Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Only You Can Prevent the Apocalypse

Today's highly orthoparadoxical invocation:

For in the same being of God where God is above being and above distinction, there I myself was, there I willed myself and committed myself to create this man. --Eckhart

To summarize Bolton's position, the creation bifurcates out into fate (or nature) and providence, so that man represents the possibility of their re-union. In turn, man bifurcates out into body and intellect, the union of which is the soul.

Now, one way to understand cosmic evolution -- which recapitulates in miniature in man -- is to see it as the gradual mastering of fate (and the conquest of dimensionality, more on which later). As Bolton writes, "the moment when man arrives on earth he belongs to Fate, which leads him captive for a long time in the vortex of fatality." You might say that, with the Fall, we are cast naked into the fate stream with no canoe. Still, man "bears a divine seed within him which can never be entirely confounded" by fate.

Nevertheless, it will take mankind countless generations to master fate and slowly discover its destiny, both individually and collectively (individuals were able to do it long prior to any large collectives). From the Raccoon perspective, we look to history for certain easily identifiable points at which there was a tremendous influx of vertical energies to help lift us from fate to destiny. Some of these would be Abraham's failure to sacrifice Isaac, the downloading of the Torah, the Incarnation, the emergence of free markets, the American revolution, the Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan, etc.

Eventually man is able to discover that we are endowed by our Creator with the right to life and liberty, which is to officially plant our colors on the side of destiny. It is to say that we are no longer controlled by fate. Leftism is, of course, the atavistic embrace of fate, i.e., passive victimhood, so it is hardly as if fate has been vanquished.

When the left talks about "freedom," it is necessarily in a highly limited way that paradoxically frees one to abandon oneself to fate. In other words, since they deny the higher realm -- the true object of our free will -- will is reduced to mere horizontal willfulness. It is will with no real freedom, since it denies the sufficient reason for our freedom, which is to know the absolute and govern ourselves accordingly. A will that is not lured by the good, true, and beautiful is not actually free, but a plaything of fate.

So, each of us "has the means to unite himself or herself in an equally natural way to either the Providential or Fatidic order" (Bolton). But again, genuine free will cannot belong to nature, but can only be understood as a gift of Providence. Therefore, our Founders were correct to insist that to deny God is to deny freedom. And as we have mentioned before, it is also ipso facto to deny the mind, which is the "internal space" of freedom's possibilities.

Which invites another paradox, in that only by becoming a "slave" to providence are we actually free. But really, this is no more paradoxical than saying that only by becoming a slave to truth do we gain wisdom. No one has ever gained wisdom by declaring his independence from truth, a sad fact to which our liberal universities offer abundant testimony. No. "The soul which aligns itself with Providence, and therefore with freedom, will thus be the one which realizes the possibilities of the spiritual nature to the fullest extent possible for the individual concerned" (Bolton).

Consider our dispute with the reductionistic Darwinians, who specifically deny Providence and believe they can fully account for man with recourse only to the realm of fate, or nature. Since real ontological freedom is necessarily abolished in this crude reduction, then so too is the possibility of truth -- which is again dependent upon freedom. In other words, if we are not intrinsically free to discover truth, then we can only know what we are fated to know -- which is no knowledge at all, just an extension of necessity.

Again, it is by aligning ourselves with Providence that we actualize our true freedom. This is why the "perfect prayer" includes the formula thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. That's what it really really says. It even outlines the way in which this free will is actualized, that is, by assimilating each day our daily vertical bread.

In turn, this is why we must "resist temptation," which specifically refers to the horizontal world of fate, which operates through hypnosis, seduction, and temptation of those parts of ourselves that remain mired in fate, i.e., mind parasites. Again, a mind parasite is like a closed, unevolving, circular entity that goes on being by borrowing a piece of our subjectivity and "going into hiding" below the threshold of consciousness. It then enlists the objects and experiences it needs to continue its viral pseudo-life, or "living death." Only when you start to feel enslaved by your mind parasites are you beginning to break free of them. The most unfree people generally feel quite free, since they don't stir up trouble their mind parasites.

A truly free will would have to be "one," would it not? Since Wisdom is one, it can do all things (Wisdom 7:27). So long as one is inhabited by various sub-wills at cross-purposes with one another, that's a kind of perversion of freedom. It is as if the one will is "broken" into fragments that are then purloined by various subpersonalities. Generally speaking, the sicker the individual, the more autonomous and split off are the subpersonalities. Likewise, the healthier the individual, the more unified the will -- and therefore, the more real the freedom.

Looked at in this way, one can easily see how "the truth sets you free," because freedom is really a prolongation of truth. Again, if there were no truth, there would be absolutely no possibility of freedom, any more than art would be possible in the absence of beauty. Is an artist less free because he is a slave to beauty? Hardly. Beauty is a kind of breach in the fabric of nature through which celestial energies flow, and which always carry with them an ability to "transport" us to their source. In short, beauty is liberating. Haven't you ever noticed how enclosed and "hemmed in" you feel in an ugly environment?

This is also how I would feel in typical university -- and also, sad to say, in a typical church. If a church service doesn't give access to real truth, real freedom, and real beauty, then something has gone wrong. Its only reason for being can be to facilitate an experience in O, which is much deeper than any mere (k). Reduced to (k), religion is hardly better than scientism. Which is one reason why I prefer so many of the premodern theologians, whose minds and beings hadn't yet been hijacked by the cultural demands of a spiritually desiccated scientism.

Speaking of which, contemporary man stands at a crossroads. Which is nothing new, since we are always at that crossroads between fate and destiny, whether we know it or not. However, just as there are historical ingressions of vertical energies, we can equally see periods in which the tiller of history is seized by the horizontaloids. When that happens, the center cannot hold (the interior center being a reflection of the One), and a kind of hell is unloosed from below.

Here's how Bolton describes it: "as mankind fails to realize the role as Mediator, natural forces grow increasingly violent and chaotic, and disasters become more frequent. The Apocalypse is the final extreme of this disorder."

Don't think "it can't happen here," since it can only happen here. And only we are free to prevent it, since the unfree are its architects. (BTW, I'm using "apocalypse" in a more colloquial sense, as "ultimate cataclysm.")

Voice your support for cosmic freedom:

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Monday, January 05, 2009

On Being a Cosmic Bridge to Gnowhere (1.06.10)

Today's up-and-invOcation:

Human destiny is to hear and respond to God's speech in creation and thus, as the principium in the created universe, to draw all things back to their ultimate source. --Bernard McGinn

Back to our free associations on Self and Spirit. Just remember, these associations are going to be exceptionally free, and you get what you pay for. So don't compare me to all those merely conscious bloggers when you vote today. And tomorrow. And the next day.

Bolton puts forth the perennial idea that mankind is the mediator between God and nature, or creator and creation. Therefore -- this is me talking now -- human beings are surely creatures, but they cannot only be creatures, since we transcend our creaturehood even while being rooted in it. Transcendence is an ineluctable cosmic category that pretty much blows Darwin out of the water. Gosh!

That is, our transcendence of nature would be an inexplicable absurdity, not to mention a bizarre nuisance, if it were not connected to, and explained by, its own source, which is "above" not below. In other words, we cannot begin our metaphysics with human consciousness somehow "hovering over the face of the waters," like God in Genesis. That's just stupid.

You could say that in man there is a union of two natures that produces a third thing.

Now, at this point I am going to ask you to use your imagination, since I don't know how to reproduce the images in the book. Just imagine a triangle, with the base at the bottom and apex at the top. At the top is the divine-human archetype, or the One if you like. This bifurcates into the other two points of the triangle, which are male and female. In turn, the union of male and female produces a fourth thing. Thus, draw another triangle, this one the inverse of the above, with the apex now at the bottom. If you're still with me, God should be at the top and the baby at the bottom.

As I wrote in my book, the neurologically incomplete baby is not just the hinge of cosmic evolution, but the very point of entry for our humanness, the narrow neck through which we must all pass on the way to maturity.

As such, we have a novel way of understanding Bolton's observation that "the fourth element is in a sense a recapitulation of the first on a lower level, which also has some bearing on the meaning of childhood in relation to God." For the baby -- the divine child, as it were -- is indeed a sort of earthly analogue of God, in that he knows no boundaries, is innocent and "omnipotent," and embodies a kind of infinite potential. I don't think it is any coincidence whatsoever that the baby Jesus is so central to Christian iconography.

Another way of considering the same triangle is to place God at the top, only now bifurcating into providence (or destiny) and fate, or perhaps freedom (or chance) and necessity. Once again, place a second triangle below, with man representing the union of fate and providence.

Here again, this encapsulates the irreducible irony, as it were, of the human condition, which makes us simultaneously apes and/or gods, so to speak. How could one not laugh at the predicament? But once again, we see that the man below is an earthly analogue of God above. Man is the "cosmic baby," with all that implies. Like a baby, we are born with a kind of infinite potential (relatively speaking) that we may or may not fulfill. And to fulfill it, we must indeed "imitate the Creator," moron witch later.

Either way, we must somehow reconcile fate and providence. As Petey mentioned yesterday, "the stars incline, but do not compel." However, the Minister of Doctrinal Enforcement immediately stepped in to remind us that they do indeed compel in the absence of insight, or self-understanding. In short, as we discussed at length a couple of weeks ago, fate is precisely what interferes with our destiny. Or, to put it colloquially, if you remain on the path you're on, you're liable to end up where you're headed. Which could very well be a waste of a perfectly good cosmos. So if you see a fork in the transdimensional road, by all means take it.

Now, Bolton makes the interesting observation that Adam and Eve are created on the sixth and final day of creation, after the rest of the creatures (which, when you think about it, is entirely consistent with an evolutionary worldview, only in a higher key). As such, "on this basis, the human being can be taken to be resultant of divine action and the created natural order as a whole." Human beings are last because they are first; or first because they are last.

In any event, the point is that humans, and only humans, recapitulate the whole of creation within their very substance, which you might say is "two creatures" in one being. We are simultaneously fully animal and man, with two distinct wills with which we must grapple and try to reconcile. I forget the words they use, but Jewish metaphysics articulates this very precisely.

Which may well be why Freud came up with the idea of id and superego to talk about the lower and higher selves. "Id" is simply the German word for "it." We are all inhabited by the It, are we not? Usually, a mind parasite is a kind of unholy union of the It and a purloined piece of our subjectivity. Come to think of it, you could draw another triangle on that basis, which is why our mind parasites become the equivalent of "unconscious gods," if you will, or even if you don't.

There you go: Bolton notes that the lower realm (remember, human beings necessarily embody all realms) "represents the life of instinct which attaches to the body, ruled by pleasure and pain, because its higher possibilities depend on its participation in those of the soul." In short, we must baptize the It (or make it kosher, I suppose).

Now, you could say that man was and is a cosmic necessity, in the sense that only he binds the higher and lower. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it: "Unless there was such a being as man, comprising both archetypal and material reality at once, Providence and Fate (or nature) would have no means of relating to one another." Man's primary vocation is therefore "bridge builder," or "universal pontifex," "so long as it is understood that this function is a potentiality in need of realization."

Where does this leave Christ? I know, I know! Pick me!

Yes Dr. Bolton?

"[T]he mediation of Christ as Redeemer is both the prototype of man's cosmic mediation, as well as being the revealed basis of salvation."

It is in the cosmos of natural kinds that the fulness of the Being of the world must needs unfold and manifest itself, and man is the being in which this fulness becomes fulfilled and comes into its own. This is precisely the reason why God's absolute fulness of Being can choose man as the being and the vessel in which to reveal his own inner fulness to the world. --Hans Urs von Balthasar

*****

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Who Died and Left the Holy Spirit in Charge?

Since yesterday's repost promised "more on which tomorrow," here is the post that followed, now reedited with the magic of 20/∞ handsleight. Sorry about the length. What can I say? I'm just following orders.

*****

So many interesting and sometimes touching comments yesterday. I can see that we'll probably dwell on this topic for awhile, because in a way, it is "everything." For if there is no vertical, no human ascent, and no divine descent, then there is no way out of this absurd and meaningless existence.

But thankfully, the cosmos is not a closed loop but an open circle -- or spiral -- with a way in, up and out: “The ‘good news’ of religion is that the world is not a closed circle, that it is not an eternal prison, that it has an exit and an entrance.... ‘Perdition’ is to be caught up in the eternal circulation of the world of the closed circle... [whereas] ‘salvation’ is life in the world of the open circle, or spiral, where there is both exit and entrance” (Meditations on the Tarot).

What do we mean by "vertical" and "descent?" When you think about it, most of our knowledge falls into the "as if" category. For example, we really have no way to visualize what's going on in the quantum world, but it is "as if" it sometimes behaves in a wave-like manner, other times like particles, depending upon how we look. In reality it is neither. These are just analogies to try to wrap our minds around what's going on "down" there.

"Down" is another one. Why is the subatomic world "below" our macro world? For that matter, why is the unconscious mind "below" the conscious, or the past "behind" the present? Sometimes merely tweaking your analogy brings new understanding. What if the unconscious is the past within the present, the realm of the unthought known? Is the mind a computer? Or is it a hyperdimensional organ? Is Iraq Vietnam? Or is radical Islam nazi Germany? Different analogy, different reality.

The fundamental axiom of esotericism, "as above, so below," actually applies to most of our knowledge, in the sense that, without even thinking about it, we resort to analogy to understand realms that are inaccessible to our senses. For example, there isn't really a genetic "code" or "blueprint." In reality it is neither of these manmade categories. Rather, it is what it is, which is entirely mysterious -- impossible, really. Likewise, time is a "river," but what is it really? Who knows? How can there be anything other than eternity?

It gets even more problematic when we try to discuss something as mysterious as the mind, for how could the mind -- which is the unThought container of everything -- ever contain itself? Here we can only use analogy -- which means in a sense that, on a meta-level, the mind is an analogy-making organ, or the very "link" between various dimensions and realms.

However, just as in religious disputes, you would be amazed at the academic fights that go on between people and their beloved analogies. It's easy for an ignoramus to ridicule the Christian world, which formally split in 1054 over the filioque controversy, but that is nothing compared to what goes on in the reified airheads of academia.

I got a real taste of this in my psychoanalytic training, a discipline that has many religious trappings. It has a founding prophet (Freud), a group of original disciples, a dogma, an orthodoxy, evangelism, a method of salvation, and various initiatory rituals. It eventually split into various hardened camps that were, for a time, quite hostile to one another. I've been out of that world for awhile, so I'm not up to date with the politics, but there was a time when the members of one school would dismiss the other school by saying that their members were "insufficiently analyzed" -- in short, that they only believed what they did because they were more or less crazy. This is very similar to one sect of Christianity saying that another is damned to perdition over this or that doctrinal difference.

And yet, it would be completely wrongheaded to take this as an excuse to descend into a wimpy syncretism or odious relativism. For I think we can agree that, whatever the mind is, it is what it is. It isn't any single one of our models, but neither is it all of them put together, i.e., integralism. The truth is nevertheless out there (to employ another analogy).

Yesterday I spoke of the "descent" of intelligence that occurred in me at age 29. Fortunately, it occurred at exactly the same time that I discovered the works of the British psychoanalyst W.R. Bion, which assured that my intelligence became a fluid thing instead of hardening into this or that dogma. For there is no end to the mischief created when intelligence mingles with some narrow and hopelessly partial viewpoint. When this happens, it is almost always for extra-epistemological reasons, usually narcissistic in nature, other times having to do with an emotional need for security or a failure of imagination. One way or another, mind parasites are providing the energy.

Human intelligence can only go so far before it becomes detached from imagination, so that people at the extreme high end of the IQ scale often lack imagination and become unbalanced spiritual cripples. Think of the typical proud MENSA type, whose IQ may be higher than yours, but who knows nothing about Spirit. They are essentially "idiot savants" with a warped and specialized perspective on reality. The same thing can happen in the other direction with an artist who has a brilliant imagination unmoored by the intellect or morality. The greatest art, such as Shakespeare, is infused with both the highest intelligence and deepest imagination.

But so too is the greatest science, for what is science but a "probe" that extends into the unKnown and allows us to think about reality in a fruitful and generative way? Good science makes you feel more alive to the mystery, whereas bad science always demystifiies the world. Remember, "mystery" is hardly an absence of knowledge. Rather, it is a means and a mode of knowledge, precisely. To be immersed in the mystery of being is not to be lost in an obscure cloud of ignorance. Rather, this mystery is the generative ground of all -- it is O.

As I have said before, most narcissists feel that they are in some way "special," and better than others. But the fact is, they usually are special in some area, whether it is looks, or musical skill, or academic brilliance. One's narcissistic pathology can easily attach itself to any of these gifts, so there are plenty of intellectuals whose intellect is more or less in the service of their narcissism and exhibitionism. As applied to spirituality, this combination is particularly deadly, for it ultimately means that one is covertly co-opting God for the glorification of one's own ego.

Now, it is axiomatic that God resists the proud. To a certain extent, those who know don't speak of it -- or do so with reluctance, or at least discretion -- and those who blab about it to just anyone don't know. There is even empirical research documenting the fact that people who truly have had transformative "peak experiences," or full on, life-changing ingressions of the vertical, rarely speak of them. For one thing, they have a sacred quality that brings with it an instinctive reluctance to cast pearls before swine. But this cannot be an absolute rule, or no one would speak of God! Nevertheless, it is a good rule of thumb. Those who eagerly and recklessly presume to speak for God are most likely talking through their hats. For one thing, one must be authorized to do so -- not by some earthly religious body, but from above. Here again we are touching on the subject of "descents."

The Gospels tell us almost nothing about Jesus' education, but it seems doubtful that he received any formal theological training. Nevertheless, when he first encounters the religious authorities, they are astounded by his ability to speak as "one who knows" -- with such intrinsic authority. From whence did this authority come? Clearly not from man or from any manmade institution. Rather, he was authorized "from above" (to say the least).

