Saturday, January 09, 2021

Bob vs. a 15 Year Old

Another brief one, which seems to be the new norm. Lucky you!

I am a different person from the one who staggered into graduate school in 1981 and stumbled out in 1988. In one sense this is a banality, but I mean something different. 

That is, supposing one is the recipient of an extensive post-secondary education -- particularly in the humanities -- this should presumably help one actualize and perfect whatever nascent intellectual gifts, virtues, and potentials one possesses.  

I remember the Happy Acres Guy using the analogy of a sports camp: attending one isn't going to turn the non-athlete into an athlete; rather, it's purpose is to make the athlete better: it can perfect one's skills, not conjure them 

Same with college. There's a reason why it cranks out credentialed idiots by the thousands: because these idiots were never intellectual athletes to begin with. Or maybe you've never read Michelle Obama's master's thesis.

Now that any idiot can graduate college, one supposes that the purpose of graduate degree is to distinguish one from the common idiot with a BA. But one has only to have attended graduate school to know this isn't true. 

It reminds me of a recent column by Roger Kimball about the ludicrous Doctor Jill Biden. Her silly title "communicates less honor than affectation and social insecurity":

Ithe United States, anyway, it is generally understood, though seldom mentioned in polite society, that the less distinguished one’s academic institution, the more likely one will insist upon the honorific “Dr.” And that’s for Ph.D. degrees. The degree of Ed.D. -- officially a “doctor of education” -- is, let’s be candid, more a certificate than a degree. Yes, one is entitled to the title “Dr.” But it’s only a short step, or half step, up from those entertainers and purveyors of boutique soaps who style themselves “Dr.” or “Doc”: “Dr. Bronner,” for example, or “Doc Watson.” 

Now, Doc, that's a name no one would self-apply where I come from. We all know what an actual doctor is, which is why we respect them. An EdD or PhD would be arrested for attempting what real doctors can do, e.g., give you drugs, cut you open, or see you naked. 

But here again, this isn't my point. Let's put it this way: my son, who is 15 years old, watches Prager U videos as part of his homeschooling. As such, he knows more about political philosophy, or the Constitution, or the history of the Middle East, or the reality of sexual differences, or basic economics, or race, than I did in 1988, when I became a fully credentialed idiot.

Supposing we could beam my son back to 1988 and engage the old me in debate, he would easily trounce me. But would I have recognized my humiliation at the hands of a mere teen? 

No. Way. I would have presumed to correct him at every turn, no doubt adopting my best superior tone while gently mocking his naiveté -- or, more likely, arrogantly steamrolling it. Even imagining the exchange actually makes me a bit nauseous.

There but for the grace of God grew I.

Along these lines, I want to pick up where we left off in the previous post, because it touches on a fundamental principle of human psychology of which I was totally ignorant in 1988 -- after having been certified as a Doctor of the subject on the way to being a licensed Healer of Souls! The thought of which makes me a bit more nauseous.

A Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person reminds us that the term fall is "a conceptual metaphor" signifying "an ontological change in humanity." This change redounds to "the loss of an original state" of -- in our words -- freely chosen conformity to the divine principle and person.

Now, this seems like a pretty important piece of information to leave out. Sure, you could say this is just a crazy Christian theory, but believe me, we learned plenty of other crazy theories from behaviorism at one end to Freudianism at the other and existential psychology in between. 

What else do these boys (in the CC M-M of the P) have to say about the subject? 

Every worldview and value system has an account of the origin and extent of human weakness and disorder.  

Quite true, except it is often implicit. But everyone can see that there's something wrong with the humans. For the Marxist it is private property. For the critical race theorist it is whiteness. For the feminist it is men. For Democrats it is Trump.

When I completed graduate school, I would have no doubt pointed to the ins, outs, and what-have-yous of childhood attachment. I suppose I still do, but in a much wider and deeper psycho-spiritual context. 

For example, I wouldn't have recognized homeschooling as such a critical prolongation of this process. But this is precisely why my 15 year old son could trounce his 32 year old father in a debate.

Some more critical information from the book: the principle of fallenness accounts for a dis-ordering of four particular human capacities:

(a) reason remains wounded by ignorance and in need of the virtue of practical wisdom; (b) the will remains wounded by malice and in need of the virtue of justice; (c) the emotions related to the good that is difficult to reach or the evil that is difficult to avoid remain wounded by our weakness and in need of the virtue of fortitude; and (d) the emotions related to attraction to a good or repulsion of something that is evil remain wounded by disordered desire and in need of the virtue of temperance or moderation.  

So when we say that man is fallen, we can point to certain evident consequences, i.e., the relative absence of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance; man as we find him is more or less imprudent, unjust, weak-willed (or willful), and intemperate. And a real doctor of psychology would assist the patient in precisely these dimensions. 

Now, as alluded to in the second paragraph, a higher education in general should at least help to actualize a bit of our human potential in these same areas. I suppose it does, in that it renders its beneficiaries as temperate as a Paul Krugman, as prudent as a Cornell West, as just as a Karl Marx, and as brave your average college dean.  

Friday, January 08, 2021

Memo to Fallen Man: Stop the Steal!

We left off with a discussion of the ascending and descending cosmic winds, which are always present in some form or fashion however much we may wish it were otherwise.   

Indeed, even "wishing" is situated on this axis, for it is ultimately conformed to love, truth, beauty, goodness, and unity -- or their downward alternatives -- which are obviously not reducible to matter and sensation. 

If nature weren't already supernatural we could never even know the dame, for we would -- literally -- be  immersed in the senses and outside the loop (the spiraling loop of ascent and descent).

With this in mind, let's continue with Schuon's essay on Man in the Cosmogonic Projection, which helps to unigmatize a number of enigmas. We'll figure out later if we can square it with cosmic orthodoxy:

just as the boomerang by its very form is destined to return to him who has thrown it, so man is predestined by his form to return to his divine Prototype; whether he wills it or not, man is "condemned" to transcendence.

That last comment is what I mean by wishing it were otherwise: yes, you are a child of the living God, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

Except of course there is, since, by virtue of our divine birthright, we are also condemned to freedom. Now, man is always in rebellion against his own freedom, or there would be no left or any other forms of theocracy. 

Why else did it take 100,000 years for man to create a nation anchored in his own transcendent rights and duties? And why else has the devil accompanied its development and never stopped trying to undermine it?  Hmm? 

The devil simultaneously loves and hates freedom: to be precise, he loves it -- insofar as this verb applies -- so long as it isn't conformed to its vertical telos.  Remove the latter and freedom reduces to blind will and the tyranny of relativism. Which is why "the worst of perversions is that of man," since the corruption of the best is indeed the worst. 

This applies quintessentially to a perverse left which only exists to corrupt the best (the best constitution, nation, educational system, or any other institution it touches). The following passage offers a hint as to why:

The "dark" and "descending" tendency not only moves away from the Sovereign Good, but also rises up against It; whence the equation between the devil and pride (ibid.). 

Boom and bingo: the revolutionary impulse -- which is always with and in us -- is characterized by a prideful misuse of freedom. Now, where have I heard this idea before? 

I know! On page 473 of A Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person. In a chapter called Fallen, it reminds us that the term fall is "a conceptual metaphor" signifying "an ontological change in humanity." This change redounds to "the loss of an original state" of -- in our words -- freely chosen conformity to the divine principle and person.

An ontological change, eh? This doesn't just imply a change in knowledge, or relations, or feelings, or behavior; rather, a change in our very being. Ouch! That's gonna leave a mark. Right down to the marrow.

Is there anything we can do about it? Well, maybe, but first we must admit we have a problem, that we do not have the power to fix it, that it isn't someone else's fault, and that it isn't susceptible to a political solution that exteriorizes blame at the cost of freedom and responsibility. The best political system only facilities the possibility of choosing good over evil and reality over appearance. 

Nevertheless, as the Poet says, 

They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be.

Is and Be, which go to the ontological change mentioned above: the man who Is is fallen man pretending not to be. The possibility of real being is predicated on the recognition of false being. Again, job one is to simply stop pretending

That's about it for today, except for a few aphorisms by our sphinx-like friend Nicolás:

In order to corrupt the individual it is enough to teach him to call his personal desires rights and the rights of others abuses.

In order to enslave the people the politician needs to convince them that all their problems are “social.”

Social salvation is near when each one admits that he can only save himself. Society is saved when its presumed saviors despair.

Unfortunately, since last November our presumed saviors have been jubilant.


Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Surrender Your Line to the Circle

Another short one. Unless I've lost track of time and it's longer than I think.

We're still pondering Schuon's Man in the Cosmogonic Projection. I am at that phase in life where the following speaks for itself:

the cosmogonic movement is not merely centrifugal, it becomes centripetal in the final analysis, which is to say that it is circular; the circle of Maya closes in the heart of the deified man.

Self-evident, no?

Wait, no? 

Are we looking at the same thing? I'm looking at the world, which is looking back at me. Or rather, is always speaking to me. It was here when I arrived, but if I'm (I AM) not here, then there is no circle, and we are sealed in permanent stupidity, futility, and illusion. 

But man completes the circle, not just via knowledge of being (AKA truth), but also the other transcendentals -- love, beauty, and unity.

Regarding the latter, to even say "cosmos" is to say unity, a unity that is anterior to the (merely) material cosmos. No one ever has, or ever will, perceive "the cosmos," for perception is always of particulars. You can only perceive a piece of the pie, but why assume there's a pie? Where did that idea come from?

From the Circle. For it is the Circle, only frozen and bifurcated instead of seen for the cosmogonic movement it actually is. Which is again what I see. It's obviously there in the circular structure of the bOOk, but back then it was only dimly perceived -- or clearly intuited -- whereas now it's the context of everything. A first principle.

Why us? Because in a full employment cosmos, someone has to do it:

To the question of knowing why man has been placed in the world when his fundamental vocation is to leave [i.e., transcend] it, we would reply: it is precisely in order that there be someone who returns to God (ibid).

Surprisingly enough, this is completely orthodox, albeit with certain important caveats. If you want to look at it from the widest possible angle, you could say that the Fall represents a rupture in the Circle, while the Incarnation is its repair and completion ("it is accomplished").

Thus, sanctification, deification, and theosis are a participation in the circular movement. Christ is obviously the necessary condition, but this does not excuse us from a voluntary participation in him, which means we -- in our vertical freedom -- are the sufficient condition. The latter can only get so far in the absence of the former -- close but no avatar. 

Nowadays practically every book I read alludes to the Circle. When I see one, I put a symbol in the margin that looks like circle with an arrow. For example, just yesterday I read a little book by Peter Kreeft called The Philosophy of Jesus. In it he writes of how the divine goodness "spills out beyond itself like sunlight." That's the descending movement.

But then, "that-which-was-from-the-beginning," the "unmanifest Source of all manifestations became manifested," and "the distance between Heaven and earth" is bridged. Say what you like about it, but one must admit that "this is the most radical solution to the fundamental problem of metaphysics: how to know Being."

Yes, it's an audacious gamble, but I guess Einstein was wrong: God does like to play dice with the universe. 

Ironic: note how the Incarnation divides "time in two, cutting the Gordian knot of history," only to heal the divide at a higher level. One might say that continuity becomes discontinuous so that the discontinuous (i.e., broken, splintered, fragmented, conflicted, unintegrated) might become continuous, or at least participate in the continuity. 

For this reason, "when man crucifies truth, truth crucifies man." D'oh! God devises a way to transform man's narcissistic and self-glorifying rejection of, and attack on, the Circle to complete the Circle: "God's search for man is a success, and the name of that success is Jesus." 

