Monday, May 20, 2019

Two Ways to Rot One's Mind

Again, the theme of Hitler and the Germans is the idea that something had gone dreadfully wrong with German culture -- both intellectually and spiritually -- to allow a vicious cretin like Hitler to rise to power. In the absence of this more widespread problem, Hitler's faults would have remained personal rather than public and eventually world historical.

World-historical. Think about it. How on earth do the problems of a single man become everyone's problem? This is not the same as asking how a single person can become a problem, which any assoul can do. As they say, any idiot can make history, but it takes real genius to write it. Rather, we need to get beneath Hitler's "problem," to the deeper problem of a people blinded to the fact that, hey, this guy has a problem.

And when we say "German culture," there were, of course, exceptions -- people who saw through Hitler from the moment they laid eyes on him. Everyone would like to believe they were one of these clear-sighted volks, and in 1945 there were many more of them than there were in 1933, for the same reason that every Frenchman was a retrospective member of the tiny French resistance. People don't want to believe they were party to a lethal failure of judgment, but even in 1946 "a majority of Germans held the opinion that National Socialism was a good idea but badly implemented," and it was equally widely believed into the 1950s "that without the war, Hitler would have been one of the greatest statesmen in German history."

Among other things, Voegelin wanted to debunk the self-serving idea that Germans were simply seduced by a charismatic demagogue, because not everyone responded to Hitler's so-called charisma, and many people were repelled by him. Voegelin, for example, escaped Germany in 1938.

Voegelin traces the rot in Germany to a distinct spiritual decline which he attempts to describe both empirically and theoretically. To back up a bit, recall what we were saying a couple posts back about psychopathology (mental illness). In order to define mental pathology, we must begin with an implicit or explicit notion of psychic health. What exactly is a healthy psyche? To what is it ordered? What is it designed to do?

I KNOW I KNOW!: to seek and know truth, to create and love beauty, and to discern and will the good.

Right away you see the problem for any consistent materialist, since for him the psyche can have no purpose. Rather, it is just a meaningless side effect of the struggle to pass one's genes along to the next generation. From a purely biological standpoint, anything that gets the job done is "healthy," which is to say, adaptive: deception, rape, misogyny, polygamy. In fact, this is precisely why rape has survived, because it is indeed one effective way for losers to propagate their genetic material.

Hitler was just such a consistent materialist, but unlike most materialists, he actually drew out (albeit unwittingly) the ultimate implications of materialism, so give him credit for that. He was no hypocrite or waffler, that's for sure. He didn't pretend to be elevated above his nature, because nature is all there is. Again: the utter (and violent) rejection of transcendence.

Voegelin quotes one writer who observed that "no one before Hitler had actually made the consequences deduced from Darwin the basis of state policy, and no one before Hitler so consistently and ruthlessly carried those biological premises to their ultimate conclusions and put them into practice."

For as Darwin wrote, nature is "immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts," the difference being that Darwin was too constrained by Christian civilization to take this idea seriously and start killing his presumed inferiors.

To say that Hitler was influenced by Darwin is, of course, to give the tyrant way too much credit, since, like our troll [William Catsnuggler], he was an anti-intellectual who never entertained a serious idea in his life.

And besides, Darwin himself borrowed the phrase "survival of the fittest" from Herbert Spencer, the father of "social Darwinism." Thus, ironically, strict Darwinism is actually "biological Spencerism," which shows us how ideology -- i.e., second reality -- contaminates first reality, and is then regarded as a simple "fact" of nature. But the most rigid and unambiguous "facts" are often, as is this one, just projections (or declensions, so to speak, from higher to lower realties, e.g., the reduction of human sexuality to biological sexuality).

His ignorance of Darwin notwithstanding, Hitler was nevertheless a true metaphysical Darwinian and evolutionist, proclaiming that "the entire universe" is "ruled by just this one idea, that an eternal selection takes place in which the stronger in the end maintains the right to live, and the weaker falls. One will say that nature is therefore cruel and merciless, but the other will grasp that nature is thus only obeying an iron law of logic." Selfish genes, and all that.

And note how natural selection is now indeed being applied to the cosmos, in order to get around the problem of the big bang, which implies (or better, necessitates) a creative intelligence. If we are just the beneficiary of natural selection applied to multiple universes, the problem is solved. (Not really, of course, but it is kicked a little further down the ontological road.)

When the intellectual barbarian collapses the world to a single level, the distinction between Is and Ought is obliterated, for the Ought is quintessentially and irreducibly transcendent. And once you've accomplished this, then anything goes, for nothing can be impermissible. Worse, remove God from the equation and "we should not conclude that everything is permissible, but that nothing matters. Permits become laughable when their significance is canceled" (NGD).

In the end, "If good and evil, ugliness and beauty, are not the substance of things, science is reduced to a brief statement: what is, is" (ibid.).

This all raises an interesting point about the nature of spiritual rot. It occurs to me that there are two main types, what we might call "dry rot," and its seeming opposite, "wet rot." But the two actually go together, and in many ways define one another.

For example, the rationalist or scientistic atheist, who suffer from spiritual and intellectual dry rot, are forever doing battle with people who are prone to a kind of religious wet rot. In yesterday's thread, for example, saw a troll suffering from dry rot using this blog as a vehicle to lash out at some neighbors who have religious wet rot. We, of course, do not advocate either form of rot, i.e., dry-rationalistic or wet-fideistic.

Modern liberalism is a loose affiliation of people who have either wet or dry rot, both intellectually and spiritually. Deepak Chopra, for example, is a quintessential case of wet rot, but the entire liberal media also falls into this category. Most of liberal academia suffers from wet rot -- we are speaking of the humanities, of course. Conversely, a scientistic academic such as Richard Dawkins might as well be the poster child for dry rot.

Man is situated in a hierarchically organized universe of meaning. This being the case, of course science is one vehicle for disclosing universal meaning on a particular level. But to suggest that science is in any way capable of disclosing the meaning of higher levels is the essence of postmodern barbarism: it is dry rot.

Here are some aphorisms that go to the problem of dry rot:

--To believe that science is enough is the most naïve of superstitions.

--Nothing proves more the limits of science than the scientist’s opinions about any topic that is not strictly related to his profession.

Scientific ideas allow themselves to be easily depraved by coarse minds.

An irreligious society cannot endure the truth of the human condition. It prefers a lie, no matter how imbecilic it may be.

Science easily degrades into fools’ mythology (NGD).

Conversely, a creationist yahoo who insists the world is 6,000 years old is a quintessential case of wet rot. Here are some aphorisms that go to this type of rot:

--Nothing is more dangerous for faith than to frequent the company of believers. The unbeliever restores our faith.

--If the fool hears it said that Christianity has social consequences, he is quick to assume that it has socialistic consequences.

--Every Christian has been directly responsible for the hardening of some unbeliever's heart (ibid.).

Now, just as there is psychopathology -- obviously -- there is, and must be, what we shall call "logopathology," which entails a failure of intellect and of spirit. In short -- and this is the key -- there is Reason (i.e., logos) and Spirit (pneuma), and our task is to maintain openness to both realms, horizontal and vertical.

Conversely, to be intellectually and/or spiritually closed -- or closed off from logos and pneuma -- is the basis of cultural pathology -- of the kind of pathology that made a Hitler possible.

Humanity today is divided between individuals who are simple and hard like steel bullets and individuals who are soft and unformed like a bunch of dirty rags. --Dávila

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Radical Stupidity of Stupid Radicals

I've been reading Voegelin's Hitler and the Germans, which regards the idea of modernity from some angles I hadn't previously considered. The principles he discerns strike me as "universal," in the sense that they pertain to a spiritual sickness in modern man as such, not just to the Germans who made Hitler possible.

The sickness is, of course, leftism, but we need to dig a little deeper in order to understand its ultimate origins or principle.

When we say "modern man," we have a specific definition in mind. That is to say, for the vast majority of human history, cultures were organized around a spiritual ground -- what Schuon calls "the idea of Center and the idea of Origin":

In the spatial world where we live, every value is related in some way to a sacred Center, which is the place where Heaven has touched the earth; in every human world there is a place where God has manifested himself in order to pour forth His grace. And it is the same of the Origin, which is the quasi-timeless moment when Heaven was near and terrestrial things were still half-celestial.

Thus, "To conform to tradition is to remain faithful to the Origin, and for this very same reason it is also to place oneself at the Center..." (Light on the Ancient Worlds).

Now, one needn't be a believer to acknowledge the truth of Schuon's observation: that this is how civilizations arise, orient themselves to the wider cosmos, establish meaning, and provide an excuse to go on being. And we all recognize that something unprecedented has occurred in world history over the past 300 years, resulting in man being ousted from the center and cut off from his origin.

"Atheist" is just another name for someone who pretends to be fully exterior to the Center and Origin. While he retains an attenuated interior, it floats meaninglessly over the surface of nature, untethered to anything but a dying carcass. In the groundless and dis-oriented mind of the atheist, this is only proper and fitting, since there are no such things as Ground and Center, or their common source in Being. We'll come back to him later.

In any event, we can all agree that ideas have consequences, including the dominant metaphysic of the day, which pretends to do without the Origin and Center. This is no abstract discussion, for it very much defines the essential difference between left and right.

For example, conservatives regard the Constitution as embodying the origin and center of our political life; as such, it has a timeless and quasi-sacred penumbra, especially since it is by no means free-standing, but is in turn rooted in the cosmic Origin and Center, AKA God: its very purpose is to preserve and protect the human rights that flow directly from our deiformity to the Center, i.e., those rights endowed to us by the Creator.

If there is no Creator then our so-called rights are anchored in the convenience of the state, and are no longer rights at all -- any more than truth can exist in the absence of the absolute, whether explicit or implicit.

Alternatively, the left, in rejecting the Origin and Center, reduces our founding document to a man-made, time-bound, relativistic, and conventional contract between state and man; that being the case, we can read into or out of it anything we wish. Which is why we find ourselves once again arguing over things that were settled over two hundred years ago, such as free speech, the presumption of innocence, equality under the law, the right to self-defense, etc.

You could say that there are these two schools of thought on constitutional law, but it would be more accurate to say that there is one school of thought and one playground overrun with bullies.

Voegelin promulgates what was then a unique take on the Hitler phenomenon, in that he turns the question around and asks what it was about the German people that made such a stupid, vicious, and spiritually bereft assoul possible?

I do not intend to invoke Godwin's law this early in the morning, because this is not my point. But unless we can get away from the uniqueness of Hitler, we won't be able to learn anything from what happened, because it will be too particular, and the essence of wisdom involves the discovery of universals.

This is why I say that Obama is not our problem. You will note that the "birthers" seem obsessed with the idea that if we can only rid ourselves of Obama, then our problems will be solved. This is silly, for it leaves untouched the spiritual rot of a people who could elect such a half-educated and nasty but (so they say) charismatic demagogue.

From the beginning of my graduate studies, I had a particular interest in psychopathology, or one might say the "philosophy of psychopathology," or perhaps "meta-psychopathology." I've discussed this in the past, but before one can identify psychopathology, one must begin by defining health.

And health is completely tied in with teleology -- with final causes -- in that it essentially means that an organ is doing what it was designed to do. For example, the heart is designed to pump blood. Anything that interferes with that function -- atherosclerosis, hypertension, arrhythmias, etc. -- is pathological.

Therefore, before we address psychopathology, we must first understand what the mind is designed to do. The problem here is that modernity, in rejecting final causes, is powerless to define human health (unless you hold objective standards of human flourishing -- then you are sick!). Add to this the malignant sophistry of relativism, and mental health comes down to feeling satisfied with oneself, irrespective of whether one deserves to.

--Self-satisfaction is pathetic proof of lowliness.

--The left is made up of individuals who are dissatisfied with what they have and are satisfied with who they are.

--Today the individual rebels against inalterable human nature in order to refrain from amending his own correctable nature.

Let's take an obvious case just to illustrate the nature of the problem. Al Sharpton, from all outward appearances, seems to feel pretty good about himself. Therefore, as far as the mental health community is concerned, he gets a clean bill of health.

But why on earth should such a foul human being feel good about himself, much less be given a national platform to spew his toxins? By all rights he should detest himself as much as others -- i.e., spiritually normal people -- do. One cannot address this issue in a meaningful way unless there is some purpose Sharpton has failed to fulfill as a person. But again, he is only the symptom of a much wider problem, i.e., the type of people who would hire him and seek his political imprimatur (including Obama and the entire crop of Democrat presidential candidates).

****

--The conservative is a simple pathologist. He defines sickness and health. But God is the only therapist.

One of the keys to understanding the left is Voegelin's concept of "second reality" or "orientation toward the unreal." It is one obvious reason why leftism always fails and always must fail, because one can banish reality -- both human and material -- with a pitchfork, but it always comes roaring back.

But what is the deeper principle by virtue of which this process of unrealization takes place? And why is it that, alone among the animals, man has this capacity to inhabit his own abstractions and relax in the comfort and safety of his own delusions?

