Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Gender, Feminism, and Nihilism

I wanted to continue along yesterday's line of thought into a further discussion of manhood, and of sexual -- not "gender!" -- differences in general. With regard to gender, it is a leftist mind parasite with an interesting etiology. Mansfield points out that this weasel word was actually borrowed from grammar, which is surely no coincidence, given the convergence of feminism and infrahuman literary theories such as deconstruction. What looks like a superficially trivial (but coerced) change in language usage is actually an ontologically profound (but magical) manipulation of reality, i.e., changing sex, a rich essence with both immanent (horizontal) and transcendent (vertical) implications, into gender, an impoverished concept that is ultimately nihilistic to the core.

Sex is real. Gender is pure fantasy, a word game -- and another big reason why the left is ironically referred to as the "reality based community." Because brother, if you're not even sure if you're a boy or a girl -- or you think the differences are arbitrary, or assigned by culture, or self-selected -- then you are one messed up human being. And an even more messed up political party.

As I have mentioned before on numerous occasions, religion is the true humanism, whereas humanism always redounds to subhumanism or animalism. Yesterday I tried to show how the secular left doesn't really believe half of its own nonsense, at least not in any consistent way. For example, if they truly believe that Darwinism is a scientifically proven fact as opposed to flawed and partial theory, it leads in certain inescapable ways to an extreme right wing view (I won't say conservative or classical liberal, since they have entirely different implications) in which men are clearly superior to women in the only ways that matter. Since the leftist has already dispatched any appeals to transcendent truth, all that is left is power, and since men are more powerful than women, this seems the perfect recipe for a kind of Nietzschian fascism in which the strong rule the weak.

If we are reduced to obtaining our values from nature -- from the horizontal world only -- these are the values we will take away. Leftists don't like that brutal world of each against all, and with good reason. But since they also reject transcendent truth, they are essentially left with no choice but magic, including the word magic of "gender." Only religion properly deals with the world as it actually is and how it ought to be.

Again I refer back to Christopher Matthews' moronic question to the Republican candidates as to whether they believe in Darwinism or "creationism." For my part, I would not hesitate to say that so-called creationism -- including all of the inspired commentaries on Genesis -- explains much more about human beings than does Darwinism. Again, if we hew to a strict interpretation of Darwinism, we are left with some of the caricatures I outlined yesterday, of rigid sexual roles determined by millions of years of genetic evolution. Another way of saying it is that religion is actually much more scientific than Darwinism, if we expand science to mean understanding as much of reality as possible with our (capital R) Reason -- with the supernatural light of the intellect, or nous.

One reason doctrinaire Darwnians are so philosophically shallow is that they never trace the metaphysical implications of their own Darwinism, which quickly lead to hopelessly insoluble contradictions. For example, in Darwinism there can be no essences, only change. Nothing is fixed, everything is evolving, so that even the concept of "species" is problematic for Darwinians. Any "species" is just a temporary and random cluster of adaptations to shifting environmental conditions, so they don't really exist in any ontologically real way. They certainly have no value, let alone ultimate value.

And of course, human beings are just another species, which is to say "nothing" -- just a temporary chance collection of random genetic mutations. Human beings are entirely contingent and accidental, and certainly cannot be regarded as some kind of "end point" of evolution. Obviously there can be no such thing as "humanness," for that implies an essence, and essences are strictly forbidden in Darwinism. Whatever humans are today is temporary -- they were something different yesterday and will be something different again tomorrow.

Given such a simplistic view, how could quintessentially human categories such as "manliness" actually exist? For that matter, one naturally wonders how truth could exist, including the truth of Darwinism. In other words, how can a being that is intrinsically transient and therefore relative, built on the shifting sand of unceasing genetic change, ever arrive at the immutable?

In reality, the gulf between humans and animals is not just vast, it is infinite. This is not to suggest that there are not continuities. Of course there are. But Darwinians fraudulently begin from the top-down (something their theory actually doesn't allow them to do) to explain the roots of human traits. In other words, they never start with a primitive animal and show how this or that trait will eventually transform into something "higher." Rather, they presuppose the higher, and try to find some rough analogue of it in a lower beast. In short, Darwinians accept the same intelligible hierarchy of being we all do, but simply deny it. They do not actually explain man's descent from animals, but simply project certain distinctly human traits onto animals, which explains nothing.

In reality, there is much more to our sexual differences than Darwinism can ever explain. Again, if we deconstruct human essence and locate its "parts" in the genetic past, we will be left with nothing more than an aggressive animal that will do anything to survive and reproduce, which really doesn't explain much. In order to understand the essential equilibrium between man and woman, there are at least three orders of being that must be analyzed, only one of which involves the "natural" world of Darwinism.

As Schuon points out, there is first the sexual, biological, psychological and social relationship, which no one would deny. But on top of that is the human and fraternal relationship, and finally "the properly spiritual and or sacred relationship." In the first relationship -- the only one that can be addressed by leftists, feminists, Darwinians, and secularists in general -- "there is obviously inequality, and from this results the social subordination of woman, a subordination already prefigured in her physical constitution and her psychology."

Again, this is where you are left with the narrow scientistic view of human beings. In order to transcend it, you must either evolve into a religious understanding or "make some shit up," which is what the secular left does -- for example, by denying the reality of these profound sexual differences with the word-magic of "gender."

But Schuon points out that this first relationship "is not everything," for in the dimension of essential humanness, "woman is equal to man since like him she belongs to the human species; this is the plane, not of subordination, but of friendship; and it goes without saying that on this level the wife may be superior to her husband since one human being may be superior to another, whatever the sex."

But the operative term is essential humanness, for here we are again talking about a transcendent essence which is both real and permanent -- and nothing which is permanent can be explained by the intrinsic transience of any temporary Darwinian adaptation. Or put it this way: no matter how de facto unequal men and women are as a result of the random and transient changes of Darwinian evolution, they are nevertheless eternally equal because they are human beings. This is a self-evident truth that can only be seen with the higher intellect, not one that could ever be arrived at through the application of Darwinian principles.

Now, a critical point is that in one limited sense, man and woman are more or less complementary, which implies partiality or incompleteness. But this too has a spiritual significance, being, for example, that "man stabilizes woman, [and] woman vivifies man." Elsewhere, Schuon notes that "Man, in his lunar and receptive aspect, 'withers away' without the woman-sun that infuses into the virile genius what it needs in order to blossom; inversely, man-sun confers on woman the light that permits her to realize her identity by prolonging the function of the sun."

But man and woman are not just complementary and therefore partial; rather, they are perfections, but of different archetypes. They are divine manifestations -- not in their "accidental or fallen state, but in [their] primordial and principial perfection." Thus, not only is there a human essence, but there is also a male and female essence, each of the latter representing the perfections of certain divine qualities. Looked at in this way, each sex is intrinsically perfect, something complete, whole, and not subject to fundamental change without rendering it false and ugly. As such, chastity, on its most profound level, is an "upward" escape "from the polarity of the sexes and a reintegration of the unity of the primordial pontifex, of man as such." Only on this higher level does man contain woman within himself, and vice versa

This is why it is such a great abomination for one sex to take on the attributes of the other except as something added to the essence -- and only after one's essence has been realized. One must first be a man before a gentleman -- let alone something from the complementary sex. It is also why "homosexual marriage" represents such a monstrosity -- literally. Nothing could be more nihilisitic, for again, it presupposes that man is just "anything" and therefore nothing. Either we have an essential being -- which includes sex -- or we are nothing. And if we are nothing, it hardly matters if a man marries a man, a woman, or a watermelon.

In the third relationship -- the properly spiritual or sacred -- there is, paradoxically, a kind of "reciprocal superiority": "in love... the woman assumes in regard to her husband a divine function, as does the man in regard to the woman." For on this level, the adoration of the essence of the other is "a search for the Essence or the lost paradise."

Something which is "totally itself" is incapable of change, whereas something transient can only change, with no direction, goal or purpose. The human being is capable of humanness -- of discovering his true vocation -- because he is what he is but not altogether so. If he were simply a Darwinian machine, he would be a something, but a temporary and transient something, which is indistinguishible from nothing. Only humans can become themselves because they are simultaneously what they are and what they ought to be. And a human who fails to transcend himself and become what he ought to be is not even an animal. He is nothing. A gender. Or worse, a gender studies professor.

The ambiguity of the human state is that we are as it were suspended between God -- our essence -- and the human form, which is "made of clay"; we are so to speak a mixture of divinity and dust.... Hell is as it were the revolt of the cipher, of the nothingness that seeks to be all. When a man turns away from his divine Essence, his ego becomes like a stone dragging him downwards, and his Essence turns away from him; what then fills this vacuum is the dark essence, that of formal compression and the fall. -- F. Schuon

Monday, June 18, 2007

Manliness, Maleness, and Mannish Women

Wow, a threepeat: back-to-back-to-back baby viruses. In this case, I had just begun feeling better from a cold by Friday evening when I started feeling oddly out of it on Saturday. By Saturday evening it was a sort of whole-body nausea that lasted about 36 hours. Ever had that? I guess it was some form of stomach flu.

But on the positive side, I was basically on my back all day Sunday, which meant that I was able to engage in my lengthiest period of sustained reading in well over two years. Maybe I need to get sick more often.

In this case, it was the book Manliness by Harvey Mansfield (that's a coincidence -- I wasn't even thinking about the fact that it was father's day). This is a thoughtful, wonderfully entertaining, and very necessary book, which immediately highlights how corrupt the major book review services are -- you know, Publishers Weekly and all the rest. Like academia and the MSM, they've been taken over by leftist activists who do not tolerate dissent and give negative reviews to works that do not meet their standards for ideological purity. And there is no way a book in praise of manliness is going to be acceptable to the left, a philosophy which specifically excludes and even pathologizes the expression of healthy -- which is to say, higher -- manliness:

"Harvard government professor Mansfield delves into philosophy, literature and science to define manliness and to argue that it should have a place in an increasingly non-gender-specific society. Throughout, Mansfield clearly states his intentions, and though he may have convinced himself he accomplished his goals, readers will be skeptical.... murky questions and non-sequitur lines of logic continue throughout.... But Mansfield's theories on gender equality are likely to create the most conversation: 'women are the weaker sex,' 'women's bodies are made to attract and to please men,' and 'now that women are equal, they should be able to accept being told that they aren't, quite' all appear on the same page. Mansfield set out to write a provocative book, but ended up penning a juvenile screed."

So said the juvenile reviewer on whom the irony is lost.

Let's start with those three passages from the book, which were seemingly deliberately taken out of context in order to shock the sensibilities of the unmanly and politically correct reader. One of the most self-serving mamamyths of our time -- a myth that can only be promulgrated on our nerves because ovary-tower leftists control most of the feminine organs of disinformation insemination -- is that conservatives are somehow "anti-science" while liberals are "pro-science." In reality, the reverse is true.

Even with regard to the one issue most mentioned by the histrionic left -- embryo stem cell research -- the question is not over the research itself but government funding of it. But the left further confuses the issue by conflating stem cell research and embryo stem cell research and then simply stating that conservatives are "against stem cell research." The left is so intellectually dishonest it just makes you want to throw up. Unless that's a remnant of the virus.

One of the issues about which the left is most insistent is the teaching of Darwinian evolution as metaphysics or a sort of secular religion rather than just a scientific theory. "You can't teach children creationism! (their scary code-word for intelligent design). You have to teach Darwinian evolution! It's been proven! No scientist disagrees with it!"

Okay, deal. Darwin is God. And what does Darwinian evolution teach about male-female differences? Darwin, of course, reduced existence to 1) a struggle for life revolving around 2) the survival of the fittest. Thus, what we see as "manliness" -- which is to say, aggressiveness, risk-taking, and defending one's possessions, including women -- is in many respects the quintessence of both. That is, men who had these traits were much more successful both in surviving and getting their genes into the next generation than the men who didn't have these traits.

And there is no way feminists can duck the issue by whining, "it's not our fault, we don't want men to be this way!" Rather, thousands of years of sexual selection by their sisterly furbears means that the attributes of the men we see today were selected by women in the never-ending competition for access to female bodies. Men are the way they are because women wanted them -- needed them, is more like it -- to be that way: strong, aggressive, confident, courageous, and willing to risk danger to themselves to defend obviously weaker and more vulnerable woman and children. In Darwin's words, this selection process resulted in men being "more courageous, pugnacious and energetic than woman" and giving them "a more inventive genius."

Let's just pause right there for a second. If Mansfield has written a "juvenile screed," what would the girlish Publisher's Weekly reviewer make of Darwin's insensitive screed? Remember a few weeks ago, when that buffoonish caricature of a man, Christopher Matthews, tried to make the Republican candidates look foolish by asking if they believed in creationism or natural selection? I wish one candidate had said, "the latter, which is why it is scientifically proven that someone who is not a man is not fit to be president, whether it is Hillary Clinton or John Edwards."

Here is what relationships look like from a purely Darwinian standpoint: "Men have manliness so as to compete with other men; women use the manliness of men to protect themselves and their children. And if women consciously manipulate men for their purposes, men dominate women for theirs. A woman may look as if she is surrendering, but in truth she is indulging her relational aggression."

Likewise, marriage has nothing to do with such unscientific and fanciful notions as "love," but is a sort of complementarity of two opposed forms of aggression. Each sex is simply manipulating the other for selfish purposes. Actually, it's not even the person who is selfish, just his or her genes.

Yes, for you male Raccoons out there, listen closely. This will keep you out of a lot of trouble: what your nervous system mistakenly perceives as female pulchritude is just a trick of the genes. Don't be fooled. Women are neither attractive nor unattractive. Their "beauty" is actually female aggression -- passive aggression, if you will -- designed to make you want to pay attention to her. No, let's be honest: to shag her. But she has all the power! She arouses general male interest, but then she gets to choose from the pool of interested candidates! How fair is that?

It seems that if males were only males -- as opposed to men -- they would simply take what they want. Why would they care what a woman thinks? Because the decent ones are men, and a manly man realizes that women are weaker and that they could easily physically overcome them if they wanted to. An unmanly man acts on the impulse. But manliness is a virtue, not a result of genetic programming.

This raises an interesting point about sexual harassment laws. Obviously these laws are terribly unscientific, because they are essentially making it against the law for males to be males. They outlaw the wisdom of our genetic programming, and that can't be right, not if you believe that Darwin trumps the Bible. Our genes mandate that for a man to get a date and for the species to survive, men should be hitting on women all day long, if only for the practice. Anything less is to shirk one's genetic duty. (I remember back when I worked in the supermarket, a friend of mine would literally hit on every attractive women, including those who were seemingly way outside his league. I asked him why, and he said something to the effect that he was just playing the percentages, and that one in ten will say yes.)

This would have been another good answer to Matthew's question about "creationism": "Yes Chris, I'm passionately pro-science. One of the first things we need to do get rid of all these sexual harassment laws, because they just interfere with the wisdom of nature. Men are men. You can't make manhood against the law. What's next, making it a crime for baseball players to spit? You wanna start arresting people because they leave the toilet seat up?"

Or, if we don't get rid of sexual harassment laws, at least we have to be scientific about them and apply them equally to women. Since female beauty is a manipulative form of genetic aggression, then we must have strict dress codes for women in the workplace. No make up. No revealing clothing. Cover up the legs. No curves, no panty lines, none of those nasty tricks to make your eyes look bigger and more alluring -- none of that. You're just taking advantage of the scientifically proven male propensity to take that as an advertisement of sexual availability, and you know it. No woman who has already been claimed by another man would dress so provocatively in public.

Frankly, I don't see how we could work this out unless we followed the Islamic model of having women wear shapeless bags with eye holes cut out. But as we know from science, men can eroticize anything except Rosie O'Donnell, so to be on the safe side we should probably screen the eyes as well, so that women can see out but men cannot see in. This is the only way to protect female nature from male nature and vice versa. Men are sick and tired of being teased and titillated by these sexually aggressive women, and we need to have laws protecting us.

But of course, it's not like that. Since women are women and not men, they need laws protecting them from men, whereas men don't need laws protecting them from women. With respect to sexual differences, this is irony #872 that eludes radical feminists. Men can respect these laws because there is something in a man's higher nature that recognizes female weakness and vulnerability. In short, these laws nudge some of the more barbarous males in the direction of manliness, even if they're just pretending. The reverse doesn't accomplish much, for example teaching "assertiveness training" to women, the reason being that you are trying to teach women to be more like men, not women (who obviously have their own specifically female ways to be assertive and get what they want). Assertiveness training "presupposes that women have a defect in that department." If it takes root, it is not a natural extension of femininity, but something added to it.

Now, if maleness is a result of millions of years of genetic selection, how can radical feminists -- and leftists in general -- come along and try to create a new kind of man in the span of a single generation or two? If Darwinism is true, how could this be scientifically possible? Suddenly we are being asked to accept an equality of the sexes that has never been known before in all of human history. Are we sure we know what we are doing in ignoring the science of natural selection?

Since patriarchy is the universal norm in human history, it must be natural and inevitable. After all, if men dominate women, it is because they have genetically selected traits that make them able to do so. If women have been oppressed for millennia by men due to sexual differences and in accordance with their nature, how is it now possible for women to overthrow their oppressors? If men are what these these women think they are, why is there no organized movement among men to defend their patriarchy? Being that we are male oppressors, one would think that we would be fighting to the last man to defend our empire!

If all civilization has been based on patriarchy, but the patriarchs responsible for our Western civilization specifically created one in which their superior physical strength was not the ultimate authority, then perhaps this patriarchy wasn't so bad after all. The radical feminists are like Gandhi -- he didn't win anything, but was given it by a morally superior adversary.

You might say that Western manliness liberated women from their biology. That's if you're going to be scientific about it.

Of course, the realilty of our sexual differences is much more complex, nuanced, and sophisticated, but to explicate it you need to turn to patriarchical religion.


Raccoon alert:

If any OC readers live in the Burbank, California area, please be on the lookout for Lisa's beloved chihuahua, Pinky, who escaped as a result of some incompetent dogsitters:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Night Music

Folks, being that I have the remnant of a satanic GI virus from the baby that's left me in no shape to blog, I give you one of Will's memoirs of plunging feet-first into the bottomless night.


We all have the occasional experience that seems charged with the fantastical yet strangely vivid atmosphere of a dream. As in dreams, we come away from such experiences with a wordless, awed certainty that we have been graced with some kind of transcendental message or lesson -- when the exterior world conveys a deep message about the interior world. The following is one such experience of mine.

Once, when in a traveling mood, I journeyed to the Caribbean island of Haiti to see what I could see (this was in the day of the malevolent reign of Haitian strongman "Baby Doc" Duvalier). Haiti, to state it mildly, is a strange place. To be honest, my whole Haitian trip was strange from the beginning. I had taken a night flight from Miami on an oily, rickety old 707, being only one of about ten passengers. Judging from their tropical-seedy appearances and their sullen individual silences, I was half-convinced that most of the passengers were either drug-runners, revolutionary provocateurs, or renegade ex-pat CIA agents. There wasn't a lot of onboard chatter.

We flew over a spectacular tropical storm that generated blazing threads of whitish-purple lightning beneath us. I remember having the disconcerting impression that the plane could actually have landed on a sea of lightning. Meanwhile, it wasn't escaping me that we were flying through the fabled Bermuda Triangle. The storm didn't touch Haiti, however, and our midnight descent and landing were uneventful.

Fumbling with my carry-ons as I usually do, I was the last one off the airplane. Here's where the dreamlike strangeness truly began. As I stepped down the metal stairway that had been rolled up to the plane, I saw that all the other passengers who had deplaned before me had seemingly vanished into the night. Well, I surmised, they all had mysterious business to attend to. I, on the other hand, was the naive tourist who really didn't know what he was doing. The plane, as if scared of catching some tropical disease, had parked a good distance from the airport's solitary and utterly silent terminal, so I walked across the concourse alone, clutching my bags and camera.

Up to this point in my life, I don't think I had ever seen an actual owl. I always thought that owls were pretty cool. I was envious of people who had actually seen owls. However, walking to the terminal through the oppressively hot Haitian night air, I saw, not one, not two, but what appeared to be hundreds of owls clustering in the unruly grass on the side of the runway, a veritable parliament of owls -- more owls than one person could ever hope to see in a lifetime. Absolutely silent owls, too, save for the restive flapping of wings here and there. My Haitian welcoming committee, the owls.

After passing through a customs process conducted by two men whose boredom somehow seemed menacing, I found one lone taxi in front of the airport. I expected the driver to be fast asleep, but no, he was wide-awake and smiling. Off we went rumbling to the capital city of Port au Prince and the Hotel Oloffson where I had reservations. I should note that the Hotel Oloffson is legendary in that part of the world. The Hilton, it's not. It's what tour guides like to describe as "highly atmospheric."

The Oloffson is in fact a crumbling old Gothic gingerbread mansion, redolent of the old French Colonial days. There's no air-conditioning in the Oloffson. The suites are open-air, so bats and lizards can enter freely if they are of a mind. Don't even think about drinking the washroom tap water, of course. The tropically exotic Oloffson was the setting for much of Graham Greene's novel, The Comedians, which was later made into a not-bad movie starring Liz and Dick and Alec Guinness. Anyway, after checking into the hotel, I was pleased to find a complementary fruit basket in my room, the centerpiece of which was a whole pineapple that had been split down the middle for my convenience. I cracked it open and a spider the size of my hand came loping out.

This was my first encounter with Haiti, and make no mistake, I was fairly spooked. Looking back on it, looking at all the unnerving things that happened, the things that I would see or hear or simply feel -- and I would have to include here the very fact of Haiti itself with its terrible poverty and ancient corruption -- I now understand these things to have been a necessary prelude to what eventually would happen, to the experience, it seems, that I was there to have.

* * * * *

During the next couple of days I settled into my tourist role. I attached myself to a group of American and Canadian guests at the hotel and we were escorted around town daily by a Haitian guide who took us to the regular tourist haunts. It was fun, but after five days or so, I decided that I wanted to do a little exploring on my own. I then rented a car and prepared to drive out to the countryside for a glimpse or two at the “real” Haiti. I didn't plan on straying too far from Port au Prince, of course. I certainly planned on sticking to the roads on the maps.

Naturally I failed to take several things into account the afternoon I got into my rental car and headed out toward the dense, dark, greenery that covered most of the island. First, every late afternoon there was a twenty-to-thirty minute tropical downpour which drenched much of the island. Second, there were no paved streets outside of Port au Prince, only dirt roads that were little more than runnels. Third, in the rural areas outside of Port au Prince there was no electricity, no street lights, no gas stations.

Blissfully ignoring all of the above, I drove out of Port au Prince and onto the dirt roads that spiderlegged out of the city. I drove for several hours, stopping now and then when I spied a patch of beach or some particularly fetching vision of the vine-entangled hills. One memorable sight: Seeing Haitian children coming down a hillside after being let out of school. In their brightly colored shirts and blouses, they looked like a multicolored bead necklace slithering down the green hill.

As the sun began to sink low, I finally turned the car around and began to head back to Port au Prince. It was then the downpour came with its usual pounding force. Within a few minutes the road I was traveling turned into a mud pit. My car ground to a halt, wheels spinning uselessly. For a time I tried to inch the car forward by gunning the engine but the mud held fast. I wasn't going anywhere, I realized, until the mud dried. I turned off the engine and sat back, waiting.

The last of the sunlight was quickly draining away. Again and again, I tried to get the car rolling but to no avail. The mud seemed more viscous and clingy than ever. Well, I thought, if worst came to worst, I could sleep in the car and wait until the morning sun dried the mud. The problem was that I was not at all inclined to sleep. The night that was beginning to press in on me was like no night I had ever experienced. It was, in a word, relentless. This, I thought, was night as our ancient ancestors knew it. Night, I now understood, was considerably more than the mere absence of day.

As the minutes rolled by and the night deepened, I began to sense an utterly primitive, all-encompassing presence to the night. Within this presence was a swirling stew of dark potions that seemed to well up from the earth. I had experienced gray, dark nights before but never one that had such a menacingly primitive heart.There were things in this night, things material and immaterial. I felt like prey.

For a time I listened to the car radio, trying to remind myself that civilization was still out there. I feared draining the car battery, however, so I turned the radio off. I longed for light, any form of light, but the sky was overcast and there were sloping hills on either side of my car which seemed to imprison me in black shadow. Of course, there were no electrical lights anywhere to be seen.

Then something remarkable happened. As I sat hunched down in the car seat, I suddenly began to hear singing, not far away but all around me, sterophonically. Clear voices, a choir singing polyphonically, a melody that sounded yearningly gospel-like. I cautiously rolled down the car window and peered into the night. Faintly, I could now make out the singers, native Haitians sitting on the slopes to either side of me, lost in their spontaneous music. How long had they been there? Where did they come from? Did they do this every night? The music seemed to fill the night with a warm light. I felt myself relaxing, breathing more deeply. The night was still fearsome and raw, but I let the music be my witness, my witness in the night.

In time, a group of Haitians came down the slopes to graciously push my car out of the mud. Before the sun came up, I was back in my hotel in Port au Prince, tired but still tingling over my experience with the night music. I would have other experiences in Haiti, all of them memorable in their own way. After I had returned to Chicago and to the routine life of child of the technoligized Western World, it was only my night music experience that truly stayed with me, flickering away in my memory like a night beacon.

All memories that linger, that haunt, are there to teach us something. What does this memory teach me? I was certainly inspired by the marvelous resourcefulness of the Haitians. Having few of the technological entertainments to which we are accustomed, they formed singing communities to entertain themselves, which I have no doubt are a good deal more spiritually nourishing than are most of our entertainments. Music, too -- its transcendent power to shape the spirit, to literally quicken the air around us. And as I view such memorable experiences as being spiritual Initiations, I thrill at the symbolism: In the darkest of nights, when all seems hopeless, does the saving Light appear.

A year later, I wrote the following to honor my Haitian experience. It's simply entitled NIGHT PRAYER:

Witness, we ask You to keep us awake in the night when we need to be so.

Witness, we are unable to withstand the storms of the night by ourselves. May we have Your Light to guide us.

Witness, may we forget ourselves in You. May our restlessness be stilled, may our duty to You and all Your creatures become clear to us.

Witness, may our desire to know You not flag, may we be graced with the stamina and will power to accomplish that which You would have us accomplish.

Witness, may we joyfully accept all that You bring to us simply because it is what You will for us.

May we trust in the Unknowable Night.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

The One Cosmos Interview: On Finding Your Real Self in the Virtual World

WILL: Our guest today is well known to longstanding One Cosmos readers for his insightful commentary and his uncompromising honesty and self-insight with respect to his own spiritual path. Welcome, John.

JWM: Hey.

WILL: John, I know you're a southern California guy, but could you tell us a little more about your background?

JWM: That's an invitation to an autobiography. I started out life as a baby, but that was a long time ago. Just kidding.

WILL: You are forgiven.

JWM: Here's the condensed version: I was born in Michigan. I lived there until I was in the sixth grade, when we moved from a suburb of Detroit to a suburb of Los Angeles. That was 1963. We left Michigan a month after Kennedy was assasinated, took off on the cross country drive after school on Friday, the thirteenth of December and moved into a house in North Orange County on Christmas Eve.

WILL: Hmm, Interesting that this huge change in your life came at such a pivotal time in American history. Would you say you were self-aware as a child? What kind of student were you?

JWM: I was always told I was smart, but I never did well in school. I slouched through high school with C's, mostly.

WILL: I swear I've never met anyone with spiritual inclinations, even if those inclinations were buried, who didn't float through grade and high school in a cloud of indifference -- you know, they failed to "apply themselves." I know there's got to be some out there who actually did well in school, but --

JWM: Well, all I know is I graduated in 1970 without the faintest idea of what I wanted to do. So, of course I signed up for junior college that Fall.

WILL: Naturally.

JWM: But even in 1970 they wanted more homework out of you than I was willing to do.

WILL: I hear ya talkin'. So what did you do?

JWM: I took a few crappy jobs, moved out of the house when I was nineteen, and decided to be a self educated intellectual. I got a job working as night custodian for the local school district. I drank a lot of sour wine, smoked a lot of crappy pot. I listened to a lot of great music. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Monteverdi, William Byrd.

WILL: That's not a bad education, right there.

JWM: Well, I read a lot of garbage, too.

WILL: Like what?

JWM: Existentialists. French authors.

WILL: Any theology, spiritual stuff?

JWM: No, I despised religion, and the religious. I was living like a character in a Simon and Garfunkle song. [Hmm. Reminds me of this one -- "Michigan seems like a dream to me now." Sorry. Continue. I'm all ears. -- BG] But in '74 I went through a seismic shift. It was the first of several I would experience. [Hmm. This also comes to mind... ]

WILL: What happened?

JWM: I threw all that intellectual crap over for the True Education.

WILL: Which was... ?

JWM: I took up surfing.

WILL: Whoa! You've no idea how cool that sounds to a Midwest flatlander such as myself. The Beach Boys, endless summers, Dick Dale, "hangin' ten".... So you really lived that "Zen and the Art of Surfing" thing?

JWM: Will, let me tell you, the ocean is a merciless instructor, but every lesson is allegory and parable that you can apply on many levels.

WILL: I can believe it.

JWM: Well, my salad days -- where the hell did they get that term? -- wilted when I met my first serious girlfriend.

WILL: I'm guessing it's because the first thing served at a dinner is a salad, thus one's early days are the "salad days." Or maybe it's because in our early years we are "green" like a salad, or --

JWM: Right. Anyway, my days went from: surf, work, beer, bed; to: work, beer, bed. I was hearing, "Can't you get a better job? You're smart." So I left the school district for a utility company.

WILL: How was that?

JWM: Hated it. I quit the job. Then another seismic shift.

WILL: Which was . . . ?

JWM: I went back to surfing.

WILL: Cool.

JWM: But then I went back to school when I was 30. I wanted to do something "meaningful". To me the most "meaningful" job was teaching school. And the most meaningful subject was English because being able to communicate clearly and understand communication is the most important thing. It never occurred to me that a degree in English, even with high honors -- State College can't afford Latin, like the UC system -- was like getting first prize in a coloring contest. It's a blue ribbon in getting a blue ribbon.

WILL: Understood.

JWM: All it did was kill any love of reading that I ever had in me. But it taught me how to think. I gave speeches in speech class about the need for socialized medicine and I roundly loathed the Puritans in American Lit class. In short, I came out well indoctrinated with kneejerk liberalism.

WILL: Most of us have been in that bus station at one time or another. So then what did you do?

JWM: I taught English in inner city Los Angeles for ten years.

WILL: Admirable thing to do.

JWM: I married. I divorced. I bought a Harley. Crossed the continent ten times over before I sold it. I was teaching continuation at an insanely bad school. I was burning out very badly. So badly that I did not not realize I was burned out. I cracked. I just lost it, completely. When all was settled and done the school pushed me out the back door with a disability retirement. Even the hired gun shrinks didn't fight it.

WILL: That's another thing that people with serious spiritual intentions -- even if they aren't consciously aware of those intentions -- have in common. At some point, they hit rock bottom. Dark Night of the Soul. How did you cope at this time?

JWM: Well, I threw myself into artwork for the next six years, and spent my time working in stone. I carved a lot of alabaster, got invited to shows, won some awards, and even sold some stuff. And... out of the blue I met Mary. I wanted no relationship but... we took a bike ride and were married within the year. Didn't expect that.

WILL: Excellent! Are you still involved with the stone work?

JWM: No, the art dried up. The last of the creative process went into the epic toyshelf serial that I published on Robot-Japan.

WILL: For those readers who don't know, '"Doesn't Play Well With Others" is JWM's online serial comic. I hesitate to use the word "charming" to describe it, but that's exactly what it is -- particularly if you find the bizarre, off-center, very clever, and hysterically funny to be charming. I urge everyone to check out DPWWO. Anyway, John, that take us pretty much up to the present. What's been going on lately?

JWM: Well, by the time I published the last exciting DPW episode, the creative energy that had sustained me for over fifteen years just vanished. A spiritual hunger took its place.

WILL: It really is interesting how the intensely creative periods in our lives seem to camouflage a spiritual desire that we aren't fully aware of -- until it really makes itself known, of course.

JWM: It had been eating at me ever since 9/11. It's what drew me to certain people on LGF, including the mysterious Gagdad Bob who dropped those awful puns in his otherwise hillarious one-liners.

WILL: Oh yeah, that guy.

JWM: I spent a lot of time walking. I live near the hills, so I took the energy that used to go into doing art, and used it to stay in decent physical condition. Besides, I always appreciate the times when I can hike up there alone. Then last fall I had some heart trouble. Another seismic shift. Had to give up hiking for a while. But they got me fixed. And broke. The part isn't all that expensive, but the labor to install it is kind of steep. So as soon as I got on my my feet again I got a job working part time for the local elementary school district. I'm substituting for the custodial staff. Right back where I started.

WILL: The symbolic full circle. And as with full circle completion, I don't doubt you have been transformed in the process. How do you see yourself at this time?

JWM: Well, one of the wonderful things about what we are doing here on the internet is projecting what is as close to pure thought out into the ether as is possible. The impressions we have of one another are built entirely of electrons ordered just so to reflect the inner workings of heart, mind, and soul.

WILL: Yes, agreed.

JWM: I'm sure we all wonder if the person whom we project on line is the person whom we want to project. The very first time I posted anything on a message board, it struck me that I was creating an on-line reputation. I decided right then that I'd use the same nic and signature all across the web. I wasn't going to try and create some on-line alter ego with a flashy name and a goofy style -- although much of what I post on LGF falls into the Goofy zone.

WILL: Goofy is good. It's an important part of the spiritual kit-bag, I think. it helps to lighten the load, so to speak.

JWM: It does. And that's one thing I like about the gang here at OC. There are lots of very sharp senses of humor. I'm 54 years old. I have some "been theres" and some "done thats." Some small successes and some spectacular failures. I try to stay simple. Point is, if I say I did something, then I did it. I don't make stuff up or pretend to know things that I don't know. The overall topic here is theology. Many of the regular posters and all of the Raccoons are better studied than I am. I'm no theologian. Neither am I well read in philosophy. Even though I have practiced daily prayer for decades, I am a neophyte at this business.

WILL: It's interesting. I always have the feeling that I'm "just beginning," even though like you, I've spent years splashing around in the shallow end.

JWM: Well, I have my first hand experience, some small knowledge of Scripture, and that which I seem to sort of intuit, the stuff that the voice just seems to place in my head.

WILL: And that voice sort of led you to One Cosmos?

JWM: After 9/11, I turned to the one person in the world whom I trusted to make sense of things -- Dennis Prager. I bought a cheap radio just so I could listen to his show while I worked on the stones. I listened every day for months. One day Prager talked about Little Green Footballs. I was new to the internet, but I found the site. I was drawn to a couple of people in particular out of the LGF crowd, BabbaZee, and Gagdad Bob. It was like following a trail that seemed random at the time, but it led me to address the real issue that was drawing me in the first place -- a spiritual hunger. I was looking for religion. Bob's writing gave me the doorway that I had been looking for.

WILL: I think that's a good note to end on. John, I think I speak for many when I say I find your story to be really inspiring. Thanks for the interview.

JWM: Thanks, Will, I'm honored.


Random Bobservations

That's pretty weird, because I was listening to that same Dennis Prager show that led me to LGF, which opened up a whole new world to me, an instant rapport with a community of generally kindred spirits that I never would have found without the internet. Interestingly, I rarely posted anything explicitly spiritual there, since that's not what the site is about. Rather, I simply tried to come up with humorous gags as a way to deal with my disgust with the psychotically hateful Islamist world and its satanic leftist allies (all-lies) in the West. Hence the nic "Gagdad Bob," which was actually coined by another reader. Before that, it was just "Bob G."

Only after a couple years of posting on LGF did it occur to me that I might start my own blog, which I did in October 2005. Now I literally can't remember what it was like to not have this outlet. What did I do before with all those thoughts? I think I just overwhelmed people in conversations. Now I am not nearly so compelled to speak.

This certainly highlights what Will always says about the "quickening" effect of the internet. I think the idea of an instantaneous virtual "global community" has prematurely become a cliche, to such an extent that most people are utterly blind to how truly revolutionary it is going to be. It will be foundational to man's future evolution in ways that we can scarcely imagine. The most clueless of all are the MSM and academic elites, who don't even realize they are working for the other side. They are truly dinosaurs, but unfortunately, it will take another meteor hit of the magnitude of 9-11 for them to become extinct. It's coming, and we can only hope that a man such as Rudy Giuliani -- which is to say, a man -- is in office when it comes.

Only then will more than a handful of people in the West begin to rediscover the surpassing value of our traditions and of America'a spiritual mission -- a mission that can be brought about by no other nation. And this may awaken the ruthlessness necessary to defend our uniquely beautiful values. In the process, all the vacuous spiritual careerists of the "new age" variety will be exposed for the narcissistic frauds and fascist enablers they are.

