Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Descent of Spirit (1.04.09)

So many interesting and sometimes touching comments yesterday. I can see that we'll probably dwell on this topic for a while, because in a way, it is "everything." For if there is no vertical and no descent, then there is no way out of this absurd and meaningless existence.

But thankfully, the cosmos is not a closed loop but an open circle -- or spiral -- with a way up and out: “The ‘good news’ of religion is that the world is not a closed circle, that it is not an eternal prison, that it has an exit and an entrance.... ‘Perdition’ is to be caught up in the eternal circulation of the world of the closed circle... [whereas] ‘salvation’ is life in the world of the open circle, or spiral, where there is both exit and entrance” (Meditations on the Tarot).

What do we mean by "vertical" and "descent?" When you think about it, most of our knowledge falls into the "as if" category. For example, we have no idea what's going in with the quantum world, but it's "as if" it sometimes behaves in a wave-like manner, other times like particles, depending upon how we look. Obviously it is neither. These are just analogies to try to get our mind around what's going on "down" there. "Down" is another one. Why is the subatomic world "below" our macro world? For that matter, why is the unconscious mind "below" the conscious, or the past "behind" the present? Sometimes merely tweaking your metaphor brings new understanding. What if the unconscious is the past within the present, the realm of the unthought known? Is Iraq Vietnam? Or is radical Islam nazi Germany? Different metaphor, different reality.

The fundamental axiom of esotericism, "as above, so below," actually applies to most of our knowledge, in the sense that, without even thinking about it, we resort to analogy to understand realms that are inaccessible to our senses. For example, there isn't really a genetic "code" or "blueprint." In reality it is neither of these manmade categories. Rather, it is what it is, which is entirely mysterious -- impossible, really. Likewise, time is a "river," but what is it really? Who knows? How can there be anything other than eternity?

It gets even more problematic when we try to discuss things like the mind. Here we can only use analogy. However, just as in religious disputes, you would be amazed at the academic fights that go on between people and their beloved analogies. It's easy to ridicule the Christian world, which formally split in 1054 over filioque controversy -- that is, the question of whether the holy spirit proceeds from the Father and Son or from the Son only -- but the identical thing goes on in academia.

I got a real taste of this in my psychoanalytic training, a discipline that has many religious trappings. It has a founding prophet (Freud), a group of original disciples, a dogma, an orthodoxy, and various initiatory rituals. It eventually split into various hardened camps that were, for a time, quite hostile to one another. I've been out of that world for awhile, so I'm not up to date with the politics, but there was a time when the members of one school would dismiss the other school by saying that their members were insufficiently analyzed -- in short, that they only believed what they did because they were more or less crazy. This is very similar to one sect of Christianity saying that another is damned to perdition over this or that doctrinal difference.

And yet, it would be completely wrongheaded to take this as an excuse to descend into a wimpy syncretism or odious relativism. For I think we can agree that, whatever the mind is, it is what it is. It isn't any single one of our models, but neither is it all of them put together, i.e., integralism. The truth is out there (to employ another analogy).

Yesterday I spoke of the "descent" of intelligence that occurred in me at age 29. Fortunately, it occurred at exactly the same time that I discovered the works of the British psychoanalyst W.R. Bion, which assured that my intelligence became a fluid thing instead of hardening into this or that dogma. For there is no end to the mischief created when intelligence mingles with some narrow viewpoint. When this happens, it is almost always for extra-epistemological reasons, usually narcissistic in nature, other times having to do with an emotional need for security or a failure of imagination.

For it seems that intelligence can only go so far before it becomes detached from imagination, so that people at the extreme high end of the IQ scale often lack imagination and become unbalanced spiritual cripples. Think of the typical proud MENSA type, whose IQ may be higher than yours, but who knows nothing about Spirit. They are essentially "idiot savants" with a warped and specialized perspective on reality. The same thing can happen in the other direction with an artist who has a brilliant imagination unmoored by intelligence. The greatest art, such as Shakespeare, is infused with both intelligence and imagination.

But so too is the greatest science, for what is science but a "probe" that extends into the unknown and allows us to think about reality in a fruitful and generative way? Good science makes you feel more alive to the mystery, whereas bad science always demystifiies the world. Remember, "mystery" is hardly an absence of knowledge. Rather, it is a means and a mode of knowledge, precisely. To be immersed in the mystery of being is not to be lost in an obscure cloud of ignorance. Rather, this mystery is the generative ground of all -- it is O.

As I have said before, most narcissists feel that they are in some way "special," and better than others. But the fact is, they usually are special in some area, whether it is looks, or intelligence, or academic brilliance. One's narcissistic pathology can easily attach itself to any of these gifts, so there are plenty of intellectuals whose intellect is more or less in the service of their narcissism and exhibitionism. As applied to spirituality, this combination is particularly deadly, for it ultimately means that one is co-opting God for the glorification of one's own ego.

Hoarhey asked a question along these lines, noting that some of the world's worst psychopaths have claimed to have been chosen by God, e.g., Hitler and Ahmadinejad. He suspects that "someone who actually did good and didn't cause such destruction would either have above average humility or be unaware of the aid, to minimize the ego involvement. The aware person also being somewhat reluctant to speak of it. Examples of America's founders receiving guidance and benefitting humanity come to mind (e.g., George Washington, as the receiver not the avatar)."

I am sure that this is absolutely true -- that God resists the proud. To a certain extent, those who know don't speak of it, and those who speak of it don't know. There is even empirical research documenting the fact that people who truly have had transformative "peak experiences," or full on, life-changing ingressions of the vertical, rarely speak of them. For one thing, they have a sacred quality that brings with it an instinctive reluctance to cast pearls before swine. But this cannot be an absolute rule, or no one would speak of God! Nevertheless, it is a good rule of thumb. Those who eagerly and recklessly presume to speak for God are most likely talking through their hat. For one thing, one must be authorized to do so -- not by some earthly religious body, but from above. Here again we are touching on the subject of "descents."

The Gospels tell us nothing about Jesus' education, but it seems doubtful that he received any formal theological training. When he first encounters the religious authorities, they are astounded by his ability to speak as "one who knows" -- with such authority. From whence did this authority come? Clearly not from man or from any manmade institution. Rather, he was authorized "from above."

Here is an analogy to try to understand authority, perhaps trivial, but I hope not. Last night I saw an absolutely wonderful documentary on the great American blues musician, Howlin' Wolf (1910 -1976). Perhaps you're unfamiliar with him, but he is a being whose musical authority -- if you have ears to hear -- was absolute. And yet, how can this be? Here was a man who grew up in a kind of material and cultural poverty that we can scarcely imagine. Functionally illiterate, his mother mercilessly threw him out of the house -- shack is more like it -- when he was a boy, when he objected to picking cotton for fifteen cents a day. He walked seventy five miles barefoot on dirt roads and eventually tracked down his father, who took him in. At the age of 18 he heard a travelling blues musician, and something "lit up" inside of him -- a musical descent. His father purchased his first guitar, and the rest is history.

