Friday, January 17, 2020

What Would Satan Do?

Switching gears for the moment, I want to discuss The Screwtape Letters, which I read for the first time a week or two ago. As readers no doubt know, it consists of a series of tutelary letters from a senior demon, Uncle Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood, who is but a novice in soul snatching and possession.

The book is full of my highlights, which implies that it must be "about" something real, even if one doesn't believe Satan is real. Indeed, it is very much as if there is a Satan-shaped influence on the human soul, which we call... Satan.

For this shape is consistent, timeless, and universal, so it must be something. A Jungian archetype? Maybe, but that only begs the question. I studied Jung back in the 1980s, as he is a kind of semi-spiritual alternative to a purely secular psychoanalysis. Nevertheless, I soon enough found him to be simplistic, presumptuous, reductionistic, and incoherent, so I moved on. If you find him adequate, you may want to question your own adequacy.

As usual, I'm going to just flip through the book and blogviate (the g is silent) on whatever arrested my attention and seemed ripe for commentary.

It begins with a quote by Thomas More to the effect that the devil "cannot endure to be mocked." So true is this observation that it also applies the other way around: there is something diabolical in those who cannot endure mockery, who cannot make fun of themselves. Jumping straight to Godwin's Law, do you think Hitler ever laughed at himself? Stalin? Mao? Castro?

Jumping next to Godwin himself, trolls have been mocking me for over 14 years. But if they really want to know what is ridiculous about me, they should just ask. It's never what they think. They always get it wrong.

What is it about self-mockery that is so healthy? Well, for starters, it implies self-awareness, objectivity, and humility. Once again turning this around, there is something demonic in anyone lacking in self-awareness, objectivity, and humility; or at least these are the wounds through which the demonic energies enter and further influence the person.

If we were playing Jeopardy and the answer was "Lacking in self-awareness, objectivity, humility, and irony," I can think of two immediate answers: What is the MSM?! or What is academia?!

I defy anyone to point to something genuinely witty that has ever been written by Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, Charles Blow, or Nicholas Kristof, AKA the Times idiotorial page. This is not intended as an insult. Rather, a diagnosis. Likewise, say what you want about feminism, but it is the cure for hypocardiopathy, or in layman's terms, a light heart.

Jumping ahead momentarily to the next book we will be discussing, Traditional Truth, Poetry, Sacrament, Pieper observes that

one could even go so far as to speak of the cheerfulness connected with not being able to comprehend, a cheerfulness which is closely related to humor and which is based on the fact that man knows that he is a not-absolute being -- a creature.... The claim to absolute certainty contains not only something which is fundamentally humorless but even formally un-human.

And for this very reason -- the combination of blind certitude and utter cluelessness -- these incarnations of incognition are always inadvertently funny, from the demonic Mullahs running Iran into the ground to Democrat morons running aground in Iowa.

Funny, like Elizabeth Warren. Who is as funny as Greta Thunberg. Who is as funny as Rachel Maddow, or Adam Schiff, or Jerry Nadler. Which is pretty comical. The impeachment is already a mockery, but the senate really needs to bring out the humor by calling Schiff and the Bidens to the witless stand. Comedy gold if handled correctly.

It just occurred to me that since I've been alive, the funnier (or at least less unfunny) candidate has always prevailed, for example Kennedy over Nixon, Reagan over Carter, Bush 1 over Dukakis, Clinton over Bush & Dole, Bush 2 over Gore & Kerry, Obama over McCain & Romney, and of course Trump over Hillary.

Which means that President Trump will win in a landslide over any of the current crop of dour and sourpussies.

Let's get back to the Letters. In the preface, Lewis notes that our demonic colleagues are equally delighted if a man is a magician or a materialist, for these reduce the same thing.

A Darwinian materialist, for example, cannot account for the soul except by an appeal to magic, just as the physicist who denies the transnatural must inhabit a cosmos that magically gives rise to information, law, order, beauty, truth, life, consciousness, teleology -- and, of course, physicists. If physics could account for physicists, knowledge of physics would be impossible.

