Sunday, August 23, 2009

Truth and Me: A Love Story

This is instructive, for "what is a bad man but a good man's teacher?" In a post about the cause of stupidity -- which is obviously intelligence, since the reverse could never be true -- our stupid troll naturally takes exception to my certainty of this. He mentions no objection to the actual content, only to my bobnoxious certainty.

This is odd for a couple of reasons. First, isn't it self evident that whatever I say, I believe to be true? But this is precisely the absurdity of the relativist: there is no truth, and that's the truth!

You know the old dadactic gag, "this is not writing."

Second, no relativist actually believes his own BS, otherwise why get angry about someone else's BS? If relativism is true, then it's all just BS by another name, and power is all that counts. But you will have noticed that you never hear relativists say, for example, "there is no 'right' to abortion, for how could anyone be certain that a fetus is not a human being?"

In my experience, liberals are quite certain of the rightness of keynesian economics, or of moral relativism, or of multiculturalism, or of government mandated racial discrimination, or of "climate change," or that freedom of choice in primary education is a bad thing, or that all murderers should be kept alive at taxpayer expense, etc. If you disagree with the left, you're not just wrong, but a well-dressed bedwetting nazi racist employed by the insurance companies.

Nuance!

For the record, I never write anything of which I am not certain, or which I have not personally tested and experienced. You perceptive readers out there will have noticed that I never "get ahead of myself" and begin opining about things that are above my praygrade. When a spiritual writer does this, the phoniness always comes through.

This is one of the ubiquitous dangers of the occult. People can have all kinds of "spiritual experiences" of limited domains. But as a result of ego inflation, they take a little knowledge and then begin spouting off about things they couldn't possibly know. A giveaway is that their "system" will be unique to them, instead of generally comporting with what the great saints and sages have always said throughout history (cf The Spiritual Ascent). (Either that or it won't be a system at all, just an ad hoc jumble.) You will have to take much of what they say on faith, instead of being able to arrive at it independently.

Having said that, I do believe it is possible to go too far in the other direction, and to overemphasize the universal at the expense of the particular. This is one of the areas with which I would respectfully disagree with Schuon, but I am perfectly willing to concede up front that I may be wrong about this. What I mean is that I am not attempting to innovate, or to deviate from perennial truth and come up with my own system. Again, I am not L. Bob Gagdad.

Rather, I am simply attempting to convey the old truths in a new way. And not just a new way, but an utterly unique way, being that I am utterly unique (as is everyone else). This is how it is possible to simultaneously discover universal truth, even while discovering one's unique and particular self.

Do you see what I mean? Normally those two things -- universal and particular -- would stand at antipodes. But in the spiritual ascent, it is possible for the one to be a reflection of the other. One might even go so far as to say that there is no universal, only individual instances of it. For example, there is no separate platonic ideal of a table, only actual instances of the ideal instantiated in all of the diverse tables. So there's no ideal, even though there is.

Again, by far the best analogy I've found for this is real jazz. Jazz deals with a universal aesthetic, but the individual jazz greats do not converge toward this ideal and all sound the same. Far from it! The greater the jazz artist, the more unique his conception and his sound.

Indeed, this is one of the reasons I love jazz. The greatest masters create their own musical world, and yet, it is still within the tradition. It still respects a universal aesthetic, even if it is sometimes difficult to hear this when they are starting out. For example, Thelonious Monk sounded "radical" in the 1940s, but by the early 1960s he was on the cover of Time Magazine. He already sounded a bit old-fashioned, even though he was still cutting edge.

So two things will always come through in my writing: truth, which I hope is timeless, universal, and impersonal. And me, which is obviously personal and I hope at least entertaining.

Look at it this way: you can take the same standard from the American songbook -- say, Witchcraft -- and listen to it played by Liberace, or a Nordstrom pianist, or by Monk. Each will play the same song. And yet, it won't be the same song at all, because for the jazz pianist, the song is simply the basis for improvisation. But no matter how much he improvises and departs from the melody, he is still within the deep structure of the song. You might say that he is spontaneously exploring the hidden implications of the song's structure, which is why jazz is "the sound of surprise" -- including for the artist.

Now, as I go through this book by Schuon and blog my thoughts, this is precisely what I am doing. I am simply taking his rather stately and somber melody, and jazzing it up a bit. Making it swing... a TOE-tapper.

Would Schuon say that I am a common and vulgar man? No doubt. I don't need Traditionalists to remind me of this. But he would probably say that about America in general and certainly about jazz. Truly, it's an American thing. I just love America and the whole idea of America, which I see as spiritual through and through. That, of course, is where the politics comes in, because I want to preserve an America that treasures its jazz tradition. Especially in theology.

That was meant to be a brief intro. Oh well. We only have a little bit more to go in chapter one of Logic and Transcendence, The Contradiction of Relativism.

Ah, perfect segue! Schuon goes into the four essential limitations or "infirmities" of the soul, one of which touches on the issue I raised above about the universal and the particular.