Now, blues is a fascinating medium because it is so "primitive" that it almost cannot be played properly by a schooled musician. It is entirely "instinctive." And yet, the gulf between a great blues artist and a mediocre one is absolute -- as great as the gap between the greatest classical composers and the mortals down below. How can this be? I think of it this way. Musical genius is randomly distributed throughout mankind. Obviously, much will depend upon the accidental cultural circumstances in which one finds oneself. For example, what if Mozart had been born in a primitive culture without a rich musical tradition and access to sophisticated musical instruments? Would his genius have somehow found a means to express itself?

I think musicologists err in trying to derive aesthetic beauty from musical complexity. Rather, I believe there are certain people who do not "compose" or "play" music. Rather, they are music. You might say that they are "music made flesh" -- they literally embody the dimension from which music arises. Sinatra did this. Louis Armstrong did this. Van Morrison does this. Their music has a kind of authority and immediacy that no amount of musical training could ever be able to achieve. Again, if you have ears to hear, the gulf between a Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters and, say, Eric Clapton, is as great as the gulf between Bach and Vivaldi, or Mozart and Salieri. The gulf between Stevie Ray Vaughan -- another person who "embodied" music -- and an Eddie Van Halen or some other merely technical wizard, is literally infinite.

One thing the great musicians share is that they are motivated by love rather than ego. Their passion and their love are the channels through which the music flows. This cannot be faked. Nevertheless, for most people, it doesn't seem to matter. They cannot distinguish between the genuine and the meretricious, whether it is in music, spirituality, psychology, whatever. Thus, because people can be fooled, there are many who usurp the authority to do a whole lot of things that can only be authorized from above.

Now, you might ask, where does this leave Bob? Where does he get off speaking of these things? Who gave him the authority? That's a very good question. In my case, I am very aware of my limits. When my descent came, it came in the form of understanding. Suddenly, I understood spiritual reality in a way that I had previously only understood intellectually -- which is to say, did not understand. Thus, I do not feel that I am overstepping my bounds by merely trying to share -- never force, and never argue or try to convert -- my understanding with others. This is why I say it is more like singing. Not to say that I am an "artist," or something like that. Rather, merely to say that it's not an intellectual thing. It just is what it is, and I'm glad some people enjoy it. If they don't, that's fine too. That's why I don't want to get into arguments with those who shall not be named. Nor do I wish to become known, except by a very narrow group of people. How to reach that group without exposure to the wrong types is the vexing problem, but so far I have no complaints.

Now, on the other hand -- it's difficult to say this without sounding outrageously presumptuous, and yet, it does need to be said -- it is equally clear to me that I am not vertically authorized to be any kind of direct transmission of grace -- a "guru" type person, as it were. Yes, you could say that this is like conceding that I am not God, but obviously, untold spiritual mischief is caused by people who overstep their boundaries and do just that. It's not so much that I am tempted to do this, but there is something within many people that is tempted to confer this authority upon others, which many spiritual psychopaths happily identify with. There is no question that there are beings who are authorized to do this -- genuine saints and true theologians who are themselves transmitters of grace. They are on an entirely different plane.

But I humbly pray only for a deepening understanding and the ability to express it to others who might benefit from it -- to be the discussion leader. That is more than enough for me, because it keeps the descent alive by "prolonging" it into the horizontal on a daily basis. Plus, the feedback and comments flesh it out and make it all the more vividly present and real.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Descent of Mind (1.03.09)

Yesterday in a comment, I mentioned that our historical understanding and appreciation of liberty may have followed from actually living it in the form of free markets as opposed to thinking about it abstractly. In academia there is a huge bias toward the latter view, because intellectuals always want to believe that they are more important and influential than they actually are. This always cracks me up.

You routinely read, for example, about how Descartes was responsible for the pernicious Western "body-mind dualism" because he said "I think, therefore I am." As if this abstract philosophical meme somehow trickled down to the masses -- the farmers, artisans, and serfs, who all thought to themselves, "damn, the man's got a point. There's an extended substance. And a thinking substance. I just don't see any way to reconcile them. I guess the world is hopelessly fractured."

No, the reason the body-mind duality spread throughout the West is because that is what it feels like to have a mind! If you don't have much of a mind, then it's not going to be a problem, is it? As I've mentioned before, I've done psychiatric evaluations of people from all over the world, and there is no question that in certain cultures the individual barely emerges out of the collective -- even out of their own body, to be honest. They don't have the problem of the body-mind dualism because they don't possess the latter. They are shockingly free of what we would call insight, reflection, interiority, detachment, etc. It's as if they do not live in their minds, but in their bodies. They are amazingly content to perform the most mindless and repetitive work -- in fact, in many ways, they are probably happier than the average American. They essentially don't think about things until something goes wrong with their body. Otherwise, "no brain, no problem."

I don't know about you, but I can think back to my own childhood, when this unified condition was the natural state. One just felt the conflict-free bliss of being alive. Prior to that, early infancy and toddlerhood are filled with a lot of inevitable frustration. I can see it in my son. It's heaven and hell. There are so many things he wants to do, but can't. Every time he masters something, he wants to push the limit to the point that he endangers himself. He is dependent, but is obviously ambivalent about that. In a heartbeat he can go from imagining he's "large and in charge" to being small, needy and demanding.

But after that is when the real fun begins. At least that was true for me, especially between, say, 7 and 12. By this time, your nervous system has completely come "on line." You can speak, you can play, you have an imagination, you have friends, and if you have good enough parenting, you have no problems except for the mindless drudgery of school. Existential problems don't really emerge again until puberty. Just when you get used to the world, you're plunged into a new one, with new thoughts, new relations, a new body.

The latest research in developmental neurology explains why adolescence can be so difficult. As it so happens, it doesn't just feel like your brain is being disassembled. Rather, that's actually what happens. The brain literally disassembles and reassembles during the teen years. A particular problem for boys is that the part of the brain that you might label "impulsivity" or "risk-taking" is temporarily delinked from the higher part of the neocortex where the thing called "judgment" resides. Like the infant, the adolescent goes through life at the same time his brain is being wired together. Throw in the surge of hormones -- which is especially powerful in girls -- and you have a potential recipe for disaster. In my case, I don't think "judgment" and "impulse" were reintroduced in my brain until I was about 26.

Now coincidentally, Will mentioned in a comment yesterday that "most people are not really ready for college until they're about 24 - 26 years old. That's the age when the 'I-relate-everything-to-myself-and-my-emotions' fixation starts to dwindle. A bit." That is exactly how it was for me. Although I started college at 17, I couldn't have been less prepared. I faked my way through five semesters of junior college, but when I transferred to the state university, the game was over. I struggled through one semester but just stopped going in the middle of the second. This would have been when I had just turned 21.

Around the same time, I had begun working as a retail clerk, which I continued doing for the subsequent 12 years, until 1988, the same year I completed my Ph.D. I returned to college when I was 23. Looking back on it, I can see that a certain intellectual "awakening" was beginning to dawn, much to my surprise. It became markedly stronger when I was 26, but was like a sudden explosion at 29. By that time I was in graduate school, but it is important to point out that this explosion had nothing to do with school.

Rather, it was a thing or a process unto itself. It was literally an "opening" in my soul, accompanied by a flood of ideas, insights and connections that went well beyond anything I had formally learned in school, or any capacities I had even remotely possessed up to that time. To a certain extent, if you can picture it, it was like a descent of pure intelligence without form or content. Naturally, given my meager academic history, this was totally unexpected. I began reading voraciously and widely in the effort to provide some "content" to this seeming "force." I needed my mind to catch up with my new-found intelligence.

