Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Person, Ground, and Center

For the last several weeks we've been stalking several subjects that appear to be implicitly related, otherwise we wouldn't be circling them. In other words, it isn't so much that we are circling them as they are drawing us toward them, and that they in turn cohere around their own center.

Think of stumbling upon a series of seemingly independent planets that are actually in the orbit of one central star. Is there a star witness somewhere who can tie up our loose ends?

The fact that we keep flitting from topic to topic -- along with the discontinuous nature of the flight (which is a little like trying to resume a dream the following night) -- may obscure the fact that we have indeed been orbiting around a center and trying to zero in on it. It's just that this center is what is called a strange attractor, in fact, the strangest of all attractors, specifically, O.

In other words, I'm sure I have a point, or rather, that the point has me (in its orbit). The wiki article includes a helpful image of a strange attractor, which looks something like this (although each one is necessarily unique, which suggests to me that each individual human person is none other than a strange attractor):

As you can see, it's a little like a roller coaster in hyperspace. Which is a good metaphor for life.

You may recall that this strange and complex thread began with Brendan Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution, but eventually homed in on Eric Voegelin, beginning with his Hitler and the Germans. After that I leapt with both feet into Voegelin's oceanic corpus, where many men have drowned. It seems that all he ever did was think and write, and no thought was left unwritten.

He also changed his mind in fundamental ways that affect all his previous work, so it's not as if you can just grab one piece out of context and run with it. Rather, it's more like the Bible, in which one must have a view of the whole in order to comprehend the particulars. Just last week I heard someone mention that the Bible is "hermeneutically asymmetrical," meaning that the relation of the NT to the OT is not reversible, in that the former fully illuminates the latter, whereas the OT can only imperfectly hint at and grope toward its fulfillment in the NT (for Christians, of course; no offense to our Jewish friends).

And the Whole is precisely what we are dealing with in this thread (indeed, this blog), which is to say Cosmos and Man, or Macrocosm and Microcosm, or Time and Eternity, or ultimately -- to express it in a completely unsaturated manner -- O and ʘ. This latter equation is irreducible to anything less, because there is always man and ground, however one formulates it.

As mentioned in the book, the cosmos is either absurd or it is not absurd. Indeed, we can begin with a kind of flow chart, with that question at the top.

But if you deicide at the outset that the cosmos is absurd, then you may stop. Game over. Philosophy is not possible. Thinking is a waste of time because reality is unknowable. The cosmos -- and Darwin -- is finished with you, assuming you have passed your genes on to the next absurd generation. Or not, depending upon your fitness for genetic duty.

However, if the cosmos is not absurd, then this is where things get interesting, for we are thrust into the strange attractor referenced above. If I grasp Voegelin rightly, it was his purpose to actually describe this attractor in as much detail as humanly possible. He called the attractor order, hence the title of what many people feel to be his magnum opus, the five volume Order and History.

Now, bear in mind that exhaustively describing this order -- i.e., containing it -- is precisely what man may never do, since this transcendent order contains us.

But man doesn't like this idea, and has had difficulty swallowing it ever since Genesis. There we learn that this transcendent order is All Good, so long as man subordinates himself to it and doesn't try to concrockt his own.

Thus the birth of ideology, which is always wrong, only more or less demonically so. An ideology is any system of thought that superimposes a second reality on the first, which has the practical effect of severing man from the ground in more or less coercive or violent ways. Ideology ends in the murder of man -- man as such -- either physically or spiritually (and usually both).

One important point of, er, order. It is quite clear that man's lust for ideology is, or might as well be, intrinsic -- as if we are all infected with Adam's primordial mind parasite. Thus, there is nothing that cannot be "ideologized," including the very cures for ideology, e.g., Christianity or American (not European) style conservatism.

A useful point of entry into Voegelin is his Science, Politics, and Gnosticism. One reason it is so helpful is that in it he recovers a certain transtemporal unity of man, in tracing the modern ideologies -- e.g., scientism, positivism, Marxism, fascism, socialism (but I threepeat myself), etc. -- all the way back to antiquity.

And "prior" (ontologically or vertically) to antiquity is mythology. Myth occurs at the horizon of history, and tells us vital things about our deep structure that cannot be recovered through the historical method. Again, Genesis would be a prime example.

If we are aware and respectful of the cosmic order, then it is a kind of unknowculation against ideology. Properly speaking, Christianity, for example, should not be an ideology, but rather, a ground-level encounter between persons. "Dogmatic order" is obviously important, but is posterior to the Person (or Relation of Persons) and all it implies.

Nor should conservatism ever be reduced to an ideology; rather, it should simply be a healthy respect for the Nature of Things, whether human, societal, economic, political, spiritual, or any other mode. The point is, reality always comes first, not the ideology. Which is why Voegelin concluded that the "essence of modernity is gnosticism."

We'll leave off with some aphorisms that circle the same Attractor, i.e., Person-Ground-Center:

Conservatism should not be a political party but the normal attitude of every decent man.

Loyalty to a doctrine ends up in adherence to the interpretation we give it. Only loyalty to a person frees us from all the indulgence we grant ourselves.

For the Christian, history does not have a direction, but rather a center.

For God there are only individuals (NGD).

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Triumph of Love Over Contingency

Recall our pithy formula from the previous post: the human vocation is to become in fact what we are in principle.

Obviously, for man as we find him, there is a gap between Fact and Principle, or what he is and what he ought to be. The former is the shadow-world of contingency, at the extremes of which we cross from twilight to darkness, into the netherworld of frank pathology, both psycho- and pneumo-.

As mentioned later in the post with regard to psychopathology in general and mind parasites in particular, "the creature seeks out its creator, only in this case, it is a strange demigod of the nursery, i.e., an exteriorized and projected mind parasite." Which is why some people are attracted to, and compulsively seek out, what is bad for them. And why your mind parasites are just as clever and crafty as you are, except they are all serpent and no dove.

You might say that a mind parasite is a crystalized center of contingency, or a kind of distant echo of the actual Center. It is the very "essence" of a false god, and the realm of idolatry more generally.

I hope this doesn't sound too abstract, because it is actually quite experience-near. It was lucidly confessed by Augustine back in the day, with his many wise cracks about knowing the good and yet willing something less, up to and including evil:

"We sin from two causes: either from not seeing what we ought to do, or else from not doing what we have already seen we ought to do. Of these two, the first is ignorance of the evil; the second, weakness." And to paraphrase Homer's Idiossey, my one weakness is that I'm weak!

There is also willfulness, which is consciously choosing an action we know to be wrong. It seems to me that this is worse than ignorance and weakness, because it is the presence of a negative, not just the absence or privation of a good.

Or in other words, there is free will, on one side of which is weakness, the other willfulness. And yet, willfulness is a weakness, isn't it? Or, weakness masquerading as strength. I've known a few of those types in my day.

Again: this all has to do with our contingency, which is mingled, so to speak, with absoluteness. In the book, I used a couple of symbols to demarcate this situation. You might say that (•) is that part of us which primarily partakes of, and is oriented toward, contingency, whereas (¶) is that part which partakes of, and is oriented toward, the Absolute; the former is primarily horizontal, the latter vertical.

Thus, as Schuon writes, the human subject "seeks both the contingent and the Absolute; both the finite and the Infinite...." Furthermore, he "seeks the contingent because [he] is [him]self contingent, and to the extent that [he] is so" (emphasis mine).

In other words, the contingency in us seeks the contingent which fathered it, which is only natural. Obviously, this is a self-perpetuating cycle, which is precisely why the most frivolous among us are so frivolous, and becoming more so all the time. They wouldn't know absoluteness if it struck them in the nous, AKA (¶).

Schuon writes that "outwardness is a right, and inwardness a duty." Nevertheless, "the outward is the dimension of accidents [or of forms], the inward, that of substance [or essence]."

So the real duty, it seems to me, is a kind of harmonious balance between the outward and inward, each "inevitable" in its own way. Contingency is always breaking up the substance, just as the substance is always exerting a kind of organizing pull on contingency -- like a planet that is temporarily knocked out of orbit, but then "seeks" its own orbital center of gravity.

If we think of man as composed of intelligence, will, and sentiment, we see that intelligence has a much easier time of it than will. And to the extent that it doesn't, it is because the intelligence has been infiltrated and hijacked by willfulness and passion. Thus, there is willful intelligence and stupid willfulness. But enough about our troll.

Augustine writes that "The mind commands the body and is instantly obeyed. The mind commands itself and meets resistance." Why should this be the case? What keeps intelligence from automatically being... intelligent?

He elaborates without arriving at an answer: "The mind commands the hand to move, and it so easy that one hardly distinguishes the order from its execution. Yet mind is mind and hand is body. The mind orders the mind to will. The recipient of the order is itself, yet it does not perform it.”

The mind commands itself and meets resistance. What is the nature of this resistance?

Well, it depends. If the mind commands me to do an evil, and I resist, this is strength, not willfulness. But to the extent that I know the good and struggle to translate it into action, this would again be a matter of contingencies mucking up the process.

Conversely, "the very perfection of a man" is "to find out his own imperfections" (Augustine). And "without good character -- one that is normal and consequently noble -- intelligence, even if metaphysical, is largely ineffective" (Schuon).

I think we've just identified one of the central pathologies of the left -- that they are not only blind to their imperfections, but celebrate them (and want to force us to celebrate them as well). Timeless aphorisms:

The left is made up of individuals who are dissatisfied with what they have and are satisfied with who they are.

Thus,

Socialism is the philosophy of the guilt of others.

And what constitutes character? For Schuon it is essentially composed of what we will and what we love. Therefore, willing what is wrong and loving what is evil or ugly constitute both the negation of intelligence and the maiming of character.

Contingency -- what Schuon calls dissonances, fluctuations, and enigmas -- is always coming into play, the world being what it is. It doesn't mean we must be conquered by it, for this would elevate contingency to absoluteness. Seems to me that the Arc of Salvation traces the reversal of this nameless dreadmill, to the point of love conquering death (the latter being the last word in contingency).

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The Irreducible We of The Cosmos

The human vocation is to become in fact what we are in principle. Which is another way of expressing the old wise crack of the early Fathers, to the effect that God becomes man that man might become God.

As we've discussed in the past, religion embodies or incarnates certain metaphysical principles -- certain necessary truths -- often clothed in mythopoetic language. Particularly vivid examples of this occur, for example, in Genesis, vis-a-vis the origins of man and cosmos. (I might add that some of the highest truths are not necessary, hence the need for revelation; moreover, God is a person, not a computer program or system of logical entailment, nor is there a formula for the miraculous.)

In Genesis we learn that man is (the present tense is important), among other things, created in the image of God. Man is the last creation of the Creator, but this particular creature is unlike the others, since he partakes of the essence of the Creator in some mysterious way. (Note also that the final cause is the cause of causes; thus, the appearance of man tells us something critical about everything that has come before, and indeed, the reason for the whole He-bang.)

Please note that the text is rather unsaturated -- which is as it should be, so as to facilitate higher thought -- plus we don't yet know all that much about this Creator of whom we are said to be the image. But interestingly, the text goes out of its way to depict God in the plural: Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.

Since anything other than strict monotheism is ruled out -- not only because of the Jewish context but also because there cannot be two ultimate principles -- this seeming plurality cannot imply polytheism.

Rather, it must mean that ultimate reality is not an I but a We; or, more to the point, there can be no I in the absence of the We. This is certainly true of human beings; in fact, we might say that it is quintessentially true, in that an isolated human being, cut off from intimate communion with others, is literally inconceivable.

And we do mean literally. In fact, if you wanted to create a hell and populate it with monsters, that would be the way to do it: to create a bunch of radical monads with no intersubjective links to one another. In that case, sociopathy would be the norm rather than the exception. (The proclamation of our autonomy is the founding act of Hell. --NGD)

To say that man is in the image of the Creator is another way of saying that the manifestation is in the image of the Principle.

That being the case, real knowledge of this particular manifestation -- i.e., man -- should yield knowledge of ultimate reality. Bear in mind that we are not yet referring to any particular intellectual content, but rather, to the mere presence of man as such, to the container.

This is something I attempted to convey in the book -- that if we take a truly disinterested view, man is without question the most astonishing fact of the cosmos. Frankly, nothing else comes close, for whatever else we can think of is obviously being thought of by a human being. The soul is all it knows, and there is nothing in existence that cannot in principle be known by man (for to exist is to be intelligible).

The point is, if a human being is at bottom an irreducible We, then -- if the metaphysics of Genesis is correct -- then ultimate reality -- or whatever you wish to call it -- must also be a We.

Naturally, aphorisms come to mind, for there is more than one for every important occasion, i.e., for every transcendent fact or principle:

God exists for me in the same act in which I exist.

The existence of God is indemonstrable, because with a person the only thing we can do is bump into him.

If we believe in God we should not say, “I believe in God,” but rather, “God believes in me.”

If God were not a person, He would have died some time ago.

For God there are only individuals.

For the Christian, history does not have a direction, but rather a center.

You might say that man is the center of the microcosm, so long as we don't forget that this microcosm is at the periphery of the infinitely larger divine macrocosm. Also, the microcosm is necessarily deployed in time; where the macrocosm is a timeless plenum, it is as if the microcosm is a temporal plenitude. Thus, "History is less the evolution of humanity than the unfolding of facets of human nature" (NGD).

Although the I surely exists, it must be posterior to the We. In fact, you can't really get from the I to the We, not in the human sense of the term. For example, there is no We in a pile of rocks, even though they are "together." Which is probably what Dávila is alluding to when he says Any shared experience ends in a simulacrum of religion: no we no I no God.

And yet, on another level, there is a We in that pile of rocks. We call this We being. Obviously, anything that exists has at the very least this ontological substrate of We-dom, which is again why it is knowable, precisely. Anything that is knowable -- i.e., anything that exists -- possesses, or rather, "radiates," potential knowability to a subject.

Thus, to exist is to exist in and for -- at least in potential -- an Other. Put simply, there is no intelligence in the absence of intelligibility, the latter a kind of "giving over" from inhere to in here.

Our own existence isn't "potentiated," so to speak, unless and until it is seen and confirmed by the Other, or more precisely, the m-other (either real or symbolic, but really always both). We come into being in the infinite space between infantile neurology and this nurturing other. Only after the We is established do we discover the I. Otherwise, it's just not safe to come out.

Of course, results may vary, depending upon the quality of nurturing. For some, the We is so maimed by the exigencies of infancy -- abandonment, neglect, abuse, etc. -- that a secure and stable I fails to emerge, and this enfeebled I compulsively seeks communion in a pathological We (or in an isolated, schizoid I).

Even here -- i.e., in psychopathology -- the creature seeks out its creator, only in this case, it is a strange demigod of the nursery, i.e., an exteriorized and projected mind parasite.

Now, how would one characterize the nature of a healthy We? Well, for starters, we would say that it is imbued with Love. True, but that's insufficient to describe the phenomenology of what occurs. That is to say, there is a "flowing presence" that is somehow generated by the We, and yet, contains its two terms. Love is the act that transforms its object from a thing into a person; it is the organ with which we perceive the unmistakable individuality of beings (NGD).

The "healthy We" is also characterized by knowledge, beauty, and creativity. For example, recall what was said above, about how anything that exists is intelligible "for" a subject. Thus, to know a truth -- any truth -- is to commune with reality in an intimate manner. For you can't get more intimate than reality giving itself to your head in this manner.

Likewise beauty, where the connection is even more obvious and intimate. For to be touched by beauty is, well, to be touched, isn't it?

And creativity clearly results from a happy and productive internal couple working in harmony. Take what I'm doing at the moment. I don't assume you're having the same experience I am, but this thing I'm creating is very much emerging in the space between me and -- and what?

I don't think we need to define it, but it is clearly a close encounter of some kind, a We, which is a common experience in any form of creativity. "How'd you write that song?" "I don't know. It was just given to me, I guess." Something like that.

Further confirmation of our metaphysical we-dom is found in Proverbs, for example,

The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens; by His knowledge the depths were broken up....

When He prepared the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep..., then I was beside him, as a master craftsman; and I was his daily delight.

Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you....

Say to wisdom, "You are my sister."

They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge.... they shall eat the fruit of their own way and be filled to the full with their own fancies.

And all those who hate me love death.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Immutable Life

Schuon writes of a seeming paradox, that ultimate reality is "on the one hand Immutable, which determines us," but "on the other hand it is the Living, which attracts us."

Immutable and Attractive. Determinative and Living. How's that?

One way of looking at it is to say that humans are always subject to two temporal "forces" or "streams," which we might call Fate and Destiny, the former more "exterior" (or imposed from outside ourselves) the latter "interior" (in which something inside us is "awakened" to its nature or essence).

Both dimensions imply That Which Must Be, but it seems that it is indeed possible to turn away from, or be denied, our Destiny, hence the reality of tragedy.

Those two words -- Immutable and Attractive -- also remind me of Absolute and Infinite, and therefore Male and Female in their cosmic dimensions.

Immutable is what? Strength, majesty, nobility, firmness, stability, authoritative, unwavering, rock, unconquerable, indomitable, incorruptible. Math. Geometry. Particle. Justice. Word.

Attractor is what? Radiant, beautiful, luminous, appeasing, liquiescent, dissolving, melting, nurturing, encompassing. Spirit. Wave. Mercy. Music.

All human beings are descended from one male and one female. Might we say the same of our vertical descent?

Interesting that as the soul ascends toward the source, it too becomes simultaneously Immutable and Radiant, i.e., centered and attractive.

For me, the "community of saints" -- and sages -- serves this function, for they are like fixed stars that radiate and attract us from above. They never compel, they attract.

Or, they are "compelling," but compel our assent in such a way that our freedom is never compromised. Indeed, our assent to this radiant attraction is the height of freedom, for it is a freely given assent to truth.

The Immutable Attractor defines the contours of existence, since it also implies the circularity that constitutes the human journey. For the Immutable is detachment, elevation, and eternal, in the face of which our lives are nothing but transient shadows on the horizon of nothingness, fleeting lessons in evanescence.

But there is elevation and there is compassion: "by elevation it withdraws from things, and by compassion it comes back to them" (Schuon). This is the divine circularity that saves us from cosmic absurcularity. Thankfully, God inhales: he ex-pires creation and in-spires (through) us.

Which is reminiscent of the bodhisattva principle, whereby the enlightened being renounces liberation until every person is so freed of his existential entanglements and ontological coagulations.

Or in other words, love overcomes death and returns to the battlefield of existence.

