Monday, July 26, 2010

Spiritual Environment and Soul Evolution

Evolution presupposes temporal continuity, which must exist if anything is to exist. In other words, if not for time, then everything would have to happen at once. (The word "evolve" is etymologically related to "unroll," as in an ancient scroll.)

And "temporal continuity" is just another way of saying "memory." For example, a person with alzheimer's loses his memory, and therefore his temporal continuity. It's always now, disconnected from all the other nows. Therefore, it's not even really now anymore, because now is only now in relation to a then. It's really closer to never.

One of my beefs with metaphysical Darwinism is that, like an alzheimer's patient, it isolates its own conclusions from the greater context of cosmic evolution. For as Harris writes, "The modern conception of nature is of a continuous evolutionary process, linking the purely physical with the biological, the biological with the psychological, and the psychological with the social, moral, artistic, and religious experiences of man."

Given this temporal continuity, it is wholly arbitrary to define things in terms of the past instead of the present or future, since everything is in the process of becoming. In other words, in studying any phenomenon, it is important to know what it is in its mature form. If you only study a caterpillar in an isolated slice of time, you won't know anything about its connection to butterflies.

Likewise, if you study the Big Bang in isolation from the human knower, you're missing the whole point, again, because you're arbitrarily excluding the temporal continuity that even allows a subject to know about and comprehend the Big Bang -- which is without a doubt the most astonishing thing about the Big Bang! I still can't get over it.

A couple of posts back we spoke of the importance of boundary conditions in human development. Only with the creation of a "semipermeable membrane" can the human subject properly evolve. But this is equally true of temporal boundaries. Again, if we weren't bound in time, we could not be, for we would be beyond being. But time for human beings is not merely duration. Rather, the point is to metabolize time, so as to create a deeper form of continuity in one's life, or a personal history, an identity.

For example, the typical therapy patient comes in with various temporal discontinuities. These are like "holes" in the psyche, except that they are gaps in time rather than space. As Freud said, the neurotic person suffers from "reminiscences," except that the reminiscences have lives and agendas all their own, disconnected from one's central identity. In short, they are mind parasites, or rogue elements within the psyche. And they are rogue elements because they have split off from the central government, which should ideally have a monopoly on memory.

Let's make this very personal in order to render it more vivid. I remember my first heartbreak at the age of 18. It triggered such a deep level of depression that only years later, in therapy, was I able to piece together what had actually happened.

To make a long story short, that heartbreak was just the occasion to feel a whole host of emotions that had been placed in escrow since early childhood. They were there, stored away in a kind of atemporal quasi-eternity, just waiting for the appropriate experience (or relationship, to be precise) through which to express themselves, or to deploy themselves in time. But because of the temporal discontinuity, I could not connect A (the source) and C (the person) at the time. I thought it all had to do with that scheming and faithless C, which it couldn't have, since it was an effect that so far exceeded its cause. Especially in hindsight, the cause seems hardly worth bothering over. Her?

But Darwinists routinely do the same thing. For example, the human subject so far exceeds the material shuffling of genetic material, that only a fool or a mental patient would deny the deeper temporal continuity. And on the deepest level, it should be a bananaty to peel out that in our cosmos, matter has the astonishing potential to sponsor life and human consciousness. As such, matter cannot possibly be only what the physicist says it is, just as life cannot possibly be what the Darwinist says it is, for both varieties of tenure, in their own way, deny temporal continuity. Again, they take an arbitrary time slice and impose a manmade boundary where there is none.

So if we're going to take time seriously, we would have to agree with Harris that "the product of an evolutionary process is, and must be, potential at its beginnings, and if what is inchoate at first becomes progressively unfolded as the process continues, the nature of the final outcome will be the key to the understanding of both the process itself and its origin."

Thus, the Darwinist wants to have it both ways: there is a continuous evolutionary series that culminates in man, and yet, this culmination may be reduced to a wholly random and mechanical iteration of genetic shuffling. Again, to do this not only abolishes man and all he values, but it ironically abolishes evolution, because it says that what has evolved has no intrinsic meaning that isn't reducible to the real meaning, which is simply genes in meaningless competition for survival. Frankly, this is psychotic, only intellectually psychotic instead of emotionally psychotic. (Again, the psychotic mind dismembers temporal continuity and as a result lives in a hell of nameless dread.)

It is also ironic that the Darwinist stresses the importance of adaptation to one's environment. For me -- and I am quite sure this is true of all Raccoons -- if I were forced to adapt my soul to the impoverished intellectual and spiritual environment of philosophical Darwinism, it would be exceedingly painful, very much like living in a totalitarian state in which I had to subordinate my essential identity to the group's ideology.

In fact, I am only able to articulate and evolve the most vital parts of myself through the pneuma-cognitive environment of the perennial religion. If I could not do this, it would be like a living death. It would be like a musician who was forbidden to ever pick up an instrument. How on earth am I to become myself in the absence of the appropriate spiritual environment to nurture and sustain my spiritual evolution?

Man is not just anything-- which is one of the main reasons why socialism never works. Rather, "the sufficient reason of the human state... is to be a bridge between earth and Heaven, hence to 'realize God' to some degree or other" (Schuon). And the sufficient reason of revelation is to provide a clueprint of that bridge and to facilitate that realization.

Now, I don't doubt that Queeg and other spiritual retards such as Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris, feel perfectly "at home" in the Darwinist environment they create for themselves, just as there are millions of people whose meager souls are satisfied by video games, or whose appetites are fulfilled by McDonalds. But that is a statement about them, not reality. I could no more feed my soul with metaphysical Darwinism than I could stuff my body with Big Macs, or listen to rap music all day, or watch MSNBC. Rather, I have a soul with very particular needs, and to be deprived of the means to fulfill those needs would be spiritual death -- which is to say, human death.

Again, given the temporal continuity of the cosmos, there is surely horizontal cause and effect. No one would dispute that. But at the same time, an effect cannot exceed its cause, most especially when we are talking about an "infinite" effect. And make no mistake: the human subject partakes of the infinite and the absolute, even if some human subjects prefer to exile themselves to the relative and the finite. They are obviously free to do so, but they are only free to do so because freedom is real -- which is again to say that it partakes of the absolute.

But such is the unevolved life of the spiritually unborn. They just can't crack the cosmic egg, and want to cram the rest of us into their poultry little vision of reality.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

And on the Fifth Day of July, Elvis Rocked

For music Saturday, I'd like to be a champion of the obvious and highlight a tired banality that has been insufficiently beaten to death. I'll begin by rebleating a passing thoughtlet Lileks extruded a couple years ago. He was referencing a series of records that came out in the early 1970s, called Cruisin', which attempted to recreate the top 30 radio of the late '50s and '60s, not just with music, but with the original DJs and vintage commercials. There was one for each year, from the mid '50s to the late '60s:

"The Cruisin’ series, incidentally was released in 1970 -- which meant 13 years between the original broadcast and the record’s debut, and 38 years between now and then. The distance between now and then seems half the distance between ’57 and ’70. It’s not just my own subjective perspective -- not entirely, anyway.... If you showed a kid a movie about 1995, they’d laugh at the hair and the big primitive computers with slow modems, but the culture would be recognizable. There was a reason people in the early 70s romanticized the 50s, but at the risk of making the usual fool of myself with platitudes and banal generalizations, I’ll leave it there."

The point is that as early as 1970, people were nostalgic for the 1960s, but this was only possible because it was already a distinct and recognizable era (for example, American Graffiti came out in 1973). And I would say that as early as 1964, when the Beatles crossed the Atlantic, it was possible to be nostalgic for the 1950s, since that is exactly when they became a recognizable thing of the past. Almost no artists who were popular on the charts prior to January 1964 were popular after. Countless musical careers were over.

The revelation of rock can be fixed at a particular time and place. It was late one night on July 5, 1954, when Elvis launched into an unplanned and spontaneous performance of That's All Right:

"The session... proved entirely unfruitful until late in the night. As they were about to give up and go home, Presley took his guitar and launched into a 1946 blues number, Arthur Crudup's That's All Right.

"Moore recalled, 'All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open... he stuck his head out and said, 'What are you doing?' And we said, 'We don't know.' 'Well, back up,' he said, 'try to find a place to start, and do it again.'

"Phillips quickly began taping; this was the sound he had been looking for. Three days later, popular Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played That's All Right on his Red, Hot, and Blue show. Listeners began phoning in, eager to find out who the singer was. The interest was such that Phillips played the record repeatedly during the last two hours of his show. Interviewing Presley on-air, Phillips asked him what high school he attended in order to clarify his color for the many callers who had assumed he was black" (wiki).

No one would suggest that Elvis's approach had had no precursors. But this style of music had never crossed over to any kind of mass popularity, and was confined to the "race market." Indeed, it took until early 1956 for Elvis to cross that threshold to mass popularity, so one can really say that rock as a cultural phenomenon began then.

But it didn't last long, and no one at the time assumed that it was anything more than a passing fad to be cashed in on while it lasted. Very similar to Louis Armstrong's revolutionary recordings of the late 1920s, no one at the time imagined that they were producing "art," of all things. Records were ephemeral things to be tossed into the marketplace and then disposed of.

Which is precisely one of the reasons why those primitive Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings endure, because they were completely un-self-conscious. The same can be said of Elvis's earliest recordings, since he was doing them for the pure joy of doing them. He was doing it for love. Indeed, no market yet existed for what he was doing.

And yet, it did. The people were obviously yearning for a musical messiah who would not just liberate them from the pharonic constraints of the pop blandscape of the day, but rock their souls into the promised land. Elvis didn't invent anything, but just happened upon the key to a musical archetype that was already there. Once people heard it, they recognized it as something they couldn't live without -- not just in America, but all over the world. The same thing had occurred with jazz. People talk about "world music," but the only true world music is Cosmo-American black music.

Now, I don't want to get into the question of what rock eventually devolved to, in terms of both the music and the culture. I agree that that is all to be deplored. Rather, I'm talking about that pure, ecstatic impulse at the origin of it all, uncontaminated by fame, money, narcissism, exhibitionism, and infantile sexuality. Those can occur with anything, from politics to literature to religion. That's just man doing what he does and being who he is.

So the birth of rock as a cultural phenomenon can be traced to early 1956. Even as it was occurring, the seeds of its subsequent rebirth and transformation were being sowed, for it was at the St. Peter's Church Hall fête in Woolton on July 6, 1957 -- almost three years to the day that Elvis had revealed it in the studio -- that John met Paul. Like early Elvis, there was a purity to what the Beatles were doing at the time. In fact, I would say that they were motivated by the identical spark that animated Elvis that day.

Eventually the spark was extinguished and the fire put out. Elvis entered the military in 1958, at which time he was taken into captivity and replaced with the "false Elvis" who put out all that lame music and made all those crappy movies. Buddy Holly in the grave, Chuck Berry in jail, Little Richard in the ministry, Jerry Lee Lewis in his fourteen year-old cousin. The music business quickly "contained" the messianic revelation, so that by the early 1960s, popular music was again almost as banal as it had been prior to Elvis. (Of course, there were exceptions.)

But then the Beatles arrive in early 1964, eight years after Elvis, and just eight years later the Beatles are already a thing of the past.

Now, eight years ago is 2002. Has anything in music changed since then? Does 2002 feel like a different era? Is anyone nostalgic for 2002? How about 1992? 1982? I mean, people still listen to U2 like they're contemporary, but their first album came out over 30 years ago. 30 years! I sometimes listen to music that came out in the early 1980s, say, early REM, but it doesn't feel at all like nostalgia. But very few people in 1975 listened to the music of 1945. And if they did, they were certainly aware of how different it was from contemporary music. No one confuses disco and swing.

And yet, to listen to Elvis in 1964 was already nostalgia, just as to listen to the Beatles or Beach Boys in 1973 was already nostalgia.

What does it all mean? I have no idea. Just an excuse to blah blah blog some Coon droppings, I guess.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Identity and Eternity

I suppose none of this will be new to Christian readers. Nor is it entirely new to me, but I'm trying to work it all out again from the ground up and the top down, so you will forgive me if I'm behaving like some third century Father who is confronting these riddles for the first time.

And I hope this doesn't totally alienate non-Christian readers, because I believe there is something here for everyone, if you can only grasp the deeper principles involved. When Christianity is presented only as a historical narrative, then it's quite difficult to abstract anything more general, since even profane history is a chronicle of unique and unrepeatable events, with no general laws guiding it.

But if I'm not mistaken, sacred history is not like this, for it is archetypal and therefore knowable in a more abstract way. I believe this is because, just as human beings write in words, the Creator "writes in history," so to speak.

Therefore, sacred history does not consist primarily of events, people, and objects, but of words that we may unpack and understand. And this is, of course, why the Gospel narratives are "historical," but if they are only historical fish stories, then I think you're missing the bait, since they are the quintessence of divine history and therefore susceptible to inexhaustible layers of meaning.

Think of the difference between history and a great novel: the former attempts to simply describe "what happened," while the latter creates the happenings in order to convey a much larger point. Then just think of God as the greatest of all novelists. (And this analogy is not as kooky as one might imagine -- cf. Balthasar's Theo-Drama.)

So, the second birth from above allows one to overcome the infirmities of createdness and to participate in the divine existence. For the Christian, this is only possible because God became man -- and not just a man, but Man. In other words, the effect was to undo a problem that afflicted man as such, so that all men could participate in the accomplishment of the one man.

This is the deeper meaning of the I-AMmaculate conception, in that it means that Jesus suffers from createdness, just like anyone else, while also sharing in uncreatedness. If he were only a creature, then he'd be just like any other prophet or guru. No matter how high he ascended, he would still be infinitely distant from the goal.

But as Zizioulas points out, it is of the greatest metaphysical significance that Jesus is a union of two natures in one person, and that this person is freedom and love. As a result, "the perfect man is consequently only he who is authentically a person... who possesses a 'mode of existence' which is constituted as being, in precisely the manner in which God also subsists as being..." Thanks to Jesus, we not only "know" how God "is," but can also succeed at the spiritual business of this isness without going blankrupt at biological death.

That being the case, man may slip through the net of "the ontological necessity of his biological hypostasis," the latter of which being responsible for "the tragedy of individualism and death." Our unique identity is no longer an ambiguous (at best) gift of nature, but takes on a new meaning in solidarity with Jesus and in relation to our "adoptive" Father.

You might say that the second birth activates our latent or potential hypostasis as authentic person. Should we fail to activate it in this life, then we remain as a bio-psychic hypostasis, i.e., some kind of incomprehensible union of mind and matter, -- a substance that somehow unifies physics, biology and psychology. You might even say that this is the substance of fallen man -- or man minus Christ. In the Coonifesto, I employ the abstract symbols of (•) and (¶) to demarcate this difference between our onceborn soulprints and twiceborn soulprince.

In fact, here is where opinions of the wise divide, for the Christian would not say that man has any innate potential for a second birth in the absence of Christ -- despite Augustine's casual assurance that there was never a time that the Christian religion did not exist, and that Christ's accomplishment affected mankind, irrespective of whether one is consciously aware of it. We have no desire to get into that debate. Let the living disinter the living.

The question is whether or not there is a radical discontinuity between man and God. I say the answer is Yes and No, depending upon how one looks at it. And in my book I spoke off the top of my head from the bottom of my heart and out of both sides of my mouth. Again, this is why the individual chapters are both discrete and continuous, beginning and ending in mid-sentence. This is because if we view the cosmos from the bottom up, it is indeed discontinuous, with radical and incomprehensible divides between matter, life, mind, and spirit.

But if viewed from the top down, these divides disappear, for God is one. So I think it's a defensible position to affirm that this was the case prior to the incarnation of Jesus, which would be consistent with Augustine's view above. Looked at this way, we might say that there was a kind of "general immanence" of God in creation. But with the incarnation, it becomes very particular to mankind and, more importantly, to the person.

In turn, this would mark the difference between well-regarded mystics such as Plotinus, who assure us that it is indeed possible to escape our createdness, except without our self intact. D'oh! This violates Toots Mondello's sacred quip that the Raccoon doesn't mind death, so long as he can be there after it happens. It seems to me that the incarnation of the divine person is what gets us over that ontological hump. The person is the last word only because Christ is the first Word.

I might add that the unique person, since he is a kind of absolute (or shares in absoluteness), must be eternal, since the absolute is by definition infinite and eternal.

No post tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Surfing the Laws of Nature to the Father Shore

I'm going to continue free associating along with Being as Communion, even though it's not generating much interest. Hey, it's interesting to me.

Yesterday we left off in hell, of which Zizioulas writes that "condemnation to eternal death is nothing other than a person's being allowed to decline into a 'thing,' into absolute anonymity, to hear the terrifying words, 'I do not know you.'" It's like being addressed by Travis Bickle, only forever: You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? I'm the only one here. You talkin' to me?

Now, it seems to me that this notion in Christianity of "divinization," or theosis, is about as important as it gets. But if that's the case, why did it take me so many years to hear about it? It's like studying yoga but not learning about moksha, or Buddhism and not hearing of nirvana, or Islam and somehow missing the part about killing infidels.

I consider this is very poor marketing. Either that, or there is some disconnect between what the original Christians thought vs. what contemporary ones think (or at least emphasize).

I'll use divinization instead of theosis, because it connotes the process involved. It is "participation not in the nature or substance of God, but in His personal existence." As we have said many times, the Raccoon path is a descending one. Just so, in Christianity "the goal of salvation is that the personal life which is realized in God should also be realized on the level of human existence" (emphasis mine).

Therefore -- and this is a critical point -- salvation "is identified with the realization of personhood in man." The goal is to become a proper person, and all this implies. The rest shouldn't concern us, and can take care of itself.

The Fathers used the word "person" in a very specific sense, and it is obviously to be distinguished from our mere biological or psychological manhood. Nature and culture give us these, respectively. Man is an open system both biologically and psychologically, which maintains his physical and psychic life.

Obviously it is possible to fulfill one's four score of genetic duty without awakening to one's true personhood, which can only be conferred from above -- again, as we have mentioned in the past, this latter transformation is also the result of an open system, only a vertical one.

For the Fathers, it is the person who is the image and likeness of God. To put it another way, God is the true person. This should be a rebuke to those who imagine that God is merely a psychic projection of the human being, a "man write large." If this were the case, God would be like a man, not a person. And for many religious people, God is frankly more like a man.

Let's begin with the problem of our natural endowment, i.e., the manhood that is conferred by mere existence. The existentialists are correct that we didn't ask for this existence, but rather, are simply tossed into an impossible situation that is full of constraint and necessity. Indeed, there's really no way out short of suicide.

In this way of looking at things, offing oneself would truly be the one outrageously free act, the one complete rebellion against our existential "thrownness," a spit in the eye of Darwin, or whoever you want to blame for this mess. As Camus said, "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide."

Or, even if one chooses to stick around, it is just a vain "immortality project" rooted in the Denial of Death (a very good book, by the way, for at least it doesn't flinch from the reality of Death, and draws out the ultimate implications of the existentialist project).

At any rate, our happy existence as raging animals within a dying carcass is bestowed by Mother Nature. It is "interwoven with a natural necessity and therefore lacks ontological freedom." And everything we think and do takes place in the shadow of Death, the ultimate necessity and last word. All meaning is just a chess game with Death. The game may be brief, or it may last awhile, but you lose every time.

For the Fathers, Christianity throws open a vertical escape hatch from this ontological necessity. It "leads to a new mode of existence" and to a "regeneration" through which we are able to surf over the laws of nature instead of being drowned in them.

You might put it this way, which I did in the Coonifesto: we don't want to discount the importance of our natural existence, for it provides the stable boundary conditions for the emergence of something higher. After all, if existence were not subject to necessity -- i.e., if it weren't stable and predictable -- it couldn't produce anything higher.

Take the analogy of language. We are all born into a language that we did not create, and which constrains us. But it is only because of these constraints that we are able to constantly say new things. Looked at this way, rules of spelling are the boundary conditions for the emergence of words; words are the boundary conditions of sentences; sentences of paragraphs; paragraphs of plot; plot of theme; theme of something perennially true.

Just so, man is a kind of parenthetical boundary condition for the possibility of divinization: he is ( ) for the purpose of (↓↑).

Note that this is the order presented in Genesis: man is first formed from "the dust of the ground." That is natural man. Only afterwards does God breathe into him "the breath of life" (pneuma), so that he becomes a "living being." Looked at esoterically, these two phases should be kept separate, because there are plenty of dust devils blowing around who are not in-formed by that vertical breath of life.

You might even say that our fallenness results in a descent from deity to dust, so to speak. Conversely, divinization results in the reverse journey, from dust to back to divinity. Isn't this the ultimate meaning of the Christ event -- of divinity becoming dust so that dust might become divine? But in order for this to become operative in horizontal man, he must be "born 'anew' or 'from above.'" His horizontal birth must be complemented by a vertical one, so that he may transition from man to true person.

Yeah, it requires a leap of faith, but don't do it half-heartedly. Rather, you should joyously throw your whole self into it, body, mind, and spirit. You know, like a child. But watch out for your neighbor, too. We don't need a lawsuit.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Life, Love and Liberty, Now and Forever

In the Summa Coonologica, Toots Mondello famously wrote that he didn't mind the idea of death, so long as he could be there after it happened.

This is because our unique identity is our most precious "possession" -- if that is the appropriate word, for what would be the nature of the entity that "possesses" itself, or the I who is? In other words, is it possible to separate the form and content of the self, as if we could "be" without being someone?

In fact, nothing can exist without being something. Or, to exist is to be something, a particular thing. But for a human being -- and a human being alone -- it is not enough to merely be some-body, i.e., an object with boundaries.

Rather, a human being only exists as a who, and not just anywho. He is both one -- i.e., someThing -- but also someOne, a unique, unrepeatable, and particular subject. To paraphrase Toots Mondello, this is either of no significance at all or the most significant fact of all, for it is the significance without which there could be no significance at all. If humans aren't significant, then neither is anything else. All meaning passes through man.

In Being as Communion, Zizioulas writes that "uniqueness is something absolute for the person." This is why we stand diametrically opposed to any of our competitors, whether secular or religious -- and there are many -- who downplay our cosmic significance, whether of man as such or of this or that man.

Materialists tend to fall into the former category, for their metaphysic permits one to attach no significance to the existence of man, let alone a man. And many religious folk fall into the latter camp (especially Eastern religions), conflating what they call "ego" and identity, and finding the key to transcendence in eliminating it from the cosmos: no man, no problem.

And leftists are completely confused, since they elevate the selfish and isolated ego to ultimate significance in a cosmos in which it can have none. Workers of the world unite! And then die. We don't need you anymore.

But as Zizioulas points out, Christianity is different. For it posits the person, which "is so absolute in its uniqueness that it does not permit itself to be regarded as an arithmetical concept, to be set alongside other beings, to be combined with other objects, or to be used as a means, even for the most sacred goal." Rather, "the goal is the person itself; personhood is the total fulfillment of being..." It's all about quality, baby, not quantity, and no amount of the latter can account for the former, not even if you juggle the numbers forever.

Here we can gain a better understanding of the conundrum mentioned above, of how it is possible to separate our form and content, the I from the AM. This occurs because the person is at once absolute but also the goal. You might say that there are morphogenetic fields that guide our general development, but also a particular one that guides and canalizes our individual unfolding and development (the cosmic telovator or eschalator -- the Great Attractor -- that simultaneously lifts us up to ourSelves and to God).

Now, if personhood were absolute in itself, this would quickly lead to hell on earth, for everyone would have an absolute right for the world to be as he wishes.

Or as Zizioulas puts it, it is a two-edged sword, in that it can lead "to the denial of others, to egocentrism, to the total destruction of social life." It's very much analogous to the difference between freedom and liberty, in that the former devolves to horizontal nihilism, whereas the latter, because it is constrained by certain perennial boundary conditions, allows for vertical evolution. America's founders believed in ordered liberty, not any kind of radical libertarian freedom.

Only with a Judeo-Christian metaphysic is it possible to get this metaphysic just right. About a week ago I read the most obnoxious editorial by that little leftist twerp Peter Beinart, who, like all leftists, imagines that it is some kind of coincidence that the greatest nation on earth also happens to be the only Judeo-Christian one.

Rather, for him and his ilk, we could just as well be Muslim or Buddhist or atheist or Sikh men, and it wouldn't matter at all. In fact, it would undoubtedly be better, since we're such religious bigots. There is nothing you can say to such people that can't be better said with a cast iron cluebat to the nads, if he had any.

Recall Pieper's comment that Christianity may be reduced to Incarnation and Trinity. There is an implicit meaning to this, in that Trinity cannot be further reduced. Thus, the Incarnation is of someOne, but that someOne turns out to be someThree.

And this little fact makes all the difference, for it means that the human individual is simultaneously absolute and yet in communion, two things that would be at odds if the Absolute weren't also in communion.

Put it this way: God cannot help being God, and in order for God to be God, he is in eternal communion with his own other, the Son, the "only begotten" (and notice how "only" implies uniqueness).

To put it another way, the whole key to our individuality lies in the fact that it is simultaneously one and three, both internally and externally.

To take just one example, the feral children referenced in yesterday's post are surely "one," but that is all. They are not three, because they are barred from any deep interior connection to the human group. Only in plugging into this group does the one become an open system susceptible to dynamic evolution. Truly, it becomes an upward spiral instead of a horizontal dot.

Running out of time. I'll just detain you with an arresting passage by Zizioulas:

"The life of God is eternal because it is personal, that is to say, it is realized as an expression of free communion, as love. Life and love are identified in the person: the person does not die only because it is loved and loves; outside the communion of love the person loses its uniqueness and becomes a being like other beings, a 'thing' without absolute 'identity' and 'name,' without a face."

Real ontological death -- or hell, if you will -- is "ceasing to love and to be loved, ceasing to be unique and unrepeatable," whereas our true, living self is created, affirmed, and maintained only in love.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Taking Existence Personally

To review where we left off Friday, we were just saying that the ultimate nature of ultimate nature is ultimately Communion (which I think I'll capitalize to keep it distinct from any colloquial meaning).

This is one of the revolutionary insights of the early Fathers, who were attempting to reconcile revelation with the best that Greek philosophy had to offer. Come to think of it, Pieper made the point that when you get right down to it, Christianity may be reduced to two elements: Incarnation and Trinity. Everything else, you might say, is commentary.

