Friday, April 25, 2014

Chronopathology and Deferral of the Now

Since the Others endlessly defer the now, I wonder if they literally miss out on life? Or worse, if this makes them inhabit a kind of ambiguous realm that is neither dead nor alive, i.e., undead?

It wouldn't have occurred to anyone to live this way prior to modernity, or before this thing called "progress" became readily discernible. In other words, if today is just like yesterday, and tomorrow will be just like today, there is absolutely no reason to hope for anything better and therefore project oneself out of the Church of What's Happening Now.

I think this attitude of now-deferral forms the essential structure of vulgar politics. Think back to the political ecstasy that accompanied the immaculation of Obama in 2008. Why the ecstasy? Because finally history was going to be righted, and things were going to change for the better: the evildoers had been vanquished and we could undertake the business of enjoying our lives. But do you see any evidence whatsoever of liberal joy over the past six years? No, it's just the same old hatred, bitterness, envy, and libel.

Life is only lived in the now. Or, as they say, it can only be understood backward but must be lived forward. What the so-called political junkie hides from himself is two principle truths, 1) that he is unable to enjoy life on its own terms, and 2) that he finds hated, bitterness, envy, and libel to be unpleasant. Thus, he does enjoy life in his own perverse way, locating the psychic bad in the now and naively projecting it into others, while displacing the good into the future.

Example? Here is something from a book called Obama's Challenge, by Robert Kuttner, published in 2008. Bear in mind that the future he prophesied six years ago is already past for us. We knew then that he "knows nothing," but now we can confirm it. For example, he writes that Obama "unmistakably possesses unusual gifts of character and leadership," and will use "his office to appeal to our best selves to change our economy, our society, and democracy for the better."

Yes, I'll pause a moment while you fetch your airsickness bag.

Obama has "the raw material to be a transformative president," what with his "exceptional skill at appealing to our better angels and a fine capacity to be president-as-teacher. He inspires, as only few presidents have done." Furthermore, he is "almost obsessed with the idea that people are sick of partisan bickering."

The writer cautions us that he himself is a sober, world-weary, and jaded journalist, "not a soft touch" or some kind of love-addled fanboy. Thus, when he looks at Obama in a coldly detached and dispassionate way, what does he see? First, "A capacity to truly move people and shift perceptions as well as bridge differences."

And second, "a principled idealist" whose wisdom is "breathtaking" and even "absurd" in its precocity. Furthermore, -- and the science is settled on this -- Obama has attained a level of moral development that "only a handful of American presidents have possessed." This is the "highest stage of moral development," "guided by near-universal ethical principles of justice..."

I don't know how this journalist could be any more detached and skeptical.

Obama's opportunistic campaign screed, The Audacity of Hope, is not some kind of opportunistic campaign screed, but rather, "subtle, complicated, and elegant." His "fervent desire to transcend difference is sincere." If anything, he's just too reasonable, too willing to be an easy-going centrist, so progressives will have to hold his feet to the fire.

Well, that sidetrack was completely unintended, but it does illustrate the extraordinary naiveté of these passionate progressives. But their credulousness is always accompanied by an equally hypertrophied projection of hatred. I won't bother you with examples from the same book, but suffice it to say that conservatives are the embodiment of all evil, which is why the past six years have been Heaven on Earth. Remember?

Back to the real world. Sugar Candy Mountain is not coming in our lifetime, because it is already here. Contrast Kuttner's now-deferral to Rush Limbaugh's healthy attitude toward his catastrophic deafness:

"I'm not complaining. I'm just trying to explain it. You adapt to it. It's miraculous. The way I look at this is, you look at the timeline of humanity... whatever number of years human beings have been on the earth, make that a 50-foot string, in your mind. And on that 50-foot string is the time we're alive. That's a speck of sand on that 50-foot string, maybe not even that big. And isn't it amazing that the time I happen to be alive on that 50-foot string also coincides with when humanity's brilliance and intelligence, technological achievement has advanced to the point of inventing the cochlear implant?

"If this had happened to me ten years before it did, it would have meant the end of my career and there wouldn't be any of this today. To think of ten years in the whole timeline, it's miraculous. So I'm describing this, not complaining at all. Don't misunderstand."

