Friday, August 25, 2023

Waiting & Wondering

While I wait for the next thing to arrive in my head, let's exhumine some deeply buried aphorisms, i.e., listen to some deep cuts instead of the usual greatest hits. Who knows, perhaps the next thing will emerge as we meditate on them. 

First up:    

Intelligence is a little thing if the entire soul does not weigh upon it as if on a point.

The idea is for everything we are to be compressed down upon everything that is -- like a diamond stylus into the groove of a record.

It reminds me of something Schuon says about how "in space, the absolute is the point," and "in time, the absolute is the moment," and here we are. It's all here now, or it's nowhere at any time.

And let's be clear:

A clear writer is one who does not catechize, but whose sole ambition is that his sentence be the immortal huntress of the instant.


In order to advance it is necessary to turn around on a point. 

Somewhere Dávila says that religious thought does not move forward, but rather, deeper, and I'm spinning as fast as I can, trying to hunt down this instant!   

Sometimes even my own ideas seem dreadfully inadequate to the task. Okay, always:

Any explanation soon seems naïve.

Any explanation seems inadequate when we hear it repeatedly.

Any idea is always too simple.

The Idea, whatever it is, isn't one, for -- contrary to Hegel -- 

What is real is not rational and what is rational is not real. 

Man is rational, but not only rational, otherwise there would be no escape from our own assumptions and premises, and besides, Gödel. 

Since to be a rationalist is to ignore that logic is formal, there are as many rationalisms possible as possible unconscious assumptions.

Show me your assumptions and I'll show you your philosophy, your matrix, and your prison. 

Consciousness tends, like a spider, the lexical web, in order to capture the ideas that fly into the interior spaces like drunken insects.

In a web constructed of reason, the most interesting and tasty insects fly right through.

The children are our future past, and the childish adults are our present:

The young are not so much the future as they are the tedious reiteration of the past.

Each new generation does not add one new truth. Not even one new falsehood.

Except maybe that people can be born into the wrong body and switch sexes. That's a new one. I was going to say the idea that we can change the weather, but that's an oldie, what with rain dances and such.

This latter idea implies that the world is not the way it is supposed to be. Which is true:

The universe seems less dark when we suspect that it is de facto, when we begin to suspect that it is not de jure.

This next one is important:

The important book of philosophy is that which discovers a new irreducible term.

Of course, you have to be careful that your irreducible term isn't just one of those assumptions or drunken insects referenced above. 

It reminds me of something Garrigou-Lagrange says, that we want to identify those principles for which error is impossible, that entail no principle or prior truth, that presuppose any investigation of reality, and denial of which engenders absurdity.

Okay, like what? Oh, that the world is intelligible to our intelligence, or the principle of identity (or non-contradiction). Just try denying those and see how far you get.

I don't see how my writing could ever be popular. Modesty, or humble brag?

Among unpopular writers there are many who do not deserve the homage of unpopularity.

Although we write about religion, 

We say nothing of God in a sickly-sweet voice.

Never have and never will. What kind of voice, then?

Even our favorite ideas soon bore us if we do not hear them expressed with irony, with grace and with beauty.

The first comes naturally, but I'm always working on the latter two.

In order to be appealing it is not necessary that the writer have something to say, but rather that he be someone.

That one also comes easy, since I am who I am, and one is more than enough for me and perhaps too much for most.

Intelligence would be invincible if it did not make the intelligent conceited.

Except a conceited intelligence is no longer intelligent. Reminds me of Schuon again:

partisans of "faith" reduce intelligence to reason alone, and then they accuse intelligence of "intellectual pride" -- a contradiction in terms -- the moment it follows the demands of its own nature.


Intelligence does not fit within the limits of a doctrine.

Since it turns out the Doctrine is made of Intelligence, more on which tomorrow. 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Chinaman is the Issue

We're just trying to get to the bottom of human sacrifice. It's a bit like putting a resistant world on the couch and trying to psychoanalyze a behavior that is repressed, sublimated, misremembered, and covered over by layers of yada yada. It's like everyone is a little embarrassed by it and wants to move on.

For example, I'm reading a history of China, and one of the early dynasties is described as "warlike and highly superstitious, worshipping a number of gods and conducting human sacrifices to them." Ho hum. No details, and no further mention of the subject in the rest of the book. 

Although from another angle, I suppose one could say the book is one long and tedious chronicle of human sacrifice. I don't think I'll be finishing it. Frankly, I'm not even that curious about the Chinese, there's just nothing else to read around here. And therefore nothing much to write about. 

