Monday, October 01, 2012

Why Does the Question of Why the World Exists Exist?

I'm not sure I adequately conveyed what Voegelin means by the terms "beginning" and "beyond." Think of other animals. For them there can be no beginning, no concept of a source or ground of things. Nor can there possibly be any notion of a transcendent beyond that cannot be found in the world of things.

But concern with the beginning and beyond practically defines man. Certainly it seems to coincide with his emergence -- or at least we know of no culture that doesn't engage in the implicit metaphysics of mytho-speculation in order to situate itself in the cosmos.

The beginning and the beyond are permanent features of man's existence. There is paradox here, somewhat similar to Kant's distinction between phenomena (appearances) and noumenon (reality). We know the latter exists, even if we can't say anything about it (and I'm not saying I agree with him; this is for pedagogic purposes only). Our inborn logic -- or just the implicit logic of speech itself -- suggests to us that there had to be a beginning. But since no one was there to witness it, we fill the scotoma with mythical content, up to and including the vulgar and desiccated myths of scientism.

I recently tried to read a book that addresses this subject, called Why Does the World Exist?, by Jim Holt. However, I couldn't get through it due to the author's willful knaveté about the subject. In dismissing religion with an unearned smugness worthy of the tenured, he falls into the biggest myth of them all -- that science can tell us anything about the beyond. Science by definition tells us only about the within (or, more accurately, about things "inside" the cosmos). It certainly implies -- necessitates, actually -- a beyond, but can only point there and never possibly reach or contain it.

The author also has the annoying habit of projecting his own attitudes into others, for example, suggesting that for believers, "there is no such thing as the 'mystery of existence.'" While there are no doubt people who drain existence of mystery, it is foolish to reflexively attribute this to religion instead of human nature, or to pretend that doctrinaire materialists and other subtheists don't do the same.

To even ask if "science will someday explain not only how the world is, but why the world is," is to ask a meaningless question. It's as if the man never heard of Gödel.

Which can't be the case, since he made the index. Let's see how Holt gets around him. He includes a couple of statements by Gödel, who wrote of mathematical objects that we do indeed "have something like a perception... despite their remoteness from sense experience," and that "I don't see any reason why we should have less confidence in this kind of perception, i.e., in mathematical intuition, than in sense perception."

He helpfully suggests that Gödel (who eventually became psychotic) "also believed in the existence of ghosts," which means, ironically, that Holt is trying to avoid the conclusions of the most important logician of the 20th century via the commonplace logical fallacy of ad hominem.

With such brilliant reasoning we could equally deny the theory of relativity because Einstein married his first cousin. Besides, what kind of person doesn't know the theory that you can't marry your relatives?

It just goes downhill from there, never confronting the issue of how it is even possible for science to know why the world exists if Gödel is correct that no logical system can be both complete and consistent. Furthermore, it is only because Gödel is correct that we can even ask the question. In other words, we ask it because it is a spontaneous response to a nonlocal reality we all intuit.

However, I only made it to p. 77, so it is possible that the author outgrows his cognitive Ønanism thereafter. Doubtful though, since the last sentence defers to Bierce's famous definition of philosophy: "A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing." That being the case, the book ends precisely where it begins, but not in a good way, if you catch my drift nudge nudge wink wink.

All in all, the book reminds me of a couple of snide-splitting Laphorisms: "Nothing makes clearer the limits of science than the scientist’s opinions about any topic that is not strictly related to his profession." And "Whoever appeals to any science in order to justify his basic convictions inspires distrust of his honesty or his intelligence."

To take just one particularly glaring example, scientists talk about a "cosmos" or "universe" as if it is an obvious fact instead of an implicit assumption. Voegelin actually devotes a chapter to this subject, noting that "Constructs concerning the structure of the physical universe as a whole cannot be empirically validated. Why, then, do physicists engage again and again in their construction?"

Boredom? Loneliness?

No,"The only possible answer to this question seems to be that physicists are men who as human beings feel obliged to develop an image of the universe." In other words, just like the restavus from time immemorial, they can't help creating the testavus "of a mytho-speculative symbol that will satisfy our desire to know the structure of the universe in which we live."

In this regard they resemble the Rodeo Clown Media, who are so drenched in ideology while pretending to themselves that they are somehow "objective" or neutral. Which means that their myth is never subjected to critical scrutiny, and remains as unexamined as their lives. Such nullible individuals somehow manage to simultaneously max out both cynicism and credulity.

Bottom line: physics "does not furnish the means for the meaningful construction of mytho-speculative symbols." Rather -- and this should be soph-evident -- "from physics follows nothing but physics" (Voegelin).

Indeed, just as from logic follows nothing but logic, or from biology nothing but biology, or psychology nothing but psychology.

In reality, man transcends -- or participates in the transcendence -- of all these lesser disciplines and perspectives. Which is why he can not only spend his life indulging in the human privilege of wondering why the world exists, but get some very helpful pointers along the way (which are only everywhere).

To be clear, man can and does have a vision of the whole, but not because of anything reducible to nature. Unless we bear in mind the aphorism, Let us beware of discourse where the adjective “natural” without quotation marks abounds: somebody is deceiving himself, or wants to deceive us (Don Colacho).

Got kind of sidetracked before getting to the essence of the nub of the gist of the beating heart of the matter. To be continued...

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Beginning and the Beyond

Or Ground and Telos, Origin and Destiny, Source and Vector, Creation and Salvation, Center and Top, Depth and Height, Order and Direction. I could think of others, but I need to get to the post.

Let me preface this by saying that what follows will have been inspired by an essay by Voegelin called The Beginning and the Beyond, although the end result may or may not (probably not) comport with his understanding, and certainly not with his style. The problem is, he's not always the clearest of writers. Perhaps it has to do with the intrinsic difficulty of the subject, but sometimes he's quite lucid, other times impenetrable. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that he took no graduate students, and thus wasn't used to communicating to mortals, or that his editors were too intimidated by his big brain.

He starts off the essay with the following observation, with which I fully agree: "Divine reality is being revealed to man in two fundamental modes of experience: in the experience of divine creativity in the cosmos; and in the experience of divine ordering presence in the soul."

So you could say that divine reality is revealed in objective and subjective, or exterior and interior, modes. Or, one could simply say Intelligibility and Intelligence, which are obviously unified on a deeper level. In other words, Truth and Reality must be One, and "within" this One, word is essentially deed (which is how the Creator "speaks" the creation into existence).

This immediately reminds me of something Schuon wrote in a similar-but-different vein, about the Center and the Origin:

"In the spatial world where we live, every value is related in some way to a sacred Center, which is the place where Heaven has touched the earth; in every human world there is a place where God has manifested Himself in order to pour forth his grace."

This Center is simultaneously the Origin, "which is the quasi-timeless moment when Heaven was near and terrestrial things were still half-celestial." And "it is also the period when God spoke" in a more direct -- or less veiled -- manner, thus creating a kind of bond -- i.e., covenant -- with the people involved.

It seems to me that the difference between the two thinkers has to do with the matter of the Beyond, because, as alluded to in the opening paragraph, the Beyond implies such things as Direction, Destiny, Development, Telos, and Salvation. I believe this causes Schuon's metaphysic to be entirely "backward looking," so to speak, whereas Voegelin's very much looks up or ahead, to the future.

However, Voegelin makes it quite clear that this is not a future we could ever arrive at or achieve. Rather, the enduring reality of the human situation involves living in the "in between" -- specifically, in between the Beginning and the Beyond, neither of which can be understood or conceptualized in any merely rationalistic manner, but both of which are necessary for human-qua-human existence (in other words, to live in ignorance of the Beginning and the Beyond is to live outside or below the human station).

To put it another way, if we eliminate either of these two poles, or collapse them into a dimensionless present, we will have entered a state of pneumapathology, more on which as we proceed.

In considering these questions, we need to be mindful of the reality of time, because our world is much more "temporal" than it was for premodern man, both for good and for ill. Schuon writes of "traditions having a prehistoric origin," that are "made for 'space' and not 'time,'" so to speak. That is, "they saw the light in a primordial epoch when time was still but a rhythm in a static beatitude and when space or simultaneity still predominated over the experience of duration and change."

In contrast, a historical tradition such as Judaism or Christianity "must take the experience of 'time' into account," and therefore "instability and decadence." Here time becomes "like a fast-flowing and ever more devouring river," so that the focus shifts more to "the end of the world."

I think I would respectfully disagree slightly (or maybe more than slightly) with Schuon, who seems to have a wholly negative attitude toward time. But for Voegelin, time is where we live and must live: again, in the in-between, between the Beginning and the Beyond. Leaving the "spatial" world of the Beginning (or Origin) and entering time was an achievement, not an intrinsic deterioration, for the same reason it is an achievement for a human being to leave the timeless world of infancy for the timebound world of adulthood.

Indeed, there are some traditions that maintain that this is what the expulsion from paradise is all about. Or, if you prefer, it is certainly what Exodus is all about. To live in time is to embody the Exodus, which is not just a chaotic and meaningless disperson, but a sojourn, a spiritual adventure. However, it cannot be an adventure unless the path is illuminated by the Beyond, which casts its light down and back, into history.

O yes it does!

So in reality, we have the Beginning, the Human Betweening, and the Beyond; or the Roadmap, Both Hands, and Aseity. You are of course free to reject this schemata, but only from the In-Between postion that stands outside or above the flow of time and is capable of surveying the whole existentialada.

If we are consciously aware of standing in the In-Between, then God will surely "speak" to us (listen!). Specifically, he will speak to us of Essential things and of Beyond thingness, or in the modes of immanence and transcendence.

Again, there are two meta-cosmic "directions" from where we stand, "the direction of the divine creativity toward a Beginning of things," and "in the direction of the ordering presence within [the] soul toward a divine Beyond as its source" (Voegelin).

Or, if you want to be abstract about it, you could just unsay (↕).

The point is, neither the Beginning nor the Beyond are among the "things" of this world. If we attempt to look at existence in this manner, we end in absurdity. For example, we can trace physics back to a "big bang," but this is like tracing a ray of light back to the sun. You still need to account for the central sun, with reference to something that transcends it.

So Beginning and Beyond are directions, not things in existence. To put it another way, they do not exist, so it's no use looking for them there. Rather, they are. They are "in" Being, not existence. And existence is derived from Being. For this reason, the Beginning is not really a temporal "before," any more than the Beyond is a temporal "after."

Rather, these two poles "articulate, first of all, the divine reality that draws man into the quest; they express furthermore the structure of consciousness in its questing tension toward the divine ground of things and of itself; and they finally bring into view the structure of reality that channels both the divine drawing and the human questing" (ibid).

Push and pull.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fantasies Have Consequences: Egoic Expansion and Presidential Shrinkage

So, yesterday Newt Gingrich suggested that Obama is “not a real president.”

 Rather, he's a fantasy figure playing a fantasy role, in an age in which people have difficulty distinguishing between television and reality. If we can have reality shows on TV, why can't we have a TV president in reality?

We all understand what Gingrich means, but I think he has it slightly wrong. That is to say, Obama is all too real. Instead, it's his reality that isn't real. Which wouldn't be a problem if we weren't a part of said reality, i.e., bit players in his malignant fantasy.

And no, I'm not just trying to be insultaining. Rather, this occurred to me -- actually, it forced itself upon me -- while reading an essay by Voegelin called The Eclipse of Reality in volume 28 of the CW, What is History?

Excuse me, Bob -- just what is history, anyway?

No, we're not talking about that today. We're talking about something else.

Oh, alright. It is "the movement of being in the tension of time and eternity."

Back to our subject. You often hear traditionalists decrying modernity for its egoism and narcissism, but they're only half-correct about this, because they ignore the critical distinction between a healthy and unhealthy ego. In so doing, they go way too far in condemning most everything about the modern world.

Without a doubt, something about human identity changed between the medieval and modern periods. A modern man does not think of himself in the same way as did premodern man. We've discussed this subject in a number of posts, and different thinkers conceptualize it in different ways.

For Voegelin, it becomes recognizable as a process in which "man begins to to refer to himself, not as Man, but as a Self, an Ego, an I, an Individual, a Subject, a Transcendental Subject, a Transcendental Consciousness, and so forth..."

In a way, it mimics whatever it was that caused life to emerge from matter and mind to emerge from life: the collective mind is a kind of matrix out of which emerges personal identity. We all recapitulate this process as we discover and articulate our selves, and can see it take place before our eyes in raising our children.

However -- as we have also discussed in the past -- each level in the cosmic hierarchy is accompanied by potential pathologies at that level. For example, in the realm of matter there can be no "sickness." As mentioned in the book, nothing can go wrong because nothing has to go right. But the moment life emerges there is the possibility of disease. (We're leaving aside the question of why matter is so ideally suited for the emergence of life.)

Likewise, the moment human collectivities emerge, there is the possibility of sick societies. And the moment the modern self emerges -- well, we have this thing called the DSM which catalogues the many things that can go wrong on the way to fully functioning personhood. Yeah, a psychologist is like a parasite on the mind parasites, but I like to think of myself as "healthy bacteria" -- like those in your gut.

Having said that, the DSM is ultimately incoherent, as it is completely silent on the question of what a fully functioning person is supposed to look like. It mostly speaks in terms of "adaptation" or freedom from conflict. But that could describe a sociopath as well as a saint. Thus, the DSM itself is a symptom of the very world it presumes to diagnose and treat, as it has no center and no top.

For Voegelin, we begin to see clear evidence of these new human problems in the eighteenth century, culminating in the florid pathologies of the twentieth century, when pathology became the norm in many places. When it does become the norm, that society is foredoomed. At the moment, the US is on the knife edge. Based on my rough estimate, about 47% of us have crossed over to the other side.

Much of what we call modern "philosophy" is really just a pathological response to the new conditions of modernity, e.g., Marxism, existentialism, obligatory atheism, etc. Indeed, existentialism itself is nothing but a long-winded confession of personal failure.

Voegelin: "The contraction of his humanity to a self imprisoned in its selfhood is the characteristic of so-called modern man." This contraction results in an existential shrinkage in which man is "condemned to be free" (Sartre, I think).

Thus, the left is always deeply ambivalent, at best, about freedom, as we have seen in recent weeks with the groveling before Islam and the harassment of the lousy filmmaker. Shrunken organs such as the NY Times, LA Times, Slate, and others have all called for cracking down on free speech. But this kind of suppression has been going on for decades in academia, as leftism and freedom are like oil and water.

Now, "the man who engages in deforming himself" does not cease being a man, nor does reality stop being reality. As a result, "frictions between the shrunken self and reality are bound to develop."

You don't say?

Yes, and not only. For "the man who suffers from the disease of contraction... is not inclined" -- to put it mildly -- "to leave the prison of his selfhood, in order to remove the frictions."

Rather, he "will put his imagination to further work and surround the imaginary self with an imaginary reality apt to confirm the self in its pretense of reality. He will create a Second Reality... in order to screen the First Reality."

Yes, this is the precise moment when I whacked my forehead and muttered "O... ba... ma."

Let's pause here for a moment. When you or I have an image of ourselves that collides with an unyielding reality, we have two choices: we can adjust to reality, or dig in our heels and go on as if the collision never happened.

There is also a third option, but few of us have the power to carry it off. That is to say, we may try to bend reality to our desires, or to make our fantasy appear true. And this maneuver is even easier if we are surrounded by co-conspirators such as the Rodeo Clown Media, who share in Obama's fantasy.

Yesterday Hugh Hewitt played some especially delusional excerpts of Obama's speech before the UN, which reminded me of the following passage by Voegelin. It describes the man who

"will deny that anybody could have a fuller perception of reality than he allows his self; in brief, he will set the contracted self as a model for himself as well as for everybody else. Moreover, his insistence on conformity will be aggressive..."

Thus, Obama's obnoxious insistence that "the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam." This is not just a dream, it's a threat.

As Dennis Prager says, "the larger the state, the smaller the citizen." Just so, as the president's ego expands, reality contracts, so to speak.

But looked at in another way, the more Obama distorts reality, the more unmanageable reality becomes. Imagine Mr. Magoo, who gets into all sorts of troubles because he can't see what's going on around him. Likewise,

"When imaginators of Second Realities proceed to act on their imaginative assumptions and try to make the world of common experience conform to their respective dreams, the areas of friction with reality will rapidly increase in size."

What, you mean like the Middle East?

Obama famously outlined his fantasies about the Middle East in his Cairo speech three years ago. Today it would be far too dangerous for him to speak in Cairo.

Fantasies have consequences.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Secondhand Know-it-Alls and Third-Rate Believers

Last night I caught a few moments of an interview of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Piers Morgan. I know. The unspeakable and the insufferable. The thug and the smug. The boor and the whore. The ghoul and the tool. The anti-Semite and the semi-assbite.

I began to wonder: what is the point of asking questions to someone who is intrinsically hostile to truth? Or in other words, who is an inveterate liar? Even if such an individual says something that happens to be true, he doesn't say it because it is true, so he's really no help at all.

You can never trust such an individual, so you still have to find out for yourself. You can never have faith in a known liar. Imagine Hillary Clinton asking Bill if he's been faithful. Who cares what he says? If you do care, then you're more defective than he is.

Of course, you can learn a lot second hand, so long as you have faith in the source. So much of what we "know" isn't actually known by us. For example, the typical believer in manmade global warming will exhaust his fund of knowledge of the subject within an awkward sentence or two.

Which again is fine, so long as the source is trustworthy and has genuine, and not just legalistic or conventional, authority -- so long as you get your information from the horse's mouth and not the horse's ass.

Speaking of the antiGore, the always clear and trustworthy Pieper writes of the classic distinctions between knowing, believing, supposing, and doubting. It is very easy to explain how and why one knows something, and equally easy to explain why one doubts. Belief is trickier, to such an extent that it probably isn't possible to render a full account of why one believes this or that. (We'll leave supposition to the side for the moment.)

For example, there may be characterological factors that go a long way toward determining innate preferences. A person with highly developed intuition obviously relies upon unconscious and supraconscious -- i.e., vertical -- faculties that cannot disclose their reasoning in a cutandry manner. It hardly means that intuition has no genuine object of knowledge.

Think of the doctrine of materialism, which no one can defend on any logical basis. And yet, there are people who believe it. Indeed, since their impoverished metaphysic banishes any faculties higher than raw perception, they will naively insist they have arrived at their belief through logic and fact, not just untutored feeling.

As such, these pretentious yahoos pretend that their belief is actually knowledge. But it is not knowledge and cannot be knowledge, on pain of self-refutation. Indeed, there is no "fact" called the cosmos, and if there were, you couldn't be separate from it, and therefore qualified to pass judgment on it. Even to say cosmos is to say transcendent order.

Importantly, "a fact which everyone knows because it is obvious can no more be the subject of belief than a fact which no one knows -- and whose existence, therefore, no one can vouch for. Belief cannot establish its own legitimacy; it can only derive its legitimacy from someone who knows the subject matter of his own accord" (Pieper).

In addition to the above four forms (knowing, believing, supposing, and doubting), there is also disbelief. This comes into play when a person has earned a total lack of faith in his ability or desire to tell the truth. Since 2008 I have considered Obama to be such a person, and subsequent events have only validated my disbelief. Especially lately.

How and when can you put faith in another knower, especially concerning inherently qualitative things that are impossible to verify empirically? To take a trivial example, if the crazy lady who lives across the street from me were to recommend a certain CD, or book, or television program, it would go in one ear and out the other. I have no reason to believe she has anything useful to tell me, although I'm always friendly and polite.

People attend college to learn things they believe cannot be acquired elsewhere, but why do they believe this? And why do they believe what they are told there? I did, and it nearly ruined my life. The university is full of believers masquerading as knowers, and of veridically bereft and beleft believers who are quite contemptuous of believers who actually know.

Pieper writes that "one who knows has insight into the facts being discussed," whereas the believer "can not know the actual event by his own experience." So how can belief ascend to knowledge?

Voegelin suggests that the passage in Heb. 11:1 has never been surpassed: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the proof of things not seen."

Importantly, faith is not only a kind of passive receptacle, but an active mode that is guided first and foremost by love -- love of truth. Now, as we just said, belief always involves someone else. It is always interpersonal, even if we pretend otherwise. Follow the chain backward, and somewhere there will have to be someone in whom we have placed our faith.

What is the official motto of the United States? In God we trust. This makes perfect nonsense, for if you trace our existence back to the origin, the US was founded by men who in turn placed their faith in God. It says so in our founding document. No one can empirically prove that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Hence, "in God we trust" for that little gem of wisdom.

To paraphrase Pieper, we put our trust in anOther who guarantees the facts; or in the Word who underwrites (or overwrites) them, I suppose. No, I believe. No, I know. With a certain faith, or a faithful certitude.

Unlike the knower, the believer is not only involved with factual circumstances but also and above all with someone, with the person of the witness in whom the believer puts his trust. --Josef Pieper

Monday, September 24, 2012

High Frequency God Whistles

No time for a new post and hardly enough time for an old one, bearing in mind that I can never simply exhumine my precogitated bloggerel without substantial editing and revising. Indeed, I have second thoughts and third words about most everything I've ever written, since anything can be expressed more lucidly or even airbrushed from history.

Not sure if I pulled this one off, but here it is anyway. If it's missing something, it's up to you to complete it.

We begin with a question: do tonedeaf atheists have a point when they say there is no evidence of God, and that if there were such evidence, then they would be believers?

By "evidence," they usually mean something you or I would call magic. That is, they want to see something that is utterly inexplicable and defies all logic and reason -- you know, pink fairies under the bed. A talking cloud. A miracle.

Let's look at it from the Creator's point of view. Is he just being coy? Or does he wish to be known? Does he want people to know of his who- and whereabouts? Yes he does -- or so we have heard from the wise.

But how does one reveal evidence of personhood, especially if said person abides in a higher dimension than the being with whom one wishes to share the revelation?

For example, how could I prove to my dog that I as a person exist? It's not as easy as it sounds, because dogs only experience human beings in dog categories. They might see you as the alpha dog, and respond accordingly. But they cannot conceive of your interior personhood. It is a dimension they cannot enter, know, or assimilate. I suppose they can apprehend some of its "energies," so to speak, but never its essence. In other words, they can be in awe of your mighty powers, but not understand them.

Analogously, Balthasar asks how it is possible for us to "speak of the 'form of Christ' when most things about him -- the essential: his divinity and all the mysteries connected with it -- remain hidden and unfathomable in their internal depths of meaning?"

He suggests that we begin with the principle -- and all first principles must be accepted with a degree of faith -- that "the first and pre-eminent intention of the self-revealing God is, precisely, really to reveal himself, really to become comprehensible to the world as far as possible."

In other words, we have to assume that God truly is "putting himself out there" in good faith, in a manner he feels best suits our needs, or comports with our ability to comprehend.

Again, compare yourself to a dog trying to understand its master. A lot of what the master does is going to be incomprehensible, even though that is never the point. If I get to pee in the house but she doesn't, I'm not trying to confuse her. It also reminds me of my son, who has more questions about God than he does about Santa Claus, I think because the latter "speaks his language," if you know what I mean.

Likewise, if God's intention were simply "to make those who believe in him assent to a number of impenetrable truths, this would surely be unworthy of God and it would contradict the very concept of revelation" (Balthasar).

In other words, we can't really call it "revelation" if it doesn't reveal something essential of of God's interior, something we are capable of fathoming. In fact, a non-revealing God would actually reveal something about him, just as, say, a guarded and defensive individual reveals how fearful he is of intimacy.

However, at the same time, we cannot pretend that we could ever fully comprehend God, any more than we could ever comprehend even another human being. Thus, "a necessary part of this manifestation is his eternal incomprehensibility."

But here again, this incomprehensibility by no means redounds to sheer ignorance on our part. Rather, it is to apprehend the divine from within the mode of mystery; as such, it is more like a direct transmission of the celestial myster-er to a terrestrial myster-ee, or the divine contained into the human container. Note that the latter is not the measure of the former. Rather, it only contains what it is capable of containing, and no more. Like IQ, only on the spiritual plane.

Thus, as Balthasar observes, this paradoxical communication is not "a negative determination of what one does not know, but rather a positive and almost 'seen' and understood property of him whom one knows."

And once you begin to familiarize yourself with this property, you begin to realize that it is an enduring characteristic of the "divine object," similar to the unique "vibe" one instantaneously experiences in the presence of another person. A person cannot help radiating his interior soulstench, no matter how hard he may try to conceal it.

The same holds for a great artist. The totality of an artist's work will transmit a sort of consistent vibration. It reminds me of the book This is Your Brain on Music, in which the author points out that every great rock artist has a certain distinct and unique timbre that lets you know in an instant that you are listening to them and no one else.

Think about it for a moment. The Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Beach Boys, Byrds, Zombies, Animals, Creedence, Roy Orbison, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin -- each has a quite distinct "sound signature" that exists over and above the music itself. You know it's them from the first note.

Analogously, you could say that the Christian timbre is quite distinct from the Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist timbre. Here again, this timbre exists apart from any specific content. Balthasar observes that God "has offered himself to the gaze of mankind from every possible angle, and this gesture of self-disclosure... was part of his fundamental mission to manifest and explain God to man."

In other words, the transformal form of God is a kind of totality that cannot be contained by man.

But within the perception of revelation we may be vouchsafed a kind of lower dimensional analogue of the totality.

First there is "the apprehension of a wholly unique quality, to be ascribed particularly to the supernatural origin of the light of faith"; and second, "the apprehension of an interior rightness," in which there is an "objective, demonstrable beauty of all proportions," so that "one aspect of the form always points to and supports the others." Or in other words, radiance and harmony, or Light and Love, or intelligence and heart, or words and music.

And this is why it is perverse for us to mix revelations "from below." One can hardly imagine the monstrosity of, say, Pink Floyd performing Twist and Shout, or the Beach Boys singing Communication Breakdown, or Led Zeppelin doing Yellow Submarine. It might sound something like this:

Friday, September 21, 2012

When Narratives Fail

It's too bad the term "narrative" is being beaten to death, because it's such an important concept. I'm afraid it's going to become so sullied by cynics and political manipulators that it will be synonymous with "lie."

Human beings are innately oriented to narratives; in other words, we are "story tellers," and we were telling stories to describe and understand reality long before there was such a thing as science.

Indeed, human beings cannot live outside stories, which is why for many people science itself has become their new, all-encompassing narrative, i.e., scientism. Scientism is simply science transposed to the key of myth, and draws upon deeper energies of which the believer is unaware and for which he cannot account -- which only makes him more, not less, irrational (think, for example, of Al Gore and his florid religion of scientistic paganism).

As we have discussed in the past, a neurosis is a kind of private culture, while pathological cultures are a kind of public neurosis. For vivid evidence of the latter, look no further than the insane behavior of the Islamic world.

True, that represents public psychosis, but the principle is the same. Psychosis often involves neurotic symptoms "writ large," so to speak, which is why studying the completely insane can provide insight into the more subtle workings of the less insane.

To put it another way, the neurotic is superficially much better adapted to reality than is the psychotic, but this doesn't necessarily mean he isn't just as disturbed underneath. You'd be surprised at how many "functioning crazies" there are out there. Imagine two identical houses with cracked foundations, one of which collapses due to an earthquake. The other house is just as vulnerable, but it will look fine so long as nothing comes along to expose the weak foundation.

