Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What Does Meaninglessness Mean?

"Unless our language signifies something definite and intelligible," writes Schindler, "we can hardly consider with seriousness questions of truth." However, questions of truth are precisely what the tenured tell us are -- literally -- out of bounds, since we are bounded by language, in a closed system of signifyin' jive.

To make a long story short, once upon a time there was construction. This was followed by deconstruction, proving that man can destroy in a single generation what it took 13.7 billion years to build. Our task then is reconstruction, only perhaps on a firmer and more self-critical basis, so as to be better able to fend off the inevitable intellectual vermin who embody the catabolic force, the spirit of darkness.

These combative assouls will always be with us, and they do render a cosmic service, in that they will either kill us or make us stronger in the ability to vindicate Truth. As Peter says, don't sweat it, but "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you," and as Paul says, be prepared to demolish "arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God."

First of all, someone needs to explain how meaning can arise in a meaningless cosmos. Sounds basic, but there are certain universal principles that man is entitled to know (for God doesn't leave us wholly in the dark), such as the laws of identity, noncontradiction, and never walking the pitcher.

Another one is that the greater cannot come from the lesser. Yes, we are aware of the fact that local conditions may temporarily overcome entropy, but this begs the question, since it doesn't explain how the information got into the local conditions to begin with. Rather, it still assumes what needs to be proved.

Besides, how would it be possible to prove meaninglessness? Isn't any proof proof of meaning? One might well say: I prove, therefore truth is.

Now, meaning can only exist if a thing refers to something beyond itself, whether we are talking about an individual person, all of history, or the entire cosmos. If the cosmos is ultimately a closed system, referring to, or situated in, nothing beyond itself, then any meaning we come up with is just a dream.

Thus, Christian eschatology embodies the principle that history does not achieve its own consummation within history. Simple as. Or, either it does or it doesn't. There can be no in between.

This then is one of the ground-floor principles that divides left and right: the left always exploits the primordial but misguided hope (a corollary of the Fall) that history can achieve its own consummation here and now -- that we can "fundamentally transform" things in such a way that we waltz straight back into our lost paradise. Then we will live as large as the little gods we are.

But history cannot consummate itself in time for the same reason man cannot do so. Rather, as Ratzinger writes, "such an expectation is irreconcilable with the perpetual openness and the perpetually peccable [i.e., capable of sinning] freedom of man." You might say that the leftist's dreams of terrestrial utopia are an insult to man's propensity to badness. The leftist forgets that man likes to rebel on principle, and that if he can't rebel against the light, then he'll even rebel against darkness.

In this regard, the leftist makes the inverse error of libertarians who seem to believe that the free market alone is able to foster or regulate morality. As Ratzinger observes, in utopian socialist planning, "the salvation of the world" won't come "from the moral dignity of man." Rather, it is supposed to arise "from mechanisms that can be planned," but which ignore "the values which support the world." The conservative liberal occupies the middle ground, in the belief that the free market does not create morality but must assume it.

Another cosmic principle is alluded to above, in that man is a perpetually open system. Another name for this open system is person. Now, how does such an infinitely open system -- open to the infinite -- arise in a supposedly closed cosmos? All other animals are enclosed within their nervous systems, so Kant had the right idea, just the wrong species. Persons by definition are radically open to what is outside and above them, i.e., to relationship and transcendence.

Bottom line: "eschatology, precisely because it is not a political goal, functions as guarantor of meaning." Conversely, deny it and meaning evaporates. The eschaton, in our view, is the "divine attractor" at the end of history, or which draws history in its wake. In a formulation we have deployed before, Jesus is end-made-middle, or transcendence-made-immanent, or consummation revealed now, or beyond-history made history, or O made ʘ, or Person(s) made person (and ultimately mankind), etc.

Ratzinger even favorably (I think) references Teilhard, who "defines Christ as the Omega point of evolution. Natural history and human history are for him stages of one and the same process," which I think goes to Paul's comment about how the whole darn creation groans for salvation. History "keeps approaching this goal without ever reaching it," which is again why applied utopia is a recipe for genocide. The latter "becomes a design for a prison instead of a search for true freedom."

The dysluxians of the left habitually conflate goal and gaol.


Van Harvey said...

"First of all, someone needs to explain how meaning can arise in a meaningless cosmos. "

The easy reply to the cynical skeptic who blathers about nothing meaning anything, is 'Then why are there words coming out of your mouth?', but the far more fun reply is to insult them, ridicule them, crudely, obscenely, and then ask "Why is there stream coming out of your ears?"

Paul Griffin said...

the free market does not create morality but must assume it.

More generally, there is no system of human interaction that can be devised that will not deteriorate to corruption and enslavement without moral participants.

Gagdad Bob said...

We know truth exists because lies do. In other words, Obama proves the existence of God.

Gagdad Bob said...

Proof that the history in itself is hopeless.

Van Harvey said...

It's tempting to wonder how on earth they can live with saying such stupid things, but as they deny what the meaning of IS is, then being something other than what they are is as easy as pi - even though they Aren't, They think they are, therfore they iz - can't doubt that.

Paul Griffin said...

Strange, it's almost like we have to be moral to the point of holiness in order to be truly free.

I do seem to recall Someone coming to help us with that, since we have a bear of a time even grasping the concept.

julie said...

The patience of God truly surpasses all understanding.

Paul Griffin said...

(Gears are grinding slow today...)

I suppose the converse would be true as well (if academic), inasmuch as there is no system of human interaction would not eventually elevate to justice and freedom, if the participants were holy.

More thoughts baking along these lines, but they haven't quite come together yet...

julie said...

That's pretty much true; same as it ever was, really. Looking through the Old Testament, when the Israelites lived according to the law, things were good. If they could have kept it up for more than a generation or two, things would have been close to perfect. The trouble is, when things get good, people become complacent. Then subsequent generations make the mistake of thinking that the good life they have is due purely to their own efforts, with no consideration for grace. Pretty soon, they get the idea they could do things even better, and so it goes...

Anonymous said...

Animals are entangled with hominids. Uplift, middle ground. Best to maybe not see that as closed systems.

Everything is stuck together. If you cannot talk to them, that is OK. Does not make anything a box, unless that is what you think.

More like staging areas, not higher or lower, just stuff that has more in common with Creation than is different.

There were times and places wherein the old and the new had some parlay. Just like light and matter.
Curves space and time. Pretty much talking, in a slient place. Big brains and big words still involve winged creatures.

julie said...

I should say, with no consideration for grace *and* with no regard for history. Hence Bob's link accusing the great ideas of history of promoting sexism instead of freedom.

Honestly, where do they think women would be if not for the Jews and the Christians? It's like they've never even heard of a burka.

Paul Griffin said...

If we can see that our systems of interaction are dependent on the morality of the participants, then it should be easy enough to see that trying to use these systems to create a moral man is a vain enterprise. May as well start with the lightning rod and build downwards until you reach the ground.

Still more ideas floating around, but having a real hard time getting them to cohere today. It's been a hectic day.

julie said...

Stepford students.

"Their eyes glazed with moral certainty, they explained to me at length that culture warps minds and shapes behaviour and that is why it is right for students to strive to keep such wicked, misogynistic stuff as the Sun newspaper and sexist pop music off campus. ‘We have the right to feel comfortable,’ they all said, like a mantra. One — a bloke — said that the compulsory sexual consent classes recently introduced for freshers at Cambridge, to teach what is and what isn’t rape, were a great idea because they might weed out ‘pre-rapists’: men who haven’t raped anyone but might. "

In a twist of irony, there once was a time when serious steps were taken to prevent a culture of rape and predatory sexual practices from flourishing on college campuses: gender-segregated dorms with strict curfews and rules directing conduct for both men and women. If you wanted to have sex, it was best for all concerned if you just got married first.

Of course, such thinking was grounded in an overtly Judeo-Christian framework, where it wasn't about making people "feel comfortable" by protecting them from Bad Thoughts, but rather about adhering to the moral code put forth by God Himself and therefore a wise code by which to live.

Now we've come around full downward spiral, where the behavior is sort-of aped, but not for any reason anyone can comprehend beyond "feelings," especially since it's so disgustingly Christian to go to college for an MRS degree.

Magnus Itland said...

"Another one is that the greater cannot come from the lesser."
Well, that be the rub.

The atheistic-scientific worldview specifically is based on the idea that the greater always derives from the lesser, a phenomenon known as Emergence.

Thus spirit is a construct of the mind; the mind is an effect of the living brain; life is simply a form of dead matter; and matter spontaneously arose from nothing, if it even exists at all.

It is the complete reality, seen the opposite way of how the voice in my head sees it. The one that just called this "seeing reality from the ass end", I mean, as opposed to face to face. That would be why to some of us reality has a face at all, I guess, and to others not.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"But history cannot consummate itself in time for the same reason man cannot do so. Rather, as Ratzinger writes, "such an expectation is irreconcilable with the perpetual openness and the perpetually peccable [i.e., capable of sinning] freedom of man." You might say that the leftist's dreams of terrestrial utopia are an insult to man's propensity to badness. The leftist forgets that man likes to rebel on principle, and that if he can't rebel against the light, then he'll even rebel against darkness."

This may be another reason so many leftists wanna rewrite history.
Naturally it doesn't work but in their own fantasy it does. Plus, it's at least a subconscious cover up.

Magister said...

Bob, I picked up this book and find it really persuasive. The chapter on Hesburgh's idea of a Catholic university is particularly good.

It's obviously long past time to read Descartes' Discourse on Method!

Van Harvey said...

Magister, in case you'd rather not dole out cash for such a doubtful text, here ya go . Be careful though, it's slickery going .

Van Harvey said...

Of course, while ebooks are convenient, nothing beats filing the margins of a nice physical book with your own red ink.

Van Harvey said...

Julie, the Stepford Students... ugh. But it's unconscious perfectly well intentioned comments like this,

"...They look like students, dress like students, smell like students. But their student brains have been replaced by brains bereft of critical faculties and programmed to conform."

, which really drag the sighs out of me. The whole notion of "critical thinking", is derived directly from Descartes (and Kant's) thinking, and so even in the act of drawing attention to the problem, the roots of the problem are smuggled back into the reader.

Like picking the virus back up if the doorknob when you were nearly free of it. It's good to sound the alarm, but... I doubt if it'll help.