Once Upon a Time in America
The Religion the Almighty & Me Works out Betwixt us
multi-undisciplinary circumnavelgazing around the whole existentialada!
with • Neotraditional Retrofuturism • Mental Gymgnostics • Verticalesthenics • Dilettantric Yoga • Leftwing Ridiculism • Freevangelical Pundamentalism • Advanced Leisure Studies • Comparative Nonsense • Flaming Homilies • Jehovial Witticisms
The Cosmos is our school, The Intellect our Faculty, Truth the first Principal
There is no real debate about this: the most important truths are both knowable and known. In the words of The Poet, they have already been discovered / Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope / To emulate.
Which is what the celebration of Independence Day is all about (for the purposes of this post we are including the Constitution that gave political form to our liberty). Who can hope to emulate George Washington, or Alexander Hamilton, or James Madison? Barack Obama? He can only hope to neutralize them, or at least minimize the damage they do to the ambitions of progressive statists.
On that score he's arguably made more progress than any president in our history. Or in other words, he's succeeded in doing more damage to truth than any of his predecessors.
But what has been lost and rediscovered is always lost and found and lost again; and now, under conditions / That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss. / For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business (Eliot).
As I'm sure we've discussed on a number of occasions, the truths we're talking about are never discovered in a once-and-for-all fashion. Rather, they must be rediscovered anew by each generation, and indeed, each individual. Why is this? Why must metaphysical truth be so seemingly difficult to discover and establish on this earth?
Two reasons come to mind. The first is that this discovery is bound up with our very reason for being here. Pursuit of truth constitutes the meaning, the struggle, the romance, and the adventure of life.
Furthermore, it is a vertical struggle, meaning that it naturally runs counter to impersonal (and personal) forces that run in the opposite direction. We might just as well ask, "why is it so difficult for me to make a slam dunk?" In my case, the answer is gravity. If it weren't for stupid gravity, I'd take some of these youngbloods to skool. Uncle Bob got skilz!
Also, the fact that this truth cannot be given but must be discovered is a mercy, not a curse. If this weren't the case, then the pleasures of the spirit would be diminished, just as the pleasures of the mind would be impossible if everything were known.
What if everything were known in the usual sense, and there were no mystery surrounding and penetrating us? That would be a kind of hell. The Library of Babel, a short story by Borges, captures this hellish (im)possibility. It "describes a vast collection of books... whose volumes contain all possible combinations of alphabetic characters" (Lindsey, where I found the reference. Don't worry, I'm not going all literary on you).
"Everything is there... the minute history of the future, the autobiographies of the archangels, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, a demonstration of the fallacy of these catalogues, a demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary of this gospel, the veridical account of your death, a version of each book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books" (Borges).
One person's hell is another person's academia.
Of course, being random, "Most of the books, inevitably, contain only unreadable gibberish" (Lindsey). There is no combination of letters "which the divine Library has not already foreseen."
So, on the one hand, the library is omniscient, containing all possible knowledge. And yet, this is analogous to Hegel's "bad infinite," which you might say is simply unbounded nothingness, i.e., the endless night in which all cows are black. Everything and nothing.
How does a universe that is random at one end result in truth at the other? We'll come back to that in a
moment later post.
Lindsey suggests that "Borges's library provides an apt metaphor for contemporary America's pandemonium of social and cultural diversity." Everyone is hard at work making their own little contribution to the Library.
Our president, for example, has contributed five books, when I thought it was just the two better known turds. In any event, that's five times as many as Hamilton and Madison, whose only contribution is the Federalist, and he knows so much more than they did.
The secular left, as always, is of two mindlessnesses about this: on the one hand, man is nothing but an animal, ergo, a species. On the other hand, he is a product of culture, and therefore not a species at all, since cultures are so beautifully diverse, with no common core, so to speak. In the latter view, putting a man on the moon is no better than putting a bone in one's nose. There's just no universal, objective way to distinguish these activities, much less say that one is more evolved than the other.
But if moon-manners and nose-boners aren't just horizontally diverse but vertically distinct, then they are more like different species. True, they can still interbreed and produce fertile offspring, but that alone doesn't resolve the species problem:
"It is surprisingly difficult to define the word 'species' in a way that applies to all naturally occurring organisms, and the debate among biologists about how to define 'species' and how to identify actual species is called the species problem. Over two dozen distinct definitions of 'species' are in use amongst biologists."
Even though the academically correct insist that man is nothing but an animal species, I have a feeling that they would object to the idea that this species naturally divides into subspecies, but why? I suppose Because Hitler and other progressive thinkers who leapt to the wholly unwarranted conclusion that this was a zero-sum game, and that other subspecies needed to be exterminated. But only a barbarous and undeveloped subspecies would arrive at such an evil conclusion.
Another example of secular muddleheadedness: virtually all psychological theorists posit a developmental model in which man transitions through various stages on the way to maturity. At the same time, they tell us that a fetus is not a human being. In short, they affirm that man is always in transition, pointing beyond himself to a higher organization, except during the first nine months of his existence. We've actually had commenters insist that this entity is not a human being. What is it, then? Oh, just a meaningless aggregate of cells.
That kind of thinking, by the way, is prima facie evidence of a certain subspecies of human being. We've discussed it in the past, but its main psycho-cognitive characteristics revolve around what Melanie Klein called the "paranoid-schizoid position" (heretofore PS) and what Bion called "attacks on linking." Briefly, starting with the latter, an attack on linking has the purpose of eliminating an unwanted meaning by attacking the cognitive links that lead to it.
Let's say, for example, I refuse to believe that congress shall make no law prohibiting the free expression of religion. It takes a lot of cognitive work to make that one go away, but liberals are always up to the task. This is what makes them such an intriguing subspecies to study! Think of the tortured mental process that can result in the belief that religious expression is not a constitutional right, but killing your baby is.
Same with Citizens United. How to get around the fact that congress can make no law abridging the freedom of speech? It takes a constitutional scholar to argue that the amendment applies to all "speech" -- including pornography, flag-burning, and dung-flinging -- except political speech.
Back in the day, I remember that this particular book, The Matrix of the Mind, did a superb job of explaining what paranoid-schizoid thinking is all about. Let's pull it down from the shelf and see if it still holds up.
Here it is, chapter 3, The Paranoid-Schizoid Position: Self as Object. I realize this may or may not be of interest to you, but it is to me, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. So come along. You might even learn something. One thing you might learn about -- not that you care -- is the deeper roots of my whole worldview, roots so deep that they have been forgotten and now operate unconsciously. In other words, this may lay bare some of my cosmic deep structure, for better or worse.
"Melanie Klein's view of psychological development can be viewed as a biphasic progression from the biological to the impersonal-psychological, and from the impersonal-psychological to the subjective." Well, first of all, that's three phases (biological / impersonal-psychological / subjective), to which I would add a fourth, the transcendent-universal, but this is a good start, for it highlights the fact that man is gradually teased out of this biological matrix, both individually and collectively. That is, as I described in the book, just as humanness was teased out of the biosphere, the mature human being is potentiated from the infantile matrix. Indeed,
"The first of these developmental advances involves a transformation of the infant as a purely biological entity into the infant as a psychological entity." The only thing I would add is that when he says "biological," a better term might be "psychobiological," because he's referring to a biological mode of human cognition, not to biology per se. It is a mode of thinking with distinctly human characteristics, not equivalent to something like "cellular thinking."
The shift from biological to psychological marks the entry into the PS position, "a developmental phase of 'itness,' wherein the infant is lived by his experience. Thoughts and feeling happen to the infant rather than being thought or felt by the infant."
