Friday, June 15, 2012

Hopeless Nihilism, and Beyond!

Way out of time this morning. Therefore I dug up a partially decomposed essay from four years ago. Don't worry, it's timeless, so it doesn't smell too bad. It did have some gnostic edges that I have tried to soften, because it is not meant to imply any kind of "secret knowledge" or occult spiritual technology. Rather, it is intended to be blandly experience-near and phenomenological, just describing "what happens" when we give up and call it a deity. Or rather, dive into O and trust that something will keep us afloat and prevent us from being all wet.

The other day we spoke of the differences between (k) and (n), or of knowledge and experience. It's easy enough to have spiritual experiences, easier still to gain spiritual knowledge, but how does one make them "stick," or transform these from transient or surface states into stable and ensuring traits, i.e., (¶)?

Clown question, bro. We don't.

Nor could we ever do so, any more than we could construct a tree or grow a carrot or build a cake or cook even the most half-baked thought from scratch.

Philalethes: "The whole process which we employ closely resembles that followed by Nature in the bowels of the earth, except that it is much shorter."

That's right, shorter. Think of a baby who grows up into a normal civilized human being. In so doing, he is compressing 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution into 20 or 30 years. But why stop at normality? Why not go all the way?

Really, all we can do is create the conditions, and then get out of the way of the same energies that turned dirt into Dostoyevsky or mud into Mozart or shite into Shakespeare -- which is what "right living" is all about.

It reminds me of when people "try" to get pregnant. Often it only happens after they've given up. I've even heard it said that it's not uncommon for people to adopt a child, thinking they'll never get pregnant, only to become pregnant once they've given up hope.

I can't tell you how hopeless I am. No (temporal) ambition at all. No hope that things will ever change for the better. For one thing, how could things get better so long as I'm around to spoil them? I'm also pretty nihilistic, in that anything less than that tends to eclipse the Absolute. In other words, it's very easy to fall into idolatry.

And now that everyone is famous, anonymity is the new celebrity. "Let not him who desires this knowledge for the purpose of procuring wealth and pleasure think that he will ever attain to it" (The Sophic Hydrolith).

In my hopeless condition, I try my best to burrow more deeply into the present, and again, let the rest take care of the rust. Call it blind I-AMbition. Let the dead bury the tenured, and let the unBorn... let them do whatever they need to do to become born, but certainly don't abort them on the one hand, or feed them steroids on the other. Let supernature take its course.

I don't put my precogitated unBorns on a timetable. They'll arrive at their own pace, so long as I take care of my end, and patiently fertilize the present ground. There's more than enough experience to be had in the present, thank you, without seeking it elsewhere, in the past and future.

In fact, Christian hope paradoxically arises specifically from a kind of liberating hopelessness about this fallen world. To place one's hope in the world is to misplace it. Thus the intrinsic cosmic heresy of all those franciful schemes of leftist udopians.

I prefer to live as simply as possible, because a complicated life begins to place barriers between oneself and human (and therefore divine) reality, or between one's feet and the ground.

At the moment, I'm reviewing a section in The Spiritual Ascent entitled Integration, and it has many helpful pointers along these lines. Again, you will find that the insights therein are generally universal and Timelessly True, as invariant vis-a-vis the transhuman realm as the Platonic truths of mathematics are with regard to the physical plane.

For example, some guy named Hujwiri tells us from across the centuries that "the Sufi is he whose thought keeps pace with his foot, i.e., he is entirely present: his soul is where his body is, and his body is where his soul is, and his soul is where his foot is, and his foot is where his soul is. This is the sign of presence without absence."

Like so many similarly fractal passages in this book, this is the whole teaching boiled down to a single phrase. You could identify any number of biblical passages that convey the same thing in a slightly different way.

But it's one thing to "know" this, something else entirely to realize it. This is why the saints are so important, for they are the realization, or terrestrial fulfillment, of the celestial doctrine.

