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).

10 comments:

julie said...

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

Yes, but also not quite; is there such a thing as a joyful leftist? Sardonic, yes; ironic, bitter, jaded, dark; their laughter is the kind that finds a deep satisfaction in the misery of others. Even in the midst of their demands to be accepted for whatever their personal truth is, they exhibit a seething rage and hatred for who they aren't. To the leftist, it's not enough that what's yours is mine and what's mine is mine, you must also be destroyed. Don't just throw milkshakes, throw acid!

ted said...

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.

Peter Kreeft has a different take on this. He believes while we may be hypocrites if we don't meet the higher virtues we hold to be true, it is still better to be a hypocrite than to have no higher standards. I appreciate his take, but I do think if you know you're Superman then you expected to fly once in a while.

julie said...

I read willfulness in this sense as being actively choosing to do evil, which is something different than merely failing to have higher standards.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Dr. Godwin.

You have identified the contours of the battlefield faced by all.

The contingent has a strong and tenacious grip, and seems to easily infiltrate into all elements of the being. The basis of contingency are the conditions under which we must operate: the need for food, water, shelter, and safety form the bedrock. Superimposed on this are the voracious needs to belong, to be accepted, to have others think well of us, to accomplish great deeds. Since all this is not taken care of without personal actions, the human being yaws wildly towards trying to be a fully autonomous being; we forget we cannot go it alone, we need God. Once the being is sufficiently distressed by the struggle, then all manner of self soothing and compensation mechanisms come into play, and you get strife with others, unhealthy eating, failure to exercise, abandonment of moral scruples, substance abuse, crime deceit, and the whole sorry kettle of sequelae.

Earth is a hard place, a spiritual proving ground. Some are lucky enough to get by adequately by conventional means, others are crushed and sorely tried. Most eventually turn to God to varying degrees. Some achieve a balance. The variations in outcome are as many as there are persons.

A few are able to overcome all and become inwardly living, true spiritual beings. That would be the gold standard.

Good luck to all.

Anonymous said...

One may think of the typical leftist as a tattoed, dreadlocked and drug-addled freak, with at least one pentagram bodymod scar. Sometimes they’re Muslim. But this only describes the Western city leftist.

The most dangerous leftist is the Chinese leftist. Slant eyed and devious brained, that leadership only wants to steal capitalism, for the covert purpose of sucking it dry. It never officially embraces it (parse any speech by Xi Jinping). Neither capitalism nor Christianity is ever mentioned as the end, or even the means, but socialism always is. Sadly, the Chinese have always been better team planners than those self-interested Americans. And far more patient.

But this is depressing. Anybody wanna talk about permafrost methane? The Jews best get building that temple, pronto.

Pat Santy said...

I find Augustine quite comforting as I review my life prior to converting.

julie said...

Dr. Santy, are you going Catholic? Congratulations, and may God bless you on your journey!

I am partial to Augustine's mama, myself. She never gave up on him. It's a wonderful reminder that praying for others really does matter.

Van Harvey said...



Along those lines, this too is too, too, true: "This is an important thing to understand about politics in any age, but especially in this highly democratic age. It’s about flattery, as much as anything. The people flocking to your banner do so because it validates an opinion of themselves."
, and,
"The fact that both Warren and Buttigieg are pseudo-intellectual posers is not only not a liability, but it is an asset. The people they seek to attract are themselves supercilious dilettantes and poseurs."

Van Harvey said...

(Oops, 'those lines', were these) "The left is made up of individuals who are dissatisfied with what they have and are satisfied with who they are."

Pat Santy said...

Julie, I reverted back to Catholicism in 2012 after 50 years in the wilderness. You are never too old to see the Light and have Truth smack you in the face.