Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Will Someone Please Thrash Chris Matthews (in a manner of speaking)?

So: conservatives are at an inherent disadvantage, because we can at least endure ourselves, and therefore don't have an issue around trying to dominate others instead.

To put it another way, since we appreciate the accomplishment of self-mastery and self-control -- of transcendence, in a word -- we have no illusions that the state could do this for us, or for anyone else.

Of course, transcendence is difficult if you reject it up front. But simply ignoring transcendence doesn't eliminate it. Rather, such a person "transcends" others by way of domination. Dominance is transcendence by proxy, which is why it has been said that fascism involves quintessentially the violent rejection of transcendence.

Thus, "to transcend oneself," writes Schuon, "is the great imperative of the human condition; and there is another that anticipates it and at the same time prolongs it: to dominate oneself. The noble man is one who dominates himself; the holy man is one who transcends himself. Nobility and holiness are the imperatives of the human state."

And true charity begins at home, with ridding "the soul of illusions and passions" and therefore freeing the world "of a maleficent being" (ibid). The gift of your own self-transcendence is one that keeps giving, because it helps rid the world of pettiness, narrow-mindedness, and self-serving dishonesty.

Until the state mangages to get its own chaotic affairs in order, it has about as much credibility as -- speaking of passions, illusions, bigotry, and an intellectually slovenly absence of nobility, dignity, and self mastery -- the bellowing and spittle-flecked Chris Matthews, who thinks everyone else is a racist because when he hears the word "welfare" he thinks "lazy negro."

In fact, in granting the mere markers of self-mastery, the state robs the individual of the attributes required to master himself. We saw this in the economic meltdown of 2008, which was rooted in the idea that "home ownership is good." The state then went about creating this happy outcome while ignoring the personal attributes that make home-ownership possible -- little things like economic literacy, financial stability, responsibility, a job, etc.

The state does the same with education, hence the coming "higher education bubble." In short, you do not make an idiot any more intelligent by granting him a college diploma. And you certainly won't make people healthier by "giving" them free healthcare.

As we know, the state never gives anything without taking something away. Ultimately it must take away intelligence, which we define as disinterested openness to reality. Intelligence is the luminous space in the flux of presence known as history. It's all we have, at least from our end.

For starters, the state is deeply interested -- specifically, in perpetuating and expanding itself -- so it cannot be open to truth, or to a truth that contradicts this imperative. This explains why there is no place less intellectually free than a liberal university campus, since this is where one learns to be a statist and to love one's masters.

Speaking of toxic psychospiritual atmospheres, Purcell quotes the Hungarian writer Sandor Marai, who describes how things felt in his country circa 1948:

"I began to suspect that what surrounded me was something worse than the brute force present... not just organized terror but an enemy more dangerous than anything else, an enemy against which there is no defense: stupidity... I was living among individuals who learned by rote and parroted breathlessly that the One idea is eternal... But no one dared speak about this, [of] that raging and idiotic egoism which wanted to force a society, a people, to live in a way contrary to human nature..."

Again, think of the bellowing idiot, Chris Matthews. How is one supposed to respond to such stupidity without looking stupid in the process? To paraphrase Roger Kimball, you don't argue with sickness. You resist it.

This sickness -- or pneumapathology -- again involves the eclipse of reality, a scotoma, "a willed avoidance of self-awareness, a deliberate choice not to know" (ibid).

A few days ago a reader asked about the distinction between a scotoma and a mind-parasite. What is interesting is that both involve reactions to a truth that must be known on some level in order to be denied. The narcissist, for example, must unconsciously know that he feels small and inadequate in order to construct the outer facade of superiority and grandiosity. But enough about Obama.

One always sees this process in various totalitarianisms of the left. As someone once said, you can always tell when a country is a tyranny when it has "Democratic" or "People" in its name: the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea"; the "Islamic Republic of Iran"; the "Republic of Cuba"; the "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela"; the "Syrian Arab Republic."

The tyrants who rule these regimes know as well as anyone else that a republic is a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them. The truth is in the lie, and vice versa.

Now to deny truth is to deny freedom, for truth can only be freely discovered, and freedom is truth lived. The Marxist dialectic -- in fact, any dialectic that denies transcendence -- also denies free will.

Think about the extent to which government is a system of incentives and punishments to coerce citizens to do this or that. The leftist mindset that regards government as the ultimate puppet master is rooted in this infrahuman psychology.

And yet, someone must be free -- not to mention, privy to Truth -- in order to pull the correct strings. As Purcell explains, "For my denial of freedom to be convincing, there must be at least one exception: I at least must be freely denying freedom, or why should anyone take me seriously?"

The bottom line of this post is provided by the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus, who was speaking of Nazi Germany, but who captured something universal:

Everywhere the one who administers the beating is precisely the one who deserves it.

So who will administer a thrashing to the richly deserving Chris Matthews? Metaphorically speaking, of course. And who shall be thrashed next?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fumigating the Liberal Pestocracy with Truth

I've got this growing pile of books on my desk -- my blogging in-box, as it were -- that I'd like to whittle down, beginning with From Big Bang to Big Mystery, which is what started us down this road last April. Usually I'm able to keep the book-to-blogging ratio at roughly 1:1, but the former has raced ahead of the latter over the past six months, so there are at least a dozen important works on which I'd like to pontificate.

Maybe it's because the books are important that I've fallen behind. Unimportant books are just obstacles in the path, and one normally has to plod through a lot of those in order to find the occasional gem. Too many gems. That's what it is. That and not enough time.

Once I review a book, I can let it go. But if I don't review it, it's like I never read it. Or at least I don't consciously remember much about it. There is no intrinsic virtue in mere reading, since most of what people read is as disposable as television. But the Raccoon reads with a purpose and a goal. Call it wide-angle lectio divina.

Let's begin with an observation by a renowned scientist, who candidly -- and appropriately -- muses about his "horrid doubt" as to "whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"

So wondered Charles Darwin. If only contemporary Darwinians could be so refreshingly Darwinian! But they have left their master behind -- or ahead, rather -- in favor of a kind of belligerent certitude to which no self-styled monkey could ever be entitled. If only they could grasp this critical -- self-critical, to be exact -- aspect of Darwinism, so many barrels of monkey mischief could be avoided!

To look at it from a philosophical angle, the Darwinian monkey reduces the whole question of epistemology to a biological problem: biology is not just destiny, but epistemology, because what we claim to "know" is a claim made by the genes, and genes don't actually claim anything. Thus, it's just an absurcular route back to nihilism, i.e., a nul-de-slack.

Purcell: "if human knowledge is simply one among the many expressions of zoological evolution, it can hardly claim to be knowledge in any meaningful sense at all."

Rather, just as each species has its unique physical form, it would also have its own distinct form of knowledge. Just as there is bee knowledge, lion knowledge, and snake knowledge, there is human knowledge. While there may be more of it, the underlying structure cannot be any different, otherwise there is an ontological rupture in existence, which absolutely cannot be explained with recourse to Darwinism -- or to profane science more generally.

In other words, there is nothing in Darwinism that permits us to draw a fundamental distinction between human and any other kind of knowledge. If there is such a distinction, then the theory falls by its own lights.

Conversely, if man is fundamentally distinct from -- even while continuous with -- other animals, then so too are biology and epistemology distinct. Importantly, unlike the Darwinian fundamentalist, we do not take a radical position on the matter.

Rather, we are happy to accept the evidence where we find it and to follow where it leads. Thus, there are some human traits and capabilities that do seem to be adequately explained by natural selection, others which cannot be so explained, to such an extent that you will look like an ass if you try.

I mean, c'mon. What makes it intellectually satisfying to reduce Mozart to monkey noises? I would contend that it is not intellectually -- let alone spiritually -- satisfying, only emotionally satisfying, so in that regard it is indeed more chimpish than human.

Think about a person who is willing to die for truth. Surely it is no coincidence that the foundation of western civilization rests on, and is perpetuated by, such individuals, e.g., Moses, Socrates, Jesus, Paul, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Andrei Sakharov, and so many others. What can Darwinism make of the man who is ready to die for truth instead of just food and reproductive success? Is he an aberration, some kind of genetic defect? A fool? Insane?

Socrates, for example, devoted his life to "openly seeking the truth and encouraging his fellow citizens to do the same" (Purcell). Just as he "stayed at his post when doing military service," so too was he faithful to his charge "when God appointed me, as I supposed and believed, to the duty of leading the philosophic life, examining myself and others." To abandon this wisdom-loving guardhouse would be as cowardly and dishonorable -- albeit understandable -- as if he had let down the city by turning tail and fleeing his military post.

Purcell quotes the Polish thinker Stanislaw Brozowski, who wrote that "Our life, our self, is a sentry post; when we abandon it, the whole of humanity loses it forever." For what or who are we guarding against when we man this post? What is the battle, and who are the combatants? And what is the nature of this "territory" for which the two sides are contending?

I would suggest that it touches on the epistemological discontinuity alluded to above, vis-a-vis Darwinian infrahumanism and true humanism. Looked at from a certain angle, it becomes evident that the very nature of humanness is under assault from various directions. (You will see some of them discussed in the comments of the previous post.)

