Friday, December 20, 2013

Truth Served Here

I can't tell if this post is difficult because the subject is difficult or because my brain is just being difficult. Nevertheless, here it it. If nothing else, it demonstrates why this blog will always have an upper limit of popularity.

I am in 100% agreement with Berdyaev in his assertion that "Truth is revealed only by the creative activity of the spirit; outside this, truth is incomprehensible and unattainable." Here again, this goes to the freedom without which truth cannot be known. So, in freedom we discover the truth that truth may only be discovered in freedom.

The bottom line is that freedom, truth, and creativity are all bound together, to such an extent that they are really three sides of the same object. What could be this higher object? Person, perhaps? Well, for Berdyaev, "I am the Truth" equates to "The Absolute Man is Truth," so we seem to be sniffing around in the same attractor.

Or, if we reverse imagineer Person, what do we discover? Freedom. Creativity. Truth. What else? Love, which is free and creative goodness; beauty, which is the truth of creativity; virtue, which is the beauty of freedom.

These seem to be the biggies. There is also courage, which is fighting for what is good and true; prudence, which is the balanced consideration and application of all these general factors in particular situations; and justice, which, according to my son, means treating others the same way they mess with you.

What about personal failure, i.e., the failure to become a proper person? What are these assouls missing? Well, let's see, it depends. There is Harry Reid, who is soulless; Nancy Pelosi, who is brainless; Barack Obama, who is ruthless; the media-academic complex, which is truthless; the politico-cultural left, which is freedomless; etc.

Each of these testifies to a "social accumulation of lies which have been made into social norms," and to sub-persons who "consider falsehood more useful than truth." Indeed, falsehood is always useful, even pragmatic, whereas the highest truths are completely useless to the depraved worldlings who worship power instead of truth. Their falsehood is "holy duty" for the sake of some higher purpose revealed only to them, e.g., socialized medicine.

In contrast to these fractured fairytools, "Truth, the one integral truth, is God, and to perceive Truth, is to enter divine life."

And "truth serves no one and nothing." Rather, "we must serve truth" (Berdyaev, emphasis mine).

Now, here is a subtle point: can truth be "proved?" Yes and no. The answer is "no" if by proof we mean by using only the tools of the tenured, because such tools are ultimately tautologous.

In reality, the world is an open system, so nothing within the world can possibly contain the world in its own truth. Thus, according to Berdyaev, what is called "proof" may well be "an obstacle of necessity encountered in the way of knowing the truth," for "every proof rests in the unproven."

For this reason, "Creative philosophy must free itself from the tempting power of proof, must fulfill the act of renouncing this safe adaptation to necessity." The operative word there is creative philosophy, for there can be no end to creativity, even while it must be oriented to a truth that can never be attained, i.e., proved.

Rather, it seems that truth must be assumed, or better, lived, in free creativity. To simply "prove" it in the mundane way would be an end of the adventure, would it not? After all, no one spends their life in search of a truth already proved.

Indeed, that word: "proved." It is in the past tense. But what if truth is in the future, or vertically above? In that case it can never be proved, if only because of the temporal structure of reality. You could say that to prove it would spell the end of time. In other words, if there were a fully attainable timeless truth, it would deny the distinct -- and humanly vital -- differences between past, present, and future.

In the closed world of scientistic proof, truths are necessary truths, and therefore undermine creativity, i.e, truth lived. This kind of truth is adaptation to the world, whereas the very different truth we are advocating involves adaptation to... to what?

We can't say what, because to say it would be to contain it in language, which is the one thing we cannot do, on pain of neutralizing it. Which is why we use the placeholder O to accumulate the truth-meaning which never stops. I hope. Its most important feature is the hole in the middle, which, thankfully, is always half empty. If it weren't, I would have nothing left to say with this big shovel.

"In philosophy, what had been proved would not be creative knowledge: it would only be adaptation." This latter type of proof "lies always in the middle, neither at the beginning nor at the end, and hence there can be no proof of initial or final truths."

Except perhaps in the appearance of the first and last, Absolute Man, i.e., Alpha and Omega. Thus, "The reason why Jesus did not reply to Pilate's question, 'What is truth?,' is related to this. He was Truth, but Truth which is to be divined and discovered through the whole course of history."

"There is no criterion of truth outside the witness of truth itself, and it is wrong to seek absolute guarantees, which always demean the truth. Such is the consciousness of man, at the borderline between two worlds."

And in this confined area, "pure truth" would "burst the world apart" (Berdyaev).

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On the Virtue of Moderate Vice

Not much time again this morning, so I suppose we can complete our list of top ten favorite releases of 2013.

Nah, I'd just ignore this post, which is both substandard and self-indulgent. See you tomorrow!

You will have noticed that I like to collect box sets. Why is this? Because I am the ideal sucker identified by Big Music back in the early '90s, when the music industry started to go south. At the same time, it dawned on them that they made more money from their back catalogs than from new product, and with the conversion to CD, it was an opportunity to re-sell everything to aging boomers -- precisely the demographic that regarded music as a substitute religion and albums as a kind of sacred object.

They know my weakness. They know that I could never be satisfied with just having my music on my computer or in the cloud, whatever that is. Rather, I must have the physical object. It's the same way with books, of course, but there's a good reason for that, since my books are my files, what with all the gnotes and thoughtlets contained therein

Have I ever recovered from this curious illness of my youth? No. However, I place it under the heading of "moderate vice." That's a phrase Dennis Prager uses to describe the legitimate human need to let off steam, or waste one's time, or be selfish, or engage in stupid or indulgent things.

If we try to be perfect, we will of course fail, or just get frustrated, or feel guilty. But we can't just stop trying, and give ourselves over to the dark side. Therefore, Prager advocates moderate vice as a way to manage our subrational impulses. In his case, I know he spends a queer amount of time at the camera store, ogling the products. And he too spends too much money on music and audio equipment.

But in my case, I actually sell quite a few things on amazon -- either that or trade them in for credit at Amoeba, my favorite record store, which reduces the guilt. But sometimes I just can't stop myself, especially when I see a Fantastic Bargain.

Example: I've had a particular item in my shopping cart for months, hoping the price would come down. It was a 10 CD box set of Jerry Lee Lewis from the legendary Bear Family Records in Germany, renowned for its loving reissues of CosmoAmerican music. The list price is like $250, but someone was selling one for close to $100. So, how was I supposed to resist? Even so, Mrs. G. doesn't need to know about this, okay?

For those of you who only know Jerry Lee from the handful of hits in the 1950s, you don't know Jerry Lee, for in latter half of the '60s and into the '70s, he became the finest interpreter of country music ever. Some people think it was George Jones, but he just doesn't do much for me. Too hick sounding. To my ears, Jerry Lee is the Sinatra of country music, so inimitable is his phrasing. He is such a stylist that he can inhabit any song and make it his own -- even signature songs of others, for example, Me & Bobby McGee, or even Somewhere Over the Rainbow (he sings it with such weariness and resignation).

Jerry Lee is without question one of a handful of touchstones of CosmoAmericana, others being, for example, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Dylan, Brian Wilson, Aretha, Sinatra, James Brown -- people who stand so far above the crowd, that they are consistently coming from some transcendental place. You know, where the soul of man never dies.

Hmm. Rather than the best releases this year, how about the best Cosmo-American releases ever -- the ones that would be the foundation of any comprehensive collection?

How about this four CD collection of Aretha's legendary Atlantic recordings, Queen of Soul. It is just insanely great, and I envy the person hearing her for the first time. Lots of chills & tingles.

Or how about Ray Charles' seminal Atlantic recordings, The Birth of Soul? Again, it's coming from some other place, either beyond music or the source of music. Neither he nor Aretha ever reached this pinnacle after leaving Atlantic.

James Brown? Best place to begin is no doubt Star Time, although I ended up trading that one in and collecting the complete singles, at least up to volume seven. That's 14 discs, and still only scratches the surface of his output.

Well, out of time. Maybe I'll continue this at a later date, if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Natural Evolution vs. Supernatural Revolution

This post brings up a self-important point, one where I differ from the so-called "evolutionist," "integralist," "evolutionary enlightenment" type thinkers (although I once would have counted myself among their number).

These folks think of our humanness as a sort of inevitable development in an evolutionary chain that extends not only back to the dawn of life, but to the origins of the cosmos itself. It has been most thoroughly explicated by Ken Wilber, probably most comprehensively in his weirdly titled Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. I read it back when it came out in 1995, and it may even have had a hand in inspiraling me to come up with my own "comprehensive paradigm," so to speak.

No, I would say it definitely did, since Wilber was pretty much the only guy, or at least the most famous, who was attempting this sort of total synthesis of science, religion, philosophy, psychology, and everything else. However, once I plunged more deeply into the primary literature, it led me in different directions that are still being worked out, one post at a time, here in blogsville.

