Saturday, December 02, 2006

Will Stem Cell Research Lead to a Cure for Progressivism?

As anyone who’s read my book knows, there’s not much politics in it -- at least nothing explicit. Regarding economics, I can only think of a single paragraph. And yet, it’s probably all you need to know about economics. On page 149 it reads,

“For millennia -- until quite recently -- human beings struggled to rise above subsistence because of a stubborn inability to recognize how wealth is created. Certainly into the late 18th century, people mistakenly believed that there was simply a fixed amount of wealth in the world, and that it was left to individuals and governments to fight over their share. Not until Adam Smith was it recognized that wealth can grow without limits, but obviously even now people have a hard time wrapping their minds around this idea.”

In my view, one of the central mechanisms that kept mankind in its rut of subsistence was the expression of constitutional envy. In past posts I have theorized that envy was actually selected by evolution because humans evolved in small groups where it functioned to create harmony between members. Humans were group animals long before they ever became individuals. Like an ant hill or bee hive, the group was the unit of survival, not the individual. Individuation is a very recent historical phenomenon, at least on any kind of widespread scale. It is accompanied by a new type of mental disturbance, the neurosis, which is a “private culture,” so to speak.

The further back in history you travel, the less individual neurosis you see. Instead, the whole group is nuts. But from the standpoint of the group, the “nut” is the one who will not or cannot conform to the crazy group -- like that decent Muslim who was kicked out of his mosque in Omaha last week for writing an editorial that was critical of Islam. To us, he is “sane,” but to his primitive co-religionists he is “crazy” or “evil.” You see similar phenomena in other primitive groups such as the progressive nutroots vis-à-vis their treatment of Joe Lieberman. Here was a fellow who had a near perfect liberal voting record, but he took one step outside the closed circle of the group mind, so he was banished.

To further quote myself -- I’m almost done -- “One of the things that makes the creation of wealth possible is the accumulation of surplus capital to invest, but here again, for most of human history this was quite difficult to accomplish because of envious mind parasites that could not tolerate the idea of one person possessing more than another.” Thus, envy “was one of the psychological barriers to material development that humans have struggled to overcome.” Everyone thinks that primitive groups were egalitarian and that all of their members got along beautifully. Actually, the opposite is true. Because of completely unregulated envy, individuals would rather part with their possessions than to live with the anxiety of the envious “evil eye” being directed at them. Thus, primitive groups are not envious because they are primitive, but primitive because they are envious.

Which brings up a fascinating irony about so-called progressives. Now, it is a truism that progressives are not just ignorant of economics, but that they confidently embrace and promulgate what can only be called economic innumeracy. Why is this? How can people be so confidently and yet demonstrably wrong?

Comes now an article forwarded to me by reader Brian that breaks it all down for One Cosmonauts. Entitled The Economy Revealed: Why Understanding Economics is Hard, the article reveals.... why understanding economics is hard. “It's not because of complexity. The rules of supply and demand aren't inherently more difficult to fathom than those that apply to, say, politics, or cooking, or sports. Yet while most people have no trouble wrapping their brains around these subjects... few have a similar appetite for economics.”

Cassell refers to a theory by anthropologist Alan Fiske, to the effect that the deep structure of human relations involves only four kinds of interactions which he calls 1) communal sharing, 2) equality matching, 3) authority ranking, and 4) market pricing:

“Communal sharing is how you treat your immediate family: All for one and one for all. Or as Marx put it: From each according to ability, to each according to need.

“Equality matching, by contrast, means we all take turns. From kindergarten to the town meeting, it's all about fair shares, reciprocity, doing your part.

“Authority ranking is how tribes function, not to mention armies, corporations and governments. Know your place, obey orders, and hail to the chief.

“Market pricing, of course, is the basis of economics. It's what we do whenever we weigh costs and benefits, trade up (or down), save or invest.”

Economic conflicts arise when one group or person is operating under a different type of interaction than another. For example, if you are a primitive progressive operating under the aegis of small group “communal sharing,” you may well believe that higher education, healthcare, housing, tattoos, tattoo removal, and gender reassignment surgery should all be granted to you by the government free of charge.

The problem -- as I touched on in my book -- is that the primitive progressive is operating under an economic theory that is not so much cognitive but genetic. In a way, it’s deeper than thought, since it was programmed into us for survival in small groups (obviously, natural selection did not anticipate a high tech, competitive, free market global economy). Thus, Fiske confirms my speculation that the logic of market pricing was a very late development which is not at all “hard wired” -- and even goes against our genetic programming.

Cassell agrees with me that this “makes sense. For hunter-gatherers in small bands, sharing, matching and ranking were probably as fundamental to survival as eating and breeding. But market pricing involves complex choices based on mathematical ratios.... Commerce and global trade, of course, require a finely honed version of the market-pricing model. But if humans developed this model relatively late, it might well be less than universal, even today.”

The money money quote:

"In other words, to have an intuitive grasp of economics, you might just need to take a step or two up the evolutionary ladder."


In short, to cure yourself of progressivism -- or any other kind of atavistic primitivism -- you will have to grow and evolve. This is exactly the problem we are facing in the Islamic world, for if we cannot even lift our own tragically backward progressives out of economic magic and superstition, imagine the difficulty of doing so with an explicitly tribal and authoritarian mindset. Imagine flying over dailykos headquarters and dropping thousands of copies of the works of Friedman or Hayek. Would it help? Probably not. Genes are powerful things.

Brian emailed me a related article, Progressives Come Out! Against Progress! It basically reaffirms what I wrote in my book. The author used to think of freedom "as being something that people... naturally want, which accounts for my tendency to dismiss Marxism and socialism as abnormal systems which have to be imposed by external authorities (generally called 'the government') upon people who only desire to be Left Alone.” But Fiske’s theory accounts for the fact that “there might be people who find the idea of being left alone to be culturally repugnant.”

“Even now, the word ‘progressive’ is often used in praise of backward economic systems.... If we use the evolutionary model, I wonder whether the emotional appeal of Communism might have represented an evolutionary step backwards, repackaged rhetorically so that its proponents could pat themselves on the back and maintain they were moving forward.”

