Thursday, December 01, 2016

Pascal Bets on God, God Bets on Man

I apologize in advance for the rambliness of this post. It can't be avoided. Besides, I'm only trying to BE MYSELF, so stop judging me!

So: in the West we have been liberated from bad old tradition. I'm old enough to remember when that meant a woman could pretend to be a man and a man could pretend not to be a pussy. Now it means that one can abandon male and female altogether, and identify with one of 37 or 63 or however many genders there are this week.

But why limit the number to 63? Aren't numbers just a conspiracy of the patriarchy? And why limit it to human? Why not follow your first principle where it leads, and acknowledge that there are no rational or defensible limits to who or what we are? I can be a panther or a god or a trolley car, and you can't stop me!

In other words, we are nothing, precisely. Humanness has no ground, no nature, no purpose. I am what I decide to be -- which begs the question of who "I" is anyway: where does this "I" get off deciding what I am? Who gave it the authority?

I was just reading this morning of how Castro had this authority over all Cuban beings:

Because we knew nothing else, because we were taught only one reality, Fidel came to embody not only the ideas of the revolution but also the nation itself.... All powerful, all seeing, he came to replace God at a time when the government declared the country atheist. Who needs God in the face of such powerful force?

.... [Castro] controlled what music we listened to, what books we read, what uniforms we wore, the length of men's hair, whether or not we communicated with our cousins in the U.S. (the euphemism for the US then was el exterior as if all that was ours and all that was good stood in juxtaposition to everything that happened outside that island, outside our revolutionary bubble).

But if we are nothing -- if there is no God -- what does it matter if Castro tells us who we are, or if some arbitrary voice inside us does?

You can see where this leads logically: the only way to defy all authority is to become completely crazy, such that every thought and action is random, unpredictable, and discontinuous. That is total freedom from any constraint. Surely no one would believe that, would they?

Wrong!

Think of anarchism, for example. "Anarchism does not offer a fixed body of doctrine from a single particular world view, instead fluxing and flowing as a philosophy." Well, no kidding! On what possible basis could it ever offer a fixed body of doctrine? That would remove the "an" from anarchism ("arch" having to do with order and hierarchy).

And then there was the whole 1960s zeitheist that grew out of the beat movement. I'd like to pretend I was never attracted to this nonsense, but that would be pretending. I read my Ginsberg, Kerouac, Kesey, and Burroughs. There is a reason why the Beat Generation lasted only one generation, though, since it is a completely unsustainable philosophy. You can have one generation of nihilists, but it ends there -- although the psychic damage will live on in any children who accidentally came out of it.

We're getting rather far afield this morning, aren't we? But as I mentioned yesterday, we'll eventually tie all of this together. Somehow.

Robert Nisbet (in Hollander) writes of being "confronted by the spectacle of seeking to escape from the very process of individualism and impersonality which nineteenth century rationalists hailed as the very condition of progress..."

In other words, history finally gives birth to the Individual, only to have these ungrateful individuals reject it on the grounds of being completely isolated from everything else. This is precisely where the romantic movement comes in: back to nature!

This impulse to eliminate the self and fuse with nature (or whatever) inspired everything from environmentalism to sexual liberation to the drug culture to the human potential movement. The basic idea is that the only thing standing between you and an ecstatic encounter with reality is you. Therefore, just annihilate this imposter, and you -- or what's left of you, anyway -- are assured a life of nonstop thrills.

Some younger readers may think I am exaggerating, but the Bob never exaggerates. I remember back in the mid-1970s, when the parents of a friend of mine got involved in the EST program. Not deeply involved, mind you. Rather, they attended a weekend seminar or two, which was the Thing To Do back then in California. "The purpose of the seminar was 'to transform one's ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself.'"

Okay whatever. In other words, it was an early example of some charismatic pneumapath Deepaking the Chopra for cash and other valuable prizes. What could go wrong?

I had intended to get into God's Gamble. Does God gamble? Einstein thought not: God doesn't play dice with the universe. Einstein was famously wrong on that score, at least insofar as quantum mechanics renders prediction and determinism impossible in principle.

But apparently -- or so we have heard from the wise -- God gambles on man. How so? Well, first of all, in giving him the gift of freedom. It is as if God is saying: I'll bet man doesn't misuse it!

The rest is history -- or prehistory, rather. No, before that even. For we are going in search of that very moment outside time when God placed his wager and (pre)man became (free)man.

To be continued...

18 comments:

Gagdad Bob said...

Alan Watts is related to the beat movement. In this you can see an appealing and seductive combination of truth and nonsense.

Tony said...

speaking of the infinite plasticity of man, have you heard of Nikolai Fyodorov? late C19 Russian Orthodox. I wonder if Lewis had him in mind when he came to write The Abolition of Man.

julie said...

Speaking of whether God gambles, the Man Himself has said that nobody - including Christ - knows when He's coming back...

ted said...

The whole human potential movement is a mix of truth and nonsense. And the nonsense part is appealing because you don't have to worry about self mastery, just self expression. It's all over the spiritual, but not religious movement.

Ephrem Antony Gray said...

of course, all of this is very vulnerable to satanism, as while there is no particular meaning in anything, there are people with meaning - in traditions of great antiquity - and inverting and perverting what they hold dear certain has some sort of meaning.

Christina M said...

God! I read that description of Fidel, and I think, "You could be describing my dad. We only lived 261 miles away." My brother and I actually reloaded thousands of rounds of ammunition for one of the guys in Miami who was plotting to overthrow Castro when I was five. I know what it's like to live on a prison island with a control freak.

Christina M said...

The one thing I'm grateful about, growing up is that my dad did not justify his bad behavior by pointing to God. Because.....my dad was god. He had no higher authority we could appeal to. And I knew that was wrong.

Gagdad Bob said...

That is a primordial usurpation. Terrestrial fathers are only supposed to be deputy celestial fathers. They have no other legitimate authority.

son of a preacher man said...

And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. - Mathew 23:9

julie said...

You can see where this leads logically: the only way to defy all authority is to become completely crazy, such that every thought and action is random, unpredictable, and discontinuous. That is total freedom from any constraint. Surely no one would believe that, would they?

Speaking of which...

I recommend reading that with a big bag of popcorn.

julie said...

Also this.

I don't think I've ever felt so much schadenfreude in all my life as I have the past few weeks.

Tony said...

I just had breakfast with a British socialist who thinks Trump is a good thing and a salutary reorientation toward working-class issues. This echoes Bernie Sanders' comment that he'd work with Trump if xyz. If Trump continues his present course, the Democrat Party will collapse at both ends, leaving only its plantation establishment types in the middle of the room when the lights go out.

Gagdad Bob said...

How about Olby? He was already insane, but Trump has driven him over the edge. Let's agree with Keith that THESE ARE NOT WORDS OF SANITY, and let the viewer decide who is speaking them.

Gagdad Bob said...

GOVERNMENT BACKED ATTACKERS are stealing his precious bodily fluids!

Tony said...

What a weird dude. He reminds me of a GDR party official handing out awards to communist crane operators.

Gagdad Bob said...

His affect is so strange. If you're trying to convince people that someone is crazy, it helps if you don't appear crazy.

julie said...

Wow - yes. Can you imagine being cornered by him at a party? Smile, nod, and back away slowly...

Van Harvey said...

"In other words, history finally gives birth to the Individual, only to have these ungrateful individuals reject it on the grounds of being completely isolated from everything else. This is precisely where the romantic movement comes in: back to nature!

This impulse to eliminate the self and fuse with nature (or whatever) inspired everything from environmentalism to sexual liberation to the drug culture to the human potential movement. The basic idea is that the only thing standing between you and an ecstatic encounter with reality is you. Therefore, just annihilate this imposter, and you -- or what's left of you, anyway -- are assured a life of nonstop thrills."

Yep. Going back to what you mentioned a couple posts back, Augustine's Confessions, if you'd like to see a nauseating negative reflection of his introspection, with that of the fellow who most popularized the self as elimination of self (and God), read Augustine's Confessions, side by side with Rousseau's Confessions.

Don't worry, you won't have to go too far too see the contrast of Dei and night.