Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wisdom Begins With the Fear of Fearlessness

Peaking up where we slacked off yesterday: taking either the ↓ or the ↑ route is less than optimal, although with important qualifications.

For example, a complete surrender to ↓ will get the job done, although the same cannot be said of a complete commitment to ↑, since man cannot pull himself up by his own buddhastraps. I mean, he's welcome to try, but just where does he think he's really going? He's going nowhere, but he only discovers that when he gets there. Then he and the roshi presumably have a big belly laugh at the folly of man's delusions.

According to Pieper, the "↑ is all you need" approach -- i.e., the sufficiency of the human will -- falls under the rubric of "pelagianism," which is "characterized by the more or less explicit thesis that man is able by his own human nature to win eternal life and the forgiveness of sins."

And "associated with it is the typically liberal, bourgeois moralism" that is often frankly antagonistic to dogma and various sacramental protocols. It comes down to "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, I'm saved!" But don't kid yourselves, for that kind of kooky talk is a Neddy no-no.

The converse form of presumption -- and you Protestants will want to discuss this quietly amongst yourselves -- is the idea of "the sole efficacy of God's redemptive and engracing action" and "the absolute certainty of salvation solely by virtue of the merits of Christ." (And please never forget that I'm hardly an authority in these matters, just a guy blogging it up as he goes along. If slide effects occur, consult your local holy man.)

It reminds me of what Dennis Prager often says about so-called liberals who personally lead very conservative lives, and yet, don't have a political philosophy in accordance with that fact. There is a weird disconnect between how they conduct their own lives and what they believe. The people who actually do live out leftist ideas are more or less the dregs of society. They are not following a recipe for personal success, to put it mildly, unless they are already wealthy, or pursuing a line of work in which depravity is a prerequisite, such as politics or the arts.

Just so, I find that most people who believe in the sole efficacy of salvation through Christ rarely behave that way. Rather, they are generally very much interested in ↑ to go along with the ↓, i.e., aspiration + grace.

Again, if they're not, then they tend to be insufferably smug and difficult to be around. Frankly, these are the types of people who give others the Jesus Willies, and rightfully so.

For if one has already achieved salvation -- neener neener neener! -- not only is there no need to aspire, but there is a kind of implicit invitation to moral license, since it's all forgiven in the end. It turns God into a kind co-depenent wife of an alocohlic. Every time she "forgives" her husband, that releases his guilt and sets the stage for the next transgression.

I have definitely noticed this pattern in certain patients from the south, and now that I think about it, you can also see it in that first generation of rock & roll pioneers, who were all from the south and had similar religious roots -- Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Johnny Cash. Each of them at times led lives of utter dissolution, but it tended to be a saw-toothed pattern of indulgence and repent, with no true forward movement. Rather, the repent just creates a clean slate for the next fall.

I remember a story about Johnny Cash, who had invited a couple of members of U2 for dinner. At the table they held hands in a circle while Johnny said a solemn grace. At the end, he pauses and says, "sure do miss the drugs, though, Lord." The film that came out a few years ago is rather misleading, since it implies that his drugging days were over by 1967, but that is not the case.

This type of person may even be happy to concede that he is "the biggest sinner of them all," but mainly as a way to unconsciously explain away the future sins to come. Ironically, it is a form of pride, as if to say, "my sins are bigger than yours, so look how much God has forgiven!" You might say it is a humble lack of humility.

Augustine said that "only to the humble is it given to hope" (in Pieper), so that the presumptuous person cannot even genuinely pray "because he fully anticipates its fulfillment."

Pieper makes the more subtle point that in tipping over into either despair or presumption, one eliminates the dialectical tension, as it were, between divine justice and divine mercy.

But in reality, in hope there should be no separation between divine justice and mercy; rather, we only create it by falling to one side or the other. From our standpoint, justice and mercy may appear to be at odds, but in God they "are actually identical."

One has only to think of one's child to understand this. Discipline is not an end in itself but a kind of mercy, precisely. The child may protest that you lack mercy in not allowing him to eat M&M's and Doritos for breakfast, but the opposite is true. It's nice to have all your teeth.

Remember that wise crack to the effect that wisdom begins with the fear of God. It is this fear that presumption eliminates. Pieper points out that Saint Thomas "lists not only disordered fear but also unnatural fearlessness" as Neddy no-noes to be avoided. Fearlessness is a form of immaturity and self-deception. Again, I have a child who happens to be rather fearless, so in his case, he needs to cultivate some rational fear in order to grow in wisdom.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I Am Not Him, Therefore God Is

Pieper says that of the two -- presumption and despair -- the former is less opposed to hope, for it is only a false similitude, or "fraudulent imitation," as opposed to a true antitype. In the same way, childishness and infantility are fraudulent imitations of the holy innocence of childhood, whereas its true antitype would be old age, or senility, or Larry King.

If one is a true and consistent existentialist/materialist/atheist, then neither hope nor presumption should ever enter the picture. Presumptuousness, yes, in that that adjective obviously applies to anyone who imagines himself to have understood the vast realm of spirit sufficiently to categorically reject it.

In ether worlds, it's more than a little presumptuous for a horizontal man to reject the vertical on the basis of the fact that this is what horizontal men do. It's analogous to rejecting things that children cannot understand, or a cat insisting that lettuce has no nutritional value.

The materialist is committed to the belief that the horizontal world is sufficient to account for man's origin, destiny, purpose, and cognitive abilities, which correspond to chance, nowhere, nothing, and accident, respectively. The only thing the troll can know with certainty is that he knows nothing, which is one of our rare points of agreement.

To say that man is "ordered to God" is one of those things that is fraught with potential misunderstandings, which is again why I prefer to use the empty symbols, or pneumaticons, in this case, O and (¶).

On the surface, it can sound tautological to say that if God didn't exist, we couldn't conceive of him. But it means much more than that, for what it is really saying is that the astonishing fact of the human subject, with all of its marvelous abilities, must have a sufficient reason, a cause proportionate to it.

As I mentioned in the wooly Coonifesto and would still weave today, man is by an order of magnitude the most astonishing fact of the cosmos. Not only is this something we should all be able to agree upon, but I believe it should be the starting point of any coherent philosophy, not just a bizarre and unexpected afterthought that defies explanation and is therefore explained away. You could even say that "Man is, therefore I AM," but that would be getting ahead of ourselves.

To say that man is the "image and likeness" of O is simply to affirm that he is in some sense proportionate to the ultimate Principle of the cosmos. Interestingly, this is something that the materialist/atheist/Darwinist not only believes, but insists, i.e., that man is capable of pronouncing on his own ultimate meaning(lessness). For to say, for example, that man is a result of random genetic mutations is still to affirm that the mind of man is proportioned to reality.

The problem is, Darwinism obviously cannot explain its own intrinsic exceptions, the biggest one being man's adequation to truth. No mere animal has anything approximating this, which is why the gulf between animal and man is infinite if considered from the bottom up -- for the same reason that the gap between Ø and O is infinite from the perspective of Ø.

However, if looked at from the top down, it is both understandable and even somewhat expected -- again, for the same reason that, viewed from the top down, Ø is simply the "further reaches," so to speak, of O, like rays from the sun.

This is by no means to suggest that man was "inevitable," which would be another form of presumption, plus it would deny the creative freedom of O. It simply means that since it is in the nature of the sovereign good to create, we shouldn't be all that surprised that he should create something as magnificent as man. Astonished, yes, but not surprised.

And this would also account for our disappointment in that habitual underachiever, Homo sapiens. In contrast, the Darwinian or secular humanist has no grounds whatsoever for being disappointed in man. For him, the mystery is why man should be anything other than a mindless animal seeking food, sex, and tenure.

Anyway, back to Pieper. He points out that the problem with presumption is that it engenders a "perverted attitude toward the fact that eternal life is the meaning and goal" of our terrestrial adventure. Again, man is only proportioned to O. He is not O.

But presumption fails to honor this distinction, and therefore "fails to accept the reality of the futurity and 'arduousness' that characterize" our journey in and toward O. It manifests in the attitude, for example, of those arrogant bumper snickers that say CHRISTIANS AREN'T PERFECT, JUST FORGIVEN, or something like that. I wouldn't be so sure about that, pilgrim. You are of course permitted to hope for salvation, but to simply assume it is the height of presumption. It is also to appoint oneself judge and jury over one's own case. It is a recipe for mischief, since you can essentially do whatever you want in this life, knowing that in the end you've got a get-out-of-hell-free card.

Presumption really detaches itself from O and thereby "destroys supernatural hope" by not acknowledging the transitional nature of life in the herebelow. Therefore, it regards "eternal life as something that is 'basically' already achieved, as something that is 'in principle' already given.'" No wonder such people are so boring.

Pieper adds that it is also a type of heresy, but I would expand upon this to say that it is one of those intellectual heresies that isn't only specific to Christianity, but to thought as such, for it ultimately means that in one way or another, one is collapsing that generative and transitional space between man and O, which is man's true habitat. This is why both the concrete atheist and the presumptuous theist are so tedious, for they are just mirrors of one another.

