Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Mullah Terror & Nasty Old Leftist Complex

We often hear leftists speak of the dangers of the military industrial complex, but a far greater danger is the mullah terror & nasty old leftist complex, which was demonstrated once again this week with Osama's open embrace of the left's bull goose loony, Noam Chomsky. It's a marriage made in hell between the moonbats and moongodbats.

PowerLine notes that the allahiance between Islamists and leftists "has never been so clearly displayed. Bin Laden sounds for all the world like a Marxist. He praises Noam Chomsky as one of the 'most capable' of American war opponents. Over and over, he attributes American foreign policy to 'the owners of the major corporations.' In bin Laden's view, '[t]hose with real power and influence are those with the most capital,' and 'the essence of man-made positive laws is that they serve the interests of those with capital and thus make the rich richer and the poor poorer.'"

Osama-lama-ding-dong might as well be working for the New York Times useful idiotorial board, since he has all their barking points down pat: "Thus, 'all of mankind is in danger because of... global warming.' The Kennedy assassination finds its way into the story: it was ordered by 'the owners of major corporations who were benefiting from [the Vietnam war's] continuation.'" (He knows this meme appeals to the left, given their cognitive dissonance over the fact that JFK was killed by a pro-Castro leftist, just as RFK was killed by a Palestinian savage. And I'm guessing that MLK was killed by a southern Democrat.)

Speaking of JFK, Osama's still a little peeved that Oliver Stone hasn't gotten back to him about the screenplay he submitted, a light summer romp called How to Stuff a Wild Burqini. Don't get the wrong idea. Yes, it has that provocative scene of a Muslim woman waxing her burqini line, but it's only her monobrow.

With regard to Iraq, Osama might as well be Keith Olbillmaher or Cindy Seanpenn: "Iraq is a 'civil war'; America's involvement was fomented by 'neoconservatives like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Richard Perle'; 'American statistics' say that 650,000 Iraqis have been killed; the justifications for the Iraq war are 'based on deception and blatant lies'; the war was 'entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports'; war opponents have denounced the conflict in 'eloquent terms' like 'no to spilling red blood for black oil'; 'thinkers' world-wide have predicted the imminent collapse of the 'American Empire'; Bush's problem in Iraq is that he 'refused to look at the facts on the ground.'"

In a direct appeal to 9-11 "truthers," Osama also said that Bush would have brought down the Twin Towers if he hadn't thought of it first.

A while back, Noam Chomsky published a typical irant entitled A Negotiated Solution to the Iranian Nuclear Crisis is Within Reach. Naturally he blames the United States and Israel for the problem. Unlike us, the "sophisticated Iranians" are “surely not as willing as the west to discard history to the rubbish heap.” That is, “They know that the United States, along with its allies, has been tormenting Iranians and stealing my precious bodily fluids for more than 50 years.” Only unsophisticated Iranians who don't live on planet Chomsky think that the totalitarian regime that rules their lives is a tad oppressive.

Because he is a "leftist thinker," Chomsky doesn’t technically “think” so much as apply a leftist template over reality so that it always comes out looking the same: U.S. bad, enemies of U.S. good. Any questions?

On the adoltolescent playground of elite college campuses, Chomsky's books are always among the biggest sellers. In the course of his career, like the left itself, he has only been wrong about everything (most egregiously, our previous generations-long battle against communist tyranny), but that doesn’t matter, since the purpose of socialism -- like Islamism -- is not to be effective or to describe reality, but to transform the consciousness of the person who believes it. Therefore, it would be a waste of time to analyze the substance of Chomsky’s ideas, which are frankly bizarre. He is much more of a religious cult figure and should be regarded as such. He cannot be discredited.

Religion is the realm of ultimate values. I was intrigued by a passing comment at the top of Chomsky’s editorial that reveals his: “The urgency of halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and moving toward their elimination, could hardly be greater. Failure to do so is almost certain to lead to grim consequences, even the end of biology's only experiment with higher intelligence” (emphasis mine).

So here we have a literal inversion of reality on every level: political, historical, ethical, epistemological, theological and ontological -- a cosmos inside out and upside down.

The classical liberalism of American idealism is implicitly religious, even if it doesn’t explicitly favor one particular Judeo-Christian denomination over another. Clearly, there was a coonsensus among our founders that human beings, and only human beings, were endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that are rooted in our very humanness. Liberty is meaningless without both free will and a proper transcendent end for our resultant liberty.

In the absence of a free will that transcends biology, meaningful liberty is obviously impossible. And in the absence of the Good and True, both our behavior and our thinking can have no meaning that isn’t ultimately arbitrary. (In other words, thinking, in order to be worthy of the name, must converge on truth, just as behavior must converge on virtue.)

This is the “American experiment”: it was an experiment in the adventure of consciousness to see if would be possible to facilitate psycho-spiritual evolution by setting up the appropriate framework -- to unleash human potential, in part by starting out with a more accurate anthropology and ontology. For if you get either of these wrong at the outset, then your political philosophy will be hopelessly dysfunctional.

Adam Smith’s ideas are infinitely more effective than Marx’s (or Mohammed's) ideas because they begin with a very accurate and concrete assessment of human psychology, whereas Marx (and every leftist since him) begins with abstract and general ideas that are superimposed on reality. What doesn’t fit into the framework must be attacked, denied, belittled, and eliminated in order to preserve the framework. Thus, the origins of the hauntological house of the perpetually “angry left.” How could they not be angry? It’s inherently painful when reality doesn’t conform to your fantasies.

The mullahs and Islamonazis have their own dysfunctional version of reality, while Chomsky and the left have another. In the end, one is no worse than the other, which is probably why they find such common ground in their opposition to liberal America.

In Chomsky’s religion, matter is God. A nuclear holocaust would be tragic because it would end “biology's only experiment with higher intelligence.” Turning the cosmos upside down, human intelligence is subordinate to biology. The human mind is simply an “experiment” of biology. Could this possibly be true? I don't know. You would have to ask biology. It’s her experiment, not ours.

Stripped of their illusions of divinity, humans are then free to be what they are, with their biology unbound:

Power into will, will into appetite,
And appetite, a universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce a universal prey
And last eat himself up.

Osama lauds Chomsky, which is only fitting, since this nasty old leftist has long been one of the West's most visible apologists for the ravenous wolves of Islam -- just as he was unable to perceive the moral gulf that existed between America and the monsters of depravity who enslaved the communist world. He has to see things this way. It's his theology. Or biology. Same thing. Probably no coincidence that he was named after that talking monkey, Nim Chimpsky.

