Monday, November 05, 2012


We were discussing the Two Natures or tendencies that seem to coexist in man, one lower, the other higher.

Here again, we all realize -- any normal person does, anyway -- that we have these two trends, and you have to engage in an awful lot of self-obfuscation, or auto-pullwoolery, to deny their existence. Frankly, you have to be as adept at self-deception as is our current future ex-president tomorrow, and not a moment too soon!

But the bottom lyin' for any full-blown secular maniac is that the higher and lower cannot exist, despite the fact that they so obviously do -- which leads to all sorts of confusion, ending in the intellectual and spiritual deadzone of diversity, multiculturalism, moral relativism, etc.

One problem with the modern mind is that it wants to search for explanations that cease to be explanations once they leave the human plane.

This is a Very Large Subject, but we all know, for example, that there are decent people and cruel people. Simple as. But if you analyze those terms too far, it's analogous to dissecting a body to find out where the life is: it results in the destruction of what one is looking for. In a different context, Alan Watts said it's like chasing a fugitive while banging a drum.

Which is why such vehicles as mythology, literature, and film are so much more effective at explicating this quintessentially human territory than is naive science. The same is obviously true of scripture and revelation. I have explained this to my son, so his brain won't get spoiled by trying to understand religious wisdom in a less than human way.

For example, the other day he was asking about the story of the Flood, and I explained that it isn't just a mundane weather report, but is supposed to tell human beings something very important about themselves -- in this case, that we are, or can be, so rotten that even God has grave second thoughts about whether to continue the ghastly experiment.

"The Bible's picture of human nature," writes Leon Kass, "is, to say the least, sobering." No political correctness here, no punches pulled, no liberal appeal to sociological "root causes" of the widespread depravity.

Rather, "The tales of the primordial family underline the dangers of freedom and reason, speech and desire, pride and shame, jealousy and anger." The narratives "make us suspicious not only about politics and the arts, but even about man's interest in the divine." Truly, it seems there is nothing that can't be ruined by human involvement.

Nevertheless, these "first stories of human life" accurately depict "the explosive tensions lurking in any human family, both between husband and wife and (especially) between siblings." For example, I have a relative who is one of those diversity tools at a fourth-tier cow college. Not surprisingly, we haven't spoken in years, not least because intra-vertical communication becomes tense at such extremes.

Kass makes the interesting point that not a lot happens between the accounts of the prototypical humans -- Adam, Even, Abel, Cain -- and the Flood, mostly a lot of begetting. But this begetting, in Kass's interpretation (which is too long to provide in full here), results in kind of indiscriminate blending of divine and human qualities, and with it, a gradual loss of contact with the "divine within."

Thus, we may understand God's otherwise cryptic comment in 6:3, to the effect that His spirit shall not judge from within man. In other words, to put it plainly, man gradually loses touch with his divine conscience -- which is obviously a central component of our higher nature -- or at least it is contaminated by various other strands, e.g., rationalization, the lust for glory, self-worship, tenure, etc.

As a result, it seems that "Only two ways are open: total destruction of the world or the imposition of external law" (Robert Sacks, in Kass). This would also explain why we so detest lawyers, because the vast majority of their thousands upon thousands of laws are aimed only at bad people, and in a way, create bad people, because we start confusing morality with obedience to the exteriorized law.

Think, for example, of how liberals conflate big government and charity, when in reality big government displaces and even eliminates man's charitable impulses; real charity is actually in competition with the state, the latter of which is just the quest for power mesmerauding as charity or "public service."

So God can't help gnosissing that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the day. And God says something similar to Colonel Nicholson in Bridge on the River Kwai, in his case, What have I done?

Interesting too that Colonel Nicholson's moral crime fits right into the scheme of what man was up to in those antediluvian days, telling his troops that "One day the war will be over. And I hope that the people that use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built and who built it."

Rrriiiiiiiiight. It's really about the Colonel's own unhinged lust for glory. Indeed, after the bridge is completed and he is dining with Colonel Saito, he reflects on being "nearer the end than the beginning" of his life: "And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything.... I don't know whether that kind of thinking's very healthy; but I must admit I've had some thoughts on those lines from time to time."

