Sketch of the Ecology of Knowledge

Homeostasis

Since the 1960s everyone has been familiar with the idea of ecology. Nature, before humanity, as the ecologists argue, constituted a balanced and indeed a self-balancing system. James Lovelock in his various books with Gaia in the title argues that nature before humanity constituted a “homeostatic” system that was not only self-regulating but capable of responding to gross unbalancing influences by vigorous redistributions of the disturbance so as to restore the norm of homeostasis. These observations apply largely to nature considered as the terrestrial biosphere, but Lovelock’s theory extends by implication beyond the restricted earthly system – all the way out to the asteroid belt.

According to the theory of natural ecology, every element of nature is linked recursively, by plural feed-back loops, to every other element; the elements work together as a whole to maintain a settled norm overall. Environmentalism, a political development of the idea of natural ecology, claims, however, that the human element of the system is an emergent anomaly whose presence upsets the ability of nature to maintain homeostasis. Whether the environmentalist claim concerning humanity is true or false, the general notion that a self-regulating system might suffer disruption from influences that are somehow external to it is highly plausible.

The term ecology is an ingenious coinage, probably needed at the time it entered into usage. The Greek word oikos means “house” or “household”; the Greek word logos – as its derivative logic suggests – is not only the orderly discussion of a phenomenon but also the internally self-regulating, form-endowing law that renders a phenomenon thus-and-such rather than something else and that keeps the phenomenon in this character steadily so that it remains recognizable and amenable to cognition. The term ecology thus elegantly, although perhaps not intentionally, reflects the notion of the universe as an orderly artifact, corresponding to a rational plan and having a discernible goal – that of steady self-maintenance.

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Good Laws are Few

Laura Wood writes:

… it is precisely because this revolution [of homosexual “marriage”] is not the success it appears to be that it must be accompanied by tyrannical measures. That’s the way it must be. The more society diverges from the Natural Law, the more oppressive it must become.

Or – to turn raw naïve libertarianism on its head, and so distinguish it from tradition in such a way as to show whence it comes, and where it ought properly to tend – that government is least which governs best.

A sovereign cannot attain the sum of good government by recusing himself from all rule, for man is wayward and short-sighted, and so needs law to guide him more quickly and easily toward the destination that nature and her God tend anyway to push him. But if his laws accord with Nature and her Laws, the sovereign won’t need very many of them to get the job done (or therefore many police, judges, or prisons), and nor will anyone feel particularly oppressed or troubled by them, because they will after all only help men discover that comfort of moral and practical agreement with reality which they naturally seek. A good law, that agrees with human nature, is no more troublesome to men, and no harder to enforce, than the convention that everyone should drive on the right side of the road. It is only bad law – law that tries to push men to act in ways that under Heaven they ought not to act, and which their natures therefore resist – that fails to govern them the way that it would, and so needs ever more laws, ever more police, and ever stiffer punishments. In the limit, you get persecution over microaggressions: utter totalitarian tyranny.

The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

[Some time ago, I asked readers for recommended reading on their branches of Christianity.  Below is my understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology, as gathered from Vladimir Lossky’s “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church”, one of the books recommended to me.  This is the second in a series as I work my way down my reading list.  Orthodox commenters should be considered to have more authority than me on this topic, and I will gratefully take their correction.  The goal of this post, and I hope of the subsequent discussion, will be to accurately describe the Orthodox faith, rather than to criticize or defend it.]

Lossky’s book was first published in French in 1944, so Thomist Catholicism is naturally the tradition to which he most often compares his own, and the “individual” vs. “person” craze of that era definitely left its mark.  These points of familiarity will aid western readers.  Lossky sometimes strikes me as too eager to assert differences between East and West, but the purpose is to explain rather than disparage, making it a good book for our purposes.

Lossky (and, I gather, much of the Eastern tradition) is ultimately motivated by a desire to defend two truths:  1) that God is utterly beyond our knowledge and comprehension, 2) and yet He does make Himself really and immediately accessible to us, especially in mystical experience.  God is both inaccessible and accessible, a seeming paradox that would probably please Lossky and the Eastern Fathers who inspire him.  His goal is to preserve antinomies rather than resolve them; the danger of contradiction worries him far less than that of premature epistemic closure, of replacing the real, incomprehensible God with some construction more amenable to the human mind.

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Movie Review: “San Andreas”

Atlantis

Not thirty minutes into the story of San Andreas, a colossal skyscraper falls on my old girlfriend’s apartment house in West L.A. and then a tsunami sweeps it all away.  So – pretty good stuff!  I am giving this movie four-and-a-half stars out of five.  I withhold half a star for the scenes in which the actors have lines.

Thinking these thoughts so that my friends don’t need to.  TFB.

The Familiar Society

In a recent post on the justice of the property tax, I said that I was not interested so much to discuss that question as something else. That something is the vision of a familiarly ordered society, which suddenly opened itself to me as I pondered the modern property tax and its origins in corvée labor. I happened to read at that time, “coincidentally” – which is to say, synchronistically, or as we would here put it, providentially – an interview with Michael Hudson in which he revealed that recent archeological research seems to indicate that the pyramids and other ancient public works were built, not with coerced or slave labor, but by compensated freemen. Recently translated accounting records from these projects reveal that they enjoyed a high protein diet and vast quantities of beer. Periods of intense construction activity appear to have been coordinated and motivated by great religious festivals, featuring lots of sacrifices and feasting, that would have attracted people from far and wide. Involvement in this labor appears then to have been, not coerced, but voluntarily rendered, and motivated by strong positive emotions, which we might perhaps recognize as echoed in the intense patriotic fervor that prompted our forefathers to sign up in eager millions for the meat grinders of the 20th Century World Wars.

