Saturday, November 17, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
Last Man or Omega Man?
We shall now attempt to transition from Mead's God and Gold to a plane beyond it -- to depart and bewholed whether history is just history (i.e., a purely exterior process) or whether it actually has a purpose and is linked to, and shaped by, something beyond it -- a meaning and a destiny, which amount to the same thing.
Otherwise, I'm afraid there's no denying the fact that the purpose of all the conflict and suffering of the past 5,000 years -- when human beings left prehistory and entered history -- was to be able to shop in peace, which is to say, no real purpose at all. We will have reached the end of history, when the living cosmos has been reduced by reason and contained within science. And "on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small":
There comes the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There comes the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself. Lo! I show you the Last Man.... They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health. "We have discovered happiness" -- say the Last Men, and they blink. --Nietzsche
Yo, The Voice of the Neuter is Heard Throughout the Land!
But if history has a meaning and a destiny, it can only be because it has an interior, for there is no meaning in the absence of an interior. And what is meaning? I would suggest (following Polanyi) that meaning reflects a "gradient of deepening coherence" in the cosmos, and that time reflects the achievement of increasingly comprehensive interior unities. Only within the soul of man is this Unity able to achieve its greatest breadth and intensity, encompassing all of creation, both vertical and horizontal.
Interestingly, I just looked up when prehistory ended and history got kookstarted. Wikipedia says it was in Egypt in around 3200 BC; however, in New Guinea, prehistory only ended in 1900. This is an example of what I mean by humanity not having its calendars synchronized, so that "geographical space is developmental time." In other words, human groups -- and now individuals -- are evolving at different rates of speed, which comes back to our conflict with the Islamic world, which still has one foot in premodernity while we already have one in postmodernity.
When the external world does not match your internal world, the result is alienation. Thus, all of us are inevitably alienated to one degree or another, which is another meaning of our so-called "fallenness." The only time man was not alienated was in paradise, but that's partly because paradise was outside time.
In fact, this is one of my central deviations from Schuon, as he obviously felt profoundly alienated by modernity, let alone postmodernity. Thus, he insisted that premodern traditional societies best reflected man's true needs -- that they embodied eternal principles that made man's soul feel "at home," so to speak. I don't buy this for a second, even though I do see his point.
While I certainly don't idealize the postmodern West -- about which there is much to criticize and from which to feel deeply alienated -- there is still no doubt that, if you are so inclined, it offers the average person the greatest opportunity in history for self-willed spiritual development, if only because it provides the time and the space to do so -- i.e., the slack. Don't blame the modern West if you waste your precious slack on video games, the New York Times, and other trivialities. As Dilys put it in a comment the other day,
"In this catastrophic historical moment (like perhaps all others not rotting and static), I think the argument is that liberty and prosperity best create the tear in the collective-illusion fence for humans at all levels" to live in proximity to the sacred, "if one is so disposed. At this point freedom is a necessary, or at least contributory, condition, though never a sufficient one [emphasis mine]. And arguments about misused freedom, 24/7 celebrity culture etc., do not demonstrate that un-free is better.
"Enforced communalism, or the tribal scheme in which resources, time, and prestige are scarce and rationed, offer no such opportunity to the ordinary man, though aristocrats might be better placed. Those arguing for the now-imaginary traditional arrangements I believe imagine themselves stationed among the privileged, not the slaves."
Exactly. If Schuon had publicized his ideas in the traditional cultures he idealizes, he'd be lucky if they didn't burn him at the stake. Imagine telling some medieval cleric your ideas about the "transcendent unity of religions." That wouldn't exactly be compatible with survival, any more than it would be to live in the Muslim world and insist that Judaism is every bit as "absolute" as Islam. Please. Ironically, saying such a thing is only possible in the postmodern world (although perhaps India as well, which has always welcomed religious pluralism).
Now, there are two reasons Schuon could freely publicize his ideas in the postmodern west. First, because people don't take religion seriously, and second, because they take it so very seriously. While he was all too aware of the first, he didn't seem to appreciate the irony of the second, despite his small but devoted following. In other words, because of multiculturalism and moral relativism, many contemporary people regard religion has a hopelessly subjective and unprovable enterprise, so your personal beliefs are of no consequence, so long as you don't hurt anyone or try to force them upon others. But what Schuon missed about modernity -- in particular, within America -- was the deep spiritual hunger that has always animated us.
Sri Aurobindo differed with Schuon with regard to traditional societies, which he called "conventional." The problem is, traditional societies begin with the living impulse of spirit, but eventually contain and suppress the very impulse that gave birth to them. We see this time and again in history. Not only is this what animated the Protestant revolt against Catholicism, but it is what has animated most every sect and schism since. As Rodney Stark wrote in For the Glory of God, people who split off into sects do not do so because they want to have some watered-down version of religion. To the contrary, with the exception of cults (which have an entirely different psychology), they are composed of people who have become dissatisfied with convention and are seeking greater religious intensity.
