All posts by anomalogue

The Mercury Mikvah

Sometimes if I drink too much scotch I will announce the “I am never drinking ever again for a week.”

An ironic worldview permits statements like this. Why not admit that eternally-binding resolves, while being experienced in the moment as permanent, are, simultaneously, recognized in history/biography as temporary?

I will argue that this kind of ironizing is not only permissible but necessary and good, and supportive of a liberal, pluralistic society.

A pluralist experiences the self-evident truth and goodness of their own worldview, beliefs, tastes, priorities and moral convictions against a deeper ground of myriad others who also experience their own worldview, beliefs, tastes, priorities and moral convictions as self-evidently true and good.

Pluralism includes pluralism of scale. A historically conscious pluralist is aware that the plurality of worldviews exists not only individually, but collectively. It pertains not only to individuals, but to cultures, and to the deep interrelationships between individuals and cultures. Much of what was obviously and indubitably true and good in the past is now, to us, absurd, abhorrent and naive — and most of all to what seemed most certain and foundational. The same thing is certain to happen to our present shared convictions and foundational beliefs.

Pluralism includes pluralism of self in time. A self-aware, apperceptive pluralist will count among the myriad others their own past selves, and recall the fact, even if they cannot fully recall the experiences themselves (including the convictions and their attendant blindnesses, which, once unblinded cannot be re-blinded).

Pushing pluralism of self in time further, the most radical pluralist will count as crucially important their possible future selves. They will recall themselves prior to a past change, taking care to remember what that past self understood “everything” to include, along with the field of possibilities that followed from it. And they will recall the shock of epiphany, of change in worldview, of change in what seemed evident, relevant, possible and permanent. The experiential resources needed to anticipate future transformation are drawn indirectly (and negatively) from experiences of past transformations.

Pluralism is empathic. An empathic pluralist will strain to do full justice to their memories of the in-between of worldviews and stretch it out into its own story, in a progression of anxiety, to aversion, to panic, and finally to perplexity, where orientation, definition, method, logic and words fail. They will never forget why so few willingly immerse in this mercury mikvah — this expanse of the worldless-blinds, the liminal void, the rings of ego-solvent Hadean waters, the churning chrome of “seen” blindness — and why those facing it deserve understanding, if not compassion.

And finally, pluralism is reflexive, symmetric and demanding. A committed pluralist will know, with the intensest irony, that they, most of all, fear reentering liminal perplexity. Even with their experiences of before, during and blissful after, even with their firsthand evidence and insights — they will balk like everyone else when the time comes for them to follow their own advice. Those others — they are the ones who need to go in. But, the pluralist will also know, with all the irony they can intentionally summon, that they must keep going back in, and that their only claim to their own kind of truth and goodness is going back in, despite their already-knowing of everything worth knowing.

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My moral alchemy has its own weird metallurgy which transmutes silver, gold, mercury and iron(y).

Mutual mutation

Mutual, mutable, mutate and mutant are all derived from the same Latin root, mutare, to change.

Mutual comes from Middle French mutuel, from Latin mutuus — lent, borrowed. Mutable, from Middle English, from Latin mutabilis.

Why should anyone care about this etymological bit of trivia? For me, the profoundest value of entering a relationship of mutuality — of that sacred acknowledgment of thou, of namaste, of the gassho gesture — is its transformative power, which is the most powerful demonstration that otherness is transcendent, real, relevant and radically surprising.

Speaking of etymologies, surprise has a surprising etymology: sur, super + prise, take, derived from prendre. Prendre is also the root of comprise and comprehend, to together-take. Surprise is the eversion (the flipping inside-out) of comprise — to be taken by what is super, beyond, above.

To remain alert to what always transcends any particular comprehension is a kind of everted comprehension that complements every comprehension with expectation of potentially disruptive always-more — I want to call that suprehension.

Comprise : surprise :: comprehend : suprehend

Suprehension is a vectoral state of awareness toward a permanent possibility of radical shock, a something that will change everything, which is the prize of mutuality.

Suprehension is fallibilism, but intensified, charged with positive value and religious significance.

Suprehension is knowledge placed in the context of infinity as qualitative fact.

(Infinity as qualitative fact means infinity produces novel categories that have never before produced instances. And only instances of categories are countable.)

Ideological xenophobia

Short version:

If xenophobia is fear of strangers, it pays for us to ask where in our lives other people seem strangest and most alien.

In the past, it was geographical and cultural otherness that unnerved us most and aroused our hostility.

But in this globalized age, we find people from other cultures — at least the cosmopolitan representatives of other cultures we tend to interact with — to be anything but strange.  To us, they seem like one of us. Cultural differences don’t bother us like they used to.

So where do we feel distance now? Where do we feel the most foreignness? Where do we most fear the unfamiliar?

I would argue the distance between worldviews is now the hardest to traverse.

And I would argue that the very forces that have made it easy to stand on the other side of the Earth make it difficult to understand a worldview antithetical to our own.

Consequently, our sharpest sense of otherness and greatest temptation to start othering people who differ from us is now aimed at worldview.

Let’s call this fear and hostility to people with other worldviews ideological xenophobia.

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Long version:

Merriam-Webster defines xenophobia as “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.”

Normally, strange and foreign applies to different geographies and cultures. These strangers were not like us, because they were from remote places with unfamiliar manners.

But today, in a global economy, where in urban centers cosmopolitanism prevails, where geographical distance is closed with telepresence and affordable high-speed travel, perhaps otherness is no longer geographical. We are used to cutting through superficial cultural differences, different speech patterns, different appearances, so that they no longer seem strange to us — as long as we are assured that they share a similar worldview.

It is a peculiarity of our time that it is actually easier for a person to cross oceans and stand on the other side of the Earth from our own native land than it is for us to learn to think from a perspective opposite of our own. It is now philosophical distance that is hardest to traverse, that creates the most unnerving communication barriers, and which makes people feel strange and threatening.

In this age, we must be vigilant toward new forms of xenophobia — the fear of people who are strange to us because they do not share our worldview.

This vigilance means listening out for the kinds of things traditional xenophobes said about people from other countries, but applied to other beliefs. “I just don’t trust people like that.” “Their beliefs are primitive.” “They are irrational.” “I can’t put my finger on what it is, exactly, but that person just seems weird.” “They threaten my beliefs and ideals.” “They need to either adopt our ways, or shut up, or go away, or face being forcibly pushed out.”

Fighting ideological xenophobia, of course, does entail automatically adopting, or celebrating or even tolerating every difference we find in everyone who ideologically differs from us. It only means not automatically rejecting it or condemning it differs from how we see things. Just as we learned that we had to push aside the discomfort of unfamiliarity and suspicion of other cultures so we could  understand them properly from the inside, the same is the case with other worldviews. If we take their strangeness or apparent threateningness at face value we will never understand them or be able to connect with them.

Traditional and ideological xenophobia share a single origin. It is the result insularity — of knowing only one way to live, think and feel, of being told one’s own way is the best and only good way, and being taught that other ways are worse and less correct. We’ve been on our guard against xenophobia in the forms that have plagued humanity in the past, but we have failed to catch the fact that one particular style of fighting xenophobia can become narrow, brittle and superficial, and can produce its own strange form of xenophobia, which sees as xenophobic any ideological Other who wishes to overcome xenophobia in other ways — deeper ways.

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I think I might start defining ideologies as “xenophobic worldviews”. I’m using xenophobic, in the deeper (fear of stranger) sense of the word, of course.

Feeling, interpretation and reality

I showed this clip of Henry Thomas’s audition for E.T. to Susan yesterday. She says she hadn’t stopped thinking about it since, because it has raised important questions for her: Isn’t it strange and even disturbing that someone can have that much emotion about something that is purely imaginary? This raises further questions: How much of what we feel is directly caused by reality? How much comes from how we interpret reality? How much of it is a response to our own imaginations?

For Susan, this clip is a dramatic case study for exploring some basic questions important to both educators and religious people connected with cultivating ways of thinking, perceiving and acting in the world.

When she shared her reflections with me, my mind took it in a social-political direction: What does it mean to understand another person’s experiences? What elements in accounts of experiences can be reasonably debated? What norms ought to govern conversations about other people’s experiences and what they imply about truth and morality?

