Thursday, May 14, 2009

Post-Human Language and the Dreary Fate of Homo Numericus

Vanderleun has a piece today that really got me to thinking about language. I'll see if I can weave some of it in as we continue our reflections on Balthasar's analysis of The Word. If I exceed the limits of fair use, I'll make up for it by exceeding the tasteful limits of slavishly bromantic manlove.

Vanderleun's analysis goes to the very heart of the dichotomy between secular and sacred culture, which in the first and final analysis is the division of qualities and quantities. Only someone who has already quantified the world can easily believe something as unbelievable as materialism or metaphysical Darwinism. Because one cannot quantify the world in this manner unless one has first quantified the self. And once you do that, it shouldn't be surprising that you see nothing but numbers, or perhaps even just 0 and 1.

Now, reality cannot be understood, or even thought about, in the absence of language, so you can well appreciate the importance of a proper understanding of the nature of language. In a way, it is as important as getting your anthropology correct, because if your analysis of human nature is wrong, then so too will your political theories and prescriptions be wack. One of the fundamental reasons we know why the left is intrinsically wrong, is that their anthropology is horribly wrong: good theory, wrong species.

In response to Vanderleun's piece, I left the comment that "It seems that we have no idea what we have lost in reducing the scope of language to the quantification of the world. It's like an entirely different species: Homo numericus." Indeed, I would say that we are different species, and that this is something that is becoming increasingly evident to both sides of the cultural divide. I have nothing in common with Perez Hilton, or Wanda Sykes, or Keith Olbermann, or Al Sharpton, etc.

Bear in mind that one of the definitions of a species is two beings that can have fruitful intercourse. And without even getting into who is right and who is wrong, I personally find it impossible -- not to mention, perverse -- to have verbal intercourse with a leftist. There's just nothing to talk about, because we inhabit diametrically opposed world spaces. I know this may sound harsh, but it is simply a fact that we need to recognize.

In fact, I believe that if we could back away from the surface arguments and clearly define our first principles, it would lead to a lot less pointless combat. The problem is, the left is never honest about their first principles, and the right will never defend theirs (by which I mean the GOP; the first principles of conservatism are articulated all day long on talk radio and the internet, but no place else).

I recently read somewhere that the right is the party of ideas, while the left is the party of promises. But unfortunately, elections are won by promising stuff, which is why Republicans don't articulate their ideas, but just promise less stuff. A true conservative, who offers you nothing but your own freedom back, would be pretty much unelectable. But remember, unlike the free market, Democrat statism is a zero-sum game: whenever the government does something for you, it does something to you.

This is perhaps the greatest danger of socialized medicine. I heard Mark Steyn raise this point the other day. That is, once socialized medicine is in place, it causes a massive existential shift in our relationship to the state. Suddenly, whether we like it or not, we are all wards of the state. From that point on, elections are fought on left wing turf, and there's no turning back. It creates a new kind of human, steeped in dependency instead of freedom and self-determination. Then, to disagree with the Machine is to be opposed to health, or to be in favor of sick children, or to steal grandpa's viagra, or to deny Herb his right to a sex-change operation.

A "religious world" is a verbal world. Ah, but so too is the world of quantity. It's just that the languages are quite different, not just in terms of their content, but in the very nature of the language used. For the secular world, mathematics is their fundamental language. Whatever cannot be quantified and brought under the dominion of mathematics is not real.

I could cite any number of shocking examples, but a Darwinist, for example, would insist that altruism cannot be "real," but is simply a trick of "our" selfish genes (for in this upside-down world, the genes aren't ours, rather, we are theirs). It is the end result of "inclusive fitness," whereby we are willing to sacrifice for our children because our genes have a 50% investment in them. To quote a scientist in the excellent Why Us?, "While no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person [they will do so] for two or more offspring [each of whom shares 50 percent of their parental genes], or four half-brothers [4 x 25 percent], or eight first cousins [8 x 12.5 percent]."

I suppose it's heartening to know that Dupree would risk his life for 1/8 of me. Yes, it's crazy, but this is what evolutionary psychologists believe, and must believe, given their first principles. If you insist that love is a reality in its own right, then you have said something that is completely incompatible with metaphysical Darwinism.

Again, first principles. I am with Prager on this, who talks about valuing clarity over agreement. If our first principles differ, then naturally, there cannot be agreement on their conflicting implications and consequences. We just need to be honest and up front about our first principles, and then let the chips fall where they may. For example, I believe that human beings are endowed by our Creator with the inalienable right to liberty. For the leftist there is no Creator, and liberty is a gift of Obama. Different first principles, different people.

