Friday, August 31, 2018

Transformations of Religious Invariants, Part 1

It is not so much that men change their ideas, as that the ideas change their disguises. In the discourse of the centuries, the same voices are in dialogue. --Dávila

It seems to me that there are certain religious principles and archetypes that are not only timeless and universal, but that man cannot avoid using in order to think and make his way through the world. After all, man is man, and for 99.9% of his existence he has been Homo religiosus, not Homo pomo.

You might say that our being is saturated with these things, such that we can no more rid ourselves of them than a fish could live on dry land. They are essential, not accidental, meaning that they go to what we are. Remove them and we are not -- not human beings, anyway. Then what are we? What do we become? Good question. (Hint: it involves nothing.)

Raccoons are familiar with the distinction between essence and accident, so I'll be brief: the essence of, say, a ball, is to be spherical. You can paint it red, white, or blue, but those are accidents. So long is it remains round, then it is still a ball. Shape it into a square, however, and it has lost its essence and is now something else.

So, what is man, essentially? What are those attributes without which he isn't one? Of course, in the postmodern world this is a pointless question; or rather, there are no essences, precisely. Therefore, to ask about the essence of man is analogous to asking about the sound of geometry or shape of justice.

At any rate, we're particularly interested in certain unavoidable religious motifs that are as universal as principles of logic, such as identity and non-contradiction. Off the top of my head I'm thinking of such things as grace, fallenness, purity, sacrifice, center, origin, faith, sin, redemption, salvation, evil, and paradise. I'm sure there are others.

No matter how "materialistic" we pretend to be, our minds are nevertheless woven of transcendence and immanence: everything is a tapestry of matter and spirit. The Aphorist, as usual, puts it best: The natural and the supernatural are not overlapping planes, but intertwined threads.

Let's take, for example, Marx. I'm hardly the first to point out that his whole program is just Christianity turned upside-down and inside-out. Muravchik writes of how Marxism's "claim of inevitability was not an intellectual weapon but a religious one" that may be traced to "Engels' boyhood faith of Pietism, which embodied a doctrine of predestination."

Nor was this the only way that socialism echoed revelation. It linked mankind's salvation to a downtrodden class, combining the Old Testament's notion of a chosen people with the New Testament's prophecy that the meek shall inherit the earth. Like the Bible, its historical narrative was a tale of redemption that divided time into three epochs: a distant past of primitive contentment, a present of suffering and struggle, and a future of harmony and bliss.

Let's be honest: there is no intellectual content to communism or socialism. So, what's the attraction? In a way, you have only to listen to most anything that comes out of the mouth of, say, St. Alexandria of the Occluded Cortex. If it were as easy and as wonderful as she describes, who wouldn't be attracted?

Not many people became socialists because they were persuaded by the correctness of Marxist economics or supposed the movement served their "class interests." They became socialists because they were moved to fervor by the call to brotherhood and sisterhood; because the world seemed aglow with the vision of a time in which humanity might live in justice and peace (ibid.).

So, that's the appeal, and it's not insignificant. This is a problem with politics in general, especially in a democracy; or, in a poorly catechized democracy in which citizens... Put it this way: at least half of Americans are poorly catechized in both religion and in our constitutional republic, and are therefore extremely vulnerable to conflating politics and religion.

After all, what was Obama? You couldn't have invented a more perfect example of what I'm talking about. He is intellectually negligible, but this has nothing to do with the power he wielded over his voter-ies.

The other day I made the mistake of dismissing Obama's intelligence in the course of a conversation with a liberal friend, and he immediately accused me of racism! I don't know why I added the "!", because that makes it sound unusual or unpredictable, when it is an expectable reaction to heresy, blasphemy, and sacrilege. Again, the reaction has nothing to do with insulting Obama's intelligence, but with desecrating a religious icon.