Of traditional, or what he called "conventional" societies, Aurobindo observed that they tend to "arrange firmly, to formalise, to erect a system... to stereotype religion, to bind education and training to a traditional and unchangeable form, to subject thought to infallible authorities, to cast a stamp of finality on what seems to it the finished life of man." In short, this is precisely what Mead meant by static religion. True, as Aurobindo writes, traditional societies have their "golden age," during which time "the spirit and thought that inspired its forms are confined yet living, not yet altogether walled in, not yet stifled to death and petrified by the growing hardness of the structure in which they are cased." The golden age "is often very beautiful and attractive to the distant point of view," what with its "precise order, symmetry, fine social architecture, the admirable subordination of its parts to a general and noble plan."
But in romanticizing the admirable features of these golden ages, we can be blind to the "folly, ignorance, iniquity, cruelty and oppression of those harsh ages, the suffering and the revolt that simmered below those fine surfaces, the misery and the squalor that was hidden behind the splendid facade." As I expressed it in One Cosmos, it is easy to look at the Great Pyramid of Giza and appreciate its awesome majesty: "Then again, I don't see how we can avoid being disillusioned if we take a moment to empathize with the hundred thousand or more luckless slaves who spent their lives dragging these blocks around, for what noble end? For the purpose of creating a ridiculously oversized crypt to house the carcass of a dead pharoah who also had to have his wives and slaves buried alive with him in order to amuse him in the afterlife."
Now, as I mentioned a few posts back, I believe Mead faltered in his attempt to answer the question, What Does it All Mean?, because the question cannot be answered on the plane he is asking it. Despite his emphasis on the importance of dynamic religiosity to Anglo-American success, in the end he falls into a subtle modernist trap of evaluating religion on utilitarian grounds. In other words, while he is unlike most secular scholars in that he takes religion seriously, he evaluates it in pragmatic terms -- as if the only point of religion is to make us fit to function more effectively in a modern economy. As a respectable secular scholar, he can hardly do otherwise. What's he supposed to do, analyze history in terms of its proximity to the nonlocal eschaton drawing us in its wake? No, of course not. That's the job for a disreputable Raccoon.
The problem is, as soon as you analyze religion merely in pragmatic terms, you have essentially made it a flatland enterprise ultimately answerable to, and explainable by, horizontal factors. Thus, you have simply taken the long way around to Nietzsche's last man, or worse yet, Joel Stein.
Just as Polanyi concluded some fifty years later, Aurobindo wrote that the "discovery by individual free-thought of universal laws of which the individual is almost a by-product" -- i.e., the reductionistic stance of positivism and scientism -- leads "logically to the suppression of that very individual freedom which made the discovery and the attempt at all possible."
But how do we understand religion in such a way that it is fully compatible with modern science, and yet does not undermine the traditions from which it arose and through which it was nurtured over the millennia?
I'm just about out of gas here, so we'll have to get more deeply into the answer later. But Sri Aurobindo worked out a scheme in which he saw the development of secular science as more or less inevitable and necessary to man's continuing evolution. He called this the "individualistic" age. But beyond that is what he calls the "subjective" age, which easily transcends but includes the earlier stages. Thus, as one poster has repeatedly affirmed, the atheists are not necessarily our adversaries. Rather, they are merely the most vocal advocates of stage four. While we have no need of them here in Coonworld, frankly, we could use a few of these evangelists in the Islamic world. Why don't they go there, where they're actually needed? I think you know the answer. They'd be treated like Schuon.
Here's how Aurobindo described the fifth, "subjective age" of man (yes, he's a tad wordy, a result of his 19th century classical education):
"[T]o find the truth of things and the law of his being in relation to that truth he must go deeper and fathom the subjective secret of himself and things as well as their objective forms and surroundings. This he may attempt to do for a time by the power of the critical and analytic reason which has already carried him so far; but not for very long. For in his study of himself and the world he cannot but come face to face with the soul in himself and the soul in the world and find it to be an entity so profound, so complex, so full of hidden secrets and powers that his intellectual reason betrays itself as an insufficient light and a fumbling seeker: it is successfully analytical only of superficialities and of what lies just behind them.
"The need of a deeper knowledge must then turn him to the discovery of new powers and means within himself. He finds that he can only know himself entirely by becoming actively self-conscious and not merely self-critical, by more and more living in his soul and acting out of it rather than floundering on surfaces, by putting himself into conscious harmony with that which lies behind his superficial mentality and psychology and by enlightening his reason and making dynamic his action through this deeper light and power to which he thus opens. In this process the rationalistic ideal begins to subject itself to the ideal of intuitional knowledge and a deeper self-awareness; the utilitarian standard gives way to the aspiration towards self-consciousness and self-realisation; the rule of living according to the manifest laws of physical Nature is replaced by the effort towards living according to the veiled Law and Will and Power active in the life of the world and in the inner and outer life of humanity" (emphases mine).
It's nap time for me.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Universal Religion and the Many Worlds Hypothesis
"No blunder, no folly, no crime, no sin of commission by American foreign policy since has been as devastating and costly as the silent sins of omission that so marked and marred the first half of the twentieth century." It takes a distinct absence of imagination to be unable to see the consequences of appeasement or inaction in the face of evil.
But because our traditional liberalism has now been so infused with leftist assumptions, we really haven't been able to engage in the sort of all out war that is necessary to crush Islamist evil before transforming the Muslim world. Will mentioned the inherent problem of a limited war against true evil, the latter of which is inherently unlimited. In fact, one of the evil things about human evil is that it knows no bounds of decency or restraint, as the Islamofascists demonstrate day in, day out. Sometimes I think that if the liberal media just reported accurately what these monsters actually do, there would be much more support for the war. As it stands, they shield Americans from the horrors they perpetrate, so the only way to be informed is to consult websites such as LGF on a daily basis.
After all, there is a proper use of propaganda in wartime -- and any other time, really. For some reason, the word has taken on wholly negative connotations, but obviously there is good propaganda and bad propaganda. We couldn't have prevailed in World War II without a great deal of positive propaganda that helped Americans keep the nature of the enemy at the forefront of their minds. Our present enemies are no less evil, but you would never know it from the MSM. If you relied upon them, you would likely think that America in general and George Bush in particular are uniquely evil.
On Labor Day I watched Saving Private Ryan again. In the beginning, there was a scene in which a few Germans wanted to surrender, but the American GIs casually shot them and chuckled about it. Now, it would take a far better -- or possibly worse -- man than I to have not done the exact same thing. After all, these were men who, just moments ago, were creating all the carnage on the beach below, leaving your living and breathing friends to die on the sand and in the water.
Today, because of the insane "moral perfectionism" of the left (which we have been discussing in recent posts), the behavior of these American GIs would have, in the words of Senator Dodd, given Hitler the "moral high ground." After all, Dodd and his ilk insist that the Islamofascists can claim the moral high ground based upon our three instances of waterboarding terrorists, while the New York Times published dozens of front page articles about the hijinks at Abu Ghraib, explicitly arguing that we had morally sunk beneath our enemies.
Again, it is not hyperbole to say that these people are literally morally insane.
But what can we do about it? As I will be discussing in subsequent posts, the problem is that it is a fundamental error to regard everyone in the world as inhabiting the same world. For example, we are all familiar with the scheme of an economic first world (i.e., technologically advanced democracies), second world (this used to refer to the communist bloc, but for our purposes can refer to the top-down, centrally planned world of the authoritarian, illiberal left), third (developing or underdeveloped) world, and a fourth world (peoples basically in a state of nature, with extreme poverty, little education or technology, and perpetual war and instability).
However, there are also at least five very distinct "psychospiritual" worlds that are even more different -- and more real -- than the above worlds.
In fact, one of Mead's implicit arguments is that the economic differences of nations rest upon a template of profound psychological and spiritual differences. And if we fail to take these into account -- which we have more or less done in the Middle East -- then our attempts at economic and political reform will be for naught.
In a way, you might say that the left and right ignore the reality of the different psychospiritual worlds (which I will be discussing in more detail in subsequent posts) in distinctly different ways. As for the illiberal left, they would argue that it is racist to make these distinctions at all, as all cultures are equally beautiful and valuable. For example, they make no moral, spiritual, or psychological distinction between Israel and her primitive and bloodthirsty neighbors. But classically liberal conservatives also err in assuming the universality of our stage -- as if everyone wishes to live in a freedom, tolerance and diversity (in their true sense, not in the twisted anti-versions of the left, which should properly be called license, absence of standards, and lack of discrimination).
Now, we've just about completed our discussion of Mead's God and Gold, the main thesis of which is again that "the key to the predominance of the two countries [England and America] has been the individualistic ideology of the prevailing Anglo-American religion." In other words, the key to our economic and political success has been our values. But these values are not abstract or arbitrary, existing in thin air. Rather, they first must exist in minds capable of entertaining them.
For this reason, we can say -- and this should be a truism -- that America's greatest natural resource is her people, specifically, the psychospiritual software that still drives our economy and undergirds our political system. Without this same software (or something close to it), the system won't work elsewhere.
One of my constant themes is that the modern left is literally analogous to a computer virus that does everything in its power to corrupt the psychospiritual software that has made us so successful and so great. They do this in hundreds of little ways that would be too tedious to chronicle here. We all know the major ones by heart, but you have to be pretty firmly detached from the world they have created -- i.e., anchored in reality -- to see with great clarity how their toxic assumptions have insinuated their way into most everything. I mean, imagine how isolated you'd feel in the absence of talk radio and the internet, where you can still connect with people who inhabit your bright and happy Coonworld.
