Friday, September 20, 2019

Prolegomenon to Reclaiming Common Sense, If I'm Using that Word Correctly

Another mature post, aged for several years in an old rain barrel in my side yard, now extensively revised and maybe even edited:

Schuon characterizes philosophy as the science of fundamental principles -- a science that operates via an intuition which "perceives" as opposed to a reason that can only "conclude." And of course, reason can only conclude based upon premises that must be furnished from another source.

In short, there is no way around an extra-rational judgment; the attempt to ground truth in reason alone quickly ends in tautology. It's one reason why mathematics cannot map reality, a la Gödel.

Having said that, as some extra-rational judgments surpass reason, others fall short of it; the first is common sense, the second common nonsense. And both common sense and common nonsense are embedded in culture. It's why, for example, people leave college more stupid than when they entered. Unless they avoided the humanities.

As Schuon puts it, "There is no faith without any knowledge, nor knowledge without any faith." That's what you call an ineluctable fact. Any failure on your part to assent to its truth renders you at least somewhat blind, for "Faith is the intuition of the transcendent; unbelief stems from the layer of ice that covers the heart and excludes this intuition."

Now, there are two related kinds of extra-rational judgment; let us call one "intuition," the other "faith." Each of these is a mode of perception of invisible realities.

To put it conversely, in the absence of faith and intuition, we wouldn't be able to see anything other than what we see physically, and would thereby be reduced to animality; or, we would see surfaces -- appearances -- only, with no access to underlying realities, whether scientific, aesthetic, or religious.

Faith is the implicit perception of an impending (vertical) discovery: not only will it be "rewarded" with the knowledge of which it is a foreshadow, it is already a kind of knowledge, in the same sense that a flower turning toward the light is already a kind of prelinguistic "knowledge of the sun." In the words of the Aphorist, Faith is not an irrational assent to a proposition; it is a perception of a special order of realities.

Or, to quote Schuon, "The mystery of faith is in fact the possibility of an anticipatory perception in the absence of its content; that is, faith makes present its content by accepting it already, before the perception properly so-called." Faith is never static, but always on-the-way.

It seems to me that faith may be thought of as a kind of formalized intuition, whereas intuition is an informal faith.

In a way, these two have the same relationship as revelation and intellect: somewhere Schuon equates revelation to exteriorized (divine) intellect, and intellect to an interiorized revelation. Indeed, the very existence of the intellect may be the most accessible miracle available to man. It is the last thing you'd expect to emerge from lifeless matter.

The point is, a small minority of human beings are "intellectual" in the proper sense of the term, but there are countless cognitive narcissists who practice a debased intellectualism, AKA the tenured. Their childish grandiosity causes them to conflate their impoverished reality tunnels with reality.

These tunnels are held together more by consensus than fact, e.g., Climate Change. As such, they are brittle at their core, for which reason "a single naïve question is sometimes enough to make an entire system come tumbling down" (NGD).

But the Good News is that God is fair, such that the non-intellectual nevertheless has access to the highest wisdom available to the (genuine) intellectual, via faith. In other words, God would not deprive a man of saving knowledge for wholly contingent reasons, such as a few IQ points. Besides, as often as not, "A high I.Q. is indicative of distinguished mediocrity." Intelligence can be its own worst enemy, and Satan has been known to exploit this weakness in man. To put it mildly.

To be clear, the intellect is by no means superior to faith, for, to paraphrase Schuon, the latter involves intuition of the same "intellectual object" that is the reality behind appearances. Both are ways to penetrate more deeply, ultimately from surface to ur-Face. For If God were not a person, He would have died some time ago (NGD).

Faith is "to say 'yes' to the truth of God and of immortality – this truth which we carry in the depths of our heart," and "to see concretely what apparently is abstract." It is "a priori a natural disposition of the soul to admit the supernatural; it is therefore essentially an intuition of the supernatural, brought about by Grace."

Not to grind gears too abruptly, but all of the above is just by way of a pre-ramble to discussion of another book I read over the weekend, Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea. One might be tempted to think the ideas presented above are excessively abstract or impractical, but it turns out they are the very essence of common sense.