Interestingly, Pieper also touches on how liberal theology transfers the gap between man and O through activism, as if by stealing enough of one man's property and giving it to another, they can create the kingdom of heaven on earth, the old hate-and-switch "immamentization of the eschaton" routine, as Voegelin put it.

The cosmic truth of the matter -- or so we have heard from the wise -- is that neither grace nor aspiration, ↓ and ↑, are sufficient, only ↓↑. And I wish I could depict those arrows in a kind of open, upward spiral, because that would be more accurate. More like the image at the right, whereby the field created by the arrows is a kind of hologram. (And note how the point at the top is none other than ʘ.)

You could even create a pithy bumper sticker to reflect this truth, say, BELIEVERS AREN'T PERFECT, THAT'S HOW WE KNOW THERE'S A GOD, or I DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING, THATS HOW I KNOW TRUTH EXISTS.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Youthful Reagan and Old Man Obama

Speaks for itself: "By implanting in man the new 'future' of a practically inexhaustible 'not yet,' supernatural hope lays the foundation for a new youthfulness that can be destroyed only if hope is destroyed" (Pieper).

It's not so much that youth is full of hope. Rather, the reverse: hope is the essence of youth. Remama? The present wasn't just the present, but the continuous "harvesting" of an endlessly novel future. I remember always "looking forward" to things, not in the pathological manner that takes one out of the present, but adds to it.

In fact, it is precisely because of this gift or malady, depending upon how you look at it, that I never developed the usual ambitions which the Conspiracy expects one to have. I was already having such an excellent adventure, that I didn't really see how it could get any better. Rather, you'd have to be pretty bored to be enticed by what Conspiracy had to offer in exchange for your Slack.

In other words, I didn't hope for anything fundamentally different, and still don't. In thinking about it for the first time, I think I retained my innocent and youthful hope, and never replaced it with the kinds of artificial and convoluted hopes that haunt most people, i.e., a world-weary hope for some kind of fundamental change, or for some sort of future "excitement" that really just takes one out of one's center and makes it feel like the center for awhile. I knew by the time I was in my late teens that if I couldn't enjoy the present, then I wouldn't be able to enjoy the future, no matter what came along. I knew that fulfillment can only occur now.

This very much reminds me of how there is no such thing as an individual per se. Rather the person is always oriented to the other; he is always in communion, so that the substance of being, if you like, really is threeness: the I, the You, and the link between. There is nothing behind or beyond that, not even -- or especially not -- "in God," who "contains" his own Other, i.e., the Son.

(To be honest -- and with respect -- I don't always like the words "Father" and "Son" as theological placemarkers, since they are so saturated with other meanings and associations, only some of which apply to the interior of O, so to speak. Rather, I find it more helpful to contemplate the astonishing fact that the essence of being is not "one" but communion; or, that there is no One without his Second. It is in the very nature of One to give birth to the Two, which is why Eckhart said that "the essence of God is birthing.")

Just so, it is in the very essence of the now to "point toward" the future. In other words, just as there is no One without the Other, there is no now without the then. If there were no promise of a then, then hopelessness would be the proper orientation to the world. But the future is always flowing into the now, and furthermore, it is not just coming "from nowhere," but from O, precisely (the cosmic telovator or eschalator).

This is why such things as creativity, novelty, evolution and discovery are not just possible, but normative for the human being. It is because of this structure that existence isn't completely ruled by entropy. Obviously if entropy is the irony-clad law of the cosmos, then there is no reason whatsoever for hope. Hope resides in the fact that it transcends entropy, including that annoying state of entropy we call death. Remember: hope is eternal youthfulness (or vice versa), while hopelessness is senility and death.

Which is why America is still the youngest nation in the world, and why everyone wants to get out of their decrepit cultures and come here. America is not just the last, best hope of humanity, but a bulwark against hopelessness. It reminds me of how victims of the soviet Gulag were comforted by the moral clarity of Ronald Reagan, even while it annoyed the hell out of the hopeless and cynical progressives. Conversely, the appeasement of the left only added to their despair.

It is also why progressives may look immature, but they are really bitter old men, as you'll probably see in the comments today, except not now that I've mentioned it. But for Obama to peddle "hope" is like Forest Lawn selling vacation property. No matter how nice it looks, you'll be dead when you get there. And if we ever arrive where progressives want us to go, we'll also be dead, either literally or figuratively.

So as Pieper explains, youthfulness "can be destroyed only if hope is destroyed." But I would add that if one can manage to damage or destroy the state of innocent youthfulness, one can also undermine hope, and create a "hopeless" situation from which only the State can save one.

I don't think I need to chronicle the many ways the left assaults and undermines the innocence of childhood, but I would no more place my child in a public school than I would expose him to pornography or MSNBC. I am charged with protecting his holy innocence, not eliminating it. The point is not to produce a jaded cynic who is wise as a dove and innocent as a serpent.

For only with this reservoir of innocence can one remain an innocent child forever, instead of, say, a childish know-nothing such as Obama. Note how the latter is a corrupt version of the former. To be "innocent" does not mean being innocent of wisdom and self-understanding.

It is critical to bear in mind that there are two forms of hopelessness, despair and presumption. Again, both "collapse" the space between now and then, and now that I think about it, probably collapse the space between I and You as well, in that the I becomes a self-sufficient god, either for better or worse. But in each case, the present moment, which should be oriented toward the future, collapses to nothingness.

As Pieper explains, "the 'infantility' of presumption lies in its perverse anticipation of fulfillment," so that genuine hope "passes into the peaceful certainty of possession." What does this remind me of... Oh yes, "This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." Really? Yes, he's a buffoon, but why is this so different from, say, the kind of hope promised by Reagan, e.g., "morning in America"?

The difference is that in the real morning that announces the day, it is the person who makes all the difference, not the state, since one man's morning is another man's twilight or Darkness. Remember, it was always morning in the Soviet Union as well, with the announcement of a new Five-Year Plan. When you give up your hope to the State, they just sell it back to you at triple the price.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Being's Flight From Being, or You Can't Outrun an Assoul

Acedia has a number of "friends and companions," including despair and restlessness. In a way, you could see restlessness as a defense against despair, so they are really just two sides of the same coin.

Pieper describes some of the variants of restlessness, which are interesting in and of themselves. But also, they demonstrate how perceptive a psychologist Saint Thomas was, long before there was even a word for psychology. For that matter, it also shows how anemic modern psychology is in ignoring the spiritual dimension of things (or, alternatively, taking it seriously only in a frivolous, new age, chopra-esque manner).

If one's depression is a result of spiritual disorder, then it's important to know that. It is very much analogous to how physical pain conveys important messages about our behavior and surroundings. Likewise, on a psychic level we have certain built-in mechanisms that convey pain, such as shame and guilt. A person with no shame and no guilt becomes a sociopath or even a Chicago politician.

There are few people who are born with no capacity for shame. More often than not, the dysregulation of shame is a result of having had one's "circuits blown" as a child -- of having been exposed to too much shame too soon. As a result, the person may grow up with a kind of "shame bypass" mechanism, or else be so vulnerable to shame that they are paralyzed for fear of triggering it.

But do note that shame is only thinkable in the context of the other. When we are shamed, it is a result of projecting our own judgmental eyes outward. Therefore, the shame-prone individual projects a pair of eyes that are particularly harsh and judgmental, even condemnatory.

In this regard, it is important to distinguish between shame and guilt, the former being more "ontological," the latter more "existential." In other words, when we feel guilt, it is over an action. But shame has more to do with our very existence.

In his books, Allan Schore does a wonderful job of describing the actual neurobiological correlates of shame. When shame becomes dysregulated, it actually becomes woven into our very neurology. Let me see if I can find an illustrative passage.

But before doing that, let me describe how it happens with my son. Of course, until a child is, what, three years old or so, they have no capacity for shame. They are quite literally shameless, which, of course, brings to mind the primordial state of Adam. But what is the first thing Adam experiences upon his eyes being opened? Correct. Shame. He saw that he was naked, and quickly covered up.

Anyway, so future leader is now capable of feeling shame, which is clearly a good thing, because if he weren't, I wouldn't say that there would be no way to control him, but we would have one less tool in our arsenal. But the key, of course, is to never shame the child in a way that is traumatic -- any more than you want them to feel any kind of pain to excess, even while retaining the capacity to feel it. Shame is like an unbidden stranger that lives within us. Quite literally, it is a "built in other" that ensures our harmonious relations with the group.

But again, dysregulated shame either paralyzes or "unleashes." This is why so-called shame cultures -- for example, much of Islamic world -- are so shameless. Or, precisely because they cannot tolerate the acute shame they feel for being such world-historical losers, they attack the nearest "eyes," which happen to be the Israelis. If not for them, they'd have to just murder and maim each other more than they already do.

Note also how the general emotional immaturity of the Islamic world causes men to locate their shameful sexual impulses in women, so that by covering them up, they can tamp down their libidos; or how our own ridiculous troll hides his shame behind a cloak of anonymity, as if that prevents us from remembering his numberless follies!

Eh, forget about Schore. We're getting way too far afield. Let's get back to Pieper/Aquinas and the many defenses against despair, which include loquaciousness, excessive curiosity, "an irreverent urge to pour oneself out from the peak of the mind onto many things," "interior restlessness," and "instability of place or purpose."

Each of these could be confused with garden-variety anxiety, but Aquinas is talking about something deeper, about being's flight from itself. But, to quote the wise words of Beavis, it is absurd to imagine that you can "run away from your bunghole." Rather, wherever you go, it goes there too.

There are other ways to flee from being and to manifest the "sluggish indifference toward those things that are in truth necessary for man's salvation," for example, "pusillanimity toward all the mystical opportunities that are open to man.'' Another --a veritable peter pandemic on the left -- is "irritable rebellion" against those who serve as a reminder of one's higher purpose (thus, for example, the truly inevitable attacks on the Pope and on Jews). For what did the Master say about being hated by the world?

The last and most noxious and destructive defense against despair goes all the way in converting defense to offense, to actual defiance; it is the "conscious inner choice and decision in favor of evil as evil that has its source in hatred for the divine in man."

To pick a low-hanging fruitcake that is always near at hand, our own perpetually irritated and rebellious troll makes no attempt to conceal his belief that it is necessary for God to have an adversary, and that he considers his presence here to be the reflection of a "very fundamental principle of the universe," that is, "the tendency of any force to give rise to its opposite."

There is some garbled truth to this notion, except that it is critical to bear in mind that while light necessarily gives rise to shadow, that hardly means that light "wishes" for shadows to exist.

Rather, shadows are entirely "parasitic" or "reactionary." Only in this sense do we give rise to our opposite in Anon. It would never occur to us to seek out this anonymous darkness, much less create it! Nevertheless, in throwing out the light, we have indeed done so, in a manner of speaking. My bad. (Remember, never get angry or impatient with him, as I sometimes see some of you doing, for he is always here to teach.)

Some of the above defenses are probably not self-evident, for example, "excessive curiosity." What could this mean? Obviously there is nothing wrong with curiosity. It is how we learn. It is the empty space we must tolerate in order for knowledge to occur. As Bion was fond of saying, "the answer is the disease that kills curiosity." But what is excessive curiosity?

I think it manifests in various ways, for example, in a kind of seemingly innocent but bovine lack of certitude about certain fundamental questions, without which thinking isn't even possible -- for example, in questions of whether truth, or free will, or moral absolutes actually exist. To even ask such questions, one must either be stupid or malicious, but in any event, such an insane quest can only result in ignorance chasing its own tail and calling it "philosophy," i.e., tales told by the tenured and troll tales of the tin-eared.

Another manifestation of excessive curiosity involves "overrunning" the truth long after it has already been found.

And with that, I am abruptly out of time. To be continued.....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Get Out of My Life, God! But First Could You Drive Me & Dawkins to the Mall?

Wait, don't go away! Acedia is actually very interesting. And important.

After all, if it's a capital sin, there must be a reason. And a capital sin is...

Hey, what is a capital sin, anyway? I'm assuming that it involves choosing a course of action that places one's soul in real danger, ultimately running counter to one's very reason for being. These sins lead to spiritual suicide, if you will -- a self-administered celestial abortion and an in-your-face rejection of O. It is not just the flight into Ø, but the prideful celebration of it.

Again, since there is no adequate translation of acedia, it has become associated with "the middle-class work ethic" -- as if the latter could have anything to do with spiritual perfection. But if anything, acedia is at a right angle to the work ethic, in that Aquinas associates it with forgetting the sabbath, "by which man is enjoined to 'rest his spirit in God'" (Pieper).

And if you will turn your new testavus for the rest of us to page 236, you will see that Toots Mondello enjoins us to observe the sabbath speed limit, which does not mean putting your pedal to the metal, but rather, slowing down, precisely. To quote ourselves, it involves "turning toward what is 'behind' and 'above' the external world and its nihilocracy of urgent nonsense." Furthermore, it is simultaneously a "memoir of the future" and a return to "the unmanifest paradise of Eden."

One might say that the paradoxical "work" of the sabbath involves internalizing its essential contours and rhythms, so that there is a peaceful "zone of silence" between oneself and the world. The work of the sabbath is not "not doing" -- which is only the opposite of doing -- but non-doing, as per our friend, the gentleman from China, LaoTsu.

We prefer to call it non-doodling, because it may look like we are just doodling around doing nothing, but it's true. We are indeed doing nothing, which requires the effort of no effort. In fact, I'm not doing it right now.

Speaking of this return to the vertical source, I just want to share something that ba-lew my mind, as they used to say. This weekend I was reading this fine little book on Aquinas, by Josef Pieper. I am embarrassed to admit that I've never actually read the Summa Theologica, a failing I am about to rectify.

Anyway, I get to the bottom of page 101, and Pieper says that in order to understand the structure of the Summa, one must imagine "a circular diagram, in a ring returning back upon itself."

What the!

And here is Aquinas' bottom line, which turns out at bottom to be a metacosmic circle: "In the emergence of creatures from their first Source is revealed a kind of circulation, in which all things return, as to their end, back to the very place from which they had their origin in the beginning."

Who knew? Aquinas was a Raccoon!

Where were we? Yes, back to acedia, which, in a way, can be thought of as the perverse struggle to convert the above-noted circle into a straight line. Doing so automatically takes one off the path, and prevents one from floating upstream on the cosmic winds.

Acedia fundamentally involves choosing worldliness over spirit; it is to commit oneself to the horizontal over the vertical. Thus, it "lacks courage for the great things that are proper to the nature of the Christian" (Pieper), so that the acedic man hasn't "the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great in order thus to avoid the obligation of greatness" (ibid).

One can well understand how acedia represents a kind of "perverted humility"; Pieper aptly compares it to the neurotic patient who consciously wishes to get better, but unconsciously resists it because of the responsibilities it will bring in the future, not to mention the regrets about the past.

Resistance is ubiquitous in psychotherapy, if only because any dynamic system first and foremost wishes to go on being. But there's more to it than that, as genuine growth is always a double-edged sword, as is seen quite vividly in developing children. Every major movement toward individuation and autonomy brings with it a little separation anxiety that needs to be tolerated and worked through. To put it simply, gaining individuation means losing mommy.

I might add that we never truly resolve this dialectic between merger and autonomy, a topic I will be posting on in the near future. It's just that instead of fleeing back and dissolving into the loving arms of mommy, we regress in different ways, some healthy, others pathological.

For example, it's no secret that for the Raccoon, the Beer O'clock slackrament is a kind of dissolution into the arms of the cosmic mother, but there are many other examples. Always there is the father principle of doing and the mother principle of being. Obviously there are many ways for pathology to enter into the marriage, but that's a subject for a different post.

Pieper goes on to say that acedia can go from mere passive drifting to "an actual fleeing from God. Man flees from God because God has exalted human nature to a higher, a divine, state of being and has thereby enjoined on man a higher standard of obligation."

Again, man is condemned to transcendence. But to paraphrase Pieper, acedia ultimately expresses the wish that God would just leave us alone and stop pestering us with these annoying calls to dignity, nobility, and greatness. Go away, God! I'm not your baby anymore! I can do it myself!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Loafing and Laughing Our Way Toward the Real Singularity

Who is that motherhuckster that propagates nonsense about the "singularity," about living forever, and about recreating human minds with AI (not just the body, but the actual "person")? Kurzweil?

He is a prime example of despair masquerading as hope, of extreme materialism masquerading as transcendence, and of grandiosity masquerading as magnanimity. Not to mention abject foolishness masquerading as wisdom. No wonder he has so many honorary doctorates. Then again, one more and he gets a free carwash.

Suffice it to say -- as we have discussed before -- man is born with a religious instinct; or, as Schuon ironically expressed it, he is "condemned to transcendence." But just as our sexual instinct can become disordered, so too can our religious instinct. Indeed, this is such a truism that it hardly needs to be said. Just as there are sexual perversions (although in the polticially correct world of clinical psychology they are now called "paraphilias"), there are religious perversions (metaphilias?).

Although the list of man's sexual perversions has become shorter with his "evolution" and sophistication, the current resumé includes Exhibitionism, Fetishism, Frotteurism, Pedophilia, Sexual Masochism, Sexual Sadism, Transvestic Fetishism, Voyeurism, and attraction to Rosie O'Donnell. With further evolution, I would expect Transvestic Fetishism to soon be stricken from the list, followed by the sadomasochistic tango.

If we were to compile a list of religious perversions, what would it include? We could say obvious things such as Islamism, except that it is by no means clear whether or not the Grand Jihad that motivates the Islamists is actually normative for their religion. I don't want to say it. Or draw a picture. You do the myth.

But I don't want to get into specific cases anyway, only the more general cat- and dogmatories. To a certain extent we've already covered this ground in our recent posts about intrinsic intellectual heresies. Furthermore, acquaintance with the debates of early Christianity provides a useful education in the delicate balance required in order to avoid these various pitfalls through which one really does fall into the pit.

Let's just focus on the theological virtue of hope, along with its corollary, hopelessness. Why would hopelessness be a sin and a heresy? Indeed, our reader Anon informs us that depressed and hopeless people are actually more in touch with what he calls "reality," because a couple of the tenured said so. In his upside down world, the disease is the cure. But how do we know for sure if those two are really depressed and in touch with reality, or just faking it? Anyway, some books are written with the assistance of psychoactive drugs; this one could have been avoided with them.

According to Pieper, there are two kinds of hopelessness, despair and what we will translate as presumption. Both involve a kind of anticipation: the former is "a perverse anticipation of the nonfulfillment of hope," while the latter is "a perverse anticipation of the fulfillment of hope." And I didn't expect him to use the word "perverse," but there it is. We are on the same cosmic page.

But why are these perversions? Because man is again always on the way. You might say that just as God's essence is his being, Man's essence is his becoming. God is who he is -- his name is I AM THAT I AM -- while man is who he is to become. His orthoparadoxical name is I AM THAT I WILL BE.

Both despair and presumption therefore undercut man at the very root, since they "destroy the pilgrim character of of human existence" and are "opposed to man's true becoming" (Pieper).

Note that the substance of real hope "flows" -- can only flow -- between (•) and O. Despair is to live only in (•), while presumption is to assume the acquisition or conquest of O; it is to conflate (•) and O in such a way that (•) is expanded to O.

Man is only in the image of the Creator. He is not the Creator. While the human station uniquely allows him both to create and to know, this conceals the fact that man cannot actually create or know the essence of a single thing.

In other words, both knowledge and the limitation thereof are a result of the same ontological reality, the very structure of being. Because we are an emanation of O, we may truly know; but because we are not O, knowledge is literally inexhaustible.

The same may be said of our creativity. Although it too is inexhaustible, man clearly cannot create something from nothing, which is the true essence of creativity that only God possesses.

Now, as mentioned in the book, man is a uniquely open system, both vertically and horizontally. Therefore, in order to "grow" in either direction, he must remain an open system at disequilibrium.

Both of these are fundamental, i.e., openness and disequilibrium. For example, there is a word we use when your body has reached equilibrium: death. Likewise, there are a number of words for a system that has become closed: starvation is one that applies to the horizontal, while sin is a word that applies to the vertical (i.e., rejection of an open relationship to God).

The kind of hope being peddled by Kurzweil is really just despair mimicking hope. You might say that it recapitulates man's original creation of a closed system that excludes God, in that it elevates man to God (both Kurzweil and the serpent agree that "you shall not die").

But any way you cut it, life in a purely horizontal world is already a kind of death. Kurzweil cannot really promise life forever, only death forever, with no real reason to hope for anything. Please note that Kurzweil is full of hope. But I can guarantee him that he will soon be dead, and that his childish (not childlike) hope is entirely misplaced.

One way we maintain vertical openness is through the virtue of humility. But this can go awry in two directions, not just one. Obviously, grandiosity and presumption run counter to genuine humility.

But Pieper notes that despair can represent a kind of false humility that makes it impossible to maintain a vertically open system. He discusses this in terms of the capital sin of acedia, which has no precise translation, so that it is generally thought of as "sloth," which is quite misleading, since it has nothing to do with laziness per se.

For example, as Pieper explains, it is entirely possible -- likely even -- for a workaholic to indulge in acedia, the real meaning of which is a kind of "sadness in view of the divine good in man," and a rejection of the "God-given ennobling of human nature."

You might call it spiritual laziness, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the divine Slack required to properly contemplate and abide in O. Slack is only the true Slack if it is oriented toward its proper spiritual end. Yes, the Raccoon is not just some kind of loafer, but a gentleman loafer. Furthermore, he loafs in God's vertical bakery, where the bread is baked fresh daily.

To be continued....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Obama and the Hope-a-Dope Strategy

Pieper discusses the quite natural relationship between hope and youth, noting that the two are "ordered to one another in manifold ways."

This almost requires no explanation, and yet, is quite important -- and now that I think about it, undoubtedly helps to explain certain well known psycho-spiritual political pathologies of youth, which generally occur when their abundant hope is combined with their lack of wisdom and experience to produce... well, you name it. Obama is only their latest gift to the world.

Why anyone would place their hope in politics and politicians is quite beyond me; then again, I have only to think back to my own youth to realize that it's actually quite behind me. After all, my first vote was for Jimmy Carter, and in 1980 he was too conservative for me, so my preferred candidate was Barry Commoner of the illustrious Citizens Party, a socialist front that mainly spread hysteria about nuclear power plants.

Pieper writes that "natural hope blossoms with the strength of youth and withers when youth withers." Again, no doubt true. This is obviously a depressing reality, but again, I think it explains why older people who should know better cling to the callow political enthusiasms of their youth. How could a grown man be taken in by Obama's vacuous hopey-changey rhetoric?

It seems to me that one explanation might be the attempt to revive the kind of exciting hope for the future they once had as adolescents. As they say, when you see an old man with a young woman, it's not her youth he's after.

Likewise, when you see an old fart like Chris Matthews getting all tingly upon hearing his boyfriend speak, the real source of the excitement is obviously not Obama's vague future but Matthews' own specific past. Thus, the recent disillusionment with Obama is just the other side of hisillusionment. He has awakened to his own projection, and yet, has learned nothing, since he now blames Obama for dissing his beautiful illusion!

Being that politics is a substitute religion for the left, it is understandable that they would be prone to creating earthly messiahs. In reality, the entire process obviously took place in Matthews' own fat and spluttering head, that is, the illusion followed by the inevitable disillusion. (And to be clear, I would say the identical thing of a "conservative" who placed this kind of inappropriate hope in a politician.)

Now, the loss of natural hope brings with it the growth of what we might call "natural despair." This only makes sense. In the absence of any transnatural form of hope, it is simply an ironclad law of nature that when we are young the past is essentially irrelevant while the future is virtually unlimited.

But as we age, the past grows long while the future inevitably shrinks to nothing. How could one not be quite literally dis-illusioned? As Pieper describes it, the "not yet" of youth "is turned into the has-been," and we become a kind of bittersweet repository of "memories of what is 'no more.'"

Perhaps you have to be of my generation, but for me, there is nothing quite as pathetic as when cadge-drive time comes around, and PBS digs out some old hippies to sing the same songs they sang 40 or 50 years ago, in the same way, hopefully kindling the same rancid emotions.

Can you imagine having to sing something you wrote at the age of 20, while expressing the same emotions you felt then with conviction? It is no wonder then that these people literally haven't taken a new political imprint since 1967. Ironic too that this desperate flight into the past is called "progressive."

This whole sad spectacle can be avoided with properly ordered hope. Pieper is at pains to emphasize that hope in and of itself is no kind of virtue. Rather, it only becomes a theological virtue when it converges upon its proper transnatural target.

Likewise, hopelessness and cynicism would be quite appropriate in a wholly materialistic worldview, for what is there to hope for aside from maximizing pleasure and delaying death as long as possible?

This very different type of transnatural hope is by no means tied to natural youth. However, consistent with Jesus' statements regarding the importance of holy childlikeness, this hope "bestows on mankind a 'not yet' that is entirely superior to and distinct from the failing strength of man's natural hope."

Looked at in this way, adolescents are more than a little hopeless before they gain real wisdom, and especially hopeless, or pathetic, if the condition persists well into adulthood, as it generally does in the tenured retardentsia.

Now interestingly, properly ordered (supernatural) hope has the effect of re-infusing, so to speak, natural hope, hence, the cheerful optimism of the Raccoon. We have discussed in the past how (↓) has a kind of "rejuvenating" effect, and how, for example, people literally feel "lighter" after attending a religious service. Indeed, if I wake up feeling "heavy," I always feel lighter after a post, which is one of the reasons I persist in these verticalisthenics -- to keep the existential pounds off, so to speak. I would no more give up the habit than I would stop exercising.

Pieper writes of "the enchanting youthfulness of our great saints," for "nothing more eminently preserves and founds 'eternal youth' than the theological virtue of hope. It alone can bestow on man the certain possession of that aspiration that is at once relaxed and disciplined, that adaptability and readiness, that strong-hearted freshness, that resilient joy, that steady perseverance in trust that so distinguish the young and make them so lovable."

Which is why we may say with Pieper: God is younger than all else.

And why we may say with Petey: Too old, older than Abraham, too young, young as a babe's I AM. The circle unbroken by and by, a Divine child, a godsend, a touch of infanity, a bloomin' yes.

For in the end, hope is nothing more or less than a trusting and childlike Yes! to the Creator, and the faithful certainty that his creation is indeed good.