It's Getting Better All the Time
I would like to post on a subject that just came up again this morning, but which is actually a perennial problem that I (and perhaps you) have to face time and time again. I'm not sure if I know how to resolve it; perhaps I already have -- to the extent that it can be resolved -- at least in practice if not in principle.
In fact, in a certain sense, both my book and the blog represent an ongoing attempt to resolve this issue, which ultimately comes down to the question of how we are to forge a truly Unified Theory of Everything which accounts equally for both the vertical (subjective, interior) and horizontal (objective, interior) worlds -- i.e, the Whole Existentialada.
The other day I mentioned the idea that the vector of cosmic evolution occurs along a gradient of deepening coherence and meaning, so that in the long run, time reveals the achievement of increasingly comprehensive interior unities (which would also be Whitehead's general idea). The reason I believe this is that it best accounts for the available evidence. In other words, this is more of an empirical than a religious belief. I have no reason to doubt that the cosmos banged into being 13.7 billion years ago, or that life appeared on earth some 3.85 billion years ago, or that recognizable human consciousness began to flower about 50,000 years ago.
But to the extent that this scheme is true, then religious doctrine shouldn't contradict it. Not that religion needs to fit itself into a scientific paradigm; rather, the reverse: the world is the way it is because it reflects timeless metaphysical principles articulated in the perennial religion.
The essential dilemma arose again the other day in the context of discussing my rejection of Schuon's strict traditionalism, or at least two central aspects of it. But in rejecting these two pillars, most if not all of his initiates and followers would say that I have rejected his central doctrine -- which I probably never understood to begin with. It would be analogous to saying that I really love Christianity with the exception of that resurrection business, or that I'm a big fan of Judaism except for the idea that the Torah is divinely inspired.
Now, because I am a Raccoon, and Raccoons are by nature sort of gay and lighthearted -- some would say frivolous -- one might gain the impression that when I disagree with Schuon, I do so lightly -- that I dismiss this or that idea with the impudent wave of a hand. Nothing could be further from the truth -- just as I tremble slightly at my deviations from Aurobindo, or from Tomberg, or from J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, or from anyone else who knows better than I do about these things.
I suppose it goes without saying that I am what I am, but it may not go without saying that I also can't help it. Likewise, Schuon was who he was. The question is, how much of this temperamental isness (or wasness) shapes how we see the world? Furthermore, is it even possible to truly stand outside ourselves and mind someone else's isness? Perhaps doing so is as impossible as trying to imagine what it would be like to be a dog, or a cow, an insect, or Joel Stein (if you're a man). We can't really do it, because we merely project our own consciousness into the other.
In other words, is it possible that my differences with Schuon are temperamental and not doctrinal? He would answer with an unambiguous "no."
Perhaps I should get to the nub of the gist of the essence of the heart of the bottom line of the matter, which is this. Trad-Coon Joseph addressed it in a comment the other day, asking how it was possible for me to reconcile the "metaphysical dreams" of Schuon and Mead -- which ultimately comes down to the question of whether the world is evolving or degenerating. In Schuon's view, the "golden age" was in the past, so that time can hardly reflect "a gradient of deepening coherence and meaning"; rather, the reverse. In a handbag, I might add.
Here's how Schuon would respond to the "idiotic and dishonest circumlocutions" of somebob who suggests that he may have had an irrational nostalgia for a past that never really existed: "Those who look back longingly at some past age because it embodied certain vital values are reproached for adhering to these values because they are found in the past, or because one would like to situate them there 'irreversibly'; one might as well say that the acceptance of an arithmetical proof is the sign, not of the unimpaired functioning of the intelligence, but of a morbid obsession with numbers. If to recognize what is true and just is 'nostalgia for the past,' it is quite clearly a crime or a disgrace not to feel this nostalgia."
