Friday, January 27, 2017

Two Worlds are Better than One

"Facts are fantasies." That sounds like something a postmodernist might say, but Chesterton was no such animal. Nor was he a premodern animist. Rather, like us, he was post-postmodern; or really, just operating outside and above the whole linear scheme of premodern-modern-postmodern.

For the last few days we've heard Democrats ridicule Sean Spicer's use of the phrase "alternative facts," but the situation is far more grave than these naive liberals realize. For not only are there alternative facts -- depending upon one's "narrative" -- but there is simply no such thing as a brute fact. Facts cannot be recognized -- and are certainly not relevant -- outside the framework that both selects and makes sense of them.

For example, we characterize oil as a natural resource. But until the 19th century, it was no such thing. Rather, it was either worthless or a nuisance. So the "fact" that oil is a natural resource presupposes an entire civilizational paradigm that is able to put it to use.

Similarly, it makes no sense to say we "stole" land from native Americans, when these Stone Age peoples were millennia away from any conception of private property. We certainly seized it, but we never stole it.

Likewise global warming. It is a fact that the earth is warming. But that fact looks very different if situated in the last 200 years or the last 12,000, during which time we've been coming out of an ice age.

What is a fetus, in fact? Science says a human being. Ideology says it a worthless part of a woman's body -- or, even more absurdly, that it is whatever the mother feels like it is.

Similarly, biology says it is impossible for homosexuals to have "sex," sex obviously revolving around reproductive capacity. Call it what you want, but it is not sex they are having. That's a fact.

Last night we were discussing the boy's religious education (we are homeschooling him). One thing I would obviously like to do is avoid the sort of religious education I had, which resulted in my rejection of religion on the basis of its apparent absence of factuality and general silliness.

I now realize that religion opens up a whole dimension of existence that cannot be seen and experienced in any other way. It is analogous to, say, music. There are people who have no relationship to music, for example, Sigmund Freud. It did nothing for him.

In reality, music discloses an inconceivably rich world, but it is possible to live one's entire life without knowing anything about it. One could say the same of poetry and painting. The world of aesthetics is real. And one can penetrate it as deeply as one wishes. There is no end to it; it is infinite and inexhaustible.

The dimension disclosed by religion is quintessentially infinite and inexhaustible. It is filled with facts. But obviously they will not be recognized as facts outside the paradigm that recognizes them as such.

"Outside" the Christian paradigm, for example, Jesus was just a rabble-rouser who was executed for his extremist views. That's a fact. It is also a fact that the founding fathers were "terrorists" -- just like the Puerto Rican terrorist Obama pardoned before slinking out of the White House.

I saw a Democrat spokestard defend Obama with that latter claim on FNC. It proved only that he has no idea who the founders were or what they fought for. Same facts. Entirely different meaning.

Anyway, back to Chesterton's mysticism, which is clearly a way to view the same facts as everyone else in a different light, but also a means of bringing facts into view that will otherwise be dismissed or simply invisible.

"If we believed that each color was the choice of a Great Artist, we would see everything with new eyes of wonder, as if we were looking at pictures in an exhibition." I've noticed that just by "thinking photographically," it brings out all sorts of latent beauty just waiting to be witnessed. Indeed, the witnessing completes its passage from virtuality to existence. So much orphaned beauty waiting to be adopted!

One important point is that we always live in no fewer than two worlds. For this reason, any monadic, one-storey metaphysic will result in the denied world reappearing in disguise. Along these lines, Chesterton remarked that when natural selection was discovered, "some feared that it would encourage mere animality. It did worse: it encouraged mere spirituality."

This is because Christianity uniquely situates our animality and spirituality -- word and flesh, man and God -- in the same being. This is the correct view. Pretend one dimension doesn't exist, and it will return in naive and usually uncritical ways.

I'm thinking of evolutionary psychologists who reduce this or that complex human behavior to genetics. If they are going to be intellectually consistent, then they would have to affirm that evolutionary psychologists are genetically programmed to reduce complex human behaviors to genetic programming.

Similarly, metaphysical Darwinists insist their minds are the outcome of random mutations, so they are therefore not to be trusted. If what they say is true, then it is false.

But "the dilemma is how to live in the seen and unseen worlds without despising one or overemphasizing the other." I believe in natural selection. But I also believe in supernatural election. There is no conflict.

And "The truth about Christ that emerges from Chesterton's presentation is that Christ lived effortlessly in the two worlds of the earthly and the heavenly." He does not, like Darwin or Buddha, teach us to leave one for the other. Rather, "Acceptance of the Incarnation brings together the two worlds in which the mystic ought to live."

And two worlds are better than one. That's a fact.


mushroom said...

Being in the world but not of it. The world has evolved to meet us, so that we can sojourn here, but we are strangers just the same.

julie said...

For the last few days we've heard Democrats ridicule Sean Spicer's use of the phrase "alternative facts," but the situation is far more grave than these naive liberals realize.

It reminds of the meltdown over Rumsfeld discussing unknown unknowns back in '02. The very idea that their information may be - no, is, of necessity, always - incomplete undermines the very foundations of their ideologies. Feminist math, for instance, is an attempt not to understand math as such, but rather an attempt to unmask some hidden conspiracy within math to prove that they have some deeper and more complete knowledge of The Way Things Are, which mere men are unable to distinguish.

Kurt said...

Some beautiful writing today, Bob. Beautiful because it's true and it's good. Thank you.

Thinking about our country as two 'tribes' who see reality as composed of very different sets of 'alternative facts'. I am concerned about how this antimony will be resolved. The Left has suffered a setback and is seeing some diminishment in it's ranks and power but it is far from destroyed. In fact it seems the core of the Left is hardening and becoming more frantic and apocalyptic. Will this mean an escalation of violence or just more 'nasty womyn' marches? The problem for the Left is that so far Trump and staff have been attacking on all fronts and with complete success. The poor Prog's can't catch their breath long enough to figure out an effective defense!

It reminds me of the WW II Russian Front after the Battle of Kursk in 1943. The Soviets just steamrollered the Nazis all the way to Berlin. The Germans were never able to gather up enough forces to break the Russian tidal wave. Success led to more success for the Soviets, just as defeat led to more defeats for the Germans. I guess we'll see if history repeats itself - A giant 'TRUMP' banner hanging over the New York Times building...

Anonymous said...

Great post. I agree on the main that facts are very malleable.

Mushroom states we are in the world but not of it; however, while here we want to be comfortable, and facts can help us do that.

What really matters to people is getting their needs met. Whatever works, is good. If citing information as a fact furthers that purpose then people should do it. If a fact impedes, then the fact must be shoved out of the way. That's good technique. DT knows how to handle himself.

Kurt sees a great victory as progressives are steamrollered back to Berlin. But wait, what's their fate? They will still be alive. They will blend in with the rest of the populace. They will receive all the benefits of the victory with no penalty whatsoever. Are progressives real opponents, or misguided folks in need of correction? Will they ever cease to be a menace? Are they to get a free ride as equal citizens after the dust settles? These are good questions to start thinking about now.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

To avoid delimmaizing ourselves in our dealing with the two spheres, that of the seen and that of the unseen we have to be careful as not to degrade one side and upgrade the other as the quote, at the end of your post puts it in different words. In that light one wonders is it save to move god to the human status or moving the human to god status. Rev Michael Dowd talks about evidential authority as the base for understanding the words of god in our present time and not to be subjected to the authority of the elders or the scriptures without evidence. God is light and human attributes are not applicable,as said by Bil Donahue of the christian village church. There are so many interpretations and one should not jail himself in one as you said I do not want to school my son, on the same curriculum I have been taught.