Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Yeah, I'm Totally Useless. What's Your Point?

In an interview, Schuon was asked about the distinctions between philosophy, religion, and metaphysics.

Philosophy, of course, "operates only with reason, hence with logical assumptions and conclusions." The trick is that its effectiveness is contingent upon starting with correct premises (or first principles), which philosophy itself cannot furnish.

For that you'll need the uncommon gift of common sense. Thus the old saying, "garbage in, tenure out." Which simply means that if you don't start with reality, your philosophy can never reach it.

For it is written: from bullshit you are, and to bullshit you shall return.

Religion adds several dimensions to the picture, including revelation, grace, wisdom, and salvation. You might say that it provides man with fixed premises that he himself could never have arrived at without supernatural assistance -- say, Torah, or Exodus, or I AM, or Incarnation, or Person, or Trinity, or Resurrection, or Judgment.

Schuon highlights another important purpose of religion, which the modern secular world has, by definition, forgotten: "to establish a realistic social dimension."

It is a truism that the left's secular vision is unrealistic and unworkable in the real world, but people usually focus on the economic pathologies, e.g., krugmania, marxophrenia, obamanoia, etc. But these are all just fancy euphemisms for being broke and not knowing it, or else rationalizations for generational theft.

Much deeper than this is its social/cultural insolvency and moral bankruptcy. Only when the left has succeeded in completely destroying what only Judeo-Christian values could build, will some of them finally appreciate -- like the clueless Colonel Nicholson -- the enormity of what they've done. But most of them will find a way to displace the blame, because being on the left means never having to say you're wrong, sorry, sick, insane, lazy, broke, perverted, greedy, or lying through your teeth again.

So, why metaphysics? Which is a little like asking a monkey, "why the banana?" Human beings are built in a certain way and therefore have specific needs. Schuon says that metaphysics simply "satisfies the needs of intellectually gifted men." However, he isn't talking about profane metaphysics, which is just another branch of philosophy, and therefore not really metaphysics at all.

Rather, to engage in real metaphysics is to touch the divine. This must be so, since metaphysics is the study of being qua being, and God is.... No, let's just leave it at that: God is, period.

Metaphysics is the quintessential business of isness, and God is isness as such. Therefore, "metaphysical truth concerns not only our thinking, but penetrates also to our whole being." As such, "it is far above philosophy in the ordinary sense of the word." Perhaps we should call it transphysics, because it is both above and beyond the call of nature.

Back to the monkey and his banana. A monkey, goddammit, has certain intrinsic needs, and to deny him the object of those needs would be a cruelty. So hand over the banana already!

Likewise, man has certain intrinsic needs, and to deny these is to make a monkey out of him. However, man's needs are not limited to the biological sphere, or even the social sphere, although food, grog, and sex is certainly a good start. But no man can live on bananas alone, nor even on human love.

Rather -- and this is a key to appreciating what man is -- man has a need of truth and of salvation. Allied with these is a need for morals, which represent truth in action, or, say, truth prolonged into the social sphere.

Man also needs, according to Schuon, spiritual practice, which, you might say, is a systematic way to assimilate and embody truth and morality. In short, in order to get anywhere he needs Truth and Way, or Doctrine and Method, or Ass and Roadmap.

I know, I know, MOTT. Don't worry, we'll get there. The spirit blows where it will, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Besides, this post is going somewhere, I just know it. And if it doesn't? Well, that'll just prove that the title of the post is apt.

Now, the following may require a bit of a leap, and this does indeed veer or careen into esoterism, depending upon how carefully you derive. For Schuon, an authentic religious tradition already embodies metaphysics, and this may be sufficient to satisfy the average believer.

For example, as we were saying yesterday -- or was it Friday? -- Genesis is chock full of metaphysical arguments and insights, and there is no intrinsic reason why an intellectual explication of them is superior to an implicit, right brain understanding.

I mean, it's all there: radical creation (and the goodness thereof), deiformity, vocation, destiny, judgment, woman trouble, sibling rivalry, and much more.

In fact, this "much more" is precisely what we'll be getting into with MOTT. Much of MOTT is spent unpacking the esoteric or "hidden" knowledge packed into revelation and tradition. Some oddballs have a legitimate need for this sort of thing.

Which is why most people are not my readers. They just don't have that itch, so my scratching would just annoy them. The Unfathomable Lucidity of the B'ob? No thanks.

Now, all of these preluminary meditations have a reason, I'll bet. The reason is that I am attempting to rationalize my peculiar existence. Because let's face it, I am a completely useless man.