We'll leave off with a passage by Schuon, which goes to Immutability and Attraction:

God has opened a gate in the middle of creation, and this open gate of the world toward God is man; this opening is God's invitation to look towards Him, to tend towards Him, to persevere with regard to Him, and to return to Him....

Unbelief and paganism are whatever turns its back on the gate; on its threshold light and darkness separate....

[W]hat a waste and a suicide -- to slip through the human state without truly being man, that is, to pass God by, and thus to pass our own souls by...

And some aphorisms:

Everything is trivial if the universe is not engaged in a metaphysical adventure.

Values are not citizens of this world, but pilgrims from other heavens.

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

Only the theocentric vision does not end up reducing man to absolute insignificance.

God is infinitely close and infinitely distant; one should not speak of Him as if He were at some intermediate distance (NGD).

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Adequate to Our Inadequacy

Schuon often mentions the principle of sufficient reason, which simply means that things happen for a reason, and that this reason -- i.e., cause -- must be proportionate to its effect.

Or, to put it the other way around, if you're going to try to explain an effect, the cause needs to be sufficient to do the job. For example, although natural selection is sufficient to explain some aspects of man, if pushed too far, it quickly becomes absurd and ultimately self-refuting.

Again, in taking a moderate, realistic, open-minded, and non-dogmatic stance, we must battle illiterates at both extremes, whereas those two extremes only have each other to hector and harass. So our job is more difficult, in that we must wage a two-front war against two types of illiteracy -- of fundamentalism at both ends.

Now, the existence of the human station testifies to no less than three miracles: of intelligence, of free will, and of love.

The sufficient reason for intelligence must be truth, while the sufficient reason for our freedom must be goodness itself, hence our ability to distinguish good from evil in the dimension of virtue. And the sufficient reason of love must be beauty itself, hence the love of all things beautiful, both objective and subjective.

Or, to turn it around, human intelligence is "absolutely meaningless" (if such a thing may be conceived) in the absence of the Absolute, just as our freedom is absurd in the absence of a transfinite end, and love deprived of truth and beauty becomes demonic.

As usual, Schuon expresses it in an extremely compact manner that is both intellectual and practical: "the sufficient reason for human intelligence" must be "knowledge of the Sovereign Good, and in consequence all that refers to it directly or indirectly"; for free will it must be "the choice of the Sovereign Good and in consequence the practice of all that leads to it"; and for human love, "love of the Sovereign Good and all that attests to it."

Which is why we are to love God with all our mind (as intelligence loves truth), with all our strength (as the will loves virtue), and all our heart (as the soul loves beauty).

No one but One accomplishes this "perfectly," which is to say, integrally, but our own integration and actualization depend upon it; in other words, we are to simultaneously become what we are and all we are. Only man has the great privilege of failing to accomplish this, since other animals are what they are, and nothing else. Which is why all men are in need of the mercy of grace.

In short, man is duty-bound to surpass himself, but clearly, on pain of absurdity, this is something that no man can do unaided. For in the absence of God, a man is just a man, if that. Cows don't fail to "measure up"; likewise the man who closes himself off from the divine: he is what he is and no man can save him, least of all himself.

Or, he has already saved himself, and thus condemned himself to the two-dimensional paradise of the human bovine, where there is plenty of grass and one doesn't notice the fences. In any event, failure to surpass oneself is to sink beneath oneself.

In reality, just as man's intelligence testifies to metacosmic intelligence as such, our own undeniable transcendence testifies to the Transcendent, i.e., the Sovereign Good.

Thus, we can only transcend ourselves by virtue of God's prior "pouring out" of himself, which is grace. You might say that grace searches for man until a man catches it.

Better yet, aphorisms, arranged stepwise:

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

2. No one who knows himself can be absolved by himself.

3. Authentic humanism is built upon the discernment of human insufficiency.

4. The dignity of man resides in the submission that frees him.

5. We only dig the channels for flash floods.

6. Man only has importance if God speaks to him, and as long as God speaks to him.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

The Argument from Stupidity

Before continuing in our effort to develop an objective definition of spiritual normality -- and therefore pathology -- I want to address an objection raised by a troll; not his objection, mind you, since that would require gifts he doesn't possess -- but the plagiarized sentiments of a John Wilkins, who is of the belief that "science is not a metaphysical system of thought," but rather, "deals precisely with objective experience. Personal views of scientists do not define the results of scientific work."

This reflects the philosophically untutored perspective of a naive and pre-critical scientism that doesn't trouble itself with looking beneath the phenomena, or thinking about thinking, or considering the sorts of assumptions that are built into science (and without which science cannot function).

For to say that science "deals precisely with objective experience" is to affirm something that cannot possibly be true. In order to say it, one must have no idea what the words "objective" and "experience" mean.

Science, by its very nature, deals with things that are relative and therefore contingent. In other words, it deals with the way things are, but doesn't pretend that the way things are is the only way they could or must be; thus, the phenomena of science exist in an ambiguous realm between possibility and necessity.

There is nothing studied by science that (according to its own lights) couldn't be otherwise. Indeed, change one little variable in one of those helpful equations governing the big bang, and neither we nor the cosmos as we know it would be here.

Likewise, to paraphrase Stephen Gould, if one little inconvenient mudslide had occurred back in the days of the Burgess Shale bio-explosion, the wholly contingent evolutionary line leading to us might have been broken, and we wouldn't be here to talk about it.

Indeed, we can all be traced to a common mother, Ms. Mitochondrial Eve, and according to Nicholas Wade, it is possible that we are related to as few as 5,000 people who wandered out of north Africa some 50,000 years ago. If they hadn't been extra-careful about wearing their sweaters in the cold or not running around with scissors, who knows?

The point is, from the perspective of science, the emergence of man is a freakishly unlikely accident literally bordering on the impossible.

Even leaving that aside, Darwinism leaves unexplained how it is possible for contingency bordering on impossibility to know objectivity flowing from necessity. How could this ever be, unless man himself somehow partakes of necessity?

As we've discussed in the past, man is always limited by what Schuon calls four "infirmities." To summarize, we are "creature, not Creator," which is to say, "manifestation and not Principle or Being." Or, just say we are contingent and not necessary or absolute.

Second, we are men, and all this implies, situated somewhere between absolute and relative, God and animal -- somewhat like a terrestrial angel or a celestial ape.

Third, we are all different, which is to say, individual, and there can be no science of the utterly unique and unrepeatable.

This is a critical point, because as far as science is concerned, our essential differences must be entirely contingent, just a result of nature tossing the genetic dice. Suffice it to say that this is not a sufficient reason to account for the miracle of individuality. Well, individual jerks, maybe. But not anyone you'd want to know.

Lastly, there are human differences that are indeed contingent and not essential or providential. These include negative things such as mind parasites that result from the exigencies of childhood, but also the accidental aspects of culture, language, and history. In order to exist at all, we must surely exist in a particular time and a particular place.

Elsewhere Schuon summarizes the accidents of existence as world, life, body, and soul; or more abstractly, "space, time, matter, desire."

The purpose of metaphysics is to delve beneath these accidents, precisely, and hence to a realm of true objectivity and therefore perennial truth (even though, at the same time, we must insist that existence, life, and intelligence especially represent a continuous reminder, or breakthrough, of the miraculous: nature itself is supernatural, or we could know nothing about it).

Now, what do we mean by objectivity? It must be a stance uncontaminated by contingency, passion, or perspective, for starters. There is contingent science -- or the science of contingency -- and there is the "science of the Absolute," which is none other than metaphysics.

Time out for an aphorism: Properly speaking, the social sciences are not inexact sciences, but sciences of the inexact (NGD).

Thus, objectivity begins with the soph-evident existence of the Absolute -- or, in the words of the Aphorist,The sole proof of the existence of God is His existence. This is precisely what confers value and meaning upon human existence, and what sets us apart from everything else in creation.

You might say that humans are "subjectivized intelligence," in that there is surely evidence of objective intelligence in the cosmos prior to our arrival, e.g., DNA or the laws of physics. One needn't say "intelligent design." Rather, just intelligence will do the trick, so long as we know what intelligence is.

As Schuon points out, "Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or it is nothing." What he means is that man's own intelligence demands a sufficient reason, and this reason is the Absolute. Remove the Absolute, and nothing makes sense, or can make sense, except in a wholly contingent and therefore senseless manner. This is why we insist: God or Nothing, TransCosmic Plenitude or Infrahuman Nihilism.

This same human intelligence "testifies irrecusably to a purely spiritual First Cause, to a Unity infinitely central but containing all things, to an Essence at once immanent and transcendent."

Another helpful wise crack by Schuon: "To claim that knowledge as such can only be relative amounts to saying that human ignorance is absolute."

Which it most certainly is in some people. The existence of such absolute ignoramuses is another roundabout proof of God.

Thought can avoid the idea of God as long as it limits itself to meditating on minor problems. --Dávila

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Essence of Stupidity

It has occurred to me more than once that someone needs to develop a diagnostic manual of spiritual pathology. After all, man is mind, body, and spirit; we we have the ICD for medical conditions and the DSM for psychiatric ones. Why not a handbook for the identification and classification pneumatic illnesses?

The problem is analogous to the field of psychopathology prior to Freud. Just as Aristotle defined and developed most of the scientific and philosophical categories that are still with us today, Freud did the same for psychology, giving us words and concepts such as neurosis, ego, superego, hysteria, paranoia, unconscious, projection, introjection, displacement, condensation, transference, internalization, idealization, repression, regression, denial, sublimation, acting out, and many more. Each of these words and concepts is still widely used today.

In fact, there are some useful systems of spiritual pathology, for example, the seven deadly sins. Moreover, these sins are mirrored by essential virtues which are the very markers and measures of spiritual health, e.g., prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude.

So the field of spirit is actually already pretty differentiated -- or at least was, before the barbarous wave of modernity de-differentiated it again. For if there is evolution -- progress -- there must also be devolution, and no progress is completely secure, especially on the human plane, where it must be won again and again, even by each generation.

With the 20th century came the general de-differentiation of spirit, and with it, a re-merger of church and state in the form of the political religions, e.g., National Socialism, communism, leftism, "social democracy," progressivism, etc.

This was another of Voegelin's enduring concerns, and one might even say his central concern, since a political religion -- an ideology -- is a modern substitute for contact with the ground, while explicitly forbidding any actual contact, unless it is in an orgiastic or paganistic manner. Hence the new-age mush of the Oprah- and Chopraheads, which necessarily leads to political mush as well. The obliteration of spiritual distinctions is the doorway to barbarism.

Consider the narcissistic new-age nitwit Marianne Williamson, who is running for president. On the one hand, she claims that "the US government has no business telling any of us what we can or cannot do with our bodies" and absolutely no right "to legislate our private morals.

Okay. But she also insists that the federal government "should be run like a family, where taking care of each other, and taking care of our home, are the values that guide us." In my family we don't kill babies. Is that what she means?

Or, regarding meteorology, she insists that "Humanity’s spiritual disconnection from nature is at the heart of our climate crisis, and reminding ourselves of our moral responsibility to respect and protect the earth will resolve it." Yes, I suppose a devastated world economy and a 90% tax rate will serve as such reminders.

Bear in mind that Williamson's only claim to fame is that, like Tony Robbins or Deepak Chopra, she is more spiritually evolved than the rest of us:

In order to have a moral and spiritual awakening in America, we need a leader who is a moral and spiritual awakener.

I believe I am that person.

Hmm. I believe she is not that person, if only because reading her sub-Hallmark greeting card policy proposals doesn't awaken me but puts me to sleep.

That was a bit of new material. Back to the old post:

The question of spiritual pathology is tied in with the issue of universality, for only if man has an essential nature can there be deviations from it.

In Hitler and the Germans, Voegelin asks the questions, "When was man as such discovered?" and "What was he discovered to be?" He focuses on two specific historical places and situations, which we might abbreviate as Athens and Jersualem.

For here we have two points "where what man is was experienced," followed by a generalization -- or universalization -- that becomes "binding on all men."

Thus, for example, a direct line can be drawn between these two points and our own "political genesis," which affirms that "all men are created equal." Note again that this is a definitional (and ontological) statement, in that it goes to what man "is." And it is obviously universal, in that it applies to all men at all times.

In what we are calling Athens, "man was experienced by the philosophers of the classical period as a being who is constituted by the nous, by reason."

Which is fine as far as it goes, but it isn't sufficient to define man in his essence and totality. From Jerusalem (short for Israelite society) we have the additional experience of man as a "pneumatic being who is open to God's word." Man is the being to -- and through -- whom the Spirit speaks, with all this implies (i.e., truth, beauty, virtue, nobility, objectivity, etc).

Thus, "Reason and spirit are the two modes of constitution of man, which were generalized as the idea of man." This is a -- the -- definitive definition of man, because it cannot be surpassed, only fallen short of. Emphasizing one over the other, or one to the exclusion of the other, results in man being maimed at his ground and center: the dry rot of Moscow or the wet rot of Teheran.

Consider the French Revolution, or the leftist regimes of the 20th century, which started with very different definitions of man, ones that exclude his pneuma in general and his deiformity in particular.

Ironically, these latter are defined by the regimes in question as the essence of pathology: religion as opiate or mask for illicit power. Thus, before the guillotine falls or the gulags open for business, man is decapitated and imprisoned in an environment intrinsically hostile to man as such -- in which there is no spiritual oxygen, food, or water. And as he dies spiritually, he loses contact with the spiritual per se.

Now, it isn't just that man is characterized by nous and pneuma, or intellect and spirit. Rather, it is obvious that neither of these could be their own sufficient reason.

Rather, they relate to something that precedes them, just as the wings of a bird relate to the surrounding atmosphere. And just as we don't expect to find wings in environments where flight is impossible, or eyes where there is no light, we don't expect to find intellect where truth is impossible, or pneuma where the spirit doesn't dwell.

So nous and pneuma are intrinsically related to their own sufficient reason, which is another way of saying that they are open to reality in a self-transcending manner. In each case, we reach out "beyond ourselves toward the divine in the philosophical experience and the loving encounter through the word [logos] in the pneumatic experience..."

For Voegelin -- and for Schuon -- this participation in the divine reality is the source of man's dignity. Thus, any definition of man that falls short of what we have outlined above, is always an assault on man's rightful stature: "The loss of dignity comes about through the denial of the participation of the divine, that is, through the de-divinization of man."

This is a key principle in how tyranny follows, because "dedivinizing is always followed by dehumanizing." Dedivinizing has enormous consequences, which maim not only spirit but reason, as history proves time and again. For "in both cases there occurs a loss of reality," and "if one closes oneself to this reality, one possesses in one's range of experience less of this part of reality, this decisive part that constitutes man."

Now, the divine reality doesn't just "disappear," any more than unconsciously repressed thoughts no longer exist. Rather, something must be elevated to the absolute, usually man. For Voegelin, this represents the essence of the problem of Hitler: 1, Dedivinization, 2, Dehumanization, 3, Endivinization of man. Hitler is the dedivinized, dehumanized, and endivinized man par excellence ("endivinize" is my term).

Bear in mind that we need to understand the universal principles beneath a Hitler, because if we focus only on his particular instance, we will be unable to learn anything intelligible, i.e., with wider application.

For example, in contemporary America we are ruled by what might be called an intellectual "rabble-ocracy," consisting of men who have lost contact with divine reality and who presume to appropriate more of our freedom on that basis.

But since they did not give us our freedom -- for it is a gift of the creator -- they have no right to diminish it in this crude way. That they feel they may do so is only further evidence of their loss of contact with reality resulting from their own self-maiming.

This is what Voegelin calls "radical stupidity." Again, it is not just an insult, but a term of art. It refers to a man who, "because of his loss of reality, is not in a position to rightly orient his action in the world."

In short, "when the central organ for guiding his action, his theomorphic nature and openness toward reason and spirit, has ceased functioning, then man will act stupidly." And this stupidity will always result in increased societal disorder, because the radically stupid -- the stupid radicals -- are attempting to navigate with a map that is all wrong. If one has a defective image of reality, how could disorder not follow?

Another critical point, and one that is ably conveyed by our troll: that is to say, with the loss of reality comes the inability to speak of it, or to understand what is being said when others speak of it. Thus, "parallel to the loss of reality and to stupidity there is always the phenomenon of illiteracy."

Again, this has nothing to do with the mechanical ability to read and write, which virtually all westerners possess. Rather, it means that the illiterate in question will not be able to "express himself with regard to very wide ranges of reality, especially matters of reason and the spirit, and is incapable of understanding them."

In this regard, the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion described a kind of "trinity of psychosis" revolving around aggressive stupidity, contempt, and triumph. Watch for it, because it is all around us.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

On the Possibility of Ontological Prisonhouse Conversions

It is impossible to engage with the simpleton who imagines that because one is religious one is somehow "anti-science," because the simpleton in question inhabits a vertically closed world, and therefore cannot speak of what goes on outside its walls. The assertion itself is profoundly anti-science -- if by science we mean something based upon logic and evidence -- but this is another of those ironies lost on the vertical amnesiac.

The distances of the physical universe are those of a prison (NGD).

As anyone who gives it a moment's thought realizes, the practice of science rests upon a specific metaphysical framework that isn't disclosed by the scientific method. Nature is always supernatural; if it isn't, then knowledge of it is strictly impossible.

I'd like to complete our journey From Big Bang to Big Mystery before getting back to Voegelin. Bearing in mind what was said in the first paragraph, Purcell references a remark by Wittgenstein, who, in a lucid moment, observed that "even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, our problems of life remain completely untouched.... One keeps forgetting to go right down to the foundations. One doesn't put the question marks down deep enough."

Completely untouched

Is this an exaggeration? Polemical? "In a manner of speaking?"

I don't think so. Nor do I think this makes us "anti-science." Rather, "pro-human person."

Why deceive ourselves? Science has not answered a single important question.

Rather,

As long as we do not arrive at religious categories, our explanations are not founded upon rock (NGD).

Notice that this is no less true of scientistic rockheads who attempt to found their metaphysic on nothing more solid than the relative opinions of a radically contingent primate. In other words, they absurdly claim that contingency and relativity are absolute.

Science can only cope with existence in the context of a "beingness" that is simply given, and cannot be explicated with the tools of science. Existence is a "special case" of being, and science, in order to operate at all, must take being for granted.

Conversely, metaphysics begins with the principle of being; it is higher up the cosmic food chain, so that nothing that occurs in science can violate it, say, the law of non-contradiction, or of sufficient reason, or of the greater being derived from the lesser.

