Friday, February 16, 2018

How to Fail at Humanness

The usual Friday ramble...

I have nothing concrete or practical to say about the recent school shooting. It does, however, remind me of something said in yesterday's post -- that alone among creatures, man may sink beneath himself and fall into a negative space of evil, absurdity, and nihilism: a creature no longer of God, but of what then?

This goes to the sufficient reasons for the human station, which are freedom, love, virtue, and truth: we are given freedom in order to conform ourselves to what is good, true, and beautiful.

If this is not the case, then to hell with it: the nihilist living in his negative space is no worse than the saint or scientist pursuing virtue and truth. We all just live our own peculiar way of being in error. In this context, to be an individual is to be uniquely as opposed to collectively wrong, since truth is inaccessible in any case.

At the same time, man can never attain his purpose alone. We are social animals before we are individuals, and the latter -- individuation -- is strictly impossible in the absence of the former.

This goes to the intersubjective and trinitarian nature of the human person, such that group and individual are always complementary and not opposed -- except in pathological situations, such as leftism, wherein the collective oppresses the individual, or libertarianism, in which the individual is an isolated monad abstracted from the group. Note that these two deviations are founded upon a systematic ignorance and denial of the human station.

Which, by the way, is why the natural family is the unit of human existence. It is the glue that binds people together, and consequently allows us to bond with people and groups outside the family. Strong and heathy families create strong and healthy individuals, at least most of the time. There's always a seemingly random, or at least unforeseeable, element in these matters.

But also, to paraphrase Dávila , sin "shuffles the cards." At any rate, if there were a pure cause-and-effect relationship between parental input and child output, we would be machines, not free beings.

President Trump is surely correct to call this a "mental health issue," but what can this mean in a culture that proudly transgresses all human norms and calls it freedom and progress? As said in yesterday's post, there is no progress beyond the human station: one can fail to actualize proper humanness, but no one can transcend it.

Which sounds arrogant -- as if humanness is a kind of perfection. Well, it is! But again, it is image, and it is up to us -- in freedom -- to move toward likeness. No conceivable anthropology can surpass this formulation. This is what is meant by the wisecrack that the only real failure and tragedy in life is "not to become a saint."

Why? Because this is the ultimate telos of our God-given freedom. Anything less "is to remain unactualized." Yes, almost all of us fail. But failure is only comprehensible in the light of possible success.

In this context, failure is a form of success, so long as it is aimed in the proper direction. In other words, man can improve in the trying, which is true of everything from science to sanctity. But in the absence of this telos, there is neither failure nor success, again, just the aimless drifting of cosmic flukes.

By the way, I would modify Bloy's crack somewhat, in order to allow for different types and destinies. Being that man is knowledge, sentiment, and will -- or truth, love, and virtue -- there is room enough for the sage as well as saint (not to mention artist or warrior or even merchant). Thus, if you are given the gift of intelligence and fail to actualize wisdom, then that is indeed a tragedy. Worse, it is tenure.

Precisely because man may conceive of the transcendent Absolute -- beyond which there can be no whicher -- he must be, as it were, immanent absoluteness; or again, a residue of absoluteness projected into time, space, and relativity.

Man cannot be intelligent "without an Intelligence 'in itself'" -- an Intelligence "which is both transcendent and immanent." This itself is a "quasi-fulgurating proof of the Omniscient, a proof almost too blindingly evident to be able to be formulated in words." Indeed, language is a shadow -- or better, image -- of the Logos, as is moon- to sunlight.

About the unsurpassable nature of the human station: "To say that man... is 'made in the Image of God'" is to say that human beings manifest "something absolute and for that very reason something unlimited and perfect" (Schuon).

Now, this kind of grandiose talk is liable to give a fellow a big head and lead to all sorts of mischief. But only if it is in the wrong metaphysical context.

For in a trinitarian context, our greatness is in our humility and self-giving: the meek, the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, are among those who gain entry to the vertical kingdom. These latter are receptive to God and thereby moving toward him, which is again the reason for the human station.

The animal, which can manifest perfections but not the Absolute, is like a closed door, as it were enclosed in its own perfection; whereas man is like an open door allowing him to escape his limits, which are those of the world rather than his own. --Schuon

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Apology for Anthropology

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but when I resume blogging after a couple days away, it's like waking up and trying to resume a dream. Hard to do. In a way, every dream is its own little world. When it ends, that world is over -- even though a dream is rarely "complete."

Nor do we ever remember the beginning of any dream; rather, we're just there, after it has begun, and usually awaken before it can have any neat and tidy resolution. Which is more than a little like life itself, no? We may have snapshot memories from age five, or four, or three, and then the temporal cliff. We must take it on faith that we were conceived born, nursed, weaned, etc.

Nor can there be any "completeness" at the other end. Yes, we can reconcile ourselves to death, but human potential can never be exhausted in this life. If Mozart were alive, he'd still be cranking out symphonies. Edison would still be inventing.

Truly, a world comes into being with the cognitive development of each person. And each person is a fresh perspective on being -- like a pinhole in a lampshade, in which there is one central light and innumerable "openings" for it at the periphery.

You could take that more or less literally: that there a single Subject grounding our otherwise inexplicably diversified subjectivity. To express it pneumo-metrically, the cosmos has a center and a periphery, just as it has a beginning and end. The center is God (or O if you prefer), to whom everything is more or less peripheral -- like rays of light in relation to the central sun.

Along the way there are what we might call "stations." Imagine these as circles of varying sizes around the central point from which they radiate. What we perceive as "matter" is just such a circle, as is the realm of biology as such, the latter closer to the Center than the former.

In this context, man is in an ambiguous situation indeed. For exactly what is the human station, and how does it relate to the Center? That question has a number of answers, or at least can be approached from various angles. But if you ask the typical tenured drone to define the human station, he'll say: "Easy. There isn't one."

There isn't one (for the McTenured) because there is no cosmic center and no periphery. Rather, there is only periphery with no center (an impossible formulation). Truly, we are as parasites on existence, or barnacles on the ship of matter. But there is still a kind of "center," because man cannot not have one.

In other words, even the person who exiles man from any contact with the Center is nevertheless speaking from a center. Indeed, no coherent speech is possible in the absence of a center from which it proceeds. Otherwise it would be just random babbling.

The same sort of incurious dullard who reduces life to matter is likely to reduce person to biology. Thus, it's easy enough to critique reductionism, but you need to replace it with the proper metaphysic. Again, the reason why reductionism fails is because it denies the Center from the center.

Not the Center as such, but a reflection of the Center, which goes precisely to the human station; for what is man but the Center at the periphery? Or in other words, to say that man is in the image and likeness of the Creator, is to say that he is a temporal reflection of this eternal image.

Except to say that there is image and there is likeness, two very different things. Yes, we've discussed this in the past, but there may be some new riders on the bus. I can't see them unless they comment, but travelers must be getting on and off all the time. Unless I'm only losing riders, which I don't rule out.

Man is stationed at the periphery. However, life is a pilgrimage from periphery to Center. This Center is always available to us, since we are prolongations of it. To be precise, in one sense we are discontinuous with it -- think of the rings around the Center -- but in another sense continuous with it -- as in the rays proceeding from the Center.

Not only that, but man is uniquely able to move away from the Center; (ortho)paradoxically, he is "free" to fall past the outer periphery, into... what exactly?

Truly, this latter is a kind of "negative" space to which no other animal has access. Every other animal is enclosed in its archetype, with no freedom of vertical movement. Pigs don't think about becoming better pigs, nor can a pig sink beneath itself and become, say, Adam Schiff. But Adam Schiff can become a pig or even Pelosi, which reveals a central truth about the human station.

"Anthropology." I've studied a fair amount of it, but the whole discipline is rather peripheral to what is going on with anthropos. For it typically places man at the periphery of natural selection, which it regards as the true center of things. Psychobiology and evolutionary psychology are of this nature, ultimately using the mind to deny itself and leaving nothing standing but a blind and deracinated tenure.

There is of course a Christian anthropology, which is a whole different martyr. In my opinion it is the true anthropology, or a view of man from the Center, as opposed to a self-negating peripheral view. This true humanism opposes a false secular humanism which

forgets that once man abandons his prerogatives to matter, to machines, to quantitative knowledge, he ceases to be truly “human.” What is most totally human is what gives man the best chances for the hereafter, and this is what also most deeply corresponds to his nature (Schuon).

About our capacity to exit the human station through the back door, Schuon correctly notes that

human animality is situated beneath animality as such, for animals innocently follow their immanent law and thereby enjoy a certain natural and indirect contemplation of the Divine Prototype; whereas there is decadence, corruption and subversion when man voluntarily reduces himself to his animality.

Here Schuon outlines in more detail what characterizes the human station:

When we speak of man, what we have in mind first of all is human nature as such, that is, inasmuch as it is distinguished from animal nature. Specifically, human nature is made of centrality and totality, and hence of objectivity; objectivity being the capacity to step outside oneself, while centrality and totality are the capacity to conceive the Absolute.

So, man is uniquely able to understand his nature and transcend it. The human station itself cannot be transcended, in that we cannot become angels, let alone God. Nevertheless, whereas the angel -- like the animal -- is enclosed in its nature, man can transcend his, since it is in his nature to transcend. It's what we do.

Here is how Schuon describes it: "Man comes from God and he goes towards God," such that "his 'becoming' bears the imprint of a 'being'; he is that which he becomes, and becomes that which he is." Again, this is unique to the human station, and is the ground floor of the True Anthropology.

To be precise, the human station is characterized by "objectivity of intelligence: the capacity to see things as they are in themselves; next, objectivity of will, hence free will; and finally, objectivity of sentiment, or of soul if one prefers: the capacity for charity, disinterested love, compassion" (Schuon).

Obviously, of no other animal can it be said that it is on a mission or pilgrimage toward truth, love, and beauty! Bottom line for today:

Quite paradoxically, it is only in transcending himself that man reaches his proper level; and no less paradoxically, by refusing to transcend himself he sinks below the animals which -- by their form and mode of passive contemplatively -- participate adequately and innocently in a celestial archetype; in a certain respect, a noble animal is superior to a vile man.

Today's dream is over, if not ended per se.

Monday, February 12, 2018

In Search of the Missing Cosmic Trust Fund

We're all familiar with the mystery of dark matter, which only constitutes, oh, 84.5% of the total mass of the universe, but is nevertheless missing in action; combined with dark energy, 95.1% of mass-energy is unaccounted for.

In reality, dark matter is simply an epistemological placeholder; it is where the theory -- not the matter -- "goes dark," so to speak. Which is the case with all scientific theories, especially when they touch upon origins. In short, it is easy to conflate where reality begins and where one's theory ends. It's like refusing to leave the theater, because you want to find out what happens after the movie is over.

For it is written: Every beginning is an image of the Beginning; every end is an image of the End (Dávila), and these two -- Beginning and End -- are outside time. Thus, We call “origins” the limits of our science. If you only remember these, you will be less prone to confusing your model with what it is modeling.

One could as readily refer to consciousness as dark matter, on the presumption that we aren't yet able to reduce it to a material explanation, but eventually will be. Materialism is the god of secular gaps; but it reifies the gaps, since only wholeness can account for their transcendent unity.

(Incidentally, apropos of nothing -- or possibly everything -- it occurs to me that consciousness isn't so much dark matter as bright immateriality; and that if something appears dark to us, it is only in light of -- or relative to -- consciousness.)

In this regard, all forms of materialism, scientism, naturalism, etc., are merely postdated checks drawn against future (omniscient) explanations. It's a bit like a Ponzi scheme, in that the presumptive wealth is enabled by new investors, as the illusion of materialism is sustained by freshly indoctrinated graduates.

Have you ever tried to fill your swimming pool by pouring buckets of water from the shallow end to the deep end? Or maybe you didn't attend college.

At any rate, another missing reality is the organism. Yes, you can explain it in reductionistic terms, just as you can, as a commenter put it the other day, reduce Hamlet to a box of Scrabble letters. In which case, to be or not to be is simply a matter of correct spelling: being is just the ultimate spelling bee.

What am I buzzing on about? About chapter 6 of No God, No Science, called The Mystery of the Missing Organism. Yes, all of the above is the same old nous for senior Raccoons, but it's always nice to have some scholarly hollering and academic backup for my more visionary and prophetic stylings.

As Hanby explains, the unity of the organism "transcends and, thus, ontologically precedes the coordinated interaction of its parts as the principle and subject of their interaction, though the full manifestation of this unity in this coordinated interaction awaits the organism's historical development and maturation."

This passage highlights an important orthoparadox that makes sense of the whole human journey, indeed, of the human station: that man is always on the way to his own antecedent unity. Note that this is the inverse of what was said above about writing rubber checks against imaginary future wealth, because the wealth in this account is real.

For in this case, we are drawing against a kind of atemporal treasure -- an inheritance, as it were -- that is deployed in time; yes, an eternal Trust fund, which of course brings to mind the investment advice of Jesus:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

"A transcendent order of being, form, and finality," writes Hanby, is intrinsic to the "identification of entities and to the intelligibility of history." He cites Ratzinger, who "regarded the reduction of being to history as perhaps the principal factor responsible for the eclipse of even the idea of truth."

Several aphorisms come to mind: for example, that Truth is in history, but history is not truth. For if historicism is the case -- if history is truth -- then no one could know it, because we must await the end of history to reveal it. Besides, if social and cultural phenomena are determined by history, then this must include the idea that social and cultural phenomena are determined by history, so the theory falls by its own hand.

But Real history exceeds what merely happened. Ho! History transcends mere history, in the same sense that the meaning of Hamlet transcends the letters used to compose it.

Are you -- your organism -- merely an epiphenomenal placeholder for an evolutionary process that will some day exhaustively explain you and eradicate all mystery? Are you the frozen sum of a litany of accidents? A soft robot animated by selfish genes?

Can't be. For if the Word isn't in the beginning, nothing can be written.

Nor can anything more be written until Thursday, since it's a busy week, at which point we will dig a little more deeply into this line of thought.