Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Spirit of History and the Shadow of Things that May Be (11.18.10)

"Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point," said Scrooge, "answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?"

Still, Petey pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.

"The course of our lives will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if those courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!"

If I were going to write another book -- which for all intents and purposes I already have, many times -- it would center around the idea of Unity. Or perhaps it would be unified around the idea of the center, which amounts to the same opposite thing. "Unity," "meaning," "purpose," "wholeness," and the "cosmic center" are all aspects of the same vertical reality.

While no form of leftism, materialism, scientism, or secularism is to be taken intellectually seriously (except as a serious threat to truth and happiness), I do take seriously orthodox spiritual views that clash with mine. The reason for this is that no form of materialism is sufficient to account for the richness, depth, and complexity of the world, and can never result in the unity which even scientists presume to exist (only materially). On the other hand, if some other guy has an alternate explanation of spiritual unity, then that needs to be given its due, since there cannot be two unities. Either one of them is wrong, or else one can be assimilated into the other.

This is why I have spent so much time discussing the traditionalist view that perfection -- which is to say, unity -- lies in the past, and that time is an ultimately degenerative process. This goes directly against my view that time is ultimately progressive, even though from within time, things are always simultaneously getting worse and better, so it's understandable that some people see through the half empty glass darkly.

I suppose it all has to do with the nature of time, doesn't it? A lot of startling things happen within time -- i.e., apparent ontological discontinuities -- that cannot be explained by either science or by tradition, but only by a higher synthesis of the two, which is what I attempt to do in my book. For example, there is not, nor will there ever be, any scientific explanation of the phenomenon of life itself, or of human consciousness. These are well beyond the limits of what materialistic science can deal with. Obviously, human consciousness explains science, not vice versa. Likewise, language and reason explain natural selection, not the converse. If evolution were the cause of language, then the truth of evolution could not be known.

I will grant the traditionalists this: the world is either headed toward apocalypse or unity. If time is progressive, then history represents an arc of salvation that will result in the reunification of the world, after our 50,000 year journey out of Africa and into the prismhouse of time and cultural diversification. If this reunification does not occur, then I agree with the traditionalists that mankind cannot be sustained, and that we are headed toward some sort of disaster foretold in all of the world's mythologies -- a disaster that falls under the heading of "apocalypse." No one knows the time, the hour, or the details, but it will be nasty. Sort of like the fantasies of the global warming hysterics, only in reality.

The question is, does history have an expiration date, or does it have a way to "renew" and regenerate itself? There are many ways to look at this question. The Christian view would be that history essentially reached its inevitable nadir long ago, which is why God decided to take things into his own hands and jump down into his creation so as to reverse its downward course. Absent having done so, history would have continued winding down into chaos and barbarism. While humans may have still existed, it would be in a kind of spiritual darkness that we can scarcely conceive. We don't have to look far to perceive the "shadow" of this darkness (so to speak), for it pervades certain precincts of the present world untouched by the Judeo-Christian timelifestream, most notably, Islamic culture and the necrophiliactivists of the psychospiritual left (not a paradox, since the left is a kind of parasitic Death that feeds on Life).

I've been reading an excellent new intellectual biography of the Catholic historian Christopher Dawson, who was clearly a (small t) traditionalist, and yet, did not believe that history was inevitably winding down. He did, however, feel that only a spiritual rebirth could reverse our downward historical trend.

As Birzer explains, Dawson saw "beyond the mechanistic and materialistic understanding of history, arriving at a meta-history that transcended and transfigured conventional historical assumptions." Whereas the conventional historian who focuses on the "raw material" of history can "lose sight of the deeper spiritual forces that make history intelligible to us," Dawson attempted to place the individual "within a larger mythological understanding of story and history" and to render "the past present by the light of the eternal omnipresent."

In point of fact, the historian cannot help but place history within the context of a larger myth, the question being whether it is a true or false one (i.e., myth in the proper sense of having to do with archetypal reality, or in the fallen sense of quasi-animal imagination). For example, any sort of leftist historicism derived from Marx is pure mythology, but it is a counter-myth that is not rooted in any kind of transcendent reality, only in the mind of the leftist. The same can be said for the myths of scientism, atheism and materialism. Naturally, Dawson was not taken seriously by these intellectually unserious types, since "he took seriously the importance of the Creator, the profound implications of the Incarnation, and the movement of the Holy Spirit in history."

It is fair to say that Dawson viewed history through the lens of revelation instead of ideology -- and not just the revelation of scripture, but through the living revelation given him by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, history itself is a revelation of that same Spirit, so the writing of history ultimately involves spirit interpreting Spirit, so to speak. There is no question that he was just as "scholarly" as any academic historian, except that he was free of the narrow constraint of various fashionable ideologies which come and go.