Friday, September 07, 2007

And the Cool Became Flesh, and Dwelt Among Us

Many people reject religion on the basis of a fundamental misunderstanding of it, which is easy to do, given the ucool way religion is depicted by its enemies in the liberal media and by our profane culture at large. If that were my only exposure to religion, I too would surely reject it. It took me many years to undo this pernicious influence, and even now I struggle with it from time to time. For example, believe it or not, I can still feel a slight hesitation in saying I am "religious" rather than "spiritual," or conservative as opposed to classical liberal.

I think one of the main reasons for this is that, just as, say, much of the Islamic world is a "shame culture," we in the United States have a "cool culture." To put it another way, we are terrified of appearing uncool. Uncoolness is a shameful state. There is no question that this is a powerful motivator. Indeed, many liberal stances can be comprehended on the basis that the adherent believes it would be uncool to believe otherwise. Gay marriage? Cool! The military? Uncool!! Environmentalism? Cool!!!

Back when I was a liberal, I basically adhered to the cool agenda. I thought the US and USSR were morally equivalent empires, that corporations were bad and greedy, that guns were evil, that capital punishment was murder, etc.

As far as I can tell, the coolness fetish began in the 1950s as an adolescent phenomenon, and then spread to the culture at large in the 1960s and '70s. By the time I was around ten or eleven years of age, I began to see that religion was very uncool and therefore to be rejected. The phenomenon of Christian rock is a very uncool attempt to make Christianity look cool. But Christianity is way cool already, if you know where to look.

A case in point is this editorial by Heather Mac Donald, a secular conservative woman who is very uncomfortable with what she perceives as the dominance of the conservative intellectual movement by the Christian right. You know, those uncool nerds like John Ashcroft:

“Upon leaving office in November 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft thanked his staff for keeping the country safe since 9/11. But the real credit, he added, belonged to God. Ultimately, it was God’s solicitude for America that had prevented another attack on the homeland.

“Many conservatives hear such statements with a soothing sense of approbation. But others -- count me among them -- feel bewilderment, among much else. If God deserves thanks for fending off assaults on the United States after 9/11, why is he not also responsible for allowing the 2001 hijackings to happen in the first place?"

Being detached, skeptical and ironic is the essence of cooless, so it is understandable that the above approach to religion doesn't pass the coolness test: “Skeptical conservatives -- one of the Right’s less celebrated subcultures -- are conservatives because of their skepticism, not in spite of it. They ground their ideas in rational thinking and (nonreligious) moral argument. And the conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion to the exclusion of these temperamentally compatible allies.”

You can see this battle in miniature, say, in the difference between an uncool conservative such as Sam Brownback and a cool one such as Giuliani. Interestingly, the cool liberal media are convinced that conservatives are way too uncool to vote for a cool guy like Giuliani. But at the same time, liberals are about to reject a cool black guy and nominate one of the most frigidly uncool women you could imagine. Go figure.

MacDonald provides a worthy and thoughtful critique, not at all like the angry and unsophisticated atheists of the secular left. Still, it seems that her only exposure to religion has been to the kooky and/or superficial kind, but it should go without saying that kookiness and superficiality are most certainly the norm in virtually all human endeavors. One might just as well reject music on the basis of the aural droppings that deafecate from the radio these days.

LIke many reasonable people, MacDonald seems to have the greatest difficulty in reconciling an omnipotent God with the existence of evil. For example,

“The father of Elizabeth Smart, the Salt Lake City girl abducted from her home in 2002, thanked God for answering the public’s prayers for her safe return.... But why did the prayers for five-year-old Samantha Runnion go unheeded when she was taken from her Southern California home in 2002 and later sexually assaulted and asphyxiated?”

But this simply highlights the incoherence of a particular religious view that reduces God to an omnipotent anthropomorphism. This is closer to the unsophisticated manner in which uncool Muslims view Allah, as “vertically” causing everything to happen on a moment by moment basis. I have heard many Christians of this temperament say words to the effect of “everything happens for a reason” -- i.e., God caused it -- which has never made any sense to me either. In my opinion, Mac Donald is correct to reject such an uncool view.

For my part, I am drawn to religion because it is a much deeper and more sophisticated metaphysic, and explains much more than any secular philosophy. It also illuminates cool dimensions of reality that will tend to go undetected or undeveloped in the absence of religion -- the holy, the sacred, the existence of grace, etc.

But the idea of an omnipotent personal God that answers to one’s beck and call seems to me fundamentally unchristian (and certainly un-vedantic). After all, in Christianity, God himself is crucified in history. What do you think that means, that God himself fully submits to history, to the relative, to the temporal, but is ultimately victorious over it? The whole point is that The Cool became uncool so that the uncool might become Cool.

As I have emphasized before, a merely mental understanding of God is entirely insufficient in my view. Anyone who reduces religion to a mere literalism has given the game away to the cool rationalism of the uncool ego.

In the past, I have attempted to discuss this dilemma in terms of the bi-modal logic of the mind. Our little surface ego moves and has its being in the bright and well-lit world of classical or Aristotelian logic. I will be the first to acknowledge that the world accessed by the ego represents a world. But by no means does it represent the world. Rather, the ego gives access to one plane of being. I won’t say it’s a low flying plane, because, as a psychologist, I am fully aware of how many people with weak and undeveloped egos fail to get off the ground due to various developmental issues and fixations. But it is an intermediate world, with degrees of being both above and below.

In the esoterist view, the planes above the ego are developmentally later but ontologically prior, and therefore more real. Every "below" in the cosmos is contained within a more expansive above, while, at the same time, the Absolute above is uncontainable and necessarily present “within” the below. To animals, the ego is clearly both “higher” and more inward. This is why dogs think humans are so cool.

But we must never forget that the epic story of cosmic evolution does not end with the ego’s exteriorization of its limited understanding -- its colonization of a small portion of consciousness. Think of the ego as analogous to a bright flood light in the dark. Wherever the light turns, there is an area of bright illumination. But we must not be fooled into believing that the foreground of illumination -- the little spot lit up by the ego -- is all there is to reality.

As Kant properly noted, the ego creates a world in the form of its own sensibility (the phenomenal world) and then takes it for the real world. Therefore, it is as if we dream a dream and then inhabit the dream as if it were real. The ego becomes thoroughly entangled in its own exteriorized and reified fantasies. This is what it means to be a fallen ego in a fallen world. The fall is both literal (i.e., vertical) and metaphorical.

With the scientific revolution in full force, Kant saw what was coming and was actually trying to rescue the cool realm of religion from the uncool predations of a cognitively greedy scientific rationalism. Since the ego ultimately has access only to its own phenomena, this left the infinitely greater reality of the noumenon untouched, unknown and unknowable. This is precisely where Kant erred, because in saying that the noumenon was unknowable, he essentially reduced religion to a mere uncool sentimental fideism. It would simply be a matter of time before it became wholly irrelevant to cool and "sophisticated” moderns.

Again, either religion embodies real knowledge that surpasses our egoic understanding, or it is simply an absurdity that is defiantly embraced by uncool people in the teeth of reason and logic. But if it does embody real knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it? Is it mere information, occupying the same horizontal plane as factual scientific information, like saying “water freezes at 32 degrees and Jesus walked on it,” or “the ribs enclose the chest cavity and women are made of one”? In my way of looking at things, this is a gross confusion that simply invites cool people not to take religion seriously.

Let us imagine that the totality of reality constitutes a vast field of consciousness. In navigating its dimensions and coordinates, there are two principle dangers. One involves being shipwrecked on the rocks of a rational but fixed and “frozen” mental conception that ultimately forecloses spiritual evolution. The ego stakes out its little piece of territory. It knows what it knows, and that’s all it wants to know. The vast majority of cultural and religious beliefs are of this variety. Some belief systems stake out a slightly wider area, but each, to one degree or another, places an arbitrary boundary around reality.

The other danger is to become lost at sea with no fixed coordinates at all. This is to be engulfed in the symmetrical unconscious with no bearings to guide one’s journey.

Religions are indeed fixed, and must be so. However, they are not fixed in order to reduce reality, but in order to navigate through it and ultimately to colonize more of it. They are not the destination, but the means of arriving there -- at one’s deustination.

Therefore, the question is not, strictly speaking, whether or not this or that dogma is true or false, in a narrow, purely egoic way. Dogma is critical for the same reason that a ship is -- not merely for the purpose of floating statically on the water, but moving through it.

As you x-seekers know, vaulting yourself off the virtual ramp of dogma and getting some sick air in hyperspace is very cool.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

On Giving the Finger to Atheist Wonkers

Yesterday reader Magnus made an excellent point: "On the commute I read an article about the co-evolution of the dog. It seems man's best friend has lost a part of its brain that kept much of its wolf instincts. On the other hand [paw?], it has gained the ability to understand pointing. When we point at something, a fellow human automatically transfers its attention to the object we point to, rather than just staring at the hand. So does a dog with just a little training. Wolves do not, and neither do chimps or any other species known to man.

"I wonder if 'religiosity' is not something equivalent. We have gained an ability to understand God's pointing and this alone can replace a multitude of instincts that would be necessary if living apart from God.

"Imagine a dog trying to explain the concept of pointing to a wolf. The wolf would just look dumbly and say: 'It's a hand. No matter how it moves, it is still just a hand. Can we eat it already?'"

I replied that, in a way, the capacity to point and to understand pointing is everything, for it is what lifts us out of our engulfment in matter and imprisonment in the senses. It is the essence of Polanyi's philosophy, what he calls the distinction between subsidiary (the finger) and focal (the moon) knowledge. The obligatory atheist is essentially fixated on the finger while barking at the moon.

Continuing along the lines of yesterday's theme, how does one establish faith, anyway? For me, it really started not so much with me knowing, but knowing with increasing certainty that someone else knew. By immersing myself in that person's knowledge and reading their wrotetrails, I eventually came to assimilate a bit of personal knowledge, but that's another storey of a complex ediface.

When you think about it, most of our knowledge of reality ultimately falls into this category. For example, few of us really have much personal understanding of economics, so we put our faith in someone else who seems to know, and who appeals to our Reason. A leftist will put his faith in a Paul Krugman or Robert Reich, while I put my faith in Tom Sowell or Friedrich Hayek. Immediately you realize that many people who profess to know what they are talking about, really don’t -- not just the “followers” (necessarily) but the experts themselves.

Thus, despite my rudimentary knowledge of economics, if Tom Sowell is right, then I know much more about economics than Paul Krugman does. (Here I am using “know” in the naively old-fashioned way of connoting truth; we need a different word for all the untrue things that people, especially experts and wackademics such as Krugman, “know”... maybe the opposite of know, which is w-o-n-k... Krugman is not a knower, but a big wonker. But you knew that already.)

Given what I have outlined, if the Creator exists, then the most humble and unsophisticated churchgoer who has an intuitive acceptance and understanding of that to which faith points, knows infinitely more -- literally -- than a Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, to cite a couple of famous godless wonkers.

But atheism is an outrageously grandiose enterprise. One thing you notice immediately is the false humility of the atheist, who at once ridicules the notion that human beings are of any cosmic significance whatsoever, and then proceeds to confidently reveal the Ultimate Truth of existence to the rest of us. In my view, any being that may possess Ultimate Truth -- even if it is only to set Ultimate Limits on what the Mind may know, as does the atheist -- is pretty special. Such a being is most definitely “the center of the universe,” but only if we shift our perspective from a horizontal to a vertical view -- which is demanded by the atheist’s own metaphysic.

That is, if you begin with the premise that all is random and that everything is equally meaningless, then you truly have a horizontal cosmos with no possibility of rising above it and knowing any objective truth. Not only are human beings not the center in such a flatland cosmos, but there is no possibility of a center or of knowedge. Nothing points to anything else.

However, verticality implies hierarchy, origin, and increased centration as we ascend the scale. Imagine a pyramid, with each level representing a new degree of complexity and depth in the cosmos. On the bottom floor there is mere matter or energy. On top of that is a second floor, biology. Obviously biology is a narrower subset of matter, but it is not “off to the side” like a little growth, but right at the center -- if viewed vertically.

Likewise, human psychological and spiritual development represent increased degrees of both verticality and centration, which is why God is the only entity that can truly say “I AM” with a straight face. According to Rabbi Mo, we cannot see this face -- and therefore know I AM -- and live.

And this is why the key to spiritual growth -- and vision -- is to “die before you get old and die,” so Pete Towenshend was half right. In ether worlds, ego death -- or transcendence, if you prefer -- is the road to the toppermost of the poppermost of the universe, the center and Origin of existence, the mysterious within of withinness, the Truth of truth, the El Supremo at the Top of the Stairs, the Starman Waiting in the Sky, for all hierarchies are conditioned top to bottom, and there is no incomplete hierarchy.

Atheists are bothered by such ideas. Again, they do not merely reject metaphysics, they are hostile to it. An anonymous poster on Dr. Sanity confessed that “this is something which never ceases to bug me”:

“While it is true that this universe is indeed marvelous, beautiful, coherent and logical, vast and detailed, and so on, it is also very clear (or at least should be by now) that it's not set up for our benefit. Mankind is not the center of the universe. We're not it's focus. (Every time people stumble over this fact, they react in shock and indignation). It is not adapted to suit us. Rather, mankind is adapted to be able to survive in the universe.)”