Ya think?

The author brings up the recent example of a student who had applied to MIT with a perfect SAT score of 2400. Nevertheless, an admissions expert was quoted as saying that “I am not convinced she's a shoo-in -- I'd want to see more evidence that she's giving back to the community."

The author acknowledges that the communal sharing mindset naturally has its place. "But to inject the idea of ‘giving back’ in the case of a person whose obvious merit has been earned is another example of human progress being attacked by backward thinking primitivism -- smugly masquerading as modern sophistication. Progressives who place primitive principles first tend to be consumed by childish notions of what is ‘fair’ -- which they cannot keep to themselves, but which they must project onto other people. In their minds, success in anything (even at math) means ‘taking’ from someone else.”

From there, it is but “a small step from saying that a person should ‘give back’ to saying that ‘we’ should ‘take it back’ from him.”

Yup, “If the most progressive people are those with a concept of market economics, one of the great tragedies of the modern age has been their systematic destruction by less progressive people who call themselves the most progressive.... I'm wondering whether there might be a basic, persistent inability to distinguish forward from backward. I used to think that ‘progressives’ imagined themselves to be forward in their thinking, but I'm now thinking that ‘scientific Marxism' might have been grounded in an unacknowledged need for primitivism.”

Would this explain how leftist economic theory functions as a sort of seductive door through which all sorts of other barbarisms rush in? To put the answer in the form of a bumper snicker, “Come for the egalitarianism, stay for the bestiality and tyranny.”

Friday, December 01, 2006

Driving Truck Bombs Through the Gaps in Leftist Logic

Back when this blog was knee-high to a site meter, I wrote “Historically, wars have been fought over territory and resources. Now the human mind is the turf, and the battle is being waged on a vertical dimension in order to ‘colonize’ as many noggins as possible. In other words, our task in the ‘war on terror’ has nothing to do with land, oil, or territory per se, but with the inevitable problems caused by a more primitive mode of psychological development that has access to weapons that, on its own, it could never have developed (because of its primitiveness). This is a war between different levels of psychological development.”

In our triangulated global war between Islam, the left, and classical American liberalism, it seems that we and the Islamists are fully aware of their alliance with the left. Only the clueless left are in the dark about this dynamic. Since they flatter themselves with the designation “progressive,” they literally cannot recognize their deep alliance with the most backward and regressive force on the planet, radical Islam. But the Islamists are a bit more sophisticated than the left -- just as the Palestinian PR machine has always been more sophisticated than the liberal media, and has been relying upon these useful MSM jihadiots to propagandize on their behalf for 30 years.

Dr. Sanity addresses this in her post today, Systematic Subversion and the Ultimate Triumph of Freedom, in reference to Ahmadinejad’s “Letter to my American Moonbat Brothers and Sisters.” Why shouldn’t those who are sworn to the destruction of America celebrate the electoral victory of the Democrats? It's not an insult. It just is. After all, as Vasko Kohlmayer writes (linked to Dr. Sanity’s piece), Democrats

-- have tried to prevent us from listening on terrorists' phone calls
-- have sought to stop us from properly interrogating captured terrorists
-- have tried to stop us from monitoring terrorists' financial transactions
-- have revealed the existence of secret national security programs
-- have opposed vital components of the Patriot Act
-- have sought to confer unmerited legal rights on terrorists
-- have opposed profiling to identify the terrorists in our midst
-- have impugned and demeaned our military
-- have insinuated that the president is a war criminal
-- have forced the resignation of a committed defense secretary
-- have repeatedly tried to delegitimize our war effort
-- want to quit the battlefield in the midst of war.

“To see just how bad things really are, ponder this question: If the terrorists were represented by a party in our political system, how would their foreign policy program substantially differ from that of the present-day Democrats? By effectively becoming a political arm of our sworn enemy, the Democratic Party has staked out a position that is unparalleled in our country's history” (Kohlmayer).

Now, I am the last person in the world to be surprised by this alliance between modern Islamist primitives and primitive postmodern progressives. Their interests are identical, in that both believe that the West is fundamentally flawed, and both call for a destruction of the contemporary order and its replacement with a fantasized utopia.

In both cases, their respective philosophies are deeply irrational, which represents another area of convergence. In any number of past posts, I have enunciated my own ontology and epistemology, demonstrating that in order to understand the whole of reality, we must recognize two realms that are not reducible to the other, the horizontal world of quantities, of asymmetrical logic, and linear causation, and a vertical realm of ascending qualities that can only be understood in light of the Absolute.

One of the reasons Islam is so irrational is that it denies the horizontal. Today at American Thinker there are a pair of excellent articles about this, one entitled What is Islamic Philosophy, the other entitled Islam and the Problem of Rationality. I don’t have a lot of time this morning, but if you read these articles, you will see that the fundamental problem with Islamic thinking is that it is wholly vertical and devalues or completely disregards the horizontal.

Poole cites their belief in "volunteerism,” which maintains “that rather than created objects having inherent existence, Allah [vertically] constantly recreates each atom anew at every moment according to his arbitrary will. This, of course, undermines the basis for what Westerners understand as natural laws.” Furthermore, there is the belief in “occasionalism,” a doctrine maintaining that “in the natural world, what is perceived as [horizontal] cause and effect between objects is mere appearance, not reality. Instead, only Allah truly acts with real effect; all seemingly natural observances of causation are merely manifestations of Allah's habits, for Allah simultaneously creates both the cause and the effect according to his arbitrary will.”

Carson notes what amounts to the same thing, that “[horizontal] causes and effects are inadmissible... because causes limit the absolute [vertical] freedom of Allah to bring about whatever events he wills.  Effects are brought about, not by causes, but by the direct will of Allah.” Obviously, “Without a notion of cause and effect, science is impossible, and “If the true cause of events is the will of Allah, and if the will of Allah is inscrutable, then the causes of events are inscrutable and science a vain pursuit.  The issue is ultimately whether the universe and its creator are in any way intelligible.  The West, with its traditions of natural law and natural theology, agrees for the most part that the universe is astonishingly intelligible and God somewhat so. Islam, at least at its most rigorous, denies any intelligibility whatsoever to either.”

Now, bear in mind those last three sentences. What they clearly highlight is that the development of science in the West was characterized by a unique appreciation of both the horizontal and the vertical, which intersect in natural theology and in natural law -- in a greater (capital R) Reason. One could also say that they intersect in the whole Judeo-Christian worldview, which regards the world as intelligible to intelligence precisely because both are a reflection of the same divine logos that infuses all of reality, both vertical and horizontal. In Islam, Allah is so radically transcendent that he cannot be known, while in the West, one may know God in a multitude of ways both horizontal and vertical, for example, by mapping the human genome, by enunciating relativity theory, or by simply becoming more virtuous -- since humans, in their vertically ascended state, are a mirror and image of the divine.

Put it this way: the scientific revolution occurred just once, in just one civilization -- something like 99.98 percent of all scientific inventions and discoveries have occurred in Western Christendom. Everywhere else, science either never appeared, or it petered out after some initial advances -- for example, in China and the Islamic world. And the reason science could not be sustained in these civilizations is specifically religious.

Judeo-Christian metaphysics facilitated science in several unique ways. Remember, the practice of science is based on a number of a priori assumptions about the world that cannot be proven by science. Rather, they must be taken on faith -- indeed, it would not be going too far to say that science is based on a foundation of revelation.

In short, Christianity depicts God as a rational being who created the universe in a rational, predictable, and lawful way that is subject to human comprehension. In other words, science is based on the faith that the world is intelligible, that human beings may unlock its secrets, and that doing so actually brings one closer to God.

Now all forms of leftism, secularism, or materialism are every bit as logically incoherent as Islam, and will sooner or later lead to tyranny over the mind, spirit, and body (which history demonstrates time and again). Since these philosophies deny the vertical a priori, they actually run counter to that which makes us human: our access to the realm of vertical values that illuminate and give meaning to our human journey.

The philosopher Michael Polanyi pointed out that what distinguishes leftism in all its forms is the dangerous combination of a ruthless contempt for traditional moral values (the vertical) with an unbounded moral passion for utopian perfection (which amounts to a coerced “horizontal verticality”). The first step in this process is a complete skepticism that rejects traditional ideals of moral authority and transcendent moral obligation -- a complete materialistic skepticism combined with a boundless, utopian moral fervor to horizontally transform mankind.

However, being that the moral impulse remains in place, there is no longer any boundary or channel for it. One sees this, for example, in college students (and those permanent college students known as professors) who, in attempting to individuate from parental authority and define their own identities, turn their intense skepticism against existing society, denouncing it as morally shoddy, artificial, hypocritical, and a mere mask for oppression and exploitation. This is why, in their rhetoric, they sound so much like the Islamists -- why Noam Chomsky or Michael Moore or Dailykos sound no different than bin Laden.

For a while, civilization was able to withstand the skepticism unleashed by the enlightenment, by benefitting from the momentum of the traditional vertical-horizontal framework that gave rise to science to begin with (for example, the use of our God-given free will in pursuit of objective truth in a rational world made so by a beneficent creator who wished for us to know him through his works). But this could only go on for a few generations before it began detaching itself from the religious morality that underlie it. Since no society can ever live up to its ideals, it wasn’t difficult for the skeptics to begin the process of hammering away at the foundations of the vertical.

Unlike Europe, America has thus far managed to escape this destruction because it has a very different intellectual genealogy, having been much more influenced by the skeptical enlightenment of Britain and Scotland rather than the radical enlightenment of France. America never lost touch with its Judeo-Christian ideals, which inspired individuals to work to improve and humanize society without violent disruption of traditional ways or heavy-handed government intervention. Science and faith could not just co-exist, but thrive in their dynamism.

But at the foundation of the secular leftist revolt against the vertical is the attendant, deeply irrational idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth, for God, among other things, is the ground and possibility of Truth. The death of God brings with it the death of the living Word, or logos. The official name of this death of the Word is "deconstruction," although it is really more of a murder (or perhaps suicide), with murderous consequences. For if truth is relative and perception is reality, then no one’s ideas about the world are any better than anyone else’s -- including Islamists. And this creates a gaping cognitive and spiritual chasm big enough to drive a truck bomb through.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Progressive Thought and the Denial of History

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive. --C. S. Lewis

In one respect, history represents constant change and novelty. But in another respect, it involves constant repetition of the same themes. In this regard, it is somewhat analogous to music, where you have a certain rhythm, bass line, and chordal structure, on top of which is the melody. But the melody is constrained by the structure. Often we notice the historical melody to the exclusion of the droning and repetitive bass line.

Primitive societies abhor change, and do everything within their power to prevent, deny, or undo it. Often, when change happens suddenly, these cultures will simply assimilate the novelty into their old system of belief.

However, one far-sighted observation of the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion is that many modern human groups are every bit as primitive. While they might have a veneer of civilization, their more basic function is to structure existence and to allay anxiety. You see this, for example, in very obvious cases such as the NAACP, the ACLU, or the feminist movement.

While these groups once had an instrumental purpose, now their only function is to provide a cognitive template for the world of the people who belong to them, and to reinforce the structure through contact with like-minded people -- people who share the same anxieties. It's not even a pleasant world. Rather, it is a dark, paranoid, and conspiratorial world. And yet, the paranoid world of the far left is preferable to the ambiguity of the real world.

Human beings have an amazing capacity to deny change and to live in the past. Then again, if viewed through the lens of Darwinian evolution, this should not be surprising. After all, evolution did not design us to be happy, or well adjusted, or even to know reality. Rather, in our horizontal aspect, we were specifically selected to survive and adapt to a certain environment.

All successful species are stuck in a rut of adaptation. Humans are no different. The majority of cultural beliefs are not adaptations to external reality but adaptations to internal reality -- they help to alleviate anxiety and uncertainty and to structure existence.

