Friday, July 06, 2018

In, Of, and Out of the Cosmos

Lately I've been thinking of shuttering the blog. Are we just going around in circles? Am I just shouting at myself? Maybe I should review the sprawling 3,199 and try to synthesize them into One, before things get any more out of hand...

Here's an important point: human intelligence "is either separative or unitive," depending upon "whether it is applied to the Absolute or the contingent," the latter two reducing to -- in the ultimate sense -- "the Real or the illusory" (Schuon).

This is why in the past I have called religion the science of the ultimate subject (or Real), and science the religion of the ultimate object (the contingent or illusory).

It is also why folks like Thomas Aquinas call theology the "queen of the sciences," because it deals with a more fundamental, enduring, and unchanging reality than does mere science; indeed, profane science, in order to even be itself, must be situated in a more unitive "meta-science." Science analyzes, but only because there is first something to be analyzed: the whole is obviously prior to the parts.

This is not in any sense to devalue science. Rather, there is a reason why science developed in the Christian west and no place else: because we situated it in the correct metaphysic (from which it flows).

Speaking of which, yesterday an elliptical thought occurred to me while on the elliptical. For man there are exactly four possibilities: 1) in the world and of the world; 2) of the world but not in it; 3) neither of nor in the world; and 4) in the world but not of the world.

#4 is of course the Christian way: very much in, but definitely not of.

#1 would be the materialist/atheist way, involving a total denial of transcendence: solely of the world and inescapably in it.

#2 would be like Buddhism, at least for the awakened person who is of this absurd world but has found the escape hatch and is liberated from it.

#3 -- neither of nor in -- is the neoplatonist or Gnostic (in the naughty sense) for whom the world is just a big mistake, so get out now! Or rather, eliminate the illusions of "in" and "of," and you're free. Minus you.

The world is surely an illusion but it is not a mistake. We know it is an illusion because otherwise we wouldn't need science. To take an everyday example, it looks like the sun revolves around the earth, but science reveals this to be an illusion. One could obviously cite thousands of similar cases, but the point again is that an illusion is not a mistake, often just a matter of perspective.

Back to our original point of departure: unitive knowledge (to paraphrase Schuon) assimilates while separative knowledge eliminates. This relationship between separation and assimilation forms a continuous, dynamic complementarity. You could even say that it is the deep structure of the metabolism of thinking, or even the metabolism of being.

Gosh. I would go even further and suggest that it reveals something of what goes on inside the Godhead -- in other words, that this complementary relation is an analogue of the eternal Divine Activity.

Otherwise, why go to all the trouble of positing a dynamic Trinity as the source and ground of all reality? If it's just an impenetrable mystery that teaches us nothing fundamental, then who needs it? For my money, Norris Clarke is the most clear and compelling on this subject, e.g., in Person and Being or The One and the Many.

In the former, for example, he writes that the Trinity is "the very inner nature of the Supreme Being itself -- even before its overflow into creation." It "is an ecstatic process... of self-communicating love." The only distinction between Father and Son "is the distinction of two complementary but opposed relations, Giver and Receiver." Surely this means something. We're not supposed to believe it Just Because.

As Clarke alludes to, this self-communicative love subsequently -- in the vertical sense -- "flows over freely in the finite self-communication that is creation." So "no wonder, then, that self-communication is written into the very heart of all things." In short, no wonder the world is such a wonder!

This goes precisely to what was said in the previous post. To quote ourselves,

finitude proclaims infinitude. But the converse is also true (and ontologically prior): infinitude proclaims finitude, via none other than the Logos. Creation, you might say, is the proclamation of finitude (by infinitude).

And only in such a world -- in a world suchly understood -- is science possible. For example, go back to #1 above, of a being who is both in and of the world. This would be a world of pure immanence, devoid of transcendence (as if these two aren't eternal complementarities). Knowledge and personhood would be strictly impossible:

There would be no way for anything else to know that it exists; it would make no difference at all to the rest of reality; practically speaking, it might just as well not be at all -- it would in fact be indistinguishable from non-being.

Do you see why? Each being "would be locked off in total isolation from every other. There would not be a connected universe..."

For any universe is a connected universe, but "where" is this connectedness? It cannot be seen, only assumed. To be clear: no one has ever seen the universe, and no one ever will. Rather, it is a metaphysical assumption, but not just any old assumption. It can only be understood if we are in the cosmos but not of the cosmos. If we were strictly of the cosmos, we could never know it. And if we are fundamentally out of it, then knowledge of it is superfluous and science is a big waste of time.

One could cite many aphorisms, but I'll leave you with these to ponder:

The universe is important if it is appearance, and insignificant if it is reality.

Appearance is not the veil, but the vehicle, of reality.

We are saved from daily tedium only by the impalpable, the invisible, and the ineffable.

Science cannot do more than draw up the inventory of our prison (Dávila).

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Progressive Usurpations of Divine Prerogatives

Continuing with the theme of the previous post, David Solway -- whose posts I always enjoy -- gets to the root of the matter in an essay called Why Socialism Is Doomed To Fail. The title may sound polemical, but it's not; rather, it identifies the principle that explains why socialism never works because it cannot work. And yet, it also explains the ineradicable appeal of socialism, and why it will always be with us.

Solway hints at the principle in the first paragraph, with Boethius' observation that "comparisons can be drawn between finite things, but not between finite and infinite."

Precisely. This is one of those things we cannot not know, at least if we understand the nature and limits of thought. Thus, the principle "is perennially valid, whether with respect to philosophical and theological speculation, mathematical equations involving infinities, or ideological aspects of political thought" (Solway).

So, the inevitable failure of socialism has something to do with the dialectic between finite and infinite; we might also say absolute and relative, one and many, Creator and creation (this latter providing a hint as to the anti-religious religious appeal of socialism, more on which below).

Socialism's "adventures in social perfectibility flow from the refusal to ground a vision of the future in historical and political reality." True, but I would go beyond this, and situate the refusal in metaphysical reality, i.e., the reality than which there can be no realer (on this side of the veil).

"In order to achieve the possible, it is necessary to acknowledge the real, that is, the limits set by the actual parameters of historical existence and the constraints of human nature" (emphases mine). To you this may sound obvious, but it is actually a revolutionary idea, with socialism embodying an atavistic, counter-revolutionary regression to what amounts to Primordial Error -- indeed, all the way down and back to Genesis 3 All Over Again.

You will forgive me if this post takes a while to settle in. The principles we're discussing have so many implications that it's difficult to render them in linear form. Rather, each one is a vertical depth charge with delayed explosions. Also, it's not as if I've thought this through ahead of time. No, this is being worked out as I write and you read. Otherwise it wouldn't be fun.

Humans think. It's what we do. Many if not most experts believe human thinking must resemble "animal thinking," but that's just stupid. No animal -- obviously -- can conceive of the absolute or infinite, and human thinking is rooted in this conception, whether explicitly or (more likely) implicitly.

I first realized this in, oh, around the turn of the millennium, before I even read Schuon (who later confirmed the principle for me in metaphysical granite). Thanks to amazon, I stumbled upon an apparently obscure philosopher named Errol Harris. For example, in his book Revelation through Reason, he writes that "The divine totality is, like its analogue the biological organism, implicit in every one of its parts and phases.... Because of this implicit presence in every finite being, every finite being proclaims the existence of God."

In short, finitude proclaims infinitude. But the converse is also true (and ontologically prior): infinitude proclaims finitude, via none other than the Logos. Creation, you might say, is the proclamation of finitude (by infinitude).

Now, what happens if we remove one of these terms, or collapse one into the other? Well, socialism for one. It is rooted in a complete cosmic inversion whereby the Infinite is denied up front but sneaks back in via its utopian pretensions which could only manifest in a non-finite world, AKA heaven. This really goes back to Voegelin's gag about immanentizing the eschaton. Just stop doing it, okay?

For Voegelin, the "gnostic personality" "seeks to end history in some everlasting realm here on earth in an attempt to perfect man. Whether the gnostic achieves that goal is of no consequence." Rather, "it is the effort and the intention alone to achieve a worthy outcome that is of importance to the gnostic."

Thus, what looks like classic self-defeating behavior on the part of the socialist is actually the whole point -- identical in form to the jihadist who has no realistic hope of destroying western civilization (we're quite capable of achieving that on our own, thank you) but who is nevertheless nourished by the dream of doing so. It is theological hope turned upside down and inside out, thus rendered pathological.

For Voegelin, the immamentization of transcendent hope is a cognitive fallacy: "any attempt to create a utopian heaven on earth through the instrument of some politician and/or political means is an effort in futility." Its very impossibly evokes the totalitarian regime, since total power is required in order to make the impossible possible. Which is of course impossible nonetheless, but they never stop trying.

Back to Solway:

One cannot validly compare the imperfect social and political structures of the past and present with a utopian construction that has never come to pass and which exists only in myth, dream and mere desire.... To strive, for example, to build an ideal society in which “equality of results” or “outcomes” -- what is called “social justice” -- is guaranteed can only produce a levelled-down caricature of human struggle and accomplishment.

Now, all of this reverts back to our original subject, i.e., the Prerogatives of the Human State. For the left, these prerogatives are never enough. Rather, presumptuous progressives prefer the prerogatives of the divine state, which is to say, they wish to be as gods.

Unlike animals, humans can know the Absolute. They just can't be the Absolute. It's like what we frequently hear of the left: all they have to do is not be crazy, and they can't manage that. Likewise, all they have to do is not pretend to be God. But then they wouldn't be socialists.


“The Kingdom of God” is not the Christian name for a futuristic paradise.

Even if he managed to make his most audacious utopias a reality, man would continue to yearn for otherworldly destinies.

An “ideal society” would be the graveyard of human greatness.

In every utopian sleeps a police sergeant (Dávila).

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