Friday, December 09, 2016

In the Beginning was the Word... or the Deed. Your Call.

What a piece of work is a man!

How so? Well, for starters, "Making gods by killing victims is the human gesture par excellence..." (Girard, in Bailie).

It's what humans do. Does anyone else do it? If we discovered intelligent life on another planet, would we find that they too engaged in the practice?

"The killing of victims produced the false gods of pagan antiquity, but in killing these victims our ancestors took part in the murder of the true God" (Bailie).

I was just thinking of how Finnegans Wake -- the Book of Everything -- has the recurrent motif of human sacrifice.

Bishop writes that "consciousness of death and consciousness as a totality cannot be disentangled: one is the condition of the other." And "The further out of consciousness one keeps one's own shady account of the wake, the more bearable life in its middle may be."

Death -- although it is "nothing" -- has a kind of real power over the living. What to do about it?

Of the gods of antiquity, Bailie notes that they "were for the most part dreaded figures that had to be kept from visiting their worshipers with scourges by ritual offerings of blood, which reenacted the darkly veiled event that gave rise to both the gods and the worshipping community in the first instance." Thus, "archaic religion was both the absolute antithesis of Christian salvation and a crude groping toward it."

Death and sin are entirely bound up together. This is clearly conveyed in Genesis, in which death follows directly on the heels of sin, i.e., separation from God. Man qua man cannot be unaware of sin; it is only a matter of what he does with the awareness: deny it? Repress it? Project it?

Yes, that's the ticket -- project it!: "In myth, the victim is 'guilty' -- that is, the victim's death is justified -- and the victimizing community is exonerated."

Conversely, "In the Gospel... the victim is innocent and the community culpably oblivious -- 'they know not what they do.'" This recognition of the scapegoat mechanism "represents the single-most historically significant anthropological breakthrough in human history."

Indeed, it has been so successful that we have a hard time entering a state of mind in which victims are contemptible and unworthy of our sympathy. Today we recoil at the idea of slavery, but slavery was once universal. It provoked no moral qualms whatsoever.

Again, SJWs have veered so far in the opposite direction that victims have become their divinity. To claim victimhood is not only to be above moral reproach, but to authorize a violent reprisal. Think of Black Lives Matter, which provokes the murder of innocent police officers based upon the lie that blacks are victims of police.

So BLM is really a lie that obfuscates sacrificial murder. But this is nothing new; indeed, nothing is older. For Girard, "the beginning of human culture must have been a murder concealed by a lie." For which reason Jesus calls the devil "a murderer, a liar, and the father of lies, 'from the beginning.'"

Does this all seem a little reductive? That's something I struggle with. It almost seems too simple, and yet, it accounts for some mighty strange data, i.e., the ubiquity of scapegoating and sacrifice.

I look at the phenomena through a slightly wider-angle lens. That is, the transition from animal to man -- from instinct to freedom, from unself-conscious to self-awareness, from merger with the environment to detachment from it -- must have been a catastrophe of the first order.

Indeed, not only is it by definition the first catastrophe, it is the most catastrophic thing that could ever happen. The magnitude of this break -- which Genesis tries to convey -- is literally beyond conception.

And, like the Big Bang, this primordial he & shebang is still going on. We all repeat the primordial event through the individuation process, and we all must find a way to "adapt to mindedness," so to speak.

Or to paraphrase Bion, there is the thinker and there are thoughts. How does the former manage the latter? What do we do with these thoughts? Yes, "think them" would be a good idea. But there are a multitude of alternatives to thinking painful thoughts, including thoughts of death.

Consider just our Islamist adversaries. What is going on with their thoughts? Why, instead of thinking them, do they insist on acting them out on innocent victims?

So it's hardly as if the sacrificial mechanism has disappeared. Islamists want to sacrifice innocent victims in order to redeem their own guilty selves, while leftists seek redemption by elevating "victims" such as Black Lives Matter to engage in the sacrificing. However, I'm not so sure they know not what they do. Or at least they have no excuse for not knowing, having presumably been exposed to the good news.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

What Does Desire Desire?

What exactly happened when man became man? How do we mark the transition?

Among other things, we now had an assoul released from instinctual programming running lose in the cosmos. All other animals do what they are constrained to do, and any "thinking" that goes on is related solely to those fixed and predetermined ends.

A lion, after satisfying its biological needs, doesn't gaze up at the stars and wonder what it's all about. Nor does it ponder things from the gazelle's rather different perspective. And it certainly doesn't sacrifice another lion in order to appease the Lion God and keep the gazelles coming. Rather, it just goes to sleep. Why don't we do that? It would solve a lot of problems.

