The Closed Society and Its Financier
In one sense it is a joy to learn, but clearly not always. If it were an unbridled joy, then everyone would continue learning throughout their lives, instead of stopping at the age of 21 or so. But even for people who do enjoy learning, Bion observed that the epistemophilic instinct was countered by another aspect of ourselves that associated Truth with dread, since Truth is catastrophic. Thus, for example, we see the common phenomenon of tenured hack- and wackademics spending their lives defending kooky and dysfunctional beliefs, as in our leftist looniversity bins.
And when I say truth is "catastrophic," I don't mean it in the sense of a natural catastrophe, but in the parlance of chaos and complexity theories, i.e., catastrophic change. Obviously, if one is confronted with a deep truth of which one is unaware, it has the potential to fundamentally destabilize the structure of one's mind. It's what makes the societies of the Middle East and of leftist academia so "brittle."
This is what Bion felt was underneath the ubiquitous phenomenon of resistance in psychoanalytic therapy. A part of us wants to know the truth about ourselves so that we might grow toward health. But another part resists the insight, not just because change is painful and uncertain, but because there are subversive parts of ourselves -- i.e., mind parasites -- that wish to "go on being," just like any other living entity.
In a certain broad sense, there are two types of thinkers, Platonists and Aristotelians. The former are "top town" types who think and organize the world in terms of deep principles, whereas the latter are more "bottom up" thinkers who work inductively to arrive at their principles. There are clear dangers associated with each extreme, and a healthy person will find a way to live in the dialectical space between the two modes.
In a certain sense, you might say that this is the difference between theologians and scientists, dogmatists and free thinkers, closed minds and open ones, but that clearly isn't always the case. For example, one of the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is that the latter, in the person of Thomas Aquinas, attempted to assimilate science and philosophy by developing a rational theology, whereas the former -- with some exceptions -- made no such attempt. Rather, Orthodoxy developed a mystical theology rooted mainly in transcendent experience.
Protestants obviously broke away even further in taking the world into consideration and therefore making science possible (although now, ironically, certain "fundamentalist" protestant sects have come full circle, and are the most vocal in clinging to scriptural principles as sufficient to explain the world; and secular science itself often becomes a closed system with all the trappings of religion, as we will be discussing in a subsequent post).
Dilys touched on the irony of this in a comment yesterday -- how being "an extremely American convert to Orthodox Christianity" necessitates "doing an ungainly cultural split: The pure and untampered-with Revelation of the Trinity is indispensable; but without the adjunct of Good Common Sense and decentralization by English faithfulness to their own political and imperial self-interest, and a period of ruthless altar-stripping, there would be no American Experiment." In a sense, it is a question of the relationship between time and eternity. One can embrace and internalize the eternal (Platonic, so to speak) principles of Orthodoxy, but the Aristotelian world keeps turning. Okay, you're saved. Now what?
I'm afraid I'm rambling a bit, but that's simply a function of the temporary destabilization this book has caused me. Imagine my shock when I flipped toward the back of the book, and the name "Soros" poppered out at me. Hmm. Does he despise Soros as much as a Raccoon does? "I also want to thank George Soros for the work he has done on Karl Popper and the open society. Astute readers of God and Gold will have no trouble recognizing my considerable debt to George's work, and some of the ideas in this book were first broached in conversations at his dinner table."
And he didn't even bring a long spoon?
I mean, I realize that a man's gotta eat. But now, all of a sudden, I'm placed in a position of questioning Mead's ethics, his judgment, and possibly his sanity. When I first heard several years ago that Soros was an acolyte of Karl Popper, my only thought was and remains, "How can someone so thoroughly misunderstand the practical implications of this esteemed philosopher?," for -- unless I am deeply mistaken -- it is the equivalent of admiring Karl Marx and therefore passionately advocating the policies of Ronald Reagan. Popper was profoundly anti-communist, and in many ways, his political philosophy is the final answer to any and all versions of both left-wing and religiously closed societies (i.e., political Islam).
I've only read parts of the Open Society, but as far as I know, I agree with its broad principles. However, I believe that the same principles are much more adequately and subtly articulated in the works of Michael Polanyi, in part because Polanyi had a much deeper appreciation of the spiritual dimension. In Popper's case, he believed that no general principle could be ultimately proved, only disproved, that is, tested. This essentially throws aside all of the priceless wisdom embodied in revelation and tradition, since even an obvious statement such as "God is light" cannot be empirically falsified. As we were saying the other day, Polanyi had a much more subtle and sophisticated understanding of both art and religion, of how they can function analogously to the blind man's cane, allowing us to probe ontologically real suprasensible realms.
The philopopper Bryan Magee cites the example of the statement "God exists": "It has meaning, and might be true, but no intellectually serious person would regard it as a scientific statement." Au contraire (which I have never said before): Following Gödel, no intellectually serious person would reduce the vast realm of truth to that which can be empirically disproven, and no one but a very confused person would apply an inappropriate scientific method to study transcendental truth.
For, as thy Wilber done so ably explained, there are at least three broad domains that may be studied "scientifically," the empirical, the rational, and the transcendental. Just as our empirical eye cannot "see" the world of reason (for example, no one has ever seen the square root of negative one), the rational eye cannot see, for example, the noetic light that illuminates the vertical realm. To do that, you require the proper method, e.g., meditation, contemplation, intellection, prayer, purchasing an indulgence from Petey, etc.
(Speaking of vision, I don't really see how Magee can reconcile his deep appreciation of Schopenhauer with Popper, since Schopie comes within a whisker of disclosing the insights of the Upanishads, which constitute nothing less than a "scientific" disquisition on the nature of the nonlocal noumenon, or Brahman -- which cannot be falsified, but which is the absolute truth and ground of everything else.)
Getting back to Soros. He is an advocate of the open society, but I am quite sure he means something very different than I do by the use of that term, for he is a passionate leftist, and the left is always at the vanguard of man's regressive tendency toward the closed society. To cite one recent but extremely illustrative example, he is the financier behind Media Matters, a leftist group that monitors, harasses, and intimidates conservative thinkers for statements that they think can be distorted and exploited to their political advantage. Unlike conservative groups that simply monitor the mainstream media for leftist bias, the left wing Media Matters monitors mainly the conservative media, finding things they can take out of context to then feed to the servile mainstream media for general propagation.
Most recently, Ann Coulter was the victim of this, with the bogus charges of anti-Semitism. But even more alarming were the wholly fraudulent charges against Rush Limbaugh over the "phony soldier" comment. In that case -- thanks to the vile Soros and his vile group -- Limbaugh was condemned on the floor of the United States Sentate, in what could not be more emblematic of the closed society of the left: that is to say, shut down dissent by any means possible, including the use of governmental force to make up lies about a citizen and threaten his job.
A decent man would not just apologize, but he would shut down the whole disgusting enterprise.
Oddly, Magee writes that Popper's "critique of Marxism was widely regarded as the most effective that anyone had produced, and it was this that first made Popper's name known internationally." So how on earth can someone be so morally, spirtually, and intellectually confused as to think he is advancing the work of Popper by embracing a movement -- the illiberal left -- that stands as a monument to all of the principles Popper opposed? And at the same time, equate a good and decent man with Hitler for trying for the first time in history to introduce principles of the open society into the Islamic world?
Well, I ended up just rambling before I got to any of my main points.... It happens....