Instead of "Afro-American Studies," "Middle East Studies," or "Queer Studies" -- which will contribute exactly nothing to your ability to understand higher worlds -- what we are desperately in need of is WASP studies. As Mead writes, "the knowledge of this history needs to become part of the intellectual equipment of everyone, Americans and foreigners alike..." He notes that doing so may not be "universally popular" (an understatement), but that "WASP studies" ought to "return to center stage" for anyone who cares about understanding, reforming, or perpetuating the present (classical) liberal system of global power.
Our first order of business must always be to preserve the principles at home that have made us so strong and successful. But in order to preserve them, we must first know what they are. While we must of course maintain our commitment to liberty and free enterprise, Mead has shown us how "any serious decline in either the creativity of American religious faith or its denominational and theological diversity would make the United States a less dynamic society, sap its energy, reduce its wealth, and impair its ability to carry out the remaining elements of the national strategy." Only if these principles are understood can we fruitfully turn our attention abroad and determine how best to speed evolution along and turn the psychospiritual clocks forward elsewhere.
A key idea is again dynamic religion, which "corresponds to universal history, the expression in politics and culture of the call to transform the world. Static religion corresponds to particular history...." Islam -- at least in its contemporary form -- is one static religion, leftism another, for the latter faith denies the Universal Law and would have us all elevate our particular history to the Absolute, through the toxic doctrines of multiculturalism and moral relativism. In subsequent posts I hope to get more deeply into the meaning of dynamic and therefore universal religion.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The Perpetual War on History
Michael Polanyi felt that the secular left had succumbed to the two diseases of modernity, which are rooted in two false ideals, 1) detached objectivity as the ideal of knowledge, which eventually leads to the denial of the role of tradition, belief, and faith in the acquisition of all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, and 2) a strident hunger for moral perfectionism with regard to social and economic conditions, or Judeo-Christian religious impulses in the absence of religious structure.
You will note that these are contradictory ideals in the first place, being that belief in (1) undermines the basis for any belief in (2), that is, objectively knowable moral imperatives. This is one of the enduring contradictions at the heart of leftism, but as always, they are clueless to the fact. They are always "in your face" with their insane moral demands, even though they have no epistemological or ontological basis for having such demands.
Polanyi's term for this ubiquitous phenomenon was "moral inversion," and it is one of the things that makes the left so annoying. For example, if there is no objective morality and human behavior is simply guided by the lust for power, on what basis can they condemn Israel for merely defending itself from Arab savagery? Likewise, if President Bush is engaging in war merely to somehow advance the interests of his "corporate friends," isn't he doing exactly what their simplistic worldview predicts?
Another case in point is the redefinition of marriage. Suddenly, in the last decade or so, leftists have come up with the crazy idea that "conservatives" have been preventing members of the same sex from getting married, when this is simply the way it has always been. There has never been a culture that sanctioned homosexual marriage, because such a thing is obviously impossible by definition, marriage being the sacred bond between a man and woman.
When normal people respond to the pressure and bullying of the left, the left calls it "oppression" or "homophobia," in classic passive-aggressive fashion. The left wishes to radically experiment with the very foundation of society (which is necessarily rooted in the sacred), but projects this into conservatives, as if they are the ones pushing for change. And the left grounds their crusade in an appeal to an objective morality which cannot exist for them to begin with.
They have done the same thing with President Bush, whose foreign policy has been completely in accord with our long tradition of fighting evil and advancing liberal ideals as a pragmatic way to increase our security. You can certainly disagree with specific implementations of policy or with his administration's handling of the war without vilifying him and inventing all sorts of kooky notions as to why we "really" went into Iraq.
The reason the left does this is again because of their moral inversion. Since they subconsciously see themselves as morally superior, the motives of President Bush must be morally evil, therefore he is worthy of condemnation of the most hysterical and sadistic type from a psychotically detached and corrupt superego. For the left, he is the very embodiment of evil, even though one of the main reasons they hate him is that he believes in the objective existence of evil. Only a moral imbecile would argue that Saddam was not profoundly evil but that President Bush or Dick Cheney are.
And when I say "moral imbecile," I mean that literally -- even as a diagnosis, not as an insult. As Dennis Prager has mentioned, just as one can be mentally or mathematically or musically retarded, it is quite possible to be morally retarded -- to be incapable of soundly reasoning within the realm of morality.
And please, this is not to say that all leftists are moral retards, only that the movement is, which in turn makes it much more difficult to think with moral clarity if you are a leftist constrained by the paradigm of leftism (just as it is much more difficult for a Palestinian to be decent within the context of his indecent culture).
This retardation is responsible for the passionate moral energy that causes the leftist to, say, fight to save the lives of mass murderers, or for the right to kill the unborn, or to be hysterical over the physical environment but care not a bit about the much greater danger of soul pollution -- of maintaining a psycho-spiritual environment fit for humans. In the absence of such an environment, human beings will become sick, probably even physically.
