Saturday, January 23, 2010

When Fantasies Crumble, the Effect is Real (7.03.11)

Beneath all the hysteria on both sides, it's difficult to say exactly what is going on and where it will lead. It would appear that Obama has now crossed the threshold from the "cracking" to the "collapse" stage, which no one should celebrate, any more than one should celebrate when a neurotic but still functioning person undergoes a psychological breakdown. Yes, the breakdown is necessary to reintegrate at a higher level, but even the most seasoned psychotherapist would find it difficult to have more than one or two such cases in his practice.

First of all, we don't have any idea how Obama, whose privileged life as a leftist mascot has shielded him from any accurate feedback about himself, will react to the impingement of reality. With anger? Depression? Vindictiveness? There is simply no way of predicting how such an emotionally immature person will react under stress, and this should be cause for concern to us all. Suffice it to say that he will not be able to handle it with the grace and dignity that President Bush did for eight years.

And equally importantly, the President is not just the leader, but the fantasy leader, and when people feel their organizing fantasies slip away, they experience a tidal wave of irrational anxiety -- the very anxiety that had been "contained" by the strong fantasy leader. Again, despite his economically destructive and self-defeating policies, one must nevertheless give FDR credit for remaining a strong fantasy leader who kept the nation from crumbling into psychotic anxiety. Suffice it to say, Obama is not this kind of man.

In 1994, President Clinton had the good sense to bring in a "group therapist," Dick Morris, who was able to help him make sense of reality and to adjust his policies accordingly. But Obama may be too proud and too brittle -- not to mention, too ideological -- to make this adjustment. But if he fails to do so, it will only ensure further crumbling, and at some point the collective anxiety will turn to rage. Again, the rage may feel empowering to those who harbor it, but few people make good decisions when angry.

In order to understand the depth of Obama's fall, one must reexamine the absurd heights to which he was elevated. Remember, when a man falls, he only falls back to the ground. But if he was absurdly elevated through primitive fantasy, this tends to create a "snap-back" phenomenon, through which the person crashes through the ground. For example, let's say that the person is up in the rarified world of +12 fantasy (which one might think of as a "positive mind parasite"). When he crumbles, he will snap down into -12 anti-fantasy.

This is because the narcissist specifically develops his narcissistic defenses to shield himself from the unconscious belief that he is worthless. This is why the narcissist's defenses are so brittle, and why they so easily cast people under their ever-ready bus. With even a hint that you are not propping them up with idealization, under the bus you go.

Anyway, this post from last year looks at the idealization of Obama, which I said at the time was a measure of his (and the nation's) distance from reality. Will the ground hold, or will Obama crash through it?


Obama's finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don't even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.... The tens of thousands of new voters Obama brought to the polls tonight came because he wrapped them in that experience, because he let them touch politics as it could be, rather than merely as it is. --Ezra Klein

A black man with a white mother became a savior to us. A black man with a white mother could turn out to be one who can lift America from her fall.... This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better.... If you look at Barack Obama's audiences and look at the effect of his words, those people are being transformed. --Calypso Louis

Continuing with our analysis of the Devil Card, our Unknown Friend (UF) writes that the excesses of the left are always "owing to an intoxication of the will and imagination which engenders demons."

For example, if Marx and Engels had merely behaved as good Jews or Christians and "simply defended the interests of the industrial workers without having let themselves be carried away by their intoxicated imagination," then their ideas wouldn't have been so apocalyptically destructive. After all, every spiritually normal person wants to help the deserving poor and needy, but it is axiomatic that helping the human animal while killing the human soul renders any spiritual benefit inoperative for both parties.

Further, as Schuon commented, "Progressivism is the wish to eliminate effects without wishing to eliminate their causes..." To paraphrase him, the leftist wishes to make himself as useful as possible to a collectivity which renders the individual as useless as possible in the process. But,

"one must never lose sight of the fact that there exists no higher usefulness than that which envisages the final ends of man. By its divorce from traditional truth... society forfeits its own justification, doubtless not in a perfunctorily animal sense, but in the human sense. This human quality implies that the collectivity, as such, cannot be the aim and purpose of the individual but that, on the contrary, it is the individual who, in his 'solitary stand' before the Absolute and in the exercise of his supreme function, is the aim of purpose of collectivity. Man, whether he be conceived in the plural or the singular, or whether his function be direct or indirect, stands like 'a fragment of absoluteness' and is made for the Absolute.... In any case, one can define the social in terms of truth, but one cannot define truth in terms of the social."

Moreover, the left always couches their supposed empathy for the downtrodden in fantastically broad and sweeping generalizations of historical "and even cosmic significance, such as the statement that God does not exist, that all religion is is only the 'opium of the people,' [and] that all ideology is only a superstructure on the basis of material interests." UF wrote that in the early '60s, but it is no different today, with the intoxication that fuels and pervades the Obama campaign:

"What we hear from Obama is the eternal mantra of the socialists; America is broken, millions have no health care, families cannot afford necessities, the rich are evil, we are selfish, we are unhappy, unfulfilled, without hope, desperate, poverty stricken, morally desolate, corrupt and racist. This nihilism is the lifeblood of all the democrat candidates.... When Michelle Obama claims she is only newly proud of her country, she does not exaggerate. In her world as in Obama's, they believe we are a mess, a land filled with the ignorant and unenlightened, filled with despair" (Fairchok).

Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes, not divine, but demonic. --Pope Benedict XVI

As UF writes, it is always a "matter of excess -- a going beyond the limits of competence and sober and honest knowledge," which the left never doubts, "having been carried away by the intoxicating impulse of radicalism, i.e., by a fever of the will and imagination to change everything utterly at a single stroke."

It is this fever dream of sweeping existential change that animates the left no less than the Islamists, since both deny the possibility of real spiritual change, which is an individual matter; in contrast, man's existential situation cannot be altered, only transcended.

As Lee Harris has written, a fantasy ideology such as Islamism is obviously not a rational response to the world arrived at in a logical, sober manner. Rather, it is a transformative belief, meaning that its primary purpose is to psychologically transform the person who believes the fantasy. And believing the fantasy is an end in itself -- it has no purpose other than to make the fantasy seem like reality -- like it might actually be true. Therefore, the real reason for 9-11 wasn't actually to bring down western civilization. Rather, it was for the Islamists to deepen their trance.

Likewise, anyone with a basic familiarity with economics knows that leftist ideas don't just fail, but backfire. They cause all sorts of unintended consequences that the leftist never connects to the original policy -- e.g., how the welfare state eroded the structure of the black family, how racial quotas inevitably harm blacks, how rent control causes housing shortages, how subsidizing higher education simply drives up the cost, how socialized medicine leads to rationing, and how the government forcing banks to make bad loans to unqualified people is at the epicenter of today's economic problems.

Now, UF explains that the virtue of temperence protects us from the intoxicating counter-inspiration of radical fantasies -- including religious fantasies, which are not actually religious but manmade. As such, it is foolish to blame God or religion for things that emanate from the lower vertical in man.

UF makes the subtle point that one cannot engender a positive collective mind parasite. This is related to the principle that the mind parasite is an effect of "congealed" or "coagulated" psychic energy. As a result, it always "enfolds," whereas the good radiates. The former is an inward, contracting movement, whereas the latter is an expansive, radiant movement. This may sound overly abstract, but we are all familiar with the ontologically closed world of the left, whether it is their elite university campuses or the myop-ed page of the New York Times. If you approach these things with your activated cʘʘnvision, you can literally experience them as a sort of dense, black hole of "inverse radiation."

Now, why did people respond to, say, Ronald Reagan? For the opposite reason -- the radiant positive energy of which he was a mere vehicle. This only became more apparent when placed side by side with Jimmy Carter's withered and constipated presence.

I suppose the novel thing about Obama is that he is selling the same constipation, but with a kind of cheap and meretricious radiation that one must be intoxicated to appreciate. Indeed, as Fairchok writes,

"That is his appeal; he is [ironically] an actor, a performer, a cinematic presence that stirs simple emotions, emotions that have little grounding in truth. His speeches are the inane lyrics to a popular song that endures only because it has a great beat. One must not think too deeply on what Obama says, for it turns to smoke and disappears in the light of day. Ezra Klein is correct, Obama's speeches do not inform, they pander, they propagandize, they harmonize with the mythology of despair and the chimera of entitlement. As his hagiographies proclaim, he represents a new Camelot, but one that does not hold America quite so precious, a Camelot of globalists, moral relativists and communitarians."

Now, how to drive out a demon? Easy. As UF explains, "Light drives out darkness. This simple truth is the practical key to the problem of how to combat demons. A demon perceived, i.e. on whom the light of consciousness is thrown, is already a demon rendered impotent.... A demon rendered impotent is a deflated balloon." And the most recent Rasmussen survey indicates that this balloony tune is on a flaccid trip from omnipotence to impotence in record time.

As the farcical Marx taught us, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. But what comes after that? We're still dealing with the tragedy of the New Deal and the farce of the Great Society. No doubt Obama is a farce to be reckoned with, but I see two possibilities. If we divide history into Petey's descending stages of Gods, Kings, Men, Weasels, Beasts, and Chaos, I think FDR would be the king, LBJ the man. Clinton was the weasel. This would suggest that we are about to enter a beastly chaos, from which the only solution would be the return to a new age of gods, or, more properly, God. God or chaos. Vertical Man or horizontal beast. Sounds about right.

Friday, January 22, 2010

On Bumbling and Humbling Oneself to the Top

I'd like to wrap up with The Theological Origins of Modernity before moving on to another topic or perhaps taking another short break, whichever is easier.

But I just gnosissed -- just this second, actually -- an interesting little connection between the Renaissance humanists we've been discussing (people such as Petrarch, Ficino, and Erasmus), Christian hermeticism of the Unknown Friend variety, and Kabbalah. It also makes me wonder if someone such as Meister Eckhart wasn't dipping his toe (theory of everything) into the latter two streams.

I say this because I'm eyeballing a passage that discusses the Christian humanist Marsilio Ficino, who attempted to use Neoplatonic thought as a way to reconcile and synthesize "Christian piety and Roman morality." Of course, this whole idea will be offensive to those readers who imagine that tradition followed the scriptures rather than vice versa, but Gillespie correctly points out that the earliest Christian fathers drew "heavily on Platonic and Neoplatonic thought," and Ficino "was convinced that Christianity and Platonism had a common origin in the more ancient thought of Hermes Trismegistus and Zoroaster."

Now, this shouldn't pose a problem for a broadminded Christian such as, oh, say, St. Augustine, who knew that Christianity had always existed (indeed, how could it not?), but that it had simply gone by different names prior to the earthly appearance of Christ. The way I would look at it -- and again, it should go without saying that no one is under any pressure to agree with me -- that great historical events cast a backward shadow, so that in hindsight we can see all sorts of hints, augurs, omens and clues, like dark sparks cast back into the stream of time.

Here again, this shouldn't be controversial, for among the first things the early Christians did was pore over the Old Testsament, only to discover that it had been crawling with evidence that no one had fully pieced together. Indeed, what were the prophets doing if not examining the present for signs of possible futures? I don't think they were "seeing the future," since, as Scrooge found out, the future is variable, depending upon what happens in the present.

Nevertheless, it is clearly possible to see the outlines and contours of certain world-historical patterns, especially something as "large" as Jesus, who was both the "center" of history and its most supersized event. Again, he is like a vertical depth charge that causes temporal waves to travel both forward and back.

According to Gillespie, the Corpus Hermetica contributed "in important ways to the formation of early Christian thought," and "had a profound impact on many of the early church fathers, including Victorinus, Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen"; and I would definitely toss Denys the Areopagite into that mix.

Ficino other Christian humanists thought that this more ancient form of Christianity "could serve as an alternative to scholasticism," but I think you can see that it also avoids Luther's excesses. For Ficino did not expand the nominalist God at the expense of man, but "gave the human soul a privileged place in the universal hierarchy, as the bond of the universe and the link between the intelligible and corporeal worlds. Cultivating the soul in this view allows humans to 'become all things.'"

This is getting very close to unalloyed Coonspeak. But this is a perilous balance, because we are surrounded by heresies, hostile forces, and mind parasites on all sides. So proceed cautiously!

Note also that while Ficino "accepted the ontological individualism posited by nominalism, he saw individual beings filled with and united by sparks of divine love. Motivated by love, they are naturally attracted to the good and thus to God." This follows from the premise that God himself is only "unified in love," which resolves the one and the many -- or unity and trinity -- within the divine being. Love is the "interior reality" of God.

Here again, Ficino expresses the very Coonish (n)Otion that, while humans possess free will, it is "constrained from above," so to speak, by the Great Attractor. There is a transitional space between us and our transhistorical archetype, which is where freedom takes place, both for good and for ill. Thus, if "humans naturally are attracted to the good, then humans can freely exercise their wills in a manner that is harmonious with divine will," but without God's will entirely effacing our own (or our will denying God's omnipotence). Complementarity, baby.

A student of Ficino, Giovanni Pico de la Mirandola, extended his master's arguments, and "was convinced that truth was universal and that all philosophies and religions had a part in it." I would express it as follows: not only is any truth impossible in the absence of God, but all truth proves the existence of God, whether from science or religion. Even if Christianity is the most adequate or full revelation of God's being, this does not mean that God's being is not revealed elsewhere. And God's being is clearly the substance of truth (but not only truth).

Pico was also fully aware of the fact that philosophy and science can only take one "so far in penetrating the truth of the divine," and that it was necessary for one to take a leap into the unKnown at its well-lit frontiers -- or where the bright encampment borders the dark frontier, precisely.

Finally, is critical to remember that man is not in his privileged cosmic position because of "his own intrinsic excellence or power but his status as the imago dei." Thus, as Toots always said, the higher one ascends, the more humble one should feel, until one is finally a big nobody. Humility is always the mark of the master. Otherwise, one is misappropriating what belongs only to God. Thus it follows that Jesus suffered the ultimate humiliation.

At least until this.

The difference, of course, is that one can surrender to humility or find out the hard way. It's your choice.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why Liberals Are So Strong On Defense

Don't look at me like that. They are strong on defense. Against reality. They're relentless. They never stop assaulting it. Denial, projection, splitting, contempt -- their arsenal is formidable.

Continuing with yesterday's post, I'm sure that some of this sounds pedantic, but it really isn't. Klein's ideas are actually quite useful and immediately applicable -- in my opinion, because they are truly universal, as universal as, say, anabolism and catabolism -- or the breakdown and buildup of bodily tissue. You can't have one without the other, nor can you have new knowledge without breaking down what you already know.

In order to be found you must be lost, so the bewilderness adventure is every bit as important as your well-lit little encampment in the clearing. But if you lose your sense of the infinite (vertical) frontier, you might as well cash in your humanness right now, because your adventure is over. We are always (or should be) fruitfully engaged with the infinite and the eternal, for which religion is here to remind us.

In contrast to the paranoid-schizoid (heretofore PS) position (discussed yesterday), in the depressive position (D), the infant gradually integrates experience into a coherent, central self which is able to distinguish fantasy from reality, interior from exterior, self from not-self. You might think that this is an unproblematic achievement, but you would be quite wrong. We all carry remnants of the paranoid-schizoid position, some much more so than others. Again, the problem is not so much the PS itself, but its separation from D. It is actually a dialectic, which is why Bion symbolized it as PS<-->D, which you might think of as dispersal and integration.

In my book I refer to the enduring, unmetabolized or "crystalized" PS remnants as “mind parasites." Not only do they operate outside awareness, but they have a logic all their own.

As an example of how PS<-->D can work on a macro scale, in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung wrote that after his break from Freud in 1913, "a period of inner uncertainty began for me. It would be no exaggeration to call it a state of disorientation. I felt totally suspended in mid-air, for I had not yet found my own footing." Interestingly, this coincided with the onset of the war, which was experienced as a sort of psychotic breakdown of the world's order. Jung could not distinguish between his internal experience and the world situation:

"The pressure I had felt in me seemed to be moving outward, as though there were something in the air. The atmosphere actually seemed to me darker than it had been. It was as if the sense of oppression no longer sprang exclusively from a psychic situation, but from concrete reality. This feeling grew more and more intense."

Hmm, this is getting interesting. What happened next? "In October, while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all of the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps.... I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision lasted about one hour. I was perplexed and nauseated."

Soon he was plunged into an "incessant stream of fantasies" that made it difficult for him to function. "Had I left those images hidden in the emotions, I might have been torn to pieces by them. There is a chance that I might have succeeded in splitting them off; but in that case I would have inexorably fallen into a neurosis and and so been ultimately destroyed by them anyhow."

More on Jung's psychotic break in a later post. For our purposes, the point is that he did not defend himself against the unconscious, but fully plunged into it in an ultimately creative and healing way. (Although there are those who plausibly argue that Jung was actually unsuccessful in his psychic reintegration and that he remained crazy, which I won't get into here.)

