Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In Order to Know Much, You Must Know Little

To paraphrase something Richard Weaver said, in order to know much, we must know little.

This indeed is the purpose of a liberal education, i.e., the assimilation of timeless principles that allow us to accurately interpret the world and to order our lives accordingly. All science is grounded in this same principle, of the reduction of multiplicity to unity -- or particular to universal, local to nonlocal, and finally (in the larger scheme of things), knowledge to wisdom.

Human consciousness exists in a kind of bi-directional dialectical space, "down" into facts, details, and particulars; and "up" into ideas, theories, and principles. Ultimately, one might say that God and Fact define the limits of this space, but the one can never be understood in the absence of the other (even though God is obviously ontologically prior; immanence is a consequence of transcendence, not vice versa).

In one sense, the downworld of facts and particulars becomes increasingly expansive as we descend into it, but not really. In reality, it can lead to specialization, specialization to shrinkage, shrinkage to provincialism, provincialism to deformity, and deformity to tenure.

This constricted way of looking at things tends toward what Voegelin calls a pneumapathological rejection of reality, or a "counterexistential dream world." The modern ideologue collapses this divine-human space because he refuses to live in the unresolvable tension of its complementarity.

Indeed the malignant dream of the left is that if we only create a more powerful and intrusive state, our existential tension will be eliminated. Or else! Liberalism is an experiment that never ends, because the state never learns -- or learns one thing only, how to expand based upon empty promises of deferred human happiness. But if you're still waiting for the state to make you happy, then you'll never be embarrassed by that Obama sticker on your Prius.

For human reality exists only in that space of vertical energies (or attractions), "between the material world and the pneumatic pull from a palpable spiritual source" (McAllister). As such, our first and last temptation -- and this is precisely the lesson of the Genesis 3 space mission -- "is to believe in a symbolic expression of a deformed but fully intelligible reality" (ibid.). In other words, make God and nature conform to man rather than vice versa.

Clearly, in our secular world, the most "educated" person is going to be the most vulnerable to this temptation, due not only to opportunity and access, but to the spiritual pathology that has become normalized in this inverted age. Clever mediocrities are the quickest to conform and the easiest to indoctrinate, therefore Academia.

To plunge into matter is to take flight from spirit (even though, ironically, it is an imaginary flight). However, the loss of spirit is compensated for by a growth -- or better, metastasis -- of pride and vanity. Or, as God shrinks, narcissism expands. And yes, we are looking at you, Obama. You are the end state of the oldest cosmic disease.

To paraphrase (or possibly quote) Weaver again, total immersion in matter makes a man unfit to deal with the problems of matter. Is this not axiomatic? Who does a materialist call when matter is broken? Remember, the materialist cannot stand outside or above matter, any more than the residents of Flatland can perceive their world from the third dimension.

Speaking of which, just as every picture tells a story, every story may be reduced to a picture. This is because man's default mode of thinking is an analogue of the eyes. But to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, the deepest things must be seeingly felt or feelingly seen. Or in other words, despite its temptation to detached abstraction, seeing is really just an extension of the sense of touch -- as is true of all the senses. Sight is what it feels like when photons are striking the retina.

Likewise, spiritual in-sight is what it feels like when Spirit touches the intellect. Spiritual wisdom is no less a matter of touching and being touched by God, otherwise it would have no explanation. Indeed, Johnson once wrote a prayer that comes very close to the morning Raccoon prayer, i.e., to the way Toots Mondello taught us to pray: "Almighty God, without whose grace all wisdom is folly, grant [that] thy Holy Spirit not be withheld from me, that I may promote thy glory, and the Salvation both of myself and others."

Or in other words, Save me this day and this post from idiocy and its propagation!

Johnson was not an orthodox Christian, and yet, there really was no category then for what he was. As such, he was more than a little troubled, or at least unsettled, in his faith. Along these lines, he made many timeless observation on our recent subject of imagination, in both its healthy and pathological aspects.

In general, I suppose one could say that a pathological imagination is one that plunges headwrong into the lower vertical.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the lower vertical, mind you. It's just that you need to be accompanied there by an adult. In the absence of adult supervision, it redounds to hell. It will "grow claws and start to tunnel" downward, breathing life into envy, resentment, auto-victimization, entitlement, and illegitimate violence.

