Monday, October 15, 2012

Once Upon a Time There was a President

This week should bring some brief periods of patchy slackshine, but no sustained episodes of time dilation or vertical belowback. Therefore, a timely reposting of what we wrote here in the immediate wake of Obama's funereal procession four years ago next month.

However, I ended up throwing in so much new material that I can probably divide it into two posts. But... isn't it unfair to alter a post that was supposedly about predicting the future? Never you mind. Just sit back and enjoy the insultainment. Besides, the essence hasn't been changed, only some details.

We begin with a hearty laphorism:

No folktale ever began this way: Once upon a time, there was a president… --Don Colacho's Aphorisms

Okay. Would you believe one folktale? Because a lot of folkers believed it.

Frankly, anycoon could have seen our dystopian future coming with their own two -- let alone three -- eyes, but I think you'll stil enjoy this gnostalgiac lookback. It was in the context of a discussion of Letter XI of Meditations on the Tarot, The Force, a book which all One Cosmos readers should by now have at least pretended to read:

The Force is a timely symbol for the events of the day, as the force of the left has ascended the political Wheel of Fortune. We sincerely hope they enjoy their brief little day in the sun -- er, moonshine. It won't get any better for them than this, for the apex marks the transition to the nadir. Or top to bottom, for those living in Rio Linda.

We immortals can draw consolation from the fact that, being that leftism is a closed intellectual and spiritual system, it is already, as we speak, "on the way down," outward appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. In insulating itself from the vertical ingressions of grace and then claiming powers entitled to no man, the left is blind to its own Icarus factor.

In short, its end is in its beginning, as the poe t.s. aid. Furthermore, the higher it ascends in its intoxicated reach for power, the further it will fall. The concrete fact of Obama shall soon enough obliterate the vaporous idea of Obama. There is no way around this vacuous cycle except all the way, 360 degrees, century after century.

Actually, there is one way out, and that is by avoiding the whole tedious promethean power-grab thingy to begin with. If you remain on the ground, or even on the second floor, you can't fall very far.

But if one is the greatest orator since Cicero, or the greatest presidential writer since Lincoln, or the Man who will Slow the Rise of the Oceans, then you my fiend are in competition with Felix Baumgartner.

The following passage by our Unknown Friend is perfectly apt today: "Plato has never had success as a revolutionary and never will do so. But Plato himself will always live throughout the centuries of human history... and will be in each century the companion of the young and old who love pure thought, seeking only the light which it comprises."

In other worlds, you can never have a mass revolution of people oriented to a target that few can even see and no one can actually hit.

This interior revolution is an individual endeavor, not the sort of thing that could ever occur on a massive scale. And the left is a mass movement, which automatically condemns it to mediocrity on a good day. It is led by a blundering herd of elites who imagine themselves superior, but nothing could be more banal -- and self-contradictory -- than the idea of "mass excellence."

Through history, all leftist revolutionaries have understood this, which is why leftism has never come "from the bottom up." Rather, it is always a trickle-down affair, led by an intellectual priesthood who can barely conceal their contempt for the working class dolts they wish to redeem.

Great stupidities do not come from the people. First, they have seduced intelligent men. --Don Colacho's Aphorisms

These intellectuals show their true farce whenever some ingrate they presume to save declines their offer, as actress Stacey Dash discovered last week. The line she joins is long and distinguished.

This is the way things "must be," since the left is simply an inversion of Christianity, and could only have emerged in a Christianized culture. As Billington writes, these are men who see "in revolution an object of faith and a source of vocation, a channel for sublimated emotion and sublime ambition."

In contrast to Marx's crack about religion being the opiate of the masses, "revolutionary faith might well be called the amphetamine of the intellectuals" (ibid.).

For the manically revved-up revolutionary -- and remember, on the eve of his election Obama promised a fundamental transformation of this country -- "history is seen prophetically as a kind of unfolding morality play. The present [is] hell, and the revolution a collective purgatory leading to a future earthly paradise" (ibid.).

