Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Brief History of Slack

We don't really have any way of knowing whether early man was consciously aware of slack. But we can be sure that the two -- human and slack -- coaraise.

What we mean by this is that the animal has no slack. Again, it is constrained to do what it does, limited by what the genes permit.

But at some point, a protohuman said to himself, "hmm. I believe I am in the mood to do this instead of that." It doesn't matter what this was. The point is that this sets the human as far apart from animals as life is from matter. The distance becomes infinite -- as infinite as the abyss between truth and falsehood.

But with slack necessarily comes antislack. This is because once we are aware of having free will and preferences, we obviously know when they are not being fulfilled, which brings frustration and pain. "I believe I am in the mood to do this instead of that. But circumstances do not permit me to do this. D'oh!"

It's very difficult to know how much slack there was for primitive man. There has been a strong tendency over the last couple hundred years -- beginning with Rousseau in the late 18th century -- to project our own perceived absence of slack onto premodern peoples, as if they had it in abundance. But the more we learn about them, the more we see a demon-haunted imagination swimming with mind parasites.

Myth (in the non-vulgar sense) takes shape at the horizon of history. These are akin to collective dreams that embody a kind of vertical recollection of "events" that are (note the present tense) before and beyond written memory.

Analogously, no one doubts that their own infancy happened, even though one cannot consciously recall it. There exist means, however, of finding out about it. One can never know the "thing in itself," but it is possible to decode certain effects, including dreams, symptoms, mysterious but overwhelming preferences, and most importantly, the disorienting experience of falling in love, when we are plunged into a dimension that obliterates the psychic membrane between self and other.

Someone once said that a myth is a collective neurosis, while a neurosis is a private myth. This isn't too far from the truth, except that one shouldn't necessarily pathologize the myth.

Than again, doesn't our is- and ur-myth, Genesis, diagnose a kind of enduring pathology in man? It is indeed like a physician's SOAP notes. Peek into your own mythic chart, and you might find something like this: Subjective: wants to be God, desire for infinite slack & absolute independence. Objective: ate something bad, shifts blame to reptilian charmer. Assessment: narcissism, self-centeredness, infantile omnipotence. Plan: find out the hard way -- banishment; toil; marital discord; labor pains.

With the help of Dr. Ratzinger, let's look a little more closely at these notes. First, as alluded to above regarding the nature of myth, he writes that the text proclaims a truth "which surpasses our understanding."

Myth -- as are dreams -- is highly imagistic, and the images are always dense with meaning that must be unpacked. The images are like facets of a gem; turn it this way, and one theme emerges, turn it that way, and another pops out. Merely manmade stories tend to be rather "flat," shallow, and linear by comparison.

Ratzinger turns his attention to "two great images in particular -- that of the garden, to which the image of the tree belongs, and that of the serpent."

Garden and serpent. What is a garden? On the one hand, it is a cultivated area, something made by man. On the other, it is something man could never have made without the "nature" that precedes him. A garden is a pleasing arrangement of nature.

More broadly, it is "an image of the world, which to humankind is not a wilderness, a danger, or a threat, but a home that shelters, nourishes, and sustains." It embodies "two movements," one from the Creator (↓), one from man (↑). The created world clearly "bears the imprint of the Spirit," while man becomes co-creator, building and developing it "in keeping with what it was created for." (For there is no "creation" without a "for," i.e., end and purpose.)

But a third movement enters the picture, by way of the serpent. Ratzinger links this movement to ancient fertility cults which essentially conflate nature and God; worse yet, these pantheistic religions actually elevate nature to God. Their dionysian prescription is very different from that of the Bible: "Plunge into the current of life, into its delirium and ecstasy, and thus you will be able to partake of the reality of life and immortality."

In short, the serpent is proposing an alternate means of acquiring slack. Does it work? Of course it works. Until the delirium and ecstasy wear off. One morning you wake up, look at the person sleeping next to you, and ask, "do I know you?" This inevitably leads to the question, "do I know me?"

Listen to the SlackMeister: true slack cannot be an escape from self, but only a finding thereof. Nor can it be an escape from the world as such; rather it is a transformation of the world.

The would-be master of slack leaves the world in order to allow the world to take leave of him. This leaves a space, a psychic womb, for a "new birth" to take place. The new man lives dialectically in a new world. It is the same world, only seen with a new I.

Now the serpent is symbolic of that "wisdom of the world" that is folly to God. This worldly wisdom is a temptation, a seduction, and ultimately a kind of hip gnosis that leaves God out of the equation. It is so easy, even the tenured can do it -- i.e., convince the impressionable soul that he is being had, and that true freedom can only occur with a radical rejection of gods, of tradition, of superstitious myths that cash in this life for an illusion.

Freed from such constraints, man may finally soar as high as his mechanical reason -- or as low as his mercurial passion -- permits.

But is it true? In other words, is it true that man is radically free, independent of any supernatural constraints? Because if he is not, then pretending otherwise cannot be real freedom. Again, it will just be a fleeing-from disguised as a running-to. To the extent that there is an Absolute, to pretend that one is it is to live in delusion. One way or another, an epic fall awaits you. Frankly, it has already happened, but you will simply be the last to know.

For Ratzinger, man's primordial sin results in a "topsy-turvy" world that necessarily changes oneself with it. There is no being without relation, so this new relation to the world results in a new self. But this is a derivative self, a kind of side effect of the imaginary world one has created and entered.

Thus, "sin is, in its essence, a renunciation of the truth" -- the cosmic, ontological, and metaphysical truth of our situation. Such persons "are living in untruth and unreality. Their lives are mere appearance."

What then is our "real" situation? This, we believe, is revealed in the Trinity, which we will, for the moment, attempt to treat in a more metacosmic sense than a specifically Christian one.

The essential point is that the human person is not an isolated monad. Rather, a person is always in relation, not just objectively -- which doesn't matter much, for one could say the same of any animal -- but subjectively. We are intersubjective through and through, meaning that we are members of one another, in a space that is clearly transcendent and immaterial.

As a result of this entanglement of consciousness, human beings "live in those whom they love and in those who love them and to whom they are present.... I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related by love, to be of and for."

Conversely, "sin means the damaging or destruction of relationality." It brings into being the diseased maninfestation -- which is really an adolescent peter pandemic -- that tries to be its own cure.

To be continued...

Check out American Digest for some ancient new riffs on the above (and as we know, Cohen means "priest"):

And everybody knows that you live forever / Ah when you've done a line or two.

And now the wheels of heaven stop / you feel the devil's riding crop / Get ready for the future: / it is murder.

And I just don't care what happens next / looks like freedom but it feels like death / it's something in between, I guess / it's CLOSING TIME.


ge said...

"the animal has no slack..."
yet don't most housecats seem like slack-maxing masters of it?

The SlackMeister said...

Just projection, I think. I don't think they're aware of awareness.

mushroom said...

... mysterious but overwhelming preferences ...

Oh, yeah.

The SlackMeister said...

We once heard a case of a wealthy man who would have his mistress place him in diapers, after which he would plead for "milky, mommy." An extreme case, but drives home the point.

Anonymous said...


mushroom said...

That is an insightful analysis by Cardinal Ratzinger. Too, the work in Eden was slack itself -- my ESV translation says Adam was placed there to "work and keep" the Garden. The Garden worked for him. In contrast, after the Fall, the ground works Adam relentless. He only gets out what he puts in. All work, no grace.

Van said...

Ahh... SlackTea... smoOoth....

Van said...

"Conversely, "sin means the damaging or destruction of relationality." It brings into being the diseased maninfestation -- which is really an adolescent peter pandemic -- that tries to be its own cure."

Whether by mis-integration or dis-integration, your relationality is damaged. The scary part is that for those who are deeply infected with it, the unweaving becomes a goal, their severed impression is that they are freeing themselves of entanglements in order to be alone with themselves, as opposed to discovering true freedom through integrating into the all of One.

Sleeping Kitty, Please Pet Me Nice said...

This is a profound post. TSM wrote:

"Listen to the SlackMeister: true slack cannot be an escape from self, but only a finding thereof. Nor can it be an escape from the world as such; rather it is a transformation of the world."

This pithy comment collapses the essentials into a compact package. Well stated.

Executing the project is another matter. We all know it is not easy.

flunky said...

Apparently, Marx ignored the variable of slack in his equations. Whoops.

Early humans were made, or were evolved, to operate in small cooperative groups. But Marx forgot that those small groups had all of their time taken up by concerns such as wolves, hunger, cold, disease and other enemies. Each individual had a role to play whether they wanted to or not. Lest they die.

By eliminating the wolves, hunger, cold, and other enemies, the variable of slack enters. Suddenly those same cooperative people turn on each other, out of boredom. As for demon-haunted imaginations and mind parasites, I think those were tools of the tribe devils, using whatever scraps of slack they could find to make sure they got to eat first.