By the way, some people say -- or everyone, rather -- that human thought is an extension of animal thought. Can't be. I think it's the other way around: whatever goes on in animal brains is an attenuation of properly human thought. Indeed, we see the same principle at work within humanness: smart people aren't simply an extension of the stupid ones. Rather, the stupid ones are missing something.

In the book, I touched on the distinction between appetite, which is biological, and desire, which is metaphysical and more or less infinite. It was the latter to which Buddha referred with his crack about desire being the root of all suffering. That makes perfect sense, as far as it goes. But what if the desire is here for a purpose? What if, like intelligence, it is proportioned to its proper object?

Analogously, think of all the terrible things that have been done with human intelligence. Would it then be fair to say that the root of all suffering is intelligence? Well, animals in the wild don't become neurotic. They aren't conflicted. Perhaps the road to nirvana is unpaved with the transcendence of desire and intelligence. Or could all those Marxists be wrong? In a Marxist paradise there is no reason to think or want, since the state takes care of both.

Central to Girard's theory is the idea that "above and beyond instinctual appetite or what the philosophical tradition calls natural desire is a form of desire that profoundly shapes and fairly defines human motivation, namely mimetic desire, desire aroused by another's desire and that easily leads to rivalry with the model whose desire one imitates" (Bailie).

Respectfully, I'm not so sure. It is no doubt a partial explanation, but is it really sufficient to account for the pervasive violence that erupts with the emergence of man? I suppose I come at it from a different angle than Girard, since he looks at the phenomenon through an anthropological lens, while I look at it more from a developmental-psychological perspective (a subject to which we will later return; for now let's just stick with Girard's view).

The question is, when does man begin to display his propensity for violence? If we take Girard's idea literally, it is when one man sees that another man desires something, which makes it "desirable" to the first. In short, it provokes envy. And this in turn leads to an inevitable crisis, what with everyone wanting what everyone else has.

Now, Girard's theory explains a lot. Along similar lines is one of our Coon Classics, Helmut Schoeck's Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior. Envy is indeed a key to human behavior, and managing it is central both to human happiness and even the possibility of human cooperation. We've spoken in the past of how human groups had to transcend the "envy barrier" in order to evolve into higher and more complex forms. Put conversely, envy is one of the primary mechanisms that keeps primitive groups primitive.

Nor can we eliminate it from the human repertoire, any more than we could eliminate lust, or jealousy, or greed, or pride, or sloth. Nevertheless, the entire appeal of leftism is rooted in the placation of envy. Likewise all this talk of "income inequality," which is just a modern way to express and externalize envy.

This is well known, and many wise humans have pointed it out -- for example, Churchill, who said that "Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery." But what if the other guy's stuff is none of my damn business? Is it even possible for a liberal to imagine such an unenvious state of mind?

Jumping waaayyy ahead in the book, to p. 144, Bailie makes the profound point that -- quoting Aquinas here -- "The nearer any nature is to God, the less inclined it is to be moved by another and the more capable it is of moving itself."

Bailie elaborates: "the more open to the divine one is -- the unsurpassable height of which is the co-existence with Christ's own co-existence within the Trinity... -- the less mimetically promiscuous one will be, the less easily one is drawn off balance by the mimetic influence of others."

You might say that you will be yourself instead of someone else. Which you'd think would be easy, but first you must differentiate your own desire from what everybody else wants. Bailie adverts to the Serpent -- and we'll get back to him later -- who first triggers mimetic desire by tempting Eve. What is going there, i.e., what principle is the story trying to convey? It is that we do indeed have a kind of infinite desire but that it is proportioned to the infinite God. Detach this desire from God, and what happens?

Yes, history, most especially the bad stuff. All hell breaks loose. This is a huge subject to which we will return in due time, after laying the foundation.

You won't hear me denigrating the free market, nevertheless, it does unleash mimetic desire like nothing in history. It is as if it serves to pander to our infinite desires, detached from God. All day long we are bombarded with images of Things To Want. People order their whole lives around obtaining these Desirable Things, only to find out -- repeatedly! -- that none of them can scratch the itch of mimetic desire, at least for long. One desire simply displaces another.

Not to give undue credit to myself. Rather, it is simply in my nature to be a neo-traditional retro-futuristic bohemian fringe-dweller. Nevertheless, I have to say I saw through this cycle of desire rather early in life. I concluded that there was nothing there for me in conventional aspirations. Only later did I put one and one together and consciously aspire to the third, which is what the blog is all about.

Anyway, back to Desire Unhinged. For Bailie, "culture" is the mechanism that emerged in order to manage it: "culture became necessary for survival precisely when the instinctive dominance-submission mechanisms that served to curtail violence in the animal kingdom proved inadequate to that task of a creature endowed with seemingly insatiable, metaphysical, and fickle desires."

Mimetic rivalry. Is it any wonder the first thing that happens upon our expulsion from paradise is an envy-drenched murder over whom God likes best? How can a culture of cooperation ever emerge out of such a matrix? "How can such violence be transformed into the nascent social consensus upon which conventional culture depends?"

The short answer is that "Archaic religion, the emergence of which marks the birth of culture itself, was born of the transfiguration of violence into religious awe and holy dread..." Our furbears projected violence "onto expendable victims... thereafter ritually reproducing the catharsis with which the original violence was concluded, thereby rejuvenating the social solidarity it produced."

Maybe you have a better idea for why human sacrifice was so ubiquitous. Certainly their gods appeared to demand blood: "Ritual sacrifice was clearly how the world worked."

Think about that one: how the world worked. It's like a scientific theory. And guess what: it did work, certainly for much longer than our democracy has worked. We are the ones in uncharted territory, not them. We are the ones who have to try to figure out how culture can exist without scapegoats.

Or maybe you don't know about the 20th century, with its 100 million victims sacrificed to pagan ideologies...

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Does Leftism Feed on the Blood of Innocents?

Almost no time this morning to make any vertical progress. Therefore you get this half-baked and unfinished post:

Have you ever read James Frazer's classic The Golden Bough? He was apparently the first to notice all the human sacrifice going on, and is considered one of the founding fathers of anthropology. I read the abridged edition many years ago. I mention it because it was a major influence on Girard.

The Golden Bough attempts to define the shared elements of religious belief and scientific thought, discussing fertility rites, human sacrifice, the dying god, the scapegoat and many other symbols and practices whose influence has extended into twentieth-century culture. Its thesis is that old religions were fertility cults that revolved around the worship and periodic sacrifice of a sacred king. Frazer proposed that mankind progresses from magic through religious belief to scientific thought" (Prof. Wiki).

So Frazer was a positivist. Which is why he committed the ontological booboo of conflating Christianity with pre-Christian myths. For Girard, it is the other way around: the myths prefigure the reality.

I refer you to chapter XXIV, The Killing of the Divine King. "Now primitive peoples, as as we have seen, sometimes believe that their safety and even that of the world is bound up with the life of one of these god-men or or human incarnations of the divinity."

But of course the god-man is nothing of the sort. Eventually he shows signs of mortality, even if only aging. Have you ever seen The Man Who Would be King? In it Sean Connery becomes the god-man for a pagan tribe. When he is seen to bleed, he is chucked down a mountain gorge while his pal, Michael Caine, is crucified.

In order to avoid this eventuality, Frazer says that "the man-god must be killed as soon as he shows symptoms that his powers are beginning to fail.... The advantages of thus putting the man-god to death instead of allowing him to die of old age and disease are, to the savage, obvious enough."

There's a lot more. The condensed version is over 800 pages. But you get the idea. As did primitive man, since the practice was so widespread. Even so, it is difficult to wrap our minds around the subject -- Bailie would say because we have been Christianized and therefore "treated" for -- if not wholly cured of -- the sacrificial virus.

Even so, the sacrificial motif clearly survives into contemporary times, only we have to look for it under the surface of things. It's even a kind of lens you may use to interpret the news of the day: the news often comes down not only to identifying today's sacrificial victim, but creating the victim. Whose life will the media destroy today?

For pre-Christian savages, victims are just victims. However, in a Christianized culture, we have sympathy for them, which is precisely why leftism involves the unedifying race to the bottom of victimhood. Just as primitive peoples have a garbled and half-digested message, so do leftists. In short, because the divine -- Christ -- was a victim, they deploy unconscious logic and conclude that victims are therefore divine.

You simply cannot understand contemporary leftism outside this twisted logic. Their whole appeal is to Sacred Victims, including everyone from women to blacks to Muslims to Hispanics to the elderly to "LGBT people." Add them all up and it probably comes to, I don't know, 85% of the population. The only people who aren't victims are white males.

In this scenario, it is as if we -- white males -- are the corrupt priesthood sacrificing all these innocent victims. I suppose Trump would be the alpha priest. Who's on his altar today?

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Emergence of Man: Who is to Blame?

This next chapter, The Emergence of Homo Sapiens, gets into one of our favorite subjects: exactly how and when did man become man? We have a religious explanation -- sort of -- and a scientific one -- kind of -- but neither, taken at face value, is remotely satisfying. Both are more than a little vague at the edges.

C'mon. What really happened? How did the merely animal escape animality and enter this new world of truth, language, meaning, love, beauty? Any purely scientific account ends up negating what it needs to explain, while a purely religious account tends to overlook everything leading up to it. Each, in its own way, forms man from the dirt and leaves it at that, leaving aside the question of how dirt can come alive to begin with. Godlike magic or magical God isn't much of a choice.

As we know from our reading and even writing of One Cosmos, there are four major discontinuities in existence, and it's hard to say which is the most queer.

First there is existence itself arising out of "nothing" from a primordial explosion that is still exploding as we speak; then this explosion suddenly comes to life some 3.8 billion years ago (suggesting, among other things, that it must have been alive all along); then, around 100,000 years ago, portions of this biosphere are "catapulted into the status of a metaphysical being"(Bailie), and begin thinking, speaking, inventing, and so on; and finally, the story loops back around on itself, and these latter beings break through and commune with their ultimate ground and destiny.

The whole thing is just too weird, except it really happens.

But right now we're focused on the third explosion, anthropogenesis.

By the way, instead of seeing these as four separate mysteries requiring four separate explanations, I tend to think of them as variations on a single explosion. Furthermore, since the whole thing is circular, we can't necessarily locate the point of origin on a line; in other words, nothing compels us to begin with lifeless matter and somehow try to figure out how it came to life.

Rather, we can, for example, begin with Life (as did the theoretical biologist Robert Rosen). As Rosen put it, there is no reason we have to begin with physics instead of biology as our paradigmatic science. Or, to paraphrase Whitehead, biology is the study of the larger organisms, whereas physics is the study of the smaller. And perhaps cosmology is the study of the largest. Unless you want to raise that and say that the Trinity is the largest, an idea to which we will return.

Alternatively, we can begin with man. What if man is the key to the whole existentialada? Not just in the sense that he is the "measure of all things," but that he is the reason for them? This would explain a lot. But let's not get out on front of our headlights.

Now first of all, how do we know when man has become man? This is impossible to say with scientific certitude, because we have access only to physical clues, including DNA, but not to what was going on in their heads.

In my book I looked to the Paleolithic cave paintings as definitive evidence of humanness; I also touched on the universality of human sacrifice, but Bailie, in following René Girard, emphasizes the latter. For Girard, it is a kind of "grand unified theory" of anthropogenesis, enculturation, and more.

Certainly we need to account for the universality of such a seemingly absurd and brutal practice: why human sacrifice? Why, when humans become human, do they begin sacrificing one another to their "gods?" Indeed, why do some of them still practice it to this day? Why haven't they gotten the message -- the Good News, as it were?

Girard's simple explanation -- although full of implications -- is that it is in order to maintain culture. We know that man is prone to violence, to put it mildly. How did early man prevent it from spinning out of control and engulfing these proto-cultures in a downward and dis-integrating cycle of bloodletting?

Here we must emphasize that this is not only a legitimate question, but an absolutely essential one: how on earth do we domesticate such a violence-prone being? For Girard the answer is: human sacrifice. Via this mechanism, the group essentially projects its psychological toxins into a scapegoat. Why? Because it works. At least for a while. It doesn't really solve anything in a final way, so must be compulsively re-enacted, eventually by a professional class, a priesthood.

"Quite logically, the beneficiaries of this blessed peace replicate as best they can the process that produced it. They reenact the drama in rituals of blood sacrifice; they recount the event that turned madness into peace in their myths, and they establish taboos to prevent the spontaneous eruption of this crisis. Archaic religion is born."

Now, we know that the Abrahamic line begins with a human sacrifice. Or rather, the prevention of one. The rest is history -- or salvation history, to be precise. As it so happens, it also ends in a human sacrifice -- or again, the failure of one, AKA the Resurrection.

Not much time this morning, only enough to sketch a crude and preliminary outline. To be continued...

Monday, December 05, 2016

Freedom From and Freedom For

We are about to embark on a very close reading of God's Gamble -- no more than a chapter at a time, and possibly even less. I don't think anything short of this can do it justice.


Land of the free, home of the brave. The former isn't of much use without the latter; it is no coincidence that college campuses are the most ideologically unfree places in the country; and that it is difficult to conceive of a group more cowardly than college deans.

"Academic freedom." What is it for, anyway? Like any other form of freedom, it cannot merely be "freedom from." If it isn't simultaneously freedom for, then it is worthless. It equates to nihilism, or freedom to be absurd (which is no freedom at all).

Toward the beginning of God's Gamble, Bailie cites an article that appeared in the New York Times Magazine (which you may recall from the fourth to last paragraph in this post), called In the Age of Radical Selfishness. In it the author speaks of how our "freedom from the gravity of age-old constraints" has been "accompanied by a weightless feeling that attached itself to even the most fundamental human decisions."

Even? How about especially? For in order to achieve the kind of Timesmanian weightlessness he's talking about, one would require a radical, ontological freedom. It is beyond anything conceived by America's founders, who bequeathed to us an ordered freedom-for, not merely a rootless and chaotic freedom-from.

Given the latter kind of freedom, the author asks: "Why bother? Why get married? What are families for? What was new about these questions was that they didn't have answers, or that the answers they did have were so multiple and contingent and arbitrary that they never felt like answers at all."

Multiple, contingent, and arbitrary. That is the way it must be if there is no One at the heart of it all -- which is to say, no ground and no telos. Bailie is not criticizing the writer per se. Rather, he is to be congratulated for his honesty, for having the courage of his lack of convictions. Thanks for nothing!

But can someone really live from that place? Is this really how humans are made -- for nothing? To know nothing, be anything, and end nowhere?

Possibly. Indeed, there are only two possibilities, and that is no doubt one of them.

No, I should amend that. There are three possibilities: nihilism, religion, and Christianity. (I won't speak of Judaism, which wouldn't exactly be a fourth, but rather, a different take on the third.)

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but one of the themes of God's Gamble is that Christianity is the cure for primitive -- which is to say, pre-Christian -- religion.

Remember when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery and into the desert bewilderness? For 40 years they lived in this in-between state, but it was always with the faith that there was a deustination. But what if the bewilderness is all there is? Taking the long view, it is as if we were liberated from slavery into spiritual freedom, only to be condemned to a vast prison of postmodern nothingness. At least the slaves lived in hope for freedom! But for what does the nihilist hope? A lost paradise that never existed?

"It is a world in despair even when it remains unconsciously so. It is a world of weightlessness, of 'the unbearable lightness of being,' a fragmented world characterized by what... de Lubac brilliantly termed 'the waning of ontological density.'"

Or, looked at from a different angle, we might call it a loss of metaphysical transparency -- thus, a loss of weight and an occlusion of vision, the former going to absoluteness, the latter to infinitude. You might say that infinitude without weight -- without a center -- reduces to a kind of absolute diffusion. And absoluteness without transparency is like being encased in ice, or released into a null-de-slack called Death Circle.

It reminds me of, say, behaviorism, which explains everything about man, and therefor nothing. Everything is simply a conditioned response -- even language -- so there is nothing that isn't determined. Which certainly cures the disease of freedom. Although the patient doesn't survive the operation.

"Whatever the putative benefits of having been freed from tradition, that freedom has been accompanied by the loss of a sense of being part of a larger story in the context of which one's life might make sense, a story about why we're here and what we should be about while we are, a story that demands something of us and situates our lives in a living historical drama in which what we do has both meaning and consequence" (ibid.).

Well, progress has its costs, right? Perhaps the existentialists are right, that the cost of freedom is absurdity, precisely.

It scarcely needs to belabored that this goes to the unbridgeable divide between Red and Blue. As far as I can tell, most Red Pill People are still rooted in -- or have returned to -- tradition, while our Blue Pill coastal elites have extricated themselves from anything as naive as "meaning," and wish to drag us with them into their cold and dark echo chamber. Perhaps if everyone believes in nothing, it's not quite so lonely in there. But if just one person escapes the Matrix -- AKA Plato's cave -- then that unsettles the herd. The left hates no one as much as the runaway slave.

It's the same vis-a-vis primitive religion, by the way. It only takes one awakened conscience to ruin a human sacrifice for everybody.

Which is an important point, because if Bailie is correct, we all have a deep structure of pre-Christian religiosity. We can jettison Christianity, but don't be surprised when this unleashes a hunt for victims.

About our postmodern idea of freedom-from. Bailie points out that it is "based on a very weak understanding of freedom and its spiritual depth. Our civilization rests on the strength of the natural family and on the willingness to sacrifice freedom, understood in adolescent terms, in favor of freedom freely subordinated to the responsibilities of loving service."

That is a loaded paragraph. The other day we spoke of the energy released from the fission of Trinitarian love. This love is the glue that binds the family, which in turn is the incubator of human personhood. The family isn't just anything, let alone nothing. The Christianized family was a long time coming. It didn't happen overnight, but only after centuries of leavening by the Christian message. Thus, we know there can be Christian individuals. It remains to be seen if there can be any other kind, because the experiment is ongoing.

But if this were real science, the experiment would be suspended on the ethical grounds that it's causing too much harm to the subjects.

To be continued...