Saturday, April 04, 2020

Trials and Evils, Absurdities and Inevitabilities

Just a brief post, unless things get out of hand. I hope everyone is enjoying the unscheduled vacation, or at least making good use of it. A confrontation with an -- or the -- Ultimate, assuming one survives the ordeal, is often of great benefit. Not necessarily while it's going on, but in hindsight. Sometimes the worst thing that happened is the best thing that ever happened to you.

I suppose it comes down to the difference between a trial and a mere evil, the latter of which is totally pointless. I don't know that it's possible to distinguish one from the other on this side of the cosmic area rug, although it is often helpful to consider the bad tidings as a trial -- again, up to a point.

It would be difficult, for example, to have survived communist tyranny by reminding oneself that it's "just a trial" for the purpose of a transmitting a spiritual lesson from which one will emerge stronger or wiser: one death is a tragedy, but a hundred million deaths is an unparalleled opportunity for spiritual growth!

We're all familiar with the insipid happy-talking Flanderian Christian who regards everything as "God's will," out of which some gooey goodness will emerge.

I don't like this idea, for it makes God complicit in evil. The fact that, say, the great good of the state of Israel emerged from the unspeakable evil of the Holocaust doesn't make the latter any less horrific. Evil is evil and is never permissible, no matter what good may spring from its ashes. Besides, it's hard to find so ill a wind that it doesn't blow a little good someone'e way:

Such is the complexity of every historical event that we can always fear that from a good an evil might be born and always hope that from an evil a good might be born (Dávila).

Also, it's always easier to look at someone else's evil as an abstract trial, and one's own trial as an concrete evil. New York is no doubt being tried. But then, I'm 3,000 miles away. Or, for them it's a trial by fire. For me it's a trial by water. Big difference -- like the difference between meditating on death vs. a life-or-death confrontation.

Similarly, consider how global warmists have no compunction about wrecking the global economy for the sake of mitigating their abstract evil, since poor people in far off countries will suffer the most. We will suffer such inconveniences as more expensive energy, diminished wealth, and a reduced standard of living, while those in developing countries will suffer the concrete evils of disease, famine, and inescapable poverty.

Some people are saying this pandemic is a cleansing fire that will burn the progressive rot from our midst. Nothing reveals more the deadly plague of identity politics than a deadly plague. That would be nice, but still, I'd prefer that it be accomplished via ideas rather than plagues.

Others are proclaiming that the Progressive Moment has arrived, and that finally the scourge of capitalism will be vanquished. Me? I say the rot will always be with us in one form or another so long as man walks the earth. For

The progressive forgets that sin frustrates any ideal he longs for; the conservative forgets that he corrupts any reality he defends (Dávila).

Schuon writes that

A trial is not necessarily a chastisement, it can also be a grace, and the one does not preclude the other. At all events: a trial in itself not only tests what we are, but also purifies us of what we are not.

Perhaps the most we can do is ask ourselves how we might make some good come from this. I have this feeling that "things will never be the same," but one often feels this way in the midst of a confrontation with the Ultimate, only to revert back to isness-as-usual once the storm has passed. Soon enough people will once again take for granted the unmerited gift of toilet paper. Yes, our sleep is occasionally disrupted by the intrusion of reality, but never underestimate man's somnambulistic abilities.

Come what may, we should "look straight ahead and let the world be the world" (Schuon). For what choice does one have? Regardless of our hopes, fears, and wishes, the world is going to be the world, and although it is created good, there are other nonlocal forces and wills at play in it. Nothing we can do about that:

The whole purpose of our life lies before us, and [this] is one of the meanings of the injunction not to look behind when one has put one's hand to the plow. It it is necessary to look towards God, in relation to Whom all the chasms of the world are nothing.

Yes, of course there are aphorisms that speak to this existential moment:

The imbecile does not discover the radical misery of our condition except when he is sick, poor or old.

Modern man believes that death is “natural” except when he approaches dying.

Death must not be the object of our meditations, but rather the foundation of all of them.

I suppose one could say that for the person who is truly in touch with reality, the blows of reality should never really come as a surprise. Indeed, the more plans we make, the more fate and contingency bellow with laughter. But Serenity is the fruit of accepting uncertainty.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Flattening the Curve of Original Sin

The modern man is the man who forgets what man knows about man. --Dávila

"It is a commonplace of the Christian tradition," writes Barron, "that the fall had implications at all levels of a person's being," affecting "not only the will but the body, the passions, the imagination, and the mind as well."