Why am I bringing this up? Several reasons. First, I'm still very sick with this virus, and I'm too lazy to do anything except free associate in a self-referential way at the keyboard. More importantly, I'm wondering if anyone else out there has had similar experiences of "descents" and "awakenings?" I'm guessing that many Raccoons have similar stories to share.

I think it is fair to say that by this time, I had reached the "summit of intelligence." Now please, don't get me wrong here, for I am hardly making any special claim for myself. I think most "intellectuals" reach the summit of intelligence by one path or another, meaning that there is essentially nothing in the realm of ideas that they cannot understand. The world of "intelligence" is basically open to them. Much will depend upon the character of the person, the content with which they fill out their intelligence, and their motives in doing so. For intelligence, more often than not, is in the service of a bad end or a bad egg. Obviously, intelligence itself in no way correlates with truth. Look at Noam Chomsky, for example. He is obviously at the summit of intelligence. You can even say he's genius if you like. But what good is the intelligence, when it exists in a parallel looniverse of lies, hatred, and paranoia? The smarter the person, the more catastrophic will be their error!

Throughout history people have reached the summit of intelligence, just as countless artists have achieved the summit of aesthetics. This is why the ancient Greeks still intrigue us. Someone like Plato was already at the summit of intelligence over 2,000 years ago. As Whitehead said, Western philosophy since then is basically a footnote on Plato -- which is not so much a tribute to Plato as an ackowledgement that pure intelligence, like artistic perfection, cannot surpass itself. One person becomes a Hegelian, another becomes a logical positivist, another becomes a deconstructionist. It doesn't really matter. It's just pure intelligence imagining it can surpass itself and know the one truth on a plane where it is intrinsically impossible to do so.

Something similar to a descent of pure intelligence occurred to Sri Aurobindo. In his case, he didn't remain stuck there, but immediately saw through its limitations. He did not see it as an end, merely a realm that had to be infused with a higher spirit in order to attain its proper end.

The best introduction to Sri Aurobindo is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem. In it, Satprem describes Aurobindo's recognition of the limits of the intellect: "The day came when Sri Aurobindo had had enough of these intellectual exercises. He had probably realized that one can go on amassing knowledge indefinitely, reading and learning languages, even learning all the languages in the world and reading all the books in the world, and yet not progressing an inch. For the mind does not seek truly to know, even though it appears to -- it seeks to grind. If by chance the machine were to come to a stop because knowledge had been obtained, it would soon rise up in revolt and find something new to grind, just for the sake of grinding and grinding."

Critically, "That within us which seeks to know and to progress is not the mind, but something behind it which uses it: 'The capital period of my intellectual development,' Sri Aurobindo confided to a disciple, 'was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone!

Now, notice two things, First, Aurobindo had achieved the summit of intelligence, which essentially leaves one on a plane where the endless circles of deconstruction and integralism are inevitable. In other words, deconstruction is simply intelligence playing with the same facts to come up with radically alternate conclusions. And the whole point of integralism is that, as Sri Aurobindo points out, someone at the summit of intelligence can easily be on one side or the other of a particular dispute. Equally intelligent people can come up with opposite ideologies, so for the "integralistic" intellectual it is our task to admit the truth of each and to "integrate" them. Thus, for example, we must integrate "left" and "right," since plenty of equally intelligent people adhere to each.

But this is not the path to truth. Unless intelligence is infused with the descent of a higher light, it will forever remain on its own partial plane. More on which tomorrow. In any event, I am curious to hear from others who have had this experience of a sudden opening, or "descent," of intelligence, followed by the descent of something surpassing it, and which begins to shape and reform intelligence for its own higher ends.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Evolution and The Faith of Scientific Fundamentalism (1.11.09)

Today we will review the question of evolution in light of the antinomy of faith vs. reason. It's a subtle issue, so it's easy to misunderstand where I'm coming from. It is not quite accurate to say that I reject literalism -- in fact, not accurate at all, because the higher reaches of the spiritual life are built on a stable foundation of dogma, just as the ability to communicate requires fixed rules for spelling and grammar. You can eliminate the rules of spelling and grammar, but you won't be able to say much of substance. But at the same time, you don't just idealize good spelling as sufficient in itself to convey wisdom.

The whole point of theology -- as opposed to revelation -- is to create a consistent and comprehensive system of religious, or metaphysical, thought. In order to do this properly, one must exclude nothing. There is no right superior to truth, so wherever we find truth, we must respect it and find a place for it in our theology. Otherwise, as mentioned yesterday, we will have unintegrated gaps in our being, when the whole point of spiritual practice is to become whole -- for thine I to become single. In the language of Godel, the I of the literalist will be highly consistent, but at the price of serious incompleteness.

As I might have mentioned in the past, I regard religion as the science of the ultimate, or absolute, Subject, and science as the religion of the ultimate object -- the physical cosmos. Both are methods to gain knowledge, the former operating through faith, the latter through doubt. Another way of saying it is that religion involves the exercise of faith as applied to the vertical, whereas science restricts itself to doubt in the horizontal.

Looked at in a certain way, science is simply the systematization of doubt. Unlike animals, we can doubt the evidence of our senses and inquire into the true cause of things. But the universe is One, and whenever we try to draw a bright line between two manmade categories, aspects of one side will inevitably creep into the other. For example, we divide the world into categories of "matter" and "mind," whereas the underlying reality knows no such strict boundary. We have a problem understanding how truth can emerge from a nine pound piece of meat, but only because of our preconceptions. The cosmos does not have this problem.

We can easily show that science, especially in our time, has become a faux religion. This is because, in maintaining the bright line between religion and science, a lot of religion ends up on the science side. Thus, while the father of empirical science may be doubt, its mother is unabashed faith. For example, in the words of our Unknown Friend, "Newton doubted the traditional theory of 'gravity,' but he believed in the unity of the world, and therefore in cosmic analogy. This is why he could arrive at the cosmic law of gravitation in consequence of the fact of an apple falling from a tree. Doubt set his thought in motion; faith rendered it fruitful."

Now, that is a point worth dwelling on: Faith rendered his thinking fruitful. As I have had occasion to mention a number of times, this has been one of the genuine surprises of my life. I think, based upon my understanding of Polanyi, I already understood that our implicit scientific models of reality are always rooted in a type of unarticulated faith about the nature of things. What I did not realize was the extent to which faith in traditional revelation could be such a fruitful and generative way to think about reality. In other words, I allowed for scientific faith -- it was religious faith that made no sense to me.

And what is scientific faith? What is the credo of the materialist scientist? Again, our Unknown Friend provides an excellent summation (which I have paraphrased) of the reigning dogma and catechism of science. Let us place our hand on a copy of Sam Harris's The End of Faith, and solemnly affirm:

I believe in a single substance, the mother of all forces, which engenders the life and consciousness of everything, visible and invisible. I believe in a single Lord, biology, the unique son of the substance of the world, born from the mother substance after centuries of random shuffling of material: the encapsulated reflection of the great material sea, the epiphenomenal light of primordial darkness, the false reflection of the real world, consubstantial with the mother-substance. It is he who has descended from the shadows of the mother-substance, he who has taken on flesh from matter, he who plays at the illusion of thought from flesh, he who has become the Human Brain. I acknowledge a single method for the elimination of error, thus ultimately eliminating myself and returning to the mother substance. Amen.

Now clearly, the scientist has faith that the unique mother-substance must be one beneath its superficial diversity. Furthermore, he must have faith that the human mind is capable of reducing this outward multiplicity to unity, which is how science proceeds. He must also believe that the mind, although a product of evolution, is somehow its master. In other words, in knowing it is a product of evolution, the human mind transcends evolution and stands outside or "above" it.

Wait, how can that be? I thought the mother substance was the ultimate reality? How can it be transcended? If it is true that matter is the ultimate reality, it cannot be true, because truth is superior to matter. If matter is the ultimate reality, then there is no way to get around Haldane's remark that "If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms."

But show a little tolerance. You must understand that the scientific literalist is a simple person of faith. Don't ask for his faith to be complete. Like the religious literalist, his faith is consistent, but at the price of completeness. It must exclude much truth in order to maintain its consistency.

There is a horizontal world of quantities and a vertical world of qualities. The scientific fundamentalist reduces quality to quantity and calls it "knowledge." The religious literalist subsumes quantity into quality and calls it "faith." Is it really necessary to reduce the one the to other, or can they coexist harmoniously?

Viewed from a certain angle, the story of Genesis can be seen as the story of man's fall from verticality to horizontality. The serpent promises us that if we open our eyes to the horizontal, we will be as gods. With the scientific revolution, mankind fully opened its eyes to the horizontal, but at what price? It is at the price of obscuring the world's inconceivably rich qualitative aspects. "The more one has 'open eyes' for quantity, the more one becomes blind to quality. Yet all that one understands by 'spiritual world' is only quality, and all experience of the spiritual world is due to 'eyes that are open' for quality, for the vertical aspect of the world." And the supreme quality -- or value -- "is the supreme Entity -- God.

What does it require to be a religious scientist or a scientific believer? Easy. Just imagine a cross. The vertical axis is called religion, the horizontal axis science. To quote our Unknown Friend again, we must

"Crucify the serpent. Put the serpent -- or the scientific creed -- on the cross of religion and science, and a metamorphosis of the serpent will follow. The scientific creed then becomes what it is in reality: the mirroring of the creative Word. It will no longer be truth; it will be method. It will no longer say: 'In the beginning was substance or matter,' but it will say: 'in order to understand the mechanism of the made world, it is necessary to choose a method which takes account of the origin of matter and of that which set it in motion from above.' And it will no longer say: 'the brain produces consciousness,' but it will say: 'in order to understand the function of the brain, it is necessary to consider it in such a way as if consciousness is caused by it."

This will "neutralize the poison of scientific faith and transform it into a servant of life," perhaps making the way for some Raccoon to come up with "a light-filled vision of the world evolving through the impulse of the serpent towards a final aim set by providence."

One Cosmos, Under God, Indivisible, with Liberation and Joyousness for All!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Geopolitical Psychospirituality and the Struggle for Integrated Wholeness (1.10.09)

To follow up on yesterday's remarks, it is obviously important to maintain the distinction between evolution and natural selection. Evolution is a fact. Natural selection is a theory that attempts to explain the fact of evolution in a hopelessly incoherent and philosophically naive way. Analogously, you could say that the sun rising in the sky is a fact for which there are different explanatory theories. It could be because the sun revolves around the earth. Or it could be because the earth revolves around the sun. Or perhaps God intervenes to miraculously move the sun each and every moment, which would be about as useful a theory as the Muslim or Christian fundamentalist view of a 6000 year old earth that was created all at once but somehow has the appearance of having evolved.

As Will suggested, it would be contradictory to God's own nature to deceptively create the universe in such a way that it only looked 15 billion years old, or misleadingly throw in some fossils that make it look like life appeared 3.85 billion years ago, or toss in human remains indicating that human beings have been wandering the planet for at least 100,000 years. Divine omnipotence does not include the ability to act contrary to the Divine nature -- which is not deliberately deceptive, to say the least.

In response to Petey's statement that God does not give us the precious gift of spiritual intellection (which specifically integrates heart and mind in a higher unity) only to render it a farce with a literalism that undermines it, one reader suggested that he is content to close his mind in favor of receiving "the Water of Life." In other words, for this person, there is no relationship between "the waters of life" and our divine intellect.

I am going to try to pull together an argument from a number of diverse strands here. In my present condition (still recovering from this cold), I'm not sure I will be able to do so, but here goes anyway.

I am rarely "dazzled" by an intellect, but yesterday afternoon I heard a particularly brilliant person interviewed on the Hugh Hewitt show, Thomas Barnet, author of The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century. One of the reasons why I found this man's intellect so dazzling is that he effortlessly pulled together so many different strands of reality into a coherent, overarching grand strategy for the United States in the 21st century. He was "integral" in a truly meaningful sense, not in the narrow manner of the movement that goes by that name. Nor was he anything like your typical academic pinhead, as he easily ranged from discipline to discipline, showing the interlocking nature of history, culture, military strategy, economics, diplomacy, globalization, and more.

It seems that one of Barnet's key points is that there is what he calls a "functioning core" of economically developed, politically stable states integrated into the global system with deep connectivity. In the days of the cold war, the world's "core" was the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and a few other places, all open, interlocked, and flowing back and forth in an infinitely complex way with information, goods, currency, cultural memes, etc.

Since the time of the cold war, much of the non-integrating gap has become part of the core. In particular, during the 1990's, globalization rapidly expanded the size of the core, encompassing Eastern Europe, India, and even China to a certain extent. In 1980, the core represented only about 10% of the world’s population but encompassed around 2/3rds of the planet’s productive power and economic wealth. Today the core encompasses roughly half the world’s countries, but has grown to almost 90% of the world’s GDP.

At the edges of the core is the "non-integrating gap," those nations and cultures that are not part of the core. According to Barnet, the most likely threats to U.S. and international security always come from the non-integrating gap. What they are specifically rejecting is connectivity to the core, often for deeply psycho-cultural reasons. For example, globalization tends to challenge traditional gender roles. If it begins to extend into a culture in which males exert control over females, it will be resisted. As Barnet put it, "What scares most people, when globalization comes in, is the social change. You go in with those kinds of markets and networks, I guarantee you, you are messing with people’s definitions of wives and lovers and mothers and sisters and daughters and families and education, and the definition of the good life. And when you do that, it’s typically going to be educated young men who look at that package and say, 'you know what? This is not what I signed up for, and I’ll be willing to fight and kill and die under the most perverse conditions to prevent the social change that I find reprehensible.'"

This is the context in which to understand the threat from Islam. The Islamic world is obviously not integrated into the world's core -- not just economically, but in every other way -- culturally, epistemologically, psychologically, scientifically, psycho-sexually, religiously. Just as President Bush has attempted to argue -- and it will be interesting to hear how he addresses this tonight -- the entire key to our future security lies in finding a way to integrate the Islamic world into the functioning core.

