Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Whaddya Know? And Whodya Be?

O Wisdom which reaches with strength from one end of the world to the other and makes extremes one! --Jacques Maritain

It seems to me that everything hinges upon whether or not man may know. If we cannot know, then our whole pretentious house of cards collapses, and we are reduced to competing forms of nihilism, or survival of the frivolous. But if we can know, then...

To approach this question is truly to begin at the beginning, because no other questions can be answered until we establish the fact that questions are answerable -- i.e., that man may possess true knowledge of himself and the world.

Indeed, some thinkers believe we must go even further back, and first establish the existence of the world. For example, this is what Kant does, and concludes that it doesn't exist. That being the case, we cannot know anything about it. The end.

That's an exaggeration, but only an uncharitable one. The point is that Kant placed a dark line between What Is and What We May Know About It, which ultimately results in an unbridgeable chasm between being and knowing.

Yes, we can still know, but this knowledge is ultimately of our own neuropsychology, not of the Real. We don't perceive the world, only (through) our categories. We are in the position of a submarine captain who navigates by instrument but never sees or touches water.

Since truth is the conformity of mind to reality, the very notion of truth is poisoned at the root. Thought and Thing go through an ugly divorce, and Thing gets to keep all the real properties to herself, since you Kant take 'em with you. Man becomes closed upon himself, and tenure takes care of the rest.

The whole thing can be boiled down even further, which is why I developed my irritating system of unsaturated pneumaticons. For truly, it all comes down to O and/or Ø, does it not?

For Kant, O supposedly exists (hello, noumena!), except that there is absolutely nothing we can know or say about it. That being the case, it is but a small giant step backward to jettison O altogether, because even to say that we can't say anything about O is to say something about it. Therefore, it makes much more sense to simply dismiss O and stick with Ønly.

In short, Kant pulled his punches and tried to have his crock and eat it too. But you cannot eat from an imaginary crock pot. Likewise, you cannot have knowledge of an unknowable world. But still, these postmodern crackpots insist with a straight farce on calling it knowledge.

In approaching this question of knowledge we need to bear in mind Maritain's reference to the "freshness of vision that is lost today," to "the youth, the virginity of observation, the intuitive upsurge of intellect, as yet unwearied, toward the delicious novelty of the real."

Specifically, even if we ultimately conclude with modern man that we may only have knowledge of phenomena, we shouldn't start there, because we cannot start there. In other words all men -- as men -- start with the pre-philosophical and pre-scientific conviction that of course there's a real world, doofus. WTF are you talking about?

Indeed, it takes many years of schooling to eradicate this conviction and replace it with its converse. Of course, no one actually believes it, but that's the subject of a different post. Let's just stick with what people think they believe.

"Every metaphysics that is not measured by the mystery of what is, but by the state of positive science at such and such an instant, is false from the beginning" (ibid.). Man is uniquely instructed by O, which is why the rigorous discipline of Truth is a transfiguring and purifying process. For man, as he inevitably finds himself in the herebelow, is a mixture of substance and accident, or truth and error.

In other words, we all have an essential nature -- the soul -- but the exigencies of life and the imperatives of adaptation result in the importation of various impurities that we call "mind parasites," or a condition of (•••), of multiples subselves with varying agendas, the most fundamental of which is a desire to go on being. We might say that (•) is to world (or a world) as (¶) is to O.

Let us say that man may know. But what does this mean, to know? What is going on when we know something? The answer isn't obvious -- at least not anymore -- but for Maritain it is an irreducibly spiritual event through and through. For

"There is a vigorous correspondance between knowledge and immateriality. A being is known to being to the extent that it is immaterial."

This formulation, so obvious to common sense, is nevertheless filled with paradoxes that need to be resolved. For example, "to know is to be in a certain way something other than what one is: it is to become a thing other than the self..." Thus, knowledge isn't the thing, but nor is it the self. So what is it?

To be continued...

Being is, indeed, the proper object of the intellect.... [T]he intellect, if I may say so, "loops the loop," in coming back, to grasp metaphysically and transcendentally, to that very same thing which was first given to it in its first understanding of the sensible. --Maritain

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Human Nature: The Adventure of a Lifetime

According to my unofficial records, I originally read Maritain's The Degrees of Knowledge over a decade ago, when I was so much older and couldn't possibly have understood what he's on about. While I clearly grasped some of it -- the highlighted passages tell me so -- attempting to read it cold, with no background in AristThomilean philosophy, is a little like pulling a textbook on quantum chemistry off the shelf and expecting to get anything out of it but a headache.

Two of the things I did understand are playgiarised within the bʘʘk (on pp. 73 and 93 for those keeping score at home):

"The mind, even more so than the physical world and bodily organisms, possesses its own dimensions, its structure and internal hierarchy of causalities and values -- immaterial though they may be" (emphasis mine, because that is a bold statement: the mind has more structure than the physical world? Well, it's true, otherwise we couldn't apprehend all the structure in this mythterious world of boundless intelligibility.).

The other passage is this: "Existing reality is therefore composed of nature and adventure. This is why it has a direction in time and by its duration constitutes an (irreversible) history -- these two elements are demanded by history, for a world of pure natures would not stir in time; there is no history for Platonic archetypes; nor would a world of pure adventure have any direction; there is no history for thermodynamic equilibrium."

These two statements bear upon ultimate reality, the former on the substance of human beings, the latter on the form of history. But the two cannot be separated, since history is what happens to humans; in a way, it is the substance of our lives. Therefore, an individual life is also comprised of nature and adventure. Your life is an adventure in nature, or nature having an adventure. Bon voyage! And véridique, while you're at it.

In this context, the word "nature" has nothing to do with vulgar naturalism. Rather, it is a term of art referring to the "nature of things," i.e., their essential nature (which is what the Founders intend when they refer in the first sentence of the Declaration to the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God"; they are referring to natural law, not to physics or biology).

A common caricature of conservatives is that we are all for nature (i.e., transcendent order), but not so big on adventure. Conversely, contemporary liberals are all about adventure, but reject any essential, God-given order.

But the True Path, as suggested by Maritain and reaffirmed by Petey just this morning, again involves nature and adventure. Except that the former word, because of contemporary accretions, no longer captures and conveys the intended meaning.

Nor, for that matter, does the phrase Chance & Necessity, in Monod's formulation; or Order Out of Chaos, in Prigogine's; or Adventures of Ideas, in Whitehead's; or Design for Evolution, in Jantsch's; or Science, Order, & Creativity, in Bohm's; or Psychoanalysis, Chaos, and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure, in oldBøb's; etc.

There was a time that I believed those works did the job, but again, I was so much older then. Only now that I am far younger is this blog even possible, in the sense that its operation involves grabbing the wheel of the cosmic bus and plunging forward on an adventure in nature -- into the nature of things. If this latter did not exist -- if there were no road, or worse yet, a road to nowhere -- then our path would be just a big nul de slack.

Or, to be perfectly accurate, the plunge into chaos would at first feel like an adventure. That part is true, because I remember it. But the absence of order would get old very quickly. Then we'd be flailing around for some kind of order to replace the one we denied.

Now you understand how the chaologists of the left inevitably veer into tyranny, with an "unnatural nature" of their own invention imposed upon us. The anarchic Summer of Love quickly devolves to the coercive and bullying Climate of Hate (that part of manmade climate change is true).

In other worlds, only by denying our real nature, our essence, can leftists proceed with their grim project. Once one denies human nature, then one can do anything with impunity: redefine marriage, jettison liberty, appropriate private property, break (or coerce) contracts, steal from future generations (or just kill them), whatever.

Back to this world. Maritain discusses the question of how the cosmic laws can be necessary, while the events are contingent.

Well, just because there is a Law, this doesn't imply any mechanistic/deterministic framework. For example, there are strict rules in baseball, but every game is different. I've been a baseball fan since I was nine years old, and I still see things I've never seen before.

One reason science is inadequate to disclose reality is that it deals in the necessary, not the contingent. A wholly contingent reality would not be susceptible to scientific description.

Interestingly, this bears on the human adventure, in that science obviously applies to human beings. And yet, every human is unique, an unrepeatable individual. How does that work?

Again, our nature is on an adventure. And the nature of human nature is diversity within form, so no one is having the same adventure, even though there's only one nature and one world.

This post shall be called Human Nature: The Adventure of a Lifetime. But I guess it could equally be called Human Adventure: The Nature of a Lifetime. Or Human Lifetime: The Nature of an Adventure.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I Was So Much Older Then...