Back to language. Vanderleun talks about how, in order to begin to enter the world of the epic poem, we must "make a leap of imagination from the present day to the night gatherings around bonfires and flickering torches in which these tales of love and death were told."

Obviously the Bible is an epic, and I think we need to pay attention to Vanderleun's advice when entering its world. First of all, it is a world -- a sacred world, or the world of the sacred. Although the epic must be told in a horizontal manner, the obvious purpose of the epic is to attune us to the timeless world of the vertical, which is always present but unnoticed unless we do the noticing -- similar to quantum physics, whereby we decide whether the fundamental reality is particle or wave. Only we can decide whether words are just digits or something more.

The Bible is obviously based upon an oral tradition that was eventually reduced to written form. This is fine, but I wonder if, because we live under the Reign of Quantity, this doesn't render the Bible a closed book for many people? Consider what Vanderleun says about the epic poem: "Part story, part panegyric, part worship, the reciting of an epic was an event that could span days, even weeks. How the earliest bards held all of the poem in memory is still somewhat of a mystery," but he cites the analogy of jazz, which relies upon an underlying fixed structure, over which the soloist freely improvises. Just like human freedom, this musical freedom is not absolute but relative, as it is constrained by the underlying structure.

Again, I cannot help wondering if this isn't the manner in which we are supposed to engage revelation. Because this is exactly what I try to do every morning, which is to say, "riff" over the cosmic chords provided by the Creator. It's really a kind of singing, just singing about this sacred world I find myself in. It is not the world of Darwin, or of matter, or of colliding physical forces. I know it's a real world, and in fact, I also know that it is the cause, not a meaningless effect, of lower worlds. But I have no inclination whatsoever to argue with someone who insists that he is simply the expression of his selfish genes. What can I say? Your genes won. Now go away.

Here is the takeaway point. Vanderleun writes of how contemporary poetry is, "for the most part, deeply embedded in the secular culture, and there is no affirmative available to that culture, since the affirmative depends on a belief in something other than, larger than, the self.... Poetry can't matter as it once mattered because the base ground of being has been yanked out from under the culture, leaving it stranded in mid-air, unable to ascend, having only the fall before it."

Swish! (I mean that in a non-gay way.) To paraphrase the anthropologist Weston LaBarre, "in the symbolic pyramid of culture, very few bricks touch the ground." For secular culture, language is atomized and severed from its sacred ground, which is why it can only speak of a post-human world inhabited by post-humans -- of Homo numericus instead of Homo noeticus. Let's just hope they don't succeed in doing to us what we did to our Neanderthal cousins.

30 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

And without even getting into who is right and who is wrong, I personally find it impossible -- not to mention, perverse -- to have verbal intercourse with a leftist.

I think DH has been learning this the hard way lately. Most of the people he works with are leftists, and talk has turned to nationalized health care. Otherwise intelligent people seem completely incapable of thinking out the consequences; they get as far as "healthcare should be a right," after which no critical thinking may be engaged. Though to give him credit, his arguments about the Chrysler situation seem to be finally sinking in. Slowly. The worst part is, the people he works with are in a better position than most people to really see the cause and effect of leftist policies, at least on the financial front. But they simply can't or won't.

For secular culture, language is atomized and severed from its sacred ground, which is why it can only speak of a post-human world inhabited by post-humans -- of Homo numericus instead of Homo noeticus. Let's just hope they don't succeed in doing to us what we did to our Neanderthal cousins.

When the word is severed from the Word, it must inevitably wither and fade like a branch breaking itself lose from the tree of life. Excepting, perhaps, those parts that are meant to separate and spring up anew - the fertile seeds of future generations. Seems to me our world is increasingly inhabited by both homos, but only one type is fruitful. Maybe the only question now is how many noetic seeds will manage to land in fertile soil, to spring up anew after the current cycle winds to a close. Schuon and Aurobindo may both yet be proven correct.

5/14/2009 09:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Djadja said...

After reading Vanderleun, cruise on over to his HT, Belmont Club. Richard Fernandez is always worth a read.

5/14/2009 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Cory said...

"Again, I cannot help wondering if this isn't the manner in which we are supposed to engage revelation. Because this is exactly what I try to do every morning, which is to say, "riff" over the cosmic chords provided by the Creator."

Yes, yes, yes.

