Friday, March 28, 2014

The Accidentally on Purpose Driven Life

This post is either a leisurely ramble through hyperspace or a self-indulgent burden on loyal readers. Either way, you might need to read it slowly in order to digest it, assuming it is digestible.

To say that we are free is to say that things are possible. To say they are possible is to say they aren't absolutely necessary. Necessity is a prolongation of the absolute, while possibility partakes of the infinite. So there.

But there are two kinds of possible, one of which being necessary. To paraphrase Schuon, since the past happened, it was obviously possible. But now that it has happened, it has transitioned to necessity, although it can bring about new possibilities in the present.

Is man possible or necessary? Or what? The contemporary view is that man was (obviously) possible but completely unnecessary. I think Gould said something to the effect that if (hypothetically speaking) a mudslide had wiped out one of those freakish organisms in the Burgess Shale half a billion years ago, it might have resulted in a nul de slack in the road that leads directly to us. We are so tenuous as to have one foot on a banana peel and the other on a mudslide.

Can it all really be that contingent? After all, it isn't just that one mudslide. Rather, the chemical, geological, geographical, biological, and meteorological accidents leading to the emergence of man would have to be infinite, literally incalculable. That's not a very satisfying explanation. Doesn't mean it isn't true. But it does mean that there can be no possible ontological foundation for our existence -- nothing whatsoever on which to stand, nothing to hold, nothing necessary. Nothing but a somehow generative matrix of nothing.

No wonder man has always wondered about the Great Changeless Being behind, beneath, or beyond the world of appearance and contingency. We intuitively realize that there can be no change in the absence of the changeless, or the world would be pure chaos. Therefore, it is easy enough to prove the existence of "God" with our natural reason, but that doesn't get us very far, does it?

"Which, among all the innumerable possibilities of a world," asks Schuon, "are the ones that will actually be manifested?"

Or in other words, is there some kind of restraint on possibility, some type of boundary condition that channels possibility in certain directions? Modern thought has eliminated this way of thinking, even if it is impossible to think without it. Being that it is one side of a complementarity, it will simply return through the side door in deusguised form.

In response to the question posed above, Schuon suggests that there is indeed a divine constraint, so to speak, on the realm of infinite possibility, in that the latter will manifest as "those which by their nature are most in conformity, or are alone in conformity, with the realization of a divine plan."

Thus, the "divine plan" causes certain possibilities to undergo the formality of becoming. If the world consists of flowing water, then the divine plan is the banks of the river. If not for the banks, then history would be just a... a chaotic flood.

One is reminded of Genesis, where the spirit of God is hovering over the primordial ocean and proceeds to divide the upper from the lower waters.

The primordial ocean is nothing, since it is without boundary or distinction. Thus, that first boundary is the mother of all fruitful boundaries, say, between self and other, man and woman, subject and object, etc. Existence is a tapestry of these fruitful complementarities, but not a directionless one. Rather, they seem to be guided by the longing or gnostalgia for a return to wholeness and unity, back to their undivided principle

If the intellect is not a mirror of God, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to explain how it got here. I say this because intelligence deals in necessity. Indeed, the true and the necessary are somewhat synonymous, as in mathematical and logical truths.

As such, how can a purely accidental being know anything of the necessary? Recall also what was said above about man's perennial search for the necessary behind the contingent. How does man even posit such a thing, let alone know it?

Apropos of nothing or maybe something: is a church God's embassy on earth, or is it our embassy in heaven?

In any event, it seems to me that it is the quintessential meeting place of accident and necessity, or where we consciously set up diplomatic relations with the land of necessity, and hope to assimilate some of the latter into our accidental substance.

Where we differ from God is that he knows all the principles with all of their possibilities (and the facts that crystalize out of infinite possibility), whereas our intellect is limited to an excellent grasp of abstract and necessary principles, limited knowledge of possibilities, and just a tiny fraction of the facts.

It seems to me that the best things in life are free of pure order and pure chaos. Hartshorne suggests that the most interesting -- and beautiful -- things are composed of "unity-in-variety, or variety-in-unity; if the variety overbalances, we have chaos or discord; if the unity, we have monotony or triviality"; and "infinite triviality would be as bad as infinite chaos, since neither would have any value whatsoever."

So, could it be that God wants an interesting, beautiful, and valuable cosmos? If so, he has succeeded. I'm thinking that's what he means when he calls it "good."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rebelling Against God and Darwin

If we're going to fall, we need a space in which to do so. This would be vertical space.

The fact that we fall provides the space with directionality. In other words, once we realize there is a down, this implies that there must be an up. We can also feel as if our lives are going nowhere, which implies being stuck at a certain level with no upward movement, just horizontal drift.

Now, I think everyone recognizes this space, even if they pretend to be otherthanwise. Even a nihilist wants to be a better nihilist than those other nobodies. Look at Nietzsche: he longed to be the superstud, even though I don't believe he ever kissed a girl.

Sometimes vertical space can be in-verted, so the person imagines that worse is better and lower is higher. Think of Miley Cyrus, who is convinced that if she can only debase herself a little more thoroughly, she will reach some sort of pinnacle of crudity. Why is this perfectionist so driven, so hard on herself?

These inverts think they are pushing the envelope when they are just being pulled by gravity. Being consciously unaware of vertical gravity, they don't realize that the whole point is to push back against it.

My son has been learning about space, so he knows that on the moon he could jump much higher, since gravity is only one sixth of what it is here. However, if we lived on the moon, our bones would be much thinner and our muscles much weaker. So, resistance breeds strength.

The same applies to vertical space, where adversity is the mother of evolution. Indeed, Obama didn't have to do anything for the world to know he is a weakling. He's a doctrinaire leftist, and that's enough. The notion of "San Francisco liberal" evokes the image of a flabby being devoid of substance because he lives in a world without restraint. As such, he never develops any vertical bone, muscle or sinew.

Some people think that religiosity is actually a covert form of surrender to vertical gravity. This is implicitly what they mean when they accuse us of, say, weakness, or intellectual cowardice, or an infantile need for security. I assure you that Bill Maher believes himself to be above you in vertical space, even while he categorically denies its existence.

Topping makes an interesting point, that scripture and tradition do not, as it were, chain us to the port, but rather, "serve as a fixed rudder" for our journey across an unknown sea.

I mean, you are free to build your own little dinghy and set off without a map, but it is doubtful that you'll get anywhere or even survive the trip. Or, you'll go "somewhere," just as you will if you put on a blindfold and get behind the wheel of your car.

At the top of vertical space is God. In my opinion, this is a necessary truth that should be self-evident. In other words, if there is a vertical scale, it has a top. The top is what conditions everything below, and allows us to know the hierarchy.

Conversely, to say there is no top is to say there is no truth and that all is relative. And if all is relative, there is only power. To the extent that there is truth or right, it can only be a cynical mask for power and might.

Schuon makes the soph-evident (which means as evident to wisdom as are material objects to the eye) point that "To say that man is the measure of all things is meaningless unless one starts from the idea that God is the measure of man, or that the absolute is the measure of the relative, or again, that the universal Intellect is the measure of individual existence."

For the same reason, "Once man makes of himself a measure, while refusing to be measured in turn, or once he makes definitions while refusing to be defined by what transcends him and gives him all his meaning, all human reference points disappear; cut off from the Divine, the human collapses."

Collapses into what? Yes, into nothing. But nothing is never empty. Rather, this is the Machiavellian or Nietzschean nothing of raw, amoral power.

To say that man uniquely partakes of the vertical and horizontal is to say that he is both free and determined. But freedom and determination exist in both modes. Our fundamental spiritual freedom is vertical, but this freedom would mean nothing without certain restraints, boundary conditions, archetypes, and final causes that help orient and vault us upward.

Horizontally we are restrained by such things as genes, culture, custom, and the like, but we are also "free" in the existential sense of being "condemned to nothingness."

