Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Little Something About Nothing

Here is the procedure I am following: 1) skimming each and every post; 2) extracting any passage that strikes me on any level for any reason; 3) placing it in file for that year (or sometimes half-year, since there's too much); 4) subsequently reviewing (and re-reviewing and re-re-reviewing) the material for each year in a more ruthlessly critical way, tossing out the fat, i.e., the transient, trite, repetitive, cute, clever, facile, pompous, BoBastic, etc.; all the while waiting for the deeper organization to emerge from the fog.

I've sketched out a crude cosmic map on a large piece of cardboard, roughly three by four feet. Naturally it has God at the top, with all the rest flowing down and out from that absolute principle (and then back up). Problem is, there are dozens of categories which I need to tighten up in a more coherent way.

Hmm. I notice there are many trinities, such reason-empiricism-mysticism, sense-knowledge-presence, truth-will-beauty, order-disorder-chaos, and a lot of complementarities too, such as self-other, male-female, world-God, ascent-descent, vertical-horizontal, whole-part, time-eternity, etc. Perhaps the music of the cosmos is played in 3/2 time.

I just now realized I need a "higher" or deeper" category above, behind, within, or at least in dialectic with God, AKA Beyond-Being, the apophatic God, Eckhart's ground, etc. This principle is not nothing!

Well, to be perfectly vague, it is nothing, but only from the finite perspective (with which it is always in dialectic). But it is critical to bear in mind that its shadow runs through everything, all the way down. It is why, in reality, no man knows anything about anything.

In other words, no matter how much we "know," it's all still a Great Mystery, and a big part of spiritual life is the (vertical) recollection of this Primordial Fact, thereby "withdrawing" all of our day-to-day projections that create and sustain the various pseudo-realities we otherwise inhabit.

For truly, without this vertical recollection we are like spiders who spin webs out of our own psycho-pneumatic substance, and then inhabit the webs. It is very easy to see another person's web. A psychologist does this -- or used to do this, anyway -- on a professional basis. But now psychologists actually help to maintain the web(s), such that the person who spun it can't even stand back from and examine it! (In other words, it is the same war on transcendence common to all forms of fascism.)

Consider the following headline from the I-Can't-Even Department: American Psychological Association Labels 'Traditional Masculinity' as 'Harmful'. I'm not going to bother reading the story, but I can assure you the real problem is the toxic femininity that has infiltrated and devastated the entire field, such that it has become such a joke. If that is psychology, then we have to invent a new word for what Jordan Peterson and I and a few other outlaws are talking about.

Anyway, this morning, while doing a re-review of 2006, I found the following passage by Roger Kimball, in reference to Roger Scruton:

Scruton comes bearing news about permanent things, one part of which is the evanescence of human aspiration. Hence the governing word "loss." There is a sense in which conservatism is anti-Romantic, since it is constitutionally suspicious of the schemes of perfection Romanticism typically espouses.

But there is another sense in which conservatism is deeply Romantic: the sense in which it recognizes and embraces the ineradicable frailty, the ultimate futility, of things human. "And so," Scruton writes, "I acquired consciousness of death and dying, without which the world cannot be loved for what it is. That, in essence is what it means to be a conservative.”

Scruton writes that, “without the consciousness of loss, there is nothing a conservative would find worth conserving. It is only by facing up to loss... that we can build on the dream of ultimate recuperation.” As such, “one of the most harrowing depredations of the modern world is to rob us of the religious sense, which is to say the sense of loss.” Too often, Scruton notes, “there is neither love nor happiness -- only fun. For us, one might be tempted to suggest, the loss of religion is the loss of loss.”

So, recollection of Death is one way to stay in dialectic with the Nothing referenced above.


ted said...

That emphasis on the sense of loss has been a part of me since my childhood. I always assumed I was a pessimist :).

Gagdad Bob said...


ted said...

Nice neologism!

julie said...

One of the things I find interesting about the curriculum we are using is how it doesn't shy away from death. Just started up again this week, and already we've had a poem about snow as both a winding sheet and a bridal veil, and the folk song of the month is about a young man going off to war and dying. And yet, it is not a macabre fascination; rather, there is a healthy context in which we realize that it is part and parcel of the process of living.

Gagdad Bob said...

Probably the purest representation of this would be those animals that die after mating, or mayflies that live a day. As with God, a single day must be eternity, eternity a single day.

Humans are given an uncertain number of days, but if they aren't bisected by eternity, they don't mean anything.

Anonymous said...

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

Daniel T said...

Hi Bob, quick question. How did you begin to learn about Hinduism/Buddhism and do you have any book recommendations along those lines that aren't excessively new-agey?

Gagdad Bob said...

That's a long story! I suppose like anyone else, I went straight to the source -- Alan Watts -- before eventually moving on to people like DT Suzuki and Ken Wilber, who alerted me to Sri Aurobindo (The Adventure of Consciousness used to be a personal favorite; I'm not sure it still would be, but it's spiritually entertaining for sure).

