Monday, August 31, 2009

Darwin's Death Panels and the Spirit of '76

A brief sidebar as we amble through the proofs of God. I think I've just noticed a little inconsistency in Schuon's thought, which divides us on the issue of evolution. My views on evolution are of course explicated in my book and extended in many subsequent posts, but I think the one other person who shares my deep Coonfusion is our Unknown Friend.

I don't have time at the moment to dig out the exact reference, but UF talks about vertical and horizontal causation being unified in the Cross. A purely horizontal science is a metaphysical impossibility. Rather, it must be "crucified" to the vertical in order to arrive at a truly integral science. There's much more, but you get the essence of the gist of the nub of the drift: In the eternal beginning God creates the vertical and the horizontal (please note how the vertical must be in the present, not past, tense, since it is "outside" time).

Schuon writes -- accurately, in my view -- that "Divine causality may be said to have two dimensions, one relating to the nature of things, the other to their destinies: God is at once the cause of perfections and the cause of of their ultimate limit" (emphasis mine).

The static "nature of things" obviously abides outside or beyond the categories of time and space. This is the vertical. But if we only existed in the vertical, change -- and evolution -- obviously could not occur. Rather, it is only in the horizontal world that we can manifest our vertical destiny -- which you might say is the purpose of the world.

Once again we see that the vertical is the "condition without which" -- i.e., the necessary cause -- whereas the horizontal is the "condition with which" -- i.e., the sufficient cause.

I imagine God before Creation to be a little like Bob Dylan on Maggie's Farm: he has a headful of ideas that are drivin' him insane. The only way to express them all is to create, which he almost cannot help doing, being the kind of being he is, which is to say, Being.

But creation always requires time. Perfection does not simply fall out of us fully formed. To say that creation as such has a purpose is effectively to believe in evolution -- again, for the hundredth time, not the watered-down evolutionism of scientistic natural selection, but in the literal meaning of the word.

Natural selection is obviously a subset of evolution, not vice versa. To insist otherwise to believe merely in change, not in evolution. As I have mentioned before, anti-evolutuonary Darwinians have highjacked the word "evolution" in exactly the same manner that illiberal leftists have highjacked the word "liberal." And it is no coincidence that these are generally the same people, for clearly, there is no basis for [real] liberalism if we are simply horizontal replicating machines with no higher purpose. The implicit assumptions and aims of Darwinism and leftism converge.

There again, you can see how this critical distinction plays out in my political differences with Schuon, for as always, politics follows ontology and anthropology. Since Schuon overemphasizes the vertical to the exclusion of the horizontal (his above statement about the two forms of divine causation notwithstanding), he was an unapologetically anti-democratic royalist. Conversely, the illiberal leftist, since he is a purely horizontal beast, overemphasizes the horizontal to the exclusion of the vertical, since for the materialist, the vertical does not and cannot exist except as illusion.

But America is different. It is the only country that was explicitly and consciously founded upon both horizontal and vertical principles. Much of this formula was worked out in the Federalist Papers, which remains a timelessly true meditation on the nature of good governance, which must take into consideration both horizontal and vertical realities.

The Founders were very aware of the dangers of a purely horizontal democracy, which they knew would not work, and would devolve to tyranny. For them the idea of an irreligious and non-virtuous citizenry being capable of self-governance was a non-starter.

But how to incorporate the vertical without reverting to the static system of monarchy? This is, of course, the dynamic synthesis of classical liberalism, which balances the libertarian "creative destruction" of the free market with the vertical traditionalism of spiritually evolved (and evolving) man. Thus we can affirm: "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often" (Churchill). This truism is only paradoxical if you exclude either the vertical or horizontal.

Now, will this system devised by the Founders work? That's a whole different story. This delicate formula has only existed on earth for some 235 years, whereas some of those static vertical dynasties lasted for thousands, e.g., Egypt.

Imagine thousands of years with no change -- changelessness being the whole "point" of traditional cultures. For a traditional culture, change is always associated with decay and degeneracy, as it drifts away from its static archetype. There was not even the idea of "progress," i.e., that things could improve with time and bring us closer to the ideal.

You could say that classical liberalism "discovered" progress (which naturally brings with it the possibility of regress). As I mentioned in my book, if you go back to where things stood with man in 1600 or so, the future looked rather bleak. For the average man, things were no different than they were 1,000 or 2,000 years ago: famine, disease, illiteracy, tyranny, backbreaking toil, etc. For all you strict traditionalists out there, if that is your preferred mode of life, I say go for it! Don't just dress up like an Indian and a smoke peace pipe on weekends, go live like one. Stop reading. Stop eating modern food. Stop using air conditioning, antibiotics, analgesics, automobiles, audio systems. And that's just the A's!

The thing is, these people never have the courage of their convictions, any more than do the Darwinians. They too never (at least nowadays) draw out the implications of their metaphysic, that life is an utterly meaningless struggle for survival.

I say "nowadays" because in the not-too-distant past, progressives and fascists did indeed draw out these implications in the form of eugenics, forced sterility, abortion, etc. There is nothing in Darwinism that makes such practices -- or any practice -- "wrong," much less "evil." It is simply a truism that natural selection does not know right and wrong, only survival and death. And survival is merely "death delayed."

But what if you don't want to spend your life standing in front of one of Darwin's death panels? Too bad. No primordial soup for you! No tenure, either!

Extremes meet. This is why a political system of purely horizontal causes ultimately leads to the various static leftist tyrannies that littered the 20th century. And now in the United States we have an illiberal, anti-American president who is the very embodiment of the horizontal divorced from the vertical. Only a revolution will save us: but it is simply the same vertical revolution that is always occuring in 1776.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Proof of God Announced Today: Media and Tenured Hardest Hit

The next chapter in Logic and Transcendence concerns the proofs of God. Now, like any proof, proof of God is not idiot-proof. The only final proof is personal experience, but this type of proof has no necessary purchase on another fellow's beliefs, unless the other fellow happens to have great faith in your credibility.

In fact, it is probably fair to say that most of our knowledge is of this order. During the course of our education, there are few things that we ever experience on a first hand basis. For example, I am not an economist. But I have faith in Ludwig von Mises, Fredrich Hayek, and Thomas Sowell, whereas I regard Paul Krugman as an ideological hack, even perhaps crazy. Similarly, I am not a quantum cosmologist, but I am quite certain that this field will never arrive at a "theory of everything," if only due to Gödels's theorems. I am not a biologist, but I have no doubt whatsoever that the theory of natural selection is absurdly incomplete. Etc.

So if some skeevy televangelist or door-to-door religious salesman tells me that God exists, I don't give it much weight. On the other hand, if a man of great intellect, erudition, experience, and virtue says so, then my ears perk up. As with most everything, one must consider the source. Our trolls do not consider me a credible source, which should be the end of their sophering fixation on this site, but for whatever tangled intrapsychic reason, it isn't. Which is fine. Truth being what it is, they teach us many valuable lessons.

But in any event, you will never hear me attempting to convince a reader of my credibility, which I could never do anyway. Either you regard me as credible, or you don't -- although I assume that this credibility has been slowly earned through time, based upon your own personal experience with the substance of these posts. It is perhaps similar to the good will one builds up with particular musical artists. If they come out with a new work that doesn't speak to us, we are willing to put in the effort required to penetrate it. For example, I initially didn't "get" modern jazz, but I accepted it on faith that these men weren't merely musical frauds trying to separate me from my cash.

And let me add for those readers who do regard me as credible -- which is always a leap -- I would never under any circumstances take this for granted or do anything to jeopardize it. We know you have a choice in your vertical travel, and we thank you for choosing trans-Bob airways. But the credibility can only be re-earned with every flying post. Besides, it's not the person, it's the fruits. If that weren't the case, I would have no credibility anyway. I'm not like that surly tree in the Wizard of Oz. Anyone is free to come by and pick an apple off me, because where I got 'em, they didn't cost a thing. Although gratitude would naturally compel you to purchase my book without my having to beg. What? Okay, I'll beg.

Schuon points out that the classical proofs of God occupy a kind of "in between" area on the vertical plane. Above them is the direct intellection or mystical experience of God, while below them is the profane rationalism of the flatlanders. Thus, we know in advance that these proofs can only "indicate" or support the journey. But that's actually saying a lot, because by dwelling in them, one may very well unexpectedly find oneself drawn up into the Great Attractor (more on which below). It's like innocently rubbing some sticks together at a gas station, and all of a sudden the whole place goes up in flames.

It should also be pointed out that man has a right to a God who doesn't offend his intellect. Clearly, not every man is in need of such a God, but some of us surely are. To ignore human diversity and say that God only cares for the stupid is to posit a god in whom I cannot believe.