As Mead writes, "The Anglo-American tradition of the war against evil shifts very easily into the idea of a war against history." Again, this idea of setting history aright is hardly new, but "has deep roots in Anglo-American culture. From the time of the Reformation, English popular feeling... identified the national cause with that of true religion -- fighting against evil -- in a simple and straightforward way.... Those who try to thwart this progress are fighting God's will or blocking human nature from its right to fulfill its aspirations and achieve its justly deserved freedom -- and that is the essence of evil."
Virtually every American president has implicitly believed this, that the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor 3:17). This freedom-loving God is the God we're stuck with, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. Which suits me just fine.
Now, you can say that Muslim culture is incapable of adopting the liberal values of this freedom-lovin' God, and you may well be right. However, a leftist cannot really believe this, for it would be at odds with his own belief that people are basically the same, that they are guided by reason, and that they all want the same things. I have no problem saying that the average Palestinian prefers murdering Jews to liberty, democracy, and economic development. But a leftist is not permitted to have such a thought, because it is somehow "racist" in his worldview.
It is not the policy, or broad attitude, that has changed. Rather, it is the left that has changed. In other words, the impulse to fight German Nazism or Japanese fascism is the same as the one to fight Islamofascism. It's very simple, really. It generally takes a highly educated mind to fail to see this, someone so imbued with hateful neo-Marxist brainwashing that they are no longer in contact with reality, only with the projection of their own fantasies.
It is critical to understand that leftists are every bit as committed to this idealistic "war on history" as are classical liberals. As Mead writes, the question up to now has revolved around "how best to define and then how best to win the war against history, not whether to fight one at all."
For example, the contemporary left has largely displaced this war to environmental concerns, projecting both sin and potential salvation onto that quixotic crusade -- as if it will have any impact whatsoever on mankind's main problem, which is the existence of human evil. But this is why they subconsciously shift the whole environmental debate to a moral plane. Al Gore will not debate anyone on the merits. Rather, he simply castigates and dismisses them in moral terms, as venal liars on satan's payroll. It's the same war on evil and on history, except that evil is redefined in their upside-down world. And from this follows the wise Talmudic saying that those who are kind to the cruel will always end up being cruel to the kind.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Time, Revolution, and the Healing of History (3.17.10)
Our ideological adversaries are not living in reality. Indeed, that is what makes them our adversaries. People who don't live in reality necessarily become frustrated, resentful, and aggressive, especially toward those who do live in reality. They think that by attacking reality and those who live in it, they can somehow transform their unreality into reality, but of course it never works. Reality always has the last word.
Mead writes that everyone in the Anglo-American world, whether secular or religious, is within the Abrahamic tradition, which is one of the things that sets us apart from unsuccessful cultures. Abrahamic religion "holds that history has a shape and a purpose: a beginning, a middle, and an end." In the Abrahamic tradition, history is "the name for a period in the human story in which certain problems need to be solved. History in this sense is not synonomous with the full term of human existence. History is a period and a process through which humanity solves (or is given a solution to) certain sets of problems before moving on to the next and higher stage in its existence."
Abrahamic ideologies "largely see the human story as consisting of three stages: prehistory, history, and posthistory." Seen in this context, history "is not just the passage of time" -- indeed, Abrahamic peoples are intrinsically "historical" and never really see time in this meaningless way. Rather, history involves "the accomplishment of a task. Something is wrong with the world; the world has been wounded. History is the process by which what is wrong is set right, what is broken mended. History may look chaotic and meaningless, but everything that happens is ultimately part of the healing process..."
Now, the main difference between Abrahamic religion and Abrahamic atheism or materialism is that the latter regards the former as just a stage on the way to the atheist's superior "post human" knowledge and insight, while the religionist would regard the atheist as existing at a sort of right angle to the stream of historical development, paddling around in an irrelevant little self-created eddy. He is like a drop critiquing the ocean and imagining himself superior to it. But the atheist cannot help thinking that existence and history have a purpose, thus the fervent attempts to evangelize their posthuman (in reality infrahuman) faith.
In the words of Schuon, such a person regards his own "extrinsic explanations as essential factors of truth," objectifying what is only subjective and dragging truth "down into the depths into which it has itself fallen." The whole enterprise is absurd, since "one cannot enclose the universe within 'human subjectivity' while at the same time allowing for a point of view beyond this subjectivity..." Man is either a fragment of the Absolute or he is nothing.
We can all agree that something is wrong with the world. In the absence of time, we could never set it right, so history is indeed an opportunity to mend what is broken and participate in what Jews call tikkun olam, the "repair" or "perfecting" of the world. In Raccoon parlance we refer to this ultimate Adventure of Consciousness as "Cosmotheosis," or the divinization of the lower world, which can only be accomplished through human beings, since only we have the freedom to do so (i.e., vertical freedom of movement). In other words, we are the "lens" through which the white light of the Absolute deigns to undergo the adventure of color, each of which is a fragment of the pure Light. If we could not suffer pain, falsehood, and color, we could not suffer pleasure, Truth, and Light. This is why human existence is such a guilty pleasure.
Mead writes that secular modernism "is the youngest member of the family of Abraham." With the exception of a personal God, it "faithfully reproduces the most important pieces of the Abrahamic paradigm," and believes that its version of the faith will prevail in the end. Secularists still "adopt the core structure of the Abrahamic idea of history to tell their own stories of the world." (Mead goes into considerably more detail in defense of this thesis, but to a Raccoon it is soph-evident.)
The other "master narrative" of our time is the sudden flowering of human potential of the last several centuries. As Mead writes, "nothing in humanity's past prepared it for change this dramatic in so many fields over such an extended period of time." Because we are a relatively young species and exist within the heart of this ongoing explosion, it is difficult for us to see it.
But don't worry -- Petey sees it just fine. He would disagree with Mead as to when the noospheric explosion (i.e., psychogenesis) commenced, situating it instead about 35-40,000 years ago, when merely genetic proto-humans suddenly and inexplicably began exhibiting distinct signs of humanness, such as the fully realized artistic images on the underground cave walls of Europe. While the explosion continued afterwards, we couldn't see it because it was happening so slowly, just as we can't see the Big Bang happening, even though we're right here in the center of this rapidly expanding cosmos.
What happened with modernity is that we became aware of the exploding noosphere, since time suddenly "sped up," but mainly in the Anglo-American world. With the arrival of free market capitalism, for the first time "history became a real presence in human lives" (Mead). For example, the Muslim world is still stagnating back in that earlier time, so that to them, we are aliens from the future bearing weird and often threatening gifts such as computers, airplanes, and antibiotics. While they eagerly accept most of these gifts -- i.e., bin Laden is never far from his computer or dialysis machine -- they would like to pull the future back into the past, when none of these gifts existed, but still keep the gifts. Thus, they are not just premodern, but pre-ironic.
As for the left, they simply want to pull us all into a weird future which cannot exist except in the form of a projection of fantasy. They are post-ironic.
Mead writes that "Marx is to progressivism what Thomas Aquinas is to Catholicism," in that he explicated "the fullest and most systematic expression" of the secular leftist myth that still animates them today, even (or perhaps especially) if only unconsciously. Again, it shares the deep structure of Abrahamic religion, including a romantic "garden of innocence" (i.e., the classless society of early humans), the fall into oppression, exploitation, and class warfare, Marx's revelation of the true laws of history, and the culmination of "the establishment of a higher, final way of life that fully meets human goals and needs," i.e., the triumph of the working class. Thus, Marx didn't so much turn Hegel as Abraham on his head.
But having turned Abraham on his head, leftists also turned Brahman upside down, i.e., the Cosmic Tree. Its roots were now down below, mayared in matter. Having literally transplanted the tree of life into sterile soil, they accomplished a feat of clay, eliminating all the O-lumination in one fallen swoop, subverting That which makes man Man, and embracing the fantasy that they could build a new and improved reality "from the bottom up," absurdly beginning with matter. They could force their vision on a recalcitrant mankind in the same way one can mold matter. But in order to do this most effectively, a large and coercive state was required to do the molding and speed history along toward utopia. Needless to say, there is a big difference between pushing time and being pulled or lured by the eschaton.
Mead writes that "Americans have a hard time realizing this, but they need to." That is, we are faced with the eternal choice of the Glorious Revolution and its descendent, the American Revolution; or the French Revolution, and all its misshapen descendants. Our cosmic duty, as it were, is to preserve the radical spiritual revolution of America's founding seers, as we heal the wounds and wound the heels that history has made.
Monday, November 12, 2007
The Adventure of Reality and How to Avoid It
That is, we now understand that a deep emotional investment during the first two years of life is the most critical for psychological health later in life. Its absence leaves permanent scars, including depression and emptiness, unregulated anger, shame and envy, paranoia and distrust of the world, and inability to establish emotionally rewarding bonds of love with others. Thus, in my opinion, mankind was in a deep rut, a vicious cycle of dysfunctional cultures producing dysfunctional people, century in, century out. (This is explained in more detail in my book.)
Today we look at, say, the Palestinians, and see a comprehensively depraved and dysfunctional people, unable to evolve out of their deep rut. But they probably wouldn't have been out of place 500 years ago, when most groups were angry, murderous, paranoid, self-defeating, and prone to magical thinking (not to mention, anti-Semitic). The only difference is that they probably would have been much more successful in such a context, given their homicidal ruthlessness.
So when I say that the Anglo-Americans both discovered and created reality, I am being quite literal. And please don't cite all the exceptions to the rule. Of course there are bad Anglo-Americans and good and decent people from other cultures. Of course Anglo-Americans have perpetrated some awful things. But that is not because they are Anglo-Americans. It is because they are fallen human beings. Immorality is the rule in history; it hardly needs explanation. Decency is the exception; thus, people are puzzled by "the problem of evil," when the much deeper coonundrum is the problem of good.
The question is, how did human beings ever escape the enduring rut they had been in for so many centuries? The whole notion of progress didn't exist, because it wasn't something that anyone had personally experienced in their lives. Rather, change was almost always bad, so the natural impulse was to try to prevent or suppress it.
