Sunday, August 30, 2015

We have enough racial problems in this country...

without making them bigger than they are:

"But it’s the sweltering guitar solo—so good it still moves people to tears—that brought the song into the upper echelon of stadium ballads. Purple Rain, the album and the film, were the magic results of Prince’s limitless imagination and bridged an invisible aural divide, premised on race, that, up until that point, only Michael Jackson had truly managed to transcend. And 'Purple Rain' the song is where it all came together in majestic fashion."

Only Michael Jackson?! What about Chuck Berry? Fats Domino? Jimi Hendrix? Harry Belafonte? Sly and the Family Stone? Sammy Davis? Bob Marley? Stevie Wonder? In my 70% white high school, I recall Innervisions being played in the cafeteria basically every single day of my senior year.

Look, we have plenty of racial problems, but "an invisible aural divide, premised on race," is not particularly high on the list: white people in America have listened to lots of "black" music.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Two wrongs don't make a right

I caught the opening to some television program about vengeance the other night. The voice over went something like:

"When we were young, we were taught that two wrongs don't make a right, which we naïvely took for granted. But as I gained experience, I learned that two wrongs don't make a right because they never equal each other."

The latter position is presented as be sophisticated view adopted by someone who has been around the block a few times. But it's only "sophistication" lies in rejecting the traditional view: it actually doesn't make a bit of sense.

In the tradition view, wrongs are like negative numbers: the more you add, the more negative the result. This "clever" overturning of that view suggests that if only you could get the two negative numbers to exactly equal to each other, then their sum would be positive.

In the world of doxa, so long as it's novel you will be thought clever for saying it.

J. S. Mill and doxa

"He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.…if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion." -- On Liberty

It is all a matter of "opinion," and one can't know there is a tree in the front yard without knowing the "reasons" the other side gives for why there is no tree there.

How can something be "spiritually true" but "historically false"?

Periodically, I like to drag a topic brought up in a comment because I think the response to the comment deserves more attention that it would get buried in a common thread.

And so now I address the topic, which has sorely puzzled one of our commenters, as to how something can be spiritually true while historically false. To provide a relatively straightforward example of this phenomena, I offer the Circe episode from the Odyssey.

As you might recall, Circe was a "sorceress" who offered Odysseus's men a "magical potion," which turned those who partook of it into "swine."

Now, I will be so bold as to assert that no actual witch ever existed who literally turned men into swine. But isn't it rather obvious that this story is a mythical symbol of the spiritual reality that there exist women who have a seductive charm that can lead susceptible men to "act like swine" in their presence? Is there anyone who has spent any amount of time in bars who hasn't seen a modern "Circe" turning a number of men around her into "swine"?

This story about something which, historically speaking, certainly never "really" happened, nevertheless conveys a "spiritually true" archetype which manifests itself across thousands of years.

And we might note here Joyce's brilliance in mapping the spiritual truths contained in the Odyssey onto the quite quotidian adventures undertaken by his characters on an ordinary day in Dublin in 1904.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Mystery of History

"(1) Why should there be epochs of advancing insight at all? Why is the structure of reality not known in differentiated form at all times?

"(2) Why must the insights be discovered by such rare individuals as prophets, philosophers, and saints? Why is not every man the recipient of the insights?

"(3) Why, when the insights are gained, are they not generally accepted? Why must the epochal truth go through the historical torment of imperfect articulation, evasion, skepticism, disbelief, rejection, deformation, and of renaissances, renovations, rediscoveries, rearticulations, and further differentiations?...

"Since the questions cannot be answered by propositions referring to events in the external world, an epistemologist of the positivist persuasion will dismiss them as pseudo-questions... Within the limits of the positivist horizon, the argument is valid; the questions can indeed not be answered by reference to the world of sense perception. The argument becomes invalid, however, when it goes on to declare the questions, for this reason, to be meaningless... The denial of meaning runs counter to the empirical fact that they rise again and again as meaningful from the experience of reality. Hence the active denial, especially when it appears in the context of a philosophical school or movement, must be characterized as the sectarian idiosyncrasy of men who have lost contact with reality and whose intellectual and spiritual growth has been so badly stunted that the meaning escapes them." -- Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, pp. 388-389

The Aztecs

I spent an hour yesterday looking at artifacts from the very, very bloody Aztec empire. How to make sense of their passion for human sacrifice?

