Category Archives: Judaism


When I was in fourth grade I had my first crush. “Crush” is a fitting term for it. It was too much for a ten-year-old to handle. I became entirely preoccupied with what this other person saw, felt and thought — in particular when she looked back at me.

I had absolutely no idea at this point in my life what might be going on over there in her mind. She was a mystery to me, but somehow her presence in the world turned the entire world magical. The world as I knew it was shocked out of its orbit around myself. I was overcome with a pleasant nausea, my body was wracked and overheated, and I was lovesick.

And the worst possible outcome transpired: She did not like what she saw. She rendered that kind of terrible, inexorable judgment older girls (at least the merciful ones) learn to soften. She was nauseated by me, too — but in a very different way, and it crushed me.

While I never did figure out how to dispel this mystery, or conquer or possess it, or control or suppress it, I did learn how to win more favorable judgments (partly by developing my own judgment). And I learned how to inhabit this magical sphere, how to function and flourish within it, and how to order my life according to its strange laws of mutuality.

And while this way of living did expand the region of clear and mundane familiarity, it also lengthened the shimmering outer boundary where mystery recommences, each time reaffirming the inexhaustibility of mystery.


The above is intended as a response to a question I asked myself in the margin of Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism. He wrote:

Hegel’s strategy here is quite reminiscent of the later Wittgenstein’s dissolution of problems by showing that our terms only make sense in mundane contexts, whereas philosophy confuses itself by taking them out of the language-games where they do work. It is then that we tend to misconstrue notions in bizarre, that is, philosophical ways: “When we do philosophy we are like savages, primitive people, who hear the expressions of civilized men, put a false interpretation on them, and then draw the queerest conclusions from it.” Within normal conversation or during standard inquiry, we can make perfect sense of an idea corresponding to reality as it really is or the world apart from our conceptions, but once we stop these mundane endeavors and become bewitched by the sublime vision of an unknowable world existing in absolute isolation from all human contact, it has gotten away from us.

And I ask: “Why are we attracted — or repelled — by bewitchment?”

I think the answer is contained in the story of my crush.


Show me your response to lovesickness, and I’ll show you your attitude toward religious life…

Do you want immunity to lovesickness? Have you intentionally immunized yourself to it? Or have you accidentally become immune?

Do you want to treat lovesickness, and recover from it as quickly as possible?

Do you want to practice social distancing, or even self-quarantine?

Do you want to deaden its symptoms with drugs and distractions? Or do you want to intensify its symptoms?

Do you want to experience it with full awareness and attention?

Do you want to prolong it forever? Or do you want to catch it, and when its symptoms abate, catch it again, and again, and again?

Do you want to try to inflict it yourself on others? Perhaps without suffering it yourself?

Do you want to possess and control your lovesickness — or possess and control its source? Do you refuse to become lovesick unless you can possess and control it?

Have you refused lovesickness? Do you dismiss lovesickness as an exaggeration of mundane affection? Would you prefer to be lovesick toward an imaginary image?

Would you prefer to be lovesick for yourself? Would you prefer to be lovesick for lovesickness?

Do you scoff lovesickness into nonexistence, or debase it into impossibility?

These are only a few of myriad possibilities.


My favorite opening line to any book is: “Supposing that truth is a woman — what then?”


Martin Buber was the person who activated my Jewish soul:

To man the world is twofold, in accordance with, his twofold attitude.

The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks.

The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words.

The one primary word is the combination I-Thou.

The other primary word is the combination I-It; wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace It.

Hence the I of man is also twofold.

For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.

Primary words do not signify things, but they intimate relations.

Primary words do not describe something that might exist independently of them, but being spoken they bring about existence.

Primary words are spoken from the being.

If Thou is said, the I of the combination I-Thou is said along with it.

If It is said the I of the combination I-It is said along with it.

The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being.

The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.


From Daniel Matt’s The Essential Kabbalah:

Luria wrote hardly anything. When asked by one of his disciples why he did not compose a book, Luria is reported to have said: “It is impossible, because all things are interrelated. I can hardly open my mouth to speak without feeling as though the sea burst its dams and overflowed. How then shall I express what my soul has received? How can I set it down in a book?” We know of Luria’s teachings from his disciples’ writings, especially those of Hayyim Vital.

Luria pondered the question of beginnings. How did the process of emanation start? If Ein Sof pervaded all space, how was there room for anything other than God to come into being? Elaborating on earlier formulations, Luria taught that the first divine act was not emanation, but withdrawal. Ein Sof withdrew its presence “from itself to itself,” withdrawing in all directions away from one point at the center of its infinity, as it were, thereby creating a vacuum. This vacuum served as the site of creation. According to some versions of Luria’s teaching, the purpose of the withdrawal was cathartic: to make room for the elimination of harsh judgment from Ein Sof.

Into the vacuum Ein Sof emanated a ray of light, channeled through vessels. At first, everything went smoothly; but as the emanation proceeded, some of the vessels could not withstand the power of the light, and they shattered. Most of the light returned to its infinite source, but the rest fell as sparks, along with the shards of the vessels. Eventually, these sparks became trapped in material existence. The human task is to liberate, or raise, these sparks, to restore them to divinity. This process of tiqqun (repair or mending) is accomplished through living a life of holiness. All human actions either promote or impede tiqqun, thus hastening or delaying the arrival of the Messiah. In a sense, the Messiah is fashioned by our ethical and spiritual activity. Luria’s teaching resonates with one of Franz Kafka’s paradoxical sayings: “The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival.”

. . .

In the beginning Ein Sof emanated ten sefirot, which are of its essence, united with it. It and they are entirely one. There is no change or division in the emanator that would justify saying it is divided into parts in these various sefirot. Division and change do not apply to it, only to the external sefirot.

To help you conceive this, imagine water flowing through vessels of different colors: white, red, green, and so forth. As the water spreads through those vessels, it appears to change into the colors of the vessels, although the water is devoid of all color. The change in color does not affect the water itself, just our perception of the water. So it is with the sefirot. They are vessels, known, for example, as Hesed, Gevurah, and Tif’eret, each colored according to its function, white, red, and green, respectively, while the light of the emanator — their essence — is the water, having no color at all. This essence does not change; it only appears to change as it flows through the vessels.

Better yet, imagine a ray of sunlight shining through a stained-glass window of ten different colors. The sunlight possesses no color at all but appears to change hue as it passes through the different colors of glass. Colored light radiates through the window. The light has not essentially changed, though so it seems to the viewer. Just so with the sefirot. The light that clothes itself in the vessels of the sefirot is the essence, like the ray of sunlight. That essence does not change color at all, neither judgment nor compassion, neither right nor left. Yet by emanating through the sefirot — the variegated stained glass — judgment or compassion prevails.

Beautiful and most brave

From Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism:

Hegel cannot accept Kant’s transcendental idealism because it presupposes a transcendent realism: the commitment to a realm that in principle can never be experienced by humans.

