Monday, February 03, 2014

Simpleminded Complexity as a Defense Against Simple Truth

Things can get complicated....

Which is precisely what they -- the Conspiracy -- want you to think. Because if things are complicated, then there are always Mitigating Circumstances. At worst, you are Guilty With Explanation, the explanation being it's complicated, or things aren't that simple, or hey, the modern world 'n stuff.

Complexity leads directly to the possibility of rationalization. It also leads directly to the left, since our problems are obviously too complex for us to solve or even understand. We need experts for that, experts like Obama or Pelosi, who have devoted their lives to understanding us and our problems.

Look at Obama, or Clinton. Those guys could have become personally wealthy, but instead are just lowly public servants, which is just a notch above slave, which shows you how humble they are.

Well, not everything is complex. For example, if you are a woman, then there is a war on you, so your personal failings are completely understandable and even inevitable, therefore forgivable.

Likewise if you're black, all your problems are a result of white conservatives, even if the latter have no power over you, as here in California.

But not everyone's problems are susceptible to a simple evasion. Consider, for example, homosexuals. They are more prone to mental illness, suicide, promiscuity, venereal disease, hepatitis, anal cancer, drug abuse, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, serial murder. And why are a third of molested children boys, if homosexual men are only a tiny fraction of the population?

Hey, what are you, a homophobe? It's complicated!

Except when it's simple, e.g., "homosexuality is a genetic condition."

Okay. What about rape? What, haven't you been to college? Simple: patriarchy. Misogyny. Gendered oppression.

But isn't maleness genetic too? So, aren't patriarchy and rape and female oppression just in the nature of things?

No, simpleton. It's complicated.

Hmmm... I'm starting to think this "appeal to complexity" is a new logical fallacy, just an expedient. One can well understand its appeal, since, with a little education, one can make the most simple thing in the world -- say, marriage -- fraught with ambiguity.

More generally, through the use of this fallacy, one's own positions are shielded behind a veil of bogus complexity, while countervailing opinions are too simple to even take seriously, say, "abstinence," or the plain meaning of the Constitution, or reducing the size and scope of government in order to stimulate the economy. Who ever heard of such crazy-simple ideas?!

Anyway, to return to our main subject, is it possible that the truth of man is actually quite simple, and that we have lost this truth behind a fog of modern and postmodern complexity?

For example, Schuon writes that "we believe that knowledge exists and that it is a real and efficacious adequation." Here, two simple claims are being put forth: that there is a reality and that man may know this reality.

The alternatives to this stance are all very complicated, but no amount of complexity can get one back to the simple truth one has abandoned at the outset. It is as if complexity is put forth as a substitute for truth, which it can never be. It reminds me of an incident yesterday, when I was questioning my son about an evident misdemeanor which he was obscuring behind a fog of mystamumblery. First came the complicated explanations before he gave up and said, "okay, here's what happened."

Why is there human intelligence? I mean, we know why there is animal intelligence, in the sense that the intelligence of this or that beast is an adequation to its external environment for the purposes of personal survival and genetic propagation. Simple, really.

Okay, let's apply that same simple principle to man. To what is his intelligence an adequation?

In order to be intellectually consistent, the strict Darwinian would have to provide the same answer, and at least a Richard Dawkins does just that. There is no special exemption for human intelligence, which is just a side effect of selfish genes.

But we suspect that it is both more simple and complex than that. And when I say "we," I mean Schuon and I. He speaks for me when he says that what distinguishes human from animal intelligence is "its objectivity and its totality."

This is a simple statement, in the sense that it is obvious, even self-evident. These categories -- objectivity and totality -- are not present in any other species, so we need to inquire as to how they got here.

First, perhaps we should define these two. "Objectivity" means the capacity for detachment and disinterest. It means the ability to stand apart from one's own subjectivity, and not just see things through the lens of self-interest. Our whole capacity for morality is predicated on this ability, as is our access to truth -- for if truth and morality are just varieties of self-interest, then they are not worthy of the names.

"Totality" means the capacity to see beyond one's narrow experiential horizon, to the universal, the eternal, the transcendent. Man, upon becoming man, theorizes about the whole, first in mythopoetic, eventually in scientific, terms. But man always has an implicit map of the totality in order to situate himself in a deeper or higher reality.

For Schuon, "objectivity" is a mode of the Absolute, while "totality" is a mode of the Infinite. Please think about that one for a moment, because it is another example of a simple, foundational human truth. Truth always partakes of the Absolute, because it Is what it Is, and there is -- fortunately! -- not a damn thing we can do about it. Thus, the truth is as "disinterested" as we must be in order to conform to it.

Totality is more complicated, since it is not absolutely specified, but rather, is... how to put it... a kind of radiation or prolongation of absoluteness, as if from the Center out. I believe Schuon would say it is a reflection of "all possibility," or of the infinitude implicit in absoluteness.

This would explain why, despite the fact that we live in this relative world, the relative is everywhere imbued with absoluteness. Or in other words, no matter where we look, there is always intelligibility and therefore truth. Thus, within the infinite creativity of the creation, we find the stamp of the Creator.

Which brings us back to the question of that to which man's intelligence is an adequation. "The reason for the existence of intelligence," writes Schuon, "is its adequation to the real."

And the Real is what now?

That's a little too simple to answer in the remaining time. To be continued.

8 Comments:

Blogger Magister said...

I'm glad you started this line of thinking, Bob. My eldest son is thinking about the sacrament of confirmation but is really thinking about it, meaning that whether or not to confirm is a live question for him. He's at a Montessori school run by lefty Catholics, so Mrs. Magister and I have to be engaged closely. The main rival to his faith is simply materialism. He sometimes wants to believe his senses tell him *everything,* but he's clearly unhappy with that. I told him that to see God, at least in my experience, requires a different kind of sense, a different kind of spiritual perception, but one that is just as real as material sight. I give him examples in my own life, but they're just examples. He has to see for himself.

I pray every night that I'm doing and saying what I ought, as his father.

2/03/2014 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

A classic on that subject -- the loss of higher truth -- is Ideas Have Consequences.

2/03/2014 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...a new logical fallacy...

You are right.

2/03/2014 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Kenneth gave me the right frequency this morning. I was thinking about how truth and the absolute are clothed differently depending on the culture.

The false complexity of surfaces is a good cover for deception. Deception is so much a part of the Fall. It's almost like you are better off not using certain aspects of intelligence. Jesus isn't deceptive, but He can be occult at times -- in the good sense.

River has a poem last week called "Reveilation". Must be in the wind.

2/03/2014 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

is it possible that the truth of man is actually quite simple, and that we have lost this truth behind a fog of modern and postmodern complexity?

We haven't lost it. It was attacked, too little defended, and for too many people, taken into willing slavery. It's amazing what a little pot of libidinous pottage can get you these days.

"Objectivity" means the capacity for detachment and disinterest. It means the ability to stand apart from one's own subjectivity, and not just see things through the lens of self-interest. Our whole capacity for morality is predicated on this ability

And so many people buy the line that, because complete objectivity isn't possible, more objectivity isn't desirable. You can be more objective and correct for your personal bias. It's just that people rightly feel they're in a big fight all the time. Being more objective means compromising your "side."

No one sees truth as desirable. All they want is for their side to win, i.e. to get to coerce everyone else.

2/03/2014 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Simpleminded Complexity as a Defense Against Simple Truth"

I hasn't gotten beyond the title and you've already summed up and nailed a host of issues!

Very economical post (readers "O" mileage may vary)!

2/03/2014 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

When Schuon talks about objectivity as a mode of the Absolute, and totality as a mode for the Infinite, this seems to line up with Godel's Consistency (objectivity) and Completeness (totality) idea.

2/03/2014 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Hmmm... I'm starting to think this "appeal to complexity" is a new logical fallacy, just an expedient. One can well understand its appeal, since, with a little education, one can make the most simple thing in the world -- say, marriage -- fraught with ambiguity."

Yes indeed, and with just a little education, the littler the better, then this,

""The reason for the existence of intelligence," writes Schuon, "is its adequation to the real."

And the Real is what now?"

With just the littlest education, what is Real can be made to not only not exist, but to still be whatever you want it to be!

Simple, really.

2/05/2014 06:16:00 AM  

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