Thursday, November 08, 2018

Closed Open Minds and Open Closed Minds

I was flipping through a book by Josef Pieper, trying to decide if I need to replace my worn-out and marked-up copy, and -- of course -- randomly came upon a passage that goes directly to yesterday's post on the limits of reason:

Nietzsche said that "wisdom puts limits to knowledge." Whatever he himself may have meant by this, there is no doubt that the will-to-knowledge, this noble power of the human being, requires a restraining wisdom, "in order that man may not strive immoderately for the knowledge of such things."

The question is, at what point does the will-to-knowledge shade off into the will-to-power? At what point does our natural epistemophila become an unseemly megalomania? What is the proper limit to the knowing intellect?

The answer is (ortho)paradoxical, because in a certain important sense, the intellect knows no limit, being that we -- and the intellect in particular -- are in the image of the creator. And I was about to say that people who understand our limitlessness in a religious context aren't the problem, but that would be quite naive, wouldn't it?

It seems that there are four possibilities: there are appropriate and inappropriate limits on the intellect; and an appropriate and inappropriate limitlessness to it.

For example, there are times that we need limits to vault us into limitlessness -- language being one example of this, or musical notation, or mathematics: each is an open system that uses boundary conditions to surpass itself, a la Polanyi:

the principles of each level operate under the control of the next higher level. The voice you produce is shaped by a vocabulary; a given vocabulary is shaped into sentences in accordance with a grammar; and the sentences are fitted into a style, which in its turn is shaped by our efforts to convey the ideas of the composition. Thus each level is subject to dual control: first, by the laws that apply to its elements in themselves and, second, by the laws that control the comprehensive entity formed by them.

Such multiple control is made possible again by the fact that the principles governing the isolated particulars of a lower level leave indeterminate their boundary conditions. These will be controlled by a higher principle.... Consequently, the operations of a higher level cannot be accounted for by laws governing its particulars, which form the next lower level. You cannot derive a vocabulary from phonetics; you cannot derive a grammar from a vocabulary; a correct use of grammar does not account for good style; and a good style does not supply the content of an oral communication (Polanyi).

It's not surprising that we should meet Polanyi on the road with Hayek, since they were friends and mutual influences.

Let's get back to what Pieper was saying about the subject. He writes of a certain kind of pathological knowing that reminds me of our constant obsession with politics -- of the

noise of impressions and sensations breathlessly rushing past the windows of the senses. Behind the flimsy pomp of its facade dwells absolute nothingness; it is a world of, at most, ephemeral creations, which often within less than a quarter hour become stale and discarded...

Pieper rightly calls it an addiction, but how much worse is this addictive behavior in the internet age! Even before the smartphone, it stupefied "man's primitive power of perceiving reality" and made him "incapable not only of coming to himself but also of reaching reality and truth."

What happens next? We don't know. We've never been here before, certainly not to this extent:

If such an illusory world threatens to overgrow and smoother the world of real things, then to restrain the natural wish to see [i.e., know] takes on the character of a measure of self-protection and self-defense.

In a very real sense we must become closed to this lower would in order to remain open to the higher one(s): "man should oppose this virtually inescapable seduction with all the force of selfless self-preservation" by closing "the inner room of his being against the intrusively boisterous pseudo-reality of empty shows and sounds."

Only via such self-restraint may we "preserve or regain that which actually constitutes man's vital existence: the perception of the reality of God and his creation, and the possibility of shaping himself and the world according to this truth, which reveals itself only in silence."

Do you see what he did there? Setting limits in order to approach and perceive the limitless. Failing this, the world appears to us as a kind of pseudo-limitlessness or false infinite.

Thus, we must avoid the cosmic inversion of substituting the false for the true infinite, the pseudo- for for the real thing. Prof. Wiki:

The reductionistic attempt to reduce higher-level realities into lower-level realities generates what Polanyi calls a moral inversion, in which the higher is rejected with moral passion. Polanyi identifies it as a pathology of the modern mind and traces its origins to a false conception of knowledge; although it is relatively harmless in the formal sciences, that pathology generates nihilism in the humanities. Polanyi considered Marxism an example of moral inversion.

Ah, now it's all coming together: reduction of the higher to the lower, religious passion without religious restraint, the nihilistic omniscience of materialism, and the omnipotent and omnicompetent state, all reflecting and supporting one another. The left in a nutshell.

How does this square with what we've been reading in Hayek?

[T]hat socialism is the logical consequence of rationalism does not mean that socialism is right, but rather that rationalist judgment of morals is mistaken. Man was neither clever enough to design the order from which billions of his kind now draw their sustenance nor even to recognize what he would have to know in order to direct these efforts successfully.

Paradoxically, we don't owe our progress to our own omniscience, but rather, to a kind of systematic nescience that keeps our knowledge in bounds:

We do not owe our ability to keep two hundred times as many human beings alive than we could five thousand years ago solely, or even chiefly, to our growing intellectual insight into scientific and technological problems, but at least as much, if not more, to a moral tradition of which both our innate instincts and our attempts at rational comprehension largely disapprove -- a tradition which was kept alive essentially by a faith in supernatural forces which science now teaches us is factually wrong.

The moral tradition to which Hayek alludes consists of boundary conditions or restraints on behavior that make possible "the extended order which we call civilization."

Conversely -- or inversely, rather -- socialists always ground their appeals in a kind of crude benevolence. Socialism "sounds" moral. Why does it always end in such horror?

The sad truth is that theoretical benevolence is compatible with any amount of practical indifference or even cruelty. You feel kindly towards others. That is what matters: your feelings. The effects of your benevolent feelings in the real world are secondary, or rather totally irrelevant. Rousseau was a philosopher of benevolence. So was Karl Marx. Yet everywhere that Marx’s ideas have been put into practice, the result has been universal immiseration. But his intention was the benevolent one of forging a more equitable society by abolishing private property and, to adopt a famous phrase from President Obama, by spreading the wealth around.

Combine abstract benevolence and limitless knowledge, and what do you have? Oh, Venezuela, or Cuba, or the Soviet Union, or California -- you all know the malignant roster.

What's the alternative?

"we are indebted for all the noblest exertions of human genius, for everything that distinguishes the civilised from the savage state,” to “the laws of property and marriage, and to the apparently narrow principle of self-interest which prompts each individual to exert himself in bettering his condition.”

"The apparently narrow principle of self-interest," mind you. Because it is precisely this apparent narrowing that opens us to something far surpassing itself.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Liberal Limits on the Limitless Reason of the Left

"Liberalism and democracy, although compatible, are not the same. The first is concerned with the extent of governmental power, the second with who holds the power" (Hayek).

Obviously, real liberalism is much more vital to our liberty than is mere democracy. Indeed, democracy can as easily erode liberty as any other form of tyranny. Liberalism is only protected by principles; or, to put it another way, it is not grounded in the demos but in the principial realm, which is timeless, universal, and ultimately God-given: we are endowed with certain (super)natural rights which it is the purpose of government to secure.

Teleocracy. I thought I made it up, but it's actually a real word. I was about to say that our system of government is a teleocracy, in the sense that it has the goal of protecting and extending liberty, but so too is every leftist tyranny a teleocracy, in that they have the goal of undermining liberty and imposing equality. So it's a neither here nor thereword.

In any event, notice what's been going on with our illiberal left: since its authoritarian designs are being frustrated by our liberal order, it has taken to making crude, demogogic appeals to "democracy" -- for example, abolition of the electoral college, or delegitimizing the senate, or the latest whining point cooked up by the children of Vox -- that Americans aren't prepared "for the crisis that will follow if Democrats win the House popular vote but not the majority."

In other words, if our liberal system works as it supposed to work and has always worked, it is a crisis. Why is it a crisis? Because -- follow me here -- it will have limited the power of those who wish to extend the power of the state to limit our rights and liberties. The bottom line is that -- of course -- "a democratic government may be totalitarian and that an authoritarian government may act on liberal principles" (ibid).

I know this because I live in California. Yesterday, for example, our obedient NPCitizens voted by a wide margin to maintain a highly regressive gasoline tax in what is already the most heavily taxed state -- and with the highest poverty rate -- in the union. And of course we re-elected Diane Feinstein, who, in order to maintain political viability, made it a special project of hers to assassinate a judge.

But Hayek goes deeper into our political differences, writing that illiberal leftism and conservative classical liberalism "rest on altogether different philosophical foundations."

Of course, I would go too far and suggest that they are grounded in different metaphysical sources -- ultimately heaven and hell (or O and Ø) -- but let's stick with Hayek's more sober understanding: that genuine liberalism "is based on an evolutionary interpretation" (emphasis mine) which recognizes "the limits of the powers of the human reason."

Let's stop right there, because his point is somewhat orthoparadoxical: science and reason have allowed us to gain insight into the evolutionary process, but a deep understanding of evolution requires us to appreciate the limits of science and reason. If reason and science are limitless, then they enclose us in a kind of ultimate ignorance that the left uses as an ultimate control.

It's the difference between the reasonable use of reason vs. a tyrannical and totalitarian use of it. Evolution itself can be liberating or stifling, depending upon whether we see it as an open or closed system.

For example, no one "invented" our free market system. Rather, it evolved spontaneously as a result of a rule of law that placed limits on government interference. Only after the system was well underway did people consciously reflect upon it and give it a name: the "free market," or "capitalism." The main point is that the system not only evolved spontaneously, but never could have been created by conscious intent.

But don't tell that to the left: it is rooted in what Hayek calls "constructivist rationalism," a manmade intellectual system that "leads to the treatment of all cultural phenomena as the product of deliberate design" and insists "that it is both possible and desirable to reconstruct all [evolved] institutions in accordance with a preconceived plan." Again, notice how this encases us in the tyrannical pseudo-reason of the left.

There are further important distinctions: genuine liberalism evolves in the context of tradition, which itself was invented over thousands of years by Nobody and Everybody, the living and the dead, male and female, parent and child, group and individual, God and man. Conversely, leftism "is contemptuous of tradition because it regards an independently existing reason as capable of designing civilization."

Think, for example, of marriage, which is one of those things that was designed by no one and everyone. The left thinks it can fundamentally redefine and alter it with a top-down imposition of its own desiccated reason. But this new thing -- whatever it is -- will be no more real than, say, vitamins abstracted from the food with which man has evolved. No one can live on vitamins. And the spirit of man cannot live and breathe in the creations of the left. For proof, look at what has happened to academia and the arts.

Conservative classical liberalism "is a modest creed, relying on abstraction as the only available means to extend the limited powers of reason," whereas leftism "refuses to recognize any such limits and believes that reason alone can prove the desirability of particular concrete arrangements."

Which is why genuine liberalism is not only compatible with religion, but "has often been held and even been developed by men holding strong religious beliefs," while the anti-American kind "has always been antagonistic to all religion and politically in constant conflict" with it (except for those religions that undermine our tradition, such as Islam).

Time out for aphorisms that approach the subject from different angles -- most of which you've heard before but are always worth remumbling and remembering:

None of the high eras of history have been planned. The reformer can only be credited with the errors.

The progressive believes that everything soon turns obsolete except his ideas.

Progress finally comes down to stealing from man what ennobles him, in order to sell to him at a cheap price what debases him.

The political platforms of the left are gradually transformed into scaffolds.

Let us preserve in any institution the “defects” that the modern mentality denounces. They are the last air holes.

For the left the constitution is a shameful attack on the sovereignty of the people.

Dying societies accumulate laws like dying men accumulate medicines.

Hell is the place where man finds all his projects realized.

And

The excess of laws emasculates. For proof I give you California, home of the Geld Rush.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Centralized Stupidity, AKA the State

Four or five invulnerable philosophical propositions allow us to make fun of the rest. --Dávila

Hayek begins an essay called Principles and Expediency with the following quote:

The frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty.

Now, the opposite of principle is what? It might be arbitrariness, or expediency, or unscrupulousness, or opportunism, each eroding and undermining freedom in its own way.

For example, there can be no enduring freedom in an arbitrary world; in fact, not even any real knowledge. Arbitrariness must be one of the primary attributes of hell. With no rock solid principles, there is no possibility of gaining a cognitive foothold with which to climb up and out.

And expediency has to do with some immediate gain or interest. I suppose it is guided by a telos, but a very near term one -- for example, dashing out of a restaurant without paying. I wonder how many people avoid doing that for fear of punishment, vs. how many due to principle? If everyone were guided by principle, then we'd need no law against it.

Remember what Sherif Bell said in yesterday's post: "It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it." So, the less principle, the more law. And law can erode principle, because then you only avoid certain unprincipled choices for fear of being caught; or, you conflate morality with being law-abiding.

For Hayek, human beings require a condition of liberty in order to utilize what they know in order to accomplish what they want. This may sound simplistic, but the implications are vast and far-reaching. For it means that knowledge is not only not centralized, but cannot be centralized. Nevertheless, this hardly stops governments from trying.

But what do they end up centralizing? That's right: stupidity. And what is coerced stupidity? Yes, the theft of liberty: you are forced to do something stupid, and forbidden to do what you know best how to do.

Socialism would be so easy if only omniscience were possible: if the state possessed all the relevant knowledge, then it would just be a matter of logic and logistics. The concession to "liberty" would simply be a confession that there's something we don't know. But if the state knows what to do and how to do it, then liberty just gets in the way. Which is why socialism and liberty are not just incompatible, but opposites.

Liberals like to think of themselves as rational and scientific, but liberalism itself (the modern kind, not the real thing) is founded upon a total lack thereof: it is literally attempting the impossible: "knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess."

It is literally the case -- orthoparadoxically -- that civilization depends upon respect for and maintenance of ignorance, even more than knowledge. You might say that the less we know, the more we (i.e., civilization) know. In other words, knowledge is increasingly distributed as a result of the division of labor. What if the maintenance of our complex civilian were dependent upon what you or I know? It would instantly grind to a halt. As Whitehead wrote,

It is a profoundly erroneous truism... that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

It is remarkable in this context to consider all the long-settled questions that the left is forcing us to rethink, from free speech to marriage to the constitution. It's like having go go back and justify sense perception, or logic, or language. Which I suppose they also want us to do.

Again, in one sense, political liberty is just the state's concession that knowledge is dispersed and omniscience is impossible. This is a scientific conclusion, but the science is quite different from that which applies to the study of nature. The complex system of a spontaneous order is not at all analogous to a linear system with machine-like properties.

If civilization were a linear system, then central planning would indeed be conceivable. To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, all economies are planned. The question is who does the planning, the individual or the state? I could make myself a bitter man if I dwelled on all the things I could do with the money I end up throwing at the state because it knows better how to spend it.

there is beyond question a body of very important but unorganized knowledge which cannot possibly be called scientific in the sense of general rules: the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place.

