Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christory

The Hominization Event, among other things, involved crossing the threshold into time.

Or did it? Human beings are not so much in time as above it; or rather, we have a foot in each realm.

It's like the difference between sitting on the bank of a river (of time) vs. being in the river and pulled along by the currents. Sometimes we are completely given over to the river, for good or ill. Other times we disinterestedly watch it go by.

But that doesn't quite capture the gist, because there is also a kind of timelessness involved in giving oneself over to the river of time. The French have a term that is peripherally related to this submersion: nostalgie de la bout, or "nostalgia for the mud."

I suppose we could say there are two ways for humans to try to evade time: down and up, mud and sky.

And it seems that our most ancient ancestors defaulted toward the former. Thus the title of the next chapter under discussion, The Refusal of History. It begins with a crack by Johann Hamann to the effect that "there is no universal history without Judaism and Christianity," because the idea that we all share "in the same history, a linear history moving toward a goal, only appeared historically with the Judeo-Christian tradition."

You might say that members of the latter tradition said Yes to history -- although it must again be emphasized that the No and the Yes nevertheless coexist, and there are any number of ways to say No to history, secular progressivism being one such way.

The left flees from truths that cannot be un-known, but you can never really put the truthpaste back in the tube.

Progressivism is a collective means of stopping or reversing time, but there are also individual ways, i.e., neuroses, in which a part of the mind continues to live in an earlier time -- in childhood or even infancy.

Prior to the Jews, man's sense of historical consciousness was weak to non-existent; or, to the extent that it broke through, it was promptly repressed and denied, often through collective rituals: "If history is 'the remembered past,'" then there are "two strikingly different ways of remembering it: the mythological and the historical..."

Recall what was said yesterday about early man having to "adapt to mindedness." Bailie notes that "Archaic peoples clung, not to nature, but to religious procedures" designed to keep the gods "favorably disposed to their propitiators." It was literally a kind of circular procedure -- although the circle was wider than it is for animals, who essentially live within the subjective phase space of their instincts.

But man, in being liberated from instinct, is confronted with a kind of terrifying infinity that must somehow be tamed. "Thus these ancient cultures remained profoundly backward oriented," as if to say Please make death's footman, time, knock it off, and while you're at it, would you please make the spooky silence of the infinite spaces go away! And here's some human blood for all your trouble!

In the Christian west, we value history. It has a ground, a direction, and a purpose. Conversely, "Indian thought," for example, "has refused to concede any value to History" (Eliade, in Bailie). This is because time is thought to be a dimension of maya-illusion. Thus, the ultimate point of Vedanta is to escape time by obliterating the ego. Back to the undifferentiated matrix from which we emerged.

"As long as they remained beholden to their gods and the cycle of sacrificial rituals that appeased them, our ancient ancestors lived in a cyclical and not a historical world.... For our ancestors to step even tentatively onto the path of history, they would have to break with these 'archetypal beings' and, to some degree at least, renounce the false forms of transcendence they represented."

These archetypal beings very much remind me of what are called "transitional objects" in psychoanalysis. The latter are essentially symbolic way stations that help the child move from merger with the mother toward individuation and independence. Once safely across the psychic divide, the "security blanket" may be tossed aside.

I wonder if pagan religions are essentially transitional objects to which premodern man clung? Bailie implies as much: "other religions of the world -- ancient and contemporary -- are 'religions in waiting' -- awaiting the truth revealed by Christ..."

I'm not sure when the next post will be -- maybe Monday, but possibly Tuesday. In between we'll be celebrating Christmas, which is a Christian holiday superimposed on a pagan one. It coincides with the darkest day of the year, at which point the light increases and the days begin to imperceptibly lengthen.

You could say that Christianity lifted the holy-day out of its time-denying circle. As de Lubac remarked, "Christianity is not one of the great things of history; it is history that is one of the great things of Christianity" (in Bailie).

"For Christianity there is a progress in the truth of what it means to be. Following Christ one is permanently growing, from one beginning to another beginning. Yet Christianity is not only a part of a larger progress, it is the goal of progress itself" (Lopez, in Bailie).