The other day we spoke of spiritual and intellectual wet and dry rot, which occur as a result of a conflation of being and existence. Scientism, for example -- which is a quintessential form of dry rot -- confuses what it can affirm about reality with all that can be affirmed of reality, which is why it is anti-intellectual to the core.

For one of the first things the scientistic worshiper must jettison is the intellect per se, which of necessity (for him) reduces to something less than itself, on pain of a self-refuting contradiction. And in the absence of the infused intellect, no higher realities can be perceived at all, so the result is a closed circle of ideological fantasy; the resultant world is not surreal but sub-real, and the person who lives in it is in denial of his own personhood (for person is another irreducible category that is beyond the reach of science, but which science requires in order to operate).

Conversely, wet rot occurs when existence is confused with being, so that things that pertain to the vertical are mindlessly transposed to the horizontal. In this regard, Voegelin points out that we have indeed seen a beneficial differentiation within the Ground over the centuries, in which science plays a vital, albeit subordinate, role.

In other words, man first awakens to a kind of compacted realm of being, and our journey through history allows us to unpack and map its dimensions and coordinates, both horizontally and vertically. Things were pretty jumbled at the start of history, for the same reason that things are pretty jumbled for an infant.

One doesn't have to travel too far back in time to see a conflation of science and religion to the detriment of both. For every kooky religious idea there was an equally kooky scientific idea, say, the theory of blood-letting that for so many centuries made a visit from the doctor a deadly gamble.

Probably the most detailed map of the totality of reality was drawn up by Thomas Aquinas. Naturally, parts of it are now obsolete because of the state of 13th century science, which has evolved so dramatically since then.

But nothing that has occurred in science has posed any fundamental challenge to Thomas's metaphysics, given some tinkering at the edges. To the contrary, something like the Big Bang would be a necessary consequence of his metaphysics (although he also allowed for the possibility that the cosmos has no horizontal boundary, so long as one bears in mind the priority of atemporal, vertical creation).

One might say that science can only take a view from "inside" the cosmos, whereas metaphysics is able to take the wider view from the perspective of being as such. Now granted, few people are metaphysicians, hence the necessity of revelation, which conveys the essential truths to those who are open to them. These truths resonate on a level much deeper than the conscious ego, which is why they evoke (and deserve) our faith. Truly, faith involves a re-cognition that is really a recognosis, i.e., intuitive perception of trans-empirical truths.

You might say that being pertains to the Center, science to the periphery. Now, everywhere we look, we see signs of the Center poking through the periphery, and one might even say that it is our duty to be aware of this phenomenon as much as possible, for it is the essence of maintaining an open and wide stance to the queerness of reality.

Again, for Voegelin, all forms of pneumopathology involve spiritual and intellectual closure. To put it the other way around, our task is to maintain noetic and pneumatic openness to the world and to experience (for there is no unexperienced world; or, it won't "ex-ist" until someone ex-periences it).

I remember back in grade school, learning about biology. I don't know if it is still true today, but back then photosynthesis was still a mystery; biologists knew it existed, but couldn't understand how. This is no mere peripheral concern, because photosynthesis is the very engine of life.

"Photo," of course, is light. Does anyone really understand how light is converted to the energy and information that powers the whole biosphere? I mean, I fully realize that there are scientific explanations, but do they bring the question marks all the way down to the foundation? Because I personally find it peculiar beyond words that sunlight can be transformed into plants, animals, symphonies, poetry, darkness, stupidity, everything.

At any rate, if we transpose this mystery to the level of man, we see something analogous, which I call pneumosynthesis and logosynthesis, or the transformation of spirit and reason, respectively. However, we could also just call it photosynthesis, since both of these organic mechanisms -- just like their biological cousin -- involve transformations of Light, i.e., spiritual and intellectual Light.

One problem -- and this is addressed by Voegelin, just as it is by Schuon -- is that we no longer have proper words for these higher human functions, since they have been conflated with, and eclipsed by, lower ones. As Voegelin put it, we can no longer use words such as "intellect," or "spirit," or "reason" in the manner of a Plato or Thomas.

For which reason I developed those abstract symbols for them, so we wouldn't imagine we know what we are talking about just because we have words for them. Sometimes the letter kills, but it is still capable of liberating spirit from matter. Poiesis is noesis, and vice versa.

Note that this linguistic pathology is the result of a devolution, which, instead of taking us from compaction to differentiation, takes us in the opposite direction, back to compaction. Someone like our troll William lives in a compacted and de-differentiated world, which again accounts for the breezy confidence he has in his own brazen stupidity.

Obviously, in order to describe reality we need words, but if these words become corrupted, then the ability to perceive reality is compromised.

For example, on a mundane level, if you confuse "liberal" with "leftist," you will lose the ability to perceive political reality. Likewise, if you fail to understand the distinction between male and female, sexual reality is lost to you (or you will only exist on a quasi-animal sexual level).

The question is, is this attack on language intentional or just a result of stupidity? Hard to tell, but I suggest we judge them by their fruits. I do sense a kind of deep malevolence behind the attacks from elites, but the rank-and-foul leftist often has a decent-to-middling spirit that has just been manipulated by elites and hijacked by bad ideas. Such people are educable and correctable, and grateful for the heads-up.

I suppose that would be the key: the non-malevolent person can be helped, because deep down he remains open to reality in all its fulness, and hatred hasn't yet completely supplanted love (for one who doesn't love truth will never know it). Upon contact with truth, such a person will experience a flood of vertical recollection which then sends them on a path back to themselves and back to reality. I've got the letters and emails to prove it. Better yet, I have myself to prove it.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Prisons of Knowledge and Adventures in Faith

We never did finish our discussion of Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery before veering into Hitler and the Germans, but the two are actually intimately related, in that Purcell's entire approach is deeply indebted to Voegelin, who is one of the most panoptic thinkers we've discussed here at One Cosmos.

One reason Voegelin is qualified to describe and analyze the spiritual and intellectual pathologies that made Hitler possible, is that he spent his life trying to understand the logospheric and pneumatic conditions that make humanness possible. Again: unless we know what health is, we won't be in a position to recognize, diagnose, and treat pathology.

Aphorism: The conservative is a simple pathologist. He defines sickness and health. But God is the only therapist (NGD).

Also, Voegelin himself embodied the very quest he describes, without in any way compromising his scholarship. Analogously, it takes a mystic to write about mysticism, which is precisely what is wrong with most academic works on mysticism, or even on religion in general. Certain topics -- indeed, the most important ones --- can only be discussed and described from the inside.

As described in the Coona Cosmologica, it is the difference between mere (k) and (n), or ego-based knowledge and nous-centered intellect-vision. Clearly, when it comes to religion, anything other than interior, experiential knowledge is a more or less distant abstraction.

This is not to say that certain things can't be a matter of faith, but faith itself is tacit foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered realities. Not only can faith be verified, but one might say that the religious life consists in an unending verification of it. Schuon:

There is no faith without any knowledge, nor knowledge without any faith....

The mystery of faith is in fact the possibility of an anticipatory perception in the absence of its content; that is, faith makes present its content by accepting it already, before the perception properly so-called. And if faith is a mystery, it is because its nature is inexpressible to the degree that it is profound, for it is not possible to convey fully by words this vision that is still blind and this blindness that already sees.

Thus, a deep and secure faith is already a kind of confirmation that resonates through the being and yields a harvest of its own. In other words, it is creative -- one might say organic -- never static.

This is also the difference between good and bad dogma, or just dogma properly understood. Dogma is a tool, not just a static system to be superimposed on the intellect. It is a probe with which we poke around in the suprasensible dark, in the way a blind man uses a cane to visualize the space within which he moves.

Now, can dogma be misused and misunderstood? Of course. This is like asking if humans are human, which they tend to be. Everything touched by humans can be and is misused and abused -- science, art, religion, the Constitution, sex, grog, music, education, baseball (the DH), my comment section. There is no end of things that are goods in themselves until the moment human beings get their grubby hands on them.

Why is this? That would require a very lengthy explanation, hence the virtue of dogma, i.e., man's fallen condition, which is a kind of compact and shorthand wisdom that takes one straight to the bottom lyin'. Most people don't have the time or the mental capacity to think these things through on their own, which is unnecessary anyway if they just take it on faith that man is imperfectible and denial of this only makes matters worse.

To jump ahead a bit, Voegelin defines the essence of health as a condition of intellectual and spiritual openness. Just as there are intellectual illiterates, there are spiritual illiterates.

And when Voegelin uses the term "illiterate," he doesn't mean it in the sense of merely being unable to read. Rather, especially in a mass-educated society such as ours, the ability to read has little to do with actually being literate, as our troll [William] ably proves every day with the breezy self-assurance of the fully indoctrinated. For Voegelin, illiteracy isn't just the failure to assimilate good literature, but the inability to even recognize it.

And for the left, the mere possession of literary taste is sufficient to qualify one as a fascist. Nor can one merely have no taste; rather, one must have bad taste to be on the left. One must truly believe that "diversity" is a criterion of aesthetic quality.

For our troll, some cut-and-paste nonsense pulled up from the fringes of the internet is as deep and learned as, say, Voegelin, or Plato, or Eckhart, or Thomas, or Schuon, or the Upanishads, or Tomberg, or Balthasar, or the whole host of magnificent thinkers who have graced mankind by illuminating and mapping the transcendent order.

