Category Archives: Star

Divine ecology

I have been looking for a “way in” into environmentalism. Intellectually, I know it matters tremendously, but I haven’t felt its importance on a tacit moral “why” level that makes its importance immediate and self-evident. I know this is a philosophical failure — something in my worldview (what Judaism would call levavkha, heart) is preventing a reality from being as real to me as it ought to be (“hardness of heart” toward toward the Earth, and physical reality, in general) — so I have been poking around looking for new angles for conceiving and perceiving our situation.

This passage from Gregory Bateson speaks to me:

Formerly we thought of a hierarchy of taxa—individual, family line, subspecies, species, etc.—as units of survival. We now see a different hierarchy of units—gene-in-organism, organism-in-environment, ecosystem, etc. Ecology, in the widest sense, turns out to be the study of the interaction and survival of ideas and programs (i.e., differences, complexes of differences, etc.) in circuits.

Let us now consider what happens when you make the epistemological error of choosing the wrong unit: you end up with the species versus the other species around it or versus the environment in which it operates. Man against nature. You end up, in fact, with Kaneohe Bay polluted, Lake Erie a slimy green mess, and “Let’s build bigger atom bombs to kill off the next-door neighbors.” There is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds, and it is characteristic of the system that basic error propagates itself. It branches out like a rooted parasite through the tissues of life, and everything gets into a rather peculiar mess. When you narrow down your epistemology and act on the premise “What interests me is me, or my organization, or my species,” you chop off consideration of other loops of the loop structure. You decide that you want to get rid of the by-products of human life and that Lake Erie will be a good place to put them. You forget that the eco-mental system called Lake Erie is a part of your wider eco-mental system—and that if Lake Erie is driven insane, its insanity is incorporated in the larger system of your thought and experience.

You and I are so deeply acculturated to the idea of “self” and organization and species that it is hard to believe that man might view his relations with the environment in any other way than the way which I have rather unfairly blamed upon the nineteenth-century evolutionists. So I must say a few words about the history of all this.

Anthropologically, it would seem from what we know of the early material, that man in society took clues from the natural world around him and applied those clues in a sort of metaphoric way to the society in which he lived. That is, he identified with or empathized with the natural world around him and took that empathy as a guide for his own social organization and his own theories of his own psychology. This was what is called “totemism.”

In a way, it was all nonsense, but it made more sense than most of what we do today, because the natural world around us really has this general systemic structure and therefore is an appropriate source of metaphor to enable man to understand himself in his social organization.

The next step, seemingly, was to reverse the process and to take clues from himself and apply these to the natural world around him. This was “animism,” extending the notion of personality or mind to mountains, rivers, forests, and such things. This was still not a bad idea in many ways. But the next step was to separate the notion of mind from the natural world, and then you get the notion of gods.

But when you separate mind from the structure in which it is immanent, such as human relationship, the human society, or the ecosystem, you thereby embark, I believe, on fundamental error, which in the end will surely hurt you.

Struggle may be good for your soul up to the moment when to win the battle is easy. When you have an effective enough technology so that you can really act upon your epistemological errors and can create havoc in the world in which you live, then the error is lethal. Epistemological error is all right, it’s fine, up to the point at which you create around yourself a universe in which that error becomes immanent in monstrous changes of the universe that you have created and now try to live in.

Reading this, I am understanding that I have morally deemphasized and neglected one of the dimensions of the threefold present, the present “here”. As with present I (in spirit) and present now (in eternity), present here (in apeiron) is a dimension of reality that is us, while infinitely exceeds us (which, I’ve been told is a theological concept called “panentheism“) within which we are responsible participants.

I’m fresh off this insight, so only time will tell what it does to me and my sense of the world. It feels like a breakthrough.

 

Raising sparks

I’ve learned to recognize significance in anxiety, in love, in anger — a significance which points to relationships to transcendent realities through which we have a relationship with transcendence per se, through understanding or wisdom. I am going to start looking for analogous (or anomalogous) significance in other experiences, responses and actions as well, especially ones related to beauty, splendor, duration, foundations and sovereignty.

Faith space

Normally I don’t publish this kind of disorganized mess, but today I feel compelled to reflect on what feels like a constricting world, where liberal space from others is increasing scarce.

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A person’s beliefs are not the same as that person’s faith.

Here is why I make the distinction: Beliefs are the product of innumerable choices, guided by attitudes that precede belief. The attitudes manifest primarily as our intuitions of relevance and value, and they pre-consciously influence what we are inclined to regard with interest or complacence, what we accept or question, what we embrace or push away.

Our practical responses are similarly guided. We are pre-consciously inclined to behave in particular ways to different kinds of beings and situations.

Before birth, long before we think or begin making conscious choices, a complex feedback process of perceiving, reacting, recognizing, responding has begun, and this process simultaneously produces us as people and our situation as the world we inhabit and the relationship between enworlded self and the world in which the self emerges is faith.

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The best conversations sound out harmonies and cacophonies among faiths, faiths felt to inhabit an impossibly deep, dense, vast reality — a reality which monotheists like to emphasize as one, which polytheists like to emphasize as plural, and which pluralists like emphasize as simultaneously plural and unified.

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When talking with people of other religions I often detect a shared faith, even despite divergent beliefs. They’re “coming from a good place.” Or their “hearts are in the right place.” This place is what I call faith. And the goodness and rightness seems for me to have much to do with a desire for more than what their beliefs can grasp or possess. This is what I experience as liberal, and, for me, it has less to do with what one confesses or professes, and more to do with hospitality, mobility and spaciousness of soul.

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It is not enough to be a mystic, to believe that there is more, to sense that that a beyond exists. It is necessary to desire it and want more and more of it, even though that means almost renunciation of many mystic virtues. A liberal soul does not have special divinatory or gnostic powers, or some special relationship with god that makes one immune to vulnerability, loneliness, anxiety, uncertainty or forsakenness. A liberal at heart might be a mystic turned inside out — …

Drops away into blindness

This passage from Voegelin’s Anamnesis sparked the insight I diagram as an asterisk.

In the illuminatory dimensions of past and future, one becomes aware not of empty spaces but of the structures of a finite process between birth and death. The experience of consciousness is the experience of a process — the only process which we know “from within.” Because of this its property, the process of consciousness becomes the model of the process as such, the only experiential model to serve as the orientation point of the conceptual apparatus through which we must also grasp the processes that transcend consciousness. The conflict between the finiteness of the model of experience and the “infinite” character of other processes results in a number of fundamental problems. (The term “infinite” indicates already by its negativity that along with it we enter on an area transcending experience. To speak of a process as infinite is tantamount to saying that we have no experience of it “as a whole.”) One of the most interesting of these problems is that of the antinomies of infinity in Kant’s sense. We can subject the finite process to certain derivative transformations, the so-called “idealizations,” which conduce to such concepts as the infinite series or the infinite regress. When such “idealizations” are related to finite series, there result the paradoxes of set theory; when they are related to such processes as the causal nexus, there result Kant’s antinomies. The causal series cannot begin in time because we have no experience of a beginning “in time”; more precisely, one could say that because we have no experience whatsoever of a time in which something might begin — for the only time of which we do have experience is the inner experience of the illuminated dimension of consciousness, the process that drops away, at both ends, into inexperienceable darkness.

Two elaborations: 1) We have more “illuminated dimensions of consciousness that drop away, at both ends, into inexperienceable darkness” than just time. In my asterisk, I added two other dimensions.

2) I also another analogy to illumination and darkness. We may not see objects in darkness, but we do see the darkness that prevents us from seeing. In my own experience, sight and blindness is a better analogue for our experiences of finitude and infinity, because blindness conceals not only what is concealed, but the concealment itself. With blindness, we can fail to see what we look at, because when nothing is there, nothing is also missing. If we do the blind spot experiment, wherever falls in our blind spot simply dis-appears — becomes visually nothing — without any tell-tale something blotting it out — there is no visual “nothing” to see. When nothing is there, no thing is missing, as far as we can tell.

We have to wonder — or rather, it is good to wonder — that if we can’t even tell the difference between a blind spot and a seen spot, what exactly is going on in our field of vision, which seems so continuous to us? And if we extend sight to perception, and perception to consciousness, and ask the same question — the question of what happens in in the nothingness of existence? — things get weird.

When we sit in meditation, for instance, we learn how this happens constantly at all times even in our own concentrated awareness. You could say that meditation is an existential blindspot test. We cannot see it directly, and we never have to see it at all if we do not want to (for instance if we wish to imagine ourselves to be self-omniscient) but if we allow our perplexities to bloom we will see ample signs that our consciousness is as sporadic and permeated with nothingness as our visual field. I think, therefore I am? The corollary: I don’t think when I am not, in the gaps that permeate my existence.

Crap. I’m out of time. There’s new stuff here, so I’m going to go ahead and post this.