I would respond: who says the universe is beautiful? Is that true? Why should a universe in which we are completely beside the point convey its beauty to us? In order for something to be beautiful or true, mustn’t there be a subject capable of knowing those things? In other words, the cosmos is neither true nor beautiful without a subject that may love beauty and know truth. If we are not the focus - -and therefore center -- of the world’s beauty and truth, what is? As Magnus suggested yesterday, the cosmos is always pointing at something else, and only humans are able to discern the direction and content of this pointing. For example, other animals merely see a world, not the beauty or truth that radiate through it.

It reminds me of what liberals say about Iraq having nothing to do with the war on global jihad. Oh really? Then why are terrorists from all over the world flocking there? You may not think it is the center of the war on Islamofascism, but Islamofascists certainly do.

Likewise, you may not think that human beings are the center of cosmic truth and beauty, but the cosmos clearly feels otherwise. You are the only way for the cosmos to say "I AM... and damn, I sure am beautiful. And dignified. And coherent" (and whatever other category you choose to add). Our ways of knowing the the cosmos are freakishly adapted to the way it is -- unlike other animals, who cannot escape their subjectivity and know objective truth about existence.

Another commenter on Dr. Sanity said that “My schema starts with the fact that the Universe -- a concept of the Everything, not just our little Steven Hawking, Big Bang Universe -- is infinite.”

Hold it right there, wonker. Your schema actually begins with the faith that there is a cosmos -- a strict totality of coherently interacting objects and events, despite the fact that you have never seen it -- and a mysterious ability to know the truth of this cosmic order, to have a tacit vision of where the cosmic finger is pointing.

As I have mentioned before, the philosopher of science Stanley Jaki pointed out that philosophers constantly get into trouble because they try to get to second base before they have gotten to first. As all baseball fans know, “you can’t steal first base.” But this is what philosophers habitually do.

Therefore, once this larcenous wonker has assumed first base, he proceeds to steal second and third: the cosmos “never ‘began’, and nothing can be ‘outside’ of it. So I consider the concept of the ‘Supernatural’ to be literal nonsense -- a connection of words which look sensible, but are not, unless the term refers to something actually going on within the Universe. Or unless it refers to the Universe itself.”

There you go. He has stolen home without ever having hit a real ball. He possesses Truth -- which is by definition supernatural -- without having to acknowledge that inconvenient fact. For every physicist worth his NaCl knows that nature herself is supernatural. Every great mathematician is a platonist, either explicitly or implicitly. This is the great truth disclosed by Gödel’s theorems, which demonstrate that any logical system can be either complete or consistent, but not both. But Gödel never intended for this fact to be used as a blunt instrument by deconstructionists to undermine the reality of truth. Rather, he was merely attempting to account for the obvious fact that human knowing vastly exceeds the limits of reason. Duh!

Most of the comments left by angry atheists yesterday (actually, it was now last year) on Dr. Sanity -- for example, those of the aptly named "Arational Human" -- were either logically self-refuting or were adequately addressed by other commenters. There was one other comment by Lionel, who wrote that,

“The concept of god is a grab bag of inconsistent floating abstractions that is intended to stop thought and rational discussion.... That is what I hate and will do whatever I can to undercut its existence. I hate it because its anti-mind, anti-reason, anti-human, and anti-life. Reason, reality, and logic are of prime importance to me. Emotion is simply the way we experience our values. God, being a nonexistent, has nothing to do with it one way or the other.”

If Lionel wishes to be logically consistent, then he must concede that his hatred of God is nothing more than “the way he experiences his values.” He claims to hate God because the concept is “anti-mind, anti-reason, anti-human, and anti-life.” In each case, his emotional rejection of God causes him to invert reality and to believe things that are patently illogical and untrue.

For reason is only a faculty of knowing something indirectly in the absence of direct vision, while God is known directly, the same way one knows one is alive, perceives reality, or is aware of free will. In order to see something, it is not necessary to logically prove the existence of sight. Many of the most important truths are known simply by their “superabundance of clarity,” by pure intellect, not by the reason which us its servant. Reason is not Intelligence in itself, only an instrument of intelligence. Few things create more mischief than reason in the hands of an unintelligent or immoral wonker.

Likewise, any form of pure rationalism is an attack on mind itself, because it reduces the cause -- intelligence -- to an effect -- reason. In the words of Schuon, rationalism is “perhaps the most intelligent way of being unintelligent.” For “Existence is a reality in some respects comparable to a living organism; it cannot with impunity be reduced, in man’s consciousness... to proportions that do violence to its nature; pulsations of the 'extra-rational' pass through it from every quarter. Now religion and all forms of supra-rational wisdom belong to this extra-rational order, the presence of which we observe around us, unless we are blinded by a mathematician’s prejudice; to attempt to treat existence as a purely arithmetical and physical reality is to falsify it in relation to ourselves and within ourselves, and in the end it is to blow it to pieces.”

Not for nothing did Richard Weaver say that “every attack upon religion is inevitably an attack upon mind.” Naturally there are many forms of stupid religion, for there is nothing touched by humans wonkers that cannot be made stupid. But at least religion as such does not exclude the possibility and priority of Intelligence, and therefore, Truth.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

100 Million Americans Living in Spiritual Poverty!

In an interview a couple of years ago, the impertinent Siggy asked the estimable Dr. Sanity if she was a believer, and her response was, “I guess I have to say that I’m an agnostic and don’t take a position on whether God exists or not. I am aware of a very strong emotional part of me that wants very much to believe in an all powerful and all good deity that cares about me and all of humanity. But I also a very strong scientific and rational part that demands objective evidence of the existence of a Supreme Being. These two parts of me exist in a sort of dynamic tension right now and I expect that some day I might find a way to integrate them. Or, maybe not.”

In a post last year, she wrote that this “dynamic tension remains and the struggle continues unabated. I don't seem to have progressed too far along in resolving that conflict, but I have progressed. And, it is reassuring to realize that Siggy is correct when he says, To struggle with faith is as much a part of faith as anything else."

I think that last statement is quite accurate, in the identical sense that one could say that “to struggle with knowledge is as much a part of truth as anything else,” or “to struggle with love is as much a part of relationships as anything else," or "to struggle with virtue is as much a part of being good as anything else." In each given case, the struggle is founded upon the faith that truth, love, or goodness exist, and that it is worthwhile to struggle toward them. I think we are simply built this way, in the same way that the flower is built to turn toward the sun. The flower never stops to think about whether it is worthwhile to do so, nor should we stop to wonder whether the True, Good and Beautiful exist. Just bend your will in their direction, and be nourished by their transparent light.