What I’m proposing is that Communism will indeed work, when we create an AI machine world where all the robots want to kill us. We won’t have time to think of anything else. And the tribe devils can be clubbed in their sleep when they suck, instead of surrounding themselves with armies of slack zombies as they do today.

Marxism will be vindicated.

Van said...

flunked out said "By eliminating the wolves, hunger, cold, and other enemies, the variable of slack enters."

Wo-oh, flunked again....

"Marxism will be vindicated...."

Flunked out of your mind.....

100% American said...

Hey, totally off topic, sorry, but I just discovered Ann Barnhardt and feel compelled to spread the word - an uber-racoon for sure!! See this:
Ann Barnhardt Tears Islam-Appeasing Senator Apart

JP said...


Thanks, Bob! I had been trying to remember what the acronym was and what it stood for for a few months now so that I could reincorporate it into one of my forms here.

Fortunately, I have the One Cosmos blog to randomly throw me practical information I need.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Van: DUCK, man! Glad to see you're still with us.

flunky said...

The SlackMeister does not attack people. He discredits ideas -- specifically, ideas that run counter to slack.

Van said...

Joan - Mom & Dad didn't raise no dummie, I just did that.

Of course my wife disagrees with that statement, since I ducked out of my building and into my car and out into it to head home... but I saw from my window seat in a shaky glass building, the sky go black, and start coneing down as it headed towards us... not where I was going to be stuck at.

I heard that turned into a funnel and golfball sized hail just a few minutes later.

My son's AWAC landed right as one paid a visit to Tinker AFB outside Oklahoma City yesterday... other friends around the Joplin Mo area... sometimes that 'Show Me' moto is inappropriate.

flunky said...

My three cats.

Blackie is a born mouse eater. When I put his bed, litter box and water into the attic or crawlspace, he knows exactly what the drill is. Within minutes he’ll sniff out the mouse paths, find the favored entrance hole, position himself strategically, and patiently wait. The next morning always finds mouse and roof rat bits scattered near his bed.

Charlie enjoys hunting and killing shrews. And sometimes baby bunnies. He’s well behaved, but never eats what he kills. He generally ignores mice, rats and chipmunks and cries loudly (to be let out) after he’s done sniffing around the attic and crawlspace. He generally loves people.

Callie enjoys laying on the couch and watching animal planet. She’s quite bitchy when she doesn’t get her way. She likes Charles but steals his food. She’s intolerant of Blackie, who teases her. She can be affectionate to family, but only on her terms. She hates other people. If you want severely scratched arms/face/torso, try to put her into the attic or crawlspace.

I raised all three from kittenhood, with matching food and water bowls, training, and litter boxes. I'm not sure why I told this story, but thought it was important.

flunky said...

To be honest, the cats had a longhaired father and shorthaired mother – some genetic diversity there.

But would their personalities be as distinct if they were living under less slack-ish conditions? Such as in the wild? Charlie worships me as a God, but it’s Callie’s respect that I want. Blackie loves to ride on my shoulder outside, but I think it's the view he wants. He's indifferent to cuddling.

flunky said...

I don't think they're aware of awareness.

Theory of mind? The cats seem to know exactly what they can and cannot do with each other, and take context into consideration.

They also do not look at my hands or feet when they're begging in the kitchen, but look at my face. What's up with that?

Anna said...


These are all interesting observations. Actually enjoyable to read. (But none are relevant... just saying.) Animals do have personality but that's not the same as soul. The part about the face was especially interesting. At any rate, you could write a little short story.

Mizz E said...

More broadly, [the garden] is "an image of the world, which to humankind is not a wilderness, a danger, or a threat, but a home that shelters, nourishes, and sustains."

The Blessed Virgin Mary as Hortus conclusus. Hortus conclusus is a Latin term, meaning literally "enclosed garden".

flunky said...

The bible is unclear as to whether animals have souls.

And we thinkers held the space/time constrained lower dimension obviously cannot prove or disprove these things. Any more than the line in the 2D world can prove that the sphere is actually more than a circle. What I’m suggesting is the possibility, not probability, that all consciousness creates something... out there.

I’m not suggesting that we’ll go to heaven and get to play with our old pets. That is a space/time constrained activity. But something different.

Anyways, I still don’t know what to think when these cats see my face as the business end of things under certain conditions, while under other conditions, such as the bird toy on a string, they look elsewhere