Saturday, December 16, 2023

Once Upon a Time There Was a Caliphator Coming Down the Road with a Bomb Strapped to His Chest

Caliphator: one who believes that in our day, in this generation, Islam will triumph over all other religions and establish a global Caliphate, i.e., a participant in an apocalyptic millennial movement (Landes).

So, crazy. But why? What makes millions of people believe in the impossible? 

And of course, just because it's impossible, this hardly prevents them from causing great damage to reality -- not just the lives lost or ruined, but the billions of dollars that must be spent to manage this primitive menace, to keep the Caliphators from flying planes into buildings, setting off suicide bombs, warring with their neighbors, etc.

Way back in the early days of the blog, there were many posts on the failure to synchronize our calendars, what with Christendom existing in the 21st century, Islam back in the 7th. Even if they're living in the 10th or 15th, that's still a lot of catching up to do. 

Problem is, the Caliphators also want to synchronize the calendars, only by turning ours back

Now, outside human experience, time is just time: it has no qualities, but rather, is just quantitative duration, a measure of change, except with no one there to notice that things changed. 

In order for time to be noticed, one must partially transcend it, and this is what humans do, some of us more effectively than others. 

Again, we've had many posts on the subject of developmental time, but yesterday's post got me to thinking about it again, because Caliphator time is very different from... what shall we call our time? I don't know, but something will pop into my head as we proceed.

Suffice it to say that the time of physics is not the time of humans, let alone that of God, who is of course "outside time," but not completely, otherwise he wouldn't be here with us. In this regard, he's like us, only more so. Indeed, you could say he's even more in and out of time than we are. Or just say Emmanuel, God with or amongus.

Schuon says some things about time that touch on our way of looking at it, for example, "Concrete time is the changing of phenomena; abstract time is the duration which this change renders measurable," which is what we mean by the distinction above between mere clock time and human developmental time.

Regarding developmental time, think of how an infant must experience time versus how a child or adult does -- and everyone in between, both healthy and pathological. 

Even thinking about these differences makes me suspect I've bitten off more than you'll want to chew. Nevertheless, let's keep chewing, even if we won't be able to swallow it all in a single post, much less digest it.

Unfortunately for readers, the first name that pops into my head is Joyce -- no, not (yet) Finnegans Wake, but rather, a certain portrait of him as a child. On its first page he tries to paint a verbal picture of what it is like to exist in what Piaget would call sensorimotor time, perhaps on the cusp of language acquisition:

the sensorimotor stage "extends from birth to the acquisition of language." In this stage, infants progressively construct knowledge and understanding of the world by coordinating experiences (such as vision and hearing) from physical interactions with objects (such as grasping, sucking, and stepping). Infants gain knowledge of the world from the physical actions they perform within it. They progress from reflexive, instinctual action at birth to the beginning of symbolic thought toward the end of the stage.

What must that be like? Don't you remama the infanity? Joyce does:

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.... 

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.... 

When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.

His mother had a nicer smell than his father.... 

Mine too! I also remember the rough stubble. On my father, that is.

"Joyce called the new way a presentation of the past as a 'fluid succession of presents.'" 

There is no past in the book: only a continuous present with a style that shifts to follow every curve in the fluid continuum, expressing or "discovering" it (Anderson). 

Explain this Important Quote:

These first lines of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man represent Joyce’s attempt to capture the perceptions of a very young boy. The language is childish: “moocow,” “tuckoo,” and “nicens” are words a child might say, or words that an adult might say to a child. 
In addition to using childlike speech, Joyce tries to emulate a child’s thought processes through the syntax of his sentences and paragraphs. He jumps from thought to thought with no apparent motivation or sense of time. We have no idea how much time goes by between Stephen’s father telling him the story and Stephen wetting the bed. 
Moreover, the way Stephen’s thoughts turn inward reflects the way children see themselves as the center of the universe. Stephen is the same Baby Tuckoo as the one in the story his father tells, and the song Stephen hears is “his song.” As Stephen ages, Joyce’s style becomes less childish, tracking and emulating the thoughts and feelings of the maturing Stephen as closely as possible. 

