Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Christianity and the Cosmic Thing

In preparation for this post -- which is by no means prepared -- I thumbed through -- actually, I am now thumbing through -- my copy of Abhishikananda's Life Told Through His Letters. Unfortunately, most of his books are out of print and rather expensive. Anyway, a couple of passages in the foreword caught my attention, both having to do with what we might call "cosmic Christianity," or, as in the title of a post last week, "the cosmic covenant."

Secular fundamentalists struggle with the purported anthropomorphism of Christianity, but if a revelation doesn't in some sense take the form of man, how is man supposed to understand and use it? Conversely, the same people are not at all baffled at how we live in a cosmos that never ceases instructing us through forms accessible to our intellect. This is a great, great mystery, and to say that it goes unnoticed is something of a wonderstatement, as in, why?

Anyway, I find that one of the things Abhishiktananda (heretofore SA, because it takes too long to type) did was situate Christianity in a truly cosmic and even meta-cosmic --more on which later -- context. In order to do this, he occasionally borrowed a word or concept from Vedanta to illuminate a hidden aspect of Christianity.

Imagine a culture that has seven words for snow, while we have only one. Of course we will still have the seven varieties of snow, just not the names. But without the names, we probably won't see them. We will look but not truly apprehend them.

When it comes to Spirit, the important point is obviously to experience it, not necessarily to name it. But names can be of vital importance, especially for mapping, storage, and communication. (I am reminded of something Schuon said of Buddhism, to the effect that it was foolish to call it an atheistic religion, because it clearly has the thing, just not the word.)

SA found the Vedantic concept of akasha helpful, in that it refers to "both the infinite 'exterior' space and the infinite 'interior' space which really are one, both spheres being permeated by that same Spirit which fills not only the whole cosmos but equally the human heart."

Reader Will -- wherever he is -- often reminds us of the concept of the ether, which seems to have been tossed out when physics proved that there was no such thing on physical basis. But no one ever said (or should have said) that it was a property of physics. If anything, physics is a property of it -- which would be why, for example, the cosmos must be nonlocal, both in its interior and exterior, or subjective and objective, modes.

The second passage says that SA's "devotion to the person of Jesus never dimmed." Jesus was his sadguru, which means that he is the "guru of gurus," or the guru who makes guruhood possible.

To put it another way, all gurus are none other than Jesus, most especially the "guru of the heart" which is projected and crystalized in the form of the exterior guru. The purpose of the exterior guru is to allow us to "see" our own guru until such a time as we can identify Him within -- you know, in the Kingdom of Heaven (see Meister Eckhart for details).

A blasfumy point of odor: I'm writing this very rapidly, so I must gloss over many possible heretical (mis)understandings. Suffice it to say that those who are on the right track (or for whom this track is intended) will know what I mean, while those who aren't won't. No one ever said this path was for everyone.

The foreword goes on to say that in later years SA "came to see more vividly that in the Eucharist the entire cosmos is integrated, where both matter and human consciousness are brought together in union through the Spirit of God and the action of Jesus, who manifests God in his fullness."

Again: it is a cosmic religion, both horizontally and, more important, vertically. Indeed, one might say that the historical/horizontal aspect of Christianity derives its significance from the fact that it is a "prolongation" of what is going on vertically, i.e., trinity, love, communion, kenosis, etc. It's not an ether/or situation, but both/and. Or, as I put it in the book, it is earthereal.

To emphasize the horizontal in the absence of the vertical -- as do many "fundamentalists" -- is to indeed reduce Christianity to a worldly instead of cosmic religion. In a letter, SA wrote that "The simple man carves a piece of wood and bows down before it... The intelligent man forms a concept and does the same." Again, we want the thing not just the name.

Regarding that Thing, SA spoke in a letter of how "intellectual and social structures are so overlaid with what in the end is only a moment of history which men unfortunately absolutize." But for SA, the deepest vertical understanding reveals that "Christ is risen!" and "I AM" are "the twofold experience of a single mystery."

No one could suggest that this is in any way extra-Biblical, for "before Abraham was, I AM." This is one part of the Bible that you must take quite literally, that before -- which is to say, vertically anterior -- to everything is I AM THAT I AM," or "I AM HE WHO IS," or just I IS.

Thus, isness is, but not only externally. Rather, being itself is an interior I. And as we will later discuss, there can be no I in the absence of a Thou, as the two co-arise in eternity. "The individual only exists in his being-with" (SA). It is "The Father in relation to the Son -- to me -- to all. The Son in relation to me -- to all. Myself in relation to every conscious being," face-to-face in a sacred space.

You might say that Easter transforms the local me to the cosmic I, or allows it to take part in the I AM. In ether worlds, "The 'I' of the morning of Easter is of another order.... In the Resurrection there arises the spiritual I, of God, of Christ, of myself, of my brothers..."

In another rather ecstatic letter, SA wrote that "The mystery of Christ and of the Father is beyond words, more even than that of the atman.... You can only speak of it in parables, and the meaning of the parable is beyond the words used. No word could ever have given you the experience of the birth of the not-born."

One of SA's most important -- and possibly controversial -- points is that the Jesus mystery was deeply conditioned by the categories of Greek thought, through which it has been "filtered" down, so to speak, to us.

But for SA, "Christ is beyond all concepts." For example, what if he had appeared within the context of Vedantic categories of thought? (In the past, we have discussed how early Chinese Christians interpreted the Logos in terms of the Tao, which quite possibly makes even better nonsense of the reality behind the concept.) Or, more to the point, what if he appeared today (as indeed he must)? What categories of thought would we use to understand the message?

Bottom line: "People argue about Jesus -- it is easier than to let yourself be scorched by contact with him" (SA).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shattered and Scattered by Contact with the Real

One of my influences -- or maybe inspirations is a better word, since I don't cite his words that often -- is Swami Abhishiktananda, the former Henri LaSaux (1910-1973), a French Benedictine monk who entered the Abbey of Saint Anne de Kergonan in 1929 and remained there until 1948 (he was ordained a priest in 1935).

From his teens he felt an "irresistible call" to experience the immediate presence of God in a monastic setting. Unusual for a westerner at the time, he immersed himself in the mystical literature of the early fathers, but also took a shine to Indian scripture. Interestingly, he was particularly struck by some lines written by St. Gregory Nazianzen (zen... heh):

You who are beyond all, what other name befits you? [um, might I suggest O?]
No words suffice to hymn you. Alone you are ineffable.
Of all beings you are the End, you are One, you are all, you are none.
Yet not one thing, nor all things....
You alone are the Unnamable.

While on vacation recently, I reread this excellent biography of him, A Christian Pilgrim in India: The Spiritual Journey of Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux). For my own benefit, I'd like to reflect upon it in the usual spontaneous way, in the hope of making its truth a part of me -- i.e., of assimilating and metabolizing it.

So long as truth is external to you, it does not liberate. Rather, as we have mentioned before, it must become a part of your very substance, so that you in turn become the substance of truth. Or, if you prefer, it is one thing to awaken the primordial truth within oneself, another to get it to work and school.

By 1934, the future Abhishiktananda began to be troubled, if that's the right word, by a mysterious and persistent call to India. Eventually he was granted his wish in 1948 -- the year of India's independence -- and took up residence in a "Christian ashram" in Kulittalai, which I believe had exactly one other inhabitant, a Father Monchanin.

There the two men embarked on the task of seeking God in a Christian context but through Indian pneuma-technology, as it were. This was not any "syncretic exercise" a la the new age, but "an attempt to fathom the depths of Christianity with the aid of the traditional wisdom of India" found in the Vedanta (i.e., the Upanishads). Thus, monasticism would be the experiential bridge "between Indian spirituality and the Church..."

Despite his immersion in Indian metaphysics, Abhishiktananda never left his Benedictine order. To the contrary, he made every effort to fit the profound experiences that followed into a Christian context. At times this was an extraordinary struggle, but this is one of the things that makes him both so admirable and so fascinating. His was no mere intellectual synthesis (let alone indiscriminate mixture), but a spiritual struggle and eventual transformation within.

Thus, although he was an excellent writer, the real (non)action took place within his own being. It was truly a leap into the unknown -- and what else is faith, truly lived? He quite literally operated at the edge of the spiritually mapped out cosmos, which is why he is such a figure of interest to me. He lived at the very loquation where the known word shades off into the greater unKnown.

You might say that he was initially quite literally shattered by contact with Sri Ramana Maharshi in the early 1950s. Again, it is critical to point out that this was not something he sought, nor is it something that could have happened merely as a result of some ideological shift. Rather, it is something he spontaneously underwent and suffered -- what a Raccoon calls a genuine birthquake. After the birthday quake, it is up to us to pick up the crumbs and reassemble them. And, of course, to open the Presence.

This is how it was for Abhishiktananda. As he wrote in a letter, "the invisible halo of this Sage had been perceived by something in me deeper than any words. Unknown harmonies awoke in my heart.... it was as if the very soul of India penetrated to the depths of my own soul and held mysterious communion with it. It was a call which pierced through everything, rent it in pieces and opened a mighty abyss." (Of note, his worldly contact with Ramana Maharshi was quite superficial; this mostly took place at a distance. By no means was he any kind of formal disciple. His "sadguru" was always Christ.)

Again, how to reconcile this new and undeniable ontological fact with the Christianity he had practiced and deeply lived for the previous three decades? Reason was helpless before this mystery, against which "all rationalization is shattered": "He who receives this overwhelming Light is both petrified and torn apart; he is unable to speak or think anymore; he remains there, beyond time and space, alone in the very solitude of the alone. It is a fantastic experience, this sudden irruption of the fire and light...." (Abhishiktananda, quoted in Oldmeadow, as are all of the above).

Speaking of which, I too am unable to speak or think anymore. Gotta get to work. 2B continued, assuming any intererst....

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Obama in 'O8! (and Forever)

Sunday morning, nothing else to do, I thought I'd dig down in the archive and begin the sisyphishin' expedition of trying to organize it. No deal. I gave up trying to roll that crock up the hill in under three seconds.

So next I read this insightful piece by Dinesh D'Souza on just what motivates D'O!bama. Then I thought to myself, I wonder when was the first time the name "Obama" was uttered on this blog?

Turns out that it was in early '08. No, I don't have any magical powers. It was just a case of using my 20/∞ cʘʘnvision to see into the shadowy future casting its darkness into the past for any gnocturnal b'atman to see. Let's face it, it doesn't take much to know more about Obama than Obama knows about America. So here's my first and last impression of him in '08:


Will brought up a very important point in a comment yesterday. It was in response to my questions, "What great world-historical events are invisible to the jaded elites of the present? What great vertical energies (↓) are entering the world today, undetected by a spiritually oblivious moonstream media?" Will's reflections on this are worth reproducing in full:

"There is a danger here, I think, given that this might be the age when 'Spirit pours out on all flesh,' i.e., the vertical energies actually do become, in a way, more visible, more tangible, even to the oblivious MSM.

"The danger is this: the influx of vertical energies for the most part cannot find suitable spiritual anchoring, do not result in a growth of spiritual insight and wisdom, but rather the vertical energies might be suborned by the horizontal in an entirely unwholesome way.

"An example: hypothetically speaking, let's say... oh, let's say, some political candidate who's running for... oh, let's say, for president of the United States... Let's say this candidate uses the influx of vertical energy in such a way that it does not invest him with any particular wisdom -- in fact, this candidate mouths and apparently believes in the same old amorphous lefty platitudes. Only... this candidate seems invested with a peculiar type of charisma that has citizens from coast to coast virtually swooning in some orgasmystical ecstasy... no one's higher intellect is sharpened, only their *feelings* are set on fire by this candidate in some peculiar way...

"Well, as was said re: the days when the Spirit pours out on all flesh, one must be very careful not to fall for false messiahs and whatnot... meanwhile, there are those who indeed are spiritually anchoring the vertical energy influx and are doing so invisibly and with a certain amount of travail, as is necessary at this time."


First of all, let's get this out of the way at the outset. Are we calling Obama the antichrist?

Yes, of course.

Nah, just kidding. Let's just say an unwitting vehicle of the antichristic principle, which anyone can be at one time or another. Please, let's be mature, and discuss this in terms of abstract cosmic principles, without getting polemical or personal. No need to demonize someone just because he's an instrument of satan. Besides, he's just the vehicle, not the driver. The surfer, not the wave.

Now, what do we mean by "antichrist?" I would say that, as Christ is Word-made-flesh, the realm of the antichristic would analogously represent the "lower principle" made flesh -- the instantiation, as it were, of the energies of the Fall.

So first of all, to go along with our analysis, one must believe that man is in some sense a fallen being with a built-in -- or at least inevitable -- dasein flaw. You certainly needn't be a fanatic about it, since this comports with common sense and with virtually infinite historical examples.

You have only to know that "something ain't right" with the earthlings, however you wish to conceptualize it. Being aware of this principle is one of our greatest inoculations against utopian leftist schemes to perfect mankind, which always result in unanticipated cosmic belowback, AKA "hell on earth."

Secondly, you would have to believe that it is possible for the energies responsible for the Fall to be personified -- or, let us say, both focused and dispersed like a beam of darkness through the concavity or convexations of man's heart. As Christ is a blinding light, antichrist would be, oh, a hollow darkness visible.

Thus, to those who live in spiritual darkness, it would appear as a false light -- as, say, a single match is brighter than the sun in an enclosed room, cut off from the real source of light. And the hollowness would be mistaken for fulness as a result of its receptiveness to primitive projection. Thus, a spiritually normal person sees Obama as unusually empty while others project all sorts of wonderful things into him -- intelligence, wisdom, sophistication, prudence, courage, temperance, etc.

The Serpent -- to paraphrase our best Unknown Friend -- sssymbolizes advanced intelligence ("the most cunning of the beasts") turned wholly toward the horizontal. Thus, it is a perversion of man's intellect, as it represents a self-sufficient naturalism and total (small r) realism that betrays -- literally, for it turns against it in rebellion -- the vertical source of human intelligence. As such, we would expect one aspect of the antichristic to be high intelligence combined with extraordinary vapidity, at least for those with spiritual discernment.

But this cannot merely be the philosophical vapidity of the doctrinaire atheist or scientistic materialist or ideological Darwinian, or it could never gain traction in the human heart, which always hungers for Spirit, even (or especially) if it is the false and meretricious kind (otherwise, Balthasar or Schuon would sell more books than Deepak or Marianne Williamson).

Rather, it would have to come cloaked in some sort of seductive or hypnotic faux verticality. It would indeed have to be charismatic and charming, bearing in mind the root meaning of former, which is "divine gift," and of the latter, which is "incantation" or "magic spell."

A spiritually normal person would be alarmed and even deeply creeped out if he possessed this kind of influence over others. At the very least, it would be an occasion for the deepest humility, combined with concern over the precarious state of the spiritually famished souls under his influence.

Most people, if they knew the implications, would not want this power, because they would know that they are neither worthy of it nor competent to deal with it, any more than they are competent to perform brain surgery. But a person with narcissistic issues will be too intoxicated by the feelings of adulation to care about the souls with whom he is toying. They are just props, part of his psychic furniture.

This power is a serious responsibility and is not to be taken lightly. The spiritually normal person knows that this charis is only on loan to him (or courses through him locally from a nonlocal source), and that he is not free to use it as he will. At the very least, one could not purposely lie to those who place their trust in you, let alone on the grand scale committed by Obama.

Rather, one is only free to use this power if it is aligned with its vertical source and with vertical principles, i.e., Truth, Love, Beauty, and Unity (not relativism, idiot compassion, aesthetic barbarism, and fractious pseudo-diversity).

There is something coming through the charismatic, not from him, and as soon as one realizes this, it is an occasion, yes, for gratitude, but also fear and trembling. It is analogous to the power to send men to die for their country, only on the vertical plane. It is the ability to inspire selfless martyrs, but for what purpose? Our satanic Islamist enemies are clearly selfless idealists under the influence of charismatic leaders. So what?

