Monday, September 29, 2014

Liberalism and the Duty to be Cosmically Stupid

Interesting case of what we might call applied nominalism:

"By listing and sometimes inventing names for small Islamist splinter groups," Obama can pretend to have "rolled back" terrorism by what amounts to a linguistic strategy, i.e., by "rendering it a disparate series of ragtag jayvees.” This is like defeating organized crime by suggesting that each criminal is a unique person.

For it is written: Rather than an ideological strategy, the Left is a lexicographical tactic. --Aphorisms of Don Colacho

Nominalism is the metaphysical view that denies the existence of universals, which soon enough leads to a denial of the ability to think. But a nominalist is never consistent. In Obama's case, for example, he can support his crude generalization that America is a racist country by pointing to Ferguson. Note that he doesn't do with Ferguson what he does with global jihad: reduce it to a unique case.

Nor does Obama revert to nominalism vis-a-vis any of the victim groups that make up the core of his electoral coalition: women, homosexuals, illegals, public employee unions, etc. We can crudely generalize all day long about them, so long as it is in the form of pandering and not meaningful judgments.

"There is a purpose behind this dizzying proliferation of names assigned to what, in reality, is a global network with multiple tentacles and occasional internecine rivalries... Obama has not quelled our enemies; he has miniaturized them. The jihad and the sharia supremacism that fuels it form the glue that unites the parts into a whole -- a worldwide, ideologically connected movement rooted in Islamic scripture that can project power on the scale of a nation-state and that seeks to conquer the West. The president does not want us to see the threat this way."

But the line in that piece that caught my eye is that Obama doesn’t know what’s important because he doesn’t know what’s true. Truth is always important -- even seemingly trivial truths, since they support and lead up to the Big Truths. Thus, the real problem is that Obama elevates falsehood to importance -- or builds a Tower of Babel on a foundation of gelatin.

For example, it is important that police are engaging in genocide against black men, or that women earn seventy cents on the dollar, or that homosexuality and heterosexuality are identical, or that the planet is warming. None of these things are true, so it is the duty of intelligence to reject them.

Therefore, if you are a liberal, it is your solemn duty to be systematically stupid.

That's all I wanted to say about that. Just a little warm-up act. What I really want to talk about is the divine and cosmic orders, or the deep structure, you might say, of the vertical and horizontal worlds. Alert and patient readers will recall that about a year ago I thought I had discovered a way to reconcile tradition with the process theology of Charles Harsthorne. We're about to find out if that was true or just an unimportant boast.

It all begins with chapter four of Schuon's Logic and Transcendence, awkwardly titled "The Interplay of the Hypostases." A hypostasis, if you don't know, is "something that stands under and supports." It is the "foundation," or "underlying or essential part of anything as distinguished from attributes" -- the "substance, essence, or essential principle."

There is also a specifically Christian connotation, of course, in the nature of the Trinity. I believe the Spirit of the Trinity will come back to haunt us later in the post, especially with regard to its "substance," the reason being that this substance must actually be a process and a relation -- or relation-in-process -- so it's a little misleading to call it a substance at all, since the latter implies a kind of stasis.

So right away we see that the first part of this post was not wholly irrelevant, because we are right back to the question of universals -- indeed, the ultimate universals whereby we may understand the nature of reality. Conversely, without these universals we are lost in the universe. Literally, since "universe" is the ultimate universal short of God (and I would say because of God).

In other words, we all implicitly assume the existence of a universe, even though no one has ever seen it, nor will anyone ever be able to logically prove its existence. In order for there to be a universe, there must be a single underlying order to the whole of existence, something that binds all of reality into a comm-unity. Unless you are a nominalist, in which case we are tossed into a world that is ultimately absurd.

Schuon's writing is usually characterized by simplicity and clarity, but this is one of his more challenging essays. He even says as much at the end of the chapter, that "We are here at the limit of what can be expressed," so "it is no one's fault if within every enunciation of this kind there remain unanswerable questions, at least with respect to a given need for logical explanation on the plane of dialectics." What he hopes to provide are "points of reference that permit us to open ourselves to the ineffable to the extent possible" -- or to deploy words right to the edge of the vast What Cannot Be Said (unless by God himself).

