Thursday, May 14, 2020

When Intellectuals Attack

If the cosmos is intelligible, then I say we should go the whole hog: that is, if we can understand anything, there's no principle barring us from knowing everything. Come, Icarus! To the sun, and beyond!

Yes, not so fast. There is a difference in principle between anything and everything, because the former occurs within the cosmos, whereas the latter presupposes an extra-cosmic view that only God could possess (we do not say "gods," because pagan deities were always understood to be inhabitants of the cosmos, not the radically transcendent creator of it).

Genesis 3 presents a timeless -- AKA eternally true -- cautionary tale about indulging in any Godlike intellectual pretensions. Rule One for would-be thinkers: don't be an irritating Gnosis-all!

Speaking of which, the last page of Johnson's Intellectuals has a good summary of what's wrong with these babeling kleptomaniacs, who can't help themselves from trying to steal fire from the gods, and who don't know their place in the cosmic scheme of things:

One of the principle lessons of our tragic [20th] century, which has seen so many millions of innocent lives sacrificed in schemes to improve the lot of humanity, is -- beware intellectuals.

Note that he doesn't say to beware intelligence, which would constitute an endorsement of stupidity. There is, however, a way for intelligence -- no matter how intelligent -- to go off the rails and transmogrify to evil.

Now, how could intelligence ever become so naughty? Well, this is one of the threads that runs through Voegelin's entire corpus. We'll get to him in a moment, but allow PaJo to finish his point and his book:

Not only should [intellectuals] be kept well away from the levers of power, they should also be objects of particular suspicion when they seek to offer collective advice.

Is it any wonder that the great majority of these boneless brainiacs want us to give up the second amendment? It's our last line of defense against the implementation of their homicidal ideas. And why do they all think alike, anyway? If they're such free thinkers, why are universities the least intellectually diverse places on earth?

intellectuals, far from being highly individualistic and non-conformist people, follow certain regular patterns.... Taken as a group, they are often ultra-conformist within the circles formed by those whose approval they seek and value (ibid.).

Ah ha. This is indeed a key point, because, while they imagine they are fearlessly seeking truth wherever it may lead, they are actually fearfully seeking approval -- and avoiding disapproval -- whatever the cost (paid in the coin of intellectual honesty and integrity).

The same pattern is seen in our mainstream media. How is it that they can, in unison, systematically unsee what is by far the most consequential political scandal in the nation's history? Is it a conspiracy?

I don't think so, any more than fish conspire to avoid dry land. We'll return to this idea as well. Johnson is almost finished. The instinct to spontaneously assemble into an intellectual cirque du jerk (pardon the French)

is what makes them, en masse, so dangerous, for it enables them to create climates of opinion [i.e., the water in which they swim] and prevailing orthodoxies, which themselves often generate irrational and destructive courses of action.

A lone intellectual, like a single madman, can only cause so much damage. But when a swarm of them takes over an institution, then we have a problem, because it causes the institution to become a madhouse.

This is how the university has become the Looniversity Bin, and how the deep state has become a political and judicial insane assoulum (Judge Sullivan, presiding over the Flynn case, is just an Adam Schiff in robes, while the impeachment showed Schiff to be a hanging judge disguised a legislator). What can we do about it?

Above all, we must at all times remember what intellectuals habitually forget: that people matter more than concepts and must come first. The worst of all despotisms is the heartless tyranny of ideas.

Now, we've had our share of intelligent presidents, but only a handful of true intellectuals. Among modern presidents I can think of only two: Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama, two of the most dangerous and destructive in our history.

By way of transition, I want to switch gears for a moment and touch very briefly on A Very Brief History of Eternity, as it shares some commonality with Voegelin. For one of Voegelin's central points is that the normative condition of mankind is to live in tension with a transcendent reality that can never be reached but must never be forgotten.

I won't presume to speak for Voegelin, but I would say that human beings necessarily live in a dynamic space between now and eternity; indeed, the passage of time occurs within this space, and in a sense, is what time "is."

To put it another way, eternity and the present moment are as two ends of a single transcendent reality to which human beings have unique access. Animals, for example, more or less live in an "eternal now," but have no conception of eternity.

But the human now stretches forth to eternity, thus illuminating a space of history, creativity, progress, etc. And as Eire describes it, "when we lose eternity as a horizon we can end up with totalitarian, materialistic nightmares."

I agree, but would omit the "can," because materialism -- or any other ismolatry -- forecloses the proper human space and seals us in a matrix of soul-dead journalism, authoritarian tenure, and ideological fantasy. Conversely, the "paradoxical conjoining of the eternal with the temporal," writes Eire, is "the very essence" of Christian metaphysics.

The bad news: we're just about out of time. The good news: I invented a new word: episteleology. It means that temporal knowledge occurs -- and can only occur -- because it is in dynamic tension with the transcendent absolute.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

How Not to Be a Human Being

I'm warning you ahead of time that I'm not happy with this post, but I'm trying to tame a bucking corpus, and it's not easy. I keep getting thrown, but this isn't my first rodeo. We'll subdue this beast yet... Besides, it's only blogging, so there's no time to properly edit or polish.

What Voegelin spent his life trying to describe is either 1) among the most important discoveries of mankind, or 2) the trivial preoccupations of an eccentric thinker with too much time and intellect. Really, it comes down to whether he is describing objective reality or it's just, like, his opinion, man. I think Voegelin would agree that if it's not the former, then his work is indeed pointless.

What was he attempting? Oh, not much. Only "a new analysis of reality" and "a new science of human affairs"; a "universally significant philosophy of history" that isn't just an ideological projection (i.e., historicism) but reflects the order of the soul in its dynamic tension with existence.

In a postmodern world of spiritual decay and intellectual rot, we are unaccustomed to an approach to human affairs that claims to be both objective and normative, or Is and Ought. Indeed, Voegelin would say that postmodernism itself is literally a disease -- AKA pneumapathology -- more on which as we proceed.

I've mentioned before that one of my favorite subjects in grad school was psychopathology. In the late 1980s it was still possible to affirm that there is a way humans are supposed to be, and that deviations from this norm comprise the essence of pathology, no different from any other organ system. But the left ruins everything, and psychology is one of the most important disciplines to ruin if its diabolical (i.e., anti-divine and therefore anti-human) project is to succeed.

In other words, the left must redefine human nature -- or, more to the point, define it out of existence. And if there is no human nature, then there can be no objective psychopathology. With no telos, sickness and health have no objective basis at all. There is no principle defining them, which leads to a radical individualism -- each man his own species, so to speak, so out the window go the natural law and natural rights that underpin our tradition of classical liberalism.

Nevertheless, human nature exists, so its denial leads to inevitable problems. If a man thinks he is a woman, that's a problem. For him. You can solve the man's problem by pretending it is possible for men to be women, but this only leads to deeper and more widespread cultural and political pathologies and absurdities.

Imagine, say, a thief arguing that he was born greedy and that it is natural for him to steal. In order to accommodate him, we change our laws so that people who identify as thieves are considered a normal variant.

Or, how about pedophiles? Polygamists? Note that we're not arguing that people who are confused about their sexual identity are "bad people." Rather, we are talking about the consequences of calling abnormality normal, or unreality real. Either there exist timelessly true objective standards rooted in human nature, or there are no standards. The left wants it both ways: there are no standards, and the raw power to enforce them.

For Voegelin, philosophy isn't just tenured bloviating, or error on a grandiose scale, or an endless argument leading from nothing to nowhere, but "a form of existence-in-truth." Not "my" truth, but truth itself, which isn't just the only truth worth knowing, but the very definition of truth (in other words, "my truth" is no truth at all). Thus, "the only way to challenge effectively a defective view of history is to provide an alternative that is philosophically sound."

So, just as there exists psychopathology, there are are cognitive and spiritual pathologies. These pathologies are a necessary consequence of spiritual, philosophical, anthropological, and political reality.

Wait -- political reality? You have to be a Constitutional Scholar to understand there's no such thing. In the words of Obama, implicit "in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or 'ism,' any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course..."

The usual straw man, false dichotomy, and overall lazy thinking. In contrast to this foolish approach, Voegelin's "primary commitment" was "to serve truth," wherever it may lead. Obama is typical of an academic mentality that isn't just wrong, but truly deviant. Voegelin contended (way before it was completely obvious) that such "massive illiteracy" -- masquerading as its opposite -- "pervades the educated stratum of society."

One of Voegelin's surprising bottom-line takes is that "the essence of modernity is the the growth of Gnosticism." Which very much reminds me of something Johnson says in his highly insultaining Intellectuals.

To back up a bit, to acknowledge the reality of human nature is to affirm the undeniable religiosity of man. Later we'll get into exactly what we mean by "religiosity," but it can never be eradicated, only denied and transformed. Along these lines, this introductory passage by Johnson is worth pondering:

Over the past two hundred years the influence of intellectuals has grown steadily. Indeed, the rise of the secular intellectual has been a key factor in shaping the modern world.

In one sense this is a wholly new phenomenon. Not so fast! For "the decline of clerical power" merely created a vacuum into which the secular intellectual leapt, and this rascal "was just as ready as any pontiff or presbyter to tell mankind how to conduct its affairs." Yes, here comes the new clergy, same as the old clergy, only much worse. This pretentious assoul

proclaimed, from the start, a special devotion to the interests of humanity and an evangelical duty to advance them by his teaching. He brought to this self-appointed task a far more radical approach than his clerical predecessors.

"The collective wisdom of the past, the legacy of tradition, the prescriptive codes of ancestral experience" might be "selectively followed or wholly rejected entirely as his own good sense might decide.... men arose to assert that they could diagnose the ills of society and cure them with their own unaided intellects," whereby "the fundamental habits of human beings could be transformed for the better." No longer "servants and interpreters of the gods," they were substitutes for them.

Yes, magnanimous philanthropes such as Rousseau, Marx, Lenin, Mao, et al. But for Voegelin, Marx, for example, isn't just wrong, rather, the quintessence of a spiritually diseased approach to the world, not just unphilosophical but antiphilosophical, revealing a deep and abiding hatred of reality (and of mankind):

The Marxian spiritual disease... consists in the self-divinization and self-salvation of man; an intramundane logos of human consciousness is substituted for the transcendental logos.

Such an approach must "be understood as the revolt of immanent consciousness against the spiritual order of the world. This is the core Marxian idea." At its root "we find the spiritual disease, the Gnostic revolt.... Marx is demonically closed against transcendental reality.... His spiritual impotence leaves no way open but derailment into Gnostic activism," a "characteristic combination of spiritual impotence with a mundane lust for power."

But "one cannot deny God and retain reason. Spiritual impotence destroys the order of the soul," leaving man "locked in the prison of his particular existence."

Marx essentially imagined he'd discovered a loophole in Genesis 3: he "knew that he was a god creating a world. He did not want to be a creature."

To be continued...

Monday, May 11, 2020

I Don't Have the Time... or Space or Intelligence

Ever since my mind unexpectedly came on line in my mid-20s, I've been... haunted is too strong a word... Pestered? Shadowed? Annoyed?

At any rate, there has always been the simultaneous presence of a sense of a hint of an inking that my mind just isn't capacious enough for what I'm trying to do. There's not enough space: you can't fit two gallons of truth into a one gallon cranium.

Either that, or there's not enough raw candlepower: like I'm trying to light the cosmos with solar when I need petroleum or nuclear. I realize I'm not smart enough for the task, but no one else is attempting it, so what am I supposed to do? Ignore it?

Yes, my reach exceeds my grasp, but perhaps this is just an objective description of the human situation. In other words, God is the only person(s) whose reach and grasp are identical.

Would things have turned out differently had my brain been functional back when I was in school?

No, I don't think so. If that had been the case, then I would have simply absorbed all the wrong things. Instead of being filled with a benign nothing, my head would have been cluttered with all the malignant sophistries that dominate the culture: liberal orthodoxy, politico-scientistic religiosity, tenured mythologies, etc. I'd have been sealed in a demonically closed reality tunnel, and perhaps even become an enforcer or gatekeeper of the matrix, as are our media-academic goons.

But then, I also wasted a lot of time wading through so much BS along the way. I've obviously read a great deal, but with no one to guide me, it has been an inefficient and zigzag course. I had to swim upstream for a couple of decades before even spying the source. My son will never have to do that. Rather, I can help him cut straight to the chase: ignore all that, focus on this.

If I had to sum things up at this juncture, my go-to sources would be few. But I always leave one out: Voegelin. He is as important as any, and yet, I've never really taken him on board as an ongoing touchstone -- as I have, for example, Schuon or Dávila -- folks that find their way into nearly every post.

Why is this? Well, for one thing, as alluded to above, I don't have sufficient headspace. He's just so sprawling. If one attempted to master his corpus alone, it would take one's whole thinking life. You'd have to become a Voegelin specialist, which is the opposite of my loose and lazy cosmic generalism. My ideal is Dávila: to be as brief as possible, with a dash of humor or insultainment thrown in. Sharp as a knife, but also twist it a little. With lemon juice.

I don't pretend to be scholar. What am I then? I suppose you'd have to tell me, but I would say, visionary humorist, or metaphysical comedian, or mystic adventure guide, or theological entertainer... Some combination of grave seriousness and utter frivolousness. Sober intoxication.

So anyway, I've been reading a book called The Voegelinian Revolution, which is blowing my mind all over again -- as Voegelin always does. And because he blows my mind, I've never been able to fully wrap it around him. I can't cut him down to size and properly digest him.

But I can try. If ever someone were in need of popularization, it's Voegelin. As with Schuon, even the secondary literature is too serious and forbidding, so followers end up speaking only to one another. He needs a jester. A vulgarian. An interpreter with a clown nose.

But the other thing -- along with insufficient memory and intelligence -- is that there's never enough time. So we'll try to tackle the book tomorrow...

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