Friday, April 27, 2012

Boredom Kills

There is something in human beings that not only allows us to be objective, but without which we could hardly be human.

Animals, for example, cannot be just -- nor can they be unjust -- because they cannot take a disinterested view of things. If my dog is eaten by a mountain lion, it may be sad, but not unjust. Conversely, it would be unjust if she were eaten by Obama.

Schuon defines objectivity as "the perfect adaptation of the intelligence to objective reality," or "conformity to the nature of things” in a manner independent "of all interference of individual tendencies or tastes." You might say that objectivity is subjectivity minus passion, desire, interest, and perspective.

But we really cannot define objectivity in isolation from subjectivity, because the two obviously co-arise and are complementary. There is also paradox here, in that only a subject may be objective.

Likewise, all objects have a degree of subjectivity (however attenuated), which is to say, "depth," but this depth only becomes self-aware, or "luminous," in human beings.

Now, science partakes of objectivity, but it cannot account for it, nor can it ever be truly (i.e., literally) objective, first, because science is the adequation of theory to phenomena (not noumenon), and second, because no scientific theory can account for the existence of the scientific subject.

Failure to appreciate this leads to the irony of a scientism which imagines it not only possible but desirable to subtract the scientist from the science, and ultimately intelligence from cosmos. Then you have a science that applies to everything but reality.

In short, the "perfect science" would exclude the scientist entirely, but this should be understood as a practical ideal, not a real possibility, for even at the level of quantum physics we know that facts are determined by perspective (e.g., the wave/particle complementarity).

To imagine we can rid ourselves of the subject is a little like turning off the light and trying to jump into bed before it gets dark.

Science simply presumes the scientist, which is fine, because it is not the role of science to penetrate to essences or to being as such. Only by collapsing this hierarchy can science presume to be an objective account of reality.

In other words, it is easy to be comprehensive if one simply omits everything one's metaphysic cannot account for. But that can hardly be called objective or disinterested.

For example, scientists who are conspicuously interested in eliminating the spiritual dimension of reality -- the atheistic evangelists -- are hardly objective.

Rather, their passion comes through loud and clear. As I said in the book, it is more interesting to ponder the source of this ironic "passion for meaninglessness" than it is to contemplate their absence of meaning.

It reminds me of something Dennis Prager said about being on a particularly boring date with a woman. In order to deal with the boredom, he would try to get to the bottom of why the person was so boring. This would generate interesting theories on the phenomenology of boredom.

Prager doesn't know it, but the phenomenology of boredom is actually conceptualized in psychoanalytic theory. In psychoanalysis, there is the "transference," which involves the patient's unconscious feelings toward the analyst, and the "counter-transference," which involves the feelings provoked in the analyst by the patient.

Some patients are flat boring. Why is this? Often it is not pathognomonic per se, just the result of, say, low intelligence, inadequate education, poor vocabulary, or undeveloped imagination.

Interestingly, these people are almost like "objects," analogous to the animals you might see grazing in a landscape. Frankly, it's like conversing with a cow, and just as edifying. (And don't pretend you don't have any bovine acquaintances.)

But there are other instances when the counter-transferential boredom is pathological. Put it this way: whenever two subjects are together, a (potentially) vibrant space is created between them.

For some patients, the transmission of boredom is a kind of preemptive attack that collapses or warps this space, so that certain areas become off-limits.

This kind of enforced boredom can have the appearance of stupidity, but it's worse than that, because it aggressively encloses you in their boring and unimaginative world. (Think of the liberal narrative, which is simultaneously tedious and obnoxious.)

In extreme cases, there is a condition called "alexithymia," which essentially involves a complete detachment of subject from object, and an inability to ascribe words to emotions.

There is clearly something analogous in the spiritual dimension. I think of someone like Schuon, who is able to make such exceedingly fine and intelligible distinctions on these planes, using language in a clear and compelling -- and objective -- manner.

Conversely, I think of a boredom-inducing troll who eliminates and deluminates this impossibly rich reality with a crude and childlike "there's no such thing!"