Next up: Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought, by Louis Sass. It doesn't get here until Saturday, so meanwhile I'm stuck with madness and premodern insanity in China.

Let me flip through it and see if there's anything else you folks need to know. After all, nearly one in five people on Earth is Chinese.

When the communists took over in 1949, more than 75% were illiterate. It doesn't say how many are literate today, but probably everyone, and imagine the crap they have to read! I'd go nuts. It's like when progressives defend Cuba by saying it's 110% literate or something. Yeah, well, I'd rather be illiterate than have to read Das Capital or the Aphorisms of Castro.

Not all creation myths are created equal. One of their popular ones claims that once upon a time "primal chaos congealed into an egg, in which the complementary cosmic energies of Yin and Yang thickened around a hairy, horned giant called Pangu." Yada yada, Pangu hacked them in two, and here we are: Yin became the sky, Yang the earth, Pangu's sweat the rain, and his breath the wind. 

As for the production of silk, "How did anyone think of boiling moth cocoons in the first place?" It doesn't say, but I'll bet it was a bored eunuch with nothing to read. 

Says here that no book in history has had a greater influence on more people over a longer period of time than Confucius's aphorisms (The Analects). Meh. That's a dubious claim in a country where it's illegal for most people to own a Bible.

As far as I know, Lao Tse is my favorite Chinaman. He discovered such important principles as non-doing, which is like Chinese Slack. Of course, the Slack that can be named is not the true Slack, but he was attacked for preaching Slack anyway. 

The Tao Te Ching dates back to the 8th century BC. "Because the text was inscribed on strips of bamboo, no one can say for sure in what order it's meant to be read." I don't think the order matters, since it goes to the vertical order that is outside time and therefore chronology. 

One of Lao Tse's followers was a guy named Zhuangzi who dreamt he was a butterfly but then couldn't figure out if maybe he was a butterfly dreaming of being a man who dreamt of being a butterfly.  


Zhuangzi notwithstanding, it seems that Confucians were rigid statists and Taoists conservative liberals, in that the former "yearned to serve a ruler" while the latter were "disinterested in serving government." Thus, Taoist Subgeniuses "have irritated straight-laced Confucians for millennia."

Confucius very un-Dude.

Then there's the I Ching, which makes astrology look like quantum physics.

Speaking of which, I saw Oppenheimer a couple nights ago and found it to be unbelievably tedious. Didn't grab me at all, so I left after two hours. The only thing I learned is that eggheaded autistic physicists do have sex after all.

Upon the bomb's explosion, Oppenheimer famously quoted the Bhagavad Gita, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. Coincidentally, that was his favorite pick-up line.

If it were me, I would have quoted Wanda Jackson:

I've been to Nagasaki, Hiroshima too

The things I did to them, baby , I can do to you

'Cause I'm a Fujiyama Mama, and I'm just about to blow my top

And when I start eruptin', ain't nobody gonna make me stop

I'm sure the Chinese would approve. They hated the Japanese.

One of their dynasties had a wise old saying: burn the books and bury the scholars. A guy named Qin Shihuang thought the tenured were a bit much, so he had more than 460 scholars buried alive. 

In 1958 Mao reportedly said, and I quote, "What's the big deal about Qin Shihuang? He buried only 460 scholars alive; well, we've buried 46,000." 

Yeah, that was Mao's favorite pick-up line.

Until the 10th century it was legal to cut off a slave's johnson. "Some impoverished families" even "had their sons castrated in the hope that they could gain access to power and wealth," so at least they had a better excuse than our own transsexual nihilists.

Back in the day, one of their bored eunuchs invented paper, but all things considered, I'd still rather have my johnson. In any event, no more writing on bamboo leaves. 

Buddhism arrived via India in the 6th century BC. "Eunuchs proved enthusiastic converts, comforted by the promise of reincarnation," this time with johnson attached. In the meantime, "they carried their severed parts in a special container so they could be reunited with them in the next life," and why not?

Then there's Zen, which was a slimmed down combination of Taoism and Buddhism. I myself dabbled in Zen back in the 1990s, but the radical detachment it preaches seems more suitable in culture that absolutely sucks. 

A culture where they practiced, for example, foot-binding, a widespread sexual perversion (you don't want to know) involving the ideal of a three-inch foot. There's a photograph in the book, and it looks like somebody's foot got caught in a trash compactor.

Oh well, 3,500 years of beautiful culture from Pangu to Xi Jinping... 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Natural Life, Supernatural Death

Yesterday we touched on the ubiquity and universality of human sacrifice, and how it might even be man's first Big Idea. 

It seems that sacrifice in general is the nuclear physics of primitive peoples, but why? Is it all just a huge mythunderstanding, or is there something to it that we can't grasp because we don't have access to a mentality that spontaneously produced it?

How can something so seemingly irrational be at the foundation of humanness? It's an offense to the left brain!

So, let's take the elevator down to the bottom of the psyche and try to figure this out once and for all. I want answers, not just a lot of yada-yada-ing over and past it!  

It is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 4, but as mentioned yesterday, it's just taken for granted: Abel offers his sacrifice, Cain his, and too bad for Abel. In Prager's exegesis of the passage,

The Torah states matter-of-factly that Cain and Abel brought offerings to God, suggesting the universality of sacrifice, prayer, and belief in a deity. We know of no pre-modern society that was atheistic and of no ancient society that did not have sacrifices to its god(s).

True, but why? And just because everyone does it, does that make it moral? Morality is not democratic, rather, as we touched on a few posts back, must be rooted in an accurate perception of reality. 

As to the underlying reality, in an essay called Priesthood and Sacrificial Worship, Peiper writes that

we are losing the ability to see that experiencing sacrificial worship is at all meaningful and that it could even be necessary. 

Necessary? Must there be a sacrifice? The modern mind recoils at the prospect. I mean, mathematics, neurochemistry, laws of physics, etc., are one thing, but "sacrifice" seems to belong to another order, and one that is seemingly contingent and unnecessary (to say nothing of inconvenient and even a downright nuisance). 

In another essay called Creation and Sacrament, Pieper suggests -- in the context of the the Last Supper -- that "it is the totality of creation that Christ offers to God as a sacrifice."

So, no half measures: there is an "inner connection between the order of creation and the sacramental order." And Paul says that "true and proper worship" involves offering our very bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God."

Okay. You first?

But let's try to pin down the more general Principle before addressing the Christian particulars. For this, let's look at an essay by Schuon called Concerning the Principle of Sacrifice. Surely he can shed some light on the subject, if not some obscurity:

Quite evidently, the equilibrium of social as well as individual life is inconceivable without the presence of a regulating sacrificial element. 

Pretty categorical. He then jumps down to Genesis 3, blaming Adam & Eve for introducing -- in a manner of speaking -- "the first disequilibrium" into being. He goes on to say that a

Life well-lived is paved with acts of renunciation; in order to live in accordance with truth and beauty it is necessary to know how to die.

Earlier in the essay he says that "life is woven of gifts and sacrifices; only that is enduring which knows how to die in order to be reborn."


According to a mystical German saying, "he who dies before he dies does not die when he dies"; this is the very definition of the sacrificial principle. 

Now we're getting somewhere, what with this hidden relationship between life, death, and a "higher" kind of life. It reminds me of a cryptic aphorism that suddenly makes sense:

When one says that death is a “natural” thing, one speaks the final stupidity.

Here's another good one:
The very idea of sacrifice seems absurd to those who are unaware that there exists a hierarchy of goods.

Back to Schuon:

the "Remembrance of God" is a kind of death that day by day interrupts the blind flux of life: without these pauses, the flow of our temporal existence strays and is squandered; with them, it remains faithful to its vocation and is always recreated anew, supernaturally and in the direction of Immortality. 

In other words, prayer is death only in relation to our "horizontal" existence and not in itself; it is privative, hence, sacrificial, from the standpoint of Manifestation which it denies, and not from the standpoint of the Principle which it affirms.

We'll get to bottom of this. To be continued.... 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Second Look at Cannibalism?

Way back in the book, it says that 

Oddly enough, the first thing early humans apparently thought to do upon getting off the ape-man treadmill was to conduct a sacrifice (Gagdad).

I then go on to quote a couple of scholars, one of whom says that "human sacrifice, far from being a cultural oddity, has been a widespread practice" among virtually all cultures, playing a role "in almost every conceivable form of religious observance." 

Sacrificial killing is even said to be "the basic experience of the sacred," and we're all familiar with Girard's theory of scapegoating and sacrificial violence. 

So, recently I read a book called Out of Our Minds: What We Think and How We Came to Think It, which is a chronological survey of pretty much all the bright ideas man has had since becoming man. Of course, it's difficult to know exactly what was going on upstairs before the invention of writing, but our ancestral furbears "have left tantalizing evidence of their ideas."