And how is this particularized knowledge of time and place rapidly coordinated? Yes, through the mechanism of price. Which is why those areas of the economy most unhinged from economic reality are those that are most interfered with by the state: medical care, college, and housing.

For example, we only know what it costs to attend this or that college. But we have no idea of the price, since the price mechanism is not permitted to function. Suffice it to say that when the state gets involved, the cost is always more than the price would have been.

Think, for example, of the layers of useless diversocrats that add to the cost of attending college. You can't put a price on them. Literally. If you did, you would immediately discover that they're worthless, because people would choose a college that avoids the cost of employing them.

I don't want to say "to be continued," because in a way I haven't even started.

Monday, November 05, 2018

There's Nothing Like a Principle

As you might have noticed from the sidebar, I've been delving into a lot of Hayek lately. I'd read his more popular broadsides such as The Road to Serfdom, The Fatal Conceit, and others, plus a lot of secondary literature, but never dug down into the weeds.

Of course, I have to skip over any weeds with numbers, math being hard and all. But the great majority of his works have no forbidding equations at all, just relentless logic and deadly (to the left) common sense.

He has rapidly risen to the top of the ranks of my go-to guys, which include Schuon and Dávila and not too many others. Why those three? One word: principles. The way I'm built, I just love timeless and universal principles that tie the cosmos together. Isn't this what we all want? Isn't the mind designed to know and cherish timeless principles? Yes. Which raises the question: if the mind is created to know principles, why do so many people ignore or reject them?

We'll leave aside the question of why some people are so beholden to bad principles. Like Anton:

He's a peculiar man. You could even say that he has principles. Principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that.

Others will violate any principle for the sake of their One Big Principle. You know, leftists. But if the principle leads them to violate all principles, is it really a principle? Shouldn't the principial world hold together like an organic tapestry?

One of the appeals of principles is their simplicity, like truth itself. Sheriff Bell:

I think the truth is always simple. It has pretty much got to be. It needs to be simple enough for a child to understand. Otherwise it'd be too late. By the time you figured it out it would be too late.

That's an excellent point. You can spend your life searching for wisdom. Supposing you find it. Then you're an old man. What are you going to do with it? You can't go back and live your life with it the way it should have been lived all along.

D'oh! Isn't there a shortcut -- say, a body of wisdom you can use to guide your life, while at the same time checking it out for its veracity? You know, like taking it on faith at first, but verifying it as you go along?

We're talking about wisdom here, not mere knowledge. Wisdom is practical knowledge, ultimately of how to live. And you'd think Hayek -- a secular man -- wouldn't have much to say about that, only it turns out he's a better defender of tradition than most traditionalists: he gets not only its content but its function, which is actually the more important. Yes, the Function of Tradition. Good idea for a post.

Hayek, defender of the faith:

[O]ur morals endow us with capacities greater than our reason could do, namely the ability to adapt to conditions of which the individual mind could never be aware. It seems to me that what is called the "collective mind" of the group is nothing but the common moral tradition of its members, something different from and autonomous of the individual reasons, though of course constantly interacting with them.

Faith-Reason, or Wisdom-Learning, in a ceaseless dialectic. Why would you want to reinvent a wheel that man discovered 3,500 (pick a number) years ago and has been perfecting ever since? Good luck. You probably won't get it right, but supposing you do, By the time you figured it out it would be too late. Not just too late for you: too late for mankind, which will have destroyed itself in the meantime.

Let's take a bit of obvious wisdom from our tradition: get married and don't have children out of wedlock. Human sexuality is not animal sexuality. It is ultimately a sacred gift. And fatherhood -- a spiritual and not animal category -- is the basis of civilization.

Well, we've been systematically ignoring that wisdom for over half a century now, some communities more than others. What are the consequences?

I don't even have the time to explicate them. But notice as well that when you have jettisoned the principles, you no longer have them to illuminate and guide the psyche. Once you have plunged into relativity, you can't lift yourself out of the swamp by grasping on to some nonlocal principle. They're all gone. You killed them. Thus, if you are a feminist, there is no cure for feminism from within feminism; there is no cure for leftism within the left; there is no cure for tyranny once the Constitution means anything you want it to mean.

So now we have an abundance of mental illness, criminality, government dependency, and all-around dysfunction. What to do? I know: more leftism! Here we see the absurcularity of the left, in that it is the default solution to the problems it inevitably generates. Truly, it is the disease it purports to cure.

But it is ultimately a disease of principles, to get back to our main subject. "The rules of morality are not the conclusions of our reason." That being the case, if you have a principle to the effect that you will only adhere to what can be explicitly proved with reason, then you will thereby have plunged into -- well, not just unreasonableness, but anti-reason:

the tradition of moral rules contains adaptations to circumstances in our environment which are not accessible by individual observation or not perceptible by reason, and our morals are therefore a human equipment that is not only a creation of reason, but in some respects superior to it because it contains guides to human action which reason alone could never have discovered or justified....

The bottom line: "the value of traditional morals as an autonomous equipment is unintelligible to those intellectuals who are committed to to a strict rationalism or positivism." Any intellectual who "denies the acceptability of beliefs founded on anything but experience and reasoning" -- or clams that all true knowledge is a narrowly construed scientific knowledge -- such a person "must reject traditional ethics as irrational" and is thereby lost in the cosmos, plunged into the amoral darkness of chaos and tenure.

They will of course see the social consequences of their ideas -- for who can miss them? -- but blame Trump, or Russia, or White Privilege, or the Patriarchy, or Corporate Greed, anything but the actual causes.

A couple days ago I saw a remarkable missive by Ms. Occluded Cortex -- a variation on the theme that those who are traumatized by the less-then-monstrous themselves become monsters:

Six days from now, we can defeat the brutal white supremacist forces of anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant nativism, and racism. We can hold accountable the cold-hearted monsters [that's you] who have repeatedly attacked our health care.

[This is] our chance to push back against white supremacist forces across our nation, against the xenophobes who are militarizing the border, against the bigots who seek to erase our transgender families, against the apologists for sexual assault and the Islamophobes who sow hate to divide us...

We can send a message to the bigots and billionaires that this country belongs to all of us.

That is what you call a mind destroyed by hatred and ignorance. How did it get that way? Ironically, she calls herself Catholic. She's also an appallingly bad writer. Prepare to wince:

Christ came to me emblazoned on the upper arm of my beloved cousin Marc. The blue-black ink danced between the bullet scars and stretch marks that graced my cousin’s upper body. Atop this crown-of-thorns depiction was a tattooed banner with the phrase “Only God Can Judge Me.”

Well. Yes and no. Although God is the ultimate judge, there is nothing in Christianity that says we should abolish the criminal justice system and allow ourselves to be ruled by thugs. Christianity is not a suicide pact. But we'll leave that to the side.

Marc -- like several men in my family -- had been caught in the webbed threads of poverty, geography and lack of opportunity during the fever pitch of 1990s mass incarceration. Baggy-pant boys like him fit the descriptions of “super-predators” and “thugs” that dominated our national discourse at the time.

Oh. I get it. He didn't make any bad choices. Probably didn't even have free will. Rather, he was passively "caught" in various webbed threads of discourse about crime and whatnot.

I'm suffocating in bullshit. Time out for some homey wisdom from Sheriff Bell:

It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it.

Or this:

These old people I talk to, if you could of told em that there would be people on the streets of our Texas towns with green hair and bones in their noses speakin a language they couldnt even understand, well, they just flat out wouldnt of believed you. But what if you'd of told em it was their own grandchildren?

Hell, what if you told em these surreal folks is now runnin congress as of this Tuesday?

Friday, November 02, 2018

Time Has Come Today

How this post came to be: I was searching the blog for something having to do with time, and so many interesting things popped up that I decided to repost some of it.

Come to think of it, this is probably something I should do more often. I'm starting to think that all the good posts have already been written, and that I'm now just repeating myself. It's as if the new stuff is old but the old stuff is new, since I don't recall writing it; no doubt I was in my right mind at the time. And since none of it has been properly edited, I can finally get around to it. But there are also some new things sprinkled in.

The mystery of time. When I say "mystery," I mean it in a particular way. First, it is a distinct mode of understanding through which we may know an absent presence and present absence. In other words, mystery has an epistemological sense and an ontological sense; it is both a form of knowing and a form of being.

God, for example, is encountered through, or in, mystery. The more you heighten your sense of mystery, the more you are open to the transcendent. In my book, I symbolize this open be-attitude as (o).

But there is also the implicit ontological sense of the term. As I have mentioned before, I have long suspected that the various fundamental mysteries that confront man are somehow interconnected; you might say that they are diverse manifestations of O.

What I mean is that there are certain things that are fundamentally beyond the horizon of knowability -- at least in the profane or rationalistic sense. No amount of cogitation will ever resolve these riddles, which include Time, Life, People, Self, Liberty, Reason, O, and other magazines.

My apologies. That was a gag that couldn't help writing itself.

No joke: these mysteries include Time (in all its modes, but especially the Now), Consciousness, Life, Freedom, and Being (this last being our little window into eternity that can truly say -- and share in -- I AM).

In the past I have used the analogy of a three-dimensional hand passing through a two-dimensional plane. As the fingers break through the plane, they will initially appear as one, then two, eventually five, circles. But then the circles will blend together and become one at the wrist.

Think about the "place" where three dimensions appear as two. Is there such a place? Humanly speaking, it must be where free will takes place, not to mention the passage of time, which cannot be perceived absent a stationary or timeless "point." For example, prior to making a choice, we are confronted with a multitude of possibilities. Making the choice collapses the multidimensional field.

It reminds me of No Country For Old Men, which I recently read. Recall the scene in the gas station, where the proprietor's fate hinges on a coin flip. "I don't know what it is I stand to win." "You stand to win everything. Everything."

Nothing or everything, based on a coin toss. I think McCarthy is trying to say, That's Life. In fact, Chigurh says something in the book that isn't in the film:

Anything can be an instrument.... Small things. Things you wouldn't even notice. They pass from hand to hand. People dont pay attention. And then one day there's an accounting. And after that nothing is the same. Well, you say. It's just a coin. For instance. Nothing special there. What could that be an instrument of? You see the problem. To separate the act from the thing. As if the parts of some moment in history might be interchangeable with the parts of some other moment. How could that be? Well, it's just a coin. Yes. That's true. Is it?

So, you never really know when Everything is on the line, or what may by its instrument. Maybe it always is on the line -- or at least we ought to act as if it always is. We never really know what's coming. We can only pretend to know, which gets back to Hayek and the epistemological problem: we just don't know what we cannot know, and yet, we must choose.

With the gas station proprietor a coin is the instrument. With Moss, it's the leather document case filled with cash:

He sat there looking at it and then closed the flap with his head down. His whole life was sitting there in front of him. Day after day from dawn till dark until he was dead. All of it cooked down into forty pounds of paper in a satchel.

What does he do? He sees two lives before him, one already over, the other full of possibilities. I can't call it for you. It wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't even be right. Just call it!

He latched the case and fastened the straps and buckled them and rose and shouldered the rifle and then picked up the case and machinepistol and took his bearings by his shadow and set out.

Now, that is a provocative line: He took his bearings by his shadow. I could spend the rest of the post on that one, but I think I'll move on. Judas comes to mind. All this, for thirty pieces of silver!

Back to the subject of transition from one dimension to another... not that we ever left it. This is also the only "place" where the I AM could be. On one side, you might say, is the Dreamer who dreams the dream, on the other the dream-ee who recalls it. But life is a tapestry of Dreamer and Dream-ee, isn't it? Everything opens out to the infinite on one end, and the finite on the other. Subject and object.

I think on the Subject side is "religion as such," while on the object side is such-and-such a religion. Schuon writes that the perennial philosophy or religion

is quite evidently inexhaustible and has no natural limits.... As it is impossible to exhaust all that lends itself to being expressed, and as repetition in metaphysical matters cannot be a mistake -- it being better to be too clear than not clear enough -- we believe that we could return to our usual theses, either to offer things we have not yet said, or to explain in a usefully new way things we have said before.

So if this post is tediously repetitive, that's my excuse.

Later Schuon expands upon this in a useful way:

It is indispensable to know at the outset that there are truths inherent in the human spirit that are as if buried in the 'depths of the heart,' which means that they are contained as potentialities or virtualities in the pure Intellect: these are the principial or archetypal truths, those which prefigure and determine all others....

The intelligence of animals is partial, that of man is total; and this totality is explained only by a transcendent reality to which the intelligence is proportioned. Thus, the decisive error of materialism and of agnosticism is to be blind to the fact that material things and the common experiences of our life are immensely beneath the scope of our intelligence.... without the Absolute, the capacity of our conceiving it would have no cause.

As we've said before, profane thinking, or (k), can only arrive at O in the exterior sense; it can conceive it, but being in it is a different matter. Real ontonoetic thinking is a declension from O, i.e., that "transcendent reality to which the intelligence is proportioned."

Now, if we were fully "in O," then time stops and we simply enjoy the divine Slack. There is duration, but no time per se. Augustine talks about being "taken up into heaven"; likewise, one thinks of Plotinus and so many other mystics down through the ages. Or, as reader Johan reminds us, it is like when Homer talks about the paradox of the beer being "in us," that we may be "in the beer."

Wo. Be-er.

Is any of this actually helpful or even interesting or at least amusing to anyone? Or am I deluding myself? I honestly don't know. Well, amusing, maybe, in a weird kind of way.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Change and Progress, Circle and Line

Yesterday it occurred to me that if there is no freedom, then time is reduced to a kind of space. It is completely solid, as it were, with no give.

Time is bound up with change, but if time is space, then change is... well, it isn't. It would be analogous to two views of the same space -- like this room: I can look in this corner or that one, but it's the same room. Nothing has changed.

When we first got our new dog last year, she'd go out to the backyard and look through the window and see me typing, and think it was a stranger. Slowly the fear turned to puzzlement, and eventually she let it go. In her case, she had two views of the same person but thought it was two people. But if time is an illusion, then everything is like that. What looks like surprise is reduced to inevitability.

Surprise. It's on a continuum, isn't it? There are good surprises and bad surprises, trivial ones and catastrophic ones. But what if there were no surprises? Life would be unendurable, wouldn't it? Goroundhog Day, in circles.

Is there an ontological basis for surprise? The answer may surprise you!

I insist that there is, because I believe creativity is an irreducible principle in God: God cannot be God and not be creative. It's in his nature. Hence all this creativity, everywhere, at all times. It's here because it is a prolongation of, or participation in, God.

Do you have a better idea? Maybe you think it's a "bottom up" phenomenon. If so, then it is anchored in a bottom that is devoid of creativity -- the atemporal block universe described by modern physics. How does creativity get in?

There is change, and there is progress. In the absence of the Absolute, progress is reduced to mere change, and change is reduced to inevitability. And for awhile, this is precisely what Marxists taught: that progressive change, ending in utopia, was inevitable.

D'oh! That didn't work out, so "progress" had to be forced upon the rest of us, which is still the current state of play.

This coming Tuesday will again come down to the choice: change or progress. Except that the people who call themselves "progressives" are really changists, and we mean this quite literally. It is not an insult, because progress is ruled out by their metaphysic:

[P]rogress implies some improvement. Improvement, in turn, implies a standard that is not itself changing. Unless I have access to a fixed standard, I cannot tell whether things are getting better or worse. I must have an idea of what would count as ideal in order to recognize progress (Brown).

Conversely, change requires no standard, which is convenient for the left, being that they have none:

Although some criterion must be used to know that there is change, it need not be a standard measure. I can use any measure I please, and the measure can be changed as often as I please. It does not even matter if my standard itself is changing... (ibid).

Again, convenient for the left. No, mandatory! Truly, it is no joke to say that in the absence of double standards, the left wouldn't have any. Thus, for example, we have to stop demonizing people and realize that white people are our biggest threat. Or stop foreigners from influencing our politics, unless they are illegal Democrats. Etc.

Here's a book we haven't discussed in a long time, if ever: The Reality of Time. Is time indeed real? Or is it just a side effect of something more fundamental? You know what we believe; still, what would it mean for time to be real? What is the meaning of real?

Reality is two things: it is what is, despite our wishing it to be otherwise. But if it is only inevitable, then this isn't any better then the timeless universe referenced above. Let's go back to Dr. Brown:

Reality includes the material universe experienced by our senses and studied by science, but also such things as thought, free will, moral principles, and love. If these things are not real, then life itself is meaningless.

Now, thought, beauty, love, meaning, and free will transcend materiality. Therefore, reality is transcendent. Or, it is immanent but always transcends its own immanence.

Again, reality is 1) what is. But reality (for us) must be a prolongation of the Ultimate Real, and this is what we call God: you might say that there is a kind of dialectical play between reality and Ultimate Reality.

Everything that exists is more or less real. In other words, to exist is to partake of reality. A bad man, for example, exists; but he exists in a state of privation, in that the absence of goodness is a measure of his privation and lack of participation in the Real. Thus, being that things are more or less real, a -- if not the -- point of life must be to become more real, no?

Let's jump-cut to one of the ultimate principles of Christianity: Incarnation. It's a very strange doctrine. What's the point? Well, for starters, it is that the Ultimate Real plunges into what we call reality, in order to redeem it: that God becomes man that man may become (i.e., participate in) God. So, we are real. The Incarnation allows us to become more real.

Really? Again, go back up a few paragraphs, to the ultimate standard against which change is measured. An aphorism comes to mind:

Christ is the truth. What is said about Him are mere approximations to the truth.

Boom. The container has entered the contained. The contained can never contain the container, only "approximate" it. Still, better than nothingness.

Try this approximation on for size:

Christ was in history like a point on a line. But his redemptive act is to history as the center is to the circumference.

The Incarnation is situated on a point in history. But history cannot contain what transcends it, i.e., its own source, ground, and telos. For with the Incarnation, we might say that the Center becomes peripheral that the periphery might become central. Which comports with this timeless nugget recalled by Schuon, and which really ties the room together:

To quote an expression of Pascal’s we favor -- Reality is “an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere.”

How does this work, exactly -- center and circumference? Like this: think of a spider's web "formed of warp and weft threads -- or of radii and concentric circles." The radii connect directly to the center, while the circles are as if "echoes" or fractals or images of it; the former are continuous, the latter separate and discontinuous.

But again, the circles, although seemingly separate from the source, are real. How to reconcile the two relationships? Via the spiral: we are not God (the central point) and yet we are not-not God (via the radii). Christ in his godhood is pure radii, while in his manhood he is situated along a historical circle.

But God is always tossing down various ropes, i.e., radii. They go under the heading of "grace," which is really a vertical gift.

And seriously, where would we be without this ceaseless provision of vertical gifts? That's right: nowhere. We couldn't live for a second.

Never did get to the Reality of Time. Maybe tomorrow. Well, here are a couple of fragmental notes to myself in the back of the book, maybe relevant:

History is the time taken by humans to explicate humanness.

Only the present has a vertical dimension through which floods being, consciousness, life, eternity, etc.

Circle and line, change and progress, respectively.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Nothing and its Consequences

Still thinking about truth, freedom, and creation. These must be ultimate categories, and as we've said many times -- or suspected many times, anyway -- all ultimate categories must somehow be related to one another, otherwise this wouldn't be One Cosmos but many; there would be one cosmos for each ultimate, with no way to reconcile them.

An Ultimate Category is both the end and beginning of thought; take, for example, truth. Truth is obviously the whole point of thinking, but one cannot begin thinking without an implicit notion of truth. The very act of thinking presupposes the truth it converges upon. Indeed, I would say that truth is the substance of thought, just as thought is the form of truth.

But again, those other ultimates have to figure in as well. Freedom, for example, must be present, or truth is reduced to a compulsion or machine. Let's say I'm a leftist who knows the Truth of Gender, and therefore force everyone else to believe there are 57 genders, or that men and women are identical, or that women Must Be Believed. That's a rather brittle "truth," isn't it?

Which goes to the more general point that all "leftist truth" is brittle, for which reason it must be protected and afforded a safe space where it isn't challenged. It's not enough that 95% of professors believe it, or that speech codes protect it. Non-believers must be persecuted and punished!

I read of a survey the other day that found that over 50% of college students are afraid to disagree with their professors. Why only 50%? I suppose because half of the students are already so indoctrinated that they can't imagine disagreeing.

So, freedom makes truth more robust. It's why conservatives are eager to argue with leftists, but leftists ban conservatives from college campuses.

I heard of another self-evident study last week, revealing that conservatives understand leftist arguments much more than leftists understand conservative arguments. This explains why the left so rarely responds to the content of our arguments, but rather, with vilification and slander. This week, for example, you're a racist if you don't like the idea of a mob of foreigners exploiting our laws in order to invade the country. Everyone knows that if we were being invaded by mobs of Republicans, the wall would already be there. With turrets. And a moat.

Creativity is also unthinkable in the absence of freedom, and both require order. Too much order stifles freedom and creativity, as too little dissipates them.

Which certainly has a bearing on how God rolls. One of the fundamental doctrines of the West is "creation from nothing." A pure nothingness would be a total negation of truth and order; I suppose it's like a substance that is curative in a small dose but poisonous if you take too much. Probably a better way of expressing it would be creation with nothing, but not only nothing; rather, it's a vital ingredient, such that that there is a residue of nothingness in everything.

For example, what residues of nothingness do we see in human life? Well, death for starters. But also ignorance, which is again perpetual and irremediable; as described in the previous post, it is both a cause and consequence of a knowing intellect separate from (and yet a prolongation of) God.

We could also say that the inexhaustibility of creativity is a kind of shadow of nothingness. In this context, the most creative person in the world may be distressed to realize that the entirety of his efforts is but a grain of sand in the ocean.

Or, think of it the other way around: what if man could create something so comprehensive and so total that it eliminated the need for any further creativity -- a poem or painting so perfect that no further poems or paintings would be necessary or even desirable, because they would distract us from the One True Painting or Poem?

By the way, that is precisely the future book I have in the back of my mind. Yes, the Impossible Dream. But wait. Unlike the first book, it would not be an attempt at synthesis and integration of diverse fields. Rather, it would go to the nonlocal order of things -- to the implicit rules that make everything possible. Like this post is doing, for example.

Is it possible to read God's mind, or hack his computer? Fortunately we don't have to, because God tells us what's on his mind, or at least what we need to know. Why then do so many people ignore it? I think because it hasn't been presented to them in the right way. In particular, I think that certain important abstractions are understood concretely, and vice versa.

Example.

Okay, the Garden of Eden. Does one understand this concretely and literally, or is there supposed to be some abstract takeaway? This isn't just a problem with non-believers. It might even be worse with believers who not only superimpose some concrete understanding onto it, but vilify those of us who don't. Remember, since it verges on the ultimate, there must be an element of freedom and creativity mixed in there as well. Such mythopoetic stories are not there to look at but through. They illuminate the whole landscape. If they don't, then you're doing it wrong.

Think of how many metaphysical lessons are crammed into Genesis -- even just the first few chapters: creation from (or with) nothing; the uniqueness of man in all of creation; the primordial unity-in-complementarity of man and woman; fallenness, which is to say, separation from the Source (in the absence of which we couldn't exist at all); a seeming principle of evil or darkness or entropy; the perpetual exile and exodus of this life; the envy-fueled and murderous impulses in the hearts of our brothers; etc.

Time out for Schuon:

Obviously, creation “comes from” -- that is the meaning of the word ex -- an origin; not from a cosmic, hence “created” substance, but from a reality pertaining to the Creator, and in this sense -- and in this sense only -- it can be said that creation is situated in God. It is situated in Him in respect of ontological immanence: everything in fact “contains” on pain of being non-existent -- on the one hand Being, and on the other a given Archetype or “Idea”; the divine “content” is ipso facto also the “container,” and even is so a priori, since God is Reality as such. But things are “outside God” -- all sacred Scriptures attest to this -- in respect of contingency, hence in respect of the concrete phenomena of the world.

If I understand him rightly, our own nothingness must be a consequence of being situated "outside" God and "inside" contingency (AKA freedom, or at least indeterminacy), even though nothing in reality can be outside or free of him. Or, everything is simultaneously in- and outside him, which, you might say, goes to the principles of transcendence and immanence. We are always what we concretely are -- immanence -- but so much more -- transcendence. And freedom is, as it were, situated between these two rascals:

The purpose of freedom is to enable us to choose what we are in the depths of our heart. We are intrinsically free to the extent that we have a center which frees us: a center which, far from confining us, dilates us by offering us an inward space without limits and without shadows; and this Center is in the last analysis the only one there is.