Now, a "borderline" individual engages in severe splitting between good and bad, and has difficulty distinguishing between "inside" and "outside." As such, if you disappoint or frustrate them, they can suddenly perceive you as all bad (which they have projected into you), completely forgetting your many positive traits and the many happy experiences they have had with you. It is as if these experiences never happened, and the “good you” no longer exists, because it has been banished to some black hole of the unconscious (this process should not be confused with garden-variety PMS).

Likewise, a narcissistic individual only has use for others so long as they serve as a mirror for their primitive, paranoid-schizoid grandiosity. As soon as you fail to idealize them, they will react with anger or contempt in order to maintain their illusion of greatness. They will flush you from their life like a bad object. In order to protect themselves from the experience of shame, the narcissist preempts it with contempt. (You will have noticed that Obama's contempt is out of control, which is a testimony to his narcissistic "britlleness" and unconscious insecurity. It is only a matter of time before he has no one left to toss under the psychic bus.)

More generally, the manic defenses are those psychic defenses that prevent movement from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position, and include contempt, triumph, control, and idealization. Basically, you can think of these defenses as coming into play when reality threatens to impinge upon fantasy. In fact, these defenses ultimately consist of attacks on a reality the individual has already dimly perceived but does not wish to consciously entertain.

(Again, notice how much contempt the liberal media and politicians have for the people who voted for Scott Brown; it's really quite breathtaking, but it certainly gives the lie to the kooky idea that liberals are "for the little guy." In reality, they are for the little guy so long as he is a contemptuous loser who can't get through life without his liberal overlords. Otherwise, the little guy is a contemptible racist redneck Bible-thumpin', cousin-humpin,' rifle-pumpin', tea-dumpin', country bumpkin.)

At the same time, the manic defenses prevent recognition all of the implications of the unconsciously perceived reality, which is obviously a huge impediment to fruitful and generative thought. It explains why the left does not profit from experience, and why they continue proposing irrational and utopian ideas and policies that have already failed and will surely fail again. But only by arresting thought in this way can they keep their Audaciously manic Hopes alive. (Thomas Sowell calls this the inability to "think beyond stage one," which in practical terms comes down to failing to appreciate the Law of Unintended Consequences.)

In the past we have discussed deMause's concept of the “group fantasy.” In my view, the anti-theology of secular leftism is very much rooted in the paranoid-schizoid position, whereas the classical liberalism embodied in the conservative intellectual movement is much more reflective of the depressive position. Here, I hope it should go without saying that I am not primarily referring to individuals, as there are obviously many immature conservatives and mature liberals. Rather, I am specifically discussing the group dynamic.

If I am correct, then we will see in conservatism a much more sober and realistic assessment of mankind. As I have mentioned before, I am of the view that conservatism is as much an inclination, temperament, or “cast of mind” as it is any set doctrine. In fact, the doctrines follow from the temperament -- or, you might say, the depressive position -- rather than vice versa. This would explain why normal people generally become more conservative as they mature and grow wiser, whereas leftism mostly appeals to the young or to the permanently immature of academia and Hollywood.

Awhile back, I wrote a post which summarized the main tenets of conservatism and liberalism. Let’s review them and see how they line up in terms of the paranoid-schizoid vs. depressive positions. I think they basically speak for themselves.

Russell Kirk summarized the six canons of conservative thought as

1. Belief in a transcendent order; and that most political problems are moral problems resulting from bad values. (To cite an obvious example, if dysfunctional minority groups adopted the values of successful minority groups, such as Asian American values, they would be just as successful.)

2. Appreciation of the ineffable mystery of existence, and with it, opposition to the tedious uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of of most radical systems.

3. An understanding that liberty and equality are contradictory aims; a belief that there are distinctions between men and that classes will emerge naturally and spontaneously in a free society. “If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum.”

4. A belief that property and freedom are intimately linked. “Economic leveling... is not economic progress.”

5. Distrust of radical schemes by liberal intellectuals “who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs” that simply mask the intellectual’s lust for power.

6. Recognition that change and reform are not synonymous, and that “prudent change is the means of social preservation.” (Again, note the balance between PS and D; conservatives are all for change, just not indiscriminate destruction of the existing order in exchange for a fanciful utopia.)

In contrast, contemporary left-liberalism has entirely different assumptions and attacks the existing social order on the following grounds:

1. “The perfectibility of man”; the belief that education, environment or legislation “can produce men like gods; they deny that humanity has a natural proclivity towards violence and sin.”

2. Contempt for tradition. “Formal religion is rejected and various ideologies are presented as substitutes.”

3. Political leveling: “Order and privilege are condemned,” accompanied by “an eagerness for centralization and consolidation.”

4. Economic leveling: “The ancient rights of property... are suspect to almost all radicals.”

The first six postulates are true or revolve around truth; the second four are false or rooted in falsehood. But worse than that, the latter are manic defenses against the sobering reality of the former. To put it another way, to believe in the latter four is to remain a child forever in the pneumacosmic scheme of things.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

There Is No Such Thing as a Liberal

Rather, there is only a boundaryless, mixed-up fusion of Baby Democrat and Mommy State. But we'll get to that in a moment.

Right now, I just want to say -- and let me be perfectly clear about this -- that I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when the oceans began to rise and our freezing planet began to warm up again… That this was the moment when we dodged a bullet with a ballot and prevented a tyrannical federal government from permanently extending its grasping tentacles into the most intimate reaches of our bodies. We love Uncle Sam, but he doesn't have a license to practice medicine, and he has no right to examine our prostate. Only the IRS can do that.

My friends, this is the moment when we said NO! to the dork farces who insist that you can fill the economic swimming pool by taking water from the deep end and pouring it into the shallow end. This was the moment -- yes, the delicious moment -- when we came together as a nation and made Tingles Matthews cry on national TV. And folks, it doesn't get any better than that.

Actually, I can't relate to all the hoopla surrounding last night's election. First of all, a conservative doesn't locate his salvation in politics. But even then, it's literally a matter of avoiding a catastrophe as opposed to imagining that suddenly the world has been transformed. True, the sense of relief is real, but relief is very different from joy. It's much more temperate and sober, like finding out that that spot on the CT scan is just a fatty cyst, not an inoperable tumor.

Plus, we realize that the same atavistic and entropic powers and principalities who are the wind beneath Obama's bag are still here, and that these powers will always have the upper hand in this world. They never rest, they never take the day off, and they never quit. They do not know slack. They politicize everything and everyone, because that is their religion. Theirs is a manichaean world, minus the nuance.

And just as a practical matter, the Department of Irony (which presides over history) forecasts that this could actually benefit the Democrats, since it will prevent them from enacting their most kooky and destructive legislation, so that they may actually be in a stronger position next November. We never forget the orthoparadox that more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

No time for an all new post, but this one from a few years back seems relevant:

I’m trying to imagine what it must feel like for Horizontal Man to win -- or even hope to win -- an election. I know that for me and other verticaloids of my acquaintance, there is no great joy upon winning an election, usually just relief that we have managed to temporarily pull the cultural plane out of its death spiral.

But for Horizontal Man, politics is his religion, which is the whole problem with his politics. The Obama phenemonon is the quintessential example of this. He is almost wholly the product of vertical wishes and dreams inappropriately (because unconsciously) displaced onto the horizontal plane. Obama most certainly realizes this, which is why he is running one of the most cynical and manipulative campaigns in living memory.

One way or another, vertical man is born again “from above.” Therefore, he draws his energies from the vertical center and radiates them to the horizontal periphery. But since Horizontal Man is trapped in the bewilderness of his contingent being (i.e., maya), he unconsciously projects the above into the future, and thereby constructs a faux spiritual life that attempts to draw on the psychic energies of his self-created (and self-enclosing) illusion.

In other words, horizontal man (if he isn't just an honest nihilist or self-consistent hedonist) practices the religion of progressivism, in which belief in a transcendent order is immamentized and "nourishes" the vacuum where his soul ought to be.

In so doing, the leftist receives a kind of existential consolation which may be compared to a form of counterfeit grace, in particular, when he imagines that he is in proximity to his imaginary heaven and therefore closer to being “saved” from the existential situation that afflicts all humans. Obviously, the Obamaniacs are feeling very "close" to this heaven, which ratchets up their creepy fervor. (The depth of spiritual hopelessness and primitive hatred defended against by this false hope is frightening to consider; cf. here.)

You can clearly recognize this mechanism of hoped-for horizontal salvation in action. For if reality were actually as awful as what the fantasists of the left have been saying for the past seven years, we would not see this manic exaltation among their rank and foul. Rather, we would see great sobriety and moral seriousness, as they brood on the monumental work of undoing the theo-fascist takeover of America, of saving the biosphere from immanent demise from the Bush-caused planetary inferno, of repairing our "permanently damaged" standing in the world. After all, if all it takes to undo these problems is to elect a smiling cipher, then the problems couldn't have been that serious to begin with.

The great psychoanalyst Melanie Klein divided childhood psychological development into two main stages, which she termed the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions. (I will try to avoid pedantry at risk of over-simplification.)

For Klein, the primary goal of development was to move from the former to the latter, although in reality, the relationship between the two is more dialectical than linear, similar to the relationship that exists between the conscious and unconscious minds, or between what might be called mental metabolism (building up) and catabolism (breaking down).

In other words, we no longer think of an unconscious mind per se, but a dialectical relationship between the conscious and unconscious. This dialectic can be fruitful and generative, or stultifying and self-defeating, but you can no more rid yourself of unconscious processes than you could speak without the implicit deep structure of grammar, or understand religious symbolism without the archetypal clueprint implanted into us by God.

Human beings are subject to the nuisance of intrusive thoughts long before they are capable of thinking them. The problem for development is to build a robust psychic structure in which one may think thoughts instead of merely being thought by, or subject to, them.

Naturally, our earliest psychological reality is almost wholly fantastic, and it is actually the primary job of the parent to prolong this fantasy until the baby becomes capable of discovering and bearing reality. In the absence of unconscious buffers, reality truly would be unbearable -- something like looking straight into the sun, or trying to live on the surface of mars, or being trapped in a SigAlert with only Air America on the radio.

This is why you cannot “spoil” an infant. Rather, you must indulge them until they are resilient enough to tolerate the painful and disappointing discovery of reality. Ironically, this can only be achieved if they have a firm foundation of entitlement and generative fantasy -- for example, the fantasy that one’s painful hunger causes a generous and bountiful breast to magically appear out of nowhere.

The baby must imagine that this loving breast is his own creation before he makes the disappointing discovery that it actually belongs to mother (let alone a third interloper!), otherwise reality will have to be rejected or even attacked in some form or fashion. We must be provided with, and then gradually disillusioned of, our infantile omnipotence, on pain of trying to hold on to it or resurrect it for the rest of our lives.

The paranoid-schizoid position predominates during the first year of life. Naturally there is no clear sense of psychological boundaries at this time, which is why the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott made the famously wise crack that “there is no such thing as an infant.” Rather, there is primarily a harmonious (or inharmonious), mixed-up fusion of mother and baby. The baby’s sense of individual selfhood will only gradually emerge from this primordial matrix.

Klein called this the “paranoid-schizoid position” because it is the source of our most primitive psychological defenses -- e.g., denial, splitting, and projection. These defenses are normative for a baby, but only become problematic to the extent that we fail to evolve into the depressive position.

At this early age, we shouldn’t even think of them as defenses, but more as primitive modes of "thinking," i.e., of organizing our otherwise chaotic mental experience, almost like primitive neurological "categories" or preconceptions. (And research by Allen Schore indicates that these are very much neuro-biological signposts that order our world.)

For example, splitting early experience into a “good” and “bad” breast is analogous to God’s separation of the primordial waters. It is an attempt to achieve safety by placing a distance between what are in reality different aspects of oneself. Projection obviously works the same way, in that it allows the person to evacuate the "bad" or to place the good outside the self for "safekeeping."

End of part one.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Descent of Man: Human, Post-Human, and Subhuman

At the time it first appeared, humanism seemed "a strange construction of... incommensurable parts" (Gillespie). Especially in hindsight it appears incompatible with Christianity, but only because of what it later became, long after it had shorn itself of its Christian roots.

From our transhistorical vantage point, it seems "an anti-Christian revival of pagan antiquity, a turn from what Nietzsche called slave morality to the master morality of the Greeks and Romans" (Gillespie). Remember, although ancient Greeks and Romans stressed virtue and honor, they also had no problem with infanticide, slavery, brutal torture, and horrible treatment of women.

And by the 20th century, this (per)version of humanism had prevailed. Christian humanism devolved to secular humanism, and here we sit today with the postmodern, post-literate, post-intellectual and post-noetic barbarians not only inside the gates, but in control of virtually all the disseminators of "culture" -- the news media, the arts, primary education, academia, professional organizations, and even perhaps most religions, e.g. the National Council of Churches, or reform Judaism (AKA, the Democrat Party with holidays thrown in).

Clearly, humanism answers a human need. But is it a legitimate need? Or, can it be made legitimate? The good news is that humanism "made the Renaissance and the modern world possible" (Gillespie). But one must immediately qualify that statement by noting that it also made the Renaissance and the modern world possible.

Is it really just a matter of all things human cutting both ways, of every blessing coming with a curse, and vice versa? Or, is there perhaps a proper way to be human? This is an idea that has always intrigued me, from my earliest days in graduate school. That is, when you train to be a clinical psychologist, you are training to be a "healer of souls." That being the case, there must be an explicit or implicit model of how a soul is supposed to function and what it is designed to "accomplish."

As I wrote in my book, only with the emergence of life do we have this new cosmic category called "pathology," because only when things need to go right, can something go wrong.

But the same holds true for the human subject. If it is not designed to do anything -- if it is just an absurd cosmic accident -- then it can have no intrinsic purpose and therefore no pathology. At best, "psychotherapy" would be purely analgesic, just a matter of reducing pain (or increasing pleasure) -- even when the pain is providing critical feedback about a life wrongly lived. But that is precisely the problem: you cannot say that a person is living his life "wrongly" if there is no ultimate purpose to life.

Recently our resident troll articulated the humanist position with his characteristic coarseness, that this is indeed a chaotic and meaningless cosmos except for the "meaning" that human beings invent and impose upon it. The whole problem with this approach is that this is not "meaning" properly so called, any more than a paranoid delusion is meaningful. Rather, it is pretending that the meaningless is meaningful, precisely. Frankly, I have much more respect for the secular humanist who is intellectually consistent, and who lives life as a true nihilist and anarchist.

But no human can consistently live this way, because it is not human to do so. Nor is it even "animalistic," for animals are anything but nihilistic. Rather, they well understand the purpose of their lives, and are never at a loss for "what to do." To paraphrase Schuon, animal instinct is their "collective intellect," whereas for man, the intellect properly so called is his instinct. We are born to know, and not only that; rather, we are born to know truth, otherwise our knowledge is ultimately of "nothing."

Nor is there any intrinsic limit to what a human may know. That is, he may know, and know absolutely. Or, you could say that he knows that the Absolute exists, if only because he can absolutely deny it, as do the neo-retro-atheists.

The question is, what is man that man should be mindful of him? You will have noticed that the more secular humanism "succeeds" in its project, the more it fails, because it converts potential humans into infra-humans exiled from their own spiritual archetype, their own salvation. Rampant narcissism, the cult of celebrity, neo-pagan body mutilation, the exaltation of the instincts, the most base impulses and sentiments masquerading as art -- if that is what humans are, who needs them?

But again, this is only a crude caricature of humanism cut off from the very impulses that brought it into being. The answer is surely not to suppress the human, as they do in the Islamic world, or in Communist China or Korea, or on leftist campuses, with their politically correct thought police, oppressive speech codes, and coercive totolerantarianism. Note the irony that they too have their implicit idea of what it is to be a proper human, but that it is imposed from on high, when one of the inviolable features of a true humanism would be the freedom to discover this on one's own.

Again, Petrarch tried to steer a middle course, on the one hand rejecting "Aristotelianism on essentially nominalist grounds," but also rejecting "the nominalist contention that God's omnipotence made all human freedom impossible." To a large extent, the new humanists found their inspiration in some of the earliest Christians, who were not only more intimate with ancient, pre-Christian wisdom, but also free of the institutional corruption that had gradually developed during the middle ages.

What makes a human a human? We cannot merely be rational beings, for if that is the case, then the ideal man is more of a machine than a human. In that model, the least human would be the most human, an obvious absurdity (which is why naive positivists and materialists such as Charles the Queeg are so creepy to us).