You could say that this is the opposite of John Edwards suggesting that the paralyzed Christopher Reeve would be able to walk if only you vote Democrat. Well, at least he's out of his wheelchair.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to show what asses liberals are, but rather, to highlight this pathological adaptation to time. In fact, Morson has a chapter devoted to temporal diseases, or what we might call chronopathologies. We implicitly think of mental illnesses as inhabiting the "space" of the mind, but what if some illnesses specifically involve distortions of time?

Morson comes at the subject in all sorts of novel ways. One problem, I think, is that the present, although it is indeed all we have, is inherently "incomplete." It is never enough. Thus, there are pathological ways of trying to make it enough, or to wring more out of it than there is in it.

Ultimately the only way to transform the vanishing nothingness of the now into something permanent is via God, an idea to which we will return shortly. But you definitely cannot redeem the now by packing it with all that future political goodness, as Kuttner does above. Nor is it healthy to escape the now into some utopian future. Rather, one has to start by facing the naked now, and acknowledging that it isn't and can never be enough.

In the book Faith Maps, Gallagher writes of the implicit connection between our freedom and our nothingness. Thus, "we come up against the basic fact that what is indispensable for a full life appears inaccessible -- at least if we rely on ourselves alone." The now is the gap in which we are alive, in which we think, in which we experience life. But the gap is by definition a gap, which is why we must "admit that left to our own devices we are incapable of fulfilling our hopes."

However, orthoparadoxically, "a confession of impotence becomes a springboard towards a greater freedom," for it entails "an openness to change... a 'death passing on to life' or 'dying that we must live.'" The chronopath essentially confuses healthy pain with a diseased state from which he must flee -- into the future, if necessary. But in reality, we should accept this "healthy and 'incurable discomfort' with the world."

This I like, and wish I had thought of when writing the Coonifesto: that is, instead of the ʘ symbol, a better pneumaticon would be an O with a smaller o inside -- like a torus or doughnut. Gallagher describes how Maurice Blondell found a similar image "to capture the core of his thought":

"He recalled that the dome of Pantheon in Rome has no keystone to hold it together. Instead there is an opening to the sky, through which light comes into the huge edifice. In similar fashion our spiritual journey reaches up, like an unfinished building, to a [vertical] gap through which divine light can shine.

"Thus the experience of incompleteness becomes positive" because "to become aware of our dissatisfaction with the finite is a pointer toward the infinite" -- and not toward another disappointingly finite and horizontal political future. But I suppose politics is the opiate of the secular masses.

25 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

I don't know how this journalist could be any more detached and skeptical.

Good grief - it's almost pornographic. I had almost forgotten just how deeply in love with the Idea of Obama and his Magical Mystery Hopium Tour they really were. I haven't seen that level of journalistic fellatio lately - I guess the romance has diminished. Sadly, it isn't dead yet...

4/25/2014 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

In reality, "we need a healthy and 'incurable discomfort' with the world."

Along those lines, and apropos Limbaugh's comments about the miracles of modern medical advances, this need is why all the crying about inequality - and especially income inequality - is so worrying.

Income inequality, at least American-style, is a healthy discomfort which helps to drive so much of what has been great about America. But the left cannot - or will not - distinguish between that healthy discomfort and the extremely unhealthy discomfort of everyday life in the worst third-world conditions. And so they raise a hue and cry to fight "inequality," quite possibly the most Quixotic mission ever attempted on a large scale. A Picketty comes out from under his rock and puts forth plans by which "the rich" may be punished above all others for daring to be successful - for the good of everyone, of course. To make things more fair. And if they win, we'll soon find that all of the wonders of modern living keep getting farther and farther out of reach.

Medical advances may still be made, but there will be very few who will be able to afford them.

4/25/2014 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

“Yes, I'll pause a moment while you fetch your airsickness bag."

Thank you.

4/25/2014 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

politics is the opiate of the secular masses

BANG

And of the ostensibly religious masses, too.

Oh, and if Obama is so "inspiring," why is Michelle so unhappy?

4/25/2014 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I guess not everyone's equally inspired by America's First Gay President.

4/25/2014 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

This guy's thoughts and whole approach are so similar to mine that it's freaking me out a little. Only finished a couple of chapters, but he's already outlined a Cosmic Christianity. He's got the firehose on full blast.