Now, you might ask, where does this leave Bob? Where does he get off speaking of these things? Who gave him the authority? That's a very good question. In my case, I am very aware of my limits. When my descent came, it came in the form of understanding. Suddenly, I understood spiritual reality in a way that I had previously only understood intellectually -- which is to say, did not understand. However, the only "authority" I possess is your understanding, as both come from the identical Spirit.

Thus, I do not feel that I am overstepping my bounds by merely trying to share -- never force, and never argue or try to convert -- my understanding with others. This is why I say it is more like singing. Not to say that I am an "artist," or anything like that. Rather, merely to say that it's not an intellectual thing. It just is what it is, and I'm glad some people enjoy it. If they don't, that's fine too. That's why I don't want to get into arguments with trolls. Nor do I wish to become known, except by a very narrow group of people. How to reach that group without exposure to the wrong types is an inevitable problem, but so far I can't really complain. We only get one or two trolls at a time, and the wrong types rapidly lose interest.

I might add that I certainly realize that I am not vertically authorized to be any kind of direct transmitter of grace -- a "guru" type person, as it were. Yes, you could say that this is like conceding that I am not God, but obviously, untold spiritual mischief is caused by people who overstep their boundaries and do just that. It's not so much that I am tempted to do this, but there is something within many people that tempts them to confer this gift upon others, which many spiritual frauds are quite happily identify with. There is no question that there are beings who are authorized to do this -- genuine saints and true theologians who are themselves transmitters of grace. But they are on an entirely different plane, and they are not to be confused with a money-grubbing psychopath such as Deepak Chopra.

But me? I humbly pray only for a deepening understanding and the ability to express it to others who might benefit from it -- to be the discussion leader. That is more than enough for me, because it keeps the descent alive by "prolonging" it into the horizontal on a daily basis. Plus, the feedback and comments flesh it out and make it all the more vividly present and real.

Speaking of my abject humility and desire for anonymity, don't forget to vote early and often, starting tonight at midnight (voting lasts for a week, and I think you can vote every day). Don't worry, we won't win, but we don't want to embarrass ourselves. Plus, at least a couple of those blogs are downright evil, from what I've seen. Let's just say "moral equivalence."

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

On Surrendering the Mind to its Source

Yesterday in a comment, I mentioned that our historical understanding and appreciation of liberty probably followed from actually living it in the form of free markets as opposed to thinking about it abstractly. In academia there is a huge bias toward the latter view, because the caste of the idle tenured can't help regarding itself as much less useless than it actually is.

You routinely read, for example, about how Descartes was responsible for our Western "body-mind dualism" because of his wisecrock, "I think, therefore I am" -- as if this abstract philosophical meme somehow trickled down to the masses, so that the farmers, artisans, and serfs all thought to themselves, "damn, the man may be French, but he's got a point. There's an extended substance. And a thinking substance. I guess the world is hopelessly fractured, since none of us are naive enough anymore to believe that God reconciles these two categories."

No, the reason the body-mind duality spread throughout the West is because that is what it feels like to have a mind! If you don't have much of a mind, then it's not going to be a problem, is it? Instead, you will likely resonate more to Popeye's ontology, i.e., "I am what I am."

As I've mentioned before, I've done psychiatric evaluations of people from all over the world, and there is no question that in certain cultures the individual barely emerges out of the collective -- even out of their own body, to be honest. They don't have the problem of the body-mind dualism because they don't possess the latter. They are shockingly free of what we would call insight, reflection, interiority, detachment, irony, etc. It's as if they do not live in their minds, but in their bodies. They are amazingly content to perform the most mindless and repetitive work -- in fact, in many ways, they are probably happier than the average American. They essentially don't think about things until something goes wrong with their body. Otherwise, "no brain, no problem" (like the old baseball adage, "don't think -- you'll hurt the ballclub").

[The other day, I had an interesting conversation about this very topic with an interpreter. She was from Buenos Aires, and quite sophisticated, but her job usually involved translating for the above type of "pre-mental" person. She enthusiastically agreed with my observations.]

I don't know about you, but I can think back to my own childhood, when this unified condition was the natural state. One just felt the conflict-free bliss of being alive, especially between, say, 7 and 12. By this time, your nervous system has completely come "on line." You can speak, you can play, you have an imagination, you have friends, and if you have good enough parenting, you have no problems except for the mindless drudgery of school. Existential problems don't really emerge again until puberty. Just when you get used to the world, you're plunged into a new one, with new thoughts, new relations, a new body.

[I read a beautiful passage by Balthasar yesterday: "At dawn, heaven and earth are still one. Earthly things are transfigured and become celestial, while the light of heaven has not yet appeared in all its particularity. Such is the dawn of youth, in which the spirit plays in the body unselfconsciously. When the sun climbs to the very zenith of midday, heaven and earth are fully separated." Of course, the goal of the Raccoon lifestyle is to reintegrate heaven and earth at a higher level.]

The latest research in developmental neurology explains why adolescence can be so difficult. As it so happens, it doesn't just feel like your brain is being disassembled. Rather, that's actually what happens. The brain literally disassembles and reassembles during the teen years. A particular problem for boys is that the part of the brain that you might label "impulsivity" or "risk-taking" is temporarily unplugged (or at least attenuated) from the higher part of the neocortex where the thing called "judgment" resides. Like the infant, the adolescent goes through life at the same time his brain is being rewired together. Throw in the surge of hormones -- which is especially powerful in girls -- and you have a potential recipe for disaster. In my case, I don't think "judgment" and "impulse" were fully reintegrated in my brain until I was about 26.

Now coincidentally, Will mentioned in a comment yesterday that "most people are not really ready for college until they're about 24 - 26 years old. That's the age when the 'I-relate-everything-to-myself-and-my-emotions' fixation starts to dwindle. A bit." As it so happens, that is exactly how it was for me. Although I started college at 17, I couldn't have been less prepared. I faked my way through five semesters of junior college, but when I transferred to the state university, the game was over. I struggled through one semester but just stopped going in the middle of the second.

Around the same time, I had begun working as a retail clerk, which I continued doing for the subsequent 12 years, until 1988, the same year I completed my Ph.D. In between, I returned to college when I was 23. Looking back on it, I can see that a certain intellectual "awakening" was beginning to dawn, much to my surprise. It became markedly stronger when I was 26, but was like a sudden explosion at 29. By that time I was in graduate school, but it is important to point out that this explosion had nothing to do with school.

Furthermore, it had nothing to do with me, and was something over which I had no control, any more than I controlled the rate of growth of my body. Rather, it was the emergence of an independent and relatively autonomous developmental line, a process unto itself, one that I imagine most people ignore, either because by that age they are already on a fixed career path, or because their life became derailed much earlier.

It was literally an "opening" in my soul, accompanied by a flood of ideas, insights and connections that went well beyond anything I had formally learned in school, or any capacities I had even remotely possessed up to that time. It was really a new way of life and of Being. To a certain extent, if you can picture it, it was like a descent of pure intelligence without form or content. Naturally, given my meager academic history, this was totally unexpected, but I see now that it was precisely the absence of content that contributed to my plasticity in assimilating this force. [Indeed, it reminds me of Future Leader's freakishly good memory, which I imagine is partly a result of the fact that his brain is so empty and uncluttered, like a brand new computer.] I began reading voraciously and widely in the effort to provide some "content" to this seeming "force." I needed my mind to catch up with my new-found intelligence. [Only then did I start importing a lot of nonsense along the way!]

Why am I bringing this up? Several reasons. First, I'm wondering if anyone else out there has had similar experiences of "descents" and "awakenings?" I'm guessing that many Raccoons have similar stories to share.

I think it is fair to say that by this time, I had reached the "summit of intelligence." Now please, don't get me wrong here, for I am hardly making any special claim for myself. I think most "intellectuals" reach the summit of intelligence by one path or another, meaning that there is essentially nothing in the realm of worldly ideas that they cannot understand. The world of profane "intelligence" is basically open to them. Much will depend upon the character of the person, the content with which they fill out their intelligence, and their motives in doing so. For intelligence, more often than not, is in the service of a bad end or a bad egg. Obviously, intelligence itself in no way correlates with truth. Look at Noam Chomsky, for example. He is obviously at the summit of intelligence. You can even say he's genius if you like. But what good is the intelligence, when it exists in a parallel looniverse of lies, hatred, and paranoia? The smarter the person, the more catastrophic will be their error!

Throughout history people have reached the summit of intelligence, just as countless artists have achieved the summit of beauty. This is why the ancient Greeks still intrigue us. Someone like Plato was already at the summit of intelligence over 2,000 years ago. As Whitehead said, Western philosophy since then is basically a footnote on Plato -- which is not so much a tribute to Plato as an ackowledgement that pure intelligence, like artistic perfection, cannot surpass itself. One person becomes a Hegelian, another becomes a logical positivist, another becomes a deconstructionist. It doesn't really matter. It's just pure intelligence imagining it can surpass itself and know the one truth on a plane where it is intrinsically impossible to do so.

