Friday, April 27, 2018

The Monstrous Implications of Scientism

In the previous post we touched on the complementarity of subject/object, which mutually coarise. Tallis has some novel ideas about this, or at least pushes the materialistic argument to the brink of extinction and beyond. Hey, you can accomplish a lot with reductio ad absurdum. I mean, if matter is all there is, who just said that? And who just heard him?

Really, all one needs is an aphorism or two. So much easier to realize memes than memorize reams of philosophy. The following are not so much hierarchical as mutually reinforcing, like a strong rope made of individual threads:

Man has as much of a soul as he believes he has. When that belief dies, man becomes an object.

Modern man denies himself every metaphysical dimension and considers himself a mere object of science. But he screams when they exterminate him as such.

If the soul is a myth, genocide is a simple problem of effective anesthetics.

Between animal and man there is no other barrier than a palisade of taboos (Dávila).

Speaking of reductio ad absurdum -- reduction to absurdity -- I wonder what the opposite of this would be? Expansion to certitude? "That is absurd which is contrary to the first principles of reasoning," says the venerable Prof. Fernald -- for example, "that a part should be greater than the whole."

Fernald continues: "Monstrous and preposterous refer to what is overwhelmingly absurd." Then there are the ridiculous or nonsensical, which are "worthy only to be laughed at," such as "the lunatic's claim to be a king." Or, for that matter, the Darwinian's claim to truth.

So, depending upon our angle of vision, atheistic materialism might be absurd, paradoxical, irrational, foolish, silly, unreasonable, monstrous, preposterous, ridiculous, or nonsensical. What? The power of and?

Fernald also helpfully provides antonyms of absurd, e.g., certain, consistent, demonstrable, incontestable, incontrovertible, indisputable, logical, sound, true, undeniable, etc. These are the properties -- whether scientific or religious -- we're really after, aren't they? For it's one thing to prove an argument absurd, another thing entirely to find the one that is absolutely certain.

And yet, the two are related. For example, to explicitly affirm the absurdity that all truth is relative is to implicitly utter an absolute truth, thereby negating one's own first principle. All the relativist or neuromaniac or Darwinitwit need do is draw out the implications of his creed, and voila: he is cured of the absurd!

Note that this is precisely how Jordan Peterson rocketed from cult fame to something approaching the real thing: merely by holding his BBC interviewer to her own absurd standards.

By the way, Dávila has a cautionary aphorism for Peterson: No one is important for long without becoming an idiot.

And while looking for that one, I found this, which aphorizes what we are about to prosify. Read slowly and SEE:

The world is explicable from man; but man is not explicable from the world. Man is a given reality; the world is a hypothesis we invent.

This is indeed one of our first principles. And please note that this does not reduce to some form of arbitrary subjectivism or pure idealism. If it does, then it is no better than the dodgy materialism it displaces.

Unfortunately, politics is not only downstream from culture, but from pseudoscience, AKA scientism, or the Fashionable Nonsense of the Tenured. "The assumption... that we have no free will is combined with all manner of would-be progressive social policies claiming to be rooted in neuroscience" (Tallis). Therefore, for example, if we have no free will, then our justice system is patently unjust. We saw how this played out beginning in the 1960s: an entirely predictable explosion of crime.

Ideas have consequences. If crime is not a choice but only an effect of a material or efficient causes, then it leads to the reductio ad absurdum of... of a community organizer president with Al Sharpton as Czar of Race Relations and Black Lives Matter as intellectual vanguard.

Prof. Fernald says we are abusing the word "absurd." The word we are looking for is monstrous.

"Scientism and government have always made unhappy bedfellows" (Tallis). Let us count the (progressive) ways: eugenics, high carb/low fat diets, Keynesian economics, the government-global warming industrial complex, transgenderism, heterosexual AIDS, homosexual marriage...

Hear hear: "if any ideas are important, then ideas about the kind of creatures we are must be of supreme importance." And as we have pointed out on many occasions, "if On the Origin of Species really were the last word on humanity, it could not have been written." Do we really need to explain why? Okay: a brain simple enough for us to explain would not be complex enough to give rise to the explainer.

About those novel arguments alluded to above, here's one. Scientism, in order to be strictly consistent -- or fully monstrous -- must paradoxically adopt the point of view of no point of view, or of the "view from nowhere," in which "all appearances are summarized in the abstract," but are "had by no one in particular, and consequently by no one at all..." Again, it is the "material world seeing itself but from no particular point of view."

There is so much wrong with this that we don't have time to unpack it all. You can't just obliterate conscious selfhood and then try to sneak it in via the side door. Rather, if it's gone, it's gone. You can't secretly resurrect it without recourse to the miraculous. "There are some fundamental elements of selfhood that cannot be denied without self-contradiction," one of which is viewpoint.

We'll end with this, and pick it up on Tuesday: the realm of memory

has no place in the physical world. The physical world is what it is. It is not haunted by what it has been (or indeed, what it might become): by what was and will be. There are, in short, no tenses in material world.


[I]n the physical world no event is intrinsically past, present, or future. It becomes so only with reference to a conscious, indeed self-conscious, being who provides the reference point, the "now," that makes some events past, others future, and yet others present (Tallis.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Between You & I is What is Between Man & Animal

That title just came to me. I'm quite sure it's true, but I suppose I should explain how and why it is true and how I could know. (Bear in mind that the background of this discussion continues to be Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, in which Tallis demolishes the ground of atheistic materialism even while remaining a steadfast and unwavering atheist.)

But first a few aphorisms to warm up the old cerebrum, which I have taken the liberty of arranging hierarchically so as to arrive at the -- wait for it! -- shocking conclusion:

1: Whoever is curious to measure his stupidity should count the number of things that seem obvious to him.

2: Often the simpler a truth is the more difficult it is to understand.

3: Truth is more than an impersonal proposition; it is a manner of thinking and of feeling.

4: The truth is objective but not impersonal.

5: All truth goes from flesh to flesh.

6: Truth is a person (Dávila).

Let's start with the first: I think it is entirely accurate to say that materialism is just plain obvious to the materialist. This must be the case, or they would realize how implausible it is, and provide more intellectual support than merely ridiculing or vilifying those who disagree.

It's analogous to the Taranto Principle in politics. Like me, perhaps you've wondered why leftists are unable to think, argue, or understand another point of view. This is a function of the media, culture, and education establishment all reinforcing their presumptions, such that they never have to defend their positions.

Rather, they're all obvious. Gay marriage? Obvious. Climate change? Obvious. Gender inequality? Obvious. Etc. They no more understand that they live in a bubble than the fish knows about water.

Note also that no amount of logic or evidence is able to move the liberal, because he mistakes his certitude for truth rather than ignorance. But in reality, their smug certitude is precisely a function of their ignorance. (I'm again reminded of a Bill Maher, who is usually wrong but never in doubt; however, you will notice that it is not a serene stupidity, since it is only maintained by projecting his ignorance into others and attacking them for it.)

An immediate corollary (2): because of what is so obvious to you, it can be difficult to recognize and understand the simple truth. Here again, it's an instance of The answer is the disease that kills curiosity. Can you imagine the mind of the person who is satisfied with a materialistic explanation of himself, such that he no longer has any curiosity about consciousness, free will, and human subjectivity? That is what I'd call a Total Eclipse of the Mystery of Being.

Truth is a manner of thinking and feeling (#3). This is a truth I first realized in my psychoanalytic training -- that there is truth but there are also developmental levels, such that what is true on one level might be false on another, and the depth of a truth may depend upon depth of the person uttering it.

Thus, the level cannot be distinguished from the person(al); in short, there are deep thinkers and shallow thinkers. It's unavoidably orthoparadoxical, but perhaps you've noticed that a banality from the lips of the tenured may be a profundity from the mouth of the Raccoon. A deep person transforms the otherwise banal into profundity, like water to wine or something. Deepak Chopra and Jesus can say the same things, and yet, one is an idiot.

Perhaps that's unclear. Here's a concrete example: I'm sure Thomas Jefferson and Nancy Pelosi would agree that "all men are created equal." Or, the pacifist and Navy SEAL agree that murder is wrong. 'Nuff said.

How can something be objective but not impersonal (#4)? Isn't that oxymoronic?

Well, first of all, objective and subjective are irreducibly complementary, not a duality. Prior to the appearance of humans -- or you can take it all the way back to the emergence of life -- there is no objectivity because there is no subjectivity. If there are no persons, there are no truths -- which is not the same as saying that truth is subjective. Analogously, only persons can know that murder is wrong, but that hardly makes it a matter of opinion.

Ultimately -- as Schuon has said in so many ways -- objectivity "is none other than the truth, in which the subject and the object coincide, and in which the essential takes precedence over the accidental -- or in which the Principle takes precedence over its manifestation..." Better (or deeper) yet,

Objectivity is the perfect adequation of the intelligence to objective reality; and inwardness is the persevering concentration of the will on that “Inward” which, according to Christ, coincides with the heart... and which opens onto the “Kingdom of God”, which in fact is “within you.”

Outward truth and inward depth. If your metaphysic allows for no inwardness, it obviously has no depth. By definition. And therefore no wholeness, totality, or even objectivity, for the deeper the subject the bigger the object in your ur-view mirror.

From my flesh to yours (#5). Here again, this is a truth I realized in graduate school -- that truth must be realized in order to be more than mere surface (k). The difference between reading about anxiety and having an anxiety attack is more or less infinite. Trust me.

The Word Became Flesh. Only all the time -- for example, whenever you speak and your having spoken causes understanding in another (a subject to which we will return in subsequent posts, this one getting close to the finish line.)

Finally, our shocking but ineluctable conclusion: that Truth is a person. If Tallis could only real-ize this, it would turn his world upside down and inside out, such that everything would now come into focus. But his admirable insistence on the reality of transcendence cannot help but prove sterile if detached from the Cosmic Person.

I didn't really get around to explaining the title, at least explicitly. Well, the gap between man and animal is literally infinite -- as infinite as, say, the abyss between the truth and a lie. What is the nature of this gap, or space, or depth-dimension? It is the intersubjective space between infant and mother, person and person, and ultimately Father and Son.

The trinity may not be obvious, but it sure explains a lot.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Death, Man, and Anti-Man

Does all humanism nurse a hidden (or not so hidden) anti-humanism? If not, it is only because it fails to draw out its own anti-human implications. Rather, it stops at an arbitrary point, imagining that Man will be able to stand on his own. In reality,

nothing is more fundamentally inhuman than the “purely human,” the illusion of constructing a perfect man starting from the individual and terrestrial; whereas the human in the ideal sense draws its reason for existence and its entire content from that which transcends the individual and the earthly.

Humanism is the reign of horizontality, either naïve or perfidious; and since it is also -- and by that very fact -- the negation of the Absolute, it is a door open to a multitude of sham absolutes, which in addition are often negative, subversive, and destructive (Schuon).

Take Google, for example. They always change their logo in celebration of various holidays, but I read somewhere that for the 18th straight year they failed to recognize Easter, an obviously intended in-your-apophasis slight to Christians. Which is fine. It's a free society. Thanks to Judeo-Christian values. Besides, their corporate creed is Don't Be Evil. What could go wrong with such a self-evident imperative? Who needs the Ten Commandments when you can reduce them to one?

Memo to our ill-educated internet overlords:

The initial contradiction of humanism is that, if one man can prescribe for himself an ideal that pleases him, so too can someone else, for the same reason, prescribe for himself another ideal....

The moral ideal of humanism is inefficacious because it is subject to the tastes of the moment, or to fashion, if one wishes; for positive qualities are fully human only in connection with the will to surpass oneself, hence only in relation to what transcends us. Just as man’s reason for being does not lie within man as such, so too, man’s qualities do not represent an end in themselves.... A quality is fully legitimate only on condition that in the last analysis it be linked to necessary Being, not to mere contingency, that is, to what is merely possible.

Recall that we are in the midst of a lengthy meditation on Aping Mankind, by a humanist who very much wants to distinguish himself from all those other anti-human humanists who inevitably preach animalism in disguise, because they lack any principle upon which to make such a distinction.

This is ineluctably true. Yesterday I saw a clip in which Bill Maher is going on about how conservatives Hate the Planet. Whatever. But do tell, why does this matter? Take your time. This is not a 15 minute segment pandering to low information leftists. We'll give you all the time you need to square this absurcularity.

By the way, in the same segment he derided the emotionally driven thinking of Americans. Good! Please explain why we should care about The Planet, or about future generations, or even "logic," with no emotional appeals whatsoever.

Stupidity is annoying enough, but when it shrouds itself in such pompous moral superiority... Why, it's enough to make a man hate religion.

Note also that Maher's style of humanism is always anti-humanistic at the core. More generally, the left loves mankind in the abstract. It's individual human beings they can't stand. Maher cannot disguise his contempt for half the citizenry.

Conversely, any religiously informed Christian must be quite skeptical of mankind. That's what you call a firm foundation of wisdom, without which you are bound to, oh, fly too close to the sun, or build a tower that collapses in on itself, or create one more sacrificial system to appease your strange and bloodthirsty gods. Same old same old terrestrial circle that man can only exit via a vertical leap.

This review is going rather slowly. I see we're still stuck on page 3. Oh well. We've got all the time in the world. At least until we don't. The Black Mirror of Death is always peering over our shoulder, if not giving us a snidelong glance from the sidebar.

But without Death we'd have no reason to think about Life at all. Death is quite literally the father of Sophia. I'm up to page 11 in that book, but there are already a number of arresting gags, such as Death destroys a man; the idea of death saves him (by E.M. Forster). Or, try this on for size:

"The shadow reveals the light" -- says it all. The unspeakable Nothing italicizes at least some of the Everything that is life. While death destroys us in fact, the thought of our own non-existence may save us from triviality, from entrapment in secondary things.... To be oblivious to death is to be only half-awake.

Half? That's charitable. But I want to focus on the sentence prior to that, in particular, "may" and "save," but also "triviality" and "secondary." For if there are secondary things, there must be a primary one, no? And if there exists trivia, then surely there is Importance -- who knows, perhaps even the One Thing Needful. Mustn't trivia, in order to exist at all, be parasitic on the non-trivial?

More generally, mustn't tenure be parasitic on something surpassing itself? Why would we ever recognize "free speech" if it doesn't presume responsible speech? Indeed, why care about speech at all if it isn't a function of truth (for the converse is impossible and unthinkable anyway)?

Is leftism parasitic on conservatism? You betcha'. Their whole economic program, for example, is all about distribution of wealth rather than its creation. They simply assume the latter, as if it just happens -- or rather, because the One Percent stole it from the restavus.

Which is like complaining that the top ten hitters in baseball hit fifty percent of the home runs, so we need to distribute them to more needy hitters. It's not fair that big Mike Trout already has nine home runs, while skinny little Dee Gordon has only one.

Tallis describes his meditation on death as "a walk across a tightrope that has nothing to hook on to at the other side because there is no other side."

Next to which I wrote in the margin: like that's even possible. I mean, since you are walking on the tightrope, and the tightrope is somehow remaining suspended in midair, perhaps it is hooked on to the other side. You don't have to call it God. Yet. Rather, how about just retaining an open mind? Something is holding you up in this space of transcendence, and it is not your genes, much less matter.

It very much reminds me of a comment by Stanley Jaki about free will. What holds it up? No wonder the materialites just deny it. That's much easier -- like cutting off the branch you're sitting on and remaining in the air. Anyone can do it! Or better, cutting the flower from the stem. The flower will live. For a few days.

But in reality, "What is needed is merely an intimation that freedom or rather free will belies mere material existence. Once that intimation is reflected upon, nothing prevents that one should be seized by a sense of metaphysics." Soon enough you realize that "All arguments against free will are so many proofs of it" (Jaki).

You're free! But how? Well, the "registering of the reality of one's free will" brings us "face to face with the realm of metaphysical reality which hangs in mid-air unless suspended from that Ultimate Reality, best called God" (Jaki). Or, let's just call it O: free will is a vertical lightrope suspended between man and O. Who could disagree, without proving it?

Lightrope. You could say that the intellect is our reaching toward O, while revelation is the Divine Intellect reaching toward us, which is how the whole innerprize remains suspended in midair: "Revelation is none other than the objective and symbolic manifestation of the Light which man carries in himself, in the depths of his being; it reminds him of what he is, and of what he should be since he has forgotten what he is" (Schuon).

A couple more points, and then we're out of time. Tallis properly notes that Death is never "a neat full stop at the end of the final sentence, of the final paragraph, of the final chapter, of a life. It is the profoundest of all interruptions."

Yes. Unless. Unless what? We're coming to that. Earlier in the book he quotes Auden, who suggests that this Unless must pass a strict test, that it must be "something a man of honor, awaiting death from cancer or a firing squad could read without contempt." A high bar indeed!

I don't see any way over the bar unless God himself goes under it and submits to death, but who would ever suggest such a strange idea?

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