In the margin I wrote “This is a good commitment; it is the essence of goodness.”

Braver published this book in 2007. It’s a useful book, or at least useful for what I am trying to do with my book (which is to propose a philosophy of design which assumes transcendent realism but affords us finite but significant latitude to design our own transcendental conceptive schema through which we may interact with the inner-face of transcendence and participate within reality in life-enhancing ways.)

It approaches the Continental Realism versus Anti-Realism debate using methods drawn from analytic philosophy to produce clear, sharp distinctions on a number of key fronts — and to demonstrate how analytic and continental styles of philosophy can be used in concert for better depth and thoughtcraft.

A few years later, Braver published a followup paper, “A Brief History of Continental Realism”, where he introduced a new term “Transgressive Realism” which he described as

a middle path between realism and anti-realism which tries to combine their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses. Kierkegaard created the position by merging Hegel’s insistence that we must have some kind of contact with anything we can call real (thus rejecting noumena), with Kant’s belief that reality fundamentally exceeds our understanding; human reason should not be the criterion of the real. The result is the idea that our most vivid encounters with reality come in experiences that shatter our categories, the way God’s commandment to kill Isaac irreconcilably clashes with the best understanding of ethics we are capable of.

This is exactly what I believe, which why I’ve described my metaphysics as a metaphysics of surprise. Only surprise reminds us that something transcends our minds. As Bruno Latour put it, “Whatever resists trials is real.” Our participation in reality constantly produces resistance, and helps us recognize the difference between our understanding and what engages our understanding while exceeding it.

I attach religious significance to actively wanting transcendence, reality, resistance and seeking it even while we seek to understand. We do understand, but there is always more to understand — inexhaustibly more — and if we are alert, sensitive and generous, we will notice how much and how often we need to understand differently and better, in order to accommodate our fellow-persons and those aspects of reality they care about. This is not worship of human “otherness”, but human otherness where transcendence reveals itself and challenges us most conspicuously.

Unfortunately, power has a way of tempting us to substitute our own understanding for reality. We want to control our environment to use technology to keep things things reliable and predictable in order to tame surprise and constrain and confine it to the realm of play. A little surprise delights us. Radical surprise disrupts us, immerses us in chaos, crushes us with perplexity.

Even the threat of impending radical surprise fills us with apprehension and puts us in fight-or-flight mode. It makes us nasty.

And here is where power gets its bad reputation. If a fellow person threatens us with radical surprise, and we have the means, we will use our power to make that threat go away. We will require that person to be polite and avoid controversial or potentially hurtful topics. We will prohibit certain bad opinions from being spoken in public. Then we will prohibit these opinions from being said in semi-public, then from being said in private. Then even indirect or accidental expressions become taboo. Eventually even the suspicion that these opinions are privately held — or even unconsciously present — is addressed as a threat. We might feel entitled or even obligated to help people stop having these beliefs and adopting our own instead. We may start requiring behaviors that are performative affirmation of our beliefs. We might require explicit declarations of agreement, as conditions of employment or membership in civil society. In some places and times, these conforming behaviors and declarations have been conditions of the right to continue living in the community, or living at all.

A person with control of enough wealth, institutions and political force will almost inevitably, unconsciously begin to slide in this direction, demanding more and more surprise-damping conformity from fellow-persons to erase the disturbing difference between transcendent reality and our own thoughts about it.

Solipsism is the ultimate luxury; when weaker people are compelled to serve the solipsism of the stronger, this is abuse of power.

To be good, we must want transcendence, seek transcendence, accommodate transcendence even when we have the power to dictate reality to those lacking the power to resist and to be respected as real.


Pay close attention to who is unworthy of your consideration — because here is where your root biases — your sacred biases — do their work.

Pay attention to those biases you are biased toward and those you are biased against, because these are where your root biases reveal themselves to others while concealing themselves from you. These also are biases — your sacred biases, the ones who do the most self-righteous evil.

Critical thinking makes its own thinking the object of critique — it is reflexive. Critical thinking avails itself of the critiques of others to detect what it would otherwise miss. We are tempted to choose only the critiques from others that we are biased toward receiving — the ones who reinforce our sacred biases — but these are self-gratifying and easy, which is why this kind of “critique” is so popular — and, for a enterprising exploiter of fads, so lucrative. People don’t go to tent revivals because they are averse to being called sinners. They go because the diagnosis and remedy is a small price to pay for moral omniscience.

Listen to those who are angry and fucking hate your guts because you are so comfortable, complacent, omniscient, smugly self-satisfied, so aligned with “the right side of history”, so good — when in fact you are just a typical oppressor, too powerful to be confronted with that fact.

Consider for a moment, the possibility that, despite all their obvious faults, whether they are not to some degree justified in hating you. Test your irony and see if you can hold both conceptions in your mind simultaneously and hear the chord they form. Switch from straw-manning their faults to steel-manning their assessment of your faults. See if you can hear all four sides of this conflict.

Do all this and then I might respect you as a critical thinker and a lover of transcendence — of wisdom — of inconceivable conceptions waiting to be born.


Nietzsche said:

There is a point in every philosophy when the philosopher’s “conviction” steps onto the stage — or to use the language of an ancient Mystery:

adventavit asinus
pulcher et fortissimus.

The ass entered
beautiful and most brave.

My conviction, beautiful and most brave: Thou shalt welcome the stranger… transcendence.

This conviction, this priority, this “prior” — this sacred bias — is unreasonable and stupid, and I am unable to not believe it is absolute good.

Maybe you can help me believe otherwise.

Pluralism and open faith

Some faiths are open-ended. Such a faith is aware that it animates only one way of being — and produces only one way of understanding being (and of responding to being). This way of understanding receives truth, as given, in its one particular way (and responds to being in its one particular way) — but with awareness that many other ways are possible. And it might also be aware, or even anticipate, that multiple possible ways can be actualized in a single lifetime.

But some faiths are closed. These faiths believe they possess knowledge of what animates reality itself, and that what varies from their own way of understanding, to the degree that is conflicts with or confuses is wrong.

A way of understanding and responding — what I am calling faith — is not the same thing as belief, or knowledge, opinion or doctrine. Belief, knowledge, opinion and doctrine are only the content of faith, where faith is what contains the content and, by its containing, shapes the content and renders it intelligible and known.

(Technical note to myself: Faith transcendentally conceives truth. The form imparted by faith on any understood truth is concept. The specific material conceptually shaped by faith into an instance of a concept is content. But content only gives us some of being, not all of it. Every concept, in its selection and exclusion, makes tradeoffs of illumination and shadow. Every faith, in its habitual patterns of selection and exclusion, makes tradeoffs of illumination and shadow. We know only our own faith’s enworldment, not the world in its chaos of possibility. Ignore this if you wish. Leave it in the shadows as irrelevant, or not-yet-relevant.)