The other day I read something to the effect that poetry speaks of imaginary ponds with real toads. This species of toad dumps toxins into the pond, and then claims that toads don't exist.

Boredom does as boredom is. Which is to say, dead.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

We Don't Need No Steenking Sufficient Reason!

Time only for a brief post. Gotta run. But it shall be continued...

Schuon is -- to express it in a breezily non-Schuonian way -- very big on the principle of sufficient reason, which simply means that things happen for a reason, and that this reason -- i.e., cause -- must be proportionate to its effect.

Or, to put it the other way around, if you're going to try to explain an effect, the cause needs to be sufficient to do the job.

Gee, sounds kind of obvious when you put it that way, Bob. What's your point?

Right away I can think of a couple of potential pitfalls with this principle. For example, one of the things that drives conspiracy theorists seems to be the disconnect between cause and effect, for example, vis-a-vis the JFK assassination.

In that case the effect was of world historical significance, but the cause was nothing more than a chronically embittered leftist worm. Hence the search for causes more proportionate to the effect -- the CIA, the Mafia, Castro, LBJ, etc.

Another area of potential misunderstanding has to do with natural selection. Darwin coined the term "exaptation" to describe characteristics and traits that are selected for one reason, but end up being used for another.

For example, although noses hold up eyeglasses, that is not why noses were selected. Likewise, my hand fits perfectly around a beer bottle, but they tell me that that is not why hands were selected. Who knew?

But the theory of exaptation -- like Darwinism in general -- quickly becomes absurd if pushed too far. For example, the above linked article suggests that our pursuit of truth might be an exaptation of "the human ability to use logic and reason [which was] originally evolved to win arguments and convince others."

Now, does this explanation pass the test of sufficient reason? Did it win the argument and convince you? This is an example of how Darwinism eats its own entailment and paints itself into a logical coroner. It's like suggesting that baseball was invented in order to win games, which any Cubs fan knows is untrue.

As we all know, I do not believe that natural selection provides sufficient reason to account for the human state, which is characterized by such things as truth, free will, love, objectivity, disinterest, beauty, and nobility of character, not to mention sanctity, valor, wisdom, mystical union, etc. It has nothing to to with religion per se, just the minimal demands of logic.

The Darwinian fundamentalist will respond that his theory does indeed account for these things, but then again, he is admittedly just using logic and reason because it was naturally selected to win arguments and convince others, surely not because it is true, of all things. For to believe otherwise would put the horse before the cart, and we all know that horses were invented to pull carts.

Echoes of Perennial Wisdom is by far Schuon's most compact book, and he has a literary style that is already as compact and precise as it can possibly be. No one, in my experience, says more with less, which makes him the anti-archetype of the tenured, the ultimate instance of which being deconstruction, which tells us everything about nothing.

What if we affirm, with Schuon, that "Truth is the reason for man's existence"? This cuts right to the chase, and says that nothing less than Truth can be the sufficient reason -- an adequate explanation -- for man as such. Could it be true?

Well, let's define our terms, beginning with truth. What is it? It is conformity between subject and object, or intelligence and reality; it is to discern the substance in the accident, the essence in the form, the principle in the manifestation, the center in the periphery, indeed, the cause in the effect (to bring us full circle).

Personally I am more partial to love being our sufficient reason, but as we shall see, it is impossible for a man to love lies and remain a proper man.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Your Call: TransCosmic Plenitude or Infrahuman Nihilism

Before continuing in our effort to develop an objective definition of spiritual normality -- and therefore pathology -- I want to address an objection raised by a troll; not his objection, mind you, since that would require gifts he doesn't possess -- but the plagiarized sentiments of a John Wilkins, who is of the belief that "science is not a metaphysical system of thought," but rather, "deals precisely with objective experience. Personal views of scientists do not define the results of scientific work."

This reflects the philosophically untutored perspective of a naive and pre-critical scientism that doesn't trouble itself with looking beneath the phenomena, or thinking about thinking, or considering the sorts of assumptions that are built into science (and without which science cannot function).