Could this be true? Could be. I'd have to think on it. The former comports with various Fathers such as Clement and Athanasuius who said that God became man so that man might become God -- i.e., the doctrine of divinization.

What I believe this means is that the Incarnation wouldn't necessarily mean much to humans unless it implied its corollary, which is theosis or divinization, not through our own nature, but through participation in Christ.

And just how is it that we are able to thus participate in that divine nature? Why, because that nature must be Communion, which leads directly to Trinity. If the nature of God were not Communion, then we couldn't participate in God "from the inside," only as external spectators, so to speak.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. In the absence of Communion, there would be a kind of radically inaccessible wall between God and man. The only way -- the only way I can think of -- for God to eliminate this wall (for man could never do it unaided from his side of manifestation) is to leap heartfirst into his own creation, and to even "submit" to its constraints. In so doing, he is able to demonstrate in the most vivid way imaginable that those constraints no longer constrain, again, because of the reality of Communion, which bridges God and man, life and Life, time and eternity, etc.

According to Zizioulas, the divine Communion of which we speak is an ontological category, not reducible or prior to anything else. Just as God only exists as Communion, so do human persons only exist as such.

Our genetic endowment and merely biological being cannot cross the ontological bridge to personhood in the absence of Communion. In the course of writing my book, I did some research on the few feral children who have managed to survive without human contact, and despite the best efforts, could never be brought into full communion with the human group (cf. The Forbidden Experiement).

Zizioulas points out that Greek thought created a lovely concept of Cosmos, i.e., "of unity and harmony, a world full of interior dynamism and aesthetic plenitude, a world truly 'beautiful' and 'divine.'" The problem is, it had no real place for man except as a kind of tragic afterthought.

Only the radical change in cosmology ushered in by the Fathers links the being of man to the being of the cosmos -- and of God. In so doing they "gave history the concept of the person with an absoluteness which still moves modern man even though he has fundamentally abandoned their spirit."

To put it another way, man becomes a person -- and therefore infinitely valuable -- only when he is seen to be linked to God through Communion. Otherwise, he's just an animal like any other, with no intrinsic value.

Zizioulas goes on to say that "The person is no longer an adjunct to being, a category we add to a concrete entity once we have verified its ontological hypostasis. It is itself the hypostasis of the being." Therefore, our being is not traced back to any kind of abstract Being, much less to any concrete substance, "but to the person, to precisely that which constitutes being, that is, enables entities to be entities."

Again, person "is the constitutive element of things," the ultimate metacosmic fact. This understanding completely inverts the cosmos -- which is to say, puts it back right-side up -- and helps to explain various otherwise inexplicable and unsolvable mysteries.

Zizioulas suggests that in Western theology -- and I have no idea whether this is a fair and accurate generalization -- theologians tended to start with a kind of unitary divine substance that is then "divided," so to speak, into the three persons.

But again, he says that for the early Fathers, Communion was the substance. Person comes first, and person means Communion. Therefore, God is "Father," even before he is substance: "That is to say, the substance never exists in a 'naked' state," i.e., without a "mode of existence." To imagine otherwise is analogous to trying to separate you from the real person you are. If you could succeed at this, you would be the same substance, but no longer a person.

Again, person is the ultimate reality: if it "does not exist in reality, the concept of the person is a presumptuous daydream. If God does not exist [as person], the person does not exist."

Furthermore, with this understanding, "love ceases to be a qualifying -- i.e. secondary -- property of being and becomes the supreme ontological predicate. Love as God's mode of existence... constitutes His being."

So perhaps we can reduce Incarnation and Trinity even further, to Incarnation and Love. Or maybe just Love.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

Just a short post for music Saturday. In the new Stereophile there's a write-in competition, but it really isn't much of a competition, more just the willingness to make an embarrassing disclosure.

It's very simple. As we all know, music has the mysterious ability to call up distinct moods and memories from very specific times, places, and periods in one's life. It's completely beyond our control, and just "happens."

The premise of the contest is simple: "What are the five tracks or albums that, for you, most strongly strike the mystic chords of memory?" Importantly, the competition "is about music that, even if you hardly listen to it any more, most strongly evokes places and times in your past; music with which you have a transrational emotional connection -- not which are the greatest tracks or albums you know, not the tracks or albums you think other people should know, and not a list of your Desert Island records."

So this is not necessarily about quality, but about guilty pleasures and forbidden attractions. It is also about individuality and about the mystery of how we locate things in the environment in order to articulate the self. It's about tracks or albums that have somehow become lodged in your unconscious and woven into your psychic substance, perhaps even in spite of yourself and against your better judgment. You are not proud of these choices, and are probably a little embarrassed to acknowledge them in public.

For me, there are at least a couple of problems with this exercise. First, since there was never a time that I didn't have the transistor radio glued to my ear as a kid, there are just too many choices. Top 30 radio was truly the soundtrack to my childhood.

But countering that fact is that in the interim, even the most obscure music has become so readily available, that I've been able to listen to it enough that those preternaturally "mystic chords" have faded out. I may still enjoy the song, but there have been so many subsequent listenings, that they have superimposed themselves over the old memory swamp.

I think this is a more general problem with instant access to everything, which makes it less special. Really, it wasn't so long ago that if you wanted to see a film, you had to see it in the theatre. Many films would eventually appear on commercial television, but not always, especially not the great ones.

For example, I remember when Gone With the Wind was re-released for a limited run when I was a kid; it must have been 1969, for the thirty year anniversary. My mom insisted on dragging me and my brothers to the theatre, since she remembered it so well from her own childhood. I assumed it was going to be totally lame -- after all, my mother liked it! -- but was very much blown away.

Likewise, with digital downloading, virtually any track you've ever heard is instantly accessible. This can't help but result in a devaluation of the experience. For example, I can remember how difficult it was to track down certain songs before the digital revolution. Back in the late 1970s they used to have a monthly swap meet in the parking lot of the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, where you could find all sorts of rarities, and I would go there from time to time in search of precious booty. The problem was, the oldies stations only played stuff that was popular, not the things that might have only scraped the bottom of the top thirty and then disappeared without a trace.

I still remember the exilaration of locating a copy of Let Her Dance by the Bobby Fuller Four. Everyone's heard his I Fought the Law, but this song was only around for a few weeks, and then got no airplay at all, and I just needed to hear it again. Same with the Buckingham's Don't You Care. Oldies radio mainly played their Kind of a Drag and Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, but not this one, which, at the time, evoked extremely powerful memories of 1967.

So, without further ado, I'm going to now walk over to Bob's Record Collection, and pick out a few songs that still have that strange effect on me. And I will try to overcome embarrassment and be completely candid. Virtually all are from the pre-1973 period of classic top 30 radio. It's quite random and incomplete, -- almost arbitrary, really -- and I'm undoubtedly leaving out many significant ones:

Groovy Situation, Gene Chandler
Tighter and Tighter, Alive and Kicking
Crystal Blue Persuasion, Tommy James
More Today Than Yesterday, Spiral Staircase
My Pledge of Love, The Joe Jeffrey Group (as you can see from the video, this man is holding the actual 45 in his trembling hand; that's what you were looking for at the Capitol Records swap meet)
One Fine Morning, Lighthouse
Ride Captain Ride, Blues Image
Soulful Strut, Young Holt Unlimited
We Gotta Get You a Woman, Todd Rundgren
Lazy Day, Spanky & Our Gang
Sunday Will Never Be the Same, Spanky & Our Gang
Everybody's Talkin', Nilsson
A Girl Like You, Rascals
Cracklin' Rosie, Neil Diamond
Grazing in the Grass, Friends of Distinction
Love or Let Me Be Lonely, Friends of Distinction
Sunshine Girl, The Parade
Live, The Merry-Go-Round
Turn Down Day, the Cyrkle
Ooh Child, Five Stairsteps

Many of these are pretty obscure, so I'll see if I can find links to some of them on You Tube, so you can get an idea of what they sound like, and how strange and unpredictable are the ways of soul imprinting.

I might add that if you will review the last footnote of my book on page 298, there is a more respectable list of songs that I wove into the Cosmobliteration section for their evocative effect on me.

So, what are your five or more quirkily evocative tracks/albums?

Friday, July 16, 2010

This Fellow You Call 'God': What's He Really Like?

This is a good segue for out next topic, which really gets down to how all this mushy talk of love ties into and reveals ultimate reality: Pieper references The Screwtape Letters, "in which the argumentative devil pronounces it the sum of infernal philosophy that one thing is not the other and especially that one self is not another self -- whereas the philosophy of the 'Enemy', that is, God, amounts to nothing else but an incessant effort to evade this obvious truth."

In other words, this so-called God "aims at a contradiction. Things are to be many, yet somehow also one. The good of one self is to be the good of another. This impossibility he calls love" (Lewis).

Conversely, this possibility -- of union, of oneness, of a rapturous bridging of the existential divide between one person and another -- does not exist in hell. There everything is just as Darwin says it is: wholly externally related and autonomous individuals with no possibility of genuine communion, no possibility of the ec-static union of souls. Forget about the afterlife. Hell is the cosmic nul de slack right here and now.

I might add that love is not just what unites -- or reveals the unity of -- two souls, but that which unites one soul as well. For it is merely a convention to speak of a person as an "individual" when we know that the average man is so riven by mind parasites with competing agendas that to call him "one" is a kind of farce to be raccooned with.

But in true love, we come closest to the wholeness and order intended for us. Love orders, not just one with another, but one with oneself and higher with lower, i.e., "natural, sensual, ethical, and spiritual elements," preventing each of these "from being isolated from the rest" (Pieper).

Again, the watchword for the Raccoon is always integration, which is strictly impossible in the absence of the prior oneness (or three-in-oneness, as we shall see). The whole exists prior to the parts, or there can be no parts, just isolated and atomistic wholes, or little a-wholes. (Speaking of which, strange as it may sound, the only reason I can live rent-free in the heads of our trolls is because of love.)

Thus, love is really a kind of cosmic bridge that links together all sorts of things. You might even say that it is the love that moves the sun and other stars (speaking Alighierically, of course). Culture would obviously be unthinkable without this spiraling arc of passion -- without the glue that holds man and woman together, and then marriage and child. Weaken this crazy glue and you'll really see the Crazy, since you'll diminish the extra-state basis of culture, which is precisely why the left does what it does. See Screwtape for details. Love is the ancient highway that runs beneath the modern freeway of secular culture.

Again, married people tend to be conservative. Married with children even more so. And the most reliably liberal people are those single women who believe men to be unnecessary accessories. Except that they end up forming a perverse and pathetic union with the state, as if it can really replace the love of a husband and children. (A correction: we once said that for the left, a family is any two people who love the State; we should have said "one person.")

We might say that love is a cosmic link because man is. Again, another Raccoon axiom is that man is the one being in the cosmos who cuts across all levels and states of being, from high to low and even lower (i.e., only man can sink beneath himself). But the only way to actualize and realize this state is in love. Or so we have heard from the wise, the merciful, the hectoring, Petey. Only in love does the soul truly acquire its wings -- or realize that they are not just a couple of useless appendages for ønanistically beating off the air.

Again, I'd like to use all of this as a bridge, as it were, to even higher things, which is to say, the essence and nature of God, or the Absolute if you like. In order to do that, I'm going to refer back to Zizioulas' Being as Communion, which I only briefly touched on several weeks ago. This way I'll have someone else to blame.

Again, I am not enough of a proper theologian to know whether or not Zizioulas' thesis is controversial in Christian circles. I only know that it is not controversial in Raccoon circles, and that his thesis is triply OrthOdOx for us.

He begins by pointing out that "The question that preoccupied the Fathers was not to know if God existed or not," since this was a given. Rather, they wanted to know how he existed. I mean, wouldn't you?

Long story short, they made the amazing discovery -- you can call it speculation or hypothesis if you like, but I call it discovery -- that "The being of God is a relational being," to such an extent that "without the concept of communion it would not be possible to speak about the being of God."

It is perhaps difficult to appreciate how radical a thesis this is, for the Fathers maintained that "it would be unthinkable to speak of the 'one God' before speaking of the God who is" -- not who is "in" mind you, but who is -- communion.

Let's stop right here for a moment. One of the major theses of my book is that human beings did not, and could not have, evolved in the absence of communion. I won't rehearse the whole argument here, but a central point is that humanness could not have resulted only from a "big brain," no matter how big. Rather, the real prerequisite of humanness is internal relationship with others.

In other words, minds must be internally related, or what is called "intersubjective." In arriving at this theory, I was simply applying what is now known about attachment theory, and the conditions that allow the baby to grow into a mature and healthy (whole) human being. Hence the title of that subsection: The Acquisition of Humanness in a Contemporary Stone Age Baby. I could have equally said The Acquisition of Babyness in Archaic Stone Age Man, because the point is the same: the emergence of the neurologically incomplete and internally related baby is the whole hinge of psychohistory.

Again, the thesis of God-as-communion -- i.e., the Trinity -- is truly radical, in the sense of getting right down to the very "root" of things (L. radix root). We do not begin with a kind of unitary "divine substance" to which communion is added as an afterthought (any more than we can do so with the mind of man, which is intrinsically intersubjective).

Rather, "the substance of God, 'God', has no ontological content, no true being, apart from communion." Or, one might say that the "substance" is communion: "In this manner the ancient world heard for the first time that it is communion which makes things 'be': nothing exists without it, not even God." (And recall the previous several posts which highlighted the fact that only love causes a human being to be, and the easy-to-misunderstand idea that love causes God to be in time.)

Think of it: if God is "Father," there can be no Father in the absence of "Son": the two mutually co-arise. As was the case with me, the moment I had a child was the moment I became a father. One event was not prior to the other. By definition they were simultaneous, just as when I got married I became a husband, not before or after.

Having said that, we can still say that the Father is the cause of the Son, vertically speaking, since the latter is "dependent" on the former. But again, go back to the example of how the Stone Age baby evolves into a human person. He only exists as person when personhood is affirmed through love.

Just so, God cannot be "person" unless he is intersubjectively "linked," so to speak, to his own Other. Again, there is no such thing as an isolated "person." Recall from the discussion of Screwtape that that is hell, precisely.

Just so in God. Being that the substance of God is communion, so too is his essence Person and his mode Love. Or, as they say back East, the one-two-three of being con-sciousness bliss.

Well, that's enough controversy for now. To be continued.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Atheism Is Not Great! Or Good. Or Beautiful. Or True. Or Anything, Really.

Continuing with the theme of Cosmic Love, Pieper writes that even those "who declare human existence to be simply absurd, or who see it gloomily unfolding under the decree of blind fate, still have an inkling of that all-embracing love whose absence they lament or denounce."

In other words, God may be absent for these blind folkers, but he is always oddly conspicuous in his absence, as if he should be there. Indeed, if this were a cosmos worthy of the name -- that is, a vertical and internally ordered totality -- there would have to be someone or something at the top, dammit! So where is s/h/it?!

God Is Not Great. This is fine example of Matte Blanco's symmetrical logic, in which an assertion implies its converse. Of course God is great, by definition (certain assouls' and heterodicks' definitions notwithstanding). That's not Hitchens' problem.

Rather, his problem is God Is Not, full stop. But if not, why not? It can only be because he is in denial of the whole in his head, the whole without which there can be no coherent parts, including the parts that deny cOherence.

The God he is rejecting is not great, and therefore not God. Because God is surely great, even if he doesn't exist -- just as unicorns have a single horn even though they don't. Something needn't exist to have a strict definition -- for example, "patriotic leftist."

The trinocular Raccoon simply begins with God Is, or O. The rest is our problem. Unlike some of our competitors, we do not deploy reason to explore the mysteries of faith, but gnosis or intellection to explore the mysteries of Reason.

In ether worlds, once you realize that O cannot not be, then that's where the f-f-fun begins, i.e., the Adventure of Consciousness. You can insist that this adventure is "not great." But how would you know, bonehead? It's like someone with agoraphobia insisting that Rome is not great! or the French Riviera is not great! Sounds a little defensive to me.

It is the same way when the retardenstia trot out the existence of evil to reject the Creator. Here again, they know somewhere in their withered soul that it "shouldn't be," but why shouldn't it be? "Good without evil can exist; but evil without good cannot."

For in reality, evil should pose no mystery whatsoever to the tenured. Rather, the mystery in a Darwinian world is virtue, or love, or beauty, or truth, or extreme selflessness, or sainthood. Such things have no right to exist and should not be in a wholly material cosmos. Darwin is not great! Or good! Or beautiful! Or true! Or any other transcendental category.

For if there is a first cause - a Cause at the beginning of the chain of causality -- so too is there a "first lover," and a capital beauty and a Truth of truth.

O, if only t'were so easy to dismiss man's cosmic Obligations! But we are again condemned to transcendence: "We may well wish sometimes that 'God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny'" (ibid), but that would be a different creature with a different creator in a different cosmos.

This is this cosmos, where we have the terrible responsibility of knowing what is true, doing what is good, and creating what is beautiful. Anyone who tells you otherwise is certainly other than wise, and probably just compensating for the fact that what he knows is false, what he does is wrong, and what he creates is ugly.

Our cosmic responsibility reminds me of something Captain Beefheart once said: "Yeah, I'm a genius, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it."

In the absence of God, a man can believe himself to be just as wise, good, and creative as anyone else. As someone once said, if you can't do anything else, you can always call yourself an artist, and no one can tell you different. But you can also call yourself a philosopher or an ethicist or a guru or a priest or comedian.

To escape these transcendental demands is to flee from our humanness. In rejecting God, we reject man, for man only is what he is in relation to that which transcends him, that for which we are always striving, and that to which we point like eros shot from the origin to the center, alphatomega and back again.

This is not a new problem. Rather, it was "so familiar to the thinkers of the past that they cited it among the seven 'deadly sins' as acedia" (ibid), which we discussed a couple weeks ago. This is the despair "of man's not daring to be what he is" -- less than or all-too human, depending on how you look at it.

Thus the paradorks do not understand: "God's love can be a thousand times sterner and harsher than his justice" (ibid), in particular, for the man who imagines himself to be a closed and self-sufficient system. For such a person, hell is other people, for they remind him of his dependency and his responsibilities. D'oh!

But hell is also other gods, for they remind him that he is not God. Only if God exists are you actually free to reject him. If there is no God, then there is no freedom at all, just arbitrary lateral movement this way and that. There is no God and you can't know it.

Indeed, to affirm this primordial denial -- to say Yes! to no -- is to affirm that one is not affirmed, and that one therefore doesn't really exist at all. Or, one absurdly exists as non-existence, a hungry parasite on nothing.

Mal appétit!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cosmic Love: The Gift that Keeps Giving (and Receiving)

A human being is of infinite value. That being the case, Pieper asks: if he "already exists anyhow, could we not say that it does not matter whether a lover finds this fact wonderful and affirms it?" In other words, how does loving another person add anything that isn't already there, since the person is, in his own way, a kind of absolute?

It reminds me of where we left off yesterday: You might say that love causes God to be in time. In order to flesh out and incarnate this lovely idea, we must investigate the cosmic dimension of love. As Pieper says, "we are basically asking what is the 'function' of love within the whole of existence; what is it supposed to do and accomplish in the world?" (emphasis mine).

From a Darwinian perspective, the whole question is absurd, since what we call "love" is just an illusion designed to fool us into reproducing. All other animals accomplish the mission without the illusion of love -- and also manage to raise their children without it.

But again, one of the first principles of the Raccoon is that the human being is the most significant fact of the cosmos, not some sort of irrelevant fluke of no metaphysical significance. Furthermore, we take seriously the idea that man is made in the image of the Absolute -- perhaps a bit more seriously than the average believer, since we also believe that it is not only knowledge of God that informs us of the nature of man, but real principial knowledge of man as such that can inform us of the nature of God.

In resembling his parents, the child is dependent upon their archeytpe; in other words, when you see a baby, you say "he looks just like you!," not "you look just like him!" Still, the child can convey a lot about the parent, and in a way, cannot avoid doing so. Just so, we don't say of man, "God looks just like you!," even though there is a certain family resemblance.

For example, since love is so central to human existence -- indeed, a human being is impossible without it -- I think it's safe to say that it must be central to God. In other words, for the human being, love is not accidental but essential. Without it we will die, if not physically, then mentally and spiritually.

We touched on this idea a few posts ago: "What matters to us, beyond mere existence, is an explicit confirmation: It is good that you exist; how wonderful you are!" We come into the world not just needing milk, warmth, and oxygen, but human love. "Being created by God does not suffice." Rather, "the fact of creation needs continuation and perfection by the creative power of human love" (Pieper).

Pieper reviews the heartbreaking orphan studies of René Spitz. It seems common sense to us now, but he observed that children raised by their mothers in prison did much better than motherless children raised "in well-equipped, hygienically impeccable Amaerican infants' and children's homes by excellently trained nurses." Not only were the latter more susceptible to mental illness, but to disease and mortality.

For a human being, meeting his physical needs is never enough. And the one thing the nurses could not give the children was maternal love and devotion. As Pieper says, they can give the milk, but not the honey. He quotes the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, who said that he could always distinguish between patients who had received only the milk, vs. those who had received both milk and honey. I believe I can too. There is a palpable sense of interpersonal "deadness" in the former, which comes out in a variety of ways. For example, in order to truly be passionate in life, -- in all areas, not just interpersonally -- one must have been passionately loved.

Recall again our hypothesis that love causes God to be in time. Pieper suggests that "In human love the creative act of the Deity in establishing existence is continued -- so that the one who is consciously experiencing love can say, 'I need you in order to be myself... In loving me you give me myself, you let me be." More succinctly, "What being loved makes being do is precisely: be." Love causes both God and man to "be in time."

But of course, the preverbal infant cannot consciously say or think any of this. Rather, in loving the infant, you are confirming in them their very existence, to such an extent that their deepest sense of existence will be literally indistinguishable from love -- or, if things go wrong in attachment, other emotions and states of being. The infant who is rejected or doesn't bond for whatever reason may have anger, or depression, or emptiness, or alienation, or ravenous envy at its core, so that later development will involve transformations of these instead of love.

This is all covered in more detail in chapter 3.2 of my book, but even there we had to breeze over details and focus more on the principles. For those interested in deeper study, there are a number of hand-selected psychology titles in the Raccoon Store.

I remember a wise crack by Mouravieff, to the effect that we all must find that person without whom our being is not real. This is an arresting phrase, for it implies that it is possible for humans to be, but in an unreal way. Think about that for a moment. On the one hand, it is a truism, but the implications are quite astonishing. Of all the things in existence, only a human being can be false. But this is only an unfortunate but necessary corollary to the fact that only the human being may conform himself to truth.

But various forms of the "false self" are the stock in trade of the clinical psychologist, including the "as-if" personality, narcissism, the schizoid personality, and other permutations. The false self is developed in order to cope with the fact that the deeper self was never confirmed in infancy and childhood (think of the narcissist who craves being "seen" by the camera as a replacement for being seen by the beloved, and who feels dead without it -- call it the "Norma Desmond syndrome").

The false self is not just a persona or mask that is presented to the world, but a kind of substitute mother that protects the core from being hurt, rejected, and retraumatized. Thus, the false self can neither express nor receive love (although there are degrees; it would be more accurate to say that there is a deficit in the ability to give/receive love, i.e., to be an open system on a deeply emotional level).

Peiper makes the subtle point that in creating the cosmos, God confers both the milk and the honey, for after doing so, he confirms its being by declaring it to be "good, very good." Without God blessing his creation in this manner, it would just be "nothing," similar to the subjective sense of the infant who is not blessed by the love that proclaims how good it is that it is that you exist!

Pieper refers back to those studies of Spitz, which demonstrate that "mothers' love, no matter how heartfelt, would be no help at all to the small children if they could not be reached in some way, if they did not 'know' that they were loved."

And "in the same way, of course, the Creator's approval can only really affect and change man's life when he 'realizes' it believingly, that is, when he also 'accepts' it." I would say when we metabolize and assimilate it into our substance, just like honey. For love is "the 'prime gift' that makes all other gifts possible." Recall the beautiful passage by our unKnown Friend:

There is nothing which is more necessary and more precious in the experience of human childhood than parental love.... nothing more precious, because the parental love experienced in childhood is moral capital for the whole of life.... It is so precious, this experience, that it renders us capable of elevating ourselves to more sublime things -- even divine things. It is thanks to the experience of parental love that our soul is capable of raising itself to the love of God.

Or, you could say that our parents give birth to us so that we might give birth to God. See Eckhart for details.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

And You Shall Love the One You're With!

And the obnoxious lawyer said, "Bottom line it for us, teacher. What's your angle?" And the teacher responded You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Dealing as he was with a pharisaical lawyer, could it be possible that the teacher was being a bit ironic? And "pharisaical" needn't have any Jewish connotations at all. Indeed, to interpret it that way would be to miss the point entirely. A "pharisee" is any person who strictly observes the rules in an outward, mechanical, and possibly hypocritical way. Today we might call such a person "anal," or obsessive-compulsive.

So let's just suppose that the teacher is making this statement to an anal lawyer, so it has a very specific context. First of all, he might be saying to the lawyer that YOU -- yeah you, smartass! -- shall love the lord, thus turning the tables on him and suggesting that it is actually possible to do this, just like any other ritual. Also, to say that you SHALL do so is to insist that the lawyer try to do something outwardly that can only be accomplished inwardly.

In other words, what could it possibly mean to say that you SHALL love? How can one be compelled to love anyone or anything? What if you're no longer in love with your girlfriend, but I insist that you SHALL love her? How would you go about doing that? Really, you could only pretend you loved her by going through all the correct motions. Is it possible to love God in the same way -- to go through all the correct motions? If we take the teacher literally, the answer would have to be yes. But how could that be?

At the end of this passage, the teacher then says that this commandment -- along with loving the neighbor -- is prior to all of the law and all of the prophets. This is helpful, because it emphasizes that the spirit is anterior to the law, and even that the very purpose of the law is to codify the spirit. But no law can actually do this, especially if it becomes only a law.

Now, for psychohistorical reasons, I do believe that there was a time that man required very concrete rules, since he was generally incapable of abstraction. Indeed -- and this is a bit of a sidetrack -- in Capitalism and the Jews, Muller makes the fascinating point that, ironically, it was the development of capitalism that really allowed the average Joe to begin thinking abstractly. In this regard, the Jews had a head start over the Joes because they had already been doing this for centuries vis-a-vis the Law.