After World War II, anthropologists discovered primitive groups that had been entirely static and had never "entered" history. Their belief systems were entirely structured around various benevolent and malevolent tribal spirits. Upon noticing American soldiers and their boats loaded down with riches that were distributed to the population, they did not alter their basic conception of reality. Rather, they simply incorporated the American G.I.s into a "cargo cult," and gave their old gods a new identity. Time and change were successfully warded off.

On the bottom floor of the primitve group psyche there is an abiding sense that time is not progressive. Rather, time is the enemy. It does not advance, but wears away and corrodes. Things that unexpectedly develop in time, like, say, President Bush, the conservative movement, or the threat of Islamic terrorism, are not exactly denied. Rather, they are regarded as bizarre aberrations -- they are not really real.

For the progressive, their reality has been stolen and a false one has been inserted. I mean this literally, for example, with regard to the ineradicable obsession with the 2000 election. It is not so much that an election was "stolen." Rather, the feeling is that their beautiful reality has been purloined. But this is just a small reflection of the more pervasive sentiment in the dead and dying liberal MSM that reality went off the rails in approximately 1980, with the ascendancy of Reaganism. It is as if they are constantly trying to undo that tragic mistake and force reality back into the little liberal box that once contained it (and them).

In order to deny the corrosive effect of time and change, primitive groups enact rituals to reassert the original divine order. This is why you can see that the left is so astonishingly ritualistic in their thinking. For their philosophy, like any religious philosophy, revolves around certain iconographic symbols that abide outside time. They are "forever." They need only be evoked, like magical incantations, and we are back in the comfortable tribal delusions of the 1960's: "War is not the answer." "America is a racist, sexist, homophobic country." "Culture of corruption." "Tax cuts for the rich." "Be Very Afraid, the world is cooling/warming." "Global Orgasm for Peace." This is the otherwise inexplicable appeal of that cliche-ridden empty suit, Barack Obama.

Like the Islamists, the "progressive" is animated by a beautiful ideal located in the distant past. In truth, it never really existed. Rather, it is purely archetypal and precedes any particular "thoughts" about it. Once it is embraced, it then produces its own thoughts. The formality of a thinker is not required. If you peruse, say, huffingtonpost or dailykos, you will see that the memes that are reflexively channelled there are overwhelmingly angry, paranoid, and alarmist. In reality, this represents alarm over the fact that time really does exist, and rage at the fact that the wider world does not mirror their tribal ideal.

The progressive party is the nostalgic party that actually wishes to deny history and escape from time. Perhaps I should again emphasize how common this is, both in individuals and in groups. Freud, for example, said that the neurotic "suffers from reminisences." For what is a neurosis but a perpetual replaying of events of the past that are superimposed on the present, the constant structuring of reality in terms of the timeless unconscious?

Similarly, the progressive navigates through life while keeping his eyes riveted on the rear view mirror. Therefore, the same things keep mysteriously happening. It's positively eery: Bush is Nixon. Iraq is Vietnam. The terrorist intercept program is the White House enemy list. The Valerie Plame matter is Watergate. Clearly, these progressive cargo-cultists think that all the economic gifts brought to us by those two tax-cutting bwanas, Reagan and Bush, really arrived courtesy of the old big government gods.

The archaic community lives in a tribal memory that is impervious to the ravages of time. But as reality increasingly deviates from the sacred memory, it is the duty of every tribal member to renew, reassert and rejuvenate the ideal through rituals of various kinds. You can see these primitive magicians at dailykos, going through their various rituals and Ghost Dances, raging against reality, desperately trying to cleanse and "renew" it.

For primitive groups, time is terror. Therefore, it is no surprise that we routinely hear from the left that "George Bush is the world's biggest terrorist." That he is, in the sense that he has no respect for the tribal ways of the progressive mind and its sacred, eternal myths.

In the long run, in most merely quantitative ways, things always get better, as science and capitalism -- not progressivism -- assure that. The economy is humming along with low unemployment and interest rates, people are living longer than ever, the environment has never been cleaner in my lifetime, crime rates and illegitimacy are much lower than the recent past, more people own homes and attend college than ever. These are all the things progressives supposedly care about, but the better things get, the worse they feel.

But things are also changing in qualitative ways: materialism and spiritual exhaustion, neopaganism, barbarous entertainment, cognitively repressive political correctness, the cult of the body, sexual license, self-worship, moral relativism, multi-culturalism... Why aren't progressives more grateful? Still not primitive enough?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Putting the "Psycho" in Psychoblogging

As you know, there are a number of fine conservative or old-fashioned liberal psychobloggers out there, such as Dr. Sanity, ShrinkWrapped, Neo-neocon, Assistant Village Idiot, and Sigmund, Carl and Alfred. In fact, ever since I started blogging last year, I’ve been looking for a leftist psychoblogger to ridicule when I don’t have anything else to write about, but couldn’t find any.

It is somewhat surprising that there aren’t more moonbat psychobloggers, since the vast majority of my colleagues are default leftists. Most of them know nothing at all about economics, political philosophy, or theology, but this hardly stops them from having strong opinions. But their opinions simply mirror the drearily predictable leftist subculture in which they were indoctrinated. Not only do you know all of their opinions ahead of time, but they are almost always felt and not thought. This is not surprising, as most people who study psychology are more irrational “feeling types.” Intellectually deep psychiatrists and psychologists are somewhat few and far between.

This morning I found a leftist psychoblog linked to dailykos, Psyche, Science, and Society, run by psychoanalyst Steven Soldz. It is a goldmine of leftist foolishness, cant, and cliché, and you understand in a second why this man would be linked to the breathtakingly infantile dailykos. This blogger vividly demonstrates the axiom that education has nothing to do with wisdom. More often than not, the two are inversely related.

In his “about me” page, Soldz sets the tone, making reference to how the American public has “rallied around a mythic ‘war on terror’” which “is built on a simplistic duality of good versus evil.” In other words, the terrorists are not actually evil. Rather, it is just that we have projected all of our “undesirable characteristics” into the so-called “evil” other. Evidently, it is we who actually want to chop their heads off and murder their children just for the hell of it.

This arrogant moral equation is so amazingly simplistic that one hardly knows where to begin. First of all, it reflects the boilerplate leftist idea that evil does not actually exist. Rather, there is only “so-called evil”; there are only “undesirable characteristics” that we project into others. Apparently, people who project evil are evil, but evil behavior isn’t. So Americans are evil projectors, but the terrorists who slashed the throats of stewardesses and flew airplanes into the Twin towers were not evil. No, it’s just our projection.

If that is true, one wonders why Dr. Soldz focuses only on our so-called projection of evil into the terrorists, but not on their projection of evil into us. After all, they started it. I promise to stop thinking they're evil if they promise to stop trying to kill me. (By the way, you'd think Soldz might take a bit more offense at the idea that the terrorists also want to kill him merely for believing in "Jewish psychoanalysis." After all, they're not going to give him a pass just because he appeases evil. In fact, they probably won't even extend the professional courtesy of killing him last.)

Soldz rhetorically asks “Why does this trick [of projection] work? Why are people willing to put their critical faculties to sleep and line up behind their side in the ‘clash of civilizations?’ Ah, there’s the question! Simplistic answers won’t do.” But what could be more simplistic than believing evil only exists in the mind of the person who perceives it, or that there is really no clash of values between Western civilization and whose who openly wish to destroy it? Talk about somnolent critical faculties. Soldz does not have to project. His overwhelming denial of reality makes it redundant.

Amazingly, Dr. Soldz welcomes the launch of al Jazeera in America, stating that “I, for one, wish them well. I hope they will continue offending the powers-that-be by telling the truths that others suppress.” In other words, Dr. Soldz not only aligns himself with this invaluable propaganda tool of our terrorist enemies, but regards it as a courageous conveyer of suppressed truth. No, people aren’t offended by al Jazeera because -- like virtually all of the Arab Muslim world -- they are steeped in vile lies about America and Israel. Rather, they are offended because they do not want to hear the suppressed “truth” about Jewish conspiracies and genocidal Americans.

This man is beyond simplistic. He is beyond ignorant. He is even beyond stupid. I have no compunction whatsoever in saying that he is, at the very least, a moral imbecile.

Speaking of which, his views on religion betray a level of hermetically sealed ignorance that is truly astonishing. He muses that “As we ponder the spectacle of America legalizing torture, some wonder why the religious community doesn’t come out gung ho against torture.” He notes what should be a truism, that the more religiously inclined actually “support torture in some cases,” while “secular people have the lowest rate of support.”

Naturally, like all lying, agenda-driven leftists, Dr. Soldz willfully and misleadingly conflates torture with any number of techniques that do not deserve the term. But even then, what moral person would not waterboard a known terrorist to try to stop a massive terror plot? Thousands of people are only alive today because these techniques worked on people such as the number three man in al Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Soldz would rather see thousands of innocents murdered than to have frightened this poor beast of depravity into telling us what he knew about active terror plots. Our moral compasses are obviously quite different. I think his is broken.

In a stunningly ignorant statement, Dr. Soldz opines that “One might hypothesize from these data that religion fosters barbarism and that Secularism fosters humanism. Of course, a psychoanalyst might wonder if religion, rather, was a defense against one’s barbarous tendencies. If so, the people attracted to religion may have more brutal impulses evan than are here suggested.” Brilliant insight, Doc! This would explain the humanism of secular and atheistic societies such as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Castro's Cuba, and Mao’s China. And it would explain the barbarism of Mormons, the Dalai Lama, Quakers, and those genocidal Amish.

However, “Another possibility is that religious people are more likely to trust authority, such that they believe the authorities know what they are doing when they torture. If this view is true, one might conclude that religion is antithetical to democracy.” Right. Like most so-called “intellectuals,” Dr. Soldz won’t allow reality to interfere with a good theory. Never mind that the greatest democracy the world has ever known, the United States, is also the most religious, or that the most authoritarian and totalitarian places have been the most secular.

Like that other brilliant intellect, Dr. Elton John, Dr. Soldz proclaims that “At a minimum” we have “no reason to believe that the world would be a better place if people were more religious. But, given the state of the world, I can’t imagine anyone seriously arguing that, anyway. Can you?”

Who, me? Gee... let me think a minute...

Just imagine the vacuity of of this man’s impoverished imagination. Dr. Soldz cannot even imagine anyone seriously arguing that religion has any beneficial effect. No, he says -- un-ironically echoing the words of that beacon of morality, Karl Marx -- it is just an “opium that deadens the moral sense.” Indeed “We all know” -- yes, all of us who have received an authoritarian secular brainwashing via graduate school -- that “there are plenty of Christian and Jewish killers too. Is there any evidence that religion has a net positive effect in the world? Perhaps the amount of killing would decline if we had more atheists? I can’t see any contrary evidence.”

No contrary evidence. None!

Imagine the mentality of someone who “cannot see” the 200 million souls murdered in the 20th century as a direct result of atheistic ideologies. They are “invisible” because they do not fit into the twisted template of his ignorance and bigotry. What an imbecile.

But on the positive side, I now have a ready source of inspiration when there’s nothing else to write about.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

There are Seven Levels!

Reader Curious George notes that in yesterday’s post I made “a passing reference to ‘levels below the material’ that ‘should not detain us right now.’ However, I should indeed like to be detained right now -- I would like to apprehend the whole spectrum from the highest to the absolute lowest at least once."

“Can you help out here?”

What, you want to try to eat the the whole existentialada of lumin development in one siddhing? I dare you!

This reminds me of the first time Paul McCartney dropped acid. He had such an important insight that he searched frantically in his hotel room for a pencil and a piece of paper to get it all down. Not trusting himself to preserve that precious insight, he handed it to an assistant, Mal Evans, for safekeeping. In the morning he remembered the note, and asked Mal to read it to him. On it was scrawled the words,

“There are seven levels.”

And of course, McCartney was correct. It reminds me of when I entered graduate school, and we were learning about various models of the mind. Naturally, when you first start out, you don’t actually “know” anything about the mind at all. So you are given various theories and models, many of which are not only incompatible but completely contradictory -- everything from psychoanalysis on one end to behaviorism on the other, to neurobiology below and Jung above.