In the struggle to colonize the human space, there are fronts in virtually every field and discipline: law, politics, medicine, psychology, journalism, art, literature, even religion, for there is surely a kind of sub-religious religiosity as articulated by such illuminaries as Deepak Chopra or Jeremiah Wright or Oprah Winfrey.

Who could even count the number of human beings who have been martyred for truth, for refusing to bow to the lie? Truly, God only knows, and each sacrifice is of infinite value, even if it prevented them from passing their genes along and thereby achieving Darwinian success. Purcell mentions one, Sophie Scholl, who, with her brother, did what she could to tell the truth about the Nazi regime (by distributing leaflets), and was executed for it in 1943.

Who was this anonymous martyr, and what motivated such foolishly un-Darwinian selflessness? Her letters and diaries reveal a young woman who was already on "a profound quest for living in the truth," and for which she paid the ultimate price. Her Nazi interrogator even gave her the opportunity to recant and save her life, but she refused, telling a cellmate that their precious ideas, "in spite of all the obstacles... will prevail. We were permitted to be pioneers, though we must die early for [their] sake."

To live in Truth is to carry a cross, at least in this world. Stupidity seems to have so many advantages, beginning with the raw numbers. Purcell quotes the German writer Robert Musil, who wrote of the "higher stupidity" that afflicts the tenured. This "is the real disease of culture," and "reaches into the highest intellectual sphere." It is "active in every direction, and can dress up in the clothes of truth."

Lies come easy, but Truth must be endured, and the person who cannot endure it cannot endure himself (and vice versa). Thus, Musil writes of that well-known pest, the person who becomes a revolutionary because he "has been unable to endure himself."

Thus, we have to endure them by proxy. Until we put them out of our misery this November.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Don't Look a Gift Cosmos in the Mouth

In these intellectually desiccated times, it is nearly impossible to speak of the natural -- or supernaturally natural -- relationship between love and truth, or reverence and knowledge, except to a scattered remnant of bOhemian neotraditional retrofuturists.

But that hardly makes the relationship any less real, for it can only be sundered by death of one of the principles. In other words, like its terrestrial analogue, the union of Mr. Truth and Mrs. Love -- or absolute and infinite, in a manner of speaking -- shall last until death do they part.

Now, husband and wife only come into being upon the new condition of marriage. What was a man now becomes a husband, even though it is the same man. And man-woman is not the same as husband-wife, any more than consecrated bread is mere bread.

Likewise, truth-love is not the same as truth and/or love alone. For example, what is a love based on lies? Is it really love when we love an illusion? Or is that just narcissism by proxy?

And is it possible for a person who hates the world -- and his life along with it (which amount to the same thing) -- to know the truth of things? Or does hatred and bitterness exile one from reality?

Can someone who hates America -- say, Noam Chomsky -- really understand anything about it? What about (presumably) less extreme haters, such as our current president? As his bitter half said, ours is a country that is "just downright mean" and "guided by fear."

Really? I won't argue the point. What is more interesting is that this is no doubt how she truly perceives things, because this is who she is: narrow, bigoted, ungrateful, and more than a little thick. So thick that one laments the unfairness of a system that eases such a defective intellect through its most elite universities, just so liberals-of-palor can feel good about themselves. But it is not good to feel good about a lie, since this implicitly sunders the above-noted relationship between love and truth.

I can't help contrasting this with Chesterton, whose spiritual biography I just read. Whatever else he was, this was a Happy Man in love with the world.

Conversely, the ranks of the left are filled with unhappy people who detest the world and want to change it into something it isn't -- and man into something he can never be. The conundrum for the leftist is how to hate the world "enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing" (Chesterton).

You cannot simultaneously love this country and want to "fundamentally transform" it, as Obama promised. If you don't believe me, try saying it to your wife, and see how it goes over: "honey, I love you. But I sure wish you were someone else."

The most perfect system dreamt up by the left cannot redeem man, first, because it will have been dreamt up by a man, and second, because any system that requires perfect people in order to function is doomed to failure. In contrast, our wise founders devised a political system based upon man as we actually find him, not as we wish him to be. This is appropriate skepticism, in contrast to the ubiquitous combination of cynicism and gullibility found in the left.

The reason we divide state power is to prevent anyone from acquiring it undiluted. Not for nothing do liberal fascists such as Obama or Thomas Friedman envy the freedom of the Chinese autocrat to do as he pleases.

Chesterton's gratitude extended not just to his nation, but to all of creation: "You should not look a gift universe in the mouth." Yes, you -- you who "criticize the cosmos / And borrow a skull and a tongue to do it with"!

And you, who superciliously vilify the nation that has beclowned your head with worthless but remunerative degrees from Princeton and Harvard to lend an egregious prestige to your screeching impeachment!

Way before he was a Christian, Chesterton was in love with the world, with "the tremendous Everything that is anywhere." Two things one can say about this: yes, he was a Christian, he just didn't know it; or, this attitude is precisely why he was attracted to a world view that reflected his view of the world:

"The spike of dogma fitted exactly into the hole in the world -- it had evidently been meant to go there -- and then a strange thing began to happen. When once these two parts... had come together, one after another, all the other parts fitted and fell in with eerie exactitude.... Instinct after instinct was answered by doctrine after doctrine."

Isn't that a perfect description of the Way It Is? Or do I speak only for myphilo and itsoph?

Here is another subtle point raised by Chesterton: none of us, when we assent to a "theory of life," do so because it has been "proven" to us with mere logic. That's just not the way the world works. For example, no one accepts natural selection because he has personally examined all the empirical evidence and concluded that the theory is true.

Rather, such a person -- myself included -- provisionally accepts the general theory because it does a good job of tying a lot of disparate phenomena together and making sense of things. But do I therefore accept it as a universal law that explains everything about life -- and more to the point, about human existence? Of course not. Only a terribly cramped soul could ever do that.

It is the same with a theology. Like Chesterton, I never accepted religion and then deployed it as a kind of cognitive grid to superimpose upon reality. Rather, I simply had experiences and insights that were not only mirrored in Christian tradition (surprising enough); but then that tradition provided an even deeper and richer framework to organize the phenomena (which it also generated more of).

As Chesterton notes, "A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a lock and a key are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key."

Chesterton wrote about these matters in such a congenial and informal way, that it is easy to not take him seriously. But that is exactly how it is: I first discovered this interior horizon of contours, of dimensions, of lights and shadows; and then I stumbled upon this key -- that obviously pre-existed me and my so-called discoveries -- that corresponds perfectly to the lock. How freaky is that!

So you cannot "prove" Christianity in the usual way; it cannot be illuminated from the outside, because it illuminates everything else, from the inside out.

And of course, we do not mean to exclude our Jewish friends, who have no doubt had an analogous experience (as I too have had, having a foot, or at least several toes, in that camp).

Better stop now... to be continued...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Intellectual's Crapbook

I want to switch gears for a moment, while this is fresh on my mind. It involves a conclusion that forces itself upon one after reading Kimball's highly raccoomended Experiments Against Reality and Lives of Mind: The Uses and Abuses of Intelligence.

The two books are similar, in that they mainly consist of short but extremely rich -- not to mention beautifully written -- biographical essays or book reviews concerning various cultural luminaries and illuminaries. We are particularly interested in the latter, first because they are so influential, second because they are so completely nuts.

In this regard, we will treat it as axiomatic that it is not a good thing for a culture when its Founding Fathers are, yes, brilliant perhaps, but also certifiably cuckoo.

I couldn't help contrasting these fellows -- names will be named below -- with, say, Thomas Aquinas, who was quite literally about as far from nuts as it is possible to be, at least if you believe that sanctity lies at the farther shore of pneuma- and psychopathology. Does this matter, or is truth independent of the flawed medium?

I say, it depends. For example, Gödel was clearly one dot shy of an umlaut, but that doesn't make his theorems any less true. On the other hand, I would hesitate before seeking psychological counsel from him, or more generally, advice on how best to live one's life.

In fact, in Lives of the Mind, Kimball says that he considers his subjects both "in terms of their fidelity to truth and their quotient of what one might call spiritual prudence: their healthy contact with reality" (emphasis mine).

Schiller made an apt observation along these lines (quoted by Kimball), that "extreme stupidity and extreme intelligence have a certain affinity with each other" in that "both seek only the real and are wholly insensible to mere appearance."

Marx, for example, and Schuon, both saw through appearances to an underlying world of permanence and unity. But how different the visions of that permanent reality -- or of reality and unreality, O and Ø.

Recall from past discussions that prudence is indeed the cardinal virtue, because in its absence the other virtues are rendered dubious or nul. For example, it no doubt takes a degree of courage for a Palestinian terrorist to blow himself up in his depraved quest for dead Jews and live virgins. But it also requires a complete absence of prudence.

Even truth handled imprudently can become dangerous and destrutive. To cite a contemporary example, the classified information the Obama administration has leaked to the press appears to be true, but most people presumably don't think it prudent to subordinate national security to Obama's desire for political power.

"It is one of the guiding themes of this book that intelligence, like fire, is a power that is neither good nor bad in itself." Rather, it is "like freedom" or "any human grace," in that it "can be abused as well as used."

Obvious when you think about it, no? So how come few people do? For example, Noam Chomsky, the Last Totalitarian, probably has a higher IQ than, say, Ronald Reagan. Can we conclude from this that the United States is therefore an evil empire?

Although he doesn't aim his deadly pen at the target-rich Chomsky -- where's the sport in that? -- Kimball's essays take down many other giants of academia, and form the highly insultaining "scrapbook of an intellectual pathologist."

Intellectual pathologist. This is -- or should be -- a subtle vocation, because it is all too easy to pretend to undercut an argument via a kind of sublimated or rarified ad hominem. I know this, because I used to engage in it myself. Any psychologist can take a figure whom he doesn't like, and cut him to ribbons with the misguided application of psychological theory, for example, this credentialed bozo.

But the intellect is distinct from the self. We think of it more as a function than a person (although in the healthy person it should be integrated with everything else).

And even then, we must draw a distinction between the function and its content, so to speak. As they say, even a broken cock will crow once a day. I suppose what I'm driving at is how it is possible for a brilliant person to be systematically wrong, in such a way that virtually everything he touches turns to falsehood.

Here is one of the threads that runs through these figures, and really jumped out at me. Kierkegaard, for example, in "an early journal entry" wrote of a party at which "everyone laughed and admired me," but afterwards wanting "to shoot myself." And in what may have been his last journal entry, he described himself as having been "bereft of all lust for life." So at least he was consistent.

Bertrand Russell wrote that during his adolescence he "hated life and was constantly on the verge of suicide," and the latter half of his life was spent in the sheer kookery of various political wackdivisms. Today he would no doubt be right there with the OWS crowd if only their hygiene were a bit better.

Similar to Chomsky, Russell said of JFK and Prime Minister Macmillan that "they not only want to kill all the Jews but all the rest of us too. They're much more wicked than Hitler.... They are the wickedest people that ever lived in the history of man."

So claimed the co-author of one of the most important books on cold logic ever written. Interestingly, his co-author, Whitehead, was a happy family man who forged a philosophy that has much to recommend it to the average Raccoon. I don't agree with all of it, but none of it is offensive, let alone insane.

Likewise, Wittgenstein "was the epitome, almost the caricature, of the angst-ridden genius" who was frequently preoccupied with suicide. He made his fellow eccentrics at Cambridge appear almost normal by comparison: "his emotional life was always edged with anguish" and with "a certain coldness and unbridgeable self-absorption that made him unresponsive to the feelings, one might even say the reality, of others."

This is going to be especially problematic if reality involves an irreducible element of subjectivity, e.g., the dynamic love of the Trinity.

Now that I think about it, the following odd hominems were all unmarried and childless: Sartre, Nietzsche, Kant, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Schopenhauer, Foucault, obviously; Descartes had a child by a servant girl, who didn't live long. Almost none of the men discussed by Kimball had happy or even remotely normal personal lives.

Out of time, and I've hardly begun... to be continued...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Absent Presences and Present Absences

Continuing with Friday's post, we were discussing the psychological phenomenon of the "scotoma," which essentially involves the development of a lacunae, or hole, in the fabric of reality: something that is there and should be seen, isn't seen. But no one leaves their hole empty. Rather, it is unconsciously filled with content of various kinds, emanating from various levels of the psyche.

Scotosis refers to the resulting form of pneumapathology, in which "the deformed sectors of the field acquire the status of true reality, while the sectors of true existence are eclipsed by the imagery of deformation" (Voegelin).

Now, it is the work of an instant for the leftist to dismiss the entire idea of scotosis, because if there is no objective reality, there can be no holes in it. Multiculturalists, for example, insists that no one's version of reality is any better or worse than anyone else's, and that there exists no standard to make such a determination anyway. Likewise moral relativism.

But ironically, if you should fail to acquiesce to this doctrine, you will find yourself being accused of having a gaping hole in your own sensibilities. Or in other words, if you imagine that your vision is superior -- that it has fewer holes than the other guy's -- then you are what is known as a fascist.

BTW, a commenter asked, "How does a scotoma relate to a mind parasite?" This is a good question, and there is no simple way to answer it, since there are different kinds of holes and parasites at different levels of the psyche, and the hole itself can take on the attributes of a parasite.

As I mentioned in a comment, it is literally a kind of "present absence," or perhaps "nameless dread." Its annoying child is anxiety, apprehension, foreboding, or heebie-jeebies. Without them there would probably be no such thing as ghost stories and the like, because we would have no subjective frame of reference.

How to summarize without getting too sidetracked?

First of all, bear in mind that what follows is a model, not the thing itself -- a useful way to organize and think about reality, analogous to, say, the theory of natural selection. No need to commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

The psychoanalyst W.R. Bion developed a theory of thinking and knowing in which knowledge first arises "in primitive emotional experiences related to the absence of the object," i.e., the mother, or even prior to that, the subjective experience of the "good breast." Imagine an infant whose every need is met in a seamless and harmonious way. But under the best of circumstances, the baby will eventually have the disturbing experience of a lack, an absence of food, of comfort, of warmth, of emotional connection, of predictability, whatever.

Note that the infant has no concept of hunger, let alone the word. Rather, the absence -- hunger -- will be experienced as a presence within the field of awareness. Only much later will this experience acquire the name "hunger." And even then, for many people, emotional absence (alone-ness) easily translates to physical hunger; or hunger -- say, in an anorectic -- becomes a way to deny the need for others; for the anorectic, to be hungry is to maintain an omnipotent denial of dependence upon others.

Let's fast forward to adulthood. Take the example of love. In a certain sense, love is a name we give to an absence we feel at the center of our being. Orthoparadoxically, only the loveless -- those aware of the hole, and capable of tolerating it -- can both love and be truly grateful for the love received.

There are two common forms of psychopathology that revolve around this hole. On the one hand, there are people who have what is called borderline personality structure, who essentially cannot tolerate separation and therefore catastrophize it into abandonment. At the other end (but really, it's just an iteration of the same situation) are narcissistic personalities who cannot tolerate real intimacy, and who use and discard people without a backward glance.

As it so happens, borderline and narcissistic folks often get together, and that is when you see the sparks -- or dinner plates, or fists, or bullets -- fly.

A quintessential example is the insanely intense -- or intensely insane -- relationship between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. It's been a long time, but I remember the film Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf being a depressingly vivid depiction of the dynamic. In fact, some might ask of the Burton & Taylor performances: what acting?

A somewhat frivolous but illustrative example comes to mind. It must have been at least a decade ago, but I remember seeing Angelina Jolie being interviewed by Larry King, and revealing to him that she had suffered a kind of nervous breakdown -- a psychotic break -- when her then boyfriend Billy Bob Thornton had to absent himself in order to film a picture.

And now that I review her wikipedia page, I see that there is quite a bit of evidence of a primitive borderline personality (unless, of course, she just wishes to be known as a psycho). For example, for one of her weddings she wore a t-shirt with the groom's name written in her blood; she acknowledges her confused sexual identity (bisexuality); she impulsively married old Billy Bob, and sealed the deal by "wearing one another's blood in vials around their necks"; she and BB then abruptly separated -- as borderlines are wont to do -- "because overnight, we totally changed. I think one day we had just nothing in common."

That last quote is a giveaway, in that the "total change" of which she speaks is a result of flipping from one sub-personality to another. One side of the personality has a psychotic fear of abandonment, while the other can evacuate an intimate relationship with a chillingly instantaneous finality. If you are their unlucky therapist, you can go from Jesus to Hitler in under a second. In graduate school I learned the adage that one should never treat more than one borderline personality at a time, unless one is a masochist. Although I might make an exception for insanely wealthy celebrities who have a tendency to idealize.

Admittedly, if one is bored with life, a relationship with a borderline personality is going to spice things up. Let's just say they're on the intense side. In fact, I remember a headline on Drudge some time back, to the effect that Brad Pitt found life with Jennifer Aniston to be a bit of a snooze. Nowadays he probably has to rest -- as Big Joe Turner sang -- with "one one eye on my pistol / And the other eye on my trunk."

Rambling. I'm not sure that was helpful. Let's just say that there is and must be a genuine absence at the foundation of the personality, and that it is necessary to tolerate this absence in order to love or to know. And there is something known as the basic fault, which essentially results from the psychic hole being too vast to bridge or not being tolerated.

And of course, in the ultimate sense, we all have a "God-shaped hole" at the center of our being, and this is what Voegelin has in mind when he speaks of the "in-between" state that man inhabits here on earth and in time. Again, we symbolize this necessary hole Ø <---> O.

Let's get back on track. We're all familiar with Thomas Kuhn's idea of "paradigm shifts" in science, say, from Newtonian to quantum mechanics, or from the geocentric to the heliocentric theories of orbit.

But we all inhabit a much vaster paradigm, which we might call the "climate of opinion," or "temper of the times," or "liberal agenda." As Whitehead wrote in The S & M World, "Every philosophy is tinged with the colouring of some secret imaginative background, which never emerges explicitly into the trains of reasoning," and revolves around "intellectual positions which its exponents" do not "feel it necessary explicitly to defend."

For Voegelin, this system is the order; and naturally we want this microcosmic order to reflect the macrocosmic Order as much as possible. One thing we don't ever want to do is superimpose our own little order over the Order (which is again a kind of lunar eclipse, or the blocking of the central sun by means of lunacy, i.e., assault & moonbattery).

At no time in my life has the gulf separating the orders been more vast; for example,

--"You didn't build that!" vs. "And you built what exactly, aside from 10 trillion in debt?"

--"They gonna put y'all back in chains!" vs. "No, we actually want to deactivate that shock collar the Democratic party has around your neck."

--"If you don't spring for birth control for abortion activists, you hate women" vs. "Hey, we just want to stay out of your bedroom, and we certainly want to keep our hands off Sandra's Fluke."

--"You're anti-union" vs. "What kind of idiot is in favor of the collusion between elected officials and state employees to expand the size of government?"

--"Obama is a genius and an evolutionary lightbringer" vs. "Obama is an arrested undergrad who unfortunately took his professors seriously."

--"I need to tell a better story" vs "Don't underestimate yourself. It's not possible to be better bullshit artist."

--"Let's party now and send the bill to our great grandchildren" vs. "THERE. IS. NO. FUCKING. MONEY!"; etc.

In each case, the president and his sympathizers either see something that isn't there, or don't see something that is. Absent presences and present absences.

[F]or we all have had our encounters with men who, sternly rejecting their humanity, insist on being modern men and, in so-called discussion, try to bury us under the rhetoric of deformed existence. --Voegelin

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Scotosis of the POTUS, or A Hole in the One

"History," writes Voegelin, "is not an unbroken stream of existence in truth." Rather, it "is interrupted by periods, or is shot through with levels, of deformed existence."

And that is not all. For such a period of deformation "can impose itself so massively on a man that he conforms to it and consequently deforms himself by making deformed existence the model of true existence." Like a pine tree at the equator or a palm tree in Alaska, we can become deformed -- or uninformed -- by virtue of being planted in the wrong (or less than human) environment.

This isn't just a problem, but might well be THE problem with mankind. When we speak of man as fallen, this may be what he has fallen into, i.e., a deformed existence in exile from truth; and one deformation leads to another, 32 feet per second per second. It may or may not be in the genes, but it is certainly in the memes.

Note that Voegelin speaks of levels of deformed existence. Since man is spread across all levels of existence, from matter (and below) to God (and above, so to speak not) -- or from Ø to O, if you like -- then he can be the picture of health on one level but quite sick on another. Or, he may not manifest at all on this or that level.

We all know perfectly intelligent -- even brilliant -- people who are, say, intellectually or spiritually autistic, or who have no taste in music or literature, or who have the kind of body that no animal other than the human being could ever devolve to.

A lion, for example, can eat whenever and whatever it wants. So how come we don't see any fat lions? And Michelle Obama seems to have a healthy diet, but what ugly flab above the neck and behind the eyes!

I don't mean to be hard on human beings, because being human is hard. For one thing, we have many more levels to manage than does any other animal: emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, interpersonal, political, historical, genetic, economic, spiritual, religious, archetypal, physical, metaphysical, dietary, cultural, sexual, psychosexual, etc. It is easy for one level to get confused with another, or for the legitimate needs of one level to be displaced to another.

To cite an obvious example, it is extremely common for people to substitute food for emotional sustenance, just as it is common to conflate spiritual and intellectual need, or to try to patch up an interpersonal deficit with political or economic power. Indeed, it is fair to say that such fevered displacements, unfortunately, "make the world go 'round."

Why, for example, does Obama seek power over us? This is a difficult question to answer, in part because I'm quite sure he doesn't know. While he will no doubt provide reasons -- to give us free stuff, for example, or to prevent Mitt Romney from murdering us, or to keep y'all from being put in chains -- we can dismiss such pretexts. We know Obama is deformed. But how is he deformed? Which level is confused with which?

These are not questions to be asked in 2012. Rather, they should have been asked in 2008. For just as a period of deformation "can impose itself so massively on a man that he conforms to it and consequently deforms himself," something even worse can happen: the deformed man, given sufficient power, can impose himself so massively on the collective that it is forced to conform to him. Then the collective becomes as deformed as the deformed fellow at the top. See history for details.

This is not a matter of speculation or subjective opinion. Rather, there are real, measurable, and lasting ways that we (including unborn generations) are all being forced to conform to Obama's deformations. But when you think about it, isn't this the very essence of the left? Isn't this what they do?

The leftist has an idea of "how things ought to be," as indeed do we all. The difference is, we do not have the arrogance, self-righteousness, and presumptive wisdom to impose our vision on everyone else. This is supposed to be an empire of liberty, not an empire of dependence. The leftist grasps that liberty is a dreadful thing -- otherwise everyone would cherish it -- but seems constitutionally incapable of perceiving the dreadful deformities engendered by dependency.

I will be the first to admit that I don't know exactly what is best for you, since I'm busy enough trying to make moment-to-moment decisions about what is best for Bob and his immediate family. I realize that Obama wants to help, but I already have a mother-in-law, and besides, she's actually helpful.

It seems that the nation is roughly 50-50 with regard to the percentage of deformed reformers vs. well-formed normals. Again, because we value liberty, we usually don't care about what goes on in our neighbor's head, so long as he doesn't try to include us in his delusion.

The problem is that "the deformed sectors of the field [of experience] acquire the status of true reality, while the sectors of true existence are eclipsed by the imagery of deformation" (Voegelin). But enough about the educational establishment...

The result is a "scotosis of truth," which is a very handy image, since it conforms nicely to the primitive psychic defense mechanisms that prevent us from seeing a reality that is right before our eyes. A scotoma is a hole in the field of vision, as in where the optic nerve connects to the back of the eye. We do not consciously notice this hole because our mind fills the space, leaving no visible scars at all.

Now, transpose this concept to all of the other levels alluded to above. For example, we all have a rough idea of "history," with categories such as neolithic, ancient, medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, industrialization, modernity, postmodernity, etc. But every time I read a good history book, I discover another huge scotoma that was invisibly sitting right there before and behind me.

Gee, do you think Obama has, say, an economic scotoma or two? A religious scotoma? A constitutional scotoma? A racial scotoma? A budgetary scotoma? An ethical scotoma?

"Without scotoma" is a fine apophatic, or negative, definition of God, i.e., the whole-in-one. Thus, the most frightening being on earth -- because the most destructive -- is the man with vast power over others, who imagines he is without scotoma.

They gonna shoot y'all, and put a hole in your soul!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Obama: Postmodern, Post-Literate, Post-Reality

This is timely: a WSJ editorial on our first Postmodern President. Yes, ideas have consequences, but so too do anti-ideas such as postmodernism.

Similarly, communism and fascism were and are anti-ideas bearing no (truth) relationship to reality. But this hardly renders them any less destructive. Rather, most of our really serious problems are a consequence of the rigorous application of anti-ideas by anti-intellectuals.

The anti-idea is not the same as a mere bad idea, just as the anti-intellectual can be quite intelligent, brilliant even. Everyone has bad ideas, and life consists in either honing one's ideas or establishing more effective ones.

The anti-idea, however, is purely reactionary, in that it is always rooted in a hostile rejection of, and attack upon, reality. In short, instead of being a tool to understand reality, the purpose of the anti-idea is to omnisciently vanquish reality and replace it with an ideology.

The anti-idea is usually held unconsciously and for unconscious reasons, which makes it all the more difficult to detect and eradicate. Right now tenurmites could very well be eating away at the foundation of your intellectual edifice, but you won't know unless you check.

Bad ideas are subject to testing and rejection, whereas anti-ideas are like conspiracy theories, in that no amount of evidence can refudiate them.

Rather, the mind of the conspiracy theorist operates exactly like that of the paranoid, in that contradictory evidence is converted to evidence of the conspiracy. If you disagree with a paranoid, he finds a way to either include you in the conspiracy, or else will roll his eyes and dismiss you as hopelessly naive, as in Don't you know that anyone who disagrees with AGW is bought and paid for by the oil companies?

On to the editorial, after which we'll try to weave it all into Foucault, Sartre, Derrida, Nietzsche, and ultimately back to Voegelin. This will be like making grand rounds in a vast mental hospital, so I don't know how far we'll get today.

"President Obama spent his formative years in academia, so he's no doubt familiar with postmodernism, the literary theory that rejects objective reality and insists instead that everything is a matter of interpretation and relative 'truth.' At any rate he's running the first postmodern Presidential campaign, now organized almost exclusively around allegations about his opponent that bear no relation to the observable universe."

Thus, in the anti-world of the Obama campaign, "Mr. Romney is to blame because of decisions he didn't make at a business he didn't run that may or may not have set in train a series of random unconnected events many years apart that included Ilyona Soptic's illness. Even more culpable is the butterfly in Peking that flapped its wings and forever altered the course of history."

Likewise, for Nancy Pelosi it is a fact that Romney didn't pay taxes for ten years. Why? Because the well-known pedophile Harry Reid "made a statement that is true. Somebody told him. It is a fact." Pelosi gives tautology a bad name.

In other words, Reid asserted "with zero proof that Mr. Romney got away with paying no taxes for a decade, which is 'true' because he says an anonymous investor called to say so. If the food inspectors ever went by Reid-Pelosi evidentiary standards, we'd all be dead." (That last line is a gag, but note again that the rigorous application of such an anti-idea does lead to death and destruction.)

The bottom lyin' is that instead of tryin' to persuade anyone to vote for him based upon his own record, Obama is simply inventing an alternate reality. But this is what postmodernism "does." If you are, say, a greedy feminist who wants more money and power to which you are not entitled, you invent the myth that women are paid sixty cents to the dollar in comparison to men. It never seems to occur to them that if this were true, it would be insane for a greedy corporation to ever hire a man.

We need to waste a little more time discussing the theories of postmodernism, lest you be tempted to think I'm merely exaggerating or being uncharitable. For one thing, I know I'm not being uncharitable because I once believed these sorts of things.

"Believed," however, is probably too strong a word. Rather, I simply assumilated them in the course of four -- okay, eight -- years of college and seven years of graduate school. In Kimball's phrase, they were simply part of the "ambient pollution" of academia.

As a result, I never really reflected upon them, since they were the context of everything else. Instead of reflecting on them, I simply burrowed more deeply into them -- somewhat analogous to how a fly lays its eggs in a big pile of dogshit.

Once you accept this context, then the most outlandish pile of steaming academic braindroppings becomes plausible.

In his discussion of Derrida, Kimball reminds us that his ur-idea is that "there is nothing outside the text." This is a fine example of a LIE, which, if assimilated, ends in the destruction of reality: psychic, spiritual, and physical. For the phrase is "shorthand for denying that words can refer to a reality beyond words, for denying that truth has its measure in something beyond the web of our language games." In this defective way of looking at the world, there is no objective reality, just the endless play of signifiers.

One of the seductive things about this mental pathology is that it is half-true even though all false. As we have been discussing vis-a-vis Voegelin, man indeed lives in the "in between" space where meaning is constantly being discovered and sometimes tossed aside. Within this space we are oriented to truth, which provides both its ground and telos. The deconstructionist simply tosses aside the ground but preserves the search.

But what is a passionate search with no possible object or destination? Yes, you could call it insanity.

Like any other insanity, deconstruction "is an evasion of reality." For the same reason, it is "a reactionary force," because "it hides from rather than engages with reality" (Kimball). But again, the evasion is never benign, because there is always an implicit attack "on the cogency of language and the moral and intellectual claims that language has codified in tradition" (ibid).

Once one is freed from language, one is also emancipated from the rigors and demands of truth, reality, and virtue. It's more than a little like being Adam in the Garden, but imagining that the outcome will be different, because this time Adam is prepared to smite God with the Molotov crocktale of deconstruction.

Let's wrap up our little discussion of Foucault. What is personally interesting about Kimball's review of The Passion of Michel Foucault is that I actually read the book when it came out in 1993.

At the time, I was still in the clutches of the tenured, still breathing the polluted air of academia. Being that Foucault was so famous and so acclaimed, I just assumed that he was important and that I needed to understand this brilliant man. Indeed, Miller describes him as "perhaps the single most famous intellectual in the world." As such, it would be an anti-intellectual faux pas to ignore him.

I don't know if I still have the book. I may have inflicted it upon the library. Let me nose around the Closet of Forbidden Works, where the ghosts of oldbob are hiding.

Nah, can't find it. Which is too bad, because I wanted to see what sorts of things he highlighted, which would have been a kind of snarchaeological dig into the ruins of my former belief system. It would have also answered the riddle, when is a highlight a lowlight?

Remember what we were saying the other day about the need to find one's "idiom" in order to articulate and elaborate the self? Well, Foucault believed just the opposite: he kept the idiom but threw out the self (again, there is only the free-floating text that refers to nothing outside itself): "I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same..." (Foucault, in Kimball).

Okay. But why should I read you if you are nobody writing about nothing?

You know the left-wing cliche that everything is about power? Foucault seems to be the one who put it into heavy circulation, for "He came bearing the bad news in bad prose that every institution, no matter how benign it seems, is 'really' a scene of unspeakable domination and subjugation..." (Kimball).

This is how feminists came up with the idea that being married or being a housewife is "oppressive," or how the Jesse Jacksons of the world came up with their conspiracy theory of "institutional racism," or how California should really be a part of Mexico, or how AGW skeptics are tools of the oil companies, etc.

For someone who saw malevolent powers under every bed, Foucault sure seems to have been a sucker for malevolent power, so long as it was on the left: "He championed various extreme forms of Marxism, including Maoism; he supported the Ayatollah Khomeini," and wondered "What could politics mean when it is a question of choosing between Stalin's USSR and Truman's America?" (ibid).

What indeed. Just flip a coin, I guess, since oppression is oppression.

A key principle here is the difference between (n) and what we will call (-n). (n) is an empty symbol I use as a placemarker for experiential spiritual knowledge. But there is also invalid spiritual experience, or pseudo-spiritual experience that is sought by people who have rejected the reality of the spiritual.

As it so happens, Foucault was all about this specific form of experiential knowledge. Kimball suspects that this was a big part of his appeal as an "academic guru," and I believe this is quite correct. Certainly this is the sort of thing that appealed to me back in the daze of oldbob. I went in for all that counter-cultural stuff: Leary, Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), Watts, McKenna, anyone who seemed way out there but also seemed clever and witty about it.

For Foucault, man's future was being revealed to us via "the recent experiences with drugs, sex, communes, other forms of consciousness and other forms of individuality. If scientific socialism emerged from the utopias of the nineteenth century, it is possible that real socialization will emerge in the 20th century from experiences" (in Kimball).

Which only proves that no amount of (-n) leads to O, and the attempt merely leaves one jaded, burned out, cynical, and bereft of any saving innocence; for such a person has simultaneously seen nothing and too much.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Roger Kimball and the Art of Fine Insultainment

Yesterday we spoke of the seemingly uncontroversial notion that you and I are somebody and not just anybody, let alone nobody.

In other words, we are created with a unique but implicit pattern of selfhood which guides our choices, passions, and preferences in order to bring itself into being -- from implicate to explicate, or nonlocal to local, or potential to actualization.

As it so happens, this idea is not controversial. This is because it has been rejected by the ideological fascinistas of the day. In fact, for the left, it hasn't so much been rejected as banished from consideration.

As is true of so much totolerantarian leftist thought, what was once common sense is now indefensible and even offensive, and probably racist and sexist too. So don't even go there if you want to pass this class.

But make no mistake about it: for the left, the idea of human essences has got to go, because essences place limits on what the state can do to you. The left cannot remake man if man actually is something, and not just a shapeless blob for them to mould via social fantaseering.

For example, if men are men and women are women, Title IX isn't just crazy -- which of course it is -- but also unjust, cruel, and even monstrous (because only an androgynous leftist castrato would prefer hybrid sexless monsters to real men and women, with all their wonderful differences).

These academically incorrect thoughts were provoked by Roger Kimball's Experiments Against Reality, which addresses just this issue. In particular, he has several chapters devoted to philosophers who were and are extremely influential on the left, including Foucault, Sartre, Nietzsche, and Mill (and he also touches on other familiar illuminutti such as Derrida and Rorty).

Kimball is such wonderful and entertaining writer, that I would just urge you to get the book. I can only hit the highlights. Indeed, this is the finest of fine insultainment. I'm afraid he makes me look as vulgar and crude as an Obama ad.

First of all, Experiments Against Reality. Does that not say it all? For what is leftism but an experiment against reality?

Not on reality, mind you. That would be a different thing altogether. If that were the case, then, for example, the left of us would conclude with the rest of us that the experiment LBJ called the "War On Poverty" has failed, and that it is time to try a new one. The War On Poverty turns out to have been a War On Affluence (not to mention cultural integrity), but hey, whatever. The tenured sneeze and the poor catch cold. Or AIDS. Or get murdered, either by each other or by the state.

Or, President Obama might conclude that Keynesian economics isn't all it's crocked up to be, and that perhaps we should call that Austrian kid Hayek from the bench. After all, the left is all about fairness and diversity, isn't it? Eighty years is enough. How about giving another economist a chance to play!

As I've mentioned before, Kimball's books provide so many provocative quotes that they are worthy on that basis alone. For example, Richard Rorty: "I do not have much use for notions like 'objective value' and 'objective truth.'"

Oh, really?

In that case, You. Are. TENURED!

Which proves once again that tenure travels halfway 'round the bend before truth can get its boots on.

Recall what was said above about being Somebody and not just Anybody or Nobody (which amount to the same thing). If we are the latter, then it follows that truth consists of Anything and Nothing.

Of course, the tenured nobody will still assert the truth of this or that, even while having undercut its very possibility. This is in order to reassure parents who naturally don't want to think they are shelling out fifty grand a year to maim their child's soul.

Thinking back on it, this is how my poor father must have felt. Being that he was the recipient of only an eighth grade education in rural England (or the equivalent today of a BA), he must have thought to himself: "Well, the boy is in graduate school. Sure sounds like unvarnished bullshit to me, but there must be something to it."

Jumping ahead a bit, the chapter on Foucault is priceless. In it Kimball reviews an acclaimed biography of the man, The Passion of Michel Foucault.

Passion?

You don't mean...

Oh yes he does. If nothing is sacred, then everything is, up to and including the subject of a book that Kimball tells us Miller relied upon for his sublime analysis of Foucault's sadomasochism, called The Catacombs: A Temple of the Butthole.

You'd think it would be easy to insert a gag here, but some things truly are beyond parody. Besides, I am gagging a little.

Speaking of inserting gags, Foucault was deeply attracted to one of the idyllic infraworlds of San Francisco, which featured such elevated practices as "gagging, piercing, cutting, electric-shocking, stretching on racks, imprisoning, branding..."

Er, why? Was he just, you know... a pervert?

NO TENURE FOR YOU!

Kimball: "Miller presents Foucault's indulgence in sexual torture as if it were a noble existential battle for greater wisdom and political liberation."

This makes a lot of sense, because it would explain more generally why so much political wisdom emanates from San Francisco, that bathhouse -- or perhaps petri dish -- of leftist experimentation.

Here is how Miller characterizes Foucault's passion (in Kimball): "Accepting the new level of risk," he joined "in the orgies of torture, trembling with 'the most exquisite agonies,' voluntarily effacing himself, exploding the limits of consciousness, letting real, corporeal pain insensibly melt into pleasure through the alchemy of eroticism...."

Such "punishing ascetic practices" allowed Foucault "to breach, however briefly, the boundaries separating the conscious and unconscious, reason and unreason, pleasure and pain... thus starkly revealing how the distinctions central to the play of true and false are pliable, uncertain, contingent."

Yes, I can see that. One wonders how it eluded the Founding Fathers.

One thing I would like to ask Professor Miller is: how do you know? Tell us about your own risky and exquisite self-transcendence at the limits of consciousness where true and false are effaced by that pounding sensation in the Temple of the Butthole. If this is your god, what are hemorrhoids, stigmata?

Barely started here, but it very much touches on our ongoing discussion of Voegelin. To be continued, although we'll be on hiatus most of next week.

Excellent interview of Kimball on his latest book, The Fortunes of Permanence. It's as pearlescent as all his others, meaning that it would be pointless to throw it to the PORGIs of academia (Post-Religious Global Internationalists).

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Stuck Outside o' Destiny with the Fated Blues Again

Philo-sophy: love of wisdom. For Voegelin, this word pretty much says it all.

On a number of occasions -- ten occasions, to be exact -- we have discussed Christopher Bollas' conception of the "erotics of being," which covers some of the same territory.

For Bollas, one of the central purposes of life is to discover one's unique idiom, which you might say is the "signature" of the true self, each manifestivus different from the restivus, at least in potential. Whether this difference will make a difference -- i.e., become manifest -- depends upon the course of one's life (recall what we said the other day about the time and space aspects of the self):

"human idiom is that peculiarity of person(ality) that finds its own being through the particular selection and use of the object. In this sense, to be and to appropriate are one."

As I wrote back in 2008, idiom "is not limited to language, music, painting, etc., but can be anything through which we express our true self. For some people, their life itself is the idiom of expression, even if they leave no recorded traces of it. Parenting might be an example of this. My son has become an idiom for my self-expression in ways I had scarcely -- or only -- imagined. No him, no me!"

And it obviously works both ways: "Bollas speaks of his own child, and I am sure most of you parents out there will fully relate: 'What struck me was how he was who he is from scratch. He seemed to be in possession of his own personality, his very own unique configuration in being (what I term an idiom) that has never really changed in itself.'"

Boy, is that ever true. My son's personality is so strong, it is depressing to think of what might have happened if he had been in an environment in which he could not find -- i.e., his parents could not provide -- the objects (i.e., interpersonal relationships) he needs to express and contain it. Just the other day I saw a patient who was in the process of terribly deforming her five year old son, to the extent that he was already on psychotropic medication, when the real issue was obviously his environment (e.g., ten or twelve hours of daycare, disinterested father, poor early attachment, etc.).

More generally, I often wonder at the extent to which my own self would have found a way to discover its idiom irrespective of outward circumstances, vs. how much of it was pure happynstance. What I mean is that we can all look at the people and things that have become central to our identity, but which seem to have come into our life by sheer accident. Here is where an element of faith intrudes, and there is no way to resolve the question empirically.

However, I suspect that the process works in ways we do not understand, and that some things do indeed "happen for a reason," so to speak (I only place that phrase in scare quotes because of the way it tends to be vulgarized by the masses).

It very much reminds me of what Magnus said the other day in a comment, about praying and then patiently awaiting the answer in whatever form it comes. For example, if I look at my life from a certain angle, I can see that in a startling way, it contains everything I have ever prayed for in the deepest sense. And I suppose this could be reduced to love, truth, and beauty.

To continue: "you might say that the true self is a preconceptual logos, or nonlocal clueprint, that must discover those objects it requires in order to elaborate itself and 'live.' In this regard, Bollas says that the self's idiom is 'akin to a kind of personality speech, in which the lexical elements are not word signifiers but factors of personality.'

"There is no real being in the absence of this articulation of one's idiom, only a kind of paradoxical 'negative being,' i.e., (ø), which is very close to the patent nonsense of e-I-e-I-ø.

"When you cannot articulate your idiom, your life will feel somewhat like a prison, whatever the outward circumstances. For example, many feminists choose to live in this deformed manner, because it is less painful for them to imagine that the bars of their prison are outside their minds."

"Liberty and property are keys to the articulation of the self: "without private property, how can the self secure what it needs to speak its idiom? If those things are determined by the state, or by political correctness, or by the heavy hand of custom, or by scientistic fairy tales, the self is sharply constrained in its ability to find its real idiom.

"You could also say that when you fail to find your idiom, you will feel as if you are haunted by a kind of fate that blankets your life, and from which you cannot escape."

You know, this is kind of interesting. Plus I have very little time this morning. I think I'll just pluck some additional passages from the ten posts linked above, and try to connect them to what Voegelin is saying about how our lives are spent in the In Between space, and that within this space we must orient ourselves to the ground of being.

I'm still thinking of that poor kid mentioned above. It looks to me that some day he's going to end up a mental patient (after all, he already is) or a criminal (which he also already is, in a sense, in that he is inappropriately aggressive). If this happens, this would be an example of fate overtaking destiny. How many of these people become angry liberals in search of the Lost Entitlement? Others will get into therapy and gain some insight:

"A patient comes into therapy because they are bogged down by their fate. Something happened early in life that foreclosed their destiny, and now they don't know how to find it, because it is buried beneath so much life history, forced choices, defensive adaptations, etc. But the true self is still there, seeking a way to express itself and to be. This innate urge to articulate the true self is what Bollas calls the destiny drive. The therapist's job is to serve as a mediator, or midwife, in the birth of this latent self.

Now, what is this true self, phenomenologically speaking? I would suggest that it is "aliveness" itself, only transposed to the key of mind, or of subjectivity. Although difficult to define, one can see it as a kind of red thread that runs through one's life. You definitely know when it has been touched, and it is obviously critical to pay attention to these sometimes subtle moments of contact, in order to "find your way" in the world

The odd thing is that the true self is obviously a form of "knowledge" -- "patterned information," so to speak -- but it is more in terms of inclinations to "perceive, organize, remember, and use" the world in a certain way. When there is a good fit between idiom and world, it brings with it a very specific form of "joy," which Bollas has elsewhere called "the erotics of being."

For example, the joy some people apparently find in this blog is simply a case of discovering your idiom mirrored to you in a satisfying way, so that you become aware of your own true self. One can only wonder why our trolls are addicted to a foreign idiom that can bring them no joy or peace. I suppose the inane comments bring some sort of perverse satisfaction, or (-J).

We not only require people to help articulate our idiom, but material objects, books, films, music, hobbies. As Bollas says, we could conduct a kind of "person anthropology" by paying attention to the objects chosen by this or that person. I know that this blog is as unique as my fingerprint, in that it represents the fruit of my own peculiar selection of objects and subjects for the articulation of my being.

According to Bollas, only in modern times do we begin to see an increasing distinction between the terms destiny and fate, so that destiny begins to take on more positive connotations -- the idea that "one can fulfill one's destiny if one is fortunate, if one is determined, if one is aggressive enough."

The whole idea of destiny could only take root once people gained a degree of economic and cultural freedom, and were "able to take some control of their lives and chart their future." One can well understand why America is the land of the "true self," at least for conservatives, whereas liberal victimology represents the perverse erotics of fate.

Don't think for one moment that people don't take perverse and sadistic pleasure in their victim status, for it is oddly empowering to participate in the subjugation of oneself. In psychoanalysis it's called "identification with the aggressor." The latter is the stock-in-tirade of fatemongers such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the left in general.

A sense of fatedness results from being "pushed around" by the past instead of "lured" by the future. The more one is fated -- in particular, by mind parasites -- the less one can manifest one's destiny. (I am sure it would be fruitful to meditate on the implications of this as they pertain to the idea of predestination, which can either be enslaving or liberating, depending upon how it is understood.)

Now, when a patient comes in for treatment, it is again often because they are a victim of Fate, or the Curse of the Mind Parasites: "The person who is ill and comes to analysis either because of neurotic symptoms, or characterological fissures, or psychotic ideas and pains, can be described as a fated person. That is, he is suffering from something which he can specify and which has a certain power in his life to seriously interfere with his capacity to work, find pleasure, or form intimate relationships."

Bollas says that "we can use the idea of fate to describe the sense a person may have, determined by a life history, that his true self has not been met and facilitated into lived experience. A person who feels fated is already someone who has not experienced reality as conducive to the fulfillment of his inner idiom."

Or as Dylan sang, Your debutante just knows what you need / But I know what you want.

Well, this didn't go as planned. Gotta run!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Nameforms that Bitch Birth and Dog Death

Just a little flutterblast, since I'm short on time.

To review: existence is not a fact. Rather, "if anything," it is "the non-fact of a disturbing movement in the in-Between of ignorance and knowledge, of time and timelessness, of imperfection and perfection, of hope and fulfillment, and ultimately of life and death" (Voegelin).

For some reason, a passage from Finnegans Wake just popped into my melon. I'll pass it along without comment, just in case it's relevant:

In the ignorance that implies impression that knits knowledge that finds the nameform that whets the wits that convey contacts that sweeten sensation that drives desire that adheres to attachment that dogs death that bitches birth that entails the ensuance of existentiality.

If the ensuance of existentiality is a movement, then this movement extends in different directions: in, out, up, down, forward, back, etc. I would suggest that our freedom -- human freedom -- is synonymous with the movement that is possible within this pregnant space, i.e., the womb of time.

Socrates says that the true philosopher -- the lover of wisdom and seeker after truth -- endeavors "to make a reasoned choice between the better and worse life, with reference to the nature of the soul" (in Kimball).

Better. Worse. Freedom. What else is there?

Well yes, there is ObamaWorld, which consists of Better and Coercion, or you'd better!, for short. There is "what Obama thinks" and "what you must do about it." In the one minute monument to mendacity he's running during the Olympics, he says it's fair to ask the wealthy to give a little more to the state. I agree. That's fair. Ask away!

Unfortunately, the Chicago Way involves "asking" with a gun to the head.

Note that the left always promises "emancipation" from this or that external circumstance, even while removing or constraining our real movement, e.g., "be tolerant of all points of view, or else!", or "we believe in relativism, absolutely." Every left wing "freedom" is purchased at the cost of chains that bind the recipient elsewhere and elsewhen. Who knows how much my son is going to end up owing Obama?

At any rate, within the fulsome space of subjectivity there are not only directions but dimensions. For example, as we have discussed on many occasions, dreaming takes place in a hyperdimensional space that is governed by non-Aristotelian rules of logic.

Likewise, the upper vertical -- the "spiritual dimension," as it were -- cannot be reduced to a four-dimensional space with external relations and linear causation.

Once one understands this, then much of the otherwise inexplicable phenomena that accompanies the spiritual life has a context in which it not only makes sense, but is somewhat "inevitable," given the total structure of things. (To be clear, the "possibility" of spiritual phenomena is inevitable, not this or that particular phenomenon.)

To put it another way, things happen -- they are necessary and/or possible -- because of principles. Spiritual events are possible because of spiritual principles, just as physical events are possible because of immaterial principles, e.g., the laws of physics, or of chemistry, or of plumbing, whatever.

A specialist in any field should have a grasp of the principles governing it, but this is usually not the case. Most people fail to articulate their principles, with the result that they are bound by implicit assumptions of which they are unaware. This ends up limiting the space of freedom mentioned above in paragraph two.

Actually, there are times that things happen because of an absence of principles. But enough about Harry Reid.

Besides, there is a larger principle at work in Harry the unrepentant pedophile, which is: no human good goes unpunished by the left.

To cite one obvious example of how implicit principles limit one's vertical freedom, every doctrinaire atheist begins with materialist assumptions which result, in machine-like fashion, in materialist conclusions. Thus, all the atheist "proves" is that he is a faithful materialist, but we knew that already. Frankly, such pseudo-reason is irreligulous.

Any kind of linear reasoning is, in a sense, a tautology: tenure in, garbage out. If the universe actually worked this way -- this way only -- then we certainly wouldn't be sitting here in this hyperdimensional womb of timenow, would we then?

Of poetry, Eliot wrote that it communicates "before it is understood" (in Kimball again). This is quintessentially true of the spiritual dimension, but it is also true more generally.

For example, this "pre-understanding" is what guides the scientist's intuition that this this or that that would be a more fruitful avenue of research (this sort of intuition is what distinguishes the grade A scientist from the worker B). It is as if there is tacit foreknowledge of an as-yet-undiscovered reality. Another word for this is "faith," i.e., "evidence of things unSeen."

If only we called things what they are, by their proper names!

And O how well & truly fucked / When first we feign to deconstruct!

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Answer and Its Perennial Search for Good Questioners

Next up in our threewheeling trialogue with Voegelin is an essay called Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History.

Wait! Don't go. It's really interesting.

The problem with Voegelin -- if I may be so impudent -- is that he seems to have been a bit isolated from normal chitchat with others. For example, although he spent his life in academia, I read somewhere that he accepted no graduate students, and instead focussed all of his time on research, writing, and the occasional lecture. I've known academics like this, and they can become so isolated that they start losing the ability to... to just GET TO THE POINT, WILL YOU!

This is distinct from the typical pseudo-intellectual masturbatory jargon that emanates from the jerk circles of the tenured. Rather, I compare it more to a musical genius such as Thelonious Monk, who penetrated so deeply into the foundations and architecture of music that he came up with a kind of private musical universe.

However, once one acclimates oneself to this new musical world, one finds that it is actually quite universal, traditional even. He may have discovered a new form of beauty, but in the end, beauty is beauty. Superficially it sounds "radical," but it's really a continuation; it is only radical in the literal sense of the term, which connotes a return to the "root" of things.

Another way of expressing it is furnished by Roger Kimball, who adduces the following quote from a Jean-François Revel: "The history of philosophy can be divided into two different periods. During the first, philosophers sought the truth; during the second, they fought against it."

FYI, we're living through the second phase.

Voegelin obviously falls into the first camp, which is why he isn't much discussed by those in the second. But since the vast majority of philosophers (and contemporary thinkers more generally) fall into the latter campf, it seems to me that he composed a lot of private music that few people have heard or take the necessary time to understand. Sure, it all makes sense to me. But the same people who dismiss Voegelin wouldn't even dismiss me, to put it moldily.

Kimball provides another helpful quote, this one from Henry Kissinger (BTW, even beyond the exceptional lucidity of thought, Kimball's essays have a wealth of brainiacal quotes and dozens of unfamiliar and sometimes even useful words such as "fustian," "minatory," and "purlieus"):

"We have entered a time of total change in human consciousness of how people look at the world. Reading books requires you to form concepts, to train your mind to relationships. You have to come to grips with who you are.... But now we learn from fragments of facts. A book is a large intellectual construction; you can't hold it all in mind easily or at once. You have to struggle mentally to internalize it. Now there is no need to internalize because each fact can be brought up on the computer." But "information is not knowledge."

So to actually assimilate someone as deep as Voegelin -- or a world as deep as this -- one must form a real and vibrant relationship with him/it, meaning that there is a kind of two-way vector extending into his psyche and ours; or between (¶) and (¶).

And it seems to me that each side limits or expands the other. In other words, we can only "come to grips" with him to the same extent that we come to grips with ourselves. This is the nature of any vertical knowledge.

Horizontal knowledge, because it is merely objective, requires no such introspection, assimilation, or transformation, because it's analogous to placing an object -- a fact or bit of knowledge -- into the space of the mind and filing it away somewhere. The type of thinking that results is similar to a computer, in that it is mainly limited by the amount and speed of memory.

Voegelin is not the first author we have treated in this manner. Others we have spent weeks or months exploring have included Tomberg, Balthasar, Pieper, Eckhart, Ratzinger, Wojtyla, and, of course, Schuon. Again, these are not mere "books" but encounters. Absent the encounter, there is no way to access what is contained in the book, because it is contained in being, not knowledge (or, it is a different type of knowledge that reaches up and down into being, i.e., [n] vs. [k]).

One more quote, this one from Chesterton: "The well-meaning person who, by merely studying the logical side of things, has decided that 'faith is nonsense,' does not know how truly he speaks; later it may come back to him in the form that nonsense is faith."

Back to the essay alluded to above. One reason it interests me is that it confronts one of the problems addressed in the bOʘk, which is to say, the equivalence of experiences that use diverse symbols to describe them. Because the symbols differ, people may be misled into believing they are describing different realities. Or, the experiences may be reflections of a larger category: one person eats an orange, another an apple, but both have experienced fruit. (Oddly enough, yesterday reader Gandalin asked a question that touches on this very issue, even though this post was mostly written on Saturday.)

Voegelin writes that "What is permanent in the history of mankind is not the symbols but man himself in search of his humanity and its order" (emphasis mine). Too often, I believe, we either conflate symbols that are distinct, or else distinguish symbols that are roughly equivalent.

For example, the Allah of whom Islamists speak is obviously not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Conversely, Schuon maintained that Buddha had the experience of God even if he rejected the name. In a sense this is not controversial, in that every experience in O is going to be "unique" even though "universal."

How do we use symbols in such a way that they convey the universality without denying the uniqueness? Again, that's why I created my little family of pneumaticons: O, Ø, ʘ,(¶),(•),(•••),(↑),(↓), (o), (---), and all the rest. Based upon yesterday's thread, I need to come up with a symbol for vertical emissaries, i.e., angels. How about (¡). I like this, because our reaction to (¡) is often (!). I wonder if they also get a little freaked out? If so, (¿!).

You might say that there is a space element and a time element. The space element is more universal, the time element more particular. For example, one might say that the archetypal man -- Adam Kadmon -- is in "vertical space," while we each embody and elaborate the archetype in our temporal lives. Absent the latter, we have no access to the former. At the same time, Aquinas (and Augustine before him) would say that the archetype -- or idea -- is nowhere else other than in man, just as the blueprint is "in" the house and the DNA is in the cell it orders.

Voegelin criticizes the so-called philosopher who deforms himself "by adopting the belief that the truth of existence is a set of propositions" which are "demonstrably true and therefore acceptable to everybody." "In vain he will look for the one set of true propositions," for which reason we can "hardly blame him if in the end he decides that skepticism is the better part of wisdom and becomes an honest relativist and historicist."

Again, this is because, for example, if one merely examines outwardly the diverse symbols of religion -- instead of experiencing or "undergoing" them -- it is the work of a moment to dismiss them as incapable of universal assent. In reference to yesterday's thread, we might say that since people have different ideas about angels, they must not exist.

But ironically, it is the non-believer who exiles himself from any possibility of transcendent unity. For at least the believer holds passionately to the idea (or experience) of unity, even if he believes his symbol of unity is better than the other guy's symbol. Which it may well be. As in art, some works are better than others. It would be foolish on this basis to conclude that beauty doesn't exist.

That was Saturday. It is now Monday morning, and in the brief time I have left, I'd like to skip forward and add something that directly addresses yesterdays lofty thread, and illuminates my approach more generally. I'm not saying it is the right way, only that it works for me because I seem to be Built This Way. It's kind of a thread that has followed -- or organized -- me ever since my (¶) started to come on line in my mid-20s.

I don't know if I'll be able to find the exact passage I'm looking for, but in truth, it informs Voegelin's whole search for the Ground. For example, he writes that "The Logos has been operative in the world from its creation; all men who have lived according to reason, whether Greeks or barbarians, have in a sense been Christians" (Augustine said the same thing).

It all begins with O and with (?!), or with Reality and the the shocking experience thereof. Voegelin writes that "man the questioner" is prompted "to ask the questions that will lead him toward the cause of being.... in the act of questioning, man's experience of his tension toward the divine ground breaks forth in the word of inquiry as a prayer for the Word of the answer."

So, religion is already the answer to our prayers. The Torah, for example, chronicles centuries of engagement with, and experience in, O. One might say that it is the contrail of this ongoing engagement (although looked at another way, it is the vehicle itself).

"Question and answer are held together, and related to one another, by the event of the search." However, Man "can also deform his humanity by refusing to ask the questions, or by loading them with premises devised to make the search impossible.... The answer will not help the man who has lost the question."

This reminds me of something Schuon said, to the effect that there is more Light in the intelligent question than in the deficient answer. For example, there is far more light in the question, "I wonder if this is all evidence of a higher intelligence?" than in the crude answer that it's all physics and Darwin. In a way, the Answer is always in search of a good question(er), because existence is not a fact, and neither are you.

What are we, then? For Voegelin we are a kind of "non-fact," a "disturbing movement in the in-Between of ignorance and knowledge, of time and timelessness, of imperfection and perfection, of hope and fulfillment, and ultimately of life and death." Thus, "the search... imposes a form even when the substance is lost."

Which is what often saves us in spite of ourselves.

I didn't really have time to find the passage mentioned above. I don't even have time to make sure all my words are properly misspelled. Obviously, to be continued if not beaten to death...

Friday, August 03, 2012

You Can't Handle the Truth. Or Freedom.

In the past we have discussed the "messiah" as understood by W.R. Bion. He used the word as a term of art to denote a general principle that operates across diverse domains, from psychology, to politics, to science, to art, and, of course, to religion.

The messiah is the one who upsets the established order based upon a new insight into, or contact with, the truth of being. As a result, the true messiah always clashes with the establishment, and things usually don't end well for him. Real messiahs have authority but little power. They attract but do not compel.

Conversely, it is as if the prince of this world holds open the door to the corridors of p. for the false messiah. For this knave, the skids are always greased and the action is always affirmative.

For example, the character of R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is an archetypal messiah who injects new life into the tyrannical, suffocating, and soul-crushing environment overseen by the controlling Nurse Rached.

Indeed, even McMurphy's initials -- RPM -- convey the idea of revolution, while "Rached" evokes the rachet, a tool with sharp teeth that permit movement in only one direction.

Thus, McMurphy and Rached exemplify the perennial duality of Slack <---> Conspiracy, or of O <---> Ø. For which reason it has always been in my top five religious films.

Looked at in this world-psychohistorical manner, all can agree that Jesus was a quintessential messiah; even if one doesn't regard him as the Messiah, he is nevertheless the most messianic figure in all of human history, for no one has upset the establishment more than he -- including, ironically, establishments that have attempted to contain and domesticate him.

(On the other side, we would probably nominate Marx for the honor of most destructive messiah, or MVP -- Most Virulent Pneumapath.)

In a very real way, Jesus -- or, let us say the Christ, or Word -- cannot be "organized," even though he must be; this requires a delicate balance, so veering too far in one direction or the other results in Error.

For this reason, it is valid to speak of the eternal complementarity of the Church of Peter and Church of John, even though they are, and must be, the same Church.

Dostoyevsky famously depicted the conflict between messiah and establishment in his parable of the Grand Inquisitor, who arrests Jesus and lets him know that his services are no longer needed. Frankly, he has become a nuisance and just gets in the way:

"[T]he Inquisitor thinks that Jesus has misjudged human nature. He does not believe that the vast majority of humanity can handle the freedom which Jesus has given them." Rather, the grazing multitude must be guided by a vanguard of elevated souls advanced enough "to take on the burden of freedom."

Sound familiar? As I said, it pervades politics. You can't handle the freedom. Let Obama, or Justice Roberts, or Rahm Emanuel, or Mayor Bloomberg, or Harry Reid, or the Chick-Fil-A douche handle it for you. And even without such ratchet-wielding assouls, we also have several protective layers of political correctness to twist people in the necessary direction.

The Inquisitor advances his argument "by explaining why Christ was wrong to reject each temptation by Satan. Christ should have turned stones into bread, as men will always follow those who will feed their bellies."

In the vertical, breaking news from 30AD is still breaking in 2012. Only the names have been changed.

Anyway, Voegelin discusses the messiah principle in his own way, writing that "Every prophet, every philosopher, every enlightened person like a Buddha, a Confucius, a Lao-tse with his doctrine of the Tao, the way, comes as an element of disorder in his society, because he has received an insight into the true order, which is different from the established order.

"Thus, every new insight into order is the beginning of a revolution of more or less considerable dimensions."

As you can see, for the establishment, salutary order will always appear as dangerous and threatening disorder. This is why, for example, the left sees the properly ordered people of the Tea Party as disordered, and the disordered (to put it mildly) children of OWS to be rightly ordered. But only one of these movements can be messianic in nature, because only one of them is organized around a genuine insight into the true order.

We don't see too many political ads here in California, since the state is so deeply disordered that it is considered to be in the bag for Obama. But last night I saw an Obama ad while watching the Olympics. In it he properly notes that we all have a big decision to make in the forthcoming months, one that transcends both candidate and party. Rather, this is a choice between "two very different plans for our country."

Correct, as far as it goes. What he really means is that we have a choice between two different orders, or between order and disorder. In turn, this choice is rooted in the very nature of things.

Our founders had a deep insight into this order, and weaved it into the foundational law of the land.

In other words, it is the purpose of the Constitution to preserve the messianic insight of those who simultaneously declared our independence from tyrants, and our dependence upon the Source without whom our rights are as alienable as the state wants them to be. This is a gift for which we can never hope to repay them, unless it is by preserving it -- in all its explosiveness -- for unborn generations, as they did for us.

But if the founders were to somehow turn up at his door, Obama would undoubtedly school them on the error of their ways -- after all, he is, unlike them, a Constitutional Scholar -- and let them know that the vast majority of Americans cannot handle the freedom they bequeathed to them, and that these feckless incompetents require a vanguard of elevated souls who are wise enough to take on the terrible burden of freedom.

Don't worry. It's covered under Obamacare:

The Nurse will see you now: