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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On Becoming Transparent to Your Trans-Parent (1.20.12)

A word of caution:

"The rule of every serious esoterist should be to be silent -- often for a length of years -- concerning every new illumination or inspiration that he has, so as to give it the necessary time to mature, i.e., to acquire that certainty which results from its accordance with moral consciousness, moral logic, the totality of spiritual and ordinary experience -- that of friends and spiritual guides of the past and present -- as also with divine revelation, whose eternal dogmas are guiding constellations in the intellectual and moral heaven" (Meditations on the Tarot).

Even Jesus apparently spoke not a word of these matters until around age 30. Ironically, things are so much easier today that they can be more difficult, in that every unqualified yahoo has instant access to the most sublime wisdom.

But just because one can read, it hardly means one understands. Rather, it merely gives the illusion of understanding. Plenty of liberals have gone to law school, and yet, do not understand the point of the Constitution.

Nor do atheists understand religion, to which they stand as living proof. Only a kind of cosmic narcissism allows them to convert a disability into a virtue, to elevate a confession of ignorance to a witness of truth. It's incredibly childlike, really, for children are also unable to stand back from their immediate perceptions and appreciate their limitations.

Once detached from the vertical, one is in the "zone of mirages." Now, just because this zone isn't real, it doesn't mean it isn't "creative." It's just that it is a kind of worthless creativity (the world of "infertile eggheads") that bears on no eternal truth or beauty transcending itself. It is "art for art's sake," which is no better than "science for science's sake."

Liberals think that conservatives are "anti-science" because we understand that science must always converge on something higher than itself, at risk of becoming demonic. One can never derive values from science -- the ought from the is.

This is the monstrosity of reductionistic Darwinism: not that it is "true," but that it replaces the Truth of which it can only be a tiny reflection. For if Darwinism is the integral truth of man, dreadful consequences necessarily follow -- not the least of which being the impossibility of Truth. I won't even bother to catalogue them, for only a bona fide intellectual and spiritual cretin such as Queeg could be unaware of them.

That Darwinism can satisfy his barren intellect is a statement about his intellect, not about Truth. Such ingrates have no idea what religion has done for them, because it has all been done collectively and subliminally through a kind of cultural and historical osmosis. But to be unaware of the extraordinary spiritual sacrifices others have made in order to make your insignificant life possible is to live as a barbarian. Your whole miserable life is lived in borrowed -- no, stolen -- Light.

What is true will always be so. Scientific fads and fashions will come and go, but Man will always be in the image of the Creator, a meta-cosmic truth from which our rights, our duties, and our dignity flow. Only man can -- and therefore must! -- live by the light of eternity, so that all we do, say, write, create and think, can resonate with the Real and thus "pass the test of time": "Artists, like esoterists, are obliged to make their works pass the trial of time, so that the poisonous plants from the sphere of mirages can be uprooted, and there remains only the wheat -- pure and ripe."

When I write something, I want it to stay written. I am always writing from the standpoint of eternity, not because I am grandiose, but because it is the least one can do. Otherwise, there is no point whatsoever of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, at least regarding the matters we discuss here. This is not a shopping list or editorial, much less something as trivial as an academic paper.

In order to properly do one's omwork, one's writing must be "objective," even while being "transparent," or perhaps "translucent," in that it must be both solid and capable of refracting the Light. Why? Because this is the way in which the Divine Spirit works.

To get the ego out of the way merely means to try to transcend all pettiness, all that is time-bound, all that refers back to oneself instead of pointing beyond. I must decrease so that He may increase: one "becomes poor, so as to be able to receive the wealth of the divine spirit..."

This is "the gesture of actualizing below that which is above," so that one's very life becomes a work of sacred art -- which is again to be transparent to that which transcends oneself.

Adieu, dear unknown friend.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Road Trip! (1.19.12)

[W]e live in tents, not houses, for spiritually we are always on the move. We are on a journey through the inward space of the heart, a journey not measured by the hours of our watch or the days of the calendar, for it is a journey out of time and into eternity. --Kallistos Ware

Got sort of sidetracked yesterday. UF was speaking of the joy that accompanies movement of any kind, which reminds me of the sacred Road Trip. Back in my college days -- which, lucky for me, lasted until I was 32 -- we would load up the car with a few cases of beer, get on the road, and take off for parts unknown. It seems to me that it was the movement we craved. It didn't matter where we ended up, so long as we ended up intoxicated.

Which, when you think about it, is another kind of "movement," from one state of mind to another. From my first taste of satan's balm at the age of 17, I well remember this sensation of psychic movement. Technically speaking, I never really cared for being intoxicated. Rather, I enjoyed the movement there. Once you were there, the movement was over. Which is also why I shunned hard liquor: too fast.

