Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Emergence of Man: Who is to Blame?

This next chapter, The Emergence of Homo Sapiens, gets into one of our favorite subjects: exactly how and when did man become man? We have a religious explanation -- sort of -- and a scientific one -- kind of -- but neither, taken at face value, is remotely satisfying. Both are more than a little vague at the edges.

C'mon. What really happened? How did the merely animal escape animality and enter this new world of truth, language, meaning, love, beauty? Any purely scientific account ends up negating what it needs to explain, while a purely religious account tends to overlook everything leading up to it. Each, in its own way, forms man from the dirt and leaves it at that, leaving aside the question of how dirt can come alive to begin with. Godlike magic or magical God isn't much of a choice.

As we know from our reading and even writing of One Cosmos, there are four major discontinuities in existence, and it's hard to say which is the most queer.

First there is existence itself arising out of "nothing" from a primordial explosion that is still exploding as we speak; then this explosion suddenly comes to life some 3.8 billion years ago (suggesting, among other things, that it must have been alive all along); then, around 100,000 years ago, portions of this biosphere are "catapulted into the status of a metaphysical being"(Bailie), and begin thinking, speaking, inventing, and so on; and finally, the story loops back around on itself, and these latter beings break through and commune with their ultimate ground and destiny.

The whole thing is just too weird, except it really happens.

But right now we're focused on the third explosion, anthropogenesis.

By the way, instead of seeing these as four separate mysteries requiring four separate explanations, I tend to think of them as variations on a single explosion. Furthermore, since the whole thing is circular, we can't necessarily locate the point of origin on a line; in other words, nothing compels us to begin with lifeless matter and somehow try to figure out how it came to life.

Rather, we can, for example, begin with Life (as did the theoretical biologist Robert Rosen). As Rosen put it, there is no reason we have to begin with physics instead of biology as our paradigmatic science. Or, to paraphrase Whitehead, biology is the study of the larger organisms, whereas physics is the study of the smaller. And perhaps cosmology is the study of the largest. Unless you want to raise that and say that the Trinity is the largest, an idea to which we will return.

Alternatively, we can begin with man. What if man is the key to the whole existentialada? Not just in the sense that he is the "measure of all things," but that he is the reason for them? This would explain a lot. But let's not get out on front of our headlights.

Now first of all, how do we know when man has become man? This is impossible to say with scientific certitude, because we have access only to physical clues, including DNA, but not to what was going on in their heads.

In my book I looked to the Paleolithic cave paintings as definitive evidence of humanness; I also touched on the universality of human sacrifice, but Bailie, in following René Girard, emphasizes the latter. For Girard, it is a kind of "grand unified theory" of anthropogenesis, enculturation, and more.

Certainly we need to account for the universality of such a seemingly absurd and brutal practice: why human sacrifice? Why, when humans become human, do they begin sacrificing one another to their "gods?" Indeed, why do some of them still practice it to this day? Why haven't they gotten the message -- the Good News, as it were?

Girard's simple explanation -- although full of implications -- is that it is in order to maintain culture. We know that man is prone to violence, to put it mildly. How did early man prevent it from spinning out of control and engulfing these proto-cultures in a downward and dis-integrating cycle of bloodletting?

Here we must emphasize that this is not only a legitimate question, but an absolutely essential one: how on earth do we domesticate such a violence-prone being? For Girard the answer is: human sacrifice. Via this mechanism, the group essentially projects its psychological toxins into a scapegoat. Why? Because it works. At least for a while. It doesn't really solve anything in a final way, so must be compulsively re-enacted, eventually by a professional class, a priesthood.

"Quite logically, the beneficiaries of this blessed peace replicate as best they can the process that produced it. They reenact the drama in rituals of blood sacrifice; they recount the event that turned madness into peace in their myths, and they establish taboos to prevent the spontaneous eruption of this crisis. Archaic religion is born."

Now, we know that the Abrahamic line begins with a human sacrifice. Or rather, the prevention of one. The rest is history -- or salvation history, to be precise. As it so happens, it also ends in a human sacrifice -- or again, the failure of one, AKA the Resurrection.

Not much time this morning, only enough to sketch a crude and preliminary outline. To be continued...

Monday, December 05, 2016

Freedom From and Freedom For

We are about to embark on a very close reading of God's Gamble -- no more than a chapter at a time, and possibly even less. I don't think anything short of this can do it justice.

*****

Land of the free, home of the brave. The former isn't of much use without the latter; it is no coincidence that college campuses are the most ideologically unfree places in the country; and that it is difficult to conceive of a group more cowardly than college deans.

"Academic freedom." What is it for, anyway? Like any other form of freedom, it cannot merely be "freedom from." If it isn't simultaneously freedom for, then it is worthless. It equates to nihilism, or freedom to be absurd (which is no freedom at all).

Toward the beginning of God's Gamble, Bailie cites an article that appeared in the New York Times Magazine (which you may recall from the fourth to last paragraph in this post), called In the Age of Radical Selfishness. In it the author speaks of how our "freedom from the gravity of age-old constraints" has been "accompanied by a weightless feeling that attached itself to even the most fundamental human decisions."

Even? How about especially? For in order to achieve the kind of Timesmanian weightlessness he's talking about, one would require a radical, ontological freedom. It is beyond anything conceived by America's founders, who bequeathed to us an ordered freedom-for, not merely a rootless and chaotic freedom-from.

Given the latter kind of freedom, the author asks: "Why bother? Why get married? What are families for? What was new about these questions was that they didn't have answers, or that the answers they did have were so multiple and contingent and arbitrary that they never felt like answers at all."

Multiple, contingent, and arbitrary. That is the way it must be if there is no One at the heart of it all -- which is to say, no ground and no telos. Bailie is not criticizing the writer per se. Rather, he is to be congratulated for his honesty, for having the courage of his lack of convictions. Thanks for nothing!

But can someone really live from that place? Is this really how humans are made -- for nothing? To know nothing, be anything, and end nowhere?

Possibly. Indeed, there are only two possibilities, and that is no doubt one of them.

No, I should amend that. There are three possibilities: nihilism, religion, and Christianity. (I won't speak of Judaism, which wouldn't exactly be a fourth, but rather, a different take on the third.)

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but one of the themes of God's Gamble is that Christianity is the cure for primitive -- which is to say, pre-Christian -- religion.

Remember when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery and into the desert bewilderness? For 40 years they lived in this in-between state, but it was always with the faith that there was a deustination. But what if the bewilderness is all there is? Taking the long view, it is as if we were liberated from slavery into spiritual freedom, only to be condemned to a vast prison of postmodern nothingness. At least the slaves lived in hope for freedom! But for what does the nihilist hope? A lost paradise that never existed?

"It is a world in despair even when it remains unconsciously so. It is a world of weightlessness, of 'the unbearable lightness of being,' a fragmented world characterized by what... de Lubac brilliantly termed 'the waning of ontological density.'"

Or, looked at from a different angle, we might call it a loss of metaphysical transparency -- thus, a loss of weight and an occlusion of vision, the former going to absoluteness, the latter to infinitude. You might say that infinitude without weight -- without a center -- reduces to a kind of absolute diffusion. And absoluteness without transparency is like being encased in ice, or released into a null-de-slack called Death Circle.

It reminds me of, say, behaviorism, which explains everything about man, and therefor nothing. Everything is simply a conditioned response -- even language -- so there is nothing that isn't determined. Which certainly cures the disease of freedom. Although the patient doesn't survive the operation.

"Whatever the putative benefits of having been freed from tradition, that freedom has been accompanied by the loss of a sense of being part of a larger story in the context of which one's life might make sense, a story about why we're here and what we should be about while we are, a story that demands something of us and situates our lives in a living historical drama in which what we do has both meaning and consequence" (ibid.).

Well, progress has its costs, right? Perhaps the existentialists are right, that the cost of freedom is absurdity, precisely.

It scarcely needs to belabored that this goes to the unbridgeable divide between Red and Blue. As far as I can tell, most Red Pill People are still rooted in -- or have returned to -- tradition, while our Blue Pill coastal elites have extricated themselves from anything as naive as "meaning," and wish to drag us with them into their cold and dark echo chamber. Perhaps if everyone believes in nothing, it's not quite so lonely in there. But if just one person escapes the Matrix -- AKA Plato's cave -- then that unsettles the herd. The left hates no one as much as the runaway slave.

It's the same vis-a-vis primitive religion, by the way. It only takes one awakened conscience to ruin a human sacrifice for everybody.

Which is an important point, because if Bailie is correct, we all have a deep structure of pre-Christian religiosity. We can jettison Christianity, but don't be surprised when this unleashes a hunt for victims.

About our postmodern idea of freedom-from. Bailie points out that it is "based on a very weak understanding of freedom and its spiritual depth. Our civilization rests on the strength of the natural family and on the willingness to sacrifice freedom, understood in adolescent terms, in favor of freedom freely subordinated to the responsibilities of loving service."

That is a loaded paragraph. The other day we spoke of the energy released from the fission of Trinitarian love. This love is the glue that binds the family, which in turn is the incubator of human personhood. The family isn't just anything, let alone nothing. The Christianized family was a long time coming. It didn't happen overnight, but only after centuries of leavening by the Christian message. Thus, we know there can be Christian individuals. It remains to be seen if there can be any other kind, because the experiment is ongoing.

But if this were real science, the experiment would be suspended on the ethical grounds that it's causing too much harm to the subjects.

To be continued...

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Scientific Faith and Religious Hypothesis

Can one posit a "religious hypothesis?" Normally we think of science as promulgating hypotheses and religion relying upon faith or belief. However, we know that scientism or leftism are faiths, and conversely, that at least some religions can begin with hypotheses. Regarding the former, I found this at Happy Acres:

Interestingly, socialism combines a stupid metaphysic with a childlike faith. And the left typically projects this childishness on to Christians, as if we share the same stupid immaturity. No doubt some do, but the difference is that at least Christianity has the possibility of a deeper understanding, whereas with socialism it's stupidity all the way up.

Who is one of their cognitive elites? Paul Krugman? Who can forget his uncanny prediction upon Donald Trump winning the election? As to when the stock market would recover from the electoral trauma, Krugman's assured us that it would be never.

Any idiot can be wrong about the economy, but it takes someone with a Nobel Prize in economics to be that far off. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say that his hypothesis proved wrong. But will that falsify his theory of reality?

Ha! The leftist emulates the devout who continue venerating the relic after the miracle has been proved to be a hoax (NGD).

Now, it seems to me that God's Gamble revolves around a kind of explanatory hypothesis, that "the truth revealed by Christ is the anthropological key for understanding the human drama and deciphering the postmodern malaise."

We can't say this is a properly scientific hypothesis, because for one thing it is too loaded with assumptions -- such as "human drama," the "postmodern malaise," and the "truth revealed by Christ."

But this is always the case as we proceed up the epistemological food chain. Down at the bottom it is easy to define and quantify things; or at least it was before quantum theory re-fuzzified everything. But the central principle nevertheless applies: increasing precision correlates with less depth of understanding.

You could even say that this is an extension of Gödel's theorems, such that the more complete your explanation, the more inconsistent, and vice versa. At the end, scientism can explain everything about nothing.

We -- along with Bailie -- are looking for a complete explanation, the most complete explanation available to human beings, so there are bound to be inconsistencies along the way.

Conversely, scientism tries to confine man to a consistent explanation from which he always escapes. Man can no more be trapped in quantity than the meaning of a poem can be reduced to grammar. The most important things in life always slip through the cold, grasping hands of the tenured, e.g., truth, love, beauty, sanctity, music, poetry, and the Dow Jones average.

So, let's dive into the meta-Christian hypothesis and try it on for size. How much does it explain? Equally important, what does it unexplain? Many hypotheses are rejected on the basis of how much they would unexplain if true -- for example, phrenology. If phrenology is true, then we have to rethink everything else we know to be true of neuroanatomy.

As alluded to above, there are certain assumptions we have to maintain even before we start, most notoriously the idea that truth exists, and even more preposterously, that it is accessible to man! It is literally pre-posterous, in that it reverses cause (pre) and effect (post). Even worse, the same Truth is both before and after, as suggested by a couple of provocative quotes "before the beginning" wink-wink of the book.

The first is by Charles Péguy: He was at the very end and here at the same time... / He was in the middle and simultaneously at one and the other end....

Another is by Jean Daniélou: he is Alpha and Omega, the last end of the world as he is the spring of its eternal youth.... For Christians, the structure of history is complete, and its decisive event, instead of coming last, occupies the central position.

This sounds similar to the quote from Eliot "before the beginning" of a long-forgotten book of mine: Or say that the end precedes the beginning, / And the end and beginning were always there / Before the beginning and after the end.

There are other hints, such as this one from Terence McKenna on p. 185: When we reverse our preconceptions about the flow of cause and effect, we get a great attractor that pulls all organization and structure toward itself over several billion years.

And this equally preposterous one by Bede Griffiths: Every step in advance is a return to the beginning, and we shall not really know him as he is, until we have returned to our beginning, and learned to know him both as the beginning and end of our journey.

Yes, I wrote a book. But I'm an awful salesman. I don't encourage people to buy it, because it contains Error, but a charitable view would see that it is not so much riddled with errors as errored with riddles that lead to the threshold of a truth that is Up ahead, 'round the bend. The circle unbroken, by and by. A Divine child, a godsend, a touch of infanity, a bloomin' yes.

Prophetic, if you will, at least for me personally. You just need to read the tealeafology.

Back to our hypothesis, that "the truth revealed by Christ is the anthropological key for understanding the human drama and deciphering the postmodern malaise." Now, first of all, either there is a truth and a key; or a truth with no key (e.g., Kant); no truth but lots of keys (e.g., deconstruction and relativism); or no truth and no key (e.g., existentialism and nihilism).

For Christians there is a truth (Christ) and a key (the Holy Spirit).

I think it is fair to say that any of the other three options result in futility and despair, at least for the intelligent person, because they essentially come down to having no access to a truth that probably doesn't exist anyway. And as a psychologist I am well aware of people being depressed or anxious for "unconscious" reasons.

Let's say you are depressed and don't know why. Perhaps there is an unconscious idea assimilated from childhood that you are stupid or unloveable. But what if you have an unconscious idea that life is meaningless, and that there is really no point to it all? Perhaps you will compulsively engage in all sorts of frenzied activities to try to wring meaning out of things, only to return to that baseline of depressive futility when they're over.

In the past I have written about feeling this way when I was younger and under the influence of existentialism, Freudianism, and a kind of unreflective leftism. I became "depressed." But in hindsight, it seems to me that the depression was not so much a "symptom" as an accurate reflection of my implicit beliefs. It was an honest assessment from a deeper part of me. It was a vertical memo from my future self.

This post has probably gone on too long. To be continued. Meanwhile, you might want to get the book so you can join us on the bus for this readalong to parts unKnown.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Fission for Love in All the Wrong Places

Goodnews badnews: The emergence of the individual "can be traced to the Enlightenment and its rejection of traditional authorities and beliefs, which were replaced by a high valuation of the power of reason..." (Hollander).

However, while "the release of the individual from traditional ties of class, religion, and kinship" has liberated us, this freedom "is accompanied not by the sense of creative release, but by the sense of disenchantment and alienation" (Lisbet, ibid.).

Hollander speaks to "the difficulties created by a liberating individualism in establishing and maintaining committed personal relationships," but also -- *ironically* -- "in developing and maintaining a satisfactory sense of identity."

I would suggest... well, insist rather, that radical individualism necessarily leads to a complete loss of identity. But so too does a radical "communitarianism," or collectivism, or whatever one wishes to call it.

The truth is found in the complementarity between the two, beginning with the most intimate two of all, mother-infant, much more on which as we proceed down this path. Both "reality" and "human reality" are wave-particle -- or wavicle -- all the way down (and up). The individual is a local particle of the nonlocal wave, and neither is prior. Humanness is inconceivable from any other metaphysical standpoint (e.g., atomism, materialism, idealism, etc.).

I am tempted to get straight to God's Gamble, but I first want to make sure I've plagiarized with Extravagant Expectations for all its worth. It really sets the stage for the wrong turn we've taken these past...

It's tempting to try to pinpoint an exact year or epoch, but I think it's more fruitful to locate the wrong turn in vertical space, as does Genesis. This potential turn is always before us, and you could say that the Serpent is always there bidding us to take that forked tongue in the road.

Before the rise of individualism, "Man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation -- only through some general category" (Burkhardt, in Hollander). But especially in America, we hatched the radical idea that everyone is unique: "This uniqueness is the principal foundation of [our] self-esteem and sense of identity, which cannot and should not be reduced to a social role."

Now interestingly, leftism -- which flatters itself with the idea that it is "progressive" -- is actually the leading edge of a trans-historical regress to a more primitive identity rooted in race, ethnicity, gender, (non-Christian) religion, or some other general category. This is in no way "liberal," which embodied the opposite trend, toward the unique individual.

Thus, strictly speaking, the Cosmic Raccoon is neither liberal nor left, i.e., neither reduced to the group nor radically excised from it. Rather, we are proudly tripolar, vibrantly existing in the living space between the two. It is the only place to "be" -- and become.

We hear from the pundits that one reason the Democrats lost the election was their descent into tribalism and identity politics. In their reflexive flight from individualism they are truly the reactionary party, in that they are bereft of any functional ideas, but can only resort to cobbling together a ragged coalition of victim groups. We know that leftism eventually runs out of other people's money; it also runs out of victims. For now, anyway. They'll try again in 2020.

The problem is not individualism per se, but secular individualism. Consider the fact that individualism only emerged in the Judeo-Christian west. To keep the individualism and throw away the Christianity is truly analogous to dismembering the roots and expecting the leaves to thrive. Individualism must be "nourished" by a nonlocal source, or it is just Nothing writ small -- to paraphrase Don Colacho, it is just man puffing up his emptiness in order to challenge God.

Which brings to mind another Aphorism or two: "The importance it attributes to man is the enigma of Christianity." And "Man is important only if it is true that a God has died for him."

Ultimately, what makes the individual so precious is that he is loved by God. If not, then to hell with it. Democrat politicians affirming our existence by feeling the pain of our victimhood is a pathetic substitute.

One of the central themes of Extravagant Expectations -- it's in the title -- is that the lurch into secular individualism has placed a tremendous strain on marriage. Because this type of person is cut off from the very roots that made him possible, he tries to recover the connection with another person, but the relationship cannot bear the strain: "people demand from personal relations the richness and intensity of a religious experience" (Lasch, ibid.).

Thus, "Family instability has been a major outcome of individualism as it has replaced the traditional collectivism of the past. Traditional societies demanded loyalty to time-honored, prescribed social roles and social bonds, a sense of duty, and absence of concern with 'self-fulfillment'" (ibid.).

But here again, Christianity actually exists between these two extremes, as it is essentially a formula for relatedness, such that the Self individuates via Love.

Think of the idea of a Trinity of love; love is the very "glue" that binds it in oneness. Or in other words, absent love, the Trinity would be three separate ones instead of a oneness-in-three and threeness-in-one. Three is a quality, not a quantity.

Compare this to nuclear power -- the power of which comes from the bond between the particles. Destroy that bond through nuclear fission, and tremendous power is unleashed. The resultant power is a reflection of the force that had held the particles together in nuclear love.

Is it possible that something analogous happens when we break apart the Trinity? We might think of secular individualism as a kind of ontological fission that releases tremendous destructive power. But doesn't this go all the way back down to Genesis 3, which speaks to our fusion with God, followed by the primordial fission?

We'll have much more to say on this as we proceed through God's Gamble, which I highly recommend to all Coons and Coonettes. I'm only up to page 85, but there is already enough to provoke a monthsworth of posts.

At any rate, one thing that can occur as a consequence of our fission expedition through history is a crisis of identity: "Americans regularly experience identity crises, that is to say, at times they are not sure who they are, astonishing as this may sound to those who did not grow up in this society" (Hollander).

Indeed, over the years I have conducted countless psychological evaluations of second- and third-world types, and not once has one of them had anything resembling an "identity crisis." For most of them it is because they are still rooted in more primitive modes of identity, or fusion with the group. Fission has yet to occur. Which, of course, is why Democrats want them to flood the country. They are needed to complement their herd of rootless pseudo-individuals.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Pascal Bets on God, God Bets on Man

I apologize in advance for the rambliness of this post. It can't be avoided. Besides, I'm only trying to BE MYSELF, so stop judging me!

So: in the West we have been liberated from bad old tradition. I'm old enough to remember when that meant a woman could pretend to be a man and a man could pretend not to be a pussy. Now it means that one can abandon male and female altogether, and identify with one of 37 or 63 or however many genders there are this week.

But why limit the number to 63? Aren't numbers just a conspiracy of the patriarchy? And why limit it to human? Why not follow your first principle where it leads, and acknowledge that there are no rational or defensible limits to who or what we are? I can be a panther or a god or a trolley car, and you can't stop me!

In other words, we are nothing, precisely. Humanness has no ground, no nature, no purpose. I am what I decide to be -- which begs the question of who "I" is anyway: where does this "I" get off deciding what I am? Who gave it the authority?

I was just reading this morning of how Castro had this authority over all Cuban beings:

Because we knew nothing else, because we were taught only one reality, Fidel came to embody not only the ideas of the revolution but also the nation itself.... All powerful, all seeing, he came to replace God at a time when the government declared the country atheist. Who needs God in the face of such powerful force?

.... [Castro] controlled what music we listened to, what books we read, what uniforms we wore, the length of men's hair, whether or not we communicated with our cousins in the U.S. (the euphemism for the US then was el exterior as if all that was ours and all that was good stood in juxtaposition to everything that happened outside that island, outside our revolutionary bubble).

But if we are nothing -- if there is no God -- what does it matter if Castro tells us who we are, or if some arbitrary voice inside us does?

You can see where this leads logically: the only way to defy all authority is to become completely crazy, such that every thought and action is random, unpredictable, and discontinuous. That is total freedom from any constraint. Surely no one would believe that, would they?

Wrong!

Think of anarchism, for example. "Anarchism does not offer a fixed body of doctrine from a single particular world view, instead fluxing and flowing as a philosophy." Well, no kidding! On what possible basis could it ever offer a fixed body of doctrine? That would remove the "an" from anarchism ("arch" having to do with order and hierarchy).

And then there was the whole 1960s zeitheist that grew out of the beat movement. I'd like to pretend I was never attracted to this nonsense, but that would be pretending. I read my Ginsberg, Kerouac, Kesey, and Burroughs. There is a reason why the Beat Generation lasted only one generation, though, since it is a completely unsustainable philosophy. You can have one generation of nihilists, but it ends there -- although the psychic damage will live on in any children who accidentally came out of it.

We're getting rather far afield this morning, aren't we? But as I mentioned yesterday, we'll eventually tie all of this together. Somehow.

Robert Nisbet (in Hollander) writes of being "confronted by the spectacle of seeking to escape from the very process of individualism and impersonality which nineteenth century rationalists hailed as the very condition of progress..."

In other words, history finally gives birth to the Individual, only to have these ungrateful individuals reject it on the grounds of being completely isolated from everything else. This is precisely where the romantic movement comes in: back to nature!

This impulse to eliminate the self and fuse with nature (or whatever) inspired everything from environmentalism to sexual liberation to the drug culture to the human potential movement. The basic idea is that the only thing standing between you and an ecstatic encounter with reality is you. Therefore, just annihilate this imposter, and you -- or what's left of you, anyway -- are assured a life of nonstop thrills.

Some younger readers may think I am exaggerating, but the Bob never exaggerates. I remember back in the mid-1970s, when the parents of a friend of mine got involved in the EST program. Not deeply involved, mind you. Rather, they attended a weekend seminar or two, which was the Thing To Do back then in California. "The purpose of the seminar was 'to transform one's ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself.'"

Okay whatever. In other words, it was an early example of some charismatic pneumapath Deepaking the Chopra for cash and other valuable prizes. What could go wrong?

I had intended to get into God's Gamble. Does God gamble? Einstein thought not: God doesn't play dice with the universe. Einstein was famously wrong on that score, at least insofar as quantum mechanics renders prediction and determinism impossible in principle.

But apparently -- or so we have heard from the wise -- God gambles on man. How so? Well, first of all, in giving him the gift of freedom. It is as if God is saying: I'll bet man doesn't misuse it!

The rest is history -- or prehistory, rather. No, before that even. For we are going in search of that very moment outside time when God placed his wager and (pre)man became (free)man.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Wild Cosmic Divorce Court

We've been exploring a seeming covariance between politics and human development, with a particular focus on how this plays out in relationships.

Note that for the left, none of this will make any sense, since, while they believe in "progress," they do not believe in development, which essentially nullifies their reason for being. In other words, if progress does not involve the movement toward a higher state of affairs, then it is just change, not progress.

Genuine progress is inherently teleological and must be rooted in a real human capacity for such. For example, human beings have the potential to be educated, for which reason we can agree that universal education represents progress. But it would make no sense to put in place a system to, say, teach dogs how to paint. You can call such a policy "progressive," but it has nothing to do with canine nature, so you are just flattering yourself by calling it progressive.

How many progressive schemes have nothing to do with human nature? How many others, instead of potentiating development, do the opposite and incentivize developmental regression? "Affirmative action" would be a fine example of the latter. Not only does it not help blacks, it harms them. But it makes white liberals feel good about themselves, so it's worth it.

Which shows that there actually is something called "white privilege." But it is only available to white liberals, i.e., the privilege of indulging in morally masturbatory race-based virtue signaling.

Again, if development is not toward a telos, it's just change, not progress. Judeo-Christian metaphysics certainly posits human development, but in a definite direction, e.g., toward wisdom, virtue, sanctity, etc. But leftism is a materialistic metaphysic, so it rules out teleology up front. This is how we end up with a Deepak Chopra -- whom I use as a convenient synecdoche bag for new-ageism -- who preaches Infinite Change into the Perfect You. "Your only identity is I am, undefined and infinite. Any label you give yourself limits you." Or in other words, you are God.

Which begs the question: if you are God, and I am God, then one of us is wrong. Unless the statement is drained of all meaning.

Similar to what we were saying yesterday, Dalrymple writes that "People are no longer born into a social role that they are assigned to fill until they die, simply by virtue of having been born in a certain place to certain parents." That's a good thing, as far as it goes, because it means that our human potential is liberated from such rigid demands and expectations.

Thus, "In theory, at least, every man in modern society is master of his own fate. Where he ends up is a matter of his own choice and merit."

Which may sound good on paper, but conceals two major problems: first, as alluded to above, the question arises: liberated toward what exactly? In other words, are we liberated toward a telos, or just into the nothingness of arbitrary choice?

The second problem goes to why a meritocracy should be agreeable to the... meritless. You can't expect the latter to be thrilled with a system that rewards only merit. Rather, they would likely be more content with a system of corruption, favoritism, and privilege, since at least they will have a chance. Which is precisely why the left champions a corrupt system of racial, ethnic, and gender spoils. It gives the losers a chance.

"The problem with meritocracy," as Dalrymple explains, "is that few people are of exceptional merit. The realization that the fault lies in us, not in our stars, that we are underlings, is a painful one; and in the nature of things, there are more underlings than what I am tempted to call overlings. A meritocracy is therefore fertile ground for mass resentment" (emphasis mine).

Don't worry. I'll tie all of this together. And in a way that will surprise me.

Now we have a corollary. Call it Godwin's Law, assuming that name isn't taken: meritocracy gives rise to victimology.

Therefore, the more meritocratic the culture, the more envy, resentment, and auto-victimization we should expect. UNLESS we specifically teach people not to be envious, resentful, and self-pitying. Which we once did, via our Judeo-Christian wisdom tradition. Without that, there is no brake on these darker psychic impulses. They are not only permitted to run free, but encouraged to do so. It's what the left calls "progress."

Now, for nearly half my life I did not in any way feel "special." To the contrary, I was painfully aware of being ordinary. But for whatever reason, it never really bothered me. For example, when I was triumphing in junior college, I had friends who were destined for medical school, or for ivy league law schools. It never occurred to me that there was something unfair in this. Rather, it was simply a reflection of the truth: they had academic merit where I possessed none.

It's impossible to imagine how different my experience would have been had I been steeped in a victim culture that nurtured my envy and resentment. Such a system would have legitimized dysfunctional aspects of myself that also promote unhappiness. Nurturing chronic envy is one of the easiest ways to be unhappy.

Now, while I never felt I had much of what the world calls merit, I was aware of feeling... unique. Not special, mind you, just different. I was who I was, and none other. And it turns out that this points to a way out of our mess, for it goes to the idea of actualizing ourselves, but in a particular direction -- not just into anyone, but someone in particular. To put it conversely, nothing in the world would be worth having to deny or suppress myself, in the deepest sense of the word.

Which leads to the question: what is the deepest sense of that word, myself?

If you had asked me two days ago, my answer may have been a little vague. But I just started reading Gil Bailie's new book, God's Gamble: The Gravitational Power of Crucified Love, and it turns out he is all over this question (at least in the first 15 pages or so, which is as far as I've gotten).

Not to get too far ahead of oursoph, but he suggests that "the truth revealed by Christ is the anthropological key for understanding the human drama." Indeed, Christ is at the ontological center of western civilization, such that to remove Christ -- which is what the progressive never stops doing -- will have the approximate effect of removing the sun from the solar system. That's me talking, not Bailie, but I'll bet he says as much.

(Bear in mind in the following what was said above about being liberated into nothingness, AKA, having no developmental telos.)

Bailie cites a particular millennial who reflects upon his millions of cohorts "in their 20's and 30's who seem to lack any sense of necessary connection to anything larger than their own narrowly personal aims and preoccupations." The "basic laws of social gravity" have "lost their pull," such that "we are free to be white or black, gay or straight, to grow our hair long or shave our heads, meditate for days on end, have children or not, drink bottled water, work out at the gym, watch television until 3 in the morning and otherwise exist outside the traditional roles" that once defined and constrained us.

One could add dozens of alternative trivial pursuits to the list, but they all go to the idea of having no center and no narrative. The future is collapsed into the present, and with it, our deeper self into our transient impulses and desires. No past and no future -- no Alpha or Omega -- just the eternal Whatever of the now.

Circling back around to where we started -- with Hollander's meditation on our changing expectations regarding intimate relationships -- Bailie writes that "as a culture slips into crisis, relational difficulties, most especially sexual relationships, are the first to show strain." He cites Chesterton, who wrote of how "Everything has been sundered from everything else, and everything has grown cold.... The world is one wild divorce court."

Not just the divorce of Male and Female, but man and God, information and truth, truth and wisdom, existence and purpose, identity and cosmic narrative, and more.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Individuals without Individuality

Where were we? I've lost the thread, nor am I sure the thread, whatever it was, is worth pursuing. It had something to do with... or was leading to, at any rate, a meditation on politics and romance. Is there a relationship between where we are politically and where we are personally -- or interpersonally?

Looked at in a certain way, how could there not be a relationship? I mean, if cannibals could vote, they'd no doubt vote for a cannibal king. Which is to say, if given a choice, people relate to a leader who reflects their own level of development.

Hollander gets into one of our favorite subjects, which is the historical emergence of the individual in the Christian west. Obviously this affects everything from marriage to politics -- from the most intimate to the most public. For example, he references one scholar who notes that "For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love."

The first thing that occurs to me is that the ideas of choosing one's mate and choosing one's leaders emerge at around the same time. I wonder which was the leading edge, the personal or political? Both are predicated on awareness of the individual, of an interior horizon that is autonomous and relatively free from group coercion. For most of human history, people did not experience themselves in this way. Rather, they were embedded in networks of kinship, class, occupation, and certainly gender. No one wondered if he was a man or woman, let alone 37 other flavors.

In a certain sense you could say that people were more objective than subjective. Perhaps the earliest appearance of the latter turn is Augustine's Confessions, in which he reflects upon his own psychic interior. But he was the leading edge a phenomenon that didn't become more widespread until the 16th century or so. Only as people begin to be liberated from rigid roles do they start noticing the interior world -- that it is a world in its own right.

Interesting that if we fast forward to contemporary times, it is as if people believe there is only the subjective world, such that there is no objective limit to who or what they can be. Thus, a man can indeed be a woman, or those 37 other supposed genders. But why limit the number? Once you have detached yourself from any objective world, relativism and subjectivism are absolute.

I wonder if this goes to why our precious college snowflakes are having such difficulty assimilating the fact that the world is different from their subjective fantasies? On the one hand, their subjectivism is total; but for the same reason they cannot accept anyone else's view of reality. Rather, they flock with people who are completely likeminded, and who reflect their own subjectivism back to them. Therefore, they're back in the rigid and more developmentally primitive world from which we first individuated several hundred years ago!

This reminds me of an observation by Theodore Dalrymple. I'll paraphrase, but he points out that our postmodern snowflakes have self-exposure without self-reflection, frivolity without gaiety, earnestness without seriousness, and ultimately individualism without individuality.

Individuals without individuality. I think we're finally on to something here. Think, for example, of Cuba. The recently departed Castro was literally the only person on that slackforsaken island who was free to be himself. Everyone else was permitted to be as unique as an ant. There is a type of man "whose absolute freedom requires that he should accept no limits.." But "Starting with absolute freedom, I end with absolute tyranny" (ibid.).

But how is this different in principle from our college campuses, where one is free to think or say anything, so long as it reflects a far-left ideology? Here again, it is as if man starts out embedded in the group matrix and gradually emancipates himself from it, only to regress and re-merge with it. Thus, while the series premodern tradition --> modern liberalism --> postmodern leftist resembles a line, it is really a circle.

This is precisely what happened to Germany during the Hitler era. How, people wonder, could the world's most modern and liberal culture plunge into such primitive barbarism? Easy: it's what comes after (classical, not left) liberalism. As in Cuba, there was only one individual: Hitler. And there was one group: Germans. Individualism had absolutely nothing to do with it. Indeed, it was thought of as a desiccated Jewish abstraction, Jews representing a people who stubbornly maintained their identity apart from the larger group.

Reminds me of how Gil Bailie (or maybe Rene Girard) described human sacrifice: unanimity minus one. The Jews were the "minus one." (Although so too were any groups or individuals distinct from the German ideal.)

The point is, there are two ways to lose our individuality, the premodern and the postmodern. Of the latter, Dalrymple writes that "people are no longer born into a social role that they are assigned to fill until they die, simply by virtue of having been born in a certain place to certain parents. In theory, at least, every man in a modern society is master of his own fate. Where he ends up is a matter of his own choice and merit."

Deepak's latest nonsense is a fine example of the no-limits-to-subjectism model. Bear in mind that he is one of those pigs who squealed the loudest when his preferred candidate lost the recent election. How does this square with the idea that we invent our own reality? Don't ask.

Here are a few of his twenty principles of reality, but the very first one contradicts the idea that there can be any stable, objective reality at all: "Always think unlimited possibilities. Infinity exists in all directions."
 Moreover, "Your only identity is I am, undefined and infinite. Any label you give yourself limits you" -- which is the death of identity, precisely.

"Be your own best friend by forgiving yourself and dropping self-judgment." Er, what self? Besides, in our view, objective self-judgment is not only absolutely necessary, it is the essence of a functioning maturity.

This one really sums it up: "Emotional intelligence begins when you feel without labels or evaluation." No, emotional stupidity returns when we cannot discriminate, label, and prioritize our emotions. Isn't this the the whole catastrophe the left is dealing with, a primitive release of ungoverned and preliterate emotionality? Dalrymple:

"The cultural development in question is the systematic over-estimation of the importance not so much of emotion, as of the expression of emotion -- one's own emotion, that is. The manner with which something is said has come to be more important than what is said. Saying nothing, but with sufficient emotional vehemence or appearance of sincerity, has become the mark of the serious man. Our politicians are, in effect, psychobabblers because we are psychobabblers; not the medium, but the emotion, is the message."

No one should take, say, chocolate commie cueball Van Jones' -- or any other traumatized leftist's -- public tears (or rage, or grief) seriously, least of all Van Jones. When it comes to coping with objective reality, our feelings are none of our business.