Monday, May 07, 2012

The Cause and Cure of Causes and Cures

For the last several weeks we've been elliptically circling several subjects that appear to be implicitly related, otherwise we wouldn't be circling them.

The fact that we keep flitting from topic to topic -- along with the discontinuous nature of the flight (which is a little like trying to resume a dream the following night) -- may obscure the fact that we have indeed been orbiting around a center and trying to zerʘ in on it. It's just that this center is what is called a strange attractor, in fact, the strangest of all attractors, specifically, O.

In other words, I'm sure I have a point, or rather, that the point has me (in its orbit). The wiki article includes a helpful image of a strange attractor, which looks something like this (although each one is necessarily unique, which suggests to me that each individual human person is none other than a strange attractor).

As you can see, it's a little like a roller coaster in hyperspace. Which is a good metaphor for life.

You may recall that this strange and complex thread began with Brendan Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution, but eventually homed in on Eric Voegelin, beginning with his Hitler and the Germans. After that I leapt with both feet into Voegelin's oceanic corpus, where many men have drowned. It seems that all he ever did was think and write, and no thought was left unwritten.

He also changed his mind in fundamental ways that affect all his previous work, so it's not as if you can just grab one piece out of context and run with it. Rather, it's more like the Bible, in which one must have a view of the whole in order to comprehend the particulars.

And the Whole is precisely what we are dealing with in this thread (indeed, this blog), which is to say Cosmos and Man, or Macrocosm and Microcosm, or Time and Eternity, or ultimately -- to express it in a completely unsaturated manner -- O and ʘ. That latter equation is irreducible to anything less, because there is always man and ground, however one formulates it.

As mentioned in the book, the cosmos is either absurd or it is not absurd. Indeed, we can begin with a kind of flow chart, with that question at the top.

But if you deicide at the outset that the cosmos is absurd, then you may stop. Game over. Philosophy is not possible. Thinking is a waste of time because reality is unknowable. The cosmos -- and Darwin -- is finished with you, assuming you have passed your genes on to the next absurd generation. Or not, depending upon your fitness for genetic duty.

However, if the cosmos is not absurd, then this is where things get interesting, for we are thrust into the strange attractor referenced above. If I grasp Voegelin rightly, it was his purpose to actually describe this attractor in as much detail as humanly possible. He called the attractor order, hence the title of what many people feel to be his magnum opus, the five volume Order and History.

Now, bear in mind that exhaustively describing this order -- i.e., containing it -- is precisely what man may never do, since this transcendent order contains us.

But man doesn't like this idea, and has had difficulty swallowing it ever since Genesis. There we learn that it was All Good, so long as man subordinated himself to the cosmic order, and didn't try to invent one of his own.

Thus the birth of ideology, which is always wrong, only more or less demonically so. An ideology is any system of thought that superimposes a second reality on the first, which has the practical effect of severing man from the ground in more or less coercive or violent ways. Ideology ends in the murder of man, either physically or spiritually (and usually both).

One important point of, er, order. It is quite clear that man's lust for ideology is, or might as well be, intrinsic -- as if we are all infected with Adam's mind parasite. Thus, there is nothing that cannot be "ideologized," including the very cures for ideology, e.g., Christianity or American (not European) style conservatism.

A useful point of entry into Voegelin is his Science, Politics, and Gnosticism. One reason it is so helpful is that in it he recovers a certain transtemporal unity of man, in tracing the modern ideologies -- e.g., scientism, positivism, Marxism, fascism, progressivism (but I repeat myself), socialism, etc. -- all the way back to antiquity.

And "prior" (ontologically or vertically) to antiquity is mythology. Myth occurs at the horizon of history, and tells us vital things about ourselves that cannot be recovered through the historical method. Again, Genesis would be a prime example.

If we are aware and respectful of the cosmic order, then it is a kind of unknowculation against ideology. Properly speaking, Christianity, for example, should not be an ideology, but rather, a ground-level encounter between persons. "Dogmatic order" is obviously important, but is posterior to the Person and all it implies.

Nor should conservatism be reduced to an ideology, but rather, should simply be a healthy respect for the Nature of Things, whether human, societal, economic, political, spiritual, or in any other way. The point is, reality always comes first, not the ideology (very much what Gerard means by American.)

Voegelin is responsible for the bold claim that the "essence of modernity is gnosticism." What did he mean by this?

Well, we're out of time again, so we'll have to resume this dream tomorrow. Meanwhile, have a good day, and don't let the headbugs blight.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Getting Off the Cosmic Dreadmill

Recall yesterday's opening salvO: the human vocation is to become in fact what we are in principle.

Obviously, for man as we find him, there is a gap between Fact and Principle, or what is and what ought to be. The former is the shadow-world of contingency, at the extremes of which we cross from twilight to darkness, into the netherworld of frank pathology.

As mentioned later in the post with regard to psychopathology in general and mind parasites in particular, "the creature seeks out its creator, only in this case, it is a strange demigod of the nursery, i.e., an exteriorized and projected mind parasite." Which is why some people are attracted to, and compulsively seek out, what is bad for them. And why your mind parasites are just as clever and crafty as you are, except they are all serpent and no dove.

You might say that a mind parasite is a crystalized center of contingency, or a kind of distant echo of the actual Center. It is the very "essence" of a false god, and the realm of idolatry more generally.

I hope this doesn't sound too abstract, because it is actually quite experience-near. It was lucidly confessed by Augustine back in the day, with his many wise cracks about knowing the good and yet willing something less, up to and including evil:

"We sin from two causes: either from not seeing what we ought to do, or else from not doing what we have already seen we ought to do. Of these two, the first is ignorance of the evil; the second, weakness." And to paraphrase Homer's Idiossey, my one weakness is that I'm weak!

Actually, Augustine leaves out willfulness, which is consciously choosing an action we know to be wrong. It seems to me that this is worse than ignorance and weakness, because it is the presence of a negative, not a deprivation of a good.

Or in other words, there is free will, on one side of which is weakness, the other willfulness. And yet, willfulness is a weakness, isn't it? Or, weakness masquerading as strength. I've known a few of those types in my day.

Again: this all has to do with our contingency, which is mingled, so to speak, with absoluteness. In the book, I used a couple of symbols to demarcate this situation. You might say that (•) is that part of us which primarily partakes of, and is oriented toward, contingency, whereas (¶) is that part which partakes of, and is oriented toward, the Absolute; the former is primarily horizontal, the latter vertical.

Thus, as Schuon writes, the human subject "seeks both the contingent and the Absolute; both the finite and the Infinite...." Furthermore, he "seeks the contingent because [he] is [him]self contingent, and to the extent that [he] is so" (emphasis mine).

In other words, the contingency in us seeks the contingent which fathered it, which is only natural. Obviously, this is a self-perpetuating cycle, which is precisely why the most frivolous among us are so frivolous, and becoming more so all the time. They wouldn't know absoluteness if it struck them in the nous, AKA (¶).

Schuon writes that "outwardness is a right, and inwardness a duty." Nevertheless, "the outward is the dimension of accidents [or of forms], the inward, that of substance [or essence]."

So the real duty, it seems to me, is a kind of harmonious balance between the outward and inward, each "inevitable" in its own way. Contingency is always breaking up the substance, just as the substance is always exerting a kind of organizing pull on contingency -- like a planet that is temporarily knocked out of orbit, but then "seeks" its own orbital center of groovity again. Indeed, this might even be the basis of evolution, i.e., the vertically rhythmic dialectic of entropy and order (as developed by scientists such as Ilya Prigogine).

If we think of man as composed of intelligence, will, and sentiment, we see that intelligence has a much easier time of it than will. And to the extent that it doesn't, it is because the intelligence has been infiltrated by willfulness and passion. Thus, there is willful intelligence and stupid willfulness. But enough about our troll.

Augustine writes that "The mind commands the body and is instantly obeyed. The mind commands itself and meets resistance," so what's up with that?

He elaborates without arriving at an answer: "The mind commands the hand to move, and it so easy that one hardly distinguishes the order from its execution. Yet mind is mind and hand is body. The mind orders the mind to will. The recipient of the order is itself, yet it does not perform it.”