4/25/2014 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Christina M said...

The discussion on chronopathology is a revelation. Just about every single problem or issue I have right now is related to chronopathology or chronophobia. My husband came home from work and I asked if he had read the latest One Cosmos. He answered, "Yes, and it's all about you." I said, "That's exactly what I thought too." Ugh. Now to fix the problem. At least I have a better idea of what I'm working with. Thanks for the insight!

4/25/2014 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Bob, the description on that one looks interesting. Apropos, I think I scandalized a couple of nice Christian ladies tonight when I said something to the effect that I think Christ can be found within most deep religious studies, and that since Christ is in the Torah - or is the Torah - devout Jews are studying Christ whether they realize it or not, and it's okay to respect their faith.

4/25/2014 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

The now is the gap in which we are alive, in which we think, in which we experience life.

In the olden days of spark plugs, the right gap was essential to get fire.

4/25/2014 08:36:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

My wife, Patti often has difficulties fully appreciating the now, mostly due to worrying about the future and stuff we can't do anything about anyways.

Sometimes it upsets her because I appear less concerned than she is about the future and she is right, at least when it involves stuff I can't possibly do anything about.

She is making progress and learning to slow her thoughts down more when they get in an ADD or obsessive state.
I had no idea there was a name for it.

It's easy to fall into that trap, but it appears to be even more difficult without compartmentalizing.
Not that that's always enough because there is definitely unhealthy ways to compartmentalize as well.

Proper perspective is paramount, especially since most of our news is highly suspect to begin with.

Being passionately dispassionate (controlling our emotions rather than being controlled by them) is also a must.

4/25/2014 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I've been thinking about it, and it seems to me that anxiety isn't just woven into the nature of time, but that the two are nearly synonymous. Literally everything is slipping through our fingers -- but not forever! Which only heightens the anxiety. L

Lileks expressed it well in yesterday's bleat. He was sitting at the table gazing at his adolescent daughter, and thought to himself how beautiful she is. A Radiant Moment. A transient knot in the rope of time:

"One of those days when you’re aware that a rope is traveling through your hands, and you grasp a knot. And you note the knot and release your grip so the rope can keep going. The rope is attached to a balloon ever ascending. You will not be borne aloft. It’s not your place to rise. There will be a moment, you expect, when the balloon blots out the sun on its ascent. A brief darkness. It will pass.

"Expletive."

*****

Mrs. G has the same trouble. It's like the better things are, the worse -- or the impossible beauty of things provokes anxiety about their inevitable end. Children only heighten this temporal ambiguity to an impossible pitch. No wonder Buddhists try to absent themselves from the whole catastrophe!

4/26/2014 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Which goes back to this cosmic vein we've been exploring over the past six months or so, i.e., of a suffering and therefore changing God.

4/26/2014 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Here's an interesting hypothesis. Perhaps there are "temporal autoimmune disorders" because times are too good. From Jonah Goldberg's G-file:

"The "hygiene hypothesis" is the scientific theory that the rise in asthma and other autoimmune maladies stems from the fact that babies are born into environments that are too clean. Our immune systems need to be properly educated by being exposed early to germs, dirt, whatever. When you consider that for most of human evolutionary history, we were born under shady trees or, if we were lucky, in caves or huts, you can understand how unnatural Lysol-soaked hospitals and microbially baby-proofed homes are. The point is that growing up in a sanitary environment might cause our immune systems to freak out about things that under normal circumstances we'd just shrug off….

"If you think of bigotry as a germ or some other infectious-disease vector, we live in an amazingly sanitized society. That's not to say it doesn't exist, of course. And we can all debate how prevalent it is later.

"My point is that the institutions – the organs of the body politic – that are the most obsessed with eradicating bigotry (as liberals define it) tend to be the places that have to worry about it the least. The Democratic party is consumed with institutionalized angst about prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry in America. But the odds are that relatively few of these people (particularly those under the age of 50) have been exposed to much real racism or intolerance.