That is, by no means is the rabbinical tradition one of slavish devotion to concrete and mechanical laws. Rather, there is a constant argument over what the laws mean, how they are to be interpreted, how they apply to changing circumstances, and the multiple levels of meaning. Really, Judaism is one long argument. (And remember also that study is a mode of love.)

Anyway, here is how Muller describes the cognitive impact of capitalism: "Such an economy created a mind-set that was more abstract, because the means of exchange were themselves becoming more abstract." In the past, exchange revolved around barter, giving one concrete thing for another.

But "with the development of credit, money becomes more abstract still, little more than a bookkeeping notation. Through constant exposure to an abstract means of exchange, individuals under capitalism are habituated to thinking about the world in a more abstract manner." Life becomes more "calculated, less impulsive and emotional."

Another critical point is that capitalism facilitates the emergence of the true individual, because it creates a field of so many choices in which to actualize the self. In agrarian culture, almost everyone is a farmer or a mother. But in a market economy there are "new possibilities of individuality." It is now "possible for the individual to develop a variety of interests and to become involved in a wider range of activities than would otherwise be possible."

Back to love as theological virtue. Pieper points out that there are indeed two sides of love, one active, one passive. It is both "something we 'practice' and do as conscious actors and also something that comes over us and happens like an enchantment." Here again, we are dealing with the complementarity of letter/spirit, but the former must be dependent on the latter, since it could never be the other way around.

And yet, if, as we were saying yesterday, love discloses reality, then there is more to it than just passively "falling in love." Rather, in a certain sense, to love is simply to assent to reality, or to "say yes to O." So in that sense, you must "love the Lord," for failing to do so is to situate oneself outside reality. Thus, there is an element of will involved, and will is the basis of faith. Again, irrespective of one's first principles -- i.e., whether religious or secular -- one can only affirm these principles with a leap of faith, or will.

Pieper makes the interesting observation that in the Psalms, there are many instances of the affirmation that God wills man. For to truly love someone is to want them to exist. To say "I love you" is to say, "boy, I'm glad that you exist!," or "existence sure is good with you in it!" And this doesn't just apply to people. For example, to love the United States is to say that one is happy it exists.

Pieper concludes that "love as the primal act of will is simultaneously the point of origin and the center of existence as a whole. What kind of person one is will be decided at this point." And "the most extreme form of affirmation that can possibly be conceived of is creatio," or bringing something into existence.

So if God loves man by willing him to be, perhaps we love God by willing him into existence. For God is always "beyond being" unless we cause him to ex-ist or "stand out" by reciprocating the love. You might say that love causes God to be in time.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

First and Ten on the Field of Love

Slept late this morning. I think I'm still a little tired from yesterday's rousing game of aquatic dwarf tossing (soon to be an Olympic event). I was trying to vault him all the way into the tree, where the idea was for him to grab a vine and hold on like Tarzan (Spiderman in his world). He was eventually able to secure a branch, but it was too weak to hold him:



It was different back when he was an infant, when I could get more elevation. But of course he couldn't grab on to anything then, so one had to catch the slippery dwarf as well. But that caused tachycardia and palpitations in Mrs. G, so....

Anyway, I could take the easy way out this morning by reposting something, but I think I'll do what I can and try to push on ahead into O, even if we capture only a few feet of territory. Every morning is a new first and ten. Although Raccoons prefer the passing game, not every post needs to be a long bomb. Rather, we should also establish a ground game, and occasionally push past the adversary with sheer muscle and will.

Most of us, when we're born, are placed at or near our own 20 yard line. True, some people have certain advantages, but there are usually compensatory factors that cause things to even out -- a regression to the mean, which is why the children of celebrities turn out to be such losers.

Rarely does someone suffer a true safety in life, in which they are tackled in their own endzone through no fault of their own. (We are speaking of America, not, say, the "Palestinians," who see to it that they're all born in their own endzone.) Of course it does sometimes happen, which is why I would never say that no welfare state whatsoever is necessary.

What is unnecessary is placing the welfare system at the 50 yard line, just to make it popular with the middle class. Among other things, doing so renders it a matter of self-interest rather than true charity. If you really think that AARP fights for the impoverished elderly, or that Johnnie Cochran really needed affirmative action for his children to catch a break from the racist system, you sir are worse than Hitler. Worse even than Johnnie Cochran.

So if we are going to advance the ball toward the goal line, we must eventually enter enemy territory. Thus, we are immediately faced with a paradox: the closer we get to the goal, the more attention we draw from the adversary.

The main tools of our ground game consist precisely in the virtues we have been discussing -- the cardinal virtues of prudence (wisdom), justice, courage, and temperance; and the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.

By sticking with these, we can play the game very much in the manner John Wooden did. When preparing his players for an upcoming contest, he didn't concern himself with the particular opponent or the individual personnel. Rather, he always told his players that all they needed to do was to execute what they already knew how to do, without regard to whom they were playing.

It's the same with the virtues. You're better off sticking with these, rather than trying to improvise or adapt your game to what the adversary might be thinking. You can always mix in your passing game as well -- prayer, meditation, the beer o'clock slackrament, etc.

Now lately we've been talking about love -- not just as "anything," but as a theological virtue. Why should it be a virtue -- and the most important one at that? Hmm. Perhaps because it's the hardest? I know -- because it is both a means and the goal itself? Because only love can give us a new first and ten? Because the whole field is made of love? Let's find out.

It sounds like we may be on the right track with that last one, about whether the field is made of love. But this will definitely require further explanation so as to avoid descending into a treacly bumper-sticker sentimentality. Pieper says that love "is based upon a preexistent relation between the lover and the beloved." This is indeed a key point -- like my helpful future editor, one wants to say PAY ATTENTION HERE MORON BECAUSE THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT.

The point is that "no one could love anyone or anything were not the world, in a manner hard to put into words, a single reality and one that can be experienced as fundamentally characterized by unity -- a world in which all beings at bottom are related to one another and from their origins exist in a relationship of real correspondence to one another. In short, we are confirmed in our sensing that love not only yields and creates unity but also that its premise is unity" (emphasis mine).

Therefore, love is not so much an emotion, or a state, or a feeling, but a disclosure of "the way things are." It does not create unity, but reveals it.

But this is precisely where a lot of people get mixed up, including Christians -- and not just the dumb ones, either. Because paradoxically, this oneness can only take place with twoness. In other words, if "all is one," full stop, then love isn't actually possible, is it? Rather, that would simply be a case of cosmic narcissism, or self-love writ large. God is not LaBron James.

The whole key lies in the eternal comm-union of the Trinity. They say that revelation of the Trinity is one of those things that man could never have figured out on his own, but I'm not so sure about that. I came to this conclusion long before I knew anything about Christianity except for a bunch of hostile cliches filtered through the academic left.

But before moving on to the subject of communion, let me set up our offense a little further. Pieper goes on to say that "alienation can exist only on the basis of a preexisting original oneness." The Fall immediately comes to mind. Adam and Eve can only be "expelled" from Paradise if they were once there.

Indeed, some would say that it would be impossible to even know about paradise unless one were exiled from it, so to speak -- just as a fish can't understand water until it is flopping on the deck. "Damn. Should have left that attractive bait alone!"

Hmm. I see that I scrawled a mysterious message to myself in the margin: If you say yes to O, it doesn't mean you're saying no to Ø. But if you say yes to Ø, you must say no to O.

What could this mean? Perhaps that if we say Yes to the unity of love, it encompasses the other, and ultimately affirms the whole world. But if we say Yes to Ø, it affirms our radical isolation and confirms Sartre's belief that hell is other people. But hell is only some people. Sartre, for example.

More Rhythm & Jews

Just a brief followup to yesterday's post on Rhythm & Jews.

By the way, the very term "Rhythm & Blues" was coined by one of the owners of Atlantic Records, Jerry Wexler, when employed as a writer for Billboard in the late '40s or early '50s. Up to that time, it had been condescendingly referred to as "race music" -- as if the white cyphers who produced such dreck as How Much is That Puppy in the Window -- #1 on the pop charts in 1953 -- didn't belong to a race.

I actually had the opportunity to meet Wexler, since he retired to Sarasota, where he became good friends with my in-laws. He and my father-in-law were very much cut from the same page, as both were hi-IQ Jewish atheists from Washington Heights who fell in love with "race music" as teens.

I wonder if there is something aside from business acumen that drew this particular generation of Jews -- many of whom were the children of first generation European immigrants -- to cosmo-American music? In his Capitalism and the Jews, Muller only gets into the cultural traits that made for entrepreneurial success, but not any traits that might have specifically contributed to a passionate musical negrophilia.

And for most of them, it was a passion, not just a business. Here, let me dig out Wexler's autobiography. Ah, here it is: To Bob & Leslie -- Warmest Regards to two dyed-in-the-wool fans of our music. The reason I bring this up is that for most of these people, I think the musical attraction was quasi-religious, even though they were generally apostates of their own faith (and often even ashamed of it).

