Friday, December 19, 2014

Premodern and Postmodern: Extremists Meet

We are discussing the Invention of the Individual, which, like most of the best things in life, could not have been invented by man. As we know, the best things in life are free; but the individual is free in another sense, being that it is the basis of what we call "freedom."

Obviously, freedom makes no sense in a pre-individual context, because the very essence of freedom is personal agency. And personal agency is a quintessential example of what Whitehead was saying yesterday about fundamental assumptions that are unconsciously presupposed by everybody. Therefore, no one thinks about it. It's just part of the human package, like hands, eyes, and brain.

But the human individual is not an artifact of our biological hardware. At best, we can say that our genetic endowment permits it, but it most certainly cannot cause it.

We can know this with certainty because for most of human history and for all of human prehistory (which is by far the larger period of time) there were no individuals, only groups.

Now, we are all members of various groups -- family, workplace, country, etc. However, it is difficult for us to experience this in the same lucid way as our individuality. This is because our individuality is explicit, whereas our group identification has become more implicit, more of a background phenomenon. It is the context of our individuality.

What we need to do -- which I think is almost impossible -- is to imagine what it would be like to have no individual awareness (or a very attenuated version of it), and imagine the group identity as being primary, or at the forefront of consciousness.

No coon do. As it so happens, the other day I evaluated a person who had served as an interpreter and cultural liaison for our military in Iraq (he was severely injured in a terrorist blast). He was there to help our military avoid cultural "misunderstandings," but it really goes deeper than that.

To translate mere language is essentially a horizontal affair: I say beer, you say cerveza. But if you are Muslim, you might say kill the grog-swilling infidel!

The problem with cross-cultural contact is that it is not necessarily a horizontal translation. Although we are no longer permitted by the left to think in these terms, there is a vertical component as well.

To a certain extent we may understand lower cultures, but they have no way of knowing about the higher, since they've never been there. It is like trying to explain color to a blind man.

This is why multiculturalism is such a fraud. Someone like me, who is truly curious about other cultures, is called "racist" for being so. Thus, when a liberal wants to have a "conversation about race," it is like when a Muslim wants to have a conversation about your religion while staring uncomfortably at your neck.

I once read a book on the relationship between developmental time and cultural space. Since it is a two-way relationship, we can have chronologically contemporary cultures that are developmentally backward, or chronologically early cultures that are developmentally advanced.

Which is another incoherent feature of progressive thought, because the distance between culture and development is measured by, you know, progress.

In short, in order to say "all cultures are of equal value," one must eliminate any notion of progress. But at the same time, their Hegelian-Marxist leanings cause them to deny the importance of culture and to superimpose some abstract notion of material progress on top of it. As I said, incoherent.

Remember Gil Bailie's Violence Unveiled? As good as that book is, I was never comfortable with reducing the Christian message to an implicit injunction against scapegoating and human sacrifice, a la René Girard.

On the other hand, I am very comfortable with the idea of seeing it as a God-given key to human development. Indeed, it must be a key, because we simply do not see this same development outside its reach.

Inventing the Individual is all about how Christianity managed to do this. Importantly, this was not an overnight phenomenon, and in many respects is still taking place today, and not just in backward places.

Rather, even here in the modern west, one might say that the essence of our political differences revolves around this question of collective vs. individual -- hence the left's insistence that "government is the one thing that unites us," or to which we all belong; or "you didn't build that," or no one ever got rich, or even got a job, without the help of the Elizabeth Warrens and Hillary Clintons of the world.

We see the same form in the pre-Christian world, only with different content. I don't want to repeat Siedentop's entire argument, but he demonstrates how the ancient family was a kind of barrier that had to be overcome, or broken out of, in order for the individual to emerge from it. It "constrained its members to an extent that can scarcely be exaggerated."

The father was a kind of totalitarian ruler who had even "the right to repudiate or kill his wife as well as his children." To the extent that there was law, he was it. Charitable sentiments for people outside the family would have been unintelligible -- one reason why the Jewish injunction to "love the stranger" was so revolutionary (let alone the later Christian injunction to love the enemy).

To be continued....