Now, I am sure I am not doing justice to Barnet's complex and sophisticated argument. But I wanted to take it in another direction, for the first thing that occurred to me upon hearing him lay out this model was how similar it is to the individual human mind. For the mind too is a complex open system with a "functioning core," but with non-integrating gaps that I have called mind parasites. In order to picture what I'm driving at, you first have to reduce consciousness from its hyperdimensional manifold to the image of a three-dimensional sphere, like the earth. Imagine your conscious ego (or "self," if you like) as the "functioning core" of your consciousness, that part of it that you have "colonized," so to speak. But this colonized part comes up against the edge of many non-integrated gaps in the sphere of consciousness. One of them is called the unconscious.

When someone comes in for psychotherapy, it is fair to say that this is always more or less the problem -- that they are suffering because they have aspects of themselves that are not integrated into their core. These aspects seem to have a life of their own, and literally operate like a foreign nation within the psyche. You have your interests. The mind parasites have their's. Psychotherapy is literally nothing more or less than becoming more integrated for the purpose of becoming more actualized, for your general ability to actualize yourself will be limited by those parts of yourself that you have not integrated into your core. You can ignore them -- as we tried to ignore Islamic radicalism for so many years -- but it will place a huge road block before your evolution, as we can see with regard to the world. It is as if everything is on hold as we try to find a way to integrate these "split off" Islamic parasites.

Now, having said that, you mustn't imagine consciousness in static terms, like a two dimensional map where consciousness expands into more territory. Rather, you must imagine it as a ceaselessly flowing entity, just like Barnet's model of the interlocking core, through which all sorts of transactions and exchanges are taking place. The healthy mind does not so much "colonize" the unconscious in a static way as live in a fruitful, dialectic relationship with it. You can tell when you are in the presence of someone who has no rapport with his unconscious. They will appear rather rigid, and lack the supple spontaneity and creativity of the child.

It is said that science consists of the reduction of multiplicities to unity. It is the same way with psychotherapy and with spiritual growth. It is by reducing our static and unintegrated multiplicity to greater dynamic wholeness that we expand our being -- literally grow the soul -- similar to how the world's core expands through deep connectivity between its parts.

A fine example of multiplicity standing in the way of the growth of unity is to maintain in the teeth of all evidence to the contrary that evolution does not exist and that the world was somehow created 6,000 years ago. In order to maintain such a view, it can only exist as an "unintegrated gap" split off from everything else we know about reality. It must exist in closed and frozen form in a dark corner of the psyche, just like an unevolving traditional culture. It is then renamed "faith," an abuse of the term if ever there was one, for faith is specifically openness to the divine reality. It is never closed, much less static.

Now God is not only One, but the ground and possibility of Oneness. To exist in a fragmented state is specifically to "reject God" in one way or another. Let thine eye be single, and thy body shall be full of light, as the Master said.

Shifting gears again, I would like to bring in something from Meditations on the Tarot, which addresses exactly this issue in Chapter One -- which is the archetypal chapter for understanding the rest of the book. There our unknown friend notes that the purpose of esotericism is to help "the deep and intimate layers of the soul" to "become active and bear fruit." In short, meditation on certain religious principles "makes us fertile in our creative pursuits, in whatever domain of spiritual life," somewhat like an "enzyme" or "ferment" which reaches across the divide and stimulates our spiritual and psychic life. Note that this has nothing in common with literalism or fundamentalism, which are wholly static and do not appreciate the more important function of religious symbols, which is to unify ourselves in a deeply connective and dynamic way -- both within ourselves and with God, for the two are a function of one another.

In fact, later the Author notes that all practical esotericism is founded on the principle that "it is necessary to be one in oneself and one with the spiritual world in order for a revelatory or actual spiritual experience to be able to take place." Furthermore, "the tenet of the basic unity of the world is the same with regard to all knowledge -- without it no knowledge is conceivable.... We declare that the world is not a mosaic, where a plurality of worlds which are essentially strangers to one another are fitted together, but that it is an organism -- all of whose parts are governed by the same principle, revealing it and allowing reduction to it."

But to splinter the unity of knowledge -- and of the spiritual world -- by maintaining a "non-integrating gap," a spiritual ghetto of literalism, is to act counter to the divine will and to ultimately reject God. And this nonintegrated gap will always be at war with oneself, with other people, with the wider world, with reality, for God cannot be reduced to a stubborn little island of personal mythology.

"You only know that which is verified by the agreement of all forms of experience in its totality -- experience of the senses, moral experience, psychic experience, the collective experience of other seekers for the truth, and finally the experience of those whose knowing merits the title of wisdom and those whose striving has been crowned by the title of saint." Integrate all of these, and you are a mage. Fail to do so, and there will be a perpetual gulf between your core and your unintegrated gaps. And that means war.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Story of Cosmic Evolution, or This One Goes Out To Pachuco and Lil' Smokey in Rio Linda!

Stupid virus!

3:45AM and I can't sleep anymore, so here I am, wide awake, thinking about the cosmos and my own strange journey through its hidden arteries.

Way before I had ever conceived the idea of becoming a coonical pslackologist, I worked briefly in radio. Well, not exactly "worked," but I did have an internship. This was back when I was a film major for my undergraduate work -- a Radio-TV-Film major, to be exact. As a requirement for the program, everyone had to go through a semester-long internship. In my case, it was at KRLA radio in Pasadena.

At the time, I actually thought that radio would be much more suitable than film for my temperament and meager skills. I was especially intrigued by the free-form, underground FM deejays of my youth, who worked a three or four hour shift charged with the awesome responsibility of playing records of their own choosing while not even hiding the fact that they were often inebriated. I can do that!

Actually, I didn't really think I could ever be lucky enough to completely beat the system and become a deejay. That was too much to ask. But I thought that perhaps I could be a programmer. Luckily, my first assignment was as a go-fer to the assistant programmer.

Now at the time, KRLA was an oldies station that catered to the Hispanic population. To be honest, it catered to the gang population, but of course, the gangs were not nearly as vicious in those days (this was back in about 1980). This was way before rap and hippity hop. For some reason, these old school gang veteranos just loved listening to their oldies -- pre-Beatles stuff like doo-wop and early Motown -- while harmlessly cruising in their low-riders, drinking Colt 45, and spray painting their ubiquitous graffiti all over East Los Angeles.

Anyway, the assistant programmer didn't have much for me to do, but one day she asked me to man the "dedication line," on which listeners would call in and request particular songs for their novias. Without even thinking about it, I cheerfully responded, "Sure. Do I have to speak spray can?"

Ha! A little ethnic joke to lighten things up... you know, graffiti and all that...

The word "political correctness" didn't yet exist, so I didn't know what to call the distinctly hostile Nameless Presence that now dwelled between us. In any event, she looked at me as if, to paraphrase Bertie Wooster, I were a snake egg in the process of hatching. After that I was given the permanent assignment of monitoring the police scanner for traffic information.

Well, speaking of requests, today we have a request in the Cosmos! Trad-coon reader Joseph has asked me how I manage to reconcile the anti-evolutionary view of the traditionalist Guenon/Schuon school with my own belief in evolution. Upon superficial consideration, it seems like an either/or proposition -- either creation or evolution -- but I don't see it this way. Or at least I have tried to explain how the two can harmoniously coexist. In fact, I would go so far as to say that evolution must be a fact, not for scientific reasons but for a priori metaphysical ones.

Clearly, this was one of the main points of my book. When I use the word "evolution" I am not necessarily referring only to biology but to the phenomenon of progressive change itself. The local phenomenon of natural selection must be placed in the much wider context of cosmic evolution. This is not a static or mechanistic universe, but a dynamic and organismic one, as Whitehead so thoroughly articulated. This much is obvious. On every level we see cycles within cycles, from the subatomic to the cellular to the neurological and psychological to the spiritual.

Having said that, I do not believe that evolution is an open-ended process that starts from nothing and proceeds in a random way. Frankly, I think that such an idea is equally metaphysically absurd as the notion that the universe was created all at once in a static way. Rather, I share Sri Aurobindo's view that the existence of evolution must imply a prior involution. This is essentially what I was trying to convey in the opening passage of my book, using the idea of the Big Bang as a metaphor for God's simultaneous involution and creation of the cosmos. For example:

How Lo can he Go? How about all the way inside-out and upside-down, a vidy long descent indeed to the farthest reaches of sorrow and ignorance.... A self-willed division, expulsion & exile, and badda-bing, badda-BANG! a wondrous thunder rends it all asunder.... The molten infinite pours forth a blazen torrent of incandescent finitude, as light plunges an undying fire into its own shadow and F-A-L-L-S in love with the productions of time, hurtling higgledy-piggledy into jivass godlings and samskara monsters all the way down.

What does this nonsense mean? Simply that God, through the perpetual act of creation, involves himself in the cosmos like a seed in the womb of time. Evolution on a cosmic scale is the reverse of this, as the cosmos gradually awakens to its own divinity, what I call "cosmotheosis." Importantly, this is not to reduce God to the physical cosmos -- in other words, this is in no way pantheism. Rather, this fully comports with the Orthodox Christian doctrine of panentheism. Since I'm suffering from this virus and cannot think that clearly, I will just quote from the Wikipedia article on the subject, which seems to get it basically right (although my Orthodox readers may want to correct any errors).

Panentheism describes "the relationship between the Uncreated God (who is omnipotent, eternal, and constant) and His creation." This bears superficial similarities to pantheism, but maintains a critical distinction. That is, this doctrine does not teach that God is merely the deistic "watchmaker God" of the Enlightenment, nor "the 'stage magician God' who only shows up when performing miracles."

Rather, the idea is that "God is not merely necessary to have created the universe, but that His active presence is necessary in some way for every bit of creation, from smallest to greatest, to continue to exist at all." Specifically, God's energies "maintain all things and all beings, even if those beings have explicitly rejected Him. His love of creation is such that he will not withdraw His presence," which would end existence altogether.

Importantly, Orthodox Christian panentheism is distinct from the fundamentalist view, in that "it maintains an ontological gulf or distance between the created and the Uncreated." Creation is paradoxically not a "part" of God, and "the Godhead is still distinct from creation; however, God is 'within' all creation...."

Now, I find this view to be entirely compatible with the traditionalist doctrine of the cosmos as a "ray of creation" that emanates from the Creator outward, like a series of concentric circles, each circle representing another "world" -- say, matter, life, or mind. At the farthest reach of the divine ray -- i.e., the most distant from the "cosmic center" -- would be dead matter. Or at least dead matter is the last "congealed" aspect of the cosmos. There are presumably realms even beyond that, as the involutionary ray fades into darkness and obscurity. Sri Aurobindo called this the "unconscient"-- the seeming absence of conscousness which is actually a necessary result of the divine ray deploying itself infinitely into time and space.

In Orthodox Christianity, there is the idea of "kenosis," which refers both to God's "sacrifice" or "self-emptying" in creating the universe, as well has his sacrifice in becoming man. It is said that "God became man so that man might become God." Do you see how it all fits together? God becomes man -- i.e., he is involved in humanness -- so that humans might evolve to God, or achieve theosis. For me, this dovetails perfectly with the perennial doctrine that the One became many so that the many might become One, or Brahman became maya so that maya might become Brahman. Just substitute "evolved back to" for "became," and any odious implications of evolution are removed -- i.e., "the One involved itself in the many so that the many might evolve back to God."

Now, how does this apply to man per se? Is he evolving? Or is he an exception to the cosmic rule, a static entity created by God? The Bible teaches that man is the image and likeness of God. However, in Orthodoxy there is a clear distinction between image and likeness. They are not the same thing. The image is more like a seed; it is our divine potential, the spark of divinity involved in the core of our being. It is only a mirror in the way that an acorn mirrors the oak tree.

The purpose of life is to "actualize" the potential implicit in the mirror in order to become the image. Here again, simply substitute "evolve into" for "become," and any objections to evolution are eliminated. Naturally, we wish to "evolve" from fallen man and achieve our divine potential, do we not? Obviously this is not a reduction to mere Darwinian evolution, which it includes but clearly transcends. Again, the evolution of life itself can only mean that life was already "involved" in matter prior to its outward appearance -- as was mind and spirit. Thus, evolution is the ultimate cosmic reclamation project.

I could say a lot more, but I think l'll stop for now and see if there are any questions. In the mean time, Guadalupe would like to send out Angel Baby by Rosie and the Originals to Flaco in San Quentin. Little Flaco misses his daddy!

Hey, it's a joke, people!

Monday, January 08, 2007

What are the Best Political and Spiritual Operating Systems for Earthlings?

In a thought-provoking article entitled How to Think About the War, Herbert Meyer compares competing political systems to different computer operating systems.

At its foundation, politics is not "Republicans versus Democrats, or liberals against conservatives, or the looming scramble among Presidential contenders for their parties' 2008 nominations." Rather, as always, politics "is the relationship between the individual and the State. And for as long as human beings have walked the Earth, we have been struggling to get this right. We've tried everything. We've had kingdoms and empires of all sizes and flavors. We've had military dictatorships, and civilian dictatorships. We've had totalitarian states like fascism on the right, and communism on the left. We've had constitutional monarchies, republics and democracies."

In short, humans have developed countless operating systems to deal with the dynamic relationship between the individual and the collective. Part of the problem undoubtedly arises from the fact that any system we devise is going to be "unnatural," in the sense that it will be dissimilar to the way our upright furbears evolved in the archaic environment -- which is to say, in small groups of 20 or 30. Although evolutionary psychologists exaggerate the centrality of this, nevertheless, we always bear the stamp of our evolutionary past, and it would be foolish to try to deny its existence, as it does hold certain keys to our behavior.

Meyers notes what amounts to a common sense observation -- which in our time is sadly uncommon. That is, "when you look at history through the prism of operating systems, you find that one operating system has triumphed above all the others: Western Civilization. Its key features are the separation of church and state, the primacy of the individual over the State, the encouragement of artistic expression and intellectual curiosity, free enterprise, and a never-ending struggle to reach equality among the races and sexes. Like all operating systems, Western Civilization has its flaws, its shortcomings and its imperfections -- as will any operating system designed and run by human beings. But by any imaginable measure, Western Civilization is history's greatest achievement."

Exactly. It is amazing to me that this isn't something with which we can all agree. Yesterday we spoke of how "intelligent, virtuous, and mentally sound men" should be able to understand each other on this point. Which they do. It's the stupid, bad, and/or mentally unsound men who disagree. For example, there is the operating system of Radical Islam. Unlike our operating system, "Its key features are the combination of church and State, the submission of individuals to this combination, the discouragement of artistic expression and intellectual curiosity, the crushing of its people's entrepreneurial talents, and the treatment of women as though they were property rather than people."