What I mean is that this writing I am doing has no practical purpose whatsoever. I don't make any real money off of it (I do receive a nominal sum from you thoughtful folks who click through to amazon and buy something), and I am in a a career in which I could readily earn more money by... by, you know, working more.

I don't usually think about it in these terms, you ungrateful bastards, but this blogging isness does consume an awful lot of time. Over seven years, in excess of 2,000 lengthy posts, thousands of comments. Why do I do it? Why don't I do something more productive and remunerative with my time? That's right, Why don't you make yourself useful, ya' lazy bastard?

Monkeys and bananas, I suppose. I'm not "making up" this need I have. Rather, I'm just pursuing (indulging?) it in the most natural and spontaneous way immarginable. Always been this way, at least from my mid-twenties or so, when my personality fully came on line (yes, it took that long for me to recover from the initial shock of being here).

When I was younger, I used to think it was simply because I was an enlightened sphere walking amongst the grazing multitude of somnolent cubes. But I no longer look at it that way. People are just different, that's all. Strokes and folks. Speaking of which, I don't want to be like my cardiologist, but even less do I want him to be like me!

On the other hand, the historical ubiquity of religion proves that it answers and speaks to a genuine need in man, because to think otherwise is to posit an effect with no cause. What this suggests to me is that all of the irreligious cubes in this world are deceiving themselves. They have the same needs man has always had, because man is man, a self-tautology.

In order to be unaware of the pain caused by this unfulfilled need, they must engage in all sorts of distractions, displacements, replacements, and substitutions. But still the need will be there because the void will persist, a void that cannot be filled by the world, any more than the need for human companionship can be satisfied by food.

The bottom lyin' is that human beings try to evade their uselessness by doing something useful. But reality is utterly useless, which is to say, it cannot be reduced to some pragmatic, goal-directed activity.

The Great Useless, or Big Empty, cannot be measured by the useful. It is our reason, but in itself it has no reason; or in other words, it alone has no extrinsic causes, but just IS. Therefore, it seems to me that the last word in deiformity is to become equally useless, at least for as much timelessness as we can manage.

Look at God himsoph. What does he do? He makes himself useful with six days of creativity. But the proper telos of all this creativity is the sabbath, on which we are enjoined to enjoy utter uselessness.

I remember reading a book by Stanley Jaki, in which he expressed the opinion that this is the whole point of Genesis 1 and 2: its principle lesson concerns the sabbath, our great Day of Focussed Unactivity, Higher Non-Doodling, or slack.

Ultimate truth, like its divine sponsor, just is, and has no reason. And we cannot rest until we are conformed to it, and made equally useless. As useless as, say, a baby. We all need a touch of infanity.

Well, this post is over. Unfortunately, I have to go out and make myself useful.

According to the "physics" of the spiritual order, the more one draws on the divine life, the more one receives that life.... when one receives a gift, one must give it away, since it only exists in gift form, and when he gives it away he will find more of it flooding into his heart. --Robert Barron


mushroom said...

I don't mean to be sexist at all -- and Julie or Mrs. G or somebody, please correct any misunderstanding on my part -- but it just seems to me that men are better at uselessness than women are.

Isn't the whole idea of making men more like women to make them better "worker bees", as my nephew likes to say?

My wife is a pure Kraut so she may not be a good example, but it just drives her crazy if I don't have something to do.

Gagdad Bob said...

Interesting point. I think about those poor men with their "honey do" lists.

Gagdad Bob said...

You're really talking about the capacity for play. As they say, Mama don't play!

But seriously, now that I think about it, my own mother was extremely unplayful. Never lighthearted or frivolous or silly. Always making herself useful.

Gagdad Bob said...

And even though my wife isn't like that, things do definitely get sillier around here when it's just me and Tristan.

mushroom said...

That's really noticeable with the grandkids. They all love Grandma, but they know Poppy's the one who is going to play.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yeah, my son knows to go to his mother when he needs something related to survival, but to come to me when he needs to fart.

Van Harvey said...

Sorry to jump straight to the comments... but you're wondering if that's true? Um... could someone point out the super successful National Female Football League? Or other comp?

I'll wait.

wild said...

"If the history of philosophy teaches anything, it is the decisive influence which the first step taken by a philosopher has on his system...if philosophers in the West had adhered to the primacy of facts or objects, there would not have been a Western philosophy as known for the last half a millennium...For almost every trend in that philosophy is an attempt to march forward by starting out with what can be only the second step, and at times only the third." Stanley L.Jaki "A Mind's Matter" pp.181-3

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, as Jaki said, objects object. A good first principle.