This latter must be the conclusion of any honest atheist or materialist, in that the denial of vertical space means that man has this absurd and inexplicable freedom with which to do or be anything he wishes. There are no restraints except horizontal ones. Again, in this view freedom equates to nothingness, as Sartre well knew.

Schuon suggests that our determinacy and indeterminacy, our restraint and freedom, are iterations of Absolute and Infinite, respectively. Here again, this is something "everyone knows" by virtue of being human, even if they express it in a confused and garbled manner that generates absurdity.

For example, when some tenured yahoo claims that we have no free will and are completely determined by our genetic inheritance, that is Absoluteness in action.

Being that Absolute and Infinite are complementary, we must ask: where did the infinite go? It comes out in the doctrine of radical relativism, in which things are "good" merely by virtue of being instantiations of "diversity." In other words, since nothing can be judged on the vertical scale, infinite plurality takes the place of a vertical standard.

This leads to the absurdity of, say, Facebook providing users with 51 options for gender. The idea of male-female is rejected on vertical grounds, of course; but also on horizontal grounds. In other words, they don't just reject metaphysics and theology, but biology and natural selection as well.

So, if Darwin tries to claim you're a man or a woman, well, you tell Darwin to fuck off! Who does he think he is, God?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An Urgent Memo from the Centers for Spiritual Disease Control

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to minimize just how rotten I think mankind is. It's just that the folks are okay. People I like. But mankind as a whole? Rabble. And that's on a good day.

As we all know, the left -- as with everything else -- has it backward and upside down: they are absolutely in luuuv with mankind. It's the people they can't stand.

Conversely, conservatives place little faith in mankind, hence our distrust of various collective schemes and scams, from the UN to Obamacare to the core curriculum. But we love people. Which is why we want to protect them from these destructive schemes and scams.

I think the abstract love of mankind explains the whole basis and moonb'attitude of punitive liberalism. I mean, if Obama loves us so much, why force this punitive legislation down our throats? Rather, why not allow us the freedom to choose it? First and foremost because we would never choose it, since we are not masochists.

At the same time, conservatives who respect our autonomy and maturity are characterized by the left as not caring about us. Thus, common courtesy and respect are indifference, while condescension and pandering are care.

(You know, if only words could be restored to their original meaning, it would go a long way toward arresting this damn FAAALLLLLLL we're in.)

Blacks, for example, are too stupid to choose the best schools for their children. Thus, the decision must be left to compassionate union thugs and their political pawns such as Mayor de Blasio. That's what you call pure, disinterested benevolence: phil-anthropy, love of mankind in action. Duck!

A thought just occurred to me. Is occurring rather. Wait for it... Here it comes... Ouch! It's a big one: LEFTISM PRETENDS TO PROVIDE THE CURE FOR MAN. WITHOUT. EVER. DIAGNOSING. HIM.

To back up a bit, we've discussed in the past how each religion can be thought of as analogous to the practice of medicine, in the sense that each begins with a diagnosis for which it proposes a treatment or cure. Animals have no need of religion, since they don't have the disease. What disease?

Like I said, it depends. For Buddhists it is attachment to desire. For nudists it is attachment to clothing. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is the separation from God implied by the expulsion from Eden.

But the left proposes to cure man without ever explicitly stating what is wrong with man. Marx, for example, didn't think there was anything wrong with man that a little bloodbath couldn't cure. This flagrant misanthrope pretended to believe that the problem was in the capitalist system, not in man (as if some other species invented capitalism). So, eliminate all the capitalists, and problem solved.

Truly, -- and I mean this literally -- the left is the disease it pretends to cure. Again, since it never acknowledges the disease, it just ends up being another iteration of it. This is precisely why all revolutions just end up with a new and usually worse set of assouls in power. Why? Because they are assouls, that's why. What did you expect? Sugar Candy Mountain?

A reader just alerted me to an article by David Goldman (AKA Spengler) which I'll bet is relevant, The Rise of Secular Religion:

"Today’s American liberalism, it is often remarked, amounts to a secular religion: it has its own sacred texts and taboos, Crusades and Inquisitions. The political correctness that undergirds it, meanwhile, can be traced back to the past century’s liberal Protestantism."

Yes, exactly -- except they don't call the disease sin or the cure salvation. Or, they give us the chemo but never call it cancer. So, we lose our hair and vomit all day, but no one knows why, because the liberals won't tell us.

Nor do they call it "religion," even though "the inner life of secular Americans remains dense with spiritual experience," and "post-Protestant experience resembles the supernatural world of the Middle Ages, but with new spiritual entities in place of the old devils and elves."

For the left, these demons are everywhere except in fallen human beings. With one exception to that exception: in demon-ridden conservatives. I can't top Bottum -- not that there's anything wrong with it -- who writes that

"These horrors have a palpable, almost metaphysical presence in the world. And the post-Protestants believe the best way to know themselves as moral is to define themselves in opposition to such bigotry and oppression -- understanding good and evil not primarily in terms of personal behavior but as states of mind about the social condition" (emphasis mine).

"Sin, in other words, appears as a social fact, and the redeemed personality becomes confident of its own salvation by being aware of that fact. By knowing about, and rejecting, the evil that darkens society."

Again: they see -- and feel -- the disease, only they misname and displace it. For if sin is the illness and mankind is the carrier, the left is seen for what it is: the pernicious disease vector of a deadly plague. Like human beings, only worse.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thoughts on the Fall of Man: How Low Did We Go?

How low did we go when we blunderwent our primordial calamity, or whatever you want to call it? Probably better not to name it at all, which is what Joyce did(n't) in the Wake. Rather, just describe it empirically and call it what you will, since you will anyway.

But whatever it is, it shadows man all through history, both individually and collectively. It's what causes this nightmare from which we are trying to awaken. Or, it is the net we are attempting to fly through. Apparently it can't be done -- like surpassing the speed of light or kissing your elbow.

Wisdom consists first and foremost in knowing this, for if you don't, you are about to reenact a very old myth or to invent a whole new way of falling on your face -- and thus serve as a cautionary lesson to others. The best you can hope for is to have the myth named after you, like ignominious pratfallers such as Prometheus, Pandora, Narcissus, or Icarus.

"In Christian theology, the fall of man is a term used to describe the transition of the first man and woman from a state of innocent obedience to God to a state of guilty disobedience."

The term, of course -- like Trinity -- is not found in the Bible, and if I am not mistaken, the whole idea of "original sin" is foreign to Judaism. I mean, they accept the wisdom of the myth, but they do not take it to mean that man is so hopelessly corrupted and steeped in sin that he can't get out of his own way.

So there is a range of possible lessons one may derive from the myth, which is proved by the manner in which different Christian denominations interpret it. If we place them in a left-right continuum, reader Nomo would be situated at the extreme right. He maintains that the fall leaves us thoroughly depraved in "all areas of our being, body, soul, spirit, mind, emotions, etc.," and that even the intellect -- which is obviously designed to know truth -- cannot do so, which is "One of the purposes for the revealed truth of scripture." In other words, if you think, then you're wrong.

In support of the latter, he cites Acts 17:11, where Paul is preaching to a group of Jews, reasoning "with them from the Scriptures." So it seems self-evident to me that he is employing his powers of reason in conjunction with revelation (which is the very definition of theology), but we'll let that go. Anyway, it says that Paul succeeded in persuading some of them, presumably based upon the "suffering servant" motif (Christians regard the servant as Jesus, whereas Jews identify the servant as Israel).

Later in the chapter our boys are preaching to another synagogue, where the members again listen to Paul's pitch and search the scriptures to check its plausibility. Some accept it, others reject it. Same scripture, mind you. Verticalisthenics is hardly analogous to math or logic, the latter of which indeed function to test and cleanse our untrustworthy intellect. Rather, there's more than one way to scan a catechesis, or there wouldn't be so many interpretations and denominations.

