Friday, November 12, 2010

Time: What It Is and What To Do About It

Although we have a single word for it -- "time" -- it has three equally distinct and mysterious modes (past-present-future) which appear to be as different from each other as, say, mind is from matter. If one considers mind and matter apart from each other, it seems that there could be no way to put them together. And yet, there they are harmoniously entwined in Life, living in wholly matterimany.

The point is that mind and matter are human abstractions, just as are past, present and future. In fact, life is a kind of link between spirit and nature, just as the present is a link between past and future. But this is to speak only horizontally. There are also vertical links throughout (↓↑), both in time and space (another duality that can only be artificially abstracted, for if One is present, so too is the Other).

The present is the "place" where the past brings the future into being (→), but also where the the future flows into the now and becomes the past (←). As Bolton writes, "everything in the past was once future, and then present; everything present was future and will be past; and everything future will be present and then past."

Based upon this, the past would appear to be fixed, but is this really so? Not if the past is inherently entangled with the future. Future events can occur which will give the past an entirely different meaning, always predicated on human choices in the now. For example, if one wrote a history of the 19th century prior to World War I, it would look very different than a history written after World War I, because only as more of the future became the past could one understand events that were implicit in the past, but yet to play themselves out in time.

In other words, the past had hidden potentials that were still playing themselves out in the future. As Bolton writes, "the contents of the past are thus in constant change by virtue of their changing relationship to the present."

In so many ways, the mission of MSM state-run media is to enclose the now so as to define the past and therefore control the future. But that's a subject for a different post.

In physics, there is only a one-way arrow of change, from past to future. But as Bolton explains, "to give the experience of change," time "must form a combination of static and dynamic elements. A time series which consisted of pure dynamism could not supply any kind of experience because every element in it would have become something else before it could be known." Alternatively, "a purely static time would not be temporal at all. Only a mingling of the changing with the unchanging can constitute time..."

This is why I not only believe music to be the most adequate way available to us to think about time, but why we are so drawn to it: because it reveals the very form of time, which in turn brings inherent pleasure, similar to the epistemophilic pleasure of discovery, or "erotics of being." We love it because it is true, or conveys principial truth about the nature of things.

In short, the ear can tell us much more about time than the eye, but all of science is biased more toward the eye in its mapping of reality. Indeed, science ultimately aims to map all of reality in such a way that it specifically excludes time.

For example, a "grand theory of everything" would consist of a single equation that unifies all of the forces in physics -- forces which result in the "illusion" of time. But what if the cosmos is more like a grand symphony, which has a complex vertical structure (i.e., the "spatial" chords) and a more open and horizontal "melodic" aspect that wends its way through the chords, like a jazz soloist?

Zuckerkandl writes that "The knowledge of space that hand and eye possess is exactly matched by their ignorance of time.... A true image of time must be an image for the ear, an audible image made of tones.... Thanks to music, we are able to behold time."

Now, a work of serious music is obviously a "whole," but it is again a temporal whole with a complex array of vertical and horizontal relations. In fact, in rereading Eliot's Wasteland yesterday, I could hear how very "musical" it is, with complex motifs recurring and commenting upon one another as the poem unfolds, just as in a symphony. Thus, it seems that poetry in general would represent a closer approximation to the structure of reality than any ordinary linear prose.

I am sure this is what Schuon means when he says that a simple believer in literal creationism is surely closer to the truth than any form of materialism can ever be. To say that Genesis is "poetry" is hardly to denigrate it; rather, it is to point out that it employs the appropriate modality to even begin to talk about ultimate reality. It does not pretend to be able to capture the unsayable in language (unless you have no poetic sense and have missed the point), but to use what can be said to disclose what otherwise can't be said or even thought about.

The word became flesh and dwelt among us. Language, like music, is deployed in time. Because of this, you cannot comprehend the meaning of a statement by analyzing its constituent parts, i.e., by breaking it down into its individual words and letters. It is not that the words and letters additively reveal a meaning; rather, they are all in the service of a higher meaning, and were chosen for the very purpose of conveying it.

Here again, much of the pleasure in writing is searching for and "discovering" the correct word or phrase for the meaning one wishes to convey, very much as a musician will try to find the proper notes to say what he wishes to say in a solo. This is one more reason there can never be "artificial intelligence" except in its linear sense, but never in the holistic way in which the higher mind operates.

Consider the vast differences between a chess-playing computer program and a chess master. The computer program must consider trillions of possibilities before deciding on a single move, whereas "even the greatest human player considers at most a few thousand, and usually far fewer." Thus, this "billion-to-one advantage in calculating power is nullified by the human grandmaster's power of understanding" (National Review). It is this depth of understanding that instantaneously excludes literally billions of blind alleys.