Thus, Obama's campaign essentially revolves around trying to convince us that this is purgatory, not hell; and that the purgation of our RacistSexistHomophobic past must last a little longer before we arrive in multicultural and redistributionist heaven.

Yes, "Once upon a time, there was a president." How'd that One turn out? And are we condemned to repeat the same myth forever? Is it possible for man to purge himself of fairy tales, and finally live in the real world?

Excellent question, even if it cannot be answered, because at least it recognizes the problem.

Looked at from a cosmo-historical perspective, Billington is "inclined to believe that the end may be approaching of the political religion which saw in revolution the sunrise of a perfect society."

And he is "further disposed to wonder if this secular creed, which arose in Judeo-Christian culture, might not ultimately prove to be only a stage in the continuing metamorphosis of older forms of faith, and to speculate that the belief in secular revolution, which has legitimized so much authoritarianism in the twentieth century, might dialectically prefigure some rediscovery of religious evolution to revalidate democracy in the twenty-first."

His lips to God's ear! Or rather, vice versa: God's lips to our ears.

Modern history is the dialogue between two men: one who believes in God, another who believes he is a god. --Don Colacho's Aphorisms

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

A Completely Selfish Post

When I'm stumped about what to write about, it's usually for the same reason: I forget about the purpose of this blog. Which, you might say, is entirely selfish.

That is, I write in order to find out what I think. But when I get boxed in, it's usually because I'm unselfishly thinking of my readers, which means that instead of writing to discover what I think, I'm doing so in order to tell what I know.

Which isn't much. Moreover, whatever it is, it must be rediscovered every day.

This also explains why, just as I begin to pick up more readers, I lose them, because things get weird again. But it would never occur to me to write for "the day." Why bother? Rather, the only purpose I can see in writing is to try to do so for ever: to infinity, and beyond! Or in other words, to try to write "from" eternity. I'm not saying I succeed, only that a man needs a hobby.

The bottom line is that to write unselfishly ends up a kind of self-centered and self-aggrandizing act. Conversely, to write selfishly results in a more selfless product.

Of course, this is all predicated on the notion that to plunge Bobward eventually ends in something universal. We all have to "look within" to discover anything, but that doesn't mean that everything we discover there is hopelessly tainted by our own beastly presence.

So in this post I'm just going to forget about you all, leap into the Subject, and see where he takes us.

In yesterday's post we embarked on a discussion of the complementarity of individual <--> group, or personal <--> universal. For Perry, this comes down to "remembering our divine essence, on the one hand, without forgetting our human nothingness, on the other." In short, "Noble radiation and humble effacement."

You might say that Perry's prescription involves simultaneous recollection of two opposites. Which isn't invalid, but does omit an awful lot of the in-between where we actually live.

It's as if there is nothing between complete nihilism and mystical union; or that nothing short of mystical union has any real value. But if that's the case, why do we have this magnificent cosmos? Why does the Creator go to all the trouble?

This last question is critical, I think, and cannot be resolved in the purely metaphysical and extra-revelational manner of the Traditionalists. For they come very close to suggesting that the cosmos springs into being of necessity (i.e., "emanationism"), and that it is subject to inevitable decay for the same reason. It is in the nature of the Sovereign Good, they say, to radiate itself, which results in a Manifestation, i.e., the cosmos. But then the cosmos, as it inevitably becomes more distant from its ground and origin, succumbs to entropy. Game over. (But which then begins a new cycle.)

Some of that is true as far as it goes, but it cannot ultimately be reconciled with the Judeo-Christian view of a creation that is pure gift and completely unnecessary. The Traditionalist would probably say that the real purpose of such an assertion is to remind us of our nothingness -- our pure contingency -- before God; but this then implies a very different sort of God, one that is rather impersonal and doesn't really care about individuals.

To jump ahead to our conclusion, we believe that person is the ultimate category of existence; and that personhood is neither thinkable nor derivable from any kind of purely monadic metaphysic. I believe one comes from two, not vice versa. Which means that love is not so much "higher" than truth, but rather, the truth of existence. And love is impossible in a matrix of unalloyed oneness, unless you have a very different definition of love, or you are Barack Obama.

