Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Exodus and Esodus

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it would probably take six months for me to explicate everything that has been provoked by my encounter -- and it is an encounter -- with this single book of essays by Voegelin. Some of my recent posts are based on only a sentence or two, so it's been slow-going. And even then, I'm only hitting the personal highlights.

I'm tempted to dilate on the meaning of such evocative "richness," since the vast majority of prose is safely dead before it even soils the page. But I think I'll just move on to the next chapter, which is called Configurations in History -- of which one might well ask: "are there any? Or do we simply conjure and superimpose a bunch of likely stories over the riot of the past, and try to squeeze timepast into a teapot?"

Whatever history is, human beings are without a doubt in it, if not fully of it. Which is why, for example, political campaigns spend millions of dollars in the effort to convince us to accept one historical narrative over another.

Obama's stenographers in the MSM, for example, desperately wish for us to believe that Romney's recent journey to Europe and the Middle East was a gaffe-ridden disaster instead of a righteous pimp-slap to Dear Leader. Once one bows before the narrative, the facts take care of themselves. Some appear out of nowhere, like a ghostly electron in a quantum field, while others vanish in the same way.

Come to think of it, Bohr's complementarity principle might be fruitfully applied to historiography, in that the past essentially consists of a kind of infinite field that has no pattern until we consciously observe it.

But clearly, no person could ever access "the" total pattern of history, any more than he could understand the total economy -- or even the totality of his own mind. The only exception to this would be revelation, i.e., a vertical memo from "outside" or "above" the system.

Among other barriers, history is obviously still happening, and it is impossible in principle to understand the meaning of a process until it is completed.

Indeed, Voegelin cautions us that "if any present solution to problems is taken in a doctrinaire manner, as giving the ultimate truth about history, this is one of the gravest misunderstandings possible" (emphasis mine). Why so grave? For starters, there are about 100 million graves from the 20th century that stand as mute testimony to the gravity of such doctrinaire "solutions." It takes a lot of human eggs to make a leftist omelette.

Socrates' famous wise crack about "knowing thyself" is of course sound and timeless advice. But like all other kinds of knowledge (as discussed in yesterday's post), we can only know ourselves at all because we cannot know ourselves completely. But someone must know us, or self-knowledge would be inconceivable.

Could history have the same structure? Yes, but only for the believer, who is indeed vouchsafed an intuition of the total meaning of history, for as Christ is "Word made flesh," he is also, and quintessentially, "future made present." This doesn't mean that history stops per se -- a common misunderstanding of the first generation of believers -- but that the end is "present," so to speak, and accessible within time.

So history is obviously "incomplete," since it "extends into an unknown future." And yet, via such modalities discussed in yesterday's post -- e.g., faith, hope, and love -- we hail the future from afar with a kind of ontological confidence that the unbeliever can only match with either hypocrisy or a comforting fairy tale.

Speaking of escapes -- and inscapes -- from reality, Voegelin focuses on one particular category of history that has dominated the West, exodus. Generally speaking, "When a society gains a new insight into the true order of personal and social existence, and when it [abandons] the larger society of which it is a part when it gains this insight, this constitutes an exodus."

This pattern may be traced back to father Abraham, who embarked upon "the first formal exodus of which we have any knowledge."

Is that true? Yes, in a mythopoetic or "deep historical" way. But there were also a number of purely anthropological or even "Darwinian" exoduses prior to that, for example, the exodus from the trees to the open savannah, or the exodus out of Africa 100,000 years ago, give or take.

More recently there was the American exodus from Europe, which was indeed based upon "a new insight into the true order of personal and social existence," i.e., that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

This wasn't a new insight per se, but the first time a human group broke off from the larger society of which it was a part, and explicitly defined itself in this manner. For this very reason, Jefferson suggested a design for the Seal of the United States depicting the children of Israel being led out of the larger society of Egypt based upon their own "new insight" into the nature of reality and a fabulous recipe for cheesecake.

This pattern has a more general continuity with natural selection, out of which new species are supposed to emerge based upon geographical, behavioral, and/or temporal separation and isolation from the main group.