There are only three areas in which the ancients still speak to us -- intimately, profoundly, universally. These would be in the domains of truth, of virtue, and of beauty; or, how to know, what to do, and why to create. Otherwise, there's pretty much no point in wasting one's time familiarizing oneself with these dead white sages, prophets, and saints.

I am once again reminded of this by Maritain, who suggests that we consult these great souls "because we want to hark back to a freshness of vision that is lost today."

Jesus makes a point of counseling us to be as children, but surely he doesn't mean this in any pejorative sense, e.g., credulous, naive, easily led, Democrat.

For what is a child? Well, for starters, it is what man uniquely is, in the sense that -- alone among the animals -- he specializes in immaturity because his neoteny never ceases.

Except when it does, which is when man dies, precisely. In other words, man is quintessentially an open system, not just biologically (which is obvious), but psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. To the extent that one becomes closed, or at equilibrium, in any of these areas, then one is dead on that particular level.

To say neoteny is to say neo-nate, which simply means "new birth." Thus, to say that man must be "born again" implies that one must not conflate, say, biological and spiritual birth.

Now, one of the soul's most important powers is, of course, abstraction. For example, we may consider physical and spiritual birth, and ask ourselves, what is common of the two? Birth as such represents the crossing of an ontological caesura; it is a kind of new being in a new environment -- except that something of the old being must persist, otherwise there would be nothing to undergo the change, which would be absurd.

"I was blind, but now I see." Among other things, this is a statement about birth. A new being has been born, but it is nevertheless the same "I" who was once blind but now sighted. So don't you ever forget it!

Anyway, Maritain writes of the ancients that "No treasuring up of experience, none of the advantages, none of the graces of thought's advancing age can possibly replace the youth, the virginity of observation, the intuitive upsurge of intellect, as yet unwearied, toward the delicious novelty of the real."

Allow that to sink in for a moment. While you're at it, allow something else to slink out.

I remember reading a record review of a new anthology of a musician who had peaked some half century ago. It doesn't matter who the artist was, but the critic said words to the effect that he envied the person who would be hearing this music for the first time, with fresh ears: "And when they say, 'Uncle, this has changed my life,' you can reminisce about how it changed yours as well."

However, as we know, one of the magical properties of grace is to "make all things new." It especially makes love new, but also knowledge and beauty. In the absence of this vertical renewal, life would pretty much be the worst day ever, gosh!

Speaking of which -- no, not Napoleon, but Jacques -- the latter recognized this unpleasant truth by the age of 20 or so. He must have been a rather intense lad, for

"In 1901, Maritain met Raïssa Oumansoff, a fellow student at the Sorbonne.... Both were struck by the spiritual aridity of French intellectual life and made a vow to commit suicide within a year should they not find some answer to the apparent meaninglessness of life. Bergson's challenges to the then-dominant positivism sufficed to lead them to give up their thoughts of suicide, and Jacques and Raïssa married in 1904. Soon thereafter... both Maritains sought baptism in the Roman Catholic Church (1906)."

Once again we see confirmation of my point about the only cure for cynicism being more of it. I too arrived at this completely skeptical and cynical point of view by my twenties, at least in terms of mind and spirit, or what we may know and who we are. Perhaps I was saved by my emotional immaturity, which caused me to remain rather innocent and viscerally (and even painfully) idealistic in that area. Compared to emotional reality, one's mental superstructure (if not grounded in the transcendent real) is just a shack in a hurricane, so I couldn't find that old crackerbox now if I tried.

Camus made the point that the only important philosophical question is whether or not to commit suicide. He's right. It doesn't mean you have to kill yourself all at once. Rather, you can spend your whole life doing it, like the finest rock stars and jazz greats. Or, more to the point, once one has committed spiritual suicide, then one is a dead man walking this way anyway, a grotesquely living corpse, like Steven Tyler.

Now a child, just because he is constantly learning and therefore "permanently immature," is not thereby a nothing. Rather, he represents our very own eros shot into the heart of the divine center, and my, getting bigger each day! -- which is to say, more height, more length, more breadth, and more depth (which are the measures of the soul's dimensions).

Schuon expresses it beautifully in observing that the child "of whatever age remains close to the paradise not yet fully lost": “And it is for that reason that childhood constitutes a necessary aspect of the integral man: the man who is fully mature always keeps, in equilibrium with wisdom, the qualities of simplicity and freshness, of gratitude and trust, that he possessed in the springtime of his life.”

Or, in the words of our young unKnown Friend,

"There is nothing which is more necessary and more precious in the experience of human childhood than parental love.... nothing more precious, because the parental love experienced in childhood is moral capital for the whole of life.... It is so precious, this experience, that it renders us capable of elevating ourselves to more sublime things--even divine things. It is thanks to the experience of parental love that our soul is capable of raising itself to the love of God."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Pissing in the Stream of Progress

Continuing with yesterday's post, we are a firm believer in evolution. What we do not understand -- in principle, mind you -- is how a believer in natural selection can simultaneously maintain a belief in evolution, since the one precludes the other.

Let's define our terms. In order to avoid a common misconception, I should point out that when I say evolution, I do not mean evolutionism, which is another species entirely.

The latter is the metaphysical doctrine that says that ultimate reality involves a kind of unfolding from primordial substance. It reduces to pantheism -- or elevates matter to God -- as everything is seen as an explication of what lies hidden in potential in mere matter. It violates reason and common sense, as it not only tries to derive the higher from the lower, but ultimately, if pressed to its conclusion, everything from nothing. Life must reduce to death, mind to matter, truth to falsehood, and your little theory of evolutionism to a sacred cow pie. And you just stepped in it.

As mentioned in previous posts, the idea of evolution had literally been around for thousands of years (two thousand, anyway) prior to Darwin. Maritain points out that a number of the pre-Socratics hit upon the notion, which is not surprising, since it is one of the possibilities presented to us as we first attempt to see beneath phenomena to the Real.

If we think of these men as analogous to children (by which I do not mean to insult them; rather, that, philosophically speaking, man was in the position of a child, starting with nothing), then we can understand how one might arrive at the notion that all is change, or being, or one. In other words, they are searching for the ultimate abstraction, or principle, which can account for each and every particular instance (which is indeed the purpose of metaphysics).

So Maritain reminds us that various forms of evolutionism were taught by Greek thinkers of the fifth and sixth centuries BC, such as Anaximander, Empedocles, and Heraclitus, the latter of whom is famous for teaching that "all is change," and that one cannot step into the same stream twice.

But again, if this is true, then it must also apply to Heraclitus' doctrine, so that if he is right, he is wrong. The same applies, of course, to modern Darwinists, to the extent that they elevate the science to a metaphysic.

Maritian traces the evolution of philosophy -- which is to say, the increased proximity to wisdom -- from these early thinkers, through Plato and Aristotle and on to St. Thomas. And when I say evolution, I mean evolution. I do not mean random change, as if there is no essential difference between Heraclitus, Aristotle, and Thomas, and that one might as well flip a coin to determine which of them was closer to truth.

No, when I say that philosophy -- and science, for that matter -- has evolved, this is what I mean: that it betrays a clear and recognizable direction that only the fool or tenured could deny.

Not to speak ill of the dead, but this denial is precisely what my late uncle-through-marriage -- the esteemed University of Chicago historian -- maintained. It so happens that he was friendly with Thomas Kuhn, who wrote the celebrated Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In one of those rare occasions that I was completely wrong, I argued that Kuhn was not implying that there was no such thing as objective scientific progress. Admittedly, I didn't actually know this. Rather, I just assumed that no one could be that stupid. I was a little naive back then.

So, when we talk about philosophic or scientific progress, what are we really talking about? In other words, what is the measure of progress, besides getting a lot of free stuff from the government on somebody else's dime? So far Maritain hasn't come right out and said it, but perhaps the most noticeable change we see between, say, the pre-Socratics through Aquinas, involves the power of abstraction.

In fact, we can trace this path all the back to animals, who have no powers of abstraction. In many ways man is defined by this power, which is largely rooted in language, and prior to that, in my opinion, the hand. Yes, the hand, because it is nature's first all-purpose tool. Because the hand can do this and the hand can do that, we grasp the underlying principle of grasping.

Remember a couple of posts ago, our discussion of how applied cynicism is the cure for a corrosive cynicism gone wild? Wouldn't you know it, the very next day Maritain made exactly the same point vis-a-vis the Socratic method, and here I was thinking I was being original again.