I hope this isn't getting too abstract, but it is important. The Traditionalist (and they would say universal) metaphysic begins with Beyond Being. I do not disagree with this, because it is fully consistent with the apophatic Godhead about which we can say nothing. Unless we are very sneaky. Eckhart, for example, has many fine orthoparadoxical descriptions of the Godhead. In Sermon 2 he tells us that the intellect -- man's highest faculty --

"is not worthy even for an instant to cast a single glance into this citadel... neither power nor mode can gaze into it, not even God himself! In very truth and as God lives! God himself never looks in there for one instant, in so far as he exists in modes and in the properties of his persons..."

It is here "wherein God ever blooms and is verdant in all his Godhead, and... ever bears his only-begotten Son as truly as in himself, for truly he dwells in this power, and the spirit gives birth with the Father to the same only-begotten Son, and to itself as the self-same Son, and is itself the self-same Son in this light, and is the Truth."

As you can see, words begin to fail at the threshold of the Godhead; language begins to disintegrate -- or perhaps we should say "re-aggregate" in the light of the divine darkness. At the very least, we must try to outfox language in order to see around the coroner, or past our own headlights.

In Sermon 101, Eckhart speaks of "the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature." He quotes Augustine, who asks "What does it avail me that this birth is always happening, if it does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters."

Selfish, right?

No. Contemplating the complementarity of individual <--> group leads in a very different direction if we begin in a Christian rather than, say, Vedantin metaphysic. The orthoparadoxical Christian view is that the Godhead is a kind of "group," even while not being anything other than one.

Conversely, the Vedantic view (at least for Shankara) is that the illusion of twoness ultimately dissolves into the Oneness of Brahman. For truly, when all is said and done, it never happened. The illusion of separateness was just a dream, for all This is That.

I used to believe that. For one thing, you don't need revelation to tell you that "all is one." Rather, you need revelation to tell you it isn't. Or at least to confirm your suspicions and let you know you're on the bright trek.

And if you understand what I just said, then perhaps you can understand Eckhart's understanding that "It does not now seem to me that God understands because he exists, but rather that he exists because he understands."

For it takes three to understand: knower, known, and knowledge. Or better: lover, beloved, and love.


Just because I like the photo. Captures that interior we've been talking about:

Monday, October 08, 2012

Very Important Persons and Very Inflated Presidents

In our previous post we touched on the complementarity of universal and particular. There is an irresolvable tension between these poles -- and happily so, because without it we wouldn't be able to understand anything.

In other words, thinking always involves the search for universals behind phenomena -- for the principle behind the manifestation; and also the exploration of new instances and exemplifications of the principle. Cognitive metabolism consists of analysis and synthesis, unity and plenitude (which I suppose are prolongations of Absolute and Infinite).

A lot can go wrong with both of these. Some people get lost in particulars. We call them nominalists. Others are stranded in the dream world of abstract principles. This can result in anything from philosophical idealism (culminating in a Hegel) to political demagoguery to religious and secular cultism.

Obama, for example, cannot cope with what you and I call "economic reality" because the principles he holds dear simply do not go there. In short, the economic theory to which he is beholden is inadequate to the real world of a complex market economy.

For example, to express the desire to "spread the wealth around" conveys breathtaking ignorance of how wealth is created, and more importantly, how to continue creating it. True, a politician can force the distribution of income at the point of a gun.

But this only works once (or up to a point), since it puts in place a huge disincentive to the wealth creators. As we know, leftists embrace science so long as it doesn't clash with their ideology. In this case, the needs of the state require operant conditioning to be underbussed.

Likewise the fantasy of a "right to healthcare." First, let's be clear on what we're talking about here. Obama isn't really talking about a right to healthcare, since we already have that right.

Rather, he's talking about the state forcing one party to render its services to another. That's an obligation, not a right. A genuine right, as understood by the founders, entails no one's obligation. For example, my right to freedom of speech doesn't mean that MSNBC has to give me airtime to rebut their wild beliefs and accusations.