Many people who have known only by one faith conflate container and content, and believe when they change opinions they’ve changed their mind as radically as a mind may be changed. These are the clever philistines.

Others change from one closed faith to another, and experience the second closed faith as waking up to the truth after a long delusion. These are the awakened omniscients.

Strangely, all open faiths, despite their diversity, share something in common — perhaps the most important thing — that one most needful thing rejected by closed faiths — a belief in transcendence, in mystery, in possibility of change of the most surprising kind… of change toward one another as we outspiralingly embrace more and more inexhaustible being.

I call the doctrine that expresses this open faith and its orientation toward the hopeful and unseen pluralism.

I understand very few are capable of this faith.

This faith is the essence of living religion.


“You do not believe in God,” [Alyosha] added, with a note of profound sadness in his voice. But suddenly remarking that his brother was looking at him with mockery, “How do you mean then to bring your poem to a close?” he unexpectedly enquired, casting his eyes downward, “or does it break off here?”

“My intention is to end it with the following scene: Having disburdened his heart, the Inquisitor waits for some time to hear his prisoner speak in His turn. His silence weighs upon him. He has seen that his captive has been attentively listening to him all the time, with His eyes fixed penetratingly and softly on the face of his jailer, and evidently bent upon not replying to him. The old man longs to hear His voice, to hear Him reply; better words of bitterness and scorn than His silence. Suddenly He rises; slowly and silently approaching the Inquisitor, He bends towards him and softly kisses the bloodless, four-score and-ten- year-old lips. That is all the answer. The Grand Inquisitor shudders. There is a convulsive twitch at the corner of his mouth. He goes to the door, opens it, and addressing Him, ‘Go,’ he says, ‘go, and return no more… do not come again… never, never!’ and — lets Him out into the dark night. The prisoner vanishes.”

“And the old man?”

“The kiss burns his heart, but the old man remains firm in his own ideas and unbelief.”

On Faith

Faith is that by which we experience reality as real and true. Faith takes what is given as given.


We might say we “have faith”, but we should not allow this expression to mislead us: Faith is not a possession; faith possesses. We do not have faith; faith does our having.

One of the things faith possesses is the content of our beliefs. If something is actually believed, faith’s action actualizes the belief.

(Faith does much more than believing beliefs, but for now, let’s focus on beliefs.)

Sometimes we want to believe something that we cannot actually believe, because faith somehow refuses to accept and actualize an authentic belief. Sometimes we claim to believe it anyway, and this is bad faith.

Other times we argue something to demonstrate its soundness, but faith still refuses to accept the conclusion and actualize it as a belief — even while accepting the validity of each part. But we claim to believe the conclusion anyway, and this is weak faith.

Sometimes it is not us, but someone else who argues to a conclusion our faith does not accept and actualize as a belief. We are told that the argument compels us to believe, and unless we can show some flaws in the argument, we are obligated to accept the conclusion. This is an attempt to exploit weak faith. And sometimes the argument serves a second function: the logical hectoring exhausts and weakens faith, making it more susceptible to exploitation.

Much rationalism systematically weakens faith, in order to replace actual belief with constructions grounded solely in a faith in rational thought. It leaves us free to construct whatever theory we wish to believe. It also leaves us vulnerable to being made to believe things powerful people wish us to believe. We are taught to fear cognitive bias, motivated reasoning, unconscious prejudice — and in order to overcome it we “put our faith in experts” and stop concerning ourselves with the question “but do I actually believe this?” Or we ask it without concern for the answer, because we believe we can train ourselves to believe any well-constructed theory, and with time, the theory will become habitual and belief will follow.

Here intellectual honesty devolves into existential bullshit, in the technical sense proposed by Harry Frankfurt in his essay turned gag-gift bestseller On Bullshit:

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

A great many people today — perhaps a majority — have bullshit faith.

They don’t care whether they believe what they claim to believe, only that the people who are like them — the best-intentioned, best-educated, best-informed, best-all-around people — claim to believe this stuff, and the worst people reject it for bad reasons.


None of this is to say faiths are fixed and inalterable.

We can change them, and for the better.

But to change them we must become more sensitive to what faith gives us, and what it refuses to accept.

We must start by respecting our faiths.

Exnihilist irruption

Once again, I’ve been reading selections from the Sophia Perennis.

My response today, as it has been from the beginning is this: Accepting as given the intellective certainty that we are endowed with microcosmic insight to know a divine macrocosmic Absolute is certainly one beautiful way to understand the human condition and to relate ourselves to that which transcends, envelops and involves us.

An Absolutist can prove the Truth of this understanding — and I cannot disprove it.

But proofs prove nothing, unless we start from a faith that they do.

I do not share this faith that Logos and the Absolute are one and the same — not even from a human perspective. In other words, I am not Christian, though I do love Christianity.* (see note below.)

From where I stand, the only absolute I know is a simple fundamental fact of human condition: I am — as we all are — finite being situated within infinite being, whose being, by virtue of infinitude, defies all totalizing conception. I am inclined to include also the concept of being itself as defied by infinitude.

It is the task of faith to relate ourselves — I — to infinite Thou — from the very heart of this all-encompassing, edgeless Thou. And this task requires more than the conceiving mind. It requires one’s entire being — mind, feelings, intuitions, willpower, blood, muscle, bone. All these are mobilized by faith that relates I to the Infinite One.

Through my own urgent incessant efforts to find the inadequacies in my own totalizing conceptions, I have arrived at a faith that infinity is inexhaustibly capable of shocking my finite conception with new revelations beyond the limits of my current conceptive capacity.

For this to happen, I must welcome the inconceivable shock before its advent, enduring the dread that heralds its coming — and to do all this for the sake of the shock itself and not for the reward of epiphanic bliss that often follows the shock.

Each time this happen, I am invited or demanded to conceive a new way to accommodate the new revelations as well as a way to relate myself to this incredibly strange situation of being within being among beings, where at any moment, if you maintain an open heart, new beings may enter from the edges of nowhere, ex nihilo.

If I am anything, I am exnihilist.

But this accommodation is never final. No norm is ever finally just, however just it seems to the judge who judges it. We fiddle away with our codifications, persuaded we at last have Knowledge of Good snd Evil. But only the appeal, only the shock of the suppressed voice finally heard is just, and it comes from beyond what we conceive.

Whence things have their origin,
Thence also their destruction happens,
According to necessity;
For they give to each other justice and recompense
For their injustice
In conformity with the ordinance of Time.

(* NOTE: “What is love but understanding and rejoicing at the fact that another lives, feels and acts in a way different from and opposite to ours?” We must not try to be who or what we love; we must be with, toward, for our beloved. Only then can we participate in I-transcendent We. This We is as inconceivable as God Godself, and this We is as much God as any finite being can hope to be. A Jewish sage presented love of God and love of neighbor as one and the same highest mitzvah. Do both in one action of love, or you do neither.)


If we somehow manage to stop interposing concepts between ourselves and reality — something that any meditator will tell you is easier to think about than to do — and to simply attend to the present, can we spontaneously receive what we — I — now find here in this present?

Is receiving the given present only a matter of opening the door so the present can enter — or, everso, so we can get out of ourselves to meet it?

Or is there an effort of some kind to enable ourselves capable of accommodation — a preparation for each new given? A spiritual hospitality?

Or is the effort of accommodation only for those givens we ask to stay and to join our household, where some givens are only guests who are welcome to come and go?

Or does our hospitality for present givens allow accommodation to develop in collaboration with our guest — to instaurate residence if our given chooses to stay and share our home?

Invitation, hospitality, then accommodation, then residence…


The door is often locked shut by the thought of openness, which substitutes opening with thinking about opening and striving for an experience of openness.

If you have meditated for long hours, you might know what I mean.

If you have not meditated for long hours, you will certainly know what I mean.

This is a religious matter, and with religion one always already knows, unless by some miracle one stops always already knowing so something new can happen.

Buber on misapotheosis

Martin Buber, in his Introduction to Pointing the Way makes an extremely important distinction between two forms of religiosity:

In this selection of my essays from the years 1909 to 1954, I have, with one exception, included only those that, in the main, I can also stand behind today.

The one exception is ‘The Teaching of the Tao,’ the treatise which introduced my 1909 translation of selected Talks and Parables of Chuang-tzu. I have included this essay because, in connection with the development of my thought, it seems to me too important to be withheld from the reader in this collection. But I ask him while reading it to bear in mind that this small work belongs to a stage that I had to pass through before I could enter into an independent relationship with being. One may call it the ‘mystical’ phase if one understands as mystic the belief in a unification of the self with the all-self, attainable by man in levels or intervals of his earthly life. Underlying this belief, when it appears in its true form, is usually a genuine ‘ecstatic’ experience. But it is the experience of an exclusive and all-absorbing unity of his own self. This self is then so uniquely manifest, and it appears then so uniquely existent, that the individual loses the knowledge, ‘This is my self, distinguished and separate from every other self’. He loses the sure knowledge of the principium individuationis, and understands this precious experience of his unity as the experience of the unity.

When this man returns into life in the world and with the world, he is naturally inclined from then on to regard everyday life as an obscuring of the true life. Instead of bringing into unity his whole existence as he lives it day by day, from the hours of blissful exaltation unto those of hardship and of sickness, instead of living this existence as unity, he constantly flees from it into the experience of unity, into the detached feeling of unity of being, elevated above life. But he thereby turns away from his existence as a man, the existence into which he has been set, through conception and birth, for life and death in this unique personal form. Now he no longer stands in the dual basic attitude that is destined to him as a man: carrying being in his person, wishing to complete it, and ever again going forth to meet worldly and above-worldly being over against him, wishing to be a helper to it. Rather in the ‘lower’ periods he regards everything as preparation for the ‘higher.’ But in these ‘higher hours’ he no longer knows anything over against him: the great dialogue between I and Thou is silent; nothing else exists than his self, which he experiences as the self. That is certainly an exalted form of being untrue but it is still being untrue. Being true to the being in which and before which I am placed is the one thing that is needful.

I recognized this and what follows from it five years after setting down this small work. It took another five years for this recognition to ripen to expression. The readers for whom I hope are those who see my way as one, parallel to their own way towards true existence.

I’ve called the confusion of the unified self with the All-Self misapotheosis.

I do not believe that Taoism is a religion of misapotheosis, but I do think that the shift from an ecliptic mode of existence to an authentically existential one does lead one through a “soliptic” mode — an philosophically-induced autism — that frees a soul from onerous conceptual obligations and liberates it to reconceive existence in a more spontaneously intuitive mode.

This soliptic state produces so much pleasure it tempts a soul to a life of permanent alienated bliss, defended by an attitude of “contemptus mundi” toward whatever threatens to re-obligate it. Many spiritual people are imprisoned by this liberation and never escape it.

Faith and belief

I remember years ago feeling perplexed by the question of whether belief and faith were synonymous, or somehow distinct.

My philosophical-designerly praxis has, over time, induced in me a faith in which, by which, through which I spontaneously experience a sharp, clear distinction between faith and belief. That experience causes me to believe that faith and belief are related, but distinct.


Number me among the faithful. But if you’re numbering believers, count me out.


  1. The fabric of faith is delicate, unless it is reinforced with texts.
  2. The wrong question can tear faith.
  3. Few of us want to know what we cannot know, and most of us want to not know. So, if you already have your answer, don’t ask.
  4. Etiquette is wise: some incuriosity is prudent, and some concealment is virtuous.
  5. Nobody wants you to bring your whole self to work, and those who invite it want only the part of you that is redundant and countable.
  6. Even when faith is woven between the lines of belief, the thread of faith disintegrates long before beliefs give out.
  7. Nothing is more enviable — nor envied — than authentic faith; hence, false faiths.


Truth is what we experience through faith. Belief is what we assert about the truth we experience.

Alternative Exodus

In my alternative Exodus, God gives Moses a bill of Ten Rights.

The Israelites still wander about in the wilderness for forty years, craving the relative luxury of Egyptian servitude, but they refuse to invade Canaan because they do not want to displace its indigenous people. Instead they politely settle unoccupied regions in the wilderness. Their new non-European wilderness neighbors welcome them with casseroles and pound cakes. All live together peacefully.

The Prophets are the conscience of the people, the champions of the Ten Rights. They champion the Ten Rights, not only in letter, but, more importantly, in spirit.

Guided by the spirit of the Ten Rights, the Prophets discover and condemn successively subtle infringements. When violent infringements of the Ten Rights are finally conquered, the prophets discover and condemn material infringements. When material infringements are stopped, then speech infringements are condemned. Then infringements of conscious thought are stopped.

Finally, the prophets put a stop even to infringements of unconscious thought.

In this way, God is understood to have given to the Israelites the Infinite Commandment. And now all may think, feel and behave identically, in accordance with God’s infinite tolerance.

Instaurationalism’s fork

Once we finally recognize the degree to which truth is instaurated through our own participation in our own local and contingent patch of reality, we are faced with a decision, which is an ultimate matter of faith:

  1. We can take this recognition of truth’s being as somehow absolute, or
  2. We can take this recognition of truth’s being as just the latest and greatest contingent truth.

What does this choice mean?

It is a question of life in the objective-all, or life from the subjective-here.

To put it Jewishly, it is a question of responding with keter or hineini.


As so often happens, a methodological and ethical point, which I learned from the Christian Pragmatist C. S. Peirce, barges to mind:

“We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy. These prejudices are not to be dispelled by a maxim, for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned. Hence this initial skepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt… Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.”

Can I actually, in good faith, doubt that my contingent belief in instaurationality (that truth is instaurated through participation in reality) is — both epistemologically and morally — right?

