Friday, August 14, 2020

Extreme Seeking and Absolute UnKnowing

How did Voegelin survive all those years among the tenured, 99% of whom don't even know enough to understand him, let alone properly disagree with him? He speaks of the influence of German intellectuals on the American academy -- Marx, Freud, Marcuse, et al -- exacerbated by the vast expansion of universities in the 1950s and '60s.

Before that, college was supposed to be a shelter for the intelligent few (which of course it never really was). Afterwards it became a credential factory for the unintelligent mob. But in the words of the Aphorist, There is an illiteracy of the soul that no diploma cures. Or maybe you've never read Michelle Obama's mobster's thesis. As Christopher Hitchens said of it,

To describe it as hard to read would be a mistake; the thesis cannot be "read" at all, in the strict sense of the verb. This is because it wasn’t written in any known language.

Leftism ruins everything.

The expansion of our academia-industrial complex was "accompanied by the inevitable inrush of functional illiterates into academic positions" (Voegelin).

Naturally, this was the furthest thing from Bob's mind when he entered grad school in the 1980s. I'm trying to remember when I realized that these people possessed no more practical wisdom than my plumber, and probably less. In any event, there was a four stage process of 1) uncritical idealization, 2) gradual disillusionment, 3) utter contempt, and 4) comedy gold; or gods --> men --> beasts --> clowns.

Voegelin describes in the tenured clownocracy "a peculiar mixture of libido dominandi, philosophical illiteracy, and adamant refusal to enter into rational discourse, because the adequate form would have to be satire." And as anyone who doesn't work for the Babylon Bee knows, "it is next to impossible to write satire when a situation has become so grotesque that reality surpasses the flight of a satirist's imagination."

You can't really satire Joe Biden. Rather, only the people who don't perceive his cognitive nakedness -- or rather, apperceive that he's beautifully dressed, i.e., that he's the same old Slow Joe instead of the present No Joe. How do they not see what is right before their eyes? This -- negative hallucination -- is a big subject, but not necessarily the subject of this post, which is not yet known. It's still coming in, and the streaming is a bit slow this morning.

Voegelin found himself "surrounded on all sides" by "violently restrictive visions of existence," and "had to get out of that 'apodictic horizon' as fast as possible." Apodictic? Yes, the absolute certainty of the ideologues, which is to say, absolutism without the Absolute, rationalism without Reason, intellectuals without Intellect, truth without Logos.

Which reduces to Who and whom, Hammers and anvils, leftist elites and bags of wet cement. Leftism always results in kakistocracy, or meritocracy in reverse -- in other words, not just the denial of standards, but their inversion: the scum rises to the top: kamelacracy.

In plainasday terms, who attends college these days for the disinterested pursuit of truth rather than because it is a weigh station to power -- whether economic, political, or victim power?

For Voegelin's part, he was "attracted to 'larger horizons' and repelled, if not nauseated, by restrictive deformations" of ideology.

Same. Like I always say, if you feel that some ideology is sufficient to account for you, go for it. In all likelihood, feminism is sufficient to account for the constricted soul of the feminist, Marxism for the Marxist, progressivism for the progressive, scientism for the materialist, Darwinism for the Darwinist, etc. Just don't imagine our cloud of unknowing falls from your ideological droplet.

[A]ll of us are threatened in our humanity, if not our physical existence, by the massive social force of activist dreamers who want to liberate us from our imperfections by locking us up in the perfect prison of their phantasy. Even in our so-called free societies not a day passes that we are not seriously molested, in encounters with persons, or the mass media, or a supposedly philosophical and scientific literature, by somebody's Utopian imagination (ibid.).

Hang on. Let me fact-check that.

False: not a second passes.

In any event, "We have to break jail, and restore the philosopher's freedom of reason." Not to mention the media's freedom of inquiry and the humorist's freedom of mockery. We must slip the surly bonds of surly activists who want to inflict their dreams "of perfection by violence on everyman's humanity." But "Since our imperfection does not make sense to dreamers who know how to achieve perfection, it has acquired in the world of their phantasy the character of an Absurdity."

The real absurdity is, for example, pretending to know how to solve the problems of the Black Community, the most serious of which being the consequences of pretending to know how to solve them.

But what is ideology but a revolt against reality? Impossibility is beside the point. Just ask an Islamist who truly thinks he is contributing to the inevitable Islamization of the world. For the ideologue, permanent truth is a temporary condition. Just ask someone who thinks men can menstruate and some woman don't have a cervix.

The Lie is necessarily parasitic on the truth it denies. Before you pretend men can be women, you have to first perceive that there are men and there are women. Before you pretend to redefine marriage, you first have to understand actual marriage. Before you pretend Joe Biden is a Vital and Robust Dynamo because he rode a two-wheeler last weekend, you have to see that he's a demented husk. "The dream revolt against reality is structurally bound to the structure it wants to destroy" (ibid.).

Life isn't fair, and the world doesn't owe you a living. Thus, it will always furnish "the grievances from which a revolt can start." Yes, the left politicizes everything because it politicizes existence itself, which covers just about everything. But in so doing, it collapses vertical reality into the horizontal, from whence comes the "religionization" of politicized existence: ideologies are secular religions, always.

Not only is this absurd, it is necessarily absurd, because dreams are dreams. Unless you force them to be true, in which case they are nightmares. In reality, life is indeed a kind of perpetual dream, in the sense that it is certainly not a material object, or abstract equation, or philosophical system, but "reality itself becom[ing] luminous in the events of experience and imaginative symbolization."

Above we alluded to the apodictic horizon. The actual horizon

draws us to advance toward it but withdraws as we advance; it can give direction to the quest of truth but it cannot be reached; and the beyond of the horizon can fascinate as the "extreme" of truth but it cannot be possessed as truth face to face within this life (ibid.).

Conversely, "The devil who takes possession of man is man himself when he indulges his imagination to the extreme of self-divinization."

With which the Aphorist agrees:

Many think that the devil died, but he merely walks around today disguised as man.

Good news: we're finally finished with Voegelin, at least for the tome being.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Sturgeon's Law and the Plague of Ismism

I'll be brief. Or maybe not. Let's just say I have two conflicting aims: on the one hand, I need to attend to something in my worklife I've been putting off for a couple weeks. On the other, I'd really like to finish discussing this big ol' book of late essays by Voegelin. It seems that the only solution is a speedpost, on the double.

Let's begin with some questions about ideologues, whether they subscribe to positivism, scientism, existentialism, psychologism, evolutionism, leftism, whatever. Let's just call it the modern and postmodern plague of ismism:

why do they expressly prohibit anybody to ask questions concerning the sectors of reality they have excluded from their personal horizon? why do they want to imprison themselves in their restricted horizon and dogmatize their prison reality as the universal truth? and why do they want to lock up all mankind in the prison of their own making?

Why do these narrow-minded assouls want to "engulf Western civilization in their political prison culture"?

Not only would answering this question require a lifetime, but we could say that this is what a "lifetime" is, precisely. I wish I could.... well, not literally, but for the purposes of this essay, I wish I could go through college again, knowing what I know (and unKnow) now, and thereby observe the whole pathological process from an objective standpoint. As it was, I internalized the pathology and then spent the second half of my life undoing it. Or with luck, the latter three fifths.

In this meditative essay on his own intellectual development, called Remembrance of Things Past, Voegelin says that he too was subject to the same pressures to conform to ideology:

A school [i.e., a school of thought] is a formidable force indeed. Considerable time had to elapse before I understood the situation and its implications.

For my part, it wasn't until well into graduate school that I began to realize that the relevant issue isn't so much the philosophy as the philosopher, by which I mean that "philosophy" is just the means for a great (or not so great) intelligence to grapple with existence.

In my specific case -- in the discipline of psychoanalysis -- I noticed that it was full of intellectual mediocrities who had simply internalized the catechism, sprinkled with a few great intellects who used the tools and concepts of psychoanalysis to express a much deeper and wider apprehension of things. You might say that they deployed psychoanalytic concepts to transcend the limits of the discipline from within.

The analogy to music, or religion, or painting is exact. Anyone can learn music. But how many can use it express great artistry? Anyone can learn theology. But how many great theologians are there? Isn't there an informal law governing all disciplines regarding the excellence-to-crap ratio? Some people say rock music is crap. Which is true, except for 1%. Same with TV, movies, books, blogs, whatever.

Here it is: Sturgeon's Law, "an adage stating that 'ninety percent of everything is crap.'" Clearly, Sturgeon had low standards.