One frequently encounters fundamentalists and fideists who distrust the intellect in general and gnosis in particular, as if we are the presumptuous ones. But it's actually the other way around. How dare they suggest that God cannot be known in ways other than scripture! There is no intrinsic reason for any ontological break between mind and spirit, psyche and pneuma. Great Neptune, you have no right to reject scholasticism before you have even deeply understood it, barnacle head!

Let us begin with a premise on which we can all agree, theist and atheist alike, for if it isn't true, then no real thought of any kind is possible (that is, if thought is adequate to truth): "it is necessary to begin with the idea that human intelligence coincides in its essence with certainty of the Absolute."

Please note that you don't necessarily have to have had a personal experience of the Absolute. Rather, you simply must posit it, and understand that no coherent thought or discourse is possible in its absence. It is the ontological "condition without which." In turn, the human subject is the "condition with which."

While the prior existence of the Absolute is self-evident to the even minimally awakened intellect, in our present Age of Stupidity, the "awareness of 'accidents' has stifled the intuitive awareness of 'Substance,' and from this has come an intelligence that is systematically superficial, fixed upon a fragmentary reality."

Do you see the problem? Either you are an absolutist or you are a relativist. And if the latter, you condemn yourself ahead of time to falsehood, fragmentation, disharmony, immorality, ugliness. Or at least you will have no ontological basis for distinguishing between these and their opposites. Rather, one can only appeal to tastes, fashions, authority, or the ubiquitous urge for conformity.

The Absolute simply is. It cannot be proven with logic, since it is its own proof, not to mention the fact that it is the basis for the existence of any proof at all -- obviously! For to affirm that anything is "absolutely true" is to have brought oneself into the orbit of the Absolute and outside the obit of relativism.

So it is with this prior understanding that one should approach the proofs of God. If you cannot make this leap, then you are excused. It will come as a surprise to our trolls that you are under no external compulsion to continue reading this evil and stupid blog.

{Are they gone? Good. Let's continue.}

To the stubbornly godless man, the following statement by Schuon will appear as a tautology or even a clever trick: "in the spiritual order a proof is of assistance only to the man who wishes to understand and who, because of this wish, has in some measure understood already." Conversely, "it is of no practical use to one who, deep in his heart, does not want to change his position and whose philosophy merely expresses this desire."

Reason flees from such a self-enclosed individual, who can easily find intellectual justification for his static condition. I remember it well! To say that the proofs are of no use because they don't work for everyone is like saying that ebonics should be taught because proper English grammar and syntax don't work for everyone.

As mentioned above, everything hinges upon that first ontological choice between Absolute and relative. Once you have chosen the latter, then there is no hope for you -- at least until you reverse course and undo what you done did. Upon this choice depends one's conception of truth. For the absolutist, truth is discovered; for the relativist, truth is created -- which is just another way of saying that there is no truth at all, only opinion.

For the absolutist, "truth does not depend on reasoning -- obviously truth is not created by reason." Rather, it "reveals itself or becomes explicit thanks to the key provided by the mental operation." Within this act of understanding, there is always something that "escapes the thinking process rather as light and color elude the grasp of geometry."

I'm sure all of you have felt this "something." Perhaps you are feeling it now. It is similar to that extra ingredient that elevates artistry over competence, the profound over the prosaic, Magnus over goddinpotty, etc. To suggest that this gulf could ever be reduced to "quantity" is absurd. And stupid.

Qualities are not arbitrary, or they wouldn't be qualties. Rather, to say that one thing is better, or truer, or more virtuous than another, is to acknowledge the vertical hierarchy that can only end (and begin) in the Absolute, on pain of our humanness being a pure miracle hanging suspended in mid-air, like, I don't know, like something just hanging there in mid-air suspended. Yes, we are suspended, but from above, like Larry King's pants. The alternative is just too hideous to contemplate -- i.e., a pantless Larry King.

To be continued... all quoted material taken from Frithjof Schuon's Logic and Transcendence...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

No God, No Me, No Justice, No Mary Jo

Let's finish up this chapter on the limits of pure rationalism.

By the way, our Peevish Traditionalist commenter points out that Schuon and I agree on only 2% of his views. Which in my view is not necessarily a bad thing, because if it were more than that, these posts would be even longer. As it is, it will require dozens of posts just to explicate this single 200+ page book. (I frankly think the 2% figure is absurdly low, but we'll give him the last word.)

It's also a good thing -- or possibly bad, depending upon one's point of view -- that I don't believe Schuon was omniscient, otherwise I would be devoid of my own creativity and reduced to scouring the internet for heretics and commenting on blogs that deviate from the 100% Standard of Agreement.

To put it another way, I will have failed as a cult leader if I become one -- that is, if any of my readers agree with me 100% of the time. In fact, "agreement" is not really the right word, for agreement is perfectly acceptable so long as one has arrived at the same conclusions independently. But there again, "conclusion" is not the correct word either, for what I mean is that, when it comes to realities that transcend the senses, agreement is acceptable so long as we are looking at the same object.

But of course, even then, your view will deviate at least slightly from mine, since you are you and not me. Furthermore, it will hopefully be expressed in your own "idiom," and idiom is indistinguishable from "self." As I mentioned a few posts back, I believe I've discovered a new idiom for expressing timeless truth -- or at least I've never encountered anyone else who rolls in the precise manner I do. But this is ultimately just another way of saying that I have discovered me. And if I have discovered me, then it follows -- logically -- that I have discovered God, since the true self is an "idea" of God -- or, let's keep it neutral and just say "an emanation of O". True, it is in a sense "my God," but God nonetheless.

Now, it goes without saying that only I can discover me. However, if you are a materialist of any sort, then the question doesn't even come up. There is no self to be discovered, and therefore no personal idiom that is its very life and expression. You are not a mode of the infinite, just a freak of the finite.

Schuon uses the image of the circle with the central point radiating out in all direction. Imagine a series of concentric circles around the point. Each circle is a mode of reality, e.g., matter, life, mind, spirit. One of these circles is called "humanness." Thus, each of us is situated at a point on the circle of humanness. We are like different frogs looking at the same haystack from diverse spatial and temporal perspectives.

Being a point, we are our own center. But if you manage to grow to spiritual maturity, then you graduate from the geo-centric (or ego-centric) to the helio-centric view, and realize that your little point orbits around a vastly lager one (and without which there could be no subjective points at all).

Or, you regress to the ec-centric view that there is no center -- neither the little one nor the big One -- only periphery. Yes, it's a strange belief, but someone has to believe it, since this is a full employment cosmos, and it takes all kinds to make a world. In the long run, every insanity and inanity will be believed by someone, given enough monkeys and sufficient tenure. In our Age of Stupidity, belief in one of these impossible realities is often conflated with discovering one's unique idiom. But while "unique," these idioms have nothing universal about them, and cannot be reproduced by another person in his own unique way.

It reminds me somewhat of something Dennis Prager mentioned about how the left is guided by compassion, not standards. He was discussing a townhall meeting in which some poor woman had lost her health insurance and was hysterically weeping while incoherently relating her story. The moonstream media wanted to know: would this tragic tale change the heartless senator's view on the need for socialized medicine? "No."

The point is, compassion cannot be the guiding ideal of the state, since compassion is particular, not universal. Therefore, it is intrinsically unfair. For example, I am infinitely more compassionate toward my own child than I am toward millions of children in Africa. Therefore, if you want to be an idiot about it, you could say that in being compassionate toward my child, I am being cruel and uncompassionate toward the children of Africa.

But this is the nature of compassion. You cannot be equally compassionate toward everyone. And the moment the state tries, it becomes uncompassionate. If it chooses to be "compassionate" toward blacks by mandating racial quotas, then it is by definition uncompassionate toward Asians and Jews who will be displaced. If it lavishes money on AIDS research because of left wing homosexual activists, then there is less money for, say, diabetes research. If it gives "free" healthcare to millions of selfish people who refuse to purchase health insurance, it must take the money from someone else. Etc.

No, a government must be guided by universals, such as justice. Obviously no terrestrial justice can be perfect, nor is it possible to enforce it equally in a non-totalitarian state. But, say, a speed limit of 65 mph does not "discriminate" against people who like to drive 80 mph, even though they will be burdened with the bulk of the speeding tickets. Nor does capital punishment discriminate against blacks just because they commit a disproportionate number of the murders.

If you try to interpret justice through the lens of compassion -- as the left always does -- you unleash hell on earth. This is why the crime rate increased over 100% in the 1960s and then 50% on top of that in the 1970s. This is what happens when a government is motivated by compassion instead of justice.

Again, justice is universal, compassion is particular. A state can be just, but it cannot be compassionate in principle. This does not mean, of course, that it cannot engage in particular acts of compassion, only that this cannot be the first principle, for it inevitably ends in unfairness and lack of compassion. Institute racial quotas for blacks, and soon enough female losers want in on the deal. Then hispanic losers. Then homosexual losers. Then transgendered losers. Pretty soon you have a tyranny of losers whose only real power is the power of the state to discriminate against the worthy. "Social justice" is simply a systematic way for the left to deny justice by replacing it with compassion.

And this all goes back to our original theme on the limits of reason. Rationalism is universal only as it pertains to a single circle around the central point alluded to above. As soon as it tries to reason about those circles closer to the point, it goes off the rails -- literally! A total rationalism would be a totalitarianism, pure and simple, because it would represent a closed system with no center: Ø instead of ʘ.

It very much reminds me of the panic that was engendered in the Soviet Union when Pope John Paul II visited Poland in the early 1980s. It is impossible to convey the depth of what happened, but it was as if a divine ray from above broke thorough the dreary closed system of Marxist totalitarianism, or the spiritual center crashed into the material periphery of the world. People were quite literally revived. Suddenly there was hope. Hayward writes that after the Pope's visit, suicides fell by a third in Poland, while alcohol consumption dropped by a quarter. (Hayward's book, The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution, 1980-1989, is Highly Recommended.)

Indeed, it is becoming difficult to convey the depth of the transformation that occurred in this country with the ascendence of the cheerful, strong, confident, wise, and optimistic Ronald Reagan. Perhaps not. Just think of the dour, weak, humorless, pessimistic, and ignorant Obama, and imagine the opposite. It's like Welcome Back, Carter. Note that the latter character traits are privations, so that of the two, only Reagan approximates the universal. But in so being, he was paradoxically -- but nonetheless naturally -- "one of a kind."

Conversely, as one of our trolls recently reminded us, if one is only "compassionate" -- meaning, of course, liberal -- enough, one is free to betray one's country and transgress the most elementary standards of justice and decency. One can become a good monster.

Friday, August 28, 2009

On the Certainty of Doubt and Vision of the Blind

Over 130 comments yesterday. Which once again proves -- as if it were necessary -- that there's just no end to the sophistries to which the godless cling in order to try to prove to themselves that God doesn't exist.

But there is no such proof, only adequation, so trying to "prove" something to the inadequate is obviously a complete and total waste of time. Unless you somehow enjoy the exercise. I do not. I haven't the slightest interest in the fantasies of the godless, except insofar as the manner in which they threaten my life, my property, and my liberty.

As Schuon explains, these relativists absurdly "dispute the value of metaphysical certainty" by setting it in opposition to the "certitude of error." For example, one familiar troll trotted out the old optical illusion argument -- as if the existence of illusions doesn't prove the reality!

Only a human being can say to himself, "I thought it was a _____, but dang, what it really was was a _____!" The illusion is dependent upon the reality, not vice versa. This is elementary. Not only did God become man so that man might become God, but more generally, reality becomes appearance so that appearance might become reality. In a way, we are all "optical illusions" until we see through the various layers of contingency and realize who and what we actually are. We are not an error, only in error -- which is always a privation, not an essence.

Doubt is not truth, only a way to truth, specifically, a forswearing of immediate appearances in order to await the arrival of truth, which is anterior to appearances. I doubt that the sun travels around the earth, but don't end my inquiry there. Rather, I eventually arrive at the truth that the earth travels around the sun, which is true enough in its own way, and is certainly adequate to get me through life. I don't really need to know that the Milky Way spirals around its own invisible center, and all the rest. It's all very nice, but it's not as if it's going to save my life or help the Dodgers fend off the Rockies.

It reminds me of an aesthetically needy friend who was hanging some of his wife's paintings in the office yesterday. He asked me how they looked, and I said "retarded" or "aesthetically dyslexic." He eagerly asked how and where they were supposed to go, and I explained that this one had to go there, that those two needed a third to balance them out, that this one should be in the middle, that that one needed to be closer to the light, and that the wall over there should remain empty in order to give him an occasional respite from thinking about Debbie all day. Fifteen hours a day should be enough for any woman.

Now, how did I know these things? I am not gay. Nor did anyone ever teach them to me. Frankly, given a little time, I could have fine-tuned things, but the point is, I just knew that the existing arrangement was not only retarded in its totality, but in so being, did damage to the individual paintings, which were unable to reveal their full potential as a result of being in the wrong place and in the wrong hands.

Does this little anecdote prove the existence of God? No. It's just one more little clue out of hundreds that routinely occur each day. Add up all the circumstantial evidence, and eventually the proof is overwhelming. Except to the jury nullification of atheism.

My friend was only mildly aesthetically bewildered, but certainly educable -- and not resentful, of all things, about the advice. Once the paintings were in place, he immediately apprehended the truth of the situation. Thus, we saw the same reality. But an aesthetically retarded individual can actually believe all kinds of things that cannot possibly be beautiful and therefore true. Much modern art falls into this category, but this type of infrahuman art is ultimately to beauty what atheism is to truth. It is parasitic, not symbiotic.

As Schuon explains -- and which our trolls prove -- "The fact that a lunatic feels certain he is something that he is not does not prevent us from being certain of what he is and what we ourselves are, and the fact that we are unable to prove to him that he is mistaken does not prevent us from being right." Perhaps it's my training and experience as a psychotherapist, but the idea of arguing with a troll is entirely foreign to me. It just doesn't come up as a viable option.

Again, in analytic therapy, there are always two things (actually, many more than two) going on. There is what you observe and verbally share; and there is what the patient does with it. The latter is particularly important and requires a lot of discipline, because you have to exit the everyday mode of semantic discourse, and "hover above" so as to observe what is going on from a meta-level. One must be particularly attentive to the myriad ways a patient "disunderstands" what you convey to them, for this disunderstanding is a consequence of their pathology. Generally, the sicker the person, the greater the disunderstanding.

So to continue with Schuon, "the fact that an unbalanced person may possibly have misgivings about his condition does not oblige us to have them about our own, even if we find it impossible to prove to him that our certainty is well founded." One can well imagine an angry patient firing back with words to the effect of, Oh, I see. You're right by definition. Everyone who disagrees with you has 'mind parasites.' Well, your clever insights into me might appeal to your other dim-witted patients, but you don't fool me. They probably all think you're some kind of perfect being, but I see what a pompous ass you are.

Again, far be it from me to argue with a patient's perceptions of me and farther be it to argue with the eccentric ravings of a troll, who is simply the inevitable illusion that proves the truth. Indeed, if I were to argue, I would simply reinforce them. At this point you will have a variety of options, but much depends upon the quality of the therapeutic relationship and the patient's capacity for insight. But in any case, you always come back to O, that is, to the emotional truth of the immediate situation, for example, "I see that you're very angry with me right now. Can you say more about what it feels like I'm doing to you at the moment?"

Ultimately you want to get beneath the surface into unconscious fantasy material that links up the past with the present emotions felt toward me. But the key point to bear in mind -- for it equally applies to supraconscious realities -- is that the type of truth we are discussing cannot be proved, only undergone. And more often than not, a truth must not only be "undergone," but even suffered. For as Bion said, if one cannot suffer pain, one cannot suffer pleasure. The most profound truths are truly "catastrophic" because they leave no lie standing. No wonder people resist them! Father let this cup pass, etc.

So as Schuon says, "the only proof of hidden realities... is the realities themselves." (Yes, I fully understand that Schuon did not approve of psychoanalysis, but I see no evidence that he was acquainted with any post-Freudian developments; rather, he only tilted his lance at Freud, which is easy enough to do.)

Again, there is always going to be a gap between the proof and the reality. There is always an element of volition that allows us to accept or reject a proof. Thus, in insisting that we "prove" the existence of God, the atheist is asking for something that cannot be. Rather, proofs are "only pointers or keys," and even then, only to the adequate person of good will who actually wishes to know. "[T]he inward discovery of truth is always a leap into the void -- a leap incommensurate with mental premises, concepts, or other symbols" (Schuon).

Only a human being can "take the leap." For even to doubt is to express the implicit idea that the mind "is competent to doubt." But who said so? Analogously, to paraphrase Schuon, it is like examining the optic nerve in order to make certain that it is competent to see. But who's doing the examining? Let's also examine his optic nerve, and his, and his, and his, all the way back to sightless matter.

Ah ha! I finally see that vision is an optical illusion!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Business of Isness: What Is Is and Isn't

Some of the comments yesterday prove that no matter how clearly one says something, a willful mind will see in it what it wishes to see. I understand the stupidity, but why the arrogant stupidity? I am speaking of the people who persistently conflate science and scientism, and then accuse us of somehow being "anti-science." I don't see how Schuon could be more clear:

"Our principle criticism of modern philosophy and science is that they venture directly or indirectly onto planes beyond their compass and operate without regard to indispensable data." This statement should qualify as a truism, but apparently it is not. I suppose the reason for this is that the materialist simply doesn't know what he doesn't know, and when he is reminded of this fact, his only defense is that his interlocutor is "anti-science," or "anti-reality," or even "hateful."

One must always begin somewhere. But that doesn't mean one must end there. However, in the case of materialism, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to escape its initial assumptions -- assumptions that are of course not warranted or justified by the philosophy of materialism.

In other words, matter cannot say "only matter exists," for as soon as it says so, it has surely transcended matter -- unless we radically redefine what matter "is." But in order do this, one must also redefine what "is" is, because the materialist's first assumption is that matter is reality. Therefore, in order to be consistent, he would have to say something along the lines of "matter contemplating itself is reality" (and vice versa, since "is" is a statement of equivalence).

Here again, Schuon could hardly be more clear: "rationalism itself starts fairly and squarely with a 'dogma,' namely, its gratuitous axiom that nothing exists except what is supplied to us by the reason in service to its sensible perceptions."

At One Cosmos, we always try to be fair to our ideological adversaries -- fairness meaning to swiftly give them what they deserve, right in the nuts -- so I'd like to know just what about Schuon's formulation is unfair? How could anyone in good faith object to it, unless they are so dogmatic that they don't even understand that they have a dogma? For materialism isn't special. It is a philosophy just like any other, only much worse.

Here is Schuon's next premise, which again strikes me as unassailable, whatever your belief system: "Whoever wants to be a realist must resign himself to the obvious fact that all thought has to start from an initial premise, which cannot come from thought itself but which must include an element of certainty whose soundness thought cannot delineate."

To my knowledge, Schuon never mentioned Gödel's theorems in his writings, but he is essentially affirming the identical truth -- which only proves that you needn't be a genius logician to arrive at principial truth and therefore reality. You must only think to the end (and therefore beginning) of thought; or to the Alpha and OMega, if you like.

Anti-religious human beastlings routinely -- again gratuitously -- conflate the supernatural and the irrational, which only results in the collapse of the vertical, which is man's proper home. It is his true environment, as he is perfectly capable of living in a variety of geographic climates by taking the climate with him, so to speak. For example, if it is too cold outside, I simply turn up the heat and recreate a mediterranean climate indoors.

But what about the subjective climate? A culture is the creation of a human climate. Thus, we have "climates of opinion" and such. For example, the liberal climate of opinion makes it difficult utter a simple truth, such as "Ted Kennedy was a drunken, monstrous, sleazy, and misogynistic sexual predator." Such things are only permitted "outside" official liberal reality.

Culture operates exactly like the unconscious mind, in that it defends its "truths" with great force and punishes transgressors ("political correctness" is simply the sum total of leftist defenses against reality). The purpose of a psychological defense mechanism is actually to prevent the truth from even being seen or known to begin with. You know what they say: out of mind, out of insight. If the truth does accidentally come out, that signifies a failure of the defense mechanism, and therefore the need for even more repression, splitting, or denial.

This is why the left treats a Rush Limbaugh the way it does. First of all, it is a "mistake" that he ever came into existence to begin with, that is, a failure of the various layers of liberal ideological defense mechanisms, i.e., media, academia, entertainment, etc. But now that he does exist, he is treated exactly like an unwanted symptom of a neurotic person.

More generally, this is why Obama -- and the left in general -- simply cannot function without enemies, whether the CIA agents who protect us from terror, insurance companies, doctors, whatever. The point is that having enemies is not an effect, but a cause. The whole point is to have enemies to project into and therefore preserve their illusions -- again, exactly like a neurotic person.

I remember when I realized this about a certain person in my life who always likes to argue. Eventually it dawned on me that the arguing actually had no point. Rather, it was the point. It was just a way to manage his own psychic life. Truth was utterly beside the point. Or, one might say that the energy produced by arguing was the "emotional truth" of the situation.

It is actually not uncommon to encounter patients with this problem. To use a gustatory analogy, they will do anything with the truth you give them but swallow it -- play with it, spit it out, throw it back at you, bite it, turn their head away from it, ask for dessert first, etc.

Schuon had nothing personal against Descartes in particular or the French in general. Nevertheless, he points out that "the rationalism of a frog living at the bottom of a well is to deny the existence of mountains: perhaps this is 'logic,' but it has nothing to do with reality." To think otherwise is to put Descartes before 'da hearse, for it is a philosophy of death -- death to the soul and death to the intellect. This is the kind of climate change that actually does kill man -- vertical man, or man-as-such.

Although we cannot directly know the thing-in-itself, we can know that we don't know it, which is certainly good enough for me, for to know that fact is to have transcended it, and to have participated in absoluteness. In other words, to know one is relative is a to have already transcended relativity, at least to a degree. Thus, "to declare that our perceptions fail to convey the whole object amounts to saying that things are not perceived by the whole Subject." Therefore, it is just another way of acknowledging that we are not God. But we knew that already. It's the atheists who don't know.

It reminds me of how human beings are able to recognize faces that they have never actually seen. I think I'm remembering the experiment correctly, but researchers demonstrated that human beings are able to see the profile of another person they've never seen before, and match it up with the frontal view (and vice versa). The point is that even a very partial view is able to reveal the totality. We can see a circular object approaching us, and do not have to view it from every conceivable angle to know it is a sphere. Indeed, man would be paralyzed if he had to do this in order to act or think.

The reason why this works so smoothly is that the world is in the soul, not vice versa. We are actually at a higher dimension than the world, so we have no problem embracing the lower dimensions. We live in eternity, so we know time; our minds are infinite, so we know finite space; we live in truth, so we know facts; etc.

Now.... now I think I'll stop for today. That should be enough to keep you rascals busy 'til tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Critique of the Critique of Pure Reason

Continuing with Schuon's discussion of rationalism and its defects, he implicitly addresses Kant's belief that we cannot know the thing-in-itself -- the noumena, O -- only the phenomena, Ø. (In reality, "noumena" should be noumenon, since it cannot be plural, but we will respect Kant's terminology.)

Stay with me, folks, because this is important. Kant really represents the turning point in the stream of philosophy, which runs down into all the creeks, crocks, and sewer lines we know of today. On the one hand, it ushered in the pseudo-philosophy of scientistic materialism in all its varieties, on the other, the many forms of irrational romanticism (leftism combines the worst of each).

Whitehead once said that the history of Western philosophy is just a footnote on Plato. However, I think it would be equally accurate to say that all postmodern philosophy is simply a footnote on Kant, since Kant opened up that annoying abyss between human beings and reality. Up until Kant, it was assumed -- yes, sometimes naively -- that human beings could know reality. But Kant's philosophy begins and ends with the undermining of that sanguine view. Hence the "critique" of pure reason, and the strict demarcation of its limits.

I think one must concede that Kant's critique has a certain superficial appeal, especially for the spiritually untutored man. A very accessible book on the subject is Confessions of a Philosopher, by Bryan Magee. And his book on Schopenhauer is a classic.

Don't worry, I don't want to get too pedantic here and put our troll to sleep again. Let me just say that I was never a Kantian, but I was a Schopenhauerian, in that I felt that he had addressed the limitations of Kant by essentially arguing that we could not know the thing-in-itself -- the noumenon -- but we could be it, so to speak, since it is our prior reality.

This view is superficially similar to the Upanishads, and indeed Schopenhauer was happily flabbergeisted when he stumbled upon one of the first copies of the Upanishads translated into German. He thought that the Vedic seers were saying the same thing he was.

But they weren't. In Vedanta, the distinction between noumena and phenomena -- or appearance and reality -- is more or less conveyed by the terms maya and brahman. The ultimate goal of the spiritual ascent is to climb from the former to the latter, which is none other than "liberation," or the realization of the Real (i.e., there is Reality, and there is realizing it, two different things that are ultimately ʘne, or not-two, to be precise).

But the Upanishads are not actually as dualistic as this division of appearance and reality implies. Long story short, maya may be "illusion" in a certain sense, but it is actually quite real. It is just not ultimate reality. So long as we are not God, we must necessarily live in "maya." But this hardly implies that there is a strict duality between Reality and fantasy, with no connecting link between them. In fact -- and we will get more into this later -- there are no "gaps" at all between God and everything else, due to God's immanence.

Here again, this is what I was endeavoring to convey nonverbally in my book, with the chapters running together and divided in mid-sentence. In other words, from the relative point of view, certain things appear "impossible" to man's reason, most notably, that dead matter can suddenly come alive and become conscious of itself.

In short, the world clearly appears discontinuous to our reason, e.g., "mind and matter." Reason can and does invent all kinds of speculative fantasies to fill the gap -- e.g., reductionistic Darwinism -- but such a person is in the final analysis constrained by Kant's critique. So the point of my structuring the chapters in that discontinuously continuous way was to explicitly note the ontological divisions in reality -- i.e., matter, life, mind, and spirit -- even while implicitly conveying their actual unity. And the unity can only flow from the top, never the bottom. The latter is literally unthinkable, which is why so much nonsense is generated if one tries to get around Kant (much less Gödel) with any form of pure reason.

So, how do we get around Kant? Easy. We do it all the time, every day, in varying degrees. Once you have inverted the cosmos (or yourself) back to its proper orientation, then you begin with wholeness and unity, not multiplicity and fragmentation. The unity is indeed our prior condition. Again, as I have argued in the past, this is the "purpose" of our right cerebral hemisphere, which intuits and lives in unity, while the right brain discloses multiplicity. To be "healthy" is to live in the dynamic transcendent space that is always unifying the two.

With this tedious preface, I believe we are in a better position to understand what Schuon means when he says that "the whole point of knowledge is the perception of the thing-in-itself," without which "the very notion of perception could not exist." He points out that "the inherent nature of things" is to "pierce through their appearances." In other words, the form conveys something of the essence, which is knowledge, precisely.

Now, there are naturally degrees of adequation, but kantrary to Manny, this does not render our knowledge false or illusory. Again, it is not a matter of either/or, but of our depth of penetration into the thing-in-itself. From a philosophical standpoint, I believe that Polanyi has most ably developed this idea of science as a kind of inward journey into the Real, thus giving us a coherent post-critical philosophy that transcends Kant and is easily able to reconcile science and religion in their highest aspirations.

Recall my description of the deep continuity of the cosmos, which can only come from "above." Schuon points out that every form of rationalism ignores the fact that reason flows in two directions, one ascending, the other descending.

The descending form tries to deploy reason to describe or convey what is known through the direct perception of intellection. For example, this is how the classic proofs of God are to be understood. They are showing with reason what can ultimately only be known directly by the higher mind/heart. The perception of God is by no means "proved" -- much less disproved -- through the dialectic of reason. As Schuon has remarked elsewhere, something is not true because it is rational, but rather, the reverse: it is rational because it is true.

Thus, the descending from of reason is "communicating." In contrast, the ascending form is "actualizing." By participating "in the intellection that is being communicated," one is able to actualize a truth. Therefore, it is completely erroneous and wrongheaded to reduce reason to a kind of linear and mechanical operation, as if we are mere robots or computers or trolls. If such were the case, "then discoveries would be mere conclusions. Were there percepts for genius, then men of genius would be hacks" (Lonergan).

But of course, in our topsy-turvy postmodern world, our wack & hackademics are considered men of genius -- all those radical secularists, materialists, and metaphysical Darwinians who know everything about nothing. Schuon:

"The position of science is exactly like that of a man who could grasp only two dimensions of space and denied the third because he was unable to imagine it; now, what one spatial dimension is to another, so is the suprasensible to the sensible, or more precisely: so is the animic to the corporeal, the spiritual to the animic, and the Divine to the humanly spiritual."

In short, One Cosmos Under God, however you slice it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Irrational Rationalism, Untrue Truth, and Illiberal Liberty

Next up in Logic and Transcendence is chapter three, Rationalism Real and Apparent. This will no doubt require more than one post to unpack, as it is full of vital information that every human being needs to know in order to resist the depredations of the secular idiobots, scientistic matter jockeys, and Darwinian DNA hosts, and their intrinsically anti-human agenda.

Once again I am reminded that Schuon is not only perhaps the greatest religious thinker of the 20th century, but -- and for that very reason -- the greatest humanist. And since his stance embodies the essence of real humanism, it stands to reason that those who explicitly or implicitly oppose it are trying to undermine and eliminate our very humanness. It is again confusing, because some of the worst offenders in this regard are called "humanists" (cf. Dr. Sanity's post on the brave New Enlightenment).

Let's begin with a discussion of the limits of reason. If one fails to understand that reason is grounded in something that transcends reason, one renders oneself intellectually blind and spiritually deaf, or an autodeceiver. As Schuon explains, there are two conditions that always condition the effectiveness of our reasoning, one of which is internal, the other external.

The internal factor is "the acuity and profundity of the intelligence" involved. This factor obviously transcends reason, as it varies dramatically in the human mom & population. Shallow and deep thinkers are equally capable of reasoning. For example, in the hands of a shallow intellect such as Charles the Queeg, reason simply confirms its own shallowness, and searches no further. Reason encircles itself and closes up shop, just waiting for the dirt to fall or fire to consume.

But intelligence is not simply a linear phenomenon, as the one-dimensional measurement of IQ would imply. Rather, intelligence "goes beyond the indirect processes of reason in calling upon pure intellection." A mere rationalist is simply someone who is, for whatever reason, unable to reason adequately in realms that transcend the material.

The second factor that interferes with intelligence is again external. It has to do with "the value or extent of the available information." It is more than just a case of "garbage in, garbage out," because the rationalist systematically excludes whole dimensions of reality in trying to describe reality, most notably, revelation in both its principle modes, i.e., God's vertical messages to the human subject, and the human subject as such.

As we have mentioned many times, the human subject is without question the most astonishing fact of the cosmos, but rationalism would reduce the subject to just one of the items in its vast bag of tricks, i.e., logic. However, anyone but a rationalist knows that logic cannot furnish its own materials on which to operate.

It is a "sign of the times" -- i.e., the Age of Stupidity -- that it is even necessary to point out that not every problem can be solved by means of logic alone. Again, to even attempt to do this is both inhuman and anti-human.

It reminds me of CDs, which have to chop off the top and bottom of the musical signal in order to fit it onto the disc. Yes, it provides a facsimile of the music, but something indefinable is lost in translation, most especially the subtleties of the human voice. This post at American Digest inspired me to appreciate my vinyl more than I do, and it's just undeniable. Interestingly, if you "try" to hear the difference, you may not notice. Rather, you have to just passively listen, and notice the different effect on one's being. It's somewhat like the difference between film and video, but more subtle, since the ears are more subtle than the eyes. But religion is similar, in that it subtly discloses other worlds that will be inaccessible to the substitious materialist.

Anyway, the bottom line is that "all thoroughgoing rationalism is false by definition." Think of the implications of this: truth and falsehood lie outside the realm of mere (small-r) reason, a realm that we can know -- and only know -- a priori. If this hasn't yet "clicked" for you, it will as we proceed. But it is a critical point to bear in mind, especially when it comes to the proofs of God, which can only "indicate" in the manner of a great work of art-- and even then only to a person of good will and sufficient intelligence who actually wishes to understand them.

Another critical point: when intellection is rejected, it doesn't just disappear, any more than an unconscious conflict disappears by denying it. Rather, it is simply replaced by all kinds of crazy things, from Marxism, to metaphysical Darwinism, to Scientology, you name it.

What really happens is that the individual severs himself from the objective world disclosed by pure intellection, and plunges himself into subjectivism. If you are following me, this is the source of the left's perverse forms of "freedom." Really, it is the transgressive freedom to be stupid, evil, or insane, so we really need a different word to describe it. Perhaps "lawlessness." But lawlessness is simply the law of the jungle.

Regarding the profundity of intelligence alluded to above; again, we are not talking about a two-dimensional line that can plot different degrees of smarts. Rather, there are two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and hyperdimensional intellects. Furthermore, the lower dimensional intellect cannot know of the higher dimension except through its products, which will initially appear as either magic or foolishness. But if it can truly grasp the products of the higher dimension, it can begin to assimilate and embody it. This is my [hyperdimensional] body, etc.

This is elementary. One of the joys of watching my son grow and develop is witnessing his slow (actually freakishly rapid) conquest of more subtle dimensions of humanness. It never ceases to amaze. It's quite obvious that he is not simply becoming more intelligent or logical in some linear way. Rather, it's much more a case of whole new spaces opening up to him.

Of course, these spaces need to be mirrored by the environment, or they will simply close up again. The law of pneuma-neurology is "use it or lose it." Many if not virtually all atheists have simply abandoned the brain circuits they need in order to know God. Like any skill, from writing to archery, it requires practice. Only Kim Jong Il and Barack Obama can produce a literary classic with no prior experience at writing.

You are now in the position to understand the ironic fact that pure rationalism does not disclose the objective world. Rather, it eventually "gives way to individualism [the bad kind] and arbitrariness insofar as it is divorced from the intellect." The One Truth is thereby replaced with a multitude of kooky so-called truths. Again, the only way one could believe the fairy tale of metaphysical Darwinism is to live in an eccentric world of pure subjectivity detached from the Real, but reinforced by other spiritual retards.

And it is ec-centric, or "outside the circle," the circle whose center is everywhere because the intellect is. Yes, human beings are without question the center of the cosmos regarded vertically, not horizontally (think of the point at the top of a cone, without which there could be no cone). Horizontally, it is correct to say that there is no center, only periphery, and therefore no truth or intellect. But that just proves the intrinsic stupidity of horizontal intelligence divorced from its vertical source and ground.

Intelligence as such is intrinsically unlimited, and therefore not reducible to the horizontal. Or, if it is limited, who limited it? Who put up the wall, if not intelligence? But if intelligence can wall itself in, it can also transcend the walls it imposes upon itself.

"Hence" -- logically! -- "one of two things: either the intelligence by definition includes a principle of illimitability or liberty, whatever the degree of its actualization, in which case there is no need to attribute limits to it." Or, intelligence includes "a principle of limitation or constraint, in which case it no longer includes any certainty and can function no differently from the intelligence of animals..." (Schuon).

Which is why only the religious man can be free and why the radical humanist is a slave or worse, i.e., a slave trader or slaveholder.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Know Why the Caged Birdbrain Sings Off-Key

As we've discussed in the past, what we used to call the Real is now considered by most garden-variety intellectuals as abstract, whereas what used to be considered totally contingent and therefore unreal -- i.e., matter -- is now considered to be the ultimate reality. It's similar, I suppose, to how the illiberal left is misleadingly called "liberal," whereas freedom-loving classical liberals are now called conservative.

And no, that wasn't just a gratuitous pimpslap. Rather, I think the reasons for the switch are similar, for the essence of conservatism is belief in a transcendent and permanent order to which we owe our primary fidelity, whereas the essence of leftism is rejection of the transcendent and allegiance to matter, i.e., to a single level material ontology.

That being the case, the leftist is absolutely committed to maya, hence his inability to think coherently or to reason on the plane of virtue. Obviously there are plenty of intelligent leftists. But for the vertically challenged, it is a matter of garbage in, garbage out: first comes maya; then comes angelou.

As Schuon explains, the transcendent order is "perfectly accessible to pure intellection." Far from being abstract, it is the most concrete thing imaginable, because it is not subject to change, and is "always there."

In contrast, matter is always changing. You might even say that it is "change as such." But the essence of intelligence is "the capacity to discern 'substances' through 'accidents.'" Thus, to insist that the accidents are more real than the substance "can only be described as a kind of philosophical codifying of unintelligence."

As you can see, this warps intelligence itself, for in reducing it to a reflection of matter, you have undermined its very reason for being. By supposing that intelligence is contingent, you have sundered it from truth, from substance, from the eternal.

Obviously, the reason intelligence can know the substance is that it shares in the substance. Ultimately the intellect is made of the same truth it is able to discern in accidents. To know truth is to exit contingency and to touch eternal being.

Truth, like freedom, is always there, waiting to for us to "enter it," so to speak. Schuon cites the example of a bird that has escaped from its cage: "we say it is free; we might just as truly say that freedom has burst forth from a particular point of the cosmic carapace or that it has taken possession of the bird, or again that it has manifested itself through this creature or form." What he means by this is that freedom is anterior; it is "that which is, which always has been, which will always be." In contrast, liberation is "something that occurs."

For example, we liberated Iraqis so that they might know freedom. Closer to home, America's founders liberated us (tried, anyway) so that we might live in freedom. Here again you see the problem. For the left, freedom is not a priori; rather, it is conferred by the state. But the state cannot confer freedom and other valuable prizes to one person or group unless it appropriates them from another. It cannot "give" healthcare unless it "takes" labor, capital, research, innovation, and Slack.

It reminds me of that sign you sometimes see in small businesses: quality, speed, low price. Pick any two. That pretty much summarizes what will happen with socialized medicine. Only in freedom can the three achieve their natural equilibrium and Death Panels (by any name) be avoided.

You will have noticed that nothing incenses the left more than when one of their victims has escaped from their cage and a point of liberty has been realized in the cosmos. They especially despise blacks and females who are actually free, for they are a painful reminder that real freedom is still possible. This is the real reason they so despise a Clarence Thomas or Sarah Palin. How dare they not be dependent upon brave and kindhearted liberals who struggled for tenure to give them their freedom!

Existentialism -- by which Schuon means all philosophies that deny essence -- is a "monstrous contortion" that presents "the commonest stupidity as intelligence," "disguising it as philosophy while at the same time holding intelligence up to ridicule, that of all intelligent men of all times." Only an intellectual class that has forgotten how to think could ever embrace a philosophy as barren as materialism: "All down through the ages to philosophize was to think; it was left to the twentieth century not to think and to make a philosophy of it."

Now naturally we cannot know absolute truth, or else we would be God. In other words, possession of absolute truth would be identical to the thing in itself, which is impossible in any realm. Rather, we are always dealing with the question of adequation. So long as we are relative beings, there is no absolutely adequate formulation, and to imagine there could be is "the most fruitless of occupations." In the end, religion provides a more than adequate framework for human understanding of the divine planes, but it cannot bridge the gap between God and man on its own.

Rather, that remaining gap can only be diminished by faith on the one hand, and grace on the other. This creates a kind of spark in the dark that undoes that disagreeable business that took place in the park.

Further problems result from man severing his ties with his transcendent source. When that happens, standards obviously go out the window as well -- not just intellectual standards, but aesthetic and moral standards as well (for truth can never be tossed overboard without drowning love and beauty in the process).

This is why, as Dennis Prager always says, the left is the party of compassion rather than standards. But to throw away standards is actually a profoundly uncompassionate act, for you have eliminated man's reason for being and condemned him to a meaningless scuffle for animal satisfactions. Compassion regards "the average as the norm" whereby mediocrity becomes the rule. How could mediocrity not be the norm in a culture devoid of higher truth?

But man always seeks transcendence, and if he cannot escape "from above" he will do so from "below." Thus, mediocrity soon descends into artistic decadence, intellectual vulgarity, and moral degeneracy. This is why Schuon says that these "narrow-minded protagonists of the concrete" usher in "the most unrealistic and most inhuman" forms of politics. They may look like mere change chumps, but they're really quite dangerous. Not to mention expensive.

(The Schuon quotes are found in Logic and Transcendence.)


Good intentions backfire if one is mired in untruth. Roger Kimball:

'But what about the malevolence? It all depends on what you mean by “malevolence.” When you calculate a quantum of evil, do you look only at intentions? Or do you also take into account the effects of certain actions, regardless of the intentions of those who brought them about? (Hint: we have here a road paved with good intentions: where do you suppose it leads?) I think the commentator Jim Cramer was onto something when he lamented that “We’ve elected elected a Leninist” whose “agenda is destroying the life savings of millions of Americans.” Was Lenin malevolent? He didn’t think so. He thought he was laboring on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. Many Western intellectuals believed him. True, his policies — like socialist policies wherever they’re imposed — led to vast immiseration, loss of freedom, and the growth of an unaccountable ruling nomenklatura. But he didn’t mean to precipitate misery: he meant to bring about paradise on earth.'

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.


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

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why is There Stupidity?

Stupidities must come, but woe to the man through whom the stupidity comes! --Petey

Why is there stupidity? Why are there trolls? Why is there Obama, Deepak Chopra, the MSM, Scientology, Keith Olbermann, Charles the Queeg, Lawrence Rosie O'Donnell, Bill Maher, the designated hitter rule?

Easy: because there is intelligence. Because there is intelligence, there is stupidity in all its varieties, including the intelligent stupidity of Marxism, socialism, deconstruction, existentialism, atheism, metaphysical Darwinism, radical feminism, climate changerism, you name it. Truth is one. Stupidity is legion.

Obviously, stupidity is a "privative phenomenon." Truth is what is, while error is what is missing, or what is disproportionately overemphasized, or what has no real possibility of ever being there at all. Therefore, while error can and will be present in our approach to truth, as Schuon writes, it cannot be derived from intelligence as such. Rather, since we are relative beings, our intelligence operates amidst other factors -- hopes, fears, dreams, wishes, resentments.

When intelligence goes astray, it is due either to the passions or the will; indeed, this is why one cannot detach the question of stupidity from that of sin, for sin is a kind of stupidity, while stupidity (as opposed to ignorance) is definitely a kind of sin. More problematically, there is unconscious passion and unconscious willfulness, AKA Mind Parasites with hidden agendas all their own.