Yoinked from Happy Acres; if the family is the white base at the bottom, and God is the curved metal at the top, the blue flame of our individuality is ignited in between. We still need all three (and you could say that Jesus is the flame-come-down who first kindles the spark in the dark):

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advanced Viral History

In the coon classic Science and the Modern World, Whitehead says that when considering "the philosophy of an epoch, do not chiefly direct your attention to those intellectual positions which its exponents feel it necessary to explicitly defend."

Rather, "there will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within each epoch unconsciously presuppose."

Thus, just as there is an unconscious "emotional" mind, there is an unconscious intellectual, or philosophical, or metaphysical, or moral, or even political mind. The problem is, people no longer know what they are assuming, "because the assumptions appear so obvious" and because "no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them."

And in my experience, the people most susceptible to this are the tenured (and by extension, journalists), especially those who have spent their entire lives in academia, and therefore have no idea how the world actually works. As such, their unconscious assumptions are not subject to any critique, neither from other minds nor from reality.

Another factor in their conformity is the narcissistic need for confirmation, prestige, and acceptance; between university administrators and Hollywood executives, it is difficult to say which population is the most craven.

One thing that is so provocative about Inventing the Individual is that it goes directly to a number of those "fundamental assumptions" alluded to by Whitehead, and shows how flimsy they are, for the contemporary secularist who calls himself "liberal" is unwittingly "paying tribute" to the Christian "origins of [his] moral intuitions."

It is just that these intuitions have become detached from their proper object, with the result that we see this dangerous combination of religious zeal in the absence of the channels provided by religious tradition. We may discern the same pattern in every revolutionary movement from French Revolution to the recent mob violence around the country: moral righteousness without morality, or "immoral morality"; in a word... or two, moral insanity.

It would be difficult to find the committed liberal who doesn't imagine that "historical progress" involves the struggle to found a secular society out of an illiberal religious past. Siedentop (and he is far from the only one) shows that the progress vaunted by liberals is unthinkable in the absence of deeply Christian assumptions.

But because enlightenment thinkers were motivated more by hatred of God than love of truth, they concocted a new narrative that made religion the enemy of reason and progress. It is bad enough what this did to history, but it also maims the soul, because it deprives it of its deep historical continuity and contributes to the resultant cosmic alienation. From there it is but a step to the perpetual resentment of the left.

As Siedentop puts it, "We no longer have a persuasive story to tell ourselves about our origins and development." Rather, "things have just happened to us," as in the accidents of natural selection. Thus, the liberalism that was once a positive philosophy grounded in religious principles "has come to stand for 'non-belief' -- for indifference and permissiveness, if not decadence."

How did this happen? How was this positive philosophy drained of meaning and transformed into the unholy trinity of relativism, envy, and entitlement?

In order to answer that question, we must first ask whether it is "mere coincidence that secularism developed in the Christian West"; or in other words, whether we are dealing with continuity, or whether there has been an ontological rupture along the way.

One of the things those enlightenment thinkers did was to fabricate a new continuity with the ancient past, with Greece and Rome. In seeking to "minimize the moral and intellectual distance between modern Europe and Graeco-Roman antiquity," they maximized "the gap between the 'dark' middle ages and the 'light' of their own age." As a result, "the millennium between the fall of the Western Roman empire and the Renaissance became an unfortunate interlude, a regression in humanity."

But is it true? Or is it just a flattering narrative, a collective neurosis for the purposes of self-aggrandizement? This leads to another question, "just how free and secular were ancient Greece and Rome?" Because if the modern secularists are correct, Christianity must represent a dark departure from that idyllic world.

In the book, I discussed this, starting on p. 142, under the heading Viral History 101. I would consider Siedentop's book Viral History 201, or whatever the next level would be. He looks at some of the same things, only, you know, in a sober and scholarly way instead of in the mischievous and freewheeling manner of the Raccoon.

Bottom line, when we look at that world -- really look at the average mentality, not the geniuses and luminaries -- "we find ourselves drawn back to an utterly remote moral world." It is so remote that I personally find it impossible to imagine what it must have been like, any more than I can imagine what it is like to be a frog. I mean, it's weird. And yet, for them, they did not regard it as such. In fact, if anything is weird, it is this recent and unexpected emergence of the individual in the Christian west. No one saw that coming.

"To recapture that world -- to see and feel what acting in it was like -- requires an extraordinary imaginative leap." For starters we must de-Christianize ourselves, which is probably impossible, as impossible as removing the yeast from the bread.

To begin with, not only was the family a religious institution, it was the religious institution, with father serving as priest, magistrate, judge, law enforcement, and executioner if necessary. Not only was there no separation of these domains in society, there was no separation in the individual, which, as we shall see, is a key point about the eventual impact of Christianity.

And now I'm out of time. To be continued....

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Who Invented You, Anyway?

And now for a gear-grinding change of subjects...

No, that's not quite right, because deep down, the subject of this blog is always the same, that is, How did we get here? And with it, What are we supposed to do while we're here?, and Toward what end? Or in other words, Origin, Present Being, and Destiny; or Creation, Freedom, and Judgment. Or Who, What, and Why.

I've mentioned before that the Book of the Same Name was essentially an extended meditation on this question of How did I get here? The question provokes any number of answers, all of them true; for example, there are genetic, historical, biological, evolutionary, psychological, anthropological, cultural, economic, religious and other factors that contribute to Who We Are.

Most people seem to pick one or two and say to hell with it, but I wanted to look around, dig down, peer behind, and stretch upward, in order to consider as many angles as humanly possible, and then found my own religion. In the end, I decided to outsource the second part for reasons of comparative advantage.

Chapter 3.2 is called Humans and How They Got That Way: Putting the Sapiens into Homo. You see, we were Homos for a good long while before we became especially sapiental (wise) about it. That chapter contains some dodgy and overly generalized "history" that traces the emergence of what we call the "individual" or personal self. This self is something we cannot take for granted, nor can we simply project it into the past, as if premodern humans (including contemporary ones!!!) experienced the world in the same way.

The question is, Who invented the individual? Long story short, Christianity; you might say that Judaism did a lot of the R & D, while Christianity focused on marketing. But without this radical new philosophy, we might still be pre-individual members of clans and tribes with no personal identity, no better than the multiculturalists of today.

So, this book, Inventing the Individual, pretty much has my hair on fire. I'm only up to page 65, so I don't know the author's ultimate conclusions, but already there is plenty to playgiarize with, and more than enough to make my own theories almost seem plausible.

I'm just going to flip through the book and expand upon passages that arrested my attention. It begins with a quote from the 19th century historian Fustel de Coulanges, to the effect that the true object of historical study "is the human mind: it should aspire to know what this mind has believed, thought, and felt in different ages of the life of the human race."

Right. The problem here is that mere empathy is not only insufficient, but probably going to mislead. In other words, it is exceedingly difficult to simply project ourselves back in time, as if people of the past were "just like us."

Note that this doesn't just apply to the past. For example, I don't think it is truly possible for us to understand the mindset of Islamic terrorists, or pedophiles, or mass murderers.

(Coincidentally, yesterday's Best of the Web was on the subject of pathological altruism, in which Taranto cites an author who said of the Australian murderer that we face a "difficult test of our empathy," in that "While we do not know [the murderer's] story or his motivation, we know he was once someone just like those people whose lives he has now treated with such disdain. He must have loved ones, too. Forgiving him will be very difficult, and it will take time. Without forgiveness, though, we have to live with destructive hate." Liberalism. Is there anything it can't pervert?)

More generally -- and this is something I'll be expanding upon later -- to the extent that we misuse empathy, it will only "reveal" what we have projected into the subject. It will only tell us about ourselves, not the other person.

This was one of the most important lessons of my psychoanalytic study, first, that empathy is a tool of investigation, and second, that it must operate at the same level as the person under study. To take an obvious example, it requires empathy to understand an infant, a spouse, a friend, or a stranger, but in each case it is different.

For our purposes, when a patient comes in for therapy, they are generally operating at a certain level of development, e.g., neurotic, borderline, autistic, narcissistic, psychotic, etc. If you try to deal with a borderline patient the same way you would a neurotic, you'll get nowhere. In each case empathy is required, but in order to empathize with the borderline, you have to use it to reach a more primitive mode of experience, relating, and cognition (within both your self and the other person, the former facilitating the latter).