I was about to say that without them we'd be in a deep hole, but that wouldn't be quite correct, because in a two-dimensional world there are neither holes nor peaks, just... desires and fears, or pleasure and pain.

Which is certainly one way to order one's life, but it doesn't in any way correspond to the wider order of the cosmos, and the whole point of life, if we could express it in a single sentence, is to conform oneself to the transcendent order of reality. For what is the alternative? To order oneself to illusion? That works too, at least for a time, but reality has a way of breaking through the little manmade orders we impose upon it. And killing lots of people in the process.

Ironically, to think in so simplistic a manner -- i.e., God isn't real because science supposedly says so (itself a gross misunderstanding of, and insult to, science) -- is so deeply anti-human as to beggar belief, because in one cretinous wave of the hand it eliminates all that is best and brightest in man's 50,000 year quest to understand his ground and destiny.

This was Voegelin's main beef with academia. In his book Amanesis, he discusses this from up close, since he spent 50-odd years among the barbarian tribes of the tenured, and was in a position to know. He writes of how postmodern ideologues -- whether beholden to Marxism, scientism, evolutionism, feminism Freudianism, whatever -- all share the same characteristic of being closed systems which lose the ability to perceive reality over -- or under -- their own projections.

In other words, once one assimilates an ideology, percept follows concept, to such an extent that this second reality places a kind of blanket over first reality, which is never seen again. It is still there, of course, and continues to be unconsciously recognized. Thus, the ideologue senses this real reality -- in the same way that the person of faith senses real reality, except that the ideologue works feverishly to deny the perception. (It is why, for example, pro-abortion people are so frenzied about it; unconscious knowledge of guilt does strange but predictable things to a mind.)

This is why there can be no leftism in the absence of political correctness or some similar coercive structure to enforce its version of reality, since maintaining the second reality requires a kind of systematic advance-warning system to prevent people from traveling down certain chains of observation or reasoning. If that happens, the whole swindle collapses.

Voegelin asks -- and this was back in 1977 -- "Why do they [the tenured] expressly prohibit anybody to ask questions concerning the sectors of reality they have excluded from their personal horizon? Why do they want to imprison themselves in their restricted horizon and to dogmatize their prison reality as the universal truth? And why do they want to lock up all mankind in the prison of their making?"

This is not the open spirit in which this nation was founded, which was fundamentally a spirit of liberty, or one might say "spiritual freedom." Go north young man, into the vertical!

Now what is this "spiritual freedom?" Well, for any flatlander, such as our troll, it is a nonsense term. There's nothing we can do for him. But from the Raccoon perspective, it is all about vertical freedom, although vertical freedom is impossible, or at least quite difficult, in an atmosphere deprived of horizontal freedom. The damage that socialism, statism, and communism do to economic reality is one thing, but the more tragic and enduring damage is to the soul, which can again lose contact with the spiritual environment because of the systematic denial imposed by the regime.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are none other than the irreducible prerequisites of a spiritually and intellectually open stance toward the cosmos. The first two are obvious, since you won't get very far in your quest without your life and the freedom to live it in the manner you see fit.

But nor will you get very far without pursuing happiness, by which the founders certainly didn't mean just pleasure, or wealth, or notoriety. Rather, they meant it in the classic Greek sense of actualizing one's powers -- one's gifts -- in the direction of virtue. That is life. That is liberty. That is happiness. That is firing on all cylinders in hyperspace.

Because of so much time spent living in the Tenured Islands, Voegelin discovered a kind of restrictive horizon "similar to the consciousness that I could observe in the political mass movements" of the 20th century. Of course, one can only recognize the restriction if one is coming from a wider and more open horizon, which Voegelin surely was.

In the United States, he noticed "the populist expansion of the universities, accompanied by the inevitable inrush of functional illiterates into academic positions in the 1950s and 1960s." And now the ignorant beneficiaries of this academic inversion are in positions of power.

Regarding this openness to the subjective cosmic horizon, Voegelin writes that navigating it "is a ceaseless action of expanding, ordering, articulating, and correcting itself.... It is a permanent effort at responsive openness to the appeal of reality, at bewaring premature satisfaction, and above all at avoiding the self-destructive phantasy of believing" that reality "can be mastered by bringing it into the form of a system."

To say that reality is much richer than the ideological fantasies of the tenured is simultaneously obvious and yet necessary, since we are all victims of these fantasies in one way or another. Our human duty is to rebel against any system that attempts to imprison us in some manmode idiotolatry.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Two Ways to Rot One's Mind

Again, the theme of Hitler and the Germans is the idea that something had gone dreadfully wrong with German culture -- both intellectually and spiritually -- to allow a vicious cretin like Hitler to rise to power. In the absence of this more widespread problem, Hitler's faults would have remained personal rather than public and eventually world historical.

World-historical. Think about it. How on earth do the problems of a single man become everyone's problem? This is not the same as asking how a single person can become a problem, which any assoul can do. As they say, any idiot can make history, but it takes real genius to write it. Rather, we need to get beneath Hitler's "problem," to the deeper problem of a people blinded to the fact that, hey, this guy has a problem.

And when we say "German culture," there were, of course, exceptions -- people who saw through Hitler from the moment they laid eyes on him. Everyone would like to believe they were one of these clear-sighted volks, and in 1945 there were many more of them than there were in 1933, for the same reason that every Frenchman was a retrospective member of the tiny French resistance. People don't want to believe they were party to a lethal failure of judgment, but even in 1946 "a majority of Germans held the opinion that National Socialism was a good idea but badly implemented," and it was equally widely believed into the 1950s "that without the war, Hitler would have been one of the greatest statesmen in German history."

Among other things, Voegelin wanted to debunk the self-serving idea that Germans were simply seduced by a charismatic demagogue, because not everyone responded to Hitler's so-called charisma, and many people were repelled by him. Voegelin, for example, escaped Germany in 1938.

Voegelin traces the rot in Germany to a distinct spiritual decline which he attempts to describe both empirically and theoretically. To back up a bit, recall what we were saying a couple posts back about psychopathology (mental illness). In order to define mental pathology, we must begin with an implicit or explicit notion of psychic health. What exactly is a healthy psyche? To what is it ordered? What is it designed to do?

I KNOW I KNOW!: to seek and know truth, to create and love beauty, and to discern and will the good.

Right away you see the problem for any consistent materialist, since for him the psyche can have no purpose. Rather, it is just a meaningless side effect of the struggle to pass one's genes along to the next generation. From a purely biological standpoint, anything that gets the job done is "healthy," which is to say, adaptive: deception, rape, misogyny, polygamy. In fact, this is precisely why rape has survived, because it is indeed one effective way for losers to propagate their genetic material.

Hitler was just such a consistent materialist, but unlike most materialists, he actually drew out (albeit unwittingly) the ultimate implications of materialism, so give him credit for that. He was no hypocrite or waffler, that's for sure. He didn't pretend to be elevated above his nature, because nature is all there is. Again: the utter (and violent) rejection of transcendence.

Voegelin quotes one writer who observed that "no one before Hitler had actually made the consequences deduced from Darwin the basis of state policy, and no one before Hitler so consistently and ruthlessly carried those biological premises to their ultimate conclusions and put them into practice."

For as Darwin wrote, nature is "immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts," the difference being that Darwin was too constrained by Christian civilization to take this idea seriously and start killing his presumed inferiors.

To say that Hitler was influenced by Darwin is, of course, to give the tyrant way too much credit, since, like our troll [William Catsnuggler], he was an anti-intellectual who never entertained a serious idea in his life.

And besides, Darwin himself borrowed the phrase "survival of the fittest" from Herbert Spencer, the father of "social Darwinism." Thus, ironically, strict Darwinism is actually "biological Spencerism," which shows us how ideology -- i.e., second reality -- contaminates first reality, and is then regarded as a simple "fact" of nature. But the most rigid and unambiguous "facts" are often, as is this one, just projections (or declensions, so to speak, from higher to lower realties, e.g., the reduction of human sexuality to biological sexuality).

His ignorance of Darwin notwithstanding, Hitler was nevertheless a true metaphysical Darwinian and evolutionist, proclaiming that "the entire universe" is "ruled by just this one idea, that an eternal selection takes place in which the stronger in the end maintains the right to live, and the weaker falls. One will say that nature is therefore cruel and merciless, but the other will grasp that nature is thus only obeying an iron law of logic." Selfish genes, and all that.

And note how natural selection is now indeed being applied to the cosmos, in order to get around the problem of the big bang, which implies (or better, necessitates) a creative intelligence. If we are just the beneficiary of natural selection applied to multiple universes, the problem is solved. (Not really, of course, but it is kicked a little further down the ontological road.)

When the intellectual barbarian collapses the world to a single level, the distinction between Is and Ought is obliterated, for the Ought is quintessentially and irreducibly transcendent. And once you've accomplished this, then anything goes, for nothing can be impermissible. Worse, remove God from the equation and "we should not conclude that everything is permissible, but that nothing matters. Permits become laughable when their significance is canceled" (NGD).

In the end, "If good and evil, ugliness and beauty, are not the substance of things, science is reduced to a brief statement: what is, is" (ibid.).