Some actual real-life examples:

  • Someone has a religious experience and undergoes a conversion. They see, hear and feel things that they know are real which suggest new truths to them that they consider indubitable and universal. How ought they relate their new truths to someone like myself, who has not experienced what they have? How should I respond to their truth claims, and the assertion that the claims are relevant to and in fact binding to me?
  • Someone is situated differently in society than I am, and has been from birth. They have been treated differently, learned (and absorbed) different beliefs about themselves, must behave differently to get along, and consequently have developed a very different worldview than mine — one that (according to this worldview) makes me unable to understand how they think and feel, implicates me as responsible for the state of society that has produced and continues to produce their situation. And further, the convergence of the essential unknowability of this alien worldview, my complicity in their suffering and my obligation to sacrifice to remedy this state of affairs produces a defensive reaction from people with my worldview. How should I address these claims? How do I respond to the claim that (according to this worldview) there is really only one acceptable response?
  • After a lengthy, arduous and painful struggle with a set of questions, I have a philosophical epiphany and undergo a conversion experience. Only personal struggle with the line of thought I followed will induce the conversion, and until the conversion is undergone, the conversion is impossible to understand at all. I feel isolated in this new worldview (it is like spiritual solitary confinement), and desperately need others in my life to understand it, but to do so requires inordinate amounts of time, energy and suffering. In this situation, what is reasonable to ask from loved ones, especially when they are unable to understand my distress?

 

My friend who shared this video with me got barraged  out of the blue with thoughts yesterday, as these questions coalesced in my head. We had debated the understandability of marginal perspectives, and the morality of listening versus arguing, and trusting versus challenging, and for me this video became a great reference point for the conversation. Here’s the spew, slightly cleaned up:

I can’t believe they were taking E.T. away from Henry Thomas!

Those emotions he was having were real.

And that means the thing he was having emotions about is also real, otherwise we are telling him that his emotions are not real and valid, right?

The only way I can know the truth about the reality he is having emotions about is to talk with him and let him explain it to me. Because i am not the one having those emotions, I have to listen to him about it and believe what he tells me. It is not my place to argue against experiences I don’t know.

Right?

That’s the logic of Progressivism.

There is a confusion between:

  1. the subjective experience (including the emotions),
  2. the interpretation that produces the subjective experience of the emotions, and
  3. the reality that is interpreted and becomes object of the subjective experience.

Progressivism blends these three things into a single unknowability that requires us to listen to the one and to believe what they tell us about a reality they are experiencing, about which they and have special and exclusive knowledge.

Not that there is not special and exclusive knowledge involved in the account. I cannot really know or dispute #1. There I must take someone’s word for it.

But I can, through active listening, come to understand #2. With effort and feedback, I can pick up their way of interpreting their experiences and apply it to make sense of phenomena (this is known as intellectual empathy), even if I cannot have exactly the same subjective experience they have. Further, I can compare this way of interpreting phenomena with alternative interpretations of the same phenomenon, and note the different implications and see where different emotions might occur. While interpretations are not really debatable, they are open to a gentle  form of challenge that far too few people know about: dialogue. I call it gentle because it requires voluntary mutual effort to achieve. (There’s another grisly alternative to interpretive change, which I will only mention but not discuss. Brainwashing can replace one interpretation with another.)

And #3 is entirely public and open to dispute, apart from all emotions. Claims about reality are about things we have in common. The fact that they are perceived, interpreted, experienced and produce knowledge through subjective experience (#1) does not make the reality itself subjective. The reality remains transcendent and open to a plurality of interpretations and subjective responses. It is here where debate is appropriate.

Only if we take it for granted that feelings and objects of feelings are inseparable can we conclude with progressivists that it is impossible to understand the experiences of other people. Only the feelings they have about those experiences are unknowable in principle.

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Many Progressivist who are parents harm their children irreparably though this same confusion. When their children throw tantrums, they fail to pick apart the validity of their emotions from their mode of interpretation and its fidelity to fact. Because the emotions must be honored, so does the childish worldview and the current understanding or misunderstanding of the state of affairs. This prevents children from growing up and learning to separate these three ontological layers, which is a condition of civilized adulthood. Or to put it in old-fashioned language, they spoil their children and make them into confused narcissistic permanent adolescents.

Wordworlds

Design is tacit value proposition.

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[That’s all I meant to say originally, but then this came out…]

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Proposition. As if value is something we talk about.

The greater the value, the more words fail us.

The best design has je ne sais quoi.

The best in life is je ne sais quoi.

Value drives us beyond words.

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Words do matter — a lot! — but they easily become an insulating, alienating layer between ourselves and our interactions.

Words can even slip between ourselves and our words. Fluency gives way to turgidness as words direct words to use words.

Somewhere beneath the layers of linguistic gloves is a wordless hand.

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Poetry is the attempt to handle words directly, skin to skin.

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In the end,
the trees will grow like snakes,
splitting and sloughing bark,
bending in coils of green heartwood;
and the snakes will grow like trees,
depositing skin under skin,
and in their turgid leather casings,
they will lie about on the ground
like broken branches.

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earlier

Rorty therapy

To recover from a rough couple of weeks and, also, to clarify my thoughts on liberalism, I am rereading Rorty’s Contingency, Irony and Solidarity. I wish I still had the paperback I read the first time through, because I would like to see if I am underlining the same things. It feels very different to me reading this in the midst of a Trump presidency, a pandemic shutdown and an unprecedented intensification and expansion of progressivism.

So far, the one thing that is standing out to me, partly because of conversations I’ve been having with fellow-Rortian, Nick Gall, is a suspicion that I might have a slightly different conception of how language fits into human life than Rorty does. I want to try to nail down the difference as simply as possible so I can 1) confirm this difference actually exists, and 2) track the pragmatic consequences of the difference as I continue the book. This is especially important because my next book (or first book, if you do not consider a 9-page art pamphlet a proper book) is closely connected to this question.

So here is what I am seeing. While Rorty and I appear to share an instrumentalist view of language — that is, language ought to be viewed more like tools we use than as expressions of self or representations of world — Rorty appears to privilege language as uniquely constitutive of our human way of being, where I see language as one instrument of many (albeit, the most important one), and that interaction with all of these instruments together contributes much to our being. However even the sum of all instrumental relations falls well short of constituting the whole. Non-instrumental forms of relationship (for instance, those we have with loved ones) are as important as instrumental ones, and constitute much of what we often consider our moral character. If I were to reduce human being to one essential ingredient, I would prefer interaction to language.

No doubt, I will continue this line of thought as I read further.

God, I love Rorty. I am smarter and happier when I’m reading him.

Private totalitarianism

Two of the more novel features of my “ambiliberal” political diagram:

  1. According to this framework, left versus right is a matter of egalitarianism versus hierarchy. Those hierarchies can take any number of different forms depending on the principle of rank. Traditionally, right-wing movements have followed traditional form, such as aristocracy, theocracy or plutocracy. But according to this framework, we should also be alert to newer forms of rank, including technocracy, the rule of experts, which is easily confused with leftism — especially when expertly administered fairness is its primary legitimacy claim .
  2. The nation state is only one kind of concentration of power. Any sufficiently cohesive group, for instance a class, can also rule through other means besides law. For instance economic and cultural levers can be used to control a population as effectively as laws and courts — even outside of constitutionally protected areas. In fact, the reach of coordinated private power can legally violate the Bill of Rights. This affords a private hegemon far more extensive and invasive reach, less oversight and fewer limitations.

If you consider these two possibilities together, it seems not only possible but likely that the next kind of totalitarianism we see could be a private totalitarianism.

 

1200 cubic centimeter universe

The supreme evil is solipsism.

To prefer one’s own imagined world to the transcendently real world —

To prefer one’s own categories to the real being of fellow-beings —

To prefer one’s own theorized dynamics to the actual doing of fellow beings —

To prefer one’s own moral formulae to the intrinsic value of fellow beings —

And to terrorize, dominate, suppress or punish the beings of the real world for non-compliance with one’s own imagined Truth —

All these are symptoms of misapotheosis.

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Misapotheosis is confusing one’s own self with God — It is a hubris of simple ignorance — Of willful ignorance of transcendent being — Of contempt for all that defies one’s own mind-products — Of hatred of infinity and infinity’s dread — Of the dread of the indefinable.

A semblance of omniscience requires shrinking omni to the paltry 1200 cubic centimeters that fit inside a human skull.

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Only with extreme and willful ignorance of the overwhelming majesty and richness of reality can we confuse ourselves for God and prefer our own tiny truth with the vastness of Reality.

To maintain such titanic hubris we need lots of help.

So we duplicate our little omniscience, pour it inside other skulls with a similar need to possess Truth.

This produces universality.

Everyone knows that this contained universe, reproduced inside likeminded skulls is universally true, because everyone who knows anything knows this.

And, also, we know exactly why those others who deny the truth cannot accept the truth.

We know the unbeliever’s conscious and unconscious ulterior motives — and that is a part of the truth we know. Everyone who knows anything knows this.

“What? You search? You would multiply yourself by ten, by a hundred? You seek followers?– Seek zeros! –“

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If you can stand the humiliation of seeing yourself within an infinite perspective — as one unique spark in an infinite fire — you can participate in God instead of needing either to be God, or to deny God.

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Rabbi Simcha Bunim taught: “Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. On one: ‘I am a speck of dust,’ and on the other : ‘The world was created for me.’”

Man, I really hate Fundamentalism

Religion (when it is real religion) helps form an active, mutual relationship between a person and the infinite reality in whom each person participates as a unique, divine spark.

Fundamentalism (which is misunderstood as extreme religion, but which is failure of religion) severs relationship with infinite reality and replaces in with beliefs. The entirety of Fundamentalism’s metaphysics — “god”, types of people, categories, moral judgment — takes place inside the skull of the “believer”. Its heaven is imagined and the god who riles over this imagined kingdom is the believer. I call this misapotheosis: stupid confusion of oneself with God and confusion of Creation with the paltry product of one’s own creative imagination.

Fundamentalism places all emphasis of the factual content of its belief, so it sees no connection between itself and other denominations of Fundamentalism. What could be more opposite, Christianism and Progressivism? But each approaches belief the same way and approaches non-believers the same way. The faith is identical, and the differing content is a superficial difference.

Recovering “Christian” Fundamentalists are especially vulnerable to Progressivism. Fundamentalists rarely are able to recover real religious life. They wander through life god-gutted and empty, able only to stop the Fundamentalist habits, but unable to re-conceive religious life in order to live it. Then something like Progressivist Fundamentalism comes along and the sheer familiarity of it is seductive. Fundamentalism kicks back into motion with new omniscient fervor.

New drug, old habit.

I will say it again: the distance between Fundamentalisms is paper-thin. The distance between Fundamentalism (and its always-oppressive political agendas) and authentic religion (and its liberal agenda — yes liberal religion is the purest form!) is vast.

Susan’s hope, my hope

Susan keeps asking if there might be an upside to the wokeness convulsion our society is undergoing. She hopes it might inspire people to have conversations they might not have otherwise had and to develop real empathy. I’m pretty sure this hope is an expectation widely shared among progressives.

I think the entire project is deformed by a conceptual solipsism that obstructs engagement with actual individuals. Drawing on Buber’s distinction between the social and the interpersonal — the former being the gamelike, rule-bound, role-bound structured interactions among types, and the latter being the rule-transcending, role-transcending dialogical interaction between persons in pursuit of mutual discovery of the uniqueness concealed within one another.

What our current mood does — and this is my primary objection to it — is politicize the personal by hypersensitizing people to categories (roles) and to impose constantly shifting norms upon interactions (rules) which are treated not as innovations in etiquette, but as universal standards of decency, binding not only in present snd future, but also retroactively. The constant changing of the norms, paired with dire and shameful penalties for violating them, and the fact that changes in rules are enforced retroactively leaves people in such a state of horrible tension, self-consciousness and horror at being judged, that even natural behavior, much less the intimate trust and risk required by dialogue is made nearly impossible.

This blend of deeply uncomfortable emotions is misinterpreted as guilt, or as the necessary pain of transcendence. It is stamped out by same mold Christians use to produce repentance, and this is why many former Christian Fundamentalists have become sucked into Progressivist Fundamentalism: it uses the same intellectual muscle memory.

The “dominant” category is eager to demonstrate extreme submissiveness, and the other will rarely resist the temptation to hubristically inflate to enjoy unchallenged dominance.

It is fascinating how a generation who despises, above all, awkwardness and cringy behavior has managed to produce some of the most unbearable spectacles of obsequiousness this century has seen. Everywhere you look intensely nervous, over-friendly NPR-types frantically smile and build bridges of understanding with POC-types, hoping others see their inspiring act and choose to do likewise. They are so unaccustomed to contact with individual personalities, no doubt they believe in this playacting they met a real person and found a real friend. Given the kind of company they find at work and on social media it probably compares favorably. Clifford Geertz’s description of the Balinese concept of lek comes to mind.

So — returning to Susan’s hope — I think that hope is entirely to her credit, and no doubt, she will fulfill it in her own personal actions — but I think most people will simply use this moment to reinforce their Fundamentalist Progressivist ideologies. They will act out their prescribed roles and they will watch other social actors acting out their parts, and everything will conform to the image of the world-in-their-head.

And anyone who arouses doubt, undermines the faith or defies this image and the Truth Idol who rules over it will be punished as severely as possible.

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But!

I actually have hopes of my own.

(Full disclosure: I am reading Yuval’s beautiful annotated translation of the introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology.)

Though few people understand what philosophy is or what it does, what we are undergoing is a philosophical event.

We are witnessing a mass philosophical crisis and deep philosophical shift. It is nothing less than a mass conversion. The problem is: conversion to what…?

What this mass conversion experience might ultimately accomplish — whether the convert is woke or red-pilled — is to help people see for the first time how much metanoia can transfigure experience, and help them understand how much possibility is buried within the world.

This reality is infinite and positively impregnated with new ways to conceptualize, understand, experience and respond to life!

The trick here will be to pry open the closed circle of ideology and open it out into a spiral capable of revering what is beyond it. This will not be easy: Every new convert naturally views their finding of new truth as ripping aside the Veil of Illusion, revealing the True Truth  glimpsed only by an elect few, and so on.

Every new convert awakes into a dream of buddhahood. Every new convert experiences a glimpse of omniscience, sees the world anew through God’s own eyes and experiences the intoxication of intellectual hubris.

It is a long, slow, humbling process to recognize how common this kind of awakening is, and how rare it is for anyone to want to sober up from the thrilling solipsism of apotheosis. (I call this conversion hubris “misapotheosis“.)

The inflowing glory of conversion, however, is better seen as the effect of allowing a little more of divine reality to flood into our lives — along with the awareness that there is infinitely more, and that this can happen repeatedly if we know how to live by that truth.

There are so many days that have not yet broken. — Rig Veda, via Nietzsche

…And most importantly, we must understand the source of these new truths is the uniqueness of every being — not in its identity with other beings, except in its fundamental belonging to the overarching uniqueness constituted of uniqueness: Adonai Echad.

It is through each of us, in our uniqueness, collaborating with unique others, refracting our being through this strangely overlapping interlapping world of ours that raises our sparks and shows us the value of life.

Consider how every individual is affected by an overall philosophical justification of his way of living and thinking–he experiences it as a sun that shines especially for him and bestows warmth, blessings, and fertility on him, it makes him independent of praise and blame, self-sufficient, rich, liberal with happiness and good will; incessantly it fashions evil into good, leads all energies to bloom and ripen, and does not permit the petty weeds of grief and chagrin to come up at all. In the end then one exclaims: Oh how I wish that many such new suns were yet to be created! Those who are evil or unhappy and the exceptional human being–all these should also have their philosophy, their good right, their sunshine! What is needful is not pity for them!–we must learn to abandon this arrogant fancy, however long humanity has hitherto spent learning and practicing it–what these people need is not confession, conjuring of souls, and forgiveness of sins! What is needful is a new justice! And a new watchword! And new philosophers! The moral earth, too, is round! The moral earth, too, has its antipodes! The antipodes, too, have the right to exist! There is yet another world to be discovered–and more than one! Embark, philosophers! — Nietzsche

Amen.

Meditation on the ten-thousand everythings

….it was said that one god, Hermes Trismegistus, had dictated a variously estimited number of books (42, according to Clement of Alexandria; 20,000, according to Iamblichus; 36,525, according to the priests of Thoth, who is also Hermes), on whose pages all things were written. [Anomalogue: From what I’ve read, Hermes Trismegistus was not a god; the god Hermes is a different being.] Fragments of that illusory library, compiled or forged since the third century, form the so-called Hermetica. In one part of the Asclepius, which was also attributed to Trismegistus, the twelfth-century French theologian, Alain de Lille — Alanus de Insulis — discovered this formula which future generations would not forget: “God is an intelligible sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” — Borges, “Pascal’s Sphere”

The universe is made entirely of absolutely unique particles, each constituting the very center of the universe. Only from the vantage point of one of these myriad centers can any of the other myriad particles be understood as identical to any of the others.

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“The ten-thousand things” of the Tao Te Ching are also ten-thousand everythings.

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Myriad is a quantitative quality; it means uncountably many. Ten-thousand was traditionally used to represent myriad, but computers have rendered ten-thousand too puny, so now we say zillions or gazillions.

We should not confuse myriad with infinity. Infinity challenges reality at the definitional — de-finition — level, the category level, which alone makes quantity possible. Only a particular viewpoint can render unique things identical.

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Some spiritual people view Liberalism, the coalition of the unique, as shallow and dry, but this has more to do with the prejudices of conventional spirituality than with the depth or richness of Liberalism itself.

The deepest things are cloaked by myopia. Only looking deeply can reveal depth.

—-

Horseshoe Overton Window

Normally the Overton Window defines a range of discourse between left and right that is considered acceptable. When things get so extreme, however, that we start experiencing the Horseshoe effect, the Overton Window functions differently. Suddenly the Overton Window defines completely disconnected extreme forms of discourse, and the radical disconnect becomes normal whichever socially acceptable extreme you embrace. Liberalism moves outside of the frame, and is viewed on both sides as stupid cooperation with the other extreme. On the contrary: the extremes are in stupid cooperation with one another, serving as justification of extremism

 

Recognizing possibilities of transcendence

There are positive metaphysics which make assertions about reality beyond what can be experienced, and there are negative metaphysics which deny the possibility of making such assertions.

A person who has worked at thinking through problems that started out unthinkable — who had to begin with confronting unthinkability and overcoming it by finding new modes of thinking capable of rendering the unthinkable thinkable — will gradually come to see “beyond experience” differently.

Beyond experience stops being an object of thought, a truth, and rather becomes a zone of indeterminate possibility — with distinctive characteristics one can recognize and about which one can make positive assertions:

  • It compels: we are attracted to it by something within us to transcend our current way of thinking.
  • It repels: the exits from our limitations fill us with anxiety and engulf us in dread.
  • It demands intuition: It can be navigated only by a wordless intelligence that knows, does and values without any ability to explain or justify itself.
  • It demands sacrifice: how we used to think is the chief obstacle to the new way of thinking.
  • It demands rethinking: much of what we once knew will have to be understood anew (metanoia).
  • It generates rebirth: the rethinking changes one’s basic experience of everything, all at once.
  • It is fruitful: it produces new ideas, understandings, interconnections and possibilities that were imperceptible, and in fact, unthinkable prior to transcendence. (Added July 16, 2020. Thanks to Nick Gall.)
  • It increases truth: what came before was not false, but what comes after is more true.
  • It is radically unexpected: with each transcendence truths come into view that were literally unimaginable prior to transcendence.
  • It intensifies expectation: experiencing the radically unexpected assures us that the unimaginable is entirely possible.
  • It is ubiquitous: once we learn to recognize these characteristics, we start noticing them everywhere we look. Existence is pregnant with shocking possibility.

This is why I love philosophy.

This is why I have become religious.

Letter to an angry friend

One reason I have chosen to be Jewish is because the Jewish people has been on both sides of power so many times. This back-and-forth experience is instructive. The change from being dominated to being the dominator is a shock — the totality of being transfigures, apparently permanently. But then dominator becomes dominated, and, shockingly, the totality transfigures again.

If this keeps happening, and a people is miraculously able to survive it, it has a chance to start making connections between these two pseudo-omniscient states and working these insights into its tradition. From where I stand at this point in my life this is the kind of wisdom I care about most.

People often think the goal of spiritual pursuits is apotheosis. I see overcoming apotheosis as more difficult and valuable. Being of God, within God, toward God, without accidentally becoming God, or falling into Godless nihilism, or (as so often happens) doing both simultaneously, is devilishly difficult. 

Rabbi Simcha Bunim taught: “Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. On one: ‘I am a speck of dust,’ and on the other : ‘The world was created for me.'”

Enworldments

I move around in a world of enworldments.

When I meet a person, their enworldment is what I am trying to intuit. When an artifact — object, environment, artwork, anything — attracts my attention, it is because it implies an enworldment with a person at its center.

At times I’ve wanted to call a particular enworldment an instance of “everything”. Applying the pragmatic maxim, roughly “the meaning of a belief is everything that follows from believing it”, an enworldment is the particular totality implied when a particular person says “everything”. Some people might prefer some related words: worldview, lifeworld, totality, philosophy, or, simply, world. I like enworldment because, for me, it implies an attempted embracing and gathering toward a creating/discovering instaurating center.

Some enworldments include within it an awareness and concern for the existence of fellow enworldments. An enworldment of this kind can be called pluralist.

Some pluralist enworldments hold pluralism itself as a supreme value, and wish to respect, cultivate and protect a plurality of pluralistic enworldments, as the very locus of value in the world. This kind of pluralism can be called liberalism.

Some liberal enworldments believe that even the most liberal, most pluralist enworldments contain partial incompatibilities and conflicts, and that entering these conflicts with fellow liberals is not only unavoidable, but valuable. This kind of liberalism can be called agonistic.

However, liberalism of even the most agonistic kind cannot be indiscriminately open to every enworldment. It cannot enter into and grasp from within every enworldment that presents itself, because some enworldments are explicitly opposed on principle to liberalism. Some others claim to be liberal, but function illiberally. While it is not necessary or even good  to reject an illiberal enworldment wholesale, it is necessary to isolate and reject illiberal elements within it. Unfortunately, challenging its illiberal elements threatens the enworldment as a whole, and will provoke its defense systems, which are themselves aggressively illiberal. Countermeasures progress from avoidance, to emotional, to social, to material and finally bodily tactics for protecting the illiberal ideology from what it correctly views as an existential threat.

But it is important to remember that the line between liberal and illiberal is not sharply or clearly drawn, and each liberal must use his own judgment to determine which enworldments to respect or even accept as collaborative partners, which to ignore, which to actively oppose as adversaries, and which to go to war with as true mortal enemies of liberalism. These boundaries are some of the most contentious controversies among agonistic adversaries. The cost of drawing them too hastily and too intolerantly is succumbing to illiberalism.  It is tempting to refuse to draw any lines at all, or automatically draw them as broadly as possible, and, in effect, to default to a tolerant acceptance of all views as valid, but this is a mistake. The risk cannot be avoided.

Liberal enworldments can flourish together; illiberal ones will dominate and suppress all others, liberal and illiberal, alike, often in the name of peace — a peace of utter dominance.

Hannah Arendt on who and what

Two quotes on who and what from Hannah Arendt:

No society can properly function without classification, without an arrangement of things and men in classes and prescribed types. This necessary classification is the basis for all social discrimination, and discrimination, present opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, is no less a constituent element of the social realm than equality is a constituent element of the political. The point is that in society everybody must answer the question of what he is — as distinct from the question of who he is — which his role is and his function, and the answer of course can never be: I am unique, not because of the implicit arrogance but because the answer would be meaningless.

and

The moment we want to say who somebody is, our very vocabulary leads us astray into saying what he is; we get entangled in a description of qualities he necessarily shares with others like him; we begin to describe a type or a “character” in the old meaning of the word, with the result that his specific uniqueness escapes us. This frustration has the closest affinity with the well-known philosophic impossibility to arrive at a definition of man, all definitions being determinations or interpretations of what man is, of qualities, therefore, which he could possibly share with other living beings, whereas his specific difference would be found in a determination of what kind of a “who” he is.

 

 

Coalition of the unique

God lives in the uniqueness buried in the center of every soul.

God is precisely what is not identical — yet, this very uniqueness is what we most have in common.

The connection between our unique centers gives life value.

*

This center-to-center intimacy alone nourishes us. Without it, we starve. Like starving people, we lose our appetites, and eventually nourishment itself becomes life-threatening. If all we are is identity and our relationships are with instances of identity, we can never feel fulfillment, only an engorged emptiment.

The Buddhists describe hungry ghosts as having have tiny throats and huge hollow bellies they cannot fill. Hungry ghosts are identical.

*

Liberalism is the coalition of the unique.

We are the ones who value the unique, and want to protect and cultivate uniqueness in ourselves and in every other person.

*

Liberalism is politics of protecting each and everyone one of us from politics and its imposition of  unwanted, unchosen identities.

We might have to join together temporarily to oppose the imposition of identities upon us, but in the process we must take care not to lose our uniqueness.

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

*

The ideal liberal wants to overcome identifications as soon as possible, and to invite out the strange and surprising being hidden inside the stranger. This is not done through “good listening” where we sit in receptive silence while the other talks. It is done through a collaborative act of conversation, through which uniqueness meets uniqueness, and creates uniqueness.

My best voice

I believe I’m finding my best voice for this time. I have to say something, and I have to say it the right way.

A sample of this new voice, which I sent a friend of mine, explains why I need to speak up.