Rather, Petrarch regarded humans as primarily willing beings, which immediately goes to the question of freedom. Although reason can never account for man's freedom, if his freedom operates outside reason, then it is no longer free. Rather, it is merely "absence of constraint," which is neither here nor there. In this regard, the existentialists are absolutely correct that freedom without truth is nothingness, so that to embrace the nothingness makes one more human. An absurdity, yes, but existentialism does not pretend to be otherwise, which is to say, other than wise.

Way out of time. To be continued....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Complements Beget You Everywhere

Let's take a little side trip on the road to modernity, and find out what Schuon had to say about the spat between Catholicism and Protestantism. Yes, he was a Sufi, but he had an extraordinarily deep and subtle understanding of, and appreciation for, Christianity. While he naturally had some blind spots, he still easily surpasses most religious thinkers in getting to the essence of the subject.

Bear in mind that I'm freely tossing my own ideas and interpretations into the mix, so Schuon is not responsible for my (mis)use of him. Also, please remember that one of the main reasons I write is to discover what I think, so what follows may surprise me as much as it does you. So before you disagree, at least give me a chance to understand what I mean. I'm sure some of this will offend, but I'm not trying to be offensive, so cut a brotha'-under-the-pelt a little slack.

Now, being that he was a traditionalist, you'd think that Schuon would automatically reject Luther as heterodox and even heretical. However, he recognizes that there are two great principles that govern religious phenomena, one of them more vertical, so to speak, the other more horizontal. The former is what he calls the "celestial mandate," the latter "apostilic succession."

Clearly, the celestial mandate must ultimately take priority over the apostilic succession, because without it, there would be nothing to apostle-ize. There would be no news, but a lot of vacuous people to propagate it -- just like cable TV.

Ironically, in a certain sense, the celestial mandate cuts both ways, since it is the source of tradition, and yet, it "blows where it will," and can never actually be contained by tradition. You might say that the role of tradition is to do the utmost to be a worthy vehicle of the celestial mandate. It's a very delicate balance -- a complementarity, you might say -- to maintain tradition while simultaneously remaining open to what amounts to the "extra-canonical intervention of Grace"; or, to balance growth and conservation, just as in politics.

I'm not sure if this is self-evident or unnecessarily convoluted, but it's clear to me so far. And I think right away you see a kind of trialectical tension that human beings simply cannot eliminate, which is why it is true (up to a point) that there must always be the outward or exoteric "church of Peter" and the inward and esoteric "church of John." Furthermore, these are in no way "opposites," but fully complementary. You cannot have one without the other, any more than you can have form without substance, or a body without a skeleton to support it.

That being the case, it is obvious -- to me anyway -- that there is no reason why the apostilic succession cannot make a space for the intrinsically wild and untamed celestial energies. Is there any doubt that people who break away from tradition are -- whether legitimately or not -- seeking a more intense, personal, and genuine encounter with the celestial mandate, a direct descent from above? I mean Shakers, Quakers, Fakirs, Seekers, Suckers, Slackers, Pentacostal crackers -- in a way, they're all just trying to bypass the horizontal form and go straight to the source, misguided though they often are.

The problem, however, is to combine this free-wheeling approach with legitimate authority, order with spontaneity, classical with jazz. To emphasize only the vertical to the exclusion of the horizontal is asking for trouble, man being what he is. Yes, tradition can devolve into the mundane "bureaucratization of the sacred," but the total lawlessness of the frontier is not the answer (at least for the vast majority).

But again, for Schuon, the impulses behind the Reformation were (small l) "legitimate," since, at the time, they drew "from a spiritual archetype that was, if not entirely ignored by Rome, at least certainly 'stifled.'" Thus, not dissimilar to how Buddhism broke off from Hinduism in order to return to its first principles, Luther operates outside strict apostilic succession in order to go straight back to the celestial mandate.

Do you see the point? To say that every man becomes his own priest is to say that each man is given his own private celestial mandate (which again, man being what he is, can be a recipe for disaster).

But soon enough, the Reformation begins to "congeal" into its own horizontal traditions, so that additional schisms become inevitable. One of them, for example, is that only faith saves; or that God's absolute omnipotence precludes man's free will; or that moral effort counts for nothing. Thus, people who believe in free will or the efficacy of works must split off and form their own sect.

But please note: none of these schisms is strictly necessary, if one preserves the fullness of the original complementarity which cannot be resolved anyway. As Schuon puts it, Protestantism ends up opposing "Roman excesses with new excesses."

Indeed, even to insist that "only faith matters" is going to generate an inevitable split within itself. For, what kind of faith? A sincere faith? A half-hearted or lukewarm 51% faith? A faith that proves itself with works? A thoroughly rotten person whose faith is nevertheless rock solid? A faith that has no problem with abortion or anti-Semitism?

For Schuon, there is no real faith in the absence of gratitude and sincerity, which reflect one another in the following manner: "Sincerity forms part of faith, thus it is only sincere faith -- proved precisely by moral effort and works -- that is faith as such in the eyes of God. In other words, sincerity necessarily manifests itself through our desire to please Heaven which, having saved us from evil, obviously expects us to practice good; and this consequentiality can be termed 'gratitude.'"

Now, as we have been discussing, there is rather wide latitude in one's understanding of man's fallenness and what we can do about it from our end. Both Augustine and Luther took rather extreme positions, which, for Schuon, end up being a caricature of what the teaching is trying to transmit to us. In other words, it's supposed to be a kind of useful wisdom, not just a condemnation. It's like the difference between a fatal diagnosis for which you can do nothing, vs. being told by your physician that if you don't address your condition, it will surely be fatal.

Either the fall is contingent or necessary; if the latter, then you might say that we are indeed rotten to (or from) the core, and that the rottenness is essential to our nature. But if it is contingent, then there is something we can do about it. It does not necessarily "penetrate and corrupt all [of man's] initiatives."