But we're getting far afield. What I really want to discuss is the complementarity of universal and particular as it manifests in human beings. This obviously occurs in the exterior/anatomical sense, in that we are all "human beings," even though each of us is unique. This is most noticeable in the face, each human face being unique.

We all have the ability to instantly distinguish one human face from another, to such an extent that we don't even think about how remarkable a feat this is.

For example, I'm guessing that if a dachshund looks us in the face, our face will be as indistinct to it as dachshund faces are to us. Sure, there are some differences. But if you were to put seven billion dachshunds in a room, yours would blend in with the rest. However, you could pick your own child out in an instant.

The fact that we can do this must mean that individuals are Very Important, both to Nature and Nature's God. And they are. For whatever reason, the cosmos puts a very high premium on Persons.

Specifically, as it pertains to our interior humanness, the universal/particular complementarity appears in the form of group/individual, or community/person. Human beings are, of course, "social animals." But they are equally "personal animals," or just say persons, each one as unique and unrepeatable as the face that exteriorizes him or her.

One obvious way this complementarity plays out is in our political arrangement. Democrats and leftists more generally emphasize the group at the expense of the individual. This is the reason why leftism feels so "un-American" to us, because our classical liberal founders emphasized the sanctity of the individual.

For such conservative liberals, the group exists for the individual, whereas for the left, the individual is subordinated to the group. If one is grounded in the latter metaphysic, then something like Obamacare is both logical and necessary.

This is the topic of Mark Perry's new book, The Mystery of Individuality: Grandeur and Delusion of the Human Condition. He is a traditionalist of the Geunon/Schuon school, and too hardcore for me.

However, this doesn't mean that he doesn't have some valuable insights, just as the fact that a scientist happens to be an atheist doesn't imply any kind of blanket refutation of his genuine insights. Again, we take truth where we find it, since any and all truth -- and even the very possibility of truth -- is of God.

All religions address this issue in one way or another, and usually in a negative way. In other words, most religions try to serve as a kind of brake on runaway individualism, and emphasize our indebtedness to the group.

In itself this is not necessarily problematic, so long as we don't confuse "group" and "state." The state is not a genuine group, contrary to the left's belief that it is "the one thing we all belong to." There is no interior to the state except in extremely pathological cases such as National Socialism, in which case the state embodied "the will of the people"

Or, think of eastern religions which focus on the eradication of the "ego." This is a very problematic word, since it is based on a bad translation (a latinisation) of Freud's German "das Ich," which essentially connotes the I.

Why would anyone ever want to get rid of his I, since this would be the equivalent of suicide? More generally, the term "ego" doesn't actually appear in any Buddhist or Hindu scripture, since it was only coined in the early 20th century.

Anyway, a lot of religions attempt to tame or "eliminate" the ego-I, but not too many seem to celebrate it. And there are good enough reasons for this, since excess or disproportionate celebration of the I is what we call narcissism or sociopathy.

Criminals and politicians, for example, generally do not suffer from low self esteem, but way too much. It takes an absurd amount of self-esteem and ego-inflation to feel entitled to rob a man, whether with a gun or through legislation. It would never occur to an appropriately humble man to be an Al Capone or Barack Obama.

So there is that negative reality of the ego-I. And if we look around us, it isn't hard to condemn its excesses and abysses. Just turn on the television. It's everywhere. But does this mean that there is no appropriate -- and even sanctified -- individualism?

To be continued...

Yeah, I'd recognize that mug anywhere:

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Joy of Unknowing

It cannot have been easy for early Christians. First of all they weren't yet Christians, but rather, deviant messianic Jews. Except this messiah had appeared in a form no one had anticipated, nor would anyone invent, because the story is just too implausible, most especially for Jews. I mean, if you're going to invent a religion, why invent one that's more than a little incoherent (on the surface) and difficult to reconcile with your existing one?