Recall Madison's gag about how government -- or, let's say "political science" -- is "the greatest of all reflections on human nature." The reason this is so is that if we don't get human nature right, then our political system will be either stillborn or monstrous; and if we don't get our political system right, then it will produce stillborn or monstrous humans.

It reminds me of that line about how the problem with capitalism is capitalists, whereas the problem with socialism is socialism. Analogously, the problem with Christianity is Christians, whereas the problem with Islam certainly appears to be Islam, given how every majority Muslim country is such a trainwreck when it isn't actively blowing up the train.

Back to my main point, which is that America was founded upon an ontological common sense that cannot be surpassed, only denied, eroded, or attacked. Which is what the left does, all day long, especially since Woodrow Wilson, who said as much quite explicitly (for progressives were more honest about their agenda in those days, although Beto is coming close).

Wilson was nothing short of an American Monster. As far as he was concerned, "the Founders' propositions were only relevant to the time of the Founders," and "because history had moved on those propositions had been rendered obsolete."

Said our first intellectual present -- the first with a Ph.D. (Recall what was said above about the childishly omniscient but brittle reality tunnels of the tenured.)

In other words, for this distinguished mediocretin, what the Founders regarded as "self-evident truths" amounted to nothing more than historically conditioned illusions and/or expedients.

Let Wilson progsplain it to you rubes: although "a great deal of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual," we now know that this was just a lot of "vague sentiment and pleasing speculation." Thanks to the pretentious bloviating of Hegel, we know better: the state is the March of God on Earth.

"For Wilson, history had moved on and, as a result, the thinking of the Founders had become, as he says in the quote above, 'nonsense.'"

What kind of person presumes to reduce the undeniable truths that permit human flourishing to mere nonsense? A demonically inspired monster, that's who.

The "self-evident truths" propounded by the Founders were the precise opposite of historically conditioned beliefs subject to future revision by our progressive betters. What they meant by the term "self-evident" was that the power to understand these truths was available to all human beings, by virtue of being human. They are "no sooner understood than they are believed," the reason being that "they 'carry the light of truth itself'" (Arthur Herman, in Curry).

To be continued...

Monday, September 16, 2019

Everyone has a Religion, and Some are Even True

So, is common sense rooted in principles, or do principles flow from common sense? And is common sense universal, or does it change from epoch to epoch, culture to culture, cable network to cable network?

First, we had better define the term. Before looking it up, I would say that it must have to do with knowledge accessible to every normal man by virtue of being one. It is what my pal Bion would call "pre-conceptual," meaning that it is not quite knowledge, but ready to become so: pre-knowledge, so to speak:

Bion introduced the idea of a pre-conception, a psychological entity waiting for for a realization that will "mate" with it. The "unexperienced" pre-conception mated with a realization produces a conception, and from this thoughts and thinking can develop.

Note the role of experience (or lack thereof): if the innate pre-conception doesn't meet with an experience in the outside world, it is still there, only unrealized. This then contributes to psychic pain, except the person will have no idea from where the pain is coming. Unexperienced pre-conceptions that fail to become concepts nevertheless result in experienced distress.

Example? Like "original sin," evidence is everywhere. Psychic pain is quite fungible, such that it is readily exchanged, converted, transformed, and falsely attributed to other psychic levels, persons, or environmental factors.

One of the specialties of the left is the transformation of existential pain into political grievance. Some pain is indeed unavoidable by virtue of being human. But if you cannot tolerate this realization, the left is always ready to help you to attribute it to something else, and more to the point, promise an end to the pain. But this is no more effective than curing physical disease by electing your preferred candidate.

Since the election of President Trump, we have seen how millions of people persist in attributing their mental illness to him. Is there anything comparable on the right? I've never claimed to be normal, but I don't remember blaming Obama for it.

Back to pre-conceptions for a moment. A large part of mental illness revolves around a kind of psychic miscegenation, or a union of pre-conception with toxic experience, resulting in an inverted or perverted conception. Thus, for example, a child who is abused by his parents may grow up to be an abusive parent.

It seems that for every absolute there is a false absolute -- which is still an absolute, only in denial of itself. I would say that our awareness of the Absolute per se is a consequence of our pre-conceptual knowledge of God: a proper mating of this divine pre-conception with spiritual experience results in a normally religious person. A mismating -- or no mating at all -- results in its many alternatives, from polytheism to materialism and everything in between. Or, just say idolatry: an idol is a false absolute. Put another way, everyone has an absolute, and some are even true.

In the excellent Book of Absolutes, Gairdner devotes various chapters to the universals of human life and culture, the constants of nature, the universals of human sex and biology, the universals of language, and the universals of law. I am tempted to just say Read the Book, because that's an awful lot to cover in the spacetime of a post, especially because it's been a decade or so since I read it.

Since then, Gairdner has published another called The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree. This second book is no doubt a logical extension of the first, for what is leftism but the political implications of relativism and (pretended) rejection of absolutes, i.e., a deeply principled political stupidity at war with the nature of things?

Another book we haven't discussed but which I can heartily endorse is Frithjof Schuon and the Perennial Philosophy, which is an introductory guide to his thinking -- which, for me, comes close to a description of what thinking ought to be at its highest and deepest levels. Yes, there is a proper way to think, and philosophy should be all about providing prescriptions for it. What's the alternative? Providing bad ways to think? Or ways to avoid thinking? Isn't that what college is for?

Chapter five condenses his system to the very essence of what we might call Metacosmic Common Sense -- although he would hasten to add that this is no more "his system" than the sun can be private property. Rather, it shines equally upon the good and evil, the intelligent and stupid, the gifted and the tenured. People of below average intelligence can have perfectly adequate common sense, while so-called intellectuals can be entirely lacking in it. In the words of the Aphorist,

--Until we come across instructed fools, instruction seems important.

--Great stupidities do not come from the people. They have seduced intelligent men first.

--The learned fool has a wider field to practice his folly.

I could be wrong, but I like to think that truth is anterior to revelation. i.e., that Truth is like the ultimate pre-conception that is filled by the experience of revelation. This would explain why a simple person of faith can be so much wiser than a brilliant scientist when it pertains to essential human truths beyond the scope of science -- and why we would prefer to be governed by the first 500 people in the Boston phonebook than the Harvard faculty.

Here is an example of a first principle that seems to me unassailable, that "God is ineffable," such that "nothing can describe Him or enclose Him in words." What mischief results from believing otherwise!

For it is not as if we are faced with a binary choice between a conceptual absolute posited by the mind and a paltry relativism that implicitly elevates man to God. Rather, we simultaneously posit the existence of the Absolute and our inability to contain it/him; or, if you can contain it, it isn't God.

Before starting this post, the thought popped into my head: any valid knowledge of God is obviously already God and must come from God. However, the converse is not true: God cannot be reduced to knowledge of him, no matter how valid.

A map is not the territory, but nor is it other than the territory, in the sense that it provides points of reference on a human scale. Just so, metaphysics and revelation provide us with humanly realizable points of reference that permit us to orient ourselves to eternity via time, or heaven via earth, or the celestial via the terrestrial, etc.

Indeed you could say that earth is heaven, but that of course heaven is not earth. We couldn't even know of paradise if we didn't sometimes catch glimpses of it herebelow. Or so we have heard from the wise.

For Schuon, "metaphysical doctrine is nothing other than the science of Reality and illusion." The postmodern secular leftist type will usually say that we can only know appearances and not reality, but we respond that we can know appearances precisely because they are appearances of a reality anterior to them; optical illusions only exist because of optical realities.

Now, the same doctrine "might be articulated in a number of ways, from a variety of viewpoints," for the same reason a truth can be expressed in different languages. You could say that a valid religion is a richly symbolic "metaphysical vocabulary" -- or that, conversely, a religion that fails to embody and communicate these truths is no religion at all.

I suppose where I differ from Schuon is that his preferred vocabulary is ultimately Advaita Vedanta, whereas I believe this fails to adequately convey certain principles that are better expressed in the language of Christianity, e.g., the Trinity.

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