Again, our attitude toward this question bifurcates in two directions. In the Catholic approach, which Schuon calls more "dynamic," "if a man does not make efforts to transcend himself, he follows his passions and becomes lost; if he does not go towards his salvation, he drifts away from it, for who does not advance, retreats; whence the obligation of sacrifice, asceticism, and meritorious works."

The Evangelical approach is more "static," but that doesn't mean it is not efficacious. In this path, one's salvation is predetermined, "which in fact is reassuring," and is "addressed firstly to men given to trust in God, but trusting neither in their capacity to save themselves, nor in priestly complications," but also to some purely contemplative types "who love simplicity and peace."

With regard to the latter, Schuon observes that while Luther closed one door to grace, he opened another, in the sense that he considerably simplified and centralized worship, and "opened the door to a particular spiritual climate which also possesses a mystical virtuality." Clearly, Luther is not interested in "dotting every theological i" -- "which is the Roman tendency -- but at believing in the literal wording of Scripture." If much of it makes no sense, hey, no big. Plenty of things -- probably the vast majority -- are true without us understanding how or why.

Nevertheless, the Raccoon tends to be an extremely curious creature who cannot stop asking why.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Revelations, Revolutions, and Reconciliations

Just a dashed-off post to offload some excess ideation that is taking up space in my melon....

As I mentioned the other day, if a religion doesn't meet man where he is, it's not going to be particularly effective. In other words, if I have to pretend I'm someone else in order to fit into a particular religious view of the world, then something is wrong.

Now, this is not to say that when there is a conflict between the way I would like for things to be vs. the way revelation says they are, that I should reject the latter. I'm talking about much more fundamental issues. In particular, I'm thinking of two things: personal identity and modernity, both of which I am rather attached to. I don't want to go back to neolithic, or ancient, or premodern times.

Hell, I don't even want to go back to the 20th century. Or to 2009. I like it here. Unlike the traditionalists, I don't think that any period of history is intrinsically privileged over any other, because they're all insane. For one thing, man is man, both everywhere and everywhen. If you find yourself idealizing some previous period of history, it's likely that you're just projecting paradise -- which is interior, archetypal, and vertical -- somewhere else. But at the very least, wherever you go, you have to go there too, which exiles you from paradise all over again.

For example, as much as I revere the Founders, it's amazing how quickly the wheels came off their revolutionary idealism after the war for independence was won and it came time to actually put their ideals into practice. In reading Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, it's been quite instructive for me to learn more about the ruptures and divisions, the personal hatreds and paranoia, that erupted after 1783.

It seems that passions were temporarily dampened with the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, but so intense were the conflicts thereafter, that it is something of a miracle that such a man as George Washington existed at that time, because he, and only he, had sufficient stature to serve as the living source of unity in the country.

Rather fascinatingly, as sophisticated as these men were, it wasn't just abstract respect for the rule of law or reverence for the Constitution that got them through, but the concrete love of a man who was the living embodiment of the ideals they cherished -- honor, virtue, courage, selflessness, and disinterested wisdom.

I think you can see the same forces at play in figures as diverse as Lincoln, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Reagan, all of whom became much more than their ideas. I hate to make such an odious comparison, but it really is the inverse of the "Führerprinzip." Obviously, something so powerful can have a dark side, so the same principle that explains how a person can become an embodiment of the good explains how they can become an embodiment of evil. Indeed, demagogues and cult leaders from Jim Jones to Obama cynically rely upon this collective human longing for a living messiah.

Not sure how I ended up here. I had wanted to continue with our discussion of the medieval Raccoon Petrarch, who attempted to forge a Christian humanism that steered a middle course between the Catholic establishment and the Protestant revolutionaries. But again, once the battle started, positions immediately polarized and hardened, to such an extent that the middle was eliminated. You were either on one side or the other. For the Raccoon, it was something like a choice between Crips, Bloods, or Dead.

For just as in the case of the Founders, their abstract ideals were not sufficient to shield them from their all-too-human tendencies. I mean, so intense were the hatreds and rivalries of some of the Founders, that Alexander Hamilton tried to bait President Adams into a duel! The President! No, he didn't want to assassinate him outright. That would be dishonorable in the extreme, hardly befitting a gentleman. Rather, he wanted to kill him in a fair fight.

Just so, all the Christian love in the world was unable to prevent the bloody religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. Or, to put it another way, if we stipulate that both sides were equally fervent in their love of God, then something wasn't right.

In the little transhistorical space that briefly opened up before things turned ugly, Petrarch had the idea that "individual human beings and their goals matter, that they have an inherent dignity and worth. This assertion was revolutionary and stood in stark opposition to the regnant doctrine of original sin and the Fall, which denied that individuals had either an intrinsic value or a capacity for self-perfection" (Gillespie).

Fortunately, these ideals eventually triumphed in some places -- most notably, in the American Revolution -- but it was still a struggle to demonstrate in practice how democracy, individualism, and self-interest were concretely linked to religious ideals.

For one of the central conflicts that opened up immediately after Washington's inauguration was the question of whether human beings really are qualified to rule themselves in the absence of a more "evolved," learned, and dispassionate aristocracy. The bitter hatred between Jefferson, who was the most passionate (to the point of irrational utopianism) advocate for the former, and the Federalist Hamilton, who stood for the latter, could hardly have been more intense and personal (it makes me think that Hamilton knew about Jefferson's baby mama situation).

But here again, you see the same archetypal pattern that split the Christian world, which really came down to hierarchy vs. radical democracy, verticality vs. horizontality, One vs. many, Father vs. Son. However, the Raccoon takes neither side in this false dispute, since he realizes that this is an irreducible complementarity, and that to insist that only one side of a complementarity is true, is to internalize the Cosmic Divorce.

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