In turn, this is why we learn more by watching the good man "tie his bootlaces," so to speak, than from his words per se; or, bear in mind that their communications will always consist of "words and music," and that one must have an ear attuned to the latter to gain maximum benefit of the former. Or, put it this way: truth can be told in such a way as to become a lie, due to the unworthiness of the container.

Spirituality must not only take place in the body -- where else? -- but transform the body, i.e., recalcitrant matter, which is "resistant" to being spiritualized, so to speak, in the same way that dirty water resists the light.

Again, think of how easy it is to have a spiritual experience "above" the body. But when you come back down, you're left with the same unreformed physical being, i.e., certain dense and mindless patterns that seem "opaque" to the light.

It's much more challenging to be in this world and sharpen oneself against the rocks of adversity and even inconvenience. This is why we never trust "professional gurus" who not only don't have real jobs, but who are very likely unemployable due to the extent of their bloated cosmic narcissism.

Jesus was a carpenter. He worked with his hands and with natural materials. If you meet the Buddha on the road, first take a look at his hands. If you don't see callouses, or at least some dirt under the fingernails -- worse yet, if you see a manicure -- kill him. Buddha would be the first to do so.

In both Judaism and Christianity the focus is on embodiment. The point is not to "escape" this embodiment, but rather, to incarnate fully. Our incarnation is God's excarnation; or God ex-spires into us and we in-spire God -- which is how we oxidize the blood that courses through the arteries of the cosmos.

Real Men take their realization into marriage, into child rearing, into work, into the constant battle that is this world. The world is a test that never ends.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Here again, there is the upper vertical and the lower vertical, the celestial and the terrestrial, spirit and body, heaven and earth. It's easy enough for God's will to be done "above," where it is done "automatically," so to speak. The trick is how we allow it to be done in the herebelow, for there are many layers of influence between the top and bottom.

Again, it's more a matter of getting out of the way, isn't it? Benjamin Whichcote: "Our Conversation is in Heaven, according to the Measure and Degree of our present State and Condition.... When we set ourselves to do the Will of God here, then Heaven is come down into the World..."

We mustn't wait until we are dead -- or 'til the sun is down, when no man can work. Rather, it should begin "while the soul is in the body. I say more: while yet in the body a soul may reach oblivion of its travail not to remember it again" (Meister Eckhart).

In other words, there can be a kind of egobliteration and resurrection in this life, or at least its "first fruits." For any transcendence is evidence of all transcendence, which is to say the transcendence of all -- which is another way of saying resurrection, or at least rebirth.

William Law: "What could man have to do with the perfection of God as the rule of his life, unless the truth and reality of the divine nature was in him?"

The Russian Pilgrim: "It is possible for man to get back to that primitive contemplative state in which he issued from the hands of his Creator."

Why? Because you weren't issued in the past; rather, you are issued afresh each moment. You know, make your resurrections in advance, and don't forget your peaceport.... De-part and bewholed like in them seers' dialogues of old, then aim your eros for the heart of the world!

Hakuin goes even further -- it's not only senseless to wait until death for the climb of your life, but it is the most culpable negligence. It's a kind of philosophical malpractice. It's worse than a crime, it is a cosmic blunder.

Nope. "He that beholds the sun of righteousness arising upon the horizon of his soul with healing in its wings, and chasing away all that misty darkness" -- such a regular feller cares not "to pry into heaven's secrets, and to search the hidden rolls of eternity, there to see the whole plot of his salvation; for he views it transacted upon the inward stage of his own soul, and reflecting upon himself, he may behold a heaven opened from within, and a throne set up in his soul, and an almighty Saviour sitting upon it, and reigning within him.... It is not an airy speculation of heaven as a thing to come that can satisfy his hungry desires, but the real possession of it even in this life" (John Smith the Platonist).

Amen for a child's job! (And vice versa.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Conservatism and the Implications of Human Nature

Let's try to get to the essence of the nub of the gist of our political differences. For me, conservatism is simply the cultural and political implications (in that order) of human nature, both good and bad. Given the constraints of human nature, only so much "hope" is rationally warranted and only so much "change" can be reasonably expected, man being what he is.

Which is why leftism in all its forms starts with the denial of human nature. Once that particular obstacle is removed, then anything is possible. For example, the left talks about "greed" as if it is something invented by conservatives instead of an intrinsic defect in man, like some kind of original sin or something.

And once it is projected into conservatives, it is possible to imagine that the state isn't susceptible to the same greedy impulses. Then one lives in a fantasy world in which corporations are driven to increase profits but the state isn't driven to increase revenue. This naive mindset can only be maintained if one has already engaged in primitive psychological splitting, projecting the bad into the private sector and the good into the public sector.

Me? No, I do not imagine that huge corporations are magically good or altruistic, nor do I believe that the state is intrinsically evil. Rather, both institutions are shaped and limited by three things: human nature, a system of incentives, and negative feedback. The first cannot change, but the second two can limit or exacerbate the damage.

In an ideal world of market forces, businesses are subject to a continuous flow of corrective feedback known as profits and losses. A business owner can be as greedy as you like, but this greed is impotent if it doesn't translate to providing a product or service that people want, and for which they are willing to part with their cash. The leftist will no doubt argue that people want the wrong things!, but that's a different argument, one that again touches on human nature.

For example, it is natural for human beings to seek and enjoy sugary substances. The conservative argues that this is no doubt true, for which reason the essence of psychological maturity involves mastery of one's impulses, whether they are directed toward food, sex, drugs, or any other pleasurable activity.

No one can call himself a proper human if he hasn't even mastered himself. Temptations are everywhere, and that's just the way it is. In the Islamic world they don't like sexual temptation, so they put women in black bags. Good idea? Or should they apply a more Bloombergian rule, and just bag women with C-cups and larger?

The leftist instinctively rejects the strategy of self-mastery because of a paradoxical affirmation and denial of human nature. One also sees this in their hatred of "abstinence," as if sexual impulses are beyond anyone's control, unless, of course, you use dirty words in front of a fragile female coworker, in which case you should be sued and fired. I mean, isn't the whole point of political correctness that people can be bullied and cowed into unnatural thought and behavior?

The best part of human nature is actually supernatural and cannot be reduced to nature. Quintessentially this applies to free will. The leftist denies this higher human nature, but accepts the lower nature. And since we have no power of free will to exert control over our lower nature, we need the state to intercede and do this for us. As a result, the state treats us all like impulsive babies, even those of us who have attained control of our bladders and mouths.

Dennis Prager makes this point in a recent essay, Science Demands Big Government. Specifically, with regard to Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on beverages he doesn't like, a Harvard professor of evolutionary biology helpfully points out that human beings "have evolved to need coercion." There is a contradiction here, because science proves that there is no such thing as human nature, and that the state can control it.

Note first of all that this is an ironic conclusion for a "progressive," since it denies any human capacity for progressing beyond our most primitive impulses without assistance from the state. And those of us who believe we can control those impulses on our own, thank you, are not only wrong but ANTI-SCIENCE!

Such an attitude, if permitted to stand, leads to devastating -- and profoundly anti-human -- consequences. For example, if we use natural selection "to guide social policy, little that is truly decent will survive. Is there anything less prescribed by evolution than, let us say, hospices?" Likewise, "if evolution demands the survival of the species, wouldn’t evolution call for other 'coercion' -- against abortion, for example?"

Left unanswered because the left won't answer is the question of how private human beings cannot know -- or at least exert control over -- what is bad for them, but a public human being -- a state bureaucrat -- somehow magically acquires both the knowledge and the wisdom to coerce others. Or in other words, government employees are better than us. But you knew that already. In fact, too good for us, really. We are not worthy of his demonization!

Thomas Sowell makes a similar point in a piece called Barack Obama: Dictator of the Left (Sowell is an obvious racist, so forgive the hyperbolic title). In it, he essentially shows how politicians such as Obama are shielded from the rigors of negative feedback, very much unlike the market.

