Friday, November 22, 2013

An Inspiring Post About Nothing

In yesterday's post we discussed What We Can Know. But there is no knowledge in the absence of a knower. Just as the world has its appearance and its reality, its surface and its depth, the knower is situated along a gradient of meaning within the horizon of subjectivity.

As our knower attains depth and density within this space of meaning, the world becomes increasingly transparent. The logocentricity of the cosmos assures that there is always this two-way mirror between world and mind, or intelligence and intelligibility. Nothing -- nothing that exists -- can be essentially unknowable.

As we know, there are people who see surfaces only, but this is a function of their own shallowness. There are others who see what might be called "false depths" as a result of paranoia, projection, and ideology. The left is full of such individuals.

These primitive proglodytes forge their illusions "for the triumph of the general over the individual," for politics over person, for force over freedom. The essential problem of the left is that they cannot tolerate the Nothing required for knowledge. Instead, they fill this vibrant space with the debris and detritus of their own broken souls.

As alluded to at the end of yesterday's post, the world is both being and non-being, or a dialectic of something and nothing. To put it another way, it is surely created. But not "all the way," so to speak. It has always been a principle of Judaism that the creation is left unfinished, so that man may participate in its perfection. After all, we can't bloody well imitate the Creator if there is nothing left to create!

Berdyaev agrees that "the world is not finished" and that "its completion is left to man," who must deploy both his knowledge and his freedom to "continue the world's creation."

But remember what was said yesterday about the abyss of nothingness at the foundation of freedom. This suggests that creation is very similar to what is described so well in the Tao Te Ching: for example, in building a house, we need the walls but we live in the empty space they enclose. No one can live in a wall.

Likewise, the purpose of a cup is to render emptiness useful. We need the emptiness in order to fill it with something. Just so, even God needs emptiness, which, it seems to me, is the deeper meaning of "creation from nothing." In a very real sense, all creativity is from nothing, at least relatively speaking.

This is because the future is not determined, and this lack of determinacy may be thought of as the temporal nothingness that is the basis of our freedom (or dread, depending). If the world were wholly determined, there would be no freedom, no creativity, no progress.

So "the world does not enter into me, passively." Again, there is always an element of co-creation, such that "The world I face depends upon my attention and my imagination, upon the intensity of my thought," which is naturally "determined from within, not from without."

To say this results in the world's increasing transparency is another way of saying that the light shines through the creation more vividly: "The knowledge of existence is the accumulation of light and meaning within existence; it is the illumination of being, and consequently its renaissance [literally, rebirth], its hitherto-unknown enrichment."

And speaking of birth, "Knowledge has a conjugal, masculine-feminine character," for "it is the meeting and union of the two, the possession of the feminine element by masculine sense and meaning."

It seems that most people emphasize the masculine pole, but just as a cup is useless without its empty space, knowledge is impossible in the absence of the feminine mystery that lures us into it. Vive la différence! Or rather, vice versa, for this difference is life, on every level.

Two big errors: radical union with the cosmos, as in Buddhism; and radical separation from the cosmos, as in scientism. Both deny the beautiful differences alluded to above. Thus, "fusion with cosmic life does not liberate personality, but rather dissolves and destroys it." Conversely, all the knowledge of the tenured will never add up to reality, since "the endlessness of the objectified world cannot be the cosmic whole."

In the absence of the Nothing of freedom, "Man moves in a vicious circle. To break out of that circle requires an act of spirit," and this act must be free. Again, if it is determined, then we are by definition in the closed circle.

It is useful to distinguish between two knowers in man, one who knows the objective world, one who knows the subjective world. In the Book For Which the Blog is Named, I symbolize these (•) and (¶), respectively. Why the irritating symbols? In order to preserve the nothingness without which they cannot accumulate experiential meaning. Again, think of that Taoist cup, without which you shouldn't play baseball.

About those two modes of knowing, Berdyaev writes that man "is a dual being, living in both the phenomenal and noumenal world." Thus, "On the one hand, man is phenomenon, a thing of nature, subject to the law of this world." This concrete fellow is (•).

The other fellow -- (¶) -- "is a 'thing in itself,' a spiritual being, free from the power of this world." Note the operative word: free. This is the essential bit of Nothing that makes one either a spiritual pneumanaut or a cynical and morbid existentialist. The choice is yours, but only if you know how to properly use your Nothing.

As Petey always says, our inspiration is God's expiration. And being that it can only occur now, there is no expiration date. "Spirit is, as it were, the breath of God penetrating man's being." Our in-breathing of this spirit of freedom communicates "a higher dignity, a higher quality in [our] existence, inner independence and unity...."

"Spirit is a break-through into our heavy-laden world: it is dynamic, creativity, up-surge." It is by this spirit that image transforms to likeness, in a divine-human partnership: "Spirit emanates from God, is poured in, or breathed into, man."

Even so, you still have to inhale.

God is completeness toward which man cannot avoid striving. (All quoted material from Christian Existentialism)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nevertheless, God is a Jazzman

Christian Existentialism unscrambles excerpts from Berdyaev's thirty odd books and helpfully reassembles them under various headings, such as What Can We Know?, The Eternal Being, and God's Latest Image (that would be us). As I said, Berdyaev himself is not systematic or organized, so this approach makes him much more accessible, not to mention aphoristic and blogworthy.

For example, just what can we know? Are we really stuck inside of Kantville with the transcendental blues, or can we know stuff?

Well, first of all, Berdyaev -- proto-Raccoon that he is -- doesn't begin with being. Rather, he insists that Personality is prior to being. This follows from our understanding that God is above all else an irreducible "I."

In God's famous wisecrack -- some variant of I Am That I Am -- the accent is on the I rather than the AM. Or in other words, AM is a consequence of I, because the converse could never be true, for the same reason you can't get blood from a turnip. In a way, trying to derive persons from being is more than a little like trying to turn stones into bread.

Now, if there is something prior (meaning ontologically, not chronologically, prior) to person, it is freedom. You might say Berdyaev posits a third stance alongside existentialism and essentialism. Pardon the pedantry, but the former makes essence a function of existence, while the latter posits essence as prior to existence.

In practical terms, this means that, for the left, for example, who you are is a function of existential considerations such as race, or class, or sexual orientation. Or in other words, you're nobody 'til somebody hates you.

But for the essentialist-conservative, all the categories the leftist holds sacred are just accidents and contingencies. For the conservative liberal, the real purpose of life is to actualize our essence, not reduce ourselves to some fixed victim class of the left. The left's approach effaces identity and personhood as a necessary consequence.

But again, interestingly, Berdyaev posits freedom as even prior to essence. This makes perfect sense to me, in that it seems that real personal essence would be inconceivable in the absence of freedom.

Or other words, either we are free or we are not. If we are not free, then personal identity is just an illusion. We may imagine we are "choosing," but the choices are determined by our essence (or worse, existence).

Therefore, it seems to this Raccoon that personhood is really a dialectic -- or play, if you like -- of essence and freedom, or of I and Slack. Our essence is a mere abstraction until it encounters being in freedom, which results in our concrete I at any moment.

I mean, isn't this how it works? I think I'm being quite literal here, not at all distant from how it feels to be being someOne.

To make it even more concrete, it is exactly like jazz. Jazz, you might say, is America's gift to the world. But before that, it is God's gift to America. It is a kind of objective correlative to American-style freedom, or to the ordered liberty of the founders. Old white men indeed. Rather, the founders were funky old jazzers.

I realize this will sound offensive in the context of slavery, but the black experience in America is really a microcosm of the whole process, elevated to a plane of transcendental beauty. When we think of quintessential American music, what is it? Mostly jazz, blues, soul, rhythm & blues, gospel. Each of these, in its own way, is "the sound of freedom."

Now, why would a formerly enslaved people create such a beautiful sound? Perhaps for this very reason. Since physical -- i.e., horizontal -- freedom was restricted, blacks poured forth this longing on the vertical plane, via musical expression.

Furthermore, music was very much a way to express identity and personhood that were otherwise denied by cultural oppression. Take anyone, for example Louis Armstrong, or Duke Ellington, or Thelonious Monk. To a racist-existentialist, they are simply boy, or n-----, an anonymous designation determined by race, by existence. But the existential yoke is really on the racist, for each of these men not only expressed their unique identity via music, but created whole musical worlds that will endure and be explored forever, whereas the racist is buried in an anonymous grave that no decent person wants to visit.

So in his own way, the racist makes himself as unfree as his projected existential dunce partner. In other words, the racist needs the "inferior" race in order to imagine he is superior. The same dynamic exists in contemporary liberalism, since the white liberal's identity is thoroughly entangled in his sanctimonious and condescending attitude toward the blacks he presumes to pity.

Why more blacks aren't offended by liberal condescension is something of a mystery, but no more mysterious than the liberals who do the condescending. It takes two to engage in this freedom-denying dialectic of existence and accident, just as it takes three to engage in the trialectical spiral of freedom, person, and essence.

Returning the Berdyaev, "Personalism must recognize the primacy of freedom over being," for "the philosophy of primacy of being is a person-less philosophy." And the latter is also a deterministic philosophy, because it tries to make freedom a function of being, "which in the final analysis means that freedom is the child of necessity."

This leads to a rather controversial conclusion, radical in its implications, but no less radical than the Coonifesto. I can understand if one recoils from this conclusion, but I accept it wholeheadedly, for it makes sense of a great deal of nonsense (and vice versa):

"[F]reedom cannot be derived from being." Rather, it "is rooted in nothingness, in bottomlessness, in non-being, if we use ontological terminology. Freedom is without foundations; it is not determined, it is not born of being....

"The primacy of freedom over being is also the primacy of spirit over being. Being is static: spirit is dynamic.... spirit is subject and subjectivity: it is freedom and creative act."

And finally, "man faces, not abstract truth, but Truth as the way and the life. 'I am the truth, the way and the life.' This means that truth is concrete personality, its way and its life'.... Truth is dynamic in the highest degree.... It is given only in creative act" (Berdyaev).

Bottom line: I can imagine this on God's eternitable. At any rate, it's on mine:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

One Person Signing Up For ObamaCare is Tragedy; 50 Million Losing their Insurance is a Statistic

I don't remember when I first read Christian Existentialism: A Berdyaev Synthesis, but it would have been back when I was much more interested in the existentialism than the Christianity, so I didn't get much out of it.

Berdyaev, for those who don't know, was a 20th century Russian unorthodox Orthodox Christian thinker/writer/wildman/prophet. He doesn't really fit into anyone's category, not even his own, since one frequently finds him taking both sides of a dispute, especially over time (his works were originally published between 1901 and 1953). He is not what you would call disciplined or systematic.

However, he said many things that are straight out of the Raccoon playbook. He also said some things that are downright strange, kooky, or heretical. But I repeat myself. You just have to be comfortable with the fact that truth in the mode of prophet is unlike truth in the mode of reason, or myth, or empiricism. It's definitely a divine-human partnership, and you must always tease out the latter from the former.

Nevertheless, he would have been an excellent blogger, since his posts are always sharp, pungent, confrontational, eccentric, and insultaining. He was a compulsive writer, to such an extent that "if he were to think of himself in heaven, he said, it would be sitting at his desk." Which is precisely where he died in 1953.

Which just gave me an idea. If Berdyaev were a blogger, what would he be bleating today? First, I would say that he is the only other blogger of my acquaintance who sees the cosmic error of leftism -- who traces the disease all the way back and down to the foundations of being:

"Inequality is the basis of all cosmic order.... From inequality the world and the cosmos came into being. From inequality man, too, was born. Absolute equality would have left being in an unrevealed condition, in indifference, i.e. in non-being."

Thus, "the demand for a forced leveling, which comes out of the lower levels of chaotic darkness, is an attempt to destroy the hierarchic, cosmic order which was formed by the creative birth of light in darkness, an attempt to destroy human personality itself as a stage in [the] hierarchy..."

About the inevitable totalitarian temptation of the left -- facilitated by the fantasy that the complexity of the world can be modeled by the tenured and enforced by politicians -- Berdyaev would say that power "has a tendency to be transformed into an end in itself, and to substitute itself for all other ends.... Both monarchy and socialism mistake means for ends in the very same way and admit falsehood in the realization of their purposes...."

Or just say ObamaCare: a grand Lie in the service of socialist power, for "in socialism there is always negative truth and positive untruth." This is a demonic morality whereby "evil is the only way to good, thickening darkness the only way to the light."

This intellectual and spiritual rigidity of the left is really a form of rigor mortis, for it is "one of the most dogmatic, immobile, congealed doctrines ever invented in the history of human thought.... it is the absolute suffocation of a dungeon. I have always thought that organized materialism would lead to dynamic immobility."

And so it has. At least until 2014.

As has often been said, socialism is just a banal Christian heresy, "suffused with messianic pathos" and presuming "to bring the good news of man's salvation from all distress and suffering." As mentioned in yesterday's post, it is a beautiful doctrine until it actually makes contact with reality. You might say that there is always this little glitch in the rollout of socialism: that it cannot flourish outside the minds of the faithful.

Leftism is illiberal to the core, in that it attempts to bring about the Kingdom of Necessity. In so doing, it "accepts all three of the temptations rejected by Christ in the wilderness," most especially "the temptation of the kingdom of this world," thereby becoming "a religion of the slaves of necessity, of the children of sin."

About the presumption to knowledge of complex systems that defy human control, "it wants to rationalize the whole of life, to subject it to collective reason." But in order to accomplish this, "it must make an end to freedom" -- for example, the freedom to choose your own insurance or keep your own doctor.

