the problems we seem to be facing in our present war. Evidently, Osama bin Laden is an immensely charismatic fellow to great numbers of his fellow Muslims. Why is this? Probably--in its own perverse way--for the same reason the other Beatles were attracted to John Lennon and I was attracted to my friend. One of the reasons John Lennon was so attractive--and in a way, served a very functional purpose--was because of the deadness and oppressiveness of British culture at the time. Your life was completely planned out ahead of time, with virtually no chance to escape your destiny or express your individuality. Therefore, it took someone as ungovernable and irrepressible as John Lennon to break through that thick barrier.

I wonder if many Muslims don’t get the same vicarious thrill out of bin Laden’s exploits? Please, don’t get me wrong--I’m not trying to sympathize per se, just putting myself in their sandals and under their turbans. I wonder if I looked around and saw nothing but futility and hopelessness and repression, whether I would be in awe of an Islamic nihilist with an absolutely fuck all attitude? After all, there’s no middle ground in most of the Muslim world--there aren’t small degrees of rebellion built into the system, as there now are in the West. In the West, perpetual adolescent rebellion is now commodity and end-state lifestyle for millions of so-called adults. John Lennon’s very real and very desperate fuck all can now be purchased off the shelf.

But how does one express the primordial fuck all in the Muslim world? For many, it must feel like an “all or none” proposition. Why not blow up the whole system and take everyone with you? What difference does it make? Rock on!

So in the Palestinian terrortories, they treat suicide bombers as pop icons. When they chant “I hope I die before I get old,” they really mean it.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

"Worlds There Are, Without Suns"

It is impossible to begin a discussion of ontological evil without first describing the vertical structure of the cosmos. That was the purpose of yesterday’s post. For the non-religious, my account will undoubtedly be irrelevant or worse, while for the faithful it might seem “gnostic” or overly mystical. I can assure you that it is not, and that in the absence of a similar metaphysic you will not be able to simultaneously account for both evil and God’s goodness, and thus avoid theidiocy.

In order to understand ontological evil we must first draw a distinction between God as the supreme absolute and the degrees of being that result from the inner logic of God’s creative activity. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, we may think of creation as a “ray” of involution that descends from the absolute reality into degrees of increasing relativity below. What is unique about man is that we are situated roughly halfway between the absolute and relative domains, so that we partake of both. This is why human beings are able to know that they are composed of both spirit and matter. But it also helps to explain a lot of our perpetual conflict and trouble.

The soul is actually a point of divine light thrown off like a spark from the divine center. In reality, it is more like a line than a point, and, given our free will, it can either move closer or further away from its source. The visions of revelation are ways of describing in human terms the abstract spiritual reality in which the soul moves and has its being. Revelation is required for human beings, because it deals in archetypal truths that are buried deep within the heart-intellect, but which we cannot necessarily see with our natural reason. This is because as one descends through the degrees of being, the greater distance from God results in greater awareness of separateness and independence, as the universal “I” that undergirds our subjectivity becomes all of the individual “me’s” of relative existence.

There is natural, “structural” evil, and human evil, the latter of which is far worse. The structural evil is simply a consequence of the inevitable structure of vertical existence. Again, you can look at it as a “ray of creation” or in the Kabbalistic sense of God “withdrawing” in order to create a space for the separate existence of other sentient beings. Either way, there are going to be dark “worlds” where God is apparently absent.

Have you ever touched or been caught up in one of these worlds? If so, you might have felt the hair stick up on the back of your neck. In the novel Demian, Herman Hesse vividly describes the discovery of one of these dark worlds by the protagonist, Emil, as he finds himself losing his childhood innocence and being entangled in darkness. In general, innocence and light are opposed to darkness and a certain kind of forbidden knowledge, as exemplified in the Garden of Eden story. Humans, being what they are, are nevertheless going to choose the forbidden fruit. Frankly, I wouldn’t even trust someone who hadn’t given it a taste.

Just as there are regions in horizontal space where you wouldn’t want to live--Antarctica, Equatorial Africa, Berkeley--there are vertical regions that are unfit for human habitation. Nevertheless, just as there are humans who choose to live in Berkeley, there are rebellious humans who are drawn to these dark regions of the vertical. Again, on their own, these regions don’t pose much of a threat. But when a human being--or a group of human beings, an entire movement or culture--enters one, then we have trouble.

