One overall impression I get from my writing is how incredibly unpopular I would be if only I were more popular.
Anyway, here is a summary of our progress thus far in reimagineering how the Christian west ever invented the individual:
"Christian convictions were submitted to the disciplines of logic and metaphysical speculation, to the requirements of disciplined argument." Importantly, the influence was two-way, in that "Greek philosophy was also transformed." In particular, "traditional assumptions about natural inequality and the motivating power of reason were gradually abandoned" (Siedentop).
The first sentence [third paragraph] of this post implies that the individual is something man could have tried to invent, but this is of course not the case, any more than we could have invented hands or bipedalism. Rather, it was spontaneously brought about by certain conditions. However, once it began to emerge, it in turn altered the conditions that brought it about: what was an unconscious process -- through greater self-awareness and -understanding -- became more of a conscious process.
For example, until fairly recently, no one gave much thought to the effect of certain environments and experiences on child development. Rather, children just "grew up," like any other plant or animal. But nowadays we hardly do anything without thinking about the impact on our child's development. We think about their friends, the parents of their friends, the TV programs they watch, etc. We realize that the child is a growing individual who sucks in influences from the world as a plant draws nutrients from the soil.
But you can't go to the other extreme and imagine that your child is something you only invent. Rather, it is very much a case of trying to help him become who he is -- to realize his potential, to recognize his gifts, and to exercise these in the service of God and man. From the start, both my wife and I have been overwhelmed by the impression: Where did this guy come from? No way in the world could we have invented him! There has never been any shock of recognition; rather, the opposite: the shock of an alien in our midst.
So you can't really know what kind of parent you'll be until you meet your child and find out what kind of parent he needs in order to become who he is. But here again, it is obviously not a one-way process.
For example, the other day I read something about crazy Angelina Jolie, who is allowing her children to "choose" their own gender, with absolutely no hint (she pretends) of parental influence or preference. Thus, her eight year old girl Shiloh is pretending to be a boy named John.
To whom is this supposed to be helpful? It can only be to appease some of Jolie's most primitive and destructive mind parasites. Even in a sanitized version, here is a person who, at age 14, "aspired to become a funeral director," "wore black clothing, experimented with knife play, and went out moshing with her live-in boyfriend." She "suffered episodes of depression throughout her teens and early twenties," "found it difficult to emotionally connect with other people," and engaged in "self-harm," which is to say "the ritual of having cut myself and feeling the pain, maybe feeling alive, feeling some kind of release."
Apparently the self-cutting wasn't that effective, because she "began using drugs; by age 20, she had tried 'just about every drug possible,' including heroin."
No, we didn't intend this post to veer in a sensational direction. I am no more interested in celebrity gossip than you are. But perhaps we can learn something from this, so let's see where it leads.
"Jolie has had a difficult relationship with her father." No. Really? Didn't see that coming.
Hmm. "She gained a reputation for being difficult to deal with." My guess is that this is because all borderline personalities are difficult to deal with. If you've never had a borderline person in your life, count yourself blessed. Back when I was in graduate school, there was an axiom: never try to have more than one borderline patient at a time in your practice, because they can turn your world upside down. You know, you come home and there's a rabbit boiling on your stove, or your dog has been poisoned.
Speaking of sexual confusion, Jolie is proudly bisexual: "Of course. If I fell in love with a woman tomorrow, would I feel that it's okay to want to kiss and touch her? If I fell in love with her? Absolutely! Yes!" So, this mind parasite is a gift that keeps giving, in that she is now passing it along to her children.
Here is prima facie evidence of borderline personality structure, which is characterized by extreme impulsivity, essentially because the impulses are coming from different sub-selves that are split off from one another. When one sub-self switches into gear, it displaces the other one: "After a two-month courtship, Jolie married actor Billy Bob Thornton." What took her so long? But then they "abruptly separated." What happened there? "It took me by surprise, too, because overnight, we totally changed. I think one day we had just nothing in common."
Nothing. Which is just the other side of an imaginary fusion of everything that results from an absence of boundaries.
One thing about money is that it can insulate you from the effect of your own mind parasites. You can be as crazy as you want to be, with no feedback from the world. And with no corrective feedback, there is no way to learn and grow, so the mind parasites win by default. This is why it so often seems that actors and rock stars all live out the same clichéd pattern. Instead of becoming themselves, they grab a mask from the ancient gallery and live out some predestined pathology (as indeed did Jim Morrison and so many other members of Club 27).
Now, where were we? Let's just say that this new space of potential individuality cuts both ways. Prior to its emergence -- and still in much of the world today -- one doesn't have this potential space. Rather, as in the ancient world, one's self is defined by culture, by family, by class, by caste, by race, etc. There is very little wiggle room to be anything other than a role that has been pre-selected for you.
Having said that, there are some critical things that have been conveniently pre-selected for us, and of which the accumulated wisdom of tradition is here to remind us: little things like, oh, one's sex. We don't invent everything about the self, for this would equate to nihilism or even blind tenure. Rather, there are some spiritual set-points, just as there are for any species. A newborn calf doesn't have to go through the process of deciding if it prefers meat over grass. That has already been settled.
Now, humans, unlike animals, are not bound by instinct. However, that is not to say that we have no instincts. Rather, for the human being there are certain universal archetypes that are like nonlocal attractors, or "vertical instincts."
Speaking of which, in The Book of Words, Rabbi Kushner writes that we may "exercise more 'freedom' by simply trying to be who we are and, in so doing, become who we are meant to be." "In moments of heightened awareness," we may have the sense of "rising to our destiny" (as opposed to sinking to our fate, which is what mind parasites facilitate). Thus, "We are 'free' to be what Heaven has intended us to be or not, but we are not free to be something else."
Just as there is an intersubjective space of individuation between oneself and other human beings, there is a vertical space between the individual and God. Within this space there is a two-way flow of influences and attractions (for even the earth exerts a tiny amount of gravitational attraction on the sun).
Maybe it's a little orthoparadoxical, but I have no problem with it: "A person's actions thus have a profound effect on bringing the Creation closer to its perfection. These individual acts of free will on the part of a person constitute the 'arousal from below'" (what I symbolize [↑]).
At the same, there is the "arousal from above," or (↓): "At every moment God Godself acts to draw the Creation toward perfection.... Yet ultimately these two levels of free will are not separate. They are both aspects of the same thing. The 'arousal from below' sets in motion processes in the worlds above. Conversely, the power to cause the 'arousal from below' to come about is only in the hands of Godself" (you know -- like some kind of grace or something).
I recommend that you just say yes to this grace, because saying no will land you nowhere, in both this life and the next. Of which this life is a kind of inspiraling shadow-becoming-substance.
The Feminist Dilemma: How to Find a Wet Noodle in a Stack of Brown Bananas
"Any set of basic assumptions opens up some avenues for thought, while closing down others" (Siedentop). Although Christianity provides just such a set of basic assumptions, it required centuries for the implications of these "to be drawn out and clarified -- and even more time would pass before long-established social practices or institutions were reshaped by these implications."
This was a conservative revolution -- the only kind of revolution that actually succeeds -- because it started with the way the world actually is, instead of imposing an abstract ideal on it, which always ends in violence and regression, since it unleashes the worst in man under the guise of the best. See Islam and leftism for abundant examples.
Those twin malignancies close off the pragmatic past in the name of an impossible future, while Christianity tries to open the present to the influence of a higher mode of being, resulting in change that is both organic and rooted, thus more robust (plus in accord with human nature).
Which is why Obama is always urging us to yield to the FIERCE URGENCY OF THE NOW!, so we don't notice what he's really up to. Or in other words, "Time is running out to do something stupid and irreversible. Act now!" (Williamson).
Yes, “'Now!' is a rhetorical short circuit, a way to preempt anyone’s thinking too deeply about a proposition." It "is the eternal cry of the infantile -- 'What does baby want? Diaper change! When does baby want it? Now!'" (ibid.).