We may take this as an indication that a truly familiar society such as I discussed in the previous post would be radically different in character from the only sort of society any of us have ever known. I have not even begun to count all the ways it would be different; indeed, I feel I barely know how to think about what such a society would be like.

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The Circumstantial Injustice of Taxes on Property

One of the interesting things about being a Christian reactionary is that I keep discovering huge unsuspected remnants of my native modernism by means of their sudden collapse. One moment a liberal notion is cooking along as well and as unconsciously as ever, drawing no attention to itself, and the next its incoherence or absurdity are suddenly revealed to my conscious awareness and admitted to my concern by its contradiction – practical, logical, empirical – with other notions I feel sure are true. I never even notice these wrong-headed ideas or policies – call them illogismoi – until this happens. When it does, things appear to me in a new way – or rather, in what generally turns out to be quite an old way, that had never before seemed like a way at all.

I never know what will trigger these mental avalanches. Often it is quite a little thing.

This happened to me again recently when I was mulling Zippy Catholic’s arguments for the inherent injustice of property taxes. I have long thought that such taxes are indeed unjust – have hated them in my guts, together with capital gains taxes, estate and death taxes, business equipment taxes, and other levies against property. So when I read his arguments, my reaction was, “yeah, damn right.”

Now, suddenly, I am not so sure. Or perhaps I am. Bear with me, now, as I explain how consideration of property tax opened a new horizon to my fuddled sight. Or no, wait: a very old horizon, rather.

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Gnosticism: Its Self-Representation

Gnosis 02Part I of this series posed the linked questions whether Eric Voegelin’s characterization of Gnosticism in his various books on the topic was valid – and whether, as Voegelin asserted, modernity, in the form of the liberal and totalitarian ideologies, could be understood as the resurgence of ancient Gnosticism. The purpose of Part I was not to furnish definitive answers to those questions, but rather to explore two critiques of Gnostic doctrine from Late Antiquity. These were the essay Against the Gnostics by the Third-Century Neo-Platonic philosopher Plotinus and the discussion in Saint Augustine’s Confessions (Books III, IV, and V) of the Manichaean religion, a late variant of Gnosticism. The exposition concluded that the two accounts of Gnosticism although written more than a century apart (Augustine being subsequent to Plotinus) were convergent and largely similar. The argument did not propose that Plotinus and Augustine, in their critiques, anticipate Voegelin, but readers might justly have inferred that as a tacit thesis.

The present essay addresses Gnosticism by examining it in its own terms. It is certainly provocative that two ancient writers, separated by a tumultuous century-and-a-half should have arrived at essentially the same assessment of Gnosticism. Nevertheless, this similitude in the judgment might be because both authors are prejudiced in the same way; thus their agreement could erroneous or bigoted. After all, as the father of modern Gnosticism-scholarship, Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860), averred, the Gnostics were formidable thinkers, masters of confabulation, and connoisseurs of a wide variety of religions, including but by no means confined to Judaism and Christianity. Elements of Gnosticism likely became incorporated in Christian theology (think of Revelations) even as Patristic writers systematically anathematized what they regarded as heresy.

What follows concerns itself with details of four Gnostic documents: The Tri-Partite Tractate, usually attributed to Heracleon, a follower of Valentinus; The Origin of the World, of anonymous authorship; The Gospel of Truth, by Valentinus; and Zostrianos, also of anonymous authorship – all of which come from the so-called Nag Hammadi documents and all of which belong to the mid-Second Century or slightly later. Zostrianos likely influenced Mani (216-276) when he was writing his own scripture in the Third Century.

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The Way of all Ways

Any religion must express some truths, or it will be utterly useless, and will gain no purchase among men. It will fail to convince them. They will see that it is just absurd.

So all perdurant religions express some truths. Nevertheless they disagree, or they would not differ. So none of them express the same set of truths. And to the extent that they disagree in any respect with Christianity about the Incarnation and its implications, they cannot but mislead men, to their spiritual detriment, and even in the limit to their damnation.

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Babel

By their fundamental cult a people understand what their society and its coordinate activities are ultimately about – what they and their doings are for, and what they are against. Thus only may they understand who they are, and who they are not; where is their source, their end, and their true home; who are their friends, or enemies, and how they ought to behave toward them.

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Sex in Church

In a wide-ranging and penetrating essay contra the ordination of women, Peter Leithart argues that because sex is inerasably graven in the logos of man, ipso facto is it graven in the nature of whatever man does, from liturgy to marriage; that worship, being the quintessentially human activity, in which we can reach the sublimity of all our special capacities (for thought, word, deed; for art, music, argument, prayer; and so forth), is the font and archetype of all subsidiary activities, to which it lends them form; so that when we upend or confuse the sexes in church, we must perforce do likewise in marriage, and everywhere else.

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