Saturday, April 23, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
The Origins of the Origins of Political Order and the Purpose of the Purpose of America
"the idea that human beings were primordially individualistic and that they entered into society at a later stage in their development only as a result of a rational calculation that social cooperation was the best way for them to achieve their individual ends."
As I explained in the book, not only did human beings not evolve as individuals, they could not have done so. The mere evolution of a larger brain would have been insufficient to sponsor or host our humanness.
Rather, humanness emerged as a consequence of the unique circumstance of runaway growth in brain size, which ultimately resulted in mothers giving birth to premature and neurologically incomplete infants. At the same time, the mother's defenselessness in the face of having to care for a helpless infant created and strengthened the role of Father, bringing the trimorphic family into existence.
Thus, in my view, the internally related family is the first (and very possibility of) political order. But prior to it is the mother-infant dyad, which is not really a dyad per se, unless only looked at externally.
Rather, this is a uniquely interior dyad. In the orthoparadoxical formulation of D.W. Winnicott, there is no such thing as an infant. Instead, there is a single organism -- one might say the quintessentially human organism -- with mother acting as the infant's "auxiliary cortex," so to speak, to translate what is otherwise an infinite and dread-prone space into thought, or nonlocal being into local existence.
I don't want to get bogged down in details here. Interested readers can check out my book, or peruse the psychology department of the Raccoon Store -- in particular, the works of Schore (hard), Siegal (easier) or Greenspan (easiest).
A more subtle point, but critical to psychoanalytic neuro-developmental theory, is that the thinking process itself is intersubjective.
In other words -- and this is bobvious once you look at it -- human beings are intersubjective with ourselves. We are always in dialogue with an Other, and sometimes it is difficult to say which end of this relationship is more "us." I would say that neither side is, because we are again dealing with a fruitful complementarity, not a vicious duality.
Put it this way: if we weren't "two," we couldn't think. But if we weren't "one" underneath that, we couldn't actually know anything. So one might say that the One is revealed in the bipolar space between oneness and twoness, which we might call the psychic Third.
This third area is where it all goes down for human beings. It is the actual space we inhabit, only (for most people) projected out into the world and reified. This is why one jaded person can be "bored" with the world, while another sees it as an unrolling theophany, the very garment of divine being. Both are fundamentally interior states, apprehended externally.
Where I believe Fukuyama errs is in failing to appreciate the spiritual oneness that underlies our existential twoness. As he puts it, "it is in fact individualism and not sociability that developed over the course of human history. That individualism seems today like a solid core of our economic and political behavior is only because we have developed institutions that override our more naturally communal instincts."
This passage is fraught with potential economic and political mischief. For while it is correct to say that individualism (which is to say, colonization of the interior) evolves with time and history, Fukuyama implies that it is therefore completely contingent and historically conditioned, which would be the postmodern, ultramoronic view of the tenured.
I cannot emphasize enough the arbitrary and self-defeating nature of such a distorted view of human beings. Yet, it is so pervasive in academia and in culture, that we are in danger of revoking our essential humanness as a result.
Again: human beings are two (i.e., intersubjective) only because the subject (and ultimately the metacosmic Subject) is fundamentally one.
But the oneness of the subject cannot be known or thought about until it bifurcates into two, e.g., thoughts and thinker, conscious and unconscious, Father and Son, form and substance, Absolute and Infinite, space and time, etc. What evolves is not the "individual" per se; rather, what specifically evolves and deepens is the process, which, in my symbology, reduces to O ←→ (¶).
Now, since the ultimate purpose of life is, and can only be, the sat-chit-ananda, or being-consciousness-bliss, of O ←→ (¶), it stands to transrationality that the best political order will be the one that makes this possible, or at least gets out of the way and doesn't stifle or prevent it. It will be the political order that quite explicitly begins with the idea that all men are equally endowed by their Creator with the liberty to pursue their happiness, which is again rooted in some form of matterimanyall engagement with the Real, i.e, O ←→ (¶).
This is why human life is uniquely and cosmically worthwhile, and why the state's first duty is therefore to protect it. Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness = Being Consciousness Bliss, deusrespectively.
The main purpose of the state is to accomplice things we cannot accomplish on an individual basis, which is to say, smack down all the deviants who wish to deny the human reason for being, either through physical or intellectual or spiritual violence.
Obviously, as Cosmo-Americans, we cannot support any state which undermines the explicitly spiritual assumptions of our having brought this great nation into being before its beginning (for in our end is our beginning, and vice versa). If the purpose of America isn't to facilitate the Adventure of Consciousness, then for what Good is it in the ultimate scam of things?
I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth. --John Adams
Nevertheless, I'm not completely close-minded on the matter. Liberals do make an articulate and passionate case for a contrary view.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Two Tribes, Two Dreams, One Dreamer
Trying to locate the "origins of political order" is a bit like trying to remember the beginning of a dream -- which ain't gonna happen. We never remember the beginning of a dream. Rather, we somehow find ourselves in the middle of one, and no matter how many times it happens, we're always surprised and more or less puzzled to be there. You know, like life. WTF are we doing here?!
It is exactly the same with the origins of politics, which must be coterminous with the origins of humanness. There is no humanness without some kind of psycho-political and pneuma-political order.
For just as kinship and tribal structures are the politics of early man, politics as we know it is the tribal structure of modern man. What are liberal and conservative but two different tribes? Hence the primitive emotionality that is unleashed as a result.
There are two ways we can approach the problem. Indeed, one might even say that there are two tribes who approach the problem in alternate ways. Fukuyama clearly belongs to the tribe that believes in rationalism and naturalistic explanations, which is fine. I never question another guy's faith.
But what if politics is actually the unfolding instantiation of something higher -- not just a complicated way for monkeys to organize themselves, but an ingression of cosmic principles?
For while Fukuyama shows a certain respect for the other tribe, he repeatedly lets on that he doesn't really take our orientation seriously, and automatically translates our beliefs into his language.
For example, our tribe sees a direct link between the unique emergence of individualism in the West, and Christianity's emphasis on the infinite value of the individual. Fukuyama, to his credit, acknowledges this historical reality -- which already places him miles above the multicultural crowd -- but then ascribes it to material/efficient causes.
Fukuyama begins his search for the Origin with our prehuman ancestors. Here again, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, and much to admire and learn from -- indeed, I did the same thing in my own book.
But there is a massive difference between saying that man came from the apes as opposed to through them. For just because humanness emerges in a modified ape brain, it hardly means that this trivial change was sufficient to account for the vast differences.
In Fukuyama's tribe, they point to the "one percent difference" in the genome between man and chimp. In our tribe, we point to the same one percent to show the relative insignificance of DNA in distinguishing man from ape.
Perhaps that one percent doesn't constrain but permits. After ninety-nine Noes! that keep consciousness plunged in the body and merged with the senses, a single Yes! liberates it out into the infinite.
It very much reminds us of that otherwise undistinguished novel, Little Big, which depicts the world as a series of concentric circles, with Reality at the center.
However, unlike in the wideawake world of Aristotelean geometry, in this case, the closer one penetrates toward the center, the more expansive the world, until one reaches the Absolute center which is simultaneously Infinite circumference.
In the profane world of geometry, each successive circle becomes more cramped. But with sacred geometry, each world is more expansive. Thus, in the unsane mathsemantics of our tribe, 1% = ∞; or, to put it anauthor's way, ʘ and O are "not two" (which is also why we can in principle know anything that is knowable).
In our view, the naturalist tribe can only pretend to understand how man managed to climb over the Monkey Wall, and can only devalue what lies on its other side -- the human side, which is to say, the divine/human side.
Their origin myth is no better than ours, and in fact, considerably more primitive and implausible, for it is forever constrained to explain the Greater via the Lesser. In this myth, truth must somehow be a function of truthlessness, consciousness of matter, life of chemistry, and politics of ape warfare.
The irony is that our tribe is expansive enough to easily accommodate theirs (with wombs to spare), whereas theirs necessarily denies ours.
This is a critical distinction, for our tribe believes in complementarity, while theirs believes in duality. For us there is a complementarity between science and spirit, whereas for their tribe there is only a duality that ultimately reduces to science. And for us, the complementarity always points to its resolution "above," while for them it is simply abolished by pulling it down below.
Which is a funny thing for a liberated monkey to do, for it is a little like escaping back into the zoo. But we are all acquainted with monkeys -- indeed, they are everywhere! -- who prefer chained security to a liberty which is simply "nothing" if not "everything."
And in the absence of spiritual awakening and guidance, liberty is indeed nothing, just as the existentialists say it is. Better to beat a hasty retreat back into matter, where we can at least cash in our chimps and be a king of nothingness.
A hopelessly wayward, eccentric, and willful member of our tribe, James Joyce, attempted the same thing as Fukuyama in his Finnegans Wake, but what a difference! And which approach is more "true?" That is one of the questions we will explore as we go along. (I should emphasize that we have barely even touched on Fukuyama's book, so you should reserve any odium until we have at least given him the podium.)
For Joyce, our origins are obscure, to be sure. But he treats the obscurity as a positive presence rather than a mere "absence." As with a dream, just because it is obscure hardly means that it doesn't have its own logic. It's just different than ours, and if we try to apply our daytime logic to it, we will either be misled or generate absurdity.
For one thing, the Dreamer is bigger and more powerful than the ego. The ego cannot really compete on its playing field, for the same reason that a child, no matter how brilliant a prodigy, will never be a literary genius. The ego going up against the Dreamer is like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon.
In describing the obscure style of Finnegans Wake, Joyce said that "It's natural things should not be so clear at night, isn't it now?" It is a book about the night, veiled in darkness, and attempting to express the truth of the night in the idiom of darkness.
To not remember one's dreams -- or at least not know that one dreams -- is analogous to not knowing that man ceases to be ape when he begins to dream -- or, when he crosses the threshold into the world of the Dreamer. The dream cannot be reduced to mere neurology without putting us back to sleep, swaddled in the animal carcass of our tenured furbears.
"What we have rashly labeled a dream, then, might more accurately be called the 'murmury' of a dream. And since all such dreams occur to us -- literally -- when we wake up and assume our conscious capacity to 'remumble' them, to articulate to ourselves in 'murmury,' traducing them in the process, they will help only some in allowing us to know what really happened in the clearer few minutes of the dark half-hour that we wished, in detail, to reconstruct" (Bishop).
Thus, in trying to locate the "origins of politics," we must simultaneously remumble and remurmur a collective dream. Casting the floodlight of reason on the nighttime of the Dreamer is like beating a drum while chasing a criminal.
Two tribes, two dreams.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
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.
Monday, April 18, 2011
You Shall Not Turn Stones into Government Cheese
He adds that this last petition is not for his sake -- since he no longer has that particular weakness -- but "for the ones whom we have left behind." He has this, er, friend who, you know, kind of has problems in that area.
The latter souls trudge around in circles with weights on their backs, hoping to purge themselves of the world's impurities -- or, the terrestrial impurities they have assimilated and internalized.
"Lead us not into temptation" has obvious resonance with Jesus' forty days in the desert, just after his baptism. If baptism is the "purification," then temptation is the test of purity.
And as we have discussed before, the adversary never forces the issue; he does not operate through coercion, like some mid-level government functionary, but through temptation.
Temptation is the test of purity, and purity is the victory over temptation. The purifying "fire" that occurs in the space between these two poles is our phoenishing school, so long as you make ashes of yourselves.
Temptation is etymologically related to stretch, so that it implies a kind of centrifugal pulling of ourselves outward, from the center to the periphery, from cooncentration ("coon central") to dissipation. The world itself is a giant test, an opportunity to challenge our ability to resist its seductions.
According to Pope Benedict, Jesus' time in the desert is not for his sake per se, but for ours, both as archetype and as mission.
Jesus has to plunge down "into the drama of human existence, for that belongs to the core of his mission; he has to penetrate it completely, down to its uttermost depths.... He must recapitulate the whole history from its beginnings -- from Adam on; he must go through the whole of it, in order to transform it."
To put it another way, Jesus must retake the test that Adam FAILED, and this time obtain a passing grade. Please note that this is not so much a recapitulation of horizontal history as of the vertical history that is lived -- or relived -- by every man.
You might say that Jesus needs to come down and find out the exact nature of the problem by actually experiencing -- and undergoing -- it.
We are all dropped into history, just like Jesus. Indeed, if we weren't so dropped, then Jesus' own plunge into history 1O1 would have no meaning for us. For Man is the best judge of where his shoe pinches, and Jesus aims to walk a mile in our crockosins.
But Jesus skips the multitude of middlemen -- the multifarious manifestations of maya -- and goes straight to the source, for that is just the way He rolls. This way he can reduce the whole existentialida to a more digestible three-entree combo plate, confront the "quintessential human drama," and get on with it.
Benedict reminds us that the synoptics recount "three temptations of Jesus that reflect the inner struggle over his own particular mission," but simultaneously go to the question of "what truly matters in life."
Appropriately, the temptations all ultimately flow from the violation of the first Commandment, in which God is pushed aside "as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying."
With this primordial "act," man inverts the cosmos and places himself at the top, thus replacing the Abbasolute with a middling relativity. Doing so redounds to countless errors of every kind, e.g., cognitive, spiritual, philosophical, political, scientific, moral, etc.
This cosmic inversion cannot fail to result in epic falls, for no house can be built upon sand. In replacing God with man, we necessarily replace truth with opinion, virtue with convention, beauty with pleasure, and wisdom with tenure.
Now, "forty days" has a number of resonances, perhaps most especially the forty days Moses spent on Sinai and the forty years the ancient Israelights stumbled around in the bewilderness.
According to Ratzinger, this cosmic number is another symbolic hint that we are dealing with a totality -- with man's entire cosmic exodus and return, i.e, History as such.
Or, one might say that History has become derailed, and Jesus' mission is to get it back on track -- or at least show us where man has buried his tracks.
The three temptations of course have an exterior and interior meaning. They involve, 1) turning stones to bread, 2) taking a flying leap, and 3) the promise of worldly power and prestige.
Do we need to repeat the verticalisthenic exergesis? These three have so many dimensions and implications, that it would be difficult to explore them all in the space of a post. Besides, I believe we have discussed these in the past, in the context of our card-by-card series of posts on MOTT.
One popular way to try to turn stones to bread is through the apparatus of the welfare state. In its case, it attempts to transform money obtained through coercion into compassion. But the state has only enumerated powers, not innumerable feelings.
In the case of, say, the Palestinians, it tries to turn money into civilization and common decency, and we see how that has worked out. It is the same with Africa. It may temporarily relieve the guilt -- and inflate the self-image -- of liberals, but that's about it. The liberal temptation is always to turn stones to bread in one form or another.
But this temptation is rooted in the prior rejection of God (temptation one) and the subsequent consolidation of power (temptation three). So it's all of a piece for the liberal statist, who stands as a vivid example of how to fail Adam's test. And why God wanted a Word with Mary, since Eve wouldn't listen.
Liberals even tendentiously interpret the First Amendment to say that it is illegal for the state to traffic in bread, or to even acknowledge its existence. Rather, it insists upon a radical separation of stones and bread.
Which perhaps might not be so destructive if it didn't then pretend that stones are bread. The liberal fuses magical faith and raw power with an irony so thick that his mind cannot penetrate it.
For the leftist, taxes are his eucharist and entitlements his benediction. His appeal to "progress" is likewise an empty gesture in a world deprived of hierarchy. For how does the materialist measure progress except in the form of more and bigger stones?
Which generations to come will carry on their backs, trundling around in fiscal circles.
Obama's temptation in the desert: "if you are truly the One, then transform this stolen pork into prosperity!" (via American Digest):