Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Stoking the Divine Fire and Blowing Smoke

In giving it some thought, there are some other barriers to comprehending the Kabbalah, perhaps the biggest one being the insularity of Judaism, which is there for a reason. Recall what we said the other day about "blending," and its significance to Jewish metaphysics. For a non-Jew to poke his head behind the veil and presume to understand the highest and deepest secrets of Judaism requires a kind of breathtaking presumptuousness. I guess the technical term would be chutzpah.

When you think about the taboos against mixing this and that -- e.g., meat and milk -- part of this has to do with evoking vertical recollection of the original separation. I'm pretty sure it's not just meant to be a mechanical act, but that it has multiple layers of meaning. But this is why, for example, cross-dressing would be a "sin" in Judaism, because it represents an indiscriminate mixing and undoing of the supernatural separation that God has ordained. It certainly has absolutely nothing to do with repression or prudery; to the contrary, robust sexual polarity is a key to maintaining sexual passion.

Likewise opposition to the redefinition of marriage. Another key idea in Judaism is that the unit of mankind is not man or woman, but man and woman: maleandfemale he created them. Note that the unit is not the blending of male and female, but the personal transformation that results from their dialectical play. Yes, a man's feminine side -- his anima -- is developed through this process, but a man cannot bypass or hasten the process by wearing dresses, playing with dolls, or voting Democrat.

The ultimate intent of the Law is to prolong the vertical into the horizontal by imbuing various otherwise mundane activities with the recollection of God. It's not intended to be oppressive but liberating -- liberty from bondage being another central motif of Judaism.

Indeed, when it merely becomes law emptied of spirit, I'm pretty sure something has gone wrong. I have an elderly relative by marriage who maintains a rigidly kosher home, but who couldn't be more of a cold and heartless witch. In her case, I think religious ritual has been thoroughly highjacked by mind parasites from below, so that it is merely OCD by another name. It is simply a way to manage her abundant aggression and consequent unconscious guilt.

Furthermore, mechanical discharge of the Law does not facilitate ascent through recollection, but like any other compulsion, keeps her where she is in an endless loop. It is a magical way to "undo" what the mind parasites have done.

Please note that the same thing can occur, for example, in Catholicism, when a person misuses the sacraments in order to remain the same, not to change. If they are not transformative, then something is not working as it should be -- probably due to a lack of sincerity, or a being who is riven by mind-parasites with competing agendas, about which the person has no conscious awareness.

More generally, the Raccoon view would be that the ultimate purpose of any religious ritual is to invoke, activate, and "invite" the Grace (↓). Obviously we do not create the grace, but can only try to live in such a way that we get out of its way. This dovetails with what we were discussing last week about man's role in the cosmic economy. I would put it this way: we cannot save ourselves, but we can certainly condemn ourselves (in a manner of speaking).

Now, I could very well be talking out of my yarmulke here, and if so, I will be pleased for Gandalin to smite me. I have no problem with that. I admittedly have no authority to belowviate on these elevated matters, except for the questionable authority Toots Mondello has vested in me and every other dues-paying Raccoon. The Raccoon is obviously a generalist, not a specialist. Much of what he does will appear to the uninitiated to be "blending," but it actually isn't, since it is operating from "above" not "below."

In other words, whether rightly or wrongly, we cannot help ourselves from examining the underlying principles by which a religious proposition is true (similar to how science reduces multiplicity to unity). This path is not for everyone, and in fact, it may well be for no one but me, since, while I can't help being me, you presumably can.

But assuming that I am animated by pneumacosmic principle, then the same principle should be active in at least a few others. I would certainly never attempt to proselytize my views to outsiders, as I well understand why they would be offended or indifferent. Thus, I preach only to the coonverted -- to those who, when they read my words, have that distinct sense that they are not so much learning anything new as recalling who they have always been.

Again, I have no illusions that this path is for everyone. Our Oly slackraments no doubt appear loose and lazy to outsiders, but I can assure them that it is much easier than it looks, since nothing is easier than being oneself. The hard part is becoming oneself.

One of Schuon's closest friends, Leo Schaya, wrote a book on the Kabbalah that is closer to the universalist perspective we have in mind. Of course Raccoons have our differences with the Traditionalists, but I think we can nevertheless draw some useful insights from this study. For example, Uncle Leo says that the ultimate purpose of Kabbalah is "spiritual contemplation, pure inspiration, or 'intellectual intuition.'" It endeavors to "rise above the plane of phenomena" through a plunge into the depths of the soul.

I suppose the main point is that Kabbalah can only maintain its universality by preserving its particularity -- in the same way that a man is only a "real man" to the extent that he is an individual man. One does not "become a man" by blending into some indistinct archetype, but by filling out the content of the archetype from below.

Thus, by becoming a true individual, one becomes a "mode of the infinite." In contrast, the "false individualism" of narcissism renders one a mode of the finite -- or death incarnate -- since one is severed from the source of the person, which is the metacosmic Person. It is the difference between being a mere eccentric and a true esocentric, to coin a word.

The book we are discussing begins with a foreword that tells the story of a meeting with an elderly Jewish sage who seems to be in a perpetual state of ecstatic raving about the Kabbalah. I think it's fair to say that it has become "operative" in him, and is doing what it is supposed to do -- which is to say, the Tree of Life beleafing in abundance. Again, it should not be a matter of memorizing dry or mechanical knowledge, but should facilitate a flow of vertical recollection on the soul-plane.

This man -- whom the author calls "Ezekiel" -- says that the purpose of life is "to know and experience God like a fire in the core of the core of your heart." In other words -- actually, the same words in a different order -- the idea is for your heart to be on fire with the experience of God. Then it's just a matter of properly stoking the fire and blowing a lot of smoke.

More holy smoke tomorrow....

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Ainsoferable Hodache

I've studied Kabbalah before, but I always end up getting bogged down in the alien nomenclature. Oy, would Nathan Birnbaum have been as popular if he hadn't changed his name to George Burns? Or Benjamin Kubelsky if he hadn't become Jack Benny? Someone needs to anglicize some of these terms.

So I only get so far before I can't tell my Keter from my Binah, my head from my Hod. But this book is different. Zohar, zo good, anyway. It's very crisp and concise, and leaves enough space for me to insert my own misunderstanding.

After all, the author, Daniel Matt, is in the process of translating the entire Zohar, which is an esoteric commentary on the Torah. At this point he's up to five volumes and some 3,000 pages, with more to come. I mean, the first two volumes only take you halfway through Genesis, so it's a herculean task.

Why is the Zohar important? We'll get to that later. In Matt's introduction, he points out that the Sefer ha-Zohar (its full name) -- which is the masterpiece of Jewish mysticism -- "emerged mysteriously in Spain toward the end of the thirteenth century." There is a deep connection between Kabbalah and Hermeticism, and in fact, some people (mistakenly) thought that they were the actual source of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. The idea is that Moses, who was raised an Egyptian, would have been deeply familiar with the Egyptian esotericsm of Hermes, which he incorporated into the Torah. In turn, the Zohar is a kind of mystical decoding of original hermetic message.

But in reality, the hermetica can only be traced back to the first few centuries AD, and the Zohar again appears in the 13th -- which is not to say that there couldn't have been an oral tradition prior to that. But in any event, I am not so much interested in the provenance or timing, only the truth it contains and discloses. I mean, our Constitution could have been given to us by aliens for all I care. All I know is that it's the finest political document ever produced by the divine-human partnership.

And don't forget, in the pre-scientific world, people had a very different conception of time. For one thing, it was much more qualitative, not quantitative. When someone wanted to convey the depth and seriousness of an idea, they did so by affirming its antiquity.

Thus, for example, although it turned out that Denys the Areopagite was not a contemporary of the apostle John, that hardly detracts from the brilliance of his writings. Back then, things like novelty and progress were not considered selling points. Indeed, they were pejorative. If you had said to Denys, "that's so old-fashioned," he'd say "why, thank you." And if you said, "well, that's a new way of looking at things," he'd probably have slapped your camel.

Anyway, this book I'm working on is quite concise and unsaturated. One interesting way that it forms a bridge between Judaism and Christianity is that, instead of the radical monotheism of the former, it maps out the interior of God, so to speak, which has some commonalty with the Christian Trinity, which in turn serves as a sort of bridge between us and the otherwise radical unknowability of God.

In other words, just as the Trinity tells us something about the intimate interior life of the godhead, Kabbalah purportedly reveals some other hidden dimensions that serve as the timelessly-temporal blueprint of creation. Just as there is a platonic mathematical physics that serves as the deep structure of the physical world, you might say that the Zohar reveals the deep structure -- the metaphysics -- of the immaterial world.

A key point is that this blueprint is only intended to be a clueprint for the higher imagination. Indeed, if you think of the abstract symbols I used in my book to map the spiritual adventure, it's somewhat like that. It is very much a case of "the secret protecting itself," so that it won't mean much to the uninitiated. Even if you memorized every word of it, it wouldn't mean that you had understood any of it.

