Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Progressing Toward the Origin

As we were discussing yesterday, with the scientific revolution, the idea of progress began to be taken for granted in western civilization. It's not so much that progress wasn't occurring -- which it obviously was -- but that it was only a specific type of very visible progress rooted in the scientific method and in technology. This being the case, it became easy to confuse scientific progress with progress as such, just because the former is so visible and quantitative.

The idea of progress contradicted what had been believed by virtually all human groups prior to the scientific revolution, which is that everything was subject to a steady decline and degeneration. There was no "moving forward"; rather, the idea was to try, insofar as possible, to arrest entropy and approximate the Golden Age of the past. Slack was in the rearview mirror, not up ahead, and every day meant further disenslackment on the road to nowhere.

The idea of universal degeneration was no doubt rooted in empirical observation. For example, everyone has the personal experience of their own body aging and degenerating.

More generally, there has never been a time when man was unaware of the universality of the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy, which mandates that in the long run, everything tends toward disorder. Although there can be local areas that seem to defy entropy -- such as biological organisms -- it is only temporary. Furthermore, close examination of seeming exceptions to the law of entropy reveals that they always deplete more energy than they create, resulting in a net loss of energy. (Or at least according to physics; spiritually it is another matter.)

Irrespective of whether or not the phenomenal world is inevitably winding down into chaos, we can see how the very idea of automatic (as opposed to self-willed) progress can lead to increased societal disorder. As Bolton explains, "The belief that the new must be the best nearly always works in favor of the bad." This ironyclad rule has been dramatically proven time and again since "progressivism" made its great leap backward with the New Deal.

The foolish idea of "new = good" is like a virus that, in the long run, will eventually eliminate wisdom and Truth, as we see most vividly on leftist college campuses, where virtually everything is simultaneously new and wrong. And the only solution (as far as they can see) is newer ideas, which only results in further chaos and confusion -- further distance from the ideal, or from principial truth. The idea that Truth lies in the past -- for example, in the Bible -- is laughable to them.

Civilization, according to Bolton "cannot undergo real historical change unless it possesses a structure of permanent principles which impose limits on the possible scope for change."

Indeed, this is something that all classical liberals (i.e., conservatives) realize. The leftist wants radical change, "which is more deeply opposed to real historical change than is institutionalized permanence, since the permanent at least contains the potentiality of change. Universal change, on the other hand, has no potentialities at all, since everything in it is actualized already, so that a final cessation is the only new frontier it could cross."

One important allied idea of Bolton's is that we are wrong to think that we either exist or do not exist; rather, there are degrees of existence, existence being rooted in difference (in other words, there can only be existence to the extent that something is "different," or "stands out").

Thus, for example, the first act of the Creator is to separate. Conversely, any kind of indiscriminate blending of divinely ordained differences is the very definition of evil.

Bolton points out the obvious psychospiritual disaster of blending male and female, and now adult and child, resulting in a potential race of neutered obamalescents. The next illogical step down this slithery sleep into the nihilistic effacement of archetypal differences is "homosexual marriage." (In other words, the whole point of marriage is to preserve and sacralize the differences in a dynamic union, not to efface them.)

Because of the idea of progress, we must -- either consciously or unconsciously -- believe ourselves to be superior to our ancestors. This is very much in contrast to traditional societies, where ancestors -- and the truth they handed down -- are venerated.

Now obviously, neither extreme is warranted, i.e., ancestor worship (which would cause complete stasis) or kneejerk rebellion (which leads to the loss of mankind's accumulated wisdom, or the spiritually fatal disease of the Boomer generation).

But again, we can see how the morally and intellectually superior progressive always knows better than the most illustrious minds of the past. Because of the accident of time, the contemporary progressive can look back, say, at the Founders, and regard them as mere "objects" in his cavalierview mirror. We can see them, but they can't see us.

But this is true only in the most crassly materialistic sense. For example, Shakespeare is "in the past," but do we really know him? No, of course not. His plays will always understand us -- which is to say, humanity as such -- better than we understand him.

Likewise, it is difficult for us to imagine the stupidity of the typical leftist who believes himself superior to the Founders because some of them owned slaves. This is what the idea of progress (wrongly construed) can do to a mind, which is to say, destroy it. Obama is free to critique the Constitution of the Framers; but imagine if they were here to critique him! Upon hearing that this malevolent cipher taught constitutional law, would they ever stop throwing up?