We have to do something similar to understand the people of the past, especially people who are or were swimming outside the Judeo-Christian stream. As Siedentop writes, "Deep moral changes, changes in belief, can take centuries to begin to modify social institutions." And very much contrary to postmodernists in all their nasty variety, "it seem to me that moral beliefs have given an overall 'direction' to Western history."

For me, a more interesting way to chart this progress is through the emergence and deepening of the individual. That is, if we trace our existence from the Big Bang all the way to the present post, what is most striking -- and most important to us -- is a gradual expansion and deepening of the subjective horizon.

In other words, our "mental space" -- the space in which we live -- expands and deepens along with our individuality; these are really two sides of the same process, as we shall see. Freedom, conscience, and personal self are all bound up together, but we also need to examine the conditions that made these possible.

What I would say is that God is of course the necessary condition -- the condition without which -- while various religious, psychological, and cultural factors provide the sufficient conditions -- the conditions with which.

Let's begin with pre-Christian antiquity. In order to even begin to understand these remote ancestors, "We must imagine ourselves in a world where action is governed by norms reflecting exclusively the claims of the family, its memories, rituals and roles, rather than the clams of individual conscience. We must imagine ourselves into a world of humans or persons who were not 'individuals' as we would understand them now" (Siedentop, emphasis mine).

Interestingly, this would imply that in order for God to save or redeem individuals, he had to first bring about conditions through which people could individuate from the group (just as humans had to first "speciate" from animals, life had to anim-ate from matter, and existence had to undergo creatio from nihilo). Thus, as we shall see, culture is the bread which shall gradually be leavened by some very wise men from the yeast, especially Paul.

To be continued....

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In Order to Find Out What's In Liberalism, You Have to Surrender to Liberalism

"Health," writes Kushner, "is the result of connecting the discordant and apparently unrelated pieces." It is related to wholeness, so one form of illness is the belief or pretense "that what is broken is whole."

Meaning emerges as a consequence of the connections between the parts; thus, "meaninglessness obtains when the events in our lives seem to us unrelated, discordant, and fragmentary."

The key point is that meaning is somehow in the spaces between; it is unthinkable in the absence of relationship. We could even say that it is intrinsically trinitarian, for there is This, That, and the Other Thing, i.e., the relation between.

For example, what is the meaning of the relationship between (every) I and I AM, or (•) and O? Life is about exploring, elaborating, and deepening this meaning, unless one denies it a priori, in which case one will suffer from a false wholeness, and with it, Restless Self Syndrome. Whatever fragmentary wholeness one can cobble together will be just that: fragmentary and ultimately meaningless. It is the pretend truth of scientism, or Darwinism, or Marxism.

Of note, we could also say that there is "historical health," which involves an act of imaginative synthesis that situates us in an intelligible and plausible cosmic narrative. The left -- via deconstruction, revisionism, and other methods -- acts like a corrosive to historical health, and through this, personal health. We saw this most recently in the fraudulent CIA report. By way of contrast to Feinstein's tortured narrative, here's a blast of fresh air from Thomas Sowell (I know, metaphor alert!):

"If you knew that there was a hidden nuclear time bomb planted somewhere in New York City -- set to go off today -- and you had a captured terrorist who knew where and when, would you not do anything whatever to make him tell you where and when? Would you pause to look up the definition of 'torture'? Would you even care what the definition of 'torture' was, when the alternative was seeing millions of innocent people murdered?"

(I might add that Sowell's new edition of Basic Economics is one continuous blast of uncommonly common sense. If only this were required reading for college students, it would spell the end of the left.)

The left is much more religious than the religious, in the sense that we all know that there are exceptions to, say, bearing false witness -- for example, if Al Sharpton asks us where Officer Wilson is hiding. To tell him the truth would be a far greater sin than delivering Officer Wilson into the hands of a racist lynch mob.

But I can't tell you how many times I've heard liberals in the last week insist that "torture" (by which they mean harsh interrogation) is never appropriate, and that it can never yield actionable intelligence. Such thinking represents an outright attack on meaning and truth: it does to common sense, common knowledge, and common morality what terrorists and lynch mobs do to people.

Speaking of lying liars, "Only magicians and charlatans claim to be able to change this world" (ibid.). This is the principle difference between the metaphysics of left and right: the former projects the locus of control outside the self, into corporations, or the one percent, or white males, etc., while the latter locates it within. (Think, for example, of how Michael Brown had total control over his fate, until he decided to rush the officer and steal his gun; and yet, the Mob pretends that he was the victim of forces exterior to himself.)

We would say that the very purpose of this country is to create a place that valorizes and maintains the interior locus of control, AKA the Empire of Liberty (liberty being the quintessential "space between"). Otherwise we're no different from any other shitty country where the government controls people from without.

By the way, this great book (so far), Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, goes to exactly this idea. Everything contemporary liberals pretend to value -- but are in the process of destroying -- is rooted in Judeo-Christian principles.

Karl Marx famously said that "you have to pass the bill to find out what's in the bill." No, wait, that was one of his latter day wackolytes. Marx said something similar -- it is appropriately inscribed upon his grave -- that while lesser philosophers merely interpret the world, the point is to change the world. But any idiot can change the world in the wrong way, or there would be no such thing as "news."

More to the point, you have to swallow this gobshite revolutionary philosophy in order to find out what's in the philosophy (what it will do to the world and the people in it). And yet, no matter how many times we find out, the left never learns. Why is that? Go back up to paragraphs two and four, about how historical disease is a consequence of an attack on meaning, which causes wholeness to revert to meaningless fragments.

The world is always going to be the world, and man is always going to be one, unfortunately. But knowing these things can prevent catastrophic falls. Yes, the world "is teeming with mysterious powers and miracles, but to seek to manipulate them without first understanding oneself has, for centuries, been known as illness" (ibid.). Today it is known as liberalism.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Close Encounters of the Word Kind

We have stumbled into an artery of Jewish mysticism, which we will continue exploring until we come up the other vein. In fact, it would appear that the divine energies operate in similar fashion to the circulatory system (or rather, vice versa), with one stream of energy leading away from, the other leading back to, the beating heart of the cosmos.

Also, just as the arterial tree leads from heart, to aorta, to arteries, all the way down and out to the capillaries that nourish the individual cells, it seems that creation has the same fractal pattern. I suppose this is what the Kabbalistic tree attempts to depict. Here, at the right, is how Denys the Aeropagite pictures it -->

Here are some other angelic angles. The first one looks like a hovering spaceship. Which I suppose it is:

This one is called Creation:

How should one look at these things? The same way one should regard scripture, only transposed from the ears to the eyes: with "one that preserves clarity, but not at the expense of mystery" (Kushner).

Joyce called it... a number of things, like being circumveiled in clearobscuro, or being once amore as babes awondering in a wold made fresh. Whoevery heard of such a think?!

Speaking of (?!), it is simply axiomatic that "In each generation there are encounters with the Holy Ancient One of Old" (Kushner). That's the word made fresh and delivered to our shore.

And speaking of space ships, Carl Jung was of the opinion that these are the same old archetypes clothed in new humanoid projections, psimilar to how, say, the paranoiac of the 15th century would have been frightened of vampires, whereas the 21st century nut is terrified by BushCo or the Tea Party or the Rape Culture. Same energies, different veils.

Scripture, if it is anything, is a collective recollection, or murmurandom, of such close vertical encounters. It is "a kind of journal" -- our better, journeyall -- of "remembered holy moments, too awesome to be simply described in everyday conscious language" (ibid.).

In them the heart waylays and ambushes the mind, or the right brain (so to speak) catches us unawares and conks us upside the left. It is a letter we have written to ourselves, or from Self to self. Which is why we re-cognize and remesmer it in the first place, for it is a Word from our eternal sponsor.

The most surprising thing of all is that these celestial dreamscapes map the human terra-tory. For "there is a realm of being that comes before us and follows after us. Streaming through all creation. Knowing who we have been and will be.... It is a river of light.... Her branches and shoots are the nerves and vessels of this world coursing beneath our surfaces, pulsing through our veins. A blueprint underlying the cosmos. The primary process of being" (Kushner).