Here is what I mean -- or rather, Voegelin means. As alluded to yesterday, one of the purposes of scripture -- or of a closed canon, more precisely -- is to protect and preserve the insights disclosed by the revelation.

You can't let just anything into the canon, or the revelation will become as diluted and undiscerning as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, Billy Joel? C'mon. And what's Miles Davis doing in there? Talk about mixing up revelations. While you're at it, why not put Babe Ruth in the football hall of fame?

For Christian R & D there was a two-pronged challenge: first, to reconcile it with the existing scripture, second, to the wider world (or vice versa, if you like, i.e., world to revelation). With regard to the latter, for various reasons it was necessary to develop "a theology that mobilized for the defense of truth the arms of the intellectually superior and for that reason most serious competitor, of Hellenistic-Roman philosophy" (Voegelin).

In other words, man has -- and in many ways is -- a mind, and has every right to a revelation that speaks to its depths, and certainly doesn't devalue it. So early Christians went about the task of assimilating both Athens and Jerusalem to the new revelation.

A similar thing occurred with Judaism in the form of Philo Judaeus, who was not only a contemporary of Christ (though there is no evidence he knew of him) but a later influence on many of the early Fathers. (Then again, according to McGinn, "Christian legend has him meeting St. Peter in Rome!")

As Andrew Louth writes, "Starting from an idea of God without parallel in his philosophical milieu, Philo develops an understanding of the Word that sees meditation on Scripture, that is, God's self-disclosure, as central to the soul's search for God. This is quite new -- something that the Christian Fathers were to take up and make their own."

One of the reasons for this is Philo's emphasis on the Divine Word, i.e., Logos, "as an intermediary between the absolutely transcendent and unknowable God and the human soul" (McGinn).

The following passage by Philo is pretty striking if you're into cosmic coonspiracy theories: "To his chief messenger and most venerable Logos, the Father who engendered the universe has granted the singular gift to stand between and separate the creature from Creator." This Logos-gift is "midway between the two extremes, serving as a pledge for both."

The logos is God turned toward -- and in a way into -- man, so to speak. It is "immanent in all things, but in a special way in the human mind," i.e., "within the higher dimension or nous" (ibid).

McGinn agrees that Philo "was the first figure in Western history to wed the Greek contemplative ideal to the monotheistic faith of the Bible," a feat which some have welcomed, others have condemned. Me, I welcome truth in whatever form it comes my way.

Philo obviously had the same liberal attitude. He made no apologies for using "the best Greek philosophy both apologetically, that is, to prove that Judaism was the true religion, and speculatively, that is, to draw out [its] inner meaning..."

This "reconciliation was achieved not only by seeking a deeper and more universal meaning in the scriptures, but also by transforming Platonic contemplation into a more personalistic mode" (ibid.).

Universal and personalistic. I'm all over that. This itself is a provocative and spicy combination of modes that one might think of as being at antipodes.

In other words, to say "universal" is to exclude the particular, and the individual is nothing if not particular. I always compare it to jazz, which takes the universals of music and expresses them in a uniquely individual way via spontaneous composition, i.e., improvisation. So when I say I'm "winging it" here, that's actually what I mean. I try to work with universals but give them my own spin -- which is a way of understanding them from the inside-out, with the whole of one's being.

It's like a quest or something. An adventure of consciousness. But "there is no guarantee of success on the quest: for God must reveal Himself, and the soul can do nothing to elicit this disclosure -- it can only prepare. But even so, the quest by itself is sufficient satisfaction. One might say that the quest is the goal and the goal is the quest" (Louth).

And as Voegelin is at pains to emphasize vis-a-vis our "in between" status, "the quest is never-ending -- the goal is always beyond because God is infinite and incomprehensible." Nevertheless, "the quest is joy in itself." As such, "Philo can be seen to have developed a mysticism of love and yearning for God in himself, in his unknowability" (ibid).


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Banging the Boards with Your Cosmic Big Man

As children develop, it is as if certain neurological windows open for the purpose of imprinting various things, e.g., speech, attachment, basic trust, etc.

