Friday, May 25, 2012

Paradise Lost and Found

At least in the Christianized west, it seems that we are all, religious and secular alike, influenced by the implicit idea that time has a particular shape and direction. This form runs from paradise to time to paradise; or from being to existence to being; or from eternity to time to eternity; or absolute to relative to absolute; or, we could just leave it unsaturated and symbolize it P1 --> T --> P2.

The form is quite simple, but people insert different content into it. With this scheme, one can see, for example, that Marxism (and progressivism more generally) is simply a Christian heresy. Nonetheless, it is clearly Christian. It's certainly not pagan or Buddhist or Hindu or Islamic.

And although the form is simple, any number of variations can occur. Just off the top of my head I can think of a big one that might be symbolized: P1 --> T --> P1. In this absurcular situation, there is a push for "progress" back into the state of infantile omnipotence and entitlement. But enough about the Democratic party.

Other variations include the P1 --> T <-- P2 (see below), P1 <-- T (the solution of most primitive, ahistorical, and pre-Judeo-Christian cultures which idealize the past and regard time as purely dissipative and corrosive), and plain old T, which would be the existential/scientistic variant, somehow devoid of both immanence and transcendence; it ultimately reduces to ø.

You could say that the P1 --> T --> P2 journey reflects psychological development, in particular, the vicissitudes of attachment, separation, and individuation. We begin life merged with the m-other, and only gradually separate from this edenic state in order to find out "who we are," as we encounter the vagaries of the wider world.

This wider world is fraught with peril, just like a dark and stormy night and other cliches. Again, there is being and there is existence, and the world is associated with the latter. As Voegelin writes, there has never been a time that man hasn't been aware of the perils of existence, at least prior to the 1960s, since which time we have seen a concerted effort to deny the problems of existence, partly because we have been so successful in mitigating them.

To back up a bit, the list of evils in this world "has been familiar since antiquity," and includes "poverty, sickness, death, the necessity for work, and sexual problems," to which we might add war and governance, i.e., the tyranny of the state. These are not things we would have chosen if given our druthers, but there they are and there they shall remain.

Except for the political gnostic. It hardly takes a genius to imagine a world without these things, but it is a characteristic of the gnostic to "draw up a comparatively lucid picture of the desirable condition" while being "concerned only vaguely with the means of bringing it about." This desirable condition has never existed, and never will exist, existence being what it is.

Well, it has existed, but only back in P1. One of the reasons we have children and love having children is that they remind us of P1, and allow us to relive it, so to speak. Indeed, our primary job as parents -- certainly prior to the age of seven or so -- is to protect P1 from impingement from the world, or in other words, to protect our child's innocence of same (in-nocens implying the pre-lapsarian state of being without knowledge of good and evil).

For Voegelin, man always lives in this ambiguous area between paradises, so to speak. Note that we can deny P2, but this will by no means eliminate it. If man were truly to eradicate all notions of P2, he would sink beneath himself and revert to animalism. Others pretend to deny it while trying to force it, which is another characteristic of the gnostic: there's no such thing as paradise, and we're gonna create it right here on earth!

Man always lives in the light -- or shadow -- of this "third realm," which "is in fact a ruling symbol in the self-understanding of modern society." Nor should we any longer be surprised at the regular appearance of political pests who attempt to bring P2 "into existence by revolutionary action." (Think OWS.)

As there is a new world associated with P2, so too is there a new man to go along with it. These are the übermenschenables, the very ones we've been waiting for.

This is a variant of the messiah principle (we are not using this in a Christian context, but more an anthropological one), and the messiah appears in different guises, depending upon the needs of the day. In the past, he was generally associated with war and conquest, but nowadays we tend to think of him as The Man With All the Answers.

For example, Voegelin writes of "a German and Italian literature in which Hitler and Mussolini are at times glorified as the leaders foretold by Dante." In any event, "the process by which the superman is created is closely related to the movement of the spirit," whereby mystics "drew into themselves the substance of God and transformed themselves into the 'godded man,' the divinized man."