At the heart of revelation is the Real. Humans engage this or are engaged by It but because each of us is a "riff" on the "cosmic chord" we perceive it as attuned to our particular note or set of notes. The true saints and seers each "see" God but describe what they have seen differently for just this reason. The true saints and seers will not contend about this but would recognize the Fact expressed and so reconcile the difference. It is the lesser men who have no direct experience of the Real and pick up on the revelations related by the true saints and seers who squabble and, occasionally, persecute and kill over the difference in details.

And of course where there is no perception of the central Fact there is endless discord and conflict. The Fact is the ground of all that is and Its authority permeates to some degree the lesser manifestations of Its being. But those who are blind to this can see only the seperate notes and thinking these to be "Real" dispute with one another because each sees only the authority of their personal details and not the Reality that unites all of these.

Geniune revelation = harmony and peace. We see the fruits of false revelation - once or often many times removed from its source - every day.

5/14/2009 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked this comment in Vanderleun's comments: A very good point. All the arts died in the 20th Century, ...

This may have something to do with womens' suffrage and the ongoing feminization of our culture. Women don't do art (or science), they do feelings.

The last bastion of virility in our culture is the Catholic priesthood.
That is so true! Women sap the precious bodily fluids that make the culture go. Best to avoid them, and stick (it) to altar boys.

5/14/2009 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

That there distinctly are two species of human nowadays is more evidence - not that any more evidence is really required - that a natural separation process is well underway. Conflict, maybe, but I think both species are unreal to one another, ghosts inhabiting different dimensions. And in time, will become invisible to one another. Maybe literally, if my calculations are correct.

It's allllll good . . . . . well, not really, but, you know . . .
* * *
Another form of poetry gone missing these days is the poetry of baseball, formerly America's pastime. Baseball was always in sync with the rhythms of America, there was a touch of the mythic about it. Very historical, yet always with an eye to the future. It allowed for, demanded, actually, a certain amount of contemplation. Grandfather, father and son bonding, Roy Hobbs as youth of a thousand summers, etc. Baseball allowed you to breathe properly.

Nowadays baseball is being eclipsed by sound & image-byte-drenched football and basketball - a hard, metallic, in-yo-face freneticism, devoid of real poetry. Baseball is lamentably trying to catch up, what with expanded leagues and bottom line cash awareness. Then there's the steroid issue.

The national pastime is bleeding out. But . . . it won't die, not any more than will the railroads.

5/14/2009 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Will, I wonder if the key word there is "pastime." Perhaps I'm wrong, but I always thought of pastimes as things people do as a means of social relaxation, with a certain amount of timelessness. There seems to be little that we value as a national culture anymore that involves actual relaxation, and timelessness is right out.

5/14/2009 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

Julie, right on the jingle.

Pastime = slack time = holy, timeless time

5/14/2009 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

I think also that there's a plain-stated poetry in what we call ordinary discourse, a poetry that's being drained away by modernism. It's being replaced by the cynicism and wise-ass sensibility favored by talk-show hosts, a sensibility that forces everyone into a kind of bleak guardedness.

Tragic, really, because the self locates and defines itself in its language relationship with others. When language is corrupted, sense of self is lost and the soul is swept away in the current of collective passions.

5/14/2009 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I think also that there's a plain-stated poetry in what we call ordinary discourse, a poetry that's being drained away by modernism.

Indeed; to which I might add the observation that for a lot of people of my generation, much discourse is replaced by the recitation of one-liners from movies and tv shows. By which I mean, there are some people I know of whom I am fairly certain can carry on an entire conversation consisting solely of movie-reference dialog, and more to the point who often do. Thus relieving them of the necessity of coming up with anything interesting to say of their own creation.

5/14/2009 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

>> . . recitation of one-liners from movies and tv shows<<

Which I think wouldn't be so terrible if they were reciting from John Ford movies. But its recitation from J Stewart and SNL and the like, along with the ridiculing hipper-than-thou attitude of same.

As has been recently discussed in this space and others, ridicule is one of Alinsky's "rules for radicals" - its chief weapon in overturning the mores and manners of our democracy.

5/14/2009 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous bob f. said...

http://www.amazon.com/Nothing-Be-Frightened-Julian-Barnes/dp/030735699X/theclaremontinst

The above is an (apparently unsuccessful) attempt at a link to a review in the Claremnot Review of Books of a book written by a leftie, of course, about death and the meaninglessness of life.
The amazing thing about it is that the book has garnered all kinds of praise as simply wonderful among the leftie smart set, who see it as the height of wisdom to explain how it is all, all so pointless.
How European. Cultural suicide, anyone?