For example, when the language window is open, children learn to speak with the greatest of ease. After it closes, it becomes much more of a challenge. My kid picks up Mandarin as easily as I forget what happened yesterday.

I wonder if something similar occurs with the collective? I was thinking about the so-called axial age, when so many of the world's major revelations were downloaded. Was there something analogous to a historo-developmental window that made such divine-human communication more fluid and "present"? It would certainly explain a lot.

Voegelin notes that the Pentateuch starts to be assembled and organized by the sixth century "and is substantially completed in the first half of the fourth century B.C." Additional scripture is downloaded later, and debates about what to include and exclude are wrapped up by the second century A.D. You might say that the revelational window has closed.

How do we know when revelation is occurring, how long it is going on, and when it ends? Whatever the case may be, "By a remarkable feat of mythical imagination," a testament is assembled "against the pressure of competing wisdoms," with the purpose of revealing "once and for all the mystery of divine creativity in the cosmos as well as man's existence in society and history" (Voegelin). Well played!

It seems to me that this is something one couldn't do if one were "trying," and perhaps that provides an insight into why such a thing couldn't occur today.

As alluded to at the top, who but a child is able to be so empty and fluid as to effortlessly download language? Who but a child can listen so well, without even trying? Perhaps it's the same with premodern man, whose mind must have been so uncluttered compared to ours.

It reminds me of something the great Chick Hearn once said about a certain beast of a power forward, maybe Karl Malone: "He's got muscles in places I don't even have places!"

Similarly, modern man has thoughts and ideas and concepts and lies and trivia in places premodern men didn't even have places. The mind must have been like a beautiful and expansive clear blue sky (so long as the person wasn't overrun by mind parasites).

Become as children. Interesting word, become. It means to come into being. You wouldn't say be a child, much less regress to childhood. To become implies bringing something new into existence, not reverting to a previous stage. A child is a person to whom one gives birth.

Back to scripture. Again, it is impossible to believe that anyone -- and certainly no committee! -- could be creative enough to pull it off. Indeed, it reminds me of dreaming, which we all surely do, but which none of us can consciously produce. Sure, we can be creative, but imagine being able to close your eyes and enter a world as vivid and seemingly real as dreams are. Can't do it. Although I do wonder about someone like Shakespeare, or someone like Mozart vis-a-vis musical worlds.

At any rate, Voegelin agrees that this business of scripture can't simply be "dismissed as clever invention," because no one is that clever. Indeed think of someone like L. Ron Hubbard, who thought he was clever enough to invent a religion. The best he can manage is bad but very expensive science fiction.

Nor could a manmade invention "remain historically effective for two thousand years," much less "mobilize the experience of the comprehensive, prepersonal reality breaking forth into self-illuminating truth." Who can do that? I would say that truly great works of art do something similar, but only by way of pale analogy.

Note the fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity. The former revolves around laws which are disclosed to the collective. The collective attempts to discern and comport with the law in order to become "divinized," so to speak. In other words, by following God's will, the group will manifest some of the sanctity and holiness that emanate from the divine reality.

With Christianity the accent shifts to the individual, or in my opinion to an individuality that could only have been incubated in the prior Judaic matrix (which means womb). It is fair to say that subsequent to the appearance of Christ, the Church stands for both the Virgin and for Israel, as a kind of saint-making -- or sanctity enabling -- thingummy. A womb, as it were... So yes, do vote with your lady parts.

What I mean is that the earthly measure of a revelation and tradition is its saint-making capacity. With reference again to L. Ron, we know Scientology isn't a real religion because it never has and never will product a saint, and the only sanctity in it is transparently phony. It's a womb alright -- for idiots and psychopaths.

So with the appearance of Christ we have this new insight of "the universal presence of divine reality as the source of illumination in every man." In other words, the shift is from law to light, and collective to individual. (And of course, the same shift may be seen in esoteric Judaism, i.e., Kabbalah, if I am not mishuggen.)

