Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Intelligent Stupidity in the Age of the Descending Curve

Yesterday the office was closed, so I caught up with my work during the morning and actually had time in the afternoon to do some sustained meditative reading. In this case, it was the new translation of Schuon's Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts. I've actually been dipping into it for the past several months, as it's not the kind of book that you should read straight through. It's probably Schuon's "easiest" book, but nevertheless, his thoughts are so deep -- so deeply vertical -- that it would be a shame to dash through it in a "horizontal" way, just to finish it. Is there a name for the opposite of a page-turner? I suppose it's a page-stopper, because one repeatedly finds oneself falling -- or ascending -- between the lines and being drawn into the contemplative depths of O.

Unlike most of his other books, which are collections of essays, this one -- which was originally published in the early 1950s -- consists of "extracts from letters, notes from our reading, and reflections arising independently of outward circumstances and organized only later in the form of chapters." To me, it reads like a pure exercise in O-->(n), with these perfect -- and perfectly expressed -- little gems of gnosis, straight from the firehose. It's as if they are still aglow with the fire that accompanied their celestial birth -- full of both heat and light, which is to say, heart and mind, or stern love and gracious wisdom. To use one of his formulations, his are not just thoughts that "argue," but that simultaneously "listen." (Frankly, I'm relieved that I have some fundamental differences with him, otherwise I'd be tempted to believe he wasn't actually human; as a matter of fact, I keep photos on my desk of him and the face on the Shroud of Turin, and the resemblance is rather uncanny, for what it's worth.)

The "perfect expression" is also critical, because there is an essential aesthetic and rhythmic dimension to all spiritual communication, and if one is unaware of this, something vital will be lost in the translation. It's always geometry + music, never just one or the other. This is one reason why most spiritual writing is so bad. It is an offense to that which it presumes to disclose, but which cannot be reveiled in such a vulgar manner. The closer the proximity to O, the more Beauty becomes the splendor of the True, even if it is a naive, rustic, or completely unmannered beauty. This is why I'm sure that Schuon would agree that virgin nature discloses more of the Creator than reams of human (k) that circles the Source like so much abandoned space junk around the earth.

Since I've read virtually all of his subsequent works, I can see how many of the ideas he later elaborated are contained here in seed form. I like that, because the seed is more unsaturated and "explosive" than the tree, and can work on one's own mind in unpredictable ways once planted there. They are like little depth charges of noetic potential that one may use to stimulate genuine gnosis in oneself. With gnosis, you can never "think with someone else's head," in the way you can with profane knowledge. Rather, it has to be (im)personally experienced, or not at all.

I certainly don't want to over-hype the book, because Schuon clearly isn't for everyone. As Cutsinger says in the preface, "the breadth of Schuon's erudition can be somewhat daunting," which should serve as a warning to the unserious and unprepared. The way of gnosis is not everyone's path, nor is it in any way superior to the others -- e.g., the bhakti or karma yogi (which, in Christianity, roughly translates to the ways of faith and works, or "vertical" love of God and charitable love of the neighbor (the vertical horizontalized, so to speak).

Nevertheless, all of the classical ways to God necessarily contain something of the others -- as Schuon would say, there are no stupid saints (although they may well be naive or childlike on planes below the suprasensable, which is why we needn't take seriously their pronouncements on, say, economics or geopolitics), nor are there any unvirtuous sages. Perhaps less than ten percent of the population has even the minimum qualification for the path of gnosis; nevertheless, it must be counted as the most under-served sector of the religious or would-be religious in the West. But gifted minds have needs, too, so many coondidates turn away from religion because of the absence of gnosis, and embrace its pseudo-forms in the occult, the new-age, or much of the so-called integral movement.

Of note -- and this is what I wanted to discuss today -- it has nothing to do with intelligence per se. While intelligence is a necessary condition, it is not a sufficient one, the latter being an activated intellect, or nous, which is our perceptual organ for seeing -- and it is literally a seeing, or "visioning" -- higher realities. It's also not just a matter of left-brain right-brain, but more a synthesis between the two, which facilitates a "stereoscopic" vision of the Whole -- except that, as we discussed yesterday, this mysterious "psychic third" is not just two or three dimensions, but an incalculable number. (And of course, we cannot omit the necessary component of grace to gnosis, which "blows where it will.")

