Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Random Signals #2

David Warren mentions, “We make fun of things because they are wrong, yet at the same time, we candidly admit their attraction. We use humour to flash moral insight, and to disarm.” But now the subject of moral insight (or lack thereof) is the comedian himself.

Et tu, Louie?

Louie CK, like for many, has been my latest preoccupation in today's comedy scene. Unlike some professional tricksters, he cleverly brought his essence (albeit perhaps contrived at times) to his humor. Now we find out he was fallible to weird sexual proclivities brought upon by a power dynamic he took advantage of with several women. The dark underbelly of comedy has crossed another line.

His actions are not defensible and this blemish probably recontextualizes my relationship to his art. The demarcation between art and the artist has always been a challenging one, since great art has not always been made manifest by great men.

But let's consider the outrage in this time in culture. Could it also be that our sensitivities have resulted from the secular edifice we now stand on? Maybe if we took transcendence more seriously, we wouldn't take ourselves so seriously. Instead, we have become fragmented and tribal, looking for our next scapegoat to release our existential anxiety and anger. Some justly deserve their fall from grace, others are just a product of their time.


Speaking of our times, one astute facebook poster observed that “students are trying to deconstruct what they have not properly constructed yet.” As such, we are burdened with a generation full of contradictions: “they are dogmatic about relativity, ethnocentric about cultural acceptance (you’re either an “ally” or an enemy), hateful in the name of compassion, etc.” Again, it's a good prognosis that can't be equally matched with a proper cure. We just have to go through it, and see what we have wrought


I suppose we can also grapple with what in culture today will remain tomorrow. We speak of some artifact groping for the Eternal. NPR recently considered this with music. I am not sure what music from today will last through the ages, if any. But there are some examples I would place bets on. For instance, take a popular gem from Al Green. It's about as perfect as you can get with soul music, and it nearly fulfills Josef Pieper's insight: “Music opens a path into the realm of silence. Music reveals the human soul in stark “nakedness,” as it were, without the customary linguistic draperies.” 

Al Green, incidentally, gave up his commercial success to do gospel music. He probably got to the place where he felt soul music wasn't enough. But this was:

And then there are lesser known gems that deserve more recognition:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Commitments that Cohere

Commitments are not always the strongest suit on my end. I suppose it's an issue on honing in on passions (as well as placing too much emphasis on passion) or the fear of being duped (by a passion). But I've always intuited there are always the decisions in life that matter over the frivolity we spend so much time on.

This builds on a recent post I wrote about the complementary of freedom and order. As Tim Keller states, “Freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones.”

So what are the right restrictions? Or commitments, for that matter? I came across a recent speech from David Brooks, who seems to be channeling some ideas from Charles Murray, around the commitments that matter. These are:
      • To a loving partner/spouse and family.
      • To a vocation.
      • To a community.
      • To a philosophy or faith.
The issue is it's either a failure to see or a failure to move. First, we need to see the significance of these commitments. That can only come from an innate wisdom, the mores of a culture or tradition, or exemplars that can guide us. As Brooks and Murray have pointed out, a life is usually fulfilled when most or all of these commitments are aligned to Truth.

But once we see the see this, then we need to act. In some cases, that motivation can be out love or a yearning. We fall into it by grace or are nudged towards it by a innate seeking. But if the motivation doesn't come, then we need discipline. That's why passion is such a tricky thing. Sometimes it takes effort that begets the grace of true passion. 

It is also a matter of seeing where our commitments are coming from. Brooks elaborates, “Imagine finding a faith and saying, "Does this serve my needs?" That's not a faith, that's just  opportunism. ... So you have to adopt a different lens, a moral lens which is beyond rationality, which takes you beyond utilitarian thinking, when you have to just throw it all in. People who adopt a moral lens are looking for ways to forget themselves, surrender themselves, throw themselves into something without counting the cost. They understand, if only by instinct, that their true joy is found on the distance side of unselfishness and not on this side. People who has used a moral lens don't ask, "What do I want from life?" They ask, "What is life asking of me?"”

Even when it comes to relationships, people with this moral lens “don't ask, "Is this person right for me?" They ask, "Can I love her in a way that brings out her loveliness? Can we take our private passion and direct it outward? Can we -- can I go through every day assuming that my own selfishness is the core problem in our relationship?"” I wonder how many singles have come across these values on Tinder? 

In our best moments, we can intuit that coming from a place of less self-centeredness is what gives our commitments meaning and purpose. But here again, it often takes effort to see this and to move on it. 

It's not always easy, but the things that give life richness and fulfillment often never are.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Gardeners Wanted

We can't force plants to grow. In any garden we tend to, we can only cultivate an environment that spurs the growth on. This includes all the tilling, planting, nourishing, and pruning that constantly needs to be done. And yet, we have no control of the broader environment, therefore we often acquiesce to what nature has in store. But these days we see everyone wants to be a builder. We want to master and take ownership of any growth we do — whether we are an ambitious materialist or a spiritual aspirant.

I appreciate one version of growth depicted in a Bruce Charlton post, taken from William Arkle's A Geography of Consciousness, depicting a spectrum of spiritual progress:

lower man > average > responsible > sophisticated cynic > idealist > poet > mystic > higher man.

The point is not to worry so much where we are, or to force ourselves to be at the higher end of the spectrum. The significance of this is to keep moving forward, gently and wholly. As they say, many are called but a few are chosen.

(BTW, if you're reading this, you're probably at least above average.)

So here's the scary thing when it comes to growth: there is one place many of us get stuck, not quite as in a stand still, but more like a cycling between progress and regression in a pool of fragmented turmoil.

The place where this turmoil happens the most is with the sophisticated cynic. As Charlton notes, “the sophisticated cynic is at the Dead-Centre of the evolutionary scheme - poised, suspended, trapped between lower and higher consciousness. This is a state of wide awareness of options and possibilities; made possible by increased knowledge and learning - but experienced as a pervasive relativism.”

Relativism is a metaphysical resignation with the culture at large. And when you're intelligent, you've got all the more excuse to drop any convictions and stay in dead-center. 

“And the centre is 'dead' because there is a state of demotivation. The longer a period of time that is spent in the dead centre; the harder it gets to escape.” Talk about the inertia one must work through even if we want to grow! I'm reminded of Augustine when he said in his younger years, “Lord, make me chaste – but not yet!”

The sophisticated cynic's “materialism and hedonism reduces and deconstructs all higher values - while he 'knows better' than the natural, spontaneous, instinctive Man - and he finds he just cannot forget or discard his sophistication, science, philosophy, ideology... They come back, again and again, to haunt him.” We are all condemned to "religion", but many of our priests are full of clever foolishness.

“The sophisticated cynic is therefore pulled in both directions; and also repelled by both directions. The sophisticated cynic is the permanent adolescent - too mature to be a child, too immature to be an adult; too bored by both immaturity and maturity, seeing-through the innocence of childhood and the responsibility of adulthood. He is cut-off from the basic satisfactions of simply getting-by in practical, material life; and also from the spiritual satisfactions of living for ideals located outwith mortal life and human limitation.” This is Peter Pan syndrome, but without the flying.

“The sophisticated cynic knows that the world of communications - of nature, of other people, of his own evanescent thoughts - are doubtful and unreliable: he has often experienced this unreliability. This insight itself implies that some other and solid form of knowing exists (with which communication is implicitly being contrasted); but when it comes to any specific knowledge, the sophisticated cynic remains unsure: he lives in an atmosphere of doubt... Yet at the same time, he doubts his own doubts, suspects there is 'more to life', and cannot embrace a fully nihilistic skepticism.” 

This is one hell of a diagnosis, but for Christ's sake where's the doctor's cure?!

“We begin as immature little-children of God; in spiritual adolescence we solipsistically assert ourselves to be the one-real-God in a universe made-up by our-selves; in maturity we recognise that we are products-of and inhabitants-of the framework of God's creation; destined to become a multiplicity of gods; destined to become God's grown-up children and loving companions both of each other and of the deity. And this is the basis of new, real, permanent relationship.”

Once again, it comes down to relationships. But here with True metaphysics! And in that we develop our capacity to consciously relate to the Spirit, and to make conscious connections that enable us to identify and grasp the whole of reality. 

And yet again, this is like the gentle growth of gardening. We tend to what we can, but allow nature to take its course. Like our flora, we flourish, but forward by the way of upward instead of the reverse. 

“The phase [of the sophisticated cynic] is a necessary point through-which Men must pass if they are to attain the autonomy required by higher consciousness; but if the lessons are to be learned, then the phase must feel real - must indeed be real - at the time it is being experienced. There must to be a pause in progression - and this pause may become prolonged and arrested into stasis.”

In such spiritual desolation, sometimes it is best to do nothing but to bear witness.

I recall this beautiful passage in MotT:
Now, we occultists, magicians, esotericists and Hermeticists — all those who want to "do" instead of merely waiting, who want "to take their evolution in their own hands" and "to direct it towards an aim"—are confronted with this choice in a much more dramatic way, I should say, than is so for people who are not concerned with esotericism. Our principal danger (if not the only true danger) is that of preferring the role of "builders of the tower of Babel" (no matter whether personally or in a community) to watching over "as gardeners or vine-growers the garden or the vine of the Lord". Truth to tell, the only truly morally founded reason for keeping esotericism "esoteric", i.e. for not bringing it to the broad light of day and popularising it, is the danger of the great misunderstanding of confusing the tower with the tree, as a consequence of which "masons" will be recruited instead of "gardeners".
Better that gardeners shall apply. No need to concern ourselves with collective utopias; instead, we sort ourselves out with our internal, external, and Higher relationships under a coherent metaphysical ideal. Then we can grow in the way that was Infinitely intended.