Recall what was said above about the divinization of the community. In Christ we have the full instantiation, the maximal presence, of divinity in the individual, in a way that man can never achieve on his own, irrespective of how much effort he puts into it, or how hard he pulls on his own buddhastraps. So the appearance of Christ is good news / bad news.

The bad news? He has muscles in places you don't have places.

The good news? "by responding to this maximal fullness through faith," men may "achieve the fullness of their own existence" (Voegelin).

Out of time. As always, I apologize in advance to our Jewish friends for misunderstanding / misrepresenting / misconscrewing up anything. I'm just winging it, in case no one's noticed.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

¡¿ Out of This World ?!

The world is not of this world. Or, the world has an exit out of itself. This exit is called Man.

You no doubt recall page 181, where man is confronted with the option of being pulled back into the hivemind or moving upward, into a "new dimension beyond the boundaries of the senses."

Yes, our uptight furbears "began envisioning and longing for the whole, for an ideal existence located somewhere in the past, an eden, or in the future, a heaven, where all tensions are resolved, the circle is unbroken, and we are returned to the source from whence we came."

Blah blah blah, the earliest definitive documentation of conscious human awareness of the exit appears in the Upanishads, which were probably composed between 1,000 and 600 BC.

Looks like Voegelin concurs: "The finest early explorations of the movement in this second [read: vertical] direction are certain dialogues of the Upanishads," which take the reader up and out of the horizontal, to what the Vedic seers call Brahman.

Which is what now?

"It is not a further knowable thing; it rather is the reality at which the questioning has to stop, not because the movement has been futile, but because this reality, by its position beyond the knowable hierarchy of things, reveals itself as the answer to the questioning ascent."

The movement of history results in further differentiation of this compact truth, for example, in Augustine's insight "that the super-reflective truth, when reached by the reflective ascent, illuminates the questioning as a response to the movement of divine presence in the soul."

By now you will have gnosissed that the very quest-ion which motivates the quest for the aeon -- which we symbolize (?!) for the sacred WTF -- "leads to the Beyond of the world because it is not altogether of the world in which it is asked."

In other worlds, not only does (↑) evoke (↓), but in the end -- or top -- it turns out that (↑) and (↓) were allone allalong.

Hohohoho, Mister Finn, you're going to be Mister Finnagain!

Note however that this is a differentiated one, "a movement of revelatory appeal from the divine side and a countermovement of apperceptive and imaginative response from the human side." In other words, "Both appeal and response belong to the one reality that becomes luminous in the experience."

So we really have a threesome here, although it is more difficult to conceptualize the Third than it is the first two. I am reminded of a passage by Eliot: Who is the third who walks always beside you? / When I count, there are only you and I together / But when I look ahead up the white road / There is always another one walking beside you.

This touches on the famous space we have discussed in the past, where it all goes down. It is the immaterial space inhabited and colonized by humans. When my seven year-old asks why he has to go to school, I respond as any parent would: "Why do you think? So you can colonize hyperspace and not be a moron."

It goes without saying that many things can go wrong with this space, for the simple reason that they can go right.

For example, as Voegelin describes, the space can become "eclipsed" if our two partners -- divine and human -- are reified into a rigid duality, or compressed into a single entity. Doing so destroys "the dynamics of movement and counter-movement in the event of reality becoming luminous," resulting in "a wasteland of static objects."

Respect the space!

Voegelin makes another subtle point about the relationship between language and the Space. Because this space is a kind of living byproduct of the divine-human encounter, it is a mistake for the serious pneumanaut to try to overburden it with a lot of predigested language.

Rather, give this space some space. Let it breathe. Enter it and let language take care of itself, as I am doodling at the moment. Otherwise you run the risk of superimposing the lower on the higher, or the terrestrial on the celestial, i.e., deepaking the chopra.

Eh, that's it for today. Gotta get some work done.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Spending Time Out of Time in a Space Out of Space

We're still meditating on the Beginning and the Beyond, two constructs that are trickier than common usage would suggest. To put it bluntly, we don't really know what we're talking about when we use these words.

