Friday, July 13, 2018

A World of Language and the Grammar of Being

Continuing with the previous post... yes, it was an idiosyncratic one, but what am I supposed to do? Refuse it before it comes down? Mark it "return to sender"? Tell it to find another stenographer? You can't do that, because you don't know what you have until you have it. Yes, but prepositions? Do they really have anything to do with anything, let alone everything?

My first impulse would be to say "nah," but the more I think about it, the more central they are -- beginning with the more general idea that this is not just a logocentric cosmos but a grammatical one, because words are of limited use if they aren't ordered. My dogs, for example, know a few words, but they don't know any sentences.

Now I'm in the wayback machine, remembering when I used to work the graveyard shift in a supermarket. While stocking the shelves I'd listen to an esoteric radio program that was on from midnight to 5:00 AM, that broadcasted lectures by a spectrum of eminent spiritual, psychological, philosophical, and scientific cranks and geniuses. One of my favorites was Terence McKenna, and he used to go on about how the universe was not made of atoms, electrons, or quarks, but of language. It seemed daring and revolutionary at the time, but now strikes me as duh!

Let me see if I can find an exact quote. Speaking of downloading posts, McKenna writes of his own experience, "as though my ordinary, rather humdrum personality had simply been turned off and speaking through me was the voice of another, a voice that was steady, unhesitating, and articulate..."

Indeed, sometimes I understand something only because of a kind of "unhesitating authority" with which I say it. In other words, the authority doesn't come from me. Rather, I myself assent to this authority, whatever or whoever this "Petey" is. I'm sure I'm not the only one. Often you don't know what you really believe until you blurt it out. When you do, it is as if it comes from your center, and vanquishes -- at least temporarily -- all doubt.

[T]he normally invisible syntactical web that holds both language and the world together can condense or change its ontological status and become visible. Indeed, there seems to be a parallel mental dimension in which everything is made of the stuff of visible language... (McKenna).

A syntactical web that holds both language and the world together. Before you ask yourself if there could be such a thing, ask yourself how there couldn't be. Moreover, being that the grammar is universal, "organisms have enfolded" in their structure "a message about the structure of the larger universe" (ibid.).

In a very real sense, this is completely uncontroversial, for if the human intellect can accurately describe the nature of reality, it means that this nature is in us. Animals certainly can't do anything remotely similar. It brings to mind the words of Schuon:

Being total, the intelligence takes cognizance of all that is, in the world of principles [vertically] as well as in that of phenomena [horizontally].... Every man can do so in principle, whereas animals cannot.... To say that man is endowed with a sentiment capable of objectivity means that he possesses a subjectivity not closed in on itself, but open unto others and unto Heaven...

These are such key ideas that we could spend the rest of the post unpacking them. Perhaps the Key of keys, however, is that while all living beings have a subjectivity, ours is not -- or should not be -- closed in on itself. To the extent that is closed, then it is or becomes dead -- either horizontally or vertically.

This is the deeper principle to which "free speech" appeals. Both freedom and language are nothing if they do not converge on something higher, and they cannot do so unless they are open. Which reminds me of some good news I saw at Ace of Spades this morning:

Indeed, if you went to commit cognitive, spiritual, and civilizational suicide, just ignore this important study. In Civilization: The West and the Rest, Ferguson writes of how this befell both Asia and the Islamic world, and not just "in a manner of speaking," but quite literally, for they deliberately chose vertical and horizontal closure.

China, for example, by 1500 "became willfully hostile to other people's innovations," thereby condemning itself to centuries of stagnation and shrinkage. Likewise, so fearful were the Ottomans of opposing points of view that in 1515 Sultan Salim "threatened with death anyone found using the printing press." Ultimately, the willful "failure to reconcile Islam with scientific progress was to prove disastrous."

"Horizontally," writes Schuon, "the Truth concerns the cosmic, hence phenomenal order," while vertically "it concerns the metaphysical, hence principial order." The world is a tapestry -- a vast area rug -- of principles and phenomena. This is true for believer or unbeliever, clued in duddhist or dead-end clueless alike; it's just that the latter either reduces the vertical to horizontal, or elevates the horizontal to vertical. Both approaches generate incoherence and absurdity. Immediately, if you're paying attention.

Put conversely, the only way to pull this off is to not pay attention to what you're doing: to pull the wool over your own eyes, or to pull the rabbit out of your own head. To what, for example, is the leftist appealing by the desire to shut down free speech? Free speech? No, that can't be. Likewise, to what does the left appeal in its objection to a SCOTUS judge who pledges to be constrained by the plain meaning of Constitution? The Constitution? No, can't be either.

Speaking of witch, to what principle does the "democratic socialist" appeal, democracy or socialism? That's easy: "free stuff" (AKA bribery) before the witch has fifty percent, "democracy" afterwards. Then democracy can be deployed to deny and overturn our liberal order, i.e., private property, the rule of law, and unalienable rights.

It has also occurred to me that the free market economy, a la Hayek, is actually a giant information processing system. Everything we need to know about this system is encoded in the price mechanism, which tells us in an instant about supply, demand, scarcity, availability, etc. Therefore, perhaps the biggest reason why we should object to socialism is on free speech grounds, since it absolutely prevents the economy from transmitting accurate information about supply and demand.

Consider the three areas of the economy most distorted by socialist policies: medicine, college, and housing. Why is a house, of all things, so freaking expensive in California? Because the Democratic socialists who run the state will not allow the economy to speak freely about the subject.

Here is the quote I was looking for, but now we're out of time:

I don't believe that the world is made of quarks or electromagnetic waves, or stars, or planets or any of these things. I believe the world is made of language (McKenna).


Anonymous said...

We of the Left understand that to control language is to control everything. The question your post brings to the foreground is, why do we want control?

I brought this forward at committee and was met by stunned silence. "Why do we want control?" So deeply ingrained into the panel members was a desire to control, none ever questioned the motive behind it.

Finally a consensus emerged, that control was needed so rednecks wouldn't have it, and fear of redneck policies and procedures turned out to be the motivator. Having Billy Joe and Becky Sue in charge of things would lead to, I don't know, a bullying of the intelligentsia by the country yokel, with his burly arms, shotguns, control of the food supply, insistence on mass produced beer, and so forth.

Fear. It's what makes the leftist world go 'round.

Don Colacho said...

Rather than an ideological strategy, the left is a lexicographical tactic.

ted said...

McKenna must have had the Logos idea come to him during one of his trips!

Gagdad Bob said...

Absolutely. Early on I aspired to his jolly drug-induced raving, minus the drugs.

Gagdad Bob said...

By the way, the Johnny Cash bio in the sidebar is really good....

ted said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ted said...

Bob: Speaking of drugs, any interest in Pollan's new book?

Gagdad Bob said...

I don't know. I'm pretty happy with toad-licking.

ted said...

I actually had a friend that went to a toad licking ceremony. Said it was very profound. But like all psychonauts, it can become all about the thrills without really making any change in the person.

ted said...

My one time experience with Ayahuasca certainly kicked my ass.

Gagdad Bob said...

Plenty of people claim to see or experience God on drugs, but I don't know of a single case of stable assimilation -- of a positive change from state to trait. They might say there has been a permanent change, but scratch the surface and you usually find a spiritually inflated deepakery.

ted said...

Yup, agreed.

It may open doors for some, but usually Gnostic ones at best.

julie said...

Often you don't know what you really believe until you blurt it out. When you do, it is as if it comes from your center, and vanquishes -- at least temporarily -- all doubt.

Yes, indeed. One of the ways you know is by the reactions of the people listening; if it's true, usually they know, even if they don't quite grasp it any more than you do.

Gagdad Bob said...

To take the quintessential case, "the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law."

I routinely get that sense with Schuon: somehow, the certitude of what he's saying comes through in the saying of it. And it's not remotely analogous to the "argument from authority" fallacy.

In fact, he alludes to this in an essay called In the Face of Contingency. How do we know anything with certitude in a contingent universe? "We are situated in contingency, but we live by the reflections of the Absolute, or otherwise we could not exist." Certainly we could not think. Thinking itself is already evidence of something beyond thought -- in which thought is grounded or to which it is ordered.

This is more to the point: "universal truths draw their evidence not from our contingent thought, but from our transpersonal being, which constitutes the substance of our spirit and guarantees the adequacy of intellection."

Ultimately this means that the highest things are true simply because they are true. And this is not a tautology! Rather, these truths are recognized by a "superabundance of light... which amounts to saying that they are proven by themselves."

Gagdad Bob said...

Of course, the superabundance of light can also blind.

Gagdad Bob said...

The Aphorist agrees:

--The truth does not need the adherence of man in order to be certain.

--Profundity is not in what is said, but in the level from which it is said.

--Mysticism is the empiricism of transcendent knowledge.

--It is not the ideas that I look for in the intelligent book, but rather the air that one breathes there.

Gagdad Bob said...

In the absence of this air, we would all sophicate. Wisdom would literally be asphyxiated. See academia for details.

Kurt said...

Two points.

First, language as reality. In Genesis 1, each of the acts of creation begin with the words, "God said..." He said let there be light, the firmament, the earth, etc. He didn't think it, will it or wish it, He said it. Might be pertinent.

Second, drugs and profundity. Recently watched the Amazon documentary 'A Long Strange Trip' regarding the history of The Grateful Dead. Highly recommended. I never understood the whole phenomenon but now I do (at least a bit). Foundational to their music and the experience of it was LSD and related hallucinogenic drugs. So you mix a place of potentially expanded perception with some pretty good music (Garcia was an amazing guitarist) and the power of a shared group experience and - voila - the Dead Heads are born! The problem was they never expanded past that single point. There was no growth, no fruit, no infinity of newness and creativity that a living spiritual walk provides on a daily basis. They were frozen in time at that one point, endlessly repeating that one moment in search of that exact same feeling, over and over again. At the end it became a kind of hell, or at least that's what it looks like to me.

Heard a preacher once say that heaven was going to be like being in church for eternity. Never went back to that church again...

julie said...

Great points.

I wonder how many souls that preacher turned away from the light that day? I appreciate church tremendously, but wouldn't want to spend eternity there.

Interesting point re. LSD. Reminds a bit of what happened to R. Crumb; his art permanently changed after LSD, but after that particular turning point it also stayed fixed there. Which isn't to say he wasn't incredibly talented, just that he never seemed to grow after that.

ted said...

Sex, drugs, & rock n roll = intoxication without the sobriety.

True Mysticism = sober intoxication