As does a profound philosophy of life. In particular, I'm thinking again of how revelation is intended to provide a musical structure with which one may adequately play the "cosmic suite." No computer program could ever do this, because in life, the choices multiply exponentially as compared to a chess match. How do we reduce the chaos to meaning, without reducing meaning to meaninglessness, as does scientism?

Religion begins with the idea that ultimate meaning exists, and that it is this meaning that "sponsors," so to speak, all of the meaning we encounter on a moment-to-moment basis, no matter how trivial. Meaning is meaningful because Meaning is always there propping it up; or words are there (including everything from DNA to the mathematical constants that govern physical reality) because the Word is there "behind," "beneath," "within," or "above" them. "Meaning" and "Wholeness" are two aspects of the same principle, since meaning is only grasped by sensing the wholeness of parts.

In fact, in the absence of wholeness there could obviously be no parts, because they wouldn't be parts of anything. They would be their own wholes, which is what existentialism pretends to be on the human plane, in which each person is a total assoul.

This is patently true of "spatial" objects, but what about temporal ones? If we try to analyze time by dissecting it into its constituent parts, do we not eliminate the very melody we are attempting to hear, the Song Supreme? This is the domain of metahistory, which is apparently no longer fashionable, except that it actually is, in the same way that the Left presents us with a counterfeit version of any profound truth. Leftism is like an inverted mirror of falsehood, through which deep truths are presented upside down and backwards, for example, the doctrine of materialism. Materialsm is just an ass-backward religion that starts at the wrong end of reality and proceeds to elevate its absurd error to an absolute.

But the moment one treats parts in an atomistic way, as if they are unrelated in time, one has falsified reality. This is precisely why physicists are powerless to understand the most profound and shocking facts of the universe, e.g. Life, Mind and Spirit. They cannot even discuss these things without a priori turning them into something they are not. But as we wrote in OCUG, "Only by changing our perspective to a 'top down' one, from spirit to mind to life to matter, does the cosmos become intelligble in its totality, a totality that unquestionably includes biological and psychological dimensions."

Thus, in the Raccoon view, "when we talk about a 'relationship' between Life and the cosmos, we are dealing quite literally with a tautology, a statement of equivalence." Given the temporal entanglement of the cosmos, in order to not mislead, we cannot refer only to "the universe," but to something along the lines of "the living universe" or "the universe in the process of becoming locally conscious," because only in such a way do we not exclude the most important fact of the cosmos, i.e, the observer expressing this truthful statement.

The universe is intrinsically and not just accidentally conscious. It has never been unknown to human beings that this can be proven in mystical experience, but I believe it can also be proven through transrational logic. Certain things must be, and one of them is that our individual consciousness partakes of a much greater consciousness, in the same way that our little ego relates to the cosmic Dreamer who dreams us. One image Alan Watts used to employ is that of a lampshade with hundreds of pinholes. Viewed from the outside, it will look as if there are hundreds of little lights, but in reality, there is only the one bulb at the center.

Oh yes, about that little "slot" where we dilate time and gain a more expansive view of the cosmic goings-on. Mouravieff writes that this slot is like a keyhole -- or key to the whole -- that opens many mysteries.

I've written about this before -- about the "A influences" and the "B influences," the former coming "from the world," the latter from outside or "above" it.

One of the first steps in any spiritual practice is, of course, to tap into a stream of B influences, through which one begins to liberate oneself from the chaotic A influences (which are alternatively coercive, seductive or hypnotic, but always average out to "zero"). As one begins to actualize one's own latent esoteric center (which I symbolize as (¶) in my book), it proceeds to operate as its own "magnetic center" which draws nonlocal assistenance from other Coons, both living and technically dead. Now that you are plugged into Coon Central, I am sure this has become a basic fact of your day-to-deity life.

I can't possibly do justice to this topic in a slotted time, but let's just highlight the fact that spiritual knowledge can never be reduced to "know how" in the absence of "be who," for it always involves an expansion of being, not merely the accumulation of intellectual knowledge, or (k).

Furthermore, once this be-who (n) is assimilated, it works on us in a way that (k) never can; in this regard, it is much more analogous to medicine, or perhaps a catalytic enzyme. But as it figuratively impregnates us, it literally impregnates us, and in spirituality one can definitely be "a little bit pregnant," as (¶) grows and expands within our womb with a pew.

Now, the present can be so narrow as to be functionally non-existent for the average person. So distracted is he by the world of A-influences, that the slot of the present -- the only place where be-who can occur -- narrows down to nothing. It might as well be the past, which is why people in thrall to the A influences are technically dead, and why Jesus said that they should just bury their fallow trivialers.

