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: