Further Refractions in the Mirror of Tradition (11.10.10)
The idea of universal degeneration was no doubt rooted in empirical observation. For example, everyone has the personal experience of their own body aging and degenerating. More generally, there has never been a time when man was unaware of the universality of the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy, which mandates that in the long run, everything tends toward disorder. Although there can be local areas that seem to defy entropy -- such as life -- it is only temporary. Furthermore, close examination of seeming exceptions to the law of entropy reveals that they always deplete more energy than they create, resulting in a net loss of energy. Or at least according to physics.
Irrespective of whether reality is inevitably "winding down" into chaos, we can see how the very idea of automatic (as opposed to self-willed) progress can lead to increased societal disorder. As Bolton explains, "The belief that the new must be the best nearly always works in favor of the bad." This ironyclad rule has been dramatically proven time and again since "progressivism" took root with the New Deal. The mindless idea of "new = good" is like a virus that, in the long run, will eventually eliminate wisdom and truth, as we see most vividly on leftist college campuses, where virtually everything is simultaneously new and wrong. And the only solution (a far as they can see) is newer ideas, which only results in further chaos and confusion -- further distance from the ideal, or from principial truth. The idea that Truth lies in the past is inconceivable.
Civilization, according to Bolton "cannot undergo real historical change unless it possesses a structure of permanent principles which impose limits on the possible scope for change." Indeed, this is something that all liberals (i.e., conservatives) realize. The leftist wants radical change, "which is more deeply opposed to real historical change than is institutionalized permanence, since the permanent at least contains the potentiality of change. Universal change, on the other hand, has no potentialities at all, since everything in it is actualized already, so that a final cessation is the only new frontier it could cross."
Speaking of which, here's a good start (TW: American Digest):
"I believe that the entire Western university system needs to be crushed, broken, pulverized, autoclaved, autoclaved again, thermally depolymerized, mixed with radioactive strontium, and shot into the Sun. That is, if the Sun can handle it. If it starts developing huge festering brown spots after ten or twenty years, we'll know we should have gone with the Oort Cloud instead."
One important allied idea of Bolton's (which I will to get into later) is that we are wrong to think that we either exist or do not exist; rather, there are degrees of existence, existence being rooted in difference (in other words, there can only be existence to the extent that something is "different," or "stands out").
Thus, for example, the first act of the Creator is to separate. Conversely, any kind of indiscriminate blending of differences is the very definition of evil. Bolton points out the obvious psychospiritual disaster of blending male and female, and now adult and child, resulting in a potential race of Joel Steins, or neutered adolescents. Again, more on this later, but we can see that the next logical step down this slope into the nihilistic effacement of differences is "homosexual marriage." (In other words, the whole point of marriage is to preserve and sacralize the differences, not efface them -- although, as Will points out, one can also rise above differences, which is a very different thing than sinking beneath them, a point Bolton also makes.)
Because of the idea of progress, we must -- either consciously or unconsciously -- believe ourselves to be superior to our ancestors. This is very much in contrast to traditional societies, where ancestors -- and the truth they handed down -- are venerated. Now obviously, neither extreme is warranted, i.e., ancestor worship (which would cause complete stasis) or kneejerk rebellion (which leads to the loss of mankind's accumulated wisdom, or the disease of the Boomer generation). But again, we can see how the morally and intellectually superior progressive always knows better than the most illustrious minds of the past. Because of the accident of time, the contemporary progressive can look back, say, at the Founders, and regard them as mere "objects" in the rearview mirror. We can see them, but they can't see us.
But this is true only in the most materialistic sense. For example, Shakespeare is "in the past," but do we really know him? No, of course not. His plays will always understand us -- which is to say, humanity as such -- better than we understand him. Likewise, it is difficult for us to imagine the stupidity of the typical leftist who believes himself superior to the Founders because some of them owned slaves. This is what the idea of progress (wrongly construed) can do to a mind, which is to say, destroy it.
I generally see the same problem in the so-called "integral" movement, which is one of the main reasons I don't relate to them. In their dubious color-code system -- to quote one of them, who shall go unnamed -- Winston Churchill and Pope John Paul are typical examples of "traditional consciousness," and are therefore lower on the evolutionary scale than representatives of "modernist consciousness" such as Carl Sagan and Margaret Sanger. In turn, they are lower than the lofty beings who embody "postmodern consciousness," such as John Lennon, Joan Baez, Margaret Mead, and Allen Ginsberg.
I don't deny that there is some inevitable truth in "spiral dynamics," but any scheme that places Joan Baez above Winston Churchill is just plain kooky (unless your criterion is that of the "eternally annoying"). It's time to come up with another scheme.
Now, one thing that was different about the past is that people were unaware of other religious traditions, let alone science. Therefore, they lived in a kind of "innocence" (which literally means "without knowledge") that is impossible for us. If we wish to be "spiritual," we must do so consciously. Therefore, in some sense we are obviously more "awake" than our ancestors, but the question is, to what?
Bolton writes that one compensatory factor for us is that in the past it was "really only a minor achievement to live spiritually in an age when spiritual values are established and expressed everywhere and the unspiritual is marginalized." There was a collective religiosity, but this generally came at the expense of personal development, or individuation in a spiritual context.
Bolton even makes the provocative suggestion that the true way is only fully realized when everything is more or less opposed to it. Thus, in this respect, perhaps we have the potential to travel "higher" than our ancestors, if only because it's so exceedingly difficult to do so. I suppose it's analogous to exercising where there is more gravity, say on the earth as opposed to the moon. Not only are we "swimming upstream," but we are much further from the source, at least in the horizontal sense; in a relative sense, horizontality takes us further and further from the source, even if, in an absolute vertical sense, it is always the same "distance" away.
And in fact, this is a recurring idea in traditional metaphysics, that the very purpose of "incarnation" is to evolve under adverse circumstances, ultimately to "spiritualize matter." Bolton writes, "Such is the meaning of the Cross, as well as the purpose of ensoulment in the material world." There is a paradox at work here, in that, in one sense, materiality seems to the furthest distance from spirit.
But as Bolton explains, there is a deeper principle involved, "a law of polarity according to which only the highest cause can extend to the lowest level of effects." In other words, most causes and effects in the world are in the "middle range," and therefore of little cosmic consequence. Only the highest cause extends to the lowest realm, which perhaps explains why "the meek shall inherit the earth," or why "spiritual bankruptcy" is so often a prerequisite of spiritual conversion. The testimony of thousands of seekers -- or even just AA members -- reveals that when you are near the end, you are near the beginning.
One subtle danger of simply "returning to tradition," is that the traditions themselves have been subject to the same corrosive forces of historical entropy as afflict the individual. Let's say we want to "return" to the "original meaning" of Christianity. Doing so is not as easy as it sounds, since Christianity necessarily exists "in the world," and absorbs qualities of the world in order to continue to exist. As such, Bolton writes that "the function of tradition can actually be inverted under modern conditions," since the monotheistic religions "have each grown increasingly absorbed by their historical social roles, so that it has become an exercise of awareness to relate to the spirit which they nevertheless embody."
This is why I -- and probably other Raccoons -- are hesitant to "join a church," for fear that one would actually be turning away from spirituality and toward the world. Certainly this is the problem with "fundamentalism," which is mostly worldly (in a naive, or worse, sometimes cunning sense) and materialistic. It is definitely a response to the abnormal conditions of modernity, and therefore itself abnormal.
Out of time.... To be continued. I'll leave you with something from Maurice Nicoll's Living Time, courtesy of Walt:
"The point to be noticed is that if there be potential degrees of development hidden as a scale within man, no one can rise in this scale of his own potential being unless he transcends the purely sensual or material outlook. The psychological implications behind this view are really of very great interest and importance. A sensualistic or materialistic outlook limits us psychologically, in the fullest sense of this word, so that if there be higher degrees of consciousness we will be incapable of reaching them if we believe only in the "evidence of things seen," or seek only for proof from the visible, tangible and matter-of-fact side of things, or regard the world simply as we see it.
"If the universe be in man (as a scale of reality) as well as man in the universe, then if a man gives an inferior explanation of the universe it will react on himself; he will limit himself and remain inferior to his own potential being. He is then left nothing else to do but to study a dead material world outside him, out of which his own life and his mind accidentally come.
"If there be energies in us capable of seeking another direction, they will then necessarily find no goal. For if there be 'things of the spirit,' if there be higher degrees of consciousness and realness within, then all those impulses which in their right development should separate man from the tyranny of outer life, and create inner independence of soul through the realization of these higher degrees within, will become fused with the things of outer life into one common outer influence; for, having no inner goal, their goal will seem to lie outside him. The hypnotic power of outer life will then be increased. The 'outer' will then tend to be felt fanatically i.e. religiously.
"And that is perhaps why in this age of materialism men are doomed to sacrifice themselves more and more to mass organizations, to machines, to speed, to gigantism and ugliness of every kind, in order to get emotional satisfaction. Seen from this angle, the attitude of scientific materialism really increases man's inner weakness, which is always too great. In all that belongs to himself, in all that is necessary for the dawn of individuality, it renders him more and more impotent, giving him the illusion that he can gain absolute power over a dead material world. And with this increasing inner weakness he seeks more and more to put himself under some dominating personality, to surrender his thinking, to cease to be a man at all. What paradox could be stranger?"