Monday, July 30, 2012

Dim and Dimmer

To review: we've been discussing man's 40,000 year search for order, an order which has personal, social, political, and spiritual dimensions. That being the case, it wouldn't surprise us to discover that these various orders are -- or should be -- a reflection, instantiation, or declension of the One Tall Order.

We laft off with a description of the leftist (or any other ideologue, left or right, up or down) who refuses or suspends the Search in favor of a special gnostic formula -- what Voegelin calls a second reality -- which he then attempts to impose upon the world. Which looks something like this:

Voegelin describes such an ontic eclipse -- in which the celestial light is blotted out by human darkness -- as follows: "the time in which the ideologue places his construction is not the time of existence in tension toward eternity, but a symbol by which he tries to pull the timeless into identity with the time of existence." This is a key principle, and one you will need to bear in mind as we proceed over the subsequent terra firma and infirma.

For us, the most adequate way to express this point is via unsaturated symbols, otherwise, ironically, we will end up making the same mistake as the ideologue, and reduce reality to some simplistic and precogitated formula.

Thus, we say that man lives -- and must live -- in the space between Ø and O. Indeed, this is what it means to be a man. A pessimist would say we are condemned to this space. The optimystic calls it a gift, or an open presence (more on which below).

O is the realm of the eternal, of perpetual creation, of vertical forms and energies, of God. We can all agree -- both theist and infidel alike -- that no man can be identical to it, even while no man can be radically apart from it.

In other words, whether or not God exists, we can all stipulate that you and I are not That. Where we differ with the infidel is over the status of Ø. For him, Ø is all there is, and O is none of our isness.

But for us, human existence specifically takes place in this luminous space between time and eternity, between O and Ø. O provides direction to, and confers meaning upon, life (i.e., the Search), even if (or because!) we can never reach it -- any more than we could reach "music" as such, as opposed to simply creating and/or enjoying more of it.

Thus, one could say that we know God exists because we can never reach him. Only the atheist believes otherwise, although he obviously wouldn't formulate it in this manner; nevertheless, it is axiomatic that if God doesn't exist, only He knows it.

We're not just being cute here. Rather, this is essentially identical to Aquinas' point about the possibility of knowledge. Only because things are created are they intelligible; and only because things are created are they not ultimately intelligible (by us). We can always know more and more, without ever reaching the limit. In the absence of our divine sponsor there would be nothing to know and no one to know it.

In other words, the human station gives unique access to truth, even while placing constraints around it. Conversely, the person who rejects the principle of (vertical) creation simultaneously rejects intelligence and/or intelligibility, which, in our world, amount to the same thing (i.e., are two inevitable sides of the same fact of Creation).

Or, put simply: if everything is Ø, there is no reason to believe that anything is true, because there is either no truth to be had or no possibility that human beings could ever know it (or know if and when they know it).

So, here we are, stuck in the middle: Ø <---> O

As most of you know, there is also a "center of gravity" at either end -- an Attractor. Thus, the spiritual life involves first and foremost applying oneself to --> O, which is really (↑). This is repentance, or metanoia, or being vertically "born again" (or the cosmic reorientation of a formal rebirth into the vertical).

The ideologue essentially squeezes Ø and O together, in what might be schematized Ø --> • <-- O. Instead of a harmonious relationship of love in the space between O and Ø, one might say that O is "raped" by Ø -- literally taken by force (instead of loved and revered).

For the ideologue, this tightly fused • becomes "everything" (recall the Oclipse pictured above). In other words, even though O is denied at the outset, it unconsciously informs • (notice how the Light still emanates at the edges) and gives it a religious character that comes out in the form of the all-too-familiar self-righteousness, sanctimony, fanaticism, demonology, conformity, heresy, pressure to convert, etc. It is what happens when Ø is elevated to O or O is reduced to Ø.

Continuing with the above passage by Voegelin in paragraph three: although "the reality of tension between the timeless and time is lost," "the form of the tension is preserved by the dream act of forcing the two poles into oneness. We can characterize the ideologue's 'post-Christian age,' therefore, as a symbol engendered by his libidinous dream of self-salvation." (The dream is libidinous, or grasping, so to speak, because it doesn't preserve the love that guides -- and is the fruit of -- the passionate search for O.)

Sometimes -- or maybe even always -- these insights are better expressed via poetry, since one might say that poetry is the language par excellence of the Luminous Space that profane language alone has difficulty reaching. Thus, Voegelin quotes Eliot, who wrote of how History is a pattern of timeless moments, and the point of intersection of the timeless with time.

The latter is precisely how I would express it. Only man has a history -- and knows it -- because only man has access to this point of intersection between time and eternity. Only man "partakes of both time and eternity," and therefore "does not wholly belong to one or the other."

Let's try to bring this down a couple of notches, and give it a more phamiliar phenomenological phlavor. In this luminous space we inhabit -- which we symbolize (o) -- "There appears to be a flow of existence that is not existence in time." Voegelin uses the term presence "to denote the point of intersection in man's existence; and the term flow of presence to denote the dimension of existence that is, and is not, time."

Therefore, so long as we are human, we exist in this "flow of presence" we call time and history. It is obviously where "evolution" and "development," i.e., meaningful and progressive change, take place. But what exactly is "developing"?

If we consider this space vertically, I would compare it to an adjustable lamp switch -- a dimmer, if you will. Or a brighter, if you will in the other direction.

Let's look at this familiar model, which has a dimmer switch above a standard on/off switch. To live in an ideology is to turn the bottom switch off and be done with it. The Search is over. Now it's just a matter of converting everyone else.

The believer, however, lives with his invisible hand on the dimmer switch. Right now, for example, as I write, my dimmer switch is turned way up. But pretty soon I'll have to go to work and turn it down. Not all the way, mind you, unless it turns out to be an unusually bad day.

But the image of that particular dimmer switch is misleading because it is too linear. In point of fact it is circular, like so:

And that reminds me of something Voegelin said on p. 65: God alone knows who is nearer to that end that is the beginning. Since we are not O, we cannot stand outside O and objectively see how close or distant we are. How do we get around this? Two ways, mainly: "know them by their fruits" and the "plentiful harvest." The former give a kind of orientation, the latter a forward momentum.

Regarding the proximity of end and beginning -- or alpha and omega -- Voegelin notes that this is why "Christ is both the 'historical Christ' with a 'pre-' and 'post-' in time, and the divine timelessness, omnipresent in the flow of history, with neither a 'pre-' nor a 'post-.'" You know, before Abraham was, I AM.

Indeed, Matthew 1 presents a kind of standard horizontal genealogy, in which so-and-so begets what's-his-name, whereas John 1 presents the perpetual vertical (or circular) logoalogy that occurs outside time, at the brightest end of the dimmer switch ("the Word was with God, and the Word was God").

One might depict this circular activity as the ceaseless flow of (↑↓).

And if you're still with me, this would explain why the Fathers attempted to "express the two-in-one reality of God's participation in man, without either compromising the separateness of the two or splitting the one," and because "the reality of the Mediator and the intermediate reality of consciousness have the same structure."

You might say that the Platonist (or Vedantin) attempts to leave the dark cave for the bright light, whereas Christ installs a dimmer switch in each mancave -- i.e., the so-called cave of the heart.


JP said...

"In other words, whether or not God exists, we can all stipulate that you and I are not That."

Unless you are feeling delusional.

Isn't this the basis of solipsism?

For example, the assertion that everything is the figment of my imagination.

Ergo, all that was, is, and shall be is *mine*.

Or as UF puts it, Me (Real) --- You (Shadow)

mushroom said...

I was thinking that, too. There are a lot of delusional sociopaths in the world.

The moon and sun and the eclipse presents a good analogy -- that a little mote of dust that can only be seen because it reflects the light of O can cast a big shadow.

JP said...

I like the analogies (with graphics here), too.

One of Bob's best posts, recently.

julie said...

We laft off with a description of the leftist (or any other ideologue, left or right, up or down) who refuses or suspends the Search in favor of a special gnostic formula -- what Voegelin calls a second reality -- which he then attempts to impose upon the world.

Along those lines, Oh's tale of woe. I read his story a week or two back; dreadful.

Back to the post, I like the metaphor of the dimmer switch; it has a particular resonance just now.

julie said...

Also apropos that first quoted bit, and sadly much closer to home,

"Having children performing somersaults of joy on their hospital beds when the NHS uses dehydration as a form of euthanasia is a fucking repellent thing for a supposedly civilized people."

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Do the moth and turn up the brighter switch I always say.

Okay, I don't always say it. If you catch my drift.

Julie: Aye. Horrendous. Damn!

You would think they would find more creative ways to kill their patients.
Not very sporting of them, I daresay.

But I'm sure Willyam will be here to remind us again that there are no death panels (planned or otherwise) and how great free healthcare really is.