You idiots out there just don't realize you have no idea what to do with your freedom, and that Obama and Pelosi know better how to direct it. It's easy: just "get man to renounce this unhappy freedom, enslave him to the temptations of earthly bread, and you will be able to build the earthly happiness of all..." Or in other words, just promise free stuff to the 51% of LoFos, and you're over the hump. A little hump called the Constitution.

More subtly, "Marxism thinks of freedom as necessity, known and accepted." Such a denial of genuine freedom is really "a secularized version of predestination." Remember what Obama said about progressive predestination: "If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress."

Right. In such a warped worldview, freedom is not only unnecessary, but an obstacle. All that is required is the unswerving application of dogma. Conversely, "Christianity does not think that the Kingdom of God can be attained without the participation of human freedom -- without man's consent, without his spiritual rebirth."

Furthermore, it is perfectly understandable that a Christian should be "indignant at exploitation," or human suffering, or economic oppression. But how can this be true of those "who deny the difference between good and evil?" In a perversion of Judaism, it is as if the proletariat -- or in today's argot, all of the official victim groups of the left -- are the "chosen people" waiting for the "messiah of the future." But now that their messiah has landed, how are they going to deal with the cognitive dissonance?

These revolutionaries never begin "by organizing the evil in themselves: they want to conquer and destroy the evil in others, in its secondary and external manifestations." But "revolutions do not so much conquer evil as make a new distribution of evil, and call new evil into being."

As Stalin said, you have to break some eggs in order to make an omelet. Thus, you need to murder a few million human beings in order to collectivize the farms.

Speaking of Stalin, one poor sucker signing up for ObamaCare is a tragedy. 50 million losing their insurance is just a statistic.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Obamacare and the Systematic Denial of Reality

"Knowledge of any reality," writes Hart, "is to be sought out in terms appropriate to the kind of reality it is." This has been understood since Aristotle, at least. In short, you can't find God with a hammer, nor can you drive a nail with prayer.

And yet, most of the tenured class regard problems that can't be solved with a hammer as ultimately unreal. Which is ironic, since most of them -- or their knowledge -- are so uselessly abstract that they couldn't even operate a real hammer.

In any event, "the mechanical picture of reality" results in the arbitrary and peremptory foreclosure of "a great number of questions that a truly rational culture should leave open" (Hart) -- or should at least stop pretending to have solved with the Hammer of Tenure.

It reminds me of when I was putting myself through graduate school by working in a supermarket. I was chatting with an elderly customer who happened to be a retired psychiatrist. I half-jokingly asked if he'd ever cured anyone, and he immediately bellowed "HELL NO!" That's the difference between abstract and concrete: one man helping put food on the table while another man pretends to heal souls.

Not to shift gears too violently, but we're just about done with The Experience of God. We've been discussing it for several weeks, and it's time to move on. But what he says above about epistemology and method has a lot of implications vis-a-vis Obama's extraordinary assault on our healthcare system. Only now -- when it's almost too late -- are Americans starting to wise up and ask themselves, "exactly what does this tool know about healthcare, and why is he trying to fix it with a hammer and sickle?"

As to the first question, he knows nothing; or worse, what he thinks he knows is disastrously wrong; as to the second, the left, by definition, has only hammers made of theory, for which reason they know how to destroy but not build. They can appropriate and redistribute with the Hammer of the State, but that hammer is useless for creation or innovation.

As it pertains to Obama, the questions truly become, what didn't he know, and when didn't he know it? The frightening answers go well beyond this or that particular issue, but to the very metaphysical heart of liberalism.

John Hinderaker at PowerLine summarizes it well in a piece conveniently entitled What the Obamacare Shipwreck Tells Us About Liberalism:

The ACA is, "to put it mildly, complicated. It is over 1,000 pages long and has many moving parts that interact in various ways.... Reading and interpreting statutes is something that I have done for a living for several decades now, but there is no way that anyone can hope to read the ACA and understand how it is intended to work, or... predict what will happen when all of its many interlocking requirements, mandates and prohibitions come into contact with reality. And that is before you get to the thousands of pages of regulations that have been issued to implement the law" (emphasis mine).

In other words, even if one were to do the impossible and memorize the law by heart and know it backward and forward, this would not represent knowledge, since 1) it would be irrelevant to the irreducible complexity of the interacting parts, and 2) even a theoretical model of the system would be revealed as totally inadequate once the law came into contact with reality, i.e., when the theoretical shit hits the concrete fan.

In this regard, it is very much like models of global warming, which work just fine in theory. Just don't ask them to accurately model reality.

Like those models of the climate, "Obamacare is a vast Rube Goldberg machine that, it turns out, doesn’t work at all -- an airplane that has crashed on takeoff" (ibid.).