In contrast, positive change preserves continuity, which is a central point of the Incarnation, since it serves to bridge the otherwise unbridgeable gap between man and God. In short, we get the benefits of heaven with all the conveniences of our own embodiment.
But again, it takes awhile for that to sink in and up.
For example, think of how the Islamists impatiently blew up those ancient Buddhist statues, or how the left has been busy blowing up western civilization for the past 50 years or more.
But Christianity planted itself within the existing paganism, and simply Christianized its sentiments, gods, and rituals. Aligning the birth of Christ with the winter solstice "is only the most obvious example" of appropriating "the advantages both of change and continuity."
Doing so was analogous to plugging an existing wire into a higher source of energy. Once plugged in, the energy began reshaping practices, beliefs, and institutions, nowhere more dramatically than in the family. Frankly, it "destroyed the ancient family as a cult or religious association" (Siedentop).
You might say that before there could be a separation of church and state, there first had to be a separation of church and family, and in particular, God and father. The family was still sanctified, of course, but as an icon of God, not the thing itself. Now the terrestrial father had to answer to a higher fathority.
As a hopefully brief asnide, I wonder how someone ends up being as deeply confused as this toothache with a vagina, who asks -- or tells -- us How to Find a Feminist Boyfriend.
The first thought that occurs to me is to simply find a toothache without a penis, which shouldn't be hard to do, last time I checked dailykos.
But let's be quasi-serious for a moment: the same energy that causes those Islamists to deface works of art is what motivates the left to blow up our own beautiful traditions, marriage being just one of them.
The difference, however, is that the left has been deeply conditioned by the Christian message, where Islamists haven't. Therefore, we see in the left a perversion of Christian principles, or a neopagan rebarbarism of that from which Christianity is supposed to save us, now promiscuously fertilized by faux-Christian principles.
This is analogous to how Islamists use the highest technology for the lowest ends. In other words, they adopt a technology that they themselves could never gave invented -- because they are so primitive -- for the most primitive purposes.
In the case of the left, they take a morality that they lack the principles to invent (let alone discover) -- say, marriage -- and twist it to their own base ends. Leftists, of course, believe in "homosexual marriage." But why? How did they come up with this notion of "marriage"? That's right: they just stole it. However, being that they are mixing the Christian higher and pagan-lower, they can have no principled objection to polygamy, to inter-species marriage, to sibling marriage, to even Angelina Jolie, all pseudo-sanctified by that same purloined word.
"How do you spot a male feminist if he’s not at an abortion rights rally wearing a 'This Is What a Feminist Looks Like' T-shirt?"
He's the one not shuddering at that sentence. He's the one in whom your prose doesn't trigger the gag reflex.
"Few guys will proudly say no when asked if they’re feminists."
True, so true. Only 62% of white males didn't support President Unicorn in the last election, so there's still a very large pool of castrati from which to draw.
And if you can read the next sentence without cringing, you are on the shortlist: "feminist daters -- male or female, gay or straight -- aren’t constrained by gender roles."
For the feminist, gender is everything, but for the purpose of being nothing. It is nihilism masquerading as gender, for to be a feminist is to treat femininity with the subtlety of an Islamist art critic.
"A true male feminist is supportive of, interested in and enthusiastic about his partner’s career."
There are not many men whose careers interest me. Why should I care what a women does, unless it's something intrinsically interesting, like raising children? (Show me the man who is attracted to a woman because of her job, and I'll show you a pole dancer. --Cousin Dupree)
Did you know that homosexuals aren't perfect? I've never heard a leftist acknowledge this before. For example, there are "gay couples who are so rigid in their gender division" that "one man doesn’t want his partner to work, wants him to stay home with the kids.”
That makes their other problems sound trivial, like shorter lifespans, higher incidence of mental illness and other diseases, inability to sustain monogamy, increased substance abuse, etc. Well. Those are just because mother nature is a homophobic bitch.
"If you’re a woman who wants a man to grab you and kiss you because that’s what sweeps you off your feet, realistically, a feminist man is not going to do that."
No, a feminist man will require you to fill out a signed affidavit in triplicate in the presence of a notary public. And any sweeping will be done with a proper broom and apron, thank you.
You know, "I might be cool with casual sex, but that doesn’t necessarily make me this ‘cool girl’ who’s detached from emotion."
No, in my experience it makes you a developmentally arrested little girl who is using sex to fulfill various unconscious needs that cannot be consciously entertained. We used to call them "sluts," because their desperation is so close to the surface and they are so easily manipulated by men who have a complementary sexual agenda.
There is no doubt that throughout history there have been women who, for whatever reason, have been conflicted about being one. But only in the modern world do they have so many options to act out their conflict without insight and therefore without hope of change. That's what you call progress.
Conservative Progress and Progressive Decay
As Siedentop suggests, we should not be surprised that "a religion which postulated the incarnation -- a God who is 'with us' -- would change the understanding of time itself, holding out a hope that undermined older beliefs in a relentless cycle of growth and decay."
For the ancient mind, there was either stasis or decay. The purpose of religious ritual, for example, was to pull the world back toward its divine archetype and thereby counteract entropy: time is entropic whereas primitive religious rituals are negentropic.
But with the widespread acceptance of Judeo-Christian metaphysics, time becomes negentropic; or, to be precise, time has elements within it of both entropy (decay) and growth. And the growth is again inconceivable in the absence of the divine attractor, proximity to which is the real measure of "progress," both individually and collectively.
In the absence of the divine attractor, time, whether we like it or not, reverts to entropy. This is why it is such a vivid example of the Butterfield Effect to wonder at the paradox of why culture is decaying despite the dominance of the left. Rather, it must decay under the influence of leftist assumptions.
Equally ironic, in light of yesterday's post, is that no force in history has been more liberating of women than Christianity. Here again, writes Siedentop, we should not be surprised to see new "declarations of independence by women" as a consequence of "Christian belief in the equality of souls." In particular, more affluent women began taking "on new roles. They became patronesses, disciples and travelers. They prized associations with leading Christian intellectuals. They used associations with such men to further their education."
Did this take time? Of course! Time is progressive, remember? In particular, it took centuries for the Christian message to undo the programming of culture. The world has always been multicultural, only worse. It is one of the main things from which the universal message of Christianity is supposed to save us. Thus, it would be another instance of the Butterfield Effect to wonder why there is so much more racial tension these days despite all this wonderful multiculturalism.
By way of contrast, even a genius such as Aristotle claimed that "some are free men and others slaves by nature" (in Siedentop). But this is not the angle from which Christianity looks. Rather, from the God's-eye perspective we are equally worthy, at least until we misuse our God-given free will. Then God sorts the wolves from the sheep, the flowers from the weeds, the evolved from the tenured.
Discovering New Worlds within Worlds
"Every set of beliefs," writes Siedentop, "introduces its own logic and its own constraints."
Secular types imagine this doesn't apply to them -- as if it is possible to approach the world without any beliefs, assumptions, or principles whatsoever -- but this is analogous to a computer with no program, or a game with no rules. Furthermore, many of our deepest assumptions are innate and inbuilt, even limiting ourselves to the horizontal. Call it the "wisdom of the species," if you like.
Come to think of it, we have in the past discussed those four annoying limitations or infirmities that constrain every man, every time, here for example:
First, we are "creature, not Creator, manifestation and not Principle" (Schuon). Second, we are not angels; we are neither at the top nor the bottom of the vertical hierarchy, but somewhere in the middle -- which, of course, goes to the issue of free will, as we are suspended halfway between our better and worse selves, between the saints and the Sharptons. Third, as unique individuals we have essential differences that are not accidental or contingent. This is not a matter of "ego" but of self, i.e., our divine clueprint.
The fourth infirmity touches on what we usually think of as sin, since these are the differences that are accidental or contingent, not essential. More often than not they are a result of mind parasites of varying degrees of virulence, but sometimes they are simply a result of inertia, convenience, dullness, conformity, credulousness, absence of curiosity, or tenure (i.e., all of the above). (More fine insultainment here.)
At any rate, a primary difference between Christians and secularists is that we are candid in announcing our metaphysical assumptions up front, while they either pretend they don't have any, or else lack the cognitive sophistication to understand what they are.
For example, the most dense among them -- e.g., what's his name, the glorified planetarium gift shop manager-- Tyson? -- unwittingly deny all of man's intrinsic infirmities, which is why they can be such inappropriately confident yahoos. But even denying infirmity #1 lands us in all sorts of trouble. To quote myself:
"The first is the Biggest, which is why it is enshrined in the First Commandment: sorry, but you are not God. You are 'creature, not Creator, manifestation and not Principle or Being.' In fact, only the godless can be unaware of the fact that they are not God, which is probably the greatest source of their political mischief. As Obama might say, if I had a God, he'd look like me."
Back to the new logic and constraints brought into the world by Christianity. These two are different but equally important.
With regard to logic, Christianity furnishes certain premises which man must work out on his own (with the assistance of grace, of course). With regard to the constraints, certain avenues of thought become either unthinkable, or, more to the point, unworthy of thought: they are cognitive nul de slacks. At the same time, certain behaviors are off limits, say, cutting open a live human being in order to see what's going on inside. For now man is aware of "a 'moral' law distinct from custom or human command."
As it so happens, my fourth grade son is being forced to read a nauseatingly politically correct book about the Indians. For the sake of equal time, I pulled out my copy of D'Souza's America, which has a chapter on the Indians. At the beginning he addresses the objection that Columbus couldn't have "discovered" America, being that there were already people here. But this ignores the deeper point, that it was a European who landed in America, not a native American who landed in Europe. There are important reasons why the latter was never going to happen, at least so long as Indians remained Indians (which is to say, neolithic, tribal, preliterate, etc.).
One central reason is that the discovery of this new material world followed in the wake of the prior discovery of another new world: the human interior. I hope I'm not beating a dead hobby horse, but one of the reasons I am so drawn to this book is that Siedentop shares many of my ideas about the emergence -- or discovery -- of this new interior world.
For example, "The sharp edge of the moral sword wielded by churchmen cut through to -- and exposed -- an 'awareness of self'.... in its essentials, the realm the clergy claimed for themselves and sought to defend was unseen. It was within." He quotes one representative churchman, who said that God "resides in us like the soul in our body... Ever must we cling to God, the deep, vast, hidden, lofty and almighty God."
This is one of those notions that now seems second nature to us, but it was a radically new conception at the time. I don't have sufficient time to be systematic here, so I'll just cite some additional examples from Siedentop. He references the historian Guizot, who claims that "If the Christian Church had not existed, the... world must have been abandoned to purely material force." The Church "spread abroad the idea of a rule, of a law superior to all human laws."
Although modern secularists may regard this as some sort of "oppression," it was in fact a liberation, an important part of the truth that sets us free. And as we have been acknowledging all along, it took many centuries for the message to sink in and change man from the inside out. But change it did. There is a reason why even (most) secular westerners cannot conceive of, say, murdering a writer who pokes fun at the messiah while screaming obamahu ackbar! Rather, they just hack your computer.
The discovery of this new interior world contributes to a growing awareness of the distinction between power and authority, or force and right, or spiritual and temporal power:
"The separation of temporal and spiritual power is based upon the idea that physical force has neither right nor influence over souls, over conviction, over truth. It flows from the distinction established between the world of thought and the world of action, between the world of internal and that of external facts" (ibid., emphasis mine).
Siedentop continues: "Distinguishing spiritual from temporal power rests on the premise of individual conscience," for "there must be a sphere within," a God-given "area of choice, governed by conscience." Or just say horizontal freedom guided by vertical constraint -- constraints which must equally apply to terrestrial rulers (the "rule of law").
Today's bottom line: "Increasingly, acknowledging that subjects had souls was making a difference to the question of what constituted proper governance. It was another step in inventing the individual."