Now, none of this is intended to subvert the plain meaning of the Bible. It's just that Scripture is a holographic text with multiple layers of meaning, from the literal, to the allegorical, to the symbolic, to the moral, metaphysical and mystical. None of these cancel out or deny the others. Indeed, you must forget about your aristotelian logic, in which A is always A. Rather, you must adopt the dream-logic of the symmetrical unconscious, in which A can simultaneously be A and not-A. Think of how everything in your dreams appears multiple, and yet, it is all you -- not just starring you, but produced, written, and directed by you.

So if Scripture is ultimately a holographic vertical memo from the Self to the self, so to speak, it must have at least as many dimensions as we do. We are not linear machines, so there is simply no way that Scripture can be a sort of linear instruction manual and do us any kind of justice. If you take that approach, you end up being as simple-minded as the ideological Darwinians, whose theory purchases radical consistency at the cost of a preposterous incompleteness.

Thus, as Matt reminds us, "On a deeper level, the text of the Bible is simply the starting point, a springboard for the imagination." To cite one very basic example, when God advises Abraham to "go to the land that I will show you," this also refers to the interior landscape inside us all: "Go to yourself, search deep within and thereby discover the divine."

Another example, this one more esoteric: as we all know, the first words of the Bible are In the beginning God created... But if one trancelights the words in their precise order, the Zohar suggests that they have a very different connotation: With beginning It created God.

Now, what is "It"? It is simply the top or center of it all, the Ain Sof, which you might think of as the hidden godhead or the unpronouncable name. (Ain Sof comes from Ayin, or Nothingness.)

Some Christian mystics call it "nothing," but this is not to be confused with the shunyata of Buddhism, for it is not literally nothing (or emptiness), just beyond our ability to contain it. It is the apophatic God we can't think about, in contrast to the cataphatic God we can. You might think of it as the ultimate O, from which everything intelligible flows -- even the intelligible God to whom we can "relate."

For those who get the jokes, there is quite a bit of Kabbalah in the Cosmogenesis section of my book. As a matter of fact, the Zohar itself is full of puns, wordplay, and neologisms. As always, the best cosmedians are Jewish -- for example, Albert Einstein.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Who's At Fault For the Fault Between the Fantasy and Reality of Obama?

I think I'll repost another antichrist update from last year, just because it pisses off our irony-poor trolls. But the main purpose of this verticalisthenic exercise is to gauge the accuracy of our cʘʘnvision one or two years on.

One thing that interests me -- and confirms the idea that group fantasies are very much real -- is that suddenly everyone is seeing Obama in the way we saw him from the first moment we laid three eyes on him. How can this be? Has Obama changed? Hardly. Then how to account for the distance between who Obama actually is and what people imagined he was?

One annoying reader keeps chiding me for using psychology to understand this gulf, but what is one supposed to use, physics? To the extent that there is a subjective abyss between the way things are and the way a person thinks they are, that's my bag, baby.

Here is a sample what people are only now seeing in Obama, even though there is "nothing new" here for the Raccoon:

"... [I]n this White House, there is no there there. It's all smoke and mirrors, bells and whistles, held together with glib talk, Chicago politics and an audacious sense of entitlement. At the center is a young and talented celebrity whose worldview, we now know, is an incoherent jumble of poses and big-government instincts. His self-aggrandizing ambition exceeds his ability by so much that he is making a mess of everything he touches.

"He never advances a practical idea. Every proposal overreaches and comes wrapped in ideology and a claim of moral superiority. He doesn't listen to anybody who doesn't agree with him. After his first year on the job, America is sliding backwards, into grave danger at home and around the world. So much so that I now believe either of his rivals, Hillary Clinton or John McCain, would have made a better, more reliable and more trustworthy president."

I might add that I am not engaging in any kind of "vicious attack" on anyone. For one thing, I'm talking about generally good people who have been captured by an ideology. And if you could actually see me instead of projecting all sorts of hostility into my words, you'd see that I am as calm and dispassionate as a person can be.

The plain fact of the matter is that psychology alone cannot account for the distance between fantasy and reality, not when it is this great. The XVth card of the tarot, The Devil, introduces us "to the secrets of the electrical fire and the intoxication of counter-inspiration."

But before proceeding further, let us take to heart the warning of our Unknown Friend (UF), who cautions us that "One can grasp profoundly, i.e. intuitively, only that which one loves. Love is the vital element of profound knowledge, intuitive knowledge." If you have ever wondered why true evil -- nazi evil, Islamist evil -- is so impenetrable, it is because the normal person obviously cannot love evil: "Evil is therefore unknowable in its essence. One can understand it only at a distance, as an observer of its phenomenology."

I suppose another way of saying it is that (in linguistic terms) "evil" is a signifier with no coherent signified, being that true evil represents a genuine absence -- an absence or deprivation of the Good. As such, the essence of evil is that it has no essence. It is slippery, shape-shifting, mercurial... You know what it's like to argue with it.

In turn, this is why evil is truly a "bottomless pit." It is not actually infinite, since only the Absolute can be infinite. It does, however, tend toward its own kind of "false" or "bad" infinite (in the Hegelian sense), which is why man can only rise so high but can fall and fall without ever hitting bottom, as proved by Keith Olbermann. I suppose the physics of black holes might provide a handy way to think about this negative infinity. This would be easier -- and less spiritually dangerous -- than trying to imagine, say, the bottomless darkness of the Berkeley City Council.

UF goes on to say that in comparison to the luminous worlds of the celestial hierarchy, the world of evil is more "like a luxuriant jungle, where you can certainly, if necessary, distinguish hundreds and thousands of particular plants, but where you can never attain to a clear view of the totality."

Do you know what he means? I do. It's what makes it so difficult to argue with politically deranged people, who, when you cut off one limb of their argument, just grow another. It's like a collection with no center or ordering principle, just a blob or agglomeration -- which is the opposite of the Life principle, i.e., that which organizes, unifies, and synthesizes. Dynamic wholeness is the essence of Life, which means that evil and death must be related to dispersal and fragmentation. Thus, "the world of evil is a chaotic world -- at least, such as it presents itself to the observer." (You will also have noticed that true science is impossible for such a person, because they cannot see the totality, only a collection of parts.)

Vertically speaking, order is "up," while chaos is down (although, there is a kind of paradoxical "static chaos" at the very bottom). No surprise there. In Genesis, God's first act is simply to separate. Without separation there is only the formless void of primordial chaos. If you don't understand the holiness and the sacredness of divine separation, then you don't understand anything. Yes, this separation, or duality, can be transcended, but only from above, never from below. Better to live in Holy duality than to obliterate divinely ordained distinctions out of a self-deluded belief in bogus transcendence, which is what the "new age" is all about.

As is leftism, which might just as well be called "down syndrome," being that it is rooted in the anti-divine principle of blending. For the left, In the Beginning was Order. Now, let us gleefully tear it down and blend darkness with light, the upper waters with the lower waters!

Examples are too numerous to mention, but one would have to include the obliteration of sexual differences, the trivialization of generational differences, the effacement of the distinction between knowledge and wisdom, the attack on private property, and the judicial activism which blurs the plain meaning of the Constitution; not to mention the conflation of transcendence and immanence, the satanic confusion of moral relativism, the abysmal fall into multiculturalism, and the obsession with the redistribution rather than creation of wealth. All of these trends are evil to the core, despite the paradoxical absence of a core. Again, evil is essentially without essence. It is perpetually going from nowhere to nothing, while enjoying the... what's the word, Jeeves? Yes, the frisson of the fall.

Now, just as the right kind of obedience is freedom -- for example, fidelity to Truth -- the wrong kind of freedom is slavery. According to UF, one of the subtexts of the Devil card is that of slavery, in that it depicts a man and woman bound by the neck to a much larger androgynous entity.

Interestingly, just as the union of male and female can create the miracle of a baby to raise (and who shall in turn raise them up in mysterious ways!), it seems that a false blending of their essences can engender another kind of being that shall lower them, so to speak. As UF explains, the card has to do with "the generation of demons and of the power that they have over those who generate them. It is the Arcanum of creation of artificial beings and of the slavery into which the creator can fall -- becoming a slave of his own creation." (For example, consider how Tiger Woods is a slave of this false blending.)

Let's pause here for a moment. In this regard, I can remember the precise moment when I crossed over that line from leftist back to liberal (i.e., conservative); or, to put it another way, when it was no longer possible to be on the left. I simply asked myself, "who is responsible for my existential unhappiness?" I won't go into all of the details, as that would take us down a lengthy deitour. But the point is, I realized that I was a slave of my own creation -- for example, an evil creation I called "Ronald Reagan." Of course, my creation had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual Ronald Reagan. Rather -- and this is critical -- not only was it my creation, but it was me. Just as in a dream, I was persecuted by my own elaborate production -- like the spider who lives in a web spun from its own substance.