No, it's not very healthy at all, as Nicholson discovers too late. In short, his higher impulses -- honor, duty, self-discipline -- were totally contaminated by the lower.

As it all plays out below, Major Clipton famously mutters in astonished disgust, Madness! Madness!

That seems to echo God's sentiment as he surveys the human wreckage below: "The experiment in anarchy -- in living law-less-ly -- has failed miserably, so much so that God despairs of His creation. In an extraordinary remark," the Creator "says that he repents His creation of man and the other animals."

Blah blah yada yada, God ends up finding a righteous, pure, and simple heart in the figure of Noah, so all is not lost. For "blessed are the pure in heart."

I'm just consulting the Catholic catechism for any further insights into this issue, and it says that "Because man is a composite being... there already exists a kind of tension in him; a certain struggle of tendencies between 'spirit' and 'flesh' develops."

However, "it is not a matter of despising and condemning the body," but rather, cultivating certain "permanent dispositions" which result from submission or resistance to "the saving action of the Holy Spirit" (which we have symbolized (o) for the submission and (↓) for the saving action).


Blogger Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

Yes, as you promised, this is very good today.

A perfect observation: "Think, for example, of how liberals conflate big government and charity, when in reality big government displaces and even eliminates man's charitable impulses; real charity is actually in competition with the state, the latter of which is just the quest for power mesmerauding as charity or "public service."

Now with respect to the two natures of the human being. There is of course as you know a long tradition about the "good spirit" and the "bad spirit" -- and the recognition that the "bad spirit" is as important and essential as the "good." The "bad spirit" is identified, I think, with the spirit of agency, ambition, desire; and without those forces, the human being would just shrivel up and die. But the wild horses of desire have to be harnessed.

I'm not sure whether the tension is really between "spirit" and "flesh," for it seems to be "all there" already within the "spirit." It is the spirit that animates the flesh, and that gives the flesh the vitality that it has.

And I think Kass omits a discussion of the "nephilim" -the fallen- and what it means when we're told that the sons of the might (angels? descendents of Seth?) bred the women of earth.

11/05/2012 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I agree with you about the spirit/flesh dichotomy, as mentioned a couple of posts back. It seems that it's more a dimensional transposition, so to speak, from one plane to another, but the body gets blamed for what the soul would have it do. In other words, we can't very well get in much trouble without a body, so it's like the body is just the dumb guy who gets caught driving the getaway car. He's not the brains behind the operation, but ends up being blamed.

11/05/2012 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

If that makes any sense at all.

11/05/2012 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Yes, it makes a lot of sense! I like this very much: "the body gets blamed for what the soul would have it do." I think that's exactly right. So in a sense, the fall takes place before there is even flesh, at the level of Adam Kadmon, at a much "higher" level than the one we live at, now.

11/05/2012 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Which is why such vehicles as mythology, literature, and film are so much more effective at explicating this quintessentially human territory than is naive science.

It's disadvantageous that "myth" has become such a contaminated word, equated with falsehood.

...results in kind of indiscriminate blending of divine and human qualities, and with it, a gradual loss of contact with the "divine within."

Yes, this is my understand of the passage (Genesis 6:1-4) that talks about the "sons of God" hooking up with the smoking hot "daughters of man" resulting in the race of Nephilim, "the mighty men". They were mighty in the flesh and unable to hear any longer that still, small voice in the heart.

11/05/2012 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I should have read Gandalin's comment and saved myself some typing.

11/05/2012 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

So in a sense, the fall takes place before there is even flesh, at the level of Adam Kadmon, at a much "higher" level than the one we live at, now.

Is there a Fall to Creation before the Fall? I think so. I like Tolkien's description in The Silmarillion

11/05/2012 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

The Nagel book looks interesting. Going by the blurb, though, it sounds like he makes your points without the witticism...

11/05/2012 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Prez Romney!
[election results]

11/05/2012 10:53:00 PM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Is Creation itself a "Fall"? What is the answer to the question that Heidegger said was the basic question of Metaphysics: "Why are there things, and not nothing?"