Something similar to a descent of pure intelligence occurred to Sri Aurobindo. In his case, he didn't remain stuck there, but immediately saw through its limitations. He did not see it as an end, merely a realm that had to be infused with a higher spirit in order to attain its proper end.

The best introduction to Sri Aurobindo is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem. In it, Satprem describes Aurobindo's recognition of the limits of the intellect: "The day came when Sri Aurobindo had had enough of these intellectual exercises. He had probably realized that one can go on amassing knowledge indefinitely, reading and learning languages, even learning all the languages in the world and reading all the books in the world, and yet not progressing an inch. For the mind does not seek truly to know, even though it appears to -- it seeks to grind. If by chance the machine were to come to a stop because knowledge had been obtained, it would soon rise up in revolt and find something new to grind, just for the sake of grinding and grinding."

Now, notice two things; first, Aurobindo had achieved the summit of intelligence, which essentially leaves one on a plane where the endless circles of deconstruction and synthesis are inevitable, with no nonlocal vector to guide them to their proper end in Truth as such. In other words, deconstruction is simply intelligence playing with the same facts to come up with radically disparate conclusions. Equally intelligent people can easily be on one side or the other of a particular dispute, or even arrive at opposite ideologies. For the "integralist," the task is to admit the truth of each and to "integrate" them. Thus, for example, we must integrate "left" and "right," since plenty of equally intelligent people adhere to each.

But this is not the path to truth. Unless intelligence is infused with the descent of a higher light, it will forever remain on its own partial plane. More on which tomorrow. In any event, I am curious to hear from others who have had this experience of a sudden opening, or "descent," of intelligence, followed by the descent of something surpassing it, and which begins to shape and reform intelligence for its own higher ends.

Here again, just yesterday I read a relevant passage by Balthasar, who speaks of "the moment when one's own inspiration mysteriously passes over into inspiration through the genius, the daimon, or the indwelling god, a moment when the 'spirit that contains the god' obeys a superior command which as such implies form and is able to impose form." This is impossible in the absence of true faith (o), through which the person divests himself "of any intent to give himself shape, who makes himself available as matter for the divine action."

Friday, January 02, 2009

When Two Tingles Intermingle (1.03.10)

Today's meisterful invOcation:

Poised between two forms of nothingness, the nihil by way of eminence that is God, and the nihil that marks the defect of creatures, Eckhart's mystical way will be an invitation to the soul to give up the nothingness of the created self in order to become the divine Nothing that is also all things. --Bernard McGinn

Continuing with yesterday's post, Bolton concludes that "dualism would appear to be an intellectual image of the cosmic order." I would prefer a term such as "generative complementarity," which is to be distinguished from a static dualism by virtue of the fact that the former is capable of evolving into the "higher third," thus converting existence from the closed circle to the open spiral, or.... what's the word, Jeeves? Yes, an asymptotic gyre.

In most cases, we can see that a stubborn dualism that we'd like to get rid of is a complementarity that we need to work with. Of course, that is not always the case, for one side of a duality can be a negation, rather than complement, of the other; for example, leftism is the negation of classical liberalism, not its complement, much less any kind of "progressive" integration. Similarly, feminism ends up creating masculinized women and feminized men, and is the death of the dynamic tension that.... that.... Let's just let Frank describe it:

How little we know / how much to discover / what chemical forces flow / from lover to lover / How little we understand / what touches of that tingle / that sudden explosion / when two tingles intermingle

Indeed. That is an example of complementarity. But we all know that relationships can descend into the static dualism, or "drama," that many people confuse with generativity:

The broken dates, the endless waits / the lovely loving and the hateful hates / the conversation with the flying plates / I wish I were in love again / Believe me sir, I much prefer / the classic battle of a him and her / I don't like quiet and I wish I were / in love again

Yes, who among us hasn't had the conversation with the flying plates? Isn't that why the trolls come here? They're not here to con-verse, which means to "flow together." Rather, they are here to stir up contro-versy, which means to "flow against" in their characteristic unDude manner. Our most recent anonymous troll couldn't stop throwing around the plate in his head.

The possibility of knowledge hinges on the dualism of phenomena and noumenon. To "know" means to shorten the distance, or close the gap, between appearances and reality. (As we shall see later, the reverse is true for "spiritual progress," in that the closer one draws to God, the more one appreciates the distance.) It seems that Truth bifurcates into these two realms, which it must do on pain of having no creation at all. Paradoxically -- but not really -- you could say that existence itself is the first "fall," since it is a descent from the Principle. But don't sweat it. Eternity is still in love with the productions of time.

Obviously, it is impossible for us to imagine what the cosmos looks like "with no one there." The possibility of knowledge presupposes not just a knower, but a particular point of view, a "separation of the subjective and objective components of perception" (Bolton).

But this split is not a pernicious one, nor can science ever heal it. Rather, I agree with Polanyi that the separation of subject and object creates a generative transitional space in which our understanding may evolve into deeper and more comprehensive syntheses of reality. Thus, the practice of science can be seen as a kind of shadow of infinite truth, except that, unlike mysticism, it can never reach the goal.

Still, as Bolton says, dualism "enables us to go abroad while staying at home. All that is 'out there' is at the same time 'in here,'" meaning that science is simultaneously a deepening of the objective and subjective horizons -- so long as one doesn't regard the external world in the naive manner of the bonehead materialist or reductionistic Darwinian. As we always say, consciousness reveals more about Darwinism than Darwinism will ever reveal about consciousness. If you remember this, you can accept any findings of Darwinism without being caught in its pneumacognitive nets.

Bolton agrees that representation "commits us to the idea of a Representer, and this is what is normally identified with the soul." Furthermore -- and this is a key point -- "for the soul, the body and the whole physical world which the body belongs to, appear as content. While the body is essentially something contained, the soul is essentially a container of phenomena." As such, the "complete I" includes "the world-containing and world-representing soul," and "the world, as it appears from one's own unique point of view, is in a real sense a part of one's identity" (emphasis mine).

This makes perfect sense to me, because we all know how dramatically different the world appears when we are depressed, or in love, or an atheist. Each of these conditions allows one to "see" realities that might otherwise be foreclosed. For example, I do not deny that atheism discloses something about reality, just as does depression. If nothing else, they teach us that we always transcend the content of experience, for when we return to normal, we see that we had been living with blinders on, which is another way of being dead.

One thing we must be aware of is the ubiquitous societal pressure to see and experience the world in materialistic terms, which is to die to God for the sake of the world, rather than vice versa. Balthasar:

"[N]aked matter remains an indigestible symbol of fear and anguish. Since nothing else remains, and yet something must be embraced, twentieth-century man is urged to enter this impossible marriage with matter, a union which finally spoils man's taste for love. But man cannot bear to live with the object of his impotence, that which remains permanently unmastered. He must either deny it or conceal it in the silence of death."

God gives himself to man as far as that is possible, and it is only possible to the extent that the individual being is a world-containing entity with endless extension described above.... In short, there must be some common measure between the recipient and the received. When the human state is seen in this light, it will not be difficult to proceed to the idea of man as God's mediator in the world. --Robert Bolton, Self and Spirit

Then again, as Saint Teresa of Ávila might have said of the Groom, So long as you kiss me / and the world around us shatters / How little it matters / how little we know.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

None of This Post is True! (1.01.10)

Just a dashed-off verticalisthenic that I didn't think I'd be able to finish. But the boy slept in until 8:30, so here it is... It's a bit rambly, but then again, you can be sure that it's Oven fresh...

We'll start with a couple of pneumanautical observations:

God is distinguished by his indistinction from any other distinct things...--Meister Eckhart

"Eckhart was obviously fascinated by the question of what we think we are doing when we attempt to speak about God. In one sense, his whole surviving corpus is an exploration of this issue. Why is speech necessary when silence is more fitting?" (McGinn).

You might say that Eckhart picks up where Aquinas himself left off, in the abysmal silence at the beginning and end of all verbalization; which is why he could say that "the Word which is in the silence of the fatherly Intellect is a Word without word, or rather a Word above every word." In the beginning -- or at the Origin, to be precise -- is the wordless Word, or pure spirit-breath hovering over the face of the deep.

Now, is this true? No, not really. It just removes some of the barriers to falsehood.

I was reading some Balthasar again yesterday, and he was essentially emphasizing a point also made by Schuon, to the effect that if you do not first appreciate the infinite chasm between you and God, you cannot possibly appreciate the unity; for the difference is a fact, while the similarities are merely analogical. In other words, there is always an "as if" component to our divine likeness. To deny this is to engage in a monstrous breach of spiritual etiquette, to say the least. After all, even to say "I and the Father are One," is to equally say "One is I and the Father." Or, you could say that "three's company and One's a crowd."

Here again, the metaphysical implication of this would be a kind of irreducible dualism, as argued by Bolton in Self and Spirit: "Arguably the duality of soul and God could be an ultimate reality.... There are in fact profound reasons for the duality of God in relation to the soul, which are only ignored because of prevailing habits of thought."

I always chuckle when someone expresses the cliche that we only believe in dualism because of what some philosopher said 400 years ago. It's like arguing that we only believe in, say, the reality of time, because Hegel said it was a mode of the infinite. That's giving way too much credit to intellectuals. But that's what intellectuals do -- i.e., give way too much credit to themselves and each other. For example, as I have argued in the past, liberty had to first be "lived" before it could be discovered and developed as an abstract value. Here you see an important point, that incarnation precedes cogitation.

Bolton agrees that "when we attribute the influence of Dualism to Descartes, we are implicitly attributing to him the power of imposing his peculiar way of thinking on a whole civilization for three centuries.... In reality, this kind of power is so rare that it is usually considered an attribute of the founders of religions, not of philosophers."

Rather, Descartes simply identified "a certain element in the way in which human minds have always worked, and create[d] a system around it." After all, consciousness and matter are so profoundly different, that no one has to press the point. The trick is in trying to understand how they relate.

This reminds me of something Richard Weaver wrote, to the effect that the denial of religion always conceals a denial of mind. Here again, Bolton agrees that "the denial of Dualism means in practice a denial of consciousness itself, and the modern philosophers who argue for this are arguing for something which not only most people do not believe, but which they themselves do not believe except, perhaps, in the lecture room."

In reality, as it pertains to the manner in which we actually live, consciousness is quite literally everything, for "it is the container and basis of phenomena as such." No "theory of everything" will ever account for the person who understands it, why he wants to tell others about it, or how it is even possible to cause "understanding" in another subject -- whatever that is. The moment you understand the theory, you've breached the unity.

If we are going to ditch dualism, then we had better come up with a more adequate substitute, not merely a philosophy that unexplains everything dualism explained. After all, we only know that there are objects of consciousness because there are objects and consciousness. Therefore, any denial of dualism necessarily begins in dualism, or else there is no knower and no possibility knowledge, "as if the Cheshire cat's grin really could remain when the cat was gone" (Bolton).

Still, there is a way out of this duality coonundrum. In my view, there are certain irreducible dualities in the cosmos. Furthermore, I have always suspected that they are all somehow related, or perhaps reflections of some primordial meta-duality. I am thinking of the One and many, time and eternity, absolute and infinite, male and female, wave and particle, part and whole, form and substance, individual and group, subject and object, conscious and unconscious, and a few others.

Some might suggest that the brain is therefore a kind of "duality generator," but Bolton argues that the brain evolved long before we had anything to say about it, "under cosmic conditions which had the power to determine the form of the brain in accordance with their own nature." In short, the objective structure of the brain reveals something objectively true about the subjective nature of reality -- or about the inner nature of the ultimate Subject.

To be continued....

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eternal Life, While You Wait!

We shall start with another orthoparadoxical invOcation from the Meister. You may not understand it today, but you will hopefully undergo it by the end of this series, for it maketh perfect nonsense:

Distinction comes from Absolute Unity.... Absolute Unity is the distinction and the distinction is the unity. The greater the distinction, the greater the unity, for it is the distinction without distinction.

In Self and Spirit, Bolton relates the idea of the "philosopher's stone" to the eternal, uncreated, and uncreateable part of ourselves. In fact, he references Eckhart on the matter: "There is an agent in the soul such that if the soul were wholly this, it would be uncreated, and [furthermore], without the above-mentioned agent, God acts not at all. Whatever God gives, he gives through it...."

Thus, "it is only in the innermost realm of the human spirit that the image of God can be said to reside." Also -- and this is a key point -- "This is immovably part of us, so that failure to live in harmony with this divine principle must result in an ultimate inner conflict and self-contradiction" (emphasis mine).

This, don't you know, is why I would now find it virtually impossible to conduct psychotherapy with a fully and irredeemably secularized person. This is not because I am a bigot -- or only a bigot -- but because there would be no possibility of helping them identify with, actualize, and assimilate this divine principle (or at least I can't help them). Such a person is indeed condemned to live in ultimate conflict and self-contradiction, not to mention at the periphery of the cosmos, where I rarely hang out.

Meanwhile, Raccoons are only condemned to the Absolute, which is a much better thing to be condemned to. It's what gives us our passion for eternity, not to mention our susceptibility to ec-stasy -- which literally means to "stand outside." But this is how God stands inside. You might say that our ecstasy is His enstasy. Indeed, Eckhart said as much in his inimitable way: "I have often said, God's going-out is his going-in." (Bear in mind that Eckhart's language often directly bears the characteristic of ecstasy, in that it is beside itself with joy, or bubbling over with divine glee.)

According to McGinn, Eckhart conceived of this divine movement "as the fundamental law of reality taught by the Bible...." He variously described this primordial emanation and return as a "bursting-forth" or a "breaking-through" within the ground of existence; furthermore, "the pulse of this universal circle of activity provides a key for presenting the systematic perspective behind Eckhart's disparate works."

Perceptive and/or obsessive-compulsive readers will have noticed that the pulse of this universal circle is also a key to understanding Gagdad's desperate works, for if God isn't a cyclical rhythm, I don't know what he is.

Here, this explains it: "The first grace consists in a type of flowing out, a departure from God (↓); the second consists in a type of flowing back, a return to God himself (↑)" (Eckhart, minus the arrows). This circle proceeds vertically from Cosmogenesis to Cosmobliteration, hence the absurcular structure of my book -- which begins, by the way, with an Eckhart quote about the negation of negation that eternally precedes the creatio ex nihilo -- you know, the absolutely BLACK PAGE on p. 6. That BLACK PAGE is by far the most informative part of my book, for it is there that we meet in the muddle of the mount. Nobody's ever seen the face of God, and you're looking right at it!

The rivers return to the place from whence they flowed, so that they may flow again. Can I get a wetness? Or do you just need an adult diaper?

Now, Eckhart was far from alone in his perfect nonsense. Just yesterday evening I cooncidentally stumbled upon a passage by Balthasar in reference to the great Origen. It goes a little like this: "If 'spirit' is participation of the soul in God, then its ultimate essence is determined precisely by this participation. Only in orientation towards God is it immortal, only in derivation from God is it ever new in being, only through relationship to him is it good and blessedly happy.... Thus the soul must strive for this participation with the most absolute of commitments, and build its life on the foundation of this unmerited grace."

Therefore, it appears that immortality is optional, or, if not optional, then like that hole in your dashboard where the cigarette lighter used to go. It's still there, but nobody uses it anymore. No, wait, it's like the plastic exejesus for the darshan your vehicle, that's the crux of the master (Coonifesto, p. 255).

Ahem. Let's break this down a little father, son. Bolton notes that there is a "part" of us that mediates between God and creation. In my case, I call it "Bob," but you can call yours what you want. Now, it can equally be seen as the base or ground of our ascent to God, or "as the apex of an integrating movement in the natural order"; in other words, as a sort of crystalized kernel outside time (¶), or as a kind of integrative process within time [O-->(n)].

Each kernel is "unique," and yet, none other than a particular mode of the universal: "it exists in as many instances as there are persons, so that something qualitatively equivalent to the Whole exists in every being which forms part of the Whole, giving special meaning to the idea that 'all is one.' In this case, the Whole would in some sense be present in every part of the All...."

So at least we have that going for us.

Now, incarnation and ascension are the penultimate examples of (↓) and (↑), respectively -- the ultimate examples again being Cosmogenesis and Cosmobliteration, Creation and Apocalypse. Furthermore, this incarnation and ascension are not just God's business but our isness, insofar as we are true to our microcosmic deustiny.

And with that, I think I'll just patiently wait for this year to O-bliterate before my very I.

In ether worlds, just like any other day.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death!

Before going off-road and venturing into the higher bewilderness, let's begin with a little invOcation by Eckhart, shall we?

One must here come to a transformed knowing, and this unknowing must not come from ignorance; rather, from knowing one must come into an unknowing. Then, we will become knowing with divine knowing and then our unknowing will be ennobled and clothed with supernatural knowing. And here, in that we are in a state of receiving, we are more perfect than if we were active.

Bolton makes a lot of fine points in Self and Spirit, but it seems to me that the ultimate one is the somewhat paradoxical idea that twoness, or dualism, is higher than oneness, or monism; or perhaps that One is intrinsically two and therefore three, the latter of which is "higher" than both, since, to put it mythematically, the infinite + the finite must (in a manner of speaking, of course) = more than the pure infinite alone. (As I said, I'm just going to be thinking out loud here, so don't mind me.)

We could also say that love is higher than union; or, that true union is a unity in which differences are preserved and bound together by love -- which becomes, or reveals, their inner unity. I mean, if I have to completely obliterate myself in order to be in union with God, what kind of union is that? Isn't that a little like being married to Alec Baldwin?

Bolton falls within the traditionalist camp, but he is clearly deviating from Schuon and most of his clones in hewing to a dualistic metaphysic.

Bolton feels that Schuon, in order to harmonize all of the diverse revelations -- and one of our commenters has made this point in the past -- basically assumed the truth of the pure nondualist metaphysics of Advaita Vedanta, and then crammed the rest of the religions into that framework, even if it occasionally involved some tendentious reasoning, and gave short shrift to the actual beliefs of this or that religion. In short, both Guenon and Schuon "assume that the Hindu wisdom as interpreted by Shankara is the medium in which the different traditions are [to be] reconciled."

This obviously has a certain superficial appeal, for there is no question that on some level "all is one." But the question is, what kind of One? For when you say "all is one," you might just as well say "all is none." Not only is it a meaningless statement, it is unmeaningable -- no different than saying "all is all" or "one is one."

Furthermore, what is the ontological status of the entity that knows "all is one?" As Bolton says, "Any such answer must include some proof that the self is a reality in its own right, and not just a collective name for a succession of more or less related phenomena with no integrating principle." For if the self is not in some sense real, then there is nothing it can objectively say about anything, let alone, God.

This is a critical question, because on it hinges not just the reality and the dignity of the personal self, but the entire possibility of any intrinsic meaning at all, since meaning can only exist in reference to something else. If all is simply one, it is another way of saying that life is completely meaningless -- which some Vedantins and Buddhists come close to saying, i.e., that the world is maya (illusion) and nothing else.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Sri Aurobindo was completely opposed to this idea. You could even say that he was the polar opposite of Schuon, in the sense that he attempted to "Christianize" Vedanta, as opposed to Vedanta-izing Christianity. He regarded the realm of maya as a conscious power that can be easily reconciled with a Christian logo-centric conception of reality. He felt that the world was worthy of our being in it, and vice versa. The cosmos is not just one big freaking mistake.

If the personal self (we are speaking of the soul, or psychic being, not the ego) is a pure illusion, then so too is the personal God (which Schuon ultimately conceded, placing God on the side of cosmic maya). Again, as Bolton emphasizes, "the importance of this is far from being merely of personal interest, because all metaphysics and religion would be reduced to nothing if the self were not an objective reality."

Here we can see that "extremes meet," in that the implications of strictly nondual monism would be identical to those of gross materialism: that you are nothing in a world of absolute meaninglessness -- a double nothing. One could hardly regard life as a "gift," but a kind of curse, or a nuisance at best -- "a cancer on the body of nothingness."

Now, interestingly, both Buddhism and Vedanta speak of "liberation," whereas Christianity speaks of salvation, something very different. I think this goes to the heart of the matter, not just for the individual, but for all of creation, for Christianity also speaks of somehow salvaging the whole existentialada. What did Paul say? The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage and corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Rom 8:21). Can't get more clear than that.

Here we cannot avoid a discussion of eschatology, for eschatology is none other than the study of the last end of things, i.e., their ultimate meaning -- again, for both self and cosmos. As Bolton writes, "the true nature of a being cannot be understood without a knowledge of its last ends. The very question as to whether or not salvation is a possibility for the self makes a fundamental difference to what we think the self is." To put it another way, "misunderstandings of the self lead to misunderstandings of everything else."

So, what is the personal self, the individual as such? Here again, the materialistic and nondual conceptions converge and agree that it is squat. But What about Bob?! What difference does it make to Bob if Bob ultimately reduces either to matter or to God, and disappears in the process? I say, give me immortality or give me death! (in the immortal words of Firesign Theatre).

Now, here is another irony: it is the monistic conception of the world that leaves us with an irreconcilable dualism, in that one side or the other of the dualism must go -- for the materialist, spirit; for the Vedantin, matter. The result is "an almost exact parallel of the Cartesian conception of soul and body where neither has anything in common with the other." The Cartesian says, "I think, therefore I am." The Vedantin says "I am, therefore I think." But the Raccoon says, "God is, therefore I am. And that's why I can fruitfully and objectively think, to boot."

In other words, to say "I am one with God," is a kind of truism, but with important implications, for as Bolton says, "union in this context must mean what it says, and not simply the elimination of one side of the relation." Otherwise, we are simply avoiding a serious inquiry into the exceedingly strange situation of the Incarnation, both His and ours.

[R]ealizing the birth of the Word in the [soul's] ground is inseparable from the Incarnation of the Divine Word: the ground that we seek to attain is nothing other than the ground of Christ. --Bernard McGinn

Monday, December 29, 2008

How to be a Big unKnow-it-All

As I mentioned in last Saturday's post, I recently had the opportunity to reread Robert Bolton's Self and Spirit. I first read it about a year ago and probably intended to discuss it at the time, but quickly moved onto something else -- I think his previous book, Gnosis -- and then forgot about it. But the book is full of important insights that I'd like to spend some time expanding upon and assimilating.

Also, I think we'll let me, Bob's Unconscious, take the wheel of the bus, so this interior duologue may or may not be of benefit to you. Which doesn't matter much anyway, since we seem to have run off most of our readers with the the lengthy MOTT series. We're down to the diehards, dead-enders, cultists, and stalkers.

The point is, Bob's Unconscious does not -- cannot -- write for an "audience." Rather, he -- or we -- just rants. Also, since we are attempting to articulate the "unThought known," we have to somehow bypass the entity that already "knows it all." In other words, we're taking the keys to the bus away from Bob.

Consider this a peek into the supraterranean One Cosmos liberatory, where you can actually see some of our delicious products in the process of being made, using only the finest theologoumena, and then offering them to you fully half-baked.

Now, speaking of the unThought known, this is one of the most vital virtual organs for the detection of God. Without it, you're pretty much screwed and going to hell, gosh! It's analogous to a "sense of humor," which is not itself funny, but the ability to know what is funny ahead of time. The latter is an empty category, or a "preconceptual readiness" to appreciate humor in whatever form it arises. You may have noticed that a gifted comedian is often able to see the humor in some everyday situation that goes unnoticed by most people. The humor is already in us, but we don't explicitly think about it until the comedian "reminds" us of it, which then causes us to laugh with re-cognition.

I would say that Raccoon theology is somewhat like that. It's not as if the B'ob tells you anything you don't already know, I mean, right? Rather, he mainly gives voice to preconceptual airy-fairy things you may not have consciously thought about. Hence, the sacred "guffah-HA!" experience when he punches you right in the nous and gets a clean kill. But this is true of all real theology, which is aimed at vertical re-collection. Whenever Bob's or anyone else's key fits perfectly into your unThought known, you will notice a little "tickle." You should try to be aware of this and eventually transform it into more of a real chortle or belly laugh. Ho!

It's also somewhat like being a good cook. We think of someone having a good visual or verbal imagination, but having a good gustatory imagination is a thing apart -- like having a good "tactile imagination," which I suppose blind people possess. A good and adventurous cook can presumably combine ingredients in unexpected ways, because he has a sort of highly developed "foretaste" of potentially tasty combinations. Frankly, I think this is how advances take place in any field, which was one of Polanyi's core points -- the idea that the scientific researcher is guided by tacit foreknowledge of, say, an as yet undiscovered chile recipe.

But at the same time, it's a tricky balance, because if your mind is saturated with too much foreknowledge, then it closes off the possibility of new discoveries. And this may sound like blasphemy, but who said that all the great theological discoveries have already been made? At the very least, I know for sure that they haven't been made by Bob. I mean, I could take someone else's word for it, but I'm not much interested in second hand theology unless it specifically illuminates my own unThought known. Theology's the ultimate adventure, baby. It's not supposed to be just mechanical memorization.

The other book we've been rereading is McGinn's excellent introduction to the mystical theology of Meister Eckhart, The Man From Whom God Hid Nothing. Who knows if it was providential or cooncidental, but I am finding that these two books illuminate one another into a "higher third," and you might say that it is this "third" to which we are attempting to give birth in concrete form.

The birth metaphor is quite exact, and in fact, this was one of Eckhart's key psimiles -- that the birth of the Word is eternally recapitulated in the ground of the soul. Jesus reconciles creation with Creator on a macro scale, but we must nevertheless engage in the same activity on a micro scale, i.e., "the imitation of Christ." You might say that he blazed the trail, but that doesn't mean that we don't have to take the journey. It just means the journey is possible, because Christ is always coming down and "taking on" human nature: "Since we possess human nature, the same nature that the Word united to himself, by grace we are now Christ's 'personal being'" (McGinn).

Also, you definitely have to appreciate Eckhart's outrageous sense of humor, which, unfortunately, the religious authorities of the time did not. He uses humor in a zen sort of way, in order to jolt you out of your habitual way of seeing things. He is the True GagDaddy.

Eckhart reveled in "word games that are meant to be both playful and serious insofar as they 'play' a role in the practice of deconstructing the self and freeing it from all that pertains to the created world. Identity in the ground [of being] is a 'wandering' and 'playful' identity.... Speaking to a restricted group of learned God-seekers, he also feels free to indulge... in paradox, oxymoron, and hyperbole," the "rare and subtle" forms of speech "that comprise the 'shock treatment' of a mystical discourse designed to awaken by challenging traditional modes of speaking and understanding" (McGinn).

Like the unThought known, "the ground is transcendentally real as 'pure possibility,'" and "is the 'place' from which the mystic must learn to live, act, and know" (McGinn). It is also flowing and spontaneous, like jazz: "Many of Eckhart's sermons have an improvisational character, appearing as a series of virtuoso variations on oft-repeated themes."

I didn't intend to get so deeply into Eckart, but I did want to mention what he said about the unThought known: "This not-knowing draws [the soul] into amazement and keeps her on the hunt, for she clearly recognizes 'that he is,' but she does not know 'what' or 'how' he is.... [T]he unknown-knowing keeps the soul constant and still on the hunt" (Eckhart). McGinn says that "this incommunicable knowledge keeps the mystic ever on the inward path, not turned outside."

Now, this "inward path" is the path back to God. Just yesterday Bob was comparing it to a sort of vertical mine shaft, in which we must all work in darkness, taking one blow after another, occasionally pulling out a nugget of gold, and getting closer each day to the Fatherlode. It's there. We can sense it with our charcoal activated cOOnvision, like old Walter Huston smells the gold in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Here's how Eckhart describes the cOOnvision: "Though it may be called an unknowing, an uncomprehending, it still has more within it than all knowing and comprehending outside it, for this unknowing lures and draws you from all that is known, and also from yourself."

The B'ob make many veiled references to this in the Cosmobliteration section of the Coonifesto, such as unknowculate your brain; leave your apprehensions behind; knowing without knowledge all that can be unKnown; return your soul to its upright position and extinguish all (me)mories; etc.

Also, the importance of having a divine sense of humor at the outset: last rung in's a written gag; your seenil grammar and gravidad may not be malapropriate for my laughty revelation; that's the New Man, we're just putting him on; when you reach a ribald age you can grasp the wheel of this broken-down trancebardation, etc.

And not a moment sooner!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

We Hold These Truths to be Self-Serving

This is a timely re-run, because I was thinking about careening into a new area that expands upon some of the ideas discussed herein. Specifically, I had the opportunity to reread Robert Bolton's Self and Spirit. I first read it about a year ago, but I raced through it so quickly that I didn't really have the chance to "dialogue" with it and assimilate its considerable light.

The book definitely illuminates some of the points raised in this post, and I believe that it may help to expand upon many ambiguities, subtleties, and outright evasions of Raccoon theology. So I guess that's where the cosmic bus is headed next week.

*****

There are some things that human beings may know with metaphysical certitude. In fact, our access to truth and our knowledge of the Absolute are two of the related principles that define us as human (truth itself being a reflection of the Absolute).

Obviously, no other animal can know truth, much less absolute truth. The moment one realizes this -- assuming one really and truly does -- one understands that the human state is not a Darwinian "extension" of the animal state, but something fundamentally inexplicable on any materialistic basis. It is, in fact, a gate of exit out of mere animality -- indeed, out of the relative cosmos itself. Humans are a "hole" in creation that allows them to know the whole of creation; in our heart is a mysterious absence that potentially holds all the Presence.

For in knowing absolute truth, human beings may participate in eternity on this side of manifestation -- in the relative world. The trick is to, so to speak, "prolong" eternity on this plane. We do this by 1) aligning ourselves with truth, and 2) assimilating truth. By "assimilating," I mean that we must metabolize truth so that it is "interiorized" and becomes mingled with our very psychic substance. We must "eat and breathe" absolute truth in order to become it and live it.

Authentic religion is the vehicle of absolute truth. You might say that absolute truth, the Godhead, the Ain Sof, the Supermind, Nirguna Brahman, or the God-beyond-being, are analogous to white light, whereas each authentic revelation is analogous to a color in the rainbow. This is why religions cannot be mixed "from below," lest you produce a manmade blending of colors that eventually ends up black, not white. However, this hardly means that one religion cannot be more complete than another, or illuminate this or that doctrine more effectively than another.

Christianity, for example, is obviously a complete religion. Nor will I argue with anyone who maintains that it is the "best" or most complete religion (indeed, what other religion is capacious enough to produce and contain both Bach and Aretha Franklin?). Nevertheless, it is obviously the case that some of the greatest Christian thinkers -- true theologians such as Meister Eckhart, Origen, or Denys the Areopagite -- exist only at the margins of contemporary Christianity, if they exist at all.

And once you immerse yourself, say, in the genius of Meister Eckhart, you immediately see the parallels with, say, the greatest Jewish theologian, Moses Maimonides. Then you cannot help seeing certain unavoidable parallels with perhaps the greatest pagan mystic, Plotinus, then it's hard to distinguish him from the immortal Vedantin, Shankara. You needn't "blend" any of these truly celestial beings in order to appreciate how they are reflected in one another, each a particular color that carries and transmits real light.

Most of us cannot know the white light, but each color is in the end nothing other than light, just as rain or snow are nothing other than water. It's a bit like being able to appreciate, say, Arvo Part, Van Morrison, Duke Ellington, Merle Haggard, and James Brown. Each is a musical "avatar" who conveys real musical light, but I wouldn't want to blend them.

Apparently, it is difficult for most rank and file human beings to conceive of the Absolute on its own absolute terms, so they create a human substitute to stand for the Absolute. In short, they intuit the Absolute and believe in the Absolute, but the only way they can "think" about it is to elevate something on the relative plane to the status of Absolute.

This is fine as far as it goes, and it does help those who are not metaphysically gifted to think about ultimate things. Nevertheless, it can end up elevating religion to God, and thereby become a form of idolatry. At the very least, it can place sharp limits on transcendence, and end up being (k)-->O, except on a grandiose scale.

There is a way to "dwell" in religion to use it as a launching pad into O -- which is the actual purpose of religion in its highest sense. But let's not kid ourselves. Most people must be satisfied to align themselves with an exoteric religion in order to gain what might be called a "second hand" sense of the Absolute -- which is again fine, by the way, and certainly preferable to disbelief or to belief in frank nonsense such as atheism, materialism, or reductionistic Darwinism. It is certainly a way of salvation. It is just not our way.

In an article entitled Are You Certain About That?, Jonah Goldberg discusses one of the latest leftist memes. However, it is not so much a meme as the central core of leftism, which in the end embodies an assault on truth and a rejection of the Absolute -- which is impossible both in principle and in fact, which is why leftism is fundamentally and irretrievably incoherent.

Goldberg writes, "Have you heard the news? Belief is bad. Pick up an eggheady book review, an essay in Time magazine, or listen to a thumb-suck session on National Public Radio for very long and you’ll soon hear someone explain that real conviction -- dogmatism! -- is dangerous."

For example, "Andrew Sullivan, in his new book The Conservative Soul, declares a jihad on certainty, by which he means the certainty of fundamentalist 'Christianists' -- the allusion to Islamists is deliberate. The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait proclaims that liberalism is the anti-dogmatic ideology. Sam Harris, a leading proselytizer for atheism, has declared a one-man crusade on religious certainty. Intellectual historian J.P. Diggins writes in the latest issue of The American Interest that there’s a war afoot for 'the soul of the American Republic' between the forces of skepticism and infallibility. And so on."

Superficially, this leftist meme reflects their concern about the alleged “messianic certainty” of President Bush, which "is dangerous and evil in the eyes of supposedly meek and nuanced liberals." Goldberg notes that the meme has naturally trickled from the laughty mountains of academia, where the nonsensical air is rarified, down to the rivers, streams, and crocks below, including Hollywood. For example, in Star Wars III, "a young Obi-Wan Kenobi proclaim[s] 'Only a Sith lord deals in absolutes!' Translation: Only evil people see the world as black-and-white."

Which is ironic, "since it was Lucas himself who originally explained that the entire universe is divided into light and dark sides." Goldberg also cites retired New York Times moonbat columnist Anthony Lewis, who famously wrote in his last column that the one thing he had learned in his long and tedious career was that "certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.” As if there is anything more beligerently certain than the idiotorial pages of the New York Times.

But absolute relativism is the sine qua non of metaphysical nonsense. It is one thing thing we can know with certainty that cannot be true, for if the relativist’s belief is true, then he has left relativism behind. Then the question becomes “which Absolute is true?” But there can be only one Absolute, so the question is absurd. However, as Schuon points out, although there can be no absolutely relative, there can obviously be a "relative absolute," which is what I regard as the realm of O-->(k). This is where a Meister Eckhart or Jakob Boehme lived, which is why they can at times appear heterodox.

I remember a remark made by Eckhart at his trial that touches on this. He said that some of the more "rare and subtle" passages in his works "had to be explained in light of his good intentions and within the context of the preaching genre" (McGinn): "The whole of what was said is false and absurd according to the imagination of opponents, but it is true according to true understanding." Of another controversial blog post, he commented that "It must be said that this is false and an error, as it sounds. But it is true, devout, and moral of the just person, insofar as he is just..." In other words, right being was a prerequisite for right understanding. Ain't it the truth!

This principle doesn't just apply to contemplatives but to men of action whose shield is Truth, for Goldberg writes that most of the truly heroic figures in human history have been animated “by certainty, by the courage of their convictions” -- by O-->(k), except on the plane of action. Our founders knew with metaphysical certitude that human liberty could only have come from a creator, and that a creator cannot be other than the Creator. For truth is one and liberty is a condition of knowing it: no liberty, no truth, no truth, no liberty; and there can be neither truth nor liberty unless it is principially absolute, like the Creator from whom they flow.

Again, the leftist rejection of absolute truth cannot avoid being incoherent. As Goldberg writes, “Martin Luther King Jr. -- to pick liberalism’s most iconic hero -- was hardly plagued with doubt about the rightness of his cause. A Rosa Parks charged with today’s reigning moral imperative not to be too sure of herself might not have sat at the front of the bus. An FDR certain that certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity might have declined to declare total war on Nazism for fear of becoming as bad as his enemy.”

Thus, the rejection of absolutes -- which flow from the Absolute -- is steeped in hypocrisy, since leftists “aren’t offended by conviction per se, but by convictions they do not hold.” “Certainty” has simply “become code among the intellectual priesthood for people and ideas that can be dismissed out of hand. That’s what is so offensive about this fashionable nonsense: It breeds the very closed-mindedness it pretends to fight.”

Imagine if this country were actually founded upon a wimpy rejection of metaphysical certitude and the leftist embrace of relativism?

We hold these preliminary observations to be more or less adequate, at least convenient for the time being, that all cultures have equal validity, and that each culture has its own ideas about rights and entitlements and so forth and so on and blah blah blah. In our case, we have hit upon this idea -- no offense, but we have this tentative notion -- subject to further studies, of course -- that we would like the government -- that would be your government -- to cut us some slack so that we can do what we want to do -- basically acquire property and "do our thing," whilst trying not to infringe upon anyone else's thing...

Anyhoo, it is our culturally conditioned idea that Governments -- not all of them, of course, but ours -- should actually derive their power from the people, although we have respect and tolerance for the contrary view that you folks hold. Nevertheless, some of our more headstrong citizens think that we should be able to form a government based upon these vague hunches of ours, which, after all, are as good as your hunches. No, that was rude -- let's just say that our hunches are different than yours, and leave it at that.... No one can presume to be a judge of whose hunches are best.... At any rate, since, as the saying goes, "different strokes for different folks," we....

Friday, December 26, 2008

How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes

It's Christmas vacation. Reruns today and tomorrow.

*****

Now, I'm not an anthropopogist. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn -- and steal their flag -- and I do know a thing or two about a thing or three. And one of the things I know is that pre-human hominids only became human because of the specifically trinitarian nature of the human developmental situation: mother-father-helpless baby. This, by the way, is one of the many reasons I do not believe intellignt life will ever be found on other planets, because genes and natural selection are only the necessary but not sufficient (much less formal or final) cause of our humanness.

In other words, even supposing that life arose elsewhere and began evolving large brains, a large brain would never be sufficient to allow for humanness. Rather, the key to the whole existentialada -- the missing link, so to speak -- is the extremely unlikely invention of the helpless and neurologically incomplete infant who must be born approximately 12 months "premature" so that his brain can be assembled at the same time it is being mothered. If we had come out of the womb neurologically complete, then there would be no "space" for humanness to emerge or take root. We would be Neanderthals. Literally.

The dozens of you who have read my book know that I do not find this at all incompatible with a spiritual view. For one thing, I never rule out the invisible hand of providence. Furthermore, infantile helplessness is the space where verticality enters the evolutionary picture. All other animals are completely limited and determined by their genes. Only humans have the privilege of being ushered into a transcendent, non-genetic vertical world of love, truth and beauty, which is both timeless and anterior to their discovering it. It was always "there," but only became accessible as a result of the unique circumstances of human development.

Comes now a study by two real anthropologists, Professors Stine and Kuhn, who (unwittingly) provide further evidence for the Gagdadian view: "Diversified social roles for men, women, and children may have given Homo sapiens an advantage over Neanderthals, says a new study in the December 2006 issue of Current Anthropology. The study argues that division of economic labor by sex and age emerged relatively recently in human evolutionary history and facilitated the spread of modern humans throughout Eurasia."

Coming out of the contemporary academic milieu, they apparently cannot help putting a quasi-Marxist spin on their findings, seeing them merely in economic -- i.e., materialistic -- terms rather than drawing out their psychological implications: "The competitive advantage enjoyed by modern humans came not just from new weapons and devices but from the ways in which their economic lives were organized around the advantages of cooperation and complementary subsistence roles for men, women, and children." Sort of a combination of Adam Smith and Eve.

To back up a bit, there was a time when two distinct versions of... of folks roamed the planet... much like today, actually. That would be the Neanderthals and us -- or Homo sapiens sapiens. Neanderthals emerged around 250,000 years ago, taking their bows and exiting the evolutionary stage around 30,000 ago. Signs of division of labor only appear with the arrival of modern humans (not Neanderthals) into Europe around 40,000 years ago. (Interestingly, this is right around the time of the "creative explosion" of Homo sapiens sapiens discussed in Chapter 3 of my book, an unprecedented outpouring of cave art, musical instruments, body decoration, burial of the dead, and other distinct evidence of actual "humanness.")

An article in the Times notes that, "At sites occupied by modern humans from 45,000 to 10,000 years ago... there is good evidence of different occupations.... It seems reasonable to assume that these activities were divided between men and women, as is the case with modern foraging peoples. But Neanderthal sites include no bone needles, no small animal remains and no grinding stones for preparing plant foods."

The question is, "what did Neanderthal women do all day?," since the roller derby was a far off dream, and the WNBA only came into existence in the late 20th century. Neanderthal skeletons "are so robustly built that it seems improbable that they just sat at home looking after the children, the anthropologists write. More likely, they did the same as the men, with the whole population engaged in bringing down large game."

In other words, it seems that Neanderthals were not trinitarian but essentially binarian (adult-child) or perhaps even unitarian, in that everyone, even children, participated in the hunt. The study again focuses on the economic angle, speculating that modern humans, because of "their division of labor and diversified food sources, would have been better able to secure a continuous food supply." Furthermore, unlike the Neanderthals, they wouldn't have put their "reproductive core" -- that is, women and children -- at such a great risk.

But there is an interior side to this picture, and that is the evolutionary effect that completely devoted mothers would have had on children. In chapter 3.3 of my book, Humans and How They Got That Way: Putting the Sapiens into Homo, I argued that it is completely reasonable to assume that in the distant past, humans became human in the identical way they do today.

I can see that I won't have time to flesh out the entire theory here, but that's what the book is for. But the bottom line is that as human brains became larger and larger -- and pelvises became narrower due to bipedalism -- it became necessary for women to give birth earlier and earlier, to the point that infants had to be born neurologically incomplete, to such an extent that much of the brain's development had to take place outside the womb -- a pattern completely unique among the primates.

More than anything else, it was this delayed development, or neoteny, that created the possibility of our acquisition of humanness. But that is not all. Because human infants were born in this way, it obviously became increasingly necessary for human mothers to specialize in mothering -- otherwise, these helpless infants would not have survived. But there was an obvious benefit, as I believe this situation of increasingly helpless babies and increasingly devoted mothers created a sort of runaway positive feedback loop for greater intelligence:

"It seems obvious that, in order for babies to survive, they had to become adept at 'evoking' the environment they needed to survive -- specifically, an intelligent, caring mother. Perhaps it sounds odd, but it seems an inescapable conclusion that, in order for babies to specialize in babyhood, they had to 'select' mothers who were intelligent, capable, and empathic enough to be up to the task of caring for them. Think about it: caring for a helpless infant is at least as complex and challenging on a moment-to-moment basis as hunting for game. [Memo from relatively new father: I was not wrong about this -- ed.] Let's face it: those mothers who did not develop these complex mothering skills may have gotten their genes into the next generation, but not long enough for that generation to do the same."

As I said, I don't have time to present the full argument with all of its implications here. However, you will note on page 127 of my book that I cited research indicating that the brains of Neanderthals were actually larger than ours, but that they seem to have become fully developed at an earlier age. In other words, it seems possible that they were not born as premature, so that the window of development slammed shut sooner, so to speak. What this suggests to me is that they were more animal than human, more under the influence of genes than of humanness, i.e., the vertical. All Neanderthals were hunters because that is what their genes designed them to do. Hunting was not a "role," any more than hunting is a role for cats or coyotes. Roles were invented by modern humans, those roles being father, mother, and helpless infant.

And as I also argued in my book, once you have the abstract category of any role, then in effect you have all roles. In particular, the mother-infant diad evokes the purely social role of father, and then we're off to the races. Conversely, eliminate the role of father, and human evolution comes to a standstill. But really, if you mess with any part of this trinity, the whole human-generating mechanism collapses. This is something that is deeply recognized in particular by the Jewish tradition, and is by far the strongest argument as to why the redefinition of marriage would be a rubicon in the ultimate collapse of civilization. In order to become men, boys must desexualize the father and identify with his logos, not desire his body.

There is nothing which is more necessary and more precious in the experience of human childhood than parental love.... nothing more precious, because the parental love experienced in childhood is moral capital for the whole of life.... It is so precious, this experience, that it renders us capable of elevating ourselves to more sublime things--even divine things. It is thanks to the experience of parental love that our soul is capable of raising itself to the love of God. --Meditations on the Tarot