Our Unknown Friend asks the questions, "Can one produce artificially intellectual, moral or spiritual inspiration? Can the lungs produce the air which they need for respiration?" No, of course not: "the very process of breathing teaches the laws of obedience, poverty, and chastity, i.e. it is a lesson (by analogy) of grace. Conscious breathing in of the reality of grace is Christian Hatha-yoga. Christian Hatha-yoga is the vertical breathing of prayer and benediction -- or, in other words, one opens oneself to grace (↓) and receives it."

Unknown Friend goes on to say that the antichristic represents "the ideal of biological and historical evolution without grace." This is a key idea, for what is a progressive? A progressive is someone who believes fervently in progress while fanatically denying its possibility, since progress can only be measured in light of permanent truths and transcendent ideals. Absent the transcendent, there is only horizontal power.

The antichrist "is the ultimate product of this evolution without grace and is not an entity created by God," since divine creation is always a vertical act or descent. Yes, all things ultimately "come from God," in the same sense that all light comes from the sun, but think of all the infernal uses to which man may put the light, darkling! For the light falls on the righteous and tenured alike.

Now, in this absurcular dialectic, Obama is ultimately a creator of those who created him. Unknown friend writes that, just as there are spiritual beings who reveal themselves "from above," there are what he calls egregores, which are "engendered artificially [and collectively] from below."

Thus, "as powerful as they may be," they "have only an ephemeral existence," the duration of which "depends entirely on galvanising nourishment on the part of their creators." [As Obama's projected power begins to fade and the illusion is punctured, we'll see more and more of his former supporters publicly asking, "what was I thinking?" in empowering this intellectual cypher. The answer is, "you weren't. You were fantasizing." Of course, others -- the true believers -- will "dig in."]

As such, the really frightening thing about these kinds of amorphous demagogues is that they are given life and nourished by the rabble they nourish and to whom they give life, in a spiritually barren cycle. The result is either spiritual asphyxiation or starvation, or probably both. And starved and suffocating men are capable of anything. [So in terms of the future psychic weather, look for a kind of blinding "psychic frenzy" from the left, much of which will be carried out in the dark.]

Ultimately, the antichrist is the shadow of the totality of mankind, as Jesus was the immanent shadow, so to speak, of the transcendent Divine Principle. The antichrist represents all that man is, and can be in the absence of divine grace. It is he who transported Jesus to the highest earthly mountain "and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory" and said to him All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.

The secular extremist or fanatical progressive worships his own creation, and in so doing, gives birth to the antiword. Materially, it results in a lefthound Tower of Babel (i.e, the all-powerful state), whereas spiritually it results in a gelatinous tower of leftist babble (i.e., the vacuous but seductive demagogue who will lead the people in the direction of their most base impulses and envious desires).

Again, please bear in mind that we are simply discussing abstract meta-cosmic principles. The events depicted in this post are fictitious. Any similarity to any biologically living or spiritually dead person is merely coincidental.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Anonymous Light and Personal Darkness

Ever repeatedly encounter a term you'd never heard of before? Happened to me last week. The first time was in the Balthasar book referenced at the end of yesterday's post. The term is "anonymous Christian." He speaks of the "hidden grace" that prompts men to selflessly engage in inspired action to care for the world. Such men are anonymous Christians.

In one sense the term can be seen as magnanimous, in that it eliminates the obnoxious and simpleminded idea that God condemns anyone who doesn't literally accept Jesus as their personal savior (for who would presume to say exactly who, what, where, why, when, and how Christ is?). But if the recipient of the designation is not equally magnanimous, I suppose they might see it as presumptuous and condescending -- in other words, you're only doing good because you're secretly a Christian.

But the point is more subtle than that. Rather, the idea is that just because God takes a form, it doesn't mean that he is limited by that form. I mean, obviously. Indeed, to enclose God in a particular form is what we call an intrinsic heresy, not to mention idolatry. It's fine for savages, but not for Raccoons. As Magnus wrote in a comment yesterday, "The first Christians were not going 'Hey we've got a new and better religion!', they were saying 'That which you have worshiped without knowing it, we know it and we've come to tell you.'"

But the essential formlessness of God should should not be taken to imply its converse: that God is not the form through which it has pleased him to incarnate. In a way, this is in keeping with the simple fact that God is always both immanent and transcendent, so that he will of necessity "spill out" of whatever form we use to try to contain him.

Nevertheless, we must make the effort to contain him, especially through the channels he himself has authorized. These acquire a particular power, as seen in phenomena from Torah study to the Eucharist to the sacred spaces that are simultaneously revealed and created by great cathedrals.

If the revelation represents a vertical ingression of divine energies, then tradition represents the horizontal nurturing and prolongation of those energies. One might compare the former to rain, the latter to a river. But the river, of course, ends in the open sea, which is the point of tradition. In other words, tradition should not be revered for its own sake, but only insofar as it floats your boat down that sacred river.

As mentioned yesterday, every culture is situated somewhere along its own sacred river. Even (especially!) the secular left has its own creation myths, its own prophets, its own unexamined (pseudo)vertical sources. But in naively denying the vertical, the radical secularist simply sells us all down the river, a river with no destination. And in turning the cosmos upside down and inside out, he locates Eden up ahead, not behind.

Thus, according to this myth, once the state is large and intrusive enough, we shall all live in Obama's socialist paradise, in which the wealth that is no longer created is well and truly "spread around." Others will just call it poverty.

But what would be the purpose of such a world? Even supposing the leftist's utopia were possible, what would people do with it? The dim ones would continue playing video games, seeking tenure, and watching MSNBC. But the gifted ones would do what they already do with their slack: use it to explore and colonize the vertical. I say, why place one's hope in the left, when eternity is already available to you while you wait?

If there are anonymous Christians, then the corollary is that there are "anonymous adversaries," or whatever you wish to call them. Not only are they necessary, but they are inevitable, given the nature of the pneumacosmic economy, for if there is O, then there must be Ø. And if there is Ø, then there are beings who will "incarnate" it. These people are "flesh made word," even though such a thing is strictly impossible (again, it is the surd made flesh).

Back to Balthasar and the supramundane Light that lights this otherwise endarkened world. Among other things, this is the light that enlightens the anonymous Christian, and furthermore, exposes the artificial light of various manmade ideologies. In other words, when the Light shines on them, it is analogous to the sun shining on a little lightbulb that only appears bright because the shades are drawn. Open the shades, and ideology is revealed for what it is.

The "landscape of humanity... is lit by a glow of reconciliation," "which in an almost inexplicable manner brings the estranged world back to reality." In light of this Light, man's strongest searchlights are turned back upon themselves, since all light is only the one Light. And "it is precisely this 'anonymous light' of Christianity that lights up all places and all characters, unique, unparalleled, penetrating, that irritates the ideologists and stirs them up to persecute and fight for its extermination" (Balthasar).

Now, "can anyone forbid this light to shine?" You can only kill someone once, and that obviously didn't work.

Which reminds me. Why is the whole world up in arms about a kook who wants to burn a Koran, when, if it were a Bible, he could apply for an NEA grant? I suppose because for a Christian, the worst blasphemy has already occurred, and the Light overcame it. Burning a Bible is like trying to set fire to the sun. Good luck with that.

Thought for the day: "'[A]biding in the source'... is understandably an act of a very personal nature that we perform consciously and involves us in being open, ready to listen to and obey God's word, and in being prepared to give time and contemplation in order to allow the rain from heaven to soak its way in. For only when we have received the word of God can we rightly return it in the words of prayer from the depths of our own hearts" (Balthasar).

Hey, don't try to box O into a tight little space:

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Cosmic Covenant

One of the images I used in my book was of a once-unified mankind -- after all, there may have been only a few hundred of us -- venturing out of Africa in the first diaspora, and eventually colonizing every corner of the world. Distinct cultures then arose, partly as a result of divergent experiences with different environments.

In this regard, culture is an adaptation, partly to the external environment, but much more importantly, to the interior world of human subjectivity and the gift/curse of self-awareness. Once it is projected and "crystalized," culture then shapes its individual members, often in ways that foreclose their further evolution. You might say that culture is an evolutionary "niche," except that it is a manmade one to which we must then adapt. In so doing, we are "adapting to mindedness," as I put it in the book.