I was reminded of this again last night in reading the liner notes to the new edition of Donald Fagen's excellent Nightfly Trilogy (nothing I'm about to say detracts from the music). As much as I appreciate Steely Dan (Becker & Fagen), like most people of their generation, their jaded cynicism does not extend to their own default moonbattery, which sits there like a kind of unexamined Holy Writ. Which it is. It is the genesis myth of the Baby Boom generation -- the idea that the evil is Out There in the Nixonian uncool ones who are oppressing us. (And which is why they imagined that the Cool One would save the planet.)

I know exactly what Fagen means when he reflects that "to a weekend hippie in the '60s," political paranoia "seemed kind of exciting." Indeed, for me, this was the appeal of a Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn -- that they provided a kind of secret gnostic knowledge, an alternative conspiracy theory that explained everything -- why the world is so off-kilter and out of joint, and more to the point, why I was so unfulfilled. Ronald Reagan hates me!

It's one thing to think this way in the '60s. But it is rather pathetic to still think it in one's 60s, as Fagen apparently does. He's still haunted by his self-generated demons -- i.e., mind parasites -- which have now appropriated the host, as suggested in the liner notes of the dark and dystopian world of Morph the Cat, released in 2006 (especially when compared to the idealism and optimism of Nightfly). As he writes,

"Paranoia just wasn't fun anymore in the age of al Qaeda." But not because of al Qaeda! Rather, he speaks disparagingly of Republicans taking over his city (New York) at the 2002 convention, and ends his notes with the following warning: "If you see some folks who believe that spirits and ghosts and hell actually exist and they're really sure about it and they're comin' your way -- RUN!"

I couldn't agree more -- run away from those who believe in vague spirits called "change," ghosts called "Bush" or "Cheney," or the hell of Gitmo.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

When Fantasies Crumble, the Effect is Real (7.03.11)

Beneath all the hysteria on both sides, it's difficult to say exactly what is going on and where it will lead. It would appear that Obama has now crossed the threshold from the "cracking" to the "collapse" stage, which no one should celebrate, any more than one should celebrate when a neurotic but still functioning person undergoes a psychological breakdown. Yes, the breakdown is necessary to reintegrate at a higher level, but even the most seasoned psychotherapist would find it difficult to have more than one or two such cases in his practice.

First of all, we don't have any idea how Obama, whose privileged life as a leftist mascot has shielded him from any accurate feedback about himself, will react to the impingement of reality. With anger? Depression? Vindictiveness? There is simply no way of predicting how such an emotionally immature person will react under stress, and this should be cause for concern to us all. Suffice it to say that he will not be able to handle it with the grace and dignity that President Bush did for eight years.

And equally importantly, the President is not just the leader, but the fantasy leader, and when people feel their organizing fantasies slip away, they experience a tidal wave of irrational anxiety -- the very anxiety that had been "contained" by the strong fantasy leader. Again, despite his economically destructive and self-defeating policies, one must nevertheless give FDR credit for remaining a strong fantasy leader who kept the nation from crumbling into psychotic anxiety. Suffice it to say, Obama is not this kind of man.

In 1994, President Clinton had the good sense to bring in a "group therapist," Dick Morris, who was able to help him make sense of reality and to adjust his policies accordingly. But Obama may be too proud and too brittle -- not to mention, too ideological -- to make this adjustment. But if he fails to do so, it will only ensure further crumbling, and at some point the collective anxiety will turn to rage. Again, the rage may feel empowering to those who harbor it, but few people make good decisions when angry.

In order to understand the depth of Obama's fall, one must reexamine the absurd heights to which he was elevated. Remember, when a man falls, he only falls back to the ground. But if he was absurdly elevated through primitive fantasy, this tends to create a "snap-back" phenomenon, through which the person crashes through the ground. For example, let's say that the person is up in the rarified world of +12 fantasy (which one might think of as a "positive mind parasite"). When he crumbles, he will snap down into -12 anti-fantasy.

This is because the narcissist specifically develops his narcissistic defenses to shield himself from the unconscious belief that he is worthless. This is why the narcissist's defenses are so brittle, and why they so easily cast people under their ever-ready bus. With even a hint that you are not propping them up with idealization, under the bus you go.

Anyway, this post from last year looks at the idealization of Obama, which I said at the time was a measure of his (and the nation's) distance from reality. Will the ground hold, or will Obama crash through it?


*****

Obama's finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don't even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.... The tens of thousands of new voters Obama brought to the polls tonight came because he wrapped them in that experience, because he let them touch politics as it could be, rather than merely as it is. --Ezra Klein

A black man with a white mother became a savior to us. A black man with a white mother could turn out to be one who can lift America from her fall.... This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better.... If you look at Barack Obama's audiences and look at the effect of his words, those people are being transformed. --Calypso Louis

Continuing with our analysis of the Devil Card, our Unknown Friend (UF) writes that the excesses of the left are always "owing to an intoxication of the will and imagination which engenders demons."

For example, if Marx and Engels had merely behaved as good Jews or Christians and "simply defended the interests of the industrial workers without having let themselves be carried away by their intoxicated imagination," then their ideas wouldn't have been so apocalyptically destructive. After all, every spiritually normal person wants to help the deserving poor and needy, but it is axiomatic that helping the human animal while killing the human soul renders any spiritual benefit inoperative for both parties.

Further, as Schuon commented, "Progressivism is the wish to eliminate effects without wishing to eliminate their causes..." To paraphrase him, the leftist wishes to make himself as useful as possible to a collectivity which renders the individual as useless as possible in the process. But,

"one must never lose sight of the fact that there exists no higher usefulness than that which envisages the final ends of man. By its divorce from traditional truth... society forfeits its own justification, doubtless not in a perfunctorily animal sense, but in the human sense. This human quality implies that the collectivity, as such, cannot be the aim and purpose of the individual but that, on the contrary, it is the individual who, in his 'solitary stand' before the Absolute and in the exercise of his supreme function, is the aim of purpose of collectivity. Man, whether he be conceived in the plural or the singular, or whether his function be direct or indirect, stands like 'a fragment of absoluteness' and is made for the Absolute.... In any case, one can define the social in terms of truth, but one cannot define truth in terms of the social."

Moreover, the left always couches their supposed empathy for the downtrodden in fantastically broad and sweeping generalizations of historical "and even cosmic significance, such as the statement that God does not exist, that all religion is is only the 'opium of the people,' [and] that all ideology is only a superstructure on the basis of material interests." UF wrote that in the early '60s, but it is no different today, with the intoxication that fuels and pervades the Obama campaign:

"What we hear from Obama is the eternal mantra of the socialists; America is broken, millions have no health care, families cannot afford necessities, the rich are evil, we are selfish, we are unhappy, unfulfilled, without hope, desperate, poverty stricken, morally desolate, corrupt and racist. This nihilism is the lifeblood of all the democrat candidates.... When Michelle Obama claims she is only newly proud of her country, she does not exaggerate. In her world as in Obama's, they believe we are a mess, a land filled with the ignorant and unenlightened, filled with despair" (Fairchok).

Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes, not divine, but demonic. --Pope Benedict XVI

As UF writes, it is always a "matter of excess -- a going beyond the limits of competence and sober and honest knowledge," which the left never doubts, "having been carried away by the intoxicating impulse of radicalism, i.e., by a fever of the will and imagination to change everything utterly at a single stroke."

It is this fever dream of sweeping existential change that animates the left no less than the Islamists, since both deny the possibility of real spiritual change, which is an individual matter; in contrast, man's existential situation cannot be altered, only transcended.

As Lee Harris has written, a fantasy ideology such as Islamism is obviously not a rational response to the world arrived at in a logical, sober manner. Rather, it is a transformative belief, meaning that its primary purpose is to psychologically transform the person who believes the fantasy. And believing the fantasy is an end in itself -- it has no purpose other than to make the fantasy seem like reality -- like it might actually be true. Therefore, the real reason for 9-11 wasn't actually to bring down western civilization. Rather, it was for the Islamists to deepen their trance.

Likewise, anyone with a basic familiarity with economics knows that leftist ideas don't just fail, but backfire. They cause all sorts of unintended consequences that the leftist never connects to the original policy -- e.g., how the welfare state eroded the structure of the black family, how racial quotas inevitably harm blacks, how rent control causes housing shortages, how subsidizing higher education simply drives up the cost, how socialized medicine leads to rationing, and how the government forcing banks to make bad loans to unqualified people is at the epicenter of today's economic problems.

Now, UF explains that the virtue of temperence protects us from the intoxicating counter-inspiration of radical fantasies -- including religious fantasies, which are not actually religious but manmade. As such, it is foolish to blame God or religion for things that emanate from the lower vertical in man.

UF makes the subtle point that one cannot engender a positive collective mind parasite. This is related to the principle that the mind parasite is an effect of "congealed" or "coagulated" psychic energy. As a result, it always "enfolds," whereas the good radiates. The former is an inward, contracting movement, whereas the latter is an expansive, radiant movement. This may sound overly abstract, but we are all familiar with the ontologically closed world of the left, whether it is their elite university campuses or the myop-ed page of the New York Times. If you approach these things with your activated cʘʘnvision, you can literally experience them as a sort of dense, black hole of "inverse radiation."

