On Hitting the Invisible Target
Furthermore, in the absence of feedback, I would never really know if I hit the target -- that is, a target that exists objectively, not just in my mind here in Upper Tonga. Or, to put it another way, it is always a surprise and a delight to hear others say that I more or less hit the bulls-eye, because that's the most vivid testimony to the reality of the target. It means that there really is an invisible Matterhorn at which we are both unlooking from our respective photo uppertunities.
Schuon was an expert marksman who spent his life hitting invisible bulls-eye after bulls-eye. It's one thing to be a gifted scientist who makes many interesting discoveries in his life. He is like the marksman who hits the target. But the scientist is just a small part of a huge collective enterprise called "science" that is groping toward a target it can never actually reach. And in science, one day's bulls-eye is the next day's errant shot, as the target perpetually advances forward, making old discoveries obsolete.
But when you are writing about God, the target is fixed and final. You might say that science tries to discover timeless principles about the temporal, whereas metaphysics tries to arrive at relative statements about the absolute. They are relative only by virtue of the fact that we are not God, but nevertheless, they are the closest we can come to objective truth, at least on this side of manifestation. Thus, the realm of metaphysics is the "relatively absolute."
I'm currently reading a book that I am greatly enjoying (disclaimer: I'm only up to p. 94 of a 500 pp. book), The System of Antichrist: Truth & Falsehood in Postmodernism and the New Age, which does an outstanding job of sumarizing Schuon's basic philosophy. Interestingly, a reader yesterday left a comment that he wanted to start a discussion group of LOBSTRs, that is "Left Of Bob But Still a Raccoon," and this fellow may be your man. The author evolved up from the bowels of the deep, dark left, much further left than I ever was, and still hasn't made it all the way back. He acknowledges that almost all his fellow traditionalists are politically conservative, but that he is part of a tiny minority of liberal traditionalists. Therefore, every so often he makes a passing comment that is rather off-putting to the point of moonbattery, despite the fact that the great majority of the book is brilliant and extremely well-written -- both clear and beautifully expressed.
I give the man credit, for there is no question that the adage holds true: the greater the fall, or the plunge into darkness, the greater the realization, and this man seems to have come from the rock bottom depths of loony left activism (of the kind David Horowitz recovered from), which makes his present writing quite grounded and authoritative. His transformation has obviously been real, even if he is still (or was, as of 2001) needlessly frightened of conservatives. I know how difficult it was for me to realize that the people I thought were demons were just regular folks, so I can't even imagine how it is for him. He is also rather blind to the intrinsic problems of Islam (he is actually a Sufi), but the book was written prior to 9-11, so he gets a pass on that.
As I mentioned, I was never really a leftist per se, just a garden variety baby-boom liberal who was unwittingly swept up in the tide as the party moved further and further leftward, away from its modern liberal roots. Like all my friends, I didn't know the first thing about conservatism, only that conservatives were evil. But by the time I finally woke up and looked around, the Democrat party was no longer recognizable to me. Hard to believe, but back in the 1970s, they really weren't the party of haters, losers, the envious, the perpetually angry and the frankly crazy, as is true today. Even in the 1980s, those people were more on the fringe of the party, not the mainstream. But now the illiberal left completely dominates the Democrats. There's hardly a point of entry for a sane voice -- which is unfortunate, because it forces conservatives to align themselves solely with a Republican party that is more often than not completely at odds with our own values. But between the stupid party and the evil party, we aren't left with much of a real world choice.
Anyway, in his various books, Schuon set out to present "nothing less than a doctrine that is essential, integral, homogeneous, and sufficient unto itself; we would gladly say 'pholosophy' or 'theosophy', were these terms not susceptible to being misinterpreted." With regard to the issue of "hitting the target" -- and the impossibility of doing so -- he writes,
"One point that always seems to elude de facto rationalists is that there is inevitably a separation between the thing to be expressed and its expression, that is to say, between reality and a doctrine." Thus, "it is always possible to fault an adequate doctrine for being inadequate, since no doctrine can be identified with what it intends to express...." And "If the expression of a thing could be adequate or exhaustive in an absolute sense or from every point of view... there would no longer be any difference between the image and its prototype, and in that case it would be pointless to speak of thought or even simply of language."
But the whole point of metaphysical doctrine is not to paint a literal picture but "to provide a set of points of reference which, by definition, are more or less elliptical while being sufficient to evoke a mental perception of specific aspects of the real." So Schuon can only aim at the invisible target, but "the rest is a matter of intellectual capacity, good will, and grace" in the reader (and not in that order!).
That is, in pure metaphysics "there is no empiricism: principial knowledge cannot stem from any experience, even though experiences -- scientific or other -- can be the occasional causes of the intellect's intuitions." But the sources of these intuitions are ultimately "innate data, consubstantial with pure intelligence, but de facto 'forgotten'...." Thus, it is really a matter of vertical recollection -- which, as our unknown friend points out in Meditations on the Tarot, is as waking is to sleeping and resurrection is to death.
Therefore, the target Schuon is aiming at is intrinsically tied up with life, death, sleep, awakening, remembering, and realizing. Although hardly irrational (being supra-rational), it is the opposite of rationalism, which "consists in seeking the elements of certitude in phenomena rather than in our very being." This is why the targets of rationalism are so easy to hit. Again, an adolescent, so long as he is in Piaget's stage of formal operations thought, can completely understand the abstract and insipid arguments of materialism and atheism. And in fact, these doctrines often carry a lot of appeal to adolescents, but for extra-rational reasons. That is, rationalism exalts the adequacy of the ego, and easily fosters an attitude of pride and rebelliousness.
One reason Schuon is a "conservative" (not in our mundane political sense, but much deeper than that) is that for him, there are no "problems of our time." Rather, there are the same fundamental, underlying problems which reside in the nature of Man. Or, if there is a unique "problem of our time," it is this: that modern man thinks he is somehow fundamentally different than all the men who have gone before, especially in the sense that he imagines that faith (which is virtual gnosis) and gnosis (which is the fruit of faith) no longer have any relevance to him. It is as if all past generations were idiots, which raises the issue, as Schuon pointed out on a number of occasions, that if man was too stupid to know universal truths in the past, there is no reason to believe that he is intelligent enough to do so today.
Well, not much slack this morning. I didn't really have time to get into things as deeply as I had hoped. We'll pick up this thread and search for the invisible target again tomorrow.