So, most of what we regard as "political" revolves around transformations of religious ideas. I'm reminded of a book by Bion called Transformations. It must have popped into my head for a reason, so let's drag it down and find out if it has anything to add to our discussion.

Ah! Good news from one of the amazon reviewers: "I have assiduously worked through a large part of Bion's work. There is genius behind apparent madness in his thinking." I can only hope to earn such an extravagant encomium for my toils on this blog!

I probably haven't cracked this book in 30 years. I'm blowing the dust off the top, just like in the movies. There are some urgent notes to myself that I don't quite understand, but I do recall this passage:

Suppose a painter sees a path through a field sown with poppies and paints it: at one end of the chain of events is the field of poppies, at the other a canvas with pigment disposed on its surface. We can recognize that the latter represents the former, so I shall suppose that despite the differences between a field of poppies and a piece of canvas, despite the transformation that the artist has effected in what he saw to make it take the form of a picture, something has remained unaltered and on this something recognition depends. The elements that go to make up the unaltered aspect of the transformation I shall call invariants.

Small idea, big implications. Think of the example of Marx above. In his "painting" of socialism, it is easy to see the transformations of Judeo-Christian invariants. And more to the point of this post -- which is rapidly running out of time -- there are certain religious invariants that man simply cannot avoid, such that we see their transformations everywhere.

We'll conclude with this observation by Muravchik: "Thus, part of the power of Marxism was its ability to feed religious hunger while flattering the sense of being wiser than those who gave themselves over to unearthly faiths."

Come for the covert religiosity, stay for the superiority!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Generic Rant on What's Wrong with the World

The cause of the modern sickness is the conviction that man can cure himself.

The conservative is a simple pathologist. He defines sickness and health. But God is the only therapist. --Dávila

"At the beginning of this century," writes Schuon (referring to the 20th), "hardly anyone knew that the world is ill" (emphasis mine because it always is, more or less). Indeed, the half century or so prior to World War I was probably Peak Progress in terms of a quasi-religious outlook shared by most people in the developed world.

In the words of the Aphorist, Two hundred years ago it was permissible to trust in the future without being totally stupid. A big reason one has to be totally stupid to be a progressive today is that this -- the world we are living in -- is the splendid future brought to us courtesy of previous progressives -- the New Deal, the Great Society, the Obama Change, etc. The bill adds up.

Consider just someone unfortunate enough to be living in Chicago, whose last Republican mayor was elected in 1927. The forty or fifty or sixty people who are shot there every weekend can take solace in the fact that they are living the dream -- the progressive dream brought to fruition by 87 years of Democrat rule.

The left never expresses any appreciation for the world it has created (or unleashed upon us). Instead, we only hear more complaints. The complaints are valid, in the sense that there is indeed something wrong with the world. It's just that the left goes about it in a way that is backwards and upside down. In other words, they confuse symptoms with causes, and treatment with the disease.

By the way, how do we know there is something wrong with the world? Easy. All you need to do is know yourself to know the source of the trouble. D'oh! Which excludes the left, being that it is characterized by a lack of self-awareness, which in turn fuels what we in the psychology racket call "acting out" (and to which they apply the euphemism "activist"; most activists simply transform and externalize personal conflicts into political ones).

Everyone on the left knows the world is ill, except they have a secular explanation -- patriarchy, white privilege, homophobia, "structural racism," the greed of the "one percent," etc. It never occurs to them that our problems might be a consequence of human nature, and that to simply put left wing humans in positions of power solves nothing (see the Congressional Black Caucus for details).

The moral inversion of the left is interesting, in that it incoherently combines a passionate amorality with a punitive moralism. As Bork writes, "While defining deviancy down with respect to crime, illegitimacy, drug use, and the like, our cultural elites are growing intensely moralistic and disapproving about what had always been thought normal behavior..."

Thus, they combine an absence of judgment with unhinged judgmentalism -- or outward tolerance with an inward intolerance that we call totolerantarianism. Our universities are quintessentially totolerantarian, an absurd miasma of no standards and punitive ones.

