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