Speaking of ineluctable logic, i.e., of things that cannot not be the case, Screwtape highlights the danger of trying to use logic to turn people away from God, because this will -- if pursued logically -- lead to awkward questions about the ground and nature of logic itself. He doesn't put it exactly this way, but the point is the same, and reminds us of the truism that while a little philosophy inclines one to atheism, a lot of it leads straight to God. D'oh! Atheism is a kind of arrested development whereby logic is arrested at an arbitrary point.

Screwtape cautions his naive pupil that logical argument poses the danger of awakening the transrational intellect, and this is the last thing Satan wants. Of course, he doesn't mind people being locked into reason, i.e., rationalism, because this is ultimately a self-enclosed anti-philosophy that ensures a lifetime of mental masturbation or soph-tautology. Atheists are nothing if not proud, and this is why: unlike you, they are rational! Just ask one.

We're running out of time. Bottom line for today:

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to the Enemy's [God's] own ground.... By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?

So never wonder why the left responds to argument with censorship, slander, smears, accusations, and -- irony of ironies! -- demonization.

Nothing funny about this video -- plus, she's TOTALLY self-aware:

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

God's Own Reality Tunnel

Why on earth would you ever want to be happy, let alone joyful?

Asked no one, ever.

This is because, or so it seems, happiness is the thing -- or better, a name for the thing -- we all seek. It is our telos, that to which we are ordered.

So, while no one asks, "Why do you want to be happy," we've all wondered why you think that, of all things, will make you happy. Because that not only won't make you happy, it will make you unhappy. Fine. Do it your way.

Says God, to everyone, ever.

Now, if you believe God exists, then he is the ultimate reality to which we are ordered. Or, if you understand that man is ordered to a transcendent and nonlocal archetype, you can be certain that this is because God exists. In the end, if God doesn't exist, then there's no plausible explanation for why we should be ordered to him; or, more concretely, for the existence of saints and sages -- the perfection, from our side, of sanctity and wisdom, respectively. Man can only get to ten because God goes up to eleven.

In a previous post we alluded to the ego <---> reality tunnel dialectic. Clearly there are degrees of reality, such that people can be more or less "in touch" with it. We call a person "psychotic" because he has lost touch with reality, or crossed a divide in which the world is more delusion or hallucination than reality; it is more the projection of his own subjectivity into the world than the reception of the objective world into his psyche.

Speaking of which, this subject is handled brilliantly in Joker. (Spoiler alert? I'm not sure.) You may have to view it twice to realize it's difficult to say exactly which parts of the movie happened vs. which parts are pure hallucination -- and everything in between. The film doesn't offer any clear guidance. It doesn't announce This Never Actually Happened This Way in the Real World. But this mirrors the sad reality of the psychotic person, who is psychotic precisely because he can't distinguish between world and hallucination, or truth and delusion.

Compare it to what happens in dreams. Dreaming has a kind of psychotic structure, in that we are plunged into a world where things routinely happen that couldn't possibly happen in real life, and yet, we don't realize it. Last night, for example... nah, never mind. Other people's dreams are only of interest to the person who dreamt them. Suffice it to say that the dream is a reality tunnel that we inhabit even while not realizing that we -- somehow -- are the creators of that very world.

So, just like real life, since -- at least in a free society such as ours -- people are freed to live in their own reality tunnels, instead of being permitted only to inhabit one determined by the state -- as in the North Korea, or Iran, or elite college campuses. Being woke means: do not dare disturb me from my nightmare, or else! No gratitude whatsoever.

Another crossroads, with six possible directions... Let me briefly finish up with Joker, which I think is brilliant. Nor do I know or care what the director's "intent" might have been. In my reality tunnel it gets an A, in particular, Joaquin Phoenix's performance. But many critics disagree. Different reality tunnels. I saw some of them on Rotten Tomatoes, and could scarcely believe what I was reading. I realize that in these psychotic times, nothing should surprise us, but still... Examples:

Joker doesn't understand its representation of violence because it doesn't know what to do with its politics, opting instead for a confused aestheticization of anarchy, all incendiary chants and masked malcontents thronging the streets.

Joker is a visual feast about mental illness, the crumbling of an unstable economic system, and toxic masculinity that thinks it has something groundbreaking to add to the comic book universe, but merely adds an obtuse reflection.

It's unclear if the movie thinks that the Joker doesn't know that his statement is political, or the film itself doesn't understand it's own political nature...

Like "The Dark Knight", this film demonizes the mentally ill. It also distorts NY realities in the early 80s.

Suffice it to say that I didn't see any statements about politics, economics, toxic masculinity, demonization of mental illness, or the conditions of New York four decades ago.

Reality tunnels. Yesterday I read -- or started to read -- a piece that is so detached from reality that I suppose I reacted to it in the way the above critics reacted to Joker. I'm speaking of an essay by Frank Rich called What Will Happen to The Trump Toadies? Being a Trump Toady myself, I am naturally curious to find out what's going to happen to me.

Here are some examples of the graffiti on the walls of Rich's reality tunnel; in fact, note the rich irony of accusing the president and his supporters of being out of touch:

The definition of “facts” has been so thoroughly vandalized that Americans can no longer agree on what one is, and our president has barreled through so many crimes and misdemeanors with so few consequences that it’s impossible to gainsay his claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Donald Trump proves daily that there is no longer any penalty for doing wrong as long as you deny everything, never say you’re sorry, and have co-conspirators stashed in powerful places to put the fix in.

What crimes? What misdemeanors? He doesn't say.

John Kennedy, the Louisiana senator who parrots Vladimir Putin’s talking points in his supine defense of Trump, acts as if there will never be a reckoning. While he has no relation to the president whose name he incongruously bears, his every craven statement bespeaks a confidence that history will count him among the knights of the buffet table in the gilded Mar-a-Lago renovation of Camelot.

Now, that is some bad writing, but the Russia hoax? If you ever believed this hoax, it was because you wanted to believe it. If you still believe it at this point, it must be serving a vital function -- a projected container for one's own unmanageable psychic distress.

"For all the damage inflicted since Inauguration Day 2017" -- wait -- what damage? Again, he doesn't say. Apparently, in his reality tunnel the damage is so self-evident that everyone sees it.

"Rather than being the end of American history as we know it," -- wait -- what? The end of history as we know it? I'm not exaggerating when I say this is psychotic. Not that Rich is psychotic per se, but that this kind of catastrophic thinking emanates from a psychotic dimension of the mind, or from what are called unmetabolized beta elements.

Very soon, white supporters of the president will be Judged by our fellow Citizens of Color, and it won't be pleasant:

That judgment will be rendered by an ever-more demographically diverse America unlikely to be magnanimous toward cynical politicians who prioritized pandering to Trump’s dwindling all-white base over the common good.

I don't know. Might they be too busy working and improving their lives, thanks to President Trump?

"All cults come to an end, often abruptly, and Trump’s Republican Party is nothing if not a cult." Wait -- what?

I've reached my limit. Let someone else do the fisking.

As to the title of this post, just as there is a dialectic between ego and world, there is one between the soul and God, or between (¶) and O. You might call the latter the attempt to build an "ultimate reality tunnel."

But clearly, anything (¶) can construct is not going to be ultimate. Still, it can get pretty far, much farther than can the horizontal ego. This is the realm of natural theology, but so long as it's from our side, it's still going to be a manmade reality tunnel.

The only way to exit a manmade tunnel is if God provides the tunnel. We have to wrap this up, but in my opinion and experience, God has done this. He has given us a reality tunnel back to him. It is the most valuable gift we could possibly imagine, being that it is the way, the truth, and the life, and what could be better than that?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Envy, Gratitude, Happiness, and Hell

Apologies in advance: this post veered way off course, but it couldn't be helped. We'll try to right the bus tomorrow.

