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


julie said...

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

Ha - yes, the biggest trouble with Christianity is that it's full of sinners and weirdos.

Gagdad Bob said...

This morning I bumped into a fellow who expresses sentiments similar to those in the post (quoted by the reviewer):

"This frame of mind that is capable of ignoring fundamental moral distinctions was strongly enforced by those biological teachings which tend to abolish the barrier between human beings and the world of animals and plants. Formerly the bearer of an immortal soul, raised above all creation and creatures by his soul, reason, and consciousness, man had now, as it were, been integrated into the universal evolutionary process....

''As one of the protagonists, along with others in the struggle for existence, the human species, itself allegedly divided into struggling races, loses its uniqueness. Races emerge and races perish, and are wiped out from the surface of the earth. There are fine races and harmful species. And human life forfeits the sanctity that hallowed every individual soul for so long. The absolute sanctification of the totality of life on earth in the spirit of universal pantheism is also conducive to an attitude of indifference to the life and dignity of man. For the difference between man and any other living creature has been blurred. Both are part of life universal, and the body of a man is only a temporary receptacle for that tiny fraction of life.''

Van Harvey said...

"...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."

That '2nd reality' is what the vast majority of academia, media, and fact checkers, compare their assumptions to, when verifying what is 'true', today. The Cave has been successfully externalized to the point that, to experience 1st Reality today, requires closing your eyes and going within. If only to take a deep, deep breath, before going back outside.

Perhaps it's always been that way, but it's rarely been so obvious.