…But then, given this truth, even this very truth must be contingent…

But is this essentially a truth, an idea to be comprehended? Is it perhaps, rather, a self-situating, an orientation, an attitude — an intellective act that is not essentially comprehension, but something else? A new mode of participation…? Not an epistemic act but a moral act…?

Perhaps it is our own responsibility to embrace this one infinitesimally finite selfpoint — this hineini — this I — and to live it fully as our own situatedness within and toward the infinite One, Echad. This is my conviction.

To me, where I am now, a Jew, the alternative to being one is to attempt to embrace infinity, and, consequently to render ourselves zero.

One might see the attempt to embrace infinity by identifying ones own truth with Its truth — and consequently suffering self-annihilation — as an act of devotion or humility.

I, however, see this as the ultimate hubris — misapotheosis — an act of supreme irresponsibility. But maybe it really is apotheosis. Maybe it is anatta, nibbana.

We are in the realm of the tragic. Ambinity. One or Zero-Infinity?


If I am not mistaken, this fork in the road is the where existentialism and postmodernism diverge.

Some take one, some take the other, and most balk.


When I was in school, it seemed obvious that any quantity divided by infinity is zero. Clearly.

Why shouldn’t we just admit this fact? Why prohibit the operation?

As an adult, I now understand: because the subject we were studying was mathematics.


Shanah Tovah.

I, Thou, We

We is an immanent-transcendent hybrid.

In any We there is immanent I and transcendent Thou. Each participates in the We and collaboratively brings it to life.

Both individualism and collectivism misses part of the picture and in practice alienates self from other, or the self from self.


Most marriages are either two legally-joined selves who remain alienated from each other, or one self-alienated self wholly dedicated to another self. And most people believe these are the only two options. Love can’t happen where there is only fairness or altruism.

Consequently, many are wedded, but few are married.

It is a theological mistake to treat God as as a Thou. God is All, and therefore Thou — but not only Thou.

Distributed divinity

My theology is one of distributed divinity.

Every person is a swarm of divine sparks of intuition seeking pluralistic unity in a self — I. Every self seeks pluralistic unity with other selves — We. And each We seeks ever greater scales of pluralistic unity — We expanding toward and beyond the bounds of universality.

This my understanding of the meaning of the “raising the sparks” at the heart of Kabbalah.


Distributed divinity is politically enacted through distributed judgment in all its various forms (liberal-democratic, economic, cultural, etc.)


Any group who aspires to centralize judgment around its own ideological convictions of what is true and just suffers from collective hubris.


I believe with the Greeks that tragedy is the fate of hubris.

I understand comedy and tragedy to be a matter of perspective.

Tragedy is hubris experienced from a first-person perspective (I or we).

Comedy is hubris witnessed from a third-person perspective (he, she or they).

Whether something feels playful and comic or serious and tragic has everything to do with whether it pertains to you as a first-person being or whether you detach yourself and view it from a third-person vantage.


Staying aloof, refusing to engage in the first-person, and viewing what others take seriously as comic — these are all ways to savor power and invulnerability.

This is why we mock enemies with a smile.

A smirk of this kind says “I don’t have to take you seriously”.

A punch in the face says “Yes you do.”


Revolutions are what happen when words stop working.


Especially right now, decent people must do their part to make words work.

To make words work, we must really listen to reason, which means seeking the validity of other views, not dismissing, condemning or mocking them.

We must seek persuasion, and settle for nothing less. We must approach others as equals, and try earnestly to persuade them, while remaining open to being persuaded ourselves. This is entirely different from convincing ourselves that we are right by making arguments that demonstrate to our own satisfaction the superiority of our own view. It is also different from polemically bludgeoning another person until they surrender just to make the bludgeoning end.

And when seeking to persuade, never forget that nobody is fooled by feigned listening. Forced politeness is never mistaken for real respect. If you can’t find it in yourself to respect the other, don’t talk to them, because it will make things immeasurably worse. The use of pretend listening and faked respect as rhetorical tools — liberal “dialoguing” of the Al Gore variety has insulted and alienated at least two generations of conservatives, and it must stop or progress will continue to reverse.

Reason only works when it is underwritten with authentic respect and equality.


If you can’t see how you can possibly be wrong — if you can’t understand how someone could believe what they do — if you cannot imagine changing you mind on on some moral matter — none of these are evidence of anything other than a personal incapacity — an incapacity that can be overcome through dialogue.

We never see how wrong we are — or how much more right we can be — until the very instant an epiphany hits and we suddenly and spontaneously conceive an insight that, just a moment before, was inconceivable.


Faith in dialogue has superseded my commitment to all other particular beliefs.

My Judaism is existential.

Golden Means

It is interesting that the Golden Mean can refer either to the Aristotelian Mean or to the Golden Ratio.

The Aristotelian Mean situates virtue in the middle or a moral continuum with deficiency at one extreme and excess at the other. For instance the virtue of courage is found between the deficient state of cowardice and the excessive state of rashness.

A similar idea is present in the Kabbalistic Sefirot, where attribute of God are presented in complex balance with one another. For instance Gevurah, “severity” is balanced with Chesed “love”. If these two attributes fall out of balanced relation they cease to be Gevurah and Chesed but instead degenerate into hatred or sentimentality.

In some forms of Chassidism, the mean between Chesed and Gevurah is not precisely at the mid-point. The ideal is to lean toward Chesed. It seems the same idea could be applied to courage, that perhaps the ideal is tilted toward rashness.

A crazy part of me wants to suggest the ideal point is not at the 50% point, but in fact at the 61.8033988749894…% point.


I would like to propose that the virtue of responsibility falls between limitless obligation and limitless freedom.

But it is interesting to ask: in this virtue mean which extreme would be the deficiency, and which the excess? Is excess taking for oneself too much freedom? Or is excess taking on too much obligation? If there is a preferable tilt, which way does it go?


Conceptive understanding is a matter of presequence: given some particular fact, to what questions can it be understood to be an answer? This is hermeneutic meaning.

Synthetic understanding is a matter of consequence: given some particular fact, what facts follow, logically and or causally? This is pragmatic meaning.

But “what follows” is determined by (enabled and limited by) what questions we can meaningfully ask. Conceptive understanding is what makes live questions live, what animates our asking, what invests a search with urgency.

The primary and universal givens and questions of mundane human life — practical questions concerning other people, faces, animals, natural and artificial objects, dwellings, terrains, emotions, dispositions, intentions, and so on — are universal because all people are concerned with them. Upon these, questions of biological functioning hang. “What is this?” “What can I do with it?” “Is it dangerous?” “Can I use it?” “Can I eat it?” “Should I get away from it?” “Should I approach it?” “Can I break it into pieces?” “Can I make something out of it?”

From these primary givens all manner of complex synthetic understandings can be built up. These ramifying, interconnected syntheses form systems.

Sometimes synthetic systems will “click” and a gestalt will emerge from a system. One suddenly intuits the system as a whole. Or, better, one intuits a whole together with its parts, as an articulated whole. In such cases we develop a complementary mutually-reinforcing conceptive-synthetic understanding.

(Philosophers, especially, love conceptive-synthetic understandings, though they rarely foreground this taste and instead simply look through it at their various objects of thought. But this is how conceptive understandings essentially are: they are not themselves objects of thought, but instead mediate our thinking and produce some sense of objectivity. This makes them impossible to think about if we expect all thinkable entities to be mental objects. Synthetic understanding, failing to find graspable elements to connect, makes an objection: “This does not compute.”)

Conceptive understandings are not necessarily limited to synthesized gestalts — or at least, they don’t have to be, unless we intentionally limit them. To liberate themselves from irrational notions, many rationalists discipline their thinking to fully accept as true only synthesis-vetted conceptions, and to tune out or psychologically compartmentalize the many other conceptions — such as mental, emotional, verbal and imaginative associations, aesthetic perceptions, superstitions, fantasies, etc. — that happen constantly during any ordinary day. We select some conceptions to take seriously and integrate into our sense of truth, and bracket innumerable others that interfere with our systematic understanding of truth built up from primary givens.

My belief is that there is another unacknowledged ground of truth that complements primary givens, with a conceptive understanding of the ultimate whole. But, being conceptive, it shares that unnerving refusal to be an object of thought, and instead mediates our sense of “everything”. I have called this “enception” — that whole from which all conceptive understandings are articulations. I believe it is precisely from our enception that all conceptive understandings derive their meaning, their life, their urgency, their animation. And so, if we only permit truth in the form of synthesis of primary conceptions, our overall sense of meaning in life can become attenuated or even cut off and starved.

I believe all healthy religious life attempts to discipline thought and action to articulate one’s enception in such a way that one’s sense of truth is animated by it. Ideally, because I am both philosophically religious and religiously philosophical, I want the synthetic truths I build up from primary givens to mirror, as exactly as possible, the gestalt givens that I spontaneously recognize in the world around me.

Or to say it better; I want my angels to ascend all the way from Earth and to descend all the way from Heaven on the same ladder.


Let’s call the state of full enceptive-synthetic correspondence synesis.

I learned this word from Richard J. Bernstein who died on July 4th this year. May his memory be an ever-expanding, ever-deepening, ever-intensifying blessing.

The roots of givenness

My family uses a haggadah from the Jewish Labor Committee. It gets overbearingly, even comically, socialist at many points, but we love it. Before blessing the wine, we read:

Consider the cup of wine which we are about to drink. Countless sets of hands played a role in bringing this wine to our seder: the entrepreneurs and farm-owners who decided to direct their energies and capital into the wine business, the workers who planted and pruned the vines, those who picked the grapes, the vintners who directed the fermentation of freshly-harvested fruits into wine, the janitors who kept the winery clean and sanitary, the truck drivers and loading dock workers who transported the finished product, the clerks at the wine shops, and the servers who bring the wine to our tables tonight.


Our world is a miracle of coordinated effort. If we don’t pay attention as consumers we can forget this and casually stop remembering that food doesn’t just grow on grocery shelves.


What you consume comes from somewhere, and you might be surprised how much effort and pain is invested in bringing you your pleasures.


This principle is true, also, for philosophical consumption.

The conceptions that inspire and delight you were brought forth from the chaos somehow, and this process is strenuous and often extremely painful.

By the time ideas arrive to you as a book or paper or article, it has been processed and ready for convenient consumption.


What a delightful, playful object a smartphone is!

How delightful it is to shop at Whole Foods and buy ingredients for our dinner party!

How delightful it is to read ideas, play with them, and to feel inspired to invent one’s own original ideas!


We steal gifts when we refuse gratitude — when we just help ourselves to things as if they are just there for the taking.

Our givens have roots.

We should notice when we start taking new givens — new technologies, new services, new inspiration — even new problems…

Those givens aren’t just anonymously deposited upon the earth by reality to be mindlessly consumed.

Look for sources for these good things, and rather than feeling the ache of guilt, try feeling gratitude for the pain someone bore so you didn’t have to.

Ignoring the pain, denying the pain, squinting at the pain, or worst of all, claiming that it all could have come to you without the pain — that is just stealing gifts.


I’ve heard that is is better to thank people for their forbearance instead of apologizing for your mistakes. The former produces entangling indebtedness — relationship. The latter, release from responsibility.


Then the Jewish Labor Committee Haggadah instructs us to say:

Just as we are dependent upon so many of God’s children, many of whom we will never know, all of God’s children deserve basic dignity, respect and sustenance. With this cup, we recognize and honor our interconnectedness with all people.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam borei p’ree hagafen

Blessed are you, Source of all Life, who creates fruit of the vine.


Thank you.

Who goes first?

My Jewish friend sent me this text:

I’m fascinated with reconciliation. I still think the left cannot reconcile with the right… it has to come from the right. Or it won’t go anywhere, and the left’s best move is scorched earth.

My reply:

As you know, I often say “Jews go first,” When I say this, I say it with the profoundest respect: In a conflict of irreconcilable visions, it is the deeper and more mature soul who will summon the will and wisdom to initiate reconciliation. This is what made me want to be Jewish.

When thinking and envisioning ways our nation might come out of our crisis of contempt, until recently I assumed that it would be up to the Left to make the first move. This belief was founded on a sincere and chauvinistic prejudice that the Left was most qualified and capable of initiation, and that the Right was, in all innocence, unqualified and incapable.

But after repeated attempts to appeal to those I believed to be better Leftists, I have come to the dreadful realization that the Left is genuinely incapable of reflecting on and accepting its own role in this conflict.

The Left is so trapped inside its own sense of intellectual and moral superiority — and so terrified of moral responsibility — that it can no longer find the humility, faith and philosophical freedom to pursue the reestablishment of mutual respect. It thinks the worst wrong-doer is the one who must go first, accept blame, give an apology, and ask for forgiveness — and this attitude is a symptom of moral impoverishment that shows going first is out of the question.

So, sadly, yes — I agree with you: the Right must go first.

Or, at least, someone other than the Left.

Here is something I know:

Nobody will ever consent to be led by any person or group who seems to despise them, who sees them as contemptible. People seek leaders who demonstrate respect and signal good-will.

Putting ourselves under the rule of others who despise us feels existentially dangerous. And it is dangerous. At best a contemptuous ruler will administer with benevolent disrespect, imposing their own personal standards of benevolence on those who do not accept it; at worst they will tyrannize and control for their own self-gratification. But regardless of their benevolence or malevolence, they cannot be counted on to listen respectfully and respond responsibly. They will rule according to their own constricted omniscience, which to them, and them alone, seems self-evidently true and just.

Here is something else I know:

Any person or group who tolerates contempt in themselves — who is unwilling to do what it takes to overcome it — lacks the qualifications for leadership — or at least leadership in a liberal democracy. And anyone who prefers contempt — or, God forbid, cultivates contempt — must not only be barred from leadership, but must be gently constrained and prevented from harming others, however much they see themselves as heroes of history.

Any person fit to lead will do whatever it takes to overcome contempt. They will surrender their own treasured sense of intellectual and moral superiority to accomplish it. They will accept their own responsibility for whatever damage has been done — which does not mean assuming blame, but rather setting blame aside and responding where response is possible. They will willingly suffer dark nights of the soul traversing the shadowy underworld of perplexity, refusing to look back, in search of the exit at the other side, which is an entrance: an entrance into a new accommodating faith and enworldment great enough for all to share.

And this is what I know most of all:

In the pursuit of conciliation and community, metanoia is the supreme means. It promises resolutions currently inconceivable and incomprehensible, because reality is inexhaustibly surprising. We can come to conceive the inconceivable, comprehend the incomprehensible and resolve insoluble problems — if we are willing to open our hands, let our white-knuckled conceits of all-knowingness and self-righteousness slip through the fingers of our minds — so that something else, something better, something grander, can be given.

Metanoia is no end in itself. Anyone who knows its ways assumes an obligation to use it properly — and not to hedonistically abuse metanoia like a drug.

Knowing metanoia, but getting off on it, while refusing its conciliatory powers, is not only wrongheaded but wronghearted.

This wronghearted and wrongheaded wrongdoing can be overcome — but this overcoming must be desired, and that desire is hard to accept.

Since you asked…

A friend of mine has a habit of sending me emails consisting of simple, beautiful questions.

Years ago he introduced me to Christopher Alexander. When Alexander died I sent him an email, and that started a discussion of Alexander’s later work. This was the context (at least for me) of his latest question-poem:

What is value? Can it be objective?

Does it exist in everything, regardless of whether it is understood or appreciated?

Of course, I had to ruin the glorious simplicity by writing an encyclopedia of a response. The content is mostly the same stuff I am always going on and on about, but these questions inspired a different angle of expression.

But there is one new-ish move here, which might even be an insight: extending the complexity of Bergsonian time to both space (conceived in designerly contextual terms) and — best of all — to self. Just as Bergson conceived now, not as an instant-point, but as a flowing interaction of memories and anticipations, we can see the I, not as an ego-point, but as a subject-complex with flexibly mobile contours subsisting within any number of We’s. This polycentric-self idea may present an alternative to the individualist-collectivist continuum that for many seems the only conceivable possibility.

It all seemed worth posting, so here it is, in mildly edited form.

What is value? Can it be objective?

Christopher Alexander seems committed to objective value, if by objective you mean “inherent to objects” and not relative to a subject. My inclination is to see value as relational — a relation between valuer and valued. I know this is exactly the relativist conventional wisdom what Alexander is attempting to overcome — and I respect that — but I think the real goal here is aesthetic truthfulness (a species of intellectual conscience).

The trusty old Enlightenment method of logical coercion, though, is no match for the might of aesthetic bad faith. Someone who needs to lie about subjective values will become a true believer.

I think this is a religious matter, honestly. Subjective honesty is a virtue we have to cultivate in ourselves, and then we can recognize others who seem to respond to what we experience in similar ways. If discrepancies in response happen, it is more or less impossible to know if someone is subjectively dishonest, or having a strong, sincere idiosyncratic response — or has developed sensibilities beyond our own and are seeing beauty (or other subjective conceptions/perceptions) we haven’t learned to see, yet.

But if we want subjective truth, we’ll stay responsive to our own value-sense, while also looking for ways to transcend our current subjective limits (that is, we will entertain new ways of conceiving and perceiving and see what “takes”).

I think the best reason for this subjective self-transcendence is seeking more accommodating truth, supportive of community of subjective experience with others. Bigger, deeper, richer common sense.

Our We can be more than a mere aggregation of me’s and it’s (in orbit around one’s own I, even — no, especially — when we attempt to efface, factor out, or counter-balance that central I) but this requires a different good faith than the Enlightenment’s objective good faith.

The I won’t disappear. It can’t disappear because it doesn’t appear — any more than our own eyes appear in our vision. The I makes everything else appear. I manifests as a particular everything — what I’m calling enworldment.

We cannot decenter our own I no matter how we try, and when we attempt it, we only conceal its workings for ourselves and delude ourselves into universalizing our own current enworldment as the world per se. Decentering creates more monstrously self-idolizing self-centerings: misapotheosis.

What is needed now is polycentering. Let’s stop scolding our children and saying “you are not the center of the universe.” (When heard phenomenologically, this is manifest bullshit, because of fucking course every child is situated precisely at the center of the universe, and nowhere else, as every child knows!) What we should say is: “you are not the only center of the universe.”

The best alternative to egoist self-centeredness is not the self-decenteredness of altruism, but the self-polycenteredness of participation in community.


For some reason Bergson is in the air right now. Many of us are realizing or re-realizing that every instant of time is not an infinitesimal blip on a timeline, but a complex of recollections, concurrences and anticipations. And if we look around us into our environment, as designers, objects are not aggregates of infinitesimal particles, but are environed complexes of contexts, parts, wholes, ensembles. We need to grasp the fact that the I is exactly analogous, in this way, to space and time. An I subsists within a We of present people, memories of people, who I am to others, who they are to me, what I fear from them and for them, what I desire from them, and they from me — an I is a complex of freedom and response-ability. An I is not an ego-point, it is a subject-complex.

That asterisk-shaped continuum with I-Here-Now at the center does not meet at a point but, rather at a bright nebular heart streaming out into things, times, relationships — streaming out, and sometimes withdrawing back into itself to conserve itself, or to gather energy for more streaming-out, or to die as an insular speck.

Does it exist in everything, regardless of whether it is understood or appreciated?

Again, I think value can exist in everything and ideally does exist in everything, but I’m a believer in value inhering not in the subjectivity of the valuer’s valuations or in the objectivity of the valued’s value, but rather in the relationship — in the consummation of valuing. It isn’t subjective or objective — it is “interjective”.

The value is there for us, as a self-evident universal given, if we enworld ourselves in a way that invites valuing relationships. Christians call this “entering the Kingdom of Heaven.”


Today, I am recollecting and reflecting on the insights that originally inspired me to draw a diagram that I’ve called “the argyle”.

It was originally meant to show how conceptual wholes and synthesized parts can intersect to produce meaningful systems. In a meaningful system the conception of the system makes the synthesized parts feel necessary and given, because their relationships are pre-determined by the logic of the concept –“Of course it works this way! — but, also, the synthesis is rationally constructed, so even if the concept were missed, the system would make sense — “This is perfectly clear and logical!”.

