Friday, May 30, 2014

Pushing Back the Vertical Frontier of Cosmic Slack

Not quite finished with The Age of Abundance, so I don't yet know what the author is ultimately driving at. Although I'm enjoying the book, since he's a libertarian, he doesn't understand "abundance" in the same way I do. For me, it equates to surplus, leisure, slack, vertical opportunity, and inward mobility, in that order.

To put it conversely, if there is no surplus, then all our time is spent attending to our most basic and primitive needs. No matter how much spiritual or intellectual potential you possess, you need protein and fat to maintain the brain and glucose to run it. Therefore, the realm of biological necessity is in one sense at odds with the realm of slack, but in another sense, the foundation or boundary condition for its emergence.

Analogously, an automobile relies on necessity in order to facilitate freedom. The engine, steering, and brakes all work because of the laws of physics, which we then transcend by using the car to take us where we want to go. Obviously, our free choices are not conditioned in the same manner as the internal workings of the automobile.

But as we've discussed in the past, that mysterious space between the laws of nature and the interior world of man is everything. Without it, there is no space of contemplation, no distance between impulse and expression, no possibility of introspection. So naturally -- or so it seems to me -- as that space becomes more expansive or available to more people, it's going to have profound consequences, both individually and collectively.

Again, the post-World War II generation -- the boomers -- were born into a world of unprecedented slack. This may sound exaggerated or maybe even funny, but it is absolutely true. There is simply no comparison between, say, my father's childhood and my own. He grew up on a small farm in rural England with no indoor plumbing or central heating, and had an 8th grade education before he was expected to join the anonymous ranks of hard labor.

His own father no doubt had even less slack, in that he worked for the British railway, which I'm guessing involved six days a week, twelve hours a day, until they hand you the watch and you have your heart attack.

But the unique economic circumstances of the post World War II US economy opened up a huge vein of cosmic slack. It is precisely because so many people were no longer tied down to the world of necessity that we see the sudden appearance of various countercultural movements that have culminated in a truly worthless person such as Obama making it to the top of the heap.

He is worthless because instead of using his slack in spiritually, intellectually or economically productive ways, he has used it to attack the very conditions that made it possible, while pursuing every policy that will directly diminish our slack-freedom. In short, he has used his slack to diminish the slack of others, which is an unforgivable cosmic crime for which he will have to answer in the postbiological world.

What is slack? Slack is what I am doing right now: just relaxing in the comfort of my own mental space, with no interior or exterior persecutors telling me what to do. It is Nothing, and yet Everything, depending upon what you do with it.

Lindsey suggests that the Fall of Man was a "descent into necessity." And this is indeed one way to look at it, since in our prelapsarian state we lived off whatever nature provided, but afterwards had to toil by the sweat of our brow to earn our bread. It says that this situation will prevail until we "return to the ground," which I suppose can be taken in two ways: until we are dead and buried, or until we return to Eckhart's primordial ground of slack.

This morning, while driving the boy to school, he asked how much money one has to have in order to be rich. I said that it all depends on the person, which means that wealth is a quality, even a state of mind, not a mere quantity. For a person with few needs, it isn't hard to be wealthy, but the more desires one has, the more money one requires in order to satisfy them.

I added that there are people who spend their lives trying to become wealthy, under the assumption that it wall make them happy. But since they spent their lives in the pursuit of wealth instead of cultivating the habit of happiness, it ends up backfiring.

Even a middle class person in America lives "on the far side of a great fault line, in what prior ages would have considered a dreamscape of miraculous extravagance" (Lindsey). Accompanying this shift was the change "from a scarcity-based mentality of self-restraint to an abundance-based mentality of self-expression."

Lindsey relates this to Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs, which ranges from basic physiological needs at the bottom to things like creativity and spontaneity at the top. However, the pyramid has a number of flaws that I would revise. The first thing I'd do is turn it the other way around to form a V-shape, in order to emphasize that as we ascend, the space becomes wider and more expansive. In other words, slack increases as we push back the vertical horizon.

Also, you will no doubt have noticed that many if not most people use their abundance not to ascend, but in order to try to widen out the narrow base of the pyramid. In other words, imagine someone who merely uses their wealth to satisfy more elaborate physiological needs. But there's nothing one can really do to make that world any roomier.

I mean, you can push back the margins a little, but the best way to do this is via discipline and physical fitness vs. mere indulgence. If one is physically fit, one feels "well" or "content" in that psychophysiological space, and can then use it as a more effective vertical launch pad.

You will also have noticed that when this space opened up in the 1950s, there was indeed a kind of bifurcation in horizontal and vertical directions. Horizontally we had the "sexual revolution," various liberation movements, public defecation masquerading as art, etc. But there was also a legitimate unleashing of spiritual energies.

For example, I have no doubt that this blog can be traced back to those liberating energies. Although there have been detours along the way, the overall thrust of my life has been using this extraordinarily rare gift of slack for vertical exploration and colonization. If you have slack you should try to give it back, not waste it, let alone steal it from others.