This pattern becomes pneumapathological when applied to politics; it might be symbolized P1 --> T <-- P2. Through it, O is "brought back from [the] beyond into the human soul.... the divine substance is reincorporated in man, and man becomes superman."

Again, there are different types of superman, including the progressivist superman, the positivist superman, and the "Dionysian superman of Nietzsche," which is more fun than the first two, at least as long as it lasts.

Voegelin detects a new variety of superman in western history, the secular intellectual "who knows the formula for salvation from the misfortunes of the world and can predict how world history will take its course in the future." The weather hysterics would fall into this category.

Of course, predicting stuff is hard, especially the future. Thus, forget about Obama's old four-year plan. Let's focus on the new one. P2 is just around the corner.

But here's something the political gnostic doesn't know: "in truth the hereafter is far nearer than the future," for the Eternal is "found at the heart of all temporal development," and is precisely that "which gives it life and direction" (de Lubac). This is the only progress that always and truly is.

4 Comments:

Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

How not to protect children's innocence: Trayvon Martin Day declared at D.C. elementary school.

5/25/2012 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"As Voegelin writes, there has never been a time that man hasn't been aware of the perils of existence, at least prior to the 1960s, since which time we have seen a concerted effort to deny the problems of existence, partly because we have been so successful in mitigating them."

I've been wondering something off & on, which seems unlikely and yet impossible not to be true, but keeps coming up. People, smart people, like the fellow in the TedTalk link here, repeatedly discuss matter as if it has conscious properties, while all the while denying that consciousness is anything other than an illusion... how aware do you think they are of their own awareness?

Look at how he discusses his chemistry experiments here,
"...In this protocell model, it's just an oil droplet, but a chemical metabolism inside that allows this protocell to use energy to do something, to actually become dynamic, as we'll see here. You add the droplet to the system. It's a pool of water, and the protocell starts moving itself around in the system. Okay? Oil droplet forms through self-assembly, has a chemical metabolism inside so it can use energy, and it uses that energy to move itself around in its environment..."

The anthropomorphic assumption in "starts moving itself around" is blatant, though it is one that he denies to himself... what is that?! His 'protocell' does not 'move itself around', there is nothing more than complex chemical reactions being observed, by him, which he anthropomorphizes a 'self' to, but there is no 'itself' being moved about in it, any more than there is when a piece of paper ash wafts up into the air in a bonfire, there is no anima in there, though he seemingly unconsciously 'sees' it there, yet entirely misses it in the mirror (Julie's comment from the end of yesterday's post, comes to mind)!

Do you think that this person, and the others like him, are conscious of themselves in the way that we are consciously conscious during the normal course of the day, in the way that enables one of us to engage in thoughts throughout the day, such as,

"At least in the Christianized west, it seems that we are all, religious and secular alike, influenced by the implicit idea that time has a particular shape and direction."

,?

Do they ignore it? Repress it? Do they do so, so habitually, that they are no longer conscious of it... or is it a case that they just have never... 'been born from above' and actually never, ever, have thoughts of self in such a way as we take for granted?

I can't quite imagine that... but I find it even harder to admit the level of corruption that must be present in a person to be aware of yourself, and consciously... not just deny it, but violently seek to expunge yourself from yourself.

Just baffles the bejeebers outta me.

5/25/2012 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

Bob, this is long overdue - thank you for providing me a place to think.

5/25/2012 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

One of the reasons we have children and love having children is that they remind us of P1, and allow us to relive it, so to speak.

Speaking of which, Lileks had some apropos remarks today:

"If I told Natalie I was watching the Pooh movie she would say, and I can quote with certainty, “Gosh Dad.” She would know why I was watching it: the animation, my own love of the characters, but also the occasional longing for Those Days. Not mine. Hers. The two of us right here in the family room in the morning, winter howling outside, the fire crackling in the fireplace, her bent over her computer playing the Pooh Preschool game. Childhood is the 100 Acre Wood."

5/25/2012 10:23:00 PM  

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