For to say that science "deals precisely with objective experience" is to affirm something that cannot possibly be true. In order to say it, one must have no idea what the words "objective" and "experience" mean.

Science, by its very nature, deals with things that are relative and therefore contingent. In other words, it deals with the way things are, but it doesn't pretend that the way things are is the only way they could be.

There is nothing studied by science that couldn't be otherwise. Indeed, change one little variable in one of those helpful equations governing the big bang, and neither we nor the cosmos as we know it would be here.

Likewise, to paraphrase Stephen Gould, if one little inconvenient mudslide had occurred back in the days of the Burgess Shale bio-explosion, the wholly contingent evolutionary line leading to us might have been broken.

Indeed, we can all be traced to a common mother, Ms. Mitochondrial Eve, and according to Nicholas Wade, it is possible that we are related to as few as 5,000 people who were wandering around in North Africa 50,000 years ago. If they hadn't been extra-careful about wearing their sweaters in the cold or not running around with scissors, who knows?

The point is, from the perspective of science, the emergence of man is a freakishly unlikely accident. Remember, Darwin purloined and redefined the word "evolution" -- which had an entirely different meaning prior to that -- and applied this theretofore respectable term to the meaningless and contingent process he thought he had discerned in nature.

Even leaving that aside, it is naive in the extreme to suggest that man may penetrate to the objective realm on the plane of phenomena. How could this ever be?

As we have discussed in the past, man is always limited by what Schuon calls four "infirmities." To summarize, we are "creature, not Creator," which is to say, "manifestation and not Principle or Being." Or, just say we are contingent and not necessary or absolute.

Second, we are men, and all this implies, situated somewhere between absolute and relative, God and animal -- somewhat like a terrestrial angel or a celestial ape.

Third, we are all different, which is to say, individual, and there can be no science of the utterly unique and unrepeatable.

This is a critical point, because as far as science is concerned, our essential differences must be entirely contingent, just a result of nature tossing the genetic dice. Suffice it to say that this is not a sufficient reason to account for the miracle of individuality. Well, individual jerks, maybe. But not anyone you'd want to know.

Lastly, there are human differences that are indeed contingent and not essential or providential. These include negative things such as mind parasites that result from the exigencies of childhood, but also the accidental aspects of culture, language, and history. In order to exist at all, we must surely exist in a particular time and a particular place.

Elsewhere Schuon summarizes the accidents of existence as world, life, body, and soul; or more abstractly, "space, time, matter, desire."

The purpose of metaphysics is to get beneath these accidents, precisely, and hence to a realm of true objectivity and therefore perennial truth (even though, at the same time, we must insist that existence, life, and intelligence especially represent a continuous reminder, or breakthrough, of the miraculous).

Now, what do we mean by objectivity? It must be a stance uncontaminated by contingency, passion, or perspective, for starters. There is contingent science -- or the science of contingency -- and there is the "science of the Absolute," which is none other than metaphysics.

Thus, objectivity begins with the soph-evident existence of the Absolute, which is what confers value and meaning upon human existence, which is to say, intelligence (for humans are a kind of incarnation of the logos, which is what it means to be "in the image of the Absolute").

You might say that humans are "subjectivized intelligence," in that there is surely evidence of objective intelligence in the cosmos prior to our arrival, e.g., DNA or the laws of physics. One needn't say "intelligent design." Rather, just intelligence will do the trick, so long as we know what intelligence is.

As Schuon points out, "Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or it is nothing." What he means by this is that man's own intelligence demands a sufficient reason, and this reason is the Absolute. Remove the Absolute, and nothing makes sense, or can make sense, except in a wholly contingent and therefore senseless manner. This is why we insist: God or Nothing, TransCosmic Plenitude or Infrahuman Nihilism.

This same human intelligence "testifies irrecusably to a purely spiritual First Cause, to a Unity infinitely central but containing all things, to an Essence at once immanent and transcendent." Around these parts we simply call this O, AKA Unity Central.

Another helpful wise crack by Schuon: "To claim that knowledge as such can only be relative amounts to saying that human ignorance is absolute."

And if that crack provokes a guffah-ha! experience in you, you're well on the way to being cured of your existential infirmities.

To be continued....

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

De-divinization, Dehumanization, and Radical Stupidity

The question of spiritual pathology is again tied in with the issue of universality, for only if man has a specific definition can there be deviations from that definition. Only if man is truly one can he fall short of his own manhood. And if man isn't essentially one, then truly, it is every man for himself.

In Hitler and the Germans, Voegelin asks the questions, "When was man as such discovered?" and "What was he discovered to be?" He focuses on two specific historical places and situations, which we might abbreviate as Athens and Jersualem.

For here we have two points "where what man is was experienced," followed by a generalization -- or universalization -- that becomes "binding on all men."

Thus, for example, a direct line can be drawn between these two points and our own "political genesis," which affirms that "all men are created equal." Note again that this is a definitional (and ontological) statement, in that it goes to what man "is." And it is obviously universal, in that it applies to all men at all times.

In what we are calling Athens, "man was experienced by the philosophers of the classical period as a being who is constituted by the nous, by reason."

Which is fine as far as it goes, but it is not enough to define man in his essence and totality. From Jerusalem (short for Israelite society) we have the additional experience of man as a "pneumatic being who is open to God's word." Man is the being to -- and through -- whom the Spirit speaks, with all this implies (i.e., truth, beauty, virtue, nobility, objectivity, etc).

Thus, "Reason and spirit are the two modes of constitution of man, which were generalized as the idea of man." This is a -- the -- definitive definition of man, because it cannot be surpassed, only fallen short of. Emphasizing one over the other, or one to the exclusion of the other, results in man being maimed at his ground and center: the dry rot of Moscow or the wet rot of Teheran.

Consider the French Revolution, or the leftist regimes of the 20th century, which started with very different definitions of man, ones that exclude his pneuma in general and his deiformity in particular.

Ironically, these latter are defined by the regimes in question as the essence of pathology: religion as opiate or mask for illicit power. Thus, before the guillotine falls or the gulags open for business, man is decapitated and imprisoned in an environment intrinsically hostile to man as such -- in which there is no spiritual oxygen, food, or water. And as he dies spiritually, he loses contact with the spiritual per se.

Now, it is not just that man is characterized by nous and pneuma, or intellect and spirit. Rather, it is obvious that neither of these could be their own sufficient reason.

Rather, they relate to something that precedes them, just as the wings of a bird relate to the surrounding atmosphere. And just as we don't expect to find wings in environments where flight is impossible, or eyes where there is no light, we don't expect to find intellect where truth is impossible, or pneuma where the spirit doesn't dwell.

So nous and pneuma are intrinsically related to their own sufficient reason, which is another way of saying that they are open to reality in a self-transcending manner. In each case, we reach out "beyond ourselves toward the divine in the philosophical experience and the loving encounter through the word [logos] in the pneumatic experience..."

For Voegelin -- and for Schuon -- this participation in the divine reality is the source of man's dignity. Thus, any definition of man that falls short of what we have outlined above, is always an assault on man's rightful stature: "The loss of dignity comes about through the denial of the participation of the divine, that is, through the de-divinization of man."

This is a key principle in how tyranny follows, because "dedivinizing is always followed by dehumanizing." Dedivinizing has enormous consequences, which maim not only spirit but reason, as history proves time and again. For "in both cases there occurs a loss of reality," and "if one closes oneself to this reality, one possesses in one's range of experience less of this part of reality, this decisive part that constitutes man."

Now, the divine reality doesn't just "disappear," any more than unconsciously repressed thoughts no longer exist. Rather, something must be elevated to the absolute, usually man. For Voegelin, this represents the essence of the problem of Hitler: 1 Dedivinization, 2, Dehumanization, 3, Endivinization of man. Hitler is the dedivinized, dehumanized, and endivinized man par excellence ("endivinize" is my term).

Bear in mind that we need to understand the universal principles beneath a Hitler, because if we focus only on his particular instance, we will be unable to learn anything intelligible, i.e., with wider application.