Now, before you reject Schuon's gnostalgia out of hand, it does have some explanatory power. Because of my basic optimism, I try not to dwell on it, but the modern world is in many respects a pretty awful place. I'm lucky, because I've been able to forge a little shelter from it, and work at avoiding letting it get its hooks into me. I don't go out much, but last night, for example, I attended a wedding in Los Angeles and was once again struck by just how ugly the place is. Not all of it, of course, but as you drive along the 101, your eyes encounter such jarring ugliness that it's difficult to realize that it was intentionally produced by human minds.
The same can obviously be said of television. Hundreds of stations available at any given time, but comparatively little that isn't vile, stupid, crass, vulgar, corrupting, or generally infrahuman. Schuon's theory has no difficulty accounting for this. It's because time runs in degenerating cycles, and we happen to be in the Kali yuga, the last cycle before the whole thing goes up in flames. I'm the one who must explain how things are getting better when they look so much worse. How, for example, to account for the 20th and most bloody century of all?
Everything seems to be degenerating before our eyes, from the establishment news media, to motion pictures, to literature, to visual art, to education, to male-female relations. I have witnessed this cultural decline during my lifetime, but I attribute it mainly to two factors, 1) man's falleness, and 2) the cultural dominance of the Left, an ideology which essentially glorifies the Fall and undermines its vertical counter-movement. (I guess I have a third explanation as well, that our unprecedented affluence allows more people than ever before the "luxury" of acting out their psychopathlogy.)
In short, I believe that ideas have consequences, and that we are under the dominance of bad ideas which transform well-intentioned people into agents of evil. I do not for a second believe that most leftists are bad people. But I do believe that they are under the influence of a truly satanic -- or, if you prefer, anti-evolutionary -- ideology. That being the case, I believe there is a solution, at least to problem #2. I know this solution exists, since I used to have that problem and now I don't. Therefore, "evolution" is possible, at least on a retail basis.
Furthermore, I think that the only way to create widespread change is to present people with an alternative ideology that is better -- which explains more -- than their present one. Frankly, there is no way Schuon's total system could ever appeal to a mass audience. For one thing, in my opinion, it is a system of complete and total pessimism about the world and its future, and is totally incompatible with intrinsically optimistic "Americanism" -- without which the world cannot be saved.
I think about this all the time -- where I fit in to the scheme of things, since I don't exactly follow one established religion and reject major parts of my most revered teachers (and I do consider Schuon to be an incomparable spiritual genius), and yet, could never have the hubris to consider myself some sort of independent spiritual authority. To a certain extent, I think of myself as simply conducting original spiritual research. If, say, I were to join the Catholic church, I fear that that would be the end of my "original research," since I would be bound by church doctrine. Furthermore, I'm afraid it would cut me off from other important sources of spiritual information at this point in my journey.
To cite one example, with regard to the spiritual education of Future Leader, it looks like we are settling on Catholicism, after considering Judaism and yoga. The latter was sort of a non-starter, because there's not much that can be conveyed to a child, plus he would be a permanent cultural outsider, cut off from our common "religious language." I couldn't really choose Judaism either, in part because I think you have to grow up with some of their traditions in order to really "get" them. Plus, I would be intrinsically cutting myself off from Christianity, something I could never do, whereas Christianity does not cut itself off from Judaism.
But only in a formal sense. In point of fact, Judaism and Christianity "open up" spiritual worlds that are quite distinct, even though there is overlap. For example, last night's wedding was a Jewish ceremony. Although I wasn't happy about having to fight the traffic to get to downtown Los Angeles (Mrs. G would add, "to say the least"), I found myself extremely moved, as always happens to me in any Jewish ceremony. I closed my eyes as it was going on, and felt the descent of a great spiritual force and presence in the building, no doubt blessing the couple. And I don't know how to describe it, but it is a distinctly "Jewish" force, very different in tone from the "Christian force" that I also feel. So to me, it's a little like having to choose between Bach and Mozart, or in my case, Duane Allman and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Both men played the Truth, and Truth cannot surpass itself.
Anyway. I've started to ramble. I'll just have to continue this line of thought later. Hopefully this will stimulate some provocative comments.