One thing that unites the world of Islam and the world of the left is massive narrative failure. Only when a narrative fails are we privy to the irrational forces that called the narrative into being. In individual psychology this failure is called "decompensation," which refers to a failure of psychological defense mechanisms. Most anyone can suffer decompensation under sufficient stress, i.e., trauma.

I routinely encounter traumatized individuals in my practice, and one near-universal feature is the breakdown of their personal narrative, so to speak. Once the trauma breaks down their psychic defenses, you never know what you'll find underneath. A previously well-enough functioning individual might be swamped by unconscious material related to previously repressed life events.

So a narrative is not something to be casually toyed with. For many people it is their life preserver, their link to sanity. We all know people with fragile narratives, people we must humor and avoid provoking. We intuitively know that they cannot tolerate too much poking around at the edges of their narrative. In other words, they are defensive, which you will experience as a kind of brittleness in their presence. So you indulge them, as you would a child.

Another way this fragility comes through is via intense aggressiveness. Some people will instinctively respond to any threat to their narrative with a display of hostility that tells you to back off.

We all know liberals of this nature, since it has become such a common feature. First they reduce everything to racism, or homophobia, or class warfare, or corporations, or misogyny, or Citizens United, or Gitmo, or some other object of hatred, and then become outraged. The prior distortion legitimizes for them the release of primitive aggression.

In psychoanalytic parlance this is known as a "corrupt superego," corrupt because it greenlights a sanctimonious attack based upon a willful distortion. In other words, moral aggression is fine, so long as we are angry at the right things and do not call good evil and evil good.

Obama is a fragile individual (for example, if he weren't so fragile he wouldn't have to be so grandiose, grandiosity being a classic defense). He cannot be pressed too hard, or he is exposed as the stammering bumblefuck he is. It is difficult to know how much of the media's protection of him has to do with an awareness of this fragility. As alluded to above, we normally respond to such a fragile individual by backing off, because we don't want to shame and humiliate him. If you have any compassion, it's painful to watch.

Yesterday Jorge Ramos ignored Obama's fragility and plunged ahead anyway, with predictable results. Imagine if Obama had had to endure years of this kind of frankly journalistic treatment (as did George Bush, and then some) instead of just a few minutes.

What we call "political spin" involves the conscious effort to repair a narrative that is fraying at the edges. The problem with Obama is that he has been such a massive failure that the attempt to spin it just looks insane (cf. die chairhundt D.W. Schultz). Thus his campaign is reduced to two more primitive defense mechanisms: diversion and aggression.

Back to this notion of narrative. Remember a few weeks ago, when Obama conceded that his only real failure as president had been the absence of a good story to tell us? In other words, the facts vindicate his policies, but he just needs to assemble them in the right sequence. But even if he had been successful in conjuring such a Likely Story -- as was, for example, FDR -- this wouldn't alter the underlying reality (any more than FDR's superior political skills changed the reality of his failed policies).

There is, however, another way out. As we know, religion is man's proper vertical escape hatch from this messy world.

Postmodern thought provides another, albeit pathological, way to fly past the constraints of reality. For the postmodernist there is nothing outside the text. For such an individual, everything is spin, because there is no separate reality outside the text. Therefore, politics really does come down to a cynical battle between narratives. The leftist knows that he is simply propagating a narrative, and assumes -- insists, really -- that we are too.

As we know, it is essentially impossible to have a rational discussion with such an individual, because they have undermined the very basis of rational discourse. This is another way of saying that you can't argue with a false god, only the real one.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Ten Things Every Educated Human Needs to Know

People love lists. I just typed "the ten" at amazon and the autofill does the rest: "faces of innovation," "most beautiful experiments," "things to do when your life falls apart," etc.

Seven is even better: "habits of highly effective people," "laws of spiritual success," "principles for making marriage work," etc. And of course, even God gets into the numbers business with the six days of creation or the Ten Commandments -- the latter of which also being habits of highly effective pneumanauts.

Yesterday I was wondering to myself: what are the ten... things? You know, the things without which there couldn't be any other things, and from which everything else flows? Or in other words, the truly necessary things, devoid of contingency -- the Things That Cannot Not Be.

For example, you could say that the word God stands for the one thing (so to speak) that simply cannot not be, on pain of total unintelligibility and absurdity. Because man knows -- and knows he knows -- he must posit a principle that permits this remarkable phenomenon to occur. And this explanatory principle obviously cannot be "below" that which it purports to explain. Indeed, even the word "principle" implies transcendence and containment of particulars.

I don't even want to get into religion per se -- or at least exoteric religious dogma -- because that may cloud the issue. Rather, I want to deal with the pure structure or form of things, whereas religion as it is usually understood touches more on content or substance.

To borrow a phrase from Voegelin, I want to delve into an area that orthoparadoxically "encompasses and excludes all religions." We know this area exists, otherwise it would be impossible for two people of different faiths to communicate.

For example, Thomas says that He who is "is more appropriate than 'God' because of what makes us use the name in the first place, i.e., his existence, because of the unrestricted way in which it signifies him, and because of its tense..." Or, "even more appropriate is the Tetragrammaton, which is used to signify the incommunicable... substance of God."

In other words, "God" -- or any other religious term, for that matter -- can become so saturated with meaning that it fails to convey what it actually means. One reason for this is that man is adapted to various planes of existence, so it is possible to use language that applies to one plane on another, where it is no longer appropriate.

And this doesn't just apply metaphysics, but physics and other disciplines. For example, there is no way to describe or even imagine the quantum realm with language used to describe a Newtonian system. Doing so will simply generate paradox.

One could say the same of asking what came before the big bang. Since astrophysicists maintain that time itself came into existence with the big bang, there can be no temporal "before" prior to it.

Nor, as we have discussed on numerous occasions, can one describe the workings of the mind with the same logic used to understand the physical world. Psychologists who attempt to do this -- such as B.F. Skinnner -- only beclown themselves. A person who could be explained by such a theory would no longer be a person.

Back to our list. You could say that it begins with the first sentence of the Bible -- or that the ten words of this sentence more than adequately convey our meaning, so long as we fully unpack their implications: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

The first thing you will notice is that in this sentence there are three things: God (or the creative principle), heavens, and earth. The latter two -- heavens and earth -- are intended to signify "everything," both terrestrial and celestial, or local and nonlocal, which is another way of saying horizontal and vertical. Is it possible to say that the creative principle ultimately bifurcates into the complementarity of subject-object? More on this possibility later.

Another way of looking at this sentence is to say that it conveys the idea of Creator-creation, or, more abstractly, principle-manifestation, or absolute and relative, or timeless and temporal. Both are real, but in very different ways, since the reality of the latter terms is only a "reflection" of the more real reality of the former.

You might say that the first term sponsors or "guarantees" the second -- like cosigning a loan. Seriously, any metaphysic that denies the First Term is really just passing rubber checks.

So the creation is not the Creator, but without being anything other than the Creator, in the same way the sun's rays are not other than the sun. In other words, there is a transcendent principle of continuity over and above an immanent principle of discontinuity and ontological rupture. Or just say One and many:

"Multiplicity as such is the outward aspect of the world," or "a diversified and diversifying projection of the One" (Schuon).

That the world is not God -- or that the earth is not the heavens, the terrestrial not the celestial -- explains a lot, including the existence of evil. In Genesis we have to wait until chapter 3 for this principle to enter the stage. Of note, it enters "from below," so to speak, with a symbol of "below-ness" as such, Mr. Snake. For our symbolic purposes, no being can be lower than the snake, who slithers the earth on his belly.

Note that the snake "gets to man" via the woman, who is "closer" to earth than the man. Again, as we have discussed on a number of occasions, "mother" is still a biological category, whereas "father" is the first cultural category, the very foundation of the possibility of culture. In her own way, mother is indeed godlike, what with the ability to produce children out of her own substance -- hence the universal idea of "mother" nature and the ubiquitous temptation of paganism and pantheism.

Vertically speaking, the proper flow of energies would be Father-Principle --> Mother-Maya-Manifestation --> Child-Culture. The snake upsets this balance, so the energy goes from earth to woman to man, who then imagines himself to be God.

Thus, the oppression of woman can never come from religion, properly understood. Rather, the opposite: from a crude materialism with man appropriating the power at the top (brute power with no legitimate authority). Hence the liberal war, not so much on "women" in the profane sense, but on the whole reality of womanhood itself (and therefore manhood as well -- an attack on one always damages the other, since they are complementary).

Here is how Schuon describes this movement: "To say radiation is to say increasing distance, and thus progressive weakening or darkening, which explains the privative -- and in the last analysis subversive -- phenomenon of what we call evil..."

And "subversive" is good term to describe what happens when primordial man and woman co-conspire to invert the divine order of the world, placing themselves rather than God at the top/center. What this means in essence is that the periphery claims to be the center, the created the Creator.

Which is why it is so ironic for radical secularists to accuse believers of having an anthropocentric view of the universe, when it is precisely the opposite: only the atheist imagines himself to be at the center of existence, hence his pretentious pronouncements on the whole of reality -- as if the part can know the whole.

Man can surely know, but it is again with recourse to a kind of borrowed light -- for this light cannot be self-generated. The first sentence of John -- which is intended to resonate with the first sentence of Genesis -- speaks of this light-amidst-darkness, which is none other than the principle-amidst-manifestation, or intelligence-within-matter, or just the inward in the outward. I mean, here it is, right?

I guess that's enough for today. To be continued -- but maybe not tomorrow, since I have an early day....

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Rodeo Clown Media and their Crazed Bull

One of the primary functions of the Rodeo Clown Media (RCM) is to obsess over the periphery while systematically ignoring the center. Sometimes it is unclear whether this is out of design or stupidity, but the result is the same: the trivial is elevated to the important while reality is banished to the sidelines. To receive one's news from the RCM is to beclown oneself by implication.

We need also to bear in mind that a rodeo clown doesn't just run around arbitrarily. Rather, he is there to protect someone who is in danger by distracting and throwing off some crazed bull. Similarly, the RCM is there to protect Obama when he is endangered by distracting us and throwing out some crazed bull.

As such, you might say that the RCM is at antipodes to the "well examined life," which involves first and foremost discerning between truth and error, or principle and manifestation, or reality and appearances, etc. The RCM may not always place error above truth, but the very best it can do is to put them on the same plane.

Charles Kesler, whose new book on Obama is called I Am the Change, has a piece at NRO entitled Obama's Truth. Note also the subtitle of the latter, which exemplifies the political pneumapthology we've been discussing of late: It may not be true, but it’s still absolute.

People who reject the absolute don't just end their cognitive descent there. Rather, unless they are truly insane -- and therefore irrelevant -- they inevitably fall into some version of absolute relativism, or systematic absurdity.

To call such people "thinkers" is an abuse of the term, for "thinking" is precisely what cannot occur in the context of relativism. If it can, then there is no relationship between thought and truth -- or mind and reality -- and thinking has no more to say about reality than does passing gas or watching MSNBC (but I repeat myself).

When we lay it out on the table like this -- naked before the the mind's eye without a figleaf of evasion or dissembling -- you probably think to yourself: "yeah, but nobody really believes this postmodern stuff, do they? Isn't it just a silly game for the tenured?"

If only. In his article, Kesler calls to the stand a tenured friend of Obama, who approvingly -- and accurately -- describes the variety of hammers available to the postmodern deconstruction worker:

"By antifoundationalism and particularism I mean the denial of universal principles. According to this way of thinking, human cultures are human constructions; different people exhibit different forms of behavior because they cherish different values. By perspectivalism I mean the belief that everything we see is conditioned by where we stand. There is no privileged, objective vantage point free from the perspective of particular cultural values. By historicism I mean the conviction that all human values and practices are products of historical processes and must be interpreted within historical frameworks. All principles and social patterns change; none stands outside the flow of history. These ideas come in different flavors, more and less radical and more and less nihilist" (Kloppenberg).

Eh. So what. What do I care about the jerk circles of academia, so long as they don't have any real power?

Kloppenberg: “Obama’s sensibility, his ways of thinking about culture and politics, rests on the hidden strata of these ideas.”

D'oh!

Here is an example of the sort of drivel that results from attempting to "think" while simultaneously rejecting the very foundation of thought. Don't laugh. It's your president speaking (from the Kesler piece):

"Implicit... in the very idea of ordered liberty was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or 'ism,' any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition, the pogrom, the gulag, or the jihad."

Ah, I see. So the absolute truth that "all men are created equal" is a recipe for tyranny and a road to the gulag. Gotcha.

That is so surreal, it ought to be called a Firesign chat.

Jews will be particularly interested to know that the disclosure of, and their historical allegiance to, the absolute, is implicated in their own destruction -- that their style of thinking is responsible for the very pogroms that have persecuted them. This is actually true, in the sense that Jews are hated precisely because their absolutism is an annoying rebuke to all relativists. It explains why all wholesale anti-Semitism (in the west) emanates from the relativistic left.

Kesler: Obama argues that "There is no absolute truth -- and that’s the absolute truth.... Such feeble, self-contradictory reasoning is at the heart of [his] very private and yet very public struggle with himself to determine whether there is anything anywhere that can truly be known, or even that it is rational to have faith in. Anyone who believes, really believes, in absolute truth, he asserts, is a fanatic or in imminent danger of becoming a fanatic; absolute truth is the mother of extremism everywhere."

It cannot be emphasized enough that Obama has it precisely backward, and that the turn to absolute relativism is the mother of world-historical nightmares.

For one thing, as discussed in yesterday's post, once one descends into relativism, there is a kind of scattering of truth resulting in "a vast field of secondary issues" that "effectively obscures the center of the struggle in existential consciousness" (Voegelin). Here again, this is where the media Rodeo Clowns enter the picture, as they ensure that everyone is focused on peripheral fragments and distracted from the central truth:

"[T]he struggle for truth is liable to degenerate into a jungle war of 'positions,' articulating themselves as 'isms," that are blind for their own meaning in terms of noetic consciousness" (ibid.).

But again, the relative is covertly elevated to the absolute, so that "the noetically 'empty' becomes a form of thought imposing itself as obligatory on a society, and the war of positions creates a 'climate of opinion'... that proves next to impenetrable by noetic logic" (ibid.).

Voegelin has just described the tyranny of political correctness, which is a kind of "public unconscious" that protects its own power while deflecting insight into its workings -- like a public neurosis.

Voegelin wrote this in 1977. What would he say today? I mean, after he stopped throwing up? Perhaps he'd agree with Kesler's assessment of Obama's malevolently vacuous philosophical musings -- that they "ought to send a shudder down Americans’ constitutional spine, assuming we still have one."

History, then, turns out to be a process not only of truth becoming luminous, but also of truth becoming deformed and lost by the very forces of imagination and language which let the truth break forth into image and word. --Voegelin

Monday, September 17, 2012

Playing Faust & Loose with the Facts of Existence

Although I still believe Romney will win easily in November -- mainly because polsters cannot capture just how eager we are to oust the Incompetent One -- the polls continue to suggest a tight race, and most have Obama with a slight lead. How can this be? How can a president who has failed in every measurable and unmeasurable way be contending for reelection?

John Hinderaker asks this question over at PowerLine, and highlights the obvious fact that "so many Americans are now cashing federal checks that self-interest drives many millions to vote Democrat, regardless of the public interest." How many souls have we lost due to the intrinsic corruption of a government big enough to buy the votes it needs in order to maintain and expand its power?

There is also the fact that the electorate is "polarized" in an unprecedented way. I put the word in scare quotes because polarization doesn't mean what it used to. Democrats and Republicans have always been polarized, but prior to 1980 it was more over who gets what than who believes what.

Indeed, today we might even say that the polarization is about what's what, i.e., reality. Liberals and conservatives don't just have different theories of governance, economics, psychology, and constitutional law, but really, two irreconcilable metaphysics.

But there is another important factor at work, one which liberals are ill-disposed to understand because of an absurdly flattering self-characterization that blinds them to their irrationality: "more than ever, party affiliation reflects not so much empirical judgments about public policy issues, but deep-seated cultural affinity...."

Hinderaker writes -- and I'm sure he speaks for all of us -- that "it is difficult to imagine circumstances that would cause me to vote for a Democrat for any office. For better or worse, and for good reasons or bad, an enormous number of Americans feel that way."

As a result, "it seems that fewer and fewer votes are up for grabs," and "there are many millions who would rather vote for four more years of failure than vote for a Republican."

I have members of my extended family who would never vote for a conservative fascist (for them a pleonasm). Indeed, I used to be one of those members, so I well understand the sentiment.

Even leaving aside specific policy preferences, I couldn't support a liberal for the simple reason that I question the judgment and wisdom of any adult who could actually call himself liberal and know what the word means (importantly, there are many clueless "liberals" who just vote that way but don't share the left's values). I wouldn't vote for a liberal for the same reason I wouldn't vote for a child. The only difference is that a child eventually grows up.

Now, that last crack wasn't just insultainment, for there is something pathologically childish in the philosophy of liberalism. Importantly, any integral philosophy must account for man's perpetual neoteny, i.e., his permanent immaturity and capacity for growth. The healthy way involves tolerating the intrinsic complementarity of child <--> adult. The unhealthy way involves abolishing any objective notion of mature adulthood, which leaves a child with no developmental telos, no proper end.

To take one obvious example, how many adolescents are taught that the proper end of human sexuality is marriage? Liberals are free to deny this reality, at the cost of understanding why one of their core constituencies is single women. But in order for liberals to carry out their war on married women with plausible deniability, it probably helps that the left hand doesn't know what the far left hand is doing.

Voegelin writes of the "diseased mind engaged in the sorcery of self-divinization," and of how "the devil who takes possession of man is man himself when he indulges his imagination to the extreme of self-divinization." He references Baudelaire, who penned the bluism that "A man who does not accept the conditions of life, sells his soul."

Now, truth is one; it is whole, integral, universal. But what happens to the man who denies this? "If for one reason or another [this] understanding is disturbed," writes Voegelin, "the truth of reality will fall apart into a vast field of rival symbolisms, each [absurdly] claiming for itself 'absolute' truth..."

Thus, for any normal person, such deformities as multiculturalism, moral relativism, and deconstruction are recognized as dangerous pneumapathologies to be avoided at all costs, for they are the equivalent of a fatal cancer of the spirit.

In a certain sense, every moment of life is a "revelation." The other day I was reading a book by Ratzinger, in which he touches on this important idea. That is to say, even what we know of as traditional revelation requires the human medium for its transmission, comprehension, and memorialization:

"Scripture is the essential witness of revelation, but revelation is something alive, something greater and more: proper to it is the fact that it arrives and is perceived -- otherwise it could not have become revelation." It "has instruments," but "is not separable from the living God, and it always requires a living person to whom it is communicated." Thus, like God, it is simultaneously beyond and within man.

Voegelin generalizes this approach, writing of "the historical process as a flux of divine presence" in which "every phase of the flux has the structure of a divine-human encounter." Being that we are free, each phase -- let's just say the present -- is also "an event of man's responding, or refusing to respond, to the presence of the divine ordering appeal."

Therefore, what we call the "present" is always in relation to the eternal, without which it could not be. To say "man-God" is a way of talking about this relation, but it is so saturated with meaning that it doesn't necessarily do the job anymore -- certainly not for the unbeliever.

But because of the time <--> eternity, or body <--> spirit complementarity, man is uniquely aware of being the "mortal-immortal," the being who knows of eternity and yet dies. The word "tension" hardly does justice to our perilous situation.

Which is why it is somewhat understandable that many people just want to make the tension go away. But there it is, simply transposed to another plane and thereby becoming the irresolvable tension of class warfare, or gender politics, or "social justice," or any other morbid hobbyhearse of the left.

In fact, the deformation of truth results in "various combat zones" and multiple battlefields which can distract us from the central struggle -- similar to how the multiple fronts against "terror" blind the politically correct to what unites the terrorists.

What is especially striking about this is that the Islamists commit the exact opposite fallacy of the left, in that they "deform reality by contracting it into the divine One and reduce all other reality to the status of nonbeing," i.e., dar al-Islam and dar al-Harb.

There are different terms one could use, but the most usefully loaded ones to encapsulate our political polarization might be the dar al-Marx and the dar al-freedom. Or just say Obama and Romney.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

We Gotta Let Him Go

While there's still some resemblance to America.

Say, those wouldn't be brown shirts, would they?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Metastatic Liberalism in the Body Politic

It's amazing how similar liberals are to Islamists in the logic department (then again maybe not, because Islamism borrows at least as much from western political pathologies as it does from Islam). For example, if you explained to one of these Islamists that here in the US the government has no power to limit blasphemy against Christianity, they would respond, "That's different. That's not the word of God."

Likewise, when you explain to liberals that Romney is doing the same thing Obama did in 2008 (albeit more honestly and with less hysteria), when the latter excoriated Bush's foreign policy, they respond, "that's different. That was Bush."

Paul Krugman has made a career out of praising or excusing Obama vis-a-vis the same things for which he condemned Bush -- e.g., the deficit, the national debt, the threat of inflation, the so-called "jobless recovery," the gap between rich and poor, etc. More generally, the left is silent about everything that had them so exorcised about Bush: renditions, drone attacks, Gitmo, military tribunals, alienation of our allies, hatred around the world, signing statements, executive overreach, etc.

Yes, you could mark it down to garden-variety hypocrisy or stupidity, but I think it's something worse. There are no doubt cynical elites who are consciously aware of the manipulation, but I think the majority of liberals who believe what they do are sincere in their beliefs.

Which makes them more, not less, frightening -- for the same reason the cynical manipulator Clinton is less frightening than the true-believing Obama. (That Clinton could support Obama, of all people, while having approvingly declared an end to the "era of big government" tells you all you need to know about him.)

This kind of thinking is the manifestation of a collective disorder. But a collective disorder is nevertheless rooted in something individual, some identifiable pathology. What is it? And why is it so hard to cure it?

Let's try to calmly and dispassionately figure this out together, shall we? I mean you, me, and Voegelin.

In the essay we've been discussing, Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme, he writes of "the relations between the truth of reality, the truth of language, and the truth of man's existence."

Right away we've opened a pandora's box of potential complications, especially for the person who believes reality is perception, truth is relative, and language is a closed system incapable of disclosing the truth of the world.

It is axiomatic -- for us, anyway -- that we may respond to truth or resist it. Freedom, baby. It is what it is, and there's not a thing we can do about it.

Knowledge is dependent "on reality becoming luminous" to itself via man, and on the deployment of "language symbols expressing its truth." Furthermore, we must first be receptive to reality, and allow language to "emerge from the loving quest of truth in response to the loving and illuminating drawing... from the divine Beyond." In traditional metaphysics the soul is always regarded as the feminine pole in this primordial relation (although there is no doubt that O, the Divine Attractor, has its "seductive" side as well).

In symbolic form we have O, which is reality and all it implies; and (¶), or the intellect, which is both "in" and "of" O, while not, of course, being identical to it. And in between the two we have the "loving truth" that results from genuine encounters with O. Yes, you could say Father/Principle/Source, Son/Logos/Manifestation, and Holy Spirit/Love/Truth.

Voegelin, following Plato, affirms that it is impossible to cure the symptoms of existential disorder -- to restore order -- via "any amount of special legislation."

Here I am reminded of an aphorism: "The democratic ruler cannot adopt a solution as long as he does not receive the enthusiastic support of people who will never understand the problem" (Don Colacho). In short, behind a "brilliant" Obama there must be millions of imbeciles to boost him aloft on wings of journalism.

The rank-and-foul leftist is like "a sick man who wants the physician to cure him by treating the effects of dissipation without giving up his way of life."

Think of the many ways Obama does this: forgiving foolish college loans, placating greedy public employee unions, mandating that "children" remain under their parents' health insurance to age 26, accumulating more debt than all previous presidents combined, etc. Most of his policies are predicated on a determined refusal to acknowledge reality. I'll give him that.

Unfortunately, the "sick character will hate most the man who tells him the truth" that can cure his disorder. Why?

Because this truth is a little like chemotherapy, in that it burns. It burns because the tissue of lies has, like metastatic cancer, woven its way into healthy tissue. A quintessential example of this would be Obama's perverse brand of "Christianity," into which Marxist spores have spread and grown. How to kill the Marxism without destroying the host?

Of course, it is possible to be a superficial leftist, in which case the transition to health isn't nearly as perilous -- analogous to a simple skin cancer. But in any event, truth cannot save unless the man accepts it: "The magic of the saving Word is as dependent on man's openness to the order of love as is the magic of the disordering word on his inclination to resist and hate truth."

Note that the two varieties of "magic" are quite different. The healthy kind recognizes, and is founded upon, "existence as neither transfigured nor untransfigured but as engaged in a transfiguring movement from imperfection to perfection" -- i.e, the immortalizing project that runs from ensoulment to death.

Conversely, the sick type of magic -- and it is the collective magic of pathological politics that concerns us here -- promises to "transfigure his worldly existence into a state of perfection." To paraphrase Voegelin, such men do not want to hear that they aren't proper men. Nor do they want to hear that they are mere men. So what are they, besides empty chairs?

The human station acquires its nobility and grandeur in the reflected light of our deiform nature. But at the same time, recognition of the deity that makes this possible renders us acutely aware of a compensatory humility.

Yes, man is without a doubt the most exalted thing in creation; which, if properly understood, should be an occasion for the deepest humility in the face of that reality in comparison to which we are nothing.

The leftist turns this fruitful dialectic between God and man into a vulgar dispute between men. The activist dreamers of the left cast their opponents as the "satanic force that causes the discord and must be exterminated, if the harmonious order projected by the activist is to prevail."

We see this process quite transparently in our Islamist enemies. But what to make of leftists and their eliminationist rhetoric about everything from Fox News, to the Koch brothers, to supporters of marriage, to the successful, to whoever or whatever impedes the glorious March toward Progress?

This long march, in order to reach its fanciful destination, requires the elimination of everything that is permanent in man -- not the least of which being man himself, or human nature. Oh well. Omelets and eggs.

But to paraphrase Orwell: what omelet? And do you really have to steal my great-great grandchildren's eggs to make it?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Logopathology, Talking Heads, and Political Hatred

Sure, you'd never apologize for the first amendment, but then you're not a constitutional scholar, are you? A leftist constitutional scholar -- like W.C. Fields poring over the Bible -- spends his time looking for loopholes.

Say, why do we have free speech, anyway? Isn't most of it inane if not counterproductive? Perhaps, but first of all, man would go insane without the ability to let off steam by serially discharging his interior world.

The other day we jokingly made a $50 bet with our seven year old that he couldn't go all day without speaking. He took us seriously, and was disappointed when he only lasted about five minutes. To shut him up would be like trying to push back against a volcano.

Where does this interior pressure come from? Why the incessant blah blah, which hasn't stopped since the day he was born? For all of us, even when our mouth isn't moving, our gums are flapping away in our heads, aren't they? Freud tried to reduce it all to "instinctual energy" -- as if speaking would be unnecessary if only we had enough instantaneous food and sex.

No, in order to understand man, we must consider humanness on its own level. Yes, man includes material and biological planes -- obviously -- but he also encompasses and expresses emotional, spiritual, cognitive, aesthetic, moral, mystical, and other planes and modes.

Ever since the scientific revolution there has been an attempt to understand the phenomenon of man by reducing him to something less than he is. It works, except you eliminate man in the process -- like cutting open someone's head to see where the thoughts come from.

Indeed, in premodern times there was a medical procedure known as trephination, which involved drilling a hole through the skull. This was prehistoric man's first form of psychotherapy, and you can understand why. Presumably mental illness was as common then as it is today -- although I suspect it was actually more common. In any event, for pre-literate human beings with extremely concrete thinking, it would make sense to drill a hole in the head in order to allow the persecutory thoughts to escape.

In fact, this explains the contemporary phenomenon of self-cutting. When such an individual slashes himself, he subjectively feels a relief of interior pressure.

But more generally, modern man has innumerable outlets to relieve the build-up of psychic pressure. As I've mentioned before, human beings are probably no healthier than they were, say, 100 years ago. It's just that they have so many more means available to act out their illness, which also relieves pressure.

A hundred years ago, for example, a Madonna would be just a typical gorgon-variety sexual hysteric instead of a sad quinquagenarian flasher. Neither solution is preferable, although for some reason the latter is considered "liberated."

For good or bad, this is often what politics comes down to. To paraphrase someone, politics involves "the organization of hatreds," and this isn't far from the truth, certainly for the left.

In fact, this is one of our problems with our leftist friends: we try to engage them with ideas, but they just want to hate us. As such, we are a necessary part of their psychic furniture, similar to the function Jews serve in the Arab mind. If not for Jews, all that hatred would be stuck inside Arab heads, for which reason they'd probably have to resort to trephination (or else mutilate more females than they already do).

Men serve the same function for self-hating feminists, as do corporations for the envious, or imaginary racists for race-obsessed liberals. You wouldn't want to be stuck inside Chris Matthews' head -- I know, full stop -- if there were no outlet for all that hatred. But in addition to externalizing his own hatred, Matthews does the same thing for others by proxy, hence he is employable instead of just certifiable. For now, anyway.

When you listen to someone articulate your own hatreds, it provides a sense of relief. And sometimes this is helpful, as in Churchill's speeches during WWII, or Reagan's vis-a-vis the Evil Empire. To paraphrase something Kimball wrote in the latest National Review, temper should be deployed, not lost. And "one should be angry at the proper things, in the proper degree, for the proper duration." Sober, in other words, not just indulgent.

We're getting a little far afield here. What I wanted to discuss is the logos, which is the real reason man's interior life "overflows" in the way it does. It does this because we are in the image of the Creator, who has the same "problem," as it were. All a part of being Infinite.

Voeglin writes of "the power of the logos as a cosmic force that can be used by man for good or evil purposes in accordance with order or disorder in the psyche."

One reflection of the logos is of course speech, which can be "a great and powerful master; it operates with magic force on man; the spell of divinely inspired language can swerve the soul when it is weakened, by passion or lack of knowledge, toward opinion in conflict with truth..."

Indeed, "the power of the logos over the soul can be compared to that of a drug over the body; as the drug can heal or kill, harmful persuasion can drug and bewitch the soul."

But enough about Obama. Besides, Clinton has the same effect on the susceptible, through which people long to be magically healed via soothing and self-serving lies and distortions. Which never works, at least in the long term. But MSM journalists never stop trying.

In short, "speech is a powerful thing... that can form or deform the order of man and his actions, while in their turn the movements of the psyche can move language toward truth or nontruth."

And the slave is any person who can neither order himself "nor respond to the order of mature men."

In conclusion, a few words about the true order of the psyche. Properly ordered, it is engaged in "the loving quest of truth in response to the divine drawing from the Beyond; the divine-human movement and countermovement of love is the source of man's knowledge concerning his existence in truth..." Or just say O <--> (¶).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wisdom and Magic at the Edge of the Expressible

I want to begin with an arresting comment by Schuon, who, after saying just about all that can be said about the essential structure of things -- about universal metaphysics -- has this to say:

"We are here at the limit of the expressible; it is the fault of no one if within every enunciation of this kind there remain unanswerable questions.... [I]t is all too evident that wisdom cannot start from the intention of expressing the ineffable; but it intends to furnish points of reference which permit us to open ourselves to the ineffable to the extent possible, and according to what is foreseen by the Will of God."

Thus, universal metaphysics, despite being the closest we can come to an essential description of reality, is obviously not the thing itself; it is still the map and not the territory, the menu and not the meal, even if it is a gourmet one. Indeed, this is in accord with wisdom itself, which knows -- or should know -- the unavoidable distinction between creator and creature. Only an atheist could believe himself to be God.

Despite their limitations, we shouldn't devalue these precious "points of reference," firstly for their own intrinsic value, but secondly because if properly understood, they always implicitly point beyond themselves to that which they cannot explicitly express. This is quintessentially true of the points of reference we call revelation. One might say that revelation is not God, but God is revelation, at least in terms human beings can comprehend (which indeed is its raison d'être).

Now, science too provides us with points of reference. And these are obviously legitimate so long as they are confined to their appropriate bounds and do not transgress what was said above about the dictates of wisdom. For clearly, even in the most perfect scientific theory imaginable there will still remain "unanswerable questions" that lay at the foot of the inexpressible and cannot breach the walls of the ineffable.

Nevertheless, this doesn't mean we cannot know of the ineffable, for it surely communicates its effing reality from its end of things. "Ineffable" hardly means "non-existent." It just means unglishable, translogical, or mythsematical. O by its nature "radiates," and this radiation can be translighted to cutandry speech up to a point.

This is the point where faith begins -- where we leave language below and plunge heartlong into the Mystery. Or, just call it keeping an open soul (o). Doing so will still provoke language, but the language will necessarily be of a more poetical nature and therefore make perfect nonsense in spite of myself. Or so one hopes.

A brief aside: the above considerations shed some additional darkness on the phenomenon of evil. What is consistently striking about evil is its utter incomprehensibility. When we think about, for example, the Holocaust, the Gulag, or the enormities of Mao, our minds go blank, so to speak. This is not just because of Stalin's adage to the effect that a million deaths is just a statistic, but because even a single murder is a tragedy of unsurpassable proportions. It is truly "unspeakable" because incomprehensible. We can never "wrap our minds around it."

But the incomprehensibility of evil is very different from the ineffable, again, because the latter radiates itself into a receptive part of ourselves. The same is not true of evil, which is more like a black hole, or dense wall, or thick miasma of darkness. It is dead, not living.

Today, for example, is the anniversary of the Islamist attack on America. Can anyone really claim to understand what motivates such beasts? Whatever you -- or the terrorists, for that matter -- can come up with is just a pretext, not a reason. As the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of, the heartlessness of Evil has a lack of reason which only the unreasonable "understand."

"The truth of reality," writes Voegelin, "is not an ultimate piece of information given to an outside observer but reality itself becoming luminous in the events of experience and imaginative symbolization." Evil and systematic falsehood represent the opposite of this process of reality-become-luminous to itself.

How do we know we're facing the right way? Which way is up? In other words, how do we know when our quest is oriented to truth and not something less?

Voegelin: "the human intentionality of the quest is surrounded by the divine mystery of the reality in which it occurs. The mystery is the horizon that draws us to advance toward it but withdraws as we advance; it can give direction to the quest of truth but it cannot be reached; and the beyond of the horizon can fascinate as the 'extreme' of truth but it cannot be possessed as truth face to face or within this life." What Moses said.

Evil also draws us, doesn't it? Yes, but the difference is that it can be reached in this life, especially by the dead. Conversely, truth is characterized by its radiance-within-mystery. This living radiance reveals but never exhausts the Mystery -- like an alluring veil that simultaneously hides and reveals. Evil, like pornography, shows everything while revealing nothing.

Voegelin speaks of a necessary "balance of consciousness" that we symbolize (↑↓). These two "are experienced as the moving forces of consciousness." Thus, "the process of reality becoming luminous" is structured by "the tension between them" as well as "the responsibility to keep their movements in such a balance that the image resulting from their interaction will not distort the truth of reality."

Too much (↑) is promethean, and soon degenerates to the "desire to know the mystery of the horizon and its beyond, as if it were an object on this side of the horizon."

Conversely, an excess of (↓) may "thwart the desire to know by assuming objects this side of the horizon to belong to the sphere of the mystery" -- e.g., pantheism, paganism, and deepaking the chopra more generally.

No, "a thinker must remain aware of his consciousness as permanently engaged in balancing the structuring forces" of (↑) and (↓). Anything less is magic, propaganda, and dreaming.

For which reason we would be wise to heed the words of Shakespeare, who wrote of the fortitude necessary To shun the heaven that leads men to hell (quoted in Voegelin).

Monday, September 10, 2012

How the Cosmos Works, Part One

Where would nihilists be if they didn't have reality to rebel against? Even -- or especially -- Satan is no atheist, which is one of the recurring themes of the Dark Knight. Batman doesn't need the Joker, but the Joker surely needs Batman. For one thing, human life drained of spiritual significance is frankly boring:

"You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you, because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever."

Which they are. Evil is sadly inevitable if there is to be good. But good is necessary if evil is to exist, since the latter requires something or someone to parasitize and feed off of.

A mature person is resigned to the inevitability of evil, even while resisting it. But evil is "charged up," so to speak, by the existence of the good. How else to explain, for example, the crusading pettifuggers of the ACLU, or the morally twisted Israel haters, or the unseemly enthusiasm for unlimited abortion to the point of undisguised infanticide?

There is a clear line of demarcation -- or medarkation -- that separates the left from reality. It is the metaphysical principle of creation, which entails numberless implications. Indeed, if we were to draw a cosmic flow chart, the first fork in the descending road would be creation versus... versus what exactly?

A vast cosmic accident? No, that can't be, since the contingent presupposes the necessary. Okay, necessary? No, that makes no sense either, because it would render such things as novelty, evolution, progress, and free will impossible.

Hmm... Chaos? Here again, chaos is parasitic on order.

Let's just move on and allow the anticreationists to sort out their own metaphysic. We will add, however, that the first move into this leftward antispace permits of countless "solutions," some perhaps vaguely plausible but all ultimately false, with no way to adjudicate their veracity anyway. Yes, you could call it metaphysical masturbation.

It so happens that this weekend I was doing some heavy lifting -- specifically, lifting from Schuon, as usual. Nothing new, any more than a shower is new, but you still need one every day, just as you need your daily verticalisthenics to fight the spiritual flab and keep from going soft. Entropy, like it's cussing cousin, evil, is an inevitable consequence of existence, which is why decency requires us to swim against the worldly tide.

I'll begin with my own bobbalism, but one shared by kabbalists: that for the creationist, the world is necessarily a kind of "negation." Why negation? Because the affirmation of the world requires a "divine withdrawal" ("tzimtzum" in Hebrew, "bupkis" in Yiddish), or partial negation of God. God, of course, cannot literally negate himself, for anything that is is of God, the converse being impossible and inconceivable.

You know the wise crack: "be in the world, not of the world"? It's similar with God vis-a-vis the creation. The world is God, but God is not the world.

Here is a heavy passage lifted from the wikipedia article: "Prior to Creation, there was only the infinite or Ein Sof filling all existence. When it arose in G-d's Will to create worlds and emanate the emanated... He contracted Himself in the point at the center, in the very center of His light," which left "a void, a hollow empty space, away from the central point..."

But wait! From there he projected a lightline that extends from Creator to creature. You might say that the vertical world to which man properly belongs is in and of this river of light. Also, this light "loops around," so to speak, in man, and returns to its divine source (analogous to the curved space of the cosmos, where every journey is a return to the beginning).

Note that God begins with both an affirmation ("I am the Lord your God") and a denial ("no other gods before Me"). The first corresponds to the creative principle, the second to the manifestation of said principle. In other words, if we elevate the world to its own self-sufficient principle, we not only violate the first commandment, but have entered one of the leftward anti-worlds.

However, we do not fall into a mirror image of their error, and deny the reality of the world. No, the world is indeed real, because its source is the ultimate Real. It is even a kind of mirror of the Real, analogous to a magnifying glass with man at the center, where the light is gathered into a punpoint of pintensity.

Man is not "other than God," but the person who knows this is also aware of the vast (vertical) distance between Creator and created, principle and manifestation. Hence humility amidst the most grandiose good news one could imagine.

Analogously, we are all "inside the sun," there being no objective line one could ever draw between the sun and its rays. Or, we "see the sun," but only because the sun sees us first. Thus, to be good is to both see and be seen by the light of God.

On one level we are all composed of transmuted sunlight via photosynthesis. Likewise, the spiritual life comes down to an exercise in pneumasynthesis for those whose wood beleaf.

The sun itself stands for the Absolute -- there it is, up above -- while its rays signify the infinite -- here they are, shining everywhere and on everyone. The two terms also correspond to transcendence and immanence, also to unity and multiplicity, or One and many.

"To say radiation," writes Schuon, "is to say increasing distance, and thus progressive weakening or darkening," this explaining the "phenomenon of what we call evil." If you have a better idea, I'd like to hear it, but this one strikes me as not only plausible but necessary in its own way. We don't say that evil is literally necessary, any more than we would say sunburn is. Nevertheless, it's bound to happen, isn't it?

True enough, everything ultimately comes from God, so if you want to be perverse about it, you could say that God causes evil. But this is like saying language is evil just because the New York Times exists.

Light above and light below; thus the possibility of revelation and science, the latter having to do with revelation in the key of matter. In fact, for man there exist three principle sources or modes of revelation: Revelation as such; the world; and the intellect that knows both (I'm paraphrasing a half-remembered fragment of Schuon).

Note that Man -- actually Woman -- or better yet, their Infant -- is the last act of creation: "What in principle is of the highest order must be manifested... last of all" (Schuon). And since man is in the image of God -- and thus a co-creator -- what is highest in man is also manifested last, hence the reality of "development," or spiritual maturity. (Not for nothing is the brit milah celebrated on the eighth day of life, signifying the initiation of an olden pneumagain creative cycle.)

In fact, more generally, I think this accounts for the reality of evolution in the literal sense of the word, not the watered-down version offered by Darwinian fundamentalists who can't even account for themselves, let alone everything else.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Obama is a Dream Come True. HELLLLLP!

It is a kind of harmonic convergence that we're discussing Voegelin -- that great diagnostician and pathologist of political disorders -- at the same time the DNC -- that roiling asylum of political pathology -- is convening. So many principles exemplified in living and breathing instances!

I mean, imagine misogynistic generals such as Ted Kennedy or Bill Clinton waging war against an imaginary war on women. No, you can't make this stuff up. Might as well have Jimmy Carter or Louis Farrakahn as your standard-bearer against anti-semitism, or have Joe Biden sing the praises of a public education.

It would be inaccurate and uncharitable to say that liberalism involves a collective hallucination. Nor is it a mere fairy tale.

Rather, what we are dealing with here is a collective delusion. It is a "dream of escape" that "intends to overcome the existential tension of imperfection-perfection" (Voegelin).

Consider, for example, how the DNC delegates respond to the suggestion that all corporate profits be banned by the state (in the PowerLine video linked above). This is not like, say, banning unicorns, because unicorns don't exist. So the liberal is dealing with reality, just in an unreal way.

Two elements are required in order for the liberal narrative to gain traction in the psyche and appear plausible. First, as mentioned above, it cannot be pure hallucination, but must at least have the appearance of being "debatable."

However, at the same time -- like an unfalsifiable scientific theory -- "it must be analytically obscure enough not to reveal its character of a dream image at the first glance" (Voegelin).

The elites at the top are aware of this, which is why they don't just "come right out and say it," so to speak. When they do reveal the full liberal monty, it's called a gaffe, because the actual principles of liberalism must always be hidden from view. You didn't build that is a prime example of the genre, or "government is the one thing we all belong to." Oops!

As Voegelin explains, "the dream story must intelligibly and persuasively refer to the real world as the medium of action." Because reality is frustrating, life isn't fair, and envy can always imagine something better, there never is, nor will there ever be, a shortage of existential complaints that may be pathologically converted to politics.

I mean, when even free birth control is elevated to a political issue, you know you've entered a fantasy world. Why not free anything? What's so special about condoms?

In short, there are always enough "grievances from which a revolt can start" (Voegelin). Once the sense of entitlement is stoked and grievances abound, the real fun can begin. The political savior will then suggest or intimate that "history as we know it is coming to an end," and that "the true history of perfection... is now about to begin." Yes, nothing prior to 2008 matters, because we are going to fundamentally transform reality.

But, just as when the dog catches the car, "conflict with reality is practically a matter of self-declaration." In other words, liberals imagine they have a beef with conservatives, which is true as far as it goes. But their real beef is with the structure of reality, perhaps the most important aspect being the reality of human nature.

For example, liberals complain of "corporate greed." They also insist that corporations somehow aren't people, but they're really talking about human greed. They seem to have the naive belief that human greed is somehow eliminated if the person works for the state instead of in the private sector. As if public employee unions aren't sufficient to disabuse anyone of such a naive belief about human nature.

Besides, if greed is all it takes to get rich, what are you waiting for? Go for it!

Thus, it is always critical to bear in mind that the best possible human order will still have a great deal of disorder in it, for the simple reason that there is no secular or state-managed cure for man. Plus, this is the world, not heaven.

Even if you believe there is such a thing as "free healthcare," that healthcare will do nothing for the person who is pneumapathologically crippled inside, at least not intentionally. Ironically, it may eventually cure the liberal, once the quality of healthcare sufficiently declines. But by then it will be too late.

Hence the sufficient reason for conservatism, which attempts to conserve the real order of things, which is again always imperfect (although the archetype it attempts to measure up to is perfect). Conversely, the leftist instinct is to conclude that this order is imperfect -- which it obviously is -- and therefore "fundamentally transform" it.

The problem is, even though these revolutionary dreamers are detached from reality, they are nevertheless a big part of our reality. We can't just choose to have Obama leave us alone, or tell him to go and inhabit his own private fantasy world if that is how he wishes to live his life. No, we are all stuck in his fantasy. We are all affected by people who refuse "to distinguish between dream and reality" -- to see that the chair is empty.

Some of you may have detected something similar vis-a-vis family life. You will have noticed that it is always the burden of the sane one to adapt to the less-than-sane, because the latter cannot adapt to the former. Or, at least one must do this if one wishes to maintain harmony and avoid conflict.