25 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

In other words, imagine someone who merely uses their wealth to satisfy more elaborate physiological needs. But there's nothing one can really do to make that world any roomier. ... If you have slack you should try to give it back, not waste it, let alone steal it from others.

On the plane ride home last night, in the wee small hours, the couple seated across from me started to get belligerent with the stewardess during the last hour or so of the flight, to the point where I half expected an air marshall to appear and ask if there was a problem. Which apparently there was, if you listened to the man. A huge one. The stewardess had the audacity to refuse to serve him another drink. By her count, he had had five already, but he insisted that he had paid good money for his "amenities," and expected to get as much as he wanted. His wife agreed.

They had their slack bought and paid for, you see, and they were apparently going to drown it in as much alcohol as they could while the getting was good.

Sounds like they were heading out for a cruise; I wonder how much of it they will remember, and whether they will actually be happy during any of it?

5/30/2014 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Spengler/Goldman is talking about Hans Urs von Balthasar in his current article.

5/30/2014 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Life these days is a free lunch, you know.

Bob says:

"Even a middle class person in America lives "on the far side of a great fault line, in what prior ages would have considered a dreamscape of miraculous extravagance" (Lindsey). Accompanying this shift was the change "from a scarcity-based mentality of self-restraint to an abundance-based mentality of self-expression.""

This happens a lot.

However, it normally does not happen to so many people like it did this go-round.

I suppose, I should say go-spiral. I like go-round better. It feels better on the tongue.

Been talking about this with the so-called long-wavers for years. And I don't know who calls them that. I should ask Mike Alexander how that arose in the first place.

5/30/2014 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Leisure Slack Abundance: I delved into a load of mine yesterday evening when our oldest, home for a few days, took his brother & sister & me (my wife was flying, hopefully not on Julie's plane) to the Cardinals vs Giants game. An evening leisurely spent with family, having a beer & hot dog and watching others seriously playing with a sizable crowd of people in good spirits.

Nice.

I could in some sense feel my melon getting rounder & riper. And again, the thought that our intewrectuals who rant against sports & entertainment, are deliberately doing so because those are fundamentally key to living the American Dream, which they'd love to STEM (Scientism, Technology, Engineering, and disenwondered Mathematics) into their ideal nightmare.

Also, with yesterday's post in mind, I was paying attention to the sounds of the game. Although I could do without an over abundance of music clips spread across the evening, it was still raw enough, in our seats not too far behind home plate, to enjoy the whiz of the ball and the thwack or whack of it hitting glove or bat, and the sound of the game that just doesn't come through the T.V.

It was almost as good as watching Little League game. Plus beer.

Play Ball!

5/30/2014 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Also, you will no doubt have noticed that many if not most people use their abundance not to ascend, but in order to try to widen out the narrow base of the pyramid.

I like the inverted pyramid. The "peak" then becomes the easiest part to fill. I have my closet stacked full of coffee.

Slack stealers made hell necessary and proper.

5/30/2014 05:08:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Off-topic, but apparently Three is a thing in physics now.

5/30/2014 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I believe you, but there's a missing link...

5/30/2014 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/30/2014 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Well, try this:

http://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20140527-physicists-prove-surprising-rule-of-threes/

5/30/2014 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks, Joan - that is very interesting. I love it when reality demonstrates Truth in surprising ways.

5/30/2014 06:17:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

From Joan's link:
"... he discovered a law that pertained not only to nuclear ingredients but also, under the right conditions, to any trio of particles in nature..."

That's the sort of thing I had in mind a while back when I was talking about what we've lost in the modern thinking about math. Not that Pythagoras & Plato didn't get overly numystical, but when Plato had "None but Geometers may enter here" over the gate to his Academy, he didn't mean what the typical new age number-bumbler means - it's not Numbers that are so fascinating, but that the entire universe behaves in fascinatingly numerical ways.

To leave the study of Math to the worshipers of quantification, or to be deepaked with the chopra, is such a waste.

Math enters into and unites music, art, science and philosophy, but only if you use your imagination. Which was also the very first thing the Pro-Regressives targeted for elimination from our Education.

Go figure.

5/30/2014 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Van said, "...but that the entire universe behaves in fascinatingly numerical ways."

I think it is the other way around -- numbers being an invention to explain that which was created before numbers.
And the way that we are using "numbers" and "quantity" in this discussion, do we really mean "geometry"?

Geometry seems more a term for quality and so maybe closer to the point about trying to find the "meaning" of pairs, triads, etc.

In other words, it may be natural to suspect (sense) say that there is some "magic" infused in this or that number (numerology, divination ) because you see patterns here and there. But I think that kind of thinking actually is to suggest there is some kind or random-assigned meaning to this or that number -- such to derive "good fortune" from "2" rather than to derive "2" from "symmetry" which even the latter term, being at least a "quality", is still a label for an aspect of the cosmos that was created before it.
The Cosmos is relational; just as the Trinity is, the Decalogue is...
The difference is between saying: "all things of 10 mean x" vs "there is a certain relation between these10 things".