It isn't only leftists who do this, of course. Rather, it is the essence of any ideology -- of ideology as such -- to create an inverted world of which the real world then becomes mere shadow. This is quintessentially true of Marxism, but one can say the same of Islamism, scientism, positivism, evolutionism, "climate change," and vulgar atheism.

The first and last step of unrealization involves reducing the world to a single level and pretending the other levels and dimensions don't exist. Again, think of a neo-Marxist such as Obama, for whom the world is always seen through the simplifying lenses of racial grievance, class envy, or an omnipotent and tyrannical "social justice" that justifies the exercise of raw power.

When the world becomes wholly immanent, it loses all sense, precisely. This is the metaphysical irony of the left -- that it robs the world of its intrinsic meaning in order to impose a faux substitute. They pretend to have reduced reality to a single world, oblivious to the fact that this ideological switch has taken place, and that they are living in a world of phony transcendence. Hence their counterfeit spiritual virtues such as sanctimony over sanctity, state appropriation over charity, scientism over wisdom, and idiot compassion over spiritual love and discernment.

The plain fact of the matter is that we live -- on pain of not living at all -- in certain irreducible mysteries, which include existence, life, consciousness, and history. To pretend these mysteries don't exist, or that any ideology satisfactorily "explains" them, is to inhabit an unreal world. Any unambiguous explaining-away of the Mystery leads to tragic falls, for the answer is the disease that kills curiosity. What is really real is God, in the absence of whom we have no reality at all.

All spiritually normal -- which is to say, adequate -- men know that "the end of all human action does not lie within this world but beyond it," and that the fulfillment of time is beyond time. There is simply no way to get around this formulation and remain "man." "Man, while existing in time, experiences himself as participating in the timeless." Again: ideologues only pretend to violate this principle, for no one is more beholden to a transcendent fantasy than the ideologue (for there is a "transcendence from below," and this is the lure of the diabolical).

Speaking of what took place in pre-Hitler Germany, Voegelin writes of a specific type of spiritual decline resulting in "radical stupidity," which is the "radical refusal to actualize one's participation in the transcendent." (I remember reading somewhere of another definition of fascism, the violent rejection of transcendence; since the Jews are responsible for bringing this awful transcendence into the world, it makes perverse sense that they should be the prime targets of these primitive immamental cases. The more things change....)

To turn it around, as we were saying last week, our most quintessentially human capacity involves "the quest for the truth of the right order of existence and for living justly in accord with that truth." In short, we bow before reality, not try to dominate it with some simplified scheme, for reality is always more complex -- and real! -- than any such scheme.

Note that when the world is collapsed to a single level, the possibility of (real) transcendent truth is denied in favor of its faux substitute, whether leftism, scientism, evolutionism, etc. Perhaps without even knowing it, the ideologue replaces truth with will, which is for Voegelin the "fundamental stupidity," for the de-divinization of man "leads all too quickly to a dehumanization."

I hope this isn't overly abstract, for it happens every time. Indeed, the "big story" of the 20th century was this de-divinization and therefore dehumanization of man, resulting in millions of bodies stacked like cordwood in common graves. In fact, ideologies have consequences, usually grave upon grave ones.

Please note that (proper) Christianity cannot be an ideology, because it isn't fundamentally an idea at all. Rather, it is a person, and a person is a rational being intersubjectively linked to others via transcendent love. A person is trimorphic logophilia incarnate; realizing this is the cure for ideology, and for pneumopathology more generally.

The ideologue replaces this ontological fact with a Lie, such as that man is merely another animal, or that religion is an opiate, or that race or class or gender determines consciousness. This Lie, because it is tied up with Will, becomes a real power, and assenting to it becomes a way to partake of worldly power. To become an "elite" generally means to assimilate the Lie and reap its worldly rewards.

Thus, the Lie "is a social power which heavily burdens each of us and threatens each with lasting spiritual deformation." Resistance to it "demands a corresponding measure of spiritual passion, intellectual discipline, and hard study," but this is only a "first step" in extricating ourselves, for "it must be followed by the passionate work of daily resistance against the lie of existence -- the work is lifelong."

In a letter to Thomas Mann, Voegelin wrote that "Resistance to a not merely ethically bad but religiously evil satanic* substance can be performed only by a similarly powerful, religiously good force. One cannot combat a satanic force with ethics and humanity alone."

And Satan said to him: All these things I will give to you if you will fall down and worship me.

(*Voegelin has a specific definition of satanic in mind, which has to do with the creature essentially claiming ownership of transcendental goods that can only come from the Creator (think of Adam "becoming as God"). Again, it is the radical stupidity of collapsing the world hierarchy and reducing truth to power.)

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Essence of Oneness and Oneness of Essence

More blathering from the past. I'm no longer able to discern the quality. I can only toss it out there:

When we say "one cosmos," the emphasis is always on both words: One and Cosmos.

"Cosmos" implies -- actually, it literally means -- order, not just of a superficial kind, but the deepest and most unitive structure of existence. And when we say "One," we obviously don't mean it in any numerical sense, but rather, in a qualitative way signifying the ultimate synthesis or integration of all particulars, both subjective and objective, spatial and temporal. No one has ever seen (or will ever see) the cosmos; rather, the cosmos is an implicit assumption in our ability to see anything at all, i.e., for things to be intelligible. If this weren't a cosmos, then we couldn't know it (or anything else)

Anything that exists partakes of oneness on pain of not existing; to exist is to be something. Conversely, to have no intelligible essence is to not exist. Many things we think of as "wrong" aren't so much erroneous as simply non-existent, and many of our political battles come down to the insistence that things that cannot exist must exist and shall exist. The word "marriage," for example, only exists because of the essential differences between male and female. New forms of marriage can only exist in a world without essences, but then marriage itself is drained of any essential meaning.

"Social justice" is another nonsense term with no essential meaning. I'm reminded of this because just yesterday I was rereading Hayek's indispensable Mirage of Social Justice. There is so much quoteworthy material in it; like Whitehead, he's better at cranking out memorable zingers than readable prose. This one is as good as any, and highlights the barbarism at the heart of the ironically named progressive. The idea of "social justice" is

a direct consequence of that anthropomorphism or personification by which naive thinking tries to account for all self-ordering processes. It is a sign of the immaturity of our minds that we have not yet outgrown these primitive concepts and still demand from an impersonal process which brings about a greater satisfaction of human desires than any deliberate human organization could achieve, that it conform to the moral precepts men have evolved for the guidance of their individual actions.

Yes, it isn't fair that Labron James plays basketball so much better than his teammates. But redistributing his points and rebounds to lesser players won't fix that.