Now, why did people respond to, say, Ronald Reagan? For the opposite reason -- the radiant positive energy of which he was a mere vehicle. This only became more apparent when placed side by side with Jimmy Carter's withered and constipated presence.

I suppose the novel thing about Obama is that he is selling the same constipation, but with a kind of cheap and meretricious radiation that one must be intoxicated to appreciate. Indeed, as Fairchok writes,

"That is his appeal; he is [ironically] an actor, a performer, a cinematic presence that stirs simple emotions, emotions that have little grounding in truth. His speeches are the inane lyrics to a popular song that endures only because it has a great beat. One must not think too deeply on what Obama says, for it turns to smoke and disappears in the light of day. Ezra Klein is correct, Obama's speeches do not inform, they pander, they propagandize, they harmonize with the mythology of despair and the chimera of entitlement. As his hagiographies proclaim, he represents a new Camelot, but one that does not hold America quite so precious, a Camelot of globalists, moral relativists and communitarians."

Now, how to drive out a demon? Easy. As UF explains, "Light drives out darkness. This simple truth is the practical key to the problem of how to combat demons. A demon perceived, i.e. on whom the light of consciousness is thrown, is already a demon rendered impotent.... A demon rendered impotent is a deflated balloon." And the most recent Rasmussen survey indicates that this balloony tune is on a flaccid trip from omnipotence to impotence in record time.

As the farcical Marx taught us, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. But what comes after that? We're still dealing with the tragedy of the New Deal and the farce of the Great Society. No doubt Obama is a farce to be reckoned with, but I see two possibilities. If we divide history into Petey's descending stages of Gods, Kings, Men, Weasels, Beasts, and Chaos, I think FDR would be the king, LBJ the man. Clinton was the weasel. This would suggest that we are about to enter a beastly chaos, from which the only solution would be the return to a new age of gods, or, more properly, God. God or chaos. Vertical Man or horizontal beast. Sounds about right.

Friday, January 22, 2010

On Bumbling and Humbling Oneself to the Top

I'd like to wrap up with The Theological Origins of Modernity before moving on to another topic or perhaps taking another short break, whichever is easier.

But I just gnosissed -- just this second, actually -- an interesting little connection between the Renaissance humanists we've been discussing (people such as Petrarch, Ficino, and Erasmus), Christian hermeticism of the Unknown Friend variety, and Kabbalah. It also makes me wonder if someone such as Meister Eckhart wasn't dipping his toe (theory of everything) into the latter two streams.

I say this because I'm eyeballing a passage that discusses the Christian humanist Marsilio Ficino, who attempted to use Neoplatonic thought as a way to reconcile and synthesize "Christian piety and Roman morality." Of course, this whole idea will be offensive to those readers who imagine that tradition followed the scriptures rather than vice versa, but Gillespie correctly points out that the earliest Christian fathers drew "heavily on Platonic and Neoplatonic thought," and Ficino "was convinced that Christianity and Platonism had a common origin in the more ancient thought of Hermes Trismegistus and Zoroaster."

Now, this shouldn't pose a problem for a broadminded Christian such as, oh, say, St. Augustine, who knew that Christianity had always existed (indeed, how could it not?), but that it had simply gone by different names prior to the earthly appearance of Christ. The way I would look at it -- and again, it should go without saying that no one is under any pressure to agree with me -- that great historical events cast a backward shadow, so that in hindsight we can see all sorts of hints, augurs, omens and clues, like dark sparks cast back into the stream of time.

Here again, this shouldn't be controversial, for among the first things the early Christians did was pore over the Old Testsament, only to discover that it had been crawling with evidence that no one had fully pieced together. Indeed, what were the prophets doing if not examining the present for signs of possible futures? I don't think they were "seeing the future," since, as Scrooge found out, the future is variable, depending upon what happens in the present.

Nevertheless, it is clearly possible to see the outlines and contours of certain world-historical patterns, especially something as "large" as Jesus, who was both the "center" of history and its most supersized event. Again, he is like a vertical depth charge that causes temporal waves to travel both forward and back.

According to Gillespie, the Corpus Hermetica contributed "in important ways to the formation of early Christian thought," and "had a profound impact on many of the early church fathers, including Victorinus, Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen"; and I would definitely toss Denys the Areopagite into that mix.

Ficino other Christian humanists thought that this more ancient form of Christianity "could serve as an alternative to scholasticism," but I think you can see that it also avoids Luther's excesses. For Ficino did not expand the nominalist God at the expense of man, but "gave the human soul a privileged place in the universal hierarchy, as the bond of the universe and the link between the intelligible and corporeal worlds. Cultivating the soul in this view allows humans to 'become all things.'"

This is getting very close to unalloyed Coonspeak. But this is a perilous balance, because we are surrounded by heresies, hostile forces, and mind parasites on all sides. So proceed cautiously!

Note also that while Ficino "accepted the ontological individualism posited by nominalism, he saw individual beings filled with and united by sparks of divine love. Motivated by love, they are naturally attracted to the good and thus to God." This follows from the premise that God himself is only "unified in love," which resolves the one and the many -- or unity and trinity -- within the divine being. Love is the "interior reality" of God.

Here again, Ficino expresses the very Coonish (n)Otion that, while humans possess free will, it is "constrained from above," so to speak, by the Great Attractor. There is a transitional space between us and our transhistorical archetype, which is where freedom takes place, both for good and for ill. Thus, if "humans naturally are attracted to the good, then humans can freely exercise their wills in a manner that is harmonious with divine will," but without God's will entirely effacing our own (or our will denying God's omnipotence). Complementarity, baby.

A student of Ficino, Giovanni Pico de la Mirandola, extended his master's arguments, and "was convinced that truth was universal and that all philosophies and religions had a part in it." I would express it as follows: not only is any truth impossible in the absence of God, but all truth proves the existence of God, whether from science or religion. Even if Christianity is the most adequate or full revelation of God's being, this does not mean that God's being is not revealed elsewhere. And God's being is clearly the substance of truth (but not only truth).

Pico was also fully aware of the fact that philosophy and science can only take one "so far in penetrating the truth of the divine," and that it was necessary for one to take a leap into the unKnown at its well-lit frontiers -- or where the bright encampment borders the dark frontier, precisely.

Finally, is critical to remember that man is not in his privileged cosmic position because of "his own intrinsic excellence or power but his status as the imago dei." Thus, as Toots always said, the higher one ascends, the more humble one should feel, until one is finally a big nobody. Humility is always the mark of the master. Otherwise, one is misappropriating what belongs only to God. Thus it follows that Jesus suffered the ultimate humiliation.

At least until this.

The difference, of course, is that one can surrender to humility or find out the hard way. It's your choice.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why Liberals Are So Strong On Defense

Don't look at me like that. They are strong on defense. Against reality. They're relentless. They never stop assaulting it. Denial, projection, splitting, contempt -- their arsenal is formidable.

Continuing with yesterday's post, I'm sure that some of this sounds pedantic, but it really isn't. Klein's ideas are actually quite useful and immediately applicable -- in my opinion, because they are truly universal, as universal as, say, anabolism and catabolism -- or the breakdown and buildup of bodily tissue. You can't have one without the other, nor can you have new knowledge without breaking down what you already know.

In order to be found you must be lost, so the bewilderness adventure is every bit as important as your well-lit little encampment in the clearing. But if you lose your sense of the infinite (vertical) frontier, you might as well cash in your humanness right now, because your adventure is over. We are always (or should be) fruitfully engaged with the infinite and the eternal, for which religion is here to remind us.

In contrast to the paranoid-schizoid (heretofore PS) position (discussed yesterday), in the depressive position (D), the infant gradually integrates experience into a coherent, central self which is able to distinguish fantasy from reality, interior from exterior, self from not-self. You might think that this is an unproblematic achievement, but you would be quite wrong. We all carry remnants of the paranoid-schizoid position, some much more so than others. Again, the problem is not so much the PS itself, but its separation from D. It is actually a dialectic, which is why Bion symbolized it as PS<-->D, which you might think of as dispersal and integration.

In my book I refer to the enduring, unmetabolized or "crystalized" PS remnants as “mind parasites." Not only do they operate outside awareness, but they have a logic all their own.

As an example of how PS<-->D can work on a macro scale, in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung wrote that after his break from Freud in 1913, "a period of inner uncertainty began for me. It would be no exaggeration to call it a state of disorientation. I felt totally suspended in mid-air, for I had not yet found my own footing." Interestingly, this coincided with the onset of the war, which was experienced as a sort of psychotic breakdown of the world's order. Jung could not distinguish between his internal experience and the world situation:

"The pressure I had felt in me seemed to be moving outward, as though there were something in the air. The atmosphere actually seemed to me darker than it had been. It was as if the sense of oppression no longer sprang exclusively from a psychic situation, but from concrete reality. This feeling grew more and more intense."

Hmm, this is getting interesting. What happened next? "In October, while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all of the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps.... I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision lasted about one hour. I was perplexed and nauseated."

