Post-Human Language and the Dreary Fate of Homo Numericus
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.