If primitive man lives in the repetitive circle and secular man on the meaningless line, Christians live in the ever-renewing, progressive spiral.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Monopsychism and Monotheism

Our fallenness is like a symmetry break, only on the vertical plane, from unity to division.

As we know, any form of religion involves the attempt to heal this breach -- to undo the damage via re-ligio, which means to "bring back or bind to God."

However, since time is a one-way phenomenon, that's not actually possible. The only way back is forward. But our primordial ancestors did not know this.

Rather, history has only recently been discovered. If man has been here for 100,000 years, then only about 5% of our existence has been in history. And even then, it took quite awhile for history to be fully disentangled from more primitive modes of being, i.e., the cyclicity of time. We will return to this subject a few posts hence.

"If human culture begins with the birth of religion, religion begins with the separation of the sacred and the profane, and the separation of the sacred and profane coincides with the apotheosis or divinization of the victim" (Bailie).

Note the symmetry break: from some unknowable prior unity (called "innocence") emerges the polarity of sacred/profane, and with it, the need for religio to undo the break and put Humpty back together -- to shove the profane back into the sacred.

In the past I have utilized catastrophe theory to try to illuminate this break. But for early man, it couldn't have been just a theoretical catastrophe; rather, it must also have been catastrophic in the colloquial sense.

Again, other animals are unaware of history, of death, of separation from reality. Although animals in the wild have much more reason to be anxious than we do, they don't worry about where the next meal is coming from, or what will happen if it doesn't come. Like the lilies of the field, they don't spin or toil.

Just as animals must adapt to the physical environment, I believe it was necessary for man to adapt to the new environment in which he found himself: the psycho-spiritual.

The reason I believe this is that we are still trying to adapt to it. Always and everywhere, the problem is thoughts and what do do with them. And there is a multitude of things we can do with them besides think them. Indeed, thinking them is often a last resort.

Whatever else we say about human sacrifice, it is one way to deal with unruly thoughts, to adapt to the curious circumstance of mindedness. If Girard is correct, then it does effectively tamp them down, at least for a while. But only for a while. It must be periodically reenacted when thoughts again threaten to overwhelm the psyche.

Let's put it this way: what is the leading edge of what we call psychological maturity? I would suggest there are two complementary factors, integration and actualization.

When a person is unintegrated, it means they lack an "organizing center," so to speak, such that thoughts take on a life of their own, often projected into the external environment.

This is how I regard pagan polytheism: as an externalization and crystallization of primitive emotions and impulses that obviously emanate from the psyche. These are "parasites" that "prevent the true God from emerging" (De Lubac, ibid.). Thus, our ancestors lived in "a beclouded but inchoate form of pre-Christian lucidity, thoroughly enveloped though it was in a sea of delusion..."

I might add that this lack of psychic integration is precisely why monotheism was so slow in emerging: the psyche is fragmented before it is integrated, so God is necessarily many before he is One.

It also explains the anthropomorphization in the Old Testament, which gradually gives way to more abstract notions of God. Chesterton wrote of how this psychic "cleansing" had to occur -- i.e., the withdrawal of projections -- before God could incarnate.

From the Christian perspective, the Old Testament chronicles the slow de-paganization of the Jewish mind in order to prepare the way for a revelation uncontaminated by our own unwanted psychic fragments.

Therefore, "the crucified Christ, as Paul insists, would eventually despoil the very cultural and religious structures he originally brought into being, making a public spectacle of them by nailing them to the cross," thus dispersing "the cloud which until then had been hiding the truth."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

If Socialism Is Wrong, Liberals Don't Want To Be Right

So: the hominization event coincides with -- among other things -- the awakening of the conscience. Which is what exactly?

Back when I was solely under the sway of psychoanalytic theory, I would have insisted that it is simply the internalized authority of the father and of the wider culture, AKA the superego. There could be no intrinsic right or wrong, rather, convention only makes it so. You burn widows, we give them Social Security. Who can say which of us is right?

There is no question that the existence of the conscience signifies a split in the psyche, or the unavoidable presence of this nosey "other" who offers a running commentary on our thoughts and behavior. How did this happen? How did this scold gain entry into our heads? It is again reminiscent of how complex cells -- eukaryotes -- resulted from one cell getting inside another.

Bailie suggests that the conscience operates via a kind of vertical recollection. He quotes Ratzinger, who writes that it "consists in the fact that something like an original memory of the good and true (they are identical) has been implanted in us, that there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the image and likeness of God, toward the divine."

Thus, "From its origin, man's being resonates with some things and clashes with others." Our vertical recollection involves "an inner sense, a capacity to recall" a better or more "innocent" state.

And as mentioned a few posts back, Ratzinger suggests that innocence can only be known retrospectively, from the perspective of our fallenness, "from the realization that one is no longer innocent." Innocence endures "as an intimation of something for which one has no specific memory but for which one is nevertheless vaguely nostalgic..."

It seems that in a state of innocence, the conscience is either unnecessary or unnoticed.

Speaking of the superego, Ratzinger makes the psychologically astute point that the conscience can indeed devolve to a mere enforcer of societal mores: "Then the absolute call to a personal responsibility is covered over with a system of conventions that is falsely made out to be the voice of God, whereas in truth it is only the voice of the past, which fears the present and bars its way" (in Bailie).

Back when I was under the influence of psychology, I would have said that the conscience is just an abstraction from the superego. But now I would say that the superego is more or less a corruption of the conscience. I've used this example in the past... let me track it down...

Here it is, a stale bobservation from over eleven years ago. I'll quote as much as seems relevant to our present concerns:

One area where Bion differed with Freud was over the nature and function of the superego, the part of ourselves that Freud believed was responsible for our morality. The problem with Freud's conception is that the superego will reflect the particular family in which one grew up and the particular society in which one lives.

As such, the superego is not necessarily moral at all. It is essentially amoral, in that it may well punish the individual for morally good behavior and reward him for morally bad behavior, depending upon the culture.

Here we can understand why the emphasis on truth is so vital. In the Arab Muslim world, for example, they are so inundated with vicious lies about America and Israel that it would be immoral for them not to hate us. In a racist or anti-Semitic society, the superego will demand that its members be racist and anti-Semitic.

For example, the Nazi movement in Germany was animated by abstract ideals, without which they couldn't have engaged in their project to exterminate the Jews. Once the lie is established as truth, then the superego takes over, impelling the individual to act in a "moral" way, consistent with the implications of the lie.

Clearly, a casual survey of history will establish the fact that most of what people have believed down through the centuries has been untrue. We see case after case of corrupt superegos that sanction and condone slavery, witch hunts, racism, anti-Semitism, jihads, all based on one vital lie or another.

All the superego does is enforce consistency between beliefs and actions. If the beliefs are false, then the actions will likely be immoral. People rarely believe they are evil, no matter how evil they are. You can be assured that bin Laden feels morally superior to you or me, which is what permits him to murder in the name of Islamist "truth."

I believe the conscience is not identical to the supergo. Rather, the conscience is nonlocal and universal, while the superego is local and particular. The superego is simply a mechanism we evolved in order to get along in small groups. In reality, morality is universal and transcendent, applicable at all times and in all places, such as "thou shalt not murder."

In his book Freud, Women and Morality: The Psychology of Good and Evil, Eli Sagan uses a wonderfully illuminating example from Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck is in the midst of a moral dilemma between what his superego wants him to do -- return the runaway slave Jim to his master -- and what his conscience is telling him -- that Jim is a human being just like him, and that it would be evil for him to assist in re-enslaving him. First we hear Huck dealing with an attack from his superego as he considers returning Jim:

"The more I studied about this the more my conscience [actually, the superego] went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman's nigger that hadn't done me no harm, and now was showing me there's One that's always on the lookout, and ain't a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared."

Clearly, Huck is under assault from a bullying superego for violating the racist ethic of his culture. The omniscient superego ("watching all the time") slaps him in the face, accuses him of wickedness, and causes him to become immobilized with fear. He proceeds to write a letter telling Miss Watson where Jim can be found. But as he does so, his conscience -- not superego -- begins to nag him. He lays the letter down and "set there thinking":

"And went on thinking.... and I see Jim before me all the time... we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him.... I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me... and see how glad he was when I came back out of the fog.... and would always call me honey and pet me, and how good he always was... and he said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world... and then I happened to look around and see that paper."

Caught between guilt from doing something at variance with what the superego is demanding, and an awakened conscience telling him to do the right thing, what will Huck do?

"I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied it a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll go to hell' -- and tore it up."

Huck revokes the lie, stands up to the superego, and makes the decision to do wrong, to "take up wickedness again" by helping to free Jim.

One can only wonder. How many in the Arab Muslim world are ready to give themselves over to sin by making peace with Israel? How many are prepared to bear the guilty attacks from the superego for treating women equally? How many will stop confusing the lies of the imam with the truth of God? How many will "go the whole hog" and adopt a critical attitude toward what the Koran says about Jews and Christians?

Me? I done tore up my New York Times four years ago and been takin' to wickedness ever since. And it ain't been no easy road. Fact, if'n it waren't for old shrinkwrapped, I'd a-never knowed any lowdown evil headshrinkers, 'cept'n my own poor self.

For those who don't get the reference, ShrinkWrapped was a conservative psychiatrist blogger back in the day.

Back to Bailie. I'm running out of time here, but how could human sacrifice have been so widespread and persistent except through a corruption of the conscience that transformed wrong into right? For it represented "a system of conventions... falsely made out to be the voice of God." It also served as a kind of "purification" and "offloading" of guilt, and this mechanism surely persists to this day.

For example, to paraphrase the Aphorist, socialism is the philosophy of the guilt of others. Believe in it and you are purified of guilt -- of "white privilege," "structural racism," "patriarchy," whatever. But in so doing there must always be victims toward whom violence and repression are legitimized by the corrupt superego.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Mythology is Settled

To paraphrase the Aphorist, there are two kinds of men: those who believe man is fallen, and idiots.

I'm a stalwart of the former camp, which is small consolation, being that fallenness generally redounds to idiocy anyway. Indeed, there are some Protestants who maintain that the fall left us so thoroughly depraved, that our intellect was by no means spared. Therefore we are idiots either way you look at it.

Which is not so outlandish given man's track record. You have only to read a history book -- or the news -- to be overwhelmed with evidence that man is a hopeless case -- that he is fallen and can't get up.

Still, I think there is hope. No, not in man. Left to his own deivoices, Man is indeed a hopeless case, and when divorced from God becomes a monster. It is axiomatic that he cannot save himself. Therefore, he is in need of salvation, even if one doesn't believe in the possibility of salvation.

In reality, this deep structure of fallenness/salvation cannot be denied, only repressed, projected, or otherwise displaced. Marxism is a case in point: it begins with a primordial paradise of communal sharing, followed by a fall into private property and capitalism -- AKA history -- which eventually leads to the salvation of communism.

Most any political philosophy partakes of this structure: something or someone is to blame for our fall from paradise, and this or that person or policy will lead us to heaven on earth.

I want to say that when it comes to our fallenness, the mythology is settled. Or at least it was. But like so many other foundations of western civilization -- e.g., marriage, manliness, virtue, objective morality, etc. -- it has been denied and eroded, such that it threatens to topple the whole structure that is built upon it.

But just as marriage was settled so long ago that people have forgotten how to defend it, so too do people have no idea how to speak of our fallenness without fear of sounding like a literalist rube. But again: we begin with the axiom that it is the people that deny it who are a priori idiots, not us.

In a chapter conveniently entitled The Fall, Bailie speaks of the "hominization event" that distinguishes us from the beasts. Now clearly it is difficult if not impossible to shed light on this cardinal event, at least scientific light, because no one was there to see it. It is like trying to imagine the Big Bang, which is over the horizon of any kind of empirical knowability. Rather, it is just an abstract, backward projection of our current model -- like the models of climate science, only accurate.

The point is, the hominization event is beyond the human horizon; it certainly took place long before any written history, but more to the point, any explanation of it assumes the humanness that is precisely what is in need of explanation.

I first read of myth representing the edge of history in a book called The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality and the Origins of Culture, which I must have read some 35 years ago. I see it even has a chapter called Hominization.

Thompson writes that in the Age of Chaos -- that would be now -- "Myth is a false statement, an opinion popularly held, but one known by scientists and other experts to be incorrect."

However, in the Age of Heroes -- which is any time, or rather, outside time -- "Myth is an answer to the three questions: What are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Here myth is a macrohistory giving humanity an answer to the basic riddle of the meaning of existence." And interestingly, "if a philosopher or even a scientist attempts to answer these three questions, then the organization of his data into a narrative falls into the mythic form."

Which goes to what was said above about the deep structure of myth conditioning forms of thought superimposed from above. We could even say that ideology is just the mythology of the modern idiot.

Ah. Here is the passage I was looking for: "The edge of history is myth. If we study myth in a scientific way, we miss the experience of moving into a mythopoeic mode of consciousness. A line of events has a beginning and an end, but the matrix out of which events arise does not appear to be an event at all."

Rather, this matrix is the container, not the contained. Matrix, of course, means womb. Even -- or especially -- God has one.

I don't want to get too far afield. Let's return to God's Gamble. Bailie alludes to the idea that the "hominzation event" -- whatever that was -- is "irreversible." You might say that once you wake up, you cannot go back to sleep. But you can certainly try. Think, for example, of all the ways we can try to make the conscience -- the conscience being prima facie evidence that hominization has occurred -- go back to sleep and leave us the hell alone!

Besides conscience, what else does the hominization event entail? Well, freedom: "For love to appear in creation, the creature in whom it appears had to be free, free in a way that no creature ordered entirely by instinct could possibly be."

This is indeed God's Gamble, because it can -- does -- turn out either way: "the great danger is that the freedom necessary to the fulfillment of the creature's vocation in love" will be exercised in the wrong ways. Broadly speaking, instead of being ordered to O, it will be ordered to Ø:

"[H]uman goods depend on order, and it is the nature of the order to which our lives are sub-ordinated that is decisive." It seems that the primordial unhappitants of paradise impulsively grasp at Ø. As did Adam and Eve.

"For Satan, divinity is something to be snatched at, and he inspires his imitators to acts of self-assertion.... That which can be received only as a gift was despoiled by the surreptitious attempt to purloin it by an act of will."

This represents the great cracking of the cosmic egg into numberless fragments. Desire, which is infinite and ordered to God, expresses its infinitude on this plane, setting up a compulsive dynamic of fleeting fulfillment of impossible dreams. "The gift of free will -- intrinsically ordered to the true, the good, and the beautiful -- thus dissolves into a cacophony of mimeticism..."

Frankly, I don't think the mimicry of others is even required. The infinitude and insatiability of godless desire is sufficient to set the world aflame.

Bailie makes an interesting point about death entering the cosmos with the Fall. It doesn't necessarily imply physical death, but rather, the death-haunted psyche that results from the radical separation from God: "The man and the woman didn't die, but they lost touch with that within them that cannot die, and -- existentially -- that is a living death."

What to do about this existential condition of living death?

Hmm... I know! A human sacrifice! Let someone else take the fall for the Fall -- that will make things right!

"That is exactly what ritual sacrifice does in primitive religion, in which the only possible cure for death is death."

But even if we manage to forego human sacrifice, it is much more difficult to give up the Joy of Blame, of guilt and punishment, of scapegoats and exile. It doesn't surprise me that liberals cannot stop doing this. But I get nervous when so-called conservatives fall into the same trap. A genuine conservative knows this isn't paradise, and that any attempt to make it so will only pave the way for a fresh hell.

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