The Literary Life #1

(fascinating reflections on a life spent reflecting)

Having a new appreciation for the phrase: damned if you do, damned if you don’t, as regards our current political climate, which in turn serves as an instance of the beginning and end of human civilization.

In short, I am convinced by the traditional view of the human being, which is no surprise in that I was raised within it. Like most everyone, I flirted with nihilism as a youngster, and peered into the empty depths under the influence of LSD. In getting older, though, I have returned to the religion of my youth; or at least to its cornerstone. That being, the idea that human beings are made distinct and troubled exactly by their moral sense.

In the story of Eden, this sense lay hidden in Nature itself. It grew on a tree, and it was more than a crude sense of right and wrong such as we might witness in animals. What distinguishes humanity is sense for objective morality, the subtle calculus of which would one day reveal the very moral arc of the universe, bending toward Justice.

This may sound absurdly poetic, but it’s a practical reality everywhere around us. The Kingdom of God is indeed spread over the face of the Earth. It just happens to be a Kingdom in what we might call a disordered state, a Kingdom Out of Joint. A kingdom locked in revolution and counter-revolution.

Obvious as that is on the level of global politics, it is a reality that reaches all the way down, to the roots of our own psyches.

Look at your Facebook feed and you might notice the vast abundance of moral certainty. These are not the statements of people with a provisional, animal, morality, but the morally certain statements of gods. These are the voices of moral gnosis, the voices of people who have inherited the Divine Knowledge that is supposed to have once cast us out of Eden.

Given this, it seems to me that the traditional view of humanity is still, if not absolutely, at least operationally correct. By that I mean to say it’s the best idea anyone’s had yet of how we experience ourselves and each other.


That may still seem a bit abstract to you, even though it’s as near to you as the interior of your own heart. So consider this:

Why do you hate Nazis? More than that: Why do you find the very idea of a Nazi publicly speaking offensive enough to silence them, by violence if necessary?

And don’t start with the nonsense about Popper’s Paradox, a strong contestant for Most Obvious Paradox Ever. Nazis are marginal and will remain so. They are beyond marginal. The ‘Unite the Right’ rally was the largest march of its kind in decades, and at its height gathered less than a thousand people. Tens of thousands pour out immediately in response. The entire media and political class comes out to condemn Nazism and anyone who would espouse it. Even the president, fascist at heart that he is.

In short, the Nazis are barely in a place to squelch anyone’s speech, let alone everyone’s. So, the reason for the hatred must lie in something other than the demands of objective necessity.

I think that this hatred is a product of what we might call “Objective Necessity +”… the + being moral truth, which inflates and alters the more basic, animal, sense. Objective necessity is the state of the traditional animal mind, the “animal” in Traditional Terms. The + is the sense of moral certainty that inflates and alters the animal mind, the Divine Fire stolen from Olympus. The + is what makes us human. It’s our gift, curse, and unique identity. Or, as the Reverend Mother Gaius Mohium described it to young Paul Atriedes as he faced the Gom Jabbar: it is the possibility of our humanity in the divinity or our patriarchal line.

We are obsessed, to sum up, by the prospect and demands of our own moral perfection, bewitched by the perfected image of ourselves into a war to finally rid humanity, without and within, of evil.

And this obsession, this supremely motivating knowledge, the Tradition had the utter brilliance to represent as the very thing that cast humanity out of the Garden.

So what are we to do with this knowledge that so afflicts and animates us? And how does it relate to the state of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t? That’s beyond my powers to further describe, at the moment, so I’ll leave you with this passage from Bahauddin Naqshband, author of one of the Sufi lines of transmission – the Sufis being that renegade group claiming a lineage that stretches back to the High Civilization that existed before the Great Flood.

As the Battlestar Galactica reboot more or less put it: All of this has happened before. There was a world before this world, and the story started then is still playing out now.

But, anyway, Naqshband:

We are adjured constantly to study and make ourselves familiar with the lives, doings and sayings of the Wise because a link of understanding exists between these factors and the potentiality in ourselves.

But if, as have the literalists, we soak ourselves in these elements from motives of greed or marveling at wonders, we will transform ourselves indeed; but the transformation will be animal into lesser animal, instead of animal into man.

The test which is placed in man’s way is to separate the real Seekers from the imitation ones by this very method. If man has not addressed himself to this study through his simplest and most sincere self he will be in peril. It is therefore better, did man but know it, to avoid all metaphysical entanglements rather than to allow himself to be acted upon by the supreme force which will amplify, magnify, his faults if he lacks the knowledge of how to cure the fault, or of how to approach the teaching so that his faults are not involved in the procedure.

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