For example, in contemporary America we are ruled by what might be called an intellectual "rabble-ocracy," consisting of men who have lost contact with divine reality and who presume to appropriate more of our freedom on that basis.

But since they did not give us our freedom -- for it is a gift of the creator -- they have no right to diminish it in this crude way. That they feel they may do so is only further evidence of their loss of contact with reality resulting from their own self-maiming.

This is what Voegelin calls "radical stupidity." Again, it is not an insult, but a term of art. It refers to a man who, "because of his loss of reality, is not in a position to rightly orient his action in the world."

In short, "when the central organ for guiding his action, his theomorphic nature and openness toward reason and spirit, has ceased functioning, then man will act stupidly." And this stupidity will always result in increased societal disorder, because the radically stupid -- the stupid radicals -- are attempting to navigate with a map that is all wrong. If one has a defective image of reality, how could disorder not follow?

Another critical point, and one that is ably conveyed by our troll: that is to say, with the loss of reality comes the inability to speak of it, or to understand what is being said when others speak of it. Thus, "parallel to the loss of reality and to stupidity there is always the phenomenon of illiteracy."

Again, this has nothing to do with the mechanical ability to read and write, which virtually all westerners possess. Rather, it means that the illiterate in question will not be able to "express himself with regard to very wide ranges of reality, especially matters of reason and the spirit, and is incapable of understanding them."

In this regard, the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion described a kind of "trinity of psychosis" revolving around aggressive stupidity, contempt, and triumph. Watch for it, because it is all around us.

To be continued....

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spiritual Pathology and the Freedom to F*** Up

In reviewing these verbose volumes of Voegelin, it has occurred to me more than once that some innerprizing fellow needs to develop a system and gnomenclature of spiritual pathology, otherwise the field -- such as it is -- will remain as undifferentiated as the spiritually compacted individuals to whom it applies. (Recall that Voegelin frames human progress as an engagement with the ground of reality, moving from a state of compaction to one of ever-increasing differentiation and synthesis.)

The problem is analogous to the field of psychopathology prior to Freud. Among other things, Freud demythologized and systematized mental illness, and gave us a way to categorize various forms and levels of psychopathology.

Just as Aristotle defined and developed most of the scientific and philosophical categories that are still with us today, Freud did the same for psychology, giving us words and concepts (or else defining them in a stable way) such as neurosis, id, ego, superego, hysteria, paranoia, unconscious, projection, introjection, displacement, condensation, transference, internalization, idealization, repression, regression, denial, sublimation, acting out, and many more. Each of these words and concepts is still widely used today.

Is there anything analogous in the field of pneumopathology? In medicine there is the ICD, and in psychology we have the DSM -- the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In fact, there are some very useful systems of spiritual pathology, for example, the seven deadly sins -- which is especially helpful, since it is mirrored by seven virtues which are the very markers and measures of spiritual health, e.g., prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude -- not to mention the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. (One also thinks of the eight-fold path of buddhaflaw correction.)

So the field is actually already pretty differentiated -- or at least was, before the barbarous wave of modernity de-differentiated it again. For if there is evolution -- progress -- there must also be devolution, and no progress is completely secure, especially on the human plane, where it must be won again and again, even by each generation.

Nor were America's founders unaware of the problem of spiritual pathology, which was one of their primary motivations in differentiating the realms of spiritual and worldly power. The sad history of Europe shows how the realm of spirit is corrupted when a particular denomination is merged with the state -- even though that merger of necessity existed everywhere and everywhen prior to man's differentation of the two realms.

With the 20th century came the general de-differentiation of spirit, and with it, a re-merger of church and state in the form of the political religions, e.g., National Socialism, communism, leftism, "social democracy," etc.

This was another of Voegelin's enduring concerns, and one might even say his central concern, since a political religion -- an ideology -- is a modern substitute for contact with the ground, while explicitly forbidding any actual contact, unless it is in an orgiastic or paganistic manner. Hence the new-age mush of the Oprah- and Chopraheads, which necessarily leads to political mush as well. The obliteration of spiritual distinctions is the doorway to barbarism.