"One obvious lesson" -- which liberals will never learn -- "is that liberalism fails to appreciate the complexity of the world. The hubris required by the Democrats’ attempt to reorder not just a large sector of the economy, but an important part of the lives of millions of strangers, is breathtaking" (ibid., emphasis mine).

So yes, it's complicated. But not really; rather, it is complex, which is another thing entirely. Math is complicated, but it can be sorted out with patient application. But some things are irreducibly complex, such that rendering them merely complicated destroys them.

But liberals are undeterred by reality: "Recognizing, at least dimly, the difficulty of the task, the Democrats responded by trying to draft a law whose complexity would match that of the reality that it tried to control. That made the situation worse, not better: the more convoluted the statute became, the more unworkable it was" (ibid., emphasis mine).

Likewise, imagine what would happen if the governments of the world actually took seriously the models of the Warmists. Global chaos.

Another critical lesson: "Obamacare also illustrates the inordinate faith that many liberals have in the power of words. Various aspects of reality are not as liberals would like them to be. What is the solution? The magical power of words: reams and reams of paper covered with sections and subsections, commands and requirements. If they can only get the words right, reality will certainly fall into line, just as liberals want it to be!" (ibid.).

As we see, language is their hammer. Which is fine in certain circumstances. But the virtue and the danger of language lies in its very abstractness. Hartshorne sheds some light on this issue, noting that we must not permit language to eliminate the real distinction "between actual and possible, or concrete and abstract," respectively.

In order for language to "work," it must embody universals, without which it is unintelligible. But if we take this to the extreme and attempt to explain all particulars as mere instances of the universal/abstract, it also fails. Consider the violence done to reality -- for example, concrete human beings -- by the abstractions of the ACA. Its ruthless application of universality results in injuries to the particulars it presumes to help.

Hartshorne locates the key to this dilemma in the temporal structure of experience. Think about the basic contrast revealed in experience, "between the actualized happenings of the past" vs. "the possible or probable but not actual happenings of the future." In short, "particulars are all past." I mean, right? The past is what it is, and cannot be changed. Conversely, "there are no future particulars." For which reason, "to think of the future is to think in more or less general terms."

No one can predict the future, except in regard to extremely simple and linear systems that are easily abstracted and modeled.

Therefore, "there is no such thing as a fully particularized plan, purpose, or potentiality. Always much is left for the future to further define or determine." Thus, "futurity and generality are two aspects of the same basic mode of reality" (ibid.).

To bring this back to the concrete -- to liberalism in general and to Obamacare in particular -- in the insane effort to particularize the future, it is generating chaos in the present.

But it gets worse. Again, the past is what happened; it is particular, not general. But what do liberals derive from the past? General theories, theories such as Marxism, or feminism, or patriarchy, or multiculturalism, or demand-side economics. In other words, they simply use the past to superimpose their theories, and pull out whatever particularities fit the case.

So they have their metaphysic precisely backassward: generalize the past and particularize the future. This is why, to paraphrase Orwell, "he who controls the past controls the future," and why people living under communist tyranny would joke that "the future is known. It's the past that keeps changing."

Thus, remember back then, when Obama promised that you could preserve your health plan, keep your doctor, and pocket $2,500 in the process? That past is now inoperative. Present needs require a new past, in order to pave the way to our glorious new future of vibrant Health for All.

To bring this discussion further down into the concrete-particular, how does one rescue a child from the clutches of a soul-destroying liberalism? Dennis Prager suggests that "when possible, it is best that your child not go to college immediately after high school. One reason colleges are able to indoctrinate students is that students enter college young and unworldly. It is very rare that adult students are convinced to abandon their values and become left-wing.

"Why? Because they have lived life and are much less naïve. For example, someone with life experience is far more likely than a kid just out of high school to understand that the best formula for avoiding poverty is personal responsibility -- get a job, get married, and then have children -- not government help.

"Teenagers who spend a year before going to college working -- in a restaurant, for a moving company, at an office -- will mature far more than they would after a year at college. And maturity is an inoculation against leftism."

To summarize: the left proposes beautiful abstractions to save us from life's inevitable particularities. It is effectively outside time, which lends itself to the religious fervor of their faith and its resistance to correction.


Greenfield's The Left Side of History makes some similar points:

"Everything wrong with Obama’s attitude can be gleaned from his quote. 'If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.'

"It’s the sort of quote that sounds inspirational if you don’t think too much about the implications of a world leader who already claims to know what the right path is and believes in determinedly moving down it, without regard to consequences, because he is certain that if he persists, progress will come."