It reminds me of a discussion I was having with a colleague at work a couple of days ago. We were talking about how the mind has this miraculous ability to "somatize" anxiety and conflict. There is a certain type of person who spends his life going from doctor to doctor, trying to find out what's wrong with him or her, even though nothing really is, except mentally -- we call them hysterics or hypochondriacs. And then finally, when you hit your 50s or so, something finally is wrong -- heart disease, or diabetes, or some other condition, and it kind of blows away all the hypochondria. You go from the obsession with fantasy illnesses to dealing with a real one.

Our liberal media are hysterics and hypochondriacs, obsessed with meaningless trivia for the purposes of managing and channeling collective anxiety, including their own. You might remember, for example, that prior to 9-11, all of the networks were obsessed with the Gary Condit affair, day in, day out. Then something real came along -- 9-11 -- which rendered the Condit affair totally meaningless, even though it had been utterly meaningless before.

If you've ever stepped on an ant hill, you may have noticed how the orderly lines of ants suddenly become chaotic, but within a matter of minutes they sort things out and are back to their mundane routine. It's the same with our lamebrained MSMistry of Truth. Within weeks of 9-11, they were back to purveying their mindless substitute reality of leftist lies and hysteria. (Here is the appropriate response to Al Gore's weather hysteria.)

So there's a straight line that leads from 9-11 to JWM and I bumping heads and hearts in cyberspace. For me, my life is so utterly different than it was pre-9-11, that I've almost lost any sense of continuity between my past and present selves. When I pause to think about it, it's a little disorienting, and I don't quite know how to assimilate my past into my present. The image that comes to mind is those rockets that jettison their lower half as they leave the earth's atmosphere. Naturally, there's no turning back at that point. Nor is there standing still. Rather, you can only continue to hurtle forward into the unknown.

I want to thank Will for coonducting the interview, and JWM for submitting to it. It provoked a lot of other thoughts that I think I'll discuss later. Suffice it to say that I always love reading any meaningful spiritual autobiography. In a way, it's the most important testimony or witness we have to the reality of spirit. In the absence of this kind of unfolding and very real transformation, even the greatest theology is just theory. For the transformation is a result of ongoing conformity to a reality that simultaneously transcends and abides within us. But it is always retail spirituality: the cosmic tumblers can only align themselves one Raccoon at a time.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Form of the Formless and the Substance of Nothing

The divine message is a form that "contains" a substance. The substance is One but the forms reflect and convey diverse aspects of it -- it can be grace, or salvation, or a sense of the sacred, or peace, or bliss -- but without the form, we cannot know the substance -- or only know it accidentally. Again we return to the analogy of a work of art, which presents a form for the contemplation of beauty. Without a form and a boundary for its expression, beauty is "everywhere and nowhere."

Christianity, for example, is a form. Many people who don't understand or respond to religion often confuse form and substance. In other words, they pick apart the form, looking for inconsistencies or logical flaws, when the whole point is to enter and contemplate the beauty and mystery of the form -- very much like, say, watching a movie. To me, a good movie -- and they are few and far between these days -- is one that allows me to seamlessly enter its world. It doesn't matter one bit whether it is a "real" world, which is why, say, The Wizard of Oz is an infinitely greater film than any Michael Moore documentary -- which always unintentionally conveys a dark substance reflecting the deadness of his soul, irrespective of the content.

In fact, the Wizard of Oz is much more realistic than any Michael Moore film, for the precise reason that while some of its forms may be fanciful -- witches, magical kingdoms, talking scarecrows, and the like -- its substance is nevertheless quite real and enduring, even timeless. Conversely, a Michael Moore film is -- to be generous -- presumably about the "real world," and yet, its substance is entirely nonexistent or false. Or it is the "substance of nothing," which is to say, nihilism.

Again we touch on the importance of whole and part, for the substance of religion can only be preserved in its wholeness. Trying to "enter" spirit by first breaking apart its forms is somewhat analogous to disassembling a symphony in order to find out what it's about. If you're going to be scientific about it, perhaps you'd first identify all the notes and then categorize them. This or that symphony has so many B flats, so many F sharps, this many key changes, that many tempos. Sounds foolish, but this is the approach of the ham-handed "Jesus seminarians" who think one can understand scripture by blowing it to bits. It is also the approach of any logic-chopping atheist who thinks he has accomplished anything by dissecting sacred forms like a frog.

In this regard, theology -- "the study of God" -- is really no different than, say, biology, "the study of life." There is actually no science, including biology, that can say "what it is about." Rather, this or that science must assume its content at the outset, since it is strictly impossible for any science to stand outside of itself and make any unambiguous pronouncement on the ontological status of that which it purports to study. If it attempts to transcend this boundary, it generates the paradox and absurdity known as scientism.

For example, no biologist troubles himself (or should, anyway) to speculate as to what Life actually is. Or if he does, he is no longer a biologist but merely a bad philosopher or lame metaphysician. In my book I used the example of a watchmaker. A watchmaker can tell you all about gears, springs, and pendulums, but he is hardly fit to pronounce on the nature of time. Indeed, imagine the absurdity of going to a watch repair shop and asking the owner if he would be so kind as to sort out your confusion about the nature of time. Does it really exist, or is it an illusion? And isn't it true that a clock measures space, not time? Is time an empty category, or does it condition the events within it, as students of the I Ching believe? And is time actually "tight," as maintained by Booker T and the MGs? (See here for demonstration.)

I think you can see that posing these types of metaphysical questions to the watchmaker is exactly -- exactly -- like asking Dawkins/Dennett/Harris/Hitchens to tell us about God. What they can tell us is precisely nothing, since they are fundamentally confused about the form and content of religion.

Again, the biologist just studies "living things," even though biology can by definition never explain how the living things got here, or even what Life is. Or look at my profession. A psychologist can help you overcome and "cure" an emotional problem, even though psychology will never be able to say what consciousness is (except in a fatuous way).

In fact -- and this is a critical point -- as I mentioned a few days ago, there are many schools of psychology, and they all more or less work, at least with some people some of the time. What seems to be most important -- in addition to simply being a gifted healer of souls, which is another mystery that cannot be quantified -- is that the therapist have a very clear theoretical framework, or form, for the study of what is otherwise completely invisible and amorphous -- i.e., the mind.

Thus, it is very easy for those of a materialistic bent to criticize psychoanalysis on the grounds that it is more mythological than scientific, or that it reifies things that don't actually exist -- say, the "id" or "superego." While there is something to this criticism, in that it is possible to reify concepts and confuse one's abstractions with the underlying reality, it is nevertheless true that without such concepts, it is not possible to "observe" or work with the mind. In other words, just like the biologist, we have to make some assumptions about the mind at the outset, or else we are simply confronted with a blank mystery.

Ultimately, a good theory of the mind allows one to think about thinking, and all that implies (and I am including emotion as a form of thought which stretches on a vertical axis from the primitive to the highly sophisticated). Think about it: how does one productively think about thinking? By having a useful model, an abstraction, even though no one knows what a "thought" actually is. True, the abstraction is not the same as the reality, but that is equally true of biology or even physics. The genome is an abstraction; it is not synonymous with Life. Likewise, the equations of quantum physics are abstractions. It is not as if you can take these abstractions and create a cosmos with them.

No. The real world is the human world, the day-to-day world we encounter with our mind and our senses. All scientific models are abstractions of that world, abstractions we wouldn't even know about if we weren't first situated in the human world. This is one of the secrets of religion that materialists and atheists simply cannot get through their thick skulls: religion conveys forms that specifically concern themselves with the human world and its relation to the divine world. Take, for example, the stories of Genesis. These stories are not about the abstract worlds of biology, or cosmology, or profane history. Rather, they are about certain fixed coordinates, or eternal certitudes, of divine-human existence.

This is what I was trying to convey with the joycey gymgnostics in the prologue and epilogue of my book. For example, on pp. 7-17, I am not attemtping to scientifically describe what happened "once upon a time." Rather, I am attempting to give form to that which perpetually happens (present tense), beginning (and ending) where "One's upin a timeless without a second to spore." Yes, it's meant to raise a smile, but it's also a straightforward ontological statement: One's upin a timeless. Obviously. How could it not be?

Just as psychoanalytic theories are models for "thinking about thinking," religions are forms to contemplate and reconcile oneself to the Formless Infinite. Yes, the Formless is the prior reality, but we still need a way to approach it. Thankfully, we have this thing called "revelation" with which to do so. Like the biologist who cannot say how life got here or even what it is, I don't really trouble myself with how revelation got here or "what it is." I only know that it is -- to my everlasting surprise -- a supremely effective means to think about and know the substance of God.

One of the working titles of my book was A Huge Mythunderstanding. Which, unlike materialists and atheists, I admit to engaging in up front. The only question is, "is it useful for thinking about ultimate reality?" -- that is, do its forms convey the intended substance? I suppose not, since Hitchens sells more books in an hour than I have in two years. But the question remains: how could God not be understood as great if one has conveyed an adequate form to contemplate his substance? And how can man understand any truth at all unless he is by definition the being able to conform himself to the true, and therefore a form of Truth, a mirrorcle of the abbasolute?

If God isn't great, then man isn't even adequate -- certainly not adequate to make any pronouncements about God.

In the opinion of all unbelievers, it is the absurdities contained in the sacred Scriptures which primarily stand in the way of the credibility of the Message.... First of all, it is necessary to envisage a Scripture in its totality and not be hypnotized, with perfect myopia, by a fragmentary difficulty, which after all is the perspective of the devil, who disparages a mountain because of a fissure and, conversely, praises an evil because of an inevitable particle of good. When Scripture is envisaged in its totality it imparts global value and its supernatural character to whomever is not blinded by any prejudice and who has been able to preserve intact the normally human sensibility for the majestic and the sacred. --F. Schuon

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lord Help Me, I'm Lookin' for My Mind!

I say, what would life be without the effulgent beauty of being? And yet, the overflowing presence of this beauty is a mystery that can never be explained on any materialistic basis. Not in my book, anyway. Not only is there no reason for the universe to be so beautiful, there is no reason why a species should suddenly pop out of a recently dead universe and have the ability to apprehend the beauty that courses through its every artery and capillary -- or every branch, stem and itsy bitsy green leafy lovely.

Why? And not only is this species able to appreciate beauty, but it is driven to create beauty in all its forms -- visual, auditory, tactile, linguistic, mathematical, scientific. Why is that? Why this appetite for beauty? It seems so unnecessary. Why are women so much more excruciatingly beautiful than they need to be to get the Darwinian job done? Ouch! Why beauty to the point of pain?

As Col. Beaglehole sang on the lone (sadly unreleased but oft-bootlegged) album he did with Alexis Korner during the British blues revival of '67,

You upsets me baby, Yes, you upsets me baby
Like being hit by a fallen tree,
woman, woman what you do to me

In my book I posed the non-obvious question -- at least it wasn't obvious to me or the Colonel -- of whether the beauty that surrounds and abides in us is discovered or just projected. In other words, the universe has been in existence for what, 14 billion "years," right? During its first 10 billion years there was no life and therefore no consciousness -- or so they say, as little sense as that makes. Biological life has only existed for 3.85 billion years, and human consciousness in any meaningful sense only emerged 40,000 years ago next Tuesday.

So if we truly believe that this was a dead and unconscious universe prior to 4 billion years ago, we can't really say that it had any qualities at all, let alone something as complex as beauty. After all, beauty -- along with every other quality -- is a perception of a nervous system. Therefore, it is very difficult to say which is weirder: that a dead and unconscious universe suddenly produced a creature with an ability to apprehend, and a drive to create, beauty; or, alternatively, that the beauty was already there, just waiting to be unpacked and appreciated. And if the latter, I again ask: how and why?

For beauty is always a function of wholeness. That is, the beauty of a beautiful object inheres in its wholeness, harmony and radiance. A work of art cannot be reduced to its parts without losing sight of the artistic vision that organizes the parts and reveals their beauty. Thus, we would have to affirm that wholeness is a prior condition of beauty. But... assuming the cosmos is full of beauty -- which it is -- is the wholeness already there, or is it only in us? Are these "beautiful wholes" a function of our nervous system, or does the universe just effortlessly crank them out?

It's not just the material beauty of the earth and heavens; how about all the incredibly beautiful animals? It's easy to understand how one reptile will be "attracted" to another for the purposes of reproduction -- say, Britney Spears to Kevin Federline.

But animals of one species do not find those of another species beautiful or attractive, unless they are very, very coonfused -->. Rather, they are generally either indifferent to them or frightened of them. They certainly don't find them beautiful (please, no "Beaglehole" jokes -- he's a little sensitive). No deer thinks to itself, "wow, what a majestic mane on that lion!," or "those beady little eyes of Federline's are kind of a turn-off." No. For animals, it's either 1) have sex with it, 2) eat it, 4) ignore it, or 4) run away from it.

But in the case of humans, we find our fellow animals to be beautiful. We even collect them and put them in zoos so that we can admire them. Again I ask: are these animals actually beautiful? Or is it just a trick of our nervous system? If the former, why were these animals beautiful with no self-conscious being to appreciate them until 40,000 years ago? And if the latter, what possible evolutionary reason is there for humans to be hung up on the beauty of other animals for reasons totally unrelated to our reproductive fitness?

It's not just the obvious things, like sunsets, mountains, oceans and thunderstorms that are beautiful to us. How about a long and happy marriage. Why is that a beautiful thing, while divorce is felt to be ugly (not to cast moral aspersions or deny that it is sometimes necessary)? Marriage is a kind of "frame" that serves a similar function as the frame around a painting -- after all, without a frame to define it and set it apart, you can't have a work of art.

Balthasar writes that marriage is "a kind of bracket that both transcends and contains all an individual's cravings to 'break out' of its bonds and to assert himself. Marriage is that indissoluble reality which confronts with an iron hand all existence's tendencies to disintegrate, and compels the faltering person to grow, beyond himself, into real love by modeling his life on the form enjoined. When they make their promises, the spouses are not relying on themselves -- the shifting songs of their own freedom -- but rather on the form that chooses them because they have chosen it, the form to which they have committed themselves in their act as persons.... "

Spouses "entrust themselves foremost to a form with which they can wholly identify themselves even in the deepest aspects of their personality because this form extends through all the levels of life -- from its biological roots up to the very heights of grace and of life in the holy spirit." Paradoxically, freedom "is discovered within the form itself, and the life of a married person can henceforth be understood only in terms of this interior mystery, which mystery is no longer accessible from the sphere of the general."

I didn't intend this post to be about marriage, but that was such a nice passage by Balthasar, I just kept going with it. Actually, I'm still waiting to find out what this post is about, since I haven't even finished my coffee. You could say that I'm looking for my mind.

Which reminds me of a song by the immortal Merle Haggard -- like Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, and many other artists who could only have arisen in America and nowhere else, a practitioner of uniquely Cosmic American Music:

I lost my mind the day I lost your love
I'm not crazy but sometimes I wish I was
If you turn around and find me crawling close behind
It's not you I want, I'm lookin' for my mind

Yes, I'm still searching for the point of this post, which is another way of saying that I'm lookin' for my mind. Or you could say that I'm looking for the wholeness which is somehow guiding me but which I have not yet discovered. I can intuit it -- it's there, just over the interior horizon -- but it's up to me to bring into existence -- to convert its potential into actuality.

Which emphasizes the point that both Truth and Beauty -- and the freedom to discover them -- are a function of wholeness. Indeed, wholeness is the cosmic prerequisite of the possibility of truth or beauty. And as a matter of fact, as I pointed out in the Coonifesto, it is also a precondition of Darwinian evolution. That is to say, natural selection rests on the assumption that there exist prior "wholes" -- whole organisms -- for it to operate on. There is no materialistic philosophy that can account for wholeness, or true unity in diversity.

Therefore, I think I understand the point of this post: love, truth, beauty, and freedom are not effects of existence. Rather, they are causes of existence. Thus, to say, for example, "God is Love," is not a mythological or speculative statement. Rather, it is a scientific statement. No, it is beyond that -- it is a metaphysical certitude upon which the foundation of science rests. For who is not in love with truth, with beautiful Sophia?

Don't get me started.


I just received an email from a Raccoon that illustrates my point. He seems to have spent most of his life "looking for his mind," but without really knowing that he was embarked on the search until relatively recently. An excerpt:

"I had been learning this one language, English, for the past 41 years. What I didn't realize during those 41 years is that either I've been learning another language or it was already in me, waiting -- unused, but there. This other language was made up of just, let's say, nouns. I read some of your writing and the thing I read that I call the 'last thing' constituted a verb. The instant I read that, everything I had learned about language (structure, usage, grammar, rules, etc.) from the 1st language suddenly overlaid the 2nd one and the verb I'd learned from you linked it all together in the 2nd language, and in an instant, all the meaning flowed down like a dam breaking.

"Or, sort of like a puzzle was being built -- I wasn't building it, didn't even know I had pieces -- but I found the missing piece, which, independent of what this particular last piece stood for, was no more significant than any of the others, its only distinction being perhaps that it was the last piece. It was placed with the other pieces and in an instant I recognized, 'Hey there's a puzzle here!' But a completed puzzle. Where literally, before the puzzle appeared, I didn't even know I had the pieces."


That's what I call a clean kill, or eros shot straight through the heart.

This is another way of saying that parts cannot exist in the absence of the whole -- nor time in the absence of eternity, the many in the absence of the One, or beauty without a Creator. Or, in the words of Rabbi Kushner, "the end is seeing for even one moment that the apparent multiplicity is in reality a unity." But a dynamic unity in diversity in which the one is a necessary condition of the other -- and whence the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time (Eliot).

Wholly matterimany, congratulations on the equation of your cosmic birth. Oh my stars, He expectorated a mirrorcle, now you're the spittin' image!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Of Canines and Composers: Reducing the Song Celestial to a Bark in the Dark

At risk of once again wounding the strangely delicate sensibilities of our atheist friends, I want to revisit the idea that knowledge of God -- or at least a major aspect of it -- is much closer to an aesthetic experience than it is to other forms of knowing. As we all know, dogs can often appreciate Beethoven's early sonatas, but generally struggle with the late quartets.

This focus on the "aesthetics of God" was one of the preoccupations of the great theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, whose Glory of the Lord I've been reading lately. I shouldn't say "lately." Rather, it's something I dip into from time to time, since it consists of seven large volumes which are only part of a trilogy consisting of a total of eight additional weighty volumes, including the Theo-Drama and the Theo-Logic. Like Finnegans Wake, I don't think I'll ever read the 15 volumes straight through, but you can open them to most any page and find some little jewel of spiritual vision and insight.