The mind commands itself and meets resistance. What is the nature of this resistance?

Well, it depends. If the mind commands me to do an evil, and I resist, this is strength, not willfulness. But to the extent that I know the good and struggle to translate it into action, that would again be a matter of contingencies mucking up the process.

Conversely, "the very perfection of a man" is "to find out his own imperfections" (Augustine). And "without good character -- one that is normal and consequently noble -- intelligence, even if metaphysical, is largely ineffective" (Schuon).

And what constitutes character? For Schuon it is essentially composed of what we will and what we love. Therefore, willing what is wrong and loving what is evil or ugly is both the negation of intelligence and the maiming of character. I said, enough about our troll! Are you deaf?!

Let's take an everyday example, marriage. The marriage ritual recognizes certain intrinsic goods of male-female relations, which the will pledges to live by. Results, of course, may vary, but there must have been some recognition of the truth -- to say nothing of beauty -- however attenuated, in order to be attracted by, and enter into, the condition.

But why, BG? Maybe you can tell me how a love so right can turn out to be so wrong?

I can and I will. Off the top of my head I can think of at least a couple of reasons, but really, they come down to an absence of insight, self-awareness, and self-understanding; or, a failure to understand that a good marriage is designed to facilitate just these things, or in other words, growth, and growth is merely expansion or metastasis if it isn't oriented to an end that isn't itself contingent.

Contingency -- what Schuon calls dissonances, fluctuations, and enigmas -- are always coming into play, the world being what it is. It doesn't mean we must be conquered by them, for this would elevate contingency to absoluteness, and besides, isn't the Arc of Salvation all about reversing that nameless dreadmill? I suppose love conquers all, but especially contingency, and cures what inevitably fails us.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Reality is in the We of the Beholder

This is an interesting way of expressing it: the human vocation is to become in fact what we are in principle. Which itself is just a twist on the old wise crack of the early Fathers, to the effect that Creator becomes creature so that creature might become creator.

As we have discussed in the past, religion embodies sophisticated metaphysical principles clothed in mythopoetic language. Particularly vivid examples of this occur in Genesis, vis-a-vis the origins of man and cosmos.

There we learn that man is (the present tense is important), among other things, created in the image of God. Man is the last creation of the Creator, but this particular creature is unlike the others, since it partakes of the essence of the Creator in some mysterious way. But don't just take it on faith! I mean, you can, but enquiring minds want to know.

Please note that the text is rather unsaturated -- which is as it should be, so as to facilitate higher thought -- plus we don't yet know all that much about this Creator of whom we are said to be the image. But interestingly, the text goes out of its way to depict God in the plural: Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.

Since anything other than strict monotheism is ruled out -- unless you want to make your bubby cry -- this seeming plurality cannot imply polytheism.

Rather, it must mean that ultimate reality is not an I but a We; or, more to the point, there can be no I in the absence of the We. This is certainly true of human beings; in fact, we might say that it is quintessentially true, in that an isolated human being, cut off from intimate communion with others, is literally inconceivable. And I do mean literally.

To say that man is in the image of the Creator is another way of saying that the manifestation is in the image of the Principle.

That being the case, real knowledge of this particular manifestation -- i.e., man -- should yield knowledge of ultimate reality. Bear in mind that we are not referring to any particular intellectual "content," but rather, the mere presence of man as such.

This is something I attempted to convey in the book -- that if we take a truly disinterested view, man is without question the most astonishing fact of the cosmos. Frankly, nothing else comes close, for whatever else we can think of is obviously being thought of by a human being.

Indeed, that anything is astonishing is itself astonishing, just as it is wonderful that we may spend our lives in a state of wonder.

The point is, if a human being is at bottom an irreducible We, then -- if the metaphysics of Genesis is correct -- then ultimate reality -- or whatever you wish to call it -- must also be a We.

Although the I surely exists, it is posterior to the We. In fact, you can't really get from the I to the We, not in the human sense of the term. For example, there is no We in a pile of rocks, even though they are "together."

And yet, on another level, there is a We in that pile of rocks. We call this We being. Obviously, anything that exists has at the very least this ontological substrate of We-dom, which is why it is knowable, precisely. Anything that is knowable -- i.e., anything that exists -- possesses, or rather, "radiates," potential knowability in a subject.

Thus, to exist is to exist in and for -- at least in potential -- an Other. Put simply, there is no intelligence in the absence of intelligibility, the latter a kind of "giving over" from inhere to in here.

Our own existence isn't "potentiated," so to speak, unless and until it is confirmed by the Other, or more precisely, the m-other (either real or symbolic, but really always both). We come into being in the infinite space between infantile neurology and this nurturing other. Only after the We is established do we discover the I. Otherwise, it's just not safe to come out.

Of course, results may vary, depending upon the quality of nurturing. For some, the We is so maimed by the exigencies of infancy -- abandonment, neglect, abuse, etc. -- that a stable I fails to emerge, and this enfeebled I compulsively seeks communion in a pathological We.

Even here -- i.e., in psychopathology -- the creature seeks out its creator, only in this case, it is a strange demigod of the nursery, i.e., an exteriorized and projected mind parasite.

Now, how would one characterize the nature of a healthy We? Well, for starters, we would say that it is imbued with Love. True, but that's insufficient to describe the phenomenology of what occurs. That is to say, there is a "flowing presence" that is somehow generated by the We, and yet, contains the couple.

The "healthy We" is also characterized by knowledge, beauty, and creativity. For example, recall what was said above, about how anything that exists is intelligible "for" a subject. Thus, to know a truth -- any truth -- is to commune with reality in an intimate manner. For you can't get more intimate than reality giving itself to your head in this manner.

Likewise beauty, where the connection is even more obvious and intimate. For to be touched by beauty is, well, to be touched, isn't it?

And creativity clearly results from a happy and productive internal couple working in harmony. Take what I'm doing at the moment. I don't assume you're having the same experience I am, but this thing I'm creating is very much emerging in the space between me and -- and what?

I don't think we need to define it, but it is clearly a close encounter of some kind, a We, which is a common experience of any creative persons. "How did you write that song?" "I don't know. It was just given to me, I guess." Something like that.

Further confirmation of our metaphysics is found in Proverbs, for example.

The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens; by His knowledge the depths were broken up....

When He prepared the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep..., then I was beside him, as a master craftsman; and I was his daily delight.

Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you....

Say to wisdom, "You are my sister."

They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge.... they shall eat the fruit of their own way and be filled to the full with their own fancies.

And all those who hate me love death.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

MacrO and MicrO

The following observation of Schuon is interesting, because it goes directly to the nature of O, and therefore man, the latter of whom we might call the micrO, God or whatever being the macrO.

(We use the term "whatever" advisedly, because we don't want to scare away the unbelievers, who should just think of this post as a typical exercise in re-cognition, i.e., a verticalisthenic.)

As Schuon writes, ultimate reality is "on the one hand Immutable, which determines us," but "on the other hand it is the Living, which attracts us."

Please note that that is it. Schuon provides no further explanation, so it is for us to unpack and decipher.

Which is good. I like unsaturated, because it is analogous to a "blank structure" with which we must fill in the content. Indeed, like life. Or maybe this post.

First of all we confront the reality of a Reality that is simultaneously Immutable and Attractive. How's that?

One way of looking at it is to say that humans are always subject to two temporal "forces" or "streams," which we call Fate and Destiny (we have posted on these two rascals in the past).

Both words imply That Which Must Be, but it seems that it is indeed possible to turn away from, or be denied, our Destiny, hence the reality of tragedy.

Those two words -- Immutable and Attractive -- also remind me of Absolute and Infinite, and therefore Male and Female in their cosmic dimensions.

Immutable is what? Strength, majesty, nobility, firmness, stability, authoritative, unwavering, rock, shelter, unconquerable, indomitable, incorruptible. Particle. Justice. Word.

Attractor is what? Radiant, beautiful, luminous, appeasing, liquiescent, dissolving, melting, nurturing, encompassing. Wave. Mercy. Music.

All human beings are descended from one male and one female. Might we say the same of our vertical descent?

Interesting that as the soul ascends toward the source, it too becomes simultaneously Immutable and Radiant, i.e., attractive.

For me, the "community of saints" -- and sages -- serves this function, for they are like fixed stars that radiate and attract us from above. They never compel, they attract.

Thus, they are "compelling," but compel our assent in such a way that our freedom is never compromised. Indeed, our assent to this radiant attraction is the height of freedom, for it is freely given assent to truth.

The Immutable Attractor defines the contours of existence, since it also implies the circularity that constitutes the human journey. For the Immutable is detachment, elevation, and eternal, in the shadow of which our lives are just inevitable ephuneral arrangements and fleeting lessons in evanescence.

But there is elevation and there is compassion: "by elevation it withdraws from things, and by compassion it comes back to them" (Schuon).

Which is reminiscent of the bodhisattva principle, whereby the enlightened being renounces liberation until every person is so freed of his existential entanglements and ontological coagulations.

Or in other words, love overcomes death and returns to the battlefield of existence.

I'll just leave off with this luminous passage by Schuon, which goes to Immutability and Attraction:

God has opened a gate in the middle of creation, and this open gate of the world toward God is man; this opening is God's invitation to look towards Him, to tend towards Him, to persevere with regard to Him, and to return to Him....

Unbelief and paganism are whatever turns its back on the gate; on its threshold light and darkness separate....

[W]hat a waste and a suicide -- to slip through the human state without truly being man, that is, to pass God by, and thus to pass our own souls by...

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Freedom and Truth, Intelligence and Reality

No time for a new post, but just slackenough for a peerback on what was happening in the Cosmos five years ago this month.

One of the consolations of secular humanism is that since a human life has no intrinsic -- which is to say, transcendent -- purpose, it isn't possible to waste one's life.

Nor, if absolute truth doesn't exist, is it possible to be intrinsically wrong and therefore cosmically stupid.

And of course, if virtue is reduced to an arbitrary cultural agreement -- say, about whether or not it is a good idea to leave a woman attached to her clitoris -- then a culture cannot be bad, much less evil, only "different" and probably oppressed and victimized to boot.

If human beings are not free to know truth, then neither freedom nor truth can be said to exist. In other words -- no, the identical words, only italicized for added oomphasis: if human beings are not free to know truth, then neither freedom nor truth can be said to exist.

These two categories -- freedom and truth -- are so fundamentally intertwined, that any diminution of one leads to a negation of the other. Therefore, it should be no surprise that a philosophy such as leftism, which does not value liberty, should be permeated with so many lies.

And it is not just that these lies represent bad or faulty information, subject to correction. Rather, these are vital lies which one is compelled to believe, often in spite of common sense and hundreds and even thousands of years of collective experience. In other words, one is not free to believe otherwise.

Perhaps you remember the seemingly mundane but illustrative example of the high school cheerleaders who were compelled by law to root equally for both boys' and girls' teams. As Dennis Prager wrote at the time, "almost no one directly involved wants this -- not the cheerleaders, not the fans, not the boys' teams, and not even the girls' teams. But it doesn't matter: The law coerces cheerleaders to cheer at girls' games."

And it all begins with a vital lie of the left, that men and women are identical. Since no normal person believes this, it must be mandated and pressured into us by force.

Put another way, the state -- and this is just one of dozens of examples -- makes it against the law to be normal. (Other examples that come readily to mind: in California it is against the law to "discriminate" against a cross-dressing employee, and in our public school textbooks it is forbidden to depict any culture in a negative light.)

Once a vital lie such as this is accepted, freedom must be constrained in a thousand ways -- not just for men, but obviously for woman as well, since a normal girl has no spontaneous interest in being a cheerleader at a girls' softball game.

For that matter, at least back when I was in high school, no boy with his chromosomes in order wanted to be associated with the words Yell. King. Might as well say shrieking pussy. Or just William Yelverton.

I mean, what an intrinsically undignified designation for a young man. Real men don't yell (except when necessary), any more than they whine, quibble, needlessly complain, pose as victims, or contact the authorities when a troll hurts their feelings.

If you would be a king among men, you must not only refrain from all pettiness -- which is only the absence of a negative -- but possess a genuine center of power. This power may be in the realm of knowing, or doing, or being, but a man, in order to be one, must conquer something in one of these realms.

Furthermore, with respect to knowledge, one can't just know "anything." Rather, you must know truth; and, most importantly, you must defend it, just as you would defend your family. Nor can you do just anything. Rather, you must courageously do what is virtuous in a fallen world.

And you certainly cannot be just anything. Rather, your being must radiate the calm presence of Being itself, which undoubtedly supersedes, or at least infuses, the other two powers. This center of Being is also the center of Power, since it is a terrestrial prolongation of the celestial center of Truth, Virtue, and Freedom.

Prager notes what should be a truism, that "Of all the myths that surround Left-Right differences, one of the greatest is that the Left values liberty more than the Right. Regarding a small handful of behaviors -- abortion is the best example -- this is true.

"But overwhelmingly, the further left one goes on the political spectrum, the greater the advocacy of more state control of people's lives.... It is astonishing that this obvious fact is not universally acknowledged and that the Left has somehow successfully portrayed itself as preoccupied with personal liberty with regard to anything except sexual behavior and abortion."

Again, since the left does not value real liberty, their version of "truth" must be coerced, never arrived at freely. As Prager notes, "Most activists on the Left believe that they, not only their values, are morally superior to their adversaries. Therefore, coercing people to adhere to 'progressive' values is morally acceptable, even demanded. It is thus quite understandable that laws would compel high school cheerleaders to cheer at girls' athletic events as much as at boys'. And true to leftist totalitarian models, not only is behavior is coerced, but emotions as well."

In other words, in compelling one to have certain emotions, the left even tries to shape you "from within," or "beneath" cognition. This is one of the purposes of political correctness, as it compels people to identify with, and express, false emotion -- for example, hysteria over Arizona merely enforcing Federal immigration laws.

Again, consider the pettiness of the left, which leads to an insect-eye-view of the world. Regarding the cheerleaders, leftist activists insist that they should "attend girls' and boys' games 'in the same number, and with equal enthusiasm' as part of its five-year goals.'"

Is it not Orwellian to require "equal enthusiasm" of anyone over anything? Ironic, since "enthusiasm" comes from en theos, or to be in-spired by God. How could enthusiasm be compelled, and still go by the name? Isn't that like "forced spontaneity?"

Besides, for a true leftist, shouldn't genuine en-thusiasm of any kind be against the law on the grounds that it violates the so-called separation of church and state? So too inspiration (spir = spirit) and charisma ("divine gift"). My own field of clinical psychology has many similarly illiberal demands mandating, for example, that I "respect" diversity. Why? Why not the Absolute, or One? Why the pluribus but not the Unum?

Because so-called progressives cannot compete in the marketplace of ideas, it is critical that they hijack the judiciary, so that their policies can be imposed on an unwilling populace, whether it is the redefinition of marriage, or government enforced racial discrimination, or acceptance of illegal Democrats, or compelling citizens to purchase health insurance.

It is simply axiomatic that "The more secular the society, the more laws are needed to keep people in check. When more people feel accountable to God and moral religion, fewer laws need to be passed. But as religion fades, something must step into the moral vacuum it leaves, and laws compelling good behavior result" (Prager).

Natural law is eclipsed by unnatural law, which ends up producing unnatural men -- which is to say, either feminized males or developmentally arrested boys. Or, you could say that the denial of natural law creates merely natural men; which is to say, animals. And for the left, this is "mission accomplished."

The truth is not at your service. Rather, vice versa. Only by virtue of this constraint -- the yoke which is paradoxically easy -- are you free. Not to mention, intelligent. Which is to say, real.

Man is so made that his intelligence has no effective value unless it be combined with a virtuous character. Besides, no virtuous man is altogether deprived of intelligence; while the intellectual capacity of an intelligent man has no value except through truth. Intelligence and virtue are in conformity with their reason for being only through their supernatural contents or archetypes; in a word, man is not fully human unless he transcends himself, hence, in the first place, unless he masters himself. --F. Schuon