Perhaps I shouldn't say "natural" impulse; or at least we have to admit of a counter-impulse in the direction of novelty and adventure, or else we never could have escaped the rut. Humans are obviously equipped with both impulses, and the idea is to balance them, not exaggerate one or the other. You might even say that we are born with "conservative" and "liberal" impulses, not in the political sense, but in the sense of a dialectic between security and adventure, established knowledge and curiosity, closed stasis and open dynanism, boundaries and drives.
When we speak of the impulse toward curiosity and adventure, consider the original human beings who ventured out of Africa some 50,000 years ago, or whenever it was (the exact date escapes me at the moment, but I do remember that it was on a Tuesday). Originally we were a tiny band of oddballs numbering perhaps 5000 or less. For reasons we can scarcely imagine, these explorers decided to venture out of Africa, and keep venturing -- north, east, and west, then further west until there was no place to go but up and now in. From our vantage point, we can see that, all along, this has been an adventure -- no, the Adventure of Consciousness.
But obviously, there have been roadblocks and obstacles along the way -- personal, collective, cultural, economic, bacterial, viral, genetic, psychological, political, educational, religious, ideological.
Today, for the average person privileged to live in the West, none of these roadblocks exist, with the exception of the personal/psychological. If your life is not an adventure of consciousness, then it's most likely your own damn fault. Or even if it's not, then there is plenty you can do about it. You can change. You can progress. You can grow.
Unless you are still imprisoned in a culture or ideology untouched by Anglo-American ideals. Let's again take the example of the Palestinians. Let's say there is a Palestinian who actually wishes to be good. He would prefer to live in freedom, and he does not wish to murder Jews as the universal solution to all of life's problems. Practically speaking, this is not something he is free to articulate publicly, let alone choose. Palestinian savagery toward Jews is perhaps only exceeded by what they do to their own "collaborators." In a morally twisted culture such as the Palestinians, one is simply not free to be good, which is an awful catch-22 to be in. Those necessarily silent people, whoever they are, certainly deserve our sympathy.
Now, the West has its own version of a dysfunctional ideology that puts up obstacles to personal development and which runs counter to the Adventure of Consciousness: the psycho-spiritual left in all its insidious varieties and permutations. Let's take an example that comes readily to mind, the attempt to shackle black people in a cognitive prison in which they are indoctrinated to believe that their greatest obstacles are not within, but without. In spite of all empirical evidence to the contrary, condescending leftists try to indoctrinate blacks with the notions that they are hated and despised, that personal effort is futile, and that they will get nowhere in life without the assistance of white liberals.
As such, to a leftist, there is no one more hated than a black person who not only proves them wrong, but who has contempt for them in return.
For example, Clarence Thomas, without a doubt one of the greatest and most courageous living Americans.
A recent article by Shelby Steel in National Review calls him "The Freest Black Man in America." Steel's essential argument is that blacks have become so accustomed to living by the kindness of white liberal racists, that it has become a sort of addiction. Of so-called "civil rights leaders" who reinforce the same dependency that segregation imposed, he writes that "In the very bowels of slavery there was never a more egregious form of Uncle Tomism than this determination, even in the midst of freedom, to portray one's own people as nearly helpless victims.... There simply could be no greater threat to civil rights organizations than the themes that most animate Thomas's life: individuality and will." Another way of saying it is that the left erodes individuality by equating the will with futility, so that the adventure of consciousness can never get off the ground
By the way, Steel does not argue that blacks have no reason for having this attitude; rather, he emphasizes that it was a strategy born of centuries of group impotence and intense insecurity. But as a result, this historically meant that group identity became the enemy of individuality: "In its insecurity, the group is naturally threatened by the impulse in some of its members to think for themselves. Individuals like this seem to put the group at risk." Steel writes that it is as if the group is saying, "Your indulgence in individuality jeopardizes the carefully constructed mask we present to the powerful majority. Your individuality collaborates with them. So knock it off. Get in line, or we will shun you to the point of extinction."
Thus, white and black leftists do not, as do the Palestinians, physically lynch such an individual. But they do so psychologically. That is, they engage in gang rape of a person's good name and reputation, as they did and still do with Thomas. And as Dennis Prager has eloquently written, the rape of a name can be as emotionally devastating as the rape of a body, and is every bit as despicably immoral.
Indeed, because of the issue of abortion, Thomas essentially became the "poor black man nailed to the cross by wealthy white women." This was the price he paid for his individuality by virtue of stepping outside their liberal racist stereotype -- for straying off the plantation. He was still free to be an individual and do the right thing. But because of liberal racists, taking advantage of that freedom required much more courage than most of us will likely ever need.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
What Does it All Mean? (11.02.10)
In other words, although Mead does a fine job in the first two thirds of the book in explicating the importance of religion to the unprecedented success of the Anglo-Americans, in the end, he attempts to "contain" religion within (small-r) reason, thus violating his own theory that the key to our success has been a balancing of the dynamic trinity of reason-revelation-tradition. If you want to be reasonable about it, in reality, reality is beyond all reason, but hardly unreasonable. Hopefully, this will become more clear to you as I explain it to me.
