The Meaning of Meaning, or Nihilism and How it Gets that Way
Our boneheaded, literal-minded elites typically fail to appreciate the truism that spirituality is of necessity full of paradoxes. God exists, but without human mirrors to reflect him, he disappears. God is both the light and the light by which he is seen. The eye with which we see him is the eye with which he sees us. True gnosis restores our freedom that has been partially or totally squandered, but we are only “set free” by surrendering it. The more one becomes truly human, the more one manifests the divine image and likeness. God is the source and sovereign of the world and yet submits to the world that murders him.
A while back, in response to an essay by Vanderleun on the film United 93, I impulsively typed the cryptic comment, “there are no messages, only messengers capable of understanding them" (you could also say recipients capable of sending them).
This was in reference to an earlier post on American Digest, which provided an excerpt of the New York Times review of United 93. In it, the reviewer confessed that she “didn’t have a clue” what the film was about. To her, the film was devoid of any meaning, high or low. It was just nonsensical. Why would anyone make such a film? What was the point?
Why an apparent leftist should object to a lack of meaning is a bit of a mystery to begin with. But one senses that she was being willfully disingenuous as a way to pre-emptively attack what she felt was an objectionable political agenda of some kind. In other words, she did recognize the meaning, at least unconsciously. She just didn’t like what the meaning meant.
In other words, we aren't talking about a cognitive failure to "connect the dots," but a passive aggressive success at dismantling them. This is one of the left's specialties -- you see it every day -- which is why one marvels at their "intelligent stupidity." The same reviewer would probably have no difficulty appreciating the deep meaning of the new four-hour hagiographical biopic of Che Guevara.
Indeed, the wholly secularized mind cannot in good faith object to nihilism. After all, a nihilist is simply a good faith atheist, humanist or secularist -- someone who has drawn the implications of their impoverished philosophy to their logical endpoint. A nihilist is simply someone with the courage of their lack of convictions (which isn't courage at all, being that it lacks prudence and temperance, among other virtues).
For one person, United 93 is flat, empty, lifeless, devoid of meaning, perhaps a “mistake” that should have never been born to begin with; she might say the same thing about the image of those marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. To another, it is rich beyond the ability to even discuss it in less than sacred terms.
The poster for the film says it was The plane that did not reach its target. But Vanderleun -- who has connected the dots -- notes that, “it reached something unintended and much higher. It became and will remain a legend; an integral part of the tapestry of the American myth from which we all draw what strength remains to us, and, in the future, will surely need to draw upon even more deeply.”
He continues: United 93 shows “how ordinary people... refused at the last to be cowed or frightened and, knowing full well that all was probably up for them, still fought to save their lives or, in the end, thwart the designs that evil had brought on board.... I like to think that the men and women of United 93 had their souls set upon, in those last moments, the refusal to die as passive victims with seatbelts fastened as the monsters in the cockpit pushed their evil mission to its appointed end.... to take the controls back from thugs and the cut-throats and the mumbling fanatics of a wretched and burnt-out god."
Ultimately, the film poses a question: “What would you do, an ordinary person in an extraordinary moment when life and death, good and evil, were as clear as the skies over America on September 11? Will you, as so many of our fellow citizens yearn to do these days, stay seated? Or will you stand up?” (Vanderleun).
The psychoanalyst W.R. Bion developed a concept he called attacks on linking (perhaps the pithier "deconstruction" was already taken). Bion is a notoriously abstruse thinker, and yet, his ideas are at their core quite simple and exceptionally fruitful. Once you are aware of the concept, you will see how pervasive it is. Certainly it is something the clinician encounters all day long, for it is one of the primary mechanisms involved in most neuroses and any kind of deeper character pathology. It operates at the crossroads where emotional pathologies become cognitive ones, irrespective of one's native intelligence.
Bion had an epistemophilic theory of the mind, in that he thought that our minds not only intrinsically seek truth, but grow as a result of "metabolizing" it. (As usual, I’ll have to give the short version in order to move the argument along to its presently unknown destination.) Various exigencies of childhood can derail or pervert this process, as there are certain emotional truths that are too painful to bear. As such, our truth-seeking mechanism can become compromised at its foundation, so to speak. “None so blind as he who will not see,” and all that.
Meaning involves the bringing together of diverse details into a higher unity. In reality, it is a sort of “vision” that sees through the surface to the inner unity of a mass of data. It is very much analogous to those “magic eye” pictures, which look like a bunch of random markings on the page. But when you relax your eyes, out of nowhere pops a three-dimensional image. The image was “there” all along, but was buried amidst the phenomena. You might say that it was a message awaiting a recipient capable of seeing it, like all of the beauty in the cosmos that was unnoticed before the arrival of man.
Of course, if you are a strict materialist, then you will insist that only the random dots are ultimately real -- they are more "fundamental" than that toward which they point, just as the atoms of which we are composed are more "real" than our bodies or minds. Although the three-dimensional picture might be nice, ultimately it is something we just “made up” or invented. It is foolish -- not to say an act of existential cowardice -- to suggest that the random dots actually mean anything beyond what we project into them (which leaves one wondering how the materialist can know this -- or anything, for that matter -- but we'll leave that to the side.)
To the materialist, the three-dimensional picture results from induction. That is, it is simply a generalization that we arrived at by carefully analyzing the particulars. But to a Platonist -- which all spiritually-minded people are to one degree or another -- the three-dimensional picture is more real than the dots. The dots are actually a declension from this higher dimensional object, which is both the meaning and the truth of the dots. In fact, it is also the being of the dots.
Nevertheless, where is the three-dimensional image, if not in the dots? That is, the materialist will correctly insist that if you remove the dots, the picture will disappear as well. But the dots do exist, and the picture is “in” each one of them. You might say that the dots are the “invisible picture made flesh.” From the perspective of the ignorant dot, it is a proudly independent entity, just going about its business, separate from the other dots. It has no idea that it is actually participating in a higher dimensional image, any more than an individual cell in my body is aware of the fact that it is now participating in a thing called “blogging.”
Again, most knowledge on this side of manifestation is a synthesis of particulars converging on a nonlocal Truth (I don't want to discuss revelation at the moment, which you might say is a "whole truth" sent from the other side). There are some truths that people, for one reason or another, do not wish to know. One way to rid the mind of unwanted truth is to “attack the links” that allow the truth to emerge.
This is exactly what the clueless New York Times reviewer did in watching (but not seeing) United 93. Again, I do not believe she was consciously being disingenuous. In reality, all sorts of vital meanings were no doubt subliminally occurring to her as she watched the film. But these inchoate meanings were beaten down, attacked, and strangled in their crib before they could emerge as a full-blown Truth that she knew but didn't want to know. Knowledge of truth must always precede the Lie -- which is why, for example, all tyrannies pretend to be democracies, or why leftists always pretend to be "for the little guy."
As a matter of fact, this cognitive pathology is a microscopic reflection of envy (which is a psychoanalytic term of art with a slightly different meaning from the common usage; it is a defense mechanism that "spoils" a good it does not possess, in order to eliminate the pain of not having it). It is the worst and most cognitively debilitating form of envy, for it attacks and spoils truth and goodness before the conscious mind even has a chance to entertain them.
Thus, the envious person is condemned to a living death in a mass of meaningless particulars that make no sense. But, as always, the mind will covertly elevate this cursed condition to a courageous virtue: “I’m better than you, because at least I’m courageous enough to realize that the world is random and meaningless.” This kind of envy is really "winged death," or a caricature of Life. Our trolls never stop reminding us of this.
Now, religious truths are mostly of the Magic Eye variety (again, some are given "whole"). This is why the envious person cannot “see” God, or meaning, or Truth. In their transtemporal myopia, they "recoil from the simple and seek refuge in a sophistry that is itself laughably simplistic." As someone once said, to live one’s life in this state is to die of miscellany. They are not even superstitious. Rather, they are substitious, absorbed in the hypnotic mayaplicity of an unmeaningable world.
If God is eternal, how do we encounter him among the things of time? Real faith is the “tacit foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered things.” It is the answer that leads us to the clues. For the materialist studies the world in order to try to understand it. The religionist does that as well, but also understands the world in order to study it. Celestial messages are everywhere. But without gifted messengers, they may go unnoticed. Or worse yet, noticed and preemptively attacked by a promethean intelligence turning on itself and become demonic.