But there is another present -- I believe this is the present Petey was referring to on page 15, where he axes, You haven't perceived the hologram to your private particle? Come in, open His presence, and report for karmic duty. Why, it's a Tree of Life for those whose wood beleaf!

Mouravieff writes that the present "necessarily has extension," but that for exterior man, "this extent is very short.... if we reduce this Present to the zero we think it is, it becomes purely and simply cessation of existence. It is thus that death actually occurs."

Ah ha! Life, therefore, has something do to with the expansion of the present. But for someone who abandons himself to A influences, the gift of the present is taken away. D'oh!

But all forms of concentration, meditation, intellection, and prayer, are aimed at enlarging the present, which is in reality the only "place" that is outside time -- or "above" it, so to speak. If time is a line, this allows us to exist at a right angle to it, where we can begin to perceive time in its fullness, exercise a more profound degree of free will (verticalisthenics), and make deeper connections with the non-temporal realities that vertically flow into time (gymgnostics).

This is what Mouravieff believes Jesus meant when he cracked about the "strait gate": For wide is the door and broad is the path that leads to perdition. Many are they that enter it. For strait is the door and narrow is the Path that leads to life, and few are they that find them.

And this is precisely where Jesus and J.R. "Bob" Dobbs merge, for this narrow path is the way back "upstream" to the source of our cosmic s'laq.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Truth Decay and Other Historical Phallacies

Whether because of my Americanism, my native optimism, or my raccoon genes, I just can't go along with the idea that time is inevitably proceeding in the direction of degeneration and dissolution. Yes, it is a superficially plausible idea, but the fact that it has always been plausible tends to undermine its plausibility.

In other words, I don't think there has ever been a time that people haven't noticed how messed up the world (and its unhappitants) seems to be. I mean, look at some of the lamentations in the Old Testament.

It is difficult to reject a thesis that contains so much truth; then again, it's the same reason I reject natural selection as an all-encompassing paradigm -- plenty of truth there as well, just not THE truth.

Just as natural selection represents a facile way for spiritually unevolved people to avoid straining their brains with metaphysics, the idea of historical entropy is an easy way for more spiritually attuned people to explain the state of the world. For the latter, it is impossible to ignore the gulf between the celestial and terrestrial, or Reality and appearances. But this gulf -- this middle earth -- is where human beings live, and will always live.

So people have always been concerned with the direction of history, which, at any given time, appears to be going badly.

To cite one particularly glaring example, Jesus appeared at a time when it was felt by the Jewish masses that things could hardly get worse. Everyone was anticipating the messiah, convinced that historical degeneration was so complete that the end was near. But according to Bolton's thesis -- and of the traditionalists in general -- ancient Rome would have been much closer to the "Golden Age" than our time. This has always struck me as almost pure fantasy, divorced from historical realities.

Traditionalists seem to feel it is so obvious that history is going in a "negative" direction, that the assertion requires no historical support at all. But if you examine the actual conditions of the average Job living in Ancient Egypt, or Greece, or Rome, or the Middle Ages, it was a horror. However, because the traditionalists are extremely aesthetically- and philosophically-minded, it's as if they make sweeping historical conclusions based upon the most beautiful and lofty objects and thoughts that have survived to this day.

Yes, the Egyptians left us some impressive artwork, no doubt. Then again, they had 5000 years to do it in, a figure so vast that it is inconceivable to us. Frankly, I don't think we can even grasp the fact that when Augustine -- who had the greatest influence on Western thought for 1000 years -- did his writing, it was already going on four centuries after the time Jesus lived. We don't even know all that much about Christianity during its first two-plus centuries, a period of time as long as the United States has existed.

But the further back in history we go, the more we "compress" the time, which not only obscures all of the (often gruesome) details, but ends up being no better than a psychological projection into the past.

Thus, for example, if you are on the depressive, pessimistic, or alienated end of the psychological spectrum, it's easy to conclude that the present more or less blows, since we see all the horrifyng, disgusting detail of our own age up close and personal. One glancing below through the glass-bottomed boat at the sewer of Huffington Post, and one would be forgiven for believing that mankind cannot stink any lower and that the end is at hand.

It's very similar to what psychotherapy patients do on an individual basis. People tend not to consciously remember much before the age of five, and only scattered details between five and nine.

But obviously, life was just as rich and detailed then as it is now -- in fact, more so, since every single day was an alternatively delightful or calamitous novelty, largely depending upon the quality of parenting. Life was overflowing with the fullness and the presence of being, but we just didn't have the language or the concepts to reflect upon it and store it within language. My son is the happiest and most intense person I know, but he'll never remember it, except unconsciously.

Patients who come in for therapy often have what are called "screen memories" of their childhood. They will remember this or that event with great detail, but upon investigation, it will turn out that it is a sort of "composite portrait" of a whole period, rich with symbolic meaning that needs to be "unpacked" and articulated. It's never just a literal memory, but more of a holofractal pneumagraph that can reveal layer upon layer of meaning by "turning" it ever so slightly, like a blinky toy.

Perhaps history is the same way. I know it is for me. It's like a huge black canvas upon which we project things from the present. Since the past is behind us, we imagine that we can take it into our view, but this is obviously impossible. There are huge lacunae that we just fill in with myth and fantasy, much in the same way that we fill the hole in our field of vision, where the optic nerve meets the eye. In a very real sense, it's true: there's nothing new except the history you don't know.

I tried to present just a fraction of the historical evidence of how bad things were in the past in Chapter 3 of One Cosmos, but obviously, that chapter could have been expanded into a whole book. My purpose was simply to make the point and then move on. Either you get it or you don't.

For example, no matter how violent things appear in the present, they simply cannot compare to how violent human beings were in the past. Michael Medved cites statistics indicating that "New York City is on track to have fewer than 500 homicides this year, by far the lowest number in a 12-month period since reliable Police Department statistics became available in 1963.... But within the city’s official crime statistics is a figure that may be even more striking: so far, with roughly half the killings analyzed, only 35 were found to be committed by strangers, a microscopic statistic in a city of more than 8.2 million."

In contrast, according to Lawrence Keely's War Before Civilization, the homicide rate of some prehistoric villages "would have been 1,400 times that of modern Britain or about 70 times that of the United States in 1980." Likewse, the Middle Ages were almost inconceivably violent. We just have no idea how "tame" and domesticated mankind has become in the past several centuries.

Indeed, we have only to look at the contemporary Mohammedans to get a glimpse of the psychotic violence that prevailed in the past. I remember reading about the Crusades recently, during which battles took place where the combatants were knee-deep in blood.

Yesterday I was reading about the sacking of Rome in 410, when the Gothic warriors mercilessly "raped, pillaged and murdered for nearly three straight days." As Dawson writes, the Goths did not regard themselves as barbaric. Rather, "as they understood it, Alaric and his men were loyal Romans and only desired formal recognition as legitimate armed forces." Yeah, like the Palestinians. They just want to be recognized.

I remember reading about Ancient Egypt in a book entitled Slaughter of the Innocents: Child Abuse Through the Ages and Today, and it was a pretty strange place, to put it mildly. Their politics were very different from ours. Especially their erections.

For example, Breiner writes that "The phallus was honored and vitally important in the religious and cultural life of Egypt. The gods are shown with an erect phallus, and a pharaoh was expected to demonstrate in public that he had one, too. At certain ceremonies, the pharaoh would stand before the people and show his erect phallus. Indirectly, this would be shown many times when his erection would lift his loincloth."

By this low-hanging standard, even Bill Clinton was a great defender of the principle of separation of crotch and state, despite what we've heard about the spate of his unions undressed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Progressing Toward the Origin

As we were discussing yesterday, with the scientific revolution, the idea of progress began to be taken for granted in western civilization. It's not so much that progress wasn't occurring -- which it obviously was -- but that it was only a specific type of very visible progress rooted in the scientific method and in technology. This being the case, it became easy to confuse scientific progress with progress as such, just because the former is so visible and quantitative.

The idea of progress contradicted what had been believed by virtually all human groups prior to the scientific revolution, which is that everything was subject to a steady decline and degeneration. There was no "moving forward"; rather, the idea was to try, insofar as possible, to arrest entropy and approximate the Golden Age of the past. Slack was in the rearview mirror, not up ahead, and every day meant further disenslackment on the road to nowhere.

The idea of universal degeneration was no doubt rooted in empirical observation. For example, everyone has the personal experience of their own body aging and degenerating.

More generally, there has never been a time when man was unaware of the universality of the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy, which mandates that in the long run, everything tends toward disorder. Although there can be local areas that seem to defy entropy -- such as biological organisms -- it is only temporary. Furthermore, close examination of seeming exceptions to the law of entropy reveals that they always deplete more energy than they create, resulting in a net loss of energy. (Or at least according to physics; spiritually it is another matter.)

Irrespective of whether or not the phenomenal world is inevitably winding down into chaos, we can see how the very idea of automatic (as opposed to self-willed) progress can lead to increased societal disorder. As Bolton explains, "The belief that the new must be the best nearly always works in favor of the bad." This ironyclad rule has been dramatically proven time and again since "progressivism" made its great leap backward with the New Deal.

The foolish idea of "new = good" is like a virus that, in the long run, will eventually eliminate wisdom and Truth, as we see most vividly on leftist college campuses, where virtually everything is simultaneously new and wrong. And the only solution (as far as they can see) is newer ideas, which only results in further chaos and confusion -- further distance from the ideal, or from principial truth. The idea that Truth lies in the past -- for example, in the Bible -- is laughable to them.

Civilization, according to Bolton "cannot undergo real historical change unless it possesses a structure of permanent principles which impose limits on the possible scope for change."

Indeed, this is something that all classical liberals (i.e., conservatives) realize. The leftist wants radical change, "which is more deeply opposed to real historical change than is institutionalized permanence, since the permanent at least contains the potentiality of change. Universal change, on the other hand, has no potentialities at all, since everything in it is actualized already, so that a final cessation is the only new frontier it could cross."

One important allied idea of Bolton's is that we are wrong to think that we either exist or do not exist; rather, there are degrees of existence, existence being rooted in difference (in other words, there can only be existence to the extent that something is "different," or "stands out").

Thus, for example, the first act of the Creator is to separate. Conversely, any kind of indiscriminate blending of divinely ordained differences is the very definition of evil.

Bolton points out the obvious psychospiritual disaster of blending male and female, and now adult and child, resulting in a potential race of neutered obamalescents. The next illogical step down this slithery sleep into the nihilistic effacement of archetypal differences is "homosexual marriage." (In other words, the whole point of marriage is to preserve and sacralize the differences in a dynamic union, not to efface them.)

Because of the idea of progress, we must -- either consciously or unconsciously -- believe ourselves to be superior to our ancestors. This is very much in contrast to traditional societies, where ancestors -- and the truth they handed down -- are venerated.

Now obviously, neither extreme is warranted, i.e., ancestor worship (which would cause complete stasis) or kneejerk rebellion (which leads to the loss of mankind's accumulated wisdom, or the spiritually fatal disease of the Boomer generation).

But again, we can see how the morally and intellectually superior progressive always knows better than the most illustrious minds of the past. Because of the accident of time, the contemporary progressive can look back, say, at the Founders, and regard them as mere "objects" in his cavalierview mirror. We can see them, but they can't see us.

But this is true only in the most crassly materialistic sense. For example, Shakespeare is "in the past," but do we really know him? No, of course not. His plays will always understand us -- which is to say, humanity as such -- better than we understand him.

Likewise, it is difficult for us to imagine the stupidity of the typical leftist who believes himself superior to the Founders because some of them owned slaves. This is what the idea of progress (wrongly construed) can do to a mind, which is to say, destroy it. Obama is free to critique the Constitution of the Framers; but imagine if they were here to critique him! Upon hearing that this malevolent cipher taught constitutional law, would they ever stop throwing up?

I generally see the same problem in the so-called "integral" thinkers, which is one of the main reasons I don't relate to them. In their dubious color-code system -- well, to quote one of them whose dreadful book I was asked to review, Winston Churchill and Pope John Paul are typical examples of "traditional consciousness," and are therefore lower on the evolutionary scale than the more evolved representatives of "modernist consciousness" such as Carl Sagan and Margaret Sanger. In turn, they are lower than the lofty beings who embody "postmodern consciousness," such as John Lennon, Joan Baez, Margaret Mead, and Allen Ginsberg.

I don't deny that there is some inevitable truth in "spiral dynamics," but any scheme that places Joan Baez above Winston Churchill is not even wrong (unless your criterion is that of the "eternally grating").

Now, one factor that was different about the past is that people were unaware of other religious traditions, let alone genuine science. Therefore, they lived in a kind of "innocence" (which literally means "without knowledge") that is impossible for us to reestablish. If we wish to be "spiritual," we must do so consciously. Therefore, in some sense we are obviously more "awake" than our ancestors, but the question is, to what?

Bolton writes that one compensatory factor for us is that in the past it was "really only a minor achievement to live spiritually in an age when spiritual values are established and expressed everywhere and the unspiritual is marginalized." (Just as, conversely, it is no big achievement today for a high school student to understand the physics of Newton.) There was a collective religiosity, but this generally came at the expense of personal development, or individuation in a spiritual context.

Bolton even makes the provocative suggestion that the true way is only fully realized when everything is more or less opposed to it. Thus, in this respect, perhaps we have the potential to travel "higher" than our (average) ancestor, if only because it is so exceedingly difficult to do so.