"Jesus is Jacob's ladder..., and we see this ladder is upside down: it really rests on Heaven, not on earth like the Tower of Babel," much less the babble of tenure.  "He makes it possible to escape earth's gravity." You could say that levity becomes gravity in order for gravity to become levity.  Guffah-HA! 

Another book I read over the weekend, A Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person, discusses the same Circle in different terms, noting that "Self-knowledge and knowledge of the world are supported by bottom-up and top-down influences." The former are obvious, while the latter include such things as "the spiritual inclination to know the truth," "intellectual intuitions about good and evil," and the "movements of grace." 

Elsewhere the authors write of the "personagenesis" whereby

In the spiritual realm, which is at the core of the personality, it is listening to the call and love of God. Once initiated, the process of becoming a person continues as a "vertical transcendence" in which the person gives "the self to another."

Participation the trinitarian Circle revolves around receptivity to the gift and an active self-gift in response. The "theological virtues originate from God" and "lead one to God." And their practice forms the basis of our vertical metabolism.

Monday, January 04, 2021

A Flood of Meaning

Time only for a short one...

A commenter to the previous post alluded to the old question of how to reconcile an evil world (or evil in the world) with a good God. Schuon bats it away in a single sentence: 

Manifestation is not the Principle, and the effect is not the cause; that which is "other than God" could not possess the perfections of God, hence in the final analysis and within the general imperfection of the created, there results that privative and subversive phenomenon we call evil.  

Taken out of context and in isolation from his many other discussions of the subject, this may appear glib and simplistic. Nevertheless, it gets to the heart of nub of the gist of the essence of the problem in a purely demythologized way. In my view, Genesis 3 makes the same point, only clothed in mythopoetic garb. 

In a prescientific world, important transnatural and metaphysical truths and meanings are conveyed via narrative. As with great art, it is important not to get hung up on the what but to penetrate to the why of the story -- the theme and not just the plot, the former being the reason for the latter. 

Analogously, I've been using the pandemic as an excuse to introduce my son to great American films, for example, Casablanca. While I suppose it can be enjoyed as a "romance," that is obviously only the vehicle and not the destination -- the means and not the message. 

Many aphorisms come to mind, but I'll try to limit myself to five, arranged in ascending order:

Appearance is not the veil, but the vehicle, of reality.

The meanings are the reality; their material vehicles are the appearance.

The bridge between nature and man is not science, but myth.

The modern aberration consists in believing that the only thing that is real is what the vulgar soul can perceive.

Whoever does not believe in myths believes in fables. 

Speaking of fables and the vulgarians who swallow them, the commenter mentioned above adopts a literal and simplistic reading of the biblical flood in order to cleverly deduce from it that God must be evil. Gotcha!, exclaims the Village Atheist. We've been dunked upon.

In another aphorism, Dávila pointedly points out that The simplistic ideas in which the unbeliever ends up believing are his punishment. 

We all have our philosophical preoccupations, and moreover, we have time for only so many. I myself am not troubled by the fantastic stories of the Old Testament. If I'm truly curious about one, then the first thing I will do is consult the Rabbis and Church Fathers for guidance as to what it means. If I want to know about the flood, for example, it's not difficult to obtain any number of rich and provocative exegeses.  

Enough said about that. Back to the existence of evil. Indeed, there is so much evil in the world, one sometimes wonders why God doesn't just end it all with a giant flood or something. Better yet, maybe leave a single righteous man to start all over -- like a new Adam or whatever.

Even supposing God did allow us to be reborn and begin anew, something or someone inevitably tries to oppose and subvert the regenerating power of the baptismal waters. Schuon:

strictly speaking, evil or the devil cannot oppose the Divinity, who has no opposite; it opposes man who is the mirror of God and the movement towards the divine.

Mirror and movement. Now that is a pithy and pregnant formulation, for it goes to both our immanence and our transcendence; or to our atemporal essence and our temporal journey towards it, which in turn forms  the basis of "the meaning of life."  

This meaning stretches out before us (horizontally) because it first stretches out above us (vertically).  If not, then to hell with it. Bring on the flood. Or maybe it's always already here.