Friday, April 20, 2018

Humanism and Animalism

There's too much going on in this book -- Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity -- for me to take a linear approach, at least until I get a handle on it. Therefore, we'll just have to settle for an impressionistic or even pointillistic view.

What does the Aphorist say? My brief sentences are touches of color in a pointillist composition. Moreover, The only claim that I have is that of not having written a linear book, but a concentric book. The points consist of pebbles thrown into a pond -- and the pond is your soul.

Handle. Does the world have one? Is it numbers? Words? Ideas? Or is the cosmos entirely flat, such that there is nothing to grab and no one to lift it? Well, we do have hands, so we can physically handle things. Moreover, human beings are uniquely able to consciously think about things they'd like to lift, like this cup of coffee to my right.

That's a good start, but is there an ultimate handle, which is to say, principle of intelligibility? If you are a neuromeshugeh or Darwinebbish, I'm afraid not. There is no there there, only a here. And it's not even a here, because there can be no presence for whom the here is here.

Quite literally. Tallis spends a good deal of time discussing the reality of intentionality, which is to say, the irreducible "aboutness" of consciousness. Before the age of one, human infants surpass all other creatures in being able to look at where the finger is pointing. It's what we do. It's what you are effortlessly doing right now, seeing through my words (which you didn't even notice until I mentioned them) while both constructing and interacting with an implicit mental image that is more real than the words pointing to it. Polanyi and all that.

Come to think of it, I see Tallis and Polanyi as engaging in very similar projects, that is, rescuing science and philosophy from the metaphysical nul de slack that results from a naive -- but deeply destructive -- scientism. Destructive to what? To human beings, ultimately to the human state itself. The difference is that Polanyi, while apparently not a conventional believer, was very much open to the religious dimension, whereas Tallis has a knee-jerk opposition to it.

I'm frankly a little surprised that Tallis doesn't foresee "where this is headed," so to speak -- why he doesn't think to himself, "ah, now I get where those religious folk are coming from."

Instead, he draws a sharp line: he ventures into the transcendent, and even insists that it cannot be reduced to matter, but leaves it at that. It is literally sur-real, meaning beyond reality, but with no principle to explain or render it intelligible. Look! A hole in the sky:

Where does it go? He doesn't ask. Nor does he pretend to understand where it came from. It's just there.

But for Polanyi, religion involves a "fusion of incompatibles" accomplished by the imagination. God is the focal point of the fusion; or, in other words, He is the Cosmic Area Rug that reveals the meaning of its various patterns: "as in art -- only in a more whole and complete way -- God also becomes the integration of all the incompatibles in our own lives" (Polanyi).

Incompatibles? Like what? Oh, spirit and matter, God and man, knowing and being, body and mind, man and woman, faith and reason, Tallis and Schuon, you name it. Absent the integration, we can be no more than "a heap of impressions," or "a slop of accumulated experiences and their echoes in memory, not too different from delirium" (Tallis).

Instead, we have one mind. Or, more to the point, the mind itself is (or ought to be) one, which means that it possesses (or is possessed by) a synthetic and dynamic interior unity.

How do we -- how does the I of this neural storm -- pull this off, given the fact that there are more potential connections in the brain than there are particles in the universe? Our brain circuitry has "an estimated 9,000,000,000 components," each of which having "many hundreds, even thousands of connections with other neurons." The brain is "the mother of all motherboards." Yes, but which came first, the motherheno or the eggboard?

Where does this unity -- this synthesis -- take place? It can't be in the parts, because that just begs the question. If the parts are parts, they can't account for the whole: no matter how many rocks or neurons you toss onto a pile, it will still be a pile, not a unity.

Or, maybe the unity -- a faux unity to be sure -- is located below. This is what the neuromaniacs and Darwinists hold, that "you are just a little byway in the boundless causal nexus that is the material world" -- that you and your so-called mind serve "evolutionary success, not truth."

Therefore, if the Darwinians are correct, they will leave the most offspring. "The reasons we give for the things we do are mere rationalizations that conceal from us the real reason, which is no reason at all but a biologically determined propensity."

Well, at least God above and Darwinians below agree that we should be fruitful and multiply. But why then do the latter hate us so much?

Again, the rigidly orthodox Darwinian Professor Gray, whom Tallis quotes at the outset, describes man as "exceptionally rapacious," "predatory and destructive," possessing "no more meaning than that of a slime mold," and "not obviously worth preserving." In short, be sterile and stop propagating. How can a reductionist Darwinian be so un-Darwinian? How ever did he transcend his genes to the point of genocide?

It takes all kinds.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Cognitive Illness

I'm dealing with a workplace annoyance that will probably shorten this post, so let's dive right into Neuromania and Darwinitis. Gosh! That's not very charitable. He makes them sound like diseases or something.

Well, perhaps they are. There are obviously physical diseases. There are also mental illnesses. Why not cognitive ones, i.e., systematically dysfunctional ideas such as communism?

Disease as such cannot be understood outside the context of function, in that pathology is what happens when your telos is messed up. Rocks or stars or mountains can't be pathological because they have no purpose. More generally, nature is never wrong because it is never right.

Rather, nature is all Is, all the time. Except there is no time either. Nor even any space. Those two nebulous rascals require a perspective, and until self-aware humans happen upon the scene, there are no perspectives. We'll return to this perspective in due time.

I can see that Tallis is particularly concerned with rescuing humanism from the humanists. It goes without saying -- or saying with contempt -- that he also wants to rescue it from the religionists, but he spends very little time on them. Neuromaniacs and Darwinitwits are at least worthy of mockery. Religionists aren't even worthy, at least in this book.

Thus, he begins with a prominent atheist who absolutely savages human beings. The favorable review from Publisher's Weekly says

Humans think they are free, conscious beings, when in truth they are deluded animals.... Like the Christians of former times, scientists are caught up in the web of power; they struggle for survival and success; their view of the world is a patchwork of conventional beliefs....

He tears down institutions, especially consciousness, self, free will and morality [miraculously doing so without consciousness, self, free will, and morality!], and questions our ability to solve the problems of overpopulation and overconsumption....

Other animals do not need a purpose in life. Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see? This comforting question punctuates an otherwise profoundly disturbing meditation on humankind's real place in the world.

Booklist too sees no obvious flaw, let alone sickness:

Gray attacks the belief that humans are different from and superior to animals. Invoking pure Darwinism, he savages every perspective from which humans appear as anything more than a genetic accident that has produced a highly destructive species (homo rapiens) -- a species that exterminates other species at a phenomenal rate as our swelling numbers despoil the global environment. Gray explains the human refusal to confront the darker realities of our nature largely as the result of how we have consoled ourselves with the myths of Christianity and its secular offspring, humanism and utopianism.

Now, that is rich: because of Christianity, humans refuse to confront the darker realities of our nature. I'm not sure what could be darker than a primordial fall in collusion with the source of all evil (not to mention being permanently exiled from any terrestrial utopia), but we'll leave that to the side. The more interesting question is how Gray manages to elude the blade of his own condemnation. For if humanity is as monstrous as he claims, it could never produce a consciousness as angelic as his.

More cognitive sickness, from the first amazon reviewer (I don't think I could stomach wading through all 92):

If you think that you are not straw dogs that will be crushed ruthlessly by heaven [?] and earth, then you will have to read this book, among the most important philosophical books ever written.... Anybody who knows anything about human history cannot possibly disagree with Gray that we are a very violent species, although not as dangerous as the religions we have created, particularly the monotheistic religions such as Christianity.

Another devastating critique of our civilization is the way we have treated animals, of whom we are but one species but from whom we have usually tried to separate. The role of Christianity [pardon the French, but WTF?] in this endless tragedy of torture and unspeakable murder is appalling, but the consequences are even worse.

Now, that is a lot of stupid. Talk about an animal hater! Why on earth is the guy condemning human animals? Again, if you are going to revert to nature, there is only the Is. No oughts allowed. If everybody is Harvey Weinstein -- homo rapiens -- then nobody is.

While I can no doubt get a bit sanctimonious, at least I try to leaven it with a little irony. But this is a truly unhinged self-righteousness of the kind so ably described by Michael Polanyi, i.e., religious sentiment utterly detached from religion. These people like to speak with ignorant contempt of the "Old Testament God" of their malevolent imagination. In which case I would say: Here comes their New Testament, same as the Old Testament.

So, for a guy who sees volition, and hence morality, as an illusion, Gray sure is a strident moralist. (Additional ewww factor: his work has been praised by George Soros.)

In the words of Jordan Peterson: dude, clean up your own house. At least Jehovah gives humans a second chance (and more). His justice is tempered by -- if not a dimension of -- his mercy. But I don't see any mercy in Gray's grim characterization.

Which is fine: if humans are as awful as he describes, then so be it. As we say -- or insist, rather -- there is no privilege higher than truth.

Wait. Truth? How did that ever find its way into a purely material cosmos? That is what you call impossible. As Tallis asks, "Was it really natural selection that eventually brought into being creatures that could see that they were naturally selected?" If so, on what basis should we believe them, or even have a category called "belief," let alone "truth"?

Speaking of which, I need some Oxygen. Dávila, arranged hierarchically from truth to truth:

He who does not doubt does not shout.

Truths are whatever any imbecile refutes.

The man does not escape from his prison of paradoxes except by means of a vertical act of faith.

The truth is the happiness of the intelligence.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Atheist on Atheist Violence, or Pass the Popcorn

Now, here is a book that is right up our alley: Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, by Raymond Tallis.

Ironically, the author is a passionate, if not intemperate, atheist, and yet, he absolutely demolishes the ground upon which his New Atheist middlebros stand most confidently. In short, he destroys materialism in all its most popular and fashionable forms. At the other end -- almost as an afterthought -- he flicks away any thoughts of woohoo quantum deepakery like a gnat.

So, where does that leave him? He doesn't exactly say, but it seems he's content to accept what we don't know, and to not sneak in bad metaphysics in order to pretend to know more than we do. Like a good lawyer, he needs only undermine the prosecution's case, not build his own airtight one. I've ordered several more of his books in order to better understand where he's coming from. I'm only halfway through this first one, so I'm hardly an expert.

This particular book focuses on neurological and biological reductionism, i.e., neuromania and darwinitis, respectively (you might recall that in mybʘʘk I coined some similar words of my own -- reductionosis and materialitis, I think). The first (neuromania) reduces mind to brain, while the second (Darwinitis) reduces man to his genes. Both are ridiculous, but Tallis excels at higher ridicule and fine insultainment.

He doesn't just poke fun; he eviscerates, often with novel and creative arguments. It's the sort of thing halfbright atheists enjoy doing with dumb religion, only he turns the tables and does it to the atheists. And yet he is one. That's what I call intellectual honesty: criticizing your own best arguments, not just the worst arguments of your hapless opponent. If Bill Maher produced Religulous, Tallis trumps him with Asinihilism. Or something.

Let's begin where we always do, with any amazon reviewers who have already said what I'm about to say, thus saving me the trouble. This guy notes that

Interestingly, while as an atheist the author repeatedly dismisses dualism and what he calls 'supernaturalism' as unnecessary alternatives, he ultimately has to admit that he has no good explanation for the mysteries of the human mind himself...

Indeed, the first half of the book (on neuromania) ends with the acknowledgement that the problem of consciousness is "more than 'a hard problem.' It is a mystery."

Well, yes and no. Tallis absolutely refuses to venture down any supernatural path, in particular, anything associated with traditional religion. And yet, everything he believes could fit harmoniously within a sophisticated traditional metaphysic, a la Aquinas or Schuon, more on which as we proceed.

For he clearly proves the existence of a transnatural world. Like me, he seems to regard humanness as an intrinsically irreducible reality. Except in his case, it is grounded in nothing, instead of being an expression of the Ultimate Something.

Tallis repeatedly describes himself as a Humanist, one who wants to build a kind of protective wall around the human world, so it isn't threatened from below -- by reductionist intellectual barbarians -- but also from above -- by the religious. He doesn't understand that he has nothing to fear from the likes of us. We're on his side, only more than he is.

Come to think of it, it very much reminds me of how liberals have nothing to fear from conservatives, only from leftists: the left is the common enemy of classical liberals and conservatives alike. But only a few liberals realize this, e.g., Alan Dershowitz and Steven Pinker.

The same reviewer mentioned above agrees that the book "should be considered mandatory reading for atheists who are interested in genuine reasoning about the reality of the uniqueness of the human mind, rather than in superficial pseudo-scientific reasoning that is rooted in Neuromania and in a simplistic biologism that seeks to minimize what distinguishes us from the remainder of the animal world, including apes."

There is no question that the popular atheistic types don't end their investigation with materialism, but begin with it. It is just an exercise in intellectual backshadowing, such that they perceive and cherrypick the evidence to support what they already believe. You know the old gag: The answer is the disease that kills curiosity. Thus, materialism is the disease that kills any remotely sophisticated philosophy (which is predicated upon openness to total reality and love of wisdom).

Here is an excellent point that highlights something I wanted to say:

Negative scientific studies, studies that demonstrate negative findings (like showing that a drug doesn't lower blood pressure any more than a sugar pill) aren't as sexy as positive studies. Very few professors have gotten tenure by only showing what is not true. No one has won a Nobel prize for solely criticizing other people's research. That said, negative research can be as practical and useful as positive research.

Oh boy and how. In the back of the book there is a note to myself about what I call "anti-punditry." We have quite enough pundits, thank you -- all those brilliant people who are wrong about everything. But we are sorely lacking in anti-pundits, that is, socratic types who call them on their bullshit without necessarily replacing it with more bullshit. What's wrong with no bullshit? Indeed, I propose an award to the best anti-pundit of the year: the Nobull Prize.

"Aping Mankind is negative research. While most popular science writers attempt to weave compelling stories from the latest neuroscience experiments to explain 'why we are the way we are', Tallis attempts to show why these stories simply cannot be true." Oh my yes. Any idiot can gaze at the stars and discern the pattern of a unicorn. But it takes a real idiot to imagine the unicorn is real.

"I have never read a book that demonstrates more blatantly how atheism can operate like a religious belief."

From the Raccoon perspective, Yes and No. For if traditional religion is the safeguard and vehicle of a metaphysics of the Real, then atheism definitely falls far short of qualifying as a religion. To imagine that materialism could be as capacious and explanatory as religion is to not know what religion or materialism are.

We've laid out a very general view, now to the particulars, which I suppose will have to wait until tomorrow.

One more general point: one great irony is that everything Tallis holds dear and wishes to preserve has mainly been preserved by one institution: the Church, or let's say orthodox Christian doctrine. Seriously, who else these days refuses to give an inch to the opponents of personhood, free will, genuine humanism, natural rights, love, truth, beauty, etc? It's not secular universities, that's for sure.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Maps, Models, and Probing in the Dark

This is your Friday Ramble on a Thursday, since I have an early appointment tomorrow...

Yesterday I was rereading the excellent Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. In it Epstein reminds us that the theory of anthropogenic global warming is built upon models, and that the models are wrong -- which is to say, they do not map the territory.

Nevertheless, adherents give more credence to the models than to the reality they are supposed to map. Which only happens all the time in every discipline, from physics to theology.

Some suggest that AGW is more religion than science. Which implies 1) that religions also have models, and 2) that their models are likewise wrong.

But wait. I just finished a book -- The Rational Bible -- the central claim of which is that its 3,000 year old model is both objective and absolute (i.e., not relative). Hyperbole? I don't think so: if people only ordered their lives to the Ten Commandments, "the world would be almost devoid of all man-made suffering."

Scientific models are abstractions and simplifications. They work well enough for linear phenomena, but are much more difficult in the case of complex systems such as weather, the economy, or history, because there are more variables than we can know, plus the variables interact in unpredictable ways. It's why a mutual fund prospectus can tell you all about the Plan, but always ends with the qualifier that

The performance data shown represent past performance, which is not a guarantee of future results. Current performance may be lower or higher than the performance data cited.

Lower or higher. Thanks for the tip! It's the same with global warming models: temperature may be lower or higher than the model predicts.

As Epstein says, anyone can hindcast or postdict after the fact, that is, come up with a model that tells us why something happened after it happened. Anyone can take the reservation. The hard part is holding the reservation. To do that, you need an effective working model of supply and demand.

We cannot get through life without maps and models of various kinds. There are cultural maps, psychological maps, religious maps. Yesterday we mentioned the psychoanalytic theorist W.R. Bion, who gave a lot of thought to how deceptive our psychological models can be. He even tried to develop his own abstract model, one that would allow us to handle psychological problems in the same way the mathematician is able to deal with problems in the absence of the object. It looked like this:

I have to admit, I never really understood the model, but I admired the attempt. For one thing, the mind is infinite, and you can't model infinitude. In other words, infinitude, by definition cannot be contained. Nevertheless, it can be represented, so long as we are conscious of what we're doing. Thus, for example, we can use the word "God," so long as we bear in mind that the reality designated by the word is (ortho)paradoxically beyond language.

Only humans can do this sort of thing. Obviously only humans have language. But even if AI is able to model human language, we would still be one step ahead, because we are able to appreciate the apophatic aspect of language, i.e., its nothingness as well as its somethingness. Could a computer ever acknowledge that, when it comes right down to it, it knows nothing?

It's a question of createdness vs. builtness. Minds are created, while computers are built. And creation is not just anything. All creation is of an ex nihilo character, even human creativity. No one has explained this more clearly than Pieper:

[W]hatever is real in nature is placed between two knowing agents, namely... between God's mind and the human mind. These "coordinates" place all reality between the absolutely creative, inventive knowledge of God and the imitating, "informed" knowledge of us humans and thus present the total realm of reality as a structure of interwoven original and reproduced conceptions.

In other words, what we call "reality" must exist in a potential space between God and man. Analogously, it was once thought that our eyes are able to see as a result of shining a beam on objects, whereas we now know it's the other way around: that light from objects strikes the retina. Likewise, as Pieper explains, "our knowledge is the product of truth, flowing indeed from the 'truth of all things.'"

This light shines in the darkness, and yet... So much mischief results from the belief that the light is self-generated!

An important orthoparadox: "being true and being unfathomable go together," such that "the comprehensibility of a thing can never be fully exhausted by any finite mind -- for all things are created, which means that the reason they are knowable is by necessity also the reason they are unfathomable" (Pieper).

That is exactly what I mean by the somethingness and nothingness of language, which are complementary, not a dualism or defect. This is the true human model.

Yesterday, in a moment of grandiosity, I was thinking of how I would like to wade through the arkive and assemble a Total Model of Reality. What would it require? Well, first and foremost, the Absolute. Deny that, and no model of any kind is possible.

Which leads back to Schuon's Outline of a Spiritual Anthropology. Here is an initial sketch of the model of who and where we are:

At the summit of the ontological pyramid -- or rather beyond all hierarchy -- we conceive the Absolute, which comprises by definition both Infinitude and Perfection.... If the Absolute is pure Reality, the Infinite will be Possibility, whereas Perfection or the Good will be the totality of the contents of the Infinite.

So, man is on a pilgrimage from possibility to perfection, relative to absolute, appearance to reality. But as Bion explains, it is as if each formulation or crystallization along the way results in "a feeling of security to offset and neutralize the sense of insecurity following on the discovery that discovery has exposed further vistas of unsolved problems -- 'thoughts' in search of a thinker" (Bion). In the end -- or In the beginning -- the thinker is God.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Cosmos and Meta-Cosmos, Human and Meta-Human

For a number of weeks now we've been intermittently dipping into Schuon's From the Divine to the Human, but getting distracted along the way. The third section has several essays on the Human World, beginning with one called Outline of a Spiritual Anthropology.

He had me at the title: spiritual anthropology. For if there is a theme that connects everydot about this blog, that would be it: what is man? What is his real order?

It's how I ended up with a PhD in psychology. It certainly wasn't the result of any settled career aspirations, but rather, an inevitable consequence of my unhinged curiosity. Was my curiosity satisfied by what I learned in grad school? What do you think?

Speaking of which, somehow I was lucky enough to encounter the writings of W.R. Bion in my second year, who launched my entire enterprise into a meta level. From that point onward I was in essence studying metapsychology, not just psychology; or, any truth I learned from psychology had to be harmoniously situated within a larger metapsychology: a psycho-spiritual cosmic anthropology, if you like.

Let me see if I can dig out some statements by Bion to exemplify what I'm talking about. As a matter of fact, he published a book called Second Thoughts, which is actually a collection of previously published essays on which he essentially goes meta on himself; in other words, the current Bion considers the past Bion from a higher perspective. (BTW, I don't recommend that anyone run out and purchase his books, since none are aimed at a lay audience.)

Interesting. The book has a single review on amazon, but the reviewer, like me, describes a breathless Can I buy some pot from you? moment on encountering Bion:

Bion is my guru. Fighting my way out of the barren landscapes of modern psychiatry. There is more to man than chemicals looking for a chat. There is more to illness than screwed up chemistry. Bion gives so many answers. He leaves behind awe. An awe of the vistas in front of you. Of the new horizons yet to be explored. There are so many directions to take. It's as if you leave behind a modernistic constrictive complex concrete jungle. Simply step into a delicate vibrant countryside.... Visit and discover places in your own experience and understanding. And yet so much more.

I know exactly what he means, for it is indeed the sensation of being lifted into a higher and more expansive perspective. Of course, I think that happens on any encounter with True Philosophy. For me, it also happened with Michael Polanyi and then later with Schuon, MOTT, Dávila, and others.

Come to think of it, that is the experience I want to transmit via my own writing. It was certainly the point of the book. If and when I assemble another book, it will be 100% about this experience -- a nonstop combination of (n) and (!?). I have no interest in mere information, except insofar as it serves as a launching pad.

Here is Bion commenting on one of his essays:

I am not unappreciative of the account; I think if it were some other psychoanalyst's report I would think it quite good. But as it is, I do not recognize the patient or myself.

This is key, because it demonstrates how easy it is to write plausibly and even convincingly about the mind, but in a way that more or less lacks truth. Only Bion -- the one who wrote it -- can appreciate the absence of truth. Others who read the essay may be convinced of its truth. We can say the same of higher dimensions: how easy it is to write of spirit! Anyone can do it. But is it true? And by what standard?

So much of Exodus is a reminder to the Israelites that they are to follow God's standard, not their own. However, God's standard is universal, which is the point of the whole exercise. If Jews aren't messengers of universal morality, then they were chosen for nothing. What a pointless hassle!

Prager even suggests that this is how and why Jews have in the past gone off the rails in pursuit of non-Jewish universal systems such as Marxism. In other words, Jews are predisposed to think in terms of universality, even if it is a false universality of the left:

Ever since the Jews were emancipated in the nineteenth century, they have been disproportionately involved in universalist movements; but, in their embrace of humanity, they often abandoned the Torah and Jewish identity. They did not wish to acknowledge that it is specifically because of the Torah's teachings that humanity came to view all people, including, of course, strangers, as created in God's image, and therefore -- in the words of the American Declaration of Independence -- "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

When Jews abandoned the Torah and ethical monotheism, these very values affirming the sanctity of all human life have often been abandoned as well -- as was the case with Jews who embraced communism (which made war on religion and God-based values) and ended up supporting the tyrannical and murderous Soviet Union and other communist regimes.

Again, it is the same with contemporary Jewish leftists, who abandon the meta- for the infra-, or transcendence for immanence. The former is always open, the latter closed. The closed system will still allow "realizations," but only of what is permitted or conditioned by the system. Thus, they are "pseudo-realizations" that have the contours of truth without the content. Applied to psychology for example,

It becomes fatal to good analysis if premature application of a theory becomes a habit which places a screen between the psychoanalyst and the exercise of his intuition on fresh and therefore unknown material (Bion).

As it pertains to past bOb, this meant that all the fine theories I was learning were at once doors and walls -- or better, ceilings. Horizontally they are doors, but vertically they are ceilings. The former are essentially linear and mechanistic, the latter organismic and evolutionary, a "coming together, by a sudden precipitating intuition, of a mass of apparently unrelated incoherent phenomena which are thereby given coherence and meaning not previously possessed" (ibid.). This is (n), in contrast to mere (k).

"The verbal expression can be so formalized, so rigid, so filled with already existing ideas that the idea I want to express can have all the life squeezed out of it" (ibid.). I would say that all writing that presumes to be about spirit must be mindful of this minefield of (k). (This is, of course, a major reason why Jesus so often speaks in parables that require a realization on the part of the listener.)

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Conscious Freedom and Absolute Truth

I was thinking about the subtitle of Dennis Prager's The Rational Bible: God, Slavery, and Freedom. Freedom and slavery are obviously at antipodes, and yet, freedom ultimately means nothing in the absence of God: the Israelites were "liberated from Egypt to serve God," and many of the subsequent laws are designed to purge them of their slave mentality.

Indeed, even today many Jews still vote Democrat, so the degyptionization process is ongoing: "In every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself has come out of Egypt."

Perhaps on Independence Day we should have something analogous to a Passover service, in which we recall being imperial subjects who miraculously became free citizens thanks to our God-inspired Fathers. As our mosest indispensable Father wrote to a Hebrew congregation in 1789,

May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, [and] planted them in a promised land -- whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation -- still continue to water them with the dews of heaven and make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.

"The point is while liberty is necessary, it is not sufficient for a good life" (Prager). Indeed, "Whoever sees in liberty anything other than liberty itself is born for servitude" (de Tocqueville, ibid.). Prager continues:

In other words, while liberty is magnificent, the only thing liberty guarantees is liberty, not goodness, not morality, not integrity, etc. Liberty must be accompanied by higher values, because liberty alone will lead to moral chaos, and ultimately... servitude.

For example, serving the state. The state gets a foot in the door by "serving" those who are unfit or unprepared for freedom (we are not taking about the deserving poor). This creates a moral-political hazard, as -- very much in contrast to what God attempts with the Israelites -- the state rewards the slave mentality. Create enough slaves, and the rest of us are placed in the position of serving the state that serves its slaves.

Aphorisms come to mind. Remember Julia, the ideal Democrat woman who unashamedly spends her life in different forms of dependence upon the state? The modern State is a teacher who never grants his students a degree (Dávila).

In short, if you are trained for servitude, don't be surprised if servitude is what you're good at: liberalism pampers its beneficiaries until they have been turned into dissolute adults. Thus, Each day we demand more of society so that we can demand less of ourselves. For As the State grows, the individual shrinks (ibid.).

Think of "the resistance." Our founders resisted servitude, while these pathetic cases are resisting freedom! Thus, He who jumps, growls, and barks has an invisible collar and an invisible chain (ibid.). Trump -- of all people -- is not responsible for the chain. Rather, it is self-imposed. And the louder the bark, the stronger the chain.

Let's dig down to the metaphysics of it all: In any proposition about man its paradoxical fusion of determinism and freedom must emerge (ibid.). Agreed: except that it is orthoparadoxical, which is to say, a kind of necessary complementarity. Man is necessarily woven of freedom and determinism.

Which come from where? Maybe you have a better idea, but I'm with Schuon, who writes in From the Divine to the Human that liberty derives "all its reality, hence its efficaciousness, from principial Infinitude -- which coincides with All-Possibility..." Conversely, determinism, or necessity, must ultimately be grounded in "the Absolute, hence to the pure Real."

Absolute Real and All-Possibility, or Truth and Freedom, respectively. And we are the image and likeness. You might say that we are given freedom in order to comport with truth. There is a "Torah" and a "people"; or, Logos and man. Or just Consciousness and Absolute.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Our Civil War is a War On Order

If there is an order of things, it must correspond to the changelessness in things: it is the Unchanging in which all this Change is grounded. If the change has no underlying order, then it's just random chaos with no point or purpose.

There is always order, and there is always change. Analogously, character is who you are when no one is looking. Likewise, order is what exists even if no one sees it: it can only be discovered, not created or imposed. It is what exists despite anyone's opinion about it.

For example, this is obviously the purpose of philosophy: to find the real order in things -- not just of material reality, but in ethics, aesthetics, and thinking itself. Science deals with quantitative order, but that isn't the only order in which we find ourselves.

In The Rational Bible, Dennis Prager reminds us that the Ten Commandments are not intended to apply to just a particular slice of humanity, but to everyone: they disclose a universal moral order.

Thus, either the Torah "has something to say to everyone or it has nothing to say to [even] the Jews." In other words, it either reveals a universal order or it reveals nothing. There can be no in between. You might even say that there is truth and there is autobiography, and that most philosophy is little more than a glorified memoir or diary. Again: universal or nothing.

What we call wisdom is a pool of knowledge about the Changeless. Wisdom exists along a spectrum and eventually shades off into the human margin and beyond (or below). In other words, some wisdom can be truly universal, while much of it may indeed be culture-bound. Philosophy ought to be a quest for the former.

My eyes just lit upon the following passage: "As I show in my discussion of secular education as a potential 'false god,' the best educated in the West have often both lacked wisdom and been among the greatest supporters of evil ideologies and regimes."

Now, what were (and are) these ideologies but the systematic effort to impose a false order upon human beings? The result? Communist regimes alone "murdered about 100 million people and enslaved and destroyed the lives of more than a billion."

This quest for order is a serious business, perhaps the most serious. Get the order wrong, and the result is catastrophe: "The two missions -- promoting goodness and attaining wisdom -- are linked, because it is almost impossible to do good without wisdom."

The entire history of the left can be summarized in a single wise sentence: "All the good intentions in the world are likely to be worthless without wisdom." Actually, worthless if we're lucky. If only leftist schemes were neutral and not deadly!

In the United States we are absolutely in a civil war. It is as real as the one in the 1860s, with the stakes every bit as world-historically consequential. And if we dig down to the ground, what we really see are two different and irreconcilable orders, both then and now.

Speaking of the search for order, in November 2016 I remember Rachel Maddow and other progressives reading up on 1930s Germany in order to comprehend what was going on in the United States. Yes, that is crazy -- among other reasons because conservatism and fascism are at antipodes -- but it goes to the intensity with which human beings will grasp at order, even if there is no truth to it at all.

Me? I find much more useful parallels with the period leading up to the Civil War. I recently read a couple of books that document what it was like for the average person to live through the era, In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1864 and The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America.

What we have here (and there) are two very different ideas of order: political order, constitutional order, human order. Quite simply, we could not go on being one nation with two orders. A nation, in order to be one, must have one order. We cannot abide states with radically different orders, whether we're talking about slavery or illegal immigrants. In both cases it really comes down to the illegitimate usurpation of power rooted in a false order.

In the margins of the books I often highlighted passages with an N/C, for No Change. For example, I was thinking of the parallels between the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and how contemporary leftists treat blacks who stray from the liberal plantation. They are not permitted to do that, on pain of surrendering their human status.

Nor are they subtle about it. Just the other day on CNN, some dim pundit of color said it was perfectly acceptable to tar black conservatives with racial epithets. Conversely, we are not even permitted to criticize a black progressive such as Obama or Maxine Waters without being called racist. Or, see how the left reacted when someone in Trump's cabinet said he cared more about merit than "diversity." Democrats are no less obsessed with race today than they were during slavery and Jim Crow.

Different orders. In our order, all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. In their order, people are... well, first of all, they are not created. Rather, they evolve, I guess, with unequal races, genders, and classes, and it is up to the state to equalize these. Is it any wonder that This is War?

Prager also reminds us of how America's founders were deeply rooted in the Biblical order, or the order disclosed by our Judeo-Christian tradition. You might say it is the vertical macrocosm in which our political microcosm is rooted. In the past, we've noted how Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin proposed a design for the Great Seal of the U.S. depicting Moses leading the Israelites from slavery to freedom, with the motto Resistance to Tyrants is obedience to God.

Which it is, but why? Because the tyrant imposes a false order, while God reveals the true one. Which is why the loony "resistance" to Trump is hardly obedience to God. If anything, it is defiance of God, which is one of the definitions of fascism: the violent rejection of transcendence.

No, I am not conflating God and Trump. Please. Again, the subject is order, and which one we will live under, the constitutional one or the disordered one imposed by progressives.

Here is a critical point mentioned by Prager: "these two events -- the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments -- are the two seminal events (other than Creation itself)," such that "liberty and morality are the twin pillars of the Torah."

Schematically we see Creation --> Commandments --> Liberty. Creation-as-such is the first order; it is the macrocosmos in which man is situated. Of all the creatures -- both living and nonliving -- man is the only one created with free will. But what is free will if it isn't grounded in the permanent order reflected in the Ten Commandments (and elsewhere)?

It is nothing, precisely. Therefore, freedom and truth/order are intimately related. As are the oppression and nothingness of the left. Freedom requires truth. Slavery needs only power.