Cosmic Freedom and Inward Mobility
The lesson of Christmas is that a much more radical intervention is necessary for fundamental change to occur, and that to change anything, we only have to change everything, i.e., repent, which simply means to "turn around" -- or do a I80 and revolve in order to resolve and evolve.
True, since Jesus was born in the spring, Christmas was grafted onto pagan winter festivals. However, this was not in order to imitate them, but to sanctify them -- to cleanse them of their pointless cyclicality and to introduce some linearity and teleology into the situation.
Once the implicit idea is promulgated that a single human life forms the axis of history and the center of the cosmos, then we are no longer half-conscious, quasi-animal beings embedded in the rhythms of nature, but awake to the irreversible, future-oriented nature of time and therefore life. We are aboard the cosmic telovator.
Yes, this does merge with our discussion of free will, for free will is an irreducibly spiritual faculty immaculately dropped from above into voidgin nature. You might say that free will is like the seed that makes our lives potentially fruitful. But like any seed, the proper conditions are required for it to grow and thrive.
And speaking of free will, a book we discussed a couple of days ago, Hans Jonas' The Phenomenon of Life, has a chapter on the subject that summarizes the absurdity of denying it. Not to beat a dead nag, but it's an important subject, since it is both a necessary and sufficient cause of our humanness -- in other words, a condition with which the soul -- and without which it cannot -- finds expression. In short, if there is a soul there is free will, and vice versa. They are two sides of the same coin.
Jonas adopts the same perspective we did in the book, of the "martian's eye view." Imagine explorers from another planet investigating the biosphere and trying to ascertain the presence of "men." What would be their criteria?
"Our explorers enter a cave, and on the walls they discern lines or other configurations that must have been produced artificially, that have no structural function, and that suggest a likeness to one or another of the living forms encountered outside." Even "the crudest and most childish drawing would be just as conclusive as the frescoes of Michelangelo."
Of what, exactly? Of a relation to ideas that have no direct bearing upon purely biological ends. Here is evidence of an exit from the world of mere life, and entrance to the world of mind.
Thus, "just as a footprint is a sign of the foot that made it," a picture is not a sign of the hand that made it but of the mind that conceived it -- and that abstracted some essence from the object before representing it. In order to depict the essence one must first perceive the essence. This implies the ability to distinguish form from substance or mind from matter.
Painting involves a transformation and preservation of essence from one medium to another. Obviously, no animal can do this. Rather, they confront only a world of objects. To the extent that they perceive interiors, it is only through invariant signs, not symbols -- and a sign is really closer to an exterior (like a stop sign, which doesn't reveal anything about the person who made it).
Now, to know the distinction between form and substance is to be capable of distinguishing between appearance and reality, or surface and depth. And as mentioned the other day, to know that appearances are deceptive is to know that truth exists, for truth is simply the splendor of the Real (just as beauty is the splendor of the true).
Clearly, in order to distinguish between appearance and reality, there must be a kind of "space" in between. This is the middle earthspace inhobbited by human consciousness. Just as animals live in a world of appearances, God is the being who lives in truth and reality -- or is not different from them. And the human station is in between these two, God and nature, the One and the many.
Note that in Genesis man is given the power to name the animals. As Jonas explains, "the giving of names to objects is here regarded as the first feat of the newly created man and as the first distinctively human act." It is a "step beyond creation," or liberation from being plunged solely into the world of matter. In order to name something, we must be above it, and be capable of perceiving the unity beneath the multiplicity (which is another way of saying the reality behind appearances).
As Bolton points out, there can be no such thing as absolute freedom on the human plane. Given what we have stated above, such an idea is metaphysically absurd, since freedom can only meaningfully exist within a context of restraint or limitation. To exercise freedom is to transcend limitation, not to abolish it or pretend it doesn't exist. It is to use limitation as a springboard to vault oneself "higher" or "deeper" into this thing we call reality -- just as a boat doesn't deny water but floats atop it.
For example, let's say we wish to be radically linguistically free. We will not advance our freedom by abolishing the limitations of alphabet and grammar, but rather, simply destroy our ability to speak meaningfully.
If you do manage to abolish alphabet and syntax, you will not be more free but less so, since you will have no freedom to move about within the higher dimensional semantic space that is disclosed by language, but built upon stable rules. At best, you will have a meaningless sort of horizontal freedom in which you are only at liberty to rant and gesture, like our trolls.
This is why, in order to properly speak the Raccoon language of Obonics, linguistic precision is so necessary. You will notice that when you pick up most any "new age" type book -- in fact, unfortunately, many conventional religious books as well -- the language conveniently goes wobbly just at that critical juncture when you most need it to go Bobbly.
These frauds use language in such a way that they make you feel as if the fault is within you, not them. Philosophers and academics pull the same cunning stunt all the time.
But if you truly understand something, then it shouldn't be difficult to find the words to convey that understanding to another, at least assuming adequate communication skills and good faith in the reader. (I might add that where the new agers use fuzzy language to conceal their ignorance, the conventionally religious often fall back on overly rigid and saturated formulas to cover over their lack of understanding.)
As Polanyi explained, true freedom results from a higher level exploiting the freedom left over by the boundary conditions of a lower level. This is why even a machine cannot be reduced to a machine.
Rather, in order to create a machine, we employ the boundary conditions of physics and chemistry to manufacture something with a purpose, say, an automobile engine. With the engine, we are free to travel from here to there, but only because of the stable and deterministic boundary conditions of physics and chemistry. Without them we'd be nowhere. And nobody.
Speaking of which, one of the reasons the Mohammedans are so unfree is that their metaphysics does not permit the existence of unvarying boundary conditions free from Allah's constant meddling.
In other words, instead of a rational universe that operates along the lines of fixed principles, they imagine that Allah is intervening "vertically" at every moment to directly cause everything. This is also why they are so fatalistic, which only undermines everything that religion is here to mitigate, which is to say, fate. The purpose of religion is to make us more free, not less free. Truth has a way of doing that.
(One is reminded of Obama's heavy-handed approach -- and FDR's before him -- to economics, which creates so much uncertainty in investors. He's like an economic Allah whose daily whim is the new law. Which is no law at all.)
Yes, as much as we might resent those middling relativities and sin-laws that cramp our style, we really can't do without them. Freedom can only exist in a cosmos with predictable boundary conditions with which to build upward and inward.
By the way -- and I suppose this isn't a peripheral point -- this is why it is so absurd to suggest that liberals are "pro-freedom." I mean, we already know this isn't true, what with speech codes, political correctness, racial quotas, confiscatory taxes, etc.
But these things only flow from the fact that liberalism is anti-freedom in principle, since it celebrates the elimination of all the time-tested boundary conditions -- i.e., spiritual values -- that have made Western civilization so extraordinarily successful in beating back the darkness and vaulting us into the Light.