Saturday, September 30, 2023

Pathocracy and Oughtocracy

Is it normal to spend all day pondering the meaning of normality? Probably not, so I'm not the best person to ask. Truly truly, I've never felt "normal," and I suspect that this is what prompted my interest in psychology to begin with. 

First, there's the problem of normal vs. average; again, the average cannibal is presumably not normal, but compared to what? What and where is the human telos? We are what we are, but what are we supposed to be? I had to get a Ph.D. only to find out that no one can give me a straight answer.

It seems to me that a fruitful avenue is to examine this gap between Is and Ought, for it is also the gap between immanence and transcendence. If the Ought is not here, where is it? Let's say I want to become a "better person." The sentiment is here and now, but where is it coming from? What is its cause?

Off the top of my head I don't know, but I know who might know: Josef Pieper in his Four Cardinal Virtues

After all, what is a virtue? It's a built-in tendency toward a telos such as courage, moderation, justice, etc. A virtue is something we ought to cultivate and achieve, and failure to do so renders us, if not frankly "abnormal," at least dis-ordered. And recall that this all started with a meditation on the nature of personality dis-orders, both individual and collective (to the extent that the latter exists).

Pieper begins by pointing out that the quest for the proper human order has been going on for a long time:

contemporaries of Socrates already took for granted these traditional categories [of virtue] sprung from the earliest speculative thinking.

So, ever since man donned the thinking cap and began wondering WTF?! it's all about:

They took for granted not only the idea of virtue, which signifies human rightness, but also the attempt to define it in that fourfold spectrum [prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance].

Has there ever been a society that celebrated weak and cowardly men? I mean before ours? Or that invented "social justice" as a way to avoid the obligation to behave justly? Or that promulgated the morality of moral relativism? 

The 'doctrine of virtue' was one of the great discoveries in the history of man's self-understanding.

Discovery. Not "invention," "opinion," or "imposition." Rather, something universal -- implying a universal obligation (or ought): a proper order. 

This is different from a list of extrinsic obligations such as the Ten Commandments. In fact, let's leave God out of the discussion for now, and focus on nature -- specifically, the intrinsic nature of man. Even the village atheist has a conscience, that is, a sense of what he ought to do and believe: we all ought to be atheists.

But the doctrine of virtue speaks to persons qua persons:

both of the kind of being which is his when he enters the world, as a consequence of his createdness, and the kind of being he ought to strive toward and attain to...

Again, immanence and transcendence, horizontal and vertical, Is and Ought. The four classic virtues "can enable man to attain the furthest potentialities of his nature."

What about the fall?

We'll get to that later, but suffice it to say that the virtues may attain a supernatural perfection via the infusion of grace. Which is what sanctity, sanctification, and theosis are all about. This is the realm of "better than normal."

Oughtocracy. I just googled it, and the first thing that comes up is the autocrat Trump, so apparently I am the first to use this word. 

When I think of what it might mean, it is the opposite of what we've recently seen, say, in the streets of Philadelphia. In an oughtocracy everyone would do what he ought without being asked, whereas in the pathocracy of Philadelphia (or any other progressive city) we see mobs of people doing what they ought never do.

I suppose we've never had a perfect oughtocracy since Eden. But even Eden didn't become Philadelphia -- the city of brotherly love -- overnight. 

My favorite chapter of this book is the one on prudence, which is the virtue of virtues; without it, would-be virtues can become vicious. For example, courage without judgment would characterize a Nazi willing to die for the cause, or an Islamic terrorist.

In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent. 

It almost looks like courage, justice, and temperance are the "content" of prudence (AKA judgment). But what is prudence itself, and how is it -- again, objectively -- possible?

Well, it goes back to classic realist philosophy that begins with Being: Being precedes the truth to which the latter is ordered, and truth precedes the good (i.e., the "doing good" of prudence). 

Long story short, we must first know the truth of things before we can act prudently. At the other extreme (i.e., of postmodern relativism), there is no reality, nor can we know it, which conveniently eliminates the Prime Directive of prudence. But "Classical Christian ethics"

maintains that man can be prudent and good only simultaneously...., that there is no sort of justice and fortitude which runs counter to the virtue of prudence; and that the unjust man has been imprudent before and is imprudent at the moment he is unjust.

Above I made a passing wisecrack about the injustice of social justice, but prior to this must be a deep disconnect between mind and reality (or Being), if only because of systematic stupidity or aggravated tenure. We shall return to this subject in due course. Suffice it to say that it is a doctrine in which no one ought to believe.

Speaking of which, our contemporaries -- this brood of vipers -- "will often call lies and cowardice prudent, truthfulness and courageous sacrifice imprudent." "Pragmatism" or "utilitarianism" displace prudence, which reduces to an expedient moral nihilism.

We'll end with this, which is also a good -- no, the best -- beginning:

Truth, then, is the prerequisite of justice. Whoever rejects truth, whether natural or supernatural, is really "wicked" and beyond conversion (Pieper).

"All laws and rules of conduct may ultimately be reduced to a single one: to truth" (Aquinas).

Friday, September 29, 2023

Pathocracy and Normocracy

We're still pondering Christopher Rufo's The Cluster B Society. First, some context is needed for the designation "Cluster B," which refers to a group of personality disorders revolving around emotional or erratic traits, i.e., the narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, and antisocial personalities.  

Which leads to the definition of personality disorder: last I checked,  any personality disorder involves enduring and inflexible patterns of behavior or emotion leading to significant subjective distress or objective impairment. This impairment can be in relationships, in work, or in adaptation more generally. 

Untreated, a personality disorder is essentially a lifelong condition, in contrast to presumably time-limited ones such as major depression, and also to even more serious lifelong conditions such as schizophrenia. On the spectrum of severity, personality disorders are somewhere between everyday neurosis and severely compromised reality testing, e.g., delusions and hallucinations. 

It's easy enough to apply psychological categories to a collective, but is this a valid exercise? Take an extreme case such as Nazi Germany. Is it helpful to say that Germany was a Cluster A and B society, with paranoid and antisocial traits? What was the cause of this, and what is the cure?

A somewhat random google search suggests that only 1.5% of the population suffers from a Cluster B personality disorder. If that's the case, how can half of the U.S. be in the grip of a collective personality disorder? 

Well, something is wrong with these people, and we aim to find out what it is. We could say that they're pathological, but by what standard? What is normality? Is there a universal standard for how a human being ought to be? If there are personality disorders, what is a properly ordered personality? 

What if these folks just want to fit in, or are imitating high status people, or were effectively indoctrinated in college? What might look like a personality disorder could be just weakness, stupidity, conformity, status seeking, and other character defects. Just bad breeding, as they used to say.

Rufo correctly notes that

scenes of American public life increasingly resemble a Cluster B psychodrama: victimhood replaces accomplishment as the standard of merit; accusation replaces disagreement as the means of settling disputes; false compassion becomes the primary method of manipulating citizens into compliance; and the whole scheme is enforced with the threat of violence: obey, or suffer the consequences.
But again, if everybody is just imitating everyone else, where do we locate the pathology? By virtue of what standard? In other words, if there is an unhealthy and wrong way to be, this implies a healthy and correct way.  

I apologize for the rambling, but I'm pondering this in real time.

As a result of my psychoanalytic training, I used to think that personality disorders were environmental as opposed to organic or genetic. But now I'm inclined to the view that they are more genetic, although there is always an interaction between genes and environment. 

Take, for example, a woman with borderline personality disorder. Usually we will discover a chaotic childhood with unstable caretakers, but what if this is because one or both of the parents has a personality disorder that is rooted in genetics? In general, mental illness runs in families, but genetic research suggests that the resultant chaos is at least equally cause and (genetic) effect.

Let me just jump to my bottom line take: psychologists began noticing an increase in personality disorders in the 1970s, but the genome hasn't changed since then. What has changed? 

One of the biggest changes has been a loosening of cultural standards, one consequence of which is that mental illness that had been previously repressed is allowed to openly express itself. It very much reminds me of the Ferguson Effect that has led to the spike in crime. 

True, there is more criminality, but this is because of the new absence of constraints and consequences. Criminal tendencies that had previously been "repressed" by law enforcement are now openly expressed. (And criminality itself is heavily genetically loaded.)

You get more of what you tolerate, and our culture has become so tolerant that we're surrounded by the intolerable. If you have no standards, people will meet them.  

It's the same with the alarming spike in sexual pathology and confusion. Ideas and behaviors that had previously been repressed and channeled into healthier avenues are openly expressed.    
By definition, everyone starts off immature. It only becomes pathological if the maturational process is arrested. But "maturational process" implies a telos, so one way of normalizing immaturity is to eliminate or ignore the telos of development. In a society of cannibals it is normal to be a cannibal. Indeed, objection to cannibalism might land you on the menu.

So, what is normal? How would we go about defining it in a way that isn't culturally relative? What things ought to be repressed and not tolerated? Rufo writes that 
American college students find themselves in the midst of an unprecedented mental-health crisis. According to the University of Michigan’s Healthy Minds study, more than 60 percent of college students meet the criteria for at least one mental-health problem -- a nearly 50 percent increase since 2013. 
But again, by what standard of normality? And what if much of this is due the psychological Ferguson Effect mentioned above?

That's a Big Question, and this post has already gone on too long, but a couple of days ago I read a post called Truth and Politics that provides some preliminary clues:

In our era, truth is under systematic assault from moralistic fanatics who are at the same time thoroughgoing relativists and dyed-in-the wool subjectivists. The Catholic journalist Karlo Broussard put it well in his recently published booklet, The New Relativism: “The agents of relativism are still out there, seeking to fit the world to their own desires and likes rather than discover and understand the world in order to better conform to it.

It seems there is something intrinsically pathological about relativism, especially when it becomes a new absolute: 

The fervid intensity of the woke absolutists, their endless anger and excoriation, should not be mistaken for a commitment to truth and truth-seeking. Their indignation, their aim to “cancel” -- to morally obliterate -- those they cannot abide is a consequence of the fact that they have left the world of objective truth and measured moral judgment behind.

Speaking of systems and what they tolerate or suppress, this new system permits the unleashing of primitive sadistic impulses on acceptable targets: 

these vehement enemies of Truth with a capital T do not hesitate to accuse their opponents of departing from the only acceptable narratives regarding ubiquitous white racism, the self-evidence of gender theory, the grave threat to democracy posed by conservative populists and moral traditionalists, and the unquestionable need to genuflect before the authority of “Science” as redefined by politically correct elites.

In this upside-down system, the normal are punished: there are widespread "efforts to silence those who still affirm that 'freedom is ordered to the truth and is fulfilled in man’s quest for truth and in man’s living in the truth'”:

Ideological fanaticism is the inevitable consequence of a nihilistic denial of an order of things, of a natural moral order available to human beings through reason and experience.

The new Absolute Relativists

have slowly transformed our institutions into what psychologist Andrzej Łobaczewski calls a “pathocracy,” or rule by psychological dysfunction....

In a Cluster B society, psychological disorders are job qualifications rather than problems to be solved; ideology replaces competence as a marker of distinction....

 We'll end here, even though we're just getting started.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Progressivism is the Disease it Pretends to Cure

Yesterday's post asked the eternal question, how do you heal a progressive? For one thing, if they don't recognize that they have a problem -- and that the real problem doesn't have a political solution -- they're not going to seek treatment. 

Generally speaking, the worse the mental illness, the more the denial. Imagine getting a Keith Olbermann to acknowledge that he might have a little problem. Achieving such a stable breakthrough with a personality disorder might take months of therapy.

I say "stable breakthrough" because people with personality disorders are, like anyone else, capable of insight. But because of a certain developmental arrest, they are subject to primitive defense mechanisms such as denial, splitting, and projection, so as to nullify the insight. In order to become stable, the insight must essentially develop from a temporary state to an enduring trait

This is the maturational process, and it proceeds at its own pace. Children don't become adults overnight. It only took me four or five decades, and I'm still working on it. Looking back on it, I guess I missed a few developmental milestones along the way due to PTSD -- Partying Til the Shadows of Dawn.   

Youth is an infirmity that old age does not always cure.

I heard that.

Yesterday we began a discussion of Christopher Rufo's Cluster B Society, and he's definitely onto something. Recall what Voegelin says about the impossibility of debating ideologues, and how the effort to do so becomes "medical in character" because it must "diagnose the syndromes of untrue existence" so as to initiate "a healing process."

Certainly I know what he means, but I don't think a medical model is the best way to frame the problem. For example, in medicine it is important that the physician recognize the problem, but in psychology it is important that the patient do so as well. In both cases there is "pain," but especially in personality disorders, the pain is denied, split off, projected, externalized, and acted out in relationships.

Analogously, if you go to your doctor with a broken leg, he doesn't have to first help you come around to the view that your pain is a consequence of the broken leg. Nor would doing so have anything to do with the "cure" for a broken leg, whereas in psychotherapy accurate recognition of the source of the psychic pain is very much part of the "cure."

But cure is a bad way to frame it, because there isn't one. "Cure" shouldn't even be in the vocabulary of a psychologist, for it is written:   

Anything that fully solves problems has no relation to them.

The authentic problem does not demand that we solve it but rather that we try to live it.

We only know how to solve the problems that do not matter.   


The cause of the modern sickness is the conviction that man can cure himself.

This is another reason not to conflate medicine and psychology, because imagine having to first convince the patient that he can't cure his own illness, before proceeding with the cure. 

In reality, everywhere and anytime,

The soul is the task of man.


Man matures when he stops believing that politics solves his problems.

Which implies that progressives will always be with us, because there is always a fresh generation with skulls full of mush who externalize their problems and imagine there's a cure for human nature. Good times, good times... til the shadows of dawn. 

Seriously, it's a relief to imagine that someone or something else is responsible for your pain. Moreover, tolerating emotional pain is a central part of maturity.

Here's an important one that goes to the heart of personality disorders:  

Today the individual rebels against inalterable human nature in order to refrain from amending his own correctable nature.

In a Substack article, Rufo shares some perceptive reader comments on The Cluster B Society:

I think perhaps the greatest degenerative element of our Western social psychology over the last 60 years has been the displacement of a mentality of “we are all sinners” by a narcissistic mentality of maximal “self-esteem.” 
Once you are encouraged to view yourself as axiomatically personally blameless, the next step is to look for someone or something else to blame for each and every one of your discontents. Re-cast your wonderful self as “victim” and then ask: Who needs to be cancelled?

There it is: like institutionalized character pathology, or a personality disorder writ large. On the one hand,

The modern man is the man who forgets what man knows about man.

Among which is that    

Self-satisfaction is pathetic proof of lowliness. 

Another reader points out how

Many organizations purporting to be about justice and positive goals are in reality led by highly disordered individuals and stirred by a mentality infected with disordered patterns of reasoning and emotion. These people gravitate toward positions of power and influence . . . they push unhinged agendas behind the scenes, without accountability. 
The wider public needs to get wiser and understand this dynamic. Just because someone claims to be fighting for justice, human rights, or charitable causes doesn’t mean that this is what’s actually happening.

That is so true that I have nothing else to say, but I'll say it in the next installment.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

How Do You Heal a Progressive?

Human actions are rational, or at least I'm old enough to remember when they were. Old Aristotle called man the rational animal, but he also called him a political animal, and boy, wouldn't that be nice: a rational political animal!

Ha (the hollow and bitter kind).

Now, how is it that man is rational? For the moment we confine ourselves to some rational system or model, we thereby become irrational. I suppose this is another way of asking how it is that man always transcends himself.

In the essay we were discussing yesterday, Voegelin says that human existence 

is not opaque to itself, but illuminated by the intellect (Aquinas) or nous (Aristotle).... In the exegesis of existence, intellect discovers itself in the structure of existence; ontologically speaking, human existence has noetic structure. The intellect discovers itself, furthermore, as a force transcending its own existence; by virtue of the intellect, existence not only is not opaque, but actually reaches out beyond itself in various directions in search of knowledge. 

This is at once obvious and deeply mysterious -- that we possess such a (as Schuon puts it) "supernaturally natural" faculty of transcendence. In fact, if we do not transcend mere rationality, we cannot be rational. As Voegelin explains, while "human action is rational,"

that rationality hinges on the condition of an ultimate end. The indefinite regress from means to ends, which in their turn are means to further ends, must be cut short at some point by an ultimate end, by a summum bonum.

This limit or end  

is the condition of rationality in action.... there would be no substantive rationality in any action, if the whole network of a man’s action could not be oriented toward a highest good from which such rationality radiates down to the single actions.

For Aristotle,  

Not only would the nature of the Good be destroyed without a limiting good that is no means to a further end, but there would be no reason (nous) in the world at large.... 

So, here we see an implicit relationship between the denial of transcendence and destruction -- ultimately the destruction of man and of reason: of man the rational animal. And by extension the political animal, since his politics will be deeply irrational and destructive as well.

As to the ultimate end or reason of things, clearly it 

is not to be found by ranging indefinitely over the field of existent things. But if it is not to be found in the field of existent things, where is it to be found? To this question, Intellect, by virtue of its reasoning power, will answer that it is to be found in something beyond the field of existent things...

This tension-toward-transcendence goes to the very structure of being, and we just have to accept the truth of this, regardless of how pleasant. Voegelin describes it on the one hand as "awareness of the fundamental structure of existence together with the willingness to accept it." But 

Correspondingly, we shall define untruth of existence as a revolt against the condicio humana and the attempt to overlay its reality by the construction of a Second Reality.

Now, leaping ahead to the implications, I think we can broadly define mental illness as a lack of conformity between psyche and world or reality. But not so fast, because if a whole world has become sick, then conformity to it will be sick as well. A "well adjusted Nazi" is a poorly adjusted human being.

Let's look at a couple of graphs I yoinked from PowerLine. The first one shows a dramatic decline in religiosity -- combined with a significant increase in woowoo -- among Democrats:

It's rather difficult to believe that as recently as 1999, Democrats were nearly as religious as Republicans, but it's not hard to believe that 37% remain religious, considering what religion has been reduced to on the left, which is to say, another form of spiritual if not mental illness. 

Given the alarming rates of mental illness on the left, their religiosity takes the form of either acting out or a cry for help. The woowoo is mainly just estrogen-fueled magic, AKA toxic femininity.

Speaking of irrationality and spiritual illness, the following chart is even more alarming:

It doesn't break the findings down by party, but if 61% of the population wants the government to regulate speech, we're done. Unless we somehow make a remarkable comeback, but mental illness tends to be intergenerational, so this is not something that can occur overnight, but would take decades to repair.

Which leads directly to the next subject, an essay by Christopher Rufo called the Cluster B Society. Maybe you should read the whole thing and we can discuss it tomorrow. 

Back for a moment to Voegelin's essay on the difficulties of debate in our time. Putting him and Rufo together, it seems to me that the question is going to come down to: how is it possible to argue with a mentally ill person? As a former clinical psychologist, I can assure you that argument will get you nowhere. But you already knew this, because you no doubt have liberal friends and relatives. 

"Rational argument," writes Voegelin, "presupposes the community of true existence." Otherwise, "debate" becomes 

medical in character in that it has to diagnose the syndromes of untrue existence and by their noetic structure to initiate, if possible, a healing process.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Truth, Existence, and a Kick in the Balls

While sipping the morning cup and bumping around the internet, I suppose I'm always looking for something. I don't know what it is unless and until I find it, and this morning I found something  that goes to the Matrix -- what it is and how it is formed. 

It's a bit conspiratorial for my tastes -- I don't think there is a cabal at the top that's been pulling the strings for the last 75 years or so -- but certainly his description of the phenomena is accurate, irrespective of its cause. I think the cause ultimately lies in human nature, for if it didn't, man couldn't so easily fall into the trap. 

For man to fall repeatedly into the same trap, just paint it a different color each time. 


Humanity only changes the rhetoric of its stupidities.

Let me first provide a few excerpts that caught my attention: "ideological subversion" involves changing 

the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite of the abundance of information no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country.

The first stage of ideological subversion, or "active measures," involves what he calls "demoralization," after which 

exposure to true information does not matter anymore. A person who is demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him. Even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents, with pictures.... he will refuse to believe it, until... a military boot crashes his balls. 

Again, irrespective of the cause, we have obviously reached a stage in which half the country is unable to assess true information -- for whom facts mean nothing, and who refuse to believe what is in front of their faces. They are living in the ball-crushing Matrix. 

Now, how did we get here? Widespread higher education has a lot do do with it, as does mass media, but those are just means. How does the seed of subversion get planted, and what is it exactly?

Voegelin tries to get to the bottom of it in an essay called On Debate and Existence. In it he describes the difficulty of engaging in debate with matrix-dwelling ideologues: in so doing, we discover that

no agreement, or even an honest disagreement, could be reached, because the exchange of argument was disturbed by a profound difference of attitude with regard to all fundamental questions of human existence -- with regard to the nature of man, to his place in the world, to his place in society and history, to his relation to God. 
Rational argument could not prevail because the partner to the discussion did not accept as binding for himself the matrix of reality in which all specific questions concerning our existence as human beings are ultimately rooted; he has overlaid the reality of existence with another mode of existence... called the Second Reality. 
The argument could not achieve results..., as it became increasingly clear that not argument was pitched against argument, but that behind the appearance of a rational debate there lurked the difference of two modes of existence, of existence in truth and existence in untruth. The universe of rational discourse collapses, we may say, when the common ground of existence in reality has disappeared.

So, we're ultimately dealing with a different mode of existence. While this sounds extreme, anyone can see that the situation itself is extreme. One has only to tune into a press briefing by Karine Jean Pierre to see this elaborate Second Reality. The deeper question is why so-called journalists not only accept the Second Reality but help to construct and maintain it. Certainly no one questions it. There is sometimes a bit of carping at the margins, but not enough to damage the Matrix itself. 

This breakdown of reality demands an explanation:

The phenomenon of the breakdown as such is well known. Moreover, the various Second Realities, the so-called ideologies, have been the object of extensive studies. But the nature of the breakdown itself..., and above all the methods of coping with the fantastic situation, are by far not yet sufficiently explored. 

It doesn't feel as if it was that long ago that "the universe of rational discourse was still intact because the first reality of existence was yet unquestioned." But Voegelin suggests that the process has been unfolding for a long time, or at least has its roots in a process that began some 500 years ago. 

Me? I suspect that the pathology is always present in some form or fashion, and that dates don't matter. The construction of second realities is more of a timeless temptation going back to Genesis 3. Reality and truth can be painful, so unreality is always an option:

the quest for truth is the perpetual task of disengaging it from error, of refining its expression in contest with the inexhaustible ingenuity of error. 

The inexhaustible ingenuity of error. It almost sounds diabolical, no? As if these diverse ideological second realities have the same implicit Author.  

For Voegelin, thinkers such as Aquinas and Aristotle might as well be contemporaries. He always speaks of them as if they are very much at the cutting edge of philosophy. Modern thought "does not modify the problem but only its symbolic expression," such that "the scholastic and classic problem is indeed identical with our own." 

Today's thinkers are simultaneously more "critical" and naive; classic philosophy can appear naive, but this is only because "first reality" and the "truth of existence" were 

not yet questioned; hence there was no need to distinguish it from an untrue existence; and consequently no concepts were developed for a problem that had not yet become topical. The truth of existence was taken so much for, granted that, without further preparation, the analysis could proceed to develop the problems of metaphysics as they presented themselves to men who lived in the truth of existence.

But now we've reached a situation in which thinkers living their existence-in-untruth are meditating on the truth of existence, and presuming to tell us what's what. Few would acknowledge the self-evident principle that "first philosophy is the science of truth," that is, "of that truth which is the origin of all truth." This goes to 

the first principle whereby all things are. The truth belonging to such a principle is, clearly, the source of all truth; for things have the same disposition in truth as in being.

Until Kant and his progeny come along and ruin everybody's lives and eat all our steak. 

Nevertheless, "a universe which contains intelligent beings cannot originate with a prima causa that is less than intelligent." Seems to me that unintelligence is parasitic on intelligence. If it's the other way around, then we have no intellectual defense against the Matrix. 

To be continued...  

Sunday, September 24, 2023

What Else Makes a Man?

Yesterday we touched on "intelligence, sentiment, will," i.e., "truth, virtue, freedom." There's also objectivity, but I suppose this is an intrinsic component of human intelligence. Some people believe objectivity is just a human conceit, but 

Unless one accepts that man is fundamentally objective, one quickly finds oneself in refutation of oneself (Bina & Ziarani).

Clowns gonna beclown themselves: 

One has to start with the self-evidence of objective truth. Any attempt to deny the self-evidence of truth -- or being, or reality, or absoluteness -- will be self-defeating. 

Think about all those progressives who insist on the principle that all truth claims are masks of power:

Any system of thought that proposes an absolute principle while denying the notion of truth -- hence the notion of objectivity -- is condemned to self-refutation.

Aside from tenure, why do people do this? Not sure, but let me think back to when I was an idiot and see what I can come up with...

Okay, it's definitely a status thing in the context of a system that rewards intelligence. In this system -- moreso today than ever before -- their are hordes of sub-mediocrities who are completely unself-aware and simply imitate other high-status primates. It's a shortcut to superiority over others while creating a superficial explanation for everything -- like, say, the 1619 Project. It provides a cheap omniscience while conferring prestige on its proponents, so what's not to like?

Rob Henderson recently dismantled a work of "anthropology" along these lines called The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. Omniscience? Check. Status? Check. Just look at the universal acclaim on amazon -- NY Times, New Yorker, Atlantic, Washington Post, LA Times, WSJ, NBC, et al. To garner the praise of all those prestigious legacy sources implies that the book must be truly horrible.

Hmm, I always check the negative reviews first:

People were, are and can become again sweet caring bush hippies grooving sustainably with nature. War, conflict, genocide, cannibalism, slavery and the rest of human nastiness are departures from the fact that people were all basking in freedom, equality, anarchy, mutual aid, caring and all other good things until Eden was destroyed by evil men who didn't or don't take Rousseau's opinions seriously. This exercise in historical make believe would be a funny self parody if people didn't take this exercise in wishful thinking seriously.

They make a point of rejecting Eurocentrism yet the entire book is based on narratives from Anglo-European writers or their interpretations of romanticized Indigenous values.... Sort of an "Ancient Indigenous Wisdom" fallacy. 

We have two fan-boys of slavery-driven economics hoping a lack of total pre-historic knowledge might somehow be hiding some success of a slave-driven economy.

they have fallen into the same bad habits of prejudice, bias, and unsubstantiated generalization as all of the white, male, Eurocentric scholars who they criticize on almost every page. 

In short, 

leftist propaganda disguised as history based on undocumented conjecture.

Well, that was fun. But did we learn anything? I think so. Again, consider the universal praise by Trusted Sources -- all the Smart People -- in comparison to the value of the book, which is quite literally less than nil. What's going on here, aside from a massive jerk circle of mimetic and status seeking elite opinion?  

Oh well. Let's move on. Truth will always be an unpopular, rearguard action. And

We conservatives provide idiots the pleasure of feeling like they are daring avant-garde thinkers.

Going back to what makes a man, what about imagination and creativity? I guess those would be a combination of intelligence and possibility, the latter being a reflection of Infinitude, another name for which is All-Possibility.

That's a coincidence: in the very next paragraph Schuon goes into the question of objectivity, which in one sense is superior to subjectivity, but it depends, for "reason is objective only on condition of basing itself on exact data and of proceeding correctly." 

Look at how climate alarmists, for example, reason perfectly correctly about their catastrophically flawed data. Or the idiotic book mentioned above -- as Henderson says, the authors 

repeatedly ask the reader to “rethink,” “reimagine,” and “reconsider” everything we think we know about the development of human societies, suggesting that humans have become “stuck” to such an extent that we can no longer imagine the possibility of “reinventing” ourselves.

"Reimagining" ourselves implies that we were only imagining ourselves before. How about a little objectivity?

Sentiment "lacks objectivity only when it is excessive or misplaced," and "not when justified by its object and is, in fact, a kind of adequation." In other words, loving lovable things is a kind of objectivity, whereas loving evil, or hating the good, or believing falsehood, are inherently pathological. 

Now, the author of The Dawn of Everything (Graeber) was a far left anti-capitalist activist, so he essentially wrote a 700 page tribute to his own misplaced sentiment. The existence of this stubborn and dogged tendency to misplaced sentiment tells us much more about human nature than anything in the book. Someone needs to reimagine reimagining!

For Schuon, human intelligence involves the realization of an "equilibrium between the intelligence of the brain and that of the heart," so it is not as if we should toss sentiment aside, for, among other reasons, it is connected to spiritual intuition (as opposed to mere reason), so there is the possibility of a dysfunctional rational objectivity and a functional sentimental subjectivity.

To be continued...  

Saturday, September 23, 2023

What Makes a Man?

 What makes a man, Mr. Schuon?

Intelligence, sentiment, will; or truth, virtue, freedom.

Ah, a limber mind, challenges met, obstacles overcome, doing the right thing -- and tears, for strong men also cry and have sentiments. 

A few posts back we wondered out loud whether in some sense and in a manner of speaking, anthropology might be theology, and vice versa? At the outset let us eliminate the idea that God is but a projection of human psychology, because that is not what we mean. At all. 

Which doesn't mean this sort of naive projection doesn't take place, because it does, all the time -- for example, by atheists who never tire of ridiculing and rejecting a deity of their own making. We, of course, also reject the imaginary god of the village atheist. 

Let us attach the wide angle lens to our cosmic camera and open the ƒ-stop to ∞. What do we see? First, we see that some kind of relation exists between man and "ultimate reality," irrespective of how we conceive the latter, or even if we have only the concept. 

It seems we can't help thinking about the ultimate principle, whether we do so implicitly or explicitly. For example, even materialism -- the crudest conceivable metaphysic -- posits matter as the ultimate principle, only ignoring how principles exist and how man can achieve knowledge of them. 

In fact, even a nihilist who pretends there is no ultimate reality ends up turning himself into ultimate reality, which reminds me of what Voegelin says in an essay called The Murder of God: "It does not suffice"

to replace the old world of God with a new world of man: the world of God itself must have been a world of man, and God a work of man which can therefore be destroyed if it prevents man from reigning over the order of being.

The new and improved Marxist-socialist man  

is not a man without religious illusions, but one who has taken God back into his being.... The new man is, like Nietzsche's superman, the man who has made himself God.

Nice work if you can get it, but

the attempt to create a superman is an attempt to murder man. Historically, the murder of God is not followed by the superman, but by the murder of man..., the homicide of the revolutionary practitioners (Voegelin). 

Now, what is ultimate reality? First, it is something that is distinct from all appearances, which introduces a kind of (humanly) unrelievable tension between the two. For example, the progress of science is always from appearances toward a deeper reality, or from multiplicity to unity.

However, from another angle, ultimate reality must include the principle of appearance as such, so must be "in" every appearance -- in the same way, for example, that the cause is in the effect, or how the principle of unity must be present in all numbers (each number being a multiple of one).

Any principle is something from which consequences follow, and God is the first principle from which everything ultimately flows. This doesn't mean we know God, only that we know that God -- the Principle -- must exist.

Now, man and God (or however you want to express this Tension) are ineluctably mixed up together in the cosmic caper we call existence. There is no culture without some version of the God Principle, so God is an unindicted co-conspirator in all human activity, emphasis on the spira -- and on the con -- as in "breathing together."

Not to say God is guilty of our mischief, for this would be analogous to holding the treasury department responsible for bank robberies. Nevertheless, the treasury department prints the money, as God projects being via his continually creative act. 

Nor do we deny natural evolution at the far end of the spectrum, only to say that human isness can in no way be reduced to monkey business. No, we are suspended between the nonlocal Principle and a local animal form, and that's just the way it is. If we were literally reducible to our genetic code, we could never know it; or, to know it is to have transcended it.

Which I suppose goes to the question of free will -- again, of challenges met, obstacles overcome, doing the right thing, etc. 

Now, some of our intellectual betters like to are compelled to say that free will is an illusion, while others willfully insist that the will to power is all there is, and that all philosophies and narratives are just masks for the exercise of power.

Oh, by the way, these thoughts have been provoked by an essay called Outlines of a Spiritual Anthropology, contained in the same book we were discussing yesterday, From the Divine to the Human. In discussing the absolute toppermost of the poppermost, Schuon says that the divine perfections contained in the Absolute are 

Knowledge, Love and Power, which evoke the human faculties of intelligence, sentiment and will.

Of course, these are not separate in God, only in us -- which is why a progressive idiot can say something as stupid as man being reducible to will and power, thereby tossing out intelligence and sentiment (and by implication, man). In reality, 

Will is not an end in itself: one cannot will except by virtue of either a knowledge or of a love. 

At least in a normal person. But eliminate truth and love, and the will to power is all that's left -- a naked will to achieve without a limber mind.

I don't always take the Bible literally, but I do take literally the axiom that man is in the image and likeness of the Principle, or better, the Creative Principle. 

Here again, this is where anthropology becomes theology and vice versa, because it is as if these two mirrors are held up to each other, so long as we stipulate that they are not on the same plane, which would reduce to pantheism, magic, nihilism, or some other deformation of being. If the Principle is Absolute, then we are the "reflected" or "relative" absolute. It's why we can even know absolute principles.

All "anthropology" depends on a "theology" in the sense that every science of man must prolong a science of God. 

This is at once self-evident but is worth emphasizing "in a world which, having forgotten the divine, no longer can know what is human."

Like God, man is made of spirit, only embodied spirit. In turn, the spirit "is made of knowledge and love -- or of intelligence and sentiment -- then of will, the latter necessarily drawing its inspiration from one or the other of these two faculties." 

Schuon relates the perspectives of intelligence-knowledge and sentiment-love to "the polarity of the masculine and feminine." Obviously the one hardly excludes the other, but speaking only for myself, it is a great relief that my wife isn't built like me. Schuon compares knowledge and love to light and heat respectively, and who wants to live in a warm but dark environment, or a bright and freezing one? 

Above we mentioned that the will is a function of knowledge or love, but we all know people in whom it is a function of hatred and ignorance. 

Here, will becomes willfulness, and is actually no longer free. I'm pretty sure Jesus has something like this in mind with various admonitions against hating in the wrong way. Sure, it's necessary to hate evil, but do make sure it's evil, and also make sure you're intelligent and humble enough to know the difference (and there is no intelligence without humility -- and a bit of self-awareness -- which amount to the same thing).

In fact, Schuon says that the content of our character "combines what we will and what we love," which is "the domain of virtues." This perspective places intelligence at the summit, whereas "the perspective of love, on the contrary, places love at the summit and views intelligence and will solely as functions in service of love."

I would say that if you naturally tend toward one, you probably need to work on the other. I love truth, and I guess that's a start, but you know what Paul says: 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

So, in my case, knowledge comes easily and naturally. What Paul just said? Not so naturally, but here's hoping it comes supernaturally, because I don't want to be hermetically sealed in my own Bobness, which is no achievement at all.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Suspended Between Uncertain Truth and Certain Untruth

While rummaging around for some metaphysical back-up for our vertical peregrinotions, I pulled out Schuon's From the Divine to the Human which, for me, expresses what Voegelin is trying to say about our ontological pickle -- the human predicament -- in a far more concise, essential, and experiential way. 

Schuon is an excellent sherpa for the vertical ascent because he never wastes your timelessness with half-baked speculation but gets straight to the point. He doesn't "think out loud" in wild and wooly way, like some attention-starved blogger. Rather, everything has already been thought through and therefore "edited" in the head before being reduced to writing.

It reminds me of how the Beatles recorded before and after 1967. Before, their producer George Martin would make them sit down and play actual compositions, which they could then tweak and sprinkle with a little Beatle fairy dust on top. 

But after '67 they would noodle around for hours hoping a serviceable composition would emerge, but then it might require literally hundreds of takes to perfect. I just read a book by their engineer who says the new way was tedious beyond belief.

Like reading a German philosopher.

First, let's give a big hand to this little footnote to an essay called Consequences Flowing from the Mystery of Subjectivity: "to know the nature of subjectivity is to know the structure of the world." 

Obviously he doesn't mean this in any Kantian sense, in which case to to know the nature of subjectivity is to know the nature of the subjectivity. The world -- whatever that is -- is unknown and unknowable outside our categories of knowing it. Being an idealist means you can truly know everything. Except reality.  

But if the purpose of intelligence isn't to know intelligible being, then to hell with it: knowledge is ignorance and ignorance is power. Schuon speaks of "the monstrous disproportion between the cleverness of reason"

and the falseness of its results; tons of intelligence are wasted to circumvent the essential while brilliantly proving the absurd, namely to prove that the spirit sprung in the end from a clod of earth...  

This manner of (non)thinking

seeks to explain everything from below; to erect no matter what hypothesis, provided it excludes real causes, which are transcendent and not material... 

There's much here that goes to the ambiguous "in between" status unique to man, but Schuon formulates it differently (and more succinctly) than Voegelin:

man is by definition situated between an Intellection which connects him to God and a world that has the power to separate him from God... 

Therefore, man "possesses the paradoxical freedom to wish in his turn to make himself God." The possibility of such a rupture -- or fall, to coin a term -- "is present from the start owing to the very ambiguity of the human condition," suspended as we are "between the Infinite and the finite."

Any form of reductionism collapses the former into the latter, and "Nothing is more absurd than to have intelligence derive from matter, hence the greater from the lesser." Such a rookie mistake "is from every point of view the most inconceivable thing that could be." Inconceivable, because to conceive it is to have transcended it. 

In the next essay, Aspects of the Theophanic Phenomenon of Consciousness, Schuon gets into how man qua man is always open to what transcends him: "What is proper to man alone is the Intellect open to the Absolute." But

There are two tendencies in the human spirit, either to reduce God to the world, or the Absolute to the relative, or to reduce [I would say expand] the world to God or the relative to the Absolute. 

Idealism at one end, materialism at the other. Both necessarily collapse the between-space in which human beings are privileged to abide. Which is to say, they demote man and fire reality. But in reality, 

starting from the recognition of the immediately tangible mystery that is subjectivity or intelligence, it is easy to understand that the origin of the Universe is, not inert and unconscious matter, but a spiritual Substance...

Which is not to say it isn't a mystery, but it's the fun kind, for we are each a little mystery that is a prolongation of the big mystery of Myster Big:

all that exists is inscribed a priori in the theomorphic substance of our intelligence -- there is no integral consciousness that does not prolong absolute Consciousness...

That's the good nous. The bad news is that

The rational faculty detached from its supernatural context is necessarily opposed to man and is bound to give rise in the end to a way of thought and a form of life both of which are opposed to man.

You know -- all the isms and olatries referenced in yesterday's post. One word: pride.

Intelligence separated from its supra-individual source is accompanied by that lack of sense of proportions which one calls pride; conversely, pride prevents intelligence, when it has become rationalism, from rising to its source.

Yeah, it's human, but "nothing is more fundamentally inhuman than the 'purely human'" -- this being a kind of freak or monster that denies "its own nature which nonetheless enables it to think" and allows it to "feel at ease in a world" that "exempts man from the effort of transcending things and of transcending himself." Congratulations: you've bypassed the human vocation!  

intelligence is dehumanized and gives rise to materialism, even existentialism, hence to a "thinking" which is human only by its mode and of which the content is properly sub-human. 

But what is a bad man but a good man's teacher? "The very excess of their inanity" bears witness "to the reality of the spirit and consequently to its primacy." 

And circling back for a moment to Voegelin, he speaks of the "pneumopathology" of ideologues who deform and distort the order of being in order to make their magical visions appear attainable; and of "the temptation to fall from [the] uncertain truth" of the in-between (i.e., of a faith-full openness to transcendent being) to the "certain untruth" of existential closure in the fanciful constructs of their ideological matrices.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Progressive Ban on Questions and Questioners

If I understand the previous post correctly, it put forth the paradoxical -- or at least convoluted -- idea that man is always in the form of a question, and that, in the Incarnation, the very God who is the answer to this question assumes the form of the questioner who seeks him.   

Clearly, the infinitely open question that we are points toward verticality and transcendence. No horizontal, terrestrial, or finite answer satisfies the Question of questions -- or rather, man has a habit of positing answers that are seemingly designed to make the Question go away, but are absurdly incapable of doing so, e.g., materialism, scientism, positivism, Marxism, progressivism, et al.  

Or just say ismism, or ismolatry, or craniorectal exploration.

Now yesterday, in my restless search for something to stimulate my head, I reread Voegelin's Science, Politics & Gnosticism, and couldn't help noticing certain parallels to this question of man the Question (and questioner).  

First of all Voegelin is famous -- or obscure, rather -- for the idea that the structure of being involves two poles -- immanence and transcendence -- and that we are always in between them. Always have been and always will be, because this is just the way Being is. If it weren't this way, we could never know it, period.

Yes, it's a mystery, but a infinitely fruitful one. Unless, of course, we stop asking questions, or worse, the Powers that Be won't permit questions. Then progress stops, at least until the vertical space reopens for isness, for example, as Elon Musk is attempting to do vis-a-vis the political space.

Why then is he being vilified for doing something that is intrinsically spiritually healthy? I mean this literally, in that the very essence of spiritual health involves maintaining an open system with verticality and transcendence, so vertical closure of any kind is inherently pneumopathological, for it results in spiritual malnourishment, asphyxiation, craniorectal occlusion, and/or death. 

Voegelin uses the term "deformation" 

for the destruction of the order of the soul, which should be "formed" by the love of transcendental perfection inherent in the fundamental tension [between immanence and transcendence] of existence (Eugene Webb).  

You could say that he regards the genuine philosopher as truly normative, as in lover of wisdom:

As Voegelin conceives it, philosophy is characterized by the realization that one does not actually possess transcendental truth but is oriented toward it through love [of wisdom, truth, beauty, goodness, etc.] (ibid.).

But you will have noticed that this is precisely what ismism and ideolatry don't do. Rather, they indulge in philodoxy, which is the love of, like, just your opinion, man: it

conceives of truth in immanentistic rather than transcendental terms and tends to claim a perfect correspondence between ultimate reality and ideas or interpretive models used to represent it (ibid).


whereas philosophy is inherently oriented toward further inquiry through openness to the Question, philodoxy is the expression of a desire to put an end to questioning and thereby escape from the "tension of existence" (ibid.).

Which isn't just obnoxious and annoying, but humanly catastrophic, as seen, for example, in the metastatic ideologies of the 20th century. As of 1991 (with the collapse of the Soviet Union) it looked as if the last of these cancers had been eradicated, but it is very much as if this spiritual retrovirus sleeps in human nature until opportune conditions allow it to reassert itself. 

Like now.

If you want to look for evidence of the retrovirus, one thing to monitor is attacks on free speech; it starts with certain forbidden questions, but again, has a tendency to attack and stifle the Questioner (and therefore human nature) as such -- perhaps seen most explicitly on our elite university campuses. One can only emit a laugh -- the hollow and bitter kind -- at Joseph Pieper's innocent description of the purpose of the university:

It means a refuge where discussion takes place, in total independence, on just one question: How are things?, "what are the facts"? 

This free space -- or space of intellectual freedom -- "must be safeguarded and protected" from interference by forces opposed to the open engagement with the transcendent truth of What Is.


One thing that occurred to me in rereading S, P & G is that we focus too much on this or that ideology instead of the deeper structure of ideology per se, which is again the expression of intrinsic pneumopathology -- which is why it is in the very nature of leftism to ban speech, because speech has a way of leading to forbidden questions and unlawful answers. 

Leftism is literally inconceivable without suppression of the very questions that discredit it. "The opposition becomes truly radical and dangerous"

when philosophical questioning is itself called into question, when doxa [hardened opinion] takes on the appearance of philosophy, when it arrogates to itself the name of science and prohibits science as non-science (Voegelin). 

As seen most vividly, I suppose, in the non-sciences of catastrophic global warming, transgender ideology, and experimental vaccines. In each of these conspicuous examples, Questions and Questioners are banned and punished -- not because of any confident and robust science, rather, the opposite, for such thinkers know that their construct "will collapse as soon as the basic philosophical question is asked," which "induces him to prohibit such questions."  

When "socialist man" speaks, man has to be silent (ibid.).

But not only socialist man, for Voegelin outlines "three major types for whom a human inquiry has become a practical impossibility," including also "positivist man" and "national-socialist man" -- to which we might add scientistic man, New Atheist man, transgender man, and various others. 

Each of these is founded upon a "resolve to ignorance, for arbitrary occlusion," and for a "defensive stand against much that is knowledge." In this pathological movement "man remains shut off from transcendent being. The will to power strikes against the wall of being, which has become a prison" (ibid.).

Or matrix, as we like to call it. The normal man becomes acutely aware of suffering in this matrix of "demonic occlusion. He is imprisoned in the icy light of his existence." Schuon often speaks of the modern mind being encased under a layer of ice.   

Is there hope? Yes, but mostly on a retail basis, as

No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crisis of a society; on the contrary, everyone is obliged to avoid this folly and live his life in order (ibid.).

Which is to say, the open order -- or order of openness -- whereby man has the privilege of participation in the ground of being.

I'll stop now and pick up the thread in the next post.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Answer Becomes the Question that the Question Might Become Answer?

One more post on Foundations of Karl Rahner, and we're done. This chapter is on the Incarnation, and let's see what we can make of it. Apologies up front: the post is rather loose and free-associational, because the material is. We'll start with this:

By becoming incarnate, the Logos made the human reality God's own reality. When God took a human nature, human nature reached the goal toward which it had always tended. God "became" the human nature that God had prepared for the Logos, so that human nature might be divinized.

In this scenario, human beings must have evolved to the point that this two-way movement was possible; obviously, the Logos could not incarnate as a cow or chimpanzee, so there must already exist something about humans that makes them a fit receptacle for this divine indwelling. 

Humans must be sufficiently aware of reaching toward the transcendent before the transcendent can reach down to us. You can't have an answer if you don't have the question. 

It seems that the whole durn cosmos is evolving toward this point:

The ground of being becomes the one toward whom the person strives. It is a magnet that draws us, enabling us to transcend what we were and to become what we are called to be.... Persons are not just a product of the cosmos, but their union with God is the very goal of the cosmos.

So, we definitely got that going for us: "Because God became a human being, the gulf between divinity and humanity collapsed." It's a circular thing, with both ascending and descending currents, so to speak.

When we think of God assuming human nature, this implies that God also assumes the human being's very orientation toward the infinite mystery of God. "God has taken that orientation as God's own reality," as if to say that in assuming human nature, () assumes (). Come to think of it, why else would Jesus pray to his Father?

The potential to obey God is the human nature that God becomes. 

Now, how can the immutable "become" something? It is as if Being becomes becoming that becoming might become Being:

the Logos assumes the reality of something that is capable of becoming. That "something" is the human reality of Jesus. The one who is not subject to change (i.e., the Logos) can be subject to change in something else (the man Jesus of Nazareth). 

I call it metacosmic circularity: 

In the Incarnation, God "becomes" what has come from God... God "creates the human reality by the very fact that he assumes it as his own. "


God creates in order to make creatures who are capable of being assumed by God. God creates human beings who can become part of God's own history. 

Which I suppose goes to the finality of both creation and Incarnation; or rather, the Incarnation is the final cause of the creation, Bob asked?

Rahner makes the point that, prior to the Incarnation, man is already an "abbreviated word of God." Humanity is the "cipher" of God, which is to say, a sort of secret message. Of what? 

Well, for one thing, a capacity to "bear" the Incarnation. Again, cows and reptiles and monkeys couldn't very well bear the strain, but we are already the image and likeness prior to the Incarnation, so we definitely got that going for us. 

In other words, humans qua humans exist "because there was to be a Son of Man," and "are a 'shorthand' expression for God's Word." Well, cool. But the (longhand?) Word then "shows us the human nature to which we are called," such that "the human being 'participates' in the mystery of God." Specifically,

we participate in God's mystery in the same way that a question participates in the answer to that question. 

We said in the previous post that man is a Question -- an open-ended one that can never be exhausted by any finite, terrestrial, scientific, or manmade answer. No, this is truly a Question that is superior to any answer we could ever provide.

But is there even an answer to this Question we are? For Rahner, 

God answers that question in the Logos. The question (i.e., human being) participates in the answer (i.e., God's Logos).

This Question (Bob) has a question: it seems that anthropology is theology, and vice versa? In a manner of speaking?

Anthropology is the theology that God speaks by uttering the Word as human flesh. Anthropology is our theology when we seek Christ and God via the human being. In Christ the finite has received an infinite depth.

So, Christ is the answer to the infinite question we are? "God has spoken the ultimate word as the truth of human life," so there you go.

It seems it's a matter of inserting ourselves into the metacosmic circle by means of faith. There it is again: 

Jesus leads us back to God in an ascending motion, a motion initiated by God.

God is one of us?! Or, God becomes the Question that the Question might become Answer? "Humanity finds in Jesus the one by whom God intended from all eternity to reconcile us to the divine self." But

The Christian is always in the process of becoming a Christian.... A person is always a Christian in order to become one.

And Christ is "not only the eternal Logos, but also the 'first fulfillment' of humanity. He was the first to fulfill the promise which life with God holds for every person." 

I think I strained a muscle in my head. The end.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Experience of Experience of the Mystery of Mystery

Or something. This book on Karl Rahner turned out to be a bit of a chore. Seems rather disjointed and repetitive, plus the attempt to translate English into English renders the prose hardly less annoying. I'll salvage what I can. 

This chapter -- Man in the Presence of Absolute Mystery -- begins with a meditation on the very meaning of the word "God." What if the word were stricken from the dictionary? For an atheist, I suppose nothing would be lost, since the word refers to nothing anyway.

But even then, it must refer to something, even if only to a universal subjective experience, since there is no language that doesn't have an equivalent term for the ultimate transcendent ground of reality. 

Either the word will disappear or it will survive as a question..., a question about the goal and meaning of life. 

This is why I came up with the idea of using a semantically unsaturated symbol (O) for what the word "God" represents to different people -- and the symbol (?!) for the spontaneous irruption of the Experience.

Problem is, if everyone has their own idiosyncratic meaning, then no communication is possible. Rahner seems to have similar concerns, so "instead of a concept," he

uses the phrase "holy mystery." He calls it the "term" of transcendence. Term is related to terminus, end, or goal. This term is both present in transcendence and as the way to transcendence. 

Which very much reminds me of Voegelin, since he too sees transcendence as a term or pole of the great In Between we inhabit -- more like an arrow pointing toward a reality we can never reach: human experience is between the poles of immanence and transcendence. Moreover, the QUESTION is Voegelin's term for 

the transcendental pole of truth as such: "not just any question but the quest concerning the mysterious ground of all being." 

Clearly there is mystery at both ends of the tension (ours and God's), and it seems to me that the majority of mid-to-lowbrow cultural activity is designed to deny the mystery, to make it go away, or to distract us from it. But there it is. It's not going anywhere. Indeed, Rahner refers to it as a permanent existential, and why not? It is "a part of who we are," but

The discovery of this experience itself is a mystery. The mystery is not reducible to what we can say about our transcendental knowledge. 

Ultimately, "the concept of God is not a concept we can grasp. It is, rather, what grasps us." It is always over the subjective horizon, while at the same time being the ground of subjectivity. 

It reminds me of the Big Bang, only on the inside, in that consciousness too forever expands and differentiates. But from what and into what? It's a mystery, but not the unintelligible kind, rather, the infinitely intelligible kind. Like an owl staring at the sun, there's not insufficient but too much Light.

That's me talking. Or at least the caffeine. What does Rahner say? 

transcendental experience allows us to know ourselves as finite beings -- finite beings who can transcend their finitude.

And -- me talking again -- it seems that experience as such is always transcendental. Which is why it is impossible to describe or define, since any description or definition presupposes experience. It seems that experience as such is a rock-bottom, permanent existential -- that it is a ceaselessly flowing Mystery, and that this is simultaneously the least and most we can say about it.

Geez, I hope I'm not turning all Germanic on you, but wading around down here at the bottom of subjectivity is tricky. Here is Voegelin's stab at defining EXPERIENCE: it is "a 'luminous perspective' within the process of reality." And EXISTENTIAL CONSCIOUSNESS is

the reflective self-awareness of human existence in the metaxy, i.e., between poles of immanence and transcendence, finitude and infinity, imperfection and perfection, and so on. See also "truth of existence." 

Okay, don't mind if I do. This latter is "transcendentally oriented conscious existence" and 

involves the experience of: (1) finiteness and creatureliness; (2) dissatisfaction with imperfection and a sense of transcendental perfection; (3) the luminosity or manifestness of such experience in consciousness; (4) the self-transcending tendency of consciousness seeking fullness of truth.

Sounds like a luminous movement toward perfect truth, goodness, and beauty, or something.

For Rahner, 

transcendental knowledge comes from a direct contemplation of the source of transcendence. We contemplate it and call it "God."  

The problem -- or temptation -- is that

by speaking of God, we might lose sight of what we mean. What we mean is the source of the experience of transcendence, the holy mystery. It might be obscured by the concept we use to express it. If we try to describe the source as "absolute being," we might settle for an abstraction, not the source itself.

Now, the Big Question is whether this post is getting anywhere, or if we're just going around in circles on some kind of wild nous chase. I can't answer that, but Rahner "proposes that we call the source of our original experience of transcendence the 'holy mystery,'" so as not to confuse it "with a stereotype, a myth, or a conventional image."

Certainly we can agree that "Anyone searching for God 'contained in' reality seeks a false God." But not so fast, because "Those searching for a God wholly other and distant will never know God or themselves" either.

So, it seems we can say a lot about God, but we can always say more: "that is why we acknowledge that God is infinite, indefinable, and ineffable." 

It's repetitive, but maybe it needs to be:

The experience of transcendence opens up to us the holy mystery. It is a "mystery" because we cannot fully fathom it.... Rather, holy mystery is what we encounter in the experience of transcendence. Transcendence moves us in freedom and love towards its goal.  

Which we never reach. For again, "We human beings are the tension"

between our categorical statements about God and the transcendental reality itself.... it is the experience of all people who know themselves as being constantly in a relationship with a mystery....

Instead of being an object we know, God is what allows any knowledge whatsoever to take place.

I'll buy that, but I'll tell you what: wouldn't it be nice if God himself could accommodate us and just incarnate as the Mystery or something? That would be a big help. Perhaps we'll tackle this subject in the next post. Or move on to a less annoying subject.

Friday, September 15, 2023

I Am the Question

The previous post ended with a description of our politico-cultural matrix, and the image comes to mind of a Roach Motel. If you're a roach, the best policy is to not venture in at all, because if you do, you're not coming out. 

You could say the motel is "designed to trap prey," but not really, because at least the predator has a use for the prey. Spiders don't catch insects just for the hell of it. Snakes only eat when they're hungry, which is only every week or two.

But it seems this Predator does enjoy trapping and toying with its prey just for the hell of it. I wonder what Uncle Screwtape would say? Not sure, but while looking it up I found this:

There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan (Lewis).

And this:

In each of us there is something growing up which will of itself be Hell unless it is nipped in the bud. 

So, the Motel is on the inside? And locks from the inside? Hell is

the outer rim where being fades away into nonentity.... the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end... the doors of hell are locked on the inside....  

Now, what does this have to do with the book I began reading yesterday, The Foundations of Karl Rahner: A Paraphrase of the Foundations of Christian Faith? Maybe we could start by asking why the human head is such a battleground, with claims and counterclaims.  

For Rahner, human beings are the "universal question." This being the case, I suppose there will always be bad, superficial, partial, and dysfunctional answers. The deeper point is that our unlimited questioning implies our own unlimitedness, i.e., transcendence:

we, in the very act of reflecting on our limitations, overcome those limitations.... We know ourselves as capable of knowing more, of transcending what had limited us before. This experience of transcendence provides an indirect knowledge of God... 

This is very much reminiscent of Voegelin, in that we are always situated between the poles of immanence and transcendence, and that's just the way it is: "the human being is open by nature," which is the key to transcendence:

We know ourselves as capable of knowing more. That is the essence of transcendental experience.

In realizing this, God is implicitly present: 

present as mystery, as the absolute and incomprehensible source of all that is. What we know, in knowing anything, is that our knowledge is a small vessel in a vast sea of mystery.


this is what makes us human. We have been created with the ability to encounter the transcendent God in the experiences of daily life.

Or not, which I suppose goes to the battlefield alluded to above. Which further implies that the real battle is between openness-to-transcendence vs. enclosed-in-immanence, no matter what form it takes. Could it be this simple? Or is it simpler?

As persons we are hearers, and

Hearers recognize that they are limited. But in that very recognition, they begin to imagine how they might surpass their limits. That is the first step to actually transcending them.

This will become clearer as we proceed, but this ability to hear is key, for

the philosophy that presumes that the human being is able to hear is not absolutely free of theology. In fact, it is implicit theology.

I would go so far as to say that human personhood presupposes God, for the human being

is capable of transcendence, responsibility, freedom, honesty, and openness to mystery. The Christian message presupposes that its hearers are people with these capacities -- in a word, are persons.

However, there is always the temptation to forgo the mystery in favor of something less, "to shift responsibility for their choices to something else -- to history, let us say, or to nature." Nevertheless, persons qua persons are always "more than what a mechanistic anthropology says we are":

The sciences tempt us to think that we can fully explain ourselves. But this is illusory. Transcendental experience suggests that I myself encompass every effort by science to explain me. The person transcends all attempts to reduce him or her to a system or to full comprehension. 

 So, lead us not into temptation, especially that one.

It's all very Gödelian, for again, "By reflecting on our limits, we begin to imagine new possibilities for ourselves and to transcend our limits" -- a bit like reversing figure and ground. We have plenty of answers, but they never provide a complete answer to the Question we are. Sorry for the repetition, but maybe you didn't hear it the first time:

Whenever a person affirms the possibility that he or she can question things, even in a finite way, that person surpasses the finitude. Why? Because the horizon of finitude is always receding as one discovers more. And as the person experiences that horizon receding, the person experiences himself or herself as spirit. One is spirit whenever one acknowledges one's limits. In that acknowledgement, one has already surpassed the limits...

On the other hand -- again, going to the battle -- 

one can dully and unimaginatively "accept" one's existence without curiosity. This happens when we acknowledge that existence poses a question, but nevertheless refuse to pursue it.  

But just because you are not interested in the battle, it hardly means the battle isn't interested in you: "we are ourselves limited. But in our limits, we are connected to what is absolute," and "We transcend what we are by being open to to what being offers."

one can try to to evade responsibility and pretend that one is merely a product of forces outside oneself. But that is a lie. 

Now, just "Who is the other who enables us to transcend ourselves? We call that other the ineffable mystery." I call it O, but that's the end of chapter one. Tomorrow we'll delve into chapter two, Man in the Presence of Absolute Mystery.