We begin with the Big One. Yes, we are not God. We are "creature, not Creator, manifestation and not Principle or Being." I am certainly aware of this. In fact, only the godless can be unaware of the fact that they are not God, which is one of the great sources of their mischief.

Two, we are not angels. We are not celestial beings but terrestrial ones. We are not at the top of the vertical hierarchy, nor are we at the bottom (at least at the outset of our lives). Rather, we are somewhere in the middle -- which, of course, goes to the issue of free will, as we are suspended halfway between our better and worse selves. A saint is a man who has more or less succeeded in elevating himself to the border between 2 and 3. Thus, he is like an angel on earth.

Third, -- and this is the one I touched on above -- I am me and you are you. We are different. Thank God! And I mean that literally, for our individual differences -- at least for the Christian -- are not accidental or contingent. Rather, our differences are essential. For those of you with more than one child, this is obvious. The differences are a blessing, not a curse. Every face is unique, and yet, a member of the human family. God has counted every hair on your head. We're all different to him (which is the source of our differences, in that we are different ideas of God). And yet mankind is one.

Fourth are the differences that are not essential but contingent. These are the mind parasites. They are "accidental infirmities" that cause a man to sink beneath himself. The problem with a mind parasite is that it's not you, only pretending to be. It is a difference that is from earth (or lower), not heaven.

Now, you can see the mayhem that results if we don't keep these categories straight. The leftist -- because he turns the cosmos upside down and inside out -- begins with #4, and then elevates it to the highest good. Again, this is why the Democrat party is the party of eccentrics, cranks, weirdos, freaks, perverts, misfits, losers, reactionary rebels, rebellious conformists, and the generally noncivilized.

But by the same token, no one can have failed to notice that a certain type of conservative can pretend to be #2 at the expense of #3, so that he ends up being a dogma-spewing robot with no uniqueness about him. I'm sure you know the type. They scare many people away from religion, in part because it looks as if you have to give up your uniqueness (which is not the same as ego).

If you've followed me this far, then you will understand what Schuon means when he says that "Relativism engenders a spirit of rebellion and is at the same time its fruit. The spirit of rebellion, unlike holy anger, is not a passing state, nor is it directed at some worldly abuse; on the contrary it is a chronic malady directed toward Heaven and against everything that represents Heaven or is a reminder of it."

Thus, to come back full circle, our quixotic troll thinks he's tilting at a windbag named Bob, but his real beef is with God, or #1. I'm only #3. And yes, I'm certain of that. But I'm working on inching my way up.

[T]he primordial and normative attitude is this: to think only in reference to what surpasses us and to live for the sake of surpassing ourselves.... Not to acknowledge what surpasses us and not to wish to surpass ourselves: this is... the very definition of Lucifer. --F. Schuon

26 Comments:

Blogger Susannah said...

"But in the spiritual ascent, it is possible for the one to be a reflection of the other. One might even go so far as to say that there is no universal, only individual instances of it. For example, there is no separate platonic ideal of table, only actual instances of the platonic ideal instantiated in all of the tables. So there's no ideal, even though there is." I think this is precisely what invests our reality with so much meaning. And as for #3, YES! I wish that Christians had a better grasp on this truth. Clearly, our differences are multi-complementary, if that's an allowable term. They are needful--divinely, purposefully built-in. I love to contemplate temperament differences and especially how they complete one another in close friendships and marriages...and yet, as you said, they don't "complete" in the finished sense...in marriage, children come along and each one opens up a whole new dimension for the family and changes the dynamic in undreamed-of ways.

8/23/2009 06:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

There is a story -- perhaps apocryphal, but nevertheless "true" for petagogic purposes -- that Monk developed his style because when he was growing up, he only had access to poorly tuned pianos with the occasional flat or sharp keys. Therefore, he had to find a way to make the wrong notes right, or to resolve them into a higher unity.

In our fallen state, we are all "broken pianos."

8/23/2009 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"This is how it is possible to simultaneously discover universal truth, even while discovering one's unique and particular self."

The joke is, that in deliberately discovering the universal truth, you more clearly define your own uniqueness... and in denying the universal truth, you doom yourself to being just one of many.

8/23/2009 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger WWWebb said...

Dear Bob:

Schuon would be wrong.

You are neither common nor vulgar.

Best regards,

WWWebb

8/23/2009 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger QP said...

Petey said...
There is a story -- perhaps apocryphal, but nevertheless "true" for petagogic purposes -- that Monk developed his style because when he was growing up, he only had access to poorly tuned pianos with the occasional flat or sharp keys. Therefore, he had to find a way to make the wrong notes right, or to resolve them into a higher unity.


"By way of compensation, spiritual graces [...] make easy what is in itself difficult, provided man is sincere, pure, humble, and persevering."

-Schuon

8/23/2009 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Joan said "Ben, that phrase so deserves a "motivational poster" photo-shop. I wish I had the chops to do it justice! "

Not to worry, the fine folks at Despair.com have provided just such a tool so that you too can become a champion for de-motivation!

