Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Willed Stupidity of the Left

As mentioned yesterday, it is a truism that one can be stupid in one area and a genius in another. At the very least, being gifted in one discipline -- say, music or physics -- is no guarantee of being even adequate in another.

But also, one must sometimes intentionally render oneself stupid (so to speak) in one area, in order to prevent its dominance over other aspects, dimensions, and modes of the self. Human beings are so good at things, that a small segment of the personality can become hypertrophied and cause a major imbalance. For example, the rational side can dominate the supra-logical side, and vice versa; or reason can extinguish intuition; letter can dominate spirit; collectivism can overwhelm individualism; etc.

A classic case in my profession is the dominance of the conscious over the unconscious mind -- not just for the patient, but for the doctor. When Freud developed the psychoanalytic technique, he said that the analyst needed to essentially disable his own linear, conscious mind in order to attend to the patient's associations with intuitive, even-hovering attention.

In fact, Freud expressed it well when he said that "When conducting an analysis, one must cast a beam of intense darkness so that something which has hitherto been obscured by the glare of the [conscious] illumination can glitter all the more in darkness." And as irrationally hostile as Freud was to religion, this is ironically the approach one must take in illuminating the subtle realm that lies beyond the ego. In other words, the same general principle equally applies to realms above as below the ego: only when the sun is down do the stars come out.

Bion formulated the same idea in affirming that the analyst's task was to "abandon memory, desire, and understanding," so as to clear a space for the spontaneous emergence of novel meanings -- similar, say, to the receptive mode with which one approaches a poem or musical performance. It's quite simple, really: in order to know what you don't know, you must begin by unKnowing what you think you know.

And for readers who might be a little slower on the uptake, e.g., anonymous, the same applies to the attitude required to profit from my posts -- which mirrors the passively active and actively passive state of mind from which they were produced; to read them with the ego is, as the Zen master said, like chasing a criminal while banging a drum. Your pursuit will be fruitless, but at least it will be loud. Or, put it this way: if you don't profit from them, that's a subtle hint that you do not understand them, mindless attacks on the messenger notwithstanding. What can I say? I can't help you. But I can give you a referral.

Now, a few years ago, charter Raccoon Dilys made a piquant observation regarding the suspension of one faculty in order to activate another and bring it to the fore: "Have you heard of the 'learned incapacity' idea, that proper execution of every calling requires the disabling of certain kinds of intelligence? For instance, I know a lot of people who are just too intelligent to be [certain professions], because there are some things one needs not to know in these roles, some mental and emotional strategies that must be disconnected" (emphasis mine).

I had never thought of it in exactly this way before, but this is truly a key idea, for it explains how any discipline or philosophy can take on a cult-like quality, elevating a relative incapacity to the only capacity. For example, in order to be a materialist, one must disable virtually everything that makes one human. This is fine as a temporary strategy, but if the incapacity takes root and dominates the personality, then you have become a kind philosophical and spiritual retard, like our own anonymous. But so long as you associate with fellow cult members, you won't even know that anything is amiss. Like the rest of them, you will take the shadows on the cave walls as reality, and nurture a childishly superior attitude toward those who notice that big light entering the mouth of the cave.

For to submit to a discipline is to learn to interpret the world in terms of that operating system, which only reinforces and reifies the system. For example, it's fine to attend law school, but if secular law displaces the law that is written on the heart, then one is lost. Or, if one begins taking scientific abstractions for the concrete reality, that is another form of spiritual suicide. They disable certain kinds of intelligence, and then confuse their little operating system with intelligence as such.

As I have mentioned before, one of the great shocks of my life has been the unending discovery of how fruitful the traditionally religious operating systems are for novelgazing around O. Some 1,500 posts later, it continues to be an endlessly generative surprise for me. I don't know where it comes from -- well, I suppose I do, in the sense that it comes from O -- but I do know that it would be inaccessible without the proper operating system. It would be like trying to play blues without the pentatonic scale. I suppose you could try, but you'd just sound silly.

Now, there is a huge difference between fruitful willed stupidity vs. a kind of pathological and permanent disconnection of cognitive links in order to understand the world in terms of this or that specialty. One of Bion's most important ideas was "attacks on linking," a primitive mental process that dismantles the scaffolding of the mind so as to prevent certain unwanted meanings from emerging. This intrapsychic violence is always associated with exteriorized violence, for if you do violence to the truth, it is only a matter of time before you do violence to human beings.

Take the example of the willfully stupid leftist who knows the truth and believes that it sanctions him to impose it upon others, e.g., Obamacare. In such a case, truth is naturally transformed into a lie. But just as importantly, truth draws one to it, while the lie agitates. You might say that the meaning goes from being a centripetal thing, so to speak, to becoming a centrifugal event.

So too does the personality under the influence of the lie -- their personalities become disturbing "events." I'm not talking about charisma or about benevolent love, which also radiate from certain people. Rather, this is a person whose energy "agitates" those around them, and inducts them into their particular psychodrama. In short, it is "acting out" as a replacement for "thinking."

Karl Marx is the quintessential example of idea-turned-event, for his fraudulent system of thought continues to agitate minds and spur action in the present. He cannot stay buried in his dustbin, because his ideas are just too tempting to certain sick minds in need of intellectual sanction for their acting out. It is as if he were the prophet of an anti-religion that substitutes action for thought. Pass the bill first, then find out what's in it!

This in itself is a fascinating idea, for we must always ask ourselves, "when is action action, and when is it a substitute for thought in order to unburden a disturbed mind?" At the same time, we must ask "when is thought thought?," because for many on the left, a thought is not an idea but an object to be used for some primitive purpose such as releasing aggression or blocking certain unwanted meanings (as we see here every day with anonymous's aggressively clueless comments).

Political correctness -- the cognitive Swiss Army knife of the left -- is another example of a collective attack on linking. It also deceives the person who engages in it, because PC is always able to operate freely under the pretext of "compassion," when it is actually quite aggressive and even violent. The leftist cannot be consciously aware of this violence, because one of the purposes of political correctness is to allow the leftist to behave violently while denying it -- and even tell themselves that they merely have "compassion," or "inclusiveness," or "tolerance," or some other benign motivation.

However, the person on the business end of political correctness is well aware of the primitive and bullying violence, which is one of the reasons he is not a leftist. A sane person recognizes that Truth is without question the highest societal value, higher than love, higher than compassion, and certainly higher than democracy, i.e., the collective will -- which will simply devolve to the will to power in the absence of integral Truth.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist To Be a Rocket Scientist

In his chapter on the order of the mind, Schall begins with a couple of amusing anecdotes about Einstein.

On one occasion, the father of relativity had to be rescued on three successive days after repeatedly capsizing his dinghy off Long Island. As one of the rescuers remarked of Einstein, he simply lacked the common sense to control the dinghy. In short, whatever other gifts he might have possessed, he was a nautical moron.

Einstein also attempted to learn piano, but was apparently awful at it. Finally, in exasperation, his teacher exclaimed, Albert, can't you count?!

Schall's point is that there are different kinds of knowing that correspond to different orders of knowledge. This goes to what I said in yesterday's post, about each of these orders being analogous to a relatively autonomous plane that bisects O. Who knows how many of these planes there are? For there are planes within planes within planes, i.e., sub-subspecialties within subspecialties within specialties.

For example, I work with a psychiatrist who has forgotten as much medicine as I never learned. Although he attended medical school and I didn't, for him that particular order has been more or less eclipsed by his psychoanalytic training, which applies to a wholly different order (i.e., more to do with the software of the mind than the hardware of the brain).

But I am acquainted with another psychiatrist who knows nothing of the psychoanalytic order, and thinks it all reduces to the biochemical order. Talking to one or the other is like talking to people from different planets.

Schall affirms the truism that just because we are adept at understanding one order, it hardly means it will apply to another. Noam Chomsky comes to mind, in that he is apparently a genius linguist, but when he turns his attention to politics, he is crippled by paranoia, moral inversion, and a complete absence of perspective. But he's just one of countless intellectuals and artists who become morons when they step outside the narrow order which they have mastered.

Of course, a man has got to know his limitations. As I've mentioned before, we often think of narcissism applying mainly to one's appearance, but narcissism is a mind parasite that can glom onto just about anything in order to express itself -- money, power, intelligence, musical ability, really, anything about oneself that rises above the average.

Therefore, people who have been treated throughout their lives as "special" because of their intelligence can run the risk of their intelligence being hijacked by narcissism, if they happen to be especially vulnerable to the latter. Narcissism is only problematic when it becomes a pathological means of self-esteem regulation. You can see how this would apply to intelligence, because the intellectual narcissist will not say things because they are true, but because they make him look intelligent.

In recently reading a couple of new books about Schuon, I can see that he was precisely the opposite of this pattern. His need for truth was rooted entirely in the intrinsic rights of Truth and the obligation of man to know it, not in the petty need to make himself look special at the expense of Truth. It was a humble submission to Truth, not a vulgar use of Truth to elevate himself (as one generally sees in all the bogus gurus, swamis, and new age cult leaders).

If Schuon's soul were as filled with corruption as, say, Deepak Chopra's, it would have been as easy for a man of his genius to get rich writing vulgar new age books as to compose a grocery list. But that is impossible to do without doing violence to Truth. If one is not made humble in the face of Truth, then it's probably not Truth you've stumbled upon.

Anyway, what intrigues me is not just that some people know things that others don't, but that these different forms of knowledge apply to diverse, ontologically real orders. I will just speak to a couple of orders with which I am most familiar, the orders of religious metaphysics and of psychoanalysis. I mention these two in particular because in each case, it wasn't a matter of accumulating knowledge and piecing things together bit by bit until an order emerged.

Rather, in both cases, there were particularly vivid experiences of literally "entering" the order in a sudden and catastrophic way (as in catastrophe theory). In the past, I have posted about how this happened to me with psychology. My undergraduate major was in film, not psychology, so when I entered my masters program, I clearly had less explicit "knowledge" than my peers. And yet, I instantly -- and I mean instantly -- zipped ahead of them, for it was as if I were suddenly operating from "within" the order of psychology, whereas they were still outside of it, trying to get in.

I'm afraid this will sound grandiose or self-serving, but it certainly isn't meant to (for one thing, I have no delusions that expertise in one area carries over to all the others). I should hope that nearly every Raccoon will have had this experience in some order of knowledge, whether of computers, music, mathematics, painting, business, medicine, whatever.

And if you have, you will be aware of that sensation of suddenly being "inside" the order in question. A key point is that we do not invent this order, but discover and enter it. And this is only possible because the soul is not in the world, but rather, the reverse: the world is in the soul, so that its various orders may be located within us.

I'm pretty sure it's the same with theology. Oddly enough, I just seem to have a knack for it, although I should add that the knack has *coincidentally* improved with thousands and thousands of hours of practice.

For it is not necessarily that one is born with a gift for knowing this or that order. Rather, it is probably fair to say that in most cases, the most important element is passion. Thus the prescription that in order to advance spiritually, one must love God with all one's strength -- mind, body, and soul. That's just another way of saying that one must pursue O in the same way that Michael Jordan pursued basketball or John Coltrane pursued music or Tiger Woods pursued skanks.

This other book I happen to be reading, The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong, makes this point quite forcefully. I'll get into some of the details in a later post, but one of the author's theses is that experience actually changes genetic expression -- that we are by no means genetically determined.

It is as if we have an abundance of genes just sitting around doing nothing until they are called upon, either of necessity by the environment or by choice with the will. Perhaps the expert makes it look easy not because he was born with the gift, but because he was born with so much passion for a particular subject or activity that his pursuit of it seems more like play than work.

In other words, it takes a whole lot of work for something to just come naturally. That goes against the romantic view of the genetic determinists who posit a kind of essential, inborn genius, but Shenk marshals some compelling evidence in favor of the thesis that genius is more perspiration than inspiration.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Best Operating System For Your Wetware

Have we been focusing excessively on politics lately? I don't know. As far as I'm concerned, when I write about political philosophy, the spirituality is implicit, whereas when I write about spirituality, the politics is. It's just a matter of rotating the ball of consciousness within the cognitive plane that bisects it -- which is why one can only be consciously conscious of one thing at a time.

There are a multitude of horizontal planes that cut through the sphere of consciousness, and each of these is relatively autonomous and complete -- especially if one forgets about the ball! But only the ball encompasses the whole, which is perhaps why O should be thought of as a sphere rather than a circle. And which is why there are infinite ways to be a flatlander living out on one of those dry and dusty academic planes.

One might think of each of the horizontal planes as a kind of operating system one uses to recognize and "read out" the content of O. Each is a discipline, but if you fail to maintain discipline and become a disciple of just one plane, you won't be able to pilot your plane above or below your abstract little errpart.

Again, it would be an elementary error -- of both epistemology and ontology -- to confuse one's operating system with the actual totality of O, but when has that ever stopped people? Some of these operating systems are as crude as can be -- materialism, Darwinism, rationalism, existentialism, Marxism -- while others at least have the umlauts to know that in this post-Gödelian world of ours, a consistent philosophical system will be incomplete, and vice versa.

While we typically think of an unconscious "below" and supraconscious "above," these are merely spatial metaphors borrowed from the 3D world to try to make sense of the holographic order of O. For in reality, the unconscious is not below but within the conscious mind, and vice versa.

In other words, consciousness as such is somewhat analogous to the "total flowing atmosphere" of the earth. If one looks at a cloud in the sky, for example, one is generally not aware that what is available to the senses is actually a small visible "ripple" standing out against the backdrop of a much more encompassing meteorological process. (For those of you in Rio Linda, "meteorology" is not the study of meteors.)

It turns out that the subatomic realm operates in this fashion as well. A subatomic "particle" is not actually a separate entity, but the local manifestation of an oceanic, wavelike reality which is nonlocal and unmanifest. In my view, thoughts can be seen in the same way, as analogous to the clouds produced by the total atmosphere, or subatomic particles floating atop (so to speak) the oceanic field of quantum energy.

Just so, if O represents the ocean of total consciousness, (k) is a little grain of sand tossed upon the shore of the local ego. There is always a complementary relationship between O and (k), just as there is between wave and particle. This relationship "cannot not be," any more than there can be time without eternity, horizontal without vertical, interior without exterior, male without female, Toots without Herman. And this is why it is absurdly naive to posit "facts" in the absence of an operating system that recognizes and places them in a greater context.

In his earlier metapsychology, Freud envisioned the mind as "layered," so to speak, with the unconscious "below" and the conscious mind "above." In his second model, he developed the idea of different "forces" pushing each other around, namely, id, ego, and superego.

The point is that both models clearly borrowed from a domain with which we are familiar -- the physical world -- and transfered concepts appropriate to it to the study of the non-physical world. But of course the mind is not an object and it doesn't have layers. Whatever the mind is, it is not a machine, or a layer cake, or a bag full of stuff, even though we often look at it that way (and fruitfully, I might add).

It wouldn't at all be going too far to say that immersing oneself in psychoanalysis -- or any other ideology -- is very much analogous to using a different operating system to navigate O.

In order to think about O, or to translate it into local knowledge, we require an operating system. This is where "all the trouble arises," because people tend to fall in love with their operating systems, and not realize that there are other systems -- some very good ones and some very, very bad ones.

Islamism is an example of the latter. On the oppsosite end of the spectrum, our classically liberal founders came up with the best political operating system ever devised. It will never be surpassed in its essentials, since they had the wisdom to root it in certain truths that can never be surpassed, e.g., "all men are created equal." Any competing system can only fail to reach this truth, never surpass it.

Obviously, leftism -- or any philosophy that can trace its lineage to Marx -- is also a horrible operating system, partly because it legitimizes some of the most regretable characteristics of human beings -- both innate and parasitic -- but also because it poses a more or less permanent barrier to obtaining the true operating system (which can only come from the being who created the computer). It warps reality, but even worse, it gradually perverts the person who uses it.

Or, a point is reached at which you are no longer operating the system, but it is operating you. It begins by envying others, but envy eventually corrodes the soul of the envious. To say that it makes true happiness impossible is perhaps redundant.