We left off with the idea that happiness must have something to do with getting and having what we want; or certainly it can't involve getting what we don't want.

This seems simple enough, but simple isn't necessarily easy. For as Pieper says, beneath this are two implicit questions, first, "What does man want?," and second, "What is meant by 'have?'"

Vis-a-vis the latter, I'm reminded of that fact that I live in an area where I am literally surrounded by open space for miles around. Few people take advantage of this space, certainly considering its expanse. Therefore, for all practical purposes it might as well be mine. I can "have" it to myself any time I want. It is as if I can have and enjoy the privileges of ownership without the burden of property taxes. So again: what is meant by "have"?

At the other extreme, what does it mean to "have" your own property in a country with weak to non-existent property rights? What does it mean to have a house in Iran or North Korea -- or even Hong Kong? I suppose the protests in Hong Kong have much to do with the meaning of "have," because if mainland China prevails, its residents will be had. Tyrants will always have what they have, and will have what you have as well.

Haves and have-nots. What makes leftists doubly nauseating is that they conceal their envious wantery under a fig-leaf of disingenuous have-nottery. Which is why:

When the exploiters disappear, the exploited split into exploiters and exploited. Yes, but only every time. What did Asians and Jews ever do to the left, aside from supporting it? And yet, they are among the primary victims of the left's institutional racism.

The revolutionary is ultimately an individual who does not dare to rob by himself. He doesn't even dare call it robbery, or even taxes -- rather, contributions. Moreover, Elizabeth Warren is only going to ask for them. But oddly enough, we won't be able to explain to the IRS that we politely decline the request.

The left claims that the guilty party in a conflict is not the one who covets another’s goods but the one who defends his own. The left is the institutionalization of envy. Moreover, envy for the left has gone from one of God's own Top Ten Obligations or Celestial No-No's to an actual virtue! Indeed, if you aren't saturated with envy, you can scarcely be called Woke.

The only man who should speak of wealth or power is one who did not extend his hand when they were within his reach. Warren? Ha! Imagine a person who would sink so low as to claim Indian Privilege for personal enrichment? Sanders? Ho! By selling envy to the envious, he has gone from living in a treehouse to living in three houses. Biden? Don't call him envious and grasping -- if you do, you're liable to be impeached.

Yes indeed, Revolutions do not solve any problem other than the economic problem of their leaders. Say what you want about AOC or Mayor Pete, but leftism has solved their own economic problems. Likewise Al Sharpton or the Obamas -- people with no skill but the ability to sell you a lot of the last thing you need.

No social class has exploited the others more brazenly than the one that today calls itself “the State.” The Trump presidency has been an ongoing revelation of just how brazenly we have been and are being exploited by the deep state.

The state was bad enough, but come to find out it is only the surface structure of a much deeper and more pernicious cancer which has metastasized into everything. It is why journalism and academia, for example, are so thoroughly corrupted. Note that a college education used to be about curing ignorance. Now it's about contracting a virus of the soul and intellect and spreading it to others.

What's up, Bob? This post is supposed to be about happiness, but it's veering way into envy! Fair point, except it turns out that happiness and envy are literally at psychic -- and spiritual -- antipodes. To revisit my psychoanalytic training -- I'll try not to bore you with details -- one of my seminal influences published a book called Envy and Gratitude, which you might say form the Hinge of Happiness.

Let's see how briefly I can conceptualize the essence of the crux of the gist. In psychoanalysis, envy is distinguished from jealousy, in that the latter is the painful desire for what one lacks, while envy essentially eliminates the pain of jealousy by attacking and spoiling the good object. This mechanism is vividly seen in many policies of the left, too many to chronicle here.

For example, as Heather MacDonald has so exhaustively documented, the entire infrastructure of the diversity scam revolves around the denial of black underachievement; or, more specifically, a transformation of this reality into something it is not. Therefore, as in so many areas, leftism is the disease it pretends to cure, the problem it pretends to solve, and the ignorance it pretends to relieve.

Meanwhile, the underachievement worsens, while white SJWs feel better about themselves, so it's a whine-win situation.

Back to the psychoanalytic definition of envy: at bottom -- i.e., unconsciously -- it is "a destructive attack on the sources of life, on the good object, not on the bad object." If this sounds crazy, it's because it is. Why, for example, does the left ceaselessly attack the most decent nation in history, while defending one of the worst, Iran? Why does it attack Western Civilization? Christianity? White men? Israel? At least in part to make the pain go away.

Take the so-called Palestinians. I have a two word solution to all their problems: Imitate. Israel. Indeed, I can also reduce the source of all their problems to two words: Destroy. Israel. If they could only cease the latter and engage in the former, affluence and happiness would follow. But then, this would also destroy a lucrative regime that enriches a whole class of leaders that mirrors our own class of Sharptons, Obamas, and other grievance mongers.

Again, gratitude isn't only at the other psychic extreme, but isn't possible so long as one is filled with envy. It is "akin to object-love" and is "counterposed to envy, a response which diminishes or kills gratitude to the object."

To open this discussion to the widest possible angle, if God is love, then envy is very nearly the "anti-God," since it isn't just the absence of the good, but an attack on it. Which is frankly diabolical, no? Gosh. Might this be why the most hellish -- and unhappy -- places on earth were built with bricks of envy? Communism. National socialism. Democrat run cities. Etc.

Funny/sad story: my wife was recently accused of being a white supremacist because of something the accuser saw in my office. Am I a white supremacist? No, worse: I am grateful!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

What is Happiness?

Trick question: it is nothing, because it can't be an IS. I used to think otherwise, back in both my atheist and Vedanta days.

Let's start with atheism. Since the atheist denies transcendence, what is simply is, and there's not a thing we can do about it. Or, we can either accept what is, or pretend there is some escape. Therefore, happiness, such as it is, would come down to a stoic acceptance of -- or resignation to -- what is.

There's some truth in that, but it depends on what is is. For is there a difference between animal and human happiness? Can we even call an animal "happy," or is happiness a specifically human reality? I think the latter, or happiness would simply come down to being warm and well-fed. The temporary cessation of wants and needs can't be all there is to it.

However, we can't say that want and need have nothing to do with happiness. I suppose it comes down to what we "really" need and want.

We'll return to atheist man, but Vedanta man is in much the same boat, albeit in first class instead of in steerage with the other third class thinkers. Here's one straight from the Ganges' mouth, Patanjali. In his commentary, Swami Prabhavananda explains that the times we've been happy occurred when

we had temporarily ceased to feel anxious; when we lived -- as we so seldom do -- in the depths of the present moment, without regretting the past or worrying about the future.

Swami P distinguishes this state from the mere satisfaction of a desire, which not only lasts for short time, but inevitably "gives rise to another, and so the moment of happiness ends in further anxiety." True, of course, but is there something more to happiness than this entirely negative definition? In other words, is it only the absence of anxiety, or a positive presence?

The Swami points to the latter: one might suppose that "an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless." But this isn't the case, at least for the sort of happiness he is describing, which comes down to the joy of the Atman which "is always within us." This prior condition

can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How otherwise could we be so happy without any apparent reason?

Here we're getting warmer, but with insufficient light. The light creates the warmth, not vice versa, and the Swami tosses out some shady concepts that will require some additional fleshing out. Literally, but we'll get to that later.

One of the central principles of Vedanta is that ultimate reality is bi-polar, so to speak, with a transcendent absolute (Brahman) at one end, and an immanent one (Atman) at the other. There is God-Beyond and God-Within, and these are ultimately not-two. They say Atman is Brahman, but this can be misconstrued.

It is analogous to what the early fathers mean when they say "God became man that man might become God." This doesn't imply that we become the creator of the universe, rather, that we share in his divine nature. We are "not-two." Only Jesus is literally one with the Creator, and our task is to get on board the ark of salvation and participate in his eternal and vertically circular trinitarian descent <---> ascent.