Human beings are simply the "hosts" for these infrahuman agendas. While not derived from intelligence as such, the mind parasites are hardly unintelligent; like all viruses, they definitely learn their lessons, in particular, how to adapt to new circumstances in order to fool the host and his psychospiritual immune system. This is precisely how Obama was able to fool so many "sophisticated" and "intelligent" people, despite the fact that the truth was and is there for all to see.

To cite one particularly glaring example, there is the science of economics. And there is politics, or "political science." The former is the application of intelligence toward understanding the creation of wealth. The latter is the application of intelligence toward the acquisition of power (or perhaps we should say power misappropriating the intelligence).

These two uses of intelligence are at odds, which is where socialism come in. Socialism -- including Obamanomics -- is the application of the will to bend the science of economics toward the acquisition of power. As Mencken said, "a socialist is simply a man suffering from an overwhelming compulsion to believe what is not true."

Now, all varieties of relativism -- including most notoriously, the intrinsic stupidity of metaphysical Darwinism -- are not only impossible, but posit an impossible world. For example, existentialism -- which is really just relativism drawn out to its ultimate nihilistic implications -- "postulates a definition of the world that is impossible if existentialism is possible" (Schuon). How is that?

Simple. Either knowledge -- and therefore truth -- is possible, or it is not. If truth is possible, then surely it is objective and therefore "absolute in its own order." In fact, the cosmos is hierarchically ordered, with the Absolute at the "top," so to speak, but with lower degrees of reality, all in turn guided by their own "relative absolute."

For example, the very practice of any kind of science, whether physics, biology, or chemistry, is guided by relative absolutes that apply to the plane in question. But biology is not constrained by the laws of physics, any more than the spiritual ascent is constrained by the genes. Different, planes, different relative absolutes. My knowledge of truth is hardly limited by what natural selection supposedly permits me to know.

But once you invert the cosmos, then you have committed the cardinal sin of intelligence, for you have banished intelligence from existence. For such a person, intelligence is reduced to brain activity, brain activity is reduced to genes, genes are reduced to physics, and physics is reduced to.... nothing. And not the good kind.

Thus we insist: either God or nihilism. There is no in between. Or, to the extent that you believe there is, you are living in a self-made fantasy land, pure and simple.

Now, for the theist, there is most definitely a world between God and the nihil. We call it "the world." It is surely real. Just not the ultimate Real. But for the a-theist, "the world" is necessarily reduced to a manifest void.

Please understand that we are being quite literal here. As Scuon writes, any kind of a-theism can only involve "speculations in the void," i.e., no one thinking about nothing. Academic psychologists will assure you that the "self" is an illusion, just a side effect of brain activity, like urine to the kidneys. That being the case, there is no one to get all weewee'd up about nothing at all.

This is the lie that is hidden in plain sight that undergirds all forms of a-theism. The relativist never explains why he is a miraculous exception to his own irony-clad rule: "whence comes this demigiod who accuses, and whence his power to accuse?" (Schuon). For if he is correct, then surely man has the capacity to transcend his relative state and to know the truth of himself.

But what kind of beast is able to share in absolute truth? Only one kind: the kind who is in the image of the creator, the Absolute. Otherwise, the gap between matter and truth is -- and how is this not obvious? -- infinite and absolute.

To insist that the intellectual queegmire of metaphysical Darwinism is absolutely true is as absurd as saying that truth is derived from error, rather than vice versa. There is "no common measure" between a truth-bearing person "and the wholly contingent movement preceding it.... Man is what he is, or else he is nothing" (Schuon).

Yes, human beings may doubt, but only "because there is certainty." Likewise, "the very notion of illusion proves that man has access to reality." And to know reality is to be certain, beyond doubt. Thus, the certainty of faith is the vehicle on which we float upstream in this void called "the world."

Conversely, cynicism is the raft upon which the a-theist rides to his eternal destruction, which is simply cosmic stupidity by another name. Cling to it all you like, but you are like a man holding onto a boulder plummeting to the earth.

Meep meep!

(The Schuon quotes are from his Logic and Transcendence.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Interior Logic of Ultimate Reality

Good news for in-home neuronauts and extreme seekers. There's a new translation of Schuon's religious cult classic, Logic and Transcendence. I read the old one, and frankly wasn't aware of a problem with the trancelight, which I found to be quite bright. However, I must admit, this one has less of a German accent. Also, the earlier edition was difficult to track down, and used copies were rather expensive on amazon.

Amazing that such an important book is #774,487 on amazon. It reminds me of something one of those old-school conservatives said about literacy. Even (or perhaps especially) so-called intellectuals simply substitute science for real thought, which places the fallen intellect in servitude to Ø, not O.

Albert Nock felt that government-run education had had the effect "of degrading intellectual standards and impoverishing the quality of literature": "Within my lifetime the country became largely literate, thus opening up an immense market made up of persons who were unable to read but were able to pass literary produce through their minds." For most people, reading is hardly better than watching TV. They say apes can't read. Wanna bet? Ever visited dailykos? Ever looked at a sewer through a glass bottom boat?

It also has the effect of increasing the interior reach of state propaganda. As we know, no one is more brainwashed than the tenured. Indeed, they're "the first to go," the canaries out of their ghoulminds. I am quite certain that Scipio would be unemployable in a public school. Indeed, they'd probably try to arrest him. Which wouldn't be a good move. He's not only dangerous, he's armed.

Irving Babbitt agreed that where there is no vision, the people perish, "but where there is sham vision, they perish even faster." And science, unconstrained by perennial truth, is the quintessence of a sham vision, for it is simply the animal senses extended and magnified. Let's not even talk about Obama's scam vision. I'd like to get away from politics.

Logic and Transcendence is one of Schuon's more important books, if only because it's an actual book. Most of the rest of his books are simply collections of essays on a diversity of topics. What I'd like to do is go through it chapter by chapter -- one chapter per post -- and see how that works out.

Schuon writes in such a compact manner, that it would be impossible to proceed faster than that, even with a short chapter. His writing falls somewhere between theology, gem-cutting, and sutras, the latter of which literally refers to a "thread" that holds beads, "and more metaphorically refers to an aphorism (or line, rule, formula), or a collection of such aphorisms in the form of a manual" (wiki).

As such, a sutra always requires commentary by a gentleman slacker or pneumatic gasbag of the spiritual sort. Indeed, for the esoterist, the Bible is actually a quintessential compendium of sutras, which has always been the rabbinical approach. You might call the Torah the "Mosaic Sutras." Sutras are one of the ways the secret protects itself.

In a brief introduction, Schuon addresses the problem of the degradation of the intellect, which causes many so-called intellectuals to regard religion as an intellect-free zone. As a result, esoterism is conflated with occultism, or Gnosticism, or a vague mysticism, when it is in fact an exact science -- the science of the Real, or Absolute, as it were.

We can still reason about the Absolute, but it requires a different approach than reasoning about the relative. In the end, genuine mysticism is any "inward contact with realities that are directly or indirectly divine," while real gnosis (as opposed to the heresy of Gnosticism) pertains to knowledge associated with one of those realities (in other words, one may make emotional contact, aesthetic contact, intellectual contact, etc.).

Many if not most exoteric religionists also have problems with esoterism, and they are right to be suspicious of wolves in sheep's clothing such as Deepak Chopra. However, this can obscure the fact that exclusive fidelity to exoteric notions can lead "to errors much more problematic than gnosis." In my view, so-called religious fundamentalism is as abusive of the intellect as scientific fundamentalism. A religion that does not speak to the intellect is no religion at all, for the intellect is what sets us apart from the beasts.

The first chapter is called The Contradiction of Relativism. It is an intellectual palate cleanser of the first order. If you read, understand, and assimilate this chapter, it should function like a spiritual antibiotic, killing all your cognitive parasites and teaching you how to think in O. But of course, you must take the full dose, or the infection can return even stronger and more resistant. And the full dose generally requires about 78 years for the average male, closer to 80 for the average female.

Really, you could read just the first sentence and go home: "Relativism reduces every element of absoluteness to relativity while making a completely illogical exception in favor of this reduction itself."

Thanks very much for coming out, folks, and drive home safely! It's been fun blogging for you these past four years!

What? Encore? You're too kind! What's that, Dupree? No they're not! They're saying B'aaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwB.

In my opinion, relativism is the fundamental mind parasite. (And you will have noticed that many on the left are quite open about declaring the opposite: that absolutism is the greatest threat to mankind.) For to be a relativist is to absolutely say that there is no absolute truth, precisely. "One might just as well say that there is no language or write that there is no writing."

There is no writing!

