Friday, January 02, 2015

Happy New You!

Here is a summary of our progress thus far in reimagineering how we ever invented the individual:

"Christian convictions were submitted to the disciplines of logic and metaphysical speculation, to the requirements of disciplined argument." Importantly, the influence was two-way, in that "Greek philosophy was also transformed." In particular, "traditional assumptions about natural inequality and the motivating power of reason were gradually abandoned" (Siedentop).

The first sentence of this post implies that the individual is something we could have tried to invent, but this is of course not the case, any more than we could have invented life. Rather, it was spontaneously brought about by certain conditions. However, once it began to emerge, it in turn altered the conditions that brought it about: what was an unconscious process was able, through greater self-awareness and -understanding, to become more of a conscious process.

For example, until fairly recently, no one gave much thought to the effect of certain environments and experiences on child development. Rather, children just "grew up," like any other plant or animal. But nowadays we hardly do anything without thinking about the impact on our child's development. We think about their friends, the parents of their friends, the TV programs they watch, etc. We realize that the child is a growing individual who sucks in influences from the world as a plant draws nutrients from the soil.

But you can't go to the other extreme and imagine that your child is something you only invent. Rather, it is very much a case of trying to help him become who he is -- to realize his potential, to recognize his gifts, and to exercise these in the service of God and man. From the start, both my wife and I have been overwhelmed by the impression: Where did this guy come from? No way in the world could we have invented him! There has never been any shock of recognition; rather, the opposite: the shock of an alien in our midst.

So you can't really know what kind of parent you'll be until you meet your child and find out what kind of parent he needs in order to become who he is. But here again, it is obviously not a one-way process.

For example, the other day I read something about crazy Angelina Jolie, who is allowing her children to "choose" their own gender, with absolutely no hint of parental influence or preference. Thus, her eight year old girl Shiloh is pretending to be a boy named John.

To whom is this supposed to be helpful? It can only be to appease some of Jolie's most primitive mind parasites. Even in a sanitized version, here is a person who, at age 14, "aspired to become a funeral director," "wore black clothing, experimented with knife play, and went out moshing with her live-in boyfriend." She "suffered episodes of depression throughout her teens and early twenties," "found it difficult to emotionally connect with other people," and engaged in "self-harm," which is to say "the ritual of having cut myself and feeling the pain, maybe feeling alive, feeling some kind of release."

Apparently the self-cutting wasn't that effective, because she "began using drugs; by age 20, she had tried 'just about every drug possible,' including heroin."

No, we didn't intend this post to veer in a sensational direction. I am no more interested in celebrity gossip than you are. But perhaps we can learn something from this, so let's see where it leads.

"Jolie has had a difficult relationship with her father." No. Really? Didn't see that coming.

Hmm. "She gained a reputation for being difficult to deal with." My guess is that this is because all borderline personalities are difficult to deal with. If you've never had a borderline person in your life, count yourself blessed. Back when I was in graduate school, there was an axiom: never try to have more than one borderline patient at a time in your practice, because they can turn your world upside down. You know, you come home and there's a rabbit boiling on your stove.

Speaking of sexual confusion, Jolie is proudly bisexual: "Of course. If I fell in love with a woman tomorrow, would I feel that it's okay to want to kiss and touch her? If I fell in love with her? Absolutely! Yes!" So, this mind parasite is a gift that keeps giving, in that she is now passing it along to her children.

Here is prima facie evidence of borderline personality structure, which is characterized by extreme impulsivity, essentially because the impulses are coming from different selves that are split off from one another. When one sub-self switches into gear, it displaces the other one: "After a two-month courtship, Jolie married actor Billy Bob Thornton." What took her so long? But then they "abruptly separated." What happened there? "It took me by surprise, too, because overnight, we totally changed. I think one day we had just nothing in common."

Ah, one of those things. Always the last to know. I'm sure you can relate.

One thing about money is that it can insulate you from the effect of your own mind parasites. You can be as crazy as you want to be, with no feedback from the world. And with no corrective feedback, there is no way to learn and grow, so the mind parasites win by default. This is why it so often seems that actors and rock stars all live out the same clichéd pattern. Instead of becoming themselves, they grab a mask from the ancient gallery and live out some predestined pathology (as indeed did Jim Morrison and so many other members of Club 27).

Now, where were we? Let's just say that this new space of potential individuality cuts both ways. Prior to its emergence -- and still in much of the world today -- one doesn't have this space. Rather, as in the ancient world, one's self is defined by culture, by family, by class, by caste, by race, etc. There is very little wiggle room to be anything other than a role that has been pre-selected for you.

Having said that, there are some critical things that have been conveniently pre-selected for us, and of which the accumulated wisdom of tradition is here to remind us: little things like, oh, one's sex. We don't invent everything about the self, for this would equate to nihilism or even blind tenure. Rather, there are some spiritual set-points, just as there are for any species. A newborn calf doesn't have to go through the process of deciding if it prefers meat over grass. That has already been settled.

Now, humans, unlike animals, are not bound by instinct. However, that is not to say that we have no instincts. Rather, for the human being there are certain universal archetypes that are like nonlocal attractors, or "vertical instincts."

Speaking of which, in The Book of Words, Rabbi Kushner writes that we may "exercise more 'freedom' by simply trying to be who we are and, in so doing, become who we are meant to be." "In moments of heightened awareness," we may have the sense of "rising to our destiny" (as opposed to sinking to our fate, which is what mind parasites facilitate). Thus, "We are 'free' to be what Heaven has intended us to be or not, but we are not free to be something else."

Just as there is an intersubjective space of individuation between oneself and other human beings, there is a vertical space between the individual and God. Within this space there is a two-way flow of influences and attractions (yes, even the earth exerts a tiny amount of gravitational attraction on the sun!)

Maybe it's a little orthoparadoxical, but I have no problem with it: "A person's actions thus have a profound effect on bringing the Creation closer to its perfection. These individual acts of free will on the part of a person constitute the 'arousal from below'" (what I symbolize [↑]).

At the same, there is the "arousal from above," or (↓): "At every moment God Godself acts to draw the Creation toward perfection.... Yet ultimately these two levels of free will are not separate. They are both aspects of the same thing. The 'arousal from below' sets in motion processes in the worlds above. Conversely, the power to cause the 'arousal from below' to come about is only in the hands of Godself" (you know -- like some kind of grace or something).

I recommend that you just say yes to this grace, because saying no will land you nowhere, in both this life and the next. Of which this life is a kind of inspiraling shadow-becoming-substance.

Evolve responsibly, and a happy new you!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

That's Innerattainment!

I can only think so clearly with this cold, but I believe I mentioned about a week ago that some of the most revolutionary blessings of Christianity are no longer seen or appreciated -- by the tenured rabble anyway -- because they have become second nature to us.

But it's not a case of second nature, rather, trans-nature -- "first supernature," or something. But since the radical enlightenment, thinkers of the left have been telling each other that these blessings represent a dramatic moving away from Christianity, rather than a prolongation of its original revolution (by far the most consequential revolution in human history).

Let us count some of these blessings. "By taking individual responsibility so seriously, the ideas of moral equality and limited government became closely associated. Outward conformity of behavior was all that had been expected in the ancient family and polis" (Siedentop).

Even prior to this, "Paul's vision on the road to Damascus amounted to the discovery of human freedom -- of moral agency potentially available to each and everyone, that is, to individuals. This 'universal' freedom, with its moral implications, was utterly different from the freedom enjoyed by the privileged class of citizens in the polis" (ibid.).

For this birth of a new freedom liberates us from inherited social hierarchies and from fate more generally, making us brotherly heirs of the one father. Fate is gradually displaced by hope and destiny -- in other words, the future becomes "open," and we have a hand in shaping it and ourselves.

Afterwards, the Christian monastic movement provided a kind of living laboratory, featuring "a vision of social order founded on conscience, on hard-won individual intentions rather than publicly enforced status differences" (ibid.).

Clearly, in order to be capable of self-rule, man had to first become capable of ruling himself, something the left always forgets. For what is the left but a two-tiered system of acquiring political power, with a 1% or 2% of elites and cronies at the top, and beneath them an ungovernable constituency of impulsive, irrational, frustration-intolerant, pleasure driven half-animals with short time-horizons and a long list of resentments. The liberal politician sells them dependency in exchange for votes, which puts in place an incentive structure that is bound to produce more of these wretched slaves.

But in order for a genuine liberal order to emerge, there must first be "obedience to rules that an individual's conscience" imposes "on itself." The left puts the cart before the horse, and imposes no prior demand of self-rule. This is why the left crowns Al Sharpton a "black leader," instead of, say, David Clarke (did someone say man crush?).

For most of history, man has been forced to obey external authority only. What does it mean to obey an "interior" authority, and what is the nature of this authority? Who or what authorizes it? In the pre-Christian world -- the world in which Christ was inserted -- "There was no notion of the rights of individuals against the claims of the city and its gods. There was no formal liberty of thought or action.... Citizens belonged to the city, body and soul" (ibid.).

Here again, this is where the enlightenment thinkers got it all wrong, because they simply made up a connection between modernity and antiquity, and invented the term "dark ages" to signify a few centuries-long discontinuity in their fractured fairy tale.

But "the liberty of the ancient citizen" was nothing like our idea of freedom. As Siedentop says, it was not a God-given space of personal freedom, but the duty of a few privileged citizens to participate in the political process. It was much more like the modern left than the classical liberalism of our founders.

Another blessing of Christianity is its universality and its abstraction. For example, if you and I have the same intrinsic rights as any caesar or prince or president, this unleashes "a process of abstraction which could and did threaten inherited inequalities" (ibid.). The idea that "all men are created equal" is both highly abstract and ineluctably universal.

I think where the left errs is in regarding these as concrete and particular, with the result that they end up with the insistence upon special (not universal) rights in order to bring about equal outcomes (in other words, for them equality is not antecedent but consequent; for similar reasons it is material rather than spiritual, which constitutes a cosmic heresy of the first rank, for a man with no spirit has no proper use for freedom).

The inner attainment of abstraction and universality alluded to above lead directly to the "rule of law," as "the logos which had been embodied in the city and its laws began to make way for a logos embodied in a universal rational order, in what would be called 'natural law'" (ibid.).

It seems to me that man had to first clear the historical space of all those concrete projected gods -- e.g., Zeus, Neptune, Aphrodite, and all the rest -- in order for the abstract logos to concretely incarnate. In order to get God into the world, you first have to get all these manmade gods out of the world, so they won't be confused.

Here again the centrality of the Jews and of the commandment against idolatry. Why is idolatry an intrinsic cosmic heresy? Because it begins with concretion instead of ending there. The Jewish God could not be so easily "pinned down." For I AM, or I-will-be-who-I-will-be, are prior to the world, and only later in the world.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Boldly Growing Where No Man Has Grown Before

In recent years, whenever I get a cold, there's only one really bad night. Apparently last night was it, because I feel like I didn't sleep at all.

However, at the moment I don't feel as bad as you might expect, so put away your violins. Besides, timelessness waits for no one, so I'm going to try to put my hand to the digital plow and not look back at my troubled night sea journey. Perhaps being sick will even plunge me into some strange new worlds.

Yesterday we were discussing Augustine's Confessions, which are a "manifesto of the inner world," the latter being the real final frontier. His was the first true autobiography, boldly going where no man had gone before and chronicling the interior voyages of the soul-ship Introspect (ouch! I blame the cold medicine). In so doing, Augustine not only explored strange new worlds, but spoke of a new life (in God) and a new civilization (the City of God).

This, I think, is a key point: that the Confessions are a dialogue with God. Thus, the invention of the individual is not, and could not be, "an exercise leading to isolation."

Rather, to the extent that it does lead to isolation, then something has gone awry: your psycho-pneumatic system is not open, either vertically or horizontally (or both). Isolation, among other things, is a failure of love, and if God is love, then there you go.

To put it another way, in order to invent the individual, it is first necessary to invent the group. In terms of the overall arc of salvation, the Jews constituted the group into which God could insert himself as quintessential individual. Jesus would have made no sense in any other context (and he sometimes barely made sense in this one, even to his closest disciples).

Imagine if God were a mere "one," an absolute monad, unrelated to anything but himself. If this God were to incarnate, it would be in the form of power, or a kind of isolated exaltation. No one could compare to him, in contrast to Jesus, to whom all may compare themselves (e.g., "the imitation of Christ"), and indeed is the eternal standard of comparison.

Now, in many ways, to say individual is to say will. In other words, our individuality manifests in the form of consciousness of choice, and by extension, of necessity. To be aware of necessity is to implicitly know freedom, and vice versa. According to Siedentop, what we value as freedom is the end result of hundreds of years of meditation on, and articulation of, (Judeo-) Christian moral intuitions.

For example, to be given the Ten Commandments implies the freedom to obey them or not. On the one hand they represent constraints on freedom, but this is for the purpose of conforming ourselves to a higher will in a higher world.

Analogously, you don't place a fish on dry land and say to him: "there you go, free at last from the water!" The Law is like the water that simultaneously constrains and frees us.

For Augustine, it's all about "transformation of the will." Think, for example, of what happens when the will infects the truth. What happens is the left, or knowledge piggybacking on desire, belief on make-belief, Is on Ought. The leftist ultimately sees what he wishes to see, which is like a bad parody of the Higher Eccentricity of the Raccoon. Leftists are weird, but not in the Good way.

Not to imply any manichee business, but it seems to me that, as the intellect may conform itself to truth or falsehood, the will may move toward the light or the dark. As one apostle put it, the light shines in the darkness but the darkness does not comprehend it.

This is the same Light "which gives light to every man who comes into the world." Every one. Not just kings, or aristocrats, or priests, or men, but every person qua person. This itself implies individuality and equality. We may all seek redemption because we have all equally fallen short as a result of our misguided will.

You could say that light and dark are like two attractors at antipodes to one another. As Augustine is pulled into the former, "You fill me with a feeling quite unlike my normal state, an inward sense of delight." But when in the orbit of the latter, the "heavy burden of distress drags me back: I am sucked back to my habits, and find myself held fast."

In order to pull out of the downworld attractor, the will is necessary but not sufficient. Rather, our will must be aligned with a greater will. This is very much in contrast to the Greek idea that the exercise of mere reason is sufficient to do the job.

Socrates-Plato said something to the effect that a good man, guided by reason, could do no wrong. This is definitely not what Paul or Augustine taught, because man can rationalize just about any mess produced by his wayward will. Or maybe you've never heard Obama speak.

The Neoplatonists of the time imagined they could deploy the will to escape or ascend from this "inferior material world."

But for Augustine, "Christians neither could nor should turn their backs on the world." True, we are aliens in this strange land, but resident aliens; Augustine teaches us to be "otherworldly in the world," unlike, say, Muslims, who hope to be worldly in the higher world, or leftists, who are worldly in the lower world.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Proof of God Discovered in the Last Place Man Searched

We have a bit of a cold, which always increases the brain congestion, or at least dampens those unfolding enveloping missiles of glistening shadowy flow above the head. After all, it's hard enough to answer future's riddle when one's melon is seeming so far behind, let alone sew up the wounds of evolution and climb up to reality's goal. But we'll try, dammit. At least we'll try.

I have read in a number of places that Augustine's Confessions is the first true autobiography, the first example of an unstinting exploration of the human interior -- not in a generic or self-serving sense, but in an intimate, critical, and confessional sense.

Note also that the dialogue is between Augustine and God; it takes place in the vertical space illuminated by the divine presence. It is not about exterior reality except insofar as it reveals the interior.

Siedentop quotes the historian Peter Brown, who observes that "The Confessions are a manifesto of the inner world: 'Men go to gape at mountain peaks, at the boundless tides of the sea, the broad sweep of rivers, the encircling ocean and the motions of stars: and yet they leave themselves unnoticed; they do not marvel at themselves.'"

Yeah, well, what about Obama? Does he ever stop marveling at himself? You see, children, that is the problem: he has the marveling down, but he is both marveler and marvelee. In other words, he excludes the Creator from the loop, which reduces to simple narcissism.

Brown continues: "A man cannot hope to find God unless he first finds himself: for this God is 'deeper than my inmost being,' [so] experience of Him becomes 'better' the more 'inward.' Above all, it is man's tragedy that he should be driven to flee 'outwards,' to lose touch with himself, to 'wander far' from his 'own heart': 'You were right before me: but I had moved away from myself. I could not find myself: how much less, then could I find You'" (he's obviously quoting Augustine in there).

Ironically, Obama made his name by [allegedly] writing his own Confessions. But although both go by the name "autobiography," it would be difficult to find two more antithetical texts. After all, Mein Kampf is an autobiography. Taking that as an extreme case, does it really tell us about Hitler, or about his pathological projections into the world?

In other words, any actual insight into Hitler himself is accidental. Being that he lacked all insight, the only way to understand him is via his external actions. What he says about himself is of no consequence, since he would be the last to understand his own real motives, which were as concrete and unexamined as rock.

Here is the orthoparadoxical deal: is it possible for man to discover and know God? Yes and no. Even prior to that, is it possible for man to discover and know anything? Yes, so long as he has the sensory equipment for the job, and his mind is able to conform to the object or reality in question.

In other words, we must make ourselves adequate to the object of knowledge. So in one sense "the world" is prior, and we must adapt to it. But in another sense, world and mind co-arise; as our knowledge increases, it is as if the mind extends deeper into reality, as, say, quantum physics goes further than classical physics.

I would say that it is no different with regard to God. Analogously, the quantum world was always "there" even before man ever discovered it. Likewise, God was always there prior to the appearance of man, of life, or even of existence itself. But in order to know this God, there must be a subject capable of knowing him. Therefore, one could say that God and man "co-arise" and "co-evolve," so to speak -- even though, like the world, God is obviously prior to our discovery and elaboration of him.

When did man discover God? In one sense this is impossible to say, since it occurred long prior to any form of written documentation. But in another sense it can only have occurred in one way, since man and God not only co-arise, but are two sides of the same coin. To say that man is the image and likeness of God is to posit this axiom. As man learns more about himself, he learns more of God; and as he learns more about God, he learns more about himself, in an ever-deepening spiral of interiority.

Siedentop: "The Confessions provide us with a story, not primarily about the development of Augustine's mind, but rather about the development of his 'heart' or 'feelings.' The search for God proves to be a search for the only 'delight' that is not precarious or illusory."

This search involves "a mysterious merger of intellect and feeling," and is very much counter to the then-prevailing idea that reason alone is sufficient to understand the world. Reason is ultimately a circular exercise, since it cannot furnish its own premises, nor does it have the power to motivate man.

Rather, motivation -- the will -- must involve the heart. Thus, "Opening oneself to the action of grace" is "the only way out of such a vicious circle." This opening is not only intersubjective, but the very foundation and possibility of intersubjectivity itself. It is an icon of the primordial Relationship that is God.

"Reconstructing the self -- by opening the self to the work of grace -- led Augustine to focus on the human will and on the conditions of its exercise." There is "almost incredible self-consciousness in his writing," which is precisely why so many have attributed "the birth of the individual to Augustine."

For just as history, in the absence of God, can be nothing more than the meaningless sound and fury of tenured tautologues, the absurcular babble of the godless rabble is just the mental masturbation of so many infertile eggheads -- heads which must be fertilized from above in order to bear good fruit...