Come to think of it, Sturgeon's Law must intersect with the Dunning-Kruger effect, such that the lower one's ability or expertise, the lower the perceived ratio of excellence-to-crap. In other words, a person with no musical discernment thinks all music is pleasant. He enjoys Harry Connick as much as Frank Sinatra, or Bruno Mars as much as James Brown. A person with no journalistic standards is satisfied with CNN or the NY Times. A wife with low standards is content with me.

Back to Voegelin: an analysis of the phenomenon of consciousness

has no instrument other than the concrete consciousness of the analyst. The quality of this instrument, then, and consequently the quality of the results, will depend on what I have called the horizon of consciousness; and the quality of the horizon will depend on the analyst's willingness to reach out into all the dimensions of the reality in which his conscious existence is an event; it will depend on his desire to know.

This is what you call a Key Principle. It is irreducible to anything else, although we hasten to add that it is necessarily complemented by the Divine Energies, so to speak.

In other words, our openness is either open to the transcendent object or it is actually enclosed within its own genetic, neurological, cultural, ideological, and/or philodoxical horizons. There are only two possibilities, but if you keep thinking through your limited horizon you'll realize there is only one. Break through that glass ceiling!

The resultant consciousness

is a ceaseless action of expanding, ordering, articulating, and correcting itself; it is an event in the reality of which as a part it partakes. It is a permanent effort at responsive openness to the appeal of reality, at bewaring of premature satisfaction, and above all at avoiding the self-destructive phantasy of believing the reality of which it is a part to be an object external to itself that can be mastered by bringing it into the form of a system.

Oh well. Didn't finish the book, and now playtime is over. I have to get some work done.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Intellectuals vs. Intelligence

To which the typical intellectual will respond: a distinction without a difference! But we know better: for just as a manual laborer is someone who works with his hands, an intellectual laborer is someone who toils with his head. The designation implies no qualitative evaluation. Some intellectuals are geniuses, others idiots.

For example, Thomas Sowell and Paul Krugman are intellectuals, both being involved in the production of explicitly articulated abstract ideas. Which tells us precisely nothing about whether the ideas are good, bad, or even diabolical. Although if you read it in the Times, you can be pretty sure it's the latter.

Diabolical ideas. Note that only a human being can entertain and act on them. Speaking of evil ideas, yesterday I read that Pope Francis says it's “immoral” for nations to possess nuclear weapons. Criminals, Islamists, and Chicoms, you heard the Pope. Eliminate your nukes! Come to think of it, all you rioters and looters in Chicago and Portland? Stop being naughty!

Only an intellectual could believe objects can be immoral, or that there is no moral distinction between Iran and Israel possessing one of these objects. But thank God Truman had one and Hitler didn't.

In the words of Francis, “It has never been clearer that, for peace to flourish, all people need to lay down the weapons of war." Which proves that, in the words of the Aphorist, "In the Christianity of the leftist Christian, one of the two elements sooner or later eliminates the other." Score one for leftism.

The diffusion of a few drops of Christianity into a leftist mind transforms the idiot into a perfect idiot (Dávila).

Back to the main point, which is knowledge and the people who know it. As we mentioned in yesterday's post, intellectuals deal with articulated and abstract knowledge -- AKA ideas -- which is a small subset of knowledge per se. Sowell points out that a gifted surgeon, for example, is not considered an intellectual, even though he knows infinitely more than, say, Thomas Friedman or Charles Blow.

Political talk shows don't feature engineers, architects, or scientists, even though it requires more intelligence to excel in these fields than it does to succeed as a political pundit. For one thing, these activities offer immediate and decisive feedback that lets the practitioner know if he's doing an adequate job: the bridge falls down, the plane crashes, the patient dies.

But there is no penalty for a college professor being catastrophically wrong. He is completely insulated from feedback. Which is why leftists want all young adults to be indoctrinated by these credentialed buffoons at the taxpayer's expense. For

Until we come across instructed fools, instruction seems important (Dávila).

They say that people are always conservative with regard to what they know best. Which is why people who know nothing are the best leftists. Joe Biden doesn't even know what day it is. Perfect! Nearly as good are people who know things that can't possibly be true, but are oblivious to any kind of corrective feedback: the media, academia, AOC.