As far as we can tell, eating our fellow man was indeed the first bright idea:

These were thinking cannibals. We have trained ourselves to recoil from cannibalism and to see it as treason against our species: a form of sub-human savagery.

The evidence, however, suggests the opposite: cannibalism is typically -- you might also say peculiarly, even definingly -- human and cultural. Under the stones of every civilization lie human bones, snapped and sucked. 

What happened? Where did it go, and why did we give it up? "In most human societies" cannibalism was accepted "as normal -- embedded in the way society works":

No other mammals practice it so regularly or on such a scale as we do: indeed all others tend to avoid it except in extreme circumstances -- which suggests that it did not come naturally to our ancestors: they had to think about it.

Certainly the Bible takes it for granted. When God instructs Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham doesn't do a spit-take, or ask God if he's off his meds. 

So, what's the Big Idea underlying cannibalism and human sacrifice? Is it possible that the religious ritual was just a kind of elaborate defense mechanism to render the wholly unnatural holy? Armesto cites some of the earliest known cannibals, who

were performing a thoughtful ritual, underlain by an idea: an attempt to achieve an imagined effect, augmenting the eaters' powers or reshaping their natures.   

Although plain old hunger is sometimes offered as an excuse,

Overwhelmingly, however, more reflective aims, moral or mental, aesthetic or social, inspire them: self-transformation, the appropriation of power, the ritualization of the eater's relationship with the eaten, revenge, or the ethic of victory.

So, a rather mixed bag, from self-transformation at one end to vengeful sadism at the other.

Back when I was a reductive psychoanalytic theorist, I would have said that Christian communion is a transparently sublimated holdover from our cannibal past. Now I wonder if it's the other way around -- that cannibalism is a dim foreshadowing of communion. 

But supposing you don't take communion, are there other ways to more or less symbolically devour a man and obtain magical benefits?  

Armesto cites the example of a a Papuan tribe that didn't give up literal communion until the 1960s, when the authorities banned it. The Papuan's excuse was that it "was their way of 'capturing spirits' in compensation for lost warriors." Another tribe "ate their dead to conserve vital fluids they believed to be non-renewable in nature." 

Others -- Gimi women, for example -- "used to guarantee the renewal of their fertility by consuming dead menfolk." And no one, of course, tops the Aztec, who "ingested morsels of the bodies of battle-captives to acquire their virtue and valor," not to mention the countless ritual sacrifices needed to nourish the sun and keep it from extinguishing.

So, consistent with what Bob said above in paragraph two,

Theirs was the earliest recoverable idea -- recorded deep in the layers of cognitive stratigraphy: the idea that thinkers can change themselves, appropriate qualities not their own, becoming something other than what they are.

The first psychotropic medication? 

But again, supposing the ubiquity and universality of the impulse, where do we find it today, beneath layers of civilization? This morning while scanning the news of the day, there was this little item in the sidebar:

Jennifer Aniston will ‘try almost anything once’ to look young -- including a salmon-sperm facial

I don't even want to know what Gwyneth Paltrow does. But come to think of it, my wife's grandmother was a bit of a health food fanatic, and I remember her eating shark cartilage in order to magically ward off cancer. I guess it worked, until it didn't.

Nor am I immune to the allure of magical substances. The ingredients of my whole food multi include such powerful substances as spirulina, bee pollen, black currant powder, panax ginseng root, octacosanol, and others. I have no idea what they do except help me to appropriate qualities not my own and to become something other than what I am. Of course, I draw the line at salmon sperm. 

Is it possible that the entire health food industry overlays and exploits the primitive impulse to ingest and appropriate magical transformative properties? A stroll down the aisle of Costco reveals a whole host of such substances, from Hawaiian astaxanthin to Feel Good Organic Matcha Tea Powder to blueberry extract and many other potions and herbal remedies.

There is something in man that makes him recognize that he is not what he is supposed to be. In other words, the drive to self-transcendence is built into the human cake, and it takes any number of forms, from healthy and realistic at one end to Gwyneth Paltrow at the other. 

I think it's safe to say that the history of human thought evolves from more concrete expressions toward the abstract and symbolic. In this regard, Pieper writes of how 

man's chief nourishment is truth. This does not apply only to the man of knowledge, the philosopher, the scientist. Anyone who wishes to live a truly human life must feed on truth (emphasis mine).

I read something yesterday that may go to our subject. Schuon speaks of modern ideologies that "contrive to invent implausible infirmities in order to invent extravagant remedies," and which "always find dupes, even among the so-called 'intellectuals'":

In all these "methods," the point of departure is a false image of man; the goal of the training being the development... of "latent powers" or of an "expanded" or "liberated" personality." And since such an ideal does not exist -- more especially since the premise is imaginary -- the result of the adventure can only be a perversion.

That's about it for today. Excuse me while I devour another book. 

Monday, August 21, 2023

The Crazy-Indoctrinated Matrix

Just a short one, because we ran out of time...

Confucius say, Rectify names. If name names not match reality, language have no object. If language have no object, intelligent action impossible. Politics disintegrate; management of collective action pointless and impossible (my translation).

Aphorist say, in order of pithiness:

Leftism is lexicographical tactic more than ideological strategy. 

Wordiness not excess of words but dearth of ideas.

Effect of liberal rhetoric on taste called nausea. 

Only ideas save us from adjectives. 

The deluded are prolix. 

Orwell say, 

There is no swifter route to the corruption of thought than through the corruption of language.

What did Lenin say? According to Morson,

In Lenin’s view, a true revolutionary did not establish the correctness of his beliefs by appealing to evidence or logic, as if there were some standards of truthfulness above social classes.


his purpose was not to convince but to destroy his opponent.... Marxists who disagreed with his naïve epistemology were “philosophic scum.” Object to his brutality and your arguments are “moralizing vomit.” You can see traces of this approach in the advice of Saul Alinsky -- who cites Lenin -- to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it”....

[T]here was no need to understand opposing views before denouncing them, since the very fact that they were opposing views proved them wrong -- and what was wrong served the enemy and so was criminal.... He disproved a position simply by showing it contradicted what he believed ( 

So, the left has always been with us, and always will be with us, because prior to it is human nature, and it doesn't get worse than that. Importantly, these idiots don't even lie, but but do something far worse to language:

the concept of “lying,” if one stops there, does not reach the heart of the matter.... a true Leninist does not decide whether to lie. He automatically says what is most useful, with no reflection necessary. That is why he can show no visible signs of mendacity, perhaps even pass a lie detector test....

The Soviets did not find out the truth and then exaggerate; they often did not know the truth themselves. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith hears that fifty million pairs of boots were produced that year and reflects that, for all he knows, no boots at all were produced. 

What is going on with man and with language in order to render the left both possible and inevitable? To help me find out, yesterday I reread an essay by Josef Pieper called The Abuse of Language and The Abuse of Power

The first thing that occurs to me is that when people who pretend to communicate are abusing language, they are abusing you. Indeed, you are being brutalized. Ever see a White House press briefing? These so-called journalists prove it is possible to ask a lie.

"Speaking truth to power" is always fatal to the left, hence the deeper strategy of converting language into a hammer, which the left never stops doing. 

The left doesn't merely lie, because it's worse than that. For in rejecting the Absolute they undermine the very link between speech and reality, and then it is no longer even necessary to consciously deceive; rather, language is the deception it pretends to uncover, hence the old gag that Speech was given to man in order to deceive

This will become clearer as we proceed, I'll bet.

Pieper agrees that this threat "exists in every society and in every age," and most certainly "applies to contemporary events." It is "an eternal temptation which, through the course of history, man has been, and always will be, called upon to resist." 

So, bad news/good news: just as the linguistic temptation is always there, so too is the Resistance. 

One question is why language has become so sick in our day. Two words: journalism and tenure. Or the media-academic industrial complex. It wasn't that long ago that journalists weren't necessarily college indoctrinated activists. 

Now, Big Journalism functions like a nasty autoimmune disorder to identify and destroy even vaguely independent or curious journalists like a Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, or Glenn Greenwald. For the latter two, even being homosexual is no defense! 

Back to Pieper. Even though this essay was published in 1970, he was on to the fact that it is precisely the intelligent who are most susceptible to indoctrination, for "to call someone 'highly educated' is in reality a dubious compliment." Today this is obvious, but back then it was a new phenomenon. Now we know that

A person must not have progressed very far in his education if he has not discovered good reasons to justify the worst behavior. All the evil that has been done since Adam's time, has been justified by means of good reasons.

It reminds me of the Crazy-Hot Matrix. Call it the Intelligence / Indoctrination Matrix, whereby the threat "becomes increasingly dangerous as the level of... 'education'" rises. Thus, a person who is both intelligent and educated but not a crazed ideologue is a... unicorn

The analogy needs work, but in any event, unicorns exist, Pieper himself being one of them. To be continued...

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