Friday, August 03, 2018

Spheresville, DaddiO

Man today does not live in space and in time. But in geometry and chronometers. --Dávila

Quality is reduced to quantity, placing man behind bars of math and physics. Then, like a frog at the bottom of a dark well of tenure, we can never perceive where we are actually situated in the wider context of things.

One popular way to discover where we are in the world -- meaning existence itself -- is to consult our desire. It's far from the best way, but at least you know where you stand: relative to what you want.

In our consumer culture, it seems that many people unreflectively order their lives in this way. I probably sound like a 50s beatnik, but it's true that this kind of shallow materialism gets you nowhere, since it involves one relativity in relation to another, and then one acquisition followed by another until death do you depart. Squaresville.

However, not always. Desire is situated on a vertical scale, and some desires are closer to the absolute than others -- for example, a desire for aesthetic beauty. As Schuon describes it, "Human will is, virtually and vocationally, the tendency toward the absolute Good." And "secondary goods, whether they be necessary or simply useful, are determined indirectly by the choice of the supreme Good." It's a matter of putting things in order.

The will cannot determine the good, only pursue what the intellect and/or sentiment have placed before it. Whereas the intellect is ordered to (ultimately) absolute truth, the sentiment is ultimately "love of the Sovereign Beauty and of its reverberations in the world and in ourselves."

Now we begin to see how the soul is oriented in the immaterial spacetime mentioned in yesterday's post: in this space, truth and beauty are vertical dimensions.

In the novella Flatland, its citizens inhabit a two dimensional world, such that the third dimension becomes a source of mystery and wonder for some, irritation and threat for others -- for example, seeing a point transform into a circle, then back to a point before disappearing. This must mean that something like a sphere exists and moves in a higher dimensional space, even though inhabitants don't have direct access to this space per se.

It's the same here in our world, only constantly. That is, we are routinely visited by angelic presences and specters from nonlocal dimensions. Like a Flatlander who denies the existence of spheres, we can always insist that this world alone is a sufficient explanation for everything that goes on in it. What is a materialist but a man who claims there's no such place as Spheresville? And what is a mystic but a man who has been there?

Once returned to Flatland, the [mystical] Square cannot convince anyone of Spaceland's existence, especially after official decrees are announced that anyone preaching the existence of three dimensions will be imprisoned (or executed, depending on caste).

Eventually the Square himself is imprisoned for just this reason, with only occasional contact with his brother who is imprisoned in the same facility. He does not manage to convince his brother, even after all they have both seen. Seven years after being imprisoned, A Square writes out the book Flatland in the form of a memoir, hoping to keep it as posterity for a future generation that can see beyond their two-dimensional existence (Prof. Wiki).

Huh. A prophet is without honor in his own dimension.

Continuing for the moment with Schuon, he mentions that piety "is essentially the sense of the sacred, of the transcendent, of profundity." In other words, the sense of piety is a real sense that senses real things, only in vertical space. This is what the Square would say about Spaceland: no, it is not some kind of an illusion or escape from reality, but an actual place.

Reducing Spaceland to Flatland is exactly like reducing transcendence to immanence; and with it, absolute to relative, truth to opinion, beauty to accident, mind to matter. It is to put a lid on the spirit, so as to bar it from contact with its own source and sufficient reason. In other words, in this scenario, the soul is not permitted to know where it came from and where it is going, i.e., its origin and destiny, ground and telos.

"My kingdom is not of this world." To the gallows!

A little threatened?

All wars are about territory. Our present culture war is no exception, except that it involves vertical territory. True, you could say it involves horizontal territory in the sense that, for example, the left wants to overrun the country by an invasion of illegal immigrants.

But this is not really the case, or the underlying motivation. The left doesn't care about illegal immigrants -- or any other human beings, for that matter -- except insofar as they are illegal Democrats. They would have built a wall long ago if our shores were being invaded by illegal conservatives.

The point is, the illegals are just a proxy for the conquest of a vertical psycho-political, cultural space. Otherwise immigrants are as useless to the left as anyone else.

As piety is a spontaneous sense of transcendence -- of height, depth, and sanctity -- humility is spontaneous awareness "of our metaphysical nothingness." Not nothingness relative to itself, which would simply be nihilism. Rather, nothingness relative to God.

In other words, to sense God is to be aware of our own relative nothingness. Who wouldn't be humble in the face of such a perception? It's really just another name for sanity. What's the alternative?

There are alternatives, and not just a crude denial of Spheresville. You don't have to just become the village ideologue or materialist. For example, as the Aphorist says, Man inflates his emptiness in order to challenge God. Like how an animal can make itself look larger in the face of a threat.

However, notice that when the animal does this, it is because it perceives a real potential threat. Likewise the atheist. Which is why Eckhart cracked that he who blasphemes praises God. Just so, what more proof do you need of God than the existence of atheists?

As to our sense of Spheresville, a few aphorisms (emphases mine):

Faith is not an irrational assent to a proposition; it is a perception of a special order of realities.

Aesthetics is the sensible and secular manifestation of grace.

From an aesthetic experience one returns as from a sighting of numinous footprints.

Every work of art speaks to us of God. No matter what it says.

The thirst for the great, the noble and the beautiful is an appetite for God that is ignored.

Nevertheless, the Creator made us free, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. Thus,

Each one sees in the world only what he deserves to see.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Losing Our Religion and Finding Our Antichrist

I want to go back to the question of exactly -- exactly! -- where we are. In order to answer the question, we have to posit an immaterial space and an atemporal time. This is because there can be no merely scientific answer to the question. To be sure, science can answer the question in a multitude of ways, but any answer it furnishes will only satisfy the incurious, the credulous, the tenured.

The best science can do is to say that we exist in relation to a primordial event that occurred 13.7 billions years ago, AKA the Big Bang. For science, this must be the absolute, the origin, the center, the source of all existence.

But it's really just a vastly diminished placeholder for God. It is unthinkingly given all the attributes of God, in that from it springs everything from life to mind to truth, beauty, love -- the whole existentialada.

I can't even get this fable past my son. Or perhaps I should say "especially" my son, because a child's mind will not be as easily pacified by such totally implausible answers.

For example, if the truth of the Big Bang is relative to the Big Bang, then it can't really be true. Rather, if it is true, then it somehow transcends the Big Bang, since truth is not a material thing. The Big Bang is supposed to be our ultimate container. If so, it cannot be contained by anything else. And yet, we contain it in our abstract conception of it. As the old gag goes, the soul is not in the cosmos, but vice versa. It's how knowledge is possible.

No, there is can be no purely material explanation for man. Yes, we are surely relative to something absolute, but it can't be the Big Bang. It can't be the laws of physics, or natural selection, or, for that matter, race, class, gender, or any other political pseudo-absolute.

In his Book of Absolutes, Gairdener writes of how

citizens of the Western world have been uncritically subjected in the media, the public square, and the classroom to the disturbing idea that there is no permanent truth in human life or in the material world and that the meaning of something can therefore be found only relative to something else. For most of us, this has become the only indisputable truth of modern times, and we announce it from a higher moral ground as a badge of our open-mindedness.

Even though this must be the last word in closed-mindedness. It is the ultimate foreclosure, since it forecloses the Ultimate. "Ironically" -- I would say "inevitably" -- "relativism has become our only absolute." But "absolute relativity" is strictly impossible; it simply cannot be. It is a self-negating contradiction in terms.

According to the perennial philosophy -- or my version of it, anyway -- a thing only exists to the extent that it participates in Being. Every existent has a thatness and a whatness, the former going to substance, the latter to essence. As mentioned the other day, there are things that have essence but no existence, say, a unicorn, or a successful socialist country. Just as to exist is to partake of being, I would say that to be relative is to partake of absoluteness.

Again, we have to imagine another type of spacetime that is actually much more fundamental than the spacetime of mere physics. Indeed, I would say that the latter is a kind of shadow or echo of the former -- which is one reason why it is so silly to maintain that time only begins with the Big Bang.

As existence is rooted in being, time is rooted in the atemporal -- which is not timelessness per se, but a different order of time. There is still time in heaven, but it is more analogous to dream time; it is a more fulsome and multifarious time, the "hypertime" from which time is a declension. Herebelow, time cannot give without taking away. In the next (vertically adjacent) world, it only gives, since there can be no privation in God.

I think this goes to the question of "paradise" and of the fall and exile therefrom. Apparently there was -- is -- no privation in Eden. Rather, privation results from a kind of descent. Obviously this descent is not in physical space, but it is nevertheless a kind of vertical plunge. But how? From what? Into what? And can we stop it? Or is resistance to the resistance futile?

This descent must somehow be "away from" the source, the real Absolute. Now, man is always condemned to transcendence, which is another way of saying he is vertically free. Problem is, he is repeatedly seduced by what amounts to a transcendence from below (the sssnake being a perfectly adequate sssymbol of horizontality and below-ness).

Call it sss-sin if you like, but this is a much more systematic plunge than just this or that naughty choice. Leftism, with its iconoclastic destruction of standards and absolutes, is a perpetual transcendence from below, which is why yesterday's liberal is today's fascist.

Secularism in all its forms is an attempt at liberation and wholeness from below. Which of course is impossible. It can never be more than a pseudo-compensation on a lower plane for the loss of the higher. Schuon describes the situation:

Once Heaven was closed and man in effect installed in God's place, the objective measures of things were lost, virtually or actually; they have been replaced by subjective measures, purely human and conjectural pseudo-measures, and thus man has become involved in a movement that cannot be halted, since in the absence of celestial and stable measures there is no longer any reason for it to be halted, so that in the end a stage is reached at which human measures are replaced by infra-human measures until the very idea of truth is abolished.