Anonymous said...

MOTT for less than $30 brand new:

mushroom said...

could someone point out the super successful National Female Football League

It's the Legends Football League now.

And beach volleyball is an Olympic sport.

Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of female athletes, I sense William on the premises.

Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking also of an odd combination of frivolousness and self-seriousness.

Kurt said...

Thank you for sharing so much of yourself on this blog. Reading, thinking and listening along with you has been a great benefit to me as I try to figure things out for myself. And the MOTT has been one of the great gifts you brought to my attention - I am looking forward to walking through its pages with you again, in the good company of our dear Unknown Friend and all the other good folks who read your blog.


Tony said...


"pure kraut"

(still laughing)

Schuon says that metaphysics simply "satisfies the needs of intellectually gifted men."

awful nice of him to say

(perhaps not so) coincidentally, I was reading Fr. Carrón this morning and reflecting a bit on what he says on pp. 11-15

he reiterates Fr. Giussani's contention that since humans are naturally oriented toward an infinite horizon, they will become frustrated by exertions toward anything else, and that this will make it difficult to love themselves -- this flailing around in finitude and feeling a permanent sort of emptiness ("where is mommy?!") prevents them from escaping childhood or adolescence

the desire for, and high destiny of, communion with the divine is the basis and vocation of adulthood

no wonder perpetual adolescence is such a problem

/been there, done that

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, it's a veritable peter pandemic. Speaking of William.

Tony said...

a pandemic which eventually peters out if -- like Mamet perhaps -- you walk through and past the whole panoply of reductive philosophies and approaches to "living" -- or avoid them wisely altogether

maybe peterpans like William don't take their eventual dissatisfactions seriously enough, which is another way of saying they might not be taking their needs seriously enough

if desires and their fulfillments are just pluckings and eatings of random bananas, it's pretty hard to take any other urge but hunger seriously -- you start to feel empty, and then rage at the empty, or become cynical and soulless about it

or, this very dynamic can make you look up and out toward a One that alone is in a position to satisfy

something like that

Gagdad Bob said...

I believe he lives on the state's dime (cow college guitar teacher), so there's no incentive to cope with reality.

julie said...

Mushroom, I don't think you're far off base. I couldn't care less if my husband has "something to do" or not (he works hard enough as it is without me giving him crap for things I could do just as easily myself), but then I'm on the weird side, as females go. And I used to be darn good at being useless, but having kids has a way of making it difficult to be a slacker.

As to play, I consider that a large and necessary part of my work, but even so I don't play the way Daddy does. Nor would I want to :)

julie said...

Magister, although your last comment refers to William it reminds me of the British couple living off of handouts who are happy to admit that they live off of state handouts, because the handouts pay so well.

Leslie Godwin said...

Before I let go and let Bob, I was a workaholic. And my goal was to be an even busier and more effective workaholic.
Teaching me to value slack, which I had to do before I could make any changes, was one of Bob's most wonderful gifts to me. I won't say that his methods were so good, but he got the job done.

Re. mamas playing:
Tristan and I are very silly together and laugh a lot and do a lot of bonding-type activities. We go everywhere together, spend as long as we want on even the smallest errand, and talk about everything. But when I come home after a boys' night in, they might be listening to really loud music and roughhousing or otherwise being exuberant. Definitely a different vibe.

We tell T that there are things he does with daddy and that he treats mommy (and other girls) differently. Or that you don't serenade Grandma with songs about farting and pooping, for example. He often gets this naturally, but we spell it out to emphasize that men and women are different.

I think some of it is that he needs me to feel contained, listened to, understood on the deepest level, and loved. If I mostly roughhoused with him, for example, he wouldn't get so much of what he needs from me. I hope I'm explaining this clearly. It's sort of like if you need a friend to let you get something off your chest, and they want to lecture you on the topic, it's frustrating even though they are trying to be helpful and maybe even sharing wise thoughts.
Mrs. G

wild said...

"objects object. A good first principle."

Polanyi's "Post-Critical" philosophy (i.e. his rejection of the "Critical Philosophy" of the Modern period - for example the "Analytical Philosophy" he encountered in 1950's Oxford) is a consequence of his Realism.

Our "common sense" is our shared tacit experience of reality, without which communication with each other would be impossible.

Polanyi was not being anti-critical, or anti-explicit, he was saying that articulation (the product of the Left brain) becomes meaningful by being situated in the (Right brain?) context of our non-explicit awareness.

From this he derives his rejection of (total) planning, science reduced to rules, and the claim that everything there is to know about reality is (or can be) said by physics.

The Left are Anti-Realists about values (nihilists) because they they hate being judged and found wanting - instead they prefer to impose their own will i.e. they are narcissists at war with reality.

Tony said...


that article has more insight and argument than most professional or academic work I've read

here's the thing -- they're helpless serfs

The pair left school with no qualifications

and no skills, either, I'd bet

if the British Welfare State pulls up its industrial rack of teats, this couple and millions like them will squeal like little pigs deprived of their sow

but you know, the article sure doesn't indicate any existential dissatisfaction there, does it -- they seem perfectly content and even justified in their dependency

the Brit parents certainly continue to elect politicians who confiscate their money, so it's not just these layabouts that deserve blame

my brother would shrug and say meh, what do these leeches have to offer, anyway? maybe it's best to buy them off to keep them fat, stupid, and lazy. fewer problems for the rest of us.

except that Thatcher is right: other people's money is running out

julie said...

Yep. It wouldn't be so bad if they weren't raising kids, who will likely be just like their parents only moreso.

What I find interesting is that these people have apparently never learned that anything worth having is worth working for. If anything, they believe the opposite: anything that requires work isn't worth having.

Tony said...

leslie, what was the most effective thing bob did to persuade you?

Gagdad Bob said...

Wild: Yes, Polanyi's post-critical philosophy ties it all together nicely: epistemology, ontology, economics, politics, and more. I think he only achieved it because he wasn't a professional philosopher, and wasn't contaminated by positivism, analytic philosophy, or all the postmodern misosophies. No wonder they ignore him.

Tony said...

julie, yes, and the state sure has arranged it so they have no economic incentive to take jobs that pay less than what the state pays -- their question is totally rational, "why work?"

if, of course, it's only "rational" to think purely in terms of financial income

like yours, I think my answer would be "to prevent your kid from becoming a selfish wanker, too, and crashing the system"

'All take, no make' makes Blake a foul boy.

Tony said...

ha -- "microsophies" works, too

not a lot of "philo" going around

Leslie Godwin said...

Magister, I will think about this and do my best to respond. But if you are thinking of a special someone, the methods you use might be different. If you could give me any particulars, that would help me respond to your situation better. But I will also think about how to describe Bob's methods as they affected me.

Tony said...

I appreciate that, Leslie, but on second thought, there's no need to hash any of this out on my account. My wife and I are doing fine. I just thought there might be something quick and amusing to report. Carry on!

Gagdad Bob said...

My answer? The blog made flesh.

Van Harvey said...

Mushroom, lol. I didn't say a league that hot ladies would play in because guys would watch, or yet another niche or throw away Olympics event that plays to the exceptions, but a SUPER SUCCESSFUL league of female players and female fans, on a par in #'s & $'s with the NFL.

Other than 'Mary a Millionaire Bachelor ' TV shows, that is.

Van Harvey said...

(but thanks for the pic, beats the heck outta these table schemas I've been starting at all day long)

julie said...

Completely off topic, I wonder if this was like the "Little Lebowski Urban Achievers"? Or perhaps it's more like the Unified Fund?

Leslie Godwin said...


Actually, it had a lot to do with Bob's being honest and not watering down his concerns to spare my feelings. And the other part was probably that I also put the truth above my feelings, even though that was really hard. But once I really understood what he was getting at, I was motivated to keep at it.

One thing that helped me to hear what Bob was saying and not let my mind parasites get in the way was that I told myself that for two weeks I would only assume that Bob had my best interest in mind. I would suspend any concern that he was trying to be mean, critical, or negative and would assume only pure motives for a limited time just to see what would happen. That was probably one of the more memorable turning points. But I don't remember anything quick or amusing!

ted said...

I would suspend any concern that he was trying to be mean, critical, or negative and would assume only pure motives for a limited time just to see what would happen.

I did the same thing when I started reading this blog as a left leaning Wilberian Buddhist. I'm glad it worked for you Mrs. G :)

Gagdad Bob said...

As one former left-leaning Wilberian to another...

mushroom said...

You're welcome, Van. Databases are beautiful, too. In their own way.

Julie and Mrs. G, thank you for your responses. I think may have overstated my case a little. Women can, no doubt, be great slack-0-philes -- it just takes a different complexion, as you point out.

ge said...

Expenditure's pleasure ...Potlatch [Bataille] ....Play/Art/Humor [epitomes of glorious uselessness]

Gagdad Bob said...

ge -- speaking of playing, a new 7 CD box o' Skydog. Looks intriguing. I've never heard 75% of what's on it.

Chris said...


To this day, I find myself returning to Ken Wilber's materials. (Odd that, since Aquinas has been front and center for me recently) What do you think are the fundamental problem/s with the Boomeritis guy's Integralism?


Gagdad Bob said...

I couldn't possibly answer that in the space of a comment, so I will do so in the form of a riddle: is it possible to take seriously a thinker who thinks Deepak Chopra is a serious thinker?

Chris said...


Love it!

I think I would characterize his views as essentially panpsychist. His rough treatment of classical theism seems to echoe the typical village atheist objections to "miracles" and "mythology". Wilber's and Chopra's reaction to the Orthodox understanding of the Incarnation is unfriendly, to say the least.

Gagdad Bob said...

I find it impossible to take Wilber seriously, so I haven't thought about him for a long time. If you ever catch me endorsing Tony Robins or Deepak Chopra, don't take me seriously. Rather, please shoot me.

Rick said...

Jeepers, that pull quote from Fr Barron. He's awesomer in print? This is not possible until it is.
Bob, what chapter is that from? I'd like to see if it's the same as in the video but only sounds different in print..

Rick said...

Oh, and is there enough bread in the dues jar to pay somebody to make Van turn the that PDF of MoTT into a Kindle book?

Gagdad Bob said...

Chapter 2.

Rick said...

Thanks, Bob. It appears to be similar but "played live".

Cond0011 said...

"Rather, to engage in real metaphysics is to touch the divine."

Yes. The Divine mercy. That cool drink at the fountainhead.

Seek and ye shall find.

"A monkey, goddammit, has certain intrinsic needs, and to deny him the object of those needs would be a cruelty. So hand over the banana already! "


"Man also needs, according to Schuon, spiritual practice, which, you might say, is a systematic way to assimilate and embody truth and morality. "


Absolutely. That means categorizing and ... ordering a disordered soul.

But Why?

All things grow weary under the sun. You can't be all things to all people. There are only 24 hours in the day. The fires of passion do burn low and the need to find other conceptual vehicles to extend your will and shore up flagging discipline.


Duty - To know the limits of your flesh, assess the appropriate measure of labor and To do what you say your going to do. An act of love grown cold is bolstered by the conceptual tool of Duty (I'm upgrading this sense right now...)

Honor - To do what is right. This transcends Duty and Self Interest. There is a Metaphysical 'sparkly' in this one that is ill defined for me, but when you are in the grip of Honor, it supercedes ... well most everything. If you know the limits of your courage, you will KNOW the limits of your Honor. Perhaps that is why the Medal of Honor is the highest award of our Christian nation, and if your lucky, will live to Know what ...mettle... you are made out of.

Integrity - To be the same person, have the same values in the continuum of Social Pressurization from the extreme pressurized Concentration Camp to nearly vacuum pressurization of being a Tin-pot Dictator: The man of greatest structural integrity (in terms of the soul) will not suffer the moral deformation that would occur from living the extremes of Social Pressurization. To be unyeilding to temptation is to be someone of integrity.

There are other vessels, concepts or tools, I suppose, that will maximize the experience of living, but those are 3 ones that come to mind for me.

" But reality is utterly useless, which is to say, it cannot be reduced to some pragmatic, goal-directed activity. "

We are the Artwork of God - created by him... just cuz. We are HIS work of Art. Just Cuz.

Love, perhaps? :)

"But the proper telos of all this creativity is the sabbath, on which we are enjoined to enjoy utter uselessness."

The one day to do what we WANT to do (Only Duty-free work is allowed). Not ONE DROP of time is doing the have-to's in life. Sunday is representative of the ultimate of Slackitude. The bigger block of undisturbed time 'away form it all', the better the results of the ... 'rest'. (Now with the Irish, everyday is Sunday - and I'm 1/3 Irish. ;) )

Gagdad Bob said...

Just read this today, by Augustine:

"We ourselves shall become that seventh day" when "we shall have leisure to be still..."

Cond0011 said...

Hmmm... Yea...

I believe the stillness that Saint Augustine is referring to is not the stillness that Seniors get in retirement (infact they can be an unhappy lot and may die soon after letting go of their career), but perhaps the stillness of being 'centered' (your center - not anyone elses) from years of defining, honing, searching and doing that which is a pleasing and proper life.

The effortlessness that only a labor of love can give.

I know that for me in this era of my life, to be perfectly still (physically) is the best manner for me to really figure 'stuff' out.

Even better if near a refrigerator and a microwave... :)

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

Nice quote, Bob. Its going in my Archive.