Signposts on the Road to Nihilism
Yeah boy, let’s have a ball! There is an age when doing so is appropriate and even inevitable. You don’t want to prematurely disillusion a child or adolescent's pure vitality and joyful engagement with the world. They’ll become disillusioned soon enough, as they mature. If not, they will become pathetic, as they fall into the vital as a means of escape from boredem, meaninglessness, and the emptiness in the heart of one who has severed their contact with the divine planes.
I'm finding that Judaism has many important ideas about this as I travel on the road with Rabbi Steinsaltz. There are so many examples; he talks about how his own search began when he determined that "this world was not enough," but how tradition maintains that there are 600,000 gates into the divine, including a "private gate" for each of us. While everyone "has some capacity for making contact with a world above the concrete world," we must struggle to find it: it "has so many locks. It has so many keys. And there is a key that is mine alone. And there is a door that is mine alone. And that is the door made for me." People can wander aimlessly because they are travelling on someone else's pathway, not their own.
He writes that "the individual journey begins when a person tears himself away from the state of aimlessness," and of the effort required to "get beyond the mental constructions, the words, and ideas" devised by others. He laments "those of us who waste our time seeking peace of mind. The spirit is at war, as its natural state": "Man's question should not be how to escape the perpetual struggle but what form to give it, at what level to wage it.'" One must be obstinate and tenacious; in the spiritual life "you don't have any charmed gateways. But you are given some kind of path, and you have to work your way up." "The feeling of 'behold, I've arrived' could well undermine the capacity to continue, suggesting that the Infinite can be reached in a finite number of steps."
I can tell in an instant if I am dealing with a vital man, but it happens on such an intuitive level that I’ve never really put words to it. But the more you develop spiritually, the more you will recognize a gulf between yourself and this kind of person. Incidentally, it doesn't matter whether this person is outwardly “religious,” because there are plenty of vital types who get involved in religion -- and not just exoteric religion. Even creepier are the vital beings who get involved in esoteric religion, for then you start to touch on the demonic.
If, like me, you are intuitively repelled by Bills Clinton or Maher, this is probably why. Now, I am the first to admit that there was a time that I was not repelled by Clinton. The repellence has only come with spiritual development. And it has nothing to do with ideology per se. After all, he largely governed as a rudderless, poll-driven moderate, and he seems to have no ideological core that isn’t negotiable anyway. I was certainly never a Clinton hater, nor am I now. Rather, he radiates a very specific essence that bears on what we are discussing today. For Clinton is a purely vital man in all he thinks and does.
Clinton is obviously not an unintelligent man, but that doesn’t matter either. For as Sri Aurobindo noted, there is a realm of the psyche called the “vital mind,” so it is not at all uncommon to encounter a vital intellectual, just as it is not uncommon to encounter a noble and light-filled common laborer. It’s all about the light, not the intellectual content. If you were to attempt to slog through Clinton’s 1056 page autofellatiography, I believe you would find it tedious beyond belief, and this is why. For although he is a passionate man, his passions are on a very low “earth plane,” while spiritual development specifically involves the “subtilization” of emotions.
In fact, you will notice that some exoteric paths involve the repression of emotion rather than its transformation. I am afraid that I have noticed this pattern on a fairly widespread scale in the religious movement of which Clinton is a part. This is not to tar everyone with the same brush, as the exceptions are obvious and many, but there is an aspect of southern Christianity that seems to almost express itself in a bipolar way, going from vital expression to vital guilt and manic reparation and then back again.
I recently got an intimate glimpse into this dynamic in reading the outstanding biography of Elvis, who was a profoundly spiritual man in the sense we are discussing. Same thing with Johnny Cash. So too Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, Hank Williams, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and so many others. They never really escaped from the vital, but instead swung from pillar to post between expression and repression.
But true spiritual growth involves a spiritualization, transformation, and subtilization of emotion. Emotion becomes “finer,” lighter, more translucent. I am now at the point that I have some difficulty being around crowds of vital beings, such as a sporting event. But part of the problem is that the teams now increasingly pander and cater to vital beings.
For example, I used to love to go to Dodger Stadium, because it was like going to a park. It was positively edenic. No loud and annoying rock music blaring from the speakers, no ads filling every square inch of unused space, and a certain gentility among most of the fans. But now, they literally don’t give you a silent moment to ruminate and enjoy the natural rhythm of the game.
And the fans are much more loud, vulgar and animalistic. When I was a kid, no one cursed in public at a game, but now it’s constant. I sensed a real shift about a decade ago, when they had a baseball giveaway promotion. The umpire made a bad call in the seventh inning, at which point baseballs rained down of the field, endangering the umpires and players. Fans wouldn’t stop, so the Dodgers had to forfeit the game.
You may think this is a small thing, but on a cultural level it is huge. When I attended games in the 60s, 70s and even 80s, this type of behavior among Dodger fans would have been unthinkable. Perhaps they would have done something similar in San Francisco or Oakland -- Giant or Raider fans always attract and celebrate the vital -- but not in the Sacred Temple of Dodger Stadium.
Something “tipped” in the 1990s, and hasn’t stopped tipping ever since. No one set fire to their city after winning a championship until what, 1991, with the Chicago Bulls? Now it’s a barbaric tradition. You can easily hear the same phenomenon in music and see it in TV, movies, and modern "art," as our culture becomes increasingly crude and falls into the vital. Here we are at the cusp where vitalism slides into destruction, the fourth stage of the nihilist dialectic.
Father Rose points out that the fall into vitalism is at the heart of the reverse utopias of the left, which immamentize Christian hope and try to create a “vital heaven” on earth. For if higher truth is eclipsed as a result of “realism,” then leftism results from the flight from despair that such an erroneous and infrahuman metaphysic entails.
Bear in mind that, as we discussed a few days ago, the spiritual impulse remains, but now it is no longer guided by traditional channels. It becomes “unhinged” so to speak. I am quite sure that most of you bobbleheaded Children of the Light can read dailykos and know exactly what I am talking about. The well attested creepy feeling one gets from any writer or commenter on that site is your own higher mind sensing the unbound vital, completely detached from more refined emotions and from the intellect properly so called (i.e., the nous or noetic faculty). On dailykos you will find nothing that elevates, only that which pulls the soul downward.
As Father Rose points out, “there is no form of Vitalism that is not naturalistic,” which again goes to the many pseudo-religions that are an expression of vitalism. Here again, if you are remotely sensitive, you will notice this with regard to most “new age” spirituality, which is vital to the core, a cauldron of subjective fantasies, a “rootless eclecticism” of half-understood fragments, earth worship, narcissistic "realizationism," and sometimes frank satanism (even if unwitting). In reality, these pseudo-religions are “a cancer born of nihilism.”
Even more than this or that policy, this is what makes the left so frightening. Because of their vast influence, there may come a point when vitalism swamps the light of the collective higher mind, as it has already done in academia and the mass media. The prospect of an awakened multitude animated by the “terrible simplifiers” of the left is not a sanguine one... then again, "sanguine" comes from the French word for blood.