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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

When Ought Becomes Is, Reach for Your Revolver

Yesterday we were discussing how it is that modern ideologies do not conform to man's essential nature, whereas religion is supposed to do just that. This does not mean that it lowers itself to man, but rather, reveals the lower man. It holds a mirror to man in which he can see both positive and negative images.

These two sides are equally important, for if one is unaware of the bad news, it will render the good news inoperative. The bad news, instead of being a helpful diagnosis, will become an invisible stumbling block. Without appreciating the bad, the good can easily become spoiled -- charity can be reduced to indulgence, confidence to pride, courage to rashness, humility to self-loathing, chastity to prudery, etc.

Science cannot provide a satisfactory response to our innate desire to know "what is" and "who we are," the reason being that it simply does not operate on that plane. To ask it to do so is analogous to asking religion to address only one side of the equation: to descend to man without asking man to ascend to God.

Science can handle the descent but knows nothing of the ascent, or in other words, it sees the Is but not the Ought. Thus, it either elevates the Is to the Ought -- the naturalistic fallacy -- or reduces the Ought to the Is -- the citsilarutan fallacy (that's naturalistic backwards).

This latter fallacy pretends that how we would like things to be is how they are -- for example, that homosexuals can exist in a state of matrimony, or that people can choose their gender, or that welfare programs won't foster dependence, etc.

This fellow claims that conservatives are more prone to the naturalistic fallacy, liberals to its opposite. Is this true? Yes, if the liberal is a liberal or the conservative is an idiot. No conservative should conflate Is and Ought, because the first principle of conservatism is a clear distinction between the two. Any conservative who immanentizes the eschaton is not a conservative but a millenarian liberal (but I repeat myself).

But "Since academics, and social scientists in particular, are overwhelmingly left-wing liberals, the moralistic fallacy has been a much greater problem in academic discussions of evolutionary psychology than the naturalistic fallacy." Or in other words, liberals conflate desire and reality, which is vividly described in this distressing book on racial preferences. That they do great harm to their intended beneficiaries is of absolutely no consequence. Rather, the desire to do good is all that matters, and is sufficient to magically transform Ought to Is, or academia to racial Sugar Candy Mountain.

Speaking of witchcraft, isn't this what the Magician in Chief is trying to do with ObamaCare? "The debate is over. Ought is forevermore Is, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it." Obama is trying to convince us that the way ObamaCare is in his dreams is actually the way it Is. In other words, pay no attention to that Is behind the Ought.

You could say that the so-called dispute between science and religion is between Is and Ought, but how can this be? How can, say, our duty to be polite be at odds with science? They can only be at odds if science insists that man is and therefore ought to be a wolf to man, and not pretend to be something better.

Schuon suggests that modern man seems incapable "of grasping a priori the compatibility of the symbolic expressions of tradition with the material observations of science."

I suppose this was part of the challenge I was having in my theological discussion with the boy the other evening. It's naturally difficult for him to shift between the concrete and abstract, for example, vis-a-vis Genesis. Genesis symbolically comports to the nature of man, but if we try to look at it as a scientific account, we commit a category error. Or again, we accept the descent of the message without the corresponding ascent on our part.

The pervasiveness of scientism has resulted in a kind of "materialization" of the mind. Thus, when we say the leftist or secular fundamentalist is dense, we mean this literally. They are especially dense, or opaque, to the Light. As a result, they still have the same hunger for truth, but demand that it be presented to them on the same level as their density. It would be analogous to a child who knows only basic math insisting that calculus be presented to him in simple arithmetic terms.

As Schuon describes it, the modern man wishes his ultimate explanations "to remain as external and easy as scientific phenomena themselves, or in other words, he wants all the answers to be on the level of his own experiences." But these experiences "are purely material," so this attenuated consciousness "closes itself in advance against all that might transcend [these experiences]."

But again, there is still the same hunger for truth, or there would be no demand for explanations. To even ask Why? is to have already transcended the external and material, the mere Is.

Now, this Why is made of truth. This sounds like an odd thing to say, but isn't it true that question and answer always go together? Indeed to paraphrase Don Colacho, there is far more Light in a good question than a stupid answer.

So, the Why is an artifact or echo of the Truth it seeks. The intellect's "own nature," writes Schuon, "does not allow it to resist truth indefinitely." The only way for this to happen is for the will to counteract the intellect, or again, for desire to negate reality. Hunting for truth requires a good will.


Very much related -- David Bentley Hart by way of Vanderleun:

"No meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do. The logical and imaginative grammars of belief, which still informed the thinking of earlier generations of atheists and skeptics, are no longer there. In their place, there is now—where questions of the divine, the supernatural, or the religious are concerned—only a kind of habitual intellectual listlessness."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Testing the Limits of Nonsense

A few weeks before being thrown out of college, I noticed that one of my professors didn't seem to read our class- or homework assignments. One day I decided to test the theory, writing a bunch of nonsense and turning it in. The theory was confirmed and the science settled: sense and nonsense were of equivalent value in this little oasis from reality.