Today I wanted to discuss a phenomenon that pervades our day and age, intelligent stupidity, which refers to the predominance of people in essential positions whose intelligence is only accidental, cut off from any higher reality which is the sufficient reason for man's intelligence. One immediately thinks of last night's Democrat debate, which treated us to an unadulterated stream of intelligent stupidity. Obviously, all three knaves on the stage possess average or above average intelligence, but truly, what good is it if it is not in humble service to Truth? One also thinks of the disaster of contemporary academia, as our universities have become moonuments to leftist lunacy. But make no mistake: human intelligence detached from its transcendent source becomes an evil, just as action detached from virtue becomes neutral at best.

It almost seems trivial to have to say this, but intelligence in the absence of Truth is nothing, a farce, a cosmic joke. But as Schuon says -- and you could apply this statement to the radical atheist crowd -- "Men who spiritually speaking are 'fools' are often more cunning than wise men; hence their conviction, which is sustained by a certain practical experience, that they are more intelligent than such men." As such, "we see everywhere fools who are accidentally intelligent and intelligent men who are accidentally fools."

Quintessential examples of the former would be the pretentious buffoons of the New York Times or of leftist academia. Again, these are not men of essential intelligence, only men who have jumped through the proper societal hoops and internalized the correct elite attitudes and opinions. What always strikes one about these people is their utter cluelessness, which is concealed by contempt for that which they do not understand -- a soulless cynicism that is functionally just the reverse of superstition. A Keith Olbermann comes to mind, whose rampant paranoia is a kind of faux gnosis, as he "sees" secrets concealed to the rest of us rubes.

Along these lines, you will have no doubt noticed that it is a characteristic of our intellectual elites to objectify and even (ironically) sacralize their own limitations -- as if the boundaries of their own cramped little minds coincided with the boundaries of the knowable and known! But as Schuon explains, "In order to reach the truth it is necessary to awaken in oneself if possible the intellectual facility, not to strive to 'explain' realities one does not 'see' with the reason." As such, a stance such as atheism does not end, but begins with a sort of "axiomatic blindness" that is blind to its own sightlessness and then calls it "seeing clearly." No doubt they do see clearly, in the manner in which a monkey clearly sees a banana. For that is all a monkey knows or need know. So let the media bury the tenured.

This is a subtle point, but when a man lives in mere "thought," his habitual thoughts eventually wear grooves in the psyche in a manner described by Sri Aurobindo. As a result, something curious happens, a kind of "erosion of truth." In the words of Schuon, "it is as though true ideas took their revenge on anyone who limits himself to thinking about them."

That is not the Way to the Light. Rather, Paul was clearly on the right track -- to put it mildly -- when he said "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind," for Truth is both ever new and transformative. It is quite literally the result of forming an "open system" between O and (¶), in the absence of which, man's thought "finally slips into error even if he was not in error already, just as the ascending curve of a circle changes imperceptibly to a descending curve" (Schuon).

Intellectually, we are living through the Age of the Descending Curve. But that's okay. Resistance to it just makes our transdimensional muscles stronger.

To be continued....

*****

Speaking of "sophisticated" vulgarity, scroll to the bottom of the Bleat for the manic, jazzed-up mockery of Do the Raccoon. You can almost smell the reefer. "College man, knowledge man, do the Raccoon," indeed. I'd like to see them try, with two left brains. Anti-Coon prejudice is the last socially acceptable form of bigotry.

24 Comments:

Blogger walt said...

Quoting Paul, you wrote:
"...be transformed by the renewing of your mind," for Truth is both ever new and transformative.

Funny thing, I was reading an essay just last night about the transformation of meaning. It used examples like yours, even quoted Bible passages you refer to. What sort of cross-indexed system and syncoonized system is this, anyway(!?)

You said to think from oneself:
"...you can never "think with someone else's head," in the way you can with profane knowledge. Rather, it has to be (im)personally experienced, or not at all."

Personally, to whatever extent I experience verticality, or True O, I am without words. The closest I come is to "babble about Beauty." Unlike Hillary, I have not yet found my voice.