Soon he was plunged into an "incessant stream of fantasies" that made it difficult for him to function. "Had I left those images hidden in the emotions, I might have been torn to pieces by them. There is a chance that I might have succeeded in splitting them off; but in that case I would have inexorably fallen into a neurosis and and so been ultimately destroyed by them anyhow."

More on Jung's psychotic break in a later post. For our purposes, the point is that he did not defend himself against the unconscious, but fully plunged into it in an ultimately creative and healing way. (Although there are those who plausibly argue that Jung was actually unsuccessful in his psychic reintegration and that he remained crazy, which I won't get into here.)

Now, a "borderline" individual engages in severe splitting between good and bad, and has difficulty distinguishing between "inside" and "outside." As such, if you disappoint or frustrate them, they can suddenly perceive you as all bad (which they have projected into you), completely forgetting your many positive traits and the many happy experiences they have had with you. It is as if these experiences never happened, and the “good you” no longer exists, because it has been banished to some black hole of the unconscious (this process should not be confused with garden-variety PMS).

Likewise, a narcissistic individual only has use for others so long as they serve as a mirror for their primitive, paranoid-schizoid grandiosity. As soon as you fail to idealize them, they will react with anger or contempt in order to maintain their illusion of greatness. They will flush you from their life like a bad object. In order to protect themselves from the experience of shame, the narcissist preempts it with contempt. (You will have noticed that Obama's contempt is out of control, which is a testimony to his narcissistic "britlleness" and unconscious insecurity. It is only a matter of time before he has no one left to toss under the psychic bus.)

More generally, the manic defenses are those psychic defenses that prevent movement from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position, and include contempt, triumph, control, and idealization. Basically, you can think of these defenses as coming into play when reality threatens to impinge upon fantasy. In fact, these defenses ultimately consist of attacks on a reality the individual has already dimly perceived but does not wish to consciously entertain.

(Again, notice how much contempt the liberal media and politicians have for the people who voted for Scott Brown; it's really quite breathtaking, but it certainly gives the lie to the kooky idea that liberals are "for the little guy." In reality, they are for the little guy so long as he is a contemptuous loser who can't get through life without his liberal overlords. Otherwise, the little guy is a contemptible racist redneck Bible-thumpin', cousin-humpin,' rifle-pumpin', tea-dumpin', country bumpkin.)

At the same time, the manic defenses prevent recognition all of the implications of the unconsciously perceived reality, which is obviously a huge impediment to fruitful and generative thought. It explains why the left does not profit from experience, and why they continue proposing irrational and utopian ideas and policies that have already failed and will surely fail again. But only by arresting thought in this way can they keep their Audaciously manic Hopes alive. (Thomas Sowell calls this the inability to "think beyond stage one," which in practical terms comes down to failing to appreciate the Law of Unintended Consequences.)

In the past we have discussed deMause's concept of the “group fantasy.” In my view, the anti-theology of secular leftism is very much rooted in the paranoid-schizoid position, whereas the classical liberalism embodied in the conservative intellectual movement is much more reflective of the depressive position. Here, I hope it should go without saying that I am not primarily referring to individuals, as there are obviously many immature conservatives and mature liberals. Rather, I am specifically discussing the group dynamic.

If I am correct, then we will see in conservatism a much more sober and realistic assessment of mankind. As I have mentioned before, I am of the view that conservatism is as much an inclination, temperament, or “cast of mind” as it is any set doctrine. In fact, the doctrines follow from the temperament -- or, you might say, the depressive position -- rather than vice versa. This would explain why normal people generally become more conservative as they mature and grow wiser, whereas leftism mostly appeals to the young or to the permanently immature of academia and Hollywood.

Awhile back, I wrote a post which summarized the main tenets of conservatism and liberalism. Let’s review them and see how they line up in terms of the paranoid-schizoid vs. depressive positions. I think they basically speak for themselves.

Russell Kirk summarized the six canons of conservative thought as

1. Belief in a transcendent order; and that most political problems are moral problems resulting from bad values. (To cite an obvious example, if dysfunctional minority groups adopted the values of successful minority groups, such as Asian American values, they would be just as successful.)

2. Appreciation of the ineffable mystery of existence, and with it, opposition to the tedious uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of of most radical systems.

3. An understanding that liberty and equality are contradictory aims; a belief that there are distinctions between men and that classes will emerge naturally and spontaneously in a free society. “If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum.”

4. A belief that property and freedom are intimately linked. “Economic leveling... is not economic progress.”

5. Distrust of radical schemes by liberal intellectuals “who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs” that simply mask the intellectual’s lust for power.

6. Recognition that change and reform are not synonymous, and that “prudent change is the means of social preservation.” (Again, note the balance between PS and D; conservatives are all for change, just not indiscriminate destruction of the existing order in exchange for a fanciful utopia.)

In contrast, contemporary left-liberalism has entirely different assumptions and attacks the existing social order on the following grounds:

1. “The perfectibility of man”; the belief that education, environment or legislation “can produce men like gods; they deny that humanity has a natural proclivity towards violence and sin.”

2. Contempt for tradition. “Formal religion is rejected and various ideologies are presented as substitutes.”

3. Political leveling: “Order and privilege are condemned,” accompanied by “an eagerness for centralization and consolidation.”

4. Economic leveling: “The ancient rights of property... are suspect to almost all radicals.”

The first six postulates are true or revolve around truth; the second four are false or rooted in falsehood. But worse than that, the latter are manic defenses against the sobering reality of the former. To put it another way, to believe in the latter four is to remain a child forever in the pneumacosmic scheme of things.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

There Is No Such Thing as a Liberal

Rather, there is only a boundaryless, mixed-up fusion of Baby Democrat and Mommy State. But we'll get to that in a moment.

Right now, I just want to say -- and let me be perfectly clear about this -- that I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when the oceans began to rise and our freezing planet began to warm up again… That this was the moment when we dodged a bullet with a ballot and prevented a tyrannical federal government from permanently extending its grasping tentacles into the most intimate reaches of our bodies. We love Uncle Sam, but he doesn't have a license to practice medicine, and he has no right to examine our prostate. Only the IRS can do that.

My friends, this is the moment when we said NO! to the dork farces who insist that you can fill the economic swimming pool by taking water from the deep end and pouring it into the shallow end. This was the moment -- yes, the delicious moment -- when we came together as a nation and made Tingles Matthews cry on national TV. And folks, it doesn't get any better than that.

Actually, I can't relate to all the hoopla surrounding last night's election. First of all, a conservative doesn't locate his salvation in politics. But even then, it's literally a matter of avoiding a catastrophe as opposed to imagining that suddenly the world has been transformed. True, the sense of relief is real, but relief is very different from joy. It's much more temperate and sober, like finding out that that spot on the CT scan is just a fatty cyst, not an inoperable tumor.

Plus, we realize that the same atavistic and entropic powers and principalities who are the wind beneath Obama's bag are still here, and that these powers will always have the upper hand in this world. They never rest, they never take the day off, and they never quit. They do not know slack. They politicize everything and everyone, because that is their religion. Theirs is a manichaean world, minus the nuance.

And just as a practical matter, the Department of Irony (which presides over history) forecasts that this could actually benefit the Democrats, since it will prevent them from enacting their most kooky and destructive legislation, so that they may actually be in a stronger position next November. We never forget the orthoparadox that more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

No time for an all new post, but this one from a few years back seems relevant:

I’m trying to imagine what it must feel like for Horizontal Man to win -- or even hope to win -- an election. I know that for me and other verticaloids of my acquaintance, there is no great joy upon winning an election, usually just relief that we have managed to temporarily pull the cultural plane out of its death spiral.

But for Horizontal Man, politics is his religion, which is the whole problem with his politics. The Obama phenemonon is the quintessential example of this. He is almost wholly the product of vertical wishes and dreams inappropriately (because unconsciously) displaced onto the horizontal plane. Obama most certainly realizes this, which is why he is running one of the most cynical and manipulative campaigns in living memory.

One way or another, vertical man is born again “from above.” Therefore, he draws his energies from the vertical center and radiates them to the horizontal periphery. But since Horizontal Man is trapped in the bewilderness of his contingent being (i.e., maya), he unconsciously projects the above into the future, and thereby constructs a faux spiritual life that attempts to draw on the psychic energies of his self-created (and self-enclosing) illusion.

In other words, horizontal man (if he isn't just an honest nihilist or self-consistent hedonist) practices the religion of progressivism, in which belief in a transcendent order is immamentized and "nourishes" the vacuum where his soul ought to be.

In so doing, the leftist receives a kind of existential consolation which may be compared to a form of counterfeit grace, in particular, when he imagines that he is in proximity to his imaginary heaven and therefore closer to being “saved” from the existential situation that afflicts all humans. Obviously, the Obamaniacs are feeling very "close" to this heaven, which ratchets up their creepy fervor. (The depth of spiritual hopelessness and primitive hatred defended against by this false hope is frightening to consider; cf. here.)

You can clearly recognize this mechanism of hoped-for horizontal salvation in action. For if reality were actually as awful as what the fantasists of the left have been saying for the past seven years, we would not see this manic exaltation among their rank and foul. Rather, we would see great sobriety and moral seriousness, as they brood on the monumental work of undoing the theo-fascist takeover of America, of saving the biosphere from immanent demise from the Bush-caused planetary inferno, of repairing our "permanently damaged" standing in the world. After all, if all it takes to undo these problems is to elect a smiling cipher, then the problems couldn't have been that serious to begin with.

The great psychoanalyst Melanie Klein divided childhood psychological development into two main stages, which she termed the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions. (I will try to avoid pedantry at risk of over-simplification.)

For Klein, the primary goal of development was to move from the former to the latter, although in reality, the relationship between the two is more dialectical than linear, similar to the relationship that exists between the conscious and unconscious minds, or between what might be called mental metabolism (building up) and catabolism (breaking down).

In other words, we no longer think of an unconscious mind per se, but a dialectical relationship between the conscious and unconscious. This dialectic can be fruitful and generative, or stultifying and self-defeating, but you can no more rid yourself of unconscious processes than you could speak without the implicit deep structure of grammar, or understand religious symbolism without the archetypal clueprint implanted into us by God.

Human beings are subject to the nuisance of intrusive thoughts long before they are capable of thinking them. The problem for development is to build a robust psychic structure in which one may think thoughts instead of merely being thought by, or subject to, them.

Naturally, our earliest psychological reality is almost wholly fantastic, and it is actually the primary job of the parent to prolong this fantasy until the baby becomes capable of discovering and bearing reality. In the absence of unconscious buffers, reality truly would be unbearable -- something like looking straight into the sun, or trying to live on the surface of mars, or being trapped in a SigAlert with only Air America on the radio.

This is why you cannot “spoil” an infant. Rather, you must indulge them until they are resilient enough to tolerate the painful and disappointing discovery of reality. Ironically, this can only be achieved if they have a firm foundation of entitlement and generative fantasy -- for example, the fantasy that one’s painful hunger causes a generous and bountiful breast to magically appear out of nowhere.

The baby must imagine that this loving breast is his own creation before he makes the disappointing discovery that it actually belongs to mother (let alone a third interloper!), otherwise reality will have to be rejected or even attacked in some form or fashion. We must be provided with, and then gradually disillusioned of, our infantile omnipotence, on pain of trying to hold on to it or resurrect it for the rest of our lives.

The paranoid-schizoid position predominates during the first year of life. Naturally there is no clear sense of psychological boundaries at this time, which is why the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott made the famously wise crack that “there is no such thing as an infant.” Rather, there is primarily a harmonious (or inharmonious), mixed-up fusion of mother and baby. The baby’s sense of individual selfhood will only gradually emerge from this primordial matrix.

Klein called this the “paranoid-schizoid position” because it is the source of our most primitive psychological defenses -- e.g., denial, splitting, and projection. These defenses are normative for a baby, but only become problematic to the extent that we fail to evolve into the depressive position.

At this early age, we shouldn’t even think of them as defenses, but more as primitive modes of "thinking," i.e., of organizing our otherwise chaotic mental experience, almost like primitive neurological "categories" or preconceptions. (And research by Allen Schore indicates that these are very much neuro-biological signposts that order our world.)

For example, splitting early experience into a “good” and “bad” breast is analogous to God’s separation of the primordial waters. It is an attempt to achieve safety by placing a distance between what are in reality different aspects of oneself. Projection obviously works the same way, in that it allows the person to evacuate the "bad" or to place the good outside the self for "safekeeping."

End of part one.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Descent of Man: Human, Post-Human, and Subhuman

At the time it first appeared, humanism seemed "a strange construction of... incommensurable parts" (Gillespie). Especially in hindsight it appears incompatible with Christianity, but only because of what it later became, long after it had shorn itself of its Christian roots.

From our transhistorical vantage point, it seems "an anti-Christian revival of pagan antiquity, a turn from what Nietzsche called slave morality to the master morality of the Greeks and Romans" (Gillespie). Remember, although ancient Greeks and Romans stressed virtue and honor, they also had no problem with infanticide, slavery, brutal torture, and horrible treatment of women.

And by the 20th century, this (per)version of humanism had prevailed. Christian humanism devolved to secular humanism, and here we sit today with the postmodern, post-literate, post-intellectual and post-noetic barbarians not only inside the gates, but in control of virtually all the disseminators of "culture" -- the news media, the arts, primary education, academia, professional organizations, and even perhaps most religions, e.g. the National Council of Churches, or reform Judaism (AKA, the Democrat Party with holidays thrown in).

Clearly, humanism answers a human need. But is it a legitimate need? Or, can it be made legitimate? The good news is that humanism "made the Renaissance and the modern world possible" (Gillespie). But one must immediately qualify that statement by noting that it also made the Renaissance and the modern world possible.

Is it really just a matter of all things human cutting both ways, of every blessing coming with a curse, and vice versa? Or, is there perhaps a proper way to be human? This is an idea that has always intrigued me, from my earliest days in graduate school. That is, when you train to be a clinical psychologist, you are training to be a "healer of souls." That being the case, there must be an explicit or implicit model of how a soul is supposed to function and what it is designed to "accomplish."

As I wrote in my book, only with the emergence of life do we have this new cosmic category called "pathology," because only when things need to go right, can something go wrong.

But the same holds true for the human subject. If it is not designed to do anything -- if it is just an absurd cosmic accident -- then it can have no intrinsic purpose and therefore no pathology. At best, "psychotherapy" would be purely analgesic, just a matter of reducing pain (or increasing pleasure) -- even when the pain is providing critical feedback about a life wrongly lived. But that is precisely the problem: you cannot say that a person is living his life "wrongly" if there is no ultimate purpose to life.

Recently our resident troll articulated the humanist position with his characteristic coarseness, that this is indeed a chaotic and meaningless cosmos except for the "meaning" that human beings invent and impose upon it. The whole problem with this approach is that this is not "meaning" properly so called, any more than a paranoid delusion is meaningful. Rather, it is pretending that the meaningless is meaningful, precisely. Frankly, I have much more respect for the secular humanist who is intellectually consistent, and who lives life as a true nihilist and anarchist.

But no human can consistently live this way, because it is not human to do so. Nor is it even "animalistic," for animals are anything but nihilistic. Rather, they well understand the purpose of their lives, and are never at a loss for "what to do." To paraphrase Schuon, animal instinct is their "collective intellect," whereas for man, the intellect properly so called is his instinct. We are born to know, and not only that; rather, we are born to know truth, otherwise our knowledge is ultimately of "nothing."

Nor is there any intrinsic limit to what a human may know. That is, he may know, and know absolutely. Or, you could say that he knows that the Absolute exists, if only because he can absolutely deny it, as do the neo-retro-atheists.

The question is, what is man that man should be mindful of him? You will have noticed that the more secular humanism "succeeds" in its project, the more it fails, because it converts potential humans into infra-humans exiled from their own spiritual archetype, their own salvation. Rampant narcissism, the cult of celebrity, neo-pagan body mutilation, the exaltation of the instincts, the most base impulses and sentiments masquerading as art -- if that is what humans are, who needs them?

But again, this is only a crude caricature of humanism cut off from the very impulses that brought it into being. The answer is surely not to suppress the human, as they do in the Islamic world, or in Communist China or Korea, or on leftist campuses, with their politically correct thought police, oppressive speech codes, and coercive totolerantarianism. Note the irony that they too have their implicit idea of what it is to be a proper human, but that it is imposed from on high, when one of the inviolable features of a true humanism would be the freedom to discover this on one's own.

Again, Petrarch tried to steer a middle course, on the one hand rejecting "Aristotelianism on essentially nominalist grounds," but also rejecting "the nominalist contention that God's omnipotence made all human freedom impossible." To a large extent, the new humanists found their inspiration in some of the earliest Christians, who were not only more intimate with ancient, pre-Christian wisdom, but also free of the institutional corruption that had gradually developed during the middle ages.

What makes a human a human? We cannot merely be rational beings, for if that is the case, then the ideal man is more of a machine than a human. In that model, the least human would be the most human, an obvious absurdity (which is why naive positivists and materialists such as Charles the Queeg are so creepy to us).

Rather, Petrarch regarded humans as primarily willing beings, which immediately goes to the question of freedom. Although reason can never account for man's freedom, if his freedom operates outside reason, then it is no longer free. Rather, it is merely "absence of constraint," which is neither here nor there. In this regard, the existentialists are absolutely correct that freedom without truth is nothingness, so that to embrace the nothingness makes one more human. An absurdity, yes, but existentialism does not pretend to be otherwise, which is to say, other than wise.

Way out of time. To be continued....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Complements Beget You Everywhere

Let's take a little side trip on the road to modernity, and find out what Schuon had to say about the spat between Catholicism and Protestantism. Yes, he was a Sufi, but he had an extraordinarily deep and subtle understanding of, and appreciation for, Christianity. While he naturally had some blind spots, he still easily surpasses most religious thinkers in getting to the essence of the subject.

