Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Only Cure for Cynicism is More Cynicism

In order for the modern liberal project to succeed, even the very idea of truth must be rejected and eliminated. If that sounds harsh or polemic, it is not intended to, not even remotely. For we too reject truth, the difference being that we eventually leave that stage and move on.

The above characterization of modern left-liberalism amounts to a banality, something any self-aware and intellectually honest man of the left should be able to recognize and acknowledge in himself -- even be proud of, for it is his creed and confession.

To put it another way, if the liberal cannot affirm his rejection of truth (or affirmation of relativism, which is the same thing), then he is living a lie. Oddly, we see his truth -- such as it is -- where he cannot.

To say "truth" is to say absolute, timeless, and universal. For example, James Madison affirmed that "the natural right of human beings to be governed only with their consent" is an "absolute truth" (quoted in Arkes).

Conversely, one of the most renowned liberal philosophers, Richard Rorty, says that "truth is not the sort of thing one should expect to have a philosophically interesting theory about." Rather, "'truth' is just the name of a property which all true statements share."

Similarly, good and evil do not exist in any objective manner. Rather, "certain acts" are "good ones to perform, under the circumstances," but there is nothing "general and useful to say about what makes them all good" (ibid.).

Now, that's an honest liberal, someone who makes no apologies for spending his life indulging in what Schuon calls the "esoterism of stupidity." And of course, if truth and virtue aren't more than mere conventions, or contingent properties of sentences and actions, then we are the ones engaged in an esoterism of stupidity.

To be sure, both of us cannot possibly be right. However, one wonders what it would mean for a man like Rorty to be "right," aside from saying that his sentences are grammatically correct.

From our perspective, Rorty was possessed of -- for he did not possess it -- an intellect that essentially sunk under the weight of its own irony and cynicism. As they say of the ironist, everything must be placed in quotes, e.g., "truth," "love," "virtue," etc. A relative of mine who died a few days ago was the same way. In his case, he was a well known University of Chicago historian. What I don't understand about these people is why they place so much innocent faith in their own cynicism, which is a kind of "negative capability" that dissolves truth like acid.

I understand the tendency, because in my experience it is something that most any intellectual will confront. The difference, at least in my case, is that I was 26 or 27 before I took the plunge into the Life of Mind, and worked a blue collar job until age 32, so I had some acquaintance with real life before encountering all the dangerous abstractions of the tenured, which tend to ensnare defenseless children when their heads are still full of mush, so they end up spending their whole lives in the liberal sandbox.

Later, by the age of 40, I made the explicit decision to turn away from that life, since I recognized that it was literally a kind of nothing that led nowhere. Yes, one could enjoy the retrograde thrill of doing battle with other infertile eggheads, or the misplaced pride in being an alpha smarty-pants, but even then not with any finality. As with fashion, there is always an arbitrary change of sensibilities around the corner.

Besides, my psychoanalytic training taught me that most people don't believe things because they're true, but because they want and even need to believe them. In this context, reason is just a tool one deploys to explain one's convictions in an a posteriori manner. Most people are living out impersonal myths that long precede them, and to the extent that the myth is not critically examined, one will carry it to the grave.

There is great profundity in Jesus' wise crack to the effect that we too should be as wise as serpents but innocent as doves. For me, the idea of being "wise as a serpent" immediately brings to mind cynicism. Yes, Jesus is counseling us to be cynical, but surely not as an end in itself. Rather, it is thoroughly tied in with the recovery of innocence, which properly lies on the other end of cynicism.

Perhaps an autobiographical example will help. Not mine, but Sri Aurobindo's (and I raise his example not to promulgate Vedanta, but first because it comes readily to mind, second because I believe that what he describes is universal, a kind of stage we must all pass through on the journey back to God).

Whatever else he was, little Auro was clearly a brilliant lad, educated at Cambridge, fluent in several languages, recipient of various academic prizes. But when he later turned to spiritual development, he came to a point that he saw through this game -- and it is a game -- first from a lateral, and then vertical, perspective. In a letter, he wrote that

"The capital period of my intellectual development was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone."

Now that I think about it, I had this experience quite vividly around the time I was working on my master's degree, during the last period of my life that I smoked marijuana. On the one hand, I was learning all this academic stuff which all the experts agreed one must know in order to call oneself a "psychologist."

However, the vast majority of it was only two or three hits away from being not just so many words, but utterly beside the point. Frankly it was more than a little frightening at first, because it is as if there really is no ground, and it was up to me to just choose one of these ideologies I was learning about. We all must face this abyss, which is the logical corollary of the cynic, in order to come out stronger and more robust at the other end.

It took Aurobindo some fourteen years "to travel the Western path" (referring to his education), and nearly as long to undo it, so to speak, a phenomenon with which most of my readers will be familiar, assuming they've been the recipient of a liberal soulwash via public education.

But one way or another, "All developed men, those who get beyond the average," must somehow "separate the two parts of the mind, the active part which is a factory of thoughts, and the quiet masterful part which is at once a Witness and a Will, observing them, judging, rejecting, eliminating, accepting," etc. If you fail to accomplish this (assuming you are the thinking type), you will likely end up a mere laborer in a thought factory, where, as the saying goes, you must publish or perish, and then perish anyway.

The next step will also be familiar to One Cosmos readers, the encounter with a Truth that "is not an expression of ideas arrived at by speculative thinking." Rather, one must apprehend spiritual truth "through experience and a consciousness of things which arises directly out of that experience or else underlies or is involved in it." It is a recognition and a discovery, not a deduction or analysis.

You will have noticed that our ʘCD troll always comes at us from a perspective that is simultaneously bitterly cynical and childishly naive, the latter of which is but a counterfeit form of innocence. No matter how many times we say it, he cannot grasp that we have been where he is, that we are intimately familiar with that plane of consciousness, and that we ultimately found it both cramped and inadequate.

If one takes the long view of man, I believe one will see something like the following: a kind of original immersion in mythological subjectivism, followed by a gradual awakening (at least in the Christian West) to an objective apprehension of the exterior world (which sees the first stage as hopelessly childish), followed by a return to, and recovery of, our original position, only now able to assimilate "the world" (in the scientific sense) into its grand meta-mythos. In a way, it's like thesis-antithesis-synthesis, in this case, of cosmos, man, and God.

For Joseph Campbell, "the first function of mythology is to awaken and maintain in the individual a sense of wonder and participation in the mystery of this finally inscrutable universe." And in our day, "the old notion of a once-upon-a-time First Cause [in the linear or horizontal sense] has given way to something more like an immanent ground of being, transcendent of conceptualization [i.e., beyond the reach of cynicism], which is in a continuous act of creation now."

I don't know that anyone could put it better than John Scottus Eriugena, who wrote that "the universal goal of the entire creation is the Word of God. Thus both the beginning and the end of the world subsist in God's word," which is "the manifold end without end and the beginning without beginning, being without beginning save for the Father."

And the way to this realization is "to be purged from all ignorance, illuminated by all wisdom, and perfected by all deification," for, in the words of Balthasar "fulfillment of the creature within the world's terms is unthinkable." Thus, it takes a hopeless cynic to vanquish the secretly hopeful cynic.

15 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Richard Rorty, says that "truth is not the sort of thing one should expect to have a philosophically interesting theory about."

Holy smokes - really? If you can't say anything philosophically interesting about truth, what can you possibly have to say about anything? At least he's forthright about it, though...

2/22/2012 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Rorty's position is pervasive. At last year's office Christmas party I mentioned to a colleague that truth exists and may be known, and he looked at me as if I were a poisonous snake egg about to hatch.

2/22/2012 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

You see, a politically correct psychologist helps the patient discover his own truth, not to discover truth.

2/22/2012 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Oh, good point. Truth is far too inconvenient for the PC psychologist.

2/22/2012 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

"Later, by the age of 40, I made the explicit decision to turn away from that life, since I recognized that it was literally a kind of nothing that led nowhere. Yes, one could enjoy the retrograde thrill of doing battle with other infertile eggheads, or the misplaced pride in being an alpha smarty-pants, but even then not with any finality. As with fashion, there is always an arbitrary change of sensibilities around the corner. "

Yes, a problem is that you can't actually win. You can only travel around and around on the Wheel of Fortune until you get motion sickness.

2/22/2012 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

"I understand the tendency, because in my experience it is something that most any intellectual will confront. The difference, at least in my case, is that I was 26 or 27 before I took the plunge into the Life of Mind, and worked a blue collar job until age 32, so I had some acquaintance with real life before encountering all the dangerous abstractions of the tenured, which tend to ensnare defenseless children when their heads are still full of mush, so they end up spending their whole lives in the liberal sandbox."

I never really spent much time wandering around the moral good of relativistic liberal world.

I just kind of looked at a lot of them and realized they were morons.


So, I really like the phrase "esoterism of stupidity".

2/22/2012 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Similarly, good and evil do not exist in any objective manner. Rather, "certain acts" are "good ones to perform, under the circumstances," but there is nothing "general and useful to say about what makes them all good" (ibid.)."

AKA: Pragmatism.

No Right, no Wrong... and no Rights.

2/22/2012 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

If Jesus had not been as "wise as [that] serpent" I don't think He would have been able to resist that crafty bugger in the desert. He saw through every temptation.

2/22/2012 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Most people are living out impersonal myths that long precede them, and to the extent that the myth is not critically examined, one will carry it to the grave.

I just wanted to see that again.

I agree, Rick. Too many of the "good" people fail to recognize the evil. It says in another passage (John 2:24-25) that Jesus did not entrust Himself to anyone because He knew all people and "knew what was in man".

This is yet another indication that Jesus was the original Missourian.

2/22/2012 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

I feel a song coming on!
"One Cosmos,
One special cosmos
One Cosmos to go with
And talk with And walk with
One Cosmos
That's the way it should be
Yeah, yeah!
That's the way it should be
One Cosmos
One certain Cosmos
One Cosmos
to laugh with
To jump with
Have Coke with
One Cosmos
Not two or three"

2/22/2012 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Frankly it was more than a little frightening at first, because it is as if there really is no ground, and it was up to me to just choose one of these ideologies I was learning about. We all must face this abyss, which is the logical corollary of the cynic, in order to come out stronger and more robust at the other end."

In utter words: hit or abyss.

2/22/2012 09:39:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Gagdad Bob said...
You see, a politically correct psychologist helps the patient discover his own truth, not to discover truth."

I had my very own truth's once.

Then, one day, I realized those truth's were lies.

Okay, scratch that. Once the realization hit me and I recognized the extent I went to justify my excuses...I mean truth's, that was literally a fall on my knees moment.

Relative truth is enticing and convenient for those who wanna get their freak on, but in the end it's a freakin' freak I saw in the mirror and all I could manage to think is "my God! I'm a goddamn fool!"

I swear it was the face of the Joker starin' back at me.

Quite a wake up call.

2/22/2012 09:51:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Once you realize yer an idjit you can git down to business.

Skully, Fillosofer

2/22/2012 09:57:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

and that we ultimately found it both cramped and inadequate.

See, that right there is my experience. Why settle for so much less that you cease to have room to exist?

I need a big Cosmos, a bigger God, a grander Truth.

2/23/2012 08:08:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

In utter words: hit or abyss.

Ben, you're awesome!

2/23/2012 08:19:00 AM  

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