So I will borrow some of yours, for now, which rang true:
"The closer the proximity to O, the more Beauty becomes the splendor of the True ...." This comes very close to the matter, I believe.

And at the end, you mentioned:
"...we are living through the Age of the Descending Curve. But that's okay. Resistance to it just makes our transdimensional muscles stronger."

So ... you're telling me that the pain I feel in my (ahem) "neck" is a good thing, right?

1/22/2008 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous joseph said...

This notion intelligent stupidity reminds me of a book I am reading on the Cuban Missile crisis.
I had previously had no real idea how close we actually came to nuclear battle with the Russians. Actually, hardly anyone then, but the Russians did either, as they had some 40,000 troops already in Cuba, and we thought at most they had 12,000.
It was amazing how intelligently stupid the military and the CIA were at the time and how remarkably principled the Kennedy's were. Bobby kept asking himself, "by what right to we have to authorize the possible extermination of millions of people?". To the clearly quite brilliant military leaders of the time, it was a "no-brainer". Invade Cuba, destroy any resistance, and let the chips fall where they may. Amazingly, Kennedy was able to hold them off, keep from getting impeached, AND convince the Russians to exit Cuba.

1/22/2008 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

College of the Descending Curve
sharp and cunning man
demonstrates intelligence
painful pedicure

1/22/2008 11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Joseph said “It was amazing how intelligently stupid the military and the CIA were at the time and how remarkably principled the Kennedy's were.” IMO the only “principle the Kennedy’s had was the principal of, “How can we get more chicks and booze. If JFK had not had completely shriveled ‘nads from steroid use he would not have let the Cuban Freedom Fighters get slaughtered on the beach, then the Cuban Missile Crisis would have never happened. Between the two Kennedys and McNamara I doubt they had enough brains to pore piss out of a boot with directions on the heal. It took the Navy until the 1990’s to get rid of the crap McNamara made them buy. JFK and his whole administration was a train wreck and we paid for it years after; and yet because he was killed in office he is held out as some kind of saint, he was NOT.

1/22/2008 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Hmm, was reading 'The Play of Masks', which by the way so far has been startlingly good (though, with Schoun, he has to work at being bad.) For some reason he has never seemed inaccessible to me..

Er, anyway. He writes about the human soul having a trinitarian internal relationship of intelligence, will and sentiment. And in this way we are the same as all animals, at least in the presence of the faculties. (He notes that no matter how clever or intelligent an animal, they do not possess actual reason, nor are they aware of their own death. The latter seems to be a startlingly important point about humanity's religious capacity.)

Anyway, I can't help but think that the enemy - since it is common for men to be individuals - attacks them on the individual level in very specific ways. If we think of sentiment as a faculty, we might be able to conceive that depression (some aspect of it) is an attack of the enemy on our sentiment. As a person who has suffered from it, I can tell you it 'colors' the world in terms of sentiment. It's very subtle and can not be described in words. Which makes sense for the concept of sentiment.

Addiction seems to be, also, in its way, an attack on the will, and insanity on the intelligence. And these three things are what plague us: Addiction, depression, insanity.

Once a friend said, people would be a lot more respectful/careful if they had a natural predator.

We do...

1/22/2008 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

"can't help but think that the enemy - since it is common for men to be individuals -"

that is, 'nowadays it is common...'

sorry about that. Seems like the more individual people become the more these symptoms are apparent or appear.

1/22/2008 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger debass said...

"I suppose it's a page-stopper, because one repeatedly finds oneself falling -- or ascending -- between the lines and being drawn into the contemplative depths of O."
Well, I could call OC a sentence-stopper. It sometimes takes me all day to read this blog (no, not because I'm a slow reader) because some sentences draw me into the contemplative depths
of O. Also some of the usual suspects in the comments have that same effect. You know who you are.