5/31/2014 03:59:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Rick said "I think it is the other way around -- numbers being an invention to explain that which was created before numbers."

Rick, yes, you said what I meant better than I did.

"And the way that we are using "numbers" and "quantity" in this discussion, do we really mean "geometry"?"

Geometry (and numbers) is a means of abstracting the essentials... or put another way, it is a means of paring away everything else but that which we mean by number. The danger is to look upon that as the amazing part, forgetting that it is in fact the least part, a quality (still not quite right, but it is difficult to put into words, which rings well with this post), of all that was pared away in the abstraction.

That difficulty is what makes it so easy to slip into thinking that "there is some "magic" infused in this or that number (numerology, divination ) because you see patterns here and there", but what you said here "The Cosmos is relational" is key; the Cosmos is, and it is supremely relational, contextual, and one of the things we notice as we examine it more closely, is what numbers & geometry reveal, but the 'magic' isn't in the numbers and geometry, but in the relational, contextual and deeply integrated nature of the Cosmos itself.

5/31/2014 05:56:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Cooncur.

It's like what Bob said the other day (sort of): the Cosmos is ordered (rational, relational) because God is.

5/31/2014 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

This fellow, Stratford Caldecott, does a pretty good job of putting it together:

"...And writing before his election as Pope he looked to Plato to help him understand this phenomenon of conscience as “something like an original memory of the good and true (the two are identical),” and therefore as an “anamnesis [reminiscence] of the Creator”. Thus the first gift of humanity is our connection to our Origin, which comes to us through memory, language, and tradition—this is the deepest foundation of the arts of language. The other two members of the Trivium have similarly deep roots.

Once that depth has been established, the importance of the Quadrivium begins to reveal itself. These four subjects are not merely “mathematical” studies in contrast to the Trivium’s “literary” ones (which would replicate the modern divorce of science from the humanities). They are about the search for the Logos or Intelligibility of things. Each involves the study of patterns in space or time, leading to an ever-deeper knowledge of the underlying Wisdom of the Creator expressed in those patterns. This, of course, is the origin of the scientific enterprise, but it is equally the origin of art. Both are ways of discerning the Logos. Art exercises the imagination, and so in another way does science, where every major discovery has involved a creative leap. The artist searches for beauty, and so does the scientist and mathematician.

The quest for the Logos is the quest for truth, beauty, and goodness. This is the search of the human heart for what it needs to flourish and be happy. And it is the starting point for a new philosophy of education. ..."



I've enjoyed (though not without some reservations) two of his books on Education, he always strives for the deeper more interior understanding.

5/31/2014 06:14:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Yep. And as this short post by the same dude, on "Sacred Geometry", puts it:

"But why as a Catholic do I speak of “sacred geometry”, a term so associated with the New Age movement? I believe that, as the Pope says in The Spirit of the Liturgy, the “mathematics of the universe… comes from the Logos, in whom, so to speak, the archetypes of the world’s order are contained.” "

5/31/2014 06:25:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Three is the Onliest number that will ever be...

5/31/2014 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Speaking of which, this course on Geometry was just released by The Great Courses.

I have a crazy dream of someday making a measurable dent into Euclid's Elements. We'll see if this helps.

5/31/2014 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic again, it seems that even in Jamaica, purveyors of hate facts must be punished. Even when said purveyor has actually done tremendous work to help the gay community.

6/01/2014 07:00:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Help?

Seems gratitude naturally follows the relief of genuine suffering.

6/01/2014 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger Halberd96 said...

I love this blog and I wish to read all of it even though it is very long and sometimes confusing

do you know lucifersheretic? he seems to write in a similar way

6/01/2014 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger Halberd96 said...

I love this blog and I wish to read all of it even though it is very long and sometimes confusing

do you know lucifersheretic? he seems to write in a similar way

6/01/2014 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger Halberd96 said...

I love this blog and I wish to read all of it even though it is very long and sometimes confusing

do you know lucifersheretic? he seems to write in a similar way

6/01/2014 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

"Geometry (and numbers) is a means of abstracting the essentials... or put another way, it is a means of paring away everything else but that which we mean by number. The danger is to look upon that as the amazing part, forgetting that it is in fact the least part, a quality (still not quite right, but it is difficult to put into words, which rings well with this post), of all that was pared away in the abstraction."

Yes.

Pretty much.

I mean, the geometry is the framework. But you need more than the framework. That's like trying to describe the human body using just the skeleton, I suppose.

Maybe a way of looking at is is that geometry, in and of itself, is necessarily sterile, so to speak?

6/01/2014 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

Holy moly, I pulled a quote out of this post and put it up as my status on Facebook. A huge flame war started. The left has been unusually quiet lately, but, you got them all stirred up. ha

6/02/2014 04:42:00 PM  

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