Bear in mind that I'm freely tossing my own ideas and interpretations into the mix, so Schuon is not responsible for my (mis)use of him. Also, please remember that one of the main reasons I write is to discover what I think, so what follows may surprise me as much as it does you. So before you disagree, at least give me a chance to understand what I mean. I'm sure some of this will offend, but I'm not trying to be offensive, so cut a brotha'-under-the-pelt a little slack.

Now, being that he was a traditionalist, you'd think that Schuon would automatically reject Luther as heterodox and even heretical. However, he recognizes that there are two great principles that govern religious phenomena, one of them more vertical, so to speak, the other more horizontal. The former is what he calls the "celestial mandate," the latter "apostilic succession."

Clearly, the celestial mandate must ultimately take priority over the apostilic succession, because without it, there would be nothing to apostle-ize. There would be no news, but a lot of vacuous people to propagate it -- just like cable TV.

Ironically, in a certain sense, the celestial mandate cuts both ways, since it is the source of tradition, and yet, it "blows where it will," and can never actually be contained by tradition. You might say that the role of tradition is to do the utmost to be a worthy vehicle of the celestial mandate. It's a very delicate balance -- a complementarity, you might say -- to maintain tradition while simultaneously remaining open to what amounts to the "extra-canonical intervention of Grace"; or, to balance growth and conservation, just as in politics.

I'm not sure if this is self-evident or unnecessarily convoluted, but it's clear to me so far. And I think right away you see a kind of trialectical tension that human beings simply cannot eliminate, which is why it is true (up to a point) that there must always be the outward or exoteric "church of Peter" and the inward and esoteric "church of John." Furthermore, these are in no way "opposites," but fully complementary. You cannot have one without the other, any more than you can have form without substance, or a body without a skeleton to support it.

That being the case, it is obvious -- to me anyway -- that there is no reason why the apostilic succession cannot make a space for the intrinsically wild and untamed celestial energies. Is there any doubt that people who break away from tradition are -- whether legitimately or not -- seeking a more intense, personal, and genuine encounter with the celestial mandate, a direct descent from above? I mean Shakers, Quakers, Fakirs, Seekers, Suckers, Slackers, Pentacostal crackers -- in a way, they're all just trying to bypass the horizontal form and go straight to the source, misguided though they often are.

The problem, however, is to combine this free-wheeling approach with legitimate authority, order with spontaneity, classical with jazz. To emphasize only the vertical to the exclusion of the horizontal is asking for trouble, man being what he is. Yes, tradition can devolve into the mundane "bureaucratization of the sacred," but the total lawlessness of the frontier is not the answer (at least for the vast majority).

But again, for Schuon, the impulses behind the Reformation were (small l) "legitimate," since, at the time, they drew "from a spiritual archetype that was, if not entirely ignored by Rome, at least certainly 'stifled.'" Thus, not dissimilar to how Buddhism broke off from Hinduism in order to return to its first principles, Luther operates outside strict apostilic succession in order to go straight back to the celestial mandate.

Do you see the point? To say that every man becomes his own priest is to say that each man is given his own private celestial mandate (which again, man being what he is, can be a recipe for disaster).

But soon enough, the Reformation begins to "congeal" into its own horizontal traditions, so that additional schisms become inevitable. One of them, for example, is that only faith saves; or that God's absolute omnipotence precludes man's free will; or that moral effort counts for nothing. Thus, people who believe in free will or the efficacy of works must split off and form their own sect.

But please note: none of these schisms is strictly necessary, if one preserves the fullness of the original complementarity which cannot be resolved anyway. As Schuon puts it, Protestantism ends up opposing "Roman excesses with new excesses."

Indeed, even to insist that "only faith matters" is going to generate an inevitable split within itself. For, what kind of faith? A sincere faith? A half-hearted or lukewarm 51% faith? A faith that proves itself with works? A thoroughly rotten person whose faith is nevertheless rock solid? A faith that has no problem with abortion or anti-Semitism?

For Schuon, there is no real faith in the absence of gratitude and sincerity, which reflect one another in the following manner: "Sincerity forms part of faith, thus it is only sincere faith -- proved precisely by moral effort and works -- that is faith as such in the eyes of God. In other words, sincerity necessarily manifests itself through our desire to please Heaven which, having saved us from evil, obviously expects us to practice good; and this consequentiality can be termed 'gratitude.'"

Now, as we have been discussing, there is rather wide latitude in one's understanding of man's fallenness and what we can do about it from our end. Both Augustine and Luther took rather extreme positions, which, for Schuon, end up being a caricature of what the teaching is trying to transmit to us. In other words, it's supposed to be a kind of useful wisdom, not just a condemnation. It's like the difference between a fatal diagnosis for which you can do nothing, vs. being told by your physician that if you don't address your condition, it will surely be fatal.

Either the fall is contingent or necessary; if the latter, then you might say that we are indeed rotten to (or from) the core, and that the rottenness is essential to our nature. But if it is contingent, then there is something we can do about it. It does not necessarily "penetrate and corrupt all [of man's] initiatives."

Again, our attitude toward this question bifurcates in two directions. In the Catholic approach, which Schuon calls more "dynamic," "if a man does not make efforts to transcend himself, he follows his passions and becomes lost; if he does not go towards his salvation, he drifts away from it, for who does not advance, retreats; whence the obligation of sacrifice, asceticism, and meritorious works."

The Evangelical approach is more "static," but that doesn't mean it is not efficacious. In this path, one's salvation is predetermined, "which in fact is reassuring," and is "addressed firstly to men given to trust in God, but trusting neither in their capacity to save themselves, nor in priestly complications," but also to some purely contemplative types "who love simplicity and peace."

With regard to the latter, Schuon observes that while Luther closed one door to grace, he opened another, in the sense that he considerably simplified and centralized worship, and "opened the door to a particular spiritual climate which also possesses a mystical virtuality." Clearly, Luther is not interested in "dotting every theological i" -- "which is the Roman tendency -- but at believing in the literal wording of Scripture." If much of it makes no sense, hey, no big. Plenty of things -- probably the vast majority -- are true without us understanding how or why.

Nevertheless, the Raccoon tends to be an extremely curious creature who cannot stop asking why.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Revelations, Revolutions, and Reconciliations

Just a dashed-off post to offload some excess ideation that is taking up space in my melon....

As I mentioned the other day, if a religion doesn't meet man where he is, it's not going to be particularly effective. In other words, if I have to pretend I'm someone else in order to fit into a particular religious view of the world, then something is wrong.

Now, this is not to say that when there is a conflict between the way I would like for things to be vs. the way revelation says they are, that I should reject the latter. I'm talking about much more fundamental issues. In particular, I'm thinking of two things: personal identity and modernity, both of which I am rather attached to. I don't want to go back to neolithic, or ancient, or premodern times.

Hell, I don't even want to go back to the 20th century. Or to 2009. I like it here. Unlike the traditionalists, I don't think that any period of history is intrinsically privileged over any other, because they're all insane. For one thing, man is man, both everywhere and everywhen. If you find yourself idealizing some previous period of history, it's likely that you're just projecting paradise -- which is interior, archetypal, and vertical -- somewhere else. But at the very least, wherever you go, you have to go there too, which exiles you from paradise all over again.

For example, as much as I revere the Founders, it's amazing how quickly the wheels came off their revolutionary idealism after the war for independence was won and it came time to actually put their ideals into practice. In reading Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, it's been quite instructive for me to learn more about the ruptures and divisions, the personal hatreds and paranoia, that erupted after 1783.

It seems that passions were temporarily dampened with the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, but so intense were the conflicts thereafter, that it is something of a miracle that such a man as George Washington existed at that time, because he, and only he, had sufficient stature to serve as the living source of unity in the country.

Rather fascinatingly, as sophisticated as these men were, it wasn't just abstract respect for the rule of law or reverence for the Constitution that got them through, but the concrete love of a man who was the living embodiment of the ideals they cherished -- honor, virtue, courage, selflessness, and disinterested wisdom.

I think you can see the same forces at play in figures as diverse as Lincoln, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Reagan, all of whom became much more than their ideas. I hate to make such an odious comparison, but it really is the inverse of the "Führerprinzip." Obviously, something so powerful can have a dark side, so the same principle that explains how a person can become an embodiment of the good explains how they can become an embodiment of evil. Indeed, demagogues and cult leaders from Jim Jones to Obama cynically rely upon this collective human longing for a living messiah.

Not sure how I ended up here. I had wanted to continue with our discussion of the medieval Raccoon Petrarch, who attempted to forge a Christian humanism that steered a middle course between the Catholic establishment and the Protestant revolutionaries. But again, once the battle started, positions immediately polarized and hardened, to such an extent that the middle was eliminated. You were either on one side or the other. For the Raccoon, it was something like a choice between Crips, Bloods, or Dead.

For just as in the case of the Founders, their abstract ideals were not sufficient to shield them from their all-too-human tendencies. I mean, so intense were the hatreds and rivalries of some of the Founders, that Alexander Hamilton tried to bait President Adams into a duel! The President! No, he didn't want to assassinate him outright. That would be dishonorable in the extreme, hardly befitting a gentleman. Rather, he wanted to kill him in a fair fight.

Just so, all the Christian love in the world was unable to prevent the bloody religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. Or, to put it another way, if we stipulate that both sides were equally fervent in their love of God, then something wasn't right.

In the little transhistorical space that briefly opened up before things turned ugly, Petrarch had the idea that "individual human beings and their goals matter, that they have an inherent dignity and worth. This assertion was revolutionary and stood in stark opposition to the regnant doctrine of original sin and the Fall, which denied that individuals had either an intrinsic value or a capacity for self-perfection" (Gillespie).

Fortunately, these ideals eventually triumphed in some places -- most notably, in the American Revolution -- but it was still a struggle to demonstrate in practice how democracy, individualism, and self-interest were concretely linked to religious ideals.

For one of the central conflicts that opened up immediately after Washington's inauguration was the question of whether human beings really are qualified to rule themselves in the absence of a more "evolved," learned, and dispassionate aristocracy. The bitter hatred between Jefferson, who was the most passionate (to the point of irrational utopianism) advocate for the former, and the Federalist Hamilton, who stood for the latter, could hardly have been more intense and personal (it makes me think that Hamilton knew about Jefferson's baby mama situation).

But here again, you see the same archetypal pattern that split the Christian world, which really came down to hierarchy vs. radical democracy, verticality vs. horizontality, One vs. many, Father vs. Son. However, the Raccoon takes neither side in this false dispute, since he realizes that this is an irreducible complementarity, and that to insist that only one side of a complementarity is true, is to internalize the Cosmic Divorce.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

On Why the Secret Had to Protect Itself

I don't blame any Raccoon for going underground in the 16th century, where we've remained ever since. Nor do I blame anyone at the time for turning away from religion and wanting no part of it.

For example, "In 1572, seventy thousand French Huguenots were slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre," after which Pope Gregory XIII was "delighted to receive the head of the slain Huguenot leader Coligny in a box..." (Gillespie).

But "lest anyone imagine that the barbarity was one-sided," when Cromwell invaded an Irish town in 1649, his army killed virtually every last person. "They burned alive all those who had taken refuge in the St. Mary's Cathedral, butchered the women hiding in the vaults beneath it, used Irish children as human shields, hunted down and killed every priest, and sold thirty surviving defenders into slavery" (ibid.).

And that's just a very small sampling of the savagery. Of course, it's all too easy to simply blame religion for the atrocities, since no one at the time was irreligious, and religion was thoroughly entangled with culture, language, ethnicity, customs, power and politics. Furthermore, whenever someone engages in genocide, I think it's fair to say that it is never for the stated reason. Rather, there are unconscious motivations of which the actor knows nothing.

To put it another way, nothing as deeply irrational as genocide could occur as a result of purely rational motivations that one can take at face value. For example, the Nazis didn't merely wish to kill Jews, but wanted to degrade, humiliate, and thoroughly dehumanize them, so that the whole bloody project was imbued with an obvious component of sadism. But no Nazis, to my knowledge, publicly announced that "we're doing this because we secretly get a thrill out of degrading people and watching them suffer." Nor did those who engaged in the religious wars.

Nor do leftists, for that matter, imagine that their conscious desire to "help" people is covertly motivated by a contemptuous desire for power over them. Very few people wake up in the morning with the conscious idea of doing bad and harming people. Which is one of the reasons it is naive in the extreme for leftists to constantly announce their belief that conservatives actually do wish to consciously harm people.

You will have noticed that they never take us at our word that we really do think that high taxes are bad for the economy, that collectivism and statism are inconsistent with American values, or that racial quotas are bad for blacks. I would actually have more respect for leftists if they first said, "look, I know you're a good person, that racism is repugnant to you, and that you don't mean to harm blacks. But your opposition to racial quotas is so irrational, that it must be concealing some unconscious conflict about race." Because consciously, I am a passionate negrophile of the first rank -- and not just the light skinned ones with a Harry Reid dialect.

Anyway, back to those Raccoons who were forced underground during the religious wars, just when it was starting to look like there might be a little opening for them to come out of the closet and be accepted by society.

A Raccoon is a big believer in free will, without which truth, virtue and beauty cannot exist. If we are not free to discover truth, then we are like machines. Again, as we have mentioned in the past, it is really quite simple: truth is what man must know; virtue is what he must do; and beauty is what he must love and create. Of course, it doesn't end there. For just as truth is the virtue of the intellect, virtue is beauty of soul. And beauty is the splendor of truth. Etc.

But again, for Luther, all of this ancient retro-futuristic Raccoon wisdom goes out the window, since the nominalistic God "was responsible for everything. Thus, neither he nor anyone else could either gain or lose salvation, because faith alone saved and faith came only through grace. Luther's soteriology or doctrine of salvation thus rested on the omnipotence of divine will and the powerlessness of human will." Luther maintained that there was no such thing as contingency, which for him was a kind of maya, or illusion. In reality, God is in control of everything, again, just as in Islam.

Now, I don't think this is an "illegitimate" spiritual approach, at least for a certain type of aspirant. It's just that there are very different types of people, and one approach is not going to be attractive or effective for another. One cannot deny that this more totalitarian approach is compatible with some temperaments, and that it gives them comfort to believe that they have no control over reality and that God is fully responsible for everything that happens.

But I cannot emphasize enough that this is not a universal teaching, but a peripheral one. It is a upaya, or "skillful means," and if it works for you, far be it from me to talk you out of it (which is why I compared it to Zen). It's just that I have no idea why you are interested in this blog, because I certainly haven't the slightest interest in your metaphysic (no offense -- I just don't).

And just why you would argue with me is a bit of a mystery anyway, since if God controls everything, I don't have the free will to accept or reject your argument anyway, nor you mine (and I'm not arguing anyway, just sharing a vision).

Again, we firmly believe in man's dignity and therefore his free will; and we reject the belief that God is directly responsible for what we see as the evil in the world. Evil is not just an illusion, or "a part of God's plan." We are here to fight evil.

More to the point, I could never respect a God who is less moral than I. Again, no offense. It's just the way Raccoons are built. Look, I realize that Raccoon theology will never be popular. If I thought otherwise, I'd write more books instead of just speaking to the scattered brotherhood of the invisible lodge.

Let's get back to those 14th and 15th century Raccoons, such as Petrarch, who tried to forge a middle way to resolve what eventually became the religious wars. According to Gillespie, "he offered a a new vision of how to live to a Christian world caught in the tremendous spiritual crisis brought about by the nominalist revolution and the cataclysmic events of the fourteenth century...."

One thing that makes Petrarch a Raccoon is his concern for the indivdual and the world, which makes his a primarily descending path. For we do not wish to escape the world into God, but to divinize the world through God's energies refracted through his pneumacosmic junior partner, man. No, we do not believe in worldly perfection, but we do believe that things can be improved, and that much of the outcome is in our hands. We matter. Indeed, matter matters.

Remember, the idea of the true "individual" only emerged in the late middle ages. As such, it was a new existential/ontological "problem." And with the emergence of the individual also came the "discovery" of the world as something more than just a divine symbol that could be understood through analogy.

In short, the individual and modern science co-arise, and with them, democracy, human rights, free markets, and other blessings of modernity. But of course, to the strict traditionalist (e.g., Schuon or Guenon), these are not blessings but curses. (To be perfectly accurate, in my view they are both, depending on the vertical station of the soul involved with them.)

Petrarch's ontology begins with a new appreciation of the unique individual. And he "was able to make this vision concrete and attractive by displaying to the public his own inner life as well as those of an astonishing array of ancient personalities...."

This has two main effects. First, "this inward journey led to the unexplored territory of a self filled with passions and desires that were no longer something mundane and unspiritual that had to be extirpated or constrained but that were instead a reflection of each person's individuality and that consequently deserved to be expressed, cultivated, and enjoyed."

The Raccoon would say that man now had an interest in exploring and colonizing his own psychic space, instead of simply repressing it, blindly acting it out, or living one's life as a collective "type." Now, can this go too far into narcissism, eccentricity, and glorification of the self, cut off from its spiritual archetype? Of course! But we'll get to that later. Remember, at this point in history, the whole project was still tied to Christianity, not divorced from it.

Secondly, Petrarch disclosed a "relevant past filled with courageous and high-minded individuals" who were worthy of emulation. And these two strands were connected, for by learning from these great personages of the past, "one could begin to understand how to give shape to one's own individuality," but not for its own sake. Rather, it was a way of combining piety, nobility, and individuality. And at the very least, you should be grateful that this was precisely the attitude of America's founders, even if you believe they were theologically misguided.

This is certainly how it has worked for me. Man is built for reverence, but of course, it all depends upon who and what one reveres, for the reverence creates a kind of sympathetic bond through which there is a real and genuinely transformative psychic contact, for both good or ill. But we're running out of time, so we'll continue tomorrow, slack willing.

(All quoted material from The Theological Origins of Modernity )