For example, "the Obama administration can arbitrarily force insurance companies to cover the children of their customers until the children are 26 years old. Obviously, this creates favorable publicity for President Obama. But if this and other government edicts cause insurance premiums to rise, then that is something that can be blamed on the 'greed' of the insurance companies."

The identical dynamic played out in the collapse of the real estate bubble in 2008, in that instance, the state forcing lenders to make bad loans to unqualified borrowers.

In both cases, note that the state is subject to feedback, but not market feedback. Rather, the state responds to political feedback, so it will implement destructive policies in exchange for positive political feedback and refrain from helpful ones if they generate negative political feedback.

Back to the reality of human nature. Human nature isn't, of course, "unitary." Rather, there are things like sex and temperament through which that nature is inflected. Now, it is clear that political differences are rooted in these deeper distinctions, for which reason the quackademic left, for the past 60 years or so, has been attempting to pathologize half the spectrum: the male half, precisely.

Scruton discusses these contrasting "political temperaments" in his How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism. I think you'll agree that it is just common sense.

For example, there are "individualists, who look for opportunities and freedoms, and who are disposed to hold people responsible for their acts." On the other hand, there are "egalitarians, who seek a solution that will not make distinctions between people, and who are apt to to entrust problems to the state, as the impartial provider and distributor of goods."

Scruton has just defined the characterological distinction between (classical) liberals and leftists, and no amount of tenured nonsense is going to eliminate the former, at least not here in the United States, which is founded on those very principles.

Does this mean there is no place for the egalitarian impulse? Of course not. It's not going anywhere either, at least so long as there are, for example, single women, feminized men, and various victim groups anointed by the left.

My problem is that I see no need to embody the egalitarian impulse in a massive and intrusive state, just as I see no need to displace self-control into the government, a la Bloomberg.

A fully functioning -- which is to say, integrated -- human being harbors a complementarity of mercy and severity, compassion and justice, violence and magnanimity, self-interest and charity, male and female, individual and social, etc. I think to embody just one or the other is to be in a state of imbalance, and that a big part of maturity involves realizing -- and tolerating -- their unresolvable complementarity.

And that is a state no state can force upon you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dogmatic Circles and Birds of Play

The mind is infinite -- or might as well be, because I guarantee you'll never find its edge in your lifetime -- and yet, people choose to live in more or less confined spaces of idolatry, sub-ideology, and convention.

Frankly, that's okay for most people. But not for the Transdimensional Raccoon, who prefers to frolic in the wide open spaces of the wild godhead beyond the subjective horizon.

The auto-enclosure referenced above seems to be an evolutionary holdover, or nul de slack, that once served a purpose, in that early man was naturally distracted by the urgent necessity of mapping the world in some kind of predictable way that bore immediate fruit.

In short, he was preoccupied with survival, both with his own and that of his genes; or food, reproduction, and killing enemies. Hunters hunted and gatherers gathered, and it must have worked because here we are.

There was a time when anthropologists were of the universal belief that mankind developed in stages, e.g., from primitive to agricultural to technological; or from myth to metaphysics to science; or from agrarian to capitalistic to communist; or totemism to polytheism to monotheism; etc.

But this way of looking at things became unfashionable in the 20th century, largely due to the racism that attached to certain theories of development, along with a conflation of genes and culture. I suppose this pathology reached a peak of virulence with Nazi theories of race, but the left will never fully abandon racist ideas so long as they translate to political power.

As a result of the new academic correctness of the 20th century, to suggest, say, that some backward tribe in Africa was "primitive" was -- and still is -- to brand oneself a racist.

But in recent years the left's stranglehold on permissible thought has been weakening, so it is possible to perceive and talk about the human reality beneath an absurd dogma that pretends all cultures are equally wonderful except our own, which is uniquely bad (e.g., Sick Societies, Race And Culture, The Culture Cult, Constant Battles, or War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, to name just a few off the top of my head).

Yes, the intellectual red tide is turning, but just as in natural selection, we'll pretty much have to wait for the old demagogues of the left to literally die out and be replaced by a new and nonself-hating generation of the intellectually open and bi-curious (i.e. horizontal and vertical textual orientation).

Only a handful of leftists ever grow out of their adolescent rebellion, and most of these heels will actually dig them in when faced with corrective feedback from reality, e.g., Obama. He is far too narcissistically invested in his fanciful worldview to adjust it to the dictates of reality, which is why we are all being held hostage to one man's immaturity.

So long as there are millions of others to help Obama prop up the fantasy, he can ignore the feedback. But now that his own base is crumbling, we'll see him become increasingly confused about what to say and how to act.

Conversely, it is so liberating to simply speak truth and let the world be the world!

This post wasn't supposed to be about politics per se, but rather, about the snares of thought that capture and enclose the spirit. Then again, for a secular person, politics can be one of the biggest snares.

In Into the Silent Land, Laird tells the story of four Kerry blue terriers he saw in the course of his regular walks. Three of them raced through the open field with "bounding energy, elastic grace, and electric speed," but the fourth stayed close to the side of the owner and ran around in tight little circles.

One day he asked the owner about this behavior, and he responded that prior to his acquisition of the dog, "it had lived practically all its life in a cage and could only exercise by running in circles. For this dog, to run meant to run in tight circles" (emphasis mine).

Let us stipulate that some men aren't dogs, and that they can think, which is to say, run around in hyperspace. But most men seem to run around in tight little circles near their ideological owner while wagging their fingers. Why is that?

Could it be that they are in a cage? Or on a leash? And neutered?

If you will open your Coonifesto to page 21, you will read that the author did not write the book for the absurcular intellectual, tenured ape, or cognitive wanker bee. There are millions of books for them, and they don't need one more bar on the cage.

Rather, the book is addressed to the "free-range spiritual aspirant" and not the "unfertilized egghead of contemporary hyperspecialization." The same is a fortiori true of the blog. The whole innerprize is in a spirit of child-like play, and one of the purposes of play is to vault oneself out of time and into the timeless.

"For indeed we are free, as the Psalmist insists, 'My heart like a bird has escaped from the snare of the fowler." And in the words of Dante, "Reason, even when supported by the senses, has short wings" (both in Laird).

Although that would be a good place to end, one more point that expands upon what the Poet just said.

In the epigraph to his Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge expresses the idea that "it is good that human beings contemplate invisible things in the universe 'lest the intellect, habituated by the trivia of daily life, may contract itself too much and wholly sink into trifles'" (cited in Piereson).

So, do the myth, sheeple.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Reality of Sp↓r↑t

Remind us again, B'ob. What is reality?

Yes, reality is the revelation of Being. But there can be no revelation in the absence of a recipient, so reality is simultaneously the registration of Being. Or, we can say that reality is the successful communication of Being; or, if you prefer a shorter answer, communion.

Obviously reality registers at different levels and in different modes: there is empirical/sensory reality, mathematical/logical reality, aesthetic/artistic reality, moral/ethical reality, spiritual reality, etc.

Why we can't all agree on this, I can't tell you. I mean, after you've communicated it to the the person. Truth is one, but resistances to it tend to be particularistic and idiosyncratic, rooted in personal biography. I don't have the time.

Now, to the extent that there is self-communicating spiritual reality, we want to be open to it -- just as we want to be open to the other realms of being. Because reality can communicate all day long, but if we're not receiving, then it might as well not be there, and you are no different than the DNC.

In his Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, Laird makes the elementary point that "A spiritual practice simply disposes us to allow something to take place."

What, exactly? You're getting ahead of yourself. This is like showing up on the first day of school and asking the teacher, "exactly what is this math class supposed to teach me?" The only rational response can be, "keep showing up, and you'll find out."

Contrary to what they say, there is no map... there is only surrender (Matarasso, in Laird).

"For example, a gardener does not actually grow plants. A gardener practices certain gardening skills that facilitate growth that is beyond the gardener's direct control. In a similar way, a sailor cannot produce the necessary wind that moves the boat.... there is nothing the sailor can do to make the wind blow" (Laird).

There is a spiritual wind beyond our control, and there has never been a time that it has been unknown to man. We just call it (↓), so as to avoid being like that math student who wants to know all about math before he has learned it -- i.e., before opening himself in silence and receiving the transmission.

We symbolize the silence (---), the openness (o). The patient application of these two results in "surrendering of deeply embedded resistances that allows the sacred within to reveal itself as a simple, fundamental fact" (ibid.).

Again, communion is communication, and vice versa.

Thus, spiritual communion "is not something we are trying to to acquire; God is already the ground of our being. It is a question of realizing it in our lives" (ibid.).

This realization is symbolized (n), in distinction to (k), the latter of which is received but needn't be realized. The person (or level of the person) who realizes (n) is (¶). (All of this is explained in the book, but occasionally even I remember.)

Laird references what St. Paul called our "hidden self": "may he give you the power through his Spirit [↓] for your hidden self [¶] to grow strong" (Eph 3:16). Or just say grow, because "growing weak" is an oxymoron. The latter is either vertical dissipation or the heartbreak of cosmic shrinkage.

Paul adds that this is a kind of "comprehension" that "passes knowledge," that we "may be filled with all the fullness of God." Again, this "filling" can only be a function of (↓), however you wish to conceptualize it. (Speaking of which, I just discovered a helpful symbol for mere [unrealized] knowledge of God: (⇡), i.e., the broken eros.)

In the end, "this God we desire [has] already found us, thus causing our desire," which means that the real cosmic action looks something like this: (↺). And "the soul's center is God" (St. John of the Cross) " which we of course symbolize (ʘ).

As we have discussed before, this (↓) business (or isness, precisely) is what confers the depth dimension on things; call it the yeast, the salt, the cream in your coffee, the bubbles in your champagne, the cork in your bat, the lead in your pencil. But without it, everything goes quite literally flat, and our carbon-based life becomes uncarbonated.

Another important point is that as we approach the center -- as in ʘ -- we necessarily have closer communion with others, because that dot at the center is the very basis for the possibility of communion.

Laird provides a helpful visual: picture a wheel with spokes. At the outer periphery the lines are all separate and distinct spokesmen, but as they converge upon the center they become closer, ultimately converging upin the One spokeswhole. Thus, "the more we journey towards the Center the closer we are both to God and to each other" (ibid.).

And one thing that facilitates this closeness is mutual recognition of the "thirdness" of it all. I suppose it is possible for love to last if two people just love, and try to love, one another. But love can really only last "forever" if there are two people in communion focusing on a mutually loved transcendent Third. Thus, I suppose that a properly functioning marriage might be symbolized (⇈).

Communion around a higher third:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Change is Hard. Especially for Humans.

Memo: posts will generally be later or shorter through June 20, when school ends.

Good news: if my psychic weather forecast is correct, Obama has officially entered the collapse phase of his presidency, from which there can be no recovery. As we blognosticated back in January 2009,

"When I say that the Obamanauts are about to enter a world of pain, I mean that they will eventually know the dark side of the wave of fantasy upon which they are riding. Only in this case, it seems unusually dark, for it is the same darkness that currently attaches to President Bush. As much as he is hated, Obama is loved, and for reasons that are equally insane because they are a precise and predictable function of each other."

The collapse "occurs when the public begins to feel that the fantasy leader is helpless to prevent catastrophe," and "is seen as weak and vulnerable, which triggers a wave of near homicidal anxiety that aims to purify the group by ritual slaying of the divine king, identical to what took place in the most primitive tribes. So today [January 20, 2009] isn't just the coronation of the new king, but the ritual blood sacrifice of the old one. But he was scourged for so long, he was virtually dead anyway -- or only 'alive' with primitive projections."

Of course, Romney's ascension will be greeted by a wave of enthusiasm, but he will eventually have to be sacrificed as well. Unless humans suddenly grow up, but I think you need pretty extraordinary evidence to suggest such an extraordinary development. The evidential burden is not on us, because we're not the ones making the outlandish claim about the human propensity for ritual sacrifice.

Which, by the way, I was just reading about this weekend -- not about human sacrifice but about the nature of evidence -- in this outstanding book called Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society. If nothing else, it is an extremely useful review of what science is and isn't, and more to the point, how it is possible (or impossible, depending on the case) for anyone to know what causes stuff to happen.

As we ascend the cosmic hierarchy, science becomes increasingly helpless to discern causation (let alone generalize it via induction), because of the complexity of the system, i.e., the multitude of causes. After all, science is ultimately about what causes things to happen and how to make predictions, but predicting what will happen if I kick a rock is much easier to predict than what will happen if I kick the dog.

As we ascend the cosmic ladder, causation becomes increasingly "dense," from physics, to chemistry, to biology, to psychology, and on to social sciences such as economics.

Imagine the virtually infinite causal density of the economy, and you have arrived at Hayek's "knowledge problem" -- which is precisely what leftists do not and will not understand. But it is the reason why central planning always fails. It generally requires someone as economically ignorant as an Obama to be so grandiose about what he thinks he knows -- similar to how a child has no idea of how much he doesn't know, relative to how complex the world actually is.

The original point I wanted to make was that, because of the relative simplicity of causation at the physical level, it is easy to make improvements to, say, cars and telephones. But the higher we ascend the cosmic scale, the more difficult it becomes to "make things better" without simultaneously making them worse.

Manzi cites a striking example, that as many as 100,000 Americans a year die as a result of reactions to medications that were properly administered. Nothing analogous happens at the level of physics. For example, imagine if 100,000 coins per year came up 100% heads every time you flipped them. This would tell you that there are some hidden conditionals of which you are unaware -- some additional causes for which your model has failed to account.

What's interesting is how complex human beings are, and yet, how certain causal factors are nevertheless so robust and persistent (AKA "human nature"). For example, there really seems to be some sort of "law" that governs the course of a fantasy leader from idealization, to collapse, to ritual sacrifice, but it obviously isn't of the same order as the laws of physics.

However, these enduring "laws of humanness" are what make it so difficult to achieve progress via mere political change. In short, people are people, no matter how much you may wish to change them.

In this regard, it is critical to distinguish between politics and culture. Culture is something that arises spontaneously and organically, in order to deal with the universal problems of human existence. It is easy to look at another culture and see how "stupid" it is, but that doesn't mean we can simply remove the stupidity and expect something better to emerge. A culture is not analogous to physics, but is again characterized by causal density and what Manzi calls "holistic integration."

Thus, when we talk about a massive change to the system, whether it is wild deficit spending, or Obamacare, or the redefinition of marriage, the burden of proof should always be on those who advocate it, because "almost any reasonable-sounding program" will "fail most of the time."

For example, if there is such a thing as a "culture of poverty," this would explain why the criminally simplistic War on Poverty is such a quagmire. And if homosexual behavior is conditioned by culture -- which it obviously is -- we're about to see a lot more of it. Likewise, you can't just say "you have to pass the bill to know what's in it," because that's like saying "here, have some radiation, because you have to have the birth defect to know how great it's gonna be!"

Indeed, the reason why these policies fail is the same reason why the vast majority of genetic mutations result in harm to the organism. If Darwin is correct, every once in a great while a random mutation will confer benefit, but don't bet on it.

Likewise, based upon sheer chance, every once in a while a government program will actually benefit the intended recipient without side effects and unintended consequences. But don't bet on it.

And certainly don't bet four billion dollars a day, every day, for the rest of your life.