I can only speak for my own species, but this is certainly how Raccoons emerged, via intellectual and spiritual separation -- what we call exodeus -- from the larger group. Which would also explain my tiny select readership.

Because of our evolutionary divergence, Coon food is inedible for most humans (it causes severe gas, from what I've been told), whereas we couldn't last two weeks on a strict diet of typical human food offered by the MSM or grown by tenured subsistence farmers in the parched groves of academia.

Supposing one has a new insight into the true order of reality, what is one to do? First of all, "there is always the question whether to emigrate from the present order into a situation in which the new order can become socially dominant..." The South, for example, decided to found a new confederacy based upon the insight that it is good for one man to own another. But was it true? No, that would be impossible, for if all men are created equal, it is not possible that some men are born in chains.

Meanwhile, what was once an exodus -- an exterior phenomenon -- has now become an... what would be word? Esodus, I suppose. This is convenient, because in certain ways it parallels the important distinction (but not separation) between exoteric and esoteric religiosity, or outer and inner, respectively.

At any rate, "The completion of this idea occurs in Christianity, in which this conception of the exodus has become a fundamental catagory..." (Voegelin).

Way out of time. To be continued...

14 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

"new species are supposed to emerge"

Emerge? You make it sound as if the little critters were in there all along.

8/01/2012 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Which would also explain my tiny (scratch) select readership.

This makes readership cry.

8/01/2012 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

We may be a select group, but then you and the people who inspire you are not exactly light reading. Plus the whole exodus thing - it's deucedly uncomfortable, especially at the beginning, what with suddenly finding oneself downside up in an upside down world. The temptation to go back to Egypt is awfully hard for most people to resist, even if they like the idea of a bewilderness adventure.

Anyway, if your readership ever becomes much greater than "select" outside of the occasional politically-oriented post, you should probably check to make sure you aren't Deepaking the Chopra...

8/01/2012 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

(nothing to see here, just checking the box...)

8/01/2012 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

... try to squeeze timepast into a teapot?

That alone made my day.

8/01/2012 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

We are the Select Elect, the Gnosin' Chosen, the Kahuna Raccoonahs. Yes!

8/01/2012 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

In my defense, I just got off one of the stupidest conference calls in recent memory.

8/01/2012 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Why are liberals so intolerant, anyway? I suppose it must be religious sentiment in the absence of religiosity, so, for example, questioning the gay agenda results in a high-tech burning at the stake.

8/01/2012 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

This doesn't mean that history stops per se -- a common misunderstanding of the first generation of believers -- but that the end is "present," so to speak, and accessible within time.

We know that the prophets before Christ, up to and including John the Baptist were right, but we also know that they and their contemporaries often missed the full implications of the revelation they were given. It could only be interpreted within the context of the Incarnation and subsequent events.

I think you have given me something here that resolves a lot of eschatological confusion. I guess I had kind of seen this in a vague way, but I never would have been able to state it well enough to hang anything off it.

8/01/2012 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, how could they help but try to understand the radically new with existing categories?

8/01/2012 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Indeed, Voegelin cautions us that "if any present solution to problems is taken in a doctrinaire manner, as giving the ultimate truth about history, this is one of the gravest misunderstandings possible" (emphasis mine). Why so grave? For starters, there are about 100 million graves from the 20th century that stand as mute testimony to the gravity of such doctrinaire "solutions." It takes a lot of human eggs to make a leftist omelette. "

Acton's "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.", should be understood to apply, first and foremost, to historians themselves.

8/01/2012 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

I don't mean to be a bother Bob, but I sent in my four box tops of One Cosmos Coon Chow about three months ago. Any idea when my Pneumaticon Decoder Ring might be showing up?

8/01/2012 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

The Ringdom is within you. Turn yourself in the direction of the rising sun and read the code three times and it decodes itself.

8/02/2012 07:27:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

Your title is excellent.

The national history described in the story of the Exodus is also an individual's road-map.

G.

8/02/2012 07:59:00 AM  

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