The professor mentioned that the mind was ultimately like a watch. We can only see the face, so we really have no idea why the hands move. Therefore, our theories are just models about how the watch works, but we can never know the thing in itself -- the noumena behind the phenomena. Primitive animists imagine a couple of squirrels chasing each other, while modern primitive materialists imagine a fancy machine or computer.

This is one of the reasons why highly educated people are often the most confused. That is, as they become more educated, they eventually become committed to a particular model of reality, and then confuse the map with the territory. They then spend the rest of their life trapped within their little model and doing battle with other academics who have a different model. This is why, if you look back at the history of ideas, it is often difficult to understand the passion generated in various battles, since we can see in hindsight that both parties were completely wrong.

Regarding the nature of reality, there are only three possibilities: 1) The world really isn’t all that weird. We can understand it; 2) Reality is pretty damn weird, certainly weirder than our current models would suggest; and 3) No, you’re both wrong. Not only is the cosmos stranger than we suppose, it’s stranger than we can suppose.

You’re always on safe ground if you opt for the latter, as you can be sure that our current scientific models will eventually be replaced by even weirder ones. Imagine -- just a little over a hundred years ago, the most elite minds on the planet were thoroughly committed to a model of reality that was completely overturned by Einstein and others. No one then imagined that the universe was expanding or that it banged into being at a specific point in time (indeed, creating time as it did so).

So when you ask how many levels there are in the cosmos, it depends to a certain extent on how you look at it and how much acid you have taken. At the very least, human beings are condemned to span two great dimensions -- the exterior and the interior, an objective pole and a subjective pole, the “great outdoors” and the even greater within. The more general category of existence simply presents itself on the one hand as ponderable matter, and on the other as a pondering subject. These are not opposites that can ever be resolved, but complementarities that give rise to perpetual ambiguity in the space in between.

Now in Rom 8:22, Paul says that "the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs," and that "we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body." In other words, not only is creation itself a process of birth, but the locus of that birth process is within our very bodies.

Sri Aurobindo speaks of existence as “God’s covenant with night.” In his poem Savitri, he writes,

And laid on the Spirit the burden of the flesh,
That Godhead's seed might flower in mindless Space

If existence represents God’s “plunge into the night,” as being descends from level to level, then spiritual development reverses this cosmogonic process, so that human beings, in their vertical aspect, potentially span all levels of creation, from top to bottom.

And that is the end of this post for now. I can see that there’s no point in trying to finish it this morning. The baby woke up earlier than usual, so my services were required while Mrs. G., who is revovering from a cold, slept in. More on the seven levels tomorrow!

Monday, November 27, 2006

How Do You Play Celestial Music On a Slab of Meat?

Now, regarding those pesky physical symptoms that are commonly encountered along the spiritual path. It seems that most everyone experiences them at one time or another. It’s just a matter of intensity. For example, tears are very common when one touches the spiritual plane, and tears are obviously a physical symptom. I’m guessing that for most people who have had “born again” experiences, it was obviously much deeper than a mere “change of mind,” like choosing to purchase one car over another. Rather, the whole point is that the experience is “earth shattering,” like an energy that penetrates through various sheaths of the being.

But then the energy withdraws again. Or it gets stuck. Or it is rejected and ignored altogether. Or something within the being systematically resists and repels it.

Now, even for skeptics out there, it shouldn’t be too difficult to conceptualize the idea of spiritual energy. Just think of it as analogous to mental energy, only on a higher plane. The universe, as we know, is constituted of energy that is merely transformed in various ways. But most any religious metaphysics would affirm that the nature of the primordial energy constituting the physical universe is actually spiritual, not material.

Technically this is explained by the concept of “involution” as opposed to evolution. One of the reasons natural selection is so incoherent in terms of being an ultimate (as opposed to partial) explanation of evolution is that one cannot derive the greater from the lesser: the gap between dead matter and the most insignificant living thing is literally infinite, as is the gap between animal consciousness and consciousness that may know truth -- including the truth of its own evolution. For evolution is a fact. The argument is over how it occurs, not that it occurs.

In the past, I have used the baseball analogy to discuss bad philosophies which start at second base without any explanation within their philosophy of how they have gotten to first. For example, the first supposition of natural selection is not “random genetic mutations will occasionally be selected by the environment, thus accounting for all evolutionary change and ‘progress.'” Rather, the first assumption of natural selection is that minds exist, and that these minds may encode truth with a thing called language, which may in turn cause “understanding” in another. In other words, the first principle of natural selection is that the export and import of words can rearrange a mind (whatever that is) and bring it into conformity with "truth."

But does natural selection explain the existence of truth, and how truth “sets one free” from illusion? Hardly. Again, that is a tacit presupposition borrowed entirely from Judeo-Christian metaphysics, not something that natural selection could ever explain. Or, if natural selection could explain it, there would be no reason to believe it, since it would reduce truth to genetics -- an absurdity, of course, but not beneath the small minds for whom tiny things always appear large.

Against the idea of evolution must be placed the parallel idea of involution, which, to a certain extent, is “evolution in reverse.” That is, the evolutionary “recovery” of spirit is preceded by a spiritual “involvement” in matter. Thus, we do not begin with matter and try to explain how it somehow came alive and began knowing its own truth. Rather, we begin at the true beginning -- the eternal beginning -- in which the ray of involution descends through various planes to the furthest reaches of the cosmos. In this view, matter may be thought of as “the end of the line,” or the nether region of the cosmos (although there are additional “lower” immaterial levels that needn’t detain us here). Evolution will involve the liberation of spirit from matter and the progressive reascent back to the One.

Now you may object to this metaphysics, but it is the only one that makes total sense of our experience, and it can only be refuted by your own arbitrary prejudice. It is not in any way counter to science. Rather, not only does science fit easily into this metaphysic, but it eliminates all of the absurdity and incoherence from the meager philosophy of scientism. No longer must we pass over various mysteries and enigmas in silence, such as the self-evident progress of evolution, the acquisition of speech, the ability to know truth and beauty, and the ability to “grow” in an unlimited way, both mentally and spiritually.

Now, with regard to spiritual practice, Sri Aurobindo discussed what he called the necessity of the “triple transformation,” that is, mental, vital (emotional) and physical. In the coming days I hope to show how compatible this is with Christianity, as some of you undoubtedly already realize. For example, when St. Paul says, “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,” he is clearly talking about the transformation of the mental, something most any spiritual practitioner has experienced. And the reason you have experienced it is that, of the three transformations, this is the “easiest,” since the mental substance is already quite light and malleable. You might say that it is very receptive to influences of all kinds from both above and below -- which, by the way, is one of the reasons why so many people believe so much nonsense. It's very easy to be an idiot, but not all that hard not to be, either.

Much more tricky is the transformation of the vital. We know it is tricky, because this is the realm that psychotherapy must generally contend with. Clearly, it is a “step down” from the mental, otherwise psychotherapy would consist simply of education: “oh, you believe that? That’s stupid. Just believe this instead.” Doesn’t work that way. For one thing, the vital is not oriented to truth in the way the mind is. Show an uncorrupted mind the truth and he will believe it. Not so the vital, which is much more incorrigible, and functions almost like a gravitational force to pull the mind down with it. In fact, for many people, their mind -- such as it is -- serves merely as a vehicle to rationalize the interests of the vital.

(I see that this post is going to have to serve as an introduction to a large topic, so that I can simply sketch out the overall plan. Each of these paragraphs could easily be expanded into the chapter of a book -- or an entire book -- so let me first finish the sketch, and we’ll fill in more details in subsequent posts.)

One of the most clear and concise books on this is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem. In it, he devotes a chapter to “Quieting the Vital,” which he describes as “the source of both great difficulty and great power; a source of difficulty because it tends to jam all the communications coming from outside or above, frantically opposing our efforts to silence the mind, bogging the consciousness down at its own level of petty occupations and interests; a source of power because it is the outcropping of the great force of life in us.”

Most of us have some idea of what it means to (at least partially) transform the vital, for by no means should spirituality involve denial of the emotions. There are many bad spiritual movements that attempt to do this, which amounts to repression of the vital, so that it remains in its untransformed state. But the trick is to transform the vital so that, like the mind, it is receptive to the higher truth that is trying to come down. Again, while this may sound unfamiliar to some, it shouldn’t. We all know the difference between coarse and subtle emotions. It is subtle emotion that may cause you, for example, to inexplicably cry upon reading a particular passage of scripture or hearing a certain musical passage that emanates from a higher plane. On the other end of the spectrum, what for me is always so immediately striking -- jarring, really -- is the coarse emotionality that radiates from a place like dailykos or huffingtonpost. The untransformed vital is palpable.

Moving next to the physical, this is even more intransigent and resistant to change than the vital. Many physical symptoms emanate from the vital, but those which emanate from the physical are of a different nature. As hinted at above, there is much in Christianity that indicates great concern with transformation -- or transfiguration -- of the physical, the most dense and resistant part of nature to the divine light and truth.

This latter transformation is the most difficult of all. Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “A time comes when after a long preparation of the mind and vital being, it becomes necessary to open also the physical nature. But when that happens very often the vital exaltation which can be very great when the experience is on its own plane, falls away and the obscure obstructive physical and gross material consciousness appears in its unrelieved inertia.” In another letter he writes, “All in the physical is persistent, obstinate, with a massive force of negation and inertia -- if it were not so, sadhana [spiritual practice] would be extremely cursory.”

Part of the problem is that the physical is more universal than particular. This is why the spiritual master who takes on the task of transforming the physical does something from which all human beings benefit. In fact, you might think of it as analogous, in its own way, to a great genius who makes a scientific discovery that benefits all of mankind. Let’s take the example of, oh, Jesus. Matthew 17 tells us that he took a few disciples to a mountain top and showed them what a transformed physical looks like: “and he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light.” And then a voice said “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

I should say. If transforming the physical is the last barrier to spiritual perfection, He should be pleased. (I'm guessing that if Jesus had resisted this process, he would have shattered into bits. Either that, or suffered the Father of all headaches.)

Coming at it from another angle, Sri Aurobindo writes, “At present the notation of the body and the physical consciousness has a very large determining power on the music made by the human harp of God; the notes we get from the spirit... from the greater life behind our physical life cannot come in freely, cannot develop their high, powerful and proper strain. This condition must be reversed; the body and physical consciousness must develop the habit of admitting and shaping themselves to these higher strains and not they, but the nobler parts of the nature must determine the music of our life and being.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when discordant notes result from our trying to play the Song Supreme on such a flawed instrument.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Profiles in Slack

I was hoping for more “K stories,” but instead it turns out I’ve probably just got PMS, epilepsy, advancing age, hypoglycemia, Lyme disease, a herxheimer reaction, a supernatural illness, diabetes, and a malfunctioning i-pod. Actually, I do have diabetes -- the rare type 1.5, which means adult onset type I. If you must have one form of diabetes, it’s probably the best one, because you don’t accumulate a lifetime of damage from having had it as a child. And type II can be very tricky to control. It’s much easier to do so with insulin than with pills. At least it is for me. So long as I maintain a fanatically strict schedule, I am able to keep my blood sugar in a very tight range. I’ll bet my average blood sugar is actually lower now than before I was diagnosed.

Having said that, diabetes is a mysterious disease that affects different people differently. Since all of the hormones interact, if you mess with one, you’re messing with the rest. It even affects your sense of hunger, so I’m often hungry when I can’t eat, but not hungry when I need to. Exercise is amazingly beneficial, both on a short and long term basis. Many diabetics are in denial about this. I’m lucky, because I’ve hardly missed a workout since I was nine years old, so I’m used to the regimen.

The only exception was an approximately two year period between around 18 and 20, after I had graduated high school and discovered beer. It is fair to say that I was more or less inebriated every single day during that period of time, as were each and every one of my friends. Strange, but there was not a single person in my immediate circle who regarded this as noteworthy, troubling, or undesirable in any way. To the contrary, we were all convinced that we had discovered the whole point of life. There was just nothing in the “normal world” that appealed to me at all, and I explicitly wanted to avoid entering that world until it was absolutely forced upon me.