I've already spun one out... it's a simple pleasure.

"The Power of Heist Compels You!"

So many images to choose from!

H/T Gunslinger

8/23/2009 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Oops wrong thread... she'll find it

8/23/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It wasn't actually Monk, it was Professor Longhair:

"When he was a child, they didn't have a piano in the house. He and his friends went out in the alley and got an old piano that only had a certain number of keys because it was a piano someone had left for the trashman."

8/23/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I do remember stories of Monk, however, who frequently had to use out of tune pianos in various dives, but could find a way to make them work out musically. Really, I think that's what blues is all about -- what happens if you give a musical genius nothing but a harmonica?

8/23/2009 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Bill Evans said...

"You perceptive readers out there will have noticed that I never "get ahead of myself" and begin opining about things that are above my praygrade. When a spiritual writer does this, the phoniness always comes through."

Oops. Example: "...there is no separate platonic ideal of a table, only actual instances of the ideal instantiated in all of the diverse tables."
This manifests a misreading or a misunderstanding of the doctrine of Platonic Ideals. You might need a refresher course.

8/23/2009 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Bill:

I hew to the Christian/Thomistic conception, not the strict platonic.

8/23/2009 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

i.e., that Christ is the living resolution of nominalism and realism, of universal and particular.

8/23/2009 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger QP said...

Speakin' of broken pianos. Oldie, but a goodie.

8/23/2009 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger QP said...

Who is Doctor Zero?

He just keeps on nailing it...hard!

8/23/2009 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

'Thelonious Sphere Monk Circle'
is a street in NYC...also see here for his Advice

8/23/2009 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Classic!

"It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn't need the lights."

8/23/2009 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Great article, QP.
Thanks.
I heart Dr. Zero.
Whoever she is.

8/23/2009 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger debass said...

My theory is that Monk can't actually play the piano, but he never let that stand in his way.
As far as "blue" notes are concerned, there is an experiment you can do which will make them seem like parts of the scale. Just play a standard chord like a C7 but add notes that you think sound "outside". If you do it several times, your brain begins to accept them as normal parts of the chord and they no longer sound "outside".
Many jazz musicians play "outside" all the time so that it doesn't sound outside because without the reference to the standard chord there is no relevance to the norm. That is why in jazz as well as religious practice, you can go outside but must always reference the tradition. It's the relationship of the inside to the outside that makes it outside otherwise it just sounds wrong. Monk was especially good at this, always keeping grounded in the chords and rhythm while experimenting with "odd" notes.

8/23/2009 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, exactly -- in hindsight -- or hindsound -- it's obvious what a traditionalist Monk was.

8/23/2009 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

From *Less Than Words Can Say*: "Prose is progressive and disruptive. It must subvert or elude the poetic qualities of speech to go about the business of logic and analysis. Discursive prose is essentially antisocial, subject to constraints and regulations that would be unsuitable, perhaps even rude, in speech. Writing is an audacious and insolent act. When we write, we call the other members of our tribe to order. We command their attention. We assert that what we have to say is valuable enough that they should give over their idle chitchat about the weather. It had better be."

8/23/2009 09:13:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"They scare many people away from religion, in part because it looks as if you have to give up your uniqueness (which is not the same as ego)."

Yes, as you make clear, Bob and Van in the comments, one becomes more younique (and the potential of their true self) as s/he grows in the light of the truth of God.

We can be certain that God doesn't want a bunch of bots that merely go through the motions.

8/23/2009 09:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

"If you disagree with the left, you're not just wrong, but a well-dressed bedwetting nazi racist employed by the insurance companies."

If Peelosi wants to see a swastika so bad she only has to look at her own sleeves.

8/23/2009 10:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

"What I mean is that I am not attempting to innovate, or to deviate from perennial truth and come up with my own system. Again, I am not L. Bob Gagdad."

How about el Bob Hefe Gagdad?

8/23/2009 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks for the link, Van! Purty funny stuff there, ha ha!

8/23/2009 10:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eh, way to be derisive of the liberals while ignoring the identical but opposite behavior of the right.

From observation, you just don't get the same extreme behavior from the left as you do the right, even if the left holds equally, "extreme," beliefs.

And an argument against moral relativism is just junk. Despite having a religious text that explicitly states to do otherwise, many people, including Bob, proudly and publicly expresses their religious views. I don't think we'll find Bob considering his open views immoral, despite having those guidelines laid out in the Word of God.

So, God certainly would know morality, and yet people readily dismiss His Word; not because they don't believe him, but because they don't share all of God's certain and absolute values... apparently.

8/24/2009 05:10:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

aninnymouse said "From observation, you just don't get the same extreme behavior from the left as you do the right, even if the left holds equally, "extreme," beliefs."

ninny, I think you clicked the wrong link to post your comment, it was the previous day's post that was concerned with stupidity.

8/24/2009 07:49:00 AM  

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