Thursday, February 04, 2021

To the Stars, and Beyond

This post was started yesterday but ends at the stars below. Today's post proceeds beyond the stars:

I was pondering a certain philosophical question, when I read a tweet by the Happy Acres guy that crystalized the shape of the problem (https://twitter.com/HappyHectares/status/1356974916147372033):

recently, and in its defense, I've heard leftism likened to Credo quia absurdum.

Or, in plain English, I believe because it is absurd. Now, no one should believe something merely because it is absurd, and I assume Tertullian was being a bit ironic. If I were to plagiaphrase the gag, it would be to make the point that superior truths often appear absurd to inferior minds. The proof is in the trolls.

Let me track down what Mr. T. was trying to convey. Perhaps we can even learn something. I have a book called The Faith of the Early Fathers for just this purpose. It contains all the writings of the ancient Christians. First, someone has has his hand up. Yes, Professor Wiki? 

Credo quia absurdum is a Latin phrase that means "I believe because it is absurd," originally misattributed to Tertullian.... It is believed to be a paraphrasing of Tertullian's "prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est" which means It is certain because it is absurd....  

Early modern Protestant and Enlightenment rhetoric against Catholicism and religion more broadly resulted in this phrase being changed to I believe because it is absurd, displaced from its original anti-Marcionite to a personally religious context.

Marcionite? I can never keep track of all the heresies. This one taught that 

Christ was not a Jewish Messiah, but a spiritual entity that was sent by the Monad to reveal the truth about existence, thus allowing humanity to escape the earthly trap of the demiurge. Marcion called God, the Stranger God, or the Alien God, in some translations, as this deity had not had any previous interactions with the world, and was wholly unknown. 

But Tertullian was by no means advocating absurdity for its own sake, which would be profoundly un- and anti-Catholic. Rather,  

The consensus of Tertullian scholars is that the reading "I believe because it is absurd" sharply diverges from Tertullian's own thoughts, given his priority on reasoned argument and rationality in his writings.... The meaning of the phrase may relate to 1 Corinthians 1:17–31, where something foolish to a human may be an attribute of God's wisdom....

On to the text. In it he speaks of being "shameless in a good sense, and foolish in a happy way":

The Son of God is crucified: and I am not ashamed that it ought be cause for shame. The Son of God is dead: and it is believable, because it is folly. And having been buried, He rose again: it is certain, because it is impossible. But how will all these things be true of Him, if He Himself was not true...?

So I guess Tertullian is in effect saying to Marcion, "Hey, if your Gnostic BS makes sense to you, I'll take folly. You big fat fool."

****** 

With that bit of pedantry out of the way, let's move on to the main attraction, which is an essay called The Philosophical Spirit and the Sense of Mystery, in which Fr. Garriguou-Lagrange provides a helpful map to the stars and beyond.

Which reminds me. Why do people such as Musk and Bezos want to fly up into the heavens, when you can't get there that way? You inevitably end up in the same place, only further away. I suppose it's a lack of imagination, or perhaps a displacement of it onto the material plane. 

It's very much as if they reduce the proper object of metaphysics and theology to the mere object of science. And no one feels hemmed in by life so long as they are in communion with this object, an object that is not only beyond the stars but prior to them. 

Suffice it to say, flying into space, no matter how far, is not a cure for spiritual autism.

What is it, asks G-L, that "differentiates the philosophical spirit not only from common knowledge but also from knowledge obtained by the cultivation of sciences that are inferior to philosophy"?  The former

differs from them above all and essentially by its formal object and by the point of view under which it considers its object. 

This or that science establishes only "the laws of phenomena" -- for example, the object of physics is the material world, while the object of mathematics is the quantitative world. But to reduce reality to what mathematics or physics can say about it is an error that is fatal to the intellect, since it eclipses its proper object. The intellect sophicates, ultimately because

the sciences that are inferior ro philosophy, such as the positive and mathematical sciences, in certain senses resemble sense knowledge insasmuch as they have objects that are less universal than philosophy's object...

For example, empirical knowledge can know only of this or that man. But the intellect transcends the particular and ascends to knowledge of mankind, to the universal. Without this mysterious operation, "no other knowledge would be possible." Indeed, even to deny it is to affirm it.

As I think I mentioned in a comment, St. Thomas is similar to Adam Smith, in the sense that he is not promulgating a theory, much less an ideology. Rather, both men simply describe what we are spontaneously doing -- Smith when we are free to truck and barter, Thomas when we are free to think. 

Come to think of it, while Smith's masterwork describes how nations become wealthy, Thomas's describes how intellects attain riches beyond measure. In both cases, the accumulation of wealth requires certain rules and policies. Just so, other policies will assure intellectual and spiritual impoverishment. Yes, there are third-world minds condemned to intellectual shitholes, but enough about academia.

Nevertheless, this is the purpose of the leftist education-indoctrination complex -- not to reach beyond the stars but to clip the wings of the intellect and distract it with sub-mundane pseudo-problems. It is a trap, literally. But the trap is self-imposed, as the inscape hatch is always present in the truly philosophical spirit, which

seeks to connect, in an explicit and distinct manner, all things to the most universal, simple, first principles. That is, the philosophical spirit wishes to connect all things to the most general laws of being and of the real.

And here is an IMPORTANT point if you wish to travel beyond the stars: the intellect

is quickly led to see the mysteries of the natural order where the common outlook sees no mystery; indeed, it sees them where even the inferior sciences do not suspect there to be such mysteries. 

As mentioned a few posts back, the most prominent mysteries appear to be present in the vertical interstices of reality -- for example, where matter somehow becomes animate, or where biology "becomes" self-aware. Suffice it to say that neither mystery is eliminated with recourse to reductionism; this merely deluminates the mystery (and its real source). 

For between matter and even the most teeny tiny sensation of matter is an abyss -- an abyss that is Against the Law -- the law of a scientism that pretends that the lower can be the sufficient reason of the higher. Such dull and unimaginative sorts

never see any mystery, any profundity, in the same place where the philosopher is astonished with the wonderment that is, as Aristotle has said, the very beginning of science. 

We'll leave off here for today, but I will circle back to the question of why the left not only believes such nonsense, but must believe it.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Hidden in Plain Sight

Continuing with yesterday's post, the intellect is bound by two horizons -- like sea and sky -- that shade off into obscurity.  BUT

Let us not confuse the obscurity that dominates the frontiers of intelligibility from on high with that which is beneath them (Garrigou-Lagrange).

In other words, don't confuse the sea with the sky, and whatever you do, don't conflate them. Nor is a sailboat suitable for flight. 

Looked at one way, transcendence and immanence are complementary, but as with all complementarities, one must be prior, and it is inconceivable that transcendence could come from below. A purely immanent world could never know it was one. The leap from existence to experience is literally infinite, to say nothing of the release from instinct to freedom and truth.

Nevertheless, a degree of obscurity necessarily abides at both ends, which is why we humans refer to the spiritual world as "immaterial," whereas Petey, -- with his quasi-infallible transcendental view of things -- refers to our material world as "subspiritual" 

Now, as we are bound by these two obscurities, "there are also two clarities of a contrary nature -- true clarity and the false clarity," and you had better know which is which. 

To jump ahead a bit, the crude sophistry of the village atheist is the last word in false clarity. It is totally clear, as anyone with an IQ above room temperature can fully comprehend it. The same is true of any form of ideological literalism from antireligious scientism to religious fundamentalism. Around here we just call it ismism.

The root error of false clarity is the pretense of explaining the superior by means of the inferior. Why pretend it is possible to accomplish this? Because on the one hand man loves truth, but the benighted ismist attempts to know the intellectual object of a higher level with the means of a lower one which eclipses it, precisely. 

Thus,

those who pride themselves the most on their objectivity are precisely those who most lack the superior sort of objectivity, which.... leads them to prefer to the superior sort of clarity the inferior sort of clarity, which becomes false due to the importance they unduly give to it.

Which is why metaphysics is both more objective and true than those lesser sciences that study this or that limited and contingent object. Conversely, metaphysics illuminates those principles that cannot not be; and to say that they are necessary is to say they are eternal. Thus,

It is immensely important to distinguish the clarity of what is purely and simply true and that of what is true only in a secondary and partial aspect, all the while being essentially false.

This or that science surely discloses truth on the plane appropriate to its object and method. But this very truth can be "placed in the service of the false doctrine that diverts that [truth] from its end. In such a false doctrine, truth is the slave of error" (emphasis mine).

For example, evolutionary psychology illuminates a great deal about man. But to suggest that natural selection explains everything about the human station is but a blindingly false clarity -- and indeed a form of slavery

Why slavery? Because the superior is thereby constrained by what is properly subordinate to it, like a retarded child ruling over the adults. But enough about Joe Biden.

Garrigou-Lagrange says goodbye to this chapter with a passage from a 19th century mystic-theologian with the unlikely name of Ernest Hello:

The language of the great contemplatives is hand-to-hand combat with things that cannot be spoken.... Colliding in its flight with ineffable secrets, with unrevealed mysteries, it has the appearance of an eagle who... arrives in regions where, even for it, there is no longer suitable air for breathing. Thoughts are lacking for it. Their intellect descends again, struggling against words, which fail, each in their own turn....

In this ascent..., all lights are shadows in comparison with the last light. The treasuries into which the great contemplative's gaze searches are forever inexhaustible; and eternity promises to their ever-renewed joy fresh springs that will never be exhausted.

We thank thee, Father, that thou hast hidden these things from the tenured and revealed them to the humble Raccoon! 

Monday, February 01, 2021

Deformations of History and the Horizons of Stupid

No, I am not referring to "Black History Month," although then again I suppose I could be. We'll see. Rather, that's the title of the next chapter of the book with which we've been dialoguing, Transcendence and History (linked in the sidebar).

It's an IQ test: if a black person isn't insulted -- mortified, even -- by Black History Month, he has failed the test. If the credentialed idiots who came up with the idea actually cared about blacks -- or whites, for that matter -- they'd assign the collected works of Thomas Sowell and be done with it. 

Imagine the mind of the person who thinks the purpose of history is to provide psychotherapy and raise the "self esteem" of this or that race or ethnicity or sexual deviancy. You can't. Eight year olds, dude. No, not even. 

I can't continue without squeezing in a comment I read at American Digest this morning, since it adds an exclamation point to yesterday's post. The commenter -- Casey -- quotes a passage from That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis:

(https://americandigest.org/brave-new-1984/#comments)

“Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who CAN be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they’re all propaganda and skips the leading articles.... He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.”

Anything: Russia hoax, the Nazis are Fine People hoax, the Trump provoked an insurrection or coup or something hoax, the "white supremacy" hoax, et al. 

Casey adds that "Elsewhere Lewis said effectively that education without values just makes man a more clever sort of devil."

A bold statement. Is it true? Yes, but only for important subjects. 

Speaking of which, I've been meaning to write a post on the subject of "intellectual sin," which is the worst kind of sin, or at least the first kind, since thought is prior to deed. Maybe I'll psircle back to that later. 

Eh. There's not much in this chapter I really need to discuss. Which is convenient, since yesterday I read the best essay ever, compared to which all other essays are number two or lower. It's called The Intellectual Chiaroscuro, from the book The Sense of Mystery, by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (also in the side bar, and it's a two-think minimum). 

Chiaroscuro. Where have we heard this before? Yes, it characterizes what Joyce was attempting in Finnegans Wake, i.e., clearobscuro writing. We touched on it in a post last November 16.

I'll just extract some highlights from Fr. G-L's essay, and add my comments if necessary.

One of the most striking aspects in the study of the great problems of philosophy and theology is the union of light (indeed, sometimes a dazzling light) and a profound obscurity.

We know about the light. What's with the obscurity? Is it just a privation? Or might it be the very opposite, only good and hard, i.e., TOO MUCH LIGHT?

The sense of mystery could not be lacking in the great Doctors of the Church, for it is the proper characteristic of superior intellects. 

So our "sense of mystery" must be ordered to this Great Obscurity. Conversely, "The mediocre man.... substitutes convention for reality." He "condemns that which escapes the denominations and categories he knows," and "has a dread for that which astonishes [?!], never approaching the terrible mystery of life [bʘʘ!]."

Here's the interesting part, and it goes to what we've been saying about living in that web anchored by immanence at one end and transcendence at the other, both of which are mysteries.  Here again, your typical tenured mediocretin doesn't regard matter as particularly mysterious, when in fact, it is in a way even more mysterious than God, or at least less clearobscuro. 

On the one hand, there is the kind of "obscurity from below...." It comes from blind matter, for matter, in a sense, is repugnant to intelligibility, which is obtained by abstraction from matter.

Of matter itself, our knowledge approaches nothing. Rather, abstraction is the means by which we know it in a secondary sense. I may not have expressed that in a fully kosher manner, but you get the geist of it. Prime matter is unspecified "pure potency," which is just this side of nonbeing.

But there is also an "obscurity from on high" at the other end of the Web. Thus,

As the matter from which we abstract the intelligible is (in a way) below the limits of intelligibility, the intimate life of God is above the limits of intelligibility that is naturally accessible to us.

Perhaps a visual aid will enhance your experience of this flight of funcy. Have you ever been on a mountain, higher than the clouds, which appear like an eyewitless foggus of pure white? That's our well-lit world of intelligibility from matter, while matter itself is ultimately hidden beneath the cloud below.

Now, have you ever sat or skied on a mountain, the top of which was obscured by clouds? Of course you have. Same deal, only opposite, so

Let us not confuse the obscurity that dominates the frontiers of intelligibility from on high with that which is beneath them.

I want to say there are two Horizons of Stupid, but one intelligent way of approaching them. However, I'll have to circle back to that in the next post.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Caught in God's Web

A couple of posts back we mentioned Voegelin's cryptic remark that history is "a web of meaning with a plurality of nodal points." 

Now, just because something is complex it needn't be cryptic, or one ends up sounding like the very political Gnostics one is attempting to expose and neutralize. To quote Charles Laughton in The Private Life of Henry the VIII, Diplomacy, my foot! I'm an Englishman -- I can't say one thing and mean another

Voegelin, of course, was German. 

Shh! Don't mention the War. 

Well, just one mention, then we'll let it go. In this week's weekly email newsletter, Rob Henderson asks why our Best Minds are so susceptible to bullshit. That they are is beyond doubt. But why? By virtue of what principle -- if there can be a "principle of bullshit"?  

William Shirer, the American author of the 1960 book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, described his experiences as a war correspondent in Nazi Germany.
Shirer wrote:
“Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, beer hall, or café, I would meet with outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious they were parroting nonsense they heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but one was met with such incredulity, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty[emphasis mine].

I generally don't like to attribute unconscious or sinister motives to people with whom I disagree, except behind their backs. When speaking with them in the flesh, it is enough to clarify differences and defer to logic and principle to demonstrate beyond doubt that they are full of shit.

But why do they believe in such crap -- for example, everything from the battery fairy to an epidemic of fairy battery? (https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2021/01/who-will-tell-the-greens-there-is-no-battery-fairy.php)

Indeed, those same people will suggest that that last silly gag was violent! when it was just a gag, no more violent than ridiculing a smelly, mouth-breathing MAGA troglodyte such as myself. It's when we aren't permitted to needle each other that people on the fringes of sanity will resort to nonverbal means. 

Back to why a seemingly intelligent person such as I can believe such outlandish assertions -- for example, that a man who engages in genital mutilation is a man just the same, or that male and female nature are quite different, or that it is unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of race.

Like Henderson, I am very much an outsider to world of Smart People with Correct Beliefs. On the one hand, I didn't learn much in school, but for the same reason, it has been less of a struggle to escape the indoctrination. It was more on the surface, not penetrating to the bone. Like him, I was totally naive: 

At that time, I believed that “educated and intelligent persons” were immune to distortions and propaganda. 

I actually believed that joining their ranks as a certified PhD made me similarly immune to BS, when it nearly destroyed my native immune system, AKA common sense. In reality, "social class, measured in terms of education and income," is "positively associated with the desire for social status." And 

Who cares the most about obtaining social status? People who already have it. Affluent members of society are particularly likely to say the right things to either preserve their status or gain more of it.

But there is a higher from of status: not giving a fuck what high status people think. Which hardly means "not caring," for I very much care whether what I write is in conformity to Truth and, to a lesser extent, myself. (And Truth is indeed a person, but that's the subject for a different post.) I want to say what I really think, not pretend I think something for any other reason, including social status. 

Back to the Web of Meaning mentioned in the first paragraph. Now, this web is both horizontal and vertical. In fact, that little detour into social status shows how the intellect may become ensnared in a purely horizontal web of conformity and approval. Not good! 

In reality, man is indeed "caught in a web," so to speak, but this web is woven of laws and principles governing different modes and dimensions. 

For example, we are caught in webs of, say, gravity, entropy, genes, history, family, culture, etc. But there are also "higher webs" such as natural law, metaphysics, and theology. More generally, we are embodied forms, and although we can distinguish material and spiritual webs, there is a higher web that integrates the two.

Let's get to the point: for Voegelin, the real web is woven between, and anchored by, immanence on one end and transcendence on the other. For man, the only proper place to be is in the web. Not just in the web, but constantly building and improving it, making differentiations and connections from this to that and the other. 

Make no mistake: it is the project of a lifetime, for this web has a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you's -- just a whole lotta strands to keep in your head, Man.