If we could ascribe a "shape" to man, it would be a kind of inwardly ascending spiral. Purcell says much the same thing; beginning with the ancient Greeks, "we make our own self the object of a quest," and this "odyssey within and beyond ourselves is a lifelong one, with the quest itself leading to a substantial deepening of who we are."
And substantial is the operative word, because it does indeed result in a kind of existential "heft" that is quite palpable when we encounter it, and more or less synonymous with (or even the measure of) real being.
Conversely, we all know lightweights of various kinds -- intellectual, emotional, spiritual, artistic, political, journalistic, etc. We routinely deal with so-called intellectuals who have no heft whatsoever, the types who generally compose our media and academic elite. The illusory weight they throw around results from mutual mirroring, or, to use the technical term, transactional fellatio.
As I've mentioned before, you can usually tell when you are dealing with one of these lightweights within a sentence or two of their writing. How are such persons able to instantaneously transmit so little with so little? Obama comes to mind. Probably because of the upward winds of affirmative action -- a perverse caricature of the inspiraling process -- he will never be able to perceive his own vacuity, which is protected by a bubble of fragility, pettiness, and unearned self-regard.
Schuon -- who is the opposite of the existentially heftless, since he communicates ontological weight with striking economy -- agrees that
The way towards God always involves an inversion: from outwardness one must pass to inwardness, from multiplicity to unity, from dispersion to concentration [read: heft], from egoism to detachment, from passion to serenity.
This serenity isn't a "blandness," which is what I imagined it must be when I lived at the periphery, where "excitement" is really just restlessness and agitation in disguise.
In order to be happy, man must have a center; now this center is above all the Certitude of the One. The greatest calamity is the loss of the center and the abandonment of the soul to the caprices of the periphery. To be a man is to be at the Center; it is to be Center.
I know what you're thinking: how does this differ from, say, the egocentric Obama, for whom delusions of mere adequacy would represent a great improvement? We can illuminate the difference quite easily with just three words: attractor, ego, and O.
As we've discussed in the past, there is clearly (for anyone can phenomenologically prove it to himself) something analogous to "gravity" -- or gravitational force -- in psychospiritual space. Just as, say, the moon is drawn into the orbit of the earth-attractor, and earth into the sun-attractor, vertical space is populated with a host of transpersonal attractors, to such an extent that it can truly be said that "you are what (or Whom) you orbit."
The very first step of the spiritual life -- for all subsequent steps follow from it -- is to leave one attractor for another. Call it what you want -- from the outer to inner, periphery to center, ego to nous, or just (•) to (¶) -- but this is in a sense our "perpetual practice," in which we are always beginners, because we are always taking that first booby step again and again. When finitude steps into infinitude -- or time into eternity, many into one -- every step is literally the first and last.
Schuon raises a subtle but orthoparadoxical point, to the effect that there is a kind of good and bad movement at both the periphery and center. On the one hand, the "spiritual immobility" of the infinite Center is "opposed to the endless movement of external phenomena." But on the other hand, there is a kind of higher "spiritual movement" which "is opposed to the natural inertia of the fallen soul."
To put it in plain language, the people whose lives seem so full of activity are often the most static, whereas the Raccoon is never moving more swiftly than when he is just sitting still, say, banging out a blog post. No one could look at me at the moment and know that I am soaring on wings of slack.
Here is another apt observation by Schuon:
The soul must withdraw itself from the dispersion of the world; this is the quality of Inwardness. Then the will must vanquish the passivity of life; this is the quality of Actuality. Finally, the mind must transcend the unconsciousness of the ego; this is the quality of Simplicity. To perceive the Substance intellectually, above the uproar of accidents, this is to realize Simplicity. To be one is to be simple; for Simplicity is to the One what Inwardness is to the Center and what Actuality is to the Present
(All the Schuon references are from his extremely pithy and yet weighty Echoes of Perennial Wisdom.)
Purcell raises a subtle but critical point about our common Quest -- that it isn't just something personal and idiosyncratic, but "universal." In other words, just as in science, we are dealing with an objective world that therefore yields "public" information.
Indeed, when a spiritual journey goes wholly "private," so to speak, into the realms of personal imagination and fantasy, this isn't just the way of Error, but of (oc)cultism, gnosticism (religious and/or political), and potential tyranny, because tyranny occurs whenever we are forced to bow before a truth that we cannot freely accept and/or prove to ourselves.
America, for example, is rooted in natural law, which posits universal moral principles that any normal person can discover and confirm for himself (cf. What We Can't Not Know). In fact, when you think about it, the entire category of morality must be quintessentially "scientific," in the sense that it deals with principles that are both abstract and universal. A "private morality" is no morality at all.
In other words to affirm that morality is relative isn't just the opposite of morality as such, but renders morality strictly impossible (like "my truth"). If morals are relative, then there is no such thing -- just as if there are no laws of physics, there is no physics.
At present we see a dangerously media-inflamed lynch mob of the left in an uproar over a man who allegedly defended his life against a budding criminal who was beating his head against the sidewalk. Undoubtedly additional and perhaps even contradictory facts will emerge through the legal process, but why a moral relativist should be offended by the law of the jungle is a mystery, to say the least, for if there is no universal morality, there is only power, i.e., "might makes right."
Conversely, conservatives know there is a universal moral law. If, therefore, it turns out that the facts are not as we know them, and that Zimmerman victimized a wholly innocent person, then we will be the first to express moral outrage and to demand justice, because it is a first principle of morality that one doesn't harm innocent persons unless one has a damn good reason, e.g., self-defense.
Purcell discusses a psychological phenomenon that made the ascent of Hitler possible. He references Voegelin, who escaped Nazi Germany and was therefore in a position to understand what went on there.
Voegelin gave the phenomenon one of those extremely long German names, but it essentially comes down to a willful blindness, a refusal to perceive, a deliberate avoidance of "understanding what was going on." He traces the malady as far back as Heraclitus, who wrote that "those who refuse to ask questions of existence... are (spiritually) asleep."
The key point here is again a detachment from the Real, usually accomplished through what Bion called "attacks on linking" (the word "attack" is apt, for there is always an element of intra-psychic violence in this defense mechanism). That is to say, the easiest way to maintain the Lie is to sever any cognitive links that lead to Truth. This all happens unconsciously in a rapid and pre-emptive manner, which is why it is so difficult to correct.
In other words -- and this should go without saying -- in order to promulgate the Lie in a systematic manner, one must on some level be aware of the Truth. If one isn't aware of the Truth, then the lying won't be at all organized, but just ad hoc, chaotic, and scattershot. One might say that leftism is a systematic lie, hence its "robustness." It attacks truth at the very root, which saves a lot of time and trouble.
But for the same reason, it is not susceptible to correction until reality exacts a terrible vengeance. The longer one ignores reality, the more severe the retribution tends to be, for the cosmic scales must be balanced.
The source of our common reality -- and the possibility of intelligibility and meaningful communication -- is, of course, the logos. But as Voegelin explains, "many live as if they had a wisdom of their own. Those who are awake have a world [kosmos] one and common, but those who are asleep each turn aside into their private worlds" (in Purcell, emphasis mine).
This results in the pseudo-doctrine -- the absurd principle-of-no-principle -- represented by relativism, i.e., "perception is reality." If perception is indeed reality, then there is no reality, precisely; there is no possibility of an intelligible cosmos, neither scientifically nor morally. Man is reduced to animal, but then again, not really, for animals are at least guided by an unerring instinct universal to the species. Man alone would be condemned to his own private hell ruled by delusion and power.
Voegelin continues: "Through spirit man actualizes his potential to partake of the divine," which "is that which all men have in common..." Conversely, he "who closes himself against what is common, or who revolts against it, removes himself from the public life of human community. He becomes thereby a private man, or in the language of Heraclitus, an idiotes" (in Purcell).
To live inside this private idiosphere is to live outside the logosphere, which is again our common world. This very much reminds me of a discussion in Maritain's Degrees of Knowledge, about what are called "beings of reason."
That is to say, the mind of man "does not conceive only real beings, i.e., beings capable of existing." Rather, it can also construct "objects of thought that are incapable of existing outside the mind... which the ancients called beings of reason..."
Maritain points out that "God does not make beings of reason." Rather, they are products of the human mind, and are always intrinsically contradictory. An example would be Marxism (and all philosophies derived from it), which can only exist in the mind in general or the university in particular, never in reality. It can be forced upon reality, of course, but again, reality eventually takes its vengeance.
UPDATE: beings of reason conjured by the left have multiplied exponentially in the seven years since this post was first published, especially since 2016.