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.


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).

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The Irreducible We of The Cosmos

The human vocation is to become in fact what we are in principle. Which is another way of expressing the old wise crack of the early Fathers, to the effect that God becomes man that man might become God.

As we've discussed in the past, religion embodies or incarnates certain metaphysical principles -- certain necessary truths -- often clothed in mythopoetic language. Particularly vivid examples of this occur, for example, in Genesis, vis-a-vis the origins of man and cosmos. (I might add that some of the highest truths are not necessary, hence the need for revelation; moreover, God is a person, not a computer program or system of logical entailment, nor is there a formula for the miraculous.)

In Genesis we learn that man is (the present tense is important), among other things, created in the image of God. Man is the last creation of the Creator, but this particular creature is unlike the others, since he partakes of the essence of the Creator in some mysterious way. (Note also that the final cause is the cause of causes; thus, the appearance of man tells us something critical about everything that has come before, and indeed, the reason for the whole He-bang.)

Please note that the text is rather unsaturated -- which is as it should be, so as to facilitate higher thought -- plus we don't yet know all that much about this Creator of whom we are said to be the image. But interestingly, the text goes out of its way to depict God in the plural: Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.

Since anything other than strict monotheism is ruled out -- not only because of the Jewish context but also because there cannot be two ultimate principles -- this seeming plurality cannot imply polytheism.

Rather, it must mean that ultimate reality is not an I but a We; or, more to the point, there can be no I in the absence of the We. This is certainly true of human beings; in fact, we might say that it is quintessentially true, in that an isolated human being, cut off from intimate communion with others, is literally inconceivable.

And we do mean literally. In fact, if you wanted to create a hell and populate it with monsters, that would be the way to do it: to create a bunch of radical monads with no intersubjective links to one another. In that case, sociopathy would be the norm rather than the exception. (The proclamation of our autonomy is the founding act of Hell. --NGD)

To say that man is in the image of the Creator is another way of saying that the manifestation is in the image of the Principle.

That being the case, real knowledge of this particular manifestation -- i.e., man -- should yield knowledge of ultimate reality. Bear in mind that we are not yet referring to any particular intellectual content, but rather, to the mere presence of man as such, to the container.

This is something I attempted to convey in the book -- that if we take a truly disinterested view, man is without question the most astonishing fact of the cosmos. Frankly, nothing else comes close, for whatever else we can think of is obviously being thought of by a human being. The soul is all it knows, and there is nothing in existence that cannot in principle be known by man (for to exist is to be intelligible).

The point is, if a human being is at bottom an irreducible We, then -- if the metaphysics of Genesis is correct -- then ultimate reality -- or whatever you wish to call it -- must also be a We.

Naturally, aphorisms come to mind, for there is more than one for every important occasion, i.e., for every transcendent fact or principle:

God exists for me in the same act in which I exist.

The existence of God is indemonstrable, because with a person the only thing we can do is bump into him.

If we believe in God we should not say, “I believe in God,” but rather, “God believes in me.”

If God were not a person, He would have died some time ago.

For God there are only individuals.

For the Christian, history does not have a direction, but rather a center.

You might say that man is the center of the microcosm, so long as we don't forget that this microcosm is at the periphery of the infinitely larger divine macrocosm. Also, the microcosm is necessarily deployed in time; where the macrocosm is a timeless plenum, it is as if the microcosm is a temporal plenitude. Thus, "History is less the evolution of humanity than the unfolding of facets of human nature" (NGD).

Although the I surely exists, it must be posterior to the We. In fact, you can't really get from the I to the We, not in the human sense of the term. For example, there is no We in a pile of rocks, even though they are "together." Which is probably what Dávila is alluding to when he says Any shared experience ends in a simulacrum of religion: no we no I no God.

And yet, on another level, there is a We in that pile of rocks. We call this We being. Obviously, anything that exists has at the very least this ontological substrate of We-dom, which is again why it is knowable, precisely. Anything that is knowable -- i.e., anything that exists -- possesses, or rather, "radiates," potential knowability to a subject.

Thus, to exist is to exist in and for -- at least in potential -- an Other. Put simply, there is no intelligence in the absence of intelligibility, the latter a kind of "giving over" from inhere to in here.

Our own existence isn't "potentiated," so to speak, unless and until it is seen and confirmed by the Other, or more precisely, the m-other (either real or symbolic, but really always both). We come into being in the infinite space between infantile neurology and this nurturing other. Only after the We is established do we discover the I. Otherwise, it's just not safe to come out.

Of course, results may vary, depending upon the quality of nurturing. For some, the We is so maimed by the exigencies of infancy -- abandonment, neglect, abuse, etc. -- that a secure and stable I fails to emerge, and this enfeebled I compulsively seeks communion in a pathological We (or in an isolated, schizoid I).

Even here -- i.e., in psychopathology -- 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.

Now, how would one characterize the nature of a healthy We? Well, for starters, we would say that it is imbued with Love. True, but that's insufficient to describe the phenomenology of what occurs. That is to say, there is a "flowing presence" that is somehow generated by the We, and yet, contains its two terms. Love is the act that transforms its object from a thing into a person; it is the organ with which we perceive the unmistakable individuality of beings (NGD).

The "healthy We" is also characterized by knowledge, beauty, and creativity. For example, recall what was said above, about how anything that exists is intelligible "for" a subject. Thus, to know a truth -- any truth -- is to commune with reality in an intimate manner. For you can't get more intimate than reality giving itself to your head in this manner.

Likewise beauty, where the connection is even more obvious and intimate. For to be touched by beauty is, well, to be touched, isn't it?

And creativity clearly results from a happy and productive internal couple working in harmony. Take what I'm doing at the moment. I don't assume you're having the same experience I am, but this thing I'm creating is very much emerging in the space between me and -- and what?

I don't think we need to define it, but it is clearly a close encounter of some kind, a We, which is a common experience in any form of creativity. "How'd you write that song?" "I don't know. It was just given to me, I guess." Something like that.

Further confirmation of our metaphysical we-dom is found in Proverbs, for example,

The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens; by His knowledge the depths were broken up....

When He prepared the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep..., then I was beside him, as a master craftsman; and I was his daily delight.

Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you....

Say to wisdom, "You are my sister."

They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge.... they shall eat the fruit of their own way and be filled to the full with their own fancies.

And all those who hate me love death.