Friday, June 13, 2014

Express Your Uniqueness. Everybody's Doing It!

We are all forced to adapt to a world we didn't make. However, what would a world we did make look like?

No matter who you are and how much you know, your world would be an impoverished and piss-poor substitute for this one. A man without an inherited culture is not even an animal. Which is why we cringe when we see a human being behaving like one.

This is one of those foundational truths inverted by the left, beginning with Rousseau, who thought that man needs civilization like a Raccoon needs a tuxedo. In other words, he thought that man minus civilization was the real deal, or that man plus civilization is something false and meretricious.

You can follow this theme right on up through, I don't know, Nancy Pelosi's loony belief that Obamacare will free millions of Americans to be painters and poets. For the left, it's just a matter of unleashing man's inner goodness, either by removing societal impediments or handing out cash and other valuable prizes. Never mind that we already have way too many books, poems, and paintings.

This is a really dangerous and delusional idea, but that doesn't prevent one from earning a Ph.D. in Dangerous Delusions. I nearly did so myself, when I was studying psychology. I began doing so on my own, in my usual multi-undisciplinary way, starting with Freud. Freud was a "scientist" -- a trained neurologist -- and yet, was as insanely romantic as Rousseau in his belief that the secret of life was to liberate the pre-civilized man from the constraints of civilization.

"The primary friction" of life, Freud thought, stems "from the individual's quest for instinctual freedom and civilization's contrary demand for conformity and instinctual repression." As a result, "our possibilities of happiness are restricted by the law."

"Happiness?" What's that? Mostly an illusion, but I suppose we get a glimpse of it when discharging an instinct -- for example, raping, or killing, or gorging: "Many of humankind's primitive instincts (for example, the desire to kill and the insatiable craving for sexual gratification) are clearly harmful to the well-being of a human community. As a result, civilization creates laws that prohibit killing, rape, and adultery, and it implements severe punishments if such rules are broken. This process, argues Freud, is an inherent quality of civilization that instills perpetual feelings of discontent in its citizens."

There are many errors in Freud's analysis, beginning with the artificial dualisms between man and culture, man and man, and man and himself. Other than that, he's spot on.

Even so, I well remember thinking this made sense. After all, there is desire -- what we want -- and various societal impediments -- oh no you don't! -- which results in frustration. That's life.

If we could summarize Freud's -- and the left's -- error, it might fall under the heading of "dis-integration." In this view, there is no hope of integrating instinct and civilization into a higher vertical unity. Indeed, that's just an illusion. After all, there can be no middle ground here: either religion is real or it is a delusion, a fantasy, a drug.

Having said that, there is something trivially commonsensical about Freud's analysis, in a folk psychology sort of way. We all have the occasional urge to do something we shouldn't. It doesn't ruin life. Rather, it is somewhat like the impersonal fuel (the "id") that drives life. But the mind has an engine and a steering wheel, and as with a car, it's pointless to have one without the other. That is to say, they are integrated by or in the person

In beginning with the idea of person, Christian humanism avoids -- or should avoid -- the dis-integrating tendencies alluded to above. This is a theme of the excellent-so-far The Common Mind: Politics, Society and Christian Humanism from Thomas More to Russell Kirk.

I suppose we could say that "innocence" is a primary state of integration, or at least pre-disintegration. We all undergo a fall from this state, hopefully not prematurely, such that it leaves no traces of vertical recollection of unity. I can already sense in some of my son's skeevier friends that the dis-integration has begun. You can see and feel the darkness. Children are supposed to be protected from this, but our culture shamelessly exposes them to it. Who wants to explain to their child what an erection lasting longer than four hours is, and why one needs to seek immediate medical attention should one arise?

Talk about a world one didn't make.

Now, another fallacy of the Freudian-Rousseuian perspective is that freeing people of "repression" will unleash the individual. Rather, the opposite occurs, in that the so-called id is the most anonymous and impersonal feature of our standard equipment.

Thus, as Moore writes, "in the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, [people] feel an increasing sense of disintegration and separation -- from the past, within individuals and within communities which increasingly seem to hold little in common except the will to be as as different as they please from any sense of the normal."

"Paradoxically" -- I would of course say orthoparadoxically -- this "leads to a dull uniformity of the lowest common denominator."

Yet, it seems this "collective disintegration" is "celebrated by many for its freedom, vitality and novelty, such that we become convinced... of a collective insanity in which we do not share."

In short, I prefer the vertical world not made by man to the horizontal one the left has created so as to feel at home in their spiritually naked barbarity.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Having a Distant Relationship to Truth

Why do we want to know what we don't know -- and maybe even can't know -- anyway? Why don't we mind our own isness, as do other animals? Dogs don't want to know what it's like on the moon, any more than liberals want to know what it's like to be curious.

Yet, this impulse truly defines the normal human being, doesn't it? It is what perpetually pushes us beyond ourselves to look for the Answer we know we can never fully attain. This is no less true of the (intellectually honest) atheist than it is of the theist, except the latter is fully conscious of the fact that the goal cannot be reached in this life, and he's cool with that.

If he is a little more conscious, he realizes that it is only because it can't be reached that the search can take place at all -- similar to Thomas's idea that it is only because things are not ultimately knowable that they are knowable at all. (In short, the reason things are intelligible is that they are created; the reason they are not ultimately knowable is that we aren't their Creator.)

It has a name: Meno's Paradox. But this is a True Orthoparadox, as true as they come. In other words, in its way, it is an Ultimate Answer, or at least a boundary beyond which the mind cannot venture. It cannot be "resolved" in thought because it is one of the bases of thought.

Here is how Socrates phrases the paradox: "A man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know. He cannot search for what he knows -- since he knows it, there is no need to search -- nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for."

Socrates tries to resolve the paradox via a theory of vertical recollection, which is adequate as far as it goes, but it still doesn't explain our ignorance or our drive to know. Why are we in this cosmic situation?

Pabst agrees with Bob that our "natural desire for the supernatural good discloses the divinely infused self-transcendence of all things." So, first of all, we must begin with the principle that man is the microcosm, or in the image and likeness of the Creator. What does the Creator do?

Well, for starters -- IMHO -- he is in a perpetual state of ecstatic self-emptying, or kenosis. This emptying has its human analog in the form of not-knowing, or of the emptiness that precedes any act of knowing.

It also has its analog in human relations, in that only by giving love do we receive love. The person who is "full of himself" -- the narcissist -- can neither give nor receive love, because he is already "complete" (in a pseudo manner, of course, i.e., a kind of aping of the completeness of God).

"Divine goodness is that which endows us with the natural desire for the supernatural Good in God" (ibid.). Thus, our innate epistemophilia isn't really natural at all. Nor is it unnatural or anti-natural. Rather, it is always supernatural, or to express it with a less loaded term, transnatural.

It is also a prolongation of childhood, or neoteny. Other animals play, but pretty much only as babies. In fact, play for most animals is a kind of rehearsal for adulthood -- for example, in the way kittens practice stalking and attacking one another. Such play has a clear telos, or instinctual end, that is hardwired into the genes (and/or in a nonlocal morphic field).

But human learning-play has no end -- not chronologically, ontologically, developmentally, or epistemologically. Or, it has an end, but again, this is not like an animal end, since it can never be reached. There is no fixed and final form, because we can never stop learning unless something has gone wrong. If a man does reach an end, it is almost by definition a pathological state. You might say that we cannot reach the end because we may search for it (and vice versa).

To reach the end -- whether via ideology or just laziness -- is pathological for reasons alluded to in that little quote in the comment box: "The quest, thus, has no external 'object,' but is reality itself becoming luminous for its movement from the ineffable, through the Cosmos, to the ineffable."

We mean this quite literally. Again, the existence of this spiroid movement is itself an answer beyond which there can be no more adequate one, because it represents the actualization or prolongation of intelligibility in concert with the deepening of intelligence.

Thus, reality "reaches out" to us, even as we reach in, which means that reality is intrinsically relational, and it is ultimately relational because God is irreducibly so. There is no atom, no fact, no datum, no theory, no answer answer beneath or beyond eternally orthoparadoxical relationality.

To not be puzzled by such a queer state of affairs is to have a queerly defective puzzler.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Postmodern is the New Premodern

Bearing in mind that other people's dreams are always boring, I'll be brief: I had forgotten where I parked my car, and was looking all over for it in a huge, multilevel parking lot. It then dawned on me that I was doing so while behind the wheel of my car. D'oh!