Eventually we learn-- some of us at any rate -- that we    

are separate from the environment. [We] can think about aspects of the environment, even though these may be outside the reach of the child's senses. In this stage, according to Piaget, the development of object permanence is one of the most important accomplishments. 

Object permanence is a child's understanding that an object continues to exist even though they cannot see or hear it. Peek-a-boo is a game in which children who have yet to fully develop object permanence respond to sudden hiding and revealing of a face. By the end of the sensorimotor period, children develop a permanent sense of self and object and will quickly lose interest in Peek-a-boo (Wiki).

This is much more important than you might suspect, but in order to explain why, we'll have to go even more irritatingly far afield, into Winnicott's theory of transitional objects:

One of the elements that Winnicott considered could be lost in childhood was what he called the sense of being -- for him, a primary element, of which a sense of doing is only a derivative. The capacity for being -- the ability to feel genuinely alive inside, which Winnicott saw as essential to the maintenance of a true self -- was fostered in his view by the practice of childhood play. 

More to the point, 

Playing can also be seen in the use of a transitional object, Winnicott's term for an object, such as a teddy bear, that has a quality for a small child of being both real and made-up at the same time. Winnicott pointed out that no one demands that a toddler explain whether his Binky is a "real bear" or a creation of the child's own imagination, and went on to argue that it's very important that the child is allowed to experience the Binky as being in an undefined, "transitional" status between the child's imagination and the real world outside the child. 

For Winnicott, one of the most important and precarious stages of development was in the first three years of life, when an infant grows into a child with an increasingly separate sense of self in relation to a larger world of other people. In health, the child learns to bring his or her spontaneous, real self into play with others; in a false self disorder, the child has found it unsafe or impossible to do so, and instead feels compelled to hide the true self from other people, and pretend to be whatever they want instead. Playing with a transitional object can be an important early bridge between self and other, which helps a child develop the capacity to be genuine in relationships, and creative.

Playing for Winnicott ultimately extended all the way up from earliest childhood experience to what he called "the abstractions of politics and economics and philosophy and culture... this "third area," that of cultural experience which is a derivative of play."

With this in mind, we're finally in a position to better understand the apocalyptic dream of Caliphator time. But haven't I taxed the reader's patience long enough? I well remember sitting in class, when the time between 2:45 to 3:00 was an eternity. I remember my butt falling asleep, or at least it felt that way, and I don't want to do that you, for you've suffered enough.

We'll end with a passage by Landes and resume tomorrow, when the feeling in your butt has returned:

Caliphators believer that now is the time for Islam to fulfill its disrupted destiny, and where there was Dar al Harb (realm of war, of free / unsubjected kuffar / infidels), there shall be Dar al Islam (realm of submission to Allah and his servants, of dhimmi kuffar).

All because our psychological / developmental calendars aren't synchronized. 

Friday, December 15, 2023

Envy, Paranoia, Shame, and Temporal Distortion

Another cold opening:

From a purely logical point of view, the advantage of positive-sum interactions [is] so great that it's obvious any "reasonable" person would prefer them. Who would not choose cooperation, affection, intimacy, creativity, productivity over violence, coercion, and destructive behavior? Who would not want a world of mutual benefit and prosperity?

Oh, Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, Hurras al-Din, the Holy Land Foundation, Mehdi Hassan, Sunny Hostin, House Squad members, VP Harris, Hollywood, Harvard, Hitler.... and that's just some of the H's.   

We hear about a "two state solution," but no solution will come so long as there exist the two states of mind characterized by the positive- and zero-sum interactions described by Landes above. 

But there are deeper psychological reasons for these two states of mind, and Landes describes one of them: envy: "Zero-sum attitudes have a close relationship to envy." Moreover, "like shame and vengeance," envy "may be peculiarly human, and play a key role in our evolution."

Except there's no maybe about it: envy is peculiarly human, and deeply intertwined with psychological development (and arrest). 

In the past we've discussed Helmut Schoeck's foundational Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour, and Landes does as well: "Envy is a pervasive element of the human psyche and of human societies," and

cultures that resist envy, even in small but significant amounts, become wealth producing nations. When envy dominates a culture, its members mobilize against success.