Perhaps the Islamist operating system wouldn't be so bad if they merely wanted to impose it on themselves. The problem is, they are determined to impose it on us.

Worse yet, many if not most of our own elites in academia and the liberal media do not think there is anything so special about our operating system. Rather, they see only its flaws, largely because they have abandoned one of its key programs, the Judeo-Christian tradition, which causes them to politicize the psychological, spiritual and existential -- in a word, to "horizontalize" the vertical. And when reality is horizontalized, one not only misses its most vital aspect, but the system will begin to breed citizens who don't even know of its existence. They will be human freaks -- only "crippled inside," as John Lennon put it in song.

When reality is drained of its transcendent dimension, the world will be reduced from a field of spiritual liberty in which to actualize oneself, to a mere struggle for economic or political power. Out of its emptiness, the flight from verticality evokes envy. Thus, we constantly hear the horizontal folk complain about "gaps in income," as if this is all there is to our impossibly rich lives. I personally have never understood this complaint. Perhaps it's just my nature -- I'm pretty sure it is -- but from the earliest age, I have always been more concerned about gaps in slack. My car is six years old. I don't care. It never crosses my mind. But the horror of having insufficient time to commune with Dobbs!

Put it this way: I am a clinical psychologist. After some 23 years of education and a couple more for my post-doc internship, I was fortunate enough to be given a license to steal. At least hypothetically, I could easily earn more than I do, but it wouldn't be easy for me. FrankIy, I would have to be someone else. It would mean having to be more ambitious than I am and working more than I do, thus cutting into the reason for my existence. It comes naturally to me to live a simple, uncluttered life, but I hardly feel deprived. Rather, I would feel deprived if evicted from the vertical. Yes, the dopey CEO of Home Depot makes some outrageous amount of money. But would I want to be him? Would I trade my life for his? Is he having more fun than me? Please. No one has more vertical fun than a Raccoon. If so, show me this person. I want to meet him and appoint him the new Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler (sorry Petey).

No, all the money in the world could not be consolation for what I would have to give up to be King of Home Depot. I am enjoying my vertical liberty in my own sweet way, and I am acutely aware of how this is only possible because of our precious operating system called Western Civilization.

But our horizontal elites focus so much "on the flaws, shortcomings and imperfections of Western Civilization that they are blind to its achievements." This is another key point, for I am sure all Raccoons have had the experience of conversing with a moonbat -- the moonbat can be of superior or subnormal intellect, it matters not -- and being met with incredulousness, contempt, or sarcasm when the obvious superiority of Western Civilization is mentioned. "What about the Indians?!" "What about slavery!?" "What about the transgendered?!"

It is as if the anti-Western moonbat, because he has abondoned the concept of personal sin, transfers it to the collective. "Original sin? That's a primitive idea. People are good -- especially me. And transgendered Indian feminists. But you've got to be kidding. The United States is bad and unredeemably sinful."

This only demonstrates how the operating system of Western Civilization goes completely haywire in the absence of the religious program that made it possible. An interesting thought occurred to me while lurking at a new age website yesterday, and which answers the question of why "new age" almost always means "left," and even "America-bashing." I won't go into details, as they don't really matter. You are no doubt familiar with the type of person who rejects tradition in favor of assembling a melange of half-baked spiritual notions for the sake of egoic comfort rather than personal transformation.

To be honest, I more or less started out this way, as I am sure you probably did too. After all, in a certain way, it's the American thing to do. We're not Europe. No one's going to tell us who God is and how to worship Him. That's our business.

Which reminds me. When I was a kid, there used to be newspaper cartoon called "Rick O'Shay," which took place in the American West. My favorite character was the lone gunslinger, whose name was Hipshot Percussion. Not infrequently, the Sunday cartoon would feature a series of panels depicting Hipshot on his horse, high up in the mountains, worshipping God in his own wordless way. There would be no captions, but it might show Hipshot reverently standing by a mountain stream with head bowed. I think it conveyed a not-so-subtle message about the inevitable hypocrisy of organized religion, and about the new American experiment in radical spiritual liberty. But there was something very devout about these cartoon images. They weren't "in your face," and they certainly didn't imply atheism or radical secularism, much less "environmentalism" (in its narrow leftist connotation). They conveyed an important aspect of American spirituality.

I remember once in film school, the professor spoke of two quintessentially American archetypes that reappear in film -- call them the "drifter" and the "settler." One of America's ideals was of a place where one didn't have to settle down -- where one could continue roaming and exploring indefinitely, never putting down roots. The other ideal was of the person who owned his little portion of America -- a little piece of paradise -- living his freedom in the opposite way. But in either case, the emphasis was on different kinds of liberty, with deep spiritual implications.

It is said that reality consists of objects that object. In other words, we do not control them or produce them out of our own substance. They exist in their own right. They are real.

Being more of the Hipshot pursuasion, one of the most surprising and completely unexpected developments in my own life has been the discovery of the very real realities embodied in religious tradition. It is as if these are spiritual operating systems "authorized by heaven," so to speak, and something that humans could never have devised on their own. I have found that thinking about vertical reality from "within" these systems is profoundly generative, much more so than trying to do so outside them -- to try to invent our own operating systems.

Referring back to those new-agers with heads full of mush, such as our own recent persistent visitor. There is a reason why no deep spiritual thought emerges out of the "new age movement" -- why it is almost all bunk. It is because the operating system is wrong. These people can reject orthodoxy and tradition all they want, but there is a reason why the latter has produced hundreds and thousands of profound spiritual thinkers, from Origen, to Dionysius, to John Scotus Eriugena, to Eckhart, to St. John of the Cross, to Theophan the Recluse, to Teilhard de Chardin, to Valentin Tomberg. Imagine placing such individuals on the same plane as Tony Robbins or Deepak Chopra, who have their own manmade operating systems which they will sell to you for just $1,500 at a dynamic weekend seminar!

Like the Left, it's just another case of horizontalizing the vertical. Or is it verticalizing the horizontal? Either way, it reflects another perennial American archetype: the salesman. For once you have abandoned the vertical, I can sell it back to you, like ice to Eskimos.


Or as Siggy put it today in his Religious Progressives, The Judenrat And Another Generation In Denial:

"[T]o be a radical ‘religious progressive’ that adopts the radical leftist agenda, faith has to be dispensed with. A believer who wants to espouse progressive ideology must accept that his religious beliefs and values are worth less than progressive beliefs and values. Believers must find a way to rewrite faith to accommodate progressive ideology, even if that means upending the very beliefs, values and principles of the faith they profess to be a part of.

"In the end, all radical ‘religious progressives’ are the Judenrat and kapos of their respective faiths and of our time. By accepting and ascribing to beliefs and ideologies of Leftism, ‘religious progressives’ have made a deal with the very devil that would destroy them. Disagree with a ‘religious progressive,’ and like their progressive masters, tolerance goes out the window because dissent cannot be tolerated -- because the ‘emperor has no clothes.’"

Hmm, where have I heard that line before?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Truth and How to Avoid it

If truth exists, it seems that it is something that we would want to align ourselves with, no? For truth is what works, isn't it?