1/22/2008 12:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

Jim,
You appear to be assuming a great deal with your eloquent rebuttal.
I am actually referring only to the actual days of the crisis itself. I am no particular fan of JFK. No doubt you are correct about the Bay of Pigs debaucle leading to the missile crisis, although it certainly smacks of "blowback" ideology. Also, I am making no whitewash of Kennedy's philandering, even though we just celebrated a day in honor of a well-known philanderer.
No, I am just referring to his clearly inspired decisions during those days. It prevented what would have very very likely have been a nuclear war. And, with the Russians backing down, yes, we lost Cuba, but gained, ultimately, and with lots of help from Reagan, the Pope, and others, a world without the Soviet menace, and that, without the loss of millions of lives-mainly Christian civilian lives.

1/22/2008 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Gerard said...

Tinkers to Evers to Chance Link for commenter Bob at my place given at Instapundit:

http://instapundit.com/archives2/014403.php

1/22/2008 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Joseph, sorry if I came across to harsh, tend to do that especially when it comes to the Kennedy administration. To many people never think how bad a prez he actually was.

1/22/2008 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

OC, in addition to being the best blog for discussing experiences with the ineffable O, is also the hot spot for raccoons supporting each 
other. So w/o further wordiness: > > > Sal has been nominated for an award in the Dallas/ Ft. Worth area for best costume designer. Yes, her sensational technical and creative skills, in her community theater's production of E. M. White's "Charlotte", have rightly earned her fame and acclaim. I'm not totally objective though; you see I actually saw her costumes in the live production.

1/22/2008 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Coongrats, Sal!

1/22/2008 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

Thanks, MizzE and Walt! Blogger was behaving badly, so I didn't get to mention that there are about 25 contenders in each category. Still "It's an honor just to be nominated."

The way of gnosis is not everyone's path, nor is it in any way superior to the others -- e.g., the bhakti or karma yogi (which, in Christianity, roughly translates to the ways of faith and works, or "vertical" love of God and charitable love of the neighbor (the vertical horizontalized, so to speak).

Now this is why I like it here- we emissaries from the exoteric can wander in and out, graze, ponder, learn, contribute (or not)and never feel belittled or disrespected.

Because Bob understands vocation.

1/22/2008 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Congrats, Sal!

1/22/2008 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Well done, sal! Do you have any photos of the costumes nominated?

1/22/2008 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

"Intellectually, we are living through the Age of the Descending Curve. But that's okay. Resistance to it just makes our transdimensional muscles stronger."

This part reminded me of one of the reasons why Pilates works so well on the body. Pilates uses springs for resistance. Along with the nifty spiral shape, it has the distinction of providing resistance in both directions. This creates a stronger supportive musculature around the spine that spirals out of the torso into the arms and legs. The head is considered an elongation of the spine. This centering of movement and dualistic use of resistance makes movement and life in general more effortless.

1/22/2008 05:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take out the word Intelligent and you have a concise definition of the contents of this blog and all of its associated true believers.

1/22/2008 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I rest my case.

1/22/2008 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger debass said...

Bob-
That's the "Bell Curve" moving to the left.

1/22/2008 09:46:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Debass said "Well, I could call OC a sentence-stopper. It sometimes takes me all day to read this blog (no, not because I'm a slow reader) because some sentences draw me into the contemplative depths
of O."

Oh, you got that right. Sometimes each line requires a long stare out the window.

1/23/2008 07:03:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Coongratulations, Sal!
I hope you win! We all gno you're the best no matter what the judges say. :^)

1/23/2008 07:10:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Of note -- and this is what I wanted to discuss today -- it has nothing to do with intelligence per se. While intelligence is a necessary condition, it is not a sufficient one, the latter being an activated intellect, or nous, which is our perceptual organ for seeing -- and it is literally a seeing, or "visioning" -- higher realities. It's also not just a matter of left-brain right-brain, but more a synthesis between the two, which facilitates a "stereoscopic" vision of the Whole -- except that, as we discussed yesterday, this mysterious "psychic third" is not just two or three dimensions, but an incalculable number. (And of course, we cannot omit the necessary component of grace to gnosis, which "blows where it will.")"

A center(ed) brain? The cOre if you will?
Or, as Skully calls it: "the third Aye---aye."

1/23/2008 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Make that E. B. White's "Charlotte's Web".

[Closest thing to costume photos to date.]

1/23/2008 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Anonymous said "Take out the word Intelligent..."

Keep your silly habits to yourself.

1/23/2008 08:55:00 AM  

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