At the end of Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Discrimination there's a helpful Q & A with the master. To the question "What is happiness?," the one word answer is "detachment." From what? From the ego, or better, the ego-world complementarity (for the ego gives rise to a -- not THE -- world, or to a self-enclosed reality tunnel).

The ego has disappeared. I have realized my identity with Brahman and so all my desires have melted away. I have risen above my ignorance and my knowledge of this seeming universe. What is this joy I feel? Who shall measure it? I know nothing but joy, limitless, unbounded!

That sounds pretty, pretty, pretty good. Chalk one up for the East. But can we do better?

Wayback in my doctoral program I studied psychoanalysis. Long story short, while psychoanalysis started out with one school -- Freudian -- soon enough, like Protestantism, it ramified into dozens of competing versions with very different models of the psyche in both sickness and health. Therefore, you have to pick the "best" one. How do we do that? On what basis can we choose?

I can only speak for myself. I don't want to get sidetracked, but in retrospect, it seems to me that my mind -- or maybe my whole being -- called out for a model that was sufficient to contain its expanse: its height, width, and depth. Which means, for starters, that there is an interior reality and that the model is there to conform to this. All too often I saw the converse, that is, students and professors reducing the psyche to their model. Which means they were trying to squeeze the wider world of being into what could be seen via their model. This is to confuse one's reality tunnel for the reality, and charge people good money to live in your tunnel.

So, that's where O came from. O is the ultimate reality prior to our theorizing about it, and which no theory can contain.

Stop digressing. Back to the question: can we (in the Western Division) do better? I think so, because the principle of Incarnation includes a great deal that Samadhi (release from the ego and identification with Atman) excludes -- little things like the body, the universe, other people. Here's some more joy from the liberated fellow above:

Now, finally and clearly, I know that I am Atman, whose nature is eternal joy. I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing that is separate from me....

Nothing binds me to this world. I no longer identify myself with the physical body or the mind. I am one with the Atman, the undying. I am the Atman -- infinite, eternal, at peace forever.... My nature is pure consciousness.... I am the infinite Brahman, without a second. I am Reality, without beginning, without equal

Etc. Again, I don't knock it. But note what is left out: for example, no body, just pure consciousness. Let's say I have no prior religious commitment, but it's time to choose one. I'm going through the brochures. Here's Vedanta, which promises to liberate me from this slab of animal meat into pure consciousness-bliss. I like that. Don't recycle that one just yet.

Ooh. Check this one out -- it promises not escape from the world and body, but the divinization of them! And God does the hard part. We have only to participate in it. We don't have to lift ourselves by our own buddhastraps. Rather, there's this thing they call "grace" and a fellow they call the Holy Spirit that do the heavy lifting.

As usual, this whole post was provoked by a single sentence by Pieper. If you open your Piepers to page 116, in a chapter on the subject of happiness, he discusses the notion,

perhaps always present down through the ages, that happiness consists of existence itself. This is the hidden presupposition both for the utilitarian plans of totalitarianism and for the quasi-religious overvaluing of psychotherapy.

Yes. Both approaches work fine so long as man isn't for something -- something beyond man. Now, what is a man for? It seems to me that happiness must be bound up with this question. I'm reminded of a canine officer I recently evaluated. Somehow we got into the question of whether police dogs are happy in retirement, but he said they are miserable. Having a job to do gives them purpose, structure, stimulation. Remove these and they're a mess. He implied that putting them down is putting them out of their misery.

Hold that thought. Back to man:

First point: what do we really want? The very formulation of the question implies that there is something we only seem to want, or think we want, but don't really want (Pieper).

He brings in Socrates, who remarked that the tyrant may well be able to do whatever he pleases, but not necessarily what he wants. Socrates' partner in dialogue calls this claim absurd, insisting that happiness means doing as we please, and that's all there is to it. Nevertheless, Socrates digs in his sandals.

This post has gone on long enough. I have to accomplish some actual work. We'll get to our exciting conclusion on Tuesday.