I suppose it's analogous to exercising where there is more gravity, say, on the earth as opposed to the moon. Not only are we "swimming upstream," but we are much further from the source, at least in the horizontal sense; in a relative sense, horizontality takes us further and further from the source, even if, in an absolute vertical sense, it is always the same "distance" away.

And in fact, this is a recurring idea in traditional metaphysics, that the very purpose of "incarnation" is to evolve under adverse circumstances, ultimately to "spiritualize matter." Bolton writes, "Such is the meaning of the Cross, as well as the purpose of ensoulment in the material world." There is an orthoparadox at play here, in that, in one sense, materiality seems to be the furthest distance from spirit.

But as Bolton explains, there is a deeper principle involved, "a law of polarity according to which only the highest cause can extend to the lowest level of effects."

In other words, most causes and effects in the world are in the "middle range," and therefore of little cosmic consequence. Only the highest cause extends to the lowest realm, which perhaps explains why "the meek shall inherit the earth," or why "spiritual bankruptcy" is so often a prerequisite of spiritual conversion. The testimony of thousands of seekers reveals that when you are near the end, you are near the beginning.

One subtle danger of simply "returning to tradition," is that the traditions themselves have been subject to the same corrosive forces of historical entropy that afflict the individual. Let's say we want to "return" to the "original meaning" of Christianity. Doing so is not as easy as it sounds, since Christianity necessarily exists "in the world," and absorbs qualities of the world in order to continue to exist.

As such, Bolton writes that "the function of tradition can actually be inverted under modern conditions," since the monotheistic religions "have each grown increasingly absorbed by their historical social roles, so that it has become an exercise of awareness to relate to the spirit which they nevertheless embody." In my opinion, Tradition is usually defined in hindsight. Could this mean that under the inverted conditions of postmodernity, spiritual evolution is the quintessence of Tradition?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Prehistory, History, Post-history, Trans-history

One thing reasonable people should be able to agree upon is that wisdom exists, that it is a very different thing than "knowledge," and that it tends to inhere in the group as opposed to the individual, since a group's experience will be so much more wide and deep, i.e., extending far into the past and encompassing the knowledge and experience of countless older ansisters and brothers.

No one individual in a single lifetime could possibly experiment with every way of living and determine which was best. You can't start life from "zero," with a pneumacognitive blank slate, any more than you could do so with a genetic one.

Genes, for example, may not embody wisdom per se, but they do encode an inconceivable amount of information about the world in general and about the "average expected environment" in particular. Thanks to our genes, we don't have to learn how to recognize human faces, how to bond with others, or how to speak. Rather, these things will all come naturally if we are simply placed in a human environment.

There was also a time when we didn't have to think too much about philosophy, or about metaphysics, or about God, because it had all been done for us by groups that preceded and enveloped us. It has only been about 300-400 years that religion (in the West, anyway) went from being an unconscious matrix to a conscious enterprise that must be carried out by the individual.

While this creates spiritual obstacles that never existed in the past, it also creates unprecedented upportunities for spiritual growth. For example, the most unsane visionary of medieval times could not possibly have conceived of a day when one could so easily purchase an indulgence over the internet from Petey, my household gnome.

There are two major contemporary obstacles to spiritual growth, materialism, and its corollary, the idea of progress. I'm currently in the middle of a fascinating book that discusses this, The Order of the Ages: World History in the Light of a Universal Cosmogony, by Robert Bolton. Bolton points out that our traditional division of the human adventure into prehistory, history and post-history is not exactly accurate. This is because prehistory didn't really end 5000 years ago, or whenever written records begin.

Rather, for all intents and purposes, prehistory continued until the time of the scientific revolution, which didn't really get underway until the 17th century. Consider, for example, ancient Egypt. Although it is considered a part of history, it "retained the same theocratic form for some five thousand years without any radical or irreversible change in its spiritual or social order."

This is a rather staggering idea to contemplate; I'm not so sure we even can contemplate it, since we are so imbued with the ideas of progress, change, and evolution, which were inconceivable for the ancients.

As Mead suggested in God and Gold, I don't think we understand the extent to which we are all -- religious and secular alike -- living in a world with such radically different assumptions than any humans who existed previously. In short, we are consciously living in history, and must therefore cope with linear, irreversible time, whereas premodern peoples lived in a more timeless state -- or, to be perfectly accurate, a cyclically temporal state that resonated with eternity.

Traditionalists maintain -- and they may well be correct about this -- that this premodern, timeless mode is normative for human beings, and that we were never meant to be where we are "in history." Certainly the numbers are on their side, given that human beings only stumbled into this thing called "history" so recently. Perhaps life is so confusing because we are not supposed to be here -- we literally drifted into this strange temporal viaduct, and now we can't get out or find our way back into the timeless (which is the purpose of religion).

