We're almost done re-Inventing the Individual
. Sorry for the length, but it's not as simple and straightforward as we've been led to believe.
Your Right to Reality
Do we have a right to live in reality? For most of human history, the answer has been no, in the sense that people have been forced to live in someone else's vision or idea of reality.
It reminds me of what Thomas Sowell says about planned economies: every economy is planned. It's just a matter of who does the planning, unaccountable elites or private parties.
It indeed comes down to knowledge and power -- the power to be the Decider. For example, Obama and the Democrats have the power to define what constitutes economic knowledge of medical costs. However -- similar to Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle vis a vis position and momentum -- the more centralized power one exerts over economic realities, the less knowledge one has of them. Total power -- as in totalitarian states -- equates to total ignorance of price signals, and therefore of economic realities of supply, demand, scarcity, etc.
Moreover, the power is only illusory anyway, because there is no way for any human being, or even the most powerful computer, to ever calculate the potential interactions of millions of mutually dependent prices. That knowledge is essentially infinite, and therefore requires omniscience to calculate. It is not even calculation, just -- to use the technical term -- bullshitting.
To which Obama responds, "your point being?"
A Freehold in Reality
The left has spent the last century or so trying to replace the west's cosmic narrative with their new and improved version, but the problem there, as alluded to at the top of this post, is that it is simultaneously "unconstrained" (Sowell) while at the same time being highly constraining because it is forced upon us. It is like being forced into freedom -- freedom from reality. Which is no freedom at all.
It again goes to what was said above about who gets to define reality, but more importantly, who gets to define the reality in which we are all forced to live. For example, I live in California, a one party state in which no one has any input except for the unconstrained visionaries who want to control every aspect of our lives.
In California the Democrats even veto God, and insist that we decide what sex we are and that others recognize the delusion. So it's really "unconstrained for thee but not for me." The hypocrisy is built in, because it's never "power to the people" but "power to the right people." Liberal privilege, institutional stupidity, structural madness, and nonwhite supremacism are all very real here.
The other day I mentioned the obnoxious book on Indians my son is being forced to read. That's because in California it is against the law for a textbook to tell the truth -- or to not speak with a forked tongue -- about any officially sanctioned victim group.
That little preamble was provoked by the following passage in Inventing the Individual:
Since the time of Paul, Christian thought has been directed to the status and claims of humans as such, quite apart from any roles they happened to occupy in a particular society." Therefore, "It is hardly too much to say that Paul's conception of deity provided the individual with a freehold in reality (emphasis mine).
This is a remarkable development, for among other things, it "laid a normative foundation for the individual conscience and its claims." Truly, this turned the world upside down -- or brightside up, rather -- because it placed previously unthinkable limits on the state's power to define reality and force it upon the restavus.
Reality has many dimensions, both horizontal and vertical. For example, thanks to the state, we are never even freeholders of our own land, in that (at least in California) we must pay an annual property tax to pretend to call it our own. Nor do children have a right to the truth about, say, American Indians, or Islam, or homosexuality. As such, it is as if the state has a claim on that part of your child's mind.
I'm just about out of time for today, but the thought occurs to me that if we knew in 1900 what we know today, the left could be declared unconstitutional on first amendment grounds. Why? Because the economy is an information system that continuously conveys the facts about economic reality via prices. Therefore, to interfere with the economy in a massive way -- as in ObamaCare -- is equivalent to burning libraries full of books.
Leftists invert the old gag about knowing the value of nothing and cost of everything, in that they have no way to calculate the cost of what they value. No wonder the cost always rises, and is never enough.
The new interiority of Christianity had to deal with an existing world in which "people still celebrated bloody sacrifices, indulged in fortune-telling and magic, placed their faith in amulets and soothsayers, sought salvation through spells, and believed in superstition." Each of these represents an exteriorized from of religiosity. Only gradually was "the magical interpretation" of the world "robbed of its allure." And the temptation to regress is always there, as exemplified by every false god from Moloch to AGW.
Even the language of the the Middle Ages is difficult for us to comprehend, or to "think our way into," since its users were so different. As Friedwrites, cognition tended to be rooted in a situational and concrete as opposed to abstract and universal mode of thinking.
Likewise, familiar tools and concepts such as formal logic and cause-and-effect "were largely absent." Sometimes this resulted in failure to differentiate image from God: iconography easily descended to idolatry: "Many a simple-minded believer may well have identified the image with the subject depicted."
Again, this doesn't mean our forebears didn't know anything; rather, that they knew a very different world: "Within such a framework, no unity could be identified." Nor was there "any figure of abstraction separating the private from public realms." In this context, one can see the developmental leap required to intuit monotheism, which is another name for the ultimate transcendent unity of things, or their single ground and cause.
I've mentioned before how the severely mentally ill person can provide insight into the relatively sane, since his psychic content and defense mechanisms are so visibly hypertrophied and externalized. Just so, we can see how each and every one of these prior modes of thought persist today. We don't so much abandon them as integrate them into a more comprehensive system. I can have an icon of Christ on the wall without confusing it with Christ; we can be religious without conflating it with magic; we can believe in science without confusing it with ultimate reality.
"Individual" and "private" co-arise in history, as they are two sides of the same development. Just as liberty and private property are entirely bound up together, so too are individual and private self.
This lays the foundation for the profound political changes to come, for the unit of politics becomes the person instead of the family or group. Compare this to, say, the Arab-Muslim world, where the primary identification is still to kin and tribe, while morality is not a private matter but public conformity to sharia law.
The latter is quite different from the Christian view, in which the individual was encouraged to undertake a "strict accounting of himself" (in Siedentop). We must try to look at ourselves as God sees us. Indeed, "moral authority ought to imitate the condescension of God, seeking out and inhabiting the depth of the human condition." God goes all the way down and in, so if it's good enough for him, it should be good enough for the likenesses of us.
New Principles, New Worlds
New principles lead to new uprisings (to deploy one of the left's favorite buzzwords). This is because the mind must first rise up to a new vertical principle before awareness of it provokes a horizontal uprising -- or better, a down- and out-flowing, i.e., a clamoring to see the principle instantiated in the world.
For example, people have to first intuit that all men are created equal before regarding inequality as problematic instead of just being in the nature of things. Legal equality is a discovery, not a given. And once discovered it needs to be real-ized in the world, for which reason the Constitution follows the Declaration as effect to cause.
The moral intuitions prompted by Christian beliefs provided just such a basis "for an appeal against injustice that had not been available in the ancient world" (Siedentop). Thus, "the universalism of Christian aspiration had a subversive potential" unknown to that time, and still at work in the world today.
You could say that the universal subverts the particular, just as in science, whereby a more general theory subsumes disparate phenomena: ice and clouds, for example, are just different states of water.
Against this truly progressive approach is the modern superstition of multiculturalism, whereby the particular subverts the universal: for the left there is no objective or universal good except for the conviction that there isn't. Except when there is. I know. It's an inverted form of Gödel's theorems, whereby you get both incoherence and incompleteness from a leftist.
Regarding the invention of progress, "The idea of a more 'open' future was a symptom of Christian moral beliefs affecting the population at large." This was accompanied by "the rejection of fate and advent of hope," but this cuts two ways, since the new uncertainty brings with it new anxieties.
As someone once said, if you have no alternative then you have no problem. But the dawn of an open future that can be shaped by the individual brings with it a new burden of responsibility which some people, understandably, don't want to bear. Nowadays we call them liberals.
Today we talk about "upward mobility," but this was preceded by awareness of a new inward mobility. As Siedentop writes, people began realizing "that salvation did not depend upon social status," which contributed to a new "kind of imagined mobility, a moral standing that could be achieved rather than inherited."
Now, here's an ironic one: a critically important factor in the development of a common European identity was the contrast with a violent and expansionist Islam. The presence of a common enemy can cause people to appreciate a shared identity.
For example, leftists everywhere are proclaiming that "I am Charlie Hebdo." But it shouldn't take a mass murder for leftists to realize that they too are nihilistic peddlers of pornography, only more craven.
A better example is their universal hatred of Fox News, which is the only major media outlet that actually does critique Islam, only in a far more informative and measured way than Charlie Hebdo.
But you will never see hypocritical leftists proclaiming I AM RUPERT MURDOCH!, because their identity depends upon this shared hatred of conservative heresy. They will shout I AM ISIS! before admitting any common values with conservative liberalism.
Back when religious leaders weren't appeasement-mongering invertebrates, "The appeal by Pope Urban II for volunteers to halt the expansion of Islam... created in Europe a new consciousness of itself." Prior to this, "Europe had never been excited by one sentiment, or acted in one cause; there was no Europe. The crusades revealed Christian Europe."
No wonder leftists can't forgive the crusades and Muslims can't forget them.
Once again Islamic terrorists are trying their best to bring about a unified response, but leaders such as Obama refuse to even name the enemy, for it would engender the wrong kind of unity, i.e., a patriotic love for our way of life.
Rather, Obama's leftist worldview revolves around despising our way of life, so in that sense he's implicitly in agreement with the terrorists. This is a guy who spent two decades in a toxic
mosque church that taught exactly this doctrine, i.e., GOD DAMN AMERICA! and all the rest. Terror is just leftism by other means.
So, "The crusades were truly a universal event, involving all strata of the population," revealing "'a people' with a shared identity."
Again, this is very much in contrast to the reigning dogma of multiculturalism, whereby the only thing that unites us is our differences (along with an unacknowledged, implicit unity derived from hatred of universalist conservatives).
If Islamists had wanted to invent a divide-and-conquer strategy, they couldn't possibly have come up with something more effective than this principled divisiveness of the left.
Liberal Distinctions, Leftist Con-fusions
One thing that comes through in Inventing the Individual is how the so-called middle ages ushered in so many vital cognitive distinctions that we take for granted. But man didn't always have these distinctions, nor do all men have them even today. To put it mildly.
In fact, Fried says much the same thing, although neither author devotes a separate section to the subject. Rather, the evidence is scattered throughout both books, so I'll attempt to pull some of it together here.
This probably sounds like a slightly dryasdust subject, but it definitely isn't, because it goes directly to our vision of the world. Without the proper tools, that vision can only be so deep, complex, and comprehensive.
Consider what happens when we chuck religious tools from our cognitive bag of tricks. It is not as if a hammer can replace the work of a wrench or screwdriver. But if that's all you have, you'll end up trying to pound religious screws into place with a hammer, which makes for an ugly and probably dysfunctional end product.
A big one is the distinction between secular and spiritual authority. Prior to this distinction there is only authority -- or power -- period.
But there is more to it than just keeping these two domains apart, because for one thing, they cannot be kept apart. That is to say, they are complementary, not "opposite." To imagine the latter is be a leftist.
But the leftist only pretends to deny spiritual authority while actually usurping it. In short, he regresses to a state of mind in which the two are still fused, and then subsumes the religious into the secular, thus ending up with either the omnipotent state or the cult of personality (or both, as in Castro or Kim). Put another way, he denies a primordial complementarity and then subsumes one side into the other.
As Hartshorne has explained, this is a common strategy for all kinds of tenured foolishness. You might say that pre-Christian neo-Platonists tended to default to the spirit side, while post-Christian sophists default to the material side. But how can one even begin to describe reality without including both?
And while it is possible to regard one side of a complementarity as the more fundamental, these folks always choose the wrong side, as, for example, Marx did to Hegel; a pox on both, but at least Hegel gives spirit its props, since it can theoretically account for matter while the converse is impossible without millions of corpses.
Again, once there is a distinction between the secular and religious realms, that is not the end of their interaction. We are still left with the question of what constitutes legitimate authority, and that is a question that cannot be answered by mere power, i.e., the secular arm.
Rather, that is always a spiritual question, for which reason the American founding is thoroughly grounded in, and legitimized by, spiritual principles, i.e., Nature and Nature's God. While there is of course secular authority, if it should become divorced from spiritual authority, the founders say that this invokes the natural (i.e., God-given) right of rebellion.
The purpose of government is to secure our God-given rights. And if government becomes "destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them." Again, secular power is not self-justifying; rather, power is grounded in transcendent truth.
While we (conservative liberals) take this for granted, it took a very long time for mankind to draw these distinctions and to work out the political implications. As Fried writes, as of 1000 AD, "lords did not think in 'political' categories," for "the habit of thinking in categories was still only in its infancy then."
Thus, "There were no conceptions of 'domestic' or 'foreign policy,' or of 'politics' and 'the state.'" Indeed, "nobody would have understood them as templates for interpreting the world or for acting in a particular way, nor could anyone have associated a particular attitude with them or have advocated such a mind-set." Among other things, man had yet to recognize a clear distinction between mind and reality, or God and world.
As such, rulers looked to the world for signs and augurs; these "were everywhere to be seen for those who knew how to read them"; think of them as the pundits of the premodern world. Like our pundits, they all had opinions, usually wrong and immediately forgotten. They looked "to the sun, moon, and stars in the sky, in the natural world and among people, and even animals." The wrong decision might bring on the object lesson of a natural disaster, which "skillful interpreters could always be relied upon to proclaim their import with hindsight."
As man slowly individuates from the womb of nature, language undergoes a profound change, "engendering whole new sets of differentiating terminology, and bringing about advances in perception and an increase in the sum total of cognitive capacity." A new mode of thought emerges; you could say that this mode is capable of being critical because of the critical distance between subject and object.
Now, this critical distance between subject and object is a kind of "space" through which "new perspectives on and approaches to the complexity of the world and cosmos opened up." "[T]hings that had never even been imagined came into peoples' purview, while familiar things were seen in a new light" and "placed in a new relation to one another" (Fried).
From our privileged perspective, this space is "everything." Eliminate it and what's left, obedience to the state, or adherence to some state-funded ideolatry? Or perhaps a pre-political life of simply obeying one's impulses.
One implicit point made by both Fried and Siedentop is that freedom tends to emerge and flourish in the interstices between competing powers. But it took until the American founding to make this principle explicit. That is, the framers recognized that freedom is only safe when power is dispersed among competing interests. "The bigger the state, the smaller the citizen," as Dennis Prager says.
Which is precisely why the left sells us chains it relabels "freedom," as in "you're not really free if you don't have health insurance, therefore the state has a right to your body." To which we respond: why can't we have health and freedom? Why revert to a time when there was no space between ruler and ruled? Why deprive us of our God-given slack?