Even so, one can still say a lot more than most people suspect but simply file away under the heading of "mystery." Nevertheless, at the end of the deity, we have to concede that "ultimate comprehension" orthoparadoxically "coincides with the inexpressible" -- or that we know (in our hearts) much more than we can say. Conversely, it is often the case that the less one knows the more one can say, therefore Obama.

Schuon begins with the Absolute, but Absoluteness has certain immediate corollaries, most importantly, infinitude. Borrowing a geometrical analogy, if the Absolute is the point, then the Infinite is the circle surrounding it -- or better, an infinite series of rays emanating out from the center.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but later in the essay he compares the point to Father, the Circle to Son, and the radii to Holy Spirit. You could say that this represents the ultimate cartography of spirit, and that it repeats itself across dimension and scale.

You could also say that the point is the One, while the radii redound to the Many. You could also say that the latter are the precipitate of God's radiant goodness, which we experience herebelow in the form of universal-transcendentals such as beauty, truth, and virtue, to the whole host of possible perfections. Or, to quote Schuon, it "gives rise to an operative Infinitude and to a manifested Good," or to "a hypostatic hierarchy 'in a descending direction,'" which, "in the final analysis, is creative" (emphasis mine).

The only potential stumbling block for the Christian is that this geometrical-dynamic might imply that this is some kind of impersonal emanation as opposed to the free activity of a creator-person. Not to worry. Freedom and creativity and love are smack dab in the middle of this thing, not accidental but essential to its inexhaustible dynamism.

About those things that cannot be understood, or that exist outside man's comprehension: one of the biggies is evil, in that we can understand in theory why it has to be here -- i.e., that we are not God and this is not paradise -- but when confronted with the individual act of evil -- say, decapitating a coworker -- we come up against a wall of incomprehension. Why? Perhaps because evil operates outside God, and therefore within a realm of cosmic absurdity. You could say that "there is nothing to understand," which is what makes it evil, precisely. Which is why it is more effective to fight evil with a hammer and mop than with tenure.

However, you will have noticed that one of the foundational insanities of liberalism is that evil does have some simple explanation: that it is somehow our fault. The left said this during the Cold War, just as they say it of the war on global jihad. They say it of domestic criminals (so long as they are members of a certified victim group), just as they say it of most any evil that can befall a person through his own irresponsibility or bad values. Liberalism is a Rush to Non-Judgment, as in it's not your fault! But one of the things nominalism eventually eliminated was our freedom (and therefore responsibility), because freedom is either transcendental or nonexistent.

So, that's about it for today. To be continued...


julie said...

But a nominalist is never consistent.

To the left, it is either a forest or a group of individual trees that happen to be near each other, depending on whichever best suits their purposes, but never both.

julie said...

And either way, it's all our fault.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Camille Paglia is on board: Young women today do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature

EbonyRaptor said...

Is Satan the source of evil in the same way that God is the source of love? Or does evil exist only when God has been totally rejected so that Satan is not the source of evil but only the most evil because he has rejected God in a more thorough way then human beings are capable? It seems apparent that all humans have the capacity of love and evil and that balance is continuously influenced by the events of the moment and the discipline of reaction.

I think of the Oklahoma beheading and how enraged I would be if the victim were my wife - how close or possibly over the edge I would be to evil reaction. We live close to the edge because the edge is always encroaching in on us.

Skorpion said...

EbonyRaptor: If you watch the movie SE7EN with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, pay close attention to the last scene. That's the point being made there, I think.

Van Harvey said...

"Why? Perhaps because evil operates outside God, and therefore within a realm of cosmic absurdity. You could say that "there is nothing to understand," which is what makes it evil, precisely."

The mother of all nihils.

mushroom said...

Hit it, Barry!

It's only a paper moon,
hanging over a cardboard sea,
but it wouldn't be make-believe
if you believed in me.

mushroom said...

