Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Between Hope & Hysteria

It seems that there are but three main philosophical possibilities open to man: empiricism (or materialism), rationalism (or idealism), or moderate (not strictly Platonic) realism. 

But in reality there is only one, since empiricism is a trap from which it is impossible to escape from the senses to knowledge, while idealism is a trap from which it is impossible to escape from knowledge to the world. 

Only moderate realism allows world and knowledge -- intelligence and intelligibility, subject and object -- to meet in the middle and to be harmonized in truth. Truth is the harmony of cosmos and intellect.

Let's think about "mental illness." Obviously it must involve some kind of privation or lack; at the same time, it cannot be posited in the absence of a proper end, or telos -- one might even say destiny. 

Now, as we know, the end is first in intention but last in execution. For example, if you're going to build a house, you begin with the blueprint and end up with a place to live. Nor can you reside in the blueprint; then again, there are plenty of people who live in their dreams, ideals, and abstractions.

Come to think of it, I just finished a wonderful book by Gordon Wood called Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06WRQFZHC?ie=UTF8&tag=onecos-20&camp=1789&linkCode=xm2&creativeASIN=B06WRQFZHC) 

So, what divided them? That's a long story, but certainly it had a lot to do with Jefferson being such an unhinged idealist and rationalist, while Adams was more a hardbitten cynic who was properly wary of Man and all his Works. 

Thus, ironically, the idealist ended up quite despairing about the future of the country, while the cynic was much more resigned to the messiness and imperfectability of things.

Which goes to a general lesson about the dangers of worldly optimism (which has nothing to do with the theological virtue of hope, and is often a twisted version of it). 

There is never a good reason to be optimistic. For one thing, strategic pessimism allows one to be happily surprised when events don't end in catastrophe, but instead turn out to be pleasantly disastrous. Aphorisms:

With good humor and pessimism it is possible to be neither wrong nor bored.

Intelligent optimism is never faith in progress, but hope for a miracle.

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

He who wishes to avoid grotesque collapses should look for nothing in space or in time that will fulfill him.

Nothing that satisfies our expectations fulfills our hopes.

In history it is sensible to hope for miracles and absurd to trust in plans.

From what I understand, there are apparently millions of Americans who are now "disappointed" because they had hoped President Brandon would "unify" the nation. 

Ho!

I wonder how many of these purblind worldlings have sufficient self-awareness to even begin to understand how and why the eminently Self-evident could have been buried under an avalanche of Self-deception? For starters, what preternatural powers of mind prevented one from noticing Brandon's debilitating senility? 

But let's get back to our main subject. Because we're right here in the middle of it, it can be quite difficult to appreciate the historical, anthropological, and psychological weirdness of the times we're living in. Not only has man never lived like this, it's not yet clear if he should live like this. 

Like what?

One of the difficulties of modern life is that the principles innate in the intellect are being denied and so people who are trained to think contrary to right reasoning have difficulty working their way through life's normal problems. 

Not to bag on Jefferson, but not only was he the founder of the Democrat party, but he was -- not coincidentally -- a devotee of precisely this type of systematically flawed reasoning, the very same reasoning that pervades the contemporary left. Let's just call it an extreme environmentalism -- or "blank slate-ism" -- that denies our countless inborn differences, Locke, schlock, and something. 

The problem is, if we deny this truth, then unequal outcomes will be misinterpreted as unjust, which then legitimizes giving power to the state to unjustly enforce equality, or what the left now calls "equity." The whole nightmare is simply the logical entailment of a false premise at the start.

Of course, more people than ever are now susceptible to this delusion, and for several reasons, including widespread exposure to higher indoctrination, accompanied by a lack of exposure to the real world, ultimately ending in the current divide between productive blue collar men and affluent and overeducated white Karens of both sexes:

In the past, common sense, which is the ability to grasp the natures of things, tended to be a guiding light. Moreover, by the physical toil involved in the average person's life, one learned how reality functioned and so between common sense and experience, people could work their way out of difficult situations.

However, in a technocratic culture which pervades society today, less contact is had with reality as the technology becomes the prism by which a technocratic generation views reality. The technology stands between the knower and reality and thereby the knower is distanced from reality and loses the opportunity to gain the necessary experience in order to live according to reason....

[E]xcessive use of technology tends to strip one of common sense because it keeps a person from being in direct contact, either physically or psychologically, with reality and therefore the person loses the capacity to grasp the nature of things and how they are to be treated (Ripperger).

Is there a perpetually outraged activist who wouldn't be happier as a Midwestern farm girl with a husband and four kids? Or are they born that way?

9 comments:

Van Harvey said...

"But in reality there is only one, since empiricism is a trap from which it is impossible to escape from the senses to knowledge, while idealism is a trap from which it is impossible to escape from knowledge to the world."

Spot on.

julie said...

Nor can you reside in the blueprint; then again, there are plenty of people who live in their dreams, ideals, and abstractions.

I'm reminded of an ad that's been making the rounds lately, some power company hired some artists to create a cartoon of a gorgeous-looking futuristic paradise, where renewable electricity in the form of watermills, windmills and solar panels allow people to live in a little paradise resembling a pastoral British farmland while calling up rain showers to water their fields on an as-needed basis. It is a very pretty, idyllic picture; I can see why anyone would want to live there. It is also utterly divorced from reality.

julie said...

For one thing, strategic pessimism allows one to be happily surprised when events don't end in catastrophe, but instead turn out to be pleasantly disastrous.

If nothing else, it helps us to recognize the times when God steps in.

Not only has man never lived like this, it's not yet clear if he should live like this.

I often try to remember that, particularly at those times (which is to say, most of the time) we aren't doing life in the same way as pretty much anyone else we know.

Is there a perpetually outraged activist who wouldn't be happier as a Midwestern farm girl with a husband and four kids? Or are they born that way?

Ha - probably not, which is why that little ad I mentioned in the first comment was so appealing. The people shown included a mother making tea in her cute little country cottage and a kid running blissfully through a field flying a kite, clearly living a very trad life.

Van Harvey said...

"Not to bag on Jefferson, but not only was he the founder of the Democrat party, but he was -- not coincidentally -- a devotee of precisely this type of systematically flawed reasoning, the very same reasoning that pervades the contemporary left. Let's just call it an extreme environmentalism -- or "blank slate-ism" -- that denies our countless inborn differences, Locke, schlock, and something."

Yep, fully warranted. In reading some of Jefferson's letters after he split with Adams, it's amazing to see his complete conviction that Adams was seeking a way to establish a monarchy in America - there's a hysterical quality to his writing that's nearly indistinguishable from NeverTrump'rs of our day, where once otherwise sensible sounding folk like Jonah Goldberg, went just as bonkers on that subject. And of course, Jefferson and Thomas Paine were both enthusiastic supporters of the French Revolution who were utterly flabbergasted that it turned into the Terror of Guillotines for Social Justice (and nearly took Paine's head with it).

Interestingly, that "... empiricism is a trap from which it is impossible to escape from the senses to knowledge..." aspect seemed to slip right by Jefferson, and a prime and fateful (for us) example of that, is where he introduced to America, with his glowing support, the writings of Destutt de Tracy and his amazing new invention of Ideology, which was intended to be an actual "Science of Ideas". He and they seemed to think it really would somehow make them able to make an almost instrumentation-like study of ideas. And yet, bizarrely, to me, in one of his letters recommending his Ideology, Jefferson is surprised that deTracy's morals seemed to be on a par with Hobbes, which he very much recognized as being appalling. People are fascinating.

FYI, I've got a selection from Jefferson's promotions of deTracy & Ideology in this post Founders of Ideology: Reducing our vision of Liberty from 3D to 2D

Gagdad Bob said...

After reading this dual biography, I'm starting to think our freedoms are rooted in the interstices in a fortuitous balance of neuroses between the founders. It seems like most of them were a little kooky, but in different ways. I just ordered another book by Wood called "Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different," so I hope to learn more.

Gagdad Bob said...

Adams poked fun at Jefferson about Ideology: "Pray explain this neological title! What does it mean? Idiotism? The Science of Lunacy? The Theory of Delerium?"

Yes, yes, and yes.

julie said...

Too funny; it's really interesting to see how all these people came together. Right now we're studying the 1700s from a variety of different perspectives, including a biography of Abigail Adams. The writer I think is a bit of a feminist (ca. 1994, I think), but it's enlightening to have a perspective on their lives from the inside. I never really knew much about the founders beyond some of their names and a few sketchy details.

The more you know, the more miraculous the Founding really seems to be.

Gagdad Bob said...

The two best biographies I've read of the founders are on Washington and Hamilton, both by Ron Chernow and highly recommended. I don't see how we become a country without those two.

Van Harvey said...

Gagdad quoted "Pray explain this neological title! What does it mean? Idiotism? The Science of Lunacy? The Theory of Delerium?"

LOL, Adams had a nicely sharpened tongue. For me, and especially because of their grasp of History and Law, John Adams & James Madison are my favorite Founders, but it's difficult to imagine the success of the founding, without the presence of even one of its main figures.