Note that both the cause and effect of cynicism is the absence of truth. I suppose postmodernists must pride themselves on being the first humans to be courageous enough to embrace the truth that there is no truth, but that is an ahistorical fiction.

Rather, this kind of relativism had already taken philosophy to a dead end by the time Socrates arrived on the scene.

I'm starting to run out of time, so I'll just let Maritain take over the cosmic bus from here. Bear in mind that he's talking about conditions 2400 years ago, not today:

"[T]heir concepts were embroiled in confused strife, an interminable battle of opposing probabilities. The immediate and obvious result of these attempts at philosophizing seemed the bankruptcy of speculative thought."

"It is not, therefore, surprising that this period of elaboration produced a crisis in the history of thought, at which an intellectual disease imperiled the very existence of philosophic speculation. This intellectual disease was sophistry, that is to say, the corruption of philosophy.

"Sophistry is not a system of ideas, but a vicious attitude of the mind.... For the aim and rule of their knowledge was no longer that which is, that is to say, the object of knowledge, but the interest of the knowing subject....

"[T]he most characteristic feature of all alike was that they sought the advantages conferred by knowledge without seeking truth.

"They sought the advantages conferred by knowledge so far as knowledge brings its possessor power, pre-eminence, or intellectual pleasure. With this in view, they put themselves forward as rationalists and walking encyclopedias; to every question they had an answer, deceptively convincing....

"They did not seek truth.... For with men and children alike destruction is the easiest method of displaying their strength.... Every law imposed upon man they declared to be an arbitrary convention...."

Well, that's the history. It reappeared in the 1960s, this time as farce. Time will tell if we ever reenter the stream of progress.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Christian Cure For Religion

No time for a post made of all-new materials, but almost enough to properly edit this precogitated one from exactly five years ago, which is likely before you were born again anyway. Although it was essentially dug up at random, wouldn't you know, it addresses concerns that have lately been bubbling up or trickling down into my local CIA branch (the Cosmic Intelligence Agency).

For example, near the end of yesterday's post I mentioned that "If one takes the long view of man, I believe one will see something like the following: a kind of original immersion in mythological subjectivism, followed by a gradual awakening (at least in the Christian West) to an objective apprehension of the exterior world (which sees the first stage as hopelessly childish), followed by a return to, and recovery of, our original position, only now able to assimilate "the world" (in the scientific sense) into its grand meta-mythos. In a way, it's like thesis-antithesis-synthesis, in this case, of cosmos, man, and God."

I bumped into similar concerns in Jacques Maritain's Introduction to Philosophy, which attempts to take the Story of Wisdom as far back into the recesses of history as the evidence will allow.

What is somewhat new to me is the attempt to sketch a kind of linear development between what amounted to mere animals to the full flowering of philosophy represented by Plato and Aristotle. Prior to that, there were innumerable false paths and nul de slacks that left man enslaved to his lower nature. Clearly, something had to happen -- something extra-genetic -- in order for man to awaken to his full potential. As for why an animal supposedly fashioned by the random accidents of natural selection has this infinite potential -- well, don't ask. I mean, don't ask the tenured.

In any event, this unexpected discovery of the true path "must be regarded as extraordinary when we consider the multitude of wrong roads taken by so many philosophers and philosophic schools" (ibid.).

For Maritain, philosophy is none other than wisdom, "the wisdom of man qua man." Interestingly, he suggests that the full flowering of Greek philosophy c. 600 BC was not just a development but a recovery, something that Schuon and other perennialists maintain. For example, as Joseph Campbell well knew, the truths of various primitive myths, no matter how degraded or corrupted, often betray a kind of metaphysical blueprint. This common deep structure, according to Maritain, suggests a "primitive tradition, common to the different branches of the human race and going back to the origin of mankind." (BTW, that book I linked to yesterday was Campbell's magnum opus in his lifetime study of these primordial myths.)

To the extent that this collective wisdom existed, it "inevitably deteriorated," as "little by little the rust of oblivion gathered upon it, error defiled it, and it fell prey to the corruptions of polytheism and the more degraded forms of religion," e.g., sacrifice, magic, idolatry, global warming, etc.

I'd better stop now, because I'm running out of time to edit the old post. But let's read it in light of what has been suggested above:

In the Coonifesto I wrote of the "big bang" of consciousness that occurred around 45,000 years ago, when genetic Homo sapiens sapiens crossed the vertical threshold into actual humanness, an event that is most vividly memorialized in the beautiful art that suddenly appears in the more trendy caves of the Upper Paleolithic.

However, it is a bit of an understatement to say that human cerebration wasn't necessarily a cause for celebration, since we continued roving about in what anthropologists call "bands" of hunter-gatherers, but what we now call "urban wilderness gangs," or "the NBA." Each of these gangs numbered about 50 homie sapiens, and each gang was at war with all of the others. Paranoia ran deep, because any encounter with another roster of creeps would usually result in violence, death, serious injury, rape, or theft of your bling.

Therefore, according to Nicholas Wade -- and here is something I hadn't considered before -- the evolution from foraging to settling down, or what is called "sedentism" (i.e., "wifing your baby-mama"), represented a revolution nearly as radical as the creative explosion itself. In fact, Wade says exactly this:

"Archaeologists have little hesitation in describing the transition to sedentism as a revolution, comparable to the one that defines the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic 50,000 years ago when behaviorally modern humans emerged from their anatomically modern forebears."

The human ingression into the interior of the cosmos -- the vertical -- truly occurs at what might be conceptualized as a "right angle" to history as such. The first dramatic evidence of this right angle occurs roughly 45,000 years ago, but it turns out that the revolution of sedentism was hardly less dramatic, in that it went against the grain of most everything that had passed for humanness up to that time. The biggest hurdle was that humans had to learn to somehow get along in larger groups without killing each other. In order to do this, they had to develop a more abstract way than kinship to forge a unity. In a way, they had to develop a deeper understanding of abstraction itself.

Now, perhaps you may have noticed that one of the points of my book and blog is to widen, so to speak, the "arc of salvation" so as to encompass the entire history of the cosmos, beginning before the big bang and venturing into future (or spatially vertical) realms beyond ego. But if one considers Genesis esoterically, it does this as well.

One of the supernaturally odd things about scripture is that it is always one step ahead, somehow awaiting us when we arrive there. As such, it speaks -- with great wisdom, I might add -- of both of these revolutions that preceded the formal arc of salvation that begins with the covenant with the ancient Israelites. Somehow collective or archetypal memory of these primordial events -- events which occurred before the dawn of writing -- is encoded in scripture.

Someone yesterday complained again about my tendency to get sidetracked when I promise to write about a certain topic, but Coons, this is very easy to do when you are trying to write about the entire cosmos. In doing so, you have to develop a certain wide angle frame of mind that doesn't lend itself to dwelling in particulars for any length of time, at risk of losing the vision of the whole.

Here is a perfect example of a cosmic artery that I could venture down and which could justify an entire book, but I don't want to get too sidetracked here. Suffice it to say that the fine book The Beginning of Wisdom goes into great detail about what the Torah has to say about human behavior before the covenant, and it is does not flatter mankind. It is so much more deep and wise than the typical PC romantic view of human nature that it is somewhat breathtaking.

Trad Coon Joseph forwarded me something by Frederick Turner (I don't know the source), who writes that "The most ancient of the religions of history, Judaism, might be the deepest taproot of human religion, our strongest and clearest connection with the whole creative history of the universe. Judaism's collective mythic memory goes back even before the Black Sea inundation, over seven thousand years ago, with hints in the Cain and Abel story of the dawn of the Neolithic revolution, when the farmer Cains replaced the hunter-gatherer Abels [i.e., the revolution of sedentism and the beginning of human sacrifice]; there is even a kind of reflected whisper, in the story of Eden, of the time when humans first recognized their own uniqueness as animals and imagined their own personal death [the big bang of consciousness 45,000 years ago]."

In fact, scripture contains many references to mans' default religion, human sacrifice, as the Torah is even honest enough (for how could it not be?) to document the Jews' own backsliding in this area (spiritually untutored man's "default God" is Moloch). To this day, I would guess that the majority of useless academics will argue that human beings were not cannibalistic despite the mountains of evidence that they were. Again, this just emphasizes how much more unblinking wisdom there is in Genesis than in gliberal academia. Genesis is anything but politically correct, which is perhaps one more reason that leftists despise it so. Naturally, scripture explains them much more adequately than they could ever explain it. In fact, it is perfectly accurate to say that Genesis "saw leftists coming" in a number of delightfully ironic stories.

There are many good books on mankind's practice of human sacrifice, but perhaps the best one is Violence Unveiled by Gil Bailie, because he places it in the context of the overall arc of salvation. I cannot possibly do justice to his full argument here, but in his view, mankind at large was actually in desperate need of a cure for religion, and Christianity turned out to be this cure. "Ironically," Jesus was a victim -- and as a result, a permanent reminder -- of one of the things he came to cure, the ritual scapegoating of victims in order to forge social solidarity and drain off the violent impulses. For nothing creates social cohesion and temporarily eases the war of each against all so much as when everyone's aggression is hypnotically focused on a sacrificial victim, in a process that represents "unanimity minus one."

Once you understand the sacrificial mechanism, you only see it everywhere. It is a sort of master key that explains the inexplicable, especially in regions outside Judeo-Christendom untouched by the arc of salvation. To cite one obvious example, what do you think it is that maintains any semblance of solidarity in the entire Muslim world (or the U.N., come to think of it) -- including, sad to say, the majority of Muslims blessed to be living in the Judeo-Christian world? What unifies this disparate group that would otherwise mindlessly be killing each other, as they are doing in Iraq?

Obviously, it is the ritual scapegoating of Jews. I have no opinion as to whether there may actually be some obscure light of vertical revelation contained somewhere in Islam -- the existence of certain Sufi sects argues that there might be, but they represent far, far less than 1% of all Muslims, and nowhere are they considered remotely normative. No, sorry to say that what unifies the Islamic world -- including wretched Muslim spokesholes such as CAIR -- is human sacrifice. But this irrational obsession with hatred of scapegoats is not an "aberration" if we consider the entire arc of salvation, including the period of time before the old covenant, i.e., Phase I.

As I mentioned yesterday, not only did the ancient Jews begin to reflect superior ideals that far surpassed their contemporaries, but these ideals have still failed to permeate into many modern groups -- e.g., in Africa, China, and Islam. Not only that, but the modern West has produced its own permanent counter-revolution in the form of the international left, which, since it rejects the cure for religion, is reverting back to primordial religion -- undisguised born-again paganism in the form of body mutilation, magic (almost all new agers and integralists are leftists), infrahuman entertainment, the cult of celebrity, blood worship (multiculturalism), pantheistic environmentalism, sexual license unbound from any sacred context, etc.

To be continued....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Only Cure for Cynicism is More Cynicism

In order for the modern liberal project to succeed, even the very idea of truth must be rejected and eliminated. If that sounds harsh or polemic, it is not intended to, not even remotely. For we too reject truth, the difference being that we eventually leave that stage and move on.

The above characterization of modern left-liberalism amounts to a banality, something any self-aware and intellectually honest man of the left should be able to recognize and acknowledge in himself -- even be proud of, for it is his creed and confession.

To put it another way, if the liberal cannot affirm his rejection of truth (or affirmation of relativism, which is the same thing), then he is living a lie. Oddly, we see his truth -- such as it is -- where he cannot.

To say "truth" is to say absolute, timeless, and universal. For example, James Madison affirmed that "the natural right of human beings to be governed only with their consent" is an "absolute truth" (quoted in Arkes).

Conversely, one of the most renowned liberal philosophers, Richard Rorty, says that "truth is not the sort of thing one should expect to have a philosophically interesting theory about." Rather, "'truth' is just the name of a property which all true statements share."

Similarly, good and evil do not exist in any objective manner. Rather, "certain acts" are "good ones to perform, under the circumstances," but there is nothing "general and useful to say about what makes them all good" (ibid.).

Now, that's an honest liberal, someone who makes no apologies for spending his life indulging in what Schuon calls the "esoterism of stupidity." And of course, if truth and virtue aren't more than mere conventions, or contingent properties of sentences and actions, then we are the ones engaged in an esoterism of stupidity.

To be sure, both of us cannot possibly be right. However, one wonders what it would mean for a man like Rorty to be "right," aside from saying that his sentences are grammatically correct.

From our perspective, Rorty was possessed of -- for he did not possess it -- an intellect that essentially sunk under the weight of its own irony and cynicism. As they say of the ironist, everything must be placed in quotes, e.g., "truth," "love," "virtue," etc. A relative of mine who died a few days ago was the same way. In his case, he was a well known University of Chicago historian. What I don't understand about these people is why they place so much innocent faith in their own cynicism, which is a kind of "negative capability" that dissolves truth like acid.

I understand the tendency, because in my experience it is something that most any intellectual will confront. The difference, at least in my case, is that I was 26 or 27 before I took the plunge into the Life of Mind, and worked a blue collar job until age 32, so I had some acquaintance with real life before encountering all the dangerous abstractions of the tenured, which tend to ensnare defenseless children when their heads are still full of mush, so they end up spending their whole lives in the liberal sandbox.

Later, by the age of 40, I made the explicit decision to turn away from that life, since I recognized that it was literally a kind of nothing that led nowhere. Yes, one could enjoy the retrograde thrill of doing battle with other infertile eggheads, or the misplaced pride in being an alpha smarty-pants, but even then not with any finality. As with fashion, there is always an arbitrary change of sensibilities around the corner.

Besides, my psychoanalytic training taught me that most people don't believe things because they're true, but because they want and even need to believe them. In this context, reason is just a tool one deploys to explain one's convictions in an a posteriori manner. Most people are living out impersonal myths that long precede them, and to the extent that the myth is not critically examined, one will carry it to the grave.

There is great profundity in Jesus' wise crack to the effect that we too should be as wise as serpents but innocent as doves. For me, the idea of being "wise as a serpent" immediately brings to mind cynicism. Yes, Jesus is counseling us to be cynical, but surely not as an end in itself. Rather, it is thoroughly tied in with the recovery of innocence, which properly lies on the other end of cynicism.

Perhaps an autobiographical example will help. Not mine, but Sri Aurobindo's (and I raise his example not to promulgate Vedanta, but first because it comes readily to mind, second because I believe that what he describes is universal, a kind of stage we must all pass through on the journey back to God).

Whatever else he was, little Auro was clearly a brilliant lad, educated at Cambridge, fluent in several languages, recipient of various academic prizes. But when he later turned to spiritual development, he came to a point that he saw through this game -- and it is a game -- first from a lateral, and then vertical, perspective. In a letter, he wrote that

"The capital period of my intellectual development was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone."

Now that I think about it, I had this experience quite vividly around the time I was working on my master's degree, during the last period of my life that I smoked marijuana. On the one hand, I was learning all this academic stuff which all the experts agreed one must know in order to call oneself a "psychologist."

However, the vast majority of it was only two or three hits away from being not just so many words, but utterly beside the point. Frankly it was more than a little frightening at first, because it is as if there really is no ground, and it was up to me to just choose one of these ideologies I was learning about. We all must face this abyss, which is the logical corollary of the cynic, in order to come out stronger and more robust at the other end.

It took Aurobindo some fourteen years "to travel the Western path" (referring to his education), and nearly as long to undo it, so to speak, a phenomenon with which most of my readers will be familiar, assuming they've been the recipient of a liberal soulwash via public education.

But one way or another, "All developed men, those who get beyond the average," must somehow "separate the two parts of the mind, the active part which is a factory of thoughts, and the quiet masterful part which is at once a Witness and a Will, observing them, judging, rejecting, eliminating, accepting," etc. If you fail to accomplish this (assuming you are the thinking type), you will likely end up a mere laborer in a thought factory, where, as the saying goes, you must publish or perish, and then perish anyway.

The next step will also be familiar to One Cosmos readers, the encounter with a Truth that "is not an expression of ideas arrived at by speculative thinking." Rather, one must apprehend spiritual truth "through experience and a consciousness of things which arises directly out of that experience or else underlies or is involved in it." It is a recognition and a discovery, not a deduction or analysis.

You will have noticed that our ʘCD troll always comes at us from a perspective that is simultaneously bitterly cynical and childishly naive, the latter of which is but a counterfeit form of innocence. No matter how many times we say it, he cannot grasp that we have been where he is, that we are intimately familiar with that plane of consciousness, and that we ultimately found it both cramped and inadequate.

If one takes the long view of man, I believe one will see something like the following: a kind of original immersion in mythological subjectivism, followed by a gradual awakening (at least in the Christian West) to an objective apprehension of the exterior world (which sees the first stage as hopelessly childish), followed by a return to, and recovery of, our original position, only now able to assimilate "the world" (in the scientific sense) into its grand meta-mythos. In a way, it's like thesis-antithesis-synthesis, in this case, of cosmos, man, and God.

For Joseph Campbell, "the first function of mythology is to awaken and maintain in the individual a sense of wonder and participation in the mystery of this finally inscrutable universe." And in our day, "the old notion of a once-upon-a-time First Cause [in the linear or horizontal sense] has given way to something more like an immanent ground of being, transcendent of conceptualization [i.e., beyond the reach of cynicism], which is in a continuous act of creation now."

I don't know that anyone could put it better than John Scottus Eriugena, who wrote that "the universal goal of the entire creation is the Word of God. Thus both the beginning and the end of the world subsist in God's word," which is "the manifold end without end and the beginning without beginning, being without beginning save for the Father."

And the way to this realization is "to be purged from all ignorance, illuminated by all wisdom, and perfected by all deification," for, in the words of Balthasar "fulfillment of the creature within the world's terms is unthinkable." Thus, it takes a hopeless cynic to vanquish the secretly hopeful cynic.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

There's No Shame in Being a Liberal

A couple of weeks ago we discussed several universal principles -- or moral absolutes -- that any normal person should be able to discover on his own. One of these is the "silver rule," i.e., do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.

For example, since most people are presumably happy and relieved they weren't dismembered and sucked out of their womb, it's just good manners to extend the same courtesy to others.

Of course, someone who hates his life or detests or devalues himself (or others) will reason otherwise, but that's the whole point: note that I use the qualifier normal. Obviously, when dealing with an abnormal person, all bets are off. Until quite recently, "normality" and "reason" were pretty much synonymous terms. A person who had gone mad had "lost his reason."

In fact, let's consult the thesaurus and consider some of the synonyms for crazy: bereft of reason, reasonless, irrational, unreasonable, haywire, off the hinges, minus some buttons, one brick shy of a full load, rowing with one oar in the water, etc.

Each of these implies that something vital is missing. And that missing thing touches on the essence of our humanness, which has to do with reason, or, more to the point, being able to give reasons. Only human beings can give reasons for what they believe, plan, do, and have done.

But reason isn't "just anything." It cannot be the same as "giving pretexts," at which human beings are also fiendishly adept. Rather, reason is either universal -- which is another way of saying absolute -- or it is not reason (and then there is no reason). For example, the principle of the excluded middle cannot be true on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, or true here but not in another cosmos. Rather, it is true, period.

How do we know this? Because if it weren't true, we could never know it. In other words, there are certain axioms of reason that permit reason to take place, and without which it cannot. If something isn't even what it is and not something else, then surely we cannot reason about it.

Note, for example, how such a perversion of logic permits the leftist's unseemly enthusiasm for abortion. The Constitution makes reference to people and persons, but nowhere, of course, does it distinguish between persons inside and outside the womb. This is because the Framers weren't rubes or idiots, and did not want to appear as such. In a document intended to speak to the ages, they didn't want to insert clauses and qualifiers that any minimally educated person already knows, and only an ill-educated or miseducated person can not know.

For example, Arkes points out that many of the Framers didn't want to include an explicit prohibition of ex post facto laws, since the injustice of such is self-evident to any reasoning person. To permit ex post facto laws -- in which the state can prosecute behavior that was legal at the time it was undertaken -- undermines the very basis of jurisprudence. And just as there are axioms without which reason or justice cannot take place, there are moral axioms without which moral reasoning is impossible.

The Constitution does distinguish between persons, for example, between persons over and under age 25 (to be a representative), between persons who have been citizens for more or less than seven years, or between persons over and under 30 (senator). But nowhere does it suggest, imply, or even hint at the notion that a person under 25 or 30, or a citizen of less than seven years, is not a person. Indeed, even slaves were persons, which was an explosive little premise inserted into the Constitution that would assure the eventual elimination of slavery, on pain of a fatal self-contradiction.

So how did we ever get this crackpot idea that a person is not a person if he is less than nine months old, and therefore doesn't come under the protection of the law? Before 1973, it never occurred to any normal person that an eight month old human being isn't a human being. What sort of reasons were given, what sophistry promulgated, what semantics deployed, to deny that self-evident truth?

It occurs to me that one of the properties -- or penumbra, if you will -- of reason is that human beings are a little embarrassed when they are exposed as being unreasonable. In fact, more generally, if you consider the sources of shame, they often revolve around the exposure to public view of a side of ourselves that is "less than human," or animal.

What puzzles me is how the justices responsible for the judicial sophistry of Roe v. Wade weren't positively mortified at their abandonment of reason, if not while writing the decision, at least afterwards, when it was picked apart and exposed for what it is. A normal person responds to the shameful exposure of his lack of reason by rectifying the situation. (Think of Col. Nicholson's mortification in Bridge on the River Kwai, when he exclaims, What have I done?! That's the reaction a decent man, albeit too late to undo what he's done.)

But an abnormal person, either because he cannot tolerate shame or because he has abandoned it altogether, will dig in his heels and insist that he is being reasonable. You will have noticed that one of the problems in arguing with a leftist is not just that they are unreasonable, but that they cannot be shamed.

Examples are far too numerous to chronicle: Ted Kennedy was not ashamed of his treasonous contact with the Soviet Union to try to undermine President Reagan; Jane Fonda is not ashamed of her deep-throated support for our enemies; Jimmy Carter is not ashamed of his anti-Semitism; Obama is not ashamed of his spiritual apprenticeship under the vile Rev. Wright; Jesse Jackson is not ashamed of his personal enrichment through corporate blackmail; Joe Biden is not ashamed of his sudden abandonment of natural rights law when it became necessary to slander and vilify Judge Bork.

Arkes describes the process through which Justice Blackmun hatched the novel idea that a human being isn't one. Since he couldn't find it in the Constitution, he noticed that whenever the latter refers to "persons," they're always doing something, "such as voting or migrating or escaping from being extradited" (Arkes).

Ah ha! The next point is subtle, perhaps too subtle if you're not a constitutional scholar, so pay close attention: notice that you never see folks inside the womb voting, or migrating, or being extradited. "From these clues he concluded that 'persons' did not refer to people before they were born and mobile." This is a clear instance of bogus induction to a first principle, which means that it isn't really first. Rather, it's just the secondary conclusion of a prior false premise. Might as well argue that a paralyzed or sleeping person is no longer himself but something else entirely.

Recall what was said above about giving pretexts rather than reasons. Only an abnormal person does this, at least without feeling shame. I know this because of my work as a forensic psychologist. When I write a report, I never want to reason in such a way that I am ashamed of what I am saying.

But the typical forensic psychologist has no shame (to say nothing of the attorneys, who have long since overcome their ability to feel shame), and that is what I am up against. You know, whores. People who conclude first, and find the pretexts later.

Even on its face, Blackmun's logic doesn't pass the snuff test, because you'd better have some extraordinarily compelling reasons to justify the snuffing of millions upon millions of unique human lives. Why? Because the first sentence of the Constitution states that its very reason for being is to secure certain specified Blessings for ourselves and for our Posterity (upper case letters in original).

Posterity, what does that mean? Among other things, it means future generations, who are by definition none other than the presently unborn. They too are entitled to the Blessings secured by the Constitution.

And what is a Blessing, anyway? In my dictionary, to bless means to consecrate or hallow, or to pronounce holy.

Human life is sacred. Who knew?

The security of a people... must lie in a frequent recurrence to first principles. --John Marshall

Monday, February 20, 2012

Everybody Love 'Dem Dead Presidents

Remember when Grant could get you out of whatever you're in? Good times...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Your Constitutional Right to Make Up Shit About the Constitution

Continuing with yesterday's line of thought, Arkes agrees that behind "ordinary laws" are "basic laws," that is, "the laws that [tell] us, in effect, just what constitutes a 'law.'"

As such, "the fundamental law of a constitution bears then a logical precedence over the statute or the ordinary law." The Constitution is therefore not just chronologically prior to any basic or positive law, but ontologically prior.

Taking the analysis one step further, it is clear that the law-making body -- the legislature -- cannot claim to be the source of the fundamental law (heretofore Law), but is "itself the artifact or creation of a constitution."

Arkes quotes Locke on the matter, who wrote that a constitution is "antecedent to all positive laws." For the Framers, it was axiomatic that the Constitution "cannot spring then from the positive law," but must be grounded in something deeper, something above, beyond, or prior to the positive law.

