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?