"The same goes for the mainstream media. In fact, many major media outlets have explicit policies dedicated to hiring and promoting minorities, women, gays, etc. Like the Democratic party, some have very strict hiring quotas in this regard. The well-paid executives and managers of these institutions come from social backgrounds where the tolerance for anything smacking of overt bigotry is not just zero, but in the negative range; they bend over backwards to celebrate members of the officially recognized coalition of the oppressed. (Of course, this coalition doesn't include traditional-minded Christians, but that's a subject for another column.)"

*****

For most of human history, the temporal immune system was much stronger due to the routine experience of tragedy. But most of us are so seldom visited by true tragedy that we experience more instead of less anxiety.

4/26/2014 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

That's an interesting point. Last night I was struck again, as I often am, by how anxious devout Christian women tend to be. It seems as though they are so determined to make sure that everyone they meet knows Jesus, they don't know how to just enjoy their lives. Which is sort of ironic, because a lot of them would describe themselves as "joyful" - they just don't come across they way, at least from what I've seen.

4/26/2014 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

To the point, they don't generally seem to anticipate much tragedy coming down, but the very lack makes them more, not less, anxious to save everyone

4/26/2014 09:03:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Referring back to the Morson, I'm just now getting to his discussion of Anna Karenina. I read that one a decade or so ago, and didn't like it - or rather, her - for all the reasons he discusses. She seemed incapable of appreciating any of the blessings she had, instead wasting her time longing for - and constantly whining about - the things that were out of her grasp. I've known people like that; they are exhausting.

4/26/2014 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Bob, that is an interesting point. We think we have entered a higher moral ground in history, but truly we have not been tested to extent as our ancestors. Charles Murray made an interesting point in his Coming Apart book where a study was cited showing racism actually goes up when neighborhoods become more diverse. Look at the homogeneous culture of the Netherlands being infiltrated with more Muslims and how there is a backlash on tolerance. Abstract notions of tolerance mean nothing unless we have skin in the game.

On another note, Jason Silva released a cool video short on the anxiety you allude to.

4/26/2014 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

On the lines of seeing a child grow older, I saw a masterpiece at a film festival in Boston this week called Boyhood.

The most fascinating aspect of this narrative film is the director casted a boy at age 6 and filmed the story over 12 years. It's quite extraordinary and seamless in it's nuances around life and coming of age. Highly recommended!

4/26/2014 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger JWM said...

I was making a joke about time, just yesterday. You know how it is- Some weeks fly by with astonishing speed while others creep like the 'running in glue' nightmare. What if time itself moves at an uneven pace. Maybe it's analogous to atmospheric pressure, or fluid viscosity; maybe time has eddys and slipstreams. At any rate, it most certainly speeds up as you get older, and it always slows down in the presence of misery.

JWM

4/26/2014 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi JWM,
And when you're having fun time flies.

4/27/2014 05:53:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I like it. Time and weather may work the same way.

Which goes back to this cosmic vein we've been exploring over the past six months or so, i.e., of a suffering and therefore changing God.

I heard a preacher talking about how people are always asking him if he thought Jesus was about to return soon. As he pointed out, even Jesus kept telling His disciples, "I don't know." He's a pretty good Greek scholar, and he said that what the Lord means in Revelation when He says He is going to return "quickly" is not "right away" but "all of the sudden".

What I got from that confirms some of what we've been talking about: God knows the right time, but it's not on the calendar. Like driving to a place you've never been, you know how to get there, so you know where you are going in one sense, but the whole trip, including knowing when you arrive is a new experience.

4/27/2014 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

RE: Anna Karenina -- I want to kill Vronsky. I blame him, though, I suppose you are right, Anna doesn't appreciate Alexei, or her son.

4/27/2014 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of time, there isn't enough in the world to keep up with your reading lists, Bob. The next two on the list both look promising; I'll get on those, just as soon as I finish the three or four I'm still working on...

4/27/2014 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Volume 1 of The Experience of God is turning into a bit of a slog. The author isn't very concise or organized, and tends to repeat himself. Could have used an editor.

4/27/2014 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Christina M said...

This is exquisite and exactly what I'm experiencing: "Mrs. G has the same trouble. It's like the better things are, the worse -- or the impossible beauty of things provokes anxiety about their inevitable end. Children only heighten this temporal ambiguity to an impossible pitch."

4/28/2014 08:21:00 PM  

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