There are different realms of evil, each representing the privation and sometimes reversal, or counterfeit expression, of some divine quality. Thus, as Will mentioned a couple of days ago, the Soviet Union may have represented “the satanic inversion of the universal brotherhood concept that was (is) communism.” Likewise, one can find in contemporary Islam many similar “inversions” of religious truths. One can certainly see it in secular leftism, which is deeply parasitic on Judeo-Christian truth and virtue, almost like a man-made “shadow.”

If there are higher worlds--which there obviously are--then there are lower worlds. And if there are inhabitants of higher worlds--again, an obvious proposition--then there are inhabitants of lower ones. The difference is that the higher worlds are real, while the lower ones are contingent, reactionary, and ultimately “empty.” Since they are realms of privation, the humans that inhabit them have a sort of “empty fulness” that they must repeatedly recharge. Furthermore, since they live in a sort of existential “wrongness,” they must induct others into their world in order to extinguish their conscience (which remains annoyingly linked to God, like the “line of light” alluded to above).

Thus, evil movements tend to be inherently rebellious and expansionary. On the other hand, for most of its existence, the most good and decent nation that has ever existed was fully content to let the rest of the world go to hell in a handbasket. Indeed, we would still do so if it weren’t for the fact that the world wants to bring its hell to our shores. Thus, we have to travel to hell and fight demons.

Although the people of Kosland would undoubtedly regard our kind as “reactionary,” anyone with spiritual vision can see that the reverse is true, that they inhabit a false and empty world that is filled with anger, intoxication, inflation, and rebellion. If you are remotely sensitive--even if you are one of those on “the other side”--you may recognize that you actually receive your vital power not from within, but through an intoxicating “charge” you receive through the drama of your anger and rebellion. You actually enjoy "politics" and you like having enemies. It helps make up for the fact that, in your rebellion, you are punished by the closing of the cosmic circle, like a noose around your neck. Your struggle only tightens the noose, but at least there is a certain perverse thrill in the asphyxiation that ensues.

Evil has a role in the world, at least for the uncorrupted soul. For such an individual, evil is its own punishment, because it cuts you off from your transcendent source. Therefore, it is self-correcting in a way. But one can fall so far--one can be so intoxicated with rebellion--that one supports and nurtures an entire parallel world of evil that then becomes parasitic on man.

In other words, it is not just that human beings are afflicted with “mind parasites,” which every cosmonaught should know. Rather, these parasites can then go on to create the very worlds required to allow them to flourish. Such a pathological world is the Muslim Middle East, which perpetually recreates its own evil world, especially through the barbaric treatment of women and girls. The parasites also prevent them from seeing the problem. Like a mentally ill individual, they will externalize blame and look everywhere but at the source, which is, of course, within.

Obviously, “the West," much less tiny Israel, has nothing whatsoever to do with this spiritual sickness that pervades the Middle East. And yet, these parasites now have full control of the host, not just in individuals, but entire cultures that would rather murder and torture Americans and Jews than stop torturing their own women and children. This is how evil can become an end in itself, which it clearly is in the case of Islamaniacs. They live in a hell that they have created, and then blame us for it. But they also want to impose it on us. Very odd.

To a lesser degree, the "progressive left" represents another entirely contingent existence that is incapable of knowing spiritual happiness, so it escapes this fact by trying to feel the rush of righteous rebellion along one’s keel, so to speak. The moment one realizes that one actually enjoys the misery of this pathetic and illusionary existence, one has begun to wake up from the leftist dream. It is a painful realization though, for it means going from the question, “why is the world so messed up and miserable?,” to “why am I so messed up and miserable?” There are impersonal, ontological reasons why conservatives are so much happier than leftists.

Now, please don’t get me wrong--this doesn’t mean that “Republicans” are the saviors of the world. Far from it. What it means is that there are spiritual interstices in the murky world of politics where the light can enter and have an influence. One of them is not the illiberal left. Nor is it necessarily the “right,” at least not in its conventional sense. But at least the right has an “up,” whereas the left has only a “forward,” which is actually a backward and regressive flight from transcendence and its replacement with false, spiritually deluded, and ultimately destructive visions of utopia. Someone else always has to die or be killed to maintain these delusions.

As usual, this post has rambled into unanticipated areas. I’ll try to regroup and refocus tomorrow. If there’s any interest in this topic.

Worlds there are without suns, covered up with darkness. To these after death go the ignorant, slayers of the Self. --Isha Upanishad