Friday, January 16, 2015

Liberal Distinctions and Leftist Conflations

One thing that comes through in Inventing the Individual is how the so-called middle ages ushered in so many vital cognitive distinctions that we take for granted. But man didn't always have these distinctions, nor do all men have them even today. To put it mildly.

In fact, Fried says much the same thing, although neither author devotes a separate section to the subject. Rather, the evidence is scattered throughout both books, so I'll attempt to pull some of it together here.

This probably sounds like a slightly dryasdust subject, but it definitely isn't, because it goes directly to our vision of the world. Without the proper tools, that vision can only be so deep, complex, and comprehensive.

Consider what happens when we chuck religious tools from our cognitive bag of tricks. It is not as if a hammer can replace the work of a wrench or screwdriver. But if that's all you have, you'll end up trying to pound religious screws into place with a hammer, which makes for an ugly and probably dysfunctional end product, like a half-assed home repair done by me.

A big one is the distinction between secular and spiritual authority. Prior to this distinction there is only authority -- or power -- period.

But there is more to it than just keeping these two domains apart, because for one thing, they cannot be kept apart. That is to say, they are complementary, not "opposite." To imagine the latter is be a leftist.

But the leftist only pretends to deny spiritual authority while actually usurping it. In short, he regresses to a state of mind in which the two are still fused, and then subsumes the religious into the secular, thus ending up with either the omnipotent state or the cult of personality (or both, as in Castro or Kim). Put another way, he denies a primordial complementarity and then subsumes one side into the other.

As Hartshorne has explained, this is a common strategy for all kinds of tenured foolishness. You might say that pre-Christian neo-Platonists tended to default to the spirit side, while post-Christian sophists default to the material side. But how can one even begin to describe reality without including both?

And while it is possible to regard one side of a complementarity as the more fundamental, these folks always choose the wrong side, as, for example, Marx did to Hegel; a pox on both, but at least Hegel gives spirit its props, since it can theoretically account for matter while the converse is impossible without millions of corpses.

Again, once there is a distinction between the secular and religious realms, that is not the end of their interaction. We are still left with the question of what constitutes legitimate authority, and that is a question that cannot be answered by mere power, i.e., the secular arm.

Rather, that is always a spiritual question, for which reason the American founding is thoroughly grounded in, and legitimized by, spiritual principles, i.e., nature and nature's God. While there is of course secular authority, if it should become divorced from spiritual authority, the founders say that this invokes the natural (i.e., God-given) right of rebellion.

The purpose of government is to secure our God-given rights. And if government becomes "destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them." Again, secular power is not self-justifying; rather, power is grounded in transcendent truth.

While we (conservative liberals) take this for granted, it took a very long time for mankind to draw these distinctions and to work out the political implications. As Fried writes, as of 1000 AD, "lords did not think in 'political' categories," for "the habit of thinking in categories was still only in its infancy then."

Thus, "There were no conceptions of 'domestic' or 'foreign policy,' or of 'politics' and 'the state.'" Indeed, "nobody would have understood them as templates for interpreting the world or for acting in a particular way, nor could anyone have associated a particular attitude with them or have advocated such a mind-set." Among other things, man had yet to recognize a clear distinction between mind and reality, or God and world.

As such, rulers looked to the world for signs and augurs; these "were everywhere to be seen for those who knew how to read them"; think of them as the pundits of the premodern world. Like our pundits, they all had opinions, usually wrong and immediately forgotten. They looked "to the sun, moon, and stars in the sky, in the natural world and among people, and even animals." The wrong decision might bring on the object lesson of a natural disaster, which "skillful interpreters could always be relied upon to proclaim their import with hindsight."

As man slowly individuates from the womb of nature, language undergoes a profound change, "engendering whole new sets of differentiating terminology, and bringing about advances in perception and an increase in the sum total of cognitive capacity." A new mode of thought emerges; you could say that this mode is capable of being critical because of the critical distance between subject and object.

Now, this critical distance between subject and object is a kind of "space" through which "new perspectives on and approaches to the complexity of the world and cosmos opened up." "[T]hings that had never even been imagined came into peoples' purview, while familiar things were seen in a new light" and "placed in a new relation to one another" (Fried).

From our privileged perspective, this space is "everything." Eliminate it and what's left, obedience to the state, or adherence to some state-funded ideolatry? Or perhaps a pre-political life of simply obeying one's impulses.

One implicit point made by both Fried and Siedentop is that freedom tends to emerge and flourish in the interstices between competing powers. It is almost as if these powers, because they are so preoccupied with one another, overlook little pockets here and there where people are left the fuck alone.

But it took until the American founding to make this principle explicit and put it the fuck in writing. That is, the framers recognized that freedom is only safe when power is dispersed among competing interests. Collapse these interests and powers, and we end with a freedom-usurping Obama. "The bigger the state, the smaller the citizen," as Dennis Prager says.

Which is precisely why the left sells us chains it relabels "freedom," as in "you're not really free if you don't have health insurance, therefore the state has a right to your body." To which we respond: why can't we have health and freedom? Why revert to a time when there was no space between ruler and ruled? Why deprive us of our God-given slack?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

If You're Charlie Hebdo, How Come You're Not Rupert Murdoch?

New principles lead to new uprisings (to deploy one of the left's favorite buzzwords). This is because the mind must first rise up to a new vertical principle before awareness of it provokes a horizontal uprising -- or better, a down- and out-flowing, i.e., a clamoring to see the principle instantiated in the world.

For example, people have to first intuit that all men are created equal before regarding inequality as problematic instead of just being in the nature of things. Legal equality is a discovery, not a given. And once discovered it needs to be real-ized in the world, for which reason the Constitution follows the Declaration as effect to cause.

The moral intuitions prompted by Christian beliefs provided just such a basis "for an appeal against injustice that had not been available in the ancient world" (Siedentop). Thus, "the universalism of Christian aspiration had a subversive potential" unknown to that time, and still at work in the world today.

You could say that the universal subverts the particular, just as in science, whereby a more general theory subsumes disparate phenomena: ice and clouds, for example, are just different states of water.

Against this progressive approach is the modern superstition of multiculturalism, whereby the particular subverts the universal: for the left there is no objective or universal good except for the conviction that there isn't. Except when there is. I know. It's a form of Gödel's theorems: you can get consistency or completeness from a leftist, but don't expect both.

Regarding the invention of progress, "The idea of a more 'open' future was a symptom of Christian moral beliefs affecting the population at large." This was accompanied by "the rejection of fate and advent of hope," but this cuts two ways, since the new uncertainty brings with it new anxieties.

As someone once said, if you have no alternatives then you have no problems. But the dawn of an open future that can be shaped by the individual brings with it a new burden of responsibility which some people, understandably, don't want to bear. Nowadays we call them liberals.

Today we talk about "upward mobility," but this was preceded by awareness of a new inward mobility. As Siedentop writes, people began realizing "that salvation did not depend upon social status," which contributed to a new "kind of imagined mobility, a moral standing that could be achieved rather than inherited."

Now, here's an ironic one: a critically important factor in the development of a common European identity was the contrast with a violent and expansionist Islam. The presence of a common enemy can cause people to appreciate a shared identity.

For example, leftists everywhere are proclaiming that "I am Charlie Hebdo." But it shouldn't take a mass murder for leftists to realize that they too are nihilistic peddlers of pornography, only more craven.

A better example is their universal hatred of Fox News, which is the only major media outlet that actually does critique Islam, only in a far more informative and measured way than Charlie Hebdo.

But you will never see hypocritical leftists proclaiming I AM RUPERT MURDOCH!, because their identity depends upon this shared hatred of conservative heresy. They will shout I AM ISIS! before admitting any common values with conservative liberalism (as Jane Fonda might just as well have announced I AM HO CHI MINH!, or Jimmy Carter I AM YASSER ARAFAT!)

Back when religious leaders weren't appeasement-mongering invertebrates, "The appeal by Pope Urban II for volunteers to halt the expansion of Islam... created in Europe a new consciousness of itself." Prior to this, "Europe had never been excited by one sentiment, or acted in one cause; there was no Europe. The crusades revealed Christian Europe."

No wonder leftists can't forgive the crusades and Muslims can't forget them.

Once again Islamic terrorists are trying their best to bring about a unified response, but leaders such as Obama refuse to even name the enemy, for it would engender the wrong kind of unity, i.e., a patriotic love for our way of life.

Rather, Obama's leftist worldview revolves around despising our way of life, so in that sense he's implicitly in agreement with the terrorists. This is a guy who spent two decades in a toxic mosque church that taught exactly this doctrine, i.e., GOD DAMN AMERICA! and all the rest. Terror is just leftism by other means.

So, "The crusades were truly a universal event, involving all strata of the population," revealing "'a people' with a shared identity."

Again, this is very much in contrast to the reigning dogma of multiculturalism, whereby the only thing that unites us is our differences (along with an unacknowledged, implicit unity derived from hatred of universalist conservatives).

If Islamists had wanted to invent a divide-and-conquer strategy, they couldn't possibly have come up with something more effective than this principled divisiveness of the left.

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.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Disinventing the Individual: You Have No Right to Reality!

Do we have a right to live in reality? For most of human history, the answer has been no, in the sense that people have been forced to live in someone else's vision or idea of reality.

It reminds me of what Thomas Sowell says about planned economies: every economy is planned. It's just a matter of who does the planning, unaccountable elites or private parties.

It indeed comes down to knowledge and power -- the power to be the decider. For example, Obama and the Democrats have the power to define what constitutes economic knowledge of medical costs. However, as in Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, the more centralized power one exerts over economic realities, the less knowledge one has of them. Total power -- as in totalitarian states -- equates to total ignorance of price signals, and therefore of economic realities of supply, demand, scarcity, etc.

Moreover, the power is only illusory anyway, because there is no way for any human being, or even the most powerful computer, to ever calculate the potential interactions of millions of independent prices. That knowledge is essentially infinite, and therefore requires omniscience to calculate. It is not even calculation, just -- to use the technical term -- bullshitting.

To which Obama responds, "your point being?"

Fantastic book, by the way. Sowell says it's his most important work, and I can see why, as it lays the philosophical groundwork for everything he's written since then (it was originally published in 1980). It is not as reader-friendly as his more recent books, and I'm probably going to reread it before discussing it at length and weaving it into the cosmic narrative. Nor would he ever think of it in those grandiose terms, i.e., "cosmic narrative."

Rather, grandiosity and sweeping generalizations are our department. Which is a quasi-joke, but not really, because if a culture isn't grounded in a kind of grandiose narrative that explains where we came from, where we are, and where we're going -- the Point of it All -- it tends to decay.

The left, of course, has spent the last century or so trying to replace our old cosmic narrative with their new and improved version, but the problem there, as alluded to at the top of this post, is that it is simultaneously -- to reference another of Sowell's books -- "unconstrained" while at the same time being highly constraining because it is forced upon us.

What do we we mean by that? To quote the first reviewer, "This book presents two visions of the world.... The two visions are metaphysical, pre-scientific points of view regarding how the world works. In one view (Unconstrained), people can drive change, intentions matter, and this could improve the world. In the other view (Constrained), people will always be (somewhat) bad, only results and processes matter, and improvements always involve tradeoffs."

Visions of how the world works. That goes to what was said above about who gets to define reality, but more importantly, who gets to define the reality in which we are all forced to live. For example, I live in California, a one party state in which no one has any input except for the unconstrained visionaries who want to control every aspect of our lives.

In California the Democrats even veto God, and insist that we decide what sex we are. So it's really "unconstrained for thee but not for me." The hypocrisy is built in, because it's never "power to the people" but "power to the right people."

The other day I mentioned the obnoxious book on Indians my son is being forced to read. That's because in California it's against the law for a textbook to tell the truth -- or to not speak with a forked tongue -- about any officially sanctioned victim group. Likewise, everything Obama does is to insulate centralized state decision makers from public influence.

That little preamble was provoked by the following passage in Inventing the Individual: "Since the time of Paul, Christian thought has been directed to the status and claims of humans as such, quite apart from any roles they happened to occupy in a particular society." Therefore, "It is hardly too much to say that Paul's conception of deity provided the individual with a freehold in reality" (emphasis mine).

¡Una freeholdia de reality! That is a remarkable observation, for among other things, it "laid a normative foundation for the individual conscience and its claims." Truly, this turned the world upside down -- or brightside up, rather -- because it created limits on the state's power to define reality and force it on the restavus.

Reality has many dimensions, both horizontal and vertical. For example, thanks to the state, we are never even freeholders of our own land, in that (at least in California) we must pay an annual property tax to pretend to call it our own. Nor do children have a right to the truth about, say, American Indians, or Islam, or homosexuals. As such, it is as if the state has a claim on that part of your child's mind.

I'm just about out of time for today, but the thought occurs to me that if we knew in 1900 what we know today, the left could be declared unconstitutional on first amendment grounds. Why? Because the economy is an information system that continuously conveys the facts about economic reality via prices. Therefore, to interfere with the economy in a massive way -- as in ObamaCare -- is equivalent to burning libraries full of books.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Death Wins the Battle, Not the War

Acknowledging at the outset that words fail...

Plus, being an essentially lighthearted blog, we are not well equipped to deal with tragedy and loss.

Rather, being that there is quite enough of those two buzzkillers in the world, we try to emphasize the 99% of life -- quantitatively speaking -- that is not tragic, painful, and seemingly pointless, but rather, all of the spontaneous pleasure, joy, playfulness, and meaning that infuse our moment-to-moment lives if we pay attention to them.

Besides, it's too easy to focus on the negative, and taking the easy way out is just not the Raccoon way. Rather, we practice the Way of Irrational Exuberance and Stubborn Happiness in Spite of it All. Or at least we try.

I know as well as anyone that someday (and some days) life is going to wipe that smile off my face, if death doesn't do it first. But until then -- and who knows, maybe even after -- it's defiance. Sure, Death holds our coat while snickering, but we snicker right back.

Over the years, our cyberlodge has experienced a number of significant losses. Off the top of my head, there was reader Ximese, then Cap'n Ben's wife last year, and now the shock of Mushroom's wife. There have no doubt been others, because when a longtime commenter suddenly stops commenting, it is possible that they have ceased commenting, period. Problem is, a good number of Raccoons seem to be the kind of solitary folks whose absence won't be noticed until the mail is falling out of the overstuffed box and blowing down the street.

Of course, we do not deny that 1% of tragic and awful business. To the contrary. We are all too aware of it, which is the very reason why we try to focus on the other 99%. Death is the great motivator, even if it is eventually the great equalizer. Nothing grabs our attention like awareness of the End of Things. Truly, it puts everything else in context -- a temporal context, because all human time is situated in the context of its eventual end. Life itself is a midlife crisis.

To be consciously aware of this end is to be human, while to deny it is to remain a child. Secularists imagine that religion is a fanciful escape from death, when the reality is 180 degrees from that: an honest confrontation with the naked fact of our own demise. The purpose of religion is not to avoid this confrontation, but to live it. For the Christian, even -- or quintessentially -- God lives death, in the faith that this ultimate living death is death to death.

These two things -- human and death -- absolutely coarise, for which reason Genesis makes the link explicit. Although it does so in a mythopoetic manner, not every truth "happened" in the usual way, nor are things that never happened necessarily untrue. Or rather, some things happen in a different way than the way things happen on the material plane. Some things are true in the sense that they happen to every human, every time, not merely because we can articulate them with symbolic speech.

One of the early fathers, Tertullian, writes that "The word dead signifies merely that something has lost its soul, by which faculty it had formerly lived." Thus, it "applies to a body," not to that which animates the body, for how could such a thing ever be born or die? While it has a "beginning," this beginning is outside space and time, nor does the soul ever forget the traces of its own extra-temporal creation. Paradise is a memoir of the future.

In other words, every human, by virtue of being one, is in the world, but not possibly of the world, and therefore not in the world completely. To be completely in the world is to be an animal, pure and simple, whereas to be human is to exist in a space that transcends the world. Our "hope" is simply that this existence does not perish because it cannot perish -- unless we choose another kind of existence, which also persists (if persist is the right word, being that it may be a kind of suicidal choice).

Another early father, Irenaeus, writes that "souls, as compared to mortal bodies, are incorporeal: for God breathed into the face of man the breath of life, and man became a living soul." To die "is to melt away into those elements from which it had the beginning of substance." This breath of life is incorporeal form, not corporeal substance; it is "not a composite" so it "cannot be decomposed, and is itself the life of those who receive it."

All life is a "living toward." Toward what? Either toward death -- and therefore self-nullifying absurdity -- or toward some sort of fulfillment that cannot occur in this life, but which we nevertheless intuit in such a way that the transcendent object of intuition flows down and back into our present life.

As Pieper writes, "if, until the very moment of his death, man is really a viator or traveler 'on his way' to something," then this life-as-hope is oriented to something beyond the boundary of death, something known through what we call "faith" -- the operative word being known, i.e., the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

Life is intense. One thing that makes it so uncomfortably intense is the backdrop of death. For Pieper, beatitude, or eternal life "does not simply mean living without end, but the supreme intensification of the state of being alive": life without limits.

So, our thoughts, hopes, and prayers are with Dwaine and his family, that the shock of loss will eventually yield to faith in a greater and more intense victory.

Apologies for any inappropriate pedantry or humor. My only excuse is the Popeye defense.