For example, if I were born in the Palestinian terrortories, I would undoubtedly be forced to adapt to their culture of death worship, Jew-hatred, sadistic violence, and premodern, sacrificial religiosity.

So human history -- i.e., history, as opposed to mere biology -- has a common beginning. But does it have a common end? This has always been the dream of (classical) liberals, that human groups evolve through kinship groups, to kingdoms, to liberal democracies, so that at any given time, different groups will inhabit different psychopiritual/developmental spaces.

However, the modern liberal has abandoned this notion as a Euro/ethnocentric atavism, and regards all cultures as equally precious and worthy of our respect. Thus, for example, our effort to lift Iraq out of tribal tyranny and into liberal democracy is condemned by the modern left as a literal genocide.

Now, each human culture also centers around a divine revelation at its origin. In other words, there is no culture that doesn't have a vertical source through which it acquires both its meaning and its legitimacy. There was a time, not too long ago, when men were generally unaware of the diverse revelations at the origin of different cultures.

Or, if they were recognized, then they were dismissed as error, or fantasy, or barbarism. Each culture assumes that it has been vouchsafed the Revelation, so there is nothing whatsoever that is unique about the Jews, for example, and their self-understanding as the "chosen people."

Today, all of the so-called revelations are in mutual contact, so there is no hiding the fact that there are sharp theological differences between human groups.

But in truth, even within groups, there has rarely been unanimity about the meaning of revelation, at least in the absence of coercion and violence. For example, there has never been a time that Christians have agreed on the meaning and implications of its defining events, the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

This is emphasized in a book I recently read, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. I didn't really care for the book, but there is no gainsaying the author's well-documented point that Christianity -- just like Judaism -- has really consisted of one long argument, only occasionally without violence breaking out.

I don't blame the violence on Christianity, since there is nothing in it that would justify such behavior. Rather, I blame it on man. Still, what is it about the revelation that prevents it from getting through the thick skulls of its adherents? Is it just that mankind truly is that sick and depraved, so that even the strongest medicine has little effect? Or is there some defect in the message that prevents it from having the intended effect, or that is too easily swamped by man's mind parasites?

When we think of real progress -- and progress as we understand it was really only unleashed a few hundred years ago, with the scientific revolution, free markets, and liberal democracy -- we think of a movement from particularity to universality. In other words, science and economics increasingly came to revolve around universal principles that applied to all mankind, regardless of culture.

And mankind made a huge evolutionary leap when it also discovered universal political principles, e.g., life, liberty, property, the rule of law, consent of the governed, etc.

But while even barbarous governments such as Iran or North Korea are on the same page vis-a-vis the universality of nuclear physics, here at home we have our own political left, with whom we are still engaged in the battle of 1776 over universal political principles. Same old tea party against the same statist elites who would deny the universal truth of our liberty, property, and individuality.

As you know, I've been at a certain impasse recently. It's not that I have writer's block or anything like that. No, I could continue writing about the same things until I lose every last reader. The impasse has to do with whether religion must "push ahead" or remain frozen, as it were, in our present and/or traditional understanding. And as you may not know, this struggle takes place in my very own being, in that I have equal respect for certain sages and spiritual authorities who come down on opposite sides of this question.

Schuon, for example, was a strict traditionalist who believed that revelation was handed down by God, and that was that. He even situated the human cultural norm in premodern times, something that I could never go along with under any circumstances. Rather, I greatly value modernity, even though I am fully aware of its spiritual dark side. But there is always a spiritual dark side, man being what he is.

Shifting gears for a moment, I was arrested by a passage in one of Balthasar's book, in which he discusses Vatican II and its more generous -- evolved? -- attitude toward other revelations. I'll just quote him, but then I have to get ready for work:

"God's purpose after all was not merely to redeem the Church, but to save the world; the grace he has bestowed upon the world in Jesus Christ must of necessity flood over the boundaries of the visible Church, even though the Church continues to be seen as a kind of focal point of grace....

"For centuries now, theology has spoken of a 'baptism by desire,' that is, a baptism received by those who according to their limited insights have resolutely involved themselves in the kind of activity that contributes most to the welfare of their fellow men and of the world as a whole. These men are received and sustained by God's grace and are made invisible members of the visible Church....

"God's grace is bestowed in every part of the world because the 'whole Christ' fills the world with his presence.... [A]ll men who struggle for the salvation and advancement of the human race in the spirit of self-sacrificing activity are united together in a living, quasi-religious union."

Call it the Scattered Brotherhood of the Vertical Diaspora.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

What Kind of Dog is Obama?

Just an excuse for an open thread: what kind of dog is Obama? (Compiled from Lucianne commenters):

Open Border Collie
Labrador Deceiver
Dorkshire Terrier
Border Follie
Great Drain
Kenyan Short-haired Pointer (at Bush)
Alinski Malamute
American Sheepherder
American Taxhound
Rhodesian Taxhack

And my contributions:

Crashing Borzoi
California Boxer
Olbermann Pischer
Latent Gayhound
Union Lapdog
Whining Fox Toy
Mulish Brayhound
Himalyin' Creepdog
Lha'sa Bolognese
Chicago Thughound
Taxagain Clueless
Afghan Retreater
Pro-Palestinian Bomberanian
Antisemitic Chinook
Scheming Goydog
Broken English Bulldog
Iranian Water Carrier
Republican Bitch

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A Dumptruck to Unload My Head

Another shitegeyser of random barrel scrapings. I don't know if it helps anyone else, but it certainly helps me to reduce the clutter on my desk. In any event, just consider this another open thread to unload your own head.

The Incarnation: God and Man at Yule

Logorrhea, or the loquation of the word

Just as we can grasp physical things due to our opposable thumbs, we can only grasp mental and spiritual things because of our opposable brains, i.e., conscious <--> unconscious, right <--> left hemisphere, spirit <--> letter, fact <--> allegory, etc.

Ideology is not just the study of idiots, but then again perhaps it is. Atheistic ideologues, seemingly devoid of irony, try to rely solely on reason without the barest appreciation of its intrinsic limits. Always ask: what is your first principle, and how did you arrive at it? The rest is entailment and commentary.

What is The First Principle of the Unprincipled? If it is any variety of horizontality, then it is death. For them, In the beginning is the surd.

Quantitative man can never illuminate but only eliminate the individual, the unique, the non-standard, the immeasurable, the one-of-a-kind.

The free market transforms supposedly selfish impulses into social goods, while the left transforms supposedly good impulses into social chaos, self-centeredness, and evil: it is a farce multiplier. One must always read between the lyin's.

Conservatism is a method of self-rule; leftism is a method of self-indulgence or self-release which must then outsource control to the state.

Childishly angry leftists = hater tots.

Celibates follow the path of lust resistance.

Metaphysical Darwinism: as below, so above.

Religion is a further extension of mind into the mental, a scaffolding, template, or frame of reference with which to "see" religious facts that are ontologically prior to it. Without this frame, most people will miss the inexhaustible bounty of the Unseen. Just as the eye requires a mirror to see itself, so too does the soul. Revelation is this mirror.

It is important not to conflate religion with the facts it is supposed to illuminate. It is not the facts, but points to them. Our inborn gnosophilia can become saturated if we are not mindful of this. Language is to reality as moon is to sun, which is why it is so prone to lunacy.

A spiritual practice is arranging your own birth.

Come for the truth and beauty, stay for the eternity.

Anus miribalis, Latin for what an extraordinary asshole!

Speech by Obama: sound of the One's bland yapping.


Jesus dived on the live granade.

Lao Tsunami: a celestial wave breaking on the shore of time, or (?!).

Rejected name for Log Cabin Republicans: Pink Elephants.

After November, being a statist hooligan will be uncool again.

My Unfair Lefty: Why can't a Democrat be more like a man?

Turns out that the financial backer of the NYC Islamic center is a mosqued bandit.

Do you remember the first time you kissed a book?


Party's over: first day of kindergarten.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Are You Threadening Me?!

Someone suggested that when we approach 100 comments I should issue another threat. Here it is: If you read any further, prepare yourself for self-indulgence.

Yes, I wanted to take the opportunity to clean off my desk during this summa vacation. There are notes all over the place, little seedlings, saplings, craplings, titles without posts, incomplete sentences, neologisms, insults, and other ideas for ideas. In no particular order, here are a few:

Retardentsia. Toxic asshats. Trignoculars. Deusluxia. Truth fairy. Cretinatious period / hiding the decline of civilization.

About That Whole in Your Head

I remember when nihilism used to mean something....

Reductionism is the intellectual blandmaiden of materialism.

Multiculturalism makes fairness impossible, because bad and dysfunctional cultures can't get what they so richly deserve.

Is it a birthquake or simply a crock?

Deploying Gnosis to Explore the Mysteries of Reason

The left and the MSM are expert at transmitting memes that comport with the prejudices of one of their constituent victim groups.

The left converts the adjective "poor" into a reified noun, a permanent state of being, in order to rob the person of hope and initiative, thereby legitimizing aggressive and destructive instead of constructive action.

Why does the left want to do so many "good things" for people they hate, i.e., Americans? If we're just a bunch of bigots, why obsess over the ones who don't purchase health insurance?

Leftist logic: if we defeat the terrorists, the terrorists will have won.

If this were a racist country, calling it so wouldn't be such an effective strategy for accumulating wealth and gaining political power.

If any species but humans were releasing so much CO2 into the atmosphere, they'd make it against the law to stop them.

Identity and Eternity

Atheism is just a subjective feeling that finds its intellectual justification a posteriori (i.e., no one actually "reasons" their way to atheism, since it is strictly impossible to do so).

Conversely, metaphysics is an objective and complete pneumacognitive system to which we attach feeling through faith, ritual, worship, etc., thereby conforming the whole being (body, soul and spirit) to truth and reality.

The left is always upping the ante-Christ.

Be a practitioner not just a theorist of evolution.

I is to Am as Life is to Matter.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Open Threat

A reader has requested an open threat. Here it is: buy the book or you'll never see this blog again.

Oh, thread. Sorry.

Others have requested an explanation for my absence. Or at least an alibi. I do have the latter: I was on vacation when it all went down, so I don't know anything about it. After that, the death of the blog just took on a life of its own.

Which brings us to the future. I am sorely tempted to apply the kibosh to this blogging business of daily isness. The excuses are as multiple as the pretexts are laughty.

First, five years is long enough to determine whether the lack of interest in my ideas is genuine, which I believe it to be. It is not a fluke. Why, after thousands of years of apathy, would people crave the flabby paunchlines of an old-fashioned metaphysical humorist, or subscribe to a seer's catalogue of improvisational orthoparadoxical bohemian classical liberal neo-traditionalism?

Besides, if man were in need of an Ocult of freevangelical pundamentalism, it would have appeared long before me. And if few are interested, isn't pretending otherwise other than wise and even a bit soph-indulgent? Obviously I have no objection to mental masturbation. But I draw a line at spiritual masturbation, or ʘnanism. Perhaps I need to discover a better use for my timelessness, to say nothing of my spaciness.

Second, I've always wanted to take the time to assess and rewordgitate what I've already wordgitated, in order to organize it under a new and improved meta-narrative. Either way, the longer I go on with the blogging the more difficult that gets, because there is that much more Logorrhea to mop up.

Third, Future Leader starts kindergarten next week. He has to be there by 8:00, and the school is about 12 miles away, but through the Winding Canyon, which means we probably have to leave by no later than 7:40, which is right in the middle of blogging time. So there's that.

Anyway, the blog continues to be on the disabled list, its condition day-to-deity, meaning that only God knows. I could very well fall back into the rutine tomorrow. I genuinely have no idea. I've never really planned for anything except my retirement.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Van Morrison and the Technique of How to Live

Whenever I read I highlight, but in a peculiar way. I don't highlight for facts or ideas. Rather, I only highlight things that, for whatever reason, resonate with me on some deeper level.

When I finish a book, I go back and re-read what I have highlighed, which reinforces that Resonant Thing inside of me. My posts often consist of articulating and amplifying this resonance, so that hopefully it will resonate in you as well. (In my book this is symbolized ≈. That with which ≈ resonates is ¶.)

I finally finished this book on Van Morrison that I started reading at least a couple of months ago. This morning I've decided to review the scattered passages I highlighted. In what follows, you may see that a kind of narrative emerges, one that is certainly relevant to me, but perhaps to you as well.

"I don't want to just sing a song... anyone can do that... something else has got to happen" (VM).

America exists as an emotional idea, both within its own people and the wider world.

The BBC depended upon imported American records during the Second World War.

Port cities throughout the UK emerged as centres of Britain's growing popular music scene.

... jazz, blues, country records, all saturated with the spirit of America, the sound of a far-off new world dream, where even songs of poverty, hard work and harder luck seemed magical.

"Blues isn't to do with black or white; blues is about the truth, and blues is the truth" (VM).

... if 'having the blues' is a cultural shorthand for feeling down, then 'singing the blues' is surely something else -- suggestive of resistance and endurance.

Sun's going down, nightfall gonna catch me here. --Robert Johnson

... the blues can sound like anything -- it is in performance that they become "truth."

"I wanted to make my own blues, my own soul music, to do something of my own with it. That's where I'm coming from" (VM).

So he wanted to take the tradition, and innovate within and beyond it.

... these songs were not necessarily born to be sold, to be "listened" to for pleasure or "consumed" by others; other imperatives came to bear upon their coming into being.

Morrison was perhaps at the deepest point of his interest in the metaphysical power of music -- music as healing force.

"Jazz is not a kind of music, it is an approach, and it applies to how one goes about finding their voice, relating to a tradition, stepping into the unknown and swinging" (Ben Sidran).

... Morrison has called it "the sense of wonder," the unconscious living in the now, that seems to fall from us as we make the transition from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to experience.

Paul McCartney once described the riff of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" as "the riff of the universe... that just keeps going forever."

[Gloria] is simplicity of a near-primal kind... the feel -- that which cannot be transcribed -- is everything.

[Gloria is] so pure, that if no other hint of it but this record existed, there would still be such a thing as rock and roll.

"How can a 51-year old sing that? I can't relate to it. Why am I expected to, anyway, at 51? I wrote it when I was 20. I was never paid for Brown Eyed Girl" (VM).

The memory of it [the Garden] is both a thorn in the side, a reminder of the Fall, but also a spur on to working towards some kind of return.

So there is this literal use of the term [healing] to consider, and it is certainly part of Morrison's deeper interest in music, in its nature and its "secret power."

"Any kind of art or music is involved in healing, whether it's rock 'n' roll or classical music, it's all healing.... All this is just the foreground, but the background is something else."

... the ancient roads are under our feet, criss-crossing what appear to be our fixed navigational material realities, hidden but perceptible.

This is the role of the ancient highway, to provide a link between the "forgotten" reality and the present material circumstances...

"He's after the musical technique of how to live" (Patrick Kavanagh).

Samuel Becket said that the most he could dare to hope for was to make or leave "a stain on the silence".... [His] ambition was to create what he called "a literature of the unword."

"The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express" (George Duthiut).

Distrust the artist who tells you they know exactly what their work is "about."

In Morrison's art, silence is at the centre, and sometimes when he approaches that centre on a good night onstage -- when something is about to happen -- the conditions need to be absolutely right or it won't happen.... [It is] where the commonplace can become the marvellous.

... silence is a positive presence, rather than a vacuum, or an absence. It is an aspect of being, rather than non-being.

Q: ... [Y]ou seem to sing somewhere between your throat and your heart.... [I]s that the zone you want to both come from and resonate in other people, the heart?

VM: Eventually it'll get into the heart. That's what the eventual goal is -- Exactly.

Why was I writing this kind of material when my contemporaries weren't? So I wanted to find out where I stood and which tradition I came from. Well eventually I found out that the tradition I belonged to was actually my own tradition. It was like being hit over the head with a baseball bat. You find out that what you've been searching for you already are. --VM


Friday, August 20, 2010

Cosmic Evolution and the Third Bang

Again, the emergence of man was either the ultimate Black Swan -- meaning the most inconceivable thing one can possible conceive -- or there is something else going on here besides natural selection. At the very dawn of the cultural explosion, "there was no hint of what was to come, no clue" that this unimpressive specimen was anything more than a "precariously successful predatory ape" (Ridley). For how could there be a clue, with no one capable of getting one?

Sometimes I re-imagine the old covenant as an allegory for a more universal story -- in other words, not just about the people of Israel, but about man as such. Thus, what if God happened to choose this particular "precariously successful predatory ape" for his people? He certainly didn't choose Neanderthals, or Home erectus, or a number of other big-brained hominids.

And where was that garden, and what was the Law that was violated? Reader Mikal provided a hint with his comment yesterday about the new rules that applied to the human dimension, over and above the biological. Man is in biology but striving for the human (or divine-human synthesis, to be precise). The Ten Commandments codify certain vertical and horizontal rules that make this journey possible.

As we have discussed in the past, the first five are vertical, and have to do with our relationship to the Absolute. But the second five are horizontal, and have to do with our relationship to our fellow man, i.e., murdering, lying, stealing, envying, and cheating. These are the minimal rules necessary to maintain a functioning collective, and without the collective, man is nothing.

Note that this is Ridley's central point: that somehow, man was lifted out of his solitary existence to a communal one, and not just physically. After all, ants and communists live in physical communion, and what has it done for them? Rather, what was required was emotional, spiritual, and intellectual communion, or the exchange of ideas, emotions, and other mental states, modes, and dimensions.

Being an exiled-from-the-garden variety intellectual, Ridley focuses on the intellectual and economic, but there are deeper currents that unite human beings, and without which there would be no "medium" for the transfer of ideas. He touches on one of the critical ones -- trust, and especially its gradual widening -- but isn't able to say much about it with the crude tools available to the materialist.

Back to the Bible for a moment. I've always had the suspicion that the story of Cain and Abel is actually a collective memory about the genocide of our nearest genetic neighbor, Neanderthal man. They were a separate line of Homo sapiens, with language, tools, and a larger brain than ours. But the last of them died out some 25,000 years ago. Given that we had a lot of contact with them, and given how human beings treat the Other, it wouldn't surprise me if we wiped them out. The only surprise is that we didn't make them slaves, like a Star Trek episode.

Note that just after we leave Eden, the scene changes to the story of the primordial brothers. Surely it is significant that the first crime recorded in the Bible is murder, calculated, cold-blooded and remorseless. This is one of the reasons why the Bible is so much more unflinchingly accurate and realistic than most other philosophies in describing what man is and what he is capable of. Knowing this, nothing about man's countless future crimes should come as a surprise. But how do we stop this endless man-on-man, brother-on-brother violence?

We'll get to that later. We're getting ahead of ourselves. Back to Ridley and that unimpressive predatory ape that suddenly found itself publishing books about itself.

Again, Ridley fully concedes the problems of a Darwinian explanation, in that genetic change could never keep up with the suddenness and speed of the cultural explosion, let alone explain it. The genes are a lagging indicator, not a leading one. Something else is providing the evolutionary pressure. But whatever it is, "it must be something that gathers pace by feeding upon itself, something that is auto-catalytic."

Now, it just so happens that this is right up my alley, as the second paper I published back in 1994 -- yes, in a real scientific, peer-reviewed journal -- was on this very topic. It was titled Psychoanalysis, Chaos and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure. But the paper was based on a part of my dissertation, which I must have begun writing in the spring of 1986, so that shows you how long these ideas have been percolating and evolving in my melon.

In turn, some of these ideas found their way into chapter 3.2 of my book, The Acquisition of Humanness in a Contemporary Stone Age Baby. That's really the point, because if scientists are correct, then a baby of today is genetically no different (or not significantly different) from a baby of 100,000 years ago, which means that all the stuff that's happened since then can in no way be reduced to genetics and natural selection. I am happy to concede that genes are a necessary, but clearly not a sufficient, condition for our humanness (let alone a final one).

So I don't think I'll rehearse my whole argument here. Most readers are familiar with it anyway.

Well, maybe just a little. That word "auto-catalytic" is particularly important. It has to do with the product of a chemical reaction that is itself the catalyst for another reaction. Open systems -- otherwise known as dissipative structures -- take in energy or information, and then sustain themselves through auto-catalysis. Some people believe that auto-catalysis is the irreducible component of life, e.g., Ilya Prigogine.

Whatever the case may be, it is certainly the irreducible component of mental life, along with openness and disequilibrium. In the paper, I describe how, through psychic auto-catalysis, there is a spiraling ascent into meaning and truth, which in turn accelerate their own synthesis. This is the underlying mechanism that permits what we call "the colonization of the subjective horizon."

Ridley reduces this all down to economic exchange, which for me is placing the cart before the horse. Rather, human beings must again be open systems at their very foundation. Exchange is not something that is only added later, as if it is contrary to our nature. But here is how Ridley describes it:

"Exchange needed to be invented. It does not come naturally to most animals. There is strikingly little use of barter in other animal species." He's talking about something much more profound than mere reciprocity, or, say, giving food for sexual favors. Rather, he's talking about abstract exchange, which eventually leads to the total abstraction of money. This new kind of exchange is "a thing of explosive possibility, a thing that breeds, explodes, grows, auto-catalyzes."

Indeed, as I tried to explain in my book, it is really the third Bang, after existence and life. And obviously, we've gotten a lot of bucks from this bang.

To be continued....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Darwinian Tower of Monkey Babble

We left off with Ridley's observation that "there appeared on earth a new kind of hominid, one that refused to play by the rules. Without any change in its body, without any succession of species, it just kept changing its habits. For the first time, its technology changed faster than its anatomy. There was an evolutionary novelty, and you are it."

Some of you anyway.

Now, this is not supposed to happen under the iron hand of natural selection. But as Ridley properly notes, our species was born in rebellion. It simply "refused to play by the rules," rules that are only invented a posteriori anyway by scientists looking through the rearview mirror with 20/20 hindsight.

Again, this is the ultimate Black Swan, since not only could no one have predicted it beforehand, but they would have said with absolute certainty that it is impossible, not in this cosmos, and not under the rules we play by -- just as they insist that it is impossible for the Son of Man to evolve out of man. In their religion, only one miracle is permitted. Thus, the vast testimony of the saints and sages -- not to mention the legacy of true artists of Space and Time -- is just noise.

But why do scientists believe the only rules governing the cosmos are those that are accessible to their modified ape brain seen through the window of the last 300 years? This is just one of the implicit meta-rules they play by, but once you examine the rule, it is absurd if not childish, especially in the context of their own theory of what man is.

In other words, if man is what they say he is, what is the source of their arrogance and narrow-minded certainty? Why the preposterous confidence about what an ape can know of reality?

Either man's intellect is a potential adequation to reality, or it is not. And if it is, then Darwin is wrong, period. It surely doesn't mean that there is no truth to natural selection, because there obviously is. It is just that it cannot be the only rule life plays by, for there is nothing in natural selection that permits pneumacognitive adequation to nonlocal reality and truth.

Or, look at it this way. Usually, when a great person breaks a rule, it is because he is obeying a higher one. For example, a jazzologically untutored person might listen to Thelonious Monk and remark, "sounds okay, but why does he keep hitting the wrong notes? Why isn't he obeying the rules of music?"

The answer is that he is obeying a higher musical law, one in which notes that may sound wrong from below are right from above. Likewise the paintings of Kandinsky we discussed the other day. He's not just breaking rules, but discovering new ones.

Note that rules are the boundary conditions that govern a game. Let's say we're playing baseball. Nature could not evolve a superior ballplayer by making one that "refused to play by the rules."

For example, this ballplayer might insist that a home run is now a home run regardless of whether the ball is fair or foul; or that he may henceforth tackle the runner to impede his progress. If this were to happen, there would be no game. In other words, there is no possible game outside the rules of the game. Rather, there's just chaos. The game is over when someone refuses to play by the rules.

