Friday, January 27, 2012

Cosmic Rules of the Road

We're discussing the Ten Universal Principles with which you can't go wrong -- or, more like it, without which you will definitely go off the realroad.

Why is the cosmos built in this "negativistic" manner? Because if it were not so, free will would essentially be impossible. In other words, if there were a one-to-one relationship between action and outcome, the world would be just one big operant conditioning chamber, or Skinner box, as in the helpful illustration below:

Think of yourself as the rat, the response lever as the Divine Law, and the food dispenser as instant gratification. In such a set-up, there is no real possibility of growth, risk, learning, development, etc. Rather, you'll just keep hammering the joystick. Better to provide a wider field of action, with boundaries indicated by various Don't Go Theres, or Thou Shalt Nots, so you don't fall off the edge of the cosmos and into the abyss in the course of your terrestrial sojourn.

This is the purpose of the system of ordered liberty devised by our founders, in which we are free to do all sorts of things that are impermissible. Conversely, the left always wants to force us to do things it regards as the only things permissible, for example, to discriminate on the basis of race, to fund Democratic campaigns by stealing from future generations, or to purchase certain products of which it approves.

Think about how you raise a child. Now that Future Leader is almost seven years old, I've been exposed to a fair sample of children, and there is a certain quality that always attracts me, or at least doesn't annoy me. To put it simply, these are children who are well behaved and yet full of spontaneity, adventure, fun, and imagination. This is in sharp contrast to children who are well behaved but repressed, so that the life force is quashed; or children who are full of life, but who are obnoxious.

So the problem is, how do we introduce "rules for living" that don't end up making life a crashing bore? Clearly, there is some truth to the liberal caricature of this type of person, e.g., Ned Flanders.

We'll address that question as we proceed. Yesterday we discussed the three principles of epistemology, or of evidence and truth: 1) The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data, 2) Valid opinions and theories have no internal contradictions, and 3) Nonarbitrary opinions or theories are based upon publicly verifiable evidence.

Next up are three principles of ethics, or of how to behave toward others. Note that they aren't at all repressive, so long as one has truly internalized and assimilated them.

In fact, that's not quite right, because it is more the recognition of a reality that is already there, not something that is radically extrinsic to us (for if it were extrinsic, we could no more learn it than can a rattle snake or grizzly bear). It is a kind of "intrinsic morality" that nevertheless needs to be modeled in order to awaken and actualize. And the best way to model it is in interacting with one's child, day in, day out.

The first principle provides a minimal ethic that would nevertheless, if it were respected by everyone, result in a kind of terrestrial paradise: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.

Notice that this is not the "golden rule," but rather, the silver rule; instead of asking us to do good, it merely enjoins us to do no harm. You don't need to be a saint. Just don't be an assoul.

But again, to the extent that this principle is internalized -- or recognized -- it is rooted in a kind of deep intersubjective empathy through which we are able to put ourselves in the place of the other, and understand that "my brother is myself."

Once one is capable of reliably intuiting this, one doesn't have to be reminded or goaded into not gratuitously hurting people. Rather, it just "comes naturally," even though it is what would more accurately be described as a "supernaturally natural" capability.

As Spitzer explains, this principle is "the most fundamental of all ethical principles, because if it fails, then all other ethical principles fail as well." He points out that the logic behind the principle is as cogent as, say, the principle of non-contradiction.

Why? Because denying it immediately introduces a kind of primordial injustice, i.e., "I am permitted to harm you, but you are not permitted to harm me," and acquiescence to the latter principle would render civilization impossible. It would reduce to a Hobbesian war of each against all. Conversely, "if others are obliged not to harm us unnecessarily, then we are obliged not to harm them unnecessarily."

The second ethical principle is the consistency of means and ends, i.e., the end does not justify the means. The only exception to this rule -- and it is an important one -- is that "one can use an objectively wrong means (such as lying) to prevent a greater evil (such as murder)" (ibid.).

This is a principle that secularists (obviously) and many religious people get wrong, the former because they imagine that the exception proves morality to be entirely relative, the latter because they concretize the rule so as to deny the exception.

Dennis Prager often discusses this, and he gets a considerable amount of disagreement from the fundamentalist crowd, i.e., that there are degrees of sin. (Lower case o) orthodox Christians have no difficulty with this idea, but a lot of fundamentalists seem to occupy a kind of unambiguous either/or, saved/damned universe, which goes back to what was said above about obsessive-compulsiveness masquerading as religiosity (there is a considerable amount of this religious OCD in the Islamic world as well).

The third ethical principle is full of implications that I won't have time to fully explicate, but it is The Principle of Full Human Potential: Every human being (or group of human beings) deserves to be valued according to the full level of human development, not the level of development currently achieved.

This principle results from the fact that man is always simultaneously himself and not himself; rather, he is always "on the way" to himself, from the moment of conception to the moment of death, and we have no right to impose some arbitrary time slice and insist that anything less is not a human being. Which is why, for example, the entire legal basis of abortion is completely illogical.

For it is pure sophistry to define a human being by one of his stages instead of by his totality.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Truth and Consequences

The irony, of course, is that we can never have objective knowledge of the objective world, whereas we may have objective knowledge of the subjective world. In other words, the cosmic situation is exactly the opposite of what materialists imagine.

What I mean by this is that -- for starters -- Gödel's theorems render any totalistic scientific explanation strictly impossible.

And frankly, I don't even think we need Gödel to tell us that any scientific theory is going to contain premises for which it cannot account. The most complete "theory of everything" is, by definition, going to have a gaping omission.

After all, one has to start somewhere, and one must arrive at this somewhere prior to one's eventual explanation. Thus, the bottom line is that any merely scientific account is going to be either consistent or complete, but not both. D'oh!

As we have mentioned in the past, many postmodern types who do not understand Gödel use his theorems as a bulwark against absolutism. Since no theory is complete, all theories become equal, and we descend into the nihilism of deconstruction.

But that is not what Gödel meant. Here again, we do not need Gödel to remind us that human beings know any number of truths which cannot be proved with mere logic. Gödel was not saying that objective truth doesn't exist because logic cannot prove it; rather, that there exist truths beyond logic.

After all, logic cannot furnish its own materials, but requires an alogical -- or translogical -- being to do so.

So the first axiom of logic is not the law of identity, or of the excluded middle, but: the middleman, the human being, who, by definition, transcends the logical system he deploys. If he doesn't, then man cannot actually prove anything, for he can never escape the closed circle of logic.

Nevertheless, many people use Gödel as an excuse to plunge into subjectivism, relativism, multiculturalism, and all the rest. The reasoning apparently goes something like this: if even science cannot prove any ultimate truth, how much less is religion entitled to make such a claim?

On the surface this sounds plausible, but if we look a little deeper, we can detect the systematic stupidity of the tenured. For Spitzer puts forth ten principles that he suggests are undeniable by reason. Or, to put it another way, these are ten principles that any reasonable person -- and a "person" is a being endowed with reason -- will accept as true.

Some of them touch on "science," others on virtue and on the very possibility of civilization. As Spitzer explains, "Three of them concern evidence and objective truth, three of them concern ethics, three of them concern dignity and treatment of human beings within civil society, and one of them concerns personal identity and culture."

Now, what is truth? Well, for one thing, it is the thing that results in bad stuff happening if we fail to appreciate it. This applies to every level of reality, from the lowest (i.e., physics) to the highest (i.e., spirit). Ignore the law at your own peril, whether it is the law of gravity ("I can fly!") or the law of humility ("I'm a god!).

So, we are always free to disobey the law. But "Failure to teach and practice any of these principles can lead to an underestimation of human dignity, a decline in culture, the abuse of individuals and groups of individuals, and an underestimation of ourselves and our potential in life."

And "Failure to teach and practice several of these principles will most certainly lead to widespread abuse and a general decline in culture" (Spitzer).

Take the example of the Islamic world. Why is it so systematically f*cked up? Conversely, why is America that shining city on the globe? The latter (mostly) obeys the law (or used to, anyway, before the ascendence of the left). The former is a metacosmic scofflaw.

Let's start with the first three principles, which apply to evidence and objective truth. Notice that one is always free to ignore them, but that doing so will result in less freedom and a more dysfunctional adaptation to life.

Principle 1: The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data.

I mean, right?

Principle 2: Valid opinions and theories have no internal contradictions.

You know, like "This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy," and "except the Keystone pipeline." That's what you call an "internal contradiction." Another one is "we reject supply side economics" and "feeding a massive top-down state is the key to economic prosperity."

Principle 3: Nonarbitrary opinions or theories are based upon publicly verifiable evidence.

All tyranny begins and ends with violation of this principle, e.g., "Jews are an inferior race," "poverty causes crime," "the constitution is a living document that means what we want it to mean," etc.

Without question, truth is the most important value of a civilization: "No bias, ostracization, marginalization, or persecution ever occurred without someone claiming that their biases were the 'truth'" (ibid.). Once the lie is accepted as truth, then horror follows, owing to man's innate respect for truth. For man so loves truth, that he will commit heinous acts in defense of it.

For example, if it is really true that the black man has no rights the white man is bound to respect; or that a fetus is not a human being; or that men and women have no essential differences; or that America is the "great satan," then people will act on these "truths" in good conscience.

To be continued....

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stuff Not Even a Liberal Can't Not Know

Underneath it all, the fundamental division among Americans is between relativists and absolutists.

Which, of course, makes no sense -- it is absolute nonsense -- because who is more certain of the truth of his convictions than the sanctimonious liberal who knows all conservatives are racists, or the naive Darwinian who can explain everything but the explainer, or the hammerheaded atheist who regards God as the big nail in the sky?

So the real division is between absolutists and people who pretend not to be. Which means that there is always this make believe element to leftism, in that the leftist must pretend to not know things one cannot not know. In many ways, a college education -- I mean a thorough one -- systematically trains one to deny the undeniable and therefore promulgate the unthinkable. By which I mean sling the bullshit.

What distinguishes man from the beasts is this knowledge of the Absolute in all its forms. We may think of the Absolute as a kind of central sun, with its rays extending down into creation. Each ray is a "mode" of the absolute, for example, with regard to truth, beauty, virtue, justice, etc. "Judgment" is what allows humans to determine where a particular instance falls along the ray.

For example, to say that this is more beautiful than that is to locate the entity in question higher up on the spectral ray. Thus, the existence of absolute truth necessitates the existence of relative truth.

But the converse could never be true; and in fact, it could never be at all. In other words, absolute relativity is a contradiction in terms, because the relative is always testimony of the absolute.

The moment one realizes this -- assuming one really and truly does -- one understands that the human state is not and cannot be any kind of Darwinian "extension" of the animal state, but something fundamentally inexplicable on any materialistic basis.

Yes, there is continuity, of course, and it is the task of science to explain this continuity. But there is also irreducible discontinuity, and to the extent that science ignores this, it will generate ambiguity, absurdity, and paradox.

For example, let us say that man and chimp share 99.6% of their DNA, or whatever it is. Far from explaining the continuity, this only shows how DNA is powerless to account for the shocking discontinuity between man and beast -- unless one wishes to argue that all the painting, poetry, and music, all the novels, symphonies, games, and jokes, all of the science, religion, mathematics, and genetics is in that little accident of biology.

Is the study of genetics genetic? No, of course not. Humanness is in fact the gate of exit out of mere animality -- indeed, out of the relative cosmos itself. Humans are the "hole" in creation that permits knowledge of the whole of creation; in our heart is a mysterious absence that potentially holds all the Presence. To put it another way, man is an incomplete completeness, which is another term for our neoteny, or endless childhood.

Please note that there is this critical relationship -- and all religions speak of it -- between the absence and the Presence, the relative and the Absolute. Animals do not know this absence, which amounts to the recognition of one's relativity, hence one's dependence. But to be aware of absence is to know in an instant that one stands in relation. To what? Or, more to the point, Whom? I AM, for starters.

Having said that, it is eminently possible for human beings to deny the absence, which results in two conditions, both fatal. First, it forecloses knowledge of the absolute; second, it inserts a false absolute in the space the real one should occupy. In short, this is the zone of the graven image that exiles one from eternity.

For in knowing absolute truth, human beings may participate in eternity on this side of manifestation -- in the relative world. We do this by 1) aligning ourselves with truth, and 2) assimilating truth.

By "assimilating," I mean that we must metabolize truth so that it is interiorized and becomes mingled with our own psychic substance. We must "eat and breathe" truth in order to become it and live it.

Some people think Catholics are primitive, but we all practice theophagy in one form or another, even -- or especially -- coprophagics (and let's not even talk about chopraphagics. Disgusting!).

Now, the typical irreligious yahoo does indeed believe in the absolute, even if his metaphysic denies its possibility. For example, physicists believe there must be a "theory of everything" that unifies all physical forces and explains creation without remainder. Likewise, many biologists believe natural selection to be a universal principle that doesn't only apply to biology, but even to cosmology.

Indeed, most of us don't have difficulty with the idea that there are universal scientific truths such as E=MC² or the second law of thermodynamics.

But what about the moral law? And what about beauty? For some reason, even as science has penetrated more deeply into the physical laws that govern matter, people have backed away from the idea that man can also draw nearer to virtue and beauty (with exceptions, for example, physicists and mathematicians who are guided by a sense of "explanatory beauty" in their equations).

Since I'm almost out of time, I guess that was a longwinded introduction to Ten Universal Principles, by Robert Spitzer. In the thoughtful words of the ubiquitous Professor Backflap,

"How do we make sense of life? How should we treat others? How should we reasonably be expected to be treated by others? When human life is at stake, are there reasonable principles we can rely on to guide our actions? How should our laws be framed to protect human life? What kind of society should be built?

"Many people rely on their religious beliefs to answer these questions. But not everyone accepts the same religious premises or recognizes the same spiritual authorities. Are there 'public arguments' -- reasons that can be given that do not presuppose agreement on religious grounds or common religious commitments -- that can guide our thoughts and actions, as well as our laws and public policies?

"In Ten Universal Principles, Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer sets out... ten basic principles that must govern the reasonable person's thinking and acting about life issues."

