Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Journeying Down and In with God

It is possible that this post will come to an abrupt end, depending upon whether or not I have to go into the office, which is yet to be determined. So, we'll have one eye on the post and another ear on the phone.

You'd think this would deustracting, but ever since the Boy arrived I've mastered the ability to maintain my concentration under the most extreme forms of nuisance: the maestro is a sensitive subgenius no more!

I remember -- must have been around eight years ago -- posting while being double-teamed by a three month old Great Dane puppy above the waist and a two year old below, so this is nothing. Although I do believe I've lost some brain cells since then, so there's that.

Just yesterday I read something that goes to this question of interior con-centration. Without looking it up, it appears to me that con must mean "with," while centration has to do with gathering one's consciousness into a central point in order to increase the intensity -- somewhat like a magnifying glass can gather the sun's rays into a fiery point.

Now, man has always had this ability, for it is a form of volition applied to the mind as opposed to the body. However, it seems to me that he mastered the exterior focus long before the interior.

In other wor(l)ds, man was able to, say, master the concentration necessary to track and kill a wild animal before he could turn that focus inward and explore the subjective horizon. As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, many scholars regard Augustine's Confessions as the first sustained written effort in that direction, although it is probably more accurate to say that he is the most visible representative of a more general trend.

Oddly enough, Sowell touches on this in Knowledge and Decisions. One of the ideas we've been discussing is that man was very different in the past, but part of this is due to the exterior focus. It's not so much that his "nature" was different. Rather, he had to adapt to a radically different environment, plus this environment did not include such things as books or written language, both of which being a cause and effect of the interior journey.

Long story short, Sowell makes the point that man has always known a great deal, and that there is no reason to believe that an individual's life today is any less "complicated" than it was 50,000 years ago. While today we benefit from great complexity, the complexity is systemic, not the possession of any single individual. Indeed, as the old economic truism goes, no single man possesses even the know-how to make a pencil, which requires detailed knowledge of mining, metallurgy, forestry, rubber, etc.

Today we have much more complexity due to the division of labor. But back in the day -- 50,000 years ago -- since the only division of labor was between man and woman, a man had to know everything (or half) there is to know about how to survive.

A contemporary man in the archaic environment would essentially be a worthless know-nothing. Put us in those conditions, and very few of us would last a week, for lack of general knowledge of how to survive. So give primitive man his props. If he hadn't figured out a way to master the exterior world, we wouldn't be here exploring the interior.

While Inventing the Individual depicts the broad sweep of this subjective turn, The Middle Ages fills in a lot of the details. It is more dry and pedantic, so not really recommended if you're looking for a gay and lighthearted romp through middle earth.

The author does show, however, that it is hardly as if progress and history somehow slowed to a crawl between 500 and 1500, or between antiquity and Renaissance, or however you cut the historical sausage. Nor is the progress linear or universal. Rather, little springs of interiority appear here and there, only later becoming more of a collective pool or stream (and sometimes sewer).

At first, thinking is geared to the immediate environment, since that is all there is. Only after there is some degree of reliable slack does man have the space -- the luxury -- to take a look inside his own head.

After all, the interiority of Christianity had to deal with an existing world in which "people still celebrated bloody sacrifices, indulged in fortune-telling and magic, placed their faith in amulets and soothsayers, sought salvation through spells, and believed in superstition." Each of these represents an exteriorized from of religiosity. Only gradually was "the magical interpretation" of the world "robbed of its allure." And like Moloch or the Golden Calf or AGW or leftism more generally, the temptation to regress is always there.

Even the language of the day is difficult for us to comprehend, or to "think our way into," since its users were so different. As Fried writes, cognition "was rooted in a situational mode of thinking and rarely used abstracts" (in other words, situational as opposed to universal).

Likewise, familiar tools and concepts such as formal logic and cause-and-effect "were largely absent." Sometimes this resulted in failure to differentiate an image from the god: iconography easily descended to idolatry: "Many a simple-minded believer may well have identified the image with the subject depicted."

Again, this doesn't mean our forebears didn't know anything; rather, that they knew a very different world: "Within such a framework, no unity could be identified." Nor was there "any figure of abstraction separating the private from public realms." In this context, one can see the developmental leap required to intuit monotheism, which is another name for the ultimate unity of things, or their single cause.

I've mentioned before how the severely mentally ill person can provide insight into the relatively sane, since their psychic content and defense mechanisms are so visibly hypertrophied and externalized. Just so, we can see how each and every one of these prior modes of thought persist today. We don't so much abandon them as integrate them into a more comprehensive system. I can have an icon of Christ on the wall without confusing it with Christ; we can be religious without conflating it with magic; we can believe in science without confusing it with ultimate reality.

"Individual" and "private" co-arise in history, as they are two sides of the same development. Just as exterior freedom and private property are entirely bound up together, so too are self and privacy.

This lays the foundation for the profound political changes to come, for the unit of subjection becomes the person instead of the family or group. Compare this to, say, the Arab-Muslim world, where the primary identification is still to kin and tribe, while morality is not a private matter but public conformity to sharia law.

The latter is quite different from the Christian view, in which the individual was encouraged to undertake a "strict accounting of himself" (in Siedentop). We must try to look at ourselves as God sees us. Indeed, "moral authority ought to imitate the condescension of God, seeking out and inhabiting the depth of the human condition." God goes all the way down and in, so if it's good enough for him, it should be good enough for the likenesses of us.

16 Comments:

Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of gays romping around in the middle ages.

1/14/2015 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I can have an icon of Christ on the wall without confusing it with Christ; we can be religious without conflating it with magic; we can believe in science without confusing it with ultimate reality.

In some ways, modern free-form Christianity does not allow for this understanding. Hence the churches that look like stadiums, with only the most minimal of crucifixes unobtrusively placed off to the side. Hence, too, their general dislike of Catholicism - they see no difference between icons and idols, nor between the communion of saints and witchcraft. Ironically, this does not protect them from falling into the practice of idolatry.

1/14/2015 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

The author does show, however, that it is hardly as if progress and history somehow slowed to a crawl between 500 and 1500, or between antiquity and Renaissance, or however you cut the historical sausage.

If memory serves, a lot of the progress that was made during that time came as a result of monastic living and pilgrimages. So once again, a direct result of the exterior as well as interior fruits of Christianity.

1/14/2015 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

""Individual" and "private" co-arise in history, as they are two sides of the same development. Just as exterior freedom and private property are entirely bound up together, so too are self and privacy.

This lays the foundation for the profound political changes to come, for the unit of subjection becomes the person instead of the family or group. Compare this to, say, the Arab-Muslim world, where the primary identification is still to kin and tribe, while morality is not a private matter but public conformity to sharia law."

Indeed. The only time they are unified is in their desire to destroy Israel and America or the west in general.
They'll still turn on each other at the drop of a hat, which is another thing they have in common with the left.

1/14/2015 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/14/2015 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Bob,
There's so many things wrong with that pic, and so many things not even wrong.
It's mind-boggling how anyone can become that disconnected from reality.

1/14/2015 02:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

I think what the gay muslim means is that destruction IS peace. Or he mispelled piece.

1/14/2015 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I'm guessing that's photoshopped...

1/14/2015 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Fake but accurate.

1/14/2015 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"I've mentioned before how the severely mentally ill person can provide insight into the relatively sane, since their psychic content and defense mechanisms are so visibly hypertrophied and externalized. Just so, we can see how each and every one of these prior modes of thought persist today. We don't so much abandon them as integrate them into a more comprehensive system. I can have an icon of Christ on the wall without confusing it with Christ; we can be religious without conflating it with magic; we can believe in science without confusing it with ultimate reality."

I've noticed that those who have hypertrophied and externalized are very insecure,
For example, our modern day leftist gayhadists can't allow for anyone else to have a different point of view so they must atrack anyone who disagrees with them.

More mature humans don't feel compelled to attack someone just because of a difference of opinion.
We may disagree, of course but the only thing we attack is destructive ideas, not the severely mentally ill.

1/14/2015 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

The very insecure, mentally ill go right to "I keel you!" mode but a secure guy like me will just say fuck you and the fascist horse you rode in on.

1/14/2015 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Just bumpin' around the internet, I came across an intriguing review of a folk collection with the excellent title Freedom is a HAMMER:

'For those who still believe folk music was a politics, not an aesthetic, there is “Freedom Is a Hammer,” which anthologizes singers who in the second half of the 1960s used the genre to speak back to the liberals who had commandeered it for themselves. Ms. Greene is elegant and delivers refreshingly cheerful propaganda, including the hilarious “Comrade’s Lament,” about falling out of love with Stalin. Mr. Dolan, who released an album with liner notes by William F. Buckley Jr., also aimed high in his targets, like on “New York Times Blues”: “All the news that’s fit to print/ Unless, of course, it’s anti-Communist.”'


Someone has to let Ace of Spades know that freedom slices like a fucking hammer!

1/14/2015 06:00:00 PM  
Blogger wild said...

If the roots of the Modern (for example science and individuality) are in the (Christian) Middle Ages, and Modernity has led to a cultural car crash, then this implies that there is something wrong with the Christianity from which Modernity arose.

1/15/2015 03:18:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Sorry, your logic doesn't follow.

The reality, is, there is something wrong with mankind. Even as wonderful as Christianity is, it only helps so long as people live by it.

Much like medications for long-term conditions only help so long as the patient continues to take them. If the patient stops because he feels better, the disease may return. Depending on the disease, it may even come back worse than it was before the medication suppressed it.

1/15/2015 05:59:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I would add that as man develops, he brings new sorts of problems into the world. Individuality is not an unmixed blessing; or, every blessing comes with a curse. Individualism has its dark side, e.g., narcissism, self-centeredness, grandiosity, etc. The miracle is that these too can be reigned in, transformed, healed, and even prevented by the Christian message.

1/15/2015 06:44:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

here's an interesting article on Catholics and their own compatibility with liberal democracy:

http://tinyurl.com/lqvx52h

I think this captures the debate extremely well.

1/15/2015 09:01:00 AM  

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