Note that none of this touches directly on matters of religion or revelation, or on any legal theory per se. To the contrary, it is simply a reflection of "the canons of propositional logic" (Arkes), or derived "from the nature and reason of the thing" (Hamilton, quoted in Arkes). It is true of necessity, not opinion, consensus, experience, etc., as is the case in any axiom of formal logic.

As we have discussed before, logic alone cannot prove anything with finality, because it has no power to furnish its own premises. This latter requires an unavoidable act of judgment, and there is no mechanism for reducing judgment to logic -- which is why, for example, women are so confusing to the pathetic man who would attempt to fit them into his cramped little logic box.

Women are nonlinear, for starters, and we wouldn't have it any other way. To say that they are intuitional is not to say that they are illogical, but that they possess -- or are possessed by, depending on the time of the month -- a different order of logic, one that can, for example, "see around corners" in a way that bypasses local constraints. Nor does it imply that they lack the other kind of logic, unless they are full blown feminists who have given themselves over to girlish hysteria, like our William.

James Wilson, one of the more brilliant founders and a member of the first Supreme Court, made some interesting remarks in the very first case that came before them. Think of it: there existed "no cases to draw upon as precedents" (Arkes). Therefore, before saying anything, "he found it necessary to speak... about 'the principles of general jurisprudence'" in general, and a philosophy of mind in particular. In so doing, he rejected the "skeptical and illiberal philosophy" that "prevailed in many parts of Europe," regarding it, in the words of Arkes, as "the fount of all forms of relativism in morality and law."

Let us now fast-forward to our post-enlightened, progressive age. In order to impose its statist utopia on the rest of us, the left must not only twist the Constitution to its own ends, but distort the reality upholding it, and without which it is truly just a "piece of paper."

Mainly, it must transform absolute to relative and abolish logic altogether, replacing it with expedience, or just plain will. For the left, where there is a politicized will, there is always a legalistic way to see what it wants to see in the Constitution.

Arkes provides a quintessential example of the latter type of "thinking," courtesy of Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. It is especially sad to contrast the brilliance of a Hamilton or Madison with these clowns, who reduce the Law to a vulgar exercise in deepaking the chopra, right down to the nub. In defending the constitutional right to a dead baby, they mused on the level of an eighth grade graduation speech that

"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

To which the only appropriate response is: could I buy some pot from you?

A nice, if bland, sentiment, to be sure, but what does it have to do with the Constitution? More to the point, does the baby in question get to define his own concept of the mystery of human life? Or is he somehow excluded from the pot party?

We all know how assouls such as Deepak write with such sugary but vacuous rhetorical flourishes in order to conceal what is otherwise empty to the core. We expect this of a sleazy used karma salesman. But of a Supreme Court justice?

The whole passage is beyond irony, and doesn't bear the slightest scrutiny. For example, let us stipulate that a person has the right to define his own existence. Why? What's so special about a person? I mean, dogs don't get to define dogginess. Why do humans have the right to make up shit about themselves?

Easy. Because if we don't have this right, then leftists have no right to make up shit about the Constitution.

Well, that's fine for the justices, but the problem is that in their case, they have the power to impose their shit on the rest of us. Look at me. Every morning I ramble on about the mystery of life. But I would never presume to impose this on anyone else. I just throw it out there. And no, you can't buy any pot from me.

Arkes writes of how these pettifogging mediocrities, "products of the best law schools in the land, affirm the right of a person to make up his own version of the universe." Bueno. "But what of that person himself, the one who was conceded now the right to define his own relation to the universe? Was there any reality or truth attaching to him? And what was there about him that commanded the rest of us to respect these decisions he reached about himself and the universe?"

Indeed, "Why were the rest of us not entitled, in turn, to make him up, or to conceive him in a different way, far more diminished as a bearer of rights?"

Well, we are. We just call him a "fetus" instead of a "baby," and now he has no right to define his own existence. To save him the trouble of linking to it again, I will tell you that reader William has his knickers in a twist over the Virginia legislature's proposed law that will require an ultrasound prior to abortion.

Now, an ultrasound is a routine part of any pregnancy, and I would be willing to bet that Obamacare mandates them for all pregnant women. Indeed, it would be an insult to women, not to mention a danger to the baby, if this service were denied.

Unless the right to decide who is a human being trumps the Law.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

From the Rule of Law to the Rule of the Lightbringer

We all know that America was founded upon the rule of law, but how do we know this is a good thing? In other words, what Law accounts for the rule of law? What is the cosmic Law beneath -- or above -- the terrestrial law?

I ask this because it is by no means obvious, at least if history is to be our guide. If it were obvious, then man would have discovered the principle long before he did. Obviously, for most of history (and for the majority of human beings alive today) man has been subordinate to the rule of man.

And what is the law or principle beneath or behind the rule of man? Why, power, of course. For the law of power to be operative, it must be based upon the implicit principle that man ≠ man, for no man has the natural right to dominate his equal. Rather, men must be unequal if such domination is to be legitimate and "in the nature of things."

Thus, the rule of man is always the rule of power and inequality, unless said man subordinates himself to the higher Law, in which case it is no longer the rule of man, precisely.

This introduces an interesting twist -- one of which the founders were well aware -- because it means that just because one has a formal democracy, this fact alone has nothing to do with whether or not one is subordinate to the rule of law.

Indeed, most serious thinkers realize that democracy in and of itself is indistinguishable from mob rule in the absence of a higher principle. Which, of course, is why reader William is forever alerting us to inane polls that reflect his policy preferences, as if no appeal to the intellect is necessary. Vox mobulie!

In fact, we may put forth the general rule that since the left is by definition unprincipled (since it denies transcendence), it must ultimately find its legitimacy in power, including the power of the demos when convenient. If not convenient, then it will simply bypass the citizenry and impose its newly discovered or improvised principles from on high, as in Dred Scott or Roe v. Wade.

Those latter two cases are only the most visible and dramatic instances of judicial malfeasance, but in fact, the malfeasance has been going on in systematic form since FDR, who understood full well that in order to exercise the type of power he coveted, it couldn't be within a constitutional framework.

Therefore, it was necessary to intimidate and/or replace the referees, who would change, reinterpret, or just ignore the rules. But to change the rules in this manner is again the rule of power, now made even more malicious because it is being imposed upon us by people for whom the rule of law ought to be sacred.

And I mean this literally. Not for nothing is the Supreme Court building conspicuously honored with the image of Moses the Lawgiver. Likewise, it is with good reason that justices dress in robes that are designed to efface personal identity and to remind us that they are analogous to a kind of impersonal priesthood to whom we owe our respect. In this case, clothes are supposed to unmake the man, and reflect the law only.

But nowadays, if the outer garments were to match the interior soul, then four of our justices would have to dress as thugs, another as a clown. For only Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, and Alito attempt to render themselves invisible by actually subordinating themselves to our constitution. Only do they deserve to be swaddled in majestic anonymity.

In order to bring about the statist polices they desire, leftists cannot and will not pin their grandiose aspirations on so unreliable a principle as the rule of law. This has been recognized since Woodrew Wilson, who was at least honest enough to argue the point openly and transparently, without so much as a fig-leaf of the type of modern-day spin that tries to tell us that what we see with our own eyes is not really there -- or that what is not there is there, concealed behind some emanation of a penumbra seen only by the unelect.

Steven Hayward provides numerous example of Wilson's refreshingly candid sentiments about the grave defects of our Constitution, and how it just interferes with the rule of Overeducated Elites who Know Better.

If only today's devious progressives could be as forthright, then we could actually have a meaningful discussion instead of a shoving match, in which we quote the Constitution and they tell us to shove it.

It is no little irony that before being permitted to sit as executive of the federal government, the president-elect must swear an oath of fealty to the Constitution of the United States, that is, to protect and defend it. This is as fine an example as one could imagine of a person subordinating himself to the Law behind the law, otherwise the oath is meaningless and we are right back to the rule of man.

In his book, Hayward assigns a letter grade to each president for how well they fulfilled the modest task of protecting and defending the Constitution (Wilson, of course, gets an F). And I say "modest," because even a nodding acquaintance with the literature of the framers -- e.g., the Federalist Papers -- demonstrates that these men already did all of the heavy philosophical, metaphysical, anthropological, historical, religious, and political lifting.