Wisdom is costly. Ideology is free. No, better than free, for it confers zero-cost omniscience: the ideologue has a ready answer for every question and a solution to every human problem, especially the permanent ones that are intrinsic to the human condition. Yes, Ideologies were invented so that men who do not think can give opinions. Which is why The intelligent man quickly reaches conservative conclusions (Dávila).

If there are intellectuals without intellect, there are religionists without God, so to speak: they know the words but have never heard the music which words can only distantly describe but never replace. Voegelin:

There were always Christian thinkers who recognized the difference between experiences of divine reality and the transformation of the insights engendered by the experience into doctrinal propositions.

There is, and must be, a dynamic tension between dogmatic and mystical theologies, which is precisely analogous to saying there must be a dynamic tension between the ideas of the intellectual and the reality which is prior to them.

Ideas -- whether secular or theological -- are true to the extent that they are adequations to real objects, whether God or world. In both cases, truth can degenerate into an ontologically closed and empty ideology.

But let no Raccoon suppose there is any intrinsic conflict between intellect and revelation, doctrine and experience, truth and being: "we believe that knowledge exists and that it is a real and efficacious adequation"; that this integral knowledge is "at once intellectual and spiritual"; and that this fruitful tension "is the reason for the existence of the human spirit" (Schuon).

One God, One Cosmos, One Intelligence, One Truth, One Post, etc.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Words Fail

Worlds are colliding. Lately I've been reading Voegelin, Schuon, and Sowell, and these three -- who have never before inhabited the same sentence (I just checked: It looks like there aren't any great matches for your search) -- converge on one key point: that articulated knowledge can be a poor substitute for the experiential kind.

This post is primarily about mystical knowledge, which is to say, experiential knowledge of God. But the principle applies to every realm, which we already know from reading our Polanyi.

Let me begin with Sowell, since he is the most down to earth: literally, because as far as I know, he is completely secular. I've read all of his books, and don't remember him ever touching on religion except incidentally.

But principles are universal, otherwise they wouldn't be principles. Supposing you discover one, it may apply to things you don't intend. Suppose, for example, you believe in the principle that all men are created equal, but you also happen to be a Jim Crow or BLM or Antifa racist. Oops! You are unintentionally cancelled by your own principle. You can kill MLK, but his principle will take its revenge.

How exactly would we formulate the principle we are about to discuss? It's easier to do so in the context of aesthetics, since no amount of yada yada can contain or exhaust the mysteries of sound or color as conveyed by a master. But we're talking about plain old knowledge of any kind. Can our epistemological principle be reduced to an aphorism? Calling Sr. Dávila!

Each of the following touches on our principle from a different angle. Or, imagine trying to describe a hyperdimensional object with 3D language: even an infinite number of circles won't add up to a single sphere. For that matter, even an infinite number of posts will never exhaust that to which I am alluding. For

Certain ideas are only clear when formulated, but others are only clear when alluded to.

And Words do not decipher the mystery, but they do illuminate it. Light comes from Light. And returns to it.

B-b-b-but As long as we can respond without hesitating we do not know the subject.

This one is perfect: We do not know anything perfectly except what we do not feel capable of teaching.

What is the timeless truth taught by our trolls? That Nothing seems easier to understand than what we have not understood.

How to distinguish between the intelligent man and the learned fool? That which is incomprehensible increases with the growth of the intelligence. And this one is particularly obvious: Whoever is curious to measure his stupidity should count the number of things that seem obvious to him.

Honesty requires us to place strict limits on what we know, and certainly what we may express about it. This isn't just rudimentary humility, but common courtesy:

The honest philosophy does not pretend to explain but to circumscribe the mystery.

I'll say it again: One can only reread what suggests more than what it expresses.

You are no doubt familiar with the phenomena of "intelligent stupidity" and "mature immaturity." But in reality, To mature is to comprehend that we do not comprehend what we had thought we comprehended.

I know that I don't know. What's your excuse?

We especially see this unbounded pseudo-intelligence in our so-called elites, whether in politics, the media, or academia. One of the reasons mean girls such as Jim Acosta and Barack Obama so hate President Trump is that he has torn away the masks of competence, intelligence, and emotional maturity. High school students, Dude.

I wish I had more time, but I don't, so we'll pick up the thread tomorrow.