Friday, September 21, 2012

When Narratives Fail

It's too bad the term "narrative" is being beaten to death, because it's such an important concept. I'm afraid it's going to become so sullied by cynics and political manipulators that it will be synonymous with "lie."

Human beings are innately oriented to narratives; in other words, we are "story tellers," and we were telling stories to describe and understand reality long before there was such a thing as science.

Indeed, human beings cannot live outside stories, which is why for many people science itself has become their new, all-encompassing narrative, i.e., scientism. Scientism is simply science transposed to the key of myth, and draws upon deeper energies of which the believer is unaware and for which he cannot account -- which only makes him more, not less, irrational (think, for example, of Al Gore and his florid religion of scientistic paganism).

As we have discussed in the past, a neurosis is a kind of private culture, while pathological cultures are a kind of public neurosis. For vivid evidence of the latter, look no further than the insane behavior of the Islamic world.

True, that represents public psychosis, but the principle is the same. Psychosis often involves neurotic symptoms "writ large," so to speak, which is why studying the completely insane can provide insight into the more subtle workings of the less insane.

To put it another way, the neurotic is superficially much better adapted to reality than is the psychotic, but this doesn't necessarily mean he isn't just as disturbed underneath. You'd be surprised at how many "functioning crazies" there are out there. Imagine two identical houses with cracked foundations, one of which collapses due to an earthquake. The other house is just as vulnerable, but it will look fine so long as nothing comes along to expose the weak foundation.

One thing that unites the world of Islam and the world of the left is massive narrative failure. Only when a narrative fails are we privy to the irrational forces that called the narrative into being. In individual psychology this failure is called "decompensation," which refers to a failure of psychological defense mechanisms. Most anyone can suffer decompensation under sufficient stress, i.e., trauma.

I routinely encounter traumatized individuals in my practice, and one near-universal feature is the breakdown of their personal narrative, so to speak. Once the trauma breaks down their psychic defenses, you never know what you'll find underneath. A previously well-enough functioning individual might be swamped by unconscious material related to previously repressed life events.

So a narrative is not something to be casually toyed with. For many people it is their life preserver, their link to sanity. We all know people with fragile narratives, people we must humor and avoid provoking. We intuitively know that they cannot tolerate too much poking around at the edges of their narrative. In other words, they are defensive, which you will experience as a kind of brittleness in their presence. So you indulge them, as you would a child.

Another way this fragility comes through is via intense aggressiveness. Some people will instinctively respond to any threat to their narrative with a display of hostility that tells you to back off.

We all know liberals of this nature, since it has become such a common feature. First they reduce everything to racism, or homophobia, or class warfare, or corporations, or misogyny, or Citizens United, or Gitmo, or some other object of hatred, and then become outraged. The prior distortion legitimizes for them the release of primitive aggression.

In psychoanalytic parlance this is known as a "corrupt superego," corrupt because it greenlights a sanctimonious attack based upon a willful distortion. In other words, moral aggression is fine, so long as we are angry at the right things and do not call good evil and evil good.

Obama is a fragile individual (for example, if he weren't so fragile he wouldn't have to be so grandiose, grandiosity being a classic defense). He cannot be pressed too hard, or he is exposed as the stammering bumblefuck he is. It is difficult to know how much of the media's protection of him has to do with an awareness of this fragility. As alluded to above, we normally respond to such a fragile individual by backing off, because we don't want to shame and humiliate him. If you have any compassion, it's painful to watch.

Yesterday Jorge Ramos ignored Obama's fragility and plunged ahead anyway, with predictable results. Imagine if Obama had had to endure years of this kind of frankly journalistic treatment (as did George Bush, and then some) instead of just a few minutes.

What we call "political spin" involves the conscious effort to repair a narrative that is fraying at the edges. The problem with Obama is that he has been such a massive failure that the attempt to spin it just looks insane (cf. die chairhundt D.W. Schultz). Thus his campaign is reduced to two more primitive defense mechanisms: diversion and aggression.

Back to this notion of narrative. Remember a few weeks ago, when Obama conceded that his only real failure as president had been the absence of a good story to tell us? In other words, the facts vindicate his policies, but he just needs to assemble them in the right sequence. But even if he had been successful in conjuring such a Likely Story -- as was, for example, FDR -- this wouldn't alter the underlying reality (any more than FDR's superior political skills changed the reality of his failed policies).

There is, however, another way out. As we know, religion is man's proper vertical escape hatch from this messy world.

