Progressing Toward the Origin
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?