I generally see the same problem in the so-called "integral" thinkers, which is one of the main reasons I don't relate to them. In their dubious color-code system -- well, to quote one of them whose dreadful book I was asked to review, Winston Churchill and Pope John Paul are typical examples of "traditional consciousness," and are therefore lower on the evolutionary scale than the more evolved representatives of "modernist consciousness" such as Carl Sagan and Margaret Sanger. In turn, they are lower than the lofty beings who embody "postmodern consciousness," such as John Lennon, Joan Baez, Margaret Mead, and Allen Ginsberg.

I don't deny that there is some inevitable truth in "spiral dynamics," but any scheme that places Joan Baez above Winston Churchill is not even wrong (unless your criterion is that of the "eternally grating").

Now, one factor that was different about the past is that people were unaware of other religious traditions, let alone genuine science. Therefore, they lived in a kind of "innocence" (which literally means "without knowledge") that is impossible for us to reestablish. If we wish to be "spiritual," we must do so consciously. Therefore, in some sense we are obviously more "awake" than our ancestors, but the question is, to what?

Bolton writes that one compensatory factor for us is that in the past it was "really only a minor achievement to live spiritually in an age when spiritual values are established and expressed everywhere and the unspiritual is marginalized." (Just as, conversely, it is no big achievement today for a high school student to understand the physics of Newton.) There was a collective religiosity, but this generally came at the expense of personal development, or individuation in a spiritual context.

Bolton even makes the provocative suggestion that the true way is only fully realized when everything is more or less opposed to it. Thus, in this respect, perhaps we have the potential to travel "higher" than our (average) ancestor, if only because it is so exceedingly difficult to do so.

I suppose it's analogous to exercising where there is more gravity, say, on the earth as opposed to the moon. Not only are we "swimming upstream," but we are much further from the source, at least in the horizontal sense; in a relative sense, horizontality takes us further and further from the source, even if, in an absolute vertical sense, it is always the same "distance" away.

And in fact, this is a recurring idea in traditional metaphysics, that the very purpose of "incarnation" is to evolve under adverse circumstances, ultimately to "spiritualize matter." Bolton writes, "Such is the meaning of the Cross, as well as the purpose of ensoulment in the material world." There is an orthoparadox at play here, in that, in one sense, materiality seems to be the furthest distance from spirit.

But as Bolton explains, there is a deeper principle involved, "a law of polarity according to which only the highest cause can extend to the lowest level of effects."

In other words, most causes and effects in the world are in the "middle range," and therefore of little cosmic consequence. Only the highest cause extends to the lowest realm, which perhaps explains why "the meek shall inherit the earth," or why "spiritual bankruptcy" is so often a prerequisite of spiritual conversion. The testimony of thousands of seekers reveals that when you are near the end, you are near the beginning.

One subtle danger of simply "returning to tradition," is that the traditions themselves have been subject to the same corrosive forces of historical entropy that afflict the individual. Let's say we want to "return" to the "original meaning" of Christianity. Doing so is not as easy as it sounds, since Christianity necessarily exists "in the world," and absorbs qualities of the world in order to continue to exist.

As such, Bolton writes that "the function of tradition can actually be inverted under modern conditions," since the monotheistic religions "have each grown increasingly absorbed by their historical social roles, so that it has become an exercise of awareness to relate to the spirit which they nevertheless embody." In my opinion, Tradition is usually defined in hindsight. Could this mean that under the inverted conditions of postmodernity, spiritual evolution is the quintessence of Tradition?

37 Comments:

Blogger Gandalin said...

Dear Bob,

Very powerful posting today. Thank you.

This is absolutely one of the key lessons of Genesis:

"Thus, for example, the first act of the Creator is to separate. Conversely, any kind of indiscriminate blending of divinely ordained differences is the very definition of evil. Bolton points out the obvious psychospiritual disaster of blending male and female, and now adult and child, resulting in a potential race of neutered obamalescents. The next illogical step down this slithery sleep into the nihilistic effacement of archetypal differences is "homosexual marriage." (In other words, the whole point of marriage is to preserve and sacralize the differences in a dynamic union, not to efface them.)"

The consequences are seen in the dwindling birth rate of the postmodernist West, and the observation that the percentage of women remaining childless in the US has now doubled.

And the observation that the world is set up to force mankind to overcome difficulties is critically important, as well.

And of course the purpose of that overcoming is spiritual and not physical perfection.

Thank you.

11/10/2010 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

More on the cosmic inversion.

11/10/2010 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Only the highest cause extends to the lowest realm, which perhaps explains why "the meek shall inherit the earth," or why "spiritual bankruptcy" is so often a prerequisite of spiritual conversion.