Postmodern thought provides another, albeit pathological, way to fly past the constraints of reality. For the postmodernist there is nothing outside the text. For such an individual, everything is spin, because there is no separate reality outside the text. Therefore, politics really does come down to a cynical battle between narratives. The leftist knows that he is simply propagating a narrative, and assumes -- insists, really -- that we are too.

As we know, it is essentially impossible to have a rational discussion with such an individual, because they have undermined the very basis of rational discourse. This is another way of saying that you can't argue with a false god, only the real one.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Ten Things Every Educated Human Needs to Know

People love lists. I just typed "the ten" at amazon and the autofill does the rest: "faces of innovation," "most beautiful experiments," "things to do when your life falls apart," etc.

Seven is even better: "habits of highly effective people," "laws of spiritual success," "principles for making marriage work," etc. And of course, even God gets into the numbers business with the six days of creation or the Ten Commandments -- the latter of which also being habits of highly effective pneumanauts.

Yesterday I was wondering to myself: what are the ten... things? You know, the things without which there couldn't be any other things, and from which everything else flows? Or in other words, the truly necessary things, devoid of contingency -- the Things That Cannot Not Be.

For example, you could say that the word God stands for the one thing (so to speak) that simply cannot not be, on pain of total unintelligibility and absurdity. Because man knows -- and knows he knows -- he must posit a principle that permits this remarkable phenomenon to occur. And this explanatory principle obviously cannot be "below" that which it purports to explain. Indeed, even the word "principle" implies transcendence and containment of particulars.

I don't even want to get into religion per se -- or at least exoteric religious dogma -- because that may cloud the issue. Rather, I want to deal with the pure structure or form of things, whereas religion as it is usually understood touches more on content or substance.

To borrow a phrase from Voegelin, I want to delve into an area that orthoparadoxically "encompasses and excludes all religions." We know this area exists, otherwise it would be impossible for two people of different faiths to communicate.

For example, Thomas says that He who is "is more appropriate than 'God' because of what makes us use the name in the first place, i.e., his existence, because of the unrestricted way in which it signifies him, and because of its tense..." Or, "even more appropriate is the Tetragrammaton, which is used to signify the incommunicable... substance of God."

In other words, "God" -- or any other religious term, for that matter -- can become so saturated with meaning that it fails to convey what it actually means. One reason for this is that man is adapted to various planes of existence, so it is possible to use language that applies to one plane on another, where it is no longer appropriate.

And this doesn't just apply metaphysics, but physics and other disciplines. For example, there is no way to describe or even imagine the quantum realm with language used to describe a Newtonian system. Doing so will simply generate paradox.

One could say the same of asking what came before the big bang. Since astrophysicists maintain that time itself came into existence with the big bang, there can be no temporal "before" prior to it.

Nor, as we have discussed on numerous occasions, can one describe the workings of the mind with the same logic used to understand the physical world. Psychologists who attempt to do this -- such as B.F. Skinnner -- only beclown themselves. A person who could be explained by such a theory would no longer be a person.

Back to our list. You could say that it begins with the first sentence of the Bible -- or that the ten words of this sentence more than adequately convey our meaning, so long as we fully unpack their implications: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

The first thing you will notice is that in this sentence there are three things: God (or the creative principle), heavens, and earth. The latter two -- heavens and earth -- are intended to signify "everything," both terrestrial and celestial, or local and nonlocal, which is another way of saying horizontal and vertical. Is it possible to say that the creative principle ultimately bifurcates into the complementarity of subject-object? More on this possibility later.

Another way of looking at this sentence is to say that it conveys the idea of Creator-creation, or, more abstractly, principle-manifestation, or absolute and relative, or timeless and temporal. Both are real, but in very different ways, since the reality of the latter terms is only a "reflection" of the more real reality of the former.

You might say that the first term sponsors or "guarantees" the second -- like cosigning a loan. Seriously, any metaphysic that denies the First Term is really just passing rubber checks.

So the creation is not the Creator, but without being anything other than the Creator, in the same way the sun's rays are not other than the sun. In other words, there is a transcendent principle of continuity over and above an immanent principle of discontinuity and ontological rupture. Or just say One and many:

"Multiplicity as such is the outward aspect of the world," or "a diversified and diversifying projection of the One" (Schuon).

That the world is not God -- or that the earth is not the heavens, the terrestrial not the celestial -- explains a lot, including the existence of evil. In Genesis we have to wait until chapter 3 for this principle to enter the stage. Of note, it enters "from below," so to speak, with a symbol of "below-ness" as such, Mr. Snake. For our symbolic purposes, no being can be lower than the snake, who slithers the earth on his belly.