First of all, let's restate the thesis of the book: "the key to the predominance of the two countries [England and America] has been the individualistic ideology of the prevailing Anglo-American religion," which he lays out in the first three sections. The last two sections of the book "engage with what are known as the 'grand narratives' of world history, the frameworks that give the context and background for particular events."
Mead largely rejects the postmodern view that these grand narratives have "collapsed" and that "no single story line can capture the complexity of contemporary life." Rather, "we are not in an age of collapsing grand narratives. We are in an age of competing grand narratives, and in many ways they are becoming more energetic and compelling as they react against one another in a global culture that brings them side to side."
In my opinion, there are three principal, mutually exclusive grand narratives in competition, 1) European style socialism (which subsumes such hideous developments as identity politics, multiculturalism, moral relativism, deconstruction, victimology, and the cluelessly ironic rejection of all grand narrative except for its own), 2) Islamism, and 3) Anglo-American classical liberalism.
Thus, we should not be altogether surprised at the de facto alliance between the left and the Islamists, as they share the common enemy of American liberalism and its foundation in Judeo-Christian principles. (People will disagree with me on this, but I do not believe these principles are universal because they are Judeo-Christian, but that the latter represents possibly the most adequate or "full" instantiation of the former.)
Regarding the contemporary alliance of Islam and the left, note that it was a mere two decades ago that Islamists and liberals (i.e., conservatives) were united against what was then seen as the common enemy, the Soviet Union. Set in this context, the casual treason of the New York Times or the reflexive anti-Americanism of leftist academia are expectable, if not excusable. They fear and despise America and what it stands for.
Now, a Raccoon has his own "grand narrative," but it is cosmic -- even metacosmic -- as opposed to global. To be perfectly accurate, he places global events in the larger framework of cosmic evolution, of the 14 billion year drama of cosmogenesis-to-cosmotheosis, aka, the arc of salvation. This is the true Meaning of it All, and the only real way to comprehend both the Meaning and the Lessons of History. Otherwise you are within history, a conditioned subject of your own narrative. Once you see the irony of this, then you can't really believe and be committed to your own little manmade narrative.
To put it another way, the meta-cosmic Raccoon narrative is the only one grand enough to comprehend us, rather than vice versa. In other words, if your grand narrative is rooted in mere reason, it will explain everything but the grand narrator, who is the most important part. How grand can one's narrative be if it doesn't really explain oneself? It becomes a kind of intellectual parlor game, in which one engages in auto-deception, or willing the pall over one's own I. It is analogous to thoroughly analyzing a dream and thereby believing that one has comprehended the Dreamer who dreams both you and the dream.
The main problem with the meta-cosmic Raccoon narrative is that it is incompatible with selling many books. But who cares what my agent thinks?
Mead, who doesn't have that problem, writes that "History as we know it began about three or four thousand years ago when, according to the spotty and incomplete records that survive, a wandering herdsman named Abram heard what he believed to be a call from God."
In our view, History began 13 or 14 billion years ago, when an ordered cosmos uniquely suited to the development of life and mind sprang into existence from "nothing." True, Abram took the mysterious call, but it was from the nonlocal Author of this mysterious cosmos, not just some local tribal deity. Of course, he couldn't have known that at the time, but still, this means that there is a thread that connects the origin of the cosmos to the origin of America, the author of history with the author of the cosmos.
Meads suggests that Muslims are really just fellow "Abrahamists," but is this true? If so, then I don't think the idea is particularly useful. It would be like saying that Hitler and Churchill both descended from apes, so they were really just quarreling brothers. (Before you laugh, this is what an evolutionary psychologist or sociobiologist might very well posit, and they would be correct within the constraints of their own myopic vision. After all, both men were shaped by genes that made them aggressive "alpha males" with a gift of rhetoric and an appetite for dominance.)
Mead notes that the essence of Abrahamic religion revolves around the ideas that "history has a shape and a purpose: a beginning, a middle, and an end," and that "truth is universal: there is one truth and it is true everywhere and for everyone." Furthermore, Mead understands that most modern science is rooted in "the idea that a single god created the entire universe and endowed human beings with the ability to understand and a mission to shape the world that we live in." A Raccoon obviously has no problem with this metaphysic.
But is it really accurate to suggest that Muslims and secular leftists share this view? Isn't the whole point that they don't share this universal vision of reality? If they did, then Muslims would have no problem with science, and leftists would have no problem with religion (and by extension, reality, since Mead's central insight is that the successful negotiation of reality involves the dynamic synthesis of reason-revelation-tradition).
Let's pause for a moment and discuss what reality must be like if Mead is correct about this dynamic trinity -- which I believe he is.