And so he does. And so we will. Tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

No Success Like Failure

This post evidently brings to a conclusion our three month excursion into Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, which began last October, some 70 posts ago. I wonder if that makes the exegesis longer than the book, the echo longer than the echee?

I suppose that would be typical of any great book, which generates far more verbiage than that contained within its covers.

One might say that a timeless work of genius cannot be contained within itself, precisely. Nor could a mere threescore and ten toptypsical renderings expend what our friend penned, for every crookward feller has his own meandertalltale to tell, and no other soul can toll your own bell.

The previous post concluded with the observation that "if vulgar Darwinism is the integral truth of man, dreadful consequences necessarily follow -- not the least of which being the impossibility of absolute truth and objective morality."

That Darwinism can satisfy the cramped and barren intellect of contemporary timedwellers and ideobots is a statement about their desiccated intellect, not about Truth.

At the very least, these spiritual ungreats have no idea what religion has done for them, because it has all been done collectively and subliminally through a kind of cultural and historical osmosis.

But to be unaware of the extraordinary spiritual sacrifices others have made in order to make your otherwise insignificant life possible is to live as a barbarian. Your whole miserable life is lived in borrowed -- no, stolen -- Light, which you cannot even acknowledge.

As alluded to in the book, culture is analogous to a little clearing in a vast forest. Without culture, we are in total darkness. But different cultures permit varying degrees of light to enter. Some are still mostly forest, while others have cleared enough of the surrounding vegetation to take in the light from distant stars.

Thus, in a certain sense, light is space, perceptually speaking. To an animal without eyes, its "space" consists of whatever it is touching in that moment (let's leave ears to the side for the purposes of this example). It literally lives in a two-dimensional world. With eyes -- which specifically register light -- we suddenly inhabit a three-dimensional sensorium.

But this introduces a new problematic, for how vast is this sensorium? Is it infinite? If so, space merely introduces man to his own insignificance, as he is a kind of absurd projection of infinite finitude, which we symbolize ( ). Note that the symbol implies "containment," but of nothing, so that man's very existence mocks itself.

So man tells stories in order to contain himself and allay anxiety of the infinite, which results in (•). Among other things, that condensed little dot stands for saturation, the consoling absence of ambiguity that results from any ideology, whether Darwinism, scientism, leftism, feminism, Islamism, Christianism, whatever.

But man cannot contain himself. This is true of every level of being -- quintessentially so of the spiritual level, from which the others are declensions or projections. To say that man must love is to say that he must exist outside himself -- or that the other must exist within him. This is precisely what we would expect to see in a creature who is in the image of a trinitarian godhead.

Truth is both timeless and universal, so that what is true will always be so. Scientific fads and fashions will come and go, but Man will always be in the image of the Creator, a meta-cosmic truth from which our rights, our duties, and our dignity flow. An undignified man has no rights, and a man with no rights has no dignity. Likewise, a man with no obligations is not a man. (We are not speaking legalistically, of course, but morally, or better, ontologically.)

Man's obligations are prior to his rights, for if the reverse is true, man makes himself a god. This is the upside-down god of the left, for it is the undignified man who is entitled to his rights, which are actually your obligations. But to be forcefully obligated in this manner is to be treated in an undignified manner, so we end in a tyranny of the undignified. See contemporary culture for details.

Only man can -- and therefore must -- live by the light of eternity, so that all we do, say, write, create, and think, can resonate with what surpasses itself, and thus "pass the test of time":

"Artists, like esoterists, are obliged to make their works pass the trial of time, so that the poisonous plants from the sphere of mirages can be uprooted, and there remains only the wheat -- pure and ripe" (MOTT).

When we write so much as a measly blog post, we would like for it to stay written. We are always scribbling from the standpoint of eternity, not because we are grandiose, but because it is the least we can do, cosmic etiquette being what it is.

Nor are we suggesting that we succeed, only that to even attempt to do this is the privilege of a lifetome. Or painting. Or photograph. Or musical composition.

Otherwise, there is no point whatsoever in putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, at least regarding the matters we discuss here. This is not supposed to be an exercise in (•), but an exorcism thereof, a verticalaesthetic and a gymnostic.

In order to properly do one's omwork, one's writing must be "objective," even while being "transparent," or perhaps "translucent," in that it must be both solid and capable of trasmitting the Light. Why? Because this is just the way the Divine Spirit rolls. Deal with it.

To leggo the ego is merely a means to try to transcend all pettiness, all that is timebound, all that refers back to oneself instead of pointing beyond. I must decrease so that He may increase: one "becomes poor, so as to be able to receive the wealth of the divine spirit..."

This is -- to come full circle -- "the gesture of actualizing below that which is above" (MOTT), so that one's very life becomes a work of sacred art -- which is again to be transparent to that which transcends oneself. Thank God it's impossible.

Adieu, dear unknown friend.