Not necessarily. With psychoanalysis, Freud articulated an entire system of thought that essentially comes down to a means for investigating the many ways in which human beings lie to themselves. Thus, in a sense, these lies "work" -- i.e., they have a function -- or they wouldn't have been erected in the first place.

For example, one routinely sees adults who were abused or neglected as children by their parents. This is the truth. But this truth doesn't "work" for an infant, because it would make living intolerably painful -- impossible, really. Therefore, in order to go on living, the child erects the lie, "my parents love me. There is something wrong with me." Interestingly, on some level, one must know the truth in order to erect the lie. Psychoanalytic therapy, in its broadest sense, is simply a search for truth, or what Bion called O.

What is really going on between two people, beneath all the words we use to conceal things? One of Bion's maxims was for the analyst to "suspend memory, desire, and understanding" before each therapy session, in order to try to let the truth emerge of its own accord.

I remember once reading that Bion didn't even want to know if a patient was married or not, for this is something he would determine for himself. For many couples are "married," but not really. This word, "marriage" -- imagine the extraordinary range of situations it covers! My parents were married. I am married. But certain outward formalities aside, there is little commonality between the situations. In other words, to a certain extent, the word conceals more than it reveals. For example, in the case of my parents, to say that they had a longstanding and committed detente would probably be closer to the truth. Or at least not as misleading. In fact, another purpose of psychoanalytic therapy would be to help such people actually become capable of marriage, as opposed to remaining faithful -- 'til death do they part -- to their mind parasites.

Is truth something we are moving toward, or something we possess? Science operates by way of hypothesis and experimentation. It is never complete, so in a sense, it can only regard total truth as a distant possibility, something we hail from afar (nevertheless, a fascinating presumption rich with unarticulated metaphysical implications that converge upon religion).

Religion is the opposite. It presents us with Truth that is said to be a priori, including symbolized metaphysical truths that simply cannot not be. These perennial truths may be inferred from (or more properly "seen" in) the structure of Being itself, at least by some.

And yet, each of these situations may be turned on its head, both in principle and in practice. For science actually begins with certain immutable principles -- its own version of "revelation" -- such as the assumptions that the world is intelligible, that it obeys underlying laws that apply to all of creation, and that all of reality may be reduced to material processes.

For its part, religion has its own version of truth-seeking (as opposed to truth-possessing). It does not proceed along the lines of hypothesis and experimentation, but of purification, illumination, assimilation or interiorization, and union. Whereas the truth-seeking of science is more of a mechanical enterprise (at least superficial "worker bee" type science), religion is more of an organismic, or living process of metabolism and growth.

In religion, truth is increasingly understood and metabolized, which has the practical effect of widening and deepening our being. Thus, to say that this or that person is "religious" is about as useful as saying that they are married. "Religious," like "married," embraces so many diverse states and stations that it is almost futile to use the word. Bin Laden is religious. George Bush is religious. To certain unsophisticates for whom the world of religious truth is a closed book, this amounts to the same thing. It is a lie, but not really -- more a simultaneous confession and confirmation of utter ignorance. For irreligious people to pronounce on religion is exactly analogous to pre-scientific people pronouncing on the structure of subatomic reality.

In an interesting article entitled Two Strategies for Avoiding Truth, Arnold King notes that people typically "highlight information and arguments that support their prior beliefs. When they encounter contrary evidence, they engage in 'motivated skepticism,' seeking to undermine the credibility or minimize the significance of the adverse information." Findings that confirm a hypothesis "are accepted more or less at face value," while those that don't are scrutinized and picked apart.

With regard to politics, King writes that "the great mass of people form their beliefs with little regard for facts or logic.... Most voters lack elementary knowledge of our political system, they hold views that are ideologically jumbled and logically inconsistent, and their opinions change over time in ways that suggest almost random behavior." This is most certainly true, but it simply mirrors the jumbled grab-bag of notions, hunches, ruling ideas, temperamental inclinations, rumors, prejudices, biases, and truth-avoiding mechanisms that constitute the riven mind of the typical person. Truth is not a high priority for most people, much less consistency.

To the contrary: for most people, it is fair to say that lying -- primarily to oneself -- is a matter of the utmost urgency. And one of the best ways to prevent truth from "coalescing" is to remain in a fractured, "two-dimensional" state. In other words, if you think of truth as something that emerges in a third dimension of the mind by coherently bringing together a mass of information, one way to prevent that from occurring is to simply stay down in the world of incoherent particulars, and then convince oneself that that is the real world. For such a person, you can point out their inconsistencies all day long, but it will have no effect.

This is something that all seasoned therapists realize. The truth is there staring you in the face, but it is of no use to the patient, because they don't yet have the mental space where it can be "entertained." It is analogous to watching a color film on a black and white TV. You can broadcast in color, but the set will simply transform it to black and white.

King notes something that leftist intellectuals do not wish to understand, which is that "markets process information more effectively than does the political process." He quotes the economist Tim Harford, who goes so far as to suggest that the market is the "world of truth." For example, King suspects that "it is easier for market forces to drive a bad firm out of business than it is for political forces to extinguish a policy that fails to meet the objectives that purportedly drive its enactment."

Why would that be? Because markets are simply what happens. They are a result of what people actually desire and what they are willing to do to fulfill that desire. There is not much room for a lie to enter the equation -- although that's not quite right, for it is fair to say that most human desires are inextricably linked to the avoidance of some vital truth; most of what people want is a pale substitute for what they actually want. But who am I to force people to want something other than what they want? That is the difference between a leftist and a classical liberal.

At the very least, the market represents the truth about what free individuals choose for themselves, which is certainly preferable to leftist economics, which is a lie about the unvarnished truth of what people actually want, for whatever reason, high or low. In other words, it is foolish to think that you can radically intervene in the market from the top down, in order to try to alter human nature, which is what it is -- at least when when it isn't being even less than that. But that is what politicians end up doing, both Democrats and Republicans, resulting in a "competition to promise the undeliverable," which in turn inevitably tends toward a "greater accretion of government power, giving the elites more to fight over."

Given the the profound need for humans to lie to themselves, there is simply no way to eradicate leftism at this time -- perhaps ever. For it is an inevitable reflection of the human state, at least at this point in our evolution. This is why the Republicans, when given power, behave almost as badly as Democrats. After all, both parties must market themselves to the identical human needs, which include the need for illusions. Have you ever thought about the fact that there is almost always a more or less 1:1 relationship between Democrats and Republicans? How can this be? Because both parties are constantly adjusting and adapting their message to the shifting emotional needs of the citizenry at any given time -- needs which are not rooted in reality, to say the least.

It is sometimes said that two persons "do not understand each other" or "are too different to be able to understand each other." Now such a thing does not exist when the two persons involved are normal, good, and think in accordance with the truth.

If two persons "do not understand each other," that means: that one of them is stupid; or that one of them has bad character, or in any case an inferior character; or that one of them is mentally abnormal. Or again, that both persons are in error, but in different ways; or that both of them are stupid or bad, or abnormal; or inferior in some respect....

Temperaments may be as different as can be, but intelligent, virtuous, and mentally sound men will always be able to understand each other; this possibility is in the very nature of man, who by definition is capable of thought since he has the gift of objectivity.
--F. Schuon