At some point some fifty-thousand years ago, human beings flatly refused any longer to play by the rules of natural selection. But just as with baseball, when someone refuses to play by the rules, that should be the end of the game.

In fact, man is hardly the only animal that tried to outwit nature and play outside her rules. But before man, their batting average was .000. In other words, like Pete Rose, the price they paid for violating the rules was extinction.

But when man stepped outside or above the rules of natural selection -- when the Spirit of Life was breathed into him -- he didn't just step out into chaos, into a jungle with no higher law governing it.

To the contrary, he now found himself playing under a new set of rules, very similar to what occurred when matter refused to play by the old rules of physics and suddenly came to life. Thereafter it played under a novel set of rules which fall under the rubric of biology. And one of those rules is surely natural selection, but only one.

There are clearly other rules -- including rules that transcend natural selection -- but not all of the monkeys are able to discern or understand them yet. Give them a break. And a banana.

Again, these human monkeys have only recently come down from the trees, so it is understandable that some of the slower ones would have some peculiar ideas about themselves. Some lament that they have no free will, others that the cosmos that gave birth to them is meaningless. What can one say? Life evolves. And some get left behind. Way it is.

Timelessness takes time. You can't just tell a snake to get some legs, nor can you tell a troll to get a clue. Some men crawl on their bellies and others walk upright.

But make no mistake: man was made to stand upright, for this corresponds to his deiformity, and is an analogue of his intrinsic dignity and nobility. An undignified and ignoble man is less than a man. He is not measuring up to what he ought to be (and note that the human Ought -- which is rooted in his celestial archetype -- is completely extra-Darwinian).

This is an example of a nonlocal rule human beings play under, and which may be intuited by the awakened intellect. Conversely, to suggest that our nobility, our love of truth, our boundless creativity, our knowledge of good and evil, may be reduced to natural selection is pure monkey babble.

This is not to suggest that some human monkeys aren't stuck playing under those old rules, and cannot fly past the neuralnet of their genetic program. But they're missing out on the game of a lifetime.

To be continued....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Creation Myths of the Tenured

Without a doubt, the ultimate Black Swan is whatever it was that permitted merely genetic human beings to emerge into full humanness just yesterday (cosmically speaking), some 50,000 years ago.

Prior to this there was existence, but so what? There was life, but who cares? With no one to consciously experience it, what was the point? Without self-conscious observers, the whole cosmos could bang into being and contract into nothingness, and it would be no different than the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it.

One of the reasons why this is such a lonely and unpopular blog is that it takes both science and religion seriously. Most science and religion are unserious, but especially -- one might say intrinsically -- when they exclude each other.

A religion that cannot encompass science is not worthy the name, while a science that cannot be reconciled with religion is not fit for human beings. And I mean this literally, in that it will be a science that applies to a different species, not the one that is made to know love, truth, beauty, existence, and the Absolute. Science must begin and end in this principle -- which is to say, the Principle -- or it is just a diversion. Nevertheless, Stupidity appropriates what science invents with diabolical facility (Aphorisms of Don Colacho).

In taking science seriously, we must obviously take "evolution" seriously. I place the word in quotation marks not because I don't believe in it, but for reasons we have discussed at length in the past (cf. here or there). Evolution was around long prior to Darwin, and the word didn't even appear in the first five editions of The Origin of Species. It was only inserted later, after which time evolution and Darwinism (natural selection) became conflated, even though they are in many ways at antipodes. In other words, evolution disproves Darwinism, and vice versa, despite the semantic and metaphysical games materialists deploy to try to reconcile the two.

In our effort to demonstrate the essential unity of religion and science, we specifically want to avoid the superficial and metaphysically incoherent approach of the materialists, which essentially reduces to magic -- no different than the young earth creationist who sees God as a kind of magician. But creation is not magic; rather, it is thoroughly rooted in, and infused with, order and Reason. Yes, there are myths that describe creation as if it were a giant magic act, but the purpose of myth is to awaken Truth within, not to force consent from without.

This is something that used to be taken for granted by theologians, but as they have become increasingly intimidated by the findings of modern science, it seems that they have retreated further into a protective bubble of faith in the incredible -- or faith in things that are not worthy of the intrinsic dignity and nobility of man's seeking Intellect. The Intellect is noble precisely because it may know truth, so that anything short of an integral and total truth undercuts man at the root. It's an insult, really.

In The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, Ridley tries to account for the evolution of man in wholly naturalistic terms. In one sense, he recognizes a fatal problem with the Darwinian account, in that there is an insurmountable gap between our finite genes and our infinite capabilities.

In other words, we know that human beings were genetically "complete" (which itself is an absurd word to apply to natural selection, since nothing can be complete or incomplete) long before the appearance of what we would call humanness.

Furthermore, the suddenness (especially in Darwinian terms) of man's psychospiritual transformation also surpasses anything natural selection can explain. It can try, but to say that a random genetic mutation accounts for the human capacity to know truth and beauty makes no sense whatsoever.

Anyway, at least Ridley is honest in acknowledging the problem, although he doesn't exactly name it or draw out its full implications. But the problem is this: that there is a literally infinite gap between man and animal (even though there is an obvious continuity as well), just as there is an infinite gap between nothing and existence or matter and life.

One can say that this gap is infinite because man intuits the Absolute, or one can say that man intuits the Absolute because of this infinite gap. Either way, once man consciously enters the sensorium of time and space, he is implicitly aware of both Absolute and Infinite, and therefore Love, Truth, Justice, Beauty, Virtue, and Eternity. These are the things that define man, not his genome.

Ridley notes an important fact that I discussed in my book, which is that early hominids remained trapped in their niche for "more than a thousand millennia." They basically produced a single tool, the stone hand axe.

Clearly, "the creatures that made this thing were very content with it," in that it changed very little during the course of a million years, across three continents. As I mentioned in the book, it's almost as if this tool were analogous to a bird's nest or a spider's web, i.e., something we were genetically programmed to produce.

As long as 600,000 ago, there were hominids with brains nearly as large as ours, and yet, with no discernible payoff: "they did not experience anything remotely resembling cultural progress. They just did what they did very well. They did not change."

But again, this is normative for Darwinism. Once a creature successfully adapts to its environmental niche, there is no pressure to change. As we mentioned yesterday, "natural selection is a conservative force. It spends more of its time keeping species the same than changing them" (Ridley).

And just what kind of "pressure" could force an ape to suddenly become Buddha, or Beethoven, or Shakespeare, anyway? What, is evolution the mother of all Jewish mothers? (Hmm, before you dismiss that outright....) Yes, there was a pressure, but as we shall see, it was from above, not below. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

So quite suddenly "there appeared on earth a new kind of hominid, one that refused to play by the rules. Without any change in its body, without any succession of species, it just kept changing its habits. For the first time, its technology changed faster than its anatomy. There was an evolutionary novelty, and you are it" (Ridley).

Yes, we are without a doubt an evolutionary novelty. But are we a Darwinian novelty, which is to say, a random accident? I don't think so. In fact, a wholly contingent being could never know truth anyway, let alone its own truth.

To be continued....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Post-Biological Evolution and the Colonization of Subjective Space

In Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, he posits a theory for why things are always getting so much better. While the arrow of progress goes up and down over the short term, if you take a longer view -- decades instead of years, centuries instead of decades -- the differences are dramatic; they are not just linear, but exponential.

At least if you begin with the proper boundary conditions. It took mankind thousands of years to discover these boundary conditions, which is why it took until three hundred years ago for things to really take off. World GDP per capita was essentially stagnant for 1700 years before there was a sudden breakthrough several hundred years ago.

But all along, there have been forces opposed to the very conditions that make progress possible. We see those atavistic and conservative (in the negative sense) forces today in the form of Islamist and progressive statists (and the unholy alliance between them).

Take virtually any variable and compare it with the past, and you will see that we are vastly better off today, whether it is violence, murder, disease, hunger, housing, infant mortality, whatever. Ridley provides many eye-opening statistics.