A meaningful system is comprehended with intuition and reason, or with both together in concert. (I’ve also considered the idea of treating comprehension as being simultaneous inter-illuminating conception and synthesis — instead of as an umbrella term for either conception or synthesis.)

The reason I needed to create this framework was that I’ve found that certain very types of designers (and people doing the work of designers) tend to prioritize concept over synthesis or synthesis over concept to such a degree that they stop reinforcing one another. One one extreme we have the wild genius who conceives a vision of the whole and regards all logic as stultifying formalism that undermines the inspired spontaneity of creation. It does not have to make clear sense if hearts are stirred and wallets open wide. On the other extreme we have the logical organizer of elements who views with suspicion and impatience any delaying attempt to seek an overarching concept to guide the design. After all, logic can get down to work immediately and start making demonstrable progress toward the final goal. If the final output is uninspired and dry — so what? Can the system be figured out with minimal effort? Good enough.

Years later, out of exasperation and a weakness for potty-mouthed ridicule, I developed a second model to describe the failure of merging concept and synthesis — though somehow, until today, I managed to miss the opportunity to explicitly link this failure to synthesis and concept. Instead I linked it to inspired meaning versus practical details.

I called this “the bullshit-chickenshit model”.

Bullshit – Meaningful, inspiring ideas that seem to promise something, but that something can never be fulfilled through any practical action.

Chickenshit – Practical activity that seems like it ought to serve some meaningful purpose, but in reality is pointless busyness.

Bullshit is meaning without practice. Chickenshit is practice without meaning.

But, really, bullshit can be understood as unsynthesizable concept. The meaning is a feeling of vast promise that cannot be applied to any particular.

Chickenshit can be understood as inconceivable synthesis. It is a giant mechanism of logically conjoined pieces that never resolves into a meaningful whole.

Most of what we encounter in the world is pure bullshit and pure chickenshit, and this produces that one-two KO nihilistic punch in the face that sometimes makes us want to burn this whole madhouse down.


Finally, I will accept the risk of being accused of bullshit by suggesting that the  Star of David can be viewed as a transcendent argyle, and the ultimate overcoming of bullshit and chickenshit . Even before I was Jewish I conceived it this way, and this insight contributed to my need to be Jewish.

Here, the overlap of concept and synthesis is maximized, and both the depth of concept and extent of the synthesis is felt to exceed the overlap. The meaning of the religious vision resonates in every practical detail of life, but also the doing of every day mundane life is sacralized in Tikkun Olam.

Sacred practicality is practical sacrality.

Practical sacrality is sacred practicality.

This is my own Jewish ideal, and I don’t think it is only mine.



The “skeleton” of the star — formed by connecting the opposing points of each of the overlapping triangles — eventually became the asterisk “star” in Geometric Meditations.

Nietzsche vs liberal theology

Thinking about religion in an appreciatively or tolerant way from a standpoint that sees itself as having overcome the need for religious belief is the furthest thing from understanding religion.

This religion-appreciating standpoint — which sees intense awe or the excitement of discovery as a genuine substitute for religious feeling and the gestalt shifts resulting from extraordinary science or abnormal discourse as metanoia — believes it pays religion a compliment when it maps isolated bits to scripture to its discoveries.

It is the furthest thing because, at bottom, it is a benevolent nullification of religion as even requiring strong disagreement. Religion need not be attacked or suppressed, when it can be analyzed, disassembled and reintegrated into less fanatical, less absolutist, less violence-inclined worldviews.

Why shouldn’t these worldviews be seen as just as religious as any of the older religious faiths? Who gets to define what is and is not a religion?

I grew up with this antifaith.

My whole life I’ve tried to overcome this religion-tolerant religiosity.

I really may have failed to overcome it.


And if my thought-dreams
Could be seen
They’d probably put my head
In a guillotine.
But it’s alright, Ma,
It’s life,
And life

— Bob Dylan


Early in his career, Nietzsche published a series of essays collected under the title Untimely Meditations. In one of these essays he attacked the liberal theologian David Strauss as a founder of a Christianoid religion safe for — even useful to — “cultural philistines”.

It’s a painful read, because young Nietzsche hadn’t found his voice yet, and this voice is one of unsubtle, unconstrained romantic fury. But the overtness of the anger is also revealing, and it renders visible much of what older Nietzsche learned to hint at from a higher and cooler altitude, resulting in vastly better style.

In this book, he lashes out at a type who resists, as if on principle — but what Nietzsche claims is the instinct of a temperament — what I would call a fully successful enworldment — that is a way of life animated (in the most literal sense of the word) by a unifying conception.

I use the word conception in a sense defined against another term, synthesis. Conception is a mode of comprehension that spontaneously and transparently takes-together experience as givens that, for all the world, seem given by reality itself, even though it is an artifact of relationship between self and reality. Synthesis is a mode of comprehension that consciously puts-together ideas into truth assertions.

My take on Nietzsche’s rage toward Strauss (who is only a stand-in for the cultural philistine type), is that Nietzsche expects far more from culture than cultural philistines will allow. The cultural philistine, according to my interpretation of Nietzsche, is a person occupied with culture (religion, art, philosophy) but from a perspective that forbids authentic participation in culture. Instead culture is taken as collections of artifacts which are somehow valuable and edifying apart from the naivety of the conditions that engendered them. The philistine enworldment that takes them up trusts only syntheses — an external putting-together of these meaningful artifacts, so they are objective possessions of the intellect, not dismemberments of potentially possessing enworldments.

To put it in Kahnemanese, a philistine trusts exclusively in System 2, and treats all System 1 as something to debunk and neutralize. But cultures (if you believe Nietzsche, and my own odd Nietzscheanism) are System 1 enworldments: passionate, committal, participatory, intuitively-immediate enworldments.

At a young age, Nietzsche, I believe, in his philological work took some of these cultural dismemberments and managed to re-membered them in a fuller and more possessing context. In other words, he re-enworlded himself with some ancient faith. This is what forced him out of the university. Because the modern university is itself an enworldment — a sort of oversubject that places academic subjects in mutual relation with one another — and in Nietzsche’s day, that oversubject was Germany’s philistine anticulture, and it needed the services of cultural philistines, not professors whose allegiance in their subject exceeded their allegiance to the universality of the university.


Today, in the United States of America we are tolerant of religions, as long as the members of the religion keep their priorities straight. Their allegiance to their nation must be higher than their allegiance to their religious faith. If they take their religious faith to be higher, and they allow what (they think) God commands to have priority over what the government commands, they are dangerous fanatics.

And I agree!

But I agree as a religious person who thinks liberalism is not a condition to be imposed by religion — but as a condition religion itself imposes… or at least ought to.


Many believers would dispute that I am religious.

Cultural philistines would probably find my religion unacceptable, because I sincerely, helplessly, actually believe the things I have come to believe. I can no longer place them against a 3rd-person impersonality, nor can I temper my faith with irony, however much I try.

Some Jews have told me I am a Jew. I’ll go with that.