Again, it's almost impossible for us to think in this way, because we have to eliminate from our minds all of the anxiety that goes along with the temporal mode, which is also intrinsically quantitative and materialistic.

For example, we are naturally very concerned with the linear amount of time we spend on the planet -- the quantity of our years -- in such a way that it can eclipse the actual moment-to-moment quality of our life. Part of the reason for this is that in the modern world, quality no longer resonates with eternity, so it might as well be just more quantity.

In other words, in the modern world even quality tends to be reduced to quantity. We can all experience this, for example, in the bland "flattening" of aesthetic qualities. Most everything is constantly "different," and yet, just more of the same.

This especially becomes noticeable if you are able to step outside history and live in a more timeless mode. There is a kind of constant change which, ironically, is no change at all, since change is only possible in light of permanence. If everything is changing, then it is logically equivalent to nothing changing -- like fashion, it's difference without a difference, or mere agitation on the surface. So it's a kind of timelessness, but somehow the opposite of the timeless plenum enjoyed by our premodern furbears. How to describe it? It's sort of an empty plenum or overflowing vacuum, is it not? A cornucrapia of BS.

Now, just when you were getting used the idea of being condemned to history, Bolton points out that we are actually no longer living there. Rather, that ended way back in -- well, people can argue over exactly when history ended, but it was definitely over by the start of the 20th century.

History over? How can that be? World War I, World War II, communism, the British invasion, the collected poetry of Suzanne Somers? Yes, just agitations in the posthistorical void.

Bolton notes that as late as the fourteenth century there was "nothing that need necessarily have led to anything different after another five hundred years, whereas the pattern of changes from the fifteenth century onward was unmistakably cumulative." So that is when history truly began. But it was very, very different from our post-historical situation, since it still resonated with the timelessness that preceded it, and in fact, can be seen as a sort of "prolongation" of those timeless qualities, only now concretized in time.

With the entrance into history proper, Bolton writes that it was as if a damn had burst, so that all of the potential in these eternal ideas flooded out into time. But eventually the force of the "explosion" weakens, until we have reached our present state of exhaustion, in which we are collectively more distant than ever from the living principles that animated our civilization.

To a large extent, time, history, and change are all tied in with the development of science, which, for the first time, introduced real -- and seemingly inevitable -- progress. However, again, our technical progress over the past few hundred years is so "directly demonstrable and tangible" that it "can almost stifle any sense that something else may have been lost at the same time." In fact, Bolton argues that these tangible changes serve to orient us solely to nature, which has the consequence of masking "a relentless loss of both a consciousness and of a spiritual energy of a far more essential kind."

According to Bolton, this has to do with the nature of time and our fall into materiality and quantity, and the consequent historical movement away from a kind of consciousness that is no longer familiar to us. Or, to be perfectly accurate, it is still accessible, but it must be self-willed. For reasons we will get into later, in the post-historical world, consciousness contracts unless active counter-measures are taken.

To be continued....

I have remarked that the materialist, like the madman, is in prison; in the prison of one thought. These people seemed to think it singularly inspiring to keep on saying that the prison was very large.... these expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that is divine. -G.K. Chesterton

Monday, November 08, 2010

Purchasing Eternity With the Gift of Time

... God, freedom, unity. Three things which are one, for you cannot realize freedom and unity unless you realize God... --Sri Aurobindo

The question of whether mankind is degenerating or progressing inevitably touches on other fundamental complementarities such as evolution/creation, authority/personal experience, tradition/modernity, science/religion, and ultimately time/eternity. In my view there is a dialectical and generative space between the two poles, where what Mead calls "dynamic religion" may take place.

The central point, I think, is the question of the importance of time. Ironically, both science and a certain kind of religiosity devalue and even dismiss time as illusory and even pointless -- which it must in fact be if, on the one hand, there is only nature, or, on the other, only God.

But I believe time not only serves a metacosmic purpose, but that there can be no eternity in the absence of time, and vice versa. That being the case, there can also be no creation without evolution, no authority without personal experience, and no science without religion (and vice versa).

Put it thisaway: the One breaks out of eternity into two (i.e., duality), but this duality is resolved (and progress occurs) within a dynamic and transitional trinity. Thus, history can be seen as a sort of rolling catastrophe (as in catastrophe theory) in hyperspace, as the many make their winding way back to the One. History is ultimately the straight book that God tries to write with crooked liars.