5/14/2009 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

For the sake of clarity, I should note that I do the same thing, to some degree. But I like to think I have more to say than, "Hey, there's a beverage here!"

But you're right, content is also key, which goes back to your observation yesterpost about being careful what influences we expose ourselves to and allow to inhabit our minds.

5/14/2009 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Er, again for clarity, I repeat one liners; I don't think I'm committing cultural suicide :)

5/14/2009 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"just hope they don't succeed in doing to us what we did to our Neanderthal cousins."

Oh sure Mr. Geico, 'so easy it can be done to a caveman.' Nice.

5/14/2009 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"In fact, I believe that if we could back away from the surface arguments and clearly define our first principles, it would lead to a lot less pointless combat."

And we all know how much luck I've had getting them to comply with that over the years...

"The problem is, the left is never honest about their first principles, and the right will never defend theirs (by which I mean the GOP; the first principles of conservatism are articulated all day long on talk radio and the internet, but no place else)."

Oh... ok... I'll stop interrupting.

5/14/2009 01:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

I like Will's phrases "wise-ass sensibility" and "bleak guardedness."

My kids, home-schooled through 8th grade, have all had difficulty holding conversation with their teen-aged peers. One of their main complaints is that kids can't seem to focus on the THING, the topic at hand. For example, if you try to discuss an assigned reading, the BEST you will get is "I hate it" or "I like it" or speculation about what Mrs. Jones will ask on the test and how it will affect grades. More often, the topic becomes a mere vehicle for snarky jokes, one-up-manship, insults, sarcasm, and irrelevancy. Picture SEINFELD without the wit.

I'm not talking about stupid kids, mind you, nor am I talking about "academic" subjects alone. So what's the problem? ADD? Maybe. Adolescence? Sure.
Narcissism?

Given that "the self locates and defines itself in its language relationship with others," what is going on here? Are we seeing the development of a PERPETUAL adolescence where language becomes a mere tool of (usually passive-AGGRESSIVE)ego-defense?

And, by the way, what the HELL happened to that funny little girl next door who used to chatter about spaceships that looked like daisies and about the secret life of her box turtle?
It's not the drinking or the bulemia. She stopped communicating and she started using words (or silence) as a weapon long before that.


"For secular culture, language is atomized and severed from its sacred ground, which is why it can only speak of a post-human world inhabited by post-humans."

Sometimes I wonder if among the smugly content passengers on the post-human train there are not some (perhaps the girl nextdoor?) who cannot go gently.

5/14/2009 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Are we seeing the development of a PERPETUAL adolescence where language becomes a mere tool of (usually passive-AGGRESSIVE)ego-defense?

It certainly seems that way.

5/14/2009 02:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Gazriel said...

Mmmm, poetry.

Fuck it.
I’m gonna play the part of a prophet
Wandering the land hands to heart
And head to sky.
Empty of religion, overcome with love
And naturally high.

For those of you that don’t know,
That means my pineal gland,
Sometimes referred to as the third-eye,
Will secrete small doses of dimethyltryptamine
Upon a concentrated act of will,
Thereby granting visionary experiences
And preparing me to die.

‘Cause sometimes the dream needs to be de-materialized.
As when the desensitized masses are starved for a fast,
An altered state of mind induced by devotion
To something larger than oneself.

Then, when I’m ready,
I’m gonna swing from the night on a summer breeze
And land on mountain flats;
Dance around the planet with stars under my arms
And moons in my hands;
Ring Saturn with nightmares and rip space in half;
Trade punches with the living and play spades with the dead;
Because I see what no one else sees,
From the eyes of a sinner that can only be named Me.

And who am I?
I am Apocalypse turning back.
I am a whirlwind of devotion dedicated to self-evolution
And future family man.
I am sun-dried leaves on a gusty afternoon
Roaming the streets like bare-footed children
Of a war-torn country.
I am dreamer extraodinaire.
I’m at least ninety-seven percent monkey
And one percent alien.
I am Spirit and Light, Flesh and Blood,
Earth and Water, Air and Fire.
I am King, Warrior, Magician, Lover.
I am the all-singing all-dancing crap of the world.
I am demon, Devil, and Mara,
Shiva, Jesus, and Buddha,
And I am brother, son, friend, and stranger.

Now come hold my hand and walk with me to a new land
Where the center is felt in every touch,
Tasted in every kiss, and beheld in every moment.
Where a constellation of spirits
Swirl in galactic rotations
As an enterprise of selfless action.
Where Time stands still upon command.
Where dominion is regarded as the greatest responsibility
Of Humanity.
Where all are free to see the prophecy emanating
Eternally from the first Word
And we give birth to new worlds with every generation.

Call me madman,
I don’t give a damn,
‘Cause from where I stand impossible is nothing,
And UFOs travel in the light of the sun.

5/14/2009 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Ken Nordine has a website...

5/14/2009 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob wrote:

"I have nothing in common with Perez Hilton, or Wanda Sykes, or Keith Olbermann, or Al Sharpton, etc."

This is a mild exageration. To an objective observer, there is a lot physically in common. Behaviorally not too many differences are going to stand out either. You all eat, sleep, talk, have sex, drive, write, etc.

You all speak English, feel the same pallette of emotions, love your family, enjoy fun and dislike pain.

So, what is different between Bob and the others mentioned? It is the base program of ideology, i.e, God vs some less accurate perceptions of reality.

And so? Does ideoogy a different species make?

No. A raccoon never becomes a non-raccoon. However, all raccoons come from non-raccoons originally.

The non-raccoons are spiritually immature specimens of the same species. They will mature over the course of one or more lives.

So, Bob and Will, to imagine a separate and malignant species of man is a wrong movement and misguided. Clearly all relevant power lies with the raccoons and a progression towards spirit. There is nothing grave to fear from the "children." They disconcert and impede, but cannot destroy the general forward tide of progress.

Each raccoon radiates a wide field of spirit influence that is nonquantifiable and all who enter the field get affected. The raccoon influence is pervasive. Each raccoon is a locus of forward progress not just for herself but for hundreds if not thousands of people.

A really powerful raccoon can radiate enough influence to affect millions of persons.

In comparison the nonraccoon can move material around well enough but the spiritual field is diminished and does not affect people.

Yes, this all sounds freaky and eccentric but just meditate on it for awhile and you will come to see it my way.

5/14/2009 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

Ken Nordine has a website... Ken - my man! His website sadly hasn't been updated for like 5 years. Same with his podcast. I miss Ken's wordjazz riffs, especially his earlier work. Nobody else ever approached what he did. Tom Waits tries, but pales in comparison (but at least he's carrying the torch). Joe Frank is out there in similar territory, but more deranged.

Here's a little taste. There's actually a good amount of Nordine on Youtube these days, so for all the crap you have to wade through, there are some bright spots.

Will there ever be another voice like his?

5/14/2009 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Northern Bandit said...

Michelle Obama has made Maxim magazine's 100 Hottest Women in the World list (#93).


The scary part about leftists is that they somehow actually believe these things: Michelle Obama is another Vivica Fox, global warming will destroy the world, Bill Maher is a warm-hearted, talented funny-man, Obama is one of the world's deepest intellects...

Where does it end? People like this can create a LOT of trouble since they are apparently completely unmoored from reality.

5/14/2009 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

Re: past-times
This may be the cause of the enormous upswing of interest in gardening, especially vegetable gardening.
The desire to connect with something elemental that also has a practical end is understandable in the face of so much uncertainty, generalized angst and perceived helplessness.
So the Obamas have America digging up their backyards, putting tomatoes in patio containers and hoarding their veggie scraps for compost not in imitation, but retaliation. Or at least that's what I'm hearing.

The reminder, in gardening, that we'e not in control, only facilitators is an invaluable perspective.

5/14/2009 06:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Northern Bandit said...

Queeg seems to be pulling a "full Sullivan".

Now he's starting to slip in pro-global warming posts.

5/14/2009 07:29:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"There is nothing grave to fear from the "children." They disconcert and impede, but cannot destroy the general forward tide of progress."

You didn't watch Children of the Corn, did you?

5/14/2009 09:45:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Maybe it's just the influence of the album art, but the Mark-Almond album sounds like the smell of rain.

5/14/2009 10:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

Nice synesthesia!

5/15/2009 05:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

I don't know. To me, they sound like the smell of money. Check out the used prices on some of their out of print CDs.

5/15/2009 05:43:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Music only video on You Tube. Definitely late night music.

5/15/2009 05:48:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Wow - if you have a few of those sitting around, it's almost as good as a retirement fund :)

5/15/2009 06:51:00 AM  

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