I can confirm that Theodore Dalrymple is absolutely correct in his view that the permanent underclass is completely dominated by this arrested form of cognition -- which is why the War On Poverty is utterly beside the point, since we're not just talking about material poverty or even intellectual and spiritual poverty, but an impoverished mode of thinking as such. (See, for example, The Knife Went In. I didn't put it there. It just, you know, happened.)
PS thinking is dominated by certain processes known as "defense mechanisms," but they are really only defense mechanisms for a person in a higher developmental stage. In other words, for PS thinking, they are normative, and especially include splitting and projection, which naturally lead to a failure of integration at various levels of being.
The roots of splitting go back to "the most basic mode of management of danger," that is, "separating the endangering from the endangered." You might say that this is a psychological analogue of, say, a turtle withdrawing into its shell, or a possum playing dead, or a liberal placing his head up his ass. "Logic and volition are no more involved in this pattern of defense than they are in the neurological reflexes of the newborn infant."
Thus, what we call "splitting" is simply a mode of managing psychological danger. But how does a human being separate the endangering from the endangered if they're both in his own head? Easy: by splitting his head in two, and projecting the bad part out (or sometimes by projecting out the good, in order to keep it "safe"). Projection "can be understood as an effort in phantasy to remove an internal danger by locating the danger outside oneself, i.e., separating oneself from it as if it were located in another."
For example, why is it that the only females who believe there is a war on women are those at war with their own femininity? Or, why are men in the Islamic world so obsessed with the dangers of female sexuality? In order to control their own sexual thoughts and impulses, they exert extraordinary control over the object that provokes them. Or, why is it that only covetous liberals obsess over the "greedy one percent"?
In each case, the "bad" is placed outside the individual's mind, but only in phantasy, not of course in reality ("ph" phantasy is a psychoanalytic term of art essentially meaning a fantasy that is operating unconsciously). In reality it is an intrapsychic process between parts of one's own mind. Which is why, as Bion put it, such a person cannot "learn from experience." Why not? Because they are not actually experiencing something outside their own head, for starters. Because of this, the process will simply be repeated ad nauseam, which is one reason why liberals never learn, and why the same mistakes must be made again and again.
In short, with these kinds of primitive processes, "biological automaticity has been transformed into psychological automaticity." Such processes cannot be examined in a detached and critical manner, because they are not quite at the level of "experience." They are more basically "a mode of organizing experience," a mental operation "used in the beginning to create order out of the chaos of the infant's earliest experience on the basis of categories inherent in his instinctual deep structure."
You will have noticed that liberals are all about order. For them, the unjust order imposed by the state is infinitely preferable to the spontaneous order of free human interaction. So, for example, out of the 2.9 million inconsistencies produced by ObamaCare, only 15% can be fixed. Doesn't matter. Anything is preferable to the chaos of freedom. Make it go away!
So yeah, liberals are pretty much a different species: Homo controlus.
Is there such a thing as common sense, or has it been successfully eradicated by the progressive educational establishment? If it does exist, what is it, and how does it work? Is it something a person has by virtue of his personhood, or is it something only acquired through experience? And if the latter, is it through personal experience, or the collective experience of generations who have had to face the same existential conditions? And where does one acquire such collective wisdom? From the family? Culture? Education? The state?
What if the most important things not only can't be taught, but can't even be clearly articulated? Rather, they can only be lived and maybe symbolized, but not with language per se. A passage lifted from Happy Acres resonates:
"The challenge for each new generation is figuring out what’s worth keeping and what worth tinkering with. The progressive attitude is that everything is eligible not just for tinkering, but wholesale replacement. The people who lived yesterday were idiots, but we are geniuses!"
Which goes to something Schuon said on a number of occasions: that if people prior to us were such idiots, it is impossible to explain how we could be so brilliant, given the crooked timber we're built with. It's almost as if progressives posit a kind of cognitive original sin that strangled the mentality of every man until this new breed suddenly and inexplicably arrived on the scene with their immaculate and sinless intellects.
But "The conservative attitude is to assume that our parents and grandparents weren’t fools and that they did some things for good reasons." However, as alluded to above, it is possible that these reasons were never consciously thought out or articulated. Rather, perhaps "some things our forebears bequeathed us are good for no 'reason' at all."
This is consistent with Hayek, who "argued that many of our institutions and customs emerged from 'spontaneous order' -- that is, they weren’t designed on a piece of paper, they emerged, authorless, to fulfill human needs through lived experience, just as our genetic 'wisdom' is acquired through trial and error. Paths in the forest aren’t necessarily carved out on purpose. Rather they emerge over years of foot traffic."
Which reminds me of something I read in Lawrence in Arabia. It is impossible to imagine the vastness of the desert, which is essentially like a featureless ocean of sand and rocks. However, the Bedouins don't simply wander around blindly. Rather, the sandscape is dotted with the occasional well, so if we were to map the human phase space of the desert, we would actually see well worn (but invisible) paths from well to well.
Well, it's the same with the human mindscape. One of the fondest principles of progressives is that the mind is indeed a trackless desert -- a blank slate -- and therefore infinitely malleable. Absent that dubious principle, then progressive schemes cannot get off the ground, because people are going to be people, and there's not a damn thing the state can do about it.
What this really explains is why progressive schemes do get a few inches off the ground, only to promptly crash and burn. Which then requires another progressive scheme to put out the fire and clean up the mess. Repeat ad infinitum.
Continuing with the Happy Acres passage, "In the parable of the fence, Chesterton says you must know why the fence was built before you can tear it down. But Burke and Hayek get at something even deeper: what if no one built the fence?... Or what if everyone built the fence without realizing it? What if we are surrounded by fences that were never consciously built or planned but were instead the natural consequence of lived experience?"
Do you think beavers consciously think about how to defend their practice of dam building, or that spiders wonder about the environmental impact of their webs? Similarly, "So much of what makes civilization civilized is intangible, spontaneous, and mysterious. An unknowable number of our greatest laws are hidden, our greatest wisdom is authorless, and our most valuable treasures are in our hearts. This should foster enormous humility about how to out-think humanity."
I think this explains how and why the people who try to outthink humanity are always lacking in common sense, even if they are otherwise "geniuses." For example, Albert Einstein: genius at physics. Idiot at politics. Noam Chomsky: I'll take their word for it that he's a genius at linguistics, if they'll take my word for it that he's a retard at pretty much everything else.
Bion said something about the limitations of language, to the effect that we run into trouble when we try to use this device designed to negotiate the physical world to map the psychic -- let alone spiritual -- world. Obviously, in order to accomplish the latter, we will have to use language in a different way, if we can accomplish it at all.
To cite one particularly obvious example, if you want to be perfectly literal, then there can be no name, no word, for God. As soon as you confer a name, you have placed a boundary around the boundless and signified the unsignifiable. Or, you might say that God is the (implicitly) signified with no possible (explicit) signifier.
But there are many things of this nature -- even the most important things in life. I would say that there is a kind of permanent dialectic between knowledge and mystery -- (k) and O -- and that to pretend to have transcended or eliminated the latter is to drain life of all its romance, charm, and adventure. Think about this the next time you imagine you could do a better job at creating a cosmos: how to make one that is simultaneously infinitely knowable and yet infinitely mysterious?
In my opinion, this can only be because the cosmos is personal and from the hand of a person, since a person is the quintessential case of something infinitely knowable and yet utterly mysterious and "other."
You could say that we are talking literally about embodied -- or incarnated -- truth(s).
Fine observation by Eliot, also lifted from Happy Acres, about "the decline of religious sensibility." Sensibility is not sense per se, but sensation in a higher key, so to speak -- like taste in music or poetry.
So "The trouble of the modern age is not merely the inability to believe certain things about God and man which our forefathers believed, but the inability to feel towards God and man as they did. A belief in which you no longer believe is something which to some extent you can still understand; but when religious feeling disappears, the words in which men have struggled to express it become meaningless" (emphasis mine).
Thus, there are any number of things in which human beings believe because they understand them, even without being able to explain how or why. This goes back to Paul's crack about faith being the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not (yet) seen. This "substance" is the ground of being, while the evidence is its end; or, just say origin and destiny, which is where we always are, because we are in (created and personal and meaningful) being.
When we talk about the "social issues" at the root of the culture war, the problem is that we are mostly talking about pre- or trans-articulated, embodied knowledge, or common sense. In his latest G-File, Jonah Goldberg writes of how these are also connected to
"the role and authority of the family. Arguments about abortion, gay marriage, obscenity, sex ed, etc. all connect to the family directly or indirectly. Even gun rights have a lot to do with the family, and not just because 'gun culture' is primarily learned in the home. Guns fit neatly into the conception of the autonomous family and the role of parents as primary protectors of their children."
Furthermore, "no institution transmits culture more effectively than the family. We learn language, dialect, and accents in the home.... We get most of our religion and morality at home. We learn from our parents how citizens behave in a society and what they should expect from society and government. It's important to keep in mind that while parents teach their kids by telling them things, the real learning comes from watching what parents do — or don't do. Kids are wired to emulate their parents" (emphasis mine).
Here again, we're talking about incarnated and largely unarticulated knowledge, i.e., how to "be" (not what to "know"; or, the "unthought known"). Which is in turn "why progressives of all labels have had their eye on the family. It is the state's greatest competition."
Or to paraphrase Woodrow Wilson -- now, there was an honest and honestly nasty progressive! -- said, "the primary mission of the educator is to make children as unlike their parents as possible."
Which is ultimately to make them as unlike human beings as possible. Well done.
Well, not pure luck. Vertical flight necessarily converges on the One, so in that sense, each post more or less touches the others. Conversely -- or inversely -- with vertical descent there is a kind of increasing divergence, discontinuity, and atomization, so that everything becomes a unique instance, with no underlying or overarching unity.
For those of you who have read the KoonKlassic IDEAS Have F*cking CONSEQUENCES, this is Weaver's central point: that our present culture war (though the book was published in 1948, it is just as true today) may be traced to the modern abandonment of transcendentals and the blind plunge into bonehead nominalism. To quote that first amazon reviewer, Weaver has in mind the Consequential Idea of
"nominalism or relativism -- the absence of belief in any source of truth outside man, the absence of universals, the reduction of all things to formless particulars. You might think that such an idea is too abstract to have any impact on your life, but Weaver argues persuasively that nominalism makes impossible the 'metaphysical dream' of an organized universe, leading to social chaos, formless art, virtueless individuals suckered by [the media-educational complex] into believing that life consists only of chasing ever more creature comforts and a universal 'spoiled-child psychology.'"
This goes back to what was said above in paragraph one, that -- obviously -- a coherent and unified worldview is only possible via some form of transcendental realism. Otherwise we are stuck down in nominalism, relativism, scientism, and materialism, which are demonically synthesized in the form of political leftism.
Isn't that a contradiction, Bob? You just said that reality cannot be integrated in the lower vertical, but is fundamentally dis-integrated, fragmented, and divergent.
Yes, precisely: for the normal human being, reality can only be synthesized through God; or, on a more purely experiential level, God is the living principle of synthesis, of integration, of unity. This is because the God-principle is both ground and destiny, or alpha and omega.
In other words, if God weren't primordial unity, there would literally be no possibility of human unity, whether religious, scientific, political, spiritual, interpersonal, aesthetic, metaphysical, intellectual, or in any other way.
Note the manner in which God, because he is the very principle of dynamic unity, cuts across and unifies all those diverse domains, from political philosophy to aesthetics to scientific inquiry to mystical experience. Each involves a form of oneness, and oneness is obviously an echo or shadow or fractal or recollection of the One.