Thus, the "initial absurdity" of relativism "lies in the implicit claim to be unique in escaping, as if by enchantment, from a relativity that is declared to be the only possibility." This is why scientism is magic. Metaphysical Darwinism is magic. Secular leftism is magic. The opposite of Christianity is not science; it is magic.

Now, in order for truth to exist -- or to be known -- there must be objectivity. In a way, truth and objectivity are synonymous. In the postmodern world, subjectivity is absurdly conflated with consciousness, which leads to... absurdity on stilts.

For as truth and objectivity are reflections of one another, so too are relativism and subjectivity. If it is true that one cannot escape from one's subjectivity, then Yes, this is just a fragile and roundabout way of saying that truth is impossible. They're just giving you the long-distance reacharound. But five percent of nothing is still nothing.

But as Schuon points out, the fact that we are even able to conceive of subjectivity means that we are capable of transcending it. Subjectivity "would not even be conceivable for a man who was totally enclosed in his subjectivity." An animal, or a goddinpotty, dwell in pure subjectivity, but don't know it, for to know it is to be objective, precisely.

Or, let us say that it is the first crack in the cosmic egg into which we may plunge the wedge of intellect and begin the process of natural s'lacktion. It is in this manner that we are initiated into the world of the fertile egghead. Or, if you prefer, this is how one enters one's christallus coCoon and caterpults one's buddhafly into the upper atmasphere.

Conversely, to venture into the other side of the cosmic divide is to plunge oneself into error. Through it, "the door may be opened to all manner of misunderstandings, degradations, and deceptions." To which one might add seductions, unhip gnosis, and egoic immortality projects.

Oh my. We're out of time. This is going more slowly than I had anticipated. Is this a timed test?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

You are Charged with Being Guilty of Innocence!

I tells you what: I just discovered something. It's hard to blog about anything other than what I'm actually thinking about. To turn it around, the reason why blogging is so easy for me is that it gives me an outlet for -- well, as Bob Dylan put it, I got a head full of ideas / that are drivin' me insane.

As you may recall, we spent the first seven or so months of 2009 blogging about nothing but Balthasar, Balthasar, Balthasar. Why? Because I ware reading nothing but Balthasar, Balthasar, Balthasar. His body of work is so vast, that I decided to stop reading him so that my blogging could catch up to it. But now the blogging can't catch up, because I'm on to something else, thinking about other things.

This whole idea of "catching up" with myself is odd. It's as if the posts are my vapor trail -- or, as the trolls would say, my "back end." I'm always aware of cutting into the cosmic edge -- or the edge of myself, at any rate -- while the blog is a kind of real-time diary of my non-efforts.

This is also why I can't even think about writing another book. Blogging -- at least the way I blog -- is utterly different from writing, as different as, say, work and play, or comedy and drama, or music and architecture, or jazz and classical. The danger, of course, is that blogging can descend into mere self-indulgence, like the present post.

Is this post actually going anywhere? That's the thing -- I have no idea until I get there. You can't write a book that way. Publisher: "So, what's the book about?" Me: "Good question. I have no idea. I'll let you know when I get there." In fact, my agent wants to know how "the next book is coming along." The good news? It's done -- as is the followup. The bad news? They're entangled somewhere inside 1,500 blog posts, and I'm not the man to disentangle them.

So yesterday we had some objections from one of those traditionalist commenters who believes that history took a wrong turn with the renaissance. This is what Schuon and all of his followers believe. First of all, I do not ridicule their point of view. These are serious men, and even if you disagree with them, it is still worthwhile to read what they have to say.

There are two dangers, I think. The first is idealizing the past and denigrating the present; the second is idealizing the present and denigrating the past. I simply take a moderate position -- which is not the same as a mealy-mouthed compromise.

Rather, I think the only proper conservative position is to preserve the best of the past, not the whole thing, lock, crock and barrel. I think Schuon would counter that cultures are organic, and that you cannot simply pick and choose what you like and don't like.

But this overlooks the fact that once we awaken to the dream of culture, we cannot get back inside the dream. You cannot go home again. Man could no more return to a premodern mentality than an individual can go back to his childhood.

Remember the film American Beauty, in which Kevin Spacey determines that his life took a wrong turn with adolescence? He tries to recover his proper future by returning to the past and reliving his life over. At the very end of the movie, he is seen looking at a photo of his family, as if awakening to the infinite value of his present life. Then a bullet to the head. At least he dies a happy man.

This reminds me of an old patient of mine. Like Kevin Spacey, he was a sad and angry middle aged man who thought that his life had gone completely off track somewhere along the line. In his case, he traced it back to the experience of the 1960s. He had been something of a "square," and was therefore "on the outside looking in" on that dionysian decade.

But as we eventually discovered, "the sixties" was just a symbol for him of his own alienation from the vital core of himself. His visions of beautiful hippy chicks dancing naked in the rain were just a projection of his own suppressed vitality. They were as real as those commercials that show supermodels pounding beer on the beach while playing touch football with the guys. Yeah, that's what supermodels do. Hang out with drunken losers and throw up on the beach.

As far as I am concerned, it is just too easy to be "alienated," whatever historical era you were born into. Who feels completely comfortable on earth except for a well-loved child or well-stocked opium eater? I can guarantee you that if Schuon had been born in 1500, he'd be complaining about....

Well, we don't even have to really speculate. One of the values of this history of American conservatism is that it demonstrates the continuity of a kind of mindset that endures despite changes in the content. There's always something to complain about. Things are always going to hell in a handbasket. But only always. Once you are aware of this, then you can appreciate how the container determines the content, so to speak. Whenever this pattern occurs, you are trapped within a kind of parasite, because you are no longer apprehending reality, only your model of reality (which will be self-authenticating, only focusing on those aspects of reality that confirm it).

This is why, as Allitt points out, prior to the 1950s, conservatism was much more of an attitude than any fixed ideology. On the one hand, it is always skeptical, discerning, elitist. But this can conceal a kind of romantic naïveté about the past, as if one could resolve one's existential problems by living in a more coongenial time. You might say that progressives escape existence by romanticizing the future, while a certain type of conservative does so by romanticizing the past. But I simply see no evidence that people in the past were any less troubled than people of the present. They were just troubled in different ways and by different things, that's all.

In a comment yesterday, I mentioned that this book I'm reading, The Age of Wonder, goes into the history of surgical anesthesia, which was not available in England until 1853. Prior to that, the horror of surgery was mind-boggling. Were people back then tougher than we are? Yes, perhaps marginally. But none would have chosen their lot had they had an alternative. These procedures were "unimaginably painful. The pain also caused shock, which itself could kill. The only known form of a painkiller [alcohol] was largely a method of controlling terror and deadening shock..."

He writes of one physician who performed over 200 amputations on the battlefield in a single 24 hour period (using Obama math, he would have earned a cool ten million dollars that day, i.e., 200 x $50,000). Imagine his horror! There is the account of a woman with cancer who had a mastectomy done without anesthesia in 1811: "When the dreadful steel was plunged into the breast -- I needed no injunction to restrain my cries. I began a scream that lasted [continuously] during the whole time of the incision.... So excruciating was the agony... All descriptions would be baffled... I felt the Knife racking against my breast bone -- scraping it!"

Now, I do believe that most people were probably "different" in the past. In a comment, Susannah touches on the reasons why, that is, the prevalence of infant mortality. She writes that,

"One of the unifying features is that every mother lost a child to some disease or other that we now think nothing about, thanks to vaccinations [not to mention antibiotics -- ever tried to endure the screams of a child with an earache?]. It's heartbreaking to contemplate. I can't even imagine how fearful the first appearance of a cough or fever must have been. I read or listen to a lot of 19th century American writings, and notice the frequency of death, the length of illnesses (weeks in bed!) and the mistaken notions of medicine that were just par for the course then. In short, like you, I am very, very grateful for modernity."

I do not see how infant mortality couldn't have had an adverse effect on attachment and bonding, and therefore adult character and psychopathology. I think for many mothers, it was just too painful to bond with a child until there was some certainty that the child would survive. But those first 6-12 months of infancy are when the baby most needs the "infinite love" of the mother. Deprived of it, they would grow up to be emotionally blunted themselves, since their "core" wasn't intimately responded to when their brain neurology was being assembled. Talk about 'missing the sixties'!

In fact, there is another chapter on the European discovery of the "innocent paradise" of Tahiti in the late 18th century. They were sexually free (to the sailors' delight) and had no notion of private property. Therefore, theft was totally natural. Also totally natural was infanticide, so common that no one gave it a second thought. It was "used with regularity and without compunction as a form of birth control." The explorer, Joseph Banks, questioned couples "who freely admitted to destroying two or three children, showing not the slightest apparent guilt or regret."

You see? Innocence. Isn't it wonderful? But forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.