Rather, they are more like empty placeholders that designate a limit or boundary -- in this case, the boundary between finite and infinite; or just say knowable and unknowable, like a flashlight that illuminates a spherical area and leaves everything else in darkness. The finite is just a little luminous space in the infinite.

In space we are aware of four cardinal directions (north, west, east, and south), plus up and down. Likewise, in time we are aware of two directions that extend out from the present. But "as he moves in either of the two directions," writes Voegelin, "man the questioner will find himself both frustrated and illumined."

Try to imagine the situation of premodern man confronted with the enigma of time. It's both more difficult and easier than you might think, because each of us is superimposed, so to speak, on a premodern man, just as we are on a mammal (the midbrain) and a reptile (the hindbrain).

You might say that the whole phenomenon of existentialism emerged as a result of modern men who were suddenly denied the comforting -- and containing -- myths of antiquity, and therefore had to confront the vastness of time and space with no map and no direction home.

Thus, a Pascal -- who was not an existentialist but could see where history was headed -- described the terror of "the eternal silence of these infinite spaces," and of being "engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me."


So: "As he moves back on the time line," man will soon enough "discover the regress to be indefinite." One will not find any kind of beginning in time; rather, only more time, time after time.

Recall what was said above about the six directions of space and the two directions of time. It turns out that there two additional directions that extend out from the present. Let's just call them Up and Down; thus, in the present moment we may face forward, backward, up, or down.

The Up and Down need to be emphasized, for it is only because of them that it is possible to "see" the forward and the backward. Animals, for example, don't have a history because they have no vantage point to see -- or make -- it. They are both in and of time, whereas man is of time but partly of something else as well.

I won't dwell on it, but we've just hit on one of the essential distinctions between left and right. For the left there is no vantage point outside history, and thus no universal or permanent truths. Rather, everything is conditioned by history, and this historicism condemns man to be both in and of time, full stop.

Of course, no leftist believes this consistently or in his bones, because a leftist is still a man, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. Every leftist will still speak passionately of "social justice" or "women's rights" or "marriage equality," as if these things can exist outside his animal desires.

Back to the Beginning. Again, searching for it backward in time is (literally) a non-starter.

Okay, what about down? Good choice! "The ground [man] is seeking is to be found, not in the things of the cosmos and their time dimension, but in the mystery of a creative beginning of the cosmos in a time out of time."

Language suitable for describing profane time and space begins to break down when we try to apply it to higher and lower dimensions. Nevertheless, we need not "abandon the directional index" of before and after, "but use it analogically to symbolize the divinely-creative beginning of a reality that has a time dimension after all."

In other words, we are using the word "beginning," but applying it to the vertical instead of the horizontal. In so doing, this "analogical symbol will denote... a beginning in the analogical time of a creation story." The myths that arise from this ground serve to articulate "the truth of a cosmos that is not altogether of this world."

WE ALL KNOW -- on pain of cashing in our humanness -- that neither we nor the cosmos are reducible to This World. If that weren't the case, then you wouldn't even be free to disagree with me.

Therefore, "the reality of things, it appears, cannot be fully understood in terms of the world and its time; for the things are circumfused by an ambience of mystery that can be understood only in terms of the Myth."

Good word, "circumfused."

More miraculous than the creation story itself is the miracle of a human imagination that finds the symbols to express a myth that is adequate to the (infinite) subject. As we've mentioned before, the more one studies Genesis, the more one is convinced that it must have a divine source -- or that it specifically flourishes in the vertical space between man and God (no less today than 3,000 years ago).

We're talking about illiterate nomads on the lam here, not theologians or metaphysicians writing from the comfort of their book-lined slackatoreums. And yet, they came up with something to keep theologians and metaphysicians busy forever.

As Voegelin writes, we are converging on the reality "of an imagination and a language that is itself... not altogether of this world."

You don't say.

True, but you never stop trying.

Not much "time" this morning. "Out!"

(Unless otherwise indicated, all the quotes are from Voegelin)

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.”


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