During the search, I was fretfully thinking to myself that misplacing the car was a Senior Moment of epic proportions. However, the Dreamer must have had something else in mind, since of course he knew all along (very funny!) where the car was. He was just messing with my head, as usual.

Considering the dream in broad daylight, it highlights the paradox of trying to look for reality while ignoring the reality of the looker. You could say that this is what Buddhism is all about, except that neither the car nor the driver really exist. It was all just a dream. Yes, but who dreamt it?

In the west, we believe we can find the car, dammit, even while driving it. This is bound to generate metaphysical paradoxes, but scientists don't waste any time thinking about them. They'll deal with them if they ever actually catch the car. Meanwhile, they're not going to stop chasing it because they can't yet account for the driver.

What makes us think we can discover reality, anyway? The ancient world was fairly unanimous in the belief that we couldn't, at least by confining our search to empirical parking lots.

The western scientific enterprise represents a split from this primordial matrix, what with its exploration of material reality. In turn, what we call postmodernism represents another split from that road, back to the premodern belief that appearances only deceive.

Actually, postmodernism renders man doubly lost, since at least premodern man assumed a reality behind appearances, whereas postmodern man believes only in appearances. Beneath appearances are only more appearances. Life is the search for a car that doesn't exist in a parking lot built by the patriarchy.

A brief answer to the question posed above about what makes us think we can discover reality: what if I told you I had the most inconceivably complex information network in the entire universe, with a gravimetric power density 100,000 times that of the sun?

Never mind what "gravimetric power density" means. It still sounds pretty impressive, no? And with 100 billion neurons, each connecting to a hundred others, that makes for 100 trillion connections in numberless potential configurations. By way of comparison, Bryce writes that the network in our skulls is orders of magnitude more densely packed than the 40 billion pages of this here Web.

So yeah, I think we can do this thing.

Yes but. You know how Darwinians try to drag man down by reminding us that man and chimp are separated by a one percent difference (or whatever it is) in DNA? What this really means is that DNA is obviously insufficient to account for the literally infinite gulf between man and chimp.

Analogously, let's assume that, despite my sr. moments, I still have the average number of marbles, 100 trillion. Another person, say, Charles Blow, has 99 trillion. Clearly, that mere trillion connections is insufficient to account for why he is such a retard, and why he is so hopelessly out of touch with reality.

So this big brain, phenomenal though it may be, is only necessary but not sufficient to find the cosmic car. Where then does the sufficiency come from?

Not to get out in front of our headlights, but the quick answer is "God." However, this is not an answer that will satisfy the ignorant masses and Blow hordes, so it requires some further explication. To say "God" is not to invoke magic so as to end the conversation. Rather, it is only beginning. "God" is like a cognitive placemarker, or algebraic variable that we must fill out with wisdom and experience (which is why I often deploy the unsaturated pneumaticon O).

God doesn't just give us one book to work with. For that matter, nor does science really work from just the one book of material reality. Rather, there are always four books, the book of nature, the book of the human subject, the book of history, and the book of revelation.

Not only is it possible to harmonize these books, they can really only be separated in fantasy, or in the abstract. Specifically, they are (beautifully) harmonized in the irreducible cosmic principle of "person" so that each book is written and read in the gap between persons: between person and person (horizontally) and between person and Person (vertically).

As Pabst properly notes, "there is no dualism opposing the Book of Scripture to the Book of Nature, as both are complementary modes of human cognition and in this sense mutually reinforcing."

Please note that to say they are not dualistic is not to say they aren't two. Rather, it is to say that this twoness is a fruitful dialogue and not a static opposition. It only becomes static for the infertile egghead, a term we mean literally.

That is to say, the early fathers spoke of the logos spermatikos, or "seeds of the Logos" which are "sent down to humanity." Thus, "it is the Word made flesh which acts in us and, analogically speaking, plants the seeds of the divine Logos in our mind."

Although the seeds are free, they often fall on the rocky soil of the infertile egghead, so no conception may take place. In this context, Mary would represent the very archetype of transhuman fertility. Thus, "our natural knowledge of the supernatural good is in is but not of us," so even saying Yes to God is already God saying Yes in us and to us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Civilization, Humanization, Divinization

If man is just another animal, then most everything about civilization is artificial and unnatural. It cannot in any way be normative; rather, civilizational norms will ultimately be as arbitrary as shaking with the right hand or removing one's hat in a restaurant.

At best such norms might be neutral, but more likely they will simply be Masks of Power. For example, holding a door for a lady will be an instance of misogyny. Besides, there are no ladies. That term was invented by the patriarchy in order to control Dangerous Female Sexuality.

To say there are no civilizational norms is also to say that there is no correct way to be human. Many on the left fervently embrace this idea (which they must do if they are to be intellectually consistent). When my former leftbob first became interested in psychology, he read insopherable authors such as R.D. Laing, who argued that the insane were really sane, and vice versa. Likewise philosophers such as Foucault -- which is quite convenient for someone as insane as Foucault.

If you're going to have a Revolution, then you need to delegitimize the current state of affairs. The left is able to accomplish this in a stroke, since all hierarchies are bad and oppressive.

In practical terms this translates to the obsessions with "income disparity" or "marriage inequality," but it all reduces to the injustice of any delay or discrepancy between What I Want and What I Have, or between desire and reality. (Note the key point that such a system derives its infinite energy from the lower vertical, a subject to which we will return.)

Now, to say civilization is to say order. There is horizontal order and there is vertical order, and no system can have only one and remain a system. Or in other words, there is no system without verticality. An automobile engine, for example, harnesses the horizontal laws of physics for the vertical purpose of -- well, of anything, since purpose as such is intrinsically vertical. It cannot be reduced to physical law.

If we consider Aristotle's four causes -- material, efficient, formal, and final -- the first two are horizontal, the second two vertical. On the human plane, we might say that the body is horizontal and the soul vertical, even though the two can only be separated in the abstract.

However, there is a kind of fractal organization, in that the body itself has any number of vertical hierarchies, just as the soul has its efficient causes.

One thing I've been thinking about lately is how all systems are susceptible to vertical influences, which is what makes the cosmos go. For example, the entirety of human art and invention is a result of mind putting its stamp on matter.

This is a very queer situation when you think about it, because why shouldn't a lawful cosmos simply result in a monotonous, predictable, and eternally recurring series of cycles? Instead, these cycles "jump" to higher levels, as if guided by some nonlocal hierarchy drawing them upward.

This is one of the themes of The Experience of God. For example, "God is not a God who merely preserves the world in a cyclic form, but a God who is at work now, in our time and space, and who calls humanity and creation to the fullness of life."

As a result, nature is structured in such a way that it leaves a space for the interventions of free human decisions that further shape matter -- or where human freedom and divine freedom touch and create yet another something from nothing.

In other words, God is the Cause of vertical causes, the very principle that explains why systems do not simply repeat or dissipate. You can understand this in very practical terms. For example, why don't all marriages end in repetition, boredom, and ennui? That many do, there is no doubt. But what is really missing? In my opinion, it is the continuous renewal that can only occur when there is the vivifying ingression of vertical energy, i.e., grace.

More generally, every system needs something from outside itself in order to keep going. For example, your automobile needs gasoline, just as your body needs food. But what does the soul need? Yes, it absolutely needs God's grace, even if you don't realize it or recognize that that is what is going on.

"Expressed another way," writes Staniloae, "what was created from the beginning was also created by God as capable of receiving the power through which new orders might appear." And "creation does not reach its completion until, in humanity, God has revealed its meaning."

In other words, meaning is revealed to man in man via Incarnation and Resurrection. Thus, "the road to God passes through our humanization" -- the latter being the singular form of the process of civilization.

So "By creating human beings, God has committed himself to lead them to deification," and I am holding him to that commitment.

Christians hold that without spirit the world would be enclosed within the automatic repetition of certain monotonous cycles.... Only the spirit, through the agency of its own freedom, leaves such repetition behind and can cause nature to leave it behind as well. --Dumitru Staniloae

Monday, June 09, 2014

On Translighting English to English

When asked what he thought of western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi -- possibly the world's most overrated man prior to Mahatma 'Bama -- famously responded, "I think it would be a good idea." The story may be apocryphal because Gandhi shows no other evidence of wit, and because he actually thought western civilization was a bad idea, or at least not worth defending.