The upshot is a paradoxical upward and downward redefinition of norms. Which is an inversion of the Christian tradition of tolerance, which is to condemn the sin and not the sinner. With this latter approach, we can preserve our norm while being merciful to the person who violates it. But for the left, it is as if there are no absolutes, and woe to the person who transgresses one!

"[B]ehavior until recently thought quite normal, unremarkable, or even benign, is now identified as blameworthy or even criminal." For example, here in California, if a minor comes to me distressed and conflicted by his homosexual impulses, I am forbidden by law to help him understand them (and if the law doesn't yet apply to adults, it soon will).

When I was in graduate school in the 1980s, it was simply taken for granted that homosexuality, like anything else, had unconscious causes, nor have I had any clinical experiences since then that would cause me to reject that premise. And yet, with no debate, common sense has been outlawed.

Here's an example from a heavyweight thinker we studied back in grad school, Otto Kernberg. Thirty years ago it was permissible -- or even blasé -- to write the following:

By far the large majority of patients encountered who present casual homosexual behavior or a bisexual orientation belong to the borderline spectrum of pathology.... Put simply, we just do not find, except very rarely, male homosexuality without significant character pathology.

Note that such ideas were never disproven, not even argued against. Rather, overnight, as it were, they were simply dismissed. Now I suppose it would be labeled hate, even though he's relying on clinical experience and observation -- not to mention trying to help the patient who is in pain and conflict.

The other day I read a piece on Karl Marx's 200th birthday. Consistent with what was said above about the combination of poor judgment and harsh judmentalism, the author describes how Marx threw together a little pseudo-science and a lot of moral indignation in order to forge a "vision of a post-historical and post-political order without contradictions or conflict, one that would achieve unprecedented prosperity and a new horizon marked by 'human emancipation.'”

Again, this is what progressives have been doing in America for over a hundred years, ever since Wilson in particular. It's just that the program was repeatedly disrupted by war and depression, such that it couldn't begin to proceed unimpeded on a mass scale until the 1960s. In fact, you can easily see the roots of this in the 1950s -- of the passionate mixture of moral indignation + human emancipation.

I know, because I used to love all that stuff, from Kerouac and Ginsberg and the Beats, to Timothy Leary and Ram Dass, and on to more popularized forms of liberation that trickled into mass culture by the latter half of the 1960s, i.e., the New Age. By the time I was in college in the 1970s, hardly a norm had been left standing.

But again, while the movement comes clothed in promises of liberation, it is really about hatred, contempt, and vilification: The revolutionary does not hate because he loves but loves because he hates (Dávila). Thus,

Marx hated the world as it was. His goal was "revolution" -- not merely political revolution or "political emancipation," but a wholesale change in the order of things: the aforementioned "human emancipation."

Which would amount to what? Well, for starters it would amount to liberation from humanness. Which, conveniently, is not a problem for Marxism, since it denies human nature up front. Therefore, there is "no human nature or 'natural order of things' that needed to be respected even as one worked to promote humane and salutary change." So, in eliminating human nature, nothing has been lost but a restrictive fantasy.

Of course, in order to eliminate human nature once and for all, you'll have to eliminate a lot of humans, but that's just a matter of persistence and logistics -- of sticking to your principles despite the body count. Look at Venezuela: they won't allow reality to impinge upon Liberation. Just like the master himself, who

was not an advocate of reform, however radical. He did not work for “social justice” like a good humanitarian. Instead, he advocated something like “metaphysical rebellion” against the human condition. His humanism -- and historicism -- were distinctively inhumane and entailed something like a “gnostic” revolt against reality.

Next time you hear the promises of a leftist politician, notice how Evil promises what it cannot deliver, whereas Good delivers what it does not know how to promise (Dávila).

And remember too that The sewers of history sometimes overflow, as in our time (ibid.).