It seems to me they were coping with same problem as Anaximander; what the cosmos gives with one hand, it takes away with the other: "The origin of things is the Apeiron [unlimited]... It is necessary for things to perish into that from which they were born; for they pay one another penalty for their injustice according to the ordinance of Time."

I think the Aztec solution to the sense of tragedy this realization produces was to eagerly participate in the process themselves.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The hippie apocalypse

I've been discussing this with my son, and I think I will write a paper on it at some point, if I get the time. But the 1960s had a strong apocalyptic tinge to them that is probably worth exploring, in terms of how it was similar and how it was different from earlier apocalyptic movements.

"Hippie" song writers were self aware of this apocalyptic tendency to varying degrees. Joni Mitchell obviously sees its connection to earlier myths when in "Woodstock" she writes:

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

I am sure you could come up with many other expressions of this sort of straightforward apocalyptic sentiment. But what is more interesting to me is the writers who were casting a skeptical eye upon such ideas almost as soon as they were being composed. So Blues Image sings:

Seventy-three men sailed up from the San Francisco Bay
Rolled off of their ship, and here's what they had to say
"We're callin' everyone to ride along to another shore
We can laugh our lives away and be free once more"

But no one heard them callin', no one came at all
'Cause they were too busy watchin' those old raindrops fall
As a storm was blowin' out on the peaceful sea
Seventy-three men sailed off to history

(The "captain" here is likely a reference to Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who was known as "Captain Trips.")

Here, the "saints" of the New Age fail only because others were not listening. But others are even more skeptical. For instance, we have Roger Whittaker expressing doubt that the promised paradise is coming at all:

Now, everybody talks about a new world in the morning
New world in the morning takes so long

But one of my favorite deflations of the apocalyptic expectations of that time is from Robert Hunter. About halfway through the song "Scarlet Begonias," he writes:

I ain't often right
but I've never been wrong
It seldom turns out the way
it does in the song

And how does it turn out in "the song"?

The wind in the willows played Tea for Two
The sky was yellow and the sun was blue
Strangers stopped strangers
just to shake their hand
Everybody's playing
in the Heart of Gold Band

So Hunter is gently poking fun at the vision of the hippie apocalypse. Not surprisingly, many Grateful Dead fans failed to get the joke, and took the end of the song as a promise of a soon-to-arrive time when everyone will be playing in the "heart of gold band."

There is a lot more to explore here (and with very similar sentiments appearing in Rastafarian music), but I wanted to get my preliminary thoughts down on this topic.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Noetic consciousness

One of my upset Christian readers was a little bit dismissive of my use of the phrase "noetic consciousness." But Paul himself uses such terminology, saying things like "we... have the nous of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Just prior to that, Paul offers about as clear a statement of what I mean by "noetic consciousness" as I could hope for: "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit."

The historical reality of the Resurrection

'But the questionnaire [of silly questions about God] is not a scurrilous exaggeration, rather it is a meiosis compared with the debates actually conducted about Christ as a "historical figure," and about the "historicity" of Incarnation and Resurrection... if any event… has constituted meaning in history, it is Paul's vision of the Resurrected. To invent a "critical history" that will allow us to decide whether Incarnation and Resurrection are "historically real" turns the structure of reality upside down…' -- Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 308

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Round trips to the moon

"But the concupiscential exodus must go on, and since it is become a bit silly to chase around the earth, one must engineer round trips to the moon. Moreover, since the center of the cosmic horizon is everywhere and nowhere, so that again one is thrown back to the earth as the physical center of meaning, the cosmos must be dotted with a few extra-ecumenes that will inject sense into concupiscential expansion. Hence, we live in the age of other worlds than our own, of invasions from Mars, and of flying saucers. Anything will do, as long as it puts off the confrontation with the divine mystery of existence." -- Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, p. 273