Arguing for the authenticity of the comment are a number of similarly inane remarks such as "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind," "Nobody can hurt me without my permission," (which contradicts the first), and "Before the throne of the Almighty, man will be judged not by his acts but by his intentions" -- a sentiment liberals love, because it exonerates them of the evils produced by their imprudent intentions.

"Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man." Really? Maybe if you're lucky enough to be dealing with a civilized western nation such as Great Britain.

But then Gandhi advised the Brits to allow Nazi Germany to "take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings," addressed Hitler as "friend," and urged the Jews to passively consent to his genocide.

What do I think of Hindu civilization? I think it would be a good idea.

Which sounds snarky, intolerant, and even malevolent, doesn't it? We are permitted to say such things of western civilization, but not of pre-, or un- or anti-civilization. In fact, we are not even permitted to notice that some cultures are more civilized than others, which is only a recipe for rebarbarization.

Which raises the question: what is civilization? Over the weekend I read a not-raccoomended book on the subject, Metaphysics: The Creation of Hierarchy.

Why not raccoomended? Mainly because it is written in the ponderous manner of the tenured. Pabst is one of those Christian thinkers who seems to think that if only he expresses himself as pretentiously as a Heidegger or Hegel, then the right people will take him seriously. But they won't, so why bother?

In his defense, the book is based on his doctoral dissertation, and I do understand why one would want to imitate the style of the academic threshold guardians -- the tenured gargoyles who hold your fate in their grubby hands. It's like physicians who learn in medical school how to write prescriptions in an indecipherable hand, or politicians who learn how to bloviate around a question.

In fact, this mystagogic skill is absolutely essential to the cult of liberalism and to the faux expertise of the experts who presume to rule our lives (where would Obama be without it?).

But there is no humanly important thought that can't be expressed in a straightforward manner. To the extent that difficulties remain, it is in the nature of the subject, but most subjects Aren't Like That.

Rather, the things humans need to know in order to flourish qua humans are widely accessible. One of the perennial problems with liberalism is that if it is expressed in a straightforward manner, normal people recoil from it. Hence the obfuscation, dissembling, and tortured rationalization (except when they are speaking to one another and the mask can come off).

Despite the hamhandededness of its prose, we were nevertheless able to distill a few gnuggets from the book. Or at least we'll try, goddammit, we'll try.

You're welcome.

Pabst says something on page 100 that (almost) perfectly expresses the Raccoon metaphysic: "To discover divine sapentia at the heart of the cosmos and the self is to discover the integral and ecstatic openness and direction of all that is to God."

You see the problem? Why "sapentia"? Why not just divine wisdom? If I were to rewrite it in my own manner, it would go something like this: In discovering the divine wisdom that beats in the heart of the living cosmos and courses through the arteries of the Self, we simultaneously discover the ecstatic openness to God of all that exists, and with it, the integral movement of creation back to Creator.

The book (which is part of a series) has the noble goal of forging a post-postmodern and postliberal metaphysic capable of making total sense of our cosmic situation. The editors of the series begin with an observation by Flannery O'Connor, that "If you live today, you breathe in nihilism." Quite true, and only more so today.

Now, "pneuma" of course means spirit and breath. There is biological re-spiration and there is spiritual re-spiration. And in either case, if the atmosphere is polluted, we will nevertheless keep breathing. What happens to someone who is running out of oxygen in an enclosed space? If we could conduct an autopsy of a person's spirtual lungs, what would we find? Would they be all black, like a smoker's?

Here is another unhelpful comment -- or a helpful one expressed in an unhelpful manner:

"Hierarchy and anagogy describe the ascending movement whose original, reverse movement is kenosis in the divine humanity of Jesus Christ. In this manner, the 'in between' of Christian metaphysics can perhaps be depicted as a spiral paradox whereby individual substances are individuated relationally by participating in the substantive relationality of the triune God."

Yes, perhaps. Why not just say (↓) and (↑)? Our inspiration is God's expiration in the orthoparadoxical spiroid movement of cosmotheosis.

Out of time. To be continued...