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.)

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Contours of the Idiosphere

Two more edited and strung together posts on Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery:

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.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

To Know We're In the Cosmos is to Know We're Not Of the Cosmos

To review: there is more difference between man and ape than between ape and existence, being that when cosmic evolution crosses the threshold of Man, it enters a vast and inexhaustible Within that might as well represent a second cosmos. And yet, there can be only One.


No ape ever says hmmm. Which is the first word.

This second cosmos is somehow "within" the existing one, and yet, transcends it. Thus, in his own way, man has a similar relationship to the cosmos as does God, i.e., both immanent and transcendent (or in but not of; if we were only in, then we couldn't possibly know of it). To know there are appearances is to intuit the reality. Here again, no ape ever said "it may look like x, but x is just an appearance of y."

As Schuon writes, "One of the keys to understanding our true nature and ultimate destiny is the fact that the things of this world are never proportionate to the actual range of our intelligence. Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or else it is nothing."

Absolute or Nothing. There is literally no in-between; or rather there can only be an in-between if it is a hierarchical descent from the Absolute. If there is no Absolute, then nothing is higher than anything else.

Now, this vast and protean cosmic interior is bound up with the universal Quest alluded to in the previous post. Obviously no material object embarks upon a quest to discover its origins and destiny, nor does a dog give a hoot about where it came from so long as it is fed, watered, and amused.

And yet, if one is a strict materialist, man's quest would have to be considered utterly quixotic and as doomed from the start as that of any other dog. A dog enjoys a walk for its own sake. He doesn't expect to come back from it a better dog. But man's life is a walk toward a nonlocal object. It has a teleological character.

Yes, there are some who conclude that human existence is absurd, and leave it at that (even fewer can actually consistently live in such a desiccated fantasy world without constantly barking at the ghosts they deny). But man is not built this way, and it goes against human nature to imagine and project an absurd cosmos. Rather, meaning is everywhere and at every level of existence. For

Things are not mute. They merely select their listeners (NGD).

This being the case, it shouldn't be a surprise that existence is ultimately meaningful. Indeed, to say that meaning is everywhere except in the whole is analogous to saying that the cells in your body are alive but not the body itself.

Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery is his own story, his own attempt to situate himself within our 13.85 billion year cosmodrama. As it so happens, this is impossible to do without recourse to thousands of other cosmodramas.

In fact, this is one of the most baleful effects of living in any kind of totalitarian regime: that only one drama is permitted, e.g., the drama of Darwinism, or of Marxism, White Privilege, or Toxic Masculinity. Yes, you are "free" to discover your life's meaning, so long as it is approved by the progressive indoctrinational complex.

"Mass education" is a key to facilitating the kind of concentrated power lusted after by the left, for if everyone thinks the same way -- lives in the same narrative bubble -- this makes their job a lot easier. "Thought," such as it is, runs in only one direction, converging upon the almighty state. There is a reason why so many of the wealthiest zip codes in the land encircle and ultimately strangle D.C.

Conversely, a (genuinely) liberal education is anathema to the state-media narrative of the progressive left, because people might discover a meaning that clashes with state interests. Thus, for the state to "allow" school vouchers is as likely as the IRS operating on the honor system. Without coercion -- whether intellectual or economic -- there is no left. One cannot claim to be "against bullying" while voting Democrat.

One of the keys to life is discovering the useful narratives. One might even say that this is the ultimate purpose of an education. How can it be that one can complete thirteen or seventeen or nineteen or twenty-four years of education without having encountered a multitude of these? That was me: after twenty-four years of schooling and one Ph.D., I wasn't just starting out, but had to dig myself out of all those false narratives.

Purcell writes that as he embarked upon his quest to explore the inner dimension of the cosmos (i.e., humanness), he discovered "a thousand and one mirror quests" in "the multiplicity and variety of quests of other individuals and cultures" down through the ages.

What this means is that, as we set out on our quest, our primary data is not the world per se. In other words, none of us starts from scratch with unmediated knowledge of things. At the very least we are given a language, a culture, a tradition, a particular family, etc. But for the person who wants to go beyond the given, our data includes the "quests" of a multitude of others, separated in time and space by hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Man is a temporal mountain range featuring many glorious peaks (there are of course countless valleys, or at least I can't keep up with all the Democrat candidates for president).

There is indeed a community saints, and not just the moral kind. For there is intellectual sanctity. Moreover, at the highest peaks there is a convergence of moral and intellectual purity. There one would be frankly mortified to believe certain ideas. To put it another way, the ideas that circulate in the typical university would cause acute embarrassment in the presence of God. You have been warned.

This is a key point raised by Chesterton in his Orthodoxy. That is, mankind is one, not just in space but in time. By no means are we permitted to consider the dead as mere links to us -- as if their only purpose was to serve as stepping stones to something better. But if one is an evolutionist, that is the inescapable conclusion: nothing simply "is," but is always on the way to something better.

But just as it is immoral to treat a living person as a means and not an end, treating past generations as means robs them of their dignity as persons: "If we don't respect those who have gone before us, who will respect us when we are gone?" In short, you can't dehumanize your ancestors without dehumanizing their descendants: no them, no us. History is either one story or no story at all, just a chaotic and self-obsessed Grievance Studies Department.

For Purcell, "meditative re-enactment of the expressions of the quests of others, animates our existence with a heightened sense of the worth of human existence -- our own and others -- and grounds a sense of human family that is universal across space and time."

To be continued...