Like the Palestinians, they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

If memory serves, Shoeck writes of the "envy barrier" that individuals, cultures, and nations must overcome in order to become successful, prosperous, and affluent. 

In particular, socialism -- now called "equity," among other deceptive euphemisms -- is atavistic to the core, resting on what psychoanalysts call "constitutional envy." But you needn't be a psychoanalyst to get the point, rather, just a sharp-penned Aphorist:

The left claims that the guilty party in a conflict is not the one who covets another's goods but the one who defends his own.

"Having promulgated the dogma of original innocence," progressives conclude "that the man guilty of the crime is not the envious murderer but the victim who aroused his envy" (Dávila).

Churchill also nailed it: "Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy." Except to say that gospel means "good news," and socialism always results in bad tidings.    

As we've said before, Social Justice is just envy with a Ph.D. 

I don't want to veer into a pedantic discussion of psychoanalytic theory, but suffice it to say that there is a hidden but robust relationship between envy, paranoia, dysregulated shame (or shame intolerance), ingratitude, and History -- for individuals sunk into what is called the "paranoid position" are prone to a very different experience of history. 

Permit me to yoink one of my old psychology books from the shelf, The Matrix of the Mind by Thomas Ogden. Better yet, let me just synthesize material from a few stale bobservations from the past:

One of Melanie Klein's most important contributions was the distinction between what she called the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. To achieve the depressive position is to have attained a degree of maturation, integration, and continuity of being that extends both spatially and temporally.

Another very bright fellow, Thomas Ogden, says that a better name for the depressive position would be the historical position, because of its profound effect on one's perception and appreciation of time....

For the person in the paranoid position -- and this is critical -- their current state of being determines their "truth." "History is instantaneously rewritten"....

If you've ever had the misfortune of having a borderline person in your life -- and most of us have -- then you know how this works: "the present is projected backward and forward, thus creating a static, eternal, nonreflective present." You are drawn into the momentary primitive emotional storm of the borderline person, who dismantles time and history. It is simply impossible to argue with such un- or dis-integrated persons, because they constantly throw out arguments from different planes, aggressively unaware of their contradictions.

In contrast, in the depressive position, the person "no longer has access to the kind of Orwellian rewriting of history that is possible in the paranoid-schizoid position."
How convenient: I see that I already wrote a post that asks the question, Are Islamic Terrorists Crazy, Evil, or Developmentally Arrested? Why, it even has 70 comments! I wonder what happened to all my readers?

Let's return to the present, where it is already 11:00. Which means we're out of time, irrespective of whether it is the depressive or paranoid kind. I'll pull it together tomorrow, I promise.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Hamas and Other Normal Humans

Cold opening:

Ultimately, democracy and other demotic polities derive their ability to exist from the (extremely rare) accomplishment of getting a critical mass of "citizens" to take a basically positive-sum approach to "others," to step out of the hard zero-sum, us/them dyad (Richard Landes).

Context: we've been frolicking through the history of philosophy, separating the starters from the non-starters, and we're actually still on the "philosophy" of Jesus. But one can hardly talk about Jesus without bringing in the Jews. If Jesus is the marketing arm of salvation history, the Jews of antiquity were deeply involved in research & development. 

Or, you could describe the same arc as proceeding from tribal to global, particular to universal. Frankly, you -- or God rather -- must begin with a tribe, because man himself begins with tribes. Put conversely, there were no non-tribal men when Abraham walked the earth. 

This is one of those books -- we're speaking of Can "The Whole World" Be Wrong? -- that is so heavily highlighted by yours truly, that it's difficult to know where to begin. I can't just reprint the whole thing. There are rules. 

But one of my points is that those of us who grew up in a Judeo-Christian civilization have no idea how weird -- or W.E.I.R.D. (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) -- we are. And I was thinking about this before I read this book, which makes it even weirder, albeit in a different way. 

Those of us who grew up in such a civic culture, dedicated to these positive-sum strategies, tend to take them as axiomatic.


I blame the Jews. As does Landes:

[O]ne finds a remarkable overlap with Jewish (biblical and rabbinic) values on the one hand, and modern liberal thought, on the other.

NOT with illiberal progressive thought, which is a denial or inversion or perversion of our Judeo-Christian tradition. 

For example, what could be more perverse than arguing that From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free, when our (Judeo-Christian) concept of freedom is at antipodes to the premodern understanding of the Hamacidal savages? 

Before Abraham was, I AM. Nevertheless, what is first in intent is last in execution, so chronologically, Abraham is first:

Abraham and his descendants are given a task that, when successful, results in all the nations of the earth being blessed (ibid.). 

The Bible reminds us that Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed, and whoever curses Israel will be cursed. Big time, if we consider what a curse it would be to have to live in one of those Shiitehole countries where the Sunni don't shine -- which we can recognize with a glance at the world freedom index. Israel is free, and they are attempting to free Gaza from premodern tyranny. But no good deed goes unpunished by the left.

The descendants of Abraham are commanded to pursue high levels of positive-sum behavior regardless of whether those they deal with are trustworthy, even at the cost of suffering a great deal from those who abuse the vulnerabilities that entails (ibid.).

And here we are. 

Wait -- aren't Muslims descendants of Abraham too? Yes, but the line apparently split between Isaac and Ishmael. At any rate, someone dropped the ball, and I don't have time to research it. But Joyce certainly did. It's a motif that runs throughout Finnegans Wake:

Earwicker and his wife have two sons, called in their symbolic aspect Shem and Shaun.... They are the carriers of a great Brother Battle theme that throbs throughout the entire work.... [and] represent a subordinate, exclusively masculine battle polarity which is basic to all of history (Campbell).

I suppose it begins even earlier, with Cain and Abel. But let's focus.

Yesterday's post ended with the observation that an adequate theory of psycho-social evolution has yet to be constructed. So, we need to do something about that. 

For Landes, the development of a positive-sum orientation is a clear evolutionary advance over a negative-sum one, although the latter is a kind of default position that is baked into our genetic makeup. For those of us in the Judeo-Christian stream, things like tribalism, xenophobia, and racism are totally unacceptable. 

And yet, in earlier periods of human history, and for millennia longer than any modern cosmopolitan experiment, the basic structure of social reality (i.e., survival) revolved around a sharp dichotomy between us (band, clan, village, tribe), on whom we depend, and others (strangers) whom we, on principle, mistrust, oppose, even plunder, to survive (ibid.).  

Again, these latter are the default setting, although some of us move on from primitive identity politics. However, those of us who do leave tribalism behind imagine that other cultures have similarly transcended this modality -- somewhat like a bad case of psychohistorical Dunning Kruger.

[W]hat some of us contemptuously dismiss as a xenophobia, has been the overriding and necessary norm for most of the 150 millennia of human experience: "moral tribalism" (Landes). 

In this deeper evolutionary context, you might say that Hamas is totally normal, and that we are the historical freaks. So, let your freak flag fly:

To be continued... 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

47 Minutes of Barbarous Tradition

Drawing together the loose threads of yesterday's wooly offering, what I'm trying to say is that our civilization has been so transformed as a result of 2,000 years of conditioning by Christian values, that we may no longer recognize the strangeness of the original message. 

Rather, we take our extremely unusual values for granted, and no longer recognize the messenger. The transformation has been so thorough that many have become deaf to the words of the founder. 

"Imagining our values universal, we can't see just how rare" they are, says Landes. It's why idiots everywhere call for a "two state solution" to the problems of the Middle East, failing to recognize the premodern mentality and value system that undergirds and motivates a civilization untouched by Judeo-Christian values. They are not like us, sorry to say. They are very much in need of the message our own elites have forgotten.

Which is ironic, because it is the diversity crowd that insists the barbarians "want the same things we want," when they actually want the opposite. I'm the one who believes in diversity (which is not the same as endorsing it). It's easy: all you have to do is listen to what they actually say. You can also watch what they do, but then it's too late, as Israel found out on October 7.

A related point is that premodern and postmodern mentalities converge, because both are un- or anti-Christian. And be careful what you wish for -- especially progressive Jews who are finding out the hard way what their secular -- and anti-Jewish -- ideologies have wrought, as in, My God, what have I done?

It's ironic too that the left pretends to believe in the science of evolution, only from the neck down. Multiculturalism teaches that no people or culture are more evolved than any other, except for MAGA voters, who are at the bottom.

Me too vote Republican! -- although I despise them only slightly less than Democrats.

In the spirit of diversity, let's investigate the premodern mindset. That's the subject of chapter five of Landes' Can “The Whole World” Be Wrong?: Lethal Journalism, Antisemitism, and Global Jihad

By the way, the short answer to the question posed in the title is Yup. A shorter answer is Ha! -- the hollow and bitter kind. 

The whole chapter is flooding me with memories of another chapter in my own life -- this being the early '90s -- when I was a self-styled psychohistorian. 

Come to think of it, I've never fully reconciled that life chapter with the present one, so perhaps this is the opportunity to do so. Back then I was a Man of the Left, and would have -- like any progressive -- placed my retrograde beliefs at the top of the evolutionary hierarchy. Ha! -- the more-than-slightly embarrassed kind.

I was even on the editorial board of the Journal of Psychohistory, and for all I know, may still be. The founder of the journal was a nice man named Lloyd deMause. Sorry to hear that he has passed, but 88 years is a good run. 

Let's learn something. I don't know if it's still something, but in the words of Jordan Peterson, it's certainly not nothing

In the 1970s, DeMause began conceiving of psychohistory, a field of study of the psychological motivations of historical events, and their associated patterns of behavior. It seeks to understand the emotional origin of the social and political behavior of groups and nations -- past and present -- by analyzing events in childhood and the family, especially child abuse.

His approach didn't make anyone happy, neither proper historians nor neo-Marxist ideologues, since it applied theories of psychological development to cultures, meaning that some cultures are objectively more evolved than others, and We Can't Have That.

The question is, where does the Arab-Muslim Middle East fall on this spectrum? With the help of Landes, we're about to find out, good and hard. 

For deMause, everything comes down to humane parenting, which is certainly part of the puzzle, but this turns out to be too reductionistic if we exclude other critical factors such as genetics. For example, I myself could scarcely be a more humane parent, but my 18 year old son is more than a tad neurotic. Just born that way, I guess. Like his father, come to think of it.

Psychohistorians "suggest that social behavior such as crime and war may be a self-destructive re-enactment of earlier abuse and neglect; that unconscious flashbacks to early fears and destructive parenting could dominate individual and social behavior," and they're not wrong. But nowadays I would again say that this can only be a piece of the puzzle. Cultures are complex, multifactorial, and overdetermined. 

Nevertheless, Golda Meir was certainly not wrong to say that peace will come to the Middle East when Palestinians love their children as much as they hate the Jews -- you know, instead of using their children as suicide bombers and human shields. 

It's a small thing to ask, but of course, we've been conditioned by those three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax, rather than 1,413 years of (fill in the blank) tradition, from Mohammad to Hamas. Say what you want about the latter tradition, but it's different from ours, and we ought to respect the difference.

Psychohistorians accuse most anthropologists and ethnologists of being apologists for incest, infanticide, cannibalism, and child sacrifice.... Some of the practices which mainstream anthropologists apologize for (e.g., sacrificial rituals) may result from psychosis, dissociation, and magical thinking.

Are they wrong?!

I haven't seen the 47 minute video of grotesque Hamasities, but I don't have to. The Palestinians give infanticide, child sacrifice, psychosis, dissociation, and magical thinking a bad name.

But let's get back to Landes. To repeat what was said at the end of yesterday's post, "Perhaps the most difficult thing for Westerners, raised in a positive-sum culture" to appreciate "are the dynamics of cultures that embrace zero-sum values" (Landes).

Conversely, we Christians are all about positive-sum values. Jews are commanded to love the stranger, but Jesus sees and raises the ante, asking us to go so far as to love our enemies, and how absurd is that? 

Nevertheless, that's a prime directive, and we see its entailments everywhere in our culture, from tolerance of different points of view, to respect for victims, to the innate dignity of the poor and marginalized.

Conversely, a zero-sum world is divided into "us and a hostile them." I see that Landes in fact cites an old school psychohistorian, Eli Sagan, whose book I once reviewed, and with whom I even carried on a correspondence. Sagan referred to the "paranoid imperative," which is rule or be ruled, and not in a nice way. "In a zero-sum world, one cannot win without the other losing" (Landes). 

Say, I wonder if I kept any of those old letters from Sagan? Yup. Here's one from 1994, which I haven't looked at since:

I am in total agreement with you that an adequate theory of psycho-social evolution has yet to be constructed. The very first consideration, I feel, is to see that the development of society is more complicated than the development of the psyche, simply because society is more complicated than the psyche. 
Although I still believe that psychic development is the energy and the "engine of history," it is a mistake to feel that society is reducible to psychic dimensions, the attempt at which is psychic reductionism. 

Is he wrong?

An adequate theory of psycho-social evolution. We're still working on it, and will resume the work tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Wake Up, For the Kingdom of Meaning Is At Hand

Of course, Jesus is not a (mere) philosopher, but nor is he not a philosopher. I suppose he is philosophy itself, both the wisdom (sophia) and the love (philos), and the love of wisdom. Not to mention the wisdom of love, I suppose. 

But that's not my point, except to say that there aren't many philosophical non-starters worth refuting between Aristotle and Augustine. Why waste our time with the cynics, the skeptics, and the epicureans? The stoics are sound, but all the good bits were yoinked and assimilated into early Christianity by contemplatives such as Origen, Evagrius, and Maximus.

So Jesus it is, but from what we hope will be an angle that is both timely and relevant. As usual, nothing is worked out beforehand, rather, it's just an idea for an idea. Or two ideas, rather.

The first idea occurred to me during a long walk. I was thinking to myself about how ineffective it is to confront some random stranger by telling him he's a sinner and needs to repent right now. People need the truth as much as ever, but perhaps there's a better way of going about it.

Then I thought about the Ten Commandments. I'm just a regular guy, and yet, it isn't remotely difficult for me to avoid, oh, murder, idolatry, stealing, bearing false witness, etc. So if someone tells me I need to stop my sinnin' ways, that may not be the best way of going about it.

The problem here is that I and millions of other civilized members of Christendom have so assimilated the Christian message that we may no longer feel ourselves to be in need of it. For we are already the end-product of a couple thousand years of cultural leavening. 

Pursuing this line of thought, I then wondered what people are most in need of these days. We are constantly told about the crisis of mental health, especially among the young. And what is the nature of this crisis? It antedates the current crisis, and has actually been growing for over a century. 

Let's call it the crisis of meaning, or of identity and purpose, AKA cosmic alienation. It was first diagnosed by Nitetzsche (or rather, perhaps he was the disease he diagnosed), but he had little influence at the time; it was later belaborated by various existentialists before the postmodernists came along and destroyed any possibility of meaning besides raw power. And ate all our steak. 

And here we are. 

When a person is clinically depressed, life seems meaningless. But if life is truly meaningless, how could this not provoke depression? Yes, you could simply be an idiot and not care. Or, one can always turn to drugs, or ideology, or political activism. These converge with what are known as the manic defenses,

the tendency, when presented with uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, to distract the conscious mind either with a flurry of activity, or with the opposite thoughts or feelings. 
A general example of the manic defense is the person who spends all her time rushing around from one task to the next, unable to tolerate even short stretches of inactivity. For such a person, even leisure time consists of a series of discrete, programmed activities that she must submit to in order to tick off from an actual or mental list. 

Anyway, if I'm Jesus today, instead of leading with the sin business, I might say something like Wake up, for the Kingdom of Meaning is at hand. This would perk up my ears and make me curious. Oh? Tell me more.

Then I remembered John Paul's first encyclical, the central theme of which is nothing less than

the centrality of Jesus Christ in human history and as the answer to the human search for meaning and identity. [It] was a reflection on the situation of humanity in the mid-twentieth century that constantly returned to Christ as the true meaning of humanity, the one who reveals us to ourselves. Redemptor Hominis takes up this theme and develops it as the charter of John Paul II’s pontificate. 

So, it seems that the Whole Point of both the encyclical and of John Paul's pontificate was to address this crisis of meaning -- as if to say what we said above: Wake up, for the Kingdom of Meaning is at hand.

Then my walk ended and I settled back in the sanityreum for some *totally unrelated* reading, chapter five of Richard Landes' Can “The Whole World” Be Wrong?: Lethal Journalism, Antisemitism, and Global Jihad, entitled The Premodern Mindset: Zero-Sum Honor, and it all came together, or rather, came full circle.

I know what you're thinking:

But hear me out: postmodern and premodern converge in what we are seeing on our streets, newsrooms, and university campuses, especially among the alienated young with skulls full of indoctrination.

I should probably save the details for the next post, but let's lay some groundwork. Landes writes that "Perhaps the most difficult thing for Westerners, raised in a positive-sum culture" to appreciate "are the dynamics of cultures that embrace zero-sum values."

Now, Christ must be the first and last word in positive-sum values (this is me talking, not Landes). 

To be continued...

Monday, December 11, 2023

All Knowledge is a Footnote to Reality

Change my mind.

How can one presume to dispatch Plato in a single post? You can't. But as Whitehead said, since all of western philosophy is but a series of footnotes to Plato anyway, this will be just one more. 

Now, what did Whitehead even mean by that quip, and was he being serious? Let's examine the full context, for he adds that he is not referring to any fully articulated system -- since there isn't one -- but rather, to "the wealth of general ideas scattered through" Plato's dialogues, and to their "inexhaustible mine of suggestion." 

Considering that in ancient times there was no science, no printing press, and no other modern distractions, would this make philosophizing easier or more difficult? Plato didn't know he was a Platonist, rather, just a guy with a lot of questions and sufficient slack to pursue them. Remember, back then there was little slack for the average person. 

Philosophy is the last word in freedom -- the most liberal of liberal arts -- but it first requires the material kind of liberty. To put it in negative terms, you can't free your mind if you haven't first freed your ass. 

I'm thinking of something Charles Krauthammer says in his Things That Matter. Presuming you're not tenured or otherwise soul dead, You Will Have Noticed that politics

dominates everything because, in the end, everything -- high and low, and most especially, high -- lives or dies by politics (emphasis mine).

Thus, we "can have the most advanced and efflorescent of cultures" -- and I'm old enough to remember when we did -- but "get your politics wrong" and "everything stands to be swept away." 

And here we are.

It's the same with art, science, medicine: in one sense they are obviously higher than politics, but in another, they are "fundamentally subordinate. In the end, they must bow to the sovereignty of politics."

In short, when politics is rightly ordered it allows the higher things to flourish, but "when malign, to make all around it wither." Or maybe you haven't noticed, like those three university presidents, who are but synecdoches for the rest. 

Which is why we say, with brother Gilbert, that 

Or, politics, religion, and philosophy.  

For Voegelin, Plato's conception of philosophy "does not exist in a vacuum, but in opposition to the sophist." It is not so much the content, but again, a way of life, an "active struggle for truth," whether moral spiritual, or intellectual. 

Way back in The Day, I remember reading a book called The Platonic Quest, which says that "for Plato, philosophy had little meaning except in relation to what we call religion," in that his whole approach was predicated on the distinction between reality and appearances (or absolute and relative, necessity and contingency, eternal and temporal, etc):

As an objective idealist, Plato held that through deep reflection upon abstract and noumenal realities, one is better able to re-order the realm of the concrete and the phenomenal (Urwick).

I call this Job One of philosophy: "Plato intimates that there is a truth beyond sense, pertaining to the eternal noumena which underlie earthly phenomena, a deeper realm of reality which cannot be apprehended except by the philosopher who has been initiated into the Blessed Mysteries..."

This implies that in our first approach to the world, it seems to be divided into three: appearances, reality, and nous (intellect). 


I'm going to go out on a limb and say that any and every philosophy, whether implicit or explicit, and even the very possibility of philosophy, must respect and rest upon this fundamental trifurcation.

To put it another way, any utterance that pretends to express a truth of reality will reflect this triune structure of reality-appearances-knowledge -- even any assertion that denies this structure. Go ahead and try.

Thus, "To 'discern' is to 'separate': to separate the Real and the illusory, the Absolute and the contingent, the Necessary and the possible, Atma and Maya" (Schuon).

Being-intelligibilty-intellect are a bit like sun, rays, and eye, for the rays are at once separate from the sun, but looked at another way, just its prolongation to the periphery, so to speak. You could say that we are ultimately inside the sun, for where is its literal boundary, and who says? 

Analogously, we are at once inside and outside reality, for appearances are of reality, precisely. And we know it.  

As usual, we didn't get far, but what's the rush?

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Philosophy and Philodoxy

Socrates was born in what later turned out to be 470, and died in 399. Thus, not only did he not know his life was leading up -- or counting down -- to something big, nor did he know when he studied them that they were called "pre-Socratics," because that would have been weird. (Pre-me? What is that supposed to mean?")

Nevertheless, it says here that Socrates noticed a couple of things about these predecessors, first, that they all disagreed with one another, and second, that there was no way to arbitrate between their conflicting opinions.

And here we are.

Has anything changed in the interim? Is there a single thing on which all philosophers can agree?

We can't even agree on what philosophy is, let alone of what it consists. 

Athens and Jerusalem, Socrates and Jesus. Neither man wrote down a single word, and both were murdered by the state. What are the chances? 

It seems that Socrates pissed off the wrong people as a result of his so-called "method," and to this day our elites hate his method, which consists in asking them simple questions. Look what happened to those university presidents as a result of a few innocent questions. 

Socrates was "a disruptive and subversive influence. He was teaching people to question everything, and he was exposing the ignorance of individuals in power and authority."

If, as Voegelin says, politics is about order, -- i.e., the basis on which our individual and collective lives should be ordered -- then you can't just go around ridiculing and calling this order into question. Such a thing is liable to get a man canceled if not indicted if not killed.

Let's define our terms, beginning with philosophy, and as always, we'll go to our go-to guys, beginning with Schuon:

philosophy -- the “love of wisdom” -- is the science of all the fundamental principles; this science operates with intuition, which “perceives,” and not with reason alone, which “concludes."
Subjectively speaking, the essence of philosophy is certitude; for the moderns, on the contrary, the essence of philosophy is doubt: philosophy is supposed to reason without any premise, as if this condition were not itself a preconceived idea; this is the classical contradiction of all relativism. Everything is doubted except for doubt.

But a philo-sophy worthy of the name

could not possibly be this intellectual suicide that is the promotion of doubt; on the contrary, it lies in having recourse to a source of certitude that transcends the mental mechanism, and this source -- the only one there is -- is the pure Intellect, or Intelligence as such.

This is a Bold Statement, because it goes to our very first step, which is either Doubt or Certitude. Now, be careful, because supposing you choose the former, are you sure about that? Are you certain that doubt is the way to begin?

Then your doubt is in the context of a kind of "meta-certitude" that must be its ground and sponsor, so to speak. 

Way back in grad school I internalized the meta-certitude that The answer is the disease that kills curiosity. But this can only be properly understood in the context of a vertical ontology that is conditioned from the top down. 

As such, the answer only becomes diseased to extent that it is detached and reified; truly truly, such an answer is a kind of literal cognitive suicide, because it is enclosed in in its own unjustifiable certitude.

Yes, there's a better way of expressing this, so let me think...

Philosophy is not fundamentally a noun, but rather, a verb -- again "loving wisdom." Therefore, it is both an activity and a relationship. Indeed, it is a way of life. For Voegelin it is

The love of wisdom in the sense of transcendental truth..., characterized by the realization that one does not actually possess transcendental truth but is oriented toward it through love (Webb, emphasis mine).

This is in contrast to lesser pursuits such as philodoxy and philomythos, the former a love of opinion, the latter of myth. Here again, philo-sophy 

is inherently ordered to further inquiry through openness to the Question, [whereas] philodoxy is the expression of a desire to put an end to questioning and thereby to escape from the "tension of existence." In this respect, philodoxy is a principle manifestation of "closed existence" (ibid.).

Or it is "anti-philosophy." So philosophy is not only all about the love, but of rightly ordered love. But at the moment I'd really love to forget about the tension of existence for a few hours and watch the Rams game, so, to be continued...

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