Hm. I can't help wondering if something of the sort has been happening with the Catholic Church in the past few decades. It seems a sort of revival is going on now, but for quite a while there it wasn't looking so good, at least here in the States.

11/10/2010 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Re. the baby names, there's so much wrong there. I can't help wondering if people who purposefully choose gender neutral names are disappointed when their kids' behavior proves to be very gender specific? Are they sad if their kids grow up straight?

11/10/2010 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I don't know about the list of baby names. The recent list, that is. Noah and Alexander don't sound gender-neutral to me. I can't help thinking of people I know with those names...
Although there are about 5 Alex's in my neighborhood. My son Alex took one of them to the junior prom (Alexandra :-).
Anyway, we named him after the old Greek man that owned the pizza place a block away from our first apartment. He seemed like a good responsible man. He was always there. Ran a tight ship.

11/10/2010 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Julie,
I work with one of those mom's. It makes me sad for her boy to hear about the types of toys and movies she denies him. He's having some serious behavior problems lately.

11/10/2010 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Noah and Alexander don't sound gender-neutral to me.

Me, either. Also on the list was "Joshua" - I have a cousin Josh who may be the most badass man I know. Body like Donkey Kong, and he worked for a while in the Gulf as an underwater welder, but I think he found the life too tame. Moved his family back to Alaska, where presumably he's training for another go at the Iron Dog sled race.

Also, the bit about names that are also occupations - I know of a few parents who have named their daughters "Hunter," though I think they probably had the color in mind more than the act of hunting.

11/10/2010 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

It makes me sad for her boy to hear about the types of toys and movies she denies him.

That is hard to see. Especially when, eventually, the boy can't help just being a boy, while the mom can't bear to let him, having decided it's wrong somehow.

11/10/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Well, I've met kids named "Miller".

Who knows what they had in mind.

11/10/2010 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Big stones grinding small grains into dust, I'm sure...

11/10/2010 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Or they just really love beer...

11/10/2010 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger black hole said...

The name "Miller" is not bad. It connotes the "High Life" made famous in commercials.

To have "Miller time" would thererore also be seen as a positive.


Another good child's name would be "Bud."

These names help to endear the child to his father through pleasant associations.

And of course, if something more Traditional is desired, you could go with Jack, Daniels, or Seagram.

11/10/2010 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger black hole said...

AP News Flash, 2020.

"Gavin Newsom, long-time governor of California, has ordered the mass evacuation of Los Angeles county due to sustained temperatures of over 135 degrees Fahrenheit."

"Also in the news: property owners in Southern California seek government compentation for property lost due to inundation by rising ocean levels. They blame federal policy for the disaster. At the same time, the state is trying to increase property taxes for those who now have new oceanfront properties. A special session of the legislature will be convened to examine these issues."

11/10/2010 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

If parents are going for "Joshua" it's not doing the gender-neutral thing with me...since I only think of this one and never knew anybody else with the name. By "this one" I mean "the person as portrayed in the movie".
I always thought this was good casting, even as a boy and pretty religious-neutral.

11/10/2010 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

'Halcyon' would be a good name

not so much Tarneesha
or Tremluth Givvel or
Vacolian

WV trumps with
Agothea

11/10/2010 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

Stern asked Zappa for a good girl's name:
Bingo: "Muldred"

or wv
cindu

11/10/2010 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

To me, anything that started off Biblical pretty much doesn't come across as neutral. Unless the parents have switched the genders (though I'd be pretty surprised by a girl named "Jacob" or a boy named "Ruth,").

Muldred - sounds a little too close to "Mulva."

11/10/2010 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Mulva?

Always makes me think of Deloris.

11/10/2010 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I wonder what percentage of neutrally-named kids have wimpy parents? 85 or 95?

11/10/2010 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

GE - is that the new Giant Jesus in Poland? It looks like his head is floating.

11/10/2010 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

The foolish idea of "new = good" is like a virus that, in the long run, will eventually eliminate wisdom and Truth,

And in other news, there's this bit of abject stupidity (via Shrinkwrapped):

"I want to divorce the man I love and he wants to divorce me. We do not wish to separate – simply to end our seven-year marriage. Like Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle, who yesterday were denied their request for a civil partnership at a London register office, we would prefer "to secure official status for our relationship in a way that supports the call for complete equality and is free of the negative, sexist connotations of marriage". We are both fed up with being part of the hetero-husband-and-wife brigade that is accorded so much status and privilege."

11/10/2010 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Confirmed: Beer was the cause of civilization.

11/10/2010 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger black hole said...

Well, "Mulva" does rhyme with "vulva," which is a plus for girls.

"Joyce" rhymes with "moist," also not bad.

11/10/2010 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Indeed, this is something that all classical liberals (i.e., conservatives) realize. The leftist wants radical change, "which is more deeply opposed to real historical change than is institutionalized permanence, since the permanent at least contains the potentiality of change. Universal change, on the other hand, has no potentialities at all, since everything in it is actualized already, so that a final cessation is the only new frontier it could cross."

One of the great ironies, has got to be that the greatest progress is made by those with the deepest roots... and that the rolling stone goes nowhere. Fast.

11/10/2010 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Bolton points out the obvious psychospiritual disaster of blending male and female, and now adult and child, resulting in a potential race of neutered obamalescents. The next illogical step down this slithery sleep into the nihilistic effacement of archetypal differences is "homosexual marriage." (In other words, the whole point of marriage is to preserve and sacralize the differences in a dynamic union, not to efface them.)"

Speaking of which, to have some real proregressive fun, just pop the ol' DNA in the queasyinart and let the good times roll! Gay sperm donor fights lesbian mother over access to children

11/10/2010 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It really has to do with the spontaneous order described by Hayek, which embodies an inconceivable amount of embodied knowledge, in contrast to the top-down intellectual knowledge of elites like Obama who wouldn't know how to run a lemonade stand.

11/10/2010 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Van,
From the article..

"The advert read: “Gay guy wants to be a Dad. White, handsome, solvent 30s, professional, in happy relationship, non-scene, has everything but kids."

Everything but wife as well.

11/10/2010 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Julie,

RE the Shrinkwrapped article, Ace makes this point:

"Wait, where is the status and privilege? This is less a substantive point than one about writing a coherent essay -- she begins by saying she's abandoning marriage due to the status and privilege afforded to the married, then begins whining about how awful marriage is in terms of personal costs to herself.

So which is it? Is she being granted too many privileges or being denied too many opportunities?"

11/10/2010 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger Mikal said...

Julie,

I see your Lara Pawson and raise you a Tim Wise.

11/10/2010 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Good question. If you read the comments at the original article, she's roundly excoriated by virtually everyone, mostly for that reason.

11/10/2010 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Mikal - wow. I hadn't heard of that guy.

I bet he writes like he speaks - you can just see the portentous pauses and smug, glowering expression after every sentence (spaced out, for that extra sense of importance, as though every line were the resounding CLANG of a death knell). It's easy to picture him walking around the stage with his head down, giving a heavy sigh with each pause, holding the microphone just so as to catch the nuanced breath.

11/10/2010 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Grant Maher said...

Bob, good post. Your discussion about entropy was interesting.

We could imagine entropy counterbalance by a slighly stronger unknown and unamed Force.

This Force would then slowly and inexorably cause the universe to become ever more complex and would concentrate energy in the form of consciousness.

Entropy and Consciousness would compete for influence with Complexity overweening and eventually dominating entropy in this universe.

Such a Force would make progress automatic, however progress would be very slow, erratic, and subject to meanderings and setbacks. However, the more consious and willed progress is, i.e. less automatic, the more efficient and speedy it would become.

In the universe with this counterentropic Force of Consciousness, eventual victory is already in the cards, with the rate at which it will be achieved still the wild card in the deck.

11/10/2010 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

Yeah Maher, nice try. I don't think so. The only counterforce in this universe is human greed. Turn your erudite attention to that, space cadet.

The hole is bored by you. And I don't mean that in a nice way.

11/10/2010 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Julie said... "underwater welder..."


THAT's hardcore!

11/11/2010 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D

I know, right? The hazard pay is unreal. His first year, I think he worked for just a few months, and was already making more money than a lot of lawyers I know. He used it to travel Europe with his sister.

I don't know what he's doing for work now, but then again he may just not have to worry about it for a while.

11/11/2010 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Gagdad Bob said...

Confirmed: Beer was the cause of civilization.

And vice versa. Or was that verse viceuh?

11/12/2010 01:30:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Gay sperm donor fights lesbian mother over access to children? Pish-posh... how old hat, sedate... they weren't even related, we've had way more proregress since that was on the cutting edge, now this is putting things into a mixed up swirling DNA blender:

"Woman Gives Birth to Homosexual Son's Baby"

Now that's progress a proregressive can believe in, right?!

(o.m.g.)

11/12/2010 04:07:00 PM  

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