Although Balthasar is one of my favorite theologians, stylistically he's very much the opposite of Schuon. Schuon wrote in an extremely compact, condensed, and unsaturated way, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. I don't think I've ever read anyone who conveys the most "information" with the least amount of verbiage. Almost all of Schuon's books are collections of essays on diverse subjects as opposed to unified works. He would have been a good blogger.

As I said, Balthasar is the opposite. Instead of cranking out compact little gems, he's like a geyser -- no matter where you dip in, you're pretty much drinking from the firehose. His central theme in the seven-volume Glory of the Lord is that in modern times, the aesthetic approach to God has become eclipsed by the ethical and the logical. However, being that the transcendentals (the Good, True, and Beautiful) are inseparable, "neglecting one can only have a devastating effect on the others."

"Glory" is the category of transcendental beauty. It specifically has to do with the seeing the form and the splendor of God. Just the fact that this glory clearly exists -- that God has a splendorous form accessible to human beings -- is an extremely provocative notion. Our age values garden-variety intelligence as measured by a high IQ, but a high IQ has no bearing whatsoever on one's ability to apprehend God's glory. Rather, it can only be grasped by the awakened intellect understood in its traditional sense, not by mere intelligence.

When we behold the glory of the lord, we are in a state of rapture. But it is not as if rapture is simply an effect; rather, it is more of a two-way street. As Balthasar writes, "no one can really behold who has not already been enraptured, and no one can be enraptured who has not already perceived." Thus, rapture is the subjective response to glory, just as glory is the objective content of rapture.

Glory be! God has a form. How patently true, and yet, how mind-boggling. But how do we begin to learn to perceive a form of the Form and be-wholed the glory?

After six days, Jesus brought them high on a mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as the light.

Yeah, that's one way.

As I have mentioned before, faith is not an empty category, but a form of knowing. It is what the poet Keats called a "negative capability," by which "man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, and doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason." This highlights the critical relationship between faith and grace, "since, in giving itself, faith apprehends the form of revelation, while grace has from the outset transported the believer up into God's world."

God "presents" himself to mankind in a multitude of forms, all true in their own way. Not only is Truth one of the properties of Being, but so too is it the inseparable bond between God and the world. As Aquinas recognized, beauty is the splendor of this Truth. Beauty is not merely a pleasing surface or veneer, but something that accompanies Truth and radiates from within it.

No philosophy could be more impoverished than one which denies the existence of this radiant interior Light -- or that reduces it to some material property of physics. "Divine light" is not a metaphor borrowed from our sensory apparatus. Rather, the reverse is true: the radiant light that fills the cosmos is an analogue of God's infinite luminous presence.

I was about to say that it is impossible to imagine a world without transcendental beauty, but I'm afraid that isn't true. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a world that intrinsically recognizes and values transcendental beauty, which should form one of the axes around which a healthy civilization revolves.

No one should ever consciously seek ugliness, any more than they should consciously embrace the lie, but there you go. Just as beauty and truth are inseparable, so too are ugliness and the Lie forever bonded. While there are surely "attractive lies" -- such as the constant lies of the left -- their attractiveness is always on the surface only.

And this kind of superficial beauty will eventually beget the lie, as we see time and time again with the leftist fantasists. When a fuzzy panderbore such as John Edwards oozes his platitudes, you can almost see Death in the background holding his coat and snickering.

Once a civilization has devalued transcendental beauty as one of its guiding ideals, the question naturally arises: "Why not just plumb satan's depths? What difference does it make?"

I guess that's what you call a rhetorical question.

As Balthasar points out, in a world where beauty has lost its attractiveness, truth soon follows in its wake. But it is not just any kind of truth that is eliminated. Rather, what we specifically lose is the capacity to recognize self-evident truths, the kind of self-evident truths upon which America was specifically founded -- for example, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. Are any children in public schools taught how to recognize this self-evident truth -- or that it even exists? Indeed, wouldn't it now be considered against the law to teach children to perceive transcendental truth in the manner of our founders?

Some law that makes the basis of Law illegal.

And if transcendental truth and beauty are eliminated, what then is left of Being itself, since these are among its "first fruits?" Obviously, you are going to breed a population of nihilists who are paradoxically filled with existential emptiness. To put it another way, they will be filled with the world, since this is ultimately the only alternative to being filled with God. There is nothing a priori wrong with the world, unless it is drained of its transcendent light. But Balthasar asks, "Will this light not necessarily die out where the very language of light has been forgotten and the mystery of Being is no longer allowed to express itself?"

In such a debased world, all that remains is "a mere lump of existence which, even if it claims for itself the freedom proper to spirits, nevertheless remains totally dark and incomprehensible even to itself. The witness borne by Being becomes untrustworthy for the person who can no longer read the language of beauty."

In short, "Whoever insists that he can neither see it nor read it, or whoever cannot accept it, but rather seeks to 'break it up' critically into supposedly prior components, that person falls into the void and, what is worse, he falls into what is opposed to the true and the good." One then spends one's life adapting to a denatured world of one's own making, and calls it "reality."

But this secondary and derivative world is about as real as a body without a soul. In such a closed, endeadened state, Being cannot call out to being, nor Form to form, Truth to truth, Beauty to beauty. In a word, it is hell. Unhappitants of this world are physically alive even while they deprive themselves of that which gives Life. But I suppose there are worse places for the proud to live. For example, on one's knees.

You haven't perceived the hologram to your private particle? Come in, open His presence and report for karmic duty. Why, it's a Tree of Life for those whose wood beleaf. What in carnation?! Viveka la revelation! --The Weird & Wacky New Testavus for the Rest of Us

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The One Cosmos Innerview: A Shocking True-to-Wife Story!

WILL: For our very first One Cosmos Interview, I'd like to welcome none other than Mrs. Leslie Godwin, spouse of and life-partner to Bob, creator of the One Cosmos blog. Welcome, Leslie!

LESLIE: Thank you, Will.

WILL: For those O.C. readers who may not know, Leslie is the author of the book From Burned Out To Fired Up: A Woman's Guide to Rekindling the Passion and Meaning In Life and Work. She is also a therapist and a life-transition coach. I encourage everyone to check out Leslie's web page. As a disclaimer, I should let everyone know that Leslie gave me some invaluable professional advice regarding a recent project of mine, so count me as an unabashed Leslie G. fan. Leslie, I'd like to discuss your book and your professional life, but first a few questions about which everyone is probably curious - when and how did you first meet Bob?

LESLIE: Bob and I met in school in 1983, California Graduate School in Westwood, CA -- a private psychology graduate school near UCLA that focuses on those going into private practice as opposed to research or teaching. He was studying for his Ph.D. and I was in the Master's program.

WILL: Are you originally from southern California?

LESLIE: No, I'm from New York -- Forest Hills, Queens then Dobbs Ferry in Westchester County. When I met Bob, I had just moved out to Los Angeles from New College in Sarasota, Florida, via Davidson College in North Carolina and auto mechanic school in Pennsylvania. I had done quite a bit of traveling, unlike --

WILL: Wait, could we back up for just a moment? You were in auto mechanic school? You were considering being a car mechanic?

LESLIE: I had no idea what I wanted to do when I fled Davidson College after a little over a year of being the token Yankee. My dad suggested learning about repairing planes. I guess that gave me the idea to investigate fixing cars. But it's hard to say how it all worked out to get my degree from tech school. But I absolutely loved it. After feeling lost and homesick at a very challenging liberal arts program, learning how to fix things and being around non-Ivy League types was just what I needed. I even wrote a manual for my friends' Mustang once I got to New College. Nowadays, it would have been a "Dummies' Guide" sort of thing.

WILL: Well, I had no idea you had that kind of talent. That's impressive and revealing. But okay, so you met Bob in graduate school . . .

LESLIE: We met in group therapy actually.

WILL: Group therapy? Not exactly the White Cliffs of Dover, but...

LESLIE: Well, the school had a good scam going. The two owners ran group therapy sessions that were mandatory for every student for a full year. They were slightly less than professional as group leaders, and if you missed a "class" you had to make it up in a private psychotherapy session ... and pay their full fee for that! It was borderline unethical, but thanks to Dr. Packer, Bob and I met.

WILL: So... was it, you know... love at first sight?

LESLIE: Not unless you think of revulsion being the flip side of the same coin as love.

WILL: (laughing) Yes, please go on...

LESLIE: Well, on the first day of the new term, Bob walked in to group therapy with his earpiece on, listening to a Dodger game on the radio...

WILL: Yeah, he's big on the baseball metaphors...

LESLIE: ... and I thought he was incredibly arrogant that and he was setting himself apart from the group I had already bonded with for one trimester before he strolled in... After group, I went out to dinner with my fiance, Ricardo. He couldn't believe how agitated I was. Poor Ricardo...

WILL: "Ricardo". One doesn't meet a lot of Ricardos . . .

LESLIE: He was my Ricardo. I was his Lucy... I must have bored him to death venting about this new guy in group who I just couldn't stand. I remember doing a lot of -- what's the word for audible, irritated exhaling? I went on for a while about how aggravating the whole group was going to be now that Bob was in it for the next seven months.

WILL: So what happened with you and Ricardo?