The above three paragraphs were provoked by a statement by Berdyaev, to the effect that human consciousness is a revolutionary development "which cannot be arrived at by means of either logic or evolution." This revolution is outside and beyond the boundaries of all science and all philosophy, for it represents a radical discontinuity with all that has come before.

Yes, there are continuities, obviously; but in its essence, human consciousness is absolutely unlike anything else in all of creation. Evolution doesn't really have room for true creative novelty, since its apparent novelty is just an illusory result of random accidents, not any conscious intent.

Furthermore, evolution does not, and cannot, confer meaning on existence. Rather, it is only humans who decipher meaning in an evolutionary process that cannot account for it. Humanly speaking, there can be nothing "higher" than the love of truth. It is not as if we will "evolve" beyond such love; rather, one can only progress backward, as in deconstruction, multiculturalism, leftism, etc.

The only thing we can really compare ourselves to is God, for only God could have such godlike faculties. Certainly animals don't, no matter how hard sociobiologists try to straighten the squeer.

In short, the gap between man and animal is infinite, which is one of the things that gives rise to an intuition of the infinite (no animal contemplates the infinite). Likewise, the distinction between truth and untruth is absolute, which testifies to our conformity to the Absolute.

Wilber posits a kind of implicate cosmic ladder upon which existence ascends on its way back to being. He wouldn't put it that way, but one of his main principles is that evolution is ontologically preceded by involution, so evolution is essentially a recovery of what is implicate in existence.

This is too neat, too linear, too rationalistic for my taste. It especially overlooks the role of freedom and of creativity, each of which is the very essence of nonlinearity, and irreducible to anything else.

In fact, it can be said that discontinuity as such is a function of freedom and creativity, which are after all the opposite of determinism and reductionism. No great work of art can be predicted by its antecedents or reduced to its particulars. Rather, it is an entirely new Cosmic Fact, not any kind of predictable evolutionary advance.

So, "Man's creative act is accomplished on a plane of being over which the competence of science does not extend..." And "only he who is free, creates," just as creativity is one of the highest expressions of freedom lived. For "true creativity is theurgy, God-activity, activity together with God." It is a reflection of the original "creation from nothing" that characterizes God's own creativity:

"Creativity is the supreme mystery of life, the mystery of the appearance of something new, hitherto unknown, derived from nothing, proceeding from nothing, born of nothing other.... Man's creation of something from nothing must be understood as his creativity out of freedom" (Berdyaev) -- again implying that freedom is "nothing" until it meets with the creative response. Thus, in the end, we can truly say that the human world is "made of nothing," otherwise we would be like animals, who essentially have only preprogrammed responses to environmental stimuli.

Man can continue to be "creative" in the absence of God, but this eventually fades with distance from the animating divine principle. Thus, "When natural man creates, not for God but for himself, he creates non-being." This would also be the other kind of "nothingness" of the existentialists, i.e., radical non-determination in the absence of any orienting telos.

At its extreme, this approach attempts to make man into a god, e.g., as in Nietzsche, or Nazism, or certain New Age trends. "But once you have denied God and deified man, man falls to a level lower than the human, since man remains at the height of dignity only as image and likeness of a higher divine being; he is true only when he has sonship with God."

So there is a radical discontinuity with nature, a discontinuity that places us precisely "nowhere" in the absence of the continuity, or lineage, of divine sonship. In other words, either we are a relative of the absolute, or else existential orphans pleading for mercy on the grounds that we have killed God.

We must note the distinction between evolution and progress. Evolution is a naturalistic category, while progress is a spiritual category: it predicates evaluation from a viewpoint of a higher principle than the natural process of change. The idea of progress is of [Judeo-]Christian origin... --Berdyaev

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Barack Obama in Hell

They just can't help it. Demonize anyone to the right of Marx, that is. I'm speaking of this new free verse translation of Dante's inferno, by Mary Jo Bang, in which she uses familiar terms, contemporary references, urban slang, and other colloquialisms in order to render the text more relevant and comprehensible to modern ears. Bueno. Much of it works very well.

In fact, I had the same idea in mind with the Cosmogenesis and Cosmobliteration sections of the book. In particular, there are a number of musical references packed in there, and at least one of them -- John Coltrane's A Love Supreme -- is referenced in the Inferno as well. Bang puts it in Canto I, where it reads

It was daybreak, the sun was rising with the stars / That were with it when the first clock started -- The spring wound by the hand of a love supreme

In the Coonifesto, we read Spiraling outside in, past the viaduct of dreams, the seventh trumpet dissolving in shee-its! of sound, One Living Being, Life of All, A Love Supreme, take the coltrain to the old grooveyard...

No, I'm no Dante, but I do have a noetic license, so there is also a reference there to the book of Revelation, to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks ("viaduct of dreams") and to Coltrane's early saxophone style (called by one reviewer "sheets of sound").

For that matter, the Coonifesto has a reference to the Poet himself on pp. 253-254, with "the Love that removes the sin and other scars (speaking allegheirically)." This is a play on the last line of the Divine Comedy ("the Love that moves the sun and other stars") and on Dante's full name (Alighieri).

By the way, why did he call it a comedy? Because our Florentine pneumanaut starts off in some deep shit and ends in happiness -- whereas in tragedy it is the other way around. And ultimately, like Finnegans Wake, it is meant to be about all of us, in all times and all places. For example, in Canto XVI, our Unknown Friend says By this Comedy, / If it ever makes its way into the world, I swear to you, / Reader -- my alias, my twin...

So anyway, things are going pretty well in hell until we reach the 21st Canto -- the seventh circle, close to the bottom -- where we meet a variety of human monsters such as the mass murdering Killer Clown John Wayne Gacy; the sadistic wife of a Nazi concentration camp commandant; Gestapo captain Klaus Barbie; former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi; genocidal Serbian commander Dragon Nikolić; a sadistic female Nazi concentration camp warden; and, of course, "crazy Rummy," AKA Donald Rumsfeld.


Does this not demonstrate how a tenured tool may spend her entire life immersed in a text, and yet, miss the whole point? What kind of moral retard confuses an American Secretary of Defense with mass murderers and genocidal Nazis?

Wrong question. What kind of morally stunted ovary tower hackademic doesn't?

She also missed a number of divinely golden comedic opportunities, for example, in circle five, which houses the "lifelong angry," where "Mud-covered souls gnaw at one another the way fury once gnawed them from inside out." Why not just say MSNBC? (Hey, the acronym even works: Mudcovered Souls @ NBC.)

In the same circle are the "sad-faced pouters, who never had a good word or a pleasant thought to offer." Why not just say feminists? That way she could say something both funny and true! But then she wouldn't be a feminist...

But where she really misses an opportunity is in circle eight, which is even lower than Rumsfeld's nasty home. It "is divided into ten concentric crevices, each for a type of fraud distinctly punished in a manner that befits it."

Fraud... fraud... What would be a possible contemporary reference to really serious and hellworthy fraud? It would have to be big, like the most massive fraud ever perpetrated on the American people. Hmm... thinking. Maybe Mitt Romney pretending not to be a mass murderer?

Down in the eighth circle we meet Geryon, "an image of fraud with the face of an affable man, but whose body is pure serpent."

An affable man... but pure serpent... hmm... Maybe a politician. Can't be a conservative though, since no conservatives are affable. Rather, they're all mean and hateful, so that won't work.

As we make our descent, we "see how plastic fraud is as it assumes many forms." Maybe it would help if we define fraud:

"A false representation of a matter of fact -- whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed -- that deceives and is intended to deceive another so that the individual will act upon it to her or his legal injury."

So, lying and concealing in order to sell us something we wouldn't want if the truth were known.

I've got it! All the Democrats who voted to authorize the war in Iraq? Nah, most Republicans voted for that as well...

As we make our way toward circle nine, "fraud and violence merge," and we see "what happens when might marries a monster."

Let's see... the state supposedly has a monopoly on the use of legitimate violence. But what if fraud was used in order to gain this monopoly, and the violence is deployed in order to enforce the fraud?

I've got it: Fox News, which has such a monopoly over the competition! Except for the fraud and violence, it's a perfect fit. And it will get big laughs in the faculty lounge.

... every wrong that Heaven hates is / In the end, an injustice. Each injustice injures / Someone -- either by violence, or else through fraud.

Since fraud is an evil unique to humankind / God hates it all the more. Therefore, / Schemers are farther down, so suffer greater pain. --translation by Bang

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Four Dimensions of Freedom

We've been having a lively discussion on the question of free will vs. predetermination. It seems to me that there are four different perspectives on this, two religious and two secular. Therefore, depending upon where one comes down on it, a religious person might have more in common with a secular person, and vice versa.

For example, it is not just certain religious believers who affirm predetermination, but certain scientistic materialists as well. Since free will is incomprehensible in any materialistic scheme, materialists will go to absurd lengths to try to convince themselves it doesn't exist. For example, a while back -- can't find the link -- we highlighted a physicist who argues that everything was preprogrammed into the big bang. Why not? If one is going to embrace an absurdity, might as well go all in.

At the other end we have the religious and secular believers in freedom as an ultimate category. The latter are generally known as existentialists, in that they believe our existence is entirely shaped by our freedom. There is no word for religious believers in freedom. I want to say "Christians," but let's not be snarky. If I am not mistaken, Kierkegaard might be regarded as the first self-conscious Christian existentialist; in fact, wikipedia says he was the first existentialist, full stop.

That would be ironic, if anti-religious assouls such as Sartre could trace their grubby lineage right back to Christianity! For again, what other religion (or let us say "religious stream," so as to include Judaism) posits freedom as an absolute value?

I think, however, that one could argue for Pascal as the first. For example, this has a very existential ring to it:

"For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed."

And why did Pascal appear when he did, in the 17th century? Because this is precisely when man was becoming increasingly aware of the problem of freedom -- since he didn't have much of it prior to modernity -- and how it seemed to create a "distance" or space between man and God.

As it so happens, I've had this battered copy of Christian Existentialism for so long, that I purchased it back when I more or less considered myself an atheist/existentialist. So, how did I find out about Berdyaev? No doubt via Ken Wilber. What does Wilber say about him? I don't know. Let's find out.

In Up From Eden (1981), he has a quote from Berdyaev on the nature of freedom vis-a-vis paradise:

"Not everything was revealed to man in paradise, and ignorance was the condition of life in it. It was the realm of the unconscious."

How does this line up with tradition? Unfortunately, most of my books are stored away again while the remodel marches limps on, so I can't access most of my Jewish sources. However, there is this, from Rabbi Telushkin, which is very mainstream, with no added esoterism:

"Yet, as good as it was, creation was still unfinished. The Rabbis of the Talmud deduced from God's ceasing to create that it is humankind's mission to serve as God's partner in finishing His creation and perfecting the world." And "The prevailing attitude among Jewish scholars is that people sin as Adam and Eve sinned, not because they sinned." In other words, freedom -- in particular, to distinguish good from evil -- is preserved.

I'm also looking at John Paul II's Man and Woman He Created Them, but there is waaaaay too much to summarize. Well, this: with the injunction about the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Genesis introduces the subject of free will and self-determination, whereby man becomes a "partner of the Absolute."

Back to Wilber, who further quotes Berdyaev: "Man's freedom was not as yet unfolded, it had not expressed itself... Man rejected the bliss... of Eden and chose the pain and tragedy of cosmic life in order to explore his destiny to its inmost depths. This was the birth of consciousness with its painful dividedness" (ellipses his).

So, the Fall cuts both ways, with a loss and gain. But there is no way to regain what was lost by going backward -- which again distinguishes the Judeo-Christian stream from all other religions and philosophies of antiquity. There's no putting the truthpaste back in the rube.

Now back to Christian Existentialism. Here again is where things get controversial, for Berdyaev writes that "At the end of the Christian path there dawns the consciousness that God expects from man such a revelation of freedom as will contain even what God Himself has not foreseen.

"God justifies the mystery of freedom, having by His might and power set a limit to his own foreseeing," since "such foreknowledge would have done violence to and limited man's freedom in creation. The Creator does not wish to know what the anthropological revelation will be."

Now seriously folks, who in his right mind would?

Me, I like this angle because it gets God off the hook for foreseeing the unspeakable evil in his creation and going with it anyway. For one thing, what if evil is a kind of "non-being?" If so, how can being know non-being? How also can the absolute good know absolute evil, for this implies the presence of evil in God (for only like can know like)?

In any event, "a determined freedom is no freedom at all." And a determined evil is absolute and eternal evil.

The Creator's idea of man is sublime and beautiful. So sublime and so beautiful is the divine idea of man that creative freedom, the free power to reveal himself in creative action, is placed within man as a seal and sign of his likeness to God, as a mark of the Creator's image....

Christ would not have been God-man if human nature is merely passive, unfree, and reveals nothing from within itself.... Man's likeness to God in His Only Son is already the everlasting basis for man's independent and free nature, capable of creative revelation...