Each man is always in the middle of the surface of the earth and under the zenith of his own hemisphere, and over the center of the earth.

Leonardo da Vinci

11/7/03

Stupidville

Red Tide: Branson, Missouri appears to be the epicenter of an algae bloom which has engulfed the nation in political dementia


Fadda Joe, my spiritual mentor, is more cynical than I am. “I think really,” he said. “that the Germans and the French and the rest of the United Nations are not at all interested in the welfare of the Iraqi people. They just want a share of the profits.”

We had exchanged newspaper stories - a particularly nasty piece about the Nigerian government busting a child slavery operation near Abeokuta. Annum 2003: five and six year old children, kidnapped and forced to work breaking rocks in some mining enterprise in the bush. Those who had not been worked to death were rescued, scarred from beatings, and hauled away in trucks to be returned, if possible, to their families. “This is very common,” said Fadda Joe. “In Nigeria, children after the age of three or so are more or less on their own during the day. If they do not come home at night, it is assumed that something got them. Militias looking for conscripts or slavers looking for workers often kidnap people who wander away from their villages. Many are never seen again.” This is the historical status quo in Nigeria, encountered by European colonial powers in that 15th century version of NAFTA, and its promotion of the international exchange of labor resources. The sale and purchase of human beings was Nigeria’s contribution to global commerce, not so much something imposed upon it by evil South Carolina plantation owners as a pre-existing market entrepreneured by Ijaw tribesmen who were happy to sell Igbo tribesmen to the Portuguese in exchange for the guns that allowed them to keep the cottage industry going. There were no innocent victims. Just a more or less universal optimization of self interest (greed.) The “system,” Fadda Joe calls it.

The people we encounter every day, if they are representative of people everywhere, are not wicked enough to explain the wickedness of human society. The taxes of decent people support the horrors of our prisons and deliver large numbers of human beings, one in every one hundred of us, into these dreadful places. We look away, with some vague parting thought that certain people deserve no mercy whatsoever, and that society is improved by the net deterrent effect of the draconian consequences we devise. In Peru, political dissidents are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in underground dungeons modified from depleted mines, never to see the sky or the sun again. And yet the average Peruvian you will meet is pleasant and civilized and quite as sweet a person as you could hope to find. It isn’t that we have actually turned into leering, batwinged monkeys. We are good people in a bad system. Or so says Fadda Joe.

As usual, I have issues with Fadda Joe. We were not created and placed into a “system” as hamsters are placed into terrariums. Systems are emergent from human associations, and these in turn are emergent from psychological imps inside each and every individual one of us. Where else would these villainous “systems” come from?

The system is nothing more than the trail worn by our journeying, the common language and accretion of our true nature. Yes, we are born into the system and driven by the system and unable to escape from the system. But also we are its author and source. Like sin, the system is a self generated predicament.

The brutality and torture and rape and savage scapegoating we witness on the world and local news, our eager willingness to demonize and abuse not only people who have done crimes, but anybody at all our collective myth can construe as an evildoer, indicates a gratuitous malevolence arising less from the need for a social remedy than from a deeper pathology closer to ordinary sadism. It is undeniable, as Sontag recently reminded us, that we are pleasured by the pain of others. Nastiness is not imposed on us from without. We are internally nasty, methinks. If the alpha and the omega of human existence is a foul and pervasive sickness, then how does anything positive manage to germinate? Where, indeed, does the adventitious appearance of good and its impulse come from? Is it an illusion? A contrivance? A wish? A semantic error? A futile exercise? Even if the dream of peace and love as the natural condition of man is something that percolates from the bongs of dipshit hippies and sun-maddened Palestinian prophets, why is such bogus altruism introduced into the equation at all? If niceness can be reduced to nothing more than a species of Darwinian or Machiavellian self-interest, if it is a mere privatio malum, why even give it a name?

Iris Murdoch took the time, thirty some years ago, to tilt with the so-called philosophies spawned by Marx and Feuerbach (Fadda Joe's strange Rasputin) and their behaviorist, existentialist, empiricist, positivist, utilitarian, psychological, objectivist, materialist, Wittgensteinian polemics against what amounts to their various ghostly caricatures of transcendentalism. Iris was a tough cookie, neither stupid nor naive. Amazingly, she comes to make such statements as this, years before anyone had heard of Mother Teresa:

Love is the general name of the quality of attachment.... it is the energy and passion of the soul in its search for the Good, the force that joins us to Good and joins us to the world through Good. Its existence is the unmistakable sign that we are spiritual creatures, attracted by excellence and made for the Good. It is a reflection of the warmth and light of the sun.

Of course to have thoughts like that you have to have a spiritual dimension. I won’t repeat at length my reasons for suspecting that Greek philosophy got progressively lost in the middle ages, dying and reviving itself in fits and starts as it encountered both the theological receptivity and the flattening effect of historical Christianity, and leaving us marooned in the “natural” world with only a strangely inverted notion of “universals” by which to remember the ideal ground of our being. (You'll just have to take my word for it.) We no longer have a language for interiority, things unmanifest, non spatial, non temporal, non public, things purely intelligible. The principles which underlie physics and human nature, including the existence of the private reality I call myself, have been redefined by 160 years of reactionary humanism as vaporous nonsense. To make it into a more alarming statement, the object of dialectical study, what used to be called wisdom, that supreme touchstone by which mortal eyes are allowed the liberating Socratic-Vedantic revelation of their own origin and the nature they behold, is today regarded as mystical horse shit by most people on this dense and hedonistic planet. This is the judgement of the mutiny of fools from the tactile swamps of the material world, whose dense reality they have embraced and from whose muddy coils they peer, mocking their betters like medieval idiots. Most of you do not feel this way, but I do. Plowing through "difficult" 20th century thinkers is like stretching my mind to embrace stark and unfamiliar realities, but reading the Platonists is like the waking of memories.

Est, est, non. non, the medieval absolutism that even if relativity is true, the truth is not relative. What is so is so, and does not depend on consensus. I have never made it more than three chapters into a textbook on formal logic. Truth functional calculus is to me bewildering and distant and incapable of considering propositions that cause my soul to resonate, or of explaining why that resonance should occur.

The direction from which things proceed is important to know. Either we are living in a world in which what is within the insides of things burgeons outward to become the selves and essents we see around us, or we are detached visitors plunked into a world of pre-existing objects and our interiors are nothing but dreams. Realists, for some reason, pick the second utterly improbable scenario instead of the first, thinking this pretty much settles the question and requires from them no further philosophical effort. Among the imaginary shortcomings I hold against the realists is that they are gullible and lazy, although that is certainly not true. They only appear that way to outsiders when they are observed hooting at televised sporting events, snagging game fish, hitting golf balls, shooting Iraqi civilians and attending to other things which seem real to them. Philosophical rigor is not actually required from any of us, nor is it expected from those who have no interest in it.

I know as many people today who read philosophy as I know people who are in prison. Possibly there are shadow scholars who, embarrassed by the immodest rantings of poseurs such as me, keep it discreetly to themselves. The names of philosophers are never mentioned in the lunchroom. Ideas are never prompted into expression or referenced to clarify a point, neither classical ideas dimly recalled from Humanities 101 nor the smallest hints of curiosity about having blinked our eyes open upon this bizarre and riveting existential terraine. The ground and explanation of our own being is as remote a topic for us as some dry science. On the positive side, our social environment is free of academic pedantry. On the downside, it is also free of anything approaching critical thought. Today’s students (tomorrow’s manufacturing and retail sales personnel) have attained a level of defiant ignorance at which they have difficulty pronouncing simple words or holding their heads upright. We have become frighteningly dumb. Cognitive torpor has made its way from the blighted barrooms of rural Wyoming to the top levels of business, academia and government. As any photograph of Dick Cheney instantly reveals, even the fully evolved cerebrations of the human mind are today at the service of our medullar zone, the repository of our appetitive, acquisitive, aggressive, reptilian, pornographic and homicidal faculties - all those primary functions we share with snakes and lobsters. Our brains have rediscovered their originating tissues. Like the Hopi, they’ve returned home to their central ganglia, having migrated to the frontiers of human potential to secure the Luciferian tools of tribal survival, the ability to play violins and detonate car bombs .

Any intelligence (Gr: sophrosyne) that finds its way into the great brotherhood of man comes from individuals, and is inevitably dissipated as it spreads into the many, the clubs, the communities, the nations and societies, the inverted, bogus universals, the herds which claim to be more real than cows. Synergy, understood as a social dynamic, is to me the dream and the vapor, the ghost in the mob. I'm burned out on collectives. Everybody these days seems interested in community building of one kind or another, but I have never cared much about it. I belong to a few clubs, and I can testify that they don't get much done. Apart from being inefficient, groups are also immature. An individual might, with effort, learn to behave like an adult. But as corporate bodies grow in size, their concerns and responses grow increasingly petty and childish. City councils are characterized by internal quarrels and ego conflicts. When groups grow to nation size they are pretty well reduced to giant, hungry, belligerent two-year-olds, or trough hogs, preoccupied with market share and territorial dominance. This is what happens to people when they coagulate into large bunches. Leonardo da Vinci's privacy statement, which might have been nailed to the door of his studio, as it was to mine in 1970, said it most clearly:

A painter... must keep his mind as clear as the surface of a mirror, which assumes colors as various as those of the different objects... To the end that the well-being of the body may not injure that of the mind, the painter or draughtsman must remain solitary... While you are alone you are entirely your own and if you have one companion you are but half your own... And if you have many companions you will fall deeper into the same trouble.

The idea that we should stay the hell away from each other probably isn't going to sit well with Fadda Joe, for he believes that the Christian Church is a human collective by which means God fulfills His wish to enter the world and be with His creatures.

In my contrary view, if a historical Christ in fact came to us, it was to call us out of this world. The mystical Body of Christ , the universal that everybody keeps looking for here and there, in Europe and Palestine and Africa, is not the Church, is not in nature, or in space-time. It is to be entered only by radical solitude. The social teachings of Christ seem to me to constitute a call for disengagement from the strife and the enticements and the demands which the world makes on our attention. Let it be. Forgive them. Fuhgeddabouddit. Get peaceful. Turn around. Convert your soul to what is real, and step out of it. Christ spoke to souls. I don't think he had a social agenda. We shouldn't get him mixed up with Karl Marx and Lyndon Johnson. If it weren't for imperfection and evil the world would have no way to exist. Christ didn't tell us to go out and fix the world. He told us to dump our families and follow him. He told us that the poor would always be with us. He told us to let the dead bury the dead. Our world, the world of Adam, the system behind the "system", is a primordial mistake. It is not a fixer upper. It is an unacceptable neighborhood. What is needed is not new wallpaper or a utopian vision; it is to pack up and get out.

The reason God, the source of our being, no longer spends time with us, as He did with the mythical Abraham, is that we have become stupid and corrupt beyond His ability to emulate us. If it is reunion (religion) we are after, believe it or not, it is easier for us, as isolated souls, to regain the intelligence we need to get back in touch with God than for Him to get interested in dog racing and money and the NBA and Brittney's tits so as to be able to converse with us. John of the Cross and Catherine of Sienna had a better shot at it than the Jesuit Order or the Republican Party.

We don't make ourselves less idiotic by organizing ourselves into like-minded groups. We might become less lonely by doing this, or more confident in our correctness, but not one bit smarter. Collectives seem to be alive because they are peopled by living members. But in themselves they are the source of nothing, except for conventions, rules, ossifications and limiting guidelines. This means, among other things, that America is not the source of freedom, the Church is not the source of virtue and society is not the source of common decency. You and I are the proximal source of those things, as well as slavery and evil and selfishness, and to think otherwise is to give away something precious to dead and pompous abstractions, and the exploitative little emperors who promote them.

*****