Anyway, the Ground of reality is One, and this One is not a chaotic agglomeration but an integral whole. When we are in the Ground we are close to the One, and when we are at One we are floating in the Ground.

The Ground is also indistinguishable from the Center, the Center which is always present in the heart of every human being. Our task and our vocation is to live from this Center, which grounds, organizes, and unifies (which are all aspects of the same thing).

Although we journey through the finite, our home is in the Infinite. All men understand this, even when they deny it to themselves. A man who fails to transcend himself has failed to become one, precisely.

To say "transcendence" is to say openness to the Infinite. One could say that man reaches out to the Infinite, or that he cultivates a space within so as to allow its ingression.

Either way, this transitional space is where we live and where we are meant to live, not in some desiccated scientistic flatland with no water to drink or air to breath, just ice and rock.

Now, unity is always in the direction of inwardness; this is not to imply a pathological withdrawal from the world, but rather, the plain fact that oneness implies interiority.

Again, an "exterior one" is just a pile of stuff, so to speak, with no interior relations; its oneness is just our own projection, not anything intrinsic. But any complex whole -- say, the human body -- is characterized by an irreducibly complex system of internal relations, in which everything is "within" everything else.

Love unifies. Hate divides. Or, perhaps we could say that the deep unity we discover everywhere in the cosmos is what Dante was referring to when he spoke of "the love that moves the sun and other stars."

For Schuon, man "is capable of a love exceeding phenomena and opening out to the Infinite, and of an activity having its motive or its object beyond terrestrial interests."

Elsewhere Schuon has written to the effect that the purpose of life is quite simple: we are to know truth, will the good, and love beauty. Each of these three -- love, truth, beauty -- is a transcendental, meaning again that man's innate "cosmic direction" is beyond himself -- into, or toward, what surpasses him.

One might say that "horizontal life" is subjective and self-interested, while vertical life is disinterested and therefore objective (objectivity and disinterestedness amounting to the same thing). Now, there is no truth -- or knowledge of truth -- in the absence of these two.

Which is why the Way of Truth is a kind of sacrificial offering in which we transcend the passions and petty interests of the ego. To acknowledge a primordial truth is to die a little. But in a good way, since we die to fragmentation and are "resurrected" into unity. "A saint is a void open for the passage of God," and "To give oneself to God is to give God to the world" (Schuon).

Of course, you are free to try to be fulfilled within your own little absurcular orbit, but "It is a fact that man cannot find happiness within his own limits; his very nature condemns him to surpass himself, and in surpassing himself, to free himself" (ibid.)

I might add that we are condemned to surpass ourselves both horizontally and vertically. That is to say, our deiform nature means that we are trinitarian right down to the bones, so that even the most horizontal among us wants to escape from himself in the form of, say, a passionate love.

But love of man divorced from love of the Creator always ends badly, since no fellow human being can possibly embody the transcendence we seek. Bitterness, disillusionment, and recriminations follow, all for the inevitable discovery that every human is all too (another recent book discusses the details, On the Meaning of Sex).

Only the prior loss of God could transform an inevitability into a surprise: the surprise in discovering one's own idolatrous nature. Remembering God is our task, but forgetting God our hobby.

In Purcell, I came across a comment about St. John of the Cross, to the effect that his writing is "like a winding staircase always revolving around the same center, always recurring to the same topics, but at a higher level."

Again, this is the inspiraling "shape of man" that we've been discussing lately.

Schuon says something similar, that "Fundamentally there are only three miracles: existence, life, intelligence." And with intelligence, "the curve springing from God closes on itself like a ring that in reality has never been parted from the Infinite."

Thus, intelligence is already a kind of "union with God" (i.e., Truth), as are virtue and beauty. Each shines through the sophicating blandscape of the tenured, and brings us back to our ground and center, our origin and destiny. If truth is the "food" of the journey, love is the living water, and beauty the otherworldy perfume.

(All of the Schuon references are from his Echoes of Perennial Wisdom, which I guess must be echoing through me. It'll do that.)

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Contours of the Idiosphere

Two more edited and strung together posts on Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery:

If we could ascribe a "shape" to man, it would be a kind of inwardly ascending spiral. Purcell says much the same thing; beginning with the ancient Greeks, "we make our own self the object of a quest," and this "odyssey within and beyond ourselves is a lifelong one, with the quest itself leading to a substantial deepening of who we are."

And substantial is the operative word, because it does indeed result in a kind of existential "heft" that is quite palpable when we encounter it, and more or less synonymous with (or even the measure of) real being.

Conversely, we all know lightweights of various kinds -- intellectual, emotional, spiritual, artistic, political, journalistic, etc. We routinely deal with so-called intellectuals who have no heft whatsoever, the types who generally compose our media and academic elite. The illusory weight they throw around results from mutual mirroring, or, to use the technical term, transactional fellatio.

As I've mentioned before, you can usually tell when you are dealing with one of these lightweights within a sentence or two of their writing. How are such persons able to instantaneously transmit so little with so little? Obama comes to mind. Probably because of the upward winds of affirmative action -- a perverse caricature of the inspiraling process -- he will never be able to perceive his own vacuity, which is protected by a bubble of fragility, pettiness, and unearned self-regard.

Schuon -- who is the opposite of the existentially heftless, since he communicates ontological weight with striking economy -- agrees that

The way towards God always involves an inversion: from outwardness one must pass to inwardness, from multiplicity to unity, from dispersion to concentration [read: heft], from egoism to detachment, from passion to serenity.

This serenity isn't a "blandness," which is what I imagined it must be when I lived at the periphery, where "excitement" is really just restlessness and agitation in disguise.

Rather,

In order to be happy, man must have a center; now this center is above all the Certitude of the One. The greatest calamity is the loss of the center and the abandonment of the soul to the caprices of the periphery. To be a man is to be at the Center; it is to be Center.

I know what you're thinking: how does this differ from, say, the egocentric Obama, for whom delusions of mere adequacy would represent a great improvement? We can illuminate the difference quite easily with just three words: attractor, ego, and O.

As we've discussed in the past, there is clearly (for anyone can phenomenologically prove it to himself) something analogous to "gravity" -- or gravitational force -- in psychospiritual space. Just as, say, the moon is drawn into the orbit of the earth-attractor, and earth into the sun-attractor, vertical space is populated with a host of transpersonal attractors, to such an extent that it can truly be said that "you are what (or Whom) you orbit."

The very first step of the spiritual life -- for all subsequent steps follow from it -- is to leave one attractor for another. Call it what you want -- from the outer to inner, periphery to center, ego to nous, or just (•) to (¶) -- but this is in a sense our "perpetual practice," in which we are always beginners, because we are always taking that first booby step again and again. When finitude steps into infinitude -- or time into eternity, many into one -- every step is literally the first and last.

Schuon raises a subtle but orthoparadoxical point, to the effect that there is a kind of good and bad movement at both the periphery and center. On the one hand, the "spiritual immobility" of the infinite Center is "opposed to the endless movement of external phenomena." But on the other hand, there is a kind of higher "spiritual movement" which "is opposed to the natural inertia of the fallen soul."

To put it in plain language, the people whose lives seem so full of activity are often the most static, whereas the Raccoon is never moving more swiftly than when he is just sitting still, say, banging out a blog post. No one could look at me at the moment and know that I am soaring on wings of slack.

Here is another apt observation by Schuon:

The soul must withdraw itself from the dispersion of the world; this is the quality of Inwardness. Then the will must vanquish the passivity of life; this is the quality of Actuality. Finally, the mind must transcend the unconsciousness of the ego; this is the quality of Simplicity. To perceive the Substance intellectually, above the uproar of accidents, this is to realize Simplicity. To be one is to be simple; for Simplicity is to the One what Inwardness is to the Center and what Actuality is to the Present

(All the Schuon references are from his extremely pithy and yet weighty Echoes of Perennial Wisdom.)

***

Purcell raises a subtle but critical point about our common Quest -- that it isn't just something personal and idiosyncratic, but "universal." In other words, just as in science, we are dealing with an objective world that therefore yields "public" information.

Indeed, when a spiritual journey goes wholly "private," so to speak, into the realms of personal imagination and fantasy, this isn't just the way of Error, but of (oc)cultism, gnosticism (religious and/or political), and potential tyranny, because tyranny occurs whenever we are forced to bow before a truth that we cannot freely accept and/or prove to ourselves.

America, for example, is rooted in natural law, which posits universal moral principles that any normal person can discover and confirm for himself (cf. What We Can't Not Know). In fact, when you think about it, the entire category of morality must be quintessentially "scientific," in the sense that it deals with principles that are both abstract and universal. A "private morality" is no morality at all.

In other words to affirm that morality is relative isn't just the opposite of morality as such, but renders morality strictly impossible (like "my truth"). If morals are relative, then there is no such thing -- just as if there are no laws of physics, there is no physics.

At present we see a dangerously media-inflamed lynch mob of the left in an uproar over a man who allegedly defended his life against a budding criminal who was beating his head against the sidewalk. Undoubtedly additional and perhaps even contradictory facts will emerge through the legal process, but why a moral relativist should be offended by the law of the jungle is a mystery, to say the least, for if there is no universal morality, there is only power, i.e., "might makes right."

Conversely, conservatives know there is a universal moral law. If, therefore, it turns out that the facts are not as we know them, and that Zimmerman victimized a wholly innocent person, then we will be the first to express moral outrage and to demand justice, because it is a first principle of morality that one doesn't harm innocent persons unless one has a damn good reason, e.g., self-defense.

Purcell discusses a psychological phenomenon that made the ascent of Hitler possible. He references Voegelin, who escaped Nazi Germany and was therefore in a position to understand what went on there.

Voegelin gave the phenomenon one of those extremely long German names, but it essentially comes down to a willful blindness, a refusal to perceive, a deliberate avoidance of "understanding what was going on." He traces the malady as far back as Heraclitus, who wrote that "those who refuse to ask questions of existence... are (spiritually) asleep."

The key point here is again a detachment from the Real, usually accomplished through what Bion called "attacks on linking" (the word "attack" is apt, for there is always an element of intra-psychic violence in this defense mechanism). That is to say, the easiest way to maintain the Lie is to sever any cognitive links that lead to Truth. This all happens unconsciously in a rapid and pre-emptive manner, which is why it is so difficult to correct.

In other words -- and this should go without saying -- in order to promulgate the Lie in a systematic manner, one must on some level be aware of the Truth. If one isn't aware of the Truth, then the lying won't be at all organized, but just ad hoc, chaotic, and scattershot. One might say that leftism is a systematic lie, hence its "robustness." It attacks truth at the very root, which saves a lot of time and trouble.

But for the same reason, it is not susceptible to correction until reality exacts a terrible vengeance. The longer one ignores reality, the more severe the retribution tends to be, for the cosmic scales must be balanced.

The source of our common reality -- and the possibility of intelligibility and meaningful communication -- is, of course, the logos. But as Voegelin explains, "many live as if they had a wisdom of their own. Those who are awake have a world [kosmos] one and common, but those who are asleep each turn aside into their private worlds" (in Purcell, emphasis mine).

This results in the pseudo-doctrine -- the absurd principle-of-no-principle -- represented by relativism, i.e., "perception is reality." If perception is indeed reality, then there is no reality, precisely; there is no possibility of an intelligible cosmos, neither scientifically nor morally. Man is reduced to animal, but then again, not really, for animals are at least guided by an unerring instinct universal to the species. Man alone would be condemned to his own private hell ruled by delusion and power.

Voegelin continues: "Through spirit man actualizes his potential to partake of the divine," which "is that which all men have in common..." Conversely, he "who closes himself against what is common, or who revolts against it, removes himself from the public life of human community. He becomes thereby a private man, or in the language of Heraclitus, an idiotes" (in Purcell).

To live inside this private idiosphere is to live outside the logosphere, which is again our common world. This very much reminds me of a discussion in Maritain's Degrees of Knowledge, about what are called "beings of reason."

That is to say, the mind of man "does not conceive only real beings, i.e., beings capable of existing." Rather, it can also construct "objects of thought that are incapable of existing outside the mind... which the ancients called beings of reason..."

Maritain points out that "God does not make beings of reason." Rather, they are products of the human mind, and are always intrinsically contradictory. An example would be Marxism (and all philosophies derived from it), which can only exist in the mind in general or the university in particular, never in reality. It can be forced upon reality, of course, but again, reality eventually takes its vengeance.

UPDATE: beings of reason conjured by the left have multiplied exponentially in the seven years since this post was first published, especially since 2016.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

To Know We're In the Cosmos is to Know We're Not Of the Cosmos

To review: there is more difference between man and ape than between ape and existence, being that when cosmic evolution crosses the threshold of Man, it enters a vast and inexhaustible Within that might as well represent a second cosmos. And yet, there can be only One.

Hmmm.

No ape ever says hmmm. Which is the first word.