We can look at this question of pneumo-political pathology in a very concrete and experience-near manner.

Let's take, for example, the predicament of blacks vis-a-vis the Democratic party. As we have discussed in the past, for human beings, the discovery of the exterior precedes the discovery of the interior. Viewed from a world-historical perspective, it took Homo sapiens a long time to discover the "enemy within," i.e, the internal saboteurs we call mind parasites.

Quintessentially, psychotherapy -- and psychological growth in general -- involves smoking out and disempowering our internalized mind parasites, so they don't exert an unconscious influence on us in repetitive, dysfunctional, and deviant ways.

Now, let's say I attend college, or watch a lot of TV news, and internalize a doctrine that teaches that all of my persecutors and saboteurs are outside my head, and consist of "white people." I cannot be a failure. Rather, I was enfailed, and unjustly!

Please note that it actually doesn't matter whether the perception is accurate or not, because personal development will still be stymied.

Let's take an extreme case, the situation of a Jew in Nazi Germany, or a black in the Jim Crow Democrat south. When one has real enemies and persecutors, one hardly has the luxury of introspection into one's own psychic impasses. A Jew couldn't very well go to his analyst and say, "gee, Doc, I don't know what's wrong with me. I constantly feel like all Germans hate me and are out to get me." That can only become fodder for introspection and analysis if Germans don't hate him.

Now, the left argues that blacks have real enemies, and that the existence of these enemies is the principle reason for any failures on their part. As we all know, no amount of sociological evidence can sway the leftist from this belief, because it is not based on evidence; or, to be perfectly accurate, the evidence of (contemporary) racism is expanded out of all proportion, in such a way that it dwarfs more serious problems afflicting the so-called "black community," e.g., out-of-wedlock birth, drop-out rates, fatherlessness, horrible schools courtesy of the liberal education establishment, etc.

The ubiquitous accusations of racism (you aren't conservative if you haven't been falsely accused of racism) are either cynically rooted in political need -- white Democrats cannot win national elections without 85% to 90% of the black vote -- or a transparent defense mechanism against acknowledgment of personal failure.

Let's take the example of a fatherless black kid who drifts into a life of crime. Let's also say he's very angry. What's he angry about? Could it be paternal abandonment, or perhaps a pathological attempt to separate from the maternal sphere, since he has no intimate male role model for the healthy development of manhood?

Ever since the 1960s, there has been a kind of systematic effort on the part of the left to avoid such questions, and to externalize them onto society. To the extent that someone is seduced into this mindset, their personal growth will again be thwarted and success stymied -- unless one is an Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, who reap great material reward from wealthy whites in exchange for keeping blacks on the Democrat plantation.

The same can be said of homosexuality. Is homosexuality ever pathological? The very question will be scurrilously attacked on the basis of "homophobia," which is an interesting irony in itself.

Or consider the mystery of how 15 million Jews are somehow responsible for the failures of a billion or so Muslims. While that sort of thing has happened -- as when a handful of Brits controlled the Indian subcontinent -- I don't know if it speaks well of the culture that can be so easily cowed and pacified. Too bad Muslims can't imitate the Jews, in the same way India has profited from imitating British law and other institutions. Hey, I have no shame whatsoever in acknowledging the great benefit of having been a British colony!

Likewise, so long as unappealing feminists imagine that men are the reason for their unhappiness, they will remain deeply embittered and unhappy, and this unhappiness will only fuel a more entrenched and pathological war on manhood.

So I think it is entirely accurate to say that the left systematically externalizes our agency and locus of control, whereas a conservative would say that the greatest obstacle in our life is ourself. For this reason the left doesn't mind diminishing our freedom, since they either don't believe it exists, or realize that people will use it in ways that displease the state.

Thankfully, -- at least since the age of six or so -- it has never occurred to me to externalize my failures, which you might say is one of the ironic privileges of whiteness: the freedom to be a fuck-up without any bogus excuses.