Thursday, March 09, 2017

Barking Up the Right Tree

I suppose it's easy to get confused, being that man can know stuff that only a god could know. For example, man knows we inhabit a cosmos.

Like anyone could know that! Animals surely don't know anything about it. Rather, they live enclosed in their sensations, feelings, and instincts. The most intelligent among them may push the envelope but never achieve transcendence, such that they observe themselves from above and wonder why they're barking about nothing again.

That's a question I often ask my dogs: what are you barking at? There's nothing there!

Come to think of it, that's a question I often ask of liberals: what are you freaking out about? There's nothing there -- no fascists, no racists, no anti-Semites, no misogynists, no attacks on free speech. Like my dogs, they have no understanding that those things exist in their own heads.

Continuing with our main theme, we've been trying to specify what it can mean to say that All Men Are Created Equal. From one angle, No Man Is Created Equal, since we are created individuals. Therefore, each person is a special case. Nevertheless, we are entitled to ask: a special case of what, exactly?

In other words, we might say that man has two essences, one general and one particular. The particular essence is your unique and unrepeatable identity. However, this identity is a variation on a more universal theme. We ended yesterday's post with a delineation of the characteristics of man as such, including total intelligence, free will, and disinterested sentiment.

For example, my dogs are intelligent, but they do not possess total intelligence -- which is why they do not understand that we live in a vastly wider and deeper cosmos. The cosmos is the totality of objects, events, and laws, both interior and exterior, vertical and horizontal, past and present. Man has access to each of these dimensions, which is what it means to have dominion over creation.

Dominion connotes sovereignty, supremacy, ascendancy, dominance, superiority, preeminence, hegemony, authority, etc. In short, it again implies something godlike. No wonder man falls for the ruse and imagines he has dominion over creation, but with no one having dominion over him.

In Prerogatives of the Human State Schuon elaborates what it means to have total intelligence. This intelligence applies both horizontally and vertically. The former discloses the phenomenal realm and basically corresponds to science. You might say that if something there is knowable, then science can damn well know it.

The problem is, science has long since forgotten the Christian roots that render this boast comprehensible; which is to say that existence and intelligibility are two sides of the same coin. And that coin is called "creation."

Science also ignores vertical intelligibility, which is to say, "the metaphysical, hence principial, order" (Schuon). In other words, it ignores the very principles that render itself possible.

Which is okay, up to a point. We don't expect plumbers to understand the physics of laminar flow. Rather, we just want them to fix the leak. Likewise scientists. We don't expect them to dilate on the existence of God or the rights of man. Just make sure the planes stay in the air and the internet works. Leave vertical cogitation to the experts.

Now to say "total intelligence" is not to say that man "knows everything." Rather, it is to say that everything is knowable. To turn it around, if it isn't knowable, then it's not a thing, precisely. It is no-thing, an impossibility, an absurdity.

Similarly, to say that man has free will is not to say he is unconditioned and has no constraints. Freedom is not its own sufficient reason -- an error of libertarians -- but rather, has a source above. For just as the purpose of intelligence is to know Truth, the purpose of freedom is to choose the Good. Nor is this merely a subjective preference. Just as we don't create truth, nor do we invent the good.

"[T]o love a reality worthy of being loved is an attitude of objectivity," writes Schuon. Again, Hitler's dog no doubt loved him as much as my dog loves me. This is because dogs are unable to be objective with respect to the objects of their affection. In other words, they are unable to conceive of a disinterested love: they cannot love something because it is worthy of being loved, which is reverence.

I've never even met George Washington, or Winston Churchill, or Abraham Lincoln, but I revere them. I get nothing tangible out of the relationship. Rather, it's just the spontaneous recognition of a kind of hierarchical order.

Returning to the question of man's total intelligence, it couldn't be total if it resided in man alone. Rather, if that were the case, then we would be no less enclosed in an epistemological circle than any other animal. The situation would be just as Kant suggests: trapped in the forms of our own sensibility and whatnot.

But if you think about thinking for just a moment, you quickly realize that "Human intelligence is, virtually, the certainty of the Absolute" (ibid.). You might say that our intelligence is sponsored by something or someone that is its sufficient reason. Just as there is a "ground of being," there is a ground of knowing, and ultimately they are the same ground.

"The essential question is that of knowing, on the one hand, what the loftiest content of the spirit is, and on the other, what the deepest substance is." In other words, the highest intelligence conforms to the deepest intelligible.

"From this may be deduced the following definition: integral and primordial man is the Intellect and consciousness of the Absolute. Or again: man is faith and the idea of God; immanent Holy Spirit on the one hand, and transcendent truth on the other."

So it's a matter of barking up the right tree -- the one whose roots are aloft and branches down below -- not greedily snatching at the wrong one and pretending to be God.


julie said...

Similarly, to say that man has free will is not to say he is unconditioned and has no constraints. Freedom is not its own sufficient reason -- an error of libertarians -- but rather, has a source above.

In my Thursday study we are watching a Lenten lecture series by Fr. (now Bishop) Barron. The segment today talked about the freedom of indifference. Essentially, elevating freedom itself - the ability to choose - to the highest good.

Speaking of dogs barking for no reason, our pooch is getting senile. She doesn't know what she wants - inside, outside, a treat, no treat, on the couch, off the couch... - but she wants it right now. And will stand there woofing and moaning about it constantly, the silly creature. It occurred to me today that in the wild, she'd never have made it this long; there are no senile and frail old canines in nature.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Very distinctive, expert prose as usual. I'm going to throw some little tidbits out there regarding the post:

-How can it be certain the spiritual capacity of animals is absent? Why would it not be possible for their Creator to interface with His animal minions?

-How can it be certain a person chooses God by free will? Could it not be the other way around, where God chooses the person?

-How can it be certain the leftists are barking at nothing, as there are no anti-semites, etc? Could it be that you are barking at nothing, as there are no vertically challenged nihilists, etc?

The concept of the vertically challenged human being is entirely suspect. All persons have come from the vertical and to it will return, and are intimately conversant with it. People have various degrees of faux amnesia while alive, which falls away sooner or later. The young are especially subject to it. I believe it is this amnesiac quality which you have difficulty accepting. In which case, your beef is with God, who set it up to be so. Not with his subjects.

Why not ask Him what is the purpose of having leftists around? The very first question regarding mass belief systems of any kind, should be directed to God to inquire as to if something is afoot you should know about.

Granted its not easy to get answers from God, but sometimes only one or two sessions of deep contemplation may produce the response you are looking for.

Rick said...


I wonder if this new movie was inspired by "The Swimmer"

In this bold thriller peppered with dark humor and interlocking mystery, an eccentric mountain man is on the run from the authorities, surviving the winter by breaking into empty vacation homes in a remote community. Regularly calling into radio talk shows—where he has acquired the nickname "Buster"—to rant about the impending Inversion at the turn of the millennium, he is haunted by visions of being lost at sea, and memories of his former life as a family man. As he drifts from house to house, eluding the local sheriff at every turn, we gradually piece together the events that fractured his life and left him alone on top of a snowy mountain, or perhaps in a small rowboat in the middle of a vast ocean—or both, in this visceral mind bender that will provoke discussion long after it turns your world upside-down.

Rick said...


Gagdad Bob said...

You saw The Swimmer? I was just thinking about that one the other night. It's almost never on TV, but one of strangest movies I've ever seen.

mushroom said...

Likewise scientists. We don't expect them to dilate on the existence of God or the rights of man.

If everybody would just stick to what they know.

Rick said...

About a year or 2 ago. After you'd mentioned it. It was on Amazon, but not as a rental. It was a $10 purchase I think. Or half the price of going to the theater ten years ago.

julie said...

Re. Buster, there have been a couple of cases where men have done that - one in Arizona while we lived there, and another was the guy in New England - Maine, maybe? - where the guy had been living in the woods for decades without ever talking to anyone.

Rick said...

Hmm. Don't know either of those stories. Lived in New England all my life. Closest I can think of was some guy in CT called Leather Man.