Note that the snake "gets to man" via the woman, who is "closer" to earth than the man. Again, as we have discussed on a number of occasions, "mother" is still a biological category, whereas "father" is the first cultural category, the very foundation of the possibility of culture. In her own way, mother is indeed godlike, what with the ability to produce children out of her own substance -- hence the universal idea of "mother" nature and the ubiquitous temptation of paganism and pantheism.

Vertically speaking, the proper flow of energies would be Father-Principle --> Mother-Maya-Manifestation --> Child-Culture. The snake upsets this balance, so the energy goes from earth to woman to man, who then imagines himself to be God.

Thus, the oppression of woman can never come from religion, properly understood. Rather, the opposite: from a crude materialism with man appropriating the power at the top (brute power with no legitimate authority). Hence the liberal war, not so much on "women" in the profane sense, but on the whole reality of womanhood itself (and therefore manhood as well -- an attack on one always damages the other, since they are complementary).

Here is how Schuon describes this movement: "To say radiation is to say increasing distance, and thus progressive weakening or darkening, which explains the privative -- and in the last analysis subversive -- phenomenon of what we call evil..."

And "subversive" is good term to describe what happens when primordial man and woman co-conspire to invert the divine order of the world, placing themselves rather than God at the top/center. What this means in essence is that the periphery claims to be the center, the created the Creator.

Which is why it is so ironic for radical secularists to accuse believers of having an anthropocentric view of the universe, when it is precisely the opposite: only the atheist imagines himself to be at the center of existence, hence his pretentious pronouncements on the whole of reality -- as if the part can know the whole.

Man can surely know, but it is again with recourse to a kind of borrowed light -- for this light cannot be self-generated. The first sentence of John -- which is intended to resonate with the first sentence of Genesis -- speaks of this light-amidst-darkness, which is none other than the principle-amidst-manifestation, or intelligence-within-matter, or just the inward in the outward. I mean, here it is, right?

I guess that's enough for today. To be continued -- but maybe not tomorrow, since I have an early day....

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Rodeo Clown Media and their Crazed Bull

One of the primary functions of the Rodeo Clown Media (RCM) is to obsess over the periphery while systematically ignoring the center. Sometimes it is unclear whether this is out of design or stupidity, but the result is the same: the trivial is elevated to the important while reality is banished to the sidelines. To receive one's news from the RCM is to beclown oneself by implication.

We need also to bear in mind that a rodeo clown doesn't just run around arbitrarily. Rather, he is there to protect someone who is in danger by distracting and throwing off some crazed bull. Similarly, the RCM is there to protect Obama when he is endangered by distracting us and throwing out some crazed bull.

As such, you might say that the RCM is at antipodes to the "well examined life," which involves first and foremost discerning between truth and error, or principle and manifestation, or reality and appearances, etc. The RCM may not always place error above truth, but the very best it can do is to put them on the same plane.

Charles Kesler, whose new book on Obama is called I Am the Change, has a piece at NRO entitled Obama's Truth. Note also the subtitle of the latter, which exemplifies the political pneumapthology we've been discussing of late: It may not be true, but it’s still absolute.

People who reject the absolute don't just end their cognitive descent there. Rather, unless they are truly insane -- and therefore irrelevant -- they inevitably fall into some version of absolute relativism, or systematic absurdity.

To call such people "thinkers" is an abuse of the term, for "thinking" is precisely what cannot occur in the context of relativism. If it can, then there is no relationship between thought and truth -- or mind and reality -- and thinking has no more to say about reality than does passing gas or watching MSNBC (but I repeat myself).

When we lay it out on the table like this -- naked before the the mind's eye without a figleaf of evasion or dissembling -- you probably think to yourself: "yeah, but nobody really believes this postmodern stuff, do they? Isn't it just a silly game for the tenured?"

If only. In his article, Kesler calls to the stand a tenured friend of Obama, who approvingly -- and accurately -- describes the variety of hammers available to the postmodern deconstruction worker:

"By antifoundationalism and particularism I mean the denial of universal principles. According to this way of thinking, human cultures are human constructions; different people exhibit different forms of behavior because they cherish different values. By perspectivalism I mean the belief that everything we see is conditioned by where we stand. There is no privileged, objective vantage point free from the perspective of particular cultural values. By historicism I mean the conviction that all human values and practices are products of historical processes and must be interpreted within historical frameworks. All principles and social patterns change; none stands outside the flow of history. These ideas come in different flavors, more and less radical and more and less nihilist" (Kloppenberg).

Eh. So what. What do I care about the jerk circles of academia, so long as they don't have any real power?

Kloppenberg: “Obama’s sensibility, his ways of thinking about culture and politics, rests on the hidden strata of these ideas.”


Here is an example of the sort of drivel that results from attempting to "think" while simultaneously rejecting the very foundation of thought. Don't laugh. It's your president speaking (from the Kesler piece):

"Implicit... in the very idea of ordered liberty was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or 'ism,' any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition, the pogrom, the gulag, or the jihad."

Ah, I see. So the absolute truth that "all men are created equal" is a recipe for tyranny and a road to the gulag. Gotcha.

That is so surreal, it ought to be called a Firesign chat.

Jews will be particularly interested to know that the disclosure of, and their historical allegiance to, the absolute, is implicated in their own destruction -- that their style of thinking is responsible for the very pogroms that have persecuted them. This is actually true, in the sense that Jews are hated precisely because their absolutism is an annoying rebuke to all relativists. It explains why all wholesale anti-Semitism (in the west) emanates from the relativistic left.

Kesler: Obama argues that "There is no absolute truth -- and that’s the absolute truth.... Such feeble, self-contradictory reasoning is at the heart of [his] very private and yet very public struggle with himself to determine whether there is anything anywhere that can truly be known, or even that it is rational to have faith in. Anyone who believes, really believes, in absolute truth, he asserts, is a fanatic or in imminent danger of becoming a fanatic; absolute truth is the mother of extremism everywhere."

It cannot be emphasized enough that Obama has it precisely backward, and that the turn to absolute relativism is the mother of world-historical nightmares.

For one thing, as discussed in yesterday's post, once one descends into relativism, there is a kind of scattering of truth resulting in "a vast field of secondary issues" that "effectively obscures the center of the struggle in existential consciousness" (Voegelin). Here again, this is where the media Rodeo Clowns enter the picture, as they ensure that everyone is focused on peripheral fragments and distracted from the central truth:

"[T]he struggle for truth is liable to degenerate into a jungle war of 'positions,' articulating themselves as 'isms," that are blind for their own meaning in terms of noetic consciousness" (ibid.).

But again, the relative is covertly elevated to the absolute, so that "the noetically 'empty' becomes a form of thought imposing itself as obligatory on a society, and the war of positions creates a 'climate of opinion'... that proves next to impenetrable by noetic logic" (ibid.).

Voegelin has just described the tyranny of political correctness, which is a kind of "public unconscious" that protects its own power while deflecting insight into its workings -- like a public neurosis.

Voegelin wrote this in 1977. What would he say today? I mean, after he stopped throwing up? Perhaps he'd agree with Kesler's assessment of Obama's malevolently vacuous philosophical musings -- that they "ought to send a shudder down Americans’ constitutional spine, assuming we still have one."

History, then, turns out to be a process not only of truth becoming luminous, but also of truth becoming deformed and lost by the very forces of imagination and language which let the truth break forth into image and word. --Voegelin

Monday, September 17, 2012

Playing Faust & Loose with the Facts of Existence

Although I still believe Romney will win easily in November -- mainly because polsters cannot capture just how eager we are to oust the Incompetent One -- the polls continue to suggest a tight race, and most have Obama with a slight lead. How can this be? How can a president who has failed in every measurable and unmeasurable way be contending for reelection?

John Hinderaker asks this question over at PowerLine, and highlights the obvious fact that "so many Americans are now cashing federal checks that self-interest drives many millions to vote Democrat, regardless of the public interest." How many souls have we lost due to the intrinsic corruption of a government big enough to buy the votes it needs in order to maintain and expand its power?

There is also the fact that the electorate is "polarized" in an unprecedented way. I put the word in scare quotes because polarization doesn't mean what it used to. Democrats and Republicans have always been polarized, but prior to 1980 it was more over who gets what than who believes what.

Indeed, today we might even say that the polarization is about what's what, i.e., reality. Liberals and conservatives don't just have different theories of governance, economics, psychology, and constitutional law, but really, two irreconcilable metaphysics.

But there is another important factor at work, one which liberals are ill-disposed to understand because of an absurdly flattering self-characterization that blinds them to their irrationality: "more than ever, party affiliation reflects not so much empirical judgments about public policy issues, but deep-seated cultural affinity...."

Hinderaker writes -- and I'm sure he speaks for all of us -- that "it is difficult to imagine circumstances that would cause me to vote for a Democrat for any office. For better or worse, and for good reasons or bad, an enormous number of Americans feel that way."

As a result, "it seems that fewer and fewer votes are up for grabs," and "there are many millions who would rather vote for four more years of failure than vote for a Republican."

I have members of my extended family who would never vote for a conservative fascist (for them a pleonasm). Indeed, I used to be one of those members, so I well understand the sentiment.

Even leaving aside specific policy preferences, I couldn't support a liberal for the simple reason that I question the judgment and wisdom of any adult who could actually call himself liberal and know what the word means (importantly, there are many clueless "liberals" who just vote that way but don't share the left's values). I wouldn't vote for a liberal for the same reason I wouldn't vote for a child. The only difference is that a child eventually grows up.

Now, that last crack wasn't just insultainment, for there is something pathologically childish in the philosophy of liberalism. Importantly, any integral philosophy must account for man's perpetual neoteny, i.e., his permanent immaturity and capacity for growth. The healthy way involves tolerating the intrinsic complementarity of child <--> adult. The unhealthy way involves abolishing any objective notion of mature adulthood, which leaves a child with no developmental telos, no proper end.

To take one obvious example, how many adolescents are taught that the proper end of human sexuality is marriage? Liberals are free to deny this reality, at the cost of understanding why one of their core constituencies is single women. But in order for liberals to carry out their war on married women with plausible deniability, it probably helps that the left hand doesn't know what the far left hand is doing.

Voegelin writes of the "diseased mind engaged in the sorcery of self-divinization," and of how "the devil who takes possession of man is man himself when he indulges his imagination to the extreme of self-divinization." He references Baudelaire, who penned the bluism that "A man who does not accept the conditions of life, sells his soul."

Now, truth is one; it is whole, integral, universal. But what happens to the man who denies this? "If for one reason or another [this] understanding is disturbed," writes Voegelin, "the truth of reality will fall apart into a vast field of rival symbolisms, each [absurdly] claiming for itself 'absolute' truth..."

Thus, for any normal person, such deformities as multiculturalism, moral relativism, and deconstruction are recognized as dangerous pneumapathologies to be avoided at all costs, for they are the equivalent of a fatal cancer of the spirit.

In a certain sense, every moment of life is a "revelation." The other day I was reading a book by Ratzinger, in which he touches on this important idea. That is to say, even what we know of as traditional revelation requires the human medium for its transmission, comprehension, and memorialization:

"Scripture is the essential witness of revelation, but revelation is something alive, something greater and more: proper to it is the fact that it arrives and is perceived -- otherwise it could not have become revelation." It "has instruments," but "is not separable from the living God, and it always requires a living person to whom it is communicated." Thus, like God, it is simultaneously beyond and within man.

Voegelin generalizes this approach, writing of "the historical process as a flux of divine presence" in which "every phase of the flux has the structure of a divine-human encounter." Being that we are free, each phase -- let's just say the present -- is also "an event of man's responding, or refusing to respond, to the presence of the divine ordering appeal."

Therefore, what we call the "present" is always in relation to the eternal, without which it could not be. To say "man-God" is a way of talking about this relation, but it is so saturated with meaning that it doesn't necessarily do the job anymore -- certainly not for the unbeliever.

But because of the time <--> eternity, or body <--> spirit complementarity, man is uniquely aware of being the "mortal-immortal," the being who knows of eternity and yet dies. The word "tension" hardly does justice to our perilous situation.

Which is why it is somewhat understandable that many people just want to make the tension go away. But there it is, simply transposed to another plane and thereby becoming the irresolvable tension of class warfare, or gender politics, or "social justice," or any other morbid hobbyhearse of the left.

In fact, the deformation of truth results in "various combat zones" and multiple battlefields which can distract us from the central struggle -- similar to how the multiple fronts against "terror" blind the politically correct to what unites the terrorists.

What is especially striking about this is that the Islamists commit the exact opposite fallacy of the left, in that they "deform reality by contracting it into the divine One and reduce all other reality to the status of nonbeing," i.e., dar al-Islam and dar al-Harb.

There are different terms one could use, but the most usefully loaded ones to encapsulate our political polarization might be the dar al-Marx and the dar al-freedom. Or just say Obama and Romney.

Theme Song

Theme Song