I then worked my way backwards to the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, etc., and various commentaries thereon (e.g., Shankara and Ramanuja). I guess I read substantially more in the way of Vedanta than Buddhism, as I found it more metaphysically congenial and less woo woo. To be perfectly accurate, I was initially drawn to Zen because of the complete Absence of woo woo, but it wasn't for me, mainly because it is totally reliant upon self-effort as opposed to other effort, AKA grace.

Now I suppose I might recommend Schuon's Treasures of Buddhism. The Essential Frithjof Schuon has brief sections (15-20 pp.) on Hinduism and Buddhism, not to mention Christianity, & Judaism, and how they all relate to universal metaphysics, epistemology, and human nature.

I can also recommend Henry LaSaux, AKA Swami Abhishiktananda, a Catholic monk who moved to India and tried to reconcile Christianity and Vedanta in his own person. A Christian Pilgrim in India: The Spiritual Journey of Swami Abhishiktananda is a good place to start. Another random little book I remember enjoying was In Search of the Unitive Vision: Letters of Sri Madhava Ashish to an American Businessman, 1978-1997.

Daniel T said...

Lots to digest. That's exactly what I was hoping for, thanks for the thorough reply!

Van Harvey said...

"...If that is psychology, then we have to invent a new word for what Jordan Peterson and I and a few other outlaws are talking about."

Applied PhilosOphy?

ted said...

Here's a link to that Aurobindo book.

Gagdad Bob said...

I remember reading around 20 years ago of a "clinical philosophy" movement, with individuals hanging out shingles and treating folks. I think it would be extremely helpful to most people, since most people literally don't know how to think, which leads to all sorts of problems in every dimension of life, from the macro to the micro. I don't think I really learned how to think until listening to Prager, who is so logical, dispassionate, and wise about everything from relationships to politics.

ted said...

Hmm, clinical philosophy. Would insurance cover that? :). I recall reading a novel by Irvin Yalom where the protagonist was exactly that.

Anonymous said...

I visited a popular place which was critical of Prager once.

Every single Prager disciple found in the comments thread were proclaiming that he was either never ever wrong, or that he was almost always right.

To my mind this begged the question. When we have congressional approvals in the teens, and POTUS approvals typically in the 40’s (everybody knows it's usually their base doing the approving), with Prager being almost always right why even bother with elections? Why not just make the infallible Prager our first guru-emperor?

That aside, why doesn't he even try to run?

Gagdad Bob said...

He's been asked to run many times -- including for the US senate -- but ultimately feels he has more impact doing what he's doing. I agree entirely, as no one can do what he does, while any idiot can be a senator.

I myself agree with Prager about 95% of the time. But this has to do with the very nature of intelligence, which is of course convergent on Truth or it is nothing.

Gagdad Bob said...

For that matter, morality is also convergent, and that's his central preoccupation.

Gagdad Bob said...

Beauty is a little trickier, but I nevertheless agree with Schuon that it is in some sense objective, that is, an adequation to a real presence (and power), and not just subjective opinion, much less illusion. Differences of opinion usually involve differences in ability, discernment, experience, training, aptitude, etc.

Gagdad Bob said...

For example, I could say that classical music does nothing for me, but I know full well that the inadequacy is in me, not the music. If only politicians were more appropriately humble about that which they do not know and cannot know. Ignorance masquerading as knowledge is the plague of our times.

Anonymous said...

Like many famous pundits, Prager is funded by billionaires. I'd think that would have an influence on what he says. I don't think Jesus preached that Truth has a price.

My concern is for the children. In my own childhood everybody around me made good Christian horse sense. Almost everybody around me went to regular church. Discussing the spiritual wasn't the slightest bit odd. Almost everyone in my parents family, their generation, served Christ vocationally or avocationally. Sure there were social problems back then, but since I wasn’t black or gay or female and was made to compete... economic life was easy.

But things have changed. My family, the kids generation, are mostly in their 20’s and 30’s now. Out of the dozens of them, only two serve “Christ vocationally or avocationally”. Most are not even religious. Looking about, I find that this is a national trend. I can always blame those dangblasted bod-mod SJWs, the media, academia, Hollywood, gangsta rap... But they never influenced my own declining faith much. More than anybody else, it was Christians themselves that did. When I discuss with the kids what’s up with them, I find their reasoning isn’t all that different from mine.

julie said...

"More than anybody else, it was Christians themselves that did. When I discuss with the kids what’s up with them, I find their reasoning isn’t all that different from mine."

Yes, unfortunately, that is all too often the case. Christians are often our own worst ambassadors for the the faith, for any number of reasons. I went through a decade or so of being a smug-minded atheist, convinced that Christianity was mostly for stupid people. Not a phase I am proud of; I thank God for His mercy.

As to Prager, I credit him and a few others with being the kind of people whose unabashed faith helped me to reconsider.

julie said...

Apropos nothing, we had some heavy rains back in Florida, but today is the first time I've looked out the window to see garbage cans floating down the street.

I hope you guys are staying dry and mud-free.

Gagdad Bob said...

Being at the top of a hill is worse during fires but better during floods. Even Steven.