LESLIE: He didn't pay enough attention to me. Of course, that's not what I told HIM.

WILL: So splitsville?

LESLIE: Wasn't easy. I suffered from middle-of-the-night panic attacks after I broke up with Ricardo.

WILL: Understood.

LESLIE: Bob was very sympathetic at this time. He gave me his phone number at work -- he worked the graveyard shift at a grocery store so I wouldn't be waking him -- and said I could call if I needed to talk to someone. It sounds like a pickup line as I talk about it now... if you want to pick up a neurotic, panicky 23 year old. But looking back, I can see that this is when I saw the other side of Bob. Isn't that a Dylan album?

WILL: Yeah, it's titled Another Side Of -

LESLIE: I know what it's titled, Will. Anyway, Bob was sensitive, empathic, and genuinely wanted to help --

WILL: ... I think "Chimes of Freedom Flashing" is on it...

LESLIE: -- and I didn't see the potential for romance until a crisis occurred.

WILL: What was that?

LESLIE: My best friend from college had just been killed while bicycling at night after class.

WILL: That's awful.

LESLIE: Mauricio was so unusual. I have never met someone so comfortable with himself. He exuded joy. A good counterpoint for me, exuding angst. Well, Bob and I walked around Westwood for over an hour talking. It really helped. Shortly after that, he invited me to hang out at the beach one evening before he had to work and we talked some more. It was as if his spirit was hidden at first, then he opened up a bit. And finally, I got to experience the real Bob.

WILL: And the Fateful First Date?

LESLIE: Bob invited me to a Big Joe Turner show at a nearby club, Madame Wong's West.

WILL: Yeah, that works.

LESLIE: As soon as we got there and parked, I locked the keys in my car.

WILL: That's something I'd do!

LESLIE: Really?

WILL: Bank on it.

LESLIE: Well, I was very impressed that Bob didn't get irritated or think I was a knucklehead. After the show, we sat out by the pool at my aunt's guesthouse where I was living and talked til 2 am? 4 am?

WILL: Definitely an am.

LESLIE: Let's just say It was very magical and I've been hypnotized ever since.

WILL: I think that under questioning, Bob would confess to the same. In fact, I can recall some One Cosmos posts that were Shakespeare sonnet-like in their profession of love and the holiness of the marital union, and I believe your name came up in conjunction with them --

LESLIE: Well, never has a husband put up with a messy house, a lack of homecooked meals, and a wife who needs to sleep late every morning because the puppy and toddler conspire to keep her up off and on every night with more grace and kindness...

WILL: ... You were going to say?

LESLIE: Well... I am sure Bob didn't know what he was getting into.

WILL: Well, what husband does? Or wife for that matter?

LESLIE: Or parent, now that you mention it. You should know I refer to the time that followed the honeymoon period as the "Taming of the Shrew."

WILL: Just how shrew-ish was Bob?

LESLIE: Will, I'm sure you realized I was referring to myself as the shrew.

(to be con't)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Just Passin' Through: Coordinates and Gaps in the Hyperdimensional Godhead

If we extend our Matterhorn analogy and think of God, or the Absolute, as a sort of hyperdimensional mountain range, what does that imply for human beings?

I don't know. I'm thinking about it.

Let's see. Perhaps we can compare the situation to dogs and people. Obviously, a human being has many "dimensions," so to speak, that a dog doesn't. So how is a dog supposed to understand a human? He can't. Not really. Or just a very narrow "frequency" out of the totality. I remember about 15 years ago, when we were training our first dog. The big breakthrough occurred when the trainer explained that we might think of the dog as a dog, but she doesn't think of us as human. In order to get into her world, you have to think like a dog. Dogs have an elaborate nonverbal language that you have to tap into. Basically, you want them to consider you the alpha dog.

But that analogy can't be quite right, because although dogs aren't made in the image of man, nine out of ten sages agree that man is made in the image of God. If this is correct, then a certain kind of applied introspection can lead to accurate intuitions about God, just as knowledge of God can lead to wisdom and self-understanding.

Interestingly, Orthodox Christianity emphasizes this two-way movement, with Athanasius of Alexandria's formula that "The Son of God became man, that we might become God." Therefore, only God's kenosis, or self-emptying, makes possible theosis, or union with God. As such -- since we are the image and likeness -- our own self-emptying would apparently be a prerequisite for theosis. And this is indeed what all mystical paths emphasize in one form or another, the three part process of purgation/purification, illumination, and union -- which has certain shared points of reference to the aspiration-rejection-surrender theme we discussed a couple of weeks ago.

Last week I mentioned that a photograph, painting, or any perception at all is actually a geometrical transformation that maintains certain coordinates and dimensions while distorting others. For example, this is why we can all recognize the simple "have a nice day" smiley face as a smiling face. You can transform a human face with just a couple of dots and a semi-circle and still recognize a face (even infants can do this). It is also why we can view a two-dimensional movie and experience it as three-dimensional. We subconsciously employ certain coordinates, or "invariants," to project the missing dimension.

In linguistics -- I think I'm more or less right about this, but I could be making this up -- a declension occurs when a more general term is modified to become a particular case. In a certain sense, it means that potentiality is reduced to actuality. I believe we can see that scripture operates in the same way, in that the Absolute in itself can have no interlocutor, no mediator, no middle term, not even a "here" and "there" -- "for no man shall see me and live" (Rabbi Mo).

To a certain extent, this accounts for the inevitable "incoherence" of religion, which cannot not be. The reason is that scripture is a description -- a declension -- expressed in our terms of something that vastly exceeds the terms of expression. For example, imagine a flat sheet of paper, where two-dimensional beings live. None of them knows anything about the third dimension. Now imagine your hand moving through the sheet of paper. What would that look like to the two-dimensional beings? First of all, they wouldn't see a hand. First they might see a point -- the tip of a finger -- expanding into a circle. Eventually they would see five points expanding into separate circles. But then those circles would merge and blend into one larger oval (the palm), followed by a smaller circle at the wrist. And then everything would disappear as the arm moved through.

Now, if God is a hyperdimensional object (or subject-object), perhaps we need to take a lesson from this. Supposing that for the flatlanders, the Mysterious Arm is God. But their description of the arm would be very distorted. In fact, they would experience what is actually a singular object in space as a series of events playing out in time. Could it be therefore that we experience God in the same way -- as the "playing out in time" of what is unified and whole on a higher dimension?

"I am Alpha and Omega." "Before the world was, I AM." "When He prepared the heavens, I was there." "Blessed is the one who stands at the beginning, for the one who stands at the beginning will know the end." "Blessed is the one who comes into being before he came into being" (Gospel of Thomas), "Lucky is the blind man who can feel a woman's wrist and learn everything he needs to know about the rest of her" (Gospel of Ray Charles).

Bearing in mind what we said above about transformation, perception, coordinates, and invariance, Schuon writes that "Religious formulations limit themselves to enunciating points of reference without being too concerned with outward coherence, although from another point of view, the mythic and symbolic image always evokes a profound and lived reality" [i.e., something higher than that which maps it]. For example, "the history of Adam and Eve may clash with a certain need for logic, but we bear it deeply within ourselves, and it is this inherence of the sacred image which on the one hand justifies it and on the other explains a relatively easy adherence to it."

Thus, "it is precisely the surface contradictions, the fissures so to speak which, by a crowning paradox, offer the decisive points of reference for the discovery of the metaphysical homogeneity of doctrines or symbols that are at first sight disparate."

What is Schuon saying? That the gaps and fissures in scripure are more like points of entry which testify to its higher dimensional reality -- just as the five fingers passing through flatland testify to the existence of the hand. But in Flatland, there would undoubtedly be philosophers and skeptics who would look at the same data and conclude that the gaps were evidence of incoherence, not coherence. They literally could not "see the big pitcher," which is to say, Randy Johnson's left arm passing through Flatbush on the way to Manhattan.

The point is this. Being that we are in the image of God, "the sacred truth is part of our soul." Therefore, to begin to comprehend it, you must see how the truths embedded in scripture are a transformation of your own self. Or, you might say that revelation is a memo from your higher (dimensional) self to your lower self. And this is why it is such a -- I won't say "sin," but a shame -- to seek only a literal understanding of scripture, thereby interpreting it in terms of the lowest human way of knowing it. In other words, in doing this, you eliminate all of the higher dimensions and deeper connections. And we're back to dogs, Beethoven, and tone-deaf atheists.

For example, take one of the many works of Bach which stand as an eternal monument to the transdimensional God. Even an atheist can appreciate this music on his own level. But what will specifically be denied him -- or what he denies himself -- is the Real Presence from which the music flows and to which it stands as testimony. But can a single work of Back possibly encapsulate that object? Yes and no. If he were alive today, he would still be cranking out his aural monuments to divinity, since a higher dimension cannot be exhausted in a lower one. There is literally no end to the forms which a higher dimension can take in a lower one. And yet, they are all one. And who has the musical vision to "integrate" all of the musical gaps between Bach's indivdual works, and apprehend the higher dimensional unity from which they flow?

I'm guessing that there's some mystico-musically gifted person out there who has done it. In a way, this is again what Joyce was attempting in Finnegans Wake: to describe the single hyperdimensional object as it passes through our world as the experience of "history." Joyce simply took seriously the idea that "time is the moving image of eternity." And if that's true, then every passing moment is a unique and priceless snapshot of the eternal Magic Mountain.

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that could be written. --John 21:25