Which is why it is more effective to fight evil with a hammer and mop than with tenure.

I like shotguns.

As far as the source of evil, I do not see Satan as the source. And, too, I think Satan -- that is, the adversary or the accuser, is only one aspect of evil. We loose evil, and evil devours us.

EbonyRaptor said...

Skorpion: yes, in a way that scene shows that a person not normally given over to evil can succumb to evil impulses when pushed too far but the part I struggle with is when it is said that "evil wins" as if evil were an entity in and of itself. I'm not sure that is any more true than love is an entity in and of itself. It seems to me that love is an emanation from God but I'm not sure if evil is something received in us like love of if it's the natural human inclination that is covered over by love in most human beings, to one degree or another.

John said...

The Islamic religion is divided into three constituent parts: Īmān, Faith, which contains everything one must believe; Islām, the Law, which contains everything one must do; Iḥsān, operative Virtue, which confers upon believing and doing the qualities that make them perfect—in other words, that intensify or deepen both faith and works. Iḥsān in short is the sincerity of the intelligence and the will: it is our complete adherence to the Truth and our total conformity to the Law, which means that we must on the one hand know the Truth entirely, not only in part, and on the other hand conform to it with our deepest being and not only with a partial and superficial will. Thus Iḥsān opens onto esoterism—which is the science of the essential and total—and is even identified with it; for to be sincere is to draw from the Truth the maximal consequences from the point of view of both intelligence and will; in other words, it is to think and will with the heart, hence with our entire being, with all we are.
F. Schuon

Gagdad Bob said...

Nice theory.

julie said...

If only most Muslims understood it that way.

Cousin Dupree said...

Unfortunately, most Muslims have read the Koran.

julie said...

And very little else...

Van Harvey said...

John quoted "on the one hand know the Truth entirely, not only in part, and on the other hand conform to it with our deepest being and not only with a partial and superficial will"

Yeah... about that whole truth thingy... Ghastly Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), who was,

"...arguably the greatest Islamic scholar noted, “Speaking is a means to achieve objectives. If praise worthy aim is attainable through both telling the truth and lying, it is unlawful to accomplish through lying because there is no need for it. When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible.

IOW: Don't lie! Unless you need to!

Seems to be a bit of a communication breakdown there, between east & west, past & present. Maybe that was why ol' Ghastly wrote of the incoherence of the philosophers.... Maybe if he'd had a chance to meet Kant or Marx or Dewey, he'd have felt more at home?

Still, ya gotta feel for Schuon.

Joan of Argghh! said...

"I never lie. Unless the truth won't work."

John said...

It seems reasonable to lie, when, for example, murderers are asking for the location of your loved ones, or thieves are asking where your money is (as with the IRS).
Also, when your wife asks if she looks fat in this outfit.

julie said...

Ha - to that one, there probably is no correct answer.

In ether news, apparently water was in fact prior to the solar system. Atheists are quick to add that it's all just a coincidence, and Genesis couldn't possibly have been talking about that.

Van Harvey said...

I don't have time for the full monty, and hopefully this drive by won't be too quick, but lying isn't the problem, the notion of our being able to declare there being an absolute, non-contextual, truth, IS.

Doing that makes telling and respecting the truth nearly impossible, while providing the means to represent lies as truth - It's the means of exiling reality from your world.

That was Kant's means of destroying truth and integrity (see his categorical imperative) and elevating the subjective over the objective; it has served islam's aims as well, to say nothing of the literalist pre-destination folk.

The irony is that those who declare a literal, non-contextual means of 'truth', are the ones who use it to make the truth unspeakable, and reality unidentifiable, and whether you do that through the pages of the koran or backhandedly by removing it via a kantian 'Things in themselves', makes little difference. Ghastly al'Ghazali didn't demonstrate anything that isn't also done in our classrooms daily by the tenured. They're enabled by their absolute things in themselves, to do what they choose to do, blatantly, while claiming the backing of 'The Truth'.