I know that this is very much what it was like for me as a kid. When I first heard the Beatles, it was like a bolt of reality in a sea of bullshit. School made no sense to me. The Beatles made immediate, visceral sense. And I don't just mean that in any primitive way, or the subject wouldn't be worth discussing.

Interesting. Here is a description of Wexler's reaction to hearing Bing Crosby in the 1930s, while still in his teens: "He was my guru. Bing sent me into a state of voluptuous euphoria. He spoke to me.... I levitated on his melodies.... he set me thinking about the mysteries of music and love." In 1977, "when the news of Bing's death came on the car radio, I pulled over and wept."

Here's a later example of hearing a certain trumpet solo which "put me into a trance.... Time stood still." He also talks about how he and his friends became "a new cult of record collectors, relentless in the pursuit of our Grail."

Again, this was an atheist who claimed to have no interest in religion, and yet, the feelings he is describing certainly have a quasi-religious sensibility. While he says that such experiences set him thinking about "the mysteries of music and love," I don't think he got very far in that area, because these types of powerfully transcendent experiences are experiences of the transcendent.

That being the case, one must follow them back up to their source, which is the whole basis of the "mystery." In a spiritual context, "mystery" is not just the absence of knowledge but an ontologically real characteristic of O. It is a mode of knowledge, not a deficiency.

But Wexler never made the connection. Indeed, "I can't remember a time when I wasn't a doubter. Never -- not for a hot minute -- have I believed in God.... I glory in disbelief. Disbelief, at least for me, is a source of strength."

But in the very next paragraph he says, "My feelings for literature, art, movies, food, and wine are all invested with spirit. Above all, it's in my feeling for music. Music has brought me joy; it has given me a beat and a groove, and sent me down righteous roads."

Excuse me, but WTF?, if you'll pardon the French. Here is a person who has the experience, but leaves it isolated, disconnected from any higher reality. He has a word for it -- "spirit" -- but what could the word possibly mean to a materialist who glories in disbelief? Just a meaningless brain state, I suppose.

I'm no psychologist -- no, wait, I am -- but perhaps this was a factor: his idealized mother "was a great reader, a diligent student of Freud, Marx, and Lenin. She was a freethinker, a liberal [!], a woman who instigated her own liberation sixty years before the movement began." With her friends she would "drink endless cups of coffee and and argue over Lenin and Trotsky. It's a pretty good bet she was a card-carrying member of the Party."

Sounds like he was as liberated as his mother. But from what? Maybe from the promised land back to Egypt.

*****

In the background, my beloved record collection. On the walls, some of my musical heroes. In the foreground, my knee. In between, Madonna & Child. Come to think of it, I got rhythm / I got music / I got my girl / Who could ask for anything more?


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jazz, Rhythm & Jews: Free Your Market and Your Ass Will Follow

It's music Saturday. I'm pretty sure no one has written about this subject from the angle I'd like to explore, although it's possible.

We all know that American music is our greatest contribution to world art, and that when we say Cosmo-American music, we might as well say African American music. There's also country music, which is related more to certain European folk styles. But country music never conquered the world in the way other American forms did, including rock, jazz, rhythm & blues, soul, and various sub-genres.

Awhile back I read what currently stands as the best biography of the Beatles, in which the author makes the point that in England in the early 1960s, there were only four record companies, including EMI, with whom they eventually signed, but just barely. Part of the fascination of the Beatles' story is the incredible confluence of luck, timing and unique personalities that made it all come together, whereas in hindsight it all seems so inevitable: how could such talented people not succeed in the music business?

But that's exactly the point: in socialist England the music business couldn't have been more different than in America, where there were also a few major labels, e.g., Columbia and RCA, but dozens, if not hundreds, of independents. And virtually all of the most innovative music in America -- including jazz, rock, and blues -- came from the independent labels that initially catered to tiny but underserved audiences -- often the owner himself, who just wanted to hear the kind of music he loved.

In the UK, as is the case in any top-down, command economy, the system was run by elites at the top. Therefore, the music business was very much a supply side enterprise: elites decided who they would sign and what they wanted you to hear. If they didn't hear any potential in the Beatles, then too bad for you. At the time the Beatles auditioned for George Martin at EMI, they had already been rejected by the other three, so if Martin hadn't taken a chance on them, that would have been it.

But in America it was different. Because of our free market, anyone could start a record company and record anyone they wanted. Plus, in England there were only a handful of radio stations, and again, elites dictated what could be heard on them. Even when they finally began mixing in some rock in the 1960s, it often wasn't what the people wanted to hear. Thus the emergence of Pirate Radio in the UK, whereby the Forbidden Music was broadcast from ships in international waters. Socialism always creates black markets, and this is a perfect instance.

Of particular interest is that in America, nearly all of the legendary independents were owned by Jews, to such an extent that no one would have ever heard most of this timeless music if not for the Jewish businessmen who made it possible to hear it.

It's really quite astounding when you start to compile a list of the great Jewish-owned independent labels. For example, for any connoisseur of modern jazz, the name Blue Note has a kind of magical mystique. It might be my choice for the greatest American label. It was started on a shoestring in 1939 by a German Jewish emigré, Alfred Lion (later joined by his childhood friend and partner, Francis Wolff: Lion and Wolff. Heh). And although it cranked out classic after classic, for most of its existence it barely broke even. Every once in awhile they would produce a surprise "hit" that would rescue the company from financial collapse. And a "hit" in jazz is very different from what we think of as a hit in popular music, by an order of magnitude, but at least it produced enough revenue to keep going.

In Bob's vaunted record collection, I am quite sure that I have more Blue Notes than any other label. In fact, I would be embarrassed to count how many, but I'm sure it's well over 100, probably over 200. Which is another critical point: there is no other label that produced as many great albums. Usually, in any kind of popular music, there are a couple of hits on an album, surrounded by a lot of dreck. But in the case of Blue Note, there are hundreds of albums that are great from start to finish by truly innovative artists whose names you probably wouldn't recognize unless you are Jack. (I might add that they also produced beautifully artistic album covers, often featuring the great photography of Francis Wolff. A number of his photos hang on my walls.)

All of the other great jazz labels were owned by Jews: for example, Riverside by Orrin Keepnews, Prestige by Bob Weinstock, Contemporary by Lester Koenig, Verve by Norman Granz, Commodore by Milt Gabler (who I think was Billy Crystal's uncle. UPDATE: confirmed: Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story -- listen to the samples and check out the incredible diversity).

It's the same with blues. By far the greatest blues label was Chess Records, started by Leonard Chess in 1947. It was the home of such legends as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, and Etta James, but it also spawned such rock & roll founders as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Truly: no Jews, no blues. And no blues, no Stones, just for starters (nor Yardbirds, Animals, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, and all the other British groups that were influenced by Chess).

In fact, in the beginning, the only goal of the Rolling Stones was to imitate their heroes and make records that sounded like they came from Chess (they actually had several recording sessions at the Chess studios in Chicago in '64-'65). In one of their early television appearances, they only agreed to perform on condition that Howlin' Wolf would be on the program, just so they could hear him. The idea of the menacing Wolf performing before a bunch of teenagers is positively surreal, but here it is. Notice how innocent and enthusiastic the Stones appeared; note also the size of Wolf's hands. Someone once said that shaking hands with him was like placing your hand in a catcher's mitt:



There's a film based on the story of Chess, called Cadillac Records. I have no idea if it's any good, but here is Beyonce as Etta James, singing her classic At Last. Not as good as the original, but pretty impressive:



The greatest soul and R & B label was Atlantic, which was founded in 1947 by Ahmet Ertegün (who was actually Turkish) and Herb Abramson, later joined by another Jewish partner in 1953, Jerry Wexler. The roster of Atlantic artists is mind-boggling: Ray Charles (when he was truly great, i.e., the 1950s), Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Drifters, Big Joe Turner. They also distributed and sometimes produced Stax artists such as Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, Sam & Dave, and many others.

Another important label was Specialty, owned by Art Rupe (Goldberg), and home of Little Richard and the early Sam Cooke. Or how about King Records, owned by Syd Nathan? If their only artist were James Brown, that would be enough to cement their legend.

So, the question is, why the Jews? I just so happen to be reading a fascinating little book called Capitalism and the Jews, which, although it doesn't get into their entreprenurial success in the music business, does try to explain why Jews are so extraordinarily good at capitalism. Unfortunately, we're almost out of time, but one of the points Muller makes is that Jewish success at capitalism is one of the strongest arguments against the left, because they prove that it is cultural values that determine success, not "greed," or luck, or "privilege" (one could say the same of Asian Americans, Cubans, and Armenians). This helps to explain the anti-Semitism of the left, because hatred of capitalism is usually tied in with hatred of Jews.

But Muller has another chapter on the curious phenomenon of Jewish leftists. Why would so many Jews perversely embrace the left when capitalism has been so good to them (and vice versa)? Like I said, out of time. To be continued.