Well, that's kind of a downer. Is there anything we can do about it? Is there a vertical CDC that can help us mitigate this spiritual malady, and perhaps prevent it from spreading down and out, to our descendants and contemporaries, respectively?

Yes, but it's not a government agency. Indeed, the whole idea of the intrusive, activist, all-powerful state is founded on the presumption that it -- its highly trained experts in self-deception -- knows how to undo the effects of the fall without even acknowledging its existence: we can fix it, and besides, it never happened!

Which is precisely why the credentialed morons of the state end up amplifying the effects. Analogously, if we know the Chinese flu is out there, it provides a modicum of protection against it, being that this knowledge will alter our behavior. But if we deny the problem, we end up like Kaiser Wilhelmio: it's no big deal, and besides, it's Trump's fault!

There are so many aphorisms about state-sponsored stupidity, it's hard to pick just a few:

Liberals can be divided into those who believe that wickedness is curable and those who deny that it exists.

Asking the State to do what only society should do is the error of the left.

With the generosity of his program does the liberal console himself for the magnitude of the catastrophes it produces.

Political wisdom is the art of invigorating society and weakening the State.

While we ourselves cannot fully undo the effects of the fall (more on the only efficacious treatment later), we can at least mitigate them if we know in advance the mind is fallen. In short, we will be less likely to fool ourselves because we will be less likely to trust ourselves. Unlike, say, atheists and Darwinians, we won't be so quick to naively accept the pronouncements of a contingent being such as man.

In short, if we are totally ignorant (or in denial) of original sin and place our full faith and trust in man, we are headed for an even greater fall. For which reason the Aphorist says (again, it's hard to confine ourselves to a few):

Men are divided into two camps: those who believe in original sin and those who are idiots.

Nothing makes more evident the reality of sin than the stench of the souls that deny its existence.

Evil, like the eyes, does not see itself. May he who sees himself as innocent tremble.

He who does not believe in God can at least have the decency of not believing in himself.

To believe in the redemption of man by man is more than an error; it is an idiocy.

So, if you're rotten and you know it, clap your hands!

Barron goes on to say that it isn't only Christians who will clap. Rather,

the philosophical schools of the ancient world were moral training grounds, places where one passed through a strict discipline in order to learn how to properly think. It was a basic assumption among these philosophers that there is something wrong with the way most people naturally act and reason (emphasis mine).

Who can doubt it? There is no question that 30 years ago I had more raw neurological candlepower than I do today. There is also no question that I had more raw stupidity than I do today. Why is that? Well, I can think of One Big Thing of which I was totally ignorant, and which colored everything else: I completely trusted my own mind, of all things.

Now, it is possible to go too far in the other direction, as did, say, Luther. In overemphasizing the corruption of the mind, he purged his novel and idiosyncratic version of Christianity of intellection, clearing the field for a host of rotten philosophies to dominate intellectual discourse down to this day. Luther railed against "whore reason," but had no earthly idea of the tenured whores to come. Gonorrhea is one thing, AIDS another.

Thus, Barron suggests that "this very exaggeration of the motif of the fallen mind contributed to the counterreaction of the Enlightenment." While the enlightened ones would have agreed that there is something wrong with the mind, they felt it could be fully rectified. (To be perfectly accurate, the radical Enlightenment thinkers felt this way, in contrast to our own Biblically informed and therefore properly skeptical founders.)

Enlightened. As if there can be such a thing as light without the divine Light!

Yes, en-lightenment can be facilitated, but one must first acknowledge the darkness, or rather, the nature of the darkness. For it isn't just that we lack light. Rather, the light shines alike on the good and the wicked, the wise and the tenured. However, we are so composed that this light is always mingled with our own darkness, if only because we are material beings, and matter isn't fully translucent to intellection.

Anyway, if you assume people are stupid until proven otherwise, you'll rarely be disappointed, plus you'll have a good laugh along the way.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Mystical Objectivity and Scientific Vision

There are two ways of knowing the world, or rather, two principal modes: there is a passive mode in which we receive the world, and an active one in which we project our abstractions onto the world. The former isn't really passive per se, because for a human being the intellect is always involved in the senses; moreover, there is always a dialectic or complementarity between these two modes, analogous to anabolism and catabolism vis-a-vis the body.

