Thursday, May 10, 2012

Rules for Radicals and Nostrums for Gnostics

As mentioned a few posts back, what is especially interesting about Voegelin's writings on modern political Gnosticism is his attempt to trace the phenomenon back to antiquity, and to outline the continuity between premodern "religious" and modern "political" varieties.

If he is correct on this score, this would have to represent the ultimate rebuke to self-styled progressives, who are perpetually building a bridge to the past -- and not even a real past, but rather, a myth-drenched one. Indeed, they are building a bridge to the lower vertical, which anyone can see by the primitive behavior of the Wall Street occupiers.

Superficially Voegelin's approach makes sense, since man = man everywhere and everywhen, and must be vulnerable to the same temptations and stupidities from age to age, even, or perhaps especially, when we imagine we have transcended them -- the tendency toward idolatry being one obvious and enduring example. Envy would be another. Each age finds a new way to legitimize what is called constitutional (i.e., innate) envy.

Man is man for at least three reasons. First, we share a common genetic heritage. Second, we all have a rational soul. And third, our existential conditions do not change, at least at the center: mother, father, brother, sister, love, death, loss, illness, need, children, mystery, etc.

For example, we have extended the average lifespan, but we nevertheless live in the shadow of death. We imagine ourselves to be "sexually liberated," but that hardly resolves the conundrum of human sexuality. We live more comfortably than the nobility of old, but this only fuels envy.

For this reason, there always have been, and always will be, cosmic snake oil salesmen who promise a cure for existence. But there are no cures for existence short of death. There is treatment, to be sure -- more on which later -- but no final cure in this life. We must learn to live amidst a welter of tensions, trade-offs, enigmas, reversals of fortune, raw deals, blown saves, buzzer beaters, etc.

The would-be Gnostic simply cannot accept the conditions of existence. He refuses to admit that they are "in the nature of things," and imagines that they are caused by some willful and systemic malevolence.

For example, the ancient Gnostics theorized that this world was created by a kind of renegade god, and that the snake in Genesis is the hero, not the villain of the story. The snake was simply trying to tell the humans to wise up to this fraudulent cosmic usurper.

Likewise, modern forms of political Gnosticism always require an easily identifiable enemy who is responsible for the unfairness and injustice of the world. Obama's mentor, Saul Alinsky, was very much aware of this need -- and I'm not one of those who (Gnostically!) overemphasizes his importance, as if he is the mystic key to understanding the Enigma of Obama; Alinsky simply articulated how radicals and revolutionaries think, and what they always do anyway.

Indeed, in the book's epigraph, Alinsky is self-aware enough to give an ironic shout out to Lucifer himself, as "the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins -- or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom" (emphasis mine).

However, Alinsky was not self-aware enough to realize that his whole life revolved around conformity to this very mythic structure. Too ironic by half.

Note how the task of the community organizer is not to help people adjust to reality, but to fuel their messianic hopes that reality can be changed: "They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution" (Alinsky).

Thus, the goal of the organizer is to present a vague cure -- always vague, on pain of being recognized as magic -- for the very despair he provokes: "the organizer must begin the task of agitating: rubbing resentments, fanning hostilities, and searching out controversy." This essentially involves "a process combining hope and resentment."

Regarding the latter, since human beings are so myth-prone and susceptible to simplistic and morally satisfying narratives, it is necessary to "pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." This is the person or organization responsible for our obviously f*cked up existence. It is the One Percent, Fox News, Hate Radio, Creationists, Corporate Greed, Stay-At-Home Moms, Right Wing Christians, Zionist Hoodlums, Institutional Racism, etc.

Perhaps I should emphasize that conservatives are prone to the same sort of Gnostic narratives. A real conservative should have no delusions about what would happen with even the ideal political and economic conditions, for he has vertical recollection of paradise lost.

To locate salvation in politics is a grave error on the right, but a sacred principle on the left. When Obama is dispatched to Chicago come November, I will feel only relief, not joy (beyond the momentary). To react otherwise is to not know the ways of the world. For starters, if you think Jimmy Carter is a nuisance...

Now, the revolutionary, since he has already determined that the existing order is a result of willful malevolence, has no compunction whatsoever about destroying it. This is a very dangerous form of pneumopathology, and it is precisely what motivates the Islamists.

For once one has determined that the world is evil, then it legitimizes and disinhibits any form of violence or cruelty. One can gleefully destroy the system -- with all the "collateral damage" it entails -- in good conscience.

This is about as far as man may descend in the cosmos, where death is conflated with life; and woe unto them who call evil good and good evil. Indeed, woe unto those who even call the-best-we-can-do-under-the-circumstances evil, for it is easy to make matters worse, and impossible to make them better without trade-offs, unintended consequences, and unaccountable feedback from human nature.

Here is how Voegelin describes it: "Self-salvation through knowledge has its own magic, and this magic is not harmless. The structure of the order of being will not change because one finds it defective and runs away from it. The attempt at world-destruction will not destroy the world, but will only increase the disorder in society."

See history for details.

To be continued....