Marx, like Freud, was informed by the best mechanistic science of his day, so that his conclusions and prescriptions are wrong a priori; indeed, they are not operative on our planet or for our species.

Nor, despite Obama's best efforts, can this operating system be adapted to the present, because it is completely at odds with reality -- economically, psychologically, historically, spiritually, politically, epistemologically, morally, ontologically, and comedically -- which is why leftists are such angry and humorless bores. As you know, nothing pisses you off more than when your operating system goes down. And bear in mind that the most sophisticated computer in the world is nothing without a good operating system.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

A Good Day In Hell

A brief, dashed off blast. I have no idea whether any of this is strictly orthodox, so go easy. Most of it is from beyond (or possibly beneath) my praygrade, so I'm not to blame.

It seems that most Christians proceed directly from Good Friday to the even gooder Sunday, forgetting all about Holy Saturday. But not Balthasar, who felt that Holy Saturday was the Master key to the metacosmic meaning of the Incarnation, for it is the missing link between Crucifixion and Resurrection, dis-memberment and re-union.

For when the Word became flesh, he didn't just became a man, nor did he become only mankind. Rather, because man contains within him all the vertical degrees of existence, Christ also became existence as such, in all its diverse modes and possibilities, both manifest and hidden, gross and subtle, local and nonlocal.

It is said that Christ is the second Adam who done undid what the first done did. That being the case, it was necessary to get to the very "bottom" of existence, both horizontally and vertically. If he hadn't done that, then the situation would have been analogous -- in a manner of speaking, of course -- to taking an antibiotic for only a few days instead of the full course. In such a case, there is a danger that the infection will just hide out or mutate and return in an even more virulent form. Rather, you have to take the full course in order to kill every last trace of the parasite in your whole system.

Balthasar's views on this subject are apparently controversial, but for me, they necessarily follow from the very nature and purpose of the Incarnation. For if the purpose of the Incarnation is to heal man's alienation from God by taking it on and reversing it, then Christ must again follow this alienation all the way down to the roots, which would include not just terrestrial abandonment, but the post-biological abandonment of hell; or, one might say both temporal and eternal forsakenness.

If you imagine the Logos dropping into time and history, this descent was "arrested," so to speak, for the 33 years Jesus assumed the human form and walked the earth. But then, at the point of death, with no physical form to support him, he continued his vertical plunge to the very bottom of all cosmic possibility, into the darkest nescience at the extreme periphery of being, where it shades off into the hopeless and helpless non-being of hell.

Picture the sun, then imagine one of its rays striking the earth. But remove the earth, and the ray goes on and on, gradually diminishing in strength until it becomes undetectable and merges with the Dark. Only then can Darkness itself be subsumed into the saving grace of the cosmic theo-drama.

Or, to turn it around, in the absence of this total descent into darkness, it is as if there is an autonomous, far corner of the cosmos, a misspelled underword existing outside the circle of the Trinity.

To say with the Fathers that "God became man so that man might become God," is equally to affirm that God incarnates in the cosmos so that the cosmos itself might be sanctified and divinized: cosmotheosis, the reinstatement of the primordial unity of existence.

Time itself as we know it must go into suspension on Holy Saturday. It is not as if there is an unbroken linear thread between Crucifixion and Resurrection, but a true hiatus, or ontological fissure, in which not just Jesus, but the cosmos itself is abandoned and in ruins.

Why? "Because only in this way can God display the divine freedom to embrace completely what is not divine, and thus display what divinity completely, triumphantly, and unalterably is. God's 'hiding' of God in the dereliction of the Cross and the silence of Holy Saturday is in fact the definitive revelation" (in Oakes; emphasis mine).

Another way of saying it is that the transcendent became immanent so that the immanent might become transcendent. The source of transcendence is beyond the created order, and the latter can no more "contain" it than a circle can contain a sphere. It is as if the transcendent God plunges to the limits of immanent godlessness, paradoxically assuming what is not God into God. God in-corporates his own negation, so to speak.

For better or worse, I take seriously our theomorphic clueprint, i.e., that we are created in God's image. Therefore, the best analogy I can think of at the moment is a psychoanalytic one -- of the person plunging into the darkness of his own unconscious recesses in order to shine a light on his own subversive mind parasites and save them from their self-sufficient activity beyond the reach of the central self.

In fact, there is frankly nothing new in psychoanalysis per se; rather, it was simply a secularization of the spiritual adventure that had always been known by the great mystics, cf. Dante and his journey to the ends of hell prior to the ascent to paradise (or quintessentially in the Dark Night of St. John of the Cross).

"The emptiness of Holy Saturday is precisely the fullness, the actual fullness, of God.... God must be such as to make it possible for divine life to be victorious simply by 'sustaining' itself in hell.... God is God in or even as what is other than God (a dead man, a lost soul)." And "if we are serious in regarding God as intrinsically loving, this otherness must be something to do with divine love" (ibid).

The creation is not God, just as your child is not you. In abandoning himself to his own creation, it is as if God pours out his life for the sake of his children. For you will only know infinite love when you are aware of your love for an infinitely precious object, and equally know that this victorious love is stronger than death.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Diagnosis and Treatment of Secular Man

I believe Christianity -- or, the Judeo-Christian stream -- strikes an ideal balance between immanence and transcendence, thereby providing this life with intrinsic meaning, while not pretending that it is sufficient unto itself to confer any ultimate meaning.

Again, it is axiomatic that if man, history, and the cosmos do not point beyond themselves to a transcendent end -- to something outside themselves -- they cannot be meaningful, period.

Really, there are no degrees of meaning; rather, there is either meaning or meaninglessness (similar to there being only nihilism or theism, with nothing in between; or, more precisely, prolongations of either more nihilism or theism in between). Or, put it this way: unless meaning is anchored in Meaning, then all of the little meanings we come up with are just fleeting shadows we invent to pretend that life is more significant than it is.

This also goes to the meaning of the personal self. Why does it exist? Science, of course, cannot answer this question, for the same reason that it cannot legitimately answer any "why" question. For science -- even leaving aside the ideological reductionism and materialism that results in the deformity of scientism -- is a closed system. It absurdly posits a universe that is sufficient unto itself to explain itself and everything in it (and I use the word "absurd" in a literal sense, not as a term of abuse; I'll get to the abuse later.).

While this anti-philosophy obviously appeals to a certain kind of desiccated soul who is either not metaphysically sophisticated or in rebellion against God, it is the quintessence of a mirage. Trying to ground the metaphysical basis for such an impoverished view is about as fruitful as looking for the end of a rainbow. For both phenomena have only to do with a transient illusion that emerges due to certain concatenation of eyes, light, and vapor (or man, tenure, and gas).

As we have mentioned before, Eastern religions tend to err on the side of transcendence, devaluing this life as maya. To back up a bit, any religion begins with a diagnosis of man as such (doctrine), followed by a prescription, or kind of pneumatherapy (method): like medicine, it's Dx --> Rx --> Tx.

Buddhism, for example, diagnoses man as living in illusion, the biggest illusion of them all being that the personal self actually exists. Thus, its therapy involves "waking up" to this prior fact ("Buddha" roughly means "awakened"). Strictly speaking, its method of therapy does not result in the "attainment" of anything, only the recognition of what is, which is shunyada yada yada, or nothing but the ceaseless, passing play of empty phenomena.

In the absence of revelation, this is as far as religion can aspire. In other words, there is natural religion and transnatural religion; or, religions of ascent and religions of descent.

In the West we also have our religions of ascent, most notably the neo-Platonic tradition that reaches its perfect expression in Plotinus. Please note that this method (or cosmo-therapy) involves no grace, or (↓), only our own (↑). It does work, but at the expense of obliterating the personal self and rendering its hopes and dreams so much vain strutting and striving on the cosmic stage. Nor does the One care about us in any personal way.

What if scientism were a religion? What would be its diagnosis, or doctrine? And its method, or therapy? I suppose its diagnosis would be analogous to Buddhism, in that it affirms that you are living in illusion -- for example the illusion that you are more than your genes, that life is more than a statistically rare agglomeration of matter, or that human existence has any purpose beyond perpetuating itself (which is no purpose at all).