It seems to me that the fall is primarily located in the will, not the intellect. This would explain how, for example, 20th century man could know so much more than his predecessors, and yet, be an even bigger assoul. Nomo cites Romans 3 in support of the rotten-to-the-core thesis. Paul is pretty fired up, but I would still see it as mainly reproaching the will. I'm no Bible wiz, but it seems to me that you have to appreciate the context, as he's saying that even exact conformity to Jewish law -- right deeds -- won't save you. I doubt that many contemporary Jews believe this anyway. Maybe some ultra-Orthodox.

Let me get back to that Wiki article. It says that "For many Christian denominations the doctrine of the fall is closely related to that of original sin. They believe that the fall brought sin into the world, corrupting the entire natural world, including human nature, causing all humans to be born into original sin..."

This I do not buy -- i.e., that sin is rooted in our DNA, as it were -- unless we take it to mean that there is something about human nature that makes the will -- free will -- problematic.

Situated to the left of Nomo would be Orthodox Christianity, which "accepts the concept of the fall but rejects the idea that the guilt of original sin is passed down through generations, based in part on the passage Ezekiel 18:20 that says a son is not guilty of the sins of his father." I am on board with the these ancient Christians, who never forget that man is still in the image of Creator, even if he does everything in his power to soil the mirror.

Ah, this I can use: "Catholic exegesis of Genesis 3 claims that the fall of man was a 'primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.'"

I can use this because another way of saying it is that history -- whatever that is -- begins with the Fall. Therefore, it is not just an indictment of man, but a metaphysical principle we may use to understand both history and the direction of time (which amount to the same thing).

That is, there is no history in the absence of the will, which is to say, human freedom. Prior to the emergence of freedom, there is only prehistory: physics, or chemistry, or biology. But the first "human" who makes a free choice is the first human, fool stop, and in so doing he initiates this mess called history. Thus, the origin of history is again in the will.

So if we tweak Genesis 3 a bit, it's a theory of historiography, or of historogenesis. You could say that history runs on free willpower, but often degenerates to plain willfulness.

At any rate, if the Fall primarily affects the will, then that is where the cure must lay. I've heard Dennis Prager mention that Jews do not condemn a person for having "evil thoughts," any more than we are guilty for the deeds we do in our dreams. Rather, they focus on outward behavior, on the will. It matters not what you think or how you feel, but what you do.

At antipodes to this is contemporary leftism, in which it only matters how one feels, not what one actually does. Thus, Obama can immiserate the poor, wreck the healthcare system, stick it to blacks, explode the debt, aggravate income inequality, and make us Putin's bitch, so long as his heart is in the right place. However, the rest of us can see that his will is in the wrong place, and that is what counts.

Ironically, there is a parallel between the Obama view and the Nomo view, in that both presume that we do not know -- and cannot know -- what is good for us, so we need outside intervention (as always, leftism is a Christian heresy). (To be clear: I agree that we need outside intervention, but that we must accept it in freedom, i.e., with the will.)

In his Two Concepts of Liberty, Berlin writes of how, for the leftist, it is acceptable to "coerce men in the name of some goal... which they would, if they were more enlightened, themselves pursue, but do not, because they are blind or ignorant or corrupt."

And, "once I take this view, I am in a position to ignore the actual wishes of men or societies" and to bully or oppress or sic the IRS on them. I do this "on behalf of their 'real' selves," secure in the knowledge that if they weren't in a state of sin, they would behave exactly as I wish them to behave. So, it's good for them.

So, we're back to time, freedom, and history. If we only remove your freedom to choose -- say, your doctor or school or means of self-defense -- we can finally stop this damn thing called history. Or, as the Marxists say, real history can finally get underway.

"In the name of what," asks Berlin, "can I ever be justified in forcing men to do what they have not willed or consented to?" Answer: "Only in the name of some value higher than themselves" -- or in other words, something more precious and valuable than mere human beings. In this view, it is acceptable to treat human beings as means to this higher end, an end which only the elect -- the already saved -- can know.