This all raises an interesting point about the nature of spiritual rot. It occurs to me that there are two main types, what we might call "dry rot," and its seeming opposite, "wet rot." But the two actually go together, and in many ways define one another.

For example, the rationalist or scientistic atheist, who suffer from spiritual and intellectual dry rot, are forever doing battle with people who are prone to a kind of religious wet rot. In yesterday's thread, for example, saw a troll suffering from dry rot using this blog as a vehicle to lash out at some neighbors who have religious wet rot. We, of course, do not advocate either form of rot, i.e., dry-rationalistic or wet-fideistic.

Modern liberalism is a loose affiliation of people who have either wet or dry rot, both intellectually and spiritually. Deepak Chopra, for example, is a quintessential case of wet rot, but the entire liberal media also falls into this category. Most of liberal academia suffers from wet rot -- we are speaking of the humanities, of course. Conversely, a scientistic academic such as Richard Dawkins might as well be the poster child for dry rot.

Man is situated in a hierarchically organized universe of meaning. This being the case, of course science is one vehicle for disclosing universal meaning on a particular level. But to suggest that science is in any way capable of disclosing the meaning of higher levels is the essence of postmodern barbarism: it is dry rot.

Here are some aphorisms that go to the problem of dry rot:

--To believe that science is enough is the most naïve of superstitions.

--Nothing proves more the limits of science than the scientist’s opinions about any topic that is not strictly related to his profession.

Scientific ideas allow themselves to be easily depraved by coarse minds.

An irreligious society cannot endure the truth of the human condition. It prefers a lie, no matter how imbecilic it may be.

Science easily degrades into fools’ mythology (NGD).

Conversely, a creationist yahoo who insists the world is 6,000 years old is a quintessential case of wet rot. Here are some aphorisms that go to this type of rot:

--Nothing is more dangerous for faith than to frequent the company of believers. The unbeliever restores our faith.

--If the fool hears it said that Christianity has social consequences, he is quick to assume that it has socialistic consequences.

--Every Christian has been directly responsible for the hardening of some unbeliever's heart (ibid.).

Now, just as there is psychopathology -- obviously -- there is, and must be, what we shall call "logopathology," which entails a failure of intellect and of spirit. In short -- and this is the key -- there is Reason (i.e., logos) and Spirit (pneuma), and our task is to maintain openness to both realms, horizontal and vertical.

Conversely, to be intellectually and/or spiritually closed -- or closed off from logos and pneuma -- is the basis of cultural pathology -- of the kind of pathology that made a Hitler possible.

Humanity today is divided between individuals who are simple and hard like steel bullets and individuals who are soft and unformed like a bunch of dirty rags. --Dávila

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Radical Stupidity of Stupid Radicals

I've been reading Voegelin's Hitler and the Germans, which regards the idea of modernity from some angles I hadn't previously considered. The principles he discerns strike me as "universal," in the sense that they pertain to a spiritual sickness in modern man as such, not just to the Germans who made Hitler possible.

The sickness is, of course, leftism, but we need to dig a little deeper in order to understand its ultimate origins or principle.

When we say "modern man," we have a specific definition in mind. That is to say, for the vast majority of human history, cultures were organized around a spiritual ground -- what Schuon calls "the idea of Center and the idea of Origin":

In the spatial world where we live, every value is related in some way to a sacred Center, which is the place where Heaven has touched the earth; in every human world there is a place where God has manifested himself in order to pour forth His grace. And it is the same of the Origin, which is the quasi-timeless moment when Heaven was near and terrestrial things were still half-celestial.

Thus, "To conform to tradition is to remain faithful to the Origin, and for this very same reason it is also to place oneself at the Center..." (Light on the Ancient Worlds).

Now, one needn't be a believer to acknowledge the truth of Schuon's observation: that this is how civilizations arise, orient themselves to the wider cosmos, establish meaning, and provide an excuse to go on being. And we all recognize that something unprecedented has occurred in world history over the past 300 years, resulting in man being ousted from the center and cut off from his origin.

"Atheist" is just another name for someone who pretends to be fully exterior to the Center and Origin. While he retains an attenuated interior, it floats meaninglessly over the surface of nature, untethered to anything but a dying carcass. In the groundless and dis-oriented mind of the atheist, this is only proper and fitting, since there are no such things as Ground and Center, or their common source in Being. We'll come back to him later.

In any event, we can all agree that ideas have consequences, including the dominant metaphysic of the day, which pretends to do without the Origin and Center. This is no abstract discussion, for it very much defines the essential difference between left and right.

For example, conservatives regard the Constitution as embodying the origin and center of our political life; as such, it has a timeless and quasi-sacred penumbra, especially since it is by no means free-standing, but is in turn rooted in the cosmic Origin and Center, AKA God: its very purpose is to preserve and protect the human rights that flow directly from our deiformity to the Center, i.e., those rights endowed to us by the Creator.

If there is no Creator then our so-called rights are anchored in the convenience of the state, and are no longer rights at all -- any more than truth can exist in the absence of the absolute, whether explicit or implicit.

Alternatively, the left, in rejecting the Origin and Center, reduces our founding document to a man-made, time-bound, relativistic, and conventional contract between state and man; that being the case, we can read into or out of it anything we wish. Which is why we find ourselves once again arguing over things that were settled over two hundred years ago, such as free speech, the presumption of innocence, equality under the law, the right to self-defense, etc.

You could say that there are these two schools of thought on constitutional law, but it would be more accurate to say that there is one school of thought and one playground overrun with bullies.

Voegelin promulgates what was then a unique take on the Hitler phenomenon, in that he turns the question around and asks what it was about the German people that made such a stupid, vicious, and spiritually bereft assoul possible?

I do not intend to invoke Godwin's law this early in the morning, because this is not my point. But unless we can get away from the uniqueness of Hitler, we won't be able to learn anything from what happened, because it will be too particular, and the essence of wisdom involves the discovery of universals.

This is why I say that Obama is not our problem. You will note that the "birthers" seem obsessed with the idea that if we can only rid ourselves of Obama, then our problems will be solved. This is silly, for it leaves untouched the spiritual rot of a people who could elect such a half-educated and nasty but (so they say) charismatic demagogue.

From the beginning of my graduate studies, I had a particular interest in psychopathology, or one might say the "philosophy of psychopathology," or perhaps "meta-psychopathology." I've discussed this in the past, but before one can identify psychopathology, one must begin by defining health.

And health is completely tied in with teleology -- with final causes -- in that it essentially means that an organ is doing what it was designed to do. For example, the heart is designed to pump blood. Anything that interferes with that function -- atherosclerosis, hypertension, arrhythmias, etc. -- is pathological.

Therefore, before we address psychopathology, we must first understand what the mind is designed to do. The problem here is that modernity, in rejecting final causes, is powerless to define human health (unless you hold objective standards of human flourishing -- then you are sick!). Add to this the malignant sophistry of relativism, and mental health comes down to feeling satisfied with oneself, irrespective of whether one deserves to.

--Self-satisfaction is pathetic proof of lowliness.

--The left is made up of individuals who are dissatisfied with what they have and are satisfied with who they are.

--Today the individual rebels against inalterable human nature in order to refrain from amending his own correctable nature.

Let's take an obvious case just to illustrate the nature of the problem. Al Sharpton, from all outward appearances, seems to feel pretty good about himself. Therefore, as far as the mental health community is concerned, he gets a clean bill of health.

But why on earth should such a foul human being feel good about himself, much less be given a national platform to spew his toxins? By all rights he should detest himself as much as others -- i.e., spiritually normal people -- do. One cannot address this issue in a meaningful way unless there is some purpose Sharpton has failed to fulfill as a person. But again, he is only the symptom of a much wider problem, i.e., the type of people who would hire him and seek his political imprimatur (including Obama and the entire crop of Democrat presidential candidates).

****

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

One of the keys to understanding the left is Voegelin's concept of "second reality" or "orientation toward the unreal." It is one obvious reason why leftism always fails and always must fail, because one can banish reality -- both human and material -- with a pitchfork, but it always comes roaring back.

But what is the deeper principle by virtue of which this process of unrealization takes place? And why is it that, alone among the animals, man has this capacity to inhabit his own abstractions and relax in the comfort and safety of his own delusions?

It isn't only leftists who do this, of course. Rather, it is the essence of any ideology -- of ideology as such -- to create an inverted world of which the real world then becomes mere shadow. This is quintessentially true of Marxism, but one can say the same of Islamism, scientism, positivism, evolutionism, "climate change," and vulgar atheism.

The first and last step of unrealization involves reducing the world to a single level and pretending the other levels and dimensions don't exist. Again, think of a neo-Marxist such as Obama, for whom the world is always seen through the simplifying lenses of racial grievance, class envy, or an omnipotent and tyrannical "social justice" that justifies the exercise of raw power.

When the world becomes wholly immanent, it loses all sense, precisely. This is the metaphysical irony of the left -- that it robs the world of its intrinsic meaning in order to impose a faux substitute. They pretend to have reduced reality to a single world, oblivious to the fact that this ideological switch has taken place, and that they are living in a world of phony transcendence. Hence their counterfeit spiritual virtues such as sanctimony over sanctity, state appropriation over charity, scientism over wisdom, and idiot compassion over spiritual love and discernment.

