Thursday, June 09, 2011

Screwtape Letters and Screwy Lettered Types

In a lecture on Culture and Truth, Ratzinger speaks of the peculiar attitude of our cultural elites, who always exclude themselves from the relativism they proclaim. Seemingly oblivious to the irony, they simultaneously embrace "a false humility and a false presumption."

With the left hand they do "not recognize in the human person the capacity for truth," but with the further left hand they covertly place themselves "above truth itself, while making the extension of one's power, one's domination over things, the objective of one's thought."

That's a neat little trick, in that it is a way to appropriate the genuine power that would normally be attendant to truth -- for even the most jaded atheist has a vertical recollection of the exterior radiance and interior attraction of the True -- and wield it not to understand reality but to change it.

But ultimate reality cannot be changed, for just as I AM WHO I AM, IT IS WHAT IT IS. Only the former can assure us of the latter; conversely, the latter is indeed a kind of ladder that should lead the genuinely curious mind to the former: I AM, therefore IT IS. Anything short of this formulation is to put Descartes before de' source, mon.

Being that another word for truth is "reality," one might say that the current intellectual fashion is to simultaneously deny reality while defining and limiting it to one's vulgar tastes.

If this sounds like an exaggeration, just think of how political correctness operates -- and how it operates most fiercely in the very environment that is supposed to safeguard and transmit truth, the university. Speech codes define what is thinkable and therefore knowable, and prevent truth from getting out of hand should someone stumble upon it, since there is a whole mechanism in place to suppress it.

Just as it requires intelligence to credibly "play stupid" in a play or film, it requires a kind of fundamental stupidity to pretend to the type of knowledge that is impossible in the absence of the correct metaphysic.

In short, truth must be received by its would-be knower. Science operates on the assumption that the scientist receives information by submitting, so to speak, to the world. Thus, the world is his "revelation," just as it requires submission to a revelation by God in order for us to know anything about him. Just as there is junk science, there is obviously junk theology, or deepakin' the chopra or jackin' one's jesse in public wouldn't be such kookrative endeavors.

Speaking of which, on a more or less banal level, think of Congressman Weiner's transgrossions, which, until last Monday, were officially impossible in many prominent quarters of the left.

Although any person of sound mind and good faith could see what was going on, a whole media structure was in place to assure us that we couldn't trust our own lyin' eyes. If not for new media, the story would have been disappeared by the MSMistry of Truth, effaced from the day and whitewashed from history.

I know this sounds hopelessly out of date, but if one is not learning the truth in a university education, what is one learning? And why does it cost so much, when one can get the same thing for free by listening to NPR?

I don't know about you, but where I find truth, it doesn't cost me a thing, which is why I don't charge folks for it. There's no overhead, since it's right here, just slightly overhead. Conversely, my secular indoctrination did cost a lot, which is why I do have to charge for that stuff. In a way, it's like punitive damages to reinstate my wholeness.

One of the reasons the culture war has become so contentious is that we are far beyond the point of mere "disagreement," which is why neither side is susceptible to the arguments of the other. Rather, the real struggle is over the very nature of reality -- more particularly, who defines it and who shall acquire the power that flows from conformity to the Real.

Here again, this is not an abstract discussion, but quite concrete. Let's suppose I believe buses are real, whereas my neighbor thinks they are an illusion. Only one of us can be correct, and being correct will give us a certain power of reality.

Now, just apply the same principle to everything that transcends matter (with the exception of mathematics, which is a kind of mirror of reality, and cannot be so easily manipulated).

For example, economics is a discipline that seems to revolve around (at least) two very different realities; let us call them Hayekville and Krugmania. People who live in the one not only "disagree" with the others, but believe them to be inhabiting another reality -- a "false reality," to be precise.

For those of us who hang out in Hayekville, the origins of our current economic meltdown have been known from the start, c.f. here, here, and here. But now comes another comprehensive account from a member of their own reality club, Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon.

This is just the kind of thing that is extremely upsetting to the parochial yahoo living in an unreal world, because it exposes and undermines the whole elaborate narrative structure that simultaneously shields them from reality while authorizing them to define and impose it upon everyone else.

The liberal doesn't require "proof" for his self-evidently elevated worldview. But disproof? Forget about it. This they really don't need. Repelling it usually requires attacking the messenger in a battle of annihilation with no rules. And when we say "annihilation" we mean this literally, because to disprove a lie is to annihilate it once and for all.

Conversely, to maim the truth results in real harm to most everyone except those who directly benefit from the lie. (Which is why I never get excited about elections, because they do not and could not ever result in the annihilation of falsehood, evil, and illegitimate power; rather, it seems that this thrilling competition is one of the unfortunate but inevitable conditions of human existence).

Thus, The fool exclaims that we are denying the problem when we show the falsity of his favorite solution, but There exists no truth in the humanities that does not need to be rediscovered each week (Don Colacho's Aphorisms). That last one is a lie, because you actually have to do it every day.

In his talk, Ratzinger mentions the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis's famous tale involving the practical education of an inexperienced demon by a more worldly-wise one. Note the word practical, for this is one of the adjectives the leftist substitutes for truth.

The younger demon expresses concern to his better worser "that intelligent people are prone to read books containing the wisdom of the ancients," which might cause them to accidentally stumble upon the truth (note that the demon knows the truth, since the lie is parasitic upon it).

Not to worry, assures Screwtape, for this type of knowledge can be easily nullified by simply elevating history above reality. Thus, the last thing the tenured will ask about, say, the Bible, is whether it is "true."

Rather, the "learned man" will ask "who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and in what phase in the writer's development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates... and so on."

This is how the kingly truth ends up being royally screwtaped. Remember our lengthy series of posts on the Divine Comedy? Ratzinger notes that in communist countries one was still permitted to be exposed to such subversive literature, so long as it was placed in the proper context, or narrative, which is always political and ultimately rooted in power (for again, who defines reality wields the power).

Reducing the real meaning of such a protean text is a way to immunize scholarship against truth. It's very effective, because it confines the scholar to a closed world from which he cannot escape and to which he cannot inscape, no matter which way he turns, for he has his head up his own assumptions. What is outside those assumptions is literally unthinkable.

But in truth, "Man is not trapped in a hall of mirrors of interpretations." Rather, "one can and must seek a breakthrough to what is really true."

And what is true is that there is one world and one human nature to go along with it, which is why truth can be, and is, timeless, universal, and harmonious (or integral). Everything fits together in a neat little giant coonspiracy, which literally means to "breath-together" in one Spirit.

In the formulation of Eckhart, our "breaking out" is simultaneously God's "breaking in." And we all know what it's like to be arrested (?!) by God's breaking and entering in the middle of the night.

Ratzinger names some of the barriers to truth, which enclose modern man in his little thought bubbles: historicism, scientism, pragmatism, nihilism -- to which one might add deconstructionism, reductionism, materialism, feminism, radical environmentalism, metaphysical Darwinism, and Obamaism.

Truth unites. The lie fragments.

In another sense, truth not only sharply divides (for it is a [s]word), but is the source of division -- one might say discrimination -- itself.

Conversely, the lie unites, but it is a false unity (for example, Hitler's mission to unite Europe, or Marx's to unite the wankers of the world). In truth, it is merely an agglomeration with no interior or exterior consistency, harmony, or wholeness. For there is only one complete, consistent, and harmonious metaphysic. And if they ask what it is, tell just them I AM sent it.

20 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

Not for nothing is the first Commandment the first one. If yer gonna ferget everythin else, don't forget that one. And then everything else will take care of itself.

Fine post.

6/09/2011 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I AM big on first principles.
Always ARE.

6/09/2011 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"But ultimate reality cannot be changed, for just as I AM WHO I AM, IT IS WHAT IT IS. Only the former can assure us of the latter; conversely, the latter is indeed a kind of ladder that should lead the genuinely curious mind to the former: I AM, therefore IT IS. Anything short of this formulation is to put Descartes before da' source."

And when that happens, although duhcarte is filled to overflowing with vast quantities of big green road apples... somehow they just don't seem to taste Right....

6/09/2011 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Being that another word for truth is "reality," one might say that the current intellectual fashion is to simultaneously deny reality while defining and limiting it to one's tastes."

Nicely skewered.

6/09/2011 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

If it works it must be true.

I think that's on a signpost on the road to hell.

Nice note about Screwtape's demonic deconstructionism.

Also, if a picture is worth a thousand words, you and Robin might be able to swap posts without any boot today. His invisible children are a lot like unthinkable truth.

6/09/2011 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Rather, the real struggle is over the very nature of reality -- more particularly, who defines it and who shall acquire the power that flows from conformity to the Real.

Here again, this is not an abstract discussion, but quite concrete."

Certainly true in my experience, and it is of the most relevant and concrete of issues. For all the claims of being the 'Reality based' party, I've yet to find a leftist who is willing to state that Reality exists, and that they are able to know it. With good reason of course, for once they agree to that, all of their positions and assertions are open to crumble on contact with the reality which they are no longer free to make up as they go along.

6/09/2011 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Van,
For all the claims of being the 'Reality based' party, I've yet to find a leftist who is willing to state that Reality exists, and that they are able to know it.

Yep. DH keeps having conversations with the guys at work that sound exactly like one of those extranormal videos where truth and reason are completely rejected by the leftist because the leftist has already decided what "reality" is, and the facts don't fit. As an example, the other day the discussion devolved to the comparative intelligences of Obama vs. Palin. Simply put, his friend has decided that Obama is smart and Palin is dumb. Any facts that contradict that position are treated as completely irrelevant, and met with, "Yes, but Obama is smart. Palin is dumb."

6/09/2011 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

I keep have this recurring mental image of, instead of the Rapture, the Rupture: Where the realities, already stretched so far, just slip and separate; and those who wish to rule are allowed to make their own Hell on Earth that way, and those who wish to serve are allowed to bring about Heaven on Earth that way.

A nice little daydream. But for the time being, I guess we will all grow together until the harvest-time. And looking back even a few years, I am thankful for that.

6/09/2011 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Peyton said...

Magnus, that sounds like another C. S. Lewis book, The Great Divorce. Napoleon in his manor, etc.

6/09/2011 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic, I downloaded the Anat Fort Trio album today. On listening, and I think it's true of a lot of the ECM albums, it reminds me of a particular painting hanging in the lobby of a big hotel I've visited a few times. At any casual glance, and even with a not so casual gaze, the painting appears to be a nicely-done but unremarkable splatter-type painting. Then one day I recognized a particular curve of line here and there, and suddenly realized I was looking at four of Disney's Seven Dwarves. Anyway, the music is like that inasmuch as I keep hearing, hidden within the languorous notes, recognizable bits of melody that I can almost place (but usually not quite). It's like musical Easter Eggs. Very cool.

6/09/2011 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

"One of the reasons the culture war has become so contentious is that we are far beyond the point of mere "disagreement," which is why neither side is susceptible to the arguments of the other. Rather, the real struggle is over the very nature of reality"

This implies some sort of forward movement in the war? Not just old fights with new participants?

I know the internet has allowed our side's message to get out there. Thirty years ago the Left had a lock on it.

Just wonderin...

6/09/2011 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

John,
This implies some sort of forward movement in the war? Not just old fights with new participants?

I don't know how long you've been a reader, but this touches a little on something Will has talked about in the past. If memory serves he called it "The Quickening." I suppose you could call it a forward movement, but to me it seems simply to be a more overt polarization. There was a discussion recently about the effect of new technologies on human interactions, both with other humans and with new technologies. In some ways, this is a result of that. As people have access to greater resources and more disposable free time, they tend to become more of what they already are. Like draws to like, and technology amplifies that drawing together. So on the one hand, they are the same old fights with new participants; on the other, the participants are self-selecting in ways that were once impossible. As though the wheat and the tares were sorting themselves with little apparent help from the farmers.

Of course, that's just, like, my opinion, man, so take it for what it's worth...

6/09/2011 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

@julie. Thanks again for your thoughtful replies. Nice description of "The Quickening."

It appears what you describe is happening.

6/09/2011 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger swiftone said...

Julie/John, just too easy but can't be helped. Of course it's the quickening. And the deadening. No problem spotting the difference. No meeting of the twain.

WV: sureja kinda like 'youbecha'

6/09/2011 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D

6/09/2011 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Reducing the real meaning of such a protean text is a way to immunize scholarship against truth."

Particularizing is the method of horizontalizing the vertical. You 'escape' from principle by focusing on 'practical' instances... it's a wonderful thing for the materialist, they can break away from the bonds of the principles of the free market, through lots of ways to help the market, things like tariffs, or subsiding an industry... and when other issues start popping up, bubbles, busts, just prop the market up with more and more aid. Soon enough you'll get to an economy where you can be super helpful with things like stimulus packages and unlimited debt... imagine the possibilities!

Oh wait! No need to imagine, just look around at all of the 'unexpected' rises in unemployment and failing banks, the wonders of market intervention is all around us.

Same exact thing with philosophy and education and "...historicism, scientism, pragmatism, nihilism... deconstructionism, reductionism, materialism, feminism, radical environmentalism, metaphysical Darwinism, and Obamaism."

O the wonders of modern proregress.

6/09/2011 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Truth unites. The lie fragments."

Let that be your guide in all you study, and you'll have to work hard to go far wrong.

6/09/2011 06:49:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"I don't know about you, but where I find truth, it doesn't cost me a thing, which is why I don't charge folks for it. There's no overhead, since it's right here, just slightly overhead. Conversely, my secular indoctrination did cost a lot, which is why I do have to charge for that stuff. In a way, it's like punitive damages to reinstate my wholeness."

Punitive damages in a snort of law. :^)

6/10/2011 01:04:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Reducing the real meaning of such a protean text is a way to immunize scholarship against truth. It's very effective, because it confines the scholar to a closed world from which he cannot escape and to which he cannot inscape, no matter which way he turns, for he has his head up his own assumptions. What is outside those assumptions is literally unthinkable."

Ha ha! Which is why no one can simply rectify the problem by pointing out the truth.
The truth ain't visible to those who got proctovision.

6/10/2011 01:15:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"But in truth, "Man is not trapped in a hall of mirrors of interpretations." Rather, "one can and must seek a breakthrough to what is really true.""

I picture Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon breakin' all those mirrors to destroy the illusion that was killin' him and find the reality... to fight back and live.

Of course, one doesn't require knowledge of kung fu to do this.
Not when the vastly superior chin-foo is available.

Fortunately, I'm more than willing to teach it and I'm glad to say that my new book,
Don't Be Chin-foo(led) is now available...or soon will be if I get enough orders...and it's free!*

*Just send $9.99 for shipping and handling.**

This offer devoid where prohibited.
All depictions of copywrited materials is strictly coincidental.

**Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.***

***These asterisk thingees are kinda cool huh? :^)

6/10/2011 01:35:00 AM  

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