Wilson, who was a Hegelian and a Darwinian, essentially wanted to replace the divine right of kings with the divine right of the state (in Hegel's sense of the state embodying the Divine Idea or absolute principle). If Darwin and Hegel were correct that nothing is static and that history unfolds in a progressive direction, then it is simply absurd to maintain that there is any kind of final truth embodied in our founding documents:

"In our own day, whenever we discuss the structure or development of anything, whether in nature or in society, we consciously or unconsciously follow Mr. Darwin.... The trouble with the [Newtonian] theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing.... Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice" (quoted in Hayward).

That being the case, we must not limit ourselves to "the original intent of those who drew the paper, but by the exigencies and the new aspects of life itself" (ibid). Which, of course, immediately devolves to the rule of pretentious jackasses such as Wilson.

Wilson's argument -- such as it is -- ignores the fact that the framers left a clearly articulated means with which to alter or add to anything they might have missed, for example a law prohibiting grog, which, thanks to progressive do-gooders, was enacted in 1920. Nowadays progressives would have simply banned it based upon their expansive reading of the power to regulate commerce by rendering drunk driving impossible.

The Self-Soothing Myth of our elites pretends that the rule of law was a natural outgrowth of the gradual secularization of man, which commenced after the Renaissance. You might say that in this masturbatory fantasy of the tenured, history has groaned and labored through the dark millennia in order to finally arrive at the Harvard faculty lounge.

But this is not what Eric Nelson finds in his carefully documented The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought. Rather, the opposite; largely because of the Protestant rebellion, which focused on the written word, for the first time (at least on any widespread scale), "Christians began to regard the Hebrew Bible as a political constitution, designed by God himself for the children of Israel."

In this context, it became immediately apparent that the divine right of kings represented a kind of idolatry: "The Hebrew revival made republican exclusivism possible by introducing into Protestant Europe the claim that monarchy is sin." This leads directly to the idea of the rule of man, for now Moses is not merely an analogical and symbolic forerunner of Jesus, but is "to be understood as a lawgiver, as founder of a politeia in the Greek sense."

Which brings us to our current president, for whom the judicial tyranny of the Warren court didn't go far enough in undoing the rule of law and replacing it with the rule of man. Ah, but this is no ordinary man! For

"I’ve heard from far too many enormously smart, wise, spiritually attuned people who’ve been intuitively blown away by Obama’s presence -- not speeches, not policies, but sheer presence -- to say it’s just a clever marketing ploy, a slick gambit carefully orchestrated by hotshot campaign organizers who, once Obama gets into office, will suddenly turn from perky optimists to vile soul-sucking lobbyist whores, with Obama as their suddenly evil, cackling overlord....

"Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul" (Mark Morford).

This is very clever, because it recognizes the need to ground the rule of law in a higher law, but simply identifies the man with the law. You know, as in Deutschland c. 1933-1945. If this weren't such an elevated blog, we might call Obama's new political hybrid Doucheland.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Welfare State: Monument to a Barbarian

One of the unfortunate Rules of Life is that any institution that is not explicitly conservative will eventually devolve to liberalism. This proves, among other things, that liberalism is a kind of default state of the untutored mind. It is what we regress to unless we mature or are educated up and out of it.

For example, yesterday reader Julie linked to an article called American Catholicism's Pact With the Devil, which makes the point that Catholics who vote Democrat have no right to complain when they are deprived of their first amendment rights by the very regime they voted in.

Likewise, the Republican party has only rarely been the explicitly conservative party. As such, just as liberalism is slow-motion socialism, Republicanism has tended to be slow-motion liberalism, or super slow-mo socialism.

I have once again been reminded of this sobering truth in reading Steven Hayward's new Guide to the Presidents, from Wilson to Obama. I've read a number of these "Politically Incorrect Guides," some of which are quite good, others rather lame (especially the ones that come from a far-right paleo-conservative perspective -- you know, the usual suspects who argue that Lincoln was an evil dictator or that states have "rights").

I've almost finished the book, and one implicit theme is just how temperamentally conservative American presidents have been, even when they have been politically liberal. This shows the extent to which conservatism (by which I mean classical liberalism) is in America's DNA if not its DNC. In turn, this is why undisguised leftism has been such a tough sell in America, and why the left must always resort to deception or force (as in judicial force) in order to enact their schemes.

Some of our worst presidents, e.g., Wilson, Roosevelt, LBJ, and Carter, were clearly at odds with their own conservative impulses, which is probably what made them so damaging. Each of them exemplifies Murray's point about liberals not preaching what they practice.

Let's take the wretched LBJ, whom acquaintances describe as "power-hungry, cruel, bigoted, ruthless, deceitful, vain, grasping and... immoral." People who knew him more intimately characterize him as "treacherous, dishonest, manic-aggressive, petty, [and] spoiled."

As a senator, the dignified Johnson routinely whipped out his and "urinated in public, raged at and belittled his staff, used racial epithets with abandon, stole elections, and collected prodigious sums of campaign donations in cash."

Indeed, "despite" spending his entire life as a "public servant" in DC, LBJ somehow amassed a fortune of some $15 million. In other words, typical liberal.

The fact of the matter is that Johnson had no articulated political philosophy, but was a .... what was he?

I raise this question because the current fiscal crisis we are living through is a direct result of policies put into place by LBJ, who is responsible for more liberal legislation than any other president, including FDR. But upon what principle is all of this founded?

Answer: no principle (and certainly no constitutional principle).

So: trillions of dollars down the drain, and trillions more charged up to future generations, all in defense of the principle of... no principle.

If LBJ wasn't motivated by principle, then what did motivate him, and is it fair that we should all be on the hook for it, forever?

As to the first question, "Johnson had a voracious appetite for political achievement, and an unquenchable thirst for distinction and adulation." As to the second, we might say that our multi-trillion dollar festering sump-hole of Great Society debt is like an ongoing monument to Johnson's awesomeness.

As Hayward writes from out on his limb, "There do not appear to have been any political principles at Johnson's core." By now it is common knowledge how much damage the "War on Poverty" has caused to black Americans, but the truth of the matter is that Johnson couldn't have cared less.

Before becoming president and building his leviathan legislative monument, he was as racist as any other mainstream Democrat, for example, writing in 1960 that "I am firmly opposed to forced integration and I firmly believe that the doctrine of states' rights should be maintained." Acting on his beliefs, he "worked to water down the civil rights legislation that President Eisenhower had proposed to Congress" (Hayward).

Not only was Johnson uninterested in the damage caused by his programs, he didn't even want to know if they were effective. And yet, despite it all, he still nurtured a tiny core of American conservative principle inside his desiccated soul, in that he absolutely never envisioned putting into place a permanent welfare state and thus fundamentally altering our way of life.

Which means that not only are we on the hook for the grandiose dreams of an unprincipled barbarian, but that this has been followed by a systematic misapplication of his lack of principles, which we call the Welfare State. His absence of principle has been turned into one.

In other words, the War on Poverty, like all wars, was intended to be time-limited. Instead, five decades on, it has resulted in a permanent war that is a completely unsustainable fiscal cancer.

Consider how the idealistic Johnson reacted when he discovered that welfare was subsidizing bastardy: "They want to just stay up there and breed and won't work and we have to feed them.... I don't want to be taking taxpayers' money and paying it to people to just breed."

In other words, WTF?!

Too late! To the everlasting consternation of the left, human nature is human nature, and it cannot be changed. The tiny little flaw at the root of liberalism is the insane belief that human beings will not respond to the perverse incentives it puts in place. Other than that, it works beautifully.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Liberalism: The Key to Failure and Secret of Unhappiness

Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy. --Churchill

I just wanted to say a few more things about Murray's Coming Apart, mostly for my own benefit. It's a very important book, not one to race through and toss aside.

One of Murray's most important takeaways is that for some fifty years our elites have been preaching a doctrine which legitimizes dysfunctional values and behavior, but which they themselves would never practice, except perhaps at the margins. In other words, they toy with certain degenerate behaviors and attitudes as a means of gaining "authenticity," but you generally don't see liberal politicians, CEOs, lawyers, and educators with barbed wire tattoos around their necks and six baby mamas.

Insofar as culture is concerned, when the elites sneeze, the lower classes catch pneumonia, the reason being that the poorer one is, the less margin for error there is in one's behavior; or, to put it the other way around, the more likely it is that one will receive negative feedback, i.e., punishment. The wealthy and powerful such as Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, or ___ Kennedy, can get away with years of dysfunctional behavior, where you or I would have long ago hit the wall financially, vocationally, legally, or medically.