And what would be its therapy? I suppose attending one of its seminaries and assimilating this teaching from the priesthood of physicists and biologists. "Salvation" would be liberation from the error of religion, or really, from any kind of transcendent meaning or purpose in general. Once you recognize that life is just a meaningless competition of selfish genes, you have received the secular gnosis.

However, in any real religion there is recognition of the truth, followed by its gradual assimilation, i.e., conforming one's being to it (hence the need for ongoing "therapy," i.e., spiritual practice). It's one thing to recognize, say, Darwinism, but what would it mean to truly assimilate its truth (illumination), purge one's being of error (purification), and to live in conformity with it (unification)?

In order to do that, you would have to leave behind all traces of illusory human meaning, and see through the various stratagems produced by selfish genes. For example, you would have to recognize that romantic love is just an illusion created for the purposes of getting one's genes into the next generation. In this context, homosexuality would have to be the ultimate his & heresy, but marriage of any kind would be for sentimental fools.

Anyway, we were about to get into a discussion of the order of the mind, which itself is an interesting word, order. For the cosmos is not just ordered (obviously), but hierarchically ordered, in such way that man is confronted with various intelligible and relatively autonomous "orders."

For example, there is the order of physics, the order of biology, the order of mind -- everywhere we look, order. Why? And what is the relationship between, say, the order of the cosmos and the order of the soul? Scientism would insist that there is no such relationship, and that any supposed order of the soul is just another illusion that ultimately reduces to the order of matter.

But any religious tradition holds the opposite view, that man is both microcosm and mediator, and that there is an intimate relationship between the micro- and macrocosm: as above, so below. And ironically, the pursuit of genuine science began with this assumption, but has gradually severed itself from its own lofty roots.

But make no mistake: any tenured primate who pretends to understand reality is implicitly affirming that man the microcosm is uniquely capable of conforming his understanding to the macrocosm -- that the two are somehow one in the act of knowing that bridges them.

More generally, he is affirming that man is capable of adequating himself to ultimate reality, which is precisely what a Raccoon believes -- and which is why I don't understand the charges of "arrogance," "absolutism," or "absurd self-confidence." Those charges aren't rational. Rather, they are just what happens when someone who thought his was the only religion encounters another people with a different religion.

Out of time. To be continued....

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Meaning of It All

Much as I try to hide it, our eagle-eyed troll -- who veritably brims with rudimentary intelligence -- just noticed the other day that I have been influenced by this fellow named Schuon. After quickly googling a paragraph of Schuon, he concluded that his malign influence must account for my stupidity, narrowness of mind, absolutism, opposition to science (sic), rejection of modernity (sic), hostility to reason (sic), and absurd self-confidence.

As I have mentioned before, I am quite certain that Schuon wouldn't have been pleased to be associated with the likes of me, because as much as I regard him as a peerless sage and probable saint, the feeling would not by any means have been mutual (not that it should have been).

To the contrary, even before getting into the questionable content, Schuon would have been appalled at my breezy style of metaphysical comedy -- not to mention my freewheeling jazz age theological improvisations in the manner of unschooled American negro musicians -- which he would have no doubt regarded as vulgar and lacking in sobriety (unaware, of course, that comedy is much more difficult than drama, but we'll let it go).

Also, it is hard to envision Schuon allowing one of these infernal blogging machines into his house, but impossible to imagine him permitting open comments so as to expose the perennial wisdom to the grubby likes of anonymous, who cannot help sullying anything that proceeds from his ghastly piehole. Schuon took seriously the parable of pearls and pigs in a way the blogger cannot.

Like Schuon, I try not to draw attention to myself, but nevertheless, if you put yourself out there in any way, the darkness will find you. I'll bet you anything that Schuon had his share of wackos who pestered him with letters and even showed up at his doorstep. At least by blogging, one can keep the crazies at a safe distance and just ridicule them. And if the trolls insist on coming back, it's their problem, not mine. It certainly can't harm the truth they can't touch anyway. Plus, they are an endless source of good-natured comedy.

As I have mentioned before, I have some fundamental disagreements with Schuon in several key areas, including the value of science, the meaning of modernity, the actual conditions in which most premodern men lived (e.g., illiteracy, famine, plague, oppression, unpleasant rashes, bad smells, et al), the relative utility of psychoanalysis, his placement of metaphysics over revelation, the providential role of the United States, his idealization of American Indian culture (and "primordial culture" in general, what with its psychotic levels of violence, not to mention human sacrifice), and the contributions of people like Teilhard and Aurobindo, who tried to reconcile evolution and Spirit (not to suggest that I fully agree with those two either).

And again, even though I have my disagreements with Schuon, I would never dream of placing myself on the same plane as him. Analogously, even though it is easy enough to disagree with Isaac Newton, it would be absurd to place oneself on his level of genius. A schoolboy can know about the theory of relativity, but that hardly makes him more brilliant than Newton.

I think much of my divergence from Schuon has to do with temperament and with culture. Again, he was a man of extreme sobriety. But also, I can't help thinking that my Americanism has much to do with the differences -- and beneath that, a metaphysic that was essentially Vedantin rather than Christian.

In America we value -- and even hold sacred -- certain things that Schuon would have regarded as peripheral at best, diabolical at worst. And perhaps the most important of these is the value of the unique individual. He often rails against individualism as one of the worst features of modernity. I happen to agree, but it very much depends upon the way one looks at it.

There is no question that the individual self as we know it is a modern phenomenon that only emerged on a widespread scale several hundred years ago (cf. Taylor's magisterial Sources of the Self for every last pedantic detail). Now, the question is, was this a good -- and even providential -- thing, or a kind of going off the rails into error, disorder, rebellion, hedonism, nihilism, and Obamism?

Yes. And no. Another modern development Schuon hated -- psychoanalysis -- explains the difference. This is not the place to go into all of the details, but modern psychoanalysis (which I take to be any version that is rooted in neurodevelopmental attachment theory) converges on the health or pathology of the modern self alluded to above. In short, it is not the self that is to be rejected outright, only pathological versions of it (cf. Dr. Sanity's Encouraging a Culture of Narcissism).

Which leads directly to the next topic discussed in Schall's The Order of Things, the order of mind. For it is only possible to say that a particular self is pathological if the self as such has a function, or a proper end. A self that fails to achieve this end is in a state of pathology, no different than a heart that has no rhythm or a pituitary that won't ptoo.

Now, because of its pervasive flatland materialism, the West tends to collapse all of the orders above biology into one murky mess (indeed, sometimes even reducing it all to biology, as the evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists do).

But in reality, there are several fundamental domains that we must keep separate, including spirit, soul, ego, and mind. Even religion -- especially exoteric religion -- tends to collapse spirit and soul into one entity, which severely limits its explanatory power (similar to how they collapse God and Godhead).

When we talk about the culture war, we are really talking about the irreconcilable differences between theists and nihilists. In the end, you are either one or the other, and if you don't realize it, it is only because you cannot be intellectually honest with yourself and draw out the ultimate implications of your metaphysic. But as we have mentioned in the past, there is a strange convergence of Vedanta and nihilism, since both again devalue the infinite value of the individual, i.e., the soul.

When we say "soul," exactly what are we talking about besides Aretha, Brother Ray, and Al Green? I see it as a sort of "condensation" or "crystalization" that results from the descent and infusion of Spirit into matter (and I believe this would be consistent with the Kabbalistic view, e.g., The Thirteen Petalled Rose). First of all, please note that this involves the descent of a higher dimensional reality into a lower one, so that the lower one can never actually "contain" the higher -- and which is why the light "leaks" from every pore of the illuminated soul.

This is a good place to stop before we get into the purpose of the soul, which converges on the purpose of existence. For one thing a Raccoon believes is that the world is worthy of our being in it, and that we are worthy of having been put here. In short, there is an ultimate purpose to our doing time here in time -- or no purpose at all. In the absence of a transcendent goal, existence is just a fleeting gaol.