Middle Age Crazy
We think of the "mid-life crisis" occurring in middle age. When I was a lad, the tripping point was around 40, but nowadays it seems to be more like 50, or perhaps even later. This is not necessarily a positive development, for it only means that we can put off the crisis a little longer by nurturing the illusions that maintain us and confer a bogus meaning upon our lives.
But make no mistake: any meaning short of God is no meaning at all. It's either God or nothing, Yahweh or the low-way, O or Ø. PZ Myers may be sociopathic (Taranto also comments on his moral depravity here), but at least he's intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that for the atheist, a baby can be no more intrinsically valuable than a burger. (My site meter indicates the presence of PZ readers, based upon the allegation that I wish to attract his attention. Do not flatter yourselves, children. Nothing does not attract us, although many nothings are strangely attracted to this blog for reasons only they don't understand.)
The good news is that if there is true meaning -- AKA Truth -- then there is God.
Now, life is not a mathematical equation. Rather, it is a mythsemantical journey, so one cannot actually assign a number to "mid-life."
Rather, as I believe I once heard Donald Fagen say, life itself is a continual crisis. Every stage of life is a mid-life crisis. For example, my son is having a mid-life crisis between the oedipal and latency stages of development. And it's no less intense than it is for some pathetic One Cosmos troll and obsessive stalker who wakes up and realizes he's a crock roach.
How do we know Dante is in crisis? Because he tells us so in the second line: I found myself within a forest dark. For us, the forest is a place of primal beauty, of slackful relaxation, of peaceful nature unsullied by civilization.
But for premodern man, the forest was a place of great danger. It marked the edge of safety, beyond which you were taking your life into your own hands. To venture in alone would be almost suicidal.
Hey Don, don't forget the hot dogs and beer!
Even outside the forest, the darkness of the premodern world was unimaginable for us. But inside the forest it was even darker. At night, you wouldn't have been able to see your hand in front of your face. There is an evolutionary reason why children are afraid of the dark, because darkness is where the monsters literally dwelt. You wouldn't even know what ate you. Thus the old adage, he who hesitates is lunch.
The little clearing of civilization is where things are illuminated. But this area of light is a hard-won prize, surrounded by darkness. No wonder people cling to their stupid cultures, since they are preferable to living in the dark.
In other words, whatever else a culture is, it is a collective defense against the dark. Never ask why people believe such idiotic things. Just remember the danger of the surrounding forest.
In this regard, it is analogous to the ego, which serves the same purpose on an individual basis. In treating patients, one of the first things Freud noticed is that you cannot simply confront them about their irrational beliefs. Reason is impotent, because the irrational belief is a defense against the dark. Just like culture, the ego, whatever else it is, is a little area of light surrounded by darkness. Freud called the darkness the "unconscious," but this is very misleading.
A better term would simply be consciousness, which is to the ego as the cosmos is to a planet. It is "relatively infinite," while the ego is the attempt to reduce infinity to some manageable chunk. It is not actually possible to do this, the reason being that the contained can never contain the container. But people never stop trying. Only when it reaches the point of absurdity do we call it "pathological."
For example, the compulsive personality reduces reality down to, say, a struggle with germs. He becomes preoccupied with cleanliness, washing his hands repeatedly, disinfecting everything, taking multiple showers a day. In this case, reality has become a kind of narrow beam of light, beyond which is the dangerous forest full of microscopic monsters.
But all ideologies -- and I mean all of them -- are just the same process writ large. Again: God or nothing. Everything "outside" God is just a nasty case of OCD.
It is the same with paranoia. The paranoid personality attempts to manage the forest by projecting it outside the self, into others.
I don't want to jump too far ahead, but the forest Dante is talking about is obviously the interior/unconscious one. To rip a vivid example from the headlines, liberals routinely manage their rage by projecting it into conservatives, as they did in the case of the Arizona mass murderer. They fear what they hate, because the projected hatred returns to them on the rebound. It's all an intrapsychic process, reinforced and leant legitimacy by the collective nature of the neurosis. Just as in the case of a primitive culture, there is safety in numbers.
I don't want to get sidetracked, but Taranto has been doing a great job exposing the absurdity of it all. Most people mark it down to hypocrisy, but it's much worse than that, since many leftists actually believe what they're saying. When we say that a defense mechanism is unconscious, we mean unconscious. It has to be unconscious, because these people obviously aren't stupid, and it requires no intelligence to see that the charges are not true.
Third line: For the straightforward pathway has been lost. Why is that? Because, as we have discussed many times, the realm of the unconscious (and supraconscious) is not governed by linear, aristotelian logic.
Rather, it is the world of symmetrical logic, as described by Ignacio Matte Blanco, so to plunge into the unconscious is to give oneself over to a world with very different rules. In the unconscious, linear math is of no assistance. For example, in this world it is completely unproblematic that One should equal Three, and vice versa.
Because the unconscious is always in us -- or, to be precise, we are in it -- a deadly crisis is always just around the coroner. As Upton explains, "This is the point where outward manifestation has reached its limit, after which a person must either ascend spiritually or be content to live within the progressive deterioration of the form of his life."
In other words, life is either ascending or descending, for the same reason that there is either God or nothing. Absent the ascent, then gravity and entropy take over.
But we cannot properly ascend with our little ego, which again, is just a defense against the dark. Rather, we must first colonize the darkness. We must redeem our own personal hell, so to speak, in order to be fit for the greater Light. The great balls of purifying fire precede illumination.