Friday, July 14, 2017

The Postmodern Veritas

      "Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one can go to the Father except by Me."
     -John 14:6 (NIV)

     "Never give your hearts to this world or to any of the things in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. For the whole world-system, based as it is on men’s primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself. The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear. But the man who is following God’s will is part of the permanent and cannot die."
     -1 John 2:15-17 (PHILIPS)

     Behold! I teach you the Postmodern Veritas! She is an obscene mockery of the classical Pax Romana Veritas, whose children are naturally beautiful and winsome. Po'mo'Veri and her bastard children of error are forever busy obscuring Truth yet cannot kill it. They are desperate to obfuscate Beauty yet they cannot steal it. They sneer at Goodness, yet they cannot destroy it. Post-Modern Veritas is clearly not the transcendental virtue we used to know. This impostor denies that there ever was a thing so lovely or so bright. This impostor deconstructs rational thought, pulls it apart and reassembles the pieces in grotesque whorls of Anti-Logos. And since perception and reality are joined in a virtual embrace, the impostor deconstructs reality.  Again and again comes the mocking question, "Quid est veritas?" ("What is truth?") As the contempt for anything resembling a unifying master-narrative grows, postmodernites are retreating further and further into their individual solipsistic bubbles. It is as much a war on transcendent Truth as it is one over whose solipsism can overpower the others. The ultimate "safe space" is an inverted mind, doomed to endlessly devour itself without ever taking the sustenance it needs. A proud, selfish, and vindictive spirit makes the "safe spaces" too small to share with others in the end. 

     In his Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes threw down the gauntlet to the reader with this: "If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things." Does he mean that literally? Okay, just assume everything you know is lie. EverythingFor the sake of argument, let's say you are a disembodied brain in a vat wired up to a dream-machine that continuously feeds you false ideas and sensory impressions about your own existence. In essence, you are in a dream from which you cannot wake. You dream on the cusp of lucidity, in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness. The evil daemon has given you a near-perfect simulation of whatever your life circumstances were prior to your existence as a stolen brain. You, like Descartes himself in his First Meditations, have at your disposal all the necessary tool-sets of logic, physics, mathematics and philosophy which with to analyze your world. The "near-perfection" of the dream is a result of you, like Descartes in his famous monologue, experiencing a sort of generalized existential dread  the cause of which eludes you. It has no name, no form. But it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad!  If anything can be doubted, what can be known? The only possible certainty, Descartes said, