Monday, November 15, 2010

If Good Times are Bad, What Makes a Lifework Leafing?

I try to take human beastlings as I find them, not as I wish them to be. And I find humanity at large to be a pretty appalling bunch. Half of them, anyway. Half the time. In any given school year, the class is half fools.

Does this make me a misanthrope? Hardly. There is a stark distinction between objectivity and cynicism -- or idealization, for that matter -- neither of which is an acceptable stance for the truth seeker. One of the major differences between conservatives and liberals is that the former tend to love people but believe mankind stinks, while the latter love mankind but have no use for the actual people whom they wish to dominate and control.

In his book Human Accomplishment, Charles Murray writes that "We human beings are in many ways a sorry lot, prone to every manner of vanity and error. The human march forward has been filled with wrong turns, backsliding, and horrible crimes."

Nevertheless, he takes the nuanced Raccoon position that "in its grand sweep, it has indeed been a march forward. On every dimension, the last half-dozen centuries in particular have brought sensational improvement which, with qualifications, continues to this day."

In the book, Murray attempts to quantify the great things humans have accomplished, but it seems that for every achievement there is an equal and opposite monument to our depravity. He asks, "What can Homo sapiens brag about -- not as individuals, but as a species?"

He notes, for example, that military accomplishment is out of the question, since "putting 'Defeated Hitler' on the human resumé is too much like putting 'Beat My Drug Habit' on a personal one." He also rules out mere governance and commerce, since these "are akin to paying the rent and putting food on the table" as it pertains to our species as a whole.

In other words, these are things human beings must do in order to survive and prosper. They are not so much accomplishments as prerequisites for them. What took (and continues to take) so long for mankind to simply get out of its own way? (In fact, I would actually put successful commerce high on the list of accomplishments, as it is something that the vast majority of human beings -- most especially the tenured -- not only do not understand, but actively interfere with, e.g., Keynes, Krugman, & other Krackpots.)

Now, this progressive view of mankind goes directly against the traditionalist view of a degenerating mankind. Again, traditionalists locate perfection in the past, to such an extent that they often seem to think their thesis requires no empirical support.

For example, in The Order of the Ages, Bolton writes, "We think today about progress, and about how much society has advanced in the last few decades, but the evidence for this could equally well be used to argue that these are times of extreme decadence, when all natural and human standards have been overturned and we await the inevitable dissolution of all that the modern mind has created. Either we are moving toward new, higher standards of science and civilization or we stand at the very end of an era, on the verge of Apocalypse."

Bolton believes the latter, but on the third hand, both could be true: as we proceed through time, the polarity or tension within the human soul just becomes more and more extreme:

There was a bright light,
A shattering of shop windows
The bomb in the baby carriage
Was wired to the radio

The news of most any day reminds us of this ironic polarity, that "these are the days of miracle and wonder," so "don't cry baby, don't cry." For every Simon there's a Garfunkel, and yet, the two together create a third that is more successful than either.

Murray writes that "the human capital for great accomplishment and the underlying human attraction to excellence are always with us, but environments for eliciting great accomplishment are not."

I mentioned this the other day in the context of the so-called Palestinians, a culture so depraved that it literally provides the individual no opportunity to even be adequate, let alone excellent. Rather, it demands madness, bloodlust, sadism, hatred, and depravity, which has probably been true of most human cultures down through the ages. Just as he is free to choose evil over good, man, because he can know, can know many things that aren't so. And most of what he knows falls into this latter category.

Michael Novak writes of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza on the subject of atheism:

"In it, I heard Christopher describe his own view of the world, which may be abbreviated as follows: It was just 100,000 years ago that humans finally appeared on this planet. On average, these poor creatures died by age 25, and suffered (often horribly) from disease, earthquake, flood, famine, and cyclones -- not to mention murder and warfare. Only after some 96,000 years does Jewish history begin, and only after some 98,000 years does Christian 'salvation' come. For all those thousands of years the Creator/Designer left human beings to suffer. Then, even after Judaism and Christianity arrive, the suffering continues almost unabated. In addition, these poor human beings are badly designed. They have developed too much adrenaline, and the frontal lobes of their brains are too small. All these together leave humans in a bleak condition in a bleak world, and with very little hope."

Now, I happen to agree with Hitchens, at least as far as he goes. In fact, so does the Pope in a recent encyclical. Novak writes that

"Benedict agrees that the condition of humans before the Jewish and Christian news of God’s intentions was as bleak as Hitchens says. The idea of progress was not present in consciousness.... The idea that each human is free in his individual conscience -- not the conscience solely of city, tribe, or even family -- had not been introduced. The idea that the human mind is proportioned to the world as it is, and capable, in the image of the Creator, of creating new inventions, discoveries, and means of progress in history, had not yet been grasped by the mind of humans."

So Pope Benedict is obviously not a traditionalist in the Guenon/Schuon sense, but a crypto-Coon who recognizes genuine progress and therefore doesn't blow up the baby with the bombwire. He knows that progress has occurred, but at the same time, that it is never enough to satisfy the soul of man. But don't cry, baby. Novak continues:

"Even the human capacity for invention and technological progress, we find, is not a consistent bearer of hope. Humans remain both free and also drawn to self-love, arrogance of power, irrational ambitions, and moral decadence.... Thus, at any time even instruments of great good can be turned into instruments of unparalleled evil. Of this we had much evidence during the 20th century.... [T]he horrific evils that millions experienced in the last hundred years required more than logic, science, and crazy utopian ideas. Hitchens and others are free to accept or to reject the hope that Judaism and Christianity implant in the souls of many. The fact is that this Jewish and Christian hope, once it became the driving force of Mediterranean and European civilization, produced an unrivaled and enduring burst of optimism, inquiry, and stunning progress."