More generally, anything that is true will be convergent with other truths and ultimately with Truth itself. On the other hand, falsehoods will stick out like undigestible sore thumbs. They can't be integrated, because they reject integration a priori. Again, once you have taken the dive into nominalism and relativism, there can be no recovery of real unity.
Yes, unless you somehow appropriate power over reality in order to impose your will upon others.
But even this is impossible for a mere man, no matter how tenured. Rather, the only way it is possible is through the assistance of a massive state that interferes with every dimension of life, from private property to education to employment to healthcare to intimate relationships. Only then does a mere human being possess the power to impose the fractured metaphysical dream of his father -- the father of lies -- upon the rest of us.
Which is why today's Supreme Court decisions are important, since they modestly chip away at that demonic power to determine and enforce a deeply pneumapathological testavus on the restuvus.
I just remembered where we left off -- or at least it remembered me, now that we're up here. We were discussing The Common Mind, one theme of which is that there is indeed a Common Mind. And if there is a common mind, then it can only be because there is a transcendent mind, or because mind is both transcendent and ordered. Or just say Transcendent Order; or, in a word, God.
To requote a particular passage, Moore writes that "Christian humanism is in radical tension with the spirit of" postmodernism, "which in deconstructing texts finds an abyss at the heart of them. In the sense in which postmodernism does the work of the devil, it is at the farthest remove from the creative function of literature."
To cite a timely example, the Constitution was written in such a way that anyone with adequate intelligence can understand it. But it takes a constitutional scholar to find an intellectual abyss at the heart of it, a nothingness so deep and wide that socialism can pass right through it without even brushing up against the natural law that is its source and purpose.
In order for the assault on transcendent reality to succeed, words must be eviscerated of their meaning; and not just words, but language itself. To quote something found at Happy Acres, Liberal Newspeak
"deliberately embraces the feminine side of language. It strives to be comforting, nurturing and soothing. It never tells you anything directly. Instead it makes you read everything between the lines. It rarely answers questions. Instead its answers indirectly explain to you why you shouldn’t even be asking the questions.
"The empty words are signals like the noises that birds and animals in the forest make. They establish identity, rather than ideas. A Liberal Newspeak discussion is more likely to be about identities, racial, gender, sexual, than about anything tangible. Like two moose meeting in the north or two sparrows chirping on a power line, the only communication that really happens is an assertion of identity."
Which is again why it is impossible to have an intelligent discussion with a leftist, because they aren't operating in the realm of intelligibility, but power. For the Machiavellians of the left, good language is effective language, not "truthful" language.
Actually, leftist language has three related functions, 1) to sever the link between words and reality, 2) to open up a space for the state to improperly co-opt the power of truth, and 3) to make liberals feel good about themselves. Thus, we end up being ruled by logophobic cretins with inappropriately high self-esteem, who get their jollies by bossing other people around.
Another accurate zinger from Happy Acres: "Today as never before there is an industry dedicated, not to educating people, but to making them feel smart. From paradigm shifting TED talks to books by thought leaders and documentaries by change agents that transform your view of the world, manufactured intelligence has become its own culture.
"Manufactured intelligence is the smarmy quality that oozes out of a New York Times column by Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Frank Bruni and the rest of the gang who tell you nothing meaningful while dazzling you with references to international locations, political events and pop culture, tying together absurdities into one synergistic web of nonsense that feels meaningful."
Which brings us back to the common mind. The left has sustained a frontal assault on our common mind and culture, replacing them with an entirely fanciful second reality that is assimilated by those most susceptible to indoctrination, i.e., overeducated mediocrities such as Obama, whose only defense against an ever-intrusive reality is the same old smelly orthodoxies he inhaled in college.
Which proves that you can drive out language out with a pitchforked tongue, but she eventually comes back shouting.