The plain fact of the matter is that we live -- on pain of not living at all -- in certain irreducible mysteries, which include existence, life, consciousness, and history. To pretend these mysteries don't exist, or that any ideology satisfactorily "explains" them, is to inhabit an unreal world. Any unambiguous explaining-away of the Mystery leads to tragic falls, for the answer is the disease that kills curiosity. What is really real is God, in the absence of whom we have no reality at all.

All spiritually normal -- which is to say, adequate -- men know that "the end of all human action does not lie within this world but beyond it," and that the fulfillment of time is beyond time. There is simply no way to get around this formulation and remain "man." "Man, while existing in time, experiences himself as participating in the timeless." Again: ideologues only pretend to violate this principle, for no one is more beholden to a transcendent fantasy than the ideologue (for there is a "transcendence from below," and this is the lure of the diabolical).

Speaking of what took place in pre-Hitler Germany, Voegelin writes of a specific type of spiritual decline resulting in "radical stupidity," which is the "radical refusal to actualize one's participation in the transcendent." (I remember reading somewhere of another definition of fascism, the violent rejection of transcendence; since the Jews are responsible for bringing this awful transcendence into the world, it makes perverse sense that they should be the prime targets of these primitive immamental cases. The more things change....)

To turn it around, as we were saying last week, our most quintessentially human capacity involves "the quest for the truth of the right order of existence and for living justly in accord with that truth." In short, we bow before reality, not try to dominate it with some simplified scheme, for reality is always more complex -- and real! -- than any such scheme.

Note that when the world is collapsed to a single level, the possibility of (real) transcendent truth is denied in favor of its faux substitute, whether leftism, scientism, evolutionism, etc. Perhaps without even knowing it, the ideologue replaces truth with will, which is for Voegelin the "fundamental stupidity," for the de-divinization of man "leads all too quickly to a dehumanization."

I hope this isn't overly abstract, for it happens every time. Indeed, the "big story" of the 20th century was this de-divinization and therefore dehumanization of man, resulting in millions of bodies stacked like cordwood in common graves. In fact, ideologies have consequences, usually grave upon grave ones.

Please note that (proper) Christianity cannot be an ideology, because it isn't fundamentally an idea at all. Rather, it is a person, and a person is a rational being intersubjectively linked to others via transcendent love. A person is trimorphic logophilia incarnate; realizing this is the cure for ideology, and for pneumopathology more generally.

The ideologue replaces this ontological fact with a Lie, such as that man is merely another animal, or that religion is an opiate, or that race or class or gender determines consciousness. This Lie, because it is tied up with Will, becomes a real power, and assenting to it becomes a way to partake of worldly power. To become an "elite" generally means to assimilate the Lie and reap its worldly rewards.

Thus, the Lie "is a social power which heavily burdens each of us and threatens each with lasting spiritual deformation." Resistance to it "demands a corresponding measure of spiritual passion, intellectual discipline, and hard study," but this is only a "first step" in extricating ourselves, for "it must be followed by the passionate work of daily resistance against the lie of existence -- the work is lifelong."

In a letter to Thomas Mann, Voegelin wrote that "Resistance to a not merely ethically bad but religiously evil satanic* substance can be performed only by a similarly powerful, religiously good force. One cannot combat a satanic force with ethics and humanity alone."

And Satan said to him: All these things I will give to you if you will fall down and worship me.

(*Voegelin has a specific definition of satanic in mind, which has to do with the creature essentially claiming ownership of transcendental goods that can only come from the Creator (think of Adam "becoming as God"). Again, it is the radical stupidity of collapsing the world hierarchy and reducing truth to power.)

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Essence of Oneness and Oneness of Essence

More blathering from the past. I'm no longer able to discern the quality. I can only toss it out there:

When we say "one cosmos," the emphasis is always on both words: One and Cosmos.

"Cosmos" implies -- actually, it literally means -- order, not just of a superficial kind, but the deepest and most unitive structure of existence. And when we say "One," we obviously don't mean it in any numerical sense, but rather, in a qualitative way signifying the ultimate synthesis or integration of all particulars, both subjective and objective, spatial and temporal. No one has ever seen (or will ever see) the cosmos; rather, the cosmos is an implicit assumption in our ability to see anything at all, i.e., for things to be intelligible. If this weren't a cosmos, then we couldn't know it (or anything else)

Anything that exists partakes of oneness on pain of not existing; to exist is to be something. Conversely, to have no intelligible essence is to not exist. Many things we think of as "wrong" aren't so much erroneous as simply non-existent, and many of our political battles come down to the insistence that things that cannot exist must exist and shall exist. The word "marriage," for example, only exists because of the essential differences between male and female. New forms of marriage can only exist in a world without essences, but then marriage itself is drained of any essential meaning.

"Social justice" is another nonsense term with no essential meaning. I'm reminded of this because just yesterday I was rereading Hayek's indispensable Mirage of Social Justice. There is so much quoteworthy material in it; like Whitehead, he's better at cranking out memorable zingers than readable prose. This one is as good as any, and highlights the barbarism at the heart of the ironically named progressive. The idea of "social justice" is

a direct consequence of that anthropomorphism or personification by which naive thinking tries to account for all self-ordering processes. It is a sign of the immaturity of our minds that we have not yet outgrown these primitive concepts and still demand from an impersonal process which brings about a greater satisfaction of human desires than any deliberate human organization could achieve, that it conform to the moral precepts men have evolved for the guidance of their individual actions.

Yes, it isn't fair that Labron James plays basketball so much better than his teammates. But redistributing his points and rebounds to lesser players won't fix that.

Anyway, the Ground of reality is One, and this One is not a chaotic agglomeration but an integral whole. When we are in the Ground we are close to the One, and when we are at One we are floating in the Ground.

The Ground is also indistinguishable from the Center, the Center which is always present in the heart of every human being. Our task and our vocation is to live from this Center, which grounds, organizes, and unifies (which are all aspects of the same thing).

Although we journey through the finite, our home is in the Infinite. All men understand this, even when they deny it to themselves. A man who fails to transcend himself has failed to become one, precisely.

To say "transcendence" is to say openness to the Infinite. One could say that man reaches out to the Infinite, or that he cultivates a space within so as to allow its ingression.

Either way, this transitional space is where we live and where we are meant to live, not in some desiccated scientistic flatland with no water to drink or air to breath, just ice and rock.

Now, unity is always in the direction of inwardness; this is not to imply a pathological withdrawal from the world, but rather, the plain fact that oneness implies interiority.

Again, an "exterior one" is just a pile of stuff, so to speak, with no interior relations; its oneness is just our own projection, not anything intrinsic. But any complex whole -- say, the human body -- is characterized by an irreducibly complex system of internal relations, in which everything is "within" everything else.

Love unifies. Hate divides. Or, perhaps we could say that the deep unity we discover everywhere in the cosmos is what Dante was referring to when he spoke of "the love that moves the sun and other stars."

For Schuon, man "is capable of a love exceeding phenomena and opening out to the Infinite, and of an activity having its motive or its object beyond terrestrial interests."

Elsewhere Schuon has written to the effect that the purpose of life is quite simple: we are to know truth, will the good, and love beauty. Each of these three -- love, truth, beauty -- is a transcendental, meaning again that man's innate "cosmic direction" is beyond himself -- into, or toward, what surpasses him.

One might say that "horizontal life" is subjective and self-interested, while vertical life is disinterested and therefore objective (objectivity and disinterestedness amounting to the same thing). Now, there is no truth -- or knowledge of truth -- in the absence of these two.

Which is why the Way of Truth is a kind of sacrificial offering in which we transcend the passions and petty interests of the ego. To acknowledge a primordial truth is to die a little. But in a good way, since we die to fragmentation and are "resurrected" into unity. "A saint is a void open for the passage of God," and "To give oneself to God is to give God to the world" (Schuon).

Of course, you are free to try to be fulfilled within your own little absurcular orbit, but "It is a fact that man cannot find happiness within his own limits; his very nature condemns him to surpass himself, and in surpassing himself, to free himself" (ibid.)

I might add that we are condemned to surpass ourselves both horizontally and vertically. That is to say, our deiform nature means that we are trinitarian right down to the bones, so that even the most horizontal among us wants to escape from himself in the form of, say, a passionate love.

But love of man divorced from love of the Creator always ends badly, since no fellow human being can possibly embody the transcendence we seek. Bitterness, disillusionment, and recriminations follow, all for the inevitable discovery that every human is all too (another recent book discusses the details, On the Meaning of Sex).

Only the prior loss of God could transform an inevitability into a surprise: the surprise in discovering one's own idolatrous nature. Remembering God is our task, but forgetting God our hobby.

In Purcell, I came across a comment about St. John of the Cross, to the effect that his writing is "like a winding staircase always revolving around the same center, always recurring to the same topics, but at a higher level."

Again, this is the inspiraling "shape of man" that we've been discussing lately.

Schuon says something similar, that "Fundamentally there are only three miracles: existence, life, intelligence." And with intelligence, "the curve springing from God closes on itself like a ring that in reality has never been parted from the Infinite."

Thus, intelligence is already a kind of "union with God" (i.e., Truth), as are virtue and beauty. Each shines through the sophicating blandscape of the tenured, and brings us back to our ground and center, our origin and destiny. If truth is the "food" of the journey, love is the living water, and beauty the otherworldy perfume.

(All of the Schuon references are from his Echoes of Perennial Wisdom, which I guess must be echoing through me. It'll do that.)