Saturday, 20 September 2014

'Here I Stand" - The Problem of Universalism

How does one win hearts and minds to counter an imperialistic universalism when universalism is the faith of the intellectual class that dominates the modern West? Where is our Luther?

I suppose the claim that universalism is a problem will bring some readers up short almost immediately. The idea that there is a universal quality to a humanity of fixed and equal natures is the over-riding assumption of Western culture, especially in its dominant American form.

The starting point must be to show how the 'universal' is a fraud and that, once this fraud is exposed, not only universalist politics but identity politics, the politics of gender and ethnicity, of class and nation, are equally fraudulent.

Toleration shifts from that toleration that arises because we are all allegedly the same (when we are clearly not) to a toleration of each precisely because they are different.

Commonality will no longer be imposed to meet a pre-set theoretical and intellectual standard of universality but can arise from below through the co-operation of free individuals as their similarities and shared desires become clear.

Back in the early nineteenth century, Chateaubriand, 'Novalis' and Coleridge understood that universalism operates against the instinctive aesthetic of humanity, against the inner spirit of the individual and the weight of history.

This mentality fuelled the romantic European Right but it need not necessarily be that the instinctive aesthetic is not progressive - quite the contrary.

Universalists socialise humanity into normal behaviours, chopping off the far sides of the Bell curve, in a way that represents no single person alive. They make the universe into something that exists so far from really existing humanity that no space is left for the inherent complexity of the individual.

And this critique (although the nineteenth century anti-universalists would disagree with their penchant for obscurantist philosophies) extends to the universalism of religion as much to the universalism of the philosophes and the aufklarer.

Above all, to be anti-universalist is not to be anti-rational - on the contrary, it is universalism that works against human reason by depending on an abstract, manufactured, Kantian Reason.  Human reasoning is fitted to the human condition. It is a tool, not an end.

'Objective' abstract Reason is a poor thing, a simulacrum of the real. Human level reason still has room for intuition and for instinctive judgements that may not be pure but are, nevertheless, human and oftentimes right. Our human reason lies in openness to our dreams as much as to our calculation.

It is something of a cliche that Reason is totalitarian in concept (as opposed to reasoning which is just one, generally essential, tool amongst others). Reason fakes reality much as scholasticism once faked spirituality. Scholasticism proved to be dysfunctional and so, now, is Reason.

Which brings us back to our Luther. Luther asserted a different spirituality against a degenerate scholastic culture. A new Luther might assert a different social reality against a degenerate universalism. Here may someone stand.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Critiquing Traditionalism ...

[This note assumes a very basic understanding of traditionalism and the perennial philosophy and of the work, in particular, of Rene Guenon, on the part of the reader]

Where traditionalism is right ...

1. ... in its suspicion of democracy because the working components of a democracy [individuals] are never equal in information or power. The skills of manipulation by those with information or power will always tend to disconnect a democracy from what it is to be a human being in the world. Traditionalism rightly questions whether deliberate modernising socialisation is ever compatible with 'gnosis' (that is, self awareness and self development) even if it falls into its own trap by proposing a socialisation derived from the past.

2. ... in its suspicion of the liberal insofar as liberalism is an ideology of rights, an absurd essentialist philosophical invention which too easily becomes a tool of the private oppression of some in the cause of the liberation of specific others. However, democratic neo-traditionalists make traditionalism even more wrong where it might have been right when they adopt the language of the Enlightenment against post-modernity.

3. ... in its particular suspicion of the bourgeois constitutional State which is the exemplification of both the false friend that is democracy in our current condition and of the equally unsound language and ideology of rights (and, as its associated liberal-communitarian heresy, of duties).

Where traditionalism is wrong ...

1. ... in its suspicion of modernity and the illusion that things known can be unlearned. Worse, that it would be good if some things had never been learned or that learning new things should now stop or be considered of lesser importance than endlessly regurgitating old things. The current situation of humanity is the highest truth of the moment and it supercedes all past moments of truth just as new truths will emerge from the process of existing in the world in time - and time is not reversible.

2. ... in its suspicion of the liberal insofar as liberalism is a practice of freedom. A person cannot exist as a person of spirit without making choices and choices require full freedom to make those choices whether with full information (the ideal) or best efforts at acquiring full information.

3. ... in its claim of a primordial essence of wisdom based on faith in a wise divinity that is embedded in the founders of each new faith in turn ... for if the founders of the great faiths were sparks of this primordial wisdom, why not the scientific materialist Karl Marx. How can traditionalists not know if Marx and Engels, whose movement was essentially religious, were not capturing some of this alleged divine essence? The claims of traditionalists in respect to religion as wisdom are absurd.

However ...

... what traditionalism, a false acquaintance seductive to simple minds, might have an insight into is a truth that is neglected in our time - that there is something primordial in us and in our society with which we must contend.

It is not that there is some absurd divine primordial truth out there but that there is a real evolved animal substrate to what it is to be human that is embedded in all human ideological forms and from which we will evolve further but over immense tracts of time.

There is no perennial philosophy here but there is a permanent foundation to humanity with which those who would bend humanity to perfectability or to the dictates of the ideal contend. The cruelties of the world often arise from the inability of humanity to be what either traditionalists or progressives wish it to be.

This is also not to say that Rene Guenon was not insightful in drawing a distinction between the exoteric (what we might call the various forms of socialised 'spiritual' reality) and the esoteric but he was mistaken in his understanding of the latter.

The esoteric is an individual reality that might be very various in form and need have no history beyond the person's creation of himself or herself against their immediate experience of the world.

There can be no union between an individual and some over-arching 'principle' because any such principle is either the creation of the person themselves in a state of illusion or is the creation of the social i.e. is, by definition, a form of illusion at the individual level.

The individual represents its own union with itself and this union is simply a coming to terms of the individual with his situation in the world, a process of individuation.

To claim to be part of a tradition that belongs or answers to to the Absolute is to fail to understand that the Absolute has no knowable existence under any circumstances and that the only coming to terms with the Absolute that is possible is its creation in his own image by the individual.

It is a crafting of the Absolute for personal use-value. Each individual is thus his own God and he creates his own redeeming 'Christ' by appropriating the Absolute for his own internal salvation. An analogy might be torn from any of the world religions which are all misleading in this respect as far as true 'salvation' is to be found.

Again, there is insight in Guenon when he identifies, gnostically, the spark of the Absolute within the person yet he then misdefines it. The spark of the Absolute is not there to be discovered but is to be created out of nothing by the individual looking into themselves and relating to the world.

The Asian religions (to which Guenon looked in this respect) are the falsest friends of all because they edge so closely to the reality of the situation. They recognise the closeness of the Absolute to ourselves but then give privilege of place to that Absolute over the person, whereas this Absolute-thing is, in fact, the illusion and it is the person in the world that is real.

Traditionalism as Hysteria and Fear

Traditionalism descends into hysteria when it becomes 'millenarial' with its myth of our living in the Kali Yuga as if the past was ever more golden. We are, in fact, not descending, we are rising. It is the sense of the Kali Yuga that drags traditionalism into the arms of the Far Right by means of its appropriation by (say) Evola, a half-baked theorist seeking liberation through evasive strategies.

The pessimism of the traditionalists drives them ever downwards in their alienation from the process of being in this world and in this time. It is wiser to be always ready for the next 'this world' in the next 'this time'.

The Kali Yuga for these radical traditionalists is apparently determined ontologically by matter whereas earlier times were not. This is truly absurd - it is not that we are distanced from spirit and increasingly embedded in matter but that we are rising out of matter slowly but surely through the exercise of our increasingly developed minds into something for which the word spirit or soul might be used analogically but which is neither ... simply enhanced being.

Minds are constantly exhibiting new qualities (or discovering how to make use of untapped capabilities) on the basis of the increasing sophistication of matter in constructing minds, triggered in part by our own human determination on technology. The word 'spirit' may become redundant but perhaps 'soul' might be recovered here to describe what is being created.

As for traditionalist initiation, one can have no objection to it as a free choice for free persons but it is a choice in favour of limitation and constraint. Initiation in particular exhibits a fear and anxiety about the terrors of self-creation that will embed a person more, not less, deeply in their own psychic matter. It is an attempt to close off mental 'inputs' and become micro-socialised against the world.

The Politics of Traditionalism

The traditionalist critique of modernity in a religious or 'spiritual' sense must be differentiated sharply from the use to which such ideas are put by the far right in particular. A true traditionalist is an a-political or a conservative pessimist but is rarely a right-wing extremist because right-wing extremism, in countering some forms of the modern, becomes severely modernist in its actuality.

The a-political traditionalist is wise - all ideologies that counter democracy, bourgeois constitutionalism and rights theory to date have been attempts to shift power from the beneficiaries of liberalism to those who have not had a slice of the cake. The ideas are mere excuse.

In this, they are no better and no worse than liberals ... but a radical idealist's lack of respect for the bargaining and the negotiation that is explicit in liberal democracy means that, when they seize power, they are accordingly more cruel and less basically competent in the long run, cruel and incompetent though liberalism often is itself.

There is an experiment in this being carried out in the Middle East as we write. ISIS, a radical traditionalist operation, has managed to make the cruelties of the US, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria seem benign but only because it has offered levels of apparently causeless (though we merely refuse to recognise the cause) violence and cruelty without apparent purpose far beyond the cruelties of modernising statecraft - or so we like to believe.

Traditionalism's conservative pessimism about politics or rather about the struggles for advantage within any socialised reality is probably correct - its extension to the human condition in the very long term may not be. There is no need to be pessimistic about humanity and its condition or to pull up a drawbridge against the modern world.

Traditionalism is a dead end in our culture - an attitude held by a type of mind, the product of gloom and anxiety, a means of withdrawing from complexity - but it does raise questions about the intellectual viability of liberal Western culture that remain unanswered and which will come to haunt us in the coming decades as the enlightenment is forced to return to its mission of applying critical thought to the issue of what it is to be human.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Against Words & Tradition -Ten Propositions for Discussion

1. Each person perceives the world marginally differently at each successive point in time and each generation of persons perceives the world collectively in a way different from other generations. To hold a truth from past experience as self-evident is absurd. New conditions create new truths and all conditions are, in some respect, new conditions.

2. Experience is more than language. All our senses and our sense of being are engaged in knowing the world. The word spoken is only a part of knowing and scarcely the most dominant or reliable part of it. The word written is more distant still from the word spoken in its representation of the true state of affairs in the world.

3. How we use a word and the context of the word is more important than the word itself. The text tells us nothing without the context in which the text is used. The text in itself is a false friend. Our use of the text is what matters.

4. Words can never capture the totality of human experience. Words are a simplification of experience and so of being in the world. To use a word is immediately to begin to tell a lie.

5. When we say that two things are the same, we are not able to say that they are the same, we are merely saying that it is convenient that we treat these two things as the same for our purposes and our purpose only derives from words if we choose to make words our purpose. Knowing our purpose beyond and behind words is a more valuable purpose than inventing a purpose from the words to hand.

6. The space that we exist in is a space in relation to our perception of that space. There are as many worlds as there are persons perceiving a world in which they perceive themselves as existing.

7. To define a thing is to remove it from its existence as experienced by a person in the world -  definition is the begining of the process by which lies are told.

8. Existence is not logical. It merely exists.

9. Metaphysics cannot exist in words. It can only exist in experience, if it exists at all - which is to be doubted.

10. We are what we do in the world in the flow of time. We have no essence beyond our act in a moment of time and personality is an accumulation of such acts under conditions where the next act will not be precisely like any act ever done before.