I remember back when I was a film student, we talked about the idea that there were two archetypal American characters, one of whom put down roots, the other of whom just kept on a-movin'. That was one of the great things about America, the mobility. America is all about mobility of various kinds -- not just social and economic, but intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual as well. It's why it is difficult for some of us to join a religious institution, because we gots to keep rollin'.

Reminds me of Bob Dylan, and his "never ending tour." Why does he stay on the road forever, when he could live in a palace anywhere on earth and spend all day having money fights with his grandchildren? Because he's the driftin' kind. For him, paradise is apparently a tour bus to nowhere, staring out the window with the scenery flying past.

I'm no big fan of Jack Kerouac, but I just googled him for a quote, since his On the Road has become the archetype -- albeit an adolescent one -- for the peculiarly American joy of sheer movement:

"What is the feeling when you're driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? -- it's the too huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

“We were all delighted, we all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one and noble function of the time, move.”

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”

I remember Seinfeld touching on this in one of his routines. His hobby is driving. Why? Because you can be outside and inside at the same time. Plus, you can be sitting down and moving at the same time.

I agree. Although I am now more of an extreme indoorsman, my favorite exterior hobby might well be driving my car through the canyon roads with the CD player blasting. It seems to me that this activity is a sort of miracle, and yet, it's so common that people don't seem to fully appreciate it. Flying through space with Sun Ra in your ears, playing for you from saturn via his cosmic funkmanship? Remarkable.

I think "progressives" must confuse the road trip with politics. That is, at the end of the day, despite all of the frenetic movement, the progressive still hasn't gotten anywhere. Indeed, that is the whole point of the road trip -- to go from somewhere to nowhere, just for the thrill of it. But in order to do this, you must have maps and boundaries; in other words, to go off the map, you must first have one. The drifters need the settlers, and vice versa. They are a function of one another.

But look at the Obama cultists, a disproportionate number of whom are the young and stupid. Why? Because they want change, AKA movement. They didn't vote for a president, but for a driver for the road trip. Meanwhile, Obama has apparently sobered up since November 4. That's not when the road trip started -- that's when it ended, which his passengers are slowly beginning to realize. If this is a road trip, it's a trip back to the Clinton '90s, a bridge to the twentieth century.

Now, there are two kinds of spirituality that mirror the drifter and settler, which you might say reflect the "static" and "dynamic" aspects of God. The further east you go -- psychospiritually speaking -- the more you see the divine stasis, the eternal rest, the unmoved mover, the idea of entering nirvana, which literally means to "extinguish the light." But the same holds for Christianity, in that Eastern Orthodoxy prides itself on the fact that it hasn't changed since the time of the apostles. For them, the Catholics are the Protestants.

On the other extreme, you have all of the Christian movements that have arisen here in the United States. Why? I imagine a big part of it has to do with the idea of movement as it pertains to the American psyche. We will never be a majority Catholic or Orthodox nation for the same reason we reject public transportation. We want to travel about in our own vehicles. Is it possible to do this without being hopelessly heretical and narcissistic, like the new agers and integralists? Is it possible to be an "orthodox drifter?"

As a matter of fact, I think UF does a pretty good job of describing this person in Letter IX, The Hermit. For isn't that what the Hermit is, a religious hobo?

Come to think of it, what's the subtitle of the book? A Journey into Christian Hermeticism.

One of the best known of the Desert Fathers of fourth-century Egypt, St. Sarapion the Sindonite, traveled once on a pilgrimage to Rome. Here he was told of a celebrated recluse, a woman who lived always in one small room, never going out. Skeptical about her way of life -- for he was himself a great wanderer -- Sarapion called on her and asked: "Why are you sitting here?" To this she replied: "I am not sitting, I am on a journey." --Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Breast of the West (1.17.12)

UF asks the question: "Does not the very idea of movement -- biological, psychic or intellectual, it does not matter -- presuppose an affirmative impulse, a conscious or unconscious 'yes,' self-willed or instinctive, at the basis of all movement that is not purely mechanical?" Indeed, if this "yes" were not at the basis of things, then "universal weariness and disgust would have long ago put an end to all life."

Now that I think about it, virtually all forms of mental illness have as a central feature a lack of movement, or a "stuckness" about them. When someone is depressed, it is not just that they are sad -- everyone has their moods -- but that they are in a kind of static and joyless state of mind. There is no movement. Or, if there is movement, it's all arbitrary. Nothing is any better or worse than anything else. There is no convergent meaning, as everything goes "flat."

Come to think of it, this is the reason why one of my first published papers touched on this very topic. In it, I compared the workings of the mind to a dissipative structure. Here it is: Psychoanalysis, Chaos and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure.

The reason I bring this up is that in my book, I took some of these same ideas and merely transposed them to the key of Spirit -- the central idea being that the higher self, no different than the local ego, can only grow under certain conditions; specifically, it must be open, it must be far from equilibrium, and it must exchange matter, energy, or information with the environment.

I hope this doesn't sound academic, because it is actually highly practical. In fact, I'm a little surprised and relieved that I'm not famous, because it is a kind of "master key" that unifies disparate phenomena, both within and across domains.

Let's begin with the realm of psychology. I believe that all forms of psychopathology result from the person failing on some level to meet the criteria for a dissipative structure.

For example, let's take the pathological narcissist. The narcissist typically develops a "false self" or "as if" personality to negotiate with the outside world. While he will use people to prop up and mirror the false self, in reality, there is no deep exchange with others, i.e., no L or K link. Rather, he uses people in order to maintian a kind of static equilibrium, so as to avoid painful emotions such as shame. In other words, the narcissist may outwardly appear to have a strong ego, but it is actually quite brittle. The very purpose of his narcissistic defenses (i.e., the false self) is to protect it from an emotional catastrophe.

But such a person slowly dies from within, because if one cannot tolerate pain, one cannot tolerate pleasure. In order to maintain the closed system, the narcissist also closes himself to real love, which causes the soul to wither from within. He eventually dies of his addiction to the false mirroring.

When people hear the term "narcissism," they often think of it in terms of physical beauty, but it can equally affect the intellect. Academia is full of brilliant people whose intelligence has been hijacked in the service of their narcissism, so that their minds eventually become closed and therefore no longer susceptible to real organic growth (vs. a kind of mechanical accumulation). Obama's new science advisor, John Holdren, comes readily to mind, but one could think of hundreds of others. One also thinks of Queeg and his petty Darwinian fundamentalism, so utterly closed off from the greater reality.

The other day, I mentioned the schizoid person, whose mind becomes closed for unconscious fear of damaging the other with one's love. Likewise, portions of the personality can become sealed off, frozen, and autistic, and therefore highly resistant to change -- like giant boulders, or sometimes fine sand, within the soul. Other times it is felt as a kind of icy glacier. The point is, the images symbolically disclose an underlying reality, which is always joyless because it does not flow.

Some people who appear to be open systems are actually tightly closed systems who are merely interacting with their own disavowed projections. One thinks of people who suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome. It's fascinating when you think about it, because these people are under the delusion that they are interacting with the "outside" world, when it couldn't be more obvious that they are really just trapped in their own private Idaho.

And here is another key point: this state also brings a kind of pseudo-freedom that conceals actual enslavement to the projected object, from which they cannot in fact get away. It reminds me of the Taoist idea that if you want to control a cow, just give it a large pasture. In America, "freedom of speech" is precisely that large pasture, in which people are free to find their own fences, which then provides the subjective illusion of real freedom. But Raccoons -- by their very nature -- are very quick to identify these intellectual and spiritual fences, which we don't so much "tresspass" as transpass. Did you notice how our former jester was forever trying to contain us in his little scientistic pasture?

I could cite dozens of other examples of how this works on a psychological level, but I think I'll spare you. The point is that the identical principles equally apply to the spiritual plane. The deep structure is the same, but the object (or Subject) is different.

What is a spiritual practice but the effort to form an open system with.... let's just call it O, because if we define it ahead of time, we fall into the danger of actually being a closed system interacting with our own projections. There are so many warnings about this in the patristic literature, not to mention a Meister Eckhart, that I'm not going to get into specific examples.

Well, maybe one. Eckhart spoke of the idea of the soul being like a virgin, or being in a state of poverty. In both cases, he is talking about none other than being a truly open system with O. You know, blessed are the poor in spirit. Why's that? Because their's is the Kingdom of Heaven. Explain. Okay. Poverty = spiritual emptiness. Kingdom of Heaven = the flow of internal joy.

The Tao Te Ching (I love this particular translation) also makes so many brilliant points about this dynamic that I won't bother to cite them all. Here are just a few:

The Tao.... is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.

But if you want to be crooked, get bent!

Nah, I made that last one up.

Anyway, speaking of Blogo, the same principles apply to politics, for how could they not?:

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists....
If you don't trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

Suffice it to say that leftists are not just un-Christian but un-Taoist, being that government becomes a huge and intrusive breast that keeps one a child forever.

But the real coonservative?

I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.
I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother's breasts.

You see? The ultimate open system. A divine child forever.

And when the breast is not available, my teddy will just have to do.