Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Exhausting Flight from Reality

We need to bear down, people, and finish up with diabolical liberty before moving on.

As mentioned when we started this review a few weeks back, Schindler spends 100 pages or so analyzing Locke as a paradigmatic exemplar of modern liberty. Not a bad guy by any means, but the type of liberty he espouses is simply not sustainable; or, to be precise, it is groundless and therefore unstable -- denied its organic telos in the Real, freedom reduces to nihilism. And as the master puts it, nihilism is exhausting.

Why exhausting? More to the point, how can slack end in slacklessness? What gives?

Well, recall what was said yesterday about appearance and reality. Liberal freedom is all about the appearance of freedom, not its substance. Again, its substance is grounded in truth, beauty, virtue, and a higher unity-in-diversity. Severed from this deeper reality, it is like a planet with no sun, endlessly wandering the cosmos. No center, no destination, no direction home. Like a... rolling stone, or something.

So, now you know what Leo Strauss means when he characterizes this as "the joyless quest for joy" (in Schindler). Have you ever been in that state? Then you know how exhausting it can be. "The quest for joy is joyless because it is a pure means to an absent end." Literally, because it is what inevitably happens when you abstract liberty from its deeper matrix.

I don't want to get sidetracked, but I'm reading a biography of one of my favorite groups, the Byrds. (It's only 1200 pages, but don't worry, there's a volume 2.) They were at the epicenter of the hedonism of the 1960s, of an insanely joyless quest for joy. Keeping reality at bay is a full time job, and it is indeed exhausting. There simply aren't enough drugs -- or women, or money. It's a familiar story.

In any event, as Schindler says, the diabolical liberty of modernity ends in "the narcissism of desire, not for anything, but simply for desire itself." But you can't get there from here -- or here from there, rather. In a very real way we cease to be human, if humanness means anything. So one can get there, but you can't be there to enjoy it.

Modern liberty reduces to the meaningless power to act on desire, in an absurcular and autonomous pattern -- very much like any other dissipative structure. If you feed the structure money or power or some other narcissistic supply, it widens out, so to speak, conferring the temporary illusion of freedom.

But this is reminiscent of what Lao Tse says about the best way to control a bull: just give him a wider pasture, so he doesn't notice the fence. Diabolical liberty imprisons human beings without them even knowing it. Which is what makes it diabolical.

Notice too how the widening of the pasture is conflated with "depth." But to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it, is to skim endlessly on the surface of being.

It reminds me of a passage in the Byrds book about the insufferable -- and exhausting -- David Crosby. Regarding one of his lame attempts to write a profound song, his manager says that

David collected a lot of thoughts and phrases to make him appear smart, but he was glib. He had the reasoning and logic of a 14-15 year old who has just reached the age of reason and is so astounded by himself and the fact that he can figure out something that he thinks he's somehow turned into a god.

That was in 1966, and amazingly, he's the same rebellious and grandiose ignoramus today. He has learned nothing in life: his twitter feed reveals a drug-addledescent geezer wandering the large pasture provided by his money and fame, with a pseudo-omniscience concealing a genuine nescience. His flight from the real has been a complete and total success: this Byrd has flown.

"Precisely because Locke interprets power as separate from actuality, it is utterly without content: in itself it is nothing" (Schindler).

For to separate freedom from actuality (i.e., from its telos) is to separate mind from reality and appearances from truth. It renders the mind worthless because the truth unknowable.

It is also a life of total irresponsibility, in that the price of freedom is its obligation to reality. If all people were David Crosby, it would never have occurred to God to give them freedom. At the very least he would have created man with two livers.

A society can tolerate a certain number of progressives, but someone has to change their diapers. And donate a liver.

[P]rogress means advancement.... [It] can be determined only in relation to a telos, a destination, and thus the term makes sense only in relation to specific, determinate realities.

One might say that, when a person uses the term "progress" without intending any specific, concrete, actual, and end-directed reality or realities, then the implied subject of progress is diabolical.

And "to the extent that one's relation to the world is mediated by and through the diabolical, one not only will lose one's soul (as a future danger), but one has already surrendered it."

Mission accomplished.

5 comments:

Abdulmonem Othman said...

There is no running away from god. The encompassing one. Human fate is already designated beforehand, either to hell or paradise. This is not to leave the humans with any doubt least they say the picture is not clear. It is how we use or abuse our given vitality. Let the thieves lavish in their thievery. Negative and positive energies are part of the exercise and the real settlement is in his court. All human settlements will be revised. There is no privileges all, black and white Jews and otherwise are on equal terms. No perversion ,no misinterpretations in the realm of truth. The one has settled among his creatures and the insolent can not hide with the mark printed on the forehead doomed. It is time of true separation,those are the ones who have been in the service of the false god and those are the worshipers of the true god. It is a real rejoicing time.

ted said...

Liberal freedom is all about the appearance of freedom, not its substance. Again, its substance is grounded in truth, beauty, virtue, and a higher unity-in-diversity. Severed from this deeper reality, it is like a planet with no sun, endlessly wandering the cosmos. No center, no destination, no direction home. Like a... rolling stone, or something.

Exactly why libertarians and progressives can be seen as two sides of the same rolling stone.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes. That is something Russell Kirk always said -- that both progressive and libertarian are opposites of conservative liberalism.

julie said...

"The quest for joy is joyless because it is a pure means to an absent end." Literally, because it is what inevitably happens when you abstract liberty from its deeper matrix.

You've just described the commercialization of Christmas. I'm reminded of a story Vanderleun usually posts about this time of year, about the wealthy family with an entire room dedicated just to gifts.

Gagdad Bob said...

Exactly. I was going to say something about that, but the thought flew off before I could catch it.