Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Obama, First President of the USA (Unthinking Swarm of the Alienated)

This book of essays by Eric Voegelin is provoking some of the most intense reading I've ever done.

It's not that it's especially difficult per se (although he's not an easy read), but rather, that it's too rich, too full of implications to digest in more than small portions. It's as if one must pause after every paragraph in order to note the implications. One of the purposes of posting about these experiences is to explicate, metabolize, and assimilate the unThought implications -- or chew, swallow, and digest.

Note the word "experiences." Right away this should alert one to the fact that this involves a very different kind of reading, because a book that provokes experiential knowledge is quite different from one that conveys knowledge only, as do most works of nonfiction. In our symbolism, it is the difference between (k) and (n).

But one can't just leave it there, because the metabolism of (n) calls into play a different part of the being. This we call (¶). It is fair to say that Voegelin's whole project -- all 34 volumes -- revolves around the development of (¶). In fact, as we shall see, a true philosopher -- a lover of wisdom -- is none other than (¶). His polar opposite in the phase space of being would be (T), or tenureman.

Indeed, Voegelin has a lot to say about (T), none of it flattering but all of it memorable. It alone provides some fine insultainment.

For example, he wrote in 1973 of how philosophy -- which inquires into the nature of man in perpetual tension with the divine ground -- has been displaced by a banal "climate of opinion," and of how the changed climate of our universities "is hostile to the life of reason." However, "not every man is agreeable to having his nature formed by the 'climate,' or, as it is sometimes called, the 'age.'"

Recall that what we call (•) -- the empirical ego, more or less -- is precisely the part of us that is "shaped by the environment." Conversely -- or complementarily -- (¶) is shaped by encounters with the ground of being. The former is local, the latter nonlocal (and therefore timeless).

Thus, it is not so much that we eliminate (•), which we couldn't do anyway so long as we are in the world (the latter of which includes the material body). But nor should we call upon (•) to explore the nature of being, because to do so is to ask it to do something it was never designed to accomplish -- like asking the feet to grasp objects or the hands to chew food.

Thus, a modern university education "is the art of adjusting people so solidly to the climate of opinion prevalent at the time that they feel no 'desire to know." It is "the art of preventing people from acquiring the knowledge that would enable them to articulate the questions of existence." Predictably, this form of miseducation pressures "young people into a state of alienation that will result in either quiet despair or aggressive militancy."

If you think about it for a couple of seconds, I believe you will agree that Obama is our first president to have been exposed to nothing other than this soul-deadening climate of elite opinion, which is why he has no desire to know, no ability to formulate questions outside this peculiar climate, and a strident and militant agenda that fundamentally appeals to the "alienated," of which he is the leader.

Truly, Obama is president of the USA: Unthinking Swarm of the Alienated. The OWS movement is what an unthinking swarm of the auto-alienated looks like. And smells like.

The alienation is real, they're just confused about the source. After all, the material ego (•) cannot perceive or understand any reality that isn't material, hence the blind transformation of alienation into a material construct. Thus, they wish to occupy "Wall Street," not reality. This is a quintessential example of the superimposition of a second reality over the first -- of ø over O.

This is why the reactionary left cannot help but reduce all existential questions to (bad and dysfunctional) economics. But "even the spiritually and intellectually underpriviliged who live by the bread of opinion alone" know that something is wrong.

However, they are powerless to name it: "the educational institutions have cut them off from the life of reason so effectively that they cannot articulate the causes of their legitimate unrest." This closed and static pattern aggravates their pneumapathology, the only cure for which is an open psyche (nous or pneuma) in contact with the ground of being, O.

There is too much here for me to digest or even organize at this point, so I think I'll just review some of the essays, beginning with one called Immortality: Experience and Symbol. In it Voegelin discusses one of his key principles of religion, which is that the latter begins in religious experience that is codified via symbolism.

Thus, "the symbols in question intend to convey a truth experienced," or (n). Unlike conventional symbols -- i.e., (k) -- they "are not concepts referring to objects existing in time and space but carriers of a truth about nonexistent reality." As such, the symbols are meant to facilitate "a consciousness of participation in nonexistent reality."

And when he says "nonexistent," he doesn't of course mean "unreal," but rather, immaterial and transcendent. For example, the statement "all men are created equal" is not derived from any empirical observation, but is nonetheless real and true for all time. And it is true even if no one has discovered it, or if people have forgotten it.

One of Voegelin's great concerns is what happens when the reality from which the symbols derive their meaning has "disappeared." To be perfectly accurate, this reality -- O -- obviously cannot disappear.

But the symbols can lose their metaphysical translucency, especially when they are overly reified in such a way that they exclude experience of the engendering reality that brought them about. Then religious symbolism becomes a kind of empty shell, or shadow of itself.

But this is not the last indignity suffered by Truth.

For when "misunderstood as propositions referring to things in the manner of propositions concerning objects of sense perception" (k), this provokes "the reaction of skepticism" which runs the gamut from hysterical atheist revivalism to "vulgarian agnosticism" to "the smart idiot questions of 'How do you know?' and 'How can you prove it?' that every college teacher knows from his classroom" and every pneumablogger knows from his trolls.

To be continued for, oh, about six months....

14 Comments:

Blogger JP said...

Were you talking about this Voegelin guy before and I missed it?

Because I just came across the Eric Vogelin Study Page and said "this guy at least sounds interesting."