Aaaand here we are. As mentioned a few posts back, the plague of "fake news" is just a symptom of a much more systematic fakery. For you can't really eliminate God; rather, you just replace him with a fake, and the most destructive faker of all is man. Don't believe me. Believe Dávila:

Not only is humanity the only totally false god, but The Antichrist is probably Man.

So, He who does not believe in God can at least have the decency of not believing in himself.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The Crisis of High Self-Esteem

Hmm. I suppose the problem with so few comments is that I no longer have a sense of my audience. Or perhaps even "audience." The absence of feedback breeds a sense of isolation. Or, one can't help interpreting the seeming indifference as a form of feedback. As in silence, the deafening kind.

Suppose you're on stage and pour your heart into a performance. You stare out into the darkness and can't hear any reaction. No one cheers. No one boos. Rather, just silence. One such experience would be a little strange, but repeated ones would start to get eery. And why is this guy up on stage? Is he delusional? Or just pathetic?

I can picture a Twilight Zone episode along these lines. The houselights dim at the commencement of the performance. After increasingly desperate attempts to get a reaction from the audience, our protagonist runs over to the control panel and frantically switches on the lights. He looks out and sees... an audience full of grinning skeletons. The joke's on him.

Am I complaining? Nah. Just wondering. Just typing the first thing that pops into the head, like any other morning.

An added concern is the uniqueness of the blog. Out of the millions of other blogs out there, I feel I am justified in suspecting that there is no other like it. But uniqueness cuts both ways, especially for someone who isn't particularly self-confident. If we are different from the crowd and people don't respond, the default human reaction is to ask What's wrong with me?

In fact, one thing that persistently amazes me about this world is the number of people with far more self-confidence than I will ever have, but with so little reason. Let me be clear: I'm not complaining about low-self esteem. Rather, I think my estimation of myself is pretty objective. What I don't understand is why most everyone in public life seems so lacking in this objectivity.

One could cite thousands of examples from politics, the media, entertainment, and academia, but why, for example, is this Ocasio-Cortez person so preternaturally confident? Why is she not dying of shame? I wouldn't be able to leave the house.

Really, it's just another example of our national crisis of self-esteem. There is waaaaay too much of it. Which is by no means an argument for low self-esteem. Rather, for accurate, which is to say, objective self-esteem. Everyone is precious, but few are special.

Let's say you are a musician, of which there are millions in the world. How many of these are actually special? Certainly fewer than one percent.

Everyone and every skill is distributed along a Bell Curve. If I remember my statistics class correctly, in a normally distributed Bell Curve -- say, vis-a-vis IQ -- 68% of the population will fall one standard deviation above or below the mean, and 95% will be within two standard deviations. 2% are significantly above average (three deviations), while only .1% are waaaay above average (four).

If you are in that .1%, you are entitled to call yourself special. But only in the particular skill being measured! For example, Einstein was no doubt among the .1% in math and physics. What about politics? In that case, he is among the 99.9%.

Labron James? .1% in basketball. Everything else? 99.99.

As you may have noticed from the sidebar, I read a lot of books about musicians and the music industry. I love reading about .1% musicians and their creative process.

But I am also struck at how there seems to be a kind of cosmic compensation at work, such that these musical geniuses and visionaries are not only average in other areas, but often totally dysfunctional. If they weren't great musicians, most would be dead or in prison. It's hard to imagine, for example, Miles Davis, functioning in any other context but music.

We've blogged about this subject in the past. The so-called "self-esteem movement" got underway in the 1970s, and was one of the first signs of the rot that would eventually pervade the discipline of psychology. Note that this movement is an exact inverted image not only of our venerable "wisdom tradition," but every wisdom tradition since man has been man.

"Humility" is not just a spiritual imperative, but a quality of sanity -- of objectivity toward oneself. In other words, if one is honest with oneself, one will naturally be humble. After all, you know all your secrets, so you, more than anyone else, have reason to be humble.

We have a right to feel good about ourselves, so long as we aren't fooling ourselves. But man has no right to ever-estimate himself, because this is a doorway to horror. Our bloodiest century -- that would be #20 -- resulted from the absurdly high self-esteem of a handful of people -- Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, et al.

My son has lately developed an interest in World War II, so the other night I re-watched Saving Private Ryan with him. One comes away from the film with a sense of humility and gratitude toward those who sacrificed for a country that has given us so much. At the end, the elderly Ryan speaks for us when he says to his wife, "tell me I've lived a good life... Tell me I'm a good man!"

Conversely, imagine an Obama -- a malignant narcissist with delusional self-esteem -- who wonders instead why the country doesn't measure up to him.

Well, what have we learned this morning? I don't know. I suppose that with so little feedback, this blog will become more of an idiosyncratic, circumnavelgazing diary. I'm still on stage, performing as usual. But with just me in the audience. Boooooooooo!

Monday, July 30, 2018

When Reality is Against the Law

If reality is outlawed, then only outlaws will be in touch with it. Sounds like a gag, but that thought occurred to me repeatedly while reading the excellent When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. In general I try to fight my nature and be as pessimistic as possible, but this book shows that I have room for improvement on that score.

Let's begin with a wide angle view: if we don't inhabit a common reality, then... then what? It seems to me that both a culture and a nation are rooted in the idea of a common reality -- especially the former, which is prior to the nation. Ideally a nation should share a common culture, but this is obviously not always the case.

Prior to the emergence of the modern nation state, we had empires. Empires ruled over a multitude of peoples with different conceptions of reality. They didn't particularly care what one believed, so long as one didn't threaten the authority of the state. Think of the Jews vis-a-vis the Roman Empire. They were given fairly wide latitude to live in their own reality so long as that reality was subordinate to the reality of Rome.

"Ironic" that the Author of history is a victim of history for precisely violating this principle -- for "stirring up the people" with talk of a kingdom beyond the authority of Caesar. As a result, Reality was essentially crucified by appearances. But you can't get rid of reality that easily. On the one hand,

As long as they do not take him seriously, the man who speaks the truth can live for a while in a democracy. Then, the hemlock.

But lucky for us,

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

More to the point, The truth does not share the defeat of its defenders. Woo hoo!

Here we see that Truth is in history, but history is not truth (Dávila x 4). Again, history crucifies Truth. Repeatedly. But Truth somehow survives. Like a resurrection or something.

Anyway, back to the main thread: most nation states are historical contingencies sprinkled with a bit of necessity. The United States was founded along opposite lines: it is expressly rooted in metaphysical necessity, AKA self-evident truths. While the US obviously has a history, its history should be a kind of temporal unfolding of its timeless first principles: an expanding empire of liberty.

For example, the civil rights movement -- back when it actually promoted civil rights -- was animated by those first principles lodged in the Declaration of Independence. Today it is rooted in the explicit denial of those same principles. How did -- does -- this happen?

It essentially happens because of complacency. For example, if crime were eliminated for a few generations, people would eventually stop locking their doors and arming themselves. Before long, criminals would thrive, and people would wonder and debate about the reasons why.

Back in 1972, President Nixon signed into law an innocuous piece of legislation called Title IX. All it said was that no US citizen "shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal assistance." Nothing in there violates our first principles, because there's nothing in the Constitution suggesting that the federal government should privilege one sex over the other.

But that was back when sex meant sex, and there were two of them. In the meantime, activists have decided that sex means gender, and there are 56 (and counting) of them. Those of us who live in the real world of the plain meaning of the law are now outlaws. Literally.

Everything changed in 2016, when the Obama administration arbitrarily decided that "sex" actually meant "gender." Therefore, Title IX entailed new crimes and regulations that no one had envisioned in 1972 -- back in pre-post-biological days, when there were two sexes.

Based upon the Obama administration's redefinition of sex -- and it's only logical, once you accept the insane premise -- health insurance polices were naturally forced to cover sex-change procedures, from hormone supplementation to body dismemberment. The military too was forced to submit to unreality. Likewise Medicare, sex-specific emergency centers, school bathrooms. "We are collaborating with madness," said psychiatrist Dr. Paul McHugh, "rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it."

Well, it depends on what one means by "madness." Isn't one man's madness just another man's preference? In a way, yes. That is, on a purely political basis, if one is a libertarian, then it costs us nothing if our neighbor wishes to mutilate himself at his own expense. But the idea that I should be forced at gunpoint to pay for the mutilation is another matter entirely.

And on a psychological basis, there actually is -- or used to be -- such a thing as madness. As recently as the 1980s, when I was in graduate school, craziness was still a thing. But that was before the crazies took over the discipline. Now, "As of May 2017, eight states had enacted laws" that bar health-care professionals "from employing practices aimed at changing the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors..."

Now interestingly, the way I was trained, you never try to change anyone per se, whether the patient thinks he's a martian or a member of the opposite sex. Rather, you try to help the patient understand the reasons why he imagines something to be the case. Note that you don't need to search for reasons why someone believes something that is the case.

For example, no one needs to undergo psychoanalysis to uncover the "real" reason why he believes in gravity, or the law of non-contradiction, or that his gender just so happens to match his sex.

But "why" is the most dangerous and subversive -- but liberating -- question humans can ask, so no wonder the left always and everywhere tries to restrict or ban it. To be continued....

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