Round One of the Culture War: Is vs. Isn't
In the words of the very private Don Colacho, "Intelligence, in certain ages, must dedicate itself merely to restoring definitions." To paraphrase another aphorism, while ideologies are surely "fictitious nautical charts," the reefs they shipwreck us upon are nonetheless real. Keynesian economics may be pure doo-doo economics, but that doesn't make the malodorous results an illusion. Some ideas really do stink.
Anyway, the passage: "At the very core of our national discombobulation, this very problem We no longer speak the same language. We don't recognize the same historical records. We don't share the same values, principles, hopes, dreams or morality. People like Maddow (as proxy for her ilk) are as fervent in their socialist dogma as we in our love of freedom. After years of agitprop by well placed activists, we're past any possible rapprochement."
"We no longer speak the same language." True, but it goes deeper than that, as implicitly recognized by the writer, for the failure to embrace the same values and principles is rooted in ontology, not mere linguistics or epistemology. To "recognize" a principle is not to invent one.
Rather, in our ontology, the principles are real and man is uniquely privileged to know and live in conformity to them.
Indeed, this is what we would regard as the central "drama" in the Adventure of Consciousness. In other words, our ontology automatically confers a meaning, and therefore purpose, both to history and to the individual life situated therein.
I hope this is clear. As always, we are not aiming at agreement, only clarity -- or clarification of differences.
I believe it is fair to see that the postmodern left is rooted in an entirely different ontology. It is admittedly a rather makeshift one, borrowing from here and there -- much of it, ironically, is purloined from ours -- in a manner that never adds up to "one," as any proper metaphysic should do.
In other words, in a functioning metaphysic, one = one; what this means is that there is an intelligible reconciliation between the many and the One, or between appearance and reality, time and eternity, vertical and horizontal, maya and brahman, etc.
Now, the postmodern left has fooled itself into believing that it has transcended metaphysics. This is a self-refuting claim, in that transcendence of any kind requires a metaphysic to account for it, for either the transcendent position is real -- or discloses reality -- or it is not.
The vulgar materialism of postmodern secularism insists that the transcendence is not real, which forecloses man's very ability to know reality. Therefore -- and this is a critical point -- secular fundamentalism necessarily forecloses reality-as-such, for there is no reality in a cosmos that cannot be known (truth and reality being synonymous).
Rather, existence would be "pure illusion," or "absolute relativity," both of which are intrinsic absurdities. These are analogous to an optical illusion, but with no reality underneath, or like a mirage floating over a desert of nothingness.
Which is why Don Colacho is correct in noting that "Revolutions have as their function the destruction of the illusions that cause them." For example, the real Obama has destroyed the illusion that was embodied in "Obama '08." He is a political suicide, as it were -- but unfortunately, he is taking a lot of people down with him.
What is the meaning of existence? What is Is?
First, I think we can all agree that what Is, is. What Is can appear to be what it isn't, but that's obviously just appearance, not reality. Man is the only being who is prone to systematic illusion and tenure, for the very reason that he is capable of adequation and truth. If the universe were not intelligible, man could never know it, for to know it is to at once render it intelligible.
So our dispute -- the "culture war" -- is not just about politics or values, but is ultimately rooted in competing visions of reality. It is actually an "ontology war," which, in the Judeo-Christian arc of history, has been going on since "the beginning."
Indeed, the ontology war is fully recognized and accounted for in the third chapter of Genesis. One might say that it is woven into our existence, or that history is constructed out of the warp and weft of truth and error.
Prior to man there is no error because there is no truth from which to deviate. There is no choice, which can only take place in the space of man's conscious being. Man is free to choose, which again opens the cosmic door to error -- not to mention ugliness and immorality.
Appropriately, in what I believe was his first encyclical, Pope Benedict speaks for us in making the bold ontological claim that God is love. In other words, love is ultimately what Is, and what Is is love. But how could this be? You've seen the world. What kind of ledbrained bag of hot air would suggest that it is really just a whole lotta' love?
First of all, this is not a "thought" about reality; rather, it is the reality itself. Embedded in it is a decision about the world, again, a free choice made in the transitional space of human consciousness.
To de-cide means to cut, to make a scission. In this case, it is that same cut referenced above, between the Trees of Life and Death. This fork in the ontological road is always before us, never behind us. One cannot choose not to choose.
Benedict says that the assertion that God is love is rooted in an encounter "which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." But unfortunately, due to the debasement of language, "the term love has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings."
Among the varieties of love, one particular type conspicuously stands out from the rest, the love between Man and Woman.
Now, "falling in love" cannot be willed, can it? Rather, it is to awaken to a kind of intimate knowledge of who and what the beloved Is. Absent the actual experience, it cannot be adequately conveyed to anyone else in such a way that it could reproduce the experience.
In a couple of ironic aphorisms, Don Colacho says that "We do not know anything perfectly except what we do not feel capable of teaching," and "Of anything important there are no proofs, only testimonies."
Reality surely qualifies as "important." That being the case, it cannot be communicated (without remainder) via language, mathematical equations, or empirical sensation. Rather, it can only be experienced and testified to.
Importantly, the testimony cannot be prior to its experience, but it can certainly be a signpost, or lamp, along the way. The saints, for example, are fleshlights who illuminate the path for us, but we still have to take the path. We can't just phoneme it in.
In a purely rational world view, falling in love must be a kind of inebriation, at least if we are to trust Mr. Spock.
Likewise, as Benedict notes, "The Greeks -- not unlike other cultures -- considered eros principally a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a 'divine madness' that tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience the supreme happiness" of knowing what it's like to be the volatile Captain Kirk.
And with that I must abruptly stop in my own treks, because I'm still overloaded with work.