For example, the average Mexican today lives longer than the average Briton did in 1955. In South Korea, the average person not only earns fifteen times as much, but lives twenty-six years longer than in 1955. Even the UN "estimates that poverty was reduced more in the last fifty years than in the previous 500." Indeed, "it is hard to find any region [of the world] that was worse off in 2005 than it was in 1955."

Statistics on murder and violence are especially illuminating. I mentioned these in my book, but they are worth recalling. Among hunter-gatherers about 30 percent of adult males die from homicide, which would equate to two billion war-related deaths in the twentieth century instead of the mere 100 million. (And note that the vast majority of these deaths were caused by illiberal fascist/leftist/communist states that directly oppose the very mechanisms and institutions that unleash progress and undermine the causes of war.)

I tried to tackle the same subject in my book, except that I took for granted the factors that Ridley puts forth as conclusions. His premise and his conclusion are quite simple: that progress is a function of exchange, not just physical trade and barter, but the exchange and "mating" of ideas. This is what lifts man above biology in a way that no other animal has achieved. Biology has transcended itself in man, but only through very specific conditions.

Beyond this assertion, Ridley is essentially reduced to saying that it must have happened "somehow." As he properly notes, it cannot simply have been because human beings have a bigger brain than most other animals, for no matter how large the brain, it will come up against an evolutionary wall if it isn't an open system that exchanges information and emotion with others.

Nor can it have been a result of language, which was surely a necessary but not sufficient condition for our post-biological evolution (i.e., even Islamists and trolls have language).

As Ridley writes, "It was not something that that happened within a brain. It was something that happened between brains" (emphasis mine). But what does it mean to say that things can happen "between" brains? What is the nature of this "between," and how did it get here?

As I also noted in my book, human beings were genetically complete long before the "cultural explosion" took place, so there must be a non-genetic explanation (or again, genes are necessary but not sufficient causes for our humanness).

Note also that it is not simply a matter of saying that "man has culture," for that is begging the question. After all, culture cuts both ways -- and usually the wrong way. Most cultures stagnate because they simply self-replicate. It is similar to what would happen if a family only reproduced within itself, or universities only hired ideologically identical faculty members (not that that could ever happen in America).

Indeed, Ridley notes that "Exchange is to cultural evolution as sex is to biological evolution." But cultures resist change, in the same way that any adaptation does: "in evolutionary terms it is quite normal," as "most species do not change their habits during their few million years on earth or alter their lifestyle much..." Natural selection "spends more of its time keeping species the same than changing them."

But I believe that Ridley too ultimately begs the question of where all the Slack comes from, largely due to his blind anti-religious bigotry. For it is entirely correct that the blessing of widespread human leisure "comes from exchange and specialization and from the resulting division of labor."

But Ridley is curiously incurious when it comes to discussing the ontological status of this newly discovered post-biological space that human beings began to inhabit. Well, actually it's not curious at all, because for any variety of materialist, it must be just a freak accident, a weird side effect of physical processes.

For the implication of Ridley's view would be that human beings have no nature, no essence, no reason for being. And if this is the case, then liberty cannot be our sacred birthright, and there is no reason why the state or collective cannot appropriate us for its ends, just as it has done through most of history.

Our ultimate protection from this fate is that we are grounded in something more real than biology and physics. And once some particularly wise men adopted this as their founding principle some 235 years ago, things really took off. In the end, reality prevails, but it's always a struggle.

Monday, August 16, 2010

When Narratives Attack

Everybody's got one.

A narrative, that is. For reasons we will get into later, human beings are narrative-producing machines. Narratives are how we understand time -- how we link together experiences into a coherent and meaningful stream.

In order to do this, we must ignore the vast majority of "reality," sometimes appropriately, sometimes not. Just like the historian, we must select from the infinite pool of facts those we consider relevant. Thus, there can be no objective history outside the narrative, for it is the narrative that tells us what is relevant and historical.

As I've mentioned before, everyone comes into therapy with a narrative of their life. In fact, to a large extent, they come in because the narrative is "broken," so to speak. Either it's no longer making sense, or has run aground, or is unfulfilling, whatever.

The problem is, one's true narrative is never linear but multidimensional, both vertically and horizontally. For example, we have a conscious and an unconscious mind, a right and left cerebral hemisphere, an emotional nature and an intellect, spirit and psyche. Each of these can have different agendas and be at cross-purposes with other dimensions.

Freud focused on the conflicts between instinct, conscience, and ego, but there are also potential conflicts between, say, intellect and self-image, archetype and culture, self and ego, conscience and desire, biology and economics, spirit and tenure.

We call someone "insane" when their narrative has completely broken down into fragments, or when a part has hijacked the whole. But most people are more or less insane -- or perhaps unsane -- in the sense alluded to above. The opposite of this state is what we would call integration, in which all the parts are harmoniously participating in the narrative (a narrative which is meta-cosmic in nature).

In my experience, most people have to amputate certain parts of the self in order to keep their narrative functioning. When the pain of this amputation becomes too intense, that's when they come in for therapy (or experience a "breakdown" of some kind).

But most people do not seek therapy. Rather, they may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, or distract themselves in work, sex, or power games, or act out in some other manner. The list of ways in which people may pull the wool over their own eyes is endless.

What we call the "news" is nothing but a narrative. But most importantly, it is just like the narrative of a neurotic person, who is neurotic precisely because of his defective narrative. Thus, when things happen outside the narrative, he doesn't notice them. Or, if he can't do that, he might aggressively attack or devalue them.

From a psychological perspective, this is perfectly understandable. For example, if your self-image is invested in the idea that the world is catastrophically warming, you will be threatened by evidence that it is not.

The other day, Taranto made the point that "for white liberals of a certain age (read baby boomers), an important part of their self-image lies in the assumption that conservatives are racist."

The point of this self-serving narrative is obviously not to describe reality, but rather, to feel good about oneself. It is auto-therapy, as is so much of the liberal narrative. For the liberal, everyone who disagrees with him is racist, misogynist, "homophobic," "Islamophobic," "anti-science," contemptuous of the poor, etc. In each case, the characterization is simply a transparent projection deployed for the purpose of maintaining the self-flattering narrative.

If you want to know why the culture has become so "divisive," this is why. Liberal elites are so threatened by the collapse of their narrative on every level, that they cannot help lashing out in a primitive manner.

Thus William Kristol writes of "the Agenda Project," a major progressive group which "has launched the 'Fuck Tea' project," the purpose of which is to "to dismiss the Tea Party and promote the progressive cause."

"The 'Fuck Tea' movement -- that's what the left has come to. They can't defend the results of Obama's policies or the validity of Krugman's arguments. They know it's hard to sustain an anti-democratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they've degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents."

That's about as primitive as one can get and still remain in the realm of language. The only thing left after "fuck you" is violent action. But it is critical to bear in mind that state violence is different from personal violence. The state is a giant bully that has a kind of infinite reservoir of violence behind it, so it needn't necessarily behave with overt violence, since merely the threat is usually sufficient.

Change can be progressive, or it can be violent. Organic growth is a kind of change, but so too is a bullet to the head. Our Constitution is supposed to protect us from the violent predation of government, which is why it is Job One for the left to transform it from a document that protects us from the state to one which defines what the state can do to you.

Thus, "If a judge (or ultimately the Supreme Court) says the Constitution allows the government to force you to buy health insurance, then it’s a done deal, regardless of whether the Constitution says so or not. Under such a scenario, the Constitution thus becomes a tool for social engineering rather than a protection against government excess, as it was originally intended."

And "as the ruling class has more and more isolated to themselves the power to dictate what is and is not an appropriate use of the blessings of liberty, we have seen a corresponding decrease in the actual liberty we enjoy."

So in Arizona, a judge says that the people have no right to protect themselves from illegal aliens, while in California another judge decides that henceforth marriage will means something it has never meant and cannot mean. It is not so much that marriage between two men is "illegal." Rather, it is impossible, like being the father of your mother. But what is the left but violent insistence on the possibility of the impossible?

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. Whatever happens in November, it certainly won't be a cause for joy. Transient relief, maybe, but not joy, because when narratives break down, people are truly capable of anything.