This second cosmos is somehow "within" the existing one, and yet, transcends it. Thus, in his own way, man has a similar relationship to the cosmos as does God, i.e., both immanent and transcendent (or in but not of; if we were only in, then we couldn't possibly know of it). To know there are appearances is to intuit the reality. Here again, no ape ever said "it may look like x, but x is just an appearance of y."

As Schuon writes, "One of the keys to understanding our true nature and ultimate destiny is the fact that the things of this world are never proportionate to the actual range of our intelligence. Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or else it is nothing."

Absolute or Nothing. There is literally no in-between; or rather there can only be an in-between if it is a hierarchical descent from the Absolute. If there is no Absolute, then nothing is higher than anything else.

Now, this vast and protean cosmic interior is bound up with the universal Quest alluded to in the previous post. Obviously no material object embarks upon a quest to discover its origins and destiny, nor does a dog give a hoot about where it came from so long as it is fed, watered, and amused.

And yet, if one is a strict materialist, man's quest would have to be considered utterly quixotic and as doomed from the start as that of any other dog. A dog enjoys a walk for its own sake. He doesn't expect to come back from it a better dog. But man's life is a walk toward a nonlocal object. It has a teleological character.

Yes, there are some who conclude that human existence is absurd, and leave it at that (even fewer can actually consistently live in such a desiccated fantasy world without constantly barking at the ghosts they deny). But man is not built this way, and it goes against human nature to imagine and project an absurd cosmos. Rather, meaning is everywhere and at every level of existence. For

Things are not mute. They merely select their listeners (NGD).

This being the case, it shouldn't be a surprise that existence is ultimately meaningful. Indeed, to say that meaning is everywhere except in the whole is analogous to saying that the cells in your body are alive but not the body itself.

Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery is his own story, his own attempt to situate himself within our 13.85 billion year cosmodrama. As it so happens, this is impossible to do without recourse to thousands of other cosmodramas.

In fact, this is one of the most baleful effects of living in any kind of totalitarian regime: that only one drama is permitted, e.g., the drama of Darwinism, or of Marxism, White Privilege, or Toxic Masculinity. Yes, you are "free" to discover your life's meaning, so long as it is approved by the progressive indoctrinational complex.

"Mass education" is a key to facilitating the kind of concentrated power lusted after by the left, for if everyone thinks the same way -- lives in the same narrative bubble -- this makes their job a lot easier. "Thought," such as it is, runs in only one direction, converging upon the almighty state. There is a reason why so many of the wealthiest zip codes in the land encircle and ultimately strangle D.C.

Conversely, a (genuinely) liberal education is anathema to the state-media narrative of the progressive left, because people might discover a meaning that clashes with state interests. Thus, for the state to "allow" school vouchers is as likely as the IRS operating on the honor system. Without coercion -- whether intellectual or economic -- there is no left. One cannot claim to be "against bullying" while voting Democrat.

One of the keys to life is discovering the useful narratives. One might even say that this is the ultimate purpose of an education. How can it be that one can complete thirteen or seventeen or nineteen or twenty-four years of education without having encountered a multitude of these? That was me: after twenty-four years of schooling and one Ph.D., I wasn't just starting out, but had to dig myself out of all those false narratives.

Purcell writes that as he embarked upon his quest to explore the inner dimension of the cosmos (i.e., humanness), he discovered "a thousand and one mirror quests" in "the multiplicity and variety of quests of other individuals and cultures" down through the ages.

What this means is that, as we set out on our quest, our primary data is not the world per se. In other words, none of us starts from scratch with unmediated knowledge of things. At the very least we are given a language, a culture, a tradition, a particular family, etc. But for the person who wants to go beyond the given, our data includes the "quests" of a multitude of others, separated in time and space by hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Man is a temporal mountain range featuring many glorious peaks (there are of course countless valleys, or at least I can't keep up with all the Democrat candidates for president).

There is indeed a community saints, and not just the moral kind. For there is intellectual sanctity. Moreover, at the highest peaks there is a convergence of moral and intellectual purity. There one would be frankly mortified to believe certain ideas. To put it another way, the ideas that circulate in the typical university would cause acute embarrassment in the presence of God. You have been warned.

This is a key point raised by Chesterton in his Orthodoxy. That is, mankind is one, not just in space but in time. By no means are we permitted to consider the dead as mere links to us -- as if their only purpose was to serve as stepping stones to something better. But if one is an evolutionist, that is the inescapable conclusion: nothing simply "is," but is always on the way to something better.

But just as it is immoral to treat a living person as a means and not an end, treating past generations as means robs them of their dignity as persons: "If we don't respect those who have gone before us, who will respect us when we are gone?" In short, you can't dehumanize your ancestors without dehumanizing their descendants: no them, no us. History is either one story or no story at all, just a chaotic and self-obsessed Grievance Studies Department.

For Purcell, "meditative re-enactment of the expressions of the quests of others, animates our existence with a heightened sense of the worth of human existence -- our own and others -- and grounds a sense of human family that is universal across space and time."

To be continued...

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Can IT BE without I AM?

The life of the intelligence is a dialogue between the personalism of spirit and the impersonalism of reason. --Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Let us continue with our story (of the cosmos), which has only two possible outcomes: for it is either the futile quest of a contingent and randomly evolved primate to understand his origins, OR it is the return to God of his only theomorphic creature. All else is just the frivolous noise of trousered monkeys and tenured flunkies.

As with Purcell, I was puzzled by that most basic ontological distinction in the cosmos between subject and object -- specifically, how IT IS (the great outdoors) relates to I AM (the great in here, or cosmic sensorium). In no way could I understand how one could ever derive the I from the IT, unless the former were somehow there with IT to begin with, whether implicitly or explicitly.

In any event, one cannot derive the greater from the lesser, let alone the infinitely greater (and the human person is infinitely greater than its material matrix, or we're back in the ivory tower of tenured babble).

A casual and eventually thoroughgoing acquaintance with science and philosophy establishes the fact that most thinkers don't actually deal with the issue, but rather, simply stop asking questions at some point, thus violating the principle of sufficient reason, which says that any effect requires a cause adequate to account for it; which is a fancy way of saying that you can't get blood out of a turnip.

In the golden words of our fine Colombian:

--Intelligence is a train from which few do not deboard, one after the other, in successive stations.

--The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book.

--To believe that science is enough is the most naïve of superstitions.

And this doozy, which in many ways reveils the entire Doctrine, if you cogitate on it:

--The world is explicable from man; but man is not explicable from the world. Man is a given reality; the world is a hypothesis we invent.

In other words -- getting back to the thesis of this post -- IT IS being derived from I AM is at least conceivable, while the converse is strictly inconceivable: no one will ever explain how existence becomes experience, or how object becomes subject. It can't be done, and if it could, you couldn't be there to do it.

Another way of looking at this question is to say that before we accept an explanation, we have to first decide what would constitute one. In short, there is truth and there is adequacy, i.e., the principle of sufficient reason. To put in personal terms, some people are so stupid, or incurious, or compliant, that they'll believe anything. And The philosopher who adopts scientific notions has predetermined his conclusions (NGD).

This is indeed where evolutionists and materialists in general run into so much trouble, e.g., "man is just another animal, animals are just the expression of selfish genes, and that's the truth." One of these three statements is not like the others (doubly so if it is true)!

Bryan Magee has a good analysis of the problem in his fine biography of Schopenhauer:

It is possible for us to pose some sort of Why? question with regard to anything. As Schopenhauer puts it: "The validity of the principle of sufficient reason is so much involved in the form of consciousness that we simply cannot imagine anything objectively of which no 'why?' could be further demanded."

In philosophy a single naïve question is sometimes enough to make an entire system come tumbling down (NGD).

Now, the core of any discipline, whether science, philosophy, history, or law, revolves around this question of sufficient reason, of which there are different kinds. For example, physical causation is not the same as moral causation. If this weren't the case, then we wouldn't have free will, including the freedom to know the truth about free will.

For Schopenhauer there are four main kinds of sufficient reason: the type of direct physical causation that occurs, say, between billiard balls; mathematical determination; logical entailment; and the sort of "motivated action" that can only arise from a free subject, or mind.

In each case, philosophical questions arise, but the first three categories aren't nearly as problematic as the fourth: "[T]he scientist gestures in the direction of the philosopher," who then pretends to answer the question. The metaphysical theologian raises his hand and says "I know I know I know," but they refuse to pick him.

The bottom line is that "science is, in a serious sense of the term, occult, in that it explains everything else without itself being explained" (ibid). Ironically, this is one of the definitions of God, i.e., the uncaused cause.

An “explanation” consists in the end in assimilating a strange mystery to a familiar mystery (NGD).

Equally ironic is that, at the end of the deity, after all the science has been, er, settled, "the mystery of the world as such would be as great at the end of the process as it had been at the beginning" (ibid). Why? That's why: because we can still ask why?

Science, when it finishes explaining everything, but being unable to explain the consciousness that creates it, will not have explained anything (NGD).

In lieu of the above, we could probably save a lot of time with a one word, all purpose protest: Gödel!, proving once again that you can't crack the cosmic egg without breaking out the umlaut.

For "the laws of logic, like the basic concepts of science, and the axioms and the rules of mathematics... must involve circularity, since they themselves generate the justification procedures in their universe of discourse" (ibid).

But interestingly, we all recognize the flaw in this approach when it comes to moral justification. Our whole legal system is -- or was, before liberals hijacked it -- built around the idea that we do not allow people to get away with crimes just because they felt morally justified in committing them.

This whole discussion hits rather close to home, because, as a forensic psychologist, I am routinely asked to give a precise opinion as to what "caused" a patient's "psychiatric injury" (or "mental condition").

The problem here is that there is an utter conflation between the kind of causation that applies to matter vs. the kind of causation that is adequate to explain mental events. In no way am I permitted to provide fully comprehensive explanations appropriate to the subject -- for example, the percentage of causation that may be attributed to man's fallen nature, or just the fact that life is hard, so deal with it. Rather, I must pretend that the all mental causes are as discrete and proximate as those in a game of billiards. The whole absurd exercise rests on a massive category error, but it pays well.

In any event, as Magee explains, "there is a point where natural science, and indeed every branch of knowledge, leaves things as they are" and "does not go beyond this point."

Looked at this way, the belief that the "big bang" ends the discussion of our origins is no better than the belief that the cosmos was caused by the god Witoto taking a leak into the void. Neither one satisfies me. I mean, I certainly prefer the former, but it's not as if it's a self-sufficent explanation. Another key aphorism:

Every beginning is an image of the Beginning; every end is an image of the End.

For example, where do all those elegant equations governing the big bang come from? Who knows, maybe Witoto tinkles them into the void.

Or maybe, just maybe, as reveiled in the Encirclopedia Raccoonica, it was not good that this Godhead, the Most High, should be allone, so He expired with a big bong and said "let there be higher physics," and it was zo.

Two final aphorisms before we sign off. Both aren't only true, but alive with truth:

--Truth is a person.

--The truth is objective but not impersonal (NGD).

Friday, May 03, 2019

Coming Up with a Likely Story for an Unlikely Predicament

This is an extended multi-post review of Brendan Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution, which, like our One Cosmos, attempts to pack the whole existentialida -- the whole cosmic drama -- into a single combo-plate of about 300 pages. It's the only other recent book of which I am aware that synthesizes everything from physics to anthropology to paleontology to biology to history to mysticism to theology to mind parasites into one convenient narrative.

Who is this Brendan Purcell? According to Professor Backflap, he is an ordained priest who is currently adjunct professor of philosophy at Notre Dame. His previous book was called The Drama of Humanity: Towards a Philosophy of Humanity in History, while he also co-edited Voegelin's classic Hitler and the Germans. In fact, he is hugely influenced by Voegelin, whom he knew personally. In his bibliography there is more Voegelin than anyone else, essentially the complete works.

I see that our bibliographies contain many of the same names. This is not an academic observation, per se; rather, it reveals the "clues" we both regard as significant. In other words, faced with the infinite mass of data before us, we both honed in on particular hints, tips, signs, and knowing winks.

At the same time, we had some mutually exclusive influences, including some who are quite central to my approach, thus accounting for differences in sensibility and emphasis. "Individual" and "universal" interact in peculiar ways, but this goes to the very nature of personhood (which represents our ultimate category).

I think it's safe to say that Purcell's approach is much more mainstream, both scientifically and religiously. Obviously we are burdened -- or liberated, depending upon your EQ (eccentricity quotient) -- by the whole Raccoon sensibility, from which we couldn't escape even if we wanted. Again, persons will be persons, and it takes all kinds of them to make a world.

This post is only a brief intro, since I'm already pressed for time, so let's start with the big picture, and get into details later. This Big Picture is the idea that all human beings -- even the wrongheaded ones we don't like -- are motivated by the same Quest, which is none other than the Cosmic Adventure, the search for the Eternal Ground. Just as there are things we can't not know, it seems that there are things we can't not do, and this is one of them -- no, it must be the only one, to which everything else is necessarily related (just as all truth must be grounded in the Absolute, or no truth is possible).

Although their metaphysic will not allow them to admit it to themselves, even Marxists, leftists, metaphysical Darwinists, doctrinaire atheists, secular fundamentalists, and positivists of various kinds are all seeking the same ultimate Truth, except in a self-defeating way that assures failure. However, this hardly means that we can't benefit from this or that genuine relative truth they discover, since all truth is of the Holy Spirit.

***

According to Purcell, there is a universal Quest "that summons all true human beings to the heart of the human mystery."

To back up a bit, if you don't recognize that man -- i.e., your existence -- is a mystery, then you are living in a self-imposed Matrix that cuts you off from your essential personhood. In other words, you have performed a mysterectomy on yourself. For example, in a letter, Dostoyevsky wrote that "Man is a mystery.... I occupy myself with this mystery because I want to be a man" (in Purcell).

Now, you might suppose that a standard autobiography is a kind of transparent plunge into the mystery, but that approach usually leads nowhere if it fails to link up with the Source. In other words, the individual self is literally a kind of inexhaustible mystery, but this "inexhaustibility" provides a clue to the Big Mystery, since man is a kind of "finite infinitude" which mirrors the infinite infinitude of O.

Therefore, if you imagine that your bullshit will ever run dry, you're only fooling yourself. You'll never find God that way, because you're already in the ocean searching for water.

Now that it is understood that man is embedded in a cosmic drama extending back no less than 13.85 billion years -- that History is much longer than anyone ever supposed -- it is frankly impossible to write a comprehensive autobiography without taking into consideration, say, the big bang, the evolution of life, and the emergence of human consciousness.

By which I mean that if we are deprived of certain ground-floor experiences during this sensitive period, our quest for the Ground will be compromised later in life. The psychoanalyst Michael Balint wrote of the "basic fault" (as in "fault line"), which can even be seen as one way in which man perpetuates his ancestral Fall from generation to generation. A person haunted by the Basic Fault often spends his life in pursuit of what might be called "dark mysteries," or thrilling perversions and secret compulsions of various kinds.

It is gratifying to see another writer tackle the "discontinuity problem" of human beings. In fact, Purcell makes a useful distinction between the fact of evolution and the ideology of "evolutionism," which is analogous to the critical distinction between science and scientism, of which every educated person should be aware.

The dogma of evolutionism maintains that there is no ontological distinction between man and animal, an absurd metaphysic that immediately runs aground for reasons Darwin himself intuited:

With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or are at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

The answer is no, of course not. That being the case, where is the line in nature at which point monkey convictions become reliable and trustworthy? Darwinian ideology answers -- and disproves -- itself if one is honest.

Recall that in the Encirclopedia Raccoonica, the individual chapters are so arranged as to be both discontinuous -- i.e., discrete and numbered, just like any other book -- but also continuous and flowing, apparently unlike any other book. This complementarity signifies a number of things, including the ontological discontinuity -- the evolutionary leap, which evolution supposedly cannot do -- of man.

Yes, we are aware of the theory of punctuated equilibrium, but that is merely another attempt at a natural explanation to "save the appearances" of what is clearly a transnatural phenomenon.

One of the themes that runs through From Big Bang to Big Mystery is that human beings "are both continuous with the evolutionary process and discontinuous with it." I for one know exactly what he means when he references Walker Percy's observation that there is "more difference between a human and an animal -- let's say an orangutan -- than between the animal and the planet Saturn."

***

About that comment yesterday to the effect that there is more difference between a man and a monkey than between a monkey and an inanimate object. I would go even further and say that there is sometimes more difference between men than between men and animals.

One needs to be cautious here, because by no means does it imply that every person isn't of infinite value. But I was thinking of JWN Sullivan's remark to the effect that -- musically speaking, of course -- there is a greater distance between Beethoven and the average man than between the average man and a dog.

There are indeed a handful of men who tower above the rest, whether saints, or scientists, or novelists, poets and painters. Why is this?

I believe it is essentially a necessary consequence of the ontological category of "man," who contains within himself all the hierarchical degrees of being, and spans the entire cosmos in both space and time, vertically and horizontally.

This being the case... Put it this way: it is analogous to the biosphere, in which there are no gaps whatsoever. Everything has a job and a place, even if it means sprouting up through a slab of concrete, or dwelling in darkness at the bottom of the ocean, or eking out a living inside a scalding geyser.

In other words, wherever one goes on the planet, from the north pole, to the hottest desert, to the wastelands of MSNBC, there is some form of primitive life that has found a way to adapt itself to environmental conditions. It has found its niche.

But there is also a vertical space uniquely inhabited by man. This space too is populated wherever one travels within it. Indeed, one can go to hell and back -- Dante proved this -- but one will always find footprints of our predecessors and/or contemporaries (and occasionally descendants from the "future").

The point is that vertical space is densely populated, with some people near the top, others closer to the bottom. This is proven by various aphorisms:

--My brothers? Yes. My equals? No. Because there are younger ones and there are older ones.

--There is something definitively vile about the man who only admits equals, who does not tirelessly seek out his betters.

--Equality is not the fulfillment but the perversion of equity. Only a hierarchical ordering proceeds equitably with “the lion and the ox.”

But man possesses such protean gifts, that almost everyone has something that places him near the top, even if it is only -- only! -- kindness, or mothering, or decency, or sincerity. For example, although Beethoven was in the stratosphere musically, his interpersonal skills were evidently closer to a junkyard dog.

More generally, saints are not usually sages, scientists are not philosophers, celebrities are not political scientists, community organizers are not statesmen, etc.

Interesting, however, that someone like Thomas Aquinas was indeed both saint and sage, and at the highest levels. In his case, this convergence was necessary, because there is a kind of personal purity needed to disclose the highest realities he touches upon. Anyone less than a saint might burst into flames on contact.

I think I've mentioned in the past that the ultimate question motivating my book was: how is it that I am possible? And I don't necessarily mean that in any special way, rather, just the naked fact of the most unexpected thing one could possibly imagine in a cosmos: I AM.

It turns out that in order to answer the question, you can't just say, for example, "my parents just happened to stumble into one another, and you know the rest."

Yes there's that, but there's also cosmology, history, anthropology, religion, linguistics, etc., etc., etc. It turns out that Purcell is motivated by that same question -- the very Question that defines man:

"What led me back to philosophy from psychology was a sense that, as a human being, I myself wasn't really, at least not exclusively, 'an object,' the kind of a thing a science could wholly encompass [read: contain] and explain."

Rather, "I realized I'm something other than a world-immanent thing -- a subject -- and that there's an inexhaustibility to the within-ness that marks me out as a human being as distinct from a galaxy, an ecosystem, or an animal."

Same here. To be continued...