Diving from the Shore of History into the Deep End of Revelation and Myth
In any event, we're going to switch gears and take the cosmic bus for a side trip into those subjects, which are all touched upon in Francis Fukuyama's latest book, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution.
It is interesting that science can tell us so many things about ourselves, but almost nothing about matters of ultimate concern. For example, man always lives in a political context, but we really have no idea how and when this got underway. We can only speculate about it in more or less intelligent ways.
This very much parallels the impenetrability of our own origin on an individual basis, which is beyond the horizon of infantile amnesia. Most of us have a more or less continuous history from the age of nine or so, which is analogous to "history." Between five and nine our memories are more spotty, episodic, and thematic, which is very much like prehistory, which we must construct from the intrinsically partial and discontinuous evidence.
But five to zero -- and minus zero -- consists of a vast forgettery. Remember the wise crack of Tolstoy: "From the child of five to myself is but a step. But from the newborn baby to the child of five is an appalling distance." We might say the same of the inconceivable distance between merely genetic Homo sapiens and Man.
The intriguing thing is that the data is all there, but it's just unrecoverable because so much of it occurred before it could be encoded in language. And what is a pre-linguistic memory like, especially when it is buried under layer upon layer of language?
For human beings, myth begins at the threshold of prehistory, and bridges the gap between what we consciously recall and what unconsciously remembers us, so to speak.
Referring again to the individual, the infantile past is always remembered, just not consciously. Rather, it manifests in the form of "symptoms," or moods, or tendencies, or preferences, or actions, some of which will reflect who we actually are, others of which will be in opposition to our essence.
To take an example, all human beings essentially long for intimate union with another person. To the extent that they don't, we can assume that something occurred in their past which makes them fearful and avoidant of intimacy. The trauma is not consciously recollected, but rather, unconsciously lived. Therefore, the "living" is the memory, so that such a person is actually -- and quite literally -- "living in the past."
But importantly, such an individual will always have a "cover story" to account for traits, actions, and preferences -- the developmental fixations -- that are not actually his.
Here again, this is analogous to what is called confabulation, a common defense mechanism of psychotic people, but also of stroke victims who have lost access to their memories. It basically consists of covering over the unrecollected area with some invented link -- with a more or less plausible narrative. To put it bluntly, they bullshit, only without being consciously aware of it.
Interestingly, this is what scientistic types routinely accuse religious people of doing, but it is quite the opposite. Science does not -- and cannot -- actually reveal anything about origins, only about the boundary at which scientific ideas become operative. To confuse the origin of something with what we can say about it is an embarrassingly elementary error, for ultimate reality lies on the other side of that bright boundary illuminated by science.
For there is a huge difference between confabulation and myth, let alone revelation. Even if one rejects the idea of revelation, most sophisticated people are aware of the fact that the world's myths are loaded with information about human nature, about our origins, about our fundamental conflicts and strivings, etc.
Virtually every great novelist or poet draws his vital substance from this collective pool of myth -- myths which the individual artist could never have invented. Rather, we only have literature and poetry because the memepool is already there, waiting to be exploited. The great artist does not invent, but discovers, unThought truths about ourselves.
Perhaps I should note at the outset that the great weakness in Fukuyama's book is his evident rationalism, which causes him to look at myth and revelation in pragmatic and operational terms only.
Perhaps most importantly, while he properly notes the unique emergence of the individual in the Christian west, he essentially attributes it to the financial shenanigans of the Church, which ends up being an instance of the very Marxism he supposedly rejects.
In short, he provides a material explanation for a cosmic fact of surpassing significance; for indeed, the emergence of the conscious, truth-bearing human being is the most important fact in all of creation -- it is the Fact without which there could be no other facts. Facts are a function of principles, not vice versa, and human beings have unique access to this higher, principial world.
And how could this be the case if our individualism is totally contingent, just an accidental by-product of the Church's material self-interest?
For it's one thing to say that the modern self came into being as a result of the Church's attack on the kinship structures that kept man a "collective" rather than individual person, and therefore allowed them to have a bigger piece of the financial pie. (In other words, wealth and property were freed up from the tight structure that kept it within extended families.)
But it is an entirely different matter to reduce what emerged to such a linear cause. For even if there was a material cause of the emergence of the individual self, it would be a material -- or perhaps efficient -- cause only, certainly not a formal, let alone final, cause.
Consider Fukuyama himself. He is viewing all of history and prehistory from the panoramic vista afforded by his unique self, which is able to disinterestedly rise above time and disclose the truth of history.
But if this capacity is really just a side effect of the financial manipulations of the medieval Church, then why should we pay attention to him at all? Isn't his theory self-refuting?
I apologize for the lack of context, and for not beginning at the beginning of the book. If any of this is unclear, it will become so as we proceed. All of this is hot off the mental press, and perhaps a bit undigested.
I should also emphasize that this is a very serious, thoughtful, provocative, and worthwhile book. While I might disagree with some of Fukuyama's ultimate conclusions, he has done a tremendous amount of research and synthesized a vast amount of data -- not to mention debunked any number of cherished liberal, and some conservative, ideas that are tacitly accepted as true.
But sometimes a mind that is so synthetic can overlook some of the most important trees. I will be the first to admit that I've done so myself.
But it would be ironic in the extreme to overlook the very tree -- the Judeo-Vedantic Tree of Life, with its roots aloft, its branches and beleaves down herebelow -- that makes such a synOptic metaview possible to begin with.