Which, if there's no truth, actually makes sense. However, this was back when I was a business major, before I discovered my gift of being preternaturally ill-equipped to handle my business. In other words, I flunked out. One day I just stopped going. (This would have been in the second semester of my junior year.)

In the business world, unlike the academic world, a BA in BS will only get you so far. In academia, so long as one operates outside the STEM -- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics -- one's ideas need never come into contact with reality. One may relax in the comfort and safety of one's own delusions, even -- or especially -- at the taxpayers' expense.

Speaking of which, there are some harrowing -- but scandalously typical -- tales of academic malfeasance in this eye-opening book on how racial preferences harm their intended beneficiaries. Whatever you think about the anti-science academic left, it's even worse than you think. (Non-STEM) academia is a cancer on truth.

Anyway, I have so few commenters these days, I was wondering if I could just crank out a bunch of nonsense to see if anyone's paying attention? I've dropped out before. Don't think I won't do it again!

"Science," according to Schuon, "is the experience of that which we do see, or at least of that whereof we can have an [at least hypothetically] empirical knowledge." I love science, but science can only take us so far -- really, to the edge of the senses. Everything beyond the senses is up for grabs, except you can't grab it with your hands or any other sense organ. We can grasp it, of course, but with what exactly?

Faith, in contrast to science, is a conscious relationship with and "acceptance of that which we do not see, or rather, of that which transcends the experience of the average man."

Yesterday evening I had one of those long theological hot-tub discussions with my newly minted nine year-old. Here he is sitting in the light on his birthday last Sunday:

He was asking me some really difficult questions, more difficult than you get from the typical adult, and harder to answer in a straight-forward way, with no evasions, dissembling, special pleading, or deepaking the chopra.

He's very much preoccupied with the existence of evil, and why God allows it to persist. In particular, he loves animals, and is quite concerned with animal suffering (I don't even have the heart to tell him what chicken McNuggets are made of).

(I might add that he was tired, and when he's tired he starts to dis-integrate, so a lot of affect-laden stuff which is absent during the day bubbles to the surface. He's normally quite cheerful, but is subject to troubling questions when exhausted.)

In the end, the best I could do is to say that both theism and atheism engender puzzles, but that theism is by far the more satisfactory view, since atheism explains nothing. Of the two theories, there is simply no comparison in their explanatory power, despite the admitted conundrums of religion. Stick with it, I advised. It will make more sense as you continue to "live it" as opposed to merely thinking it.

Also, I told him that he needs to narrow his focus a little, and consider the concrete reality of his life as opposed to the nonlocal abstractions of "suffering" or "evil." He has precisely no direct experience of these, so it's good that he thinks about them, but one cannot do so in a disproportionate manner. Nor can you save the world except one assoul at a time, beginning with oneself. Much if not most of the evil in the world is caused by assouls who presume to save everyone else, Obama being one more nauseating example.

Speaking of whom, it occurred to me that this malevolent being makes no apologies for undercutting our most basic values, i.e., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- not abstractly or theoretically, but concretely and intimately, all the while pretending that he is promoting these same values.

How, you ask? Let's take Obamacare. This monstrosity was promoted with the explicit promises that it would preserve our liberty -- "if you like your doctor/plan, you can keep your doctor/plan"; advance the Pursuit of Happiness (AKA property) -- a savings of $2,500 a year and a general reduction in healthcare costs; and allow Life to flourish -- more people covered, and with better care for all.

In reality, we quite obviously have (or will have) far less freedom, wealth, and health. Now, wouldn't you feel bad if this were the signature accomplishment of your whole worthless life? You know how you think back on something embarrassing in your life, and you inwardly cringe? If I were Obama, I'd never be able to stop cringing. So, how does he do it? How does one miss out on the cringe gene?

Since man existed for 100,000 or so years before this thing called "modernity," I wonder if we aren't really adapted to modernity, or whether the old adaptations persists under the surface? Actually, I don't wonder about it. I'm sure of it. Much of the attraction to religion is due to the fact that religion is proportioned to human beings and human experience, whereas science deals with abstract worlds that no one can or ever will directly experience.

This does not mean that scientific knowledge itself is somehow "bad." It only becomes so when we attempt to superimpose it on man, or attempt to force man to conform to it, because the person always escapes its reach. Thus, Schuon writes that

"many forms of knowledge can be harmful in practice as soon as they cease to correspond to the hereditary experience of man and are imposed on him without his being spiritually prepared to receive them; the human soul finds difficulty in coping with facts that are not offered to its experience in the ordinary course of nature" (emphasis mine).

Thus, for example, man has never before lived without God, so it is truly a radical experiment to try to determine if this is possible on a widespread scale, or whether human happiness and flourishing are possible in his absence. Could be. But I seriously doubt it.

It reminds me of something in Vanderleun's snidebar describing all these pathetic old feminists who were "the first to abandon the way of life of their mothers, which meant they pursued careers, married and had children late, had affairs then got divorced, all in the name of liberation, are now imprisoned in debt, alcohol abuse and loneliness, wishing they could die, and do it soon."

So, how's that non-conformity to divine-human reality working out?

Monday, April 21, 2014

51 Genders and No Men

No time for a real post. Just this freely associated crap.

You sometimes hear people cite that crack in the Bible about there being nothing new under the sun, but is it so? Is it all really the sameold sameold -- or the same underlying reality in a new guise?

And if we do believe it's all just an absurcular exercise in eternal return, does this make us cynical or wise? One could approach a movie or novel in the same jaded manner, but it certainly wouldn't enhance our enjoyment. On the other hand, if a person wiser -- or more cynical -- than us can see the predictable myth we're living out while hoping for a different ending, it would be foolish to ignore him.

For Schuon -- and implicitly for any religious person, or believer in the perennial wisdom -- "there are no such things as 'problems of our time' in the philosophers' sense of the expression."

Perhaps the most immediate -- and annoying -- practical implication of this is in the dismissive liberal attitude toward the Constitution, which for them is just a local expression of its time and place. It has no contemporary relevance, unless it is absolutely convenient. There are just too many new problems that the Founders could not have foreseen -- for example, James Madison had no idea that there are 51 genders but no men -- so we shouldn't allow it to prevent liberals from doing what they know is best for us.

This is not to say there aren't new questions, such as, How did man go for 100,000 years without knowing about the other 49 genders? That doesn't say much for man's perceptiveness, does it? However, once you have the idea of gender as arbitrary cultural construct, it doesn't matter if you have two genders or two hundred, because the deeper foundation of the idea is that All is Relative, a very old idea.

Not only that, but it is an expression of utter cynicism with regard to "given" truth. If we can't agree that there are only two sexes, then it's doubtful we can agree on anything, because there is no mutual foundation at all.

Even a crock is right once or twice in a lifetime. In Keynes case, it was when he remarked without irony that, "starting with a mistake, a remorseless logician can end in Bedlam." And Bedlam is another name for -- yes, Krugman, but also the contemporary looniversity bin, where they don't "put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of ‘academic freedom.’”

In other words, "academic freedom" is just a transparent pig leaf for White Privilege, so who needs it? Can't we just get on with the Social Justice? After all, Marx said that other philosophers waste their time trying to understand the world, when the point is to change the world. So, as presidents go, Obama has been a pretty effective Marxist philosopher.

Continuing with Schuon's line of thought, he writes that there can be "no thought that one could describe as 'new' in its very foundations." Again, is this true? I'm thinking of Whitehead, who remarked that all of Western philosophy was just a footnote on Plato. What does that make me, a bunion?

I think it is true, in the sense that man is everywhere and everywhen confronted with certain irreducible orthoparadoxes. We've discussed them on many occasions, e.g., time/eternity, form/substance, field/particle, individual/group, part/whole, change/continuity, freedom/constraint, etc. The ONLY way to resolve these is to collapse the complementarity in favor of one side or the other, which is what any "new" philosophy inevitably does.

In fact -- and this is the subject of a different post -- I think it is accurate to say that Christian orthodoxy, on a metaphysical level, is devoted to preserving and balancing these orthoparadoxes. Every heresy I can think of involves the false resolution of one of them, e.g., Christ as God or man instead of God and man.

In any event, Schuon concedes that there can be new questions, even if there can be no radically new problems. One of our most prominent new questions has to do with the breach between science and faith. These two existed side by side for all of human history and prehistory, until just a few hundred years ago, so I guess that's a new problem.

Except that what we call science didn't actually exist prior to modernity. This is addressed from another angle in this mediocre book on Money. Martin suggests that a sort of world-historical Big Bang occurred with the invention of writing, which resulted in "an unprecedented intellectual revolution" revolving around "an emancipation of thought by the new ability to quantify, to record, to reflect, and to criticize what was written." This was nothing less than a clear distinction between the objective and subjective worlds, and with it, "the emergence of abstract rational thought."

However, I think that what occurred with modern science -- or scientism, to be precise -- is a devaluation and eclipse of the subjective pole of that complementarity. Which is why subjectivity covertly returned through the back door in the form of the hyper-irrationalism of the left.