For Dawson, historicism is "the belief that men can, by the use of their natural powers, discover an inner meaning in the historical process." Allied with this was the idea that "a civilization cannot long survive the dying of belief in a transcendent order that brought the culture into being." Therefore, by "re-mythologizing" history, Dawson was simply doing what I said must be done to avoid catastrophe, which is to write a universal history in the teeth of forces that "desire nothing less than the total subversion and destruction of all that is True, Good, and Beautiful" (Dawson was a major influence on Tolkien, who obviously attempted to remythologize the Christian West in his own way).

It was Dawson's belief that we did, however, live in a somewhat uniquely perilous age, in that (writing in 1940) "the dark forces that have been chained by a thousand years of Christian civilization... have now been set free to conquer the world." In other words, the phenomena of nazism, fascism, and communism all represented the de-Christianization and re-paganization of the West, the descent into "a chaos of pure sensation." It should go without saying that there is no merely "human" cure for this descent, and that "the forces of evil cannot be successfully resisted without the power of Spirit," the only thing which can carry on the work of Creation and thereby reverse our otherwise inevitable Fall.

"Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you’ve shown me, by an altered life!"

The kind hand trembled.

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"


coonified said...

Bravo Gagdad. You are a good spirit.

"If I were going to write another book -- which for all intents and purposes I already have, many times"

About six months ago I coppied and pasted all past blog entries to word for quick reference. I think it's around 2000 pages or so, and that doesn't include what you've done since.

Anonymous said...

The use of A Christmas Carol as pegs to hang these considerations is a very felicitous piece of writing.

Dawson seems to have a handle on the way to look at decline. The thing to avoid in any "evolutionary" approach is the implicit idea of immanentizing the eschaton, which, since "you can't push the [Big] River," leads to "progressive" progressively-darker coercive truthless nightmares.

But within history, development, you betcha. That there was a coming to the "fullness of time" for a richer revelation, all traditions agree and seek more light. Improvement in the environment of liberty and leisure that frees those so inclined to dispose themselves to the Vertical? Check.

Better communication and more scope for the human being to understand the world and to exercise human agency? Before our very eyes.

Doesn't mean we couldn't neglect and lose these within-time gains, but the capacity is there, a perduring gift.

Anonymous said...

Oops. That was dilys.

River Cocytus said...

t is fair to say that Dawson viewed history through the lens of revelation instead of ideology -- and not just the revelation of scripture, but through the living revelation given him by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, history itself is a revelation of that same Spirit, so the writing of history ultimately involves spirit interpreting Spirit, so to speak. There is no question that he was just as "scholarly" as any academic historian, except that he was free of the narrow constraint of various fashionable ideologies which come and go.

Yep. I got the same sense from Chesterton, who while he had little good to say about the bad things of his time didn't seem too discouraged about the future.

A guess about it? A good founding in tradition, like Aurobindo and what not had, gives you the boat to 'float on the infinite sea' instead of trying to build a bridge or a dike.

Per'aps the problem has always been taking the boat out of port, or so to speak.

Robin Starfish said...

but desolation
and loss own my inner rooms
a full moon rises

Ricky Raccoon said...

“Obviously, human consciousness explains science, not vice versa.”

Now, what real scientist would not enjoy the brilliance of that equation?

But one small thing, you spelled gnobviously wrong. If you’ve forgotten (small “if”) it’s a compliment for bringing something out of the timeless and into time and having it look like it was here all along.

Capt Van, Scotty reports these engines can’t take much morrrrrre.
(wink :-)

Another Bob said...

To the upside-down man, up is down.
To the materialist, Unity is Apocalypse.

-Another Bob

ximeze said...

Speaking of historians, VDH has a new series of interviews: Chapters 1,2 & 3 (of 5) are now linked on his site.

Victor Davis Hanson on War and History
interviewed by Peter Robinson

River Cocytus said...

... Jazz is the affection of the musical.

I'm reading The Four Loves, and when Lewis describes 'affection' you can hear all of the Jazz musicians describing Jazz.

"We can say ANYTHING we want to one another." The truth is behind this is that Affection at its best can say whatever Affection at its best Wishes to say..."

I think - I would guess - that all music has love-qualities to it; which both involve the player and the listener.

But Jazz? It's affection. It can be weird and unusual, but that's what it's all about.

Eh, I'm not doing it justice.

stevieb said...


Another great Post from Bob again today. I always look forward to my morning OneCosmos fix.

Sometimes to realize how lucky I am to have stumbled into this Den of Raccoons I have to revisit the wasteland that I came out of...


It is morally confused and not for the faint of heart.

Dionysius said...

I myself emerged from the wilderness not so long ago. Welcome to the promised land, Steve.

Petey said...

The vileness of Deepak never ceases to shock.

hoarhey said...

CAN I GET A WITNESS? Ohhhh yeah!

julie said...

Wow. I'd never wandered down Deepak Lane before. Glad I wore my waders. There's a journey I don't plan to undertake again anytime soon.

ximeze said...

Huuumm, why is it that whenever I see Deepak's face, I get an overwhelming urge to slap it?

walt said...

Dr. Chopra's "message of hope" brought this response from a reader:

"That's great. If the religious zealots don't blow up the world by trying to bring about Armageddon and the 2nd Coming of Jesus by invading every Middle Eastern country that looks at us the wrong way, then the next generation will be more tolerant."

Warren said...

G. K. Chesterton:

"The world is what the saints and the prophets saw it was; it is not merely getting better or merely getting worse; there is one thing that the world does; it wobbles. Left to itself, it does not get anywhere; though if helped by real reformers of the right religion and philosophy, it may get better in many respects, and sometimes for considerable periods. But in itself it is not a progress; it is not even a process; it is the fashion of this world that passeth away. Life in itself is not a ladder; it is a see-saw."

Warren said...

T. S. Eliot:

"The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do

"But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards

"In an age which advances progressively backwards?"

julie said...

Completely off topic, but it occurred to me just now we haven't heard from Susannah lately. I popped over to her blog, and it turns out she had her baby just last week.

I thought a few raccoons might be interested.

Petey said...

Also haven't heard lately from charter Raccoon JWM. Let's just hope the worst hasn't happened -- that he too is pregnant.

NoMo said...

Julie - You have once again distinguished yourself as the premier investigative raccoon. Thanks for more good news!

Bob - Another nearly perfect post today. I say "nearly" in keeping with rabbinical tradition.

Oh yeah, did I mention that I'm the preeminent Proust scholar in the U.S.?
;o} (Sorry, I just watched Little Miss Sunshine again). Hey, if you can't say something smart, try and say something funny.

Ben! We continue naval-gazing towards the horizon patiently awaiting your safe (and dry) return. All the best!

Van said...

"Allied with this was the idea that "a civilization cannot long survive the dying of belief in a transcendent order that brought the culture into being.""


I think that it's this process we see, but which is entwined in, and in some ways mistaken for luxury and prosperity alone, that those things are somehow the issues that bring about the decline of a culture; but things don't have that kind of power, I think something else is at work, more subtly tied to the passing of cultural beliefs in their formative transcendent order.

Luxury is just a visible effect of what follows during a cultures detachment from reality, when their success affords them distance from receiving perceptible rebukes from contradicting reality, such as in the form of pain and loss resulting from rashness and errors.

The school of hard knocks keeps the intellectual bouncing ball Vertical, but with success, with the ability to do little things like hire a gardener and someone else to cook, to watch the kids, as those daily contacts become fainter, more distant from direct experience, then intellectual entropy kicks in, the vertical bounce lessens into a lazzy dribble, and finally begins to just roll downhill.

Thoughts begin to be tossed about with more and more lax consideration, and older deeper Truths are suddenly questioned and the shallow absence of obvious and visible correspondence to surface facts are seen as sufficient proof of falsity. "I don't see [Zeus, Jupiter, God] sitting in [Olympus, Capitoline Hill, Heaven], you see 'em? No? Ok, it's all bunk" and from there its a short skip to "there's no right or wrong, lets just go for it!", and incapable of divining a replacement for those deep structures, instead, they fall into Skepticism & Cynicism, Morality vanishes.

Exit the old Order, enter the new disorderly order.

The difference this time around, and what potentially might save us, is the fact that even though those charged with passing on the old transcendent knowledge, don't, it is still discoverable by the mass of peoples who never before had access to it, except through the elites.

Van said...

I was thinking that this weekend - glad you did more than just think it!

JWM too (there was a decent anony comment the other day that I wondered if it might have been him - proly not though)... 'fraid he's gonna haffta knit his own booties though....

Van said...

Ximeze, thanks for the VDH links!

julie said...

I'm afraid my investigative skillz are all for nought with JWM - he doesn't have a blog, so far as I know, and initials just aren't enough to work with. I was wondering about him too, though. I hope his, er, labor isn't too hard...

Magnus Itland said...

Indeed, Moses predicted that if Israel were to keep the Law, God would bless them, and when they grew fat, they would forget God, and then the curses would hit them. Wobble!

The current unprecedented prosperity is a blessing and will not last in the absence of virtue and grace.

Of course, we don't need to be absent from virtue and grace. There is an endless supply.

Anonymous said...

any chance we can get someone to re-interpret a "Best of Bob" for Morons, using no "bobisms" and keeping the words to an average letter count under 10?

M. Oron

Van said...

M.Oron - Gno, gnot liekly.

Elephant said...

forewith this lurch of impulsion shall write before finishing the post. shan't it be a unification in the sky and earthly demise? a rapture of souls and the moon red and stars crashing down upon the terrain?
the ovre that bono shouts and spouts. "oh you look so beautiful tonight!" Christ's bride, the Church.