Eventually I did begin to sprout a bit of a beer gut, but didn’t really notice it until I was at a party just about exactly 30 years ago, in November of 1976, probably the day after gorging myself on Thanksgiving. A girl said -- and these words are burned in my memory -- “you have the biggest belly I’ve ever seen for such a small butt.”

That was it. I joined the Jack LaLanne gym on January 2, 1977. Interestingly, that was so long ago that the gym wasn’t even integrated. Rather, it was open for men on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, and for women on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Hey, they’re only women! Three days is enough for them!

You probably cannot imagine the innocent mentality that reigned at the time. It had never crossed anyone’s mind that a sweaty gym might be a good place to woo women or that letting them work out only three days a week might be a good way to meet Gloria Allred in court. Nor was it a narcissistic den of self-obsessed, strutting popinjays. Most of the men just wore old gray sweatpants and shirt, sometimes with the sleeves cut off at the shoulder. There were a few body builders, who were their own subculture. And I’m sure the place must have been crawling with gays, but I was too naive to really know anything about that. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but things were different back then. Like everyone else, I enjoyed Paul Lind on the Hollywood Squares, but that was the extent of my knowledge of homosexuality. You might see Charles Nelson Reilly or Liberace on Johnny Carson, but....

Hey, why am I writing this anyway? I suppose to demonstrate that when the divine withdraws, it withdraws, and that this is what you’re left with... just bad Lileks. And if the divine didn’t withdraw from time to time, you would no doubt begin taking it for granted, as if it is at your beck and call, which of course it isn’t. But when it isn’t present, I’m not going to pretend I can write about it in the same way. I suppose I could, but only from the outside in.

Which is actually a good idea for a topic. That is, what does one do when this happens? Or is there anything you can do? Must you simply wait in faith, or can you move things along and speed up the process? In the past, before I blogged every day, I would simply “close up shop” for however long the season lasted. Rather than fighting it, I would turn my attention to more worldly demands, such as catching up on my yard work, cleaning out the gutters, or checking for skin cancer.

In the course of writing my book, I was very much aware of cycles of input and output, planting and harvest. However, I was of the belief that I had to await inspiration in order to write. Unlike today, I was completely undisciplined in my writing, so that the book was mostly written in short spurts often separated by months at a time. I never even considered myself to be a writer per se. Rather, I was just seeking the clarity to translate a vision onto paper. Sometimes the vision was there, sometimes it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, I didn’t even try to fake it.

Speaking of faking it, did I ever tell you the story of how I fooled my way into graduate school? When we were last reduced to discussing my autobobography, I believe we left off with the unlikely story of how I ended up with a degree in film in December of 1981. At the time, I was still working as a retail clerk, with no earthly idea of what I wanted to do for a living. I knew I didn’t have the personality or the motivation to do anything with my film degree, so where did that leave me? I was at a crossroads, with a choice of several cul de sacs before me.

I was reading the sports section when I saw an ad for Pepperdine University -- for a masters degree in clinical psychology. To this day, I don’t remember exactly what prompted me to dial the number, as it was completely unlike me to show any kind of initiative. But I did, and they told me to fill out an application and send it in. It was literally the first time in my life that it had ever crossed my mind to attend graduate school or to study psychology.

So I sent in the application, and amazingly, I was accepted. But only provisionally. This was because I had just completed my BA degree a few days before, so my transcripts weren’t ready to be sent over. In the mean time I could start classes, and as soon as my transcripts arrived, they would undergo the formality of officially accepting me into the program.

So I started classes in January of 1982, and really enjoyed them. As it so happens, my very first teacher was Dr. Laura Schlessinger -- yes, “Dr. Laura,” back before she was in radio. She was actually an excellent teacher, obviously quite bright and charismatic.

This particular class was in psychopathology. It must have been after the third or fourth week, when Dr. Schlessinger gave the class a writing assignment. Even though none of us had ever seen a patient, we were to write up a detailed clinical case. It could be about someone we knew, or about a character in film or literature, but we had to outline etiology, psychodynamics, diagnosis, treatment, the whole nine yards.

Bear in mind that my classmates had an obvious advantage over me, since they were all psychology undergraduates, whereas I had mainly studied Coors and similar beverages. But this is where something otherworldly intervened to turn my cul de sac into a path. The week after we turned in our papers, Dr. Schlessinger expressed how disappointed she was with the class -- she was kind of snarky even back then -- and handed all of the papers back, so they could be redone. With one exception. She also handed each member of the class a copy of my paper, so they could have a model of how the assignment should be done. To say this was unexpected doesn’t quite capture the feeling. I’m guessing I felt a little like that con man played by Leonardo DiCaprio, the first time he was behind the wheel of a jumbo jet with no actual idea of how to fly it. "Pride" wouldn't be the right word, would it?

Meanwhile, my transcripts finally arrived at Pepperdine, and my fate was sealed. I still have the letter hanging on my office wall. It is dated February 28, 1982.

Dear Robert:

Your completed application for admission has been evaluated and I sincerely regret to inform you that we have been unable to find a place for you in our program. Your academic preparation as indicated by your grades does not meet our requirements.

We sincerely hope that you will be able to make other plans that will help you accomplish an objective that will be to your best interests.

Very truly yours,
Robert Fraley
Dean of Admissions

Damn. Busted! I knew it was too good to be true. I knew that once they saw that I’d actually flunked out of business school they’d give me the boot. Who was I fooling? I can't really fly a 747. I'm just surprised they didn't arrest me for impersonating a graduate student.

Nevertheless, in what I assumed would be my last day of graduate school, I sadly showed the letter to Dr. Laura. She rapidly eyeballed it, looked at me, and said, “don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”


“Don’t worry. You have too much talent.”


“I’ll handle it.”

To this day, I have no idea what she did, but we never spoke of it again. A week later I received another letter from Dean Fraley, almost apologizing for the previous letter and letting me back into the program.

So, what’s the moral of the story for the kids out there? Never study. Never make plans. Just float aimlessly on the slack plane and trust in Dobbs.