Murray makes it clear with abundant statistical evidence that successful elites, to the extent that they are successful, do not practice what they preach or preach what they practice. If anything, they are more narrowly bourgeois and predictable than the conservatives of my acquaintance, but for some reason like to pretend that they are "liberated," or "free-thinkers," or "avant-garde."

Apparently there is some sort of guilt over being a successful conformist, so they must rebel in symbolic ways -- a discrete tattoo here, the trace of a pierced ear there, the proudly ignorant contempt for traditional religion, which is to say, religion. These are all status markers of the new elite, like an invisible code they all share.

Murray reminds us that another important part of the liberal elite code is nonjudgmentalism. We all know this is an empty pose, since they just shift their harsh judgmentalism to agreed upon targets:

"Nonjudgmentalism is one of the more baffling features of the new-upper-class culture. The members of the new upper class are industrious to the point of obsession, but there are no derogatory labels for adults who are not industrious. The young women of the new upper class hardly ever have babies out of wedlock, but it is impermissible to use a derogatory label for nonmarital births....

"When you get right down to it, it is not acceptable in the new upper class to use derogatory labels for anyone, with three exceptions: people with differing political views, fundamentalist Christians, and rural working-class whites."

A prerequisite of any successful culture -- in fact, culture, period -- is recognition of the morality that attaches to human sexuality. I have discussed this at length in previous posts, but it is clear that sexuality is a force that must be bound and channeled in order for culture to develop.

And to the extent that this obvious truth is denied, a culture or subculture will degenerate, as we have witnessed over the past half century. For example, for blacks, the problem of fatherless children absolutely dwarfs the problem of racism to the point of insignificance. We have identified the behaviors that almost guarantee poverty -- and intergenerational poverty -- but the left doesn't care.

It isn't just success that these behaviors bring about, but happiness. Naturally, studies show that conservatives are happier than liberals. A big reason is that liberals externalize agency and thereby internalize an attitude of passivity, helplessness, and dependence.

But Murray brings out other reasons, backed by statistical analysis. After sorting through all the variables, he identifies the four that are most likely to result in a self-report of being "very happy"; these are family, vocation, community, and faith (for the record, Murray is an irreligious libertarian). For example, he writes that "The relationship of marriage to happiness is as simple as can be. There's hardly anything better than a good marriage for promoting happiness and nothing worse than a bad one."

Now, note how the left has spent the past fifty years devaluing marriage as the telos of human sexuality and ideal for men and women. The result? Among the lower classes, marriage has indeed become the exception and not the rule, which brings with it the likelihood of unhappiness. Thus, it is no surprise that the Democratic party reaches out to these unhappy people, promising more of the very drug responsible for their unhappiness.

Yesterday I heard a statistic that 85% of single mothers vote Democrat, which makes perfect sense. Although "liberated" from men, these helpless women have simply married the state instead (which is a kind of perverse inversion of nuns who are "married" to Jesus). And this is progress?

The same applies to religiosity, to such an extent that it is almost as if God exists. In describing the statistical correlation between religiosity and happiness, Murray says that "Social scientists rarely find such an orderly relationship.... At the bottom, only 23 percent of the white adults who never attend worship services report they are very happy."

Putting the statistics together, Murray finds that if one is unmarried, dissatisfied with one's work, professing no religion, and harboring a low level of social trust, the probability of being "very happy" falls to just 10 percent.

Conversely "Having either a very satisfying job or a very happy marriage raised that percentage by almost equal amounts, to about 19 percent.... Then came the big interaction effect: having a very satisfying job and a very happy marriage jumped the probability to 55 percent." Toss in social trust and the figure rises to 69 percent. Top it off with religiosity, and we reach 76 percent.

Think of what liberals preach and the unhappiness it engenders, say, for blacks: a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Religion is nonsense. Our culture is fundamentally racist. White people hate you. Don't bother trying, because the cards are stacked against you. Wait for the white liberal massa' to bail you out.

Liberalism is indeed the key to unhappiness in general and black discontent in particular.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Abortion: Your Intrinsic Right to No Intrinsic Rights

Let's dispassionately analyze the question of abortion from the bottom-up -- or top-down, since, in either case, we're talking about first principles. In other words, even if one is a materialist, one's belief in materialism presumably transcends matter, on pain of self-refutation.

No materialist literally believes in materialism -- or believes in materialism literally. To the extent that he believes he does, it is only because he is uncritically lost in his own abstractions, a victim of what Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

This doesn't mean we have to bring religion into the discussion. However, for the vast majority of people, their religion is the primary means with which they are able to think about, embody, and discuss first principles. Although few people are metaphysicians, religion allows a person to be one, just as, say, one needn't be an artist to enter the world of beauty.

First principles are axiomatic. In a way, they are simultaneously where we begin and end. One might say that we are always either arguing toward or from first principles that are either explicit or, more likely, implicit.

Now, no one can reasonably dispute the idea that America is rooted in certain first principles that, by definition (i.e., because they are axiomatic), cannot be surpassed or overturned. Calvin Coolidge famously put the matter with a finality that is exceedingly restful when he wrote that

"About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776.... But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers" (emphasis mine).

It can truly be said of progressives that the further they go, the behinder they get.

(In looking up the above passage, I found many similarly luminous insights from the same speech, all of which go to the idea of first principles. A few of them are appended below, at the conclusion of the post. But here is a sample:

"In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man -- these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.")

Since I was once very much "pro-choice," it might be useful to reflect upon how I arrived at that position. To be perfectly honest, I didn't. Rather, it was completely reflexive and mimetic. Although I was in high school at the time, I don't remember Roe v. Wade making a big impact in California, where abortion was already legal. And if nothing else, I was an unthinking product of my unthinking liberal surroundings.

If you had asked me to name the principle that enshrined abortion, I suppose I would have parroted the usual talking point that a woman has the right to control her own body. If confronted with the fact that we are talking about another body, I might have deployed word magic and responded that we were actually only talking about a "fetus," not a human being. It was only "potential life," so to end its life (sic) didn't impinge upon moral considerations.

But when you come right down to it, I was probably just obeying my hindbrain, which, like all testosterone-driven men, wants to enjoy sex without consequences (although I wouldn't have expressed it as eloquently as this thinker: “Let’s stop fooling around here. What we’re talking about is our right to f*** whoever we want, however we want, whenever we want.”)

The latter is a sexuality detached from anything transcending itself, and therefore no longer human sexuality at all. Interestingly, another part of me knew this all along, so I couldn't possibly be a happy hindbrain. And thankfully it is possible to recover one's innocence, so long as one hasn't strayed too far and made a complete commitment to the lesser world.

One of Arkes' ironic conclusions is that the belief in an intrinsic right to abortion -- as opposed to being a positive right -- inevitably overturns long-settled notions about the source of our rights, and ultimately eradicates their ground.

For example, let us ask the question: supposing a woman has the unlimited right to an abortion, when and how did she obtain this right? When does it become operative? Surely it can't be in the womb, so it cannot be a natural right. And yet, the left treats it as if it is a natural and even sacred right. That is to say, they treat it as a first principle, an axiom with which they begin and therefore end the argument.

The principles upon which our nation was founded are, of course, very different. These principles affirm that our rights are not "positive" -- i.e., given by the state -- but natural, i.e., "in the nature of things." Thus, there is no point in our temporal development that we "acquire" them. Rather, they literally go with the territory -- or somatory -- of being human. We have them by virtue of existing, and that is all.

Therefore, it makes no sense to argue that we have a right to abortion as a consequence of our existence, for human existence is precisely what the abortion advocate claims the right to terminate.

And with this maneuver, we remove "the very logic and substance of rights. For what we call 'rights' then are simply things declared to be right by the opinion that is dominant in any place." And any such scheme "can be put into place only by denying, at the root, the logic of natural rights. In that event, this grand 'right' is evacuated of its moral substance" (Arkes).

Thus, in a very real sense, one can only have an intrinsic right to abortion if human beings have no intrinsic rights at all.

*****

More cool Calidge:

"It is not so much then for the purpose of undertaking to proclaim new theories and principles that this annual celebration is maintained, but rather to reaffirm and reestablish those old theories and principles which time and the unerring logic of events have demonstrated to be sound."

"The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them."

"[I]t is but natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature's God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence. Coming from these sources, having as it did this background, it is no wonder that Samuel Adams could say 'The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven.'"

"[W]hen we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence.... They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live. They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit."

"[T]he Declaration of Independence.... is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped."