Where There is No Verticality, the People Perish
Below the title of this blog you will see the oxymoronic term, “Evolutionary Traditionalism” [not anymore, as I keep changing them, but "Darwhiggian Evolution" amounts to the same thing]. Some of the people I most revere are traditionalists who see modernity -- let alone postmodernity -- as an unmitigated catastrophe for mankind. Although I consider the spiritual insights of these individuals to be truly priceless, I just can’t go with them that far [at least on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays]. In fact, one of the major aims of my book was to try to vindicate modernity by integrating science and traditional wisdom, and situating religion within a cosmos that has been evolving for 13.7 billion years, ever since the Creator banged it into being in his spare timelessness.
I am optimistic by nature, but sometimes it’s difficult to see how human beings are going to get out of the mess they’re in. I suppose one of the frustrating things about the day and age in which we live is that almost all of the answers, for the first time in history, are present and available, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
For example, we finally understand how wealth is created. Furthermore, we’ve pretty much tamed the boom-or-bust business cycle, so we don’t have the sorts of major economic upheavals we did even 75 years ago. We know how to conquer or control most diseases. There’s more than enough food. We understand the vital importance of early attachment, and how bad parenting leads to adult psychopathology. Higher education is available to everyone, to such an extent that the majority of people in college don’t even belong there. We live longer than ever, and air and water have never been cleaner. All of the greatest art, literature, music, and thought that has ever been produced by mankind is literally at our fingertips.
And yet, none of this is enough for most people. How can something like 70% of the population think we’re "on the wrong track," when they’ve never had it so good? Why, just because gasoline, adjusted for inflation, is almost as expensive as it was in 1981 [or whatever it is]?
True, part of the reason is that most people are completely ahistorical, and seem to have no idea how hard it was for previous generations just to put food on the table. But apparently, this is the default position of mankind. Whatever we have, we feel we are entitled to it, and then we just want more. Not only that, but this default attitude of entitlement can be infinitely aggravated and made worse by envy.
The envious imagination is truly infinite in its demonic capacity to devalue what it has and to then feel entitled to what someone else has (in fact, the latter is a function of the former, a critical point). It is the whole key to the leftist mindset, in that they have completely forgotten (if indeed they ever knew) how wealth is produced, and feel that the only remaining task is to "redistribute" it in an equitable fashion. But if we had assented to leftist envy at any point in the last 300 years, the average person wouldn't enjoy the kind of prosperity and affluence he does today. Likewise, if we give in to the demands of leftists today, we will just make our children and grandchildren that much poorer, for we will put the brakes on the very engine of material progress.
On the one hand it is a conceit to suggest that history has labored for lo these thousands of years to produce our privileged generation. And yet, from a certain point of view, if you think teleologically, it is surely true. For just as your present life is the result of thousands and thousands of little choices you made in the past, the present state of humanity is the result of countless past choices that were all aiming at our present state of affairs. In other words, we are the goal (I am tempted to say "the ones we've been waiting for"). This miraculous way of life that we enjoy in the United States was simply an unattainable dream for past generations. But for us, the dream has come true. The lifestyle of the average American so surpasses the dreams of Marx, that he must be spinning in his fire pit.
And yet, few people seem to appreciate that. Indeed, many people seem to think that we’re in some kind of nightmare, even more so than when we actually were in one (which we have been for virtually all of history, at least by our cushy contemporary standards). I'm not sure I could even live without some of the conveniences of the last 20 years -- for example, blogging and microbreweries -- let alone 200).
You would probably be hard-pressed to find rhetoric from the height of the Great Depression any more bitter and angry than what you can find every day on the dailykos and its constantlyhuffing. In considering the minds of such individuals, one suspects that politics is simply a means for them to externalize a hellish and unhappy internal world. The external world changes and evolves, but mankind’s internal world is comparatively fixed. For such lost souls, politics is simply a symbolic system for them to articulate their existential misery.
This is why it is so difficult for happy people to compete politically. They just don’t have the bitter energy, nor do they live in the illusion that human fulfillment is a product of transient circumstances. I intuitively figured out by my early 20s that my happiness was my responsibility, and that focussing on external circumstances really had little to do with it. For a number of reasons, I was able to realize that my internal happiness had a life -- and death -- of its own, irrespective of external circumstances (excluding, of course, real tragedies and losses, such as the breakup with a girlfriend, the loss of a loved one, or Jack Clark hitting that homerun against the Dodgers in the 1985 NLCS).
As a matter of fact, this intuitive attitude of mine coincides with the ultimate basis of spirituality, which is to see beyond the contingent and illusory nature of changing phenomena, to the permanent and unchanging -- to shed what is accidental, contingent, and existential in favor of what is real, substantial and essential. Supposedly, our unchanging center is sat-chit-ananda, or being-consciousness-bliss. Therefore, it was folly to get all excited about this or that tempest of the day, and imagine that anything would change with regard to my own internal world, which, after all, is the real world. It cannot be overemphasized that the external world is largely a projective field in which we merely adapt to our own self-generated emotional climate patterns. Many people have to actually die before they can realize that they had it all, but were simply incapable of treasuring and enjoying it.
When I emphasize the priority of the internal over the external, it should be clear that I do not mean it in the narcissistic manner of the left, i.e., "perception is reality." It is not so much that perception is reality. However, reality is perception, if understood in a vertical sense. For a person below a certain spiritual level, higher realities simply cannot be seen, certainly not with any certitude. More importantly, they cannot be lived. Proofs of God are meaningless to those who are not endowed with understanding, and understanding has height, weight, and depth that varies from person to person. This is where the traditionalists have it exactly right, for a civilization that loses contact with the vertical dimension will be completely rudderless and adrift.
This in turn is my objection to the left, for the left -- which does not see, much less acknowledge, the vertical -- replaces vertical aspirations with purely horizontal ones. This is why you will see that the left habitually exhibits religious fervor but without religion, which is, in the long run, as dangerous and destructive as the Islamists who exhibit psychotic anger, envy and sexual perversion -- the lower vertical -- in the guise of the higher vertical. Both attitudes are toxic to the soul.
I had intended this post to segue into a discussion of the four cardinal virtues. In considering what I wanted to say, it immediately struck me that these virtues are a very simple and straightforward way of talking about vertical reality, which in turn made me realize what has gone wrong with our educational establishment.
It is bad enough that leftist courts have so willfully misunderstood the intentions of the founders with regard to the so-called “separation of church and state,” which has in reality become the pretext for an aggressive assault on the vertical. This willful blindness is just part of a much more widespread attack on the vertical itself, to such an extent that it is unlikely that a child will ever receive any “vertical education” at all, from kindergarten right through graduate school. As such, he will likely become an educated barbarian.
For example, instead of learning about the four cardinal virtues to which we must perpetually aspire if we wish to become (more) human, they will be inculcated with substitute horizontal concepts such as “self esteem” and “tolerance.” These toxic ideas then become the axis around which a corrupted horizontal religiosity forms. Not only will this fail to yield human happiness, but it will even more firmly ensnore the sleeping soul in the bosom of maya, thus accomplishing the very opposite of what a liberal (which is obviously related to the word “liberate”) education is supposed to achieve.
This in itself is remarkable, considered in light of the wisdom of the ancients. The Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, in his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, points out that the word for leisure in Greek is skole, and in Latin, scola, both meaning "school." Therefore, leisure, properly understood, is a school, an unhurried realm where some sort of learning takes place. The very possibility of culture rests on a foundation of leisure -- a sphere of activity that is entirely detached from our immediate wants and needs, free from practical or political considerations -- free from the tyranny of the horizontal.
It is only here, in this leisurely space, that we can learn what it is to be a human, and actually become one. For our humanness is not given to us at birth, only our potential for such. This is something that was widely understood until our modern deviation, and this is an example of where I stand firmly on the side of the anti-modern traditionalists. For in truth, traditionalists have always been evolutionary traditionalists, except that they are preoccupied with vertical evolution and spiritually inward mobility, not mere horizontal “progress” and economically upward mobility,
The question is, can we enjoy the sort of incredible horizontal progress that past generations only dreamed of, while at the same time understand that this progress is of no significance unless the leisure and abundance that accompany it make it easier for us to progress in the vertical -- to fulfill our human potential?
For that is the tragedy of the past -- so much timeless wisdom, but no temporal slack for the ordinary individual to be able to appreciate it. Even if one were lucky enough to be literate, one’s relatively brief life was generally spent performing mindless, backbreaking work, punctuated by disease, pain, famine, and loss.
Modern man suffers -- but doesn’t know he suffers -- from the opposite tragedy: an impossibly rich and affluent horizontal world that has largely lost access to the vertical. Thus, he spiritually starves amidst plenty, and forms a complaint department known as “the left” to articulate his chronic existential dissaffection. At the same time, he is blind to the motivations of the Muslim barbarians whom he believes he can “buy off” with horizontal inducements. The Islamists may be crazy, but they’re not stupid. Somewhere inside, they probably even feel sorry for such people, in that they can sense the root cause of their unhappiness.