Let us stipulate that history either has a direction -- and therefore a purpose -- or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then there's no point to anything, including religion. It would be like an endless baseball season with no World Series. Instead of a 162 game season that only seems endless, the season would actually be endless, with a new game every day, day in, day out.

Eventually, players would stop scratching their crotches and begin scratching their heads and ask themselves, "why are we doing this? Why are we playing all these stupid games?"

So the founding gods of baseball bifurcated the teams into a duality which we call the American and National leagues, and then invented this third thing called the World Series in order to create a sense of purpose and finality. Thus, when you win the World Series, you have reached the highest pinnacle, the "absolute," the baseball equivalent of enlightenment, or the toppermost of the poppermost.

But just as in religion, there is apparently more than one Absolute, since there is a new champion each year, and it is not as if the new champion surpasses all the previous ones. The 2010 Giants are not better then the 1954 Giants. Baseballically speaking, both went as high as it is possible to go in this world. Sure, you could argue over which team is better, but that's like arguing over whether Plato or Eckhart was a better hitter.

But in the case of the World Series, deep down some of us realize that it is something we merely invented for the purposes of finality. We simply superimpose it on the individual games, in order to give them a higher meaning, so to speak. Since there is this finality to an otherwise endless season, it creates intensity and drama, very much as does death (the playoffs are exciting because teams are always facing "sudden death").

If you knew you weren't going to die, it would be analogous to an endless baseball season. No, worse than that. Like an endless soccer season. No, worse. An endless soccer game. Just a bunch of people running around in circles ending in a 0-0 tie.

If history has no purpose, then it is bound to get worse, i.e., to degenerate. This is for the same reason that the quality of professional baseball would degenerate in the absence of a World Series. No one would bother acquiring a player to improve their team at the trading deadline, since there would be no deadline. Standings wouldn't matter, since there would be no point to them. Wins and losses would be just like Monopoly money, a symbol of nothing.

To the extent that things are getting worse in the world, could it be linked to the widespread belief among our elite that history has no purpose, no direction, no telos? Interestingly, this is where the secular far left and traditionalist far right converge. As an anonymous commenter mentioned, given his 'druthers, Schuon, the hardcore traditionalist,

"considered a 'totalitarian' [in the traditional religious sense] society preferable to a secular society. Religion, culture, science, art, and soccer, should all be under one heading, if you will. He was obviously opposed to secular totalitarian regimes, like the Nazis or the Soviets, but not religious totalitarian regimes. One can also see this in the leaders he writes positively about -- Charlemagne, Napolean, Franco, and even Lincoln (Lincoln's temporary measures during the Civil War are clearly those of a monarch)."

It seems to me that we have only three choices. One can go along with Schuon and other traditionalists who affirm that timeless and total truth has already been revealed to us, and that it is only for us to conform to it. Alternatively, one can be a member of the psychospiritual left, and maintain that history has no meaning except that which we impose upon it (which is no meaning at all, just self-deception).

Or, you can be one of our pneumacosmic coonfolk and maintain that timeless truth does exist. However, for our purposes, it exists in the future, not the past. Primordial man does indeed gambol above the clouds in the sacred garden atop the cosmic mountain. However, this is not just situated in the longago but the heretocome.

Our intimations of paradise are just that -- they are what Bion called memoirs of the future. Being so, they are the vector that guides history and confers its real meaning: the arc of salvolution through which we are given the uppertunity of a lifetome to dwell in time but to aim our eros at the heart of eternity. Our days are measured, guided, and given meaning by a sense of growing proximity to this sacred, nonlocal ground.

If this dimension is in the "past," then each day that passes is simply a measure of how far we have fallen from the ideal -- a meaning, to be sure, but a kind of "anti-meaning." Again, what's the point except to wait to die?

Conversely, for a member of the psychospiritual left, what's the point except to deny death and lose oneself in the senses? In this view, a Bill Maher or Hugh Hefner are the wisest men on earth.

Now obviously, various Christian theologians emphasize different sides this dialectic, hence the argument between faith and works. If eternity is all that counts, then faith is all that matters. But if history has a purpose, then works take on much more significance.

Long story short, faith and works just have to do with the practical applications of time and eternity.

Manifestly, the unrestrained use of individual illumination or judgment without either any outer standard or any generally recognizable source of truth is a perilous experiment for our imperfect race.... [T]he whole tendency of development of an individualistic age of mankind [goes] back to the one dominant need of rediscovering the substantial truths of life, thought and action which have been overlaid by the falsehood of conventional standards no longer alive to the truth of the ideas from which their conventions started.... [M]an has to circle back towards the recovery of his deeper self and a new upward line or a new revolving cycle of civilization. --Sri Aurobindo

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