Humans, by definition, are fated to inhabit the vast middle realm between being and nothingness, the absolute and the relative, matter and spirit, time and eternity. The paradoxes of human existence are impossibly difficult if you give them even a moment’s reflection, but they all result from this I-AMbiguous in-between realm in which we pass our days. A human being is the only thing in the cosmos that is both a fact and a possibility -- even an infinite possibilty, more or less. But from here to there is a struggle.

Despite all of our scientific and technological advances over the past 300 years, I see no evidence that human beings are any happier than they have ever been. If anything, happiness might be even more elusive, because life is so much easier than it was for past generations. We expect things to go well and are devastated when tragedy and disappointment hit, which they inevitably do. To paraphrase or possibly plagiarize Theodore Dalyrmple -- and this is something no liberal understands -- Misery rises to the level of the means availible to alleviate it.

Repeat after me, lurking lefty: I am an unhappy person and there is nothing Mommy Government can do about it, because my misery will just rise to the level of Mommy's efforts to alleviate it. And soon my misery will sink even beneath that level because of my frustrated sense of infantile entitlement and my abiding belief that someone else should make my life pain-free. Amen.

No one in the past felt they were entitled to the things we take for granted -- health, plentiful food, absence of physical pain, a long life, thriving children, a foolproof plan, an airtight alibi, Bob Dylan's new unlisted phone number, a Las Vegas wedding, a Mexican divorce... Thus, it was no doubt easier not to become overly attached to the temporary and transient. Death was a constant reminder of the fragility and fickleness of existence. (In fact, this proximity to death probably conributes to the fact that the Islamists are willing to die for their insane beliefs, while so much of the West cannot even muster the enthusiasm to defend its rare and precious civilization.)

Last week the census bureau informed us that there are 37 million Americans living in poverty. First of all, they're only talking about material poverty, not the millions of leftists who waste away in spiritual poverty, which is a far greater existential threat to the union. But even then, as Robert Rector explains,

"The typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR, or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry, and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians."

Furthermore, the majority of true poverty is behavioral and can be explained by two factors: "Their parents don’t work much, and their fathers are absent from the home.... Nearly two thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes; each year, an additional 1.5 million children are born out of wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, nearly three quarters of the nation’s impoverished youth would immediately be lifted out of poverty."

But over the past 35 years, the left has done everything possible to trivialize and disincentivize marriage. In fact, it is in their interest to undermine marriage, because the disaster that results benefits them politically. Much of the Democrat base is composed of the victims they help create, such as single mothers and "helpless" blacks. "Although work and marriage are reliable ladders out of poverty, the welfare system perversely remains hostile to both. Major programs such as food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid continue to reward idleness and penalize marriage. If welfare could be turned around to encourage work and marriage, the nation’s remaining poverty could be reduced."

A more realistically stoic attitude -- to put it mildly -- prevailed in the West through the great depression and World War II. For example, as recently as the 1970’s, inflation was completely misunderstood by economists, and therefore untamable. The “boom or bust” business cycle really only began to seriously flatten after the Reagan revolution, in that our inevitable recessions are far less severe than in the past. What was once a plague is now a common cold, and yet, leftist econmanists such as Paul Krugman are more hysterical than ever.

Similarly, I am blessed to have diabetes at a time when it is so easy to control it with different types of insulin and instantaneous digital readouts of my blood sugar, but my mother, just one generation before, had no such control, with devastating results. LIkewise, my father died at 58 of an abdominal aneurysm that is easily detectable today with a $35 exam at a health fair.

Given these profound existential changes, I think it is natural that westerners began to focus on this side of the “time-eternity” divide, and look for their spiritual sustenance in the things of the world, so to speak -- relationships, possessions, experiences. But does it work? I suppose for some. For others -- perhaps we’re just neurotic, I don’t know -- there is nothing in the field of time that will suffice or answer to this deeper call of the Spirit. It is a part of us that cries out for something that is not found in the objects of the world, and is only satisfied by one thing.

Is it real, this part of us that cries out for transcendence? I don’t know if that is the proper question. It’s somewhat analogous to falling in love and asking yourself if love is real or just an illusion, a trick of the nervous system. I’m imagining the Gagboy 10 or 20 years down the line, when he is at the peak of his enchantment with the opposite form of the complementary gender:

“I know it looks like women are attractive, but don’t be fooled. It’s just Darwin playing tricks on you, trying to get you to reproduce. In reality, woman aren’t attractive or unattractive. To the extent that you find them alluring, just remember that it’s just an illusion programmed into you by evolution. In short, I am only looking at this Victoria's Secret catalogue for its scientific value. Now run along and mind your own business.”

“Gee, thanks, gagDad!”

Isn’t this the same kind of “sophisticated” advice we might receive from the typical college professor regarding the spiritual dimension? “God? Nothing more than an illusion programmed into our nervous system. Just ignore it.” But doesn’t that just beg the question of whether everything is just an illusion built into our nervous system, including the statement that everything is? That way madness lies. But also tenure, so there are compensations.

If we consider religiosity on a continuum from extreme atheism on the left side (“zero”) to mystical union on the right (“one hundred”), let us suppose that Dr. Sanity is at 50. Well, probably more like 40. I myself started at closer to zero, or at least veered in that direction after an initial interest in Eastern religions prompted by the Beatles’ (especially George’s) adoption of yoga. But I became seriously interested in philosophy during my college years, and virtually all modern philosophy is essentially atheistic, whether existentialism, positivism, phenomenology, what have you.

Just recently I have begun to think of religiosity as simply “the right way to live,” so to speak. After all, these are traditions that somehow nourished the human soul for hundreds and thousands of years, almost as if we were made for them and they were made for us. Regardless of whether or not we may attribute these traditions to a creator, I find that there is a wisdom in authentic religion that far surpasses what any single mind could have come up with.

It’s a bit like marriage and the family. No one “invented” either, but for most people -- clearly not everyone, but for most -- it is simply the “right way” to live. Sure, you can experiment with other ways. Like Bill Maher, you can date porn stars, substitute dogs for children, and worship the earth, but is this really the way we’re built? Does he look happy or well adjusted to you?

I didn’t actually dive headlong into spirituality until 1995. In my case it was yoga, but once I did, the part of me that was hungering for transcendence all along began to “grow.” It reminds me of what they say about babies -- ”sleep begets sleep.” That is, if they nap more during the day, they sleep better at night. Likewise, faith begets faith. Just by taking that leap and living in the way humans have always lived, something automatic seems to kick in, an innate, uncreated wisdom.

I don’t mean to trivialize it, but it reminds me of sports. I think it has to do with the arrival of the Gagboy three seasons ago, but before that, I was an absolutely fanatical Dodger fan. To be honest, the spell started to be broken when they were purchased by Fox from the O’Malley family, but from the age of nine, I lived and died with each win or loss. I would listen to entire games on the radio even after the team had been mathematically eliminated from the pennant race, apparently hoping that they could somehow overcome the rules of arithmatic. And yet -- especially as an adult -- I would sometimes reflect on the absurdity of my devotion. As Seinfeld said, when it comes right down to it, since the players constantly change, you're essentially rooting for laundry. But was I any happier when I thought this way? No, not at all. In fact, it just spoiled the fun.

There’s an old saying in baseball: “Don’t think, you’ll hurt the ballclub.” I think most secular philosophy falls into this category. There are ways to think that will be metaphysically fruitful and add to your fulfillment, other essentially abcircular forms of thought that are spiritually barren and go from nowhere to nothing (and certainly won't help you hit a curveball). To be honest, they aren’t worthy of man, itself a statement that touches on the mystery of what man actually is.

The "good news" of religion is that the world is not a closed circle, that it is not an eternal prison, that it has an exit and an entrance.... "Perdition" is to be caught up in the eternal circulation of the world of the closed circle... [whereas] "salvation" is life in the world of the open circle, or spiral, where there is both exit and entrance. --Meditations on the Tarot

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Bring Out Your Dead!

The tricky thing about being alive is that it's a perpetual balancing act between catastrophe and doom. Being alive rests upon any number of cycles, processes, and rhythms at every level of our existence, including the mental and spiritual levels. Death occurs when any of these levels becomes a closed system. Thus, it is possible to be mentally or spiritually dead even while the body lives. Obviously.

I've never been that interested in biology per se. However, I've always been fascinated by the philosophical and cosmological implications of biology -- of the fact that we just happen to find oursophs in a cosmos in which Life is possible. Biology itself is a closed system that can only tell us about already living things, which is why these doctrinaire Darwinians are so grandiose and presumptuous in belowviating on matters above and beyond the narrow limits of their competence. Biology assumes the existence of living things, and attempts to describe their workings.

But biology cannot step outside itself and pronounce on the cosmic significance of Life Itself. Only a Raccoon can do that, bearing in mind the quasi-eternal semi-mystery that That which is called the Fraternal Order of Raccoons existed among the ancients, and never did not exist, from the planting of the human race until Toots Mondello arrived in the flesh, and the Lodge he founded with Herman Hildebrand in Bensonhurst, which already existed, came to be called the Raccoons.

A long time ago, back when I wanted to be an actual scholar instead of a guerilla ontologist, I published a paper called Psychoanalysis, Chaos and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure. It had to do with analyzing the mind as an open system, and trying to understand the underlying structures and mechanisms that made its evolution possible. It was based upon Ilya Prigogine's revolutionary ideas about the dynamics of dissipative structures, which are open systems that operate in far-from-equilibrium conditions and exchange matter, energy, or information with the environment. I'd show you the paper, but I don't know how to upload a PDF file from my desktop to the blog.

Yesterday I was thinking about this in the context of our genes. Our genes don't really account for much that happens to us beyond the age of 20 or so. Or, to put it another way, they more or less determine everything that happens & unhappyns, unless we actively intervene with a different, non-genetic agenda. I say this because in the "archaic environment" in which our genes were selected, most people barely survived childhood, and you were very lucky if you made it to the age of 30 -- by which time you would be an old and crippled geezer because of the extraordinarily harsh conditions of the time.

So when you think about some of the troubling aspects of human behavior, they become more comprehensible if you understand that our genes are only really designed to get us to the age of reproduction. After that, we're on our own. For example, take the type of male aggression we were discussing yesterday. It is partly fueled by testosterone, which is also one of the main reasons women outlive men.

In other words, the same hormone that causes a man to fight other men for the privilege of getting his genes into the next generation, also causes him to die significantly younger once the job is done. Really, when we talk about any genetically caused disease that occurs after the age of 30 or so, we're dealing with something that didn't have much relevance in the archaic environment. For example, my diabetes -- which is completely genetic, as far as anyone knows -- didn't strike until I was 48. In the archaic environment it wouldn't have mattered, because I would have been dead by that age anyway.

But the whole point of human existence is that, unlike other animals, we don't merely live at the biological level. Rather, we mainly live on the psychological and spiritual levels, which are no less ontologically real than the biological level. In fact, as it so happens, they are more real, as they are closer to the source of existence, the Absolute Real.

That is, in order to have a cosmos -- any cosmos -- there must be order, and if there is order, there must be hierarchy. The realms of matter, life, mind and spirit (and there are additional degrees within each of these levels) are all reflections of this ordered hierarchy. It is not as if we begin with dead matter, to which life and mind are somehow magically added. This is an absurd proposition which denies the other half of evolution -- which indeed makes it possible -- which is involution. Involution is ontologically prior to evolution, and both sets its limits and determines its possibilities. This idea is captured in the ancient Christian formula that God became man so that man might become [or attain to] God. Another way of saying it is that the Absolute became the relative so that the relative might become the Absolute, or Brahman became maya so that maya might become Brahman. It is the underlying metaphysical principle that matters, not its exact formulation.

In such a cosmos, life and mind are not the impossible riddles of science, but inevitable mysteries rooted in "the nature of things." Yes, it's exceedingly weird that we are alive, but only if you detach yourself -- as modern people have increasingly tended to do for the past couple hundred years -- from the rest of the existentialada.

For this reason, modern sophisticates look down, say, on Christianity as an atavistic sort of fairy tale, which I suppose it is if you are only living at the biological level. For it is addressed to the Spiritual Man, not the animal man. In its own way, it is just as "scientific" as science, only with a science appropriate to the spiritual level. Not only can reductionistic science not ascend to this level (obviously), but it denies its existence. This is no less absurd than a physicist denying the existence of life just because it is impossible to derive biology from physics. It's true that you cannot get from physics to biology. Nevertheless life lives.

You also cannot get from biology to Truth, Wisdom, Beauty, or Virtue. Nevertheless, these transcendent ideals are real, in fact, among the "first fruits" of the involution of the Real. No truly human life -- either individually or collectively -- is possible without living in their light. Which is why scientism, materialism and atheism are such childishly monstrous philosophies.

Now, I have no idea where I'm going with this. Once again, the boy was up last night with a fever, and now he's starting to wake up. Therefore, to the extent that any of this has a point, we might have to wait until tomorrow to find out what it is. But at least I know I'm alive, since I'm sitting here amidst uncertainty and doubt, wating for a handout from Petey.

I guess these thoughts were provoked by reading a chapter in Kallistos Ware's The Inner Kingdom called Go Joyfully: The Mystery of Death and Resurrection. With respect to the spiritual level of our existence, Ware writes that "there exists, hidden within each one of us, a secret treasure house, an inner Kingdom, that is amazing in its depth and variety. It is a place of wonder and joy, a place of glory, a place of encounter and dialogue. If we will only 'dive' into ourself, then we shall each discover eternity within our own heart. Jacob's ladder starts from the point where I am at this very moment; the gate of heaven is everywhere. And this inner Kingdom, present within me here and now, is at the same time the Kingdom of the Age to come..."

But what makes things so confusing is that the Kingdom exists amidst such squalor, so to speak. Or at least human beings have made it so. It needn't be this way, but then again, I suppose it must. For just as Life cannot exist except as a perpetual balancing act that spans physics and biology, our spiritual life can only exist on a sort of uptightrope between man and God, relative and absolute, transcendence and immanence, O and (¶) (the latter symbol referring to the psychic being, the intellect properly so-called).

"You will be dead so long as you refuse to die," says Ware (quoting George MacDonald). "It is precisely the death of the old that makes possible the emergence of the fresh growth within ourselves, and without death there would be no new life."

Therefore, in a very important sense, death is in the service of life, and certainly did not exist prior to life (i.e., it is not real but a deprivation). We can certainly see how this is true of nature at large, which, if it were to become static, would be dead. It is only because it can constantly change and perish that it can be alive at all.

We can also see how the principle of death works on the psychological level. In order to become who you were meant to be, you must essentially kill off those parts of you that are interfering with the process and stand in the way between you and You. I see this especially vividly in my 28 month old, who is always at the boundary between past and future, between dependence and independence, between mastery of one phase and then leaving it behind in order to face a new unknown challenge. Therefore, Life itself is actually a life/death dialectic, or, you might say, death and resurrection.

Returning to the spiritual level, Ware points out how Christ's dying is a "life-creating death." In fact, this appears to have been the "take away message" of his mission. But it works on many levels. Last week we discussed Otis's spiritual impasse, which is a sort of death-in-life, not because he cannot live, but because he won't die. Or at least that's another way of looking at it. In order for us to grow psychologically and to mature spiritually, we must necessarily die, not just once, but repeatedly. As Petey quipped in One Cosmos, in order to become an extreme seeker, some disassembly is required. But only for the rest of your lifedeathlife.

Or as Ware writes, "True faith is a constant dialogue with doubt, for God is incomparably greater than all our preconceptions about Him; our mental concepts are idols that need to be shattered. So to be fully alive, our faith needs to continually die."

Monday, September 03, 2007

On the Repressed Violence of the Nonviolent

Didn't get much sleep last night. The boy spiked a 104 degree fever right before bedtime, so it took awhile to get it down, then we were up again at 3:00AM. Now it's 6:30, and I'm guessing he'll be up any minute.

Which reminds me of a bizarre development that occurred a couple of weeks ago, that I've been meaning to write about. That is, the mother of Tristan's best friend broke up with us (I know, it sounds like a Seinfeld episode) when she learned of Mrs. G's plans to write a children's book in praise of Modern Military Heroes. She abruptly cut off all relations, because she doesn't want her son to have any knowledge of, or contact with, things military. Not only does she not allow him to play with evil things like toy guns, she would never even allow him to wear so much as a camouflage t-shirt. She is horrified at the thought that he might become aggressive. Which of course anyone can see that he already is, being that he is a human being in general and a boy in particular.

I'm a boy, I'm a boy, but my ma won't admit it
I'm a boy, I'm a boy, but when I say I am, I get it
--Pete Townshend

This fear of aggression is an interesting projection. Based on what I can tell of her, she is troubled by unconscious aggression that she cannot express, so it comes out as an aggressive fear of aggression. This is a common pattern among "pacifist" leftists, who are always so passive-aggressively obnoxious. To imagine that you can simply eliminate aggression and violence from the human repertoire is pure fancy. In any event, you wouldn't want to eliminate them even if you could, any more than you'd want to dismantle the immune system because of the violent manner in which it deals with bacterial intruders. What are we supposed to do, love viral invaders into submission?

I didn't get all of the details of the conversation, in part because Leslie was so stunned that she didn't remember all of it. But one thing the friend -- who is thoroughly secular and irreligious -- asked was "how can you be so spiritual and pro-military?" I think Leslie was so taken aback by the question that she hardly knew how to respond. She's not very confrontational most of the month, but of course the only appropriate answer is, "how can you be spiritual and not be pro-military, dumbass."

Naturally, it all depends upon which military you're talking about. The moral retardation of so many leftists just astonishes me. And it is literally retardation, for just as one may be mentally retarded but a decent person, one may be intellectually brilliant but a moral imbecile, as so many leftist professors prove (not that they're so brilliant, either). Violence is good or bad, depending entirely upon the uses to which it is put.

Which gives rise to an immediate corollary that even many religious people don't appreciate: that love can be good or bad, depending upon the use to which it is put -- or, to be more precise, the object to which the love is directed. For just as there is profoundly moral violence, there is profoundly immoral love, for example, the kind of corrupt and immoral love expressed by one of the most overrated human beings of all time, Mohandas Gandhi. Just as knowledge that knows falsehood is not really knowledge, love that improperly loves evil (for there are properly severe ways to love the evildoer) is a kind of hatred.

Regarding Gandhi's immoral pacifist-aggression, Richard Grenier notes that he wrote to Hitler and attempted to convert him to the ways of nonviolence. "'Dear Friend,' the letter begins, and proceeds to a heartfelt appeal to the Fuhrer to embrace all mankind 'irrespective of race, color, or creed.'" Gandhi naively thought that "Hitler's heart would be melted by an appeal to forget race, color, and creed, and... was sure the feelings of the Japanese would be hurt if they sensed themselves unwanted."

Yes, fighting fascists will only create more fascists! Until we kill all of them.

At a particularly dark time of the war, "when Germany's panzer divisions turned west, Allied armies collapsed under the ferocious onslaught, and British ships were streaming across the Straits of Dover from Dunkirk, [Gandhi] wrote furiously to the Viceroy of India: 'This manslaughter must be stopped. You are losing; if you persist, it will only result in greater bloodshed. Hitler is not a bad man....'"

In fact, The Great Soul also composed an open letter to the British people, "passionately urging them to surrender and accept whatever fate Hitler' had prepared for them": "Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds."

He also had good advice for the Jews, really no different than today's leftists who compare the fence to keep murderous Palestinian savages out to the wall that kept decent people from escaping communist tyranny:

"All Jews sitting emotionally at the movie 'Gandhi' should be apprised of the advice that the Mahatma offered their coreligionists when faced with the Nazi peril: they should commit collective suicide. If only the Jews of Germany had the good sense to offer their throats willingly to the Nazi butchers' knives and throw themselves into the sea from cliffs they would arouse world public opinion, Gandhi was convinced, and their moral triumph would be remembered for 'ages to come.' If they would only pray for Hitler (as their throats were cut, presumably), they would leave a 'rich heritage to mankind.'" Even after the war, when the unprecedented extent of the massacre became known, Gandhi callously insisted "that the Jews died anyway, didn't they? They might as well have died significantly."

Could Gandhi be as stupid as Jimmy Carter? It's possible.

Meanwhile -- and this is important -- "Gandhi's monstrous behavior to his own family is notorious." You'll have to read the article to find out how, but the point is how similar this is to the rank and foul Hollywood leftist, the kind of person who loves mankind but detests actual human beings. I am quite sure that this is one of the main appeals of radical environmentalism, because it allows the preening, self-absorbed narcissist to imagine he is a morally superior person merely by hectoring other people about their energy usage.

Look at the truly detestable Mark Cuban and Brian de Palma, whose new film smears American troops as rapists and butchers -- as if the actions of a few people are a reflection on the tens of thousands of others. Meanwhile, the same gentle and compassionate leftists will say that we cannot judge the Religion of Peace based upon "a few" people who take the Koran seriously in its persistent directives to murder infidels.

Again, if you naively deny your own aggressive tendencies, they will simply come out in an indirect manner. The angry projection of aggression is utterly palpable on websites such as dailykurse or huffingandpissed. These people deny that we are under attack by violent killers (their favorite candidate says that the war on global jihad is just a "bumper sticker"), but constantly fantasize that they are being attacked by President Bush, which leads to a heightened fear of him, and therefore the need for more violent projection to rid themselves of the irrational fear. This cycle is commonly encountered in clinical practice.

Regarding Gandhi's own denial, Grenier writes that it is not appreciated "how much violence was associated with [his] so-called 'nonviolent' movement from the very beginning." The poet Tagore astutely "sensed a strong current of nihilism in Gandhi almost from his first days, and as early as 1920 wrote of Gandhi's 'fierce joy of annihilation,'" which he feared "would lead India into hideous orgies of devastation -- which ultimately proved to be the case." Here is a description of the wages of Gandhi's "nonviolence," after the "violent" and oppressive British left India:

"The Indians -- gentle, tolerant people that they are gave themselves over to an orgy of bloodletting." Bloodthirsty mobs "surged through the streets from one end of India to the other, the majority group in each area, Hindu or Muslim, slaughtering the defenseless minority without mercy in one of the most hideous periods of carnage of modern history.... Blood-crazed Hindus, or Muslims, ran through the streets with knives, beheading babies, stabbing women, old people." Grenier notes that "we will never know how many Indians were murdered by other Indians during the country's Independence Massacres, but almost all serious studies place the figure over a million, and some... go to 4 million."

So, what have we learned today by this comparison of the microleft and macroleft?

I guess I've learned that I don't really want my son associating with dangerous pacifists. Or maybe he should just beat them up, so they can get it through their thick skulls that pacifism doesn't work.

Many on the political left are so entranced by the beauty of their vision that they cannot see the ugly reality they are creating in the real world. --Thomas Sowell

Let's just wish the inferno out with cold and soggy thoughts!

I don't think so. No heroes up in the firmament, no civilization down here on earth.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Last Year Around This Time: Scientists Locate the "Secular Spot" in the Brain

Since the seer's catalogue has become unmanageable -- over 700 posts now -- I think I'll start the habit of looking back at my posts from exactly one or two years ago (when we reach that millstone next month), and deciding what is worthy of a second look.

I know that for me, when I find a blogger I like, I appreciate it when they occasionally repost older essays, because it's often just too daunting to go through their entire archive. This one is from September 2, 2006.


Dr. Sanity sent me this interesting link about the neurology of religious experience.

Meanwhile, in a parallel looniverse:

Imaging Study Shows that Atheistic Experiences Trigger a Network Within the Brain

Neuroscientists have identified a network of brain regions activated when people feel the illusion of being "skin-encapsulated egos" separate from the rest of reality. Artificially stimulating the brain in this way, they say, might allow people to have atheistic experiences without disbelieving in God themselves.

Lead author Rufus T. Firefly at the University of Feedonia says that he wanted to know what was going on in the brain during materialistic, secular or atheistic episodes because of his own personal experiences. During such moments, people have the illusion that they are separate from the source of being, and may feel existential anxiety, absence of ultimate meaning, and even a sense of absurdity.

Firefly and his colleague, Dr. Otis Driftwood, recruited 15 secular scientists from academia, slid them into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, and asked them to fully relive the most meaningless moment in their lives.

As a comparison, the scientists also relived a schizoid experience in which they brooded over their sense of being isolated and detached from other people.

The researchers found a collection of brain areas that were less active during the recollected autistic and schizoid experiences, they report in Neuroscience Letters. An area of the prefrontal cortex which is associated with problems of childhood attachment, for example, appeared less active during the schizoid memories.

The team also saw particular inactivity in regions thought responsible for the association of emotional feelings with the rest of the reality (the "poetic module"), which not only explains the perception that the scientists had become separate from the ground of being, but their persistent inability to get a date on Saturday night. They also found an increase in certain types of electrical activity associated with survival and sympathetic arousal ("fight or flight," or "publish or perish").

Earlier studies have suggested that such experiences might originate in one specific part of the brain. Work with autistic patients who are incapable of religious feeling has suggested that a hypertrophied region in the temporal cortex, dubbed the “secular spot” or “materialistic module,” could be largely responsible. There has been controversy over experiments suggesting that stimulating this area of the temporal lobes can induce the illusion of materialism.

The "Madalyn Murray O'Hair Switch"

Dr. Firefly says that it is already possible to use machines to mimic the type of brain activation that atheists experience. "It's feasible to bring people into such a state where the mind is reduced to such machine or robot-like experiences." This research might eventually be used to undo the deleterious mental and physiological health effects that various studies have linked to the absence of religiosity, he suggests.

But many secular scientists and people with materialistic beliefs would be opposed to such an idea because it suggests that the philosophy of scientific materialism is just "junk metaphysics," a stubborn but ultimately superstitious illusion rooted in our evolved nervous system, says Dr. Quincy Adams Wagstaff, professor of applied voodoo and witchcraft and an authority on authoritarianism at Dawkins College in New York.

"I don't know what useful information can be gleaned from this study," Wagstaff says. "Just because we have an advanced diagnostic technique doesn't mean we should use it on anything that comes to mind," he says. "People's beliefs are sacred, even if they're technically profane."

However, his colleague, Professor Hackenbush, says that neuroscientists are keen to explore the brain activity that underlies atheism because... because... because they have nothing better to do, and there’s a lot of grant money involved.

If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose my beliefs are true... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. --J.B.S. Haldane

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