This is why the well-ordered soul must be prior to the order of the state, while a principal task of the state is to promote order in the soul -- or at least not its opposite, which is precisely what the left not only encourages but often mandates: you will photograph homosexuals! You will pay for men to cut of their wangs! You will be racist!

Johnson made a subtle observation to the effect that "so few of the hours of life are filled up with objects adequate to the mind of man." This is because, in my view, our mind is ultimately an adequation to God. God -- or the Absolute -- is the only thing fully adequate to our intelligence and understanding. It is not that we should ignore the lower vertical, but rather, see it in the light of the upper vertical. It's simple, really: see the relative in light of the absolute, or time from eternity, or individuality in terms of transcendent communion and love.

If we opt out of this dynamic space, then we may plunge into mischievous uses of the imagination, "to past and future supplemental satisfactions," such that "recollection and anticipation fill up almost all our moments." This is done to escape from "the vacuities of life," which are mostly vacuities in the soul. For Johnson, it is critical that imagination be regulated or disciplined by reality, otherwise it may become an instrument of torment.

Difficult? Maybe. That's why they call it a spiritual practice. In contrast, living from hope to imaginary hope is one way to go hungry, since it is a refusal of our daily bread. We see how the "future bread" of Obamaism works -- that is, give me your bread, and I promise this time to spend it on more bakeries.

I say, teach a man to bake. And prior to that, to separate the good seed from the bad, to plant, grow, harvest, and eat. But I suppose that's unconstitutional.

27 Comments:

Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

"It will "grow claws and start to tunnel" downward, breathing life into envy, resentment, auto-victimization, entitlement, and illegitimate violence."

O fills the hole that keeps us afloat. Remove Him and our equilibrium is lost and we are pulled into the vortex described above. The farther removed from O, the more difficult it is to get back.

It seems that the important lesson to learn is not so much the reason the lost are lost, but what needs to happen for them to know they are lost? Unique experiences for each of them (us), but is there a common trigger that can start the sequence?

I think back to my epiphany and I realize that I had the advantage of growing up in the knowledge of O, it was more of "stop running away" and let O reel me back in. But what of those without that blessing?

8/12/2014 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Indeed the malignant dream of the left is that if we only create a more powerful and intrusive state, our existential tension will be eliminated.

I'm reminded of the latest bit of absurdity, so ludicrous that I half think she must be trolling, where some feminist is demanding free feminine hygiene products as a human right. Assuming she got what she wanted, she'd quickly find that the existential tension remains, and therefore there must be some other need, a human right really, that someone should be giving her for free. Et cetera...

8/12/2014 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I was just thinking about this in the context of Robin Williams, whose profound sadness was matched by his profound hatred for all things conservative. As if the the fulfillment of his political fantasies would have had any impact on his own misery. If anything, a person who is subject to depression should know better than anyone how -- well, as Samuel Johnson put it,

How small, of all that human hearts endure / That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!

Of course, that was written prior to the emergence of the modern state, and the unimaginable miseries it has caused since then...

8/12/2014 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Re. Williams, I was reminded again that for an atheist, depression seems like it would be particularly deadly - for in the absence of god, there is no possibility of meaning in the suffering, and no compelling reason (beyond the instinct for survival) to endure through the anguish.

8/12/2014 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I suppose a lot of disordered souls must imagine the state will order them...

8/12/2014 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Which is why it's so hard to fight that irrational leftist energy...

8/12/2014 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Yes, I think they must believe that if only there were enough laws, nobody would have to be good, and everything would be okay.

8/12/2014 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the lower vertical, mind you. It's just that you need to be accompanied there by an adult. In the absence of adult supervision, it redounds to hell. It will "grow claws and start to tunnel" downward, breathing life into envy, resentment, auto-victimization, entitlement, and illegitimate violence."

That is One apt description.

8/12/2014 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Julie said "Yes, I think they must believe that if only there were enough laws, nobody would have to be good, and everything would be okay."

Or that those laws would force everybody to be politically correct, and that would make them good and then everything would be okay. Or as our old buddy Rousseau put it,

"In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses. "

Laws, what can't they do?

8/12/2014 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Apropos suicide, Father Stephen put up a timely post a couple of days ago on God as Comforter:

"The Son is Himself the Comforter, the Spirit being “another Comforter” (Jn. 14:6).

This dynamic goes to the heart of repentance, which in many ways is the root of our true existence (so far removed from a legal and moralistic understanding). For it is when our hearts are broken and do not run away or hide that we can call on God to comfort us. And He does.

That comfort is the gift of His own life within us, a sharing of His own joy and love. The hardness of our hearts creates walls and obstacles that refuse to be comforted. In our suffering and pain we enclose ourselves and the ego anxiously seeks to escape (which is the source of most of our sin)."

8/12/2014 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

The beauty of God's plan, His love for us, His relationship with us, demonstrated to the ultimate in Jesus, is that we find fulfillment in life when we live to love others. Suicide is the opposite of that. It is the ultimate selfish act. It is leaving your loved ones with the pain of abandonment, not to mention throwing away the gift of life that God has given you.

8/12/2014 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I assumed Williams was agnostic or atheist because of his language and lifestyle, though he was very good about doing shows for the troops while keeping a low profile. He used to joke about being Episcopalian.

8/12/2014 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Yeah - in truth, I have no idea where he stood on matters of faith. I only know that for myself, I was at the greatest state of despair when I had lost all faith, and concluded that nothing was.

8/12/2014 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

Robins Williams' joke about being Episcopalian: “Catholic light: half the religion, half the guilt.”

Good joke. He was certainly was under the comedian's curse: frustrated and cynical, finding an outlet in humor; but that levity was constrained, in that, it was not a lightness towards oneself, that surrenders itself to God, but a false lightness that offers a deflection of one's own darkness in a Godless universe.

The interview with Mark Maron is revealing.

8/12/2014 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"This constricted way of looking at things tends toward what Voegelin calls a pneumapathological rejection of reality, or a "counterexistential dream world." The modern ideologue collapses this divine-human space because he refuses to live in the unresolvable tension of its complementarity."

Aye. Those on the left are like the panicky drowning victim who attempts to drown his rescuer, Truth, rather than allow Truth to save them.
Actually, the left is worse, because of their envy, fear and hate which drives them to try and force everyone else to drown with them.

For leftist belief's, or rather fantasies lead to a baptism of death.
And Leftists think that their loontopia is waitin' on the other side.

8/12/2014 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"FORCED to be "free,"" is as nuts and diabolical as it means.

And of course the "frightful abuses" Rousseau refers to is liberty, truth, and reality itself.

8/12/2014 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

You are right, EbonyRaptor, suicide is indeed a most selfish act.
I don't know how much drugs or depression or hopelessness convinced Williams that his loved ones would be better off without him, which would be self-delusional anyhow, but he still had to make a choice.

Hopelessness leads to this dark selfishness and often a premature death.
I do hope for his sake that Williams looked up rather than down before he killed himself, and hope his family gets through this alright.

I am grateful Williams volunteered his time and talents to help veterans, and others.
It's sad to see people destroy themselves.

8/12/2014 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"It is not that we should ignore the lower vertical, but rather, see it in the light of the upper vertical. It's simple, really: see the relative in light of the absolute, or time from eternity, or individuality in terms of transcendent communion and love."

Very well said.

8/12/2014 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger Christina M said...

For some reason, I was always able to overlook Dennis Miller's hatred for all things conservative (I have several of his stand-up routines done prior to 9-11), but I was never able to make it past Robin William's hatred for all things conservative.

When I was young and stupid, I liked the movie "Dead Poet's Society", but then I grew-up and realized that glorification of "the rebel" and "sparks of madness" limits employment satisfaction and can be deadly.

There are other forms of death by asphyxiation that have nothing to do with depression, and everything to do with depravity. The last stand-up routine that I saw, done by Mr. Williams, which was fairly recently, was pretty depraved. I gave the DVD away. I wish I had destroyed it instead.

8/13/2014 07:55:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Ooh... flashback to David Caradine. Yuck.

I've only ever listened to his first album, other than Academy Awards, etc, I've never watched his routines because they did get too ridiculous.

But I've thoroughly enjoyed his movies, even in recognizing where their message was unsound (good luck finding movies free of such).

No matter the details, it is very sad, maybe all the worse because I've yet to hear someone describe him as anything other than a kind, generous guy & good friend, who went out of his way to help, one of those who did the USO tours, etc.

A person died, and that's not politics or philosophy - he's beyond both now, and his family has to deal with it.

It's just very sad.

8/13/2014 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

I guessed the plot of Dead Poets Society 5 minutes into it. It had the stench of death from the git-go.

The spirit that goes into a thing when it's created is what comes out of it when we experience it.

8/13/2014 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Christina M said...

"The spirit that goes into a thing when it's created is what comes out of it when we experience it."

Exactly.

By the way, doing things for the troops is not a "Get out of Jail Free" card. It's like buying indulgences. The cognitive dissonance of someone supporting the troops and then supporting, politically, all the things that undermine the troops the most, is stunning to behold.

8/14/2014 05:42:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Cognitive dissonance isn't an aberration for the left, it's a model. Disintegrated thought, 'Compartmentalization', is the sought for norm, and is the means of intellectual and spiritual free-fall.

8/14/2014 06:10:00 AM  
Blogger Christina M said...

http://lotsofmarblesinajar.com/2014/07/27/commentatulus-distracted-nihilism-the-failure-of-existentialism/

" Rebellion against absurdity and convention are everywhere. Pick any given pop song, and odds are it supports a lifestyle of impulse and indulgence. If you’ve seen the movies Titanic, Dead Poets Society or more recently The Fault in Our Stars, you’ve seen some of the most successful Existentialist propaganda ever produced. One can even see it in the works of popular comic strips such as Calvin and Hobbes, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and xkcd. Perhaps most obviously, you can see it in the bastard son of Horace’s ancient maxim “carpe diem.” I.e. “YOLO.” From all of this it seems evident that Existentialism has permeated contemporary west quite thoroughly, and that the threat of Nihilist despair has been neutralized.

Or has it? When you consider all things honestly, an Existentialist is still a Nihilist at heart. The only difference is that they’ve found a way to distract themselves. They can tell themselves that they’re infusing their own meaning into the universe or that they’re living authentically, but any meaning they infuse will still decay into absurdity again (if it wasn’t absurd in the first place), and no matter how authentically you live you still die alone. In this sense Existentialism becomes less of a philosophy and more of a drug. It certainly helps you forget about the world for a while, but no high lasts forever, and the universe will still be depressing once you come down."

8/14/2014 06:28:00 AM  
Blogger Christina M said...

"Cognitive dissonance isn't an aberration for the left, it's a model. Disintegrated thought, 'Compartmentalization', is the sought for norm, and is the means of intellectual and spiritual free-fall."

Agreed.

I am becoming more and more intolerant of cognitive dissonance as the days go by. I'm sorry for the people who have to put up with me on day-to-day basis right now. The plan at the beginning of this year was to weed out my own cognitive dissonances. It's had unintended consequences, not necessarily bad, but hard to live with until I figure out the next step.

8/14/2014 06:34:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Heh, when you reach the point that everywhere you look you see almost nothing but zombies, especially with the glamorous and fashionable who are held up as titillating ideals yet you see only putrid decay and oozing sores, when you attempt to control yourself and remain calm as you slowly, gently try to wipe the green smudges from friends and family - from your kids - only because you know that if you give it the urgency it demands it will result not only in your being distanced from them but with the intensification of the rot... come see me; that's where I was ten years ago, I'll try and give some tips on how to get by as you realize that things are much, much worse than that.

[insert smiley here]

8/14/2014 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger Christina M said...

Van Harvey, it only just hit me what you meant by David Carradine and I went to Wiki, and yes, that is exactly what I meant. I have a friend who is a medical examiner and I have seen photos I wish I'd never seen. Things that no one should ever see.

I'm exactly where you are describing you were ten years ago, and thank you, I'll take the help anywhere I can get it.

8/14/2014 09:25:00 AM  

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