17 Comments:

Blogger Van said...

"The would-be Gnostic simply cannot accept the conditions of existence. He refuses to admit that they are "in the nature of things," and imagines that they are caused by some systemic malevolence."

And through the magic of modern philosophy, they remake the world in their own image.

And they'd get away with it too, if it weren't for those pesky kids. It'd be an excellent plan... except that they have to do so from within reality, and no matter how many times you tell those children that what they gno, just isn't so, they still see the woe being pulled over their eyes, and say know.

5/10/2012 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Note how the task of the community organizer is not to help people adjust to reality, but to fuel their messianic hopes that reality can be changed...

Like alchemists of old (although it seems at least some of them were perfectly aware that they were seeking not so much a literal "lead to gold" transmutation, but rather human transcendence, the transformation of human dross to something approaching holiness). To the extent that they sought a literal transformation, they were bound to fail.

5/10/2012 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Yeah, so many of my college acquaintances are mini Saul Alinskies on Facebook. If they were doing it on purpose it would be slightly sinister, but they aren't - it's just sad.

5/10/2012 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Perhaps I should emphasize that conservatives are prone to the same sort of Gnostic narratives. A real conservative should have no delusions about what would happen with even the ideal political and economic conditions.

Yes, exactly. The best conditions provide opportunity, but there is never a guarantee of success. And bad things don't stop happening to good people. Anybody claiming otherwise is either delusional or a liar.

5/10/2012 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

For once one has determined that the world is evil, then it legitimizes and disinhibits any form of violence or cruelty. One can gleefully destroy the system -- with all the "collateral damage" it entails -- in good conscience.

This is one of the things that drove me away from Dispensational hermeneutics in evangelical Christianity. The world is fallen -- that's true. But God did not and will not cast it off. Rather He came to redeem it, and it has been and is being redeemed.

If you forget that, bad things happen. Too many Christians are looking for an escape rather than looking to Christ. And I'm guilty on occasion myself.

5/10/2012 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Sick but not dead.

5/10/2012 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Mushroom - very good point. I'm reminded of a couple of Christians I was loosely acquainted with during college: the first, a guy who bragged of maliciously tailgating anyone whose car had a "Darwin" fish on the bumper, the second a kid who unironically carried a "WWJD" key chain while bragging about smashing someone's camera at a party after they had the effrontery to take his picture. When I made a gentle but joking reference to his key chain, he was genuinely baffled that anyone would think his behavior out of line. Not sure if he justified it as "the world's fallen, so I can treat evil people any way I please," but the fact that there wasn't any sign of cognitive dissonance between how he acted and how he ought to have acted was rather startling.

5/10/2012 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Julie & Mush: Fr. Steve's take on this contradiction...

5/10/2012 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

Scientology is probably the modern "gnostic" cult par excellance, no?

In procedural terms, the opposite of "gnostic" is "catholic."

Maybe in other terms, too.

5/10/2012 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

Historians really try to throw their weight around, don't they. "Gnostic" is a "flawed category," etc. Well yes, if all you're interested in is making historical distinctions. Spare us the Hegelian tedium, gents...

I bet Irenaeus had it right historically, though: gnostics were reactionary, reductive, and were no more than an array of tempting dead-ends.

It's no wonder that our contemporary enemies want to see in them their own "progressive" precursors.

It all boils down to who gives enough enough license to make everything is permitted, short of saying something is "wrong" and exerting oneself in that belief.

Thus, gnosticisms are just useful idiots in the Grand Scheme of Central Planning by the Global Atheist Elite.

5/10/2012 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

Or some Global 'Religious' Elite, like some moronic Caliphate.

5/10/2012 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Thank you, River.

I benefited greatly from Father Stephen's "two-story" analogy when he wrote about it earlier. This is an enlightening addition.

5/10/2012 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger Cond0011 said...

@Mushroom

"The world is fallen -- that's true. But God did not and will not cast it off. Rather He came to redeem it, and it has been and is being redeemed. "

It is hard to desire to fix a broken system - especially if it was your pride and joy. Why not throw it away and start again?

The ISSUE is NOT the system around you... not the buildings nor neighborhood nor society you live in, but YOU. You.

----

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling


http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/if/

----

To reiterate, the issue is YOU - not what you have built (or created).

Afterall, you can always make more.
(how else can a cook make a masterpiece, have it consumed, and do it again the next day?)

G_d sets a good example.

5/11/2012 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger Cond0011 said...

Hmmm... a bit oblique, I suppose.

How about this:

You may shape a piece of art, but the process of its creation also shapes you. One more step into the light.

5/11/2012 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger Cond0011 said...

"You may shape a piece of art, but the process of its creation also shapes you. "

'The Entrepreneur' (Sculpture)
http://artafterlife.com/heaven/dallison/theentrepreneur.html

5/12/2012 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Coond0011, a less... whiney (?) version of the same theme.
Self Made Man

5/12/2012 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger Cond0011 said...

ahahaaa. Nice.

5/13/2012 05:57:00 AM  

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