Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Assault on Mount Liberty

Because that's what it feels like. I'm talking about D.C. Schindler's Freedom from Reality: The Diabolical Character of Modern Liberty, which is so sprawling and full of implications that it is impossible to wrap my mind around it. As mentioned a few posts back, in terms of style, he is the anti-Schuon, such that it is up to the reader to try digest it all.

Having said that, I am absolutely convinced that Schindler has identified the central problem with man, with history, and with the world in general. You might even say that what he calls "diabolical liberty" is simply another name for the fall of man. In a way this is self-evident, because most all human problems are caused by the misuse of freedom, right? But this presupposes a proper use of freedom.

However, one of the defining characteristics of modernity has been to detach liberty from any intrinsic good, thus reducing the will to pure power. Another strand of modernity denies free will altogether, which only drains the world of any possible meaning whatsoever. If man is not free, then he is completely detached from transcendental reality, i.e., truth, beauty, virtue, and unity. Either of the modern options is not only diabolical, but the essence thereof.

This is certainly not the book I would have written on the subject. Being that I am not a scholar, I would not have spent the first 100 or more pages on a tedious deconstruction of John Locke as a representative of the philosophical turn to diabolical freedom. Why not just say why he's wrong and get on with it? I could do that in a page or so.

Come to think of it, as we proceed through the book, every once in a while I will consult Dávila or Schuon for a bracing blast of fresh air -- to call the meeting back to order and re-orient ourselves to first principles. Each of these authors slices like an effing hammer through reams of bullshit, without trying to impress academics who will never agree with them anyway.

For example, this aphorism, in a way, summarizes the whole book:

Liberty is not an end, but a means. Whoever mistakes it for an end does not know what to do with it once he attains it.

Boom! Now, that is 100% Obviously True. But this truth must be seen with vivid immediacy. If it isn't seen, then no amount of argument will convince the person who doesn't see it. For the sake of argument, let's concede that John Locke is Much Smarter than we are. So what? If that is the case, it only highlights the relative unimportance of intelligence in understanding primordial truth.

Even Dr. Strange knows this. My son is very much into Marvel Comics these days, and he convinced me to watch it with him. What an unexpectedly enjoyable film! Dr. Strange is a gifted neurosurgeon who is quite full of himself, before he has a career-ending accident that permanently maims his hands. I don't want to give the whole thing away, but at one point his spiritual guide says something to the effect of, "Your intellect has taken you this far. It will take you no further."

That's a bingo. I first encountered this vertically liberating truth many years ago, in reading Sri Aurobindo. Here's the exact passage... better yet, here is an excerpt from a post on the subject from over 10 years ago, called The Descent of Mind:

Wait a minute. I was a bit startled when I reread the first sentence, which is all about the subject under discussion: "our historical understanding and appreciation of liberty may have followed from actually living it in the form of free markets as opposed to thinking about it abstractly. In academia there is a huge bias toward the latter view, because intellectuals always want to believe that they are more important and influential than they actually are."

A synchronicity is just God punning, in this case across a decade. Back to the Passage:

Obviously, intelligence itself in no way correlates with truth. Look at Noam Chomsky, for example. He is obviously at the summit of intelligence. You can even say he's genius if you like. But what good is the intelligence, when it exists in a parallel looniverse of lies, hatred, and paranoia? The smarter the person, the more catastrophic will be their error!

.... Something similar to a descent of pure intelligence occurred to Sri Aurobindo. In his case, he didn't remain stuck there, but immediately saw through its limitations. He did not see it as an end, merely a realm that had to be infused with a higher spirit in order to attain its proper end.

The best introduction to Sri Aurobindo is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem. In it, Satprem describes Aurobindo's recognition of the limits of the intellect:

"The day came when Sri Aurobindo had had enough of these intellectual exercises. He had probably realized that one can go on amassing knowledge indefinitely, reading and learning languages, even learning all the languages in the world and reading all the books in the world, and yet not progressing an inch. For the mind does not seek truly to know, even though it appears to -- it seeks to grind. If by chance the machine were to come to a stop because knowledge had been obtained, it would soon rise up in revolt and find something new to grind, just for the sake of grinding and grinding."

Critically, "That within us which seeks to know and to progress is not the mind, but something behind it which uses it: 'The capital period of my intellectual development,' Sri Aurobindo confided to a disciple, 'was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone!'

Some interesting comments there too, 68 in all, out of which only Julie, Van, and Joan remain. I wonder how I successfully drove away so many readers? Oh well. Here is a timeless truth from the comments: "You need, silence, aspiration, surrender, and a source of genuine grace, in a serious way. That's the only way out of the closed loop." Indeed, that is the only way to seriously deal with freedom! Anything short of it results in catastrophes of various kinds, for example, attaining what your will desires, AKA getting what you think you want.

Back to Schindler. It's hard to know where to begin -- which is ironic, isn't it, because that is the whole problem with liberty. Let's begin with a Completely Crazy opinion by the Supreme Court in 1992 (Planned Parenthood v. Casey), in which the Court attempted to nail down the meaning of liberty. After all, protection of our natural liberty (along with life and property) is the very reason our government exists, so it must be pretty important. Here is what these flaming idiot-geniuses actually said:

"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." (By the way, I highly recommend Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived, which contains numerous instances of fine insultainment where he tears this diabolical idea of liberty to shreds.)

Why diabolical? Let us count the ways! It is very much as if the Court consists of four people with rudimentary contact with Reality, and then five Deepaks for whom reality -- including the reality of the Constitution -- you know, their Only Job -- is literally whatever they want it to be. For these robed tyrants, the essence of liberty involves defining reality any way one chooses. Is it any wonder these demon-inspired nihilists find whatever they want to find in the Constitution? Schindler:

[T]his claim to power is a devil's bargain: it comes at a cost, and the price paid is the elimination of precisely what is promised. One can have the absolute power to determine the meaning of existence as one wishes only on the condition that one's determination of that meaning amounts to nothing at all.... you and I can both have the absolute power to determine the meaning of existence only if your determination means absolutely nothing to me...

So, -- unless you are a Supreme Court justice, in which case your goofy private opinion is backed by the violence of the state -- this power to define the meaning of reality turns out to be simultaneously omnipotent and impotent. It is not freedom toward reality, but freedom from reality, which would be a good title for a book.

To be continued, likely for several weeks. We'll leave off with a few zingers from The Aphorist:

The people today do not feel free except when they feel authorized to respect nothing.

The price of absolute freedom would be a vulgarity without limits.

Man today is free, like a traveler lost in the desert.

Upon finding himself perfectly free, the individual discovers that he has not been unburdened of everything, but despoiled of everything.


Gagdad Bob said...

Typical example of the diabolical freedom: Brown University to allow students to ‘self-identify’ as persons of color. To have an imaginary power over reality is to have no power at all.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Great post today. The hazards of cutting one's own deal with reality are clearly delineated.

I tried the "I will make whatever I want of this life," and it was a disaster.

However, people can't be trusted. So where is one to get guidance, aside from prayer?

Scriptures, revelations, even great books by worthy thinkers, can't be fully trusted either.

The best practice may very well be to relax into some kind of continuous prayer-trance and let God take the wheel. I have tried this with marvelous results.

However, the fly in the ointment is, it is darn hard to trust even God. You keep second guessing and messing things up.

Oh well. We're all going to die. But in the mean-time, finding some best practice for living is a worthwhile pursuit. A definition of a species of liberty that is functional is very useful.

doug saxum said...

Liberty is not an end, but a means. Whoever mistakes it for an end does not know what to do with it once he attains it.

To be free to pursue happiness is my thought of heaven on earth.
Or, a destination within reach of every day.

I was also a reader, and once in awhile commenter 10 years ago.
Much to be happy about and thankful for in those years between.

Thank you, Bob, Julie, Van and so many others.

julie said...

Whoa - the firehose is on today!

Liberty is not an end, but a means. Whoever mistakes it for an end does not know what to do with it once he attains it.

Boom! Now, that is 100% Obviously True. But this truth must be seen with vivid immediacy. If it isn't seen, then no amount of argument will convince the person who doesn't see it.

Similarly, there are those who preach that "peace" is a positive end in itself. They don't understand that it is an effect of particular circumstances, nor that there are different kinds of peace.

Re. Dr. Strange, interesting. It's good to know they can still make something worth watching occasionally.

We've pretty much sworn off Marvel movies in recent years. Not to be a wet blanket, but keep an eye on what he reads, too - most if not all of the recent stuff is openly and relentlessly leftist. This was a version of the cover art for the June issue of GI Joe.

(Here's some eyebleach)

Classic Marvel is still a big favorite in this house, though.

Van Harvey said...

"Liberty is not an end, but a means. Whoever mistakes it for an end does not know what to do with it once he attains it."

Boom! Sorta captures the problem I inevitably run into with 'libertarians' - they turn the Means, into an Ends. Just another idol to justify the urge to power.

Van Harvey said...

"Some interesting comments there too, 68 in all, out of which only Julie, Van, and Joan remain. I wonder how I successfully drove away so many readers?"



Gagdad Bob said...

Mustn't forget Rick, who is still on the bus. I was just referring to the commenters on that particular post -- names from the past such as Sal, Hoarhey, Tsebring, NoMo, Alan, Walt, Lisa, Aquila, et al. Robin & River still poke their heads in every now and then....

julie said...


Wow, I had forgotten all about Yottle! Funny looking back at those comments; all our lives have changed so much since then. River got married and started a family, some of the others just generally fell off the radar.

And of course, some of them maybe aren't missed so much...

Gagdad Bob said...

I have a funny feeling about Walt. I'm thinking he's gone on to Bismarck.

julie said...

Yeah, I've wondered about that from time to time. I miss Walt.

Gagdad Bob said...

Walt had old school manners. Courtly. As Cousin Dupree says, it costs you nothing to be polite if you have to disembowel a guy.

Van Harvey said...


tater said...

Hey guys still a bunch out here following quietly. Long time.