Creation seems to be a "fallen" state; after all, it is separate from the Creator, and it is not the Creator, it is distant from the Creator, and the material of matter is solid, sullied, and soiled.

And yet, in another sense, in some sense, the material Creation is the apex and pinnacle and purpose of all of the "higher" levels that progressively (or perhaps discontinuously) lead to Malkuth.

The Creation is the result of God's love and desire to give.

11/06/2012 05:04:00 AM  
Blogger amazed said...

“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.” ~Bonhoeffer
and this:
“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” also ~Bonhoeffer
and with the comment above, ... the material of matter is solid, sullied, and soiled ... well stated I think, He is mindful that we are but dust. Very dusty.

Different topic ... Gosh I love what you do with the language here Bob ... always delightful.


11/06/2012 05:31:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Yes, that is a painful question: What if it isn't the body running off on its own? What if I really am like that?
Mouravieff likes to use the phrase "moral bankruptcy". This is not something one can teach in church, for the sake of society it is necessary that the graves must be whitewashed over and over on the outside. The illusion that our temporary, shifting personality is our eternal soul must be upheld or panic will ensue. Madness indeed.

11/06/2012 06:41:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Thank you, Magnus Itland, for bringing up the shifting personality.

You remind me to mention something that I had meant to bring up in the discussion of yesterday's cosmogram, concerning the several natures of the Soul, and the way that the body can but immanentize what the soul already desires.

I was reminded of Rene Daumal's Grande Beuverie, the Night of Serious Drinking, in which he presents the illusion of the unitary soul in the way that George Gurdjieff conceived of an ever-shifting collection of guises, identities, masks, masques, and personalities, all of them illusory, and all of them concealing from the self/soul its own soul/self.

When all the poses are abandoned, when all of the positions (as Rameau's nephew might have called them) are forsaken, and "it's all over now, Baby Blue," who is left? Who is still there?

11/06/2012 06:56:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...


Good questions. One possible answer to "who is left?" is "it makes no sense to ask who is left, because the 'who' is the habit of their union."

The Catholic catechism (II.362+) follows Genesis in describing the human person as a unity of body and spirit: "it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature."

Both dimensions of a person, material and spiritual, are intrinsically good. The question is what one does with their relation. Do we choose always and consistently to keep these two dimensions unified, or do we relax our desire for integrity and allow them to fly apart?

There sure are plenty of attractions in both directions, and the body of course runs many processes independently of conscious control. This is actually a comforting thought to moralists. Imagine yesterday you've been practicing a certain riff over a chord in a tune by Horace Silver. Today, before you head out to the polls, you notice that your brain has awakened, without any conscious effort to remember, and is running that riff over and over, like a cron job in a Unix operating system. You can watch your brain do this; "you" are not reducible to that particular subroutine, or even a whole set of them, since "you" can stand apart and reflect on them. You can also shut down a particular neural routine and start one on something else, like what to make your family for breakfast and how best to remove a despicable presidency from political power. These latter efforts, the exertions of your will, can become habits of your body/spirit union, i.e. your soul.

I believe it's the Catholic view that creation itself is not a "fall" because it's perfectly in harmony with God's will. Isn't it best, then, to use these words "good" and "evil" only in reference to human action? Lions eat beautiful young gazelles without mercy, babies are born with physical defects, hurricanes occur and wreck our lives. But physical nature is fundamentally amoral, so in its context, the words "good" and "evil" are nonsensical. "Evil" comes in as a result of the freedom of human will consciously to pursue some particular and significant thing at the cost of one's harmony with God and everything else.

That pursuit is a will to power, and because you are not reducible to your neural network, you can watch yourself achieving that power. It's intoxicating. Maybe the early humans, when they became sapient and self-aware, began to do this. They felt all Promethean, started shaking their fists, and eventually voted for Obama's statist dystopia.

Which, God willing, is about to be democratically dustbinned.

Or am I being dense?

11/06/2012 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Horace Silver. Good choice on a variety of levels.

11/06/2012 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Julie - haven't cracked the Nagel yet, but it can't hurt to have some back-up from the Normals.

11/06/2012 10:06:00 AM  

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