Not the guy who had the webpage.

Vogelin sounded interesting.

http://watershade.net/ev/

He has some Voegelin links.

So, my point is that this seems to be appropriate material for the book club.

7/17/2012 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I've discussed Voegelin before, including in the book. But only now am I really immersing myself in his body of work, and it is quite shocking how much his worldview is in accord with mine. More on which as we proceed.

7/17/2012 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's also helping me sharpen a number of concepts to more effectively slice & dice with them.

7/17/2012 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

(Referring of course to the yoinking of the legendary sword of the stoned philosopher which we shove into the breadbasket of metaphysical ignorance and tenure.)

7/17/2012 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Then religious symbolism becomes a kind of empty shell, or shadow of itself.

This is one point where Catholicism does better. As a whole, evangelicals do not understand "... discerning the body ..." (1 Corinthians 11:29).

7/17/2012 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I am having trouble posting through the firewall. What I meant to say was, with regard to Communion, Catholicism gets closer to right.

7/17/2012 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Six months? Oh, good - that gives me plenty of time to not catch up! This looks like a promising path...

7/17/2012 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Thus, a modern university education "is the art of adjusting people so solidly to the climate of opinion prevalent at the time that they feel no 'desire to know." It is "the art of preventing people from acquiring the knowledge that would enable them to articulate the questions of existence." Predictably, this form of miseducation pressures "young people into a state of alienation that will result in either quiet despair or aggressive militancy."

So horribly true. And I've found that that militancy can be for either the leftist side or the other. If the other, it takes some talking to, to reawaken that 'desire to know', to get them to see themselves as more than simply being on the 'not left' side of things and instead moving back over towards the Right side.

Interesting how the 'desire to win' can blot out the 'desire to know'.

7/17/2012 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger chris m said...

I'm following along. Just don't have much to say. Looking forward to reading what you have to say.

7/17/2012 09:50:00 PM  
Blogger chris m said...

Okay, maybe I do. I go to the link for the Vogelin essays and it says he was born in Cologne, Germany. Interestingly enough I have a pictures of the Cologne Cathedral, in every room in my little house, since it is my most favorite cathedral, and I used to jump on the train running from Darmstadt to Koeln, just to pay homage to the Koelner Dom ( Cologne cathedral). You can't grow up in the shadow of the Dom and not be affected by it, is my contention.

7/17/2012 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger chris m said...

Sorry about the grammar. Can I claim Germisch?

7/17/2012 10:02:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

It always interests me that young people coming to literature, for example, tend to talk about characters as if they were real people, and stories as if they had morals. In short, they were enmeshed in the material and had a hard time "distancing" themselves from it in order to engage in "critical thinking" about its nature as an artifice. My colleagues took this wrenching away from the personal and the moral (alienation?) as their first duty as teachers. All else would be consequent to that. In many ways, I agree with them. It's important to be able to step back from language and stories -- the land o' Lakoffs -- in order not to be taken in unawares. Plus, you can thereby learn how things are put together, perhaps with a view toward putting them together yourself as a writer.

But the problem is that many professors in literature departments *do not want students ever to reconnect personally and morally to certain stories.* Doing so would not be scholarly, and encouraging students to do the same would be to call into question the value of distancing them from the snares of literary material and techniques. The result for graduate students is the steady attenuation and atrophy of many healthy impulses, not the least of which is pleasure. They become "sad," and angry, and bitter, and they act this out with harder and harder forms of cynicism and critique.

Nothing ever satisfies, because nothing is ever trusted. They can't even trust themselves. Everything, including themselves, is under suspicion. They turn to paranoia, totalitarianism, and become (ironically) Frankfurt School zealots, sexually perverse, politically melodramatic, eternally anxious, all in the attempt to normalize an empty, critical cynicism.

Yes, I tend not to like them very much. I much prefer the company of farmers.

7/18/2012 06:14:00 AM  
Blogger Sal said...

So, the ideal would be to connect at an emotional/moral level,critically ascertain how the author produced that reaction, and then re-connect with the story its ownself on a deeper level?
Can't see anything wrong with that.

7/18/2012 06:29:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

I can only speak for myself. Let me back up to Bob's language that struck me:

symbols can lose their metaphysical translucency, especially when they are overly reified in such a way that they exclude experience of the engendering reality that brought them about

The exclusion of experience as untrustworthy and politically suspect is characteristic of a lot of what goes on in so-called higher education humanities.

There are professional reasons for that exclusion. A great loss is involved: people tend to lose the capacity to ask authentic personal questions. They emotionally and morally detach, and are rewarded for detaching. Thus they encourage others to detach, too. Something essential is cut off at the root. As a result, you get a collection of individuals who don't trust their own reactions to things, and who then thrash around destructively.

At some point, I think professors of literature are going to have to come back to students (maybe this horse has left the barn for good) and say, "look, we're going to look at the nuts and bolts of this thing because that examination is good and rewarding discipline, but I believe this story/poem/play articulates something deeply important about life, and it does so better than other things I've read. Let's give it deep attention and see if you think the same."

If a professor had said that to me, I would've said ok. All cards are on the table, and focus will be on the material at hand, and not on an ideological filter per se or some detached professional motive.

It might allow that re-connection you speak of. Yes, things are artful. But they can also be true nonetheless.

7/18/2012 07:01:00 AM  

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