So we come back to what I stated at the outset of this post about taking man as I find him: "Judaism and Christianity have the advantage of dealing with the world as it is. They take it with all its hurt and folly, stupidity and egotism, natural disasters and disasters by human hands. Both faiths prepare their daughters and sons to face a vale of tears, to meet much suffering equably, to keep their hopes unbroken no matter what, and to show courage worthy of the children of the True God. For both faiths, suffering is an irremovable fact of life."

I would suggest that you're lucky to be alive during an era when you can say It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, because for most of human history, it has mostly been the latter, which leads to something like this sentiment: "It is the worst of times, but we remember the best of times, even if they only exist in myth and story."

Traditionalists, insofar as I am able to determine, believe in a literal "best of times," a "golden age" that had no simultaneous and intrinsic "worst of times."

But those on the left believe in an insane mirror image of this: that these are the worst of times and that we can perfect mankind and build a utopia which will be the best of times.

But to paraphrase something very infallible that the Pope said a few years ago, before he was even Pope, "the loss of transcendence leads to the flight to utopia." The leftist program is a surefire way to create a true worst of times, as they proved time and time again in the 20th century. A Jew in Nazi Germany or a political prisoner in the Soviet Union, or Cuba, or China, can be forgiven for believing "these are the worst of times, full stop."

So a Raccoon believes that the very conditions of our human existence somehow necessitate this outwardly absurd tension of good times, bad times, of which I've certainly had my share. Yes, the song and dance remains the same, even if you can't dance to to the song. For what is a Led Zeppelin, anyway? It's really a promethean lead balloon, which might get you high, but not for long. "Oh the humanity!"

In the days of my youth
I was told what it means to be a man,
Now I've reached that age
I've tried to do all those things the best I can.
But no matter how I try,
I find my way into the same old jam.

Of course you do, pagan! There's only one way out, and it's not in the past, nor is it in the future.

James Joyce planted it in zoso many pages: perpetual fall and redemption, and irreconcilable dualities within a cyclical but spiraling time that mixes darkness and light, AKA the Nightmare of History:

The fall of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. (Those broken financiers who leapt from Wall Street buildings in 1929 only fell back to the earth, same as the high flying bubble-blowers of 80 years later.)

Hohohoho, Mister Finn, you're going to be Mister Finnagain! Comeday morm, and, O, you're vine! Sendday's eve and, ah, you're vinegar! Hahahaha, Mister Funn, you're going to be fined again! (The same vine produces wine and vinegar, for every fun there's an equal and opposite fine, and every fin, or end, is a new finnagain, or beginning.)

Gricks may rise and Troysirs may fall (there being two sights for ever a picture) for in the byways of high improvidence that's what makes lifework leaving and the world's a cell for citters to cit in. (Cit is the sanskrit word for consciousness, which is simultaneously liberation and prison.)

And even if Humpty shell fall frumpty times as awkward again... there'll be iggs for the brekkers come to mournhim, sunny side up with care. (Fall and rise, fall and rise, olden pneumagain, same old same old, to break from the infertile eggheads you've got to om a lot -- in your own way, of course.)

The movibles are scrawling in motions, marching, all of them ago, in pitpat and zingzang, for every busy eerie whig's a bit of a torytale to tell. (Every political program's got a bit -- or more than a bit -- of its opposite, so don't get all excited when one end of the sleazesaw is up. Fascism, the lust for control over others, is in the human heart, so every loving lefty is the frightful righty he fears, just as every hysterical olbermann's a banal undertaker.)


Gagdad Bob said...

See? We actually lost the election.

julie said...

In the book, Murray attempts to quantify the great things humans have accomplished, but it seems that for every achievement there is an equal and opposite monument to our depravity.

This because any knowledge, any creation, any idea and its execution, are only as good as the people who make use of them. Thus medical advances may make it easier to kill or die, and charity - or perhaps I should say "charity" - may bring about more human misery than pure selfishness could ever cause.

Speaking of lost elections, Arizona narrowly approved medical marijuana after all. On the day of the elections it looked like it would lose. Looks like we lost, instead.

julie said...

Every political program's got a bit -- or more than a bit -- of its opposite, so don't get all excited when one end of the sleazesaw is up.

Today's example: Why violent people are inclined to be anti-gun activists

Van said...

"the loss of transcendence leads to the flight to utopia."

And for those who think that can be brought off without a Hitch, it seems as if it needs to be repeated, and still you will be left with the loss of transcendence.

Mark said...

Irony and paradox are the crux, the irreducible, humanly speaking, core of every issue. Why must we always try to factor it out to one side of the polarity? Every postulation begets it's counterpart, perpetuating the dialectic of "this, not, that, not this, otoh...". It's The Message, already. Let it be. Human predicament, nailed to a wooden cross (hat tip to Leonard Cohen), offers the straight and narrow Way out, just like the uterine way in. We either take it consciously, unconsciously or stay put holding our breath till we turn blue like a 2 year old or a stillborn, and pass out. Either way, don't we get processed?

Mizz E said...

(Fall and rise, fall and rise, olden pneumagain, same old same old, to break from the infertile eggheads you've got to om a lot -- in your own way, of course.)