The human person is not only a unity, but personhood is the quintessence of diversified unity, since all our "parts" are human parts. Humanness is not "additive" -- as if the parts become human at a certain point. Rather, we are human -- not to mention gendered -- the very instant sperm and egg unite to form a new person. Our oneness is always anterior, not acquired, except to say that we are also "ensouled" at conception, and the immaterial soul obviously cannot originate in matter.

Which reminds me. It is difficult for us to imagine how two natures -- divine and human -- could be present in one person. Then again, maybe not. For human beings have an animal nature and a human nature, and yet, here we are, a single person. While we can talk about our animal nature, it isn't actually a separate or autonomous entity, like a Dr. Bob and Cousin Dupree.

Then again, sometimes it is. Specifically, this is what we call neurosis or psychosis, in which psychic parts are more or less split off from the central self.

Here it is important to point out that these parts cannot literally be split off, any more than the Trump-hater can successfully rid himself of unwanted psychic fragments by projecting them into the president. While it certainly feels to the haters as if the president truly harbors the nasty things projected into him -- just ask them! -- the process is really just one of introspection in reverse: extrospection, so to speak.

If the ethos of the philosophical life is know thyself, the battle cry of the pathologically fragmented psyche is deceive thyself! The Raccoon calls this mechanism auto-pullwoolery. If the purpose of life is the assimilation and acquisition of increasingly higher and deeper integration and unity, this mechanism tends in the opposite direction: paranoia instead of metanoia.

It occurs to me that this touches on why Jesus should be so emphatic about loving one's enemies, praying for one's persecutors, turning the other cheek, and generally refraining from returning tit for tat. If you presume to judge others, be careful, because the same criteria you apply will be applied to you: no double standards. No hypocrisy. No special pleading. No condemning Republicans for things you completely overlook in Democrats (and vice versa).

This is just rudimentary intellectual honesty and consistency. And yet, how rare it is. For example, anyone can see how ridiculously inaccurate various models of the Chinese Flu have been, so we disregard them. Garbage in, garbage out. But many of the same people are unable to generalize the principle to climate change models, which have proved to be just as ridiculously inaccurate.

One epically wrong model predicted 510,000 deaths in Britain. So far there are 2,619. But this guy has nothing on the climate fantasists, in that not a single one of their models predicted that warming would enter a two decade "pause." No doubt at least one of the Coronavirus models will turn out to be correct, if only by chance. Interesting that climate change models can't even aspire to the accuracy of a broken clock, since the latter is correct twice a day, while the former haven't been correct in 50 years.

Back to the actual point of this post. I had wanted to say something about the mystical foundations of science upon reading a passage in Barron. Here it is:

To be attentive -- to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch what is before us -- is much more difficult than it may seem.... Above all, [the mind] must overcome its tendency toward selective perception, seeing only what it wants to see, only what it might be convenient to see.

But this presupposes that there is something real to see -- AKA truth -- and that man is capable of putting his interests and biases to the side, and recognizing it (AKA objectivity).

Probably most people would place "objectivity" and "mystical" at antipodes. Not so fast! For mysticism is, among other things, the empiricism of the vertical, for there are stable and intelligible truths to be found there, just as there are in the material world. This is the context in which to understand the following observation by Barron:

To be intelligent... is to look for formal patterns, to seek out the intelligible structures that run through whatever exists. The summons to intelligence corresponds to the assumption of universal reasonability, the mystical intuition that undergirds the sciences.

Mystical intuition. This intuition is either true or false, but cannot be proved logically. Nevertheless, it is perfectly objective.

In the Christian vision, the truth of a thing is a reflection of the Truth that made it, a participation in the Logos that informs it (ibid).

Can I prove this? No, because it is the nonlocal principle whereby proof itself exists -- through which truth pervades creation and is accessible to us. But it can be intuited and envisioned, just like any other rock-solid transcendental truth.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Terra Firma

Solid ground. What's yours? No, you can't just ignore the question. Or, you can, but this will only mean your terra firma is ignorance: rock solid, invincible ignorance.

Ignorance itself -- so long as it is vincible -- is actually a fine place to begin, and too few people begin there. It is, however, a terrible place to end.

It's a good place to begin because it is precisely where we must begin, being that we come into the world with no explicit knowledge of it. We have a range of implicit knowledge, AKA instincts, but this natural prudence only gets us so far. For animals it is more than enough to ensure survival and reproduction, thereby tossing the keys to the next generation. Your Darwinian mission has been accomplished. Now die. You have outlived your evolutionary purpose.

But a human being who merely follows his instincts thereby sinks beneath the animals, as is proved by every Democrat-run urban center. It reminds us of an aphorism or two: To educate man is to impede the “free expression of his personality.” Similarly, Educating the individual consists in teaching him to distrust the ideas that occur to him.

Some people will immediately identify their terra firma as God, or Christ, or the Bible; or the Koran, or samadhi, or Brahman; I suppose for a Buddhist the solid ground is the lack thereof, while for the process philosopher the ground of being is becoming. For materialists it is matter -- whatever that is -- while for existentialists it is nothing until we decide what it is. For feminists it is resentment of men (beneath which is hatred of female nature), while for other professional victims it is race, sexual preference, global warming, etc.

How do we approach this question in a logical manner? Supposing there is a ground, by virtue of what principle can we say that human beings are capable of knowing it? Computers, for example, don't know they are computers. If they did they would be persons, thereby transcending computerhood. Nor can computers sink beneath themselves. They don't make mistakes unless they've been programmed to do so by a person.

Computers are much like leftists in this way: one of the purposes of any ideology is to provide unthinking human beings with the comfort of having opinions, thereby eliminating the healthy pain or anxiety of not-knowing. Ideologies are a form of cheap omniscience which answer any question you might throw at them. If the answer is always ORANGE MAN BAD, then what is the question? Or, more to the point, what is the nature of the questioner?

It reminds me of something I read this morning over at Instapundit: "NBC’s Chuck Todd under fire for asking Biden if Trump has ‘blood on his hands’ for delayed coronavirus response."

Again, how comforting it must be to so readily be able to identify the source of all one's -- and even the world's -- problems.

I suppose I remember the feeling. Back in the '80s I would have no doubt blamed Reagan rather than pointing the finger at myOldBob. While this blog often touches on politics, anyone with even the hint of a clue will understand that I never suggest that politics can solve the problem of humanness, which can only be remedied one assoul at a time. And absent a spiritual cure, there is no cure at all, otherwise all the trouble of the Incarnation is wholly superfluous.

To be perfectly accurate, the leftist implicitly recognizes that there can only be a spiritual cure, but the recognition is unconsciously transformed and projected into an explicit political or economic sickness and cure. It is an incredibly seductive promise, which is why it is one of the Adversary's favorite tricks. The soul is the interior reality of man, but the spiritually naive or untutored person routinely exteriorizes it and then freaks out over the projected demons.

You'd think such people would wish to be liberated from the shackles of their toxic projections, but they don't. There's something comforting in them, as they exteriorize and contain what would otherwise be interior and uncontained.

For example, a lunatic who believes President Trump is a racist doesn't want to know the truth, any more than a Palestinian wants to know that maybe Jews aren't all that bad. Rather, every Palestinian loser knows precisely whom to blame for his loserhood, and that's a priceless alibi for a wasted life. It's hard to be unhappy, harder still when there's no one to blame.

Aw, look at me. I'm ramblin' again. Back to the point, which is the question of Solid Ground. In fact let's belatedly return to ground zero of this post, which is a passage in Barron that describes the wrong turn taken by philosophy back with Descartes and similarly misgodded souls.

As you know, I'm not one of those folks who likes to blame this or that thinker for our problems, since it gives way too much credit to particular people instead of human nature, which is the real culprit.

For me, Descartes is more of a synecdoche for a whole cultural and historical trend which is in turn grounded in the unfailing perpetuation of wounded human nature. Human beings will disappoint you every time if you actually think they can redeem themselves. That's not even nonsense, just total historical amnesia mingled with inexcusable naiveté. Truly, it renders you innocent as a snake and about as wise as a pigeon.

Let's cut to the chase: in Christian metaphysics, the epistemological ground is "a conversation between two divine speakers." Note that knowing is grounded in being, and that being is always dialogical; and this applies both horizontally and vertically, accounting for the very possibility of both science and theology, respectively.

It's getting late, so we'll end with the following: God -- AKA the Divine Attractor -- is "the lure for the mind, even in its simplest acts of cognition. Whenever the mind seeks truth, it is operating under the impulse and aegis of the Truth itself (Barron).

God's intelligence has grounded the intelligibility of the world and hence animated the intelligently seeking human mind" (ibid.).

Ultimately the living ground is both attractor and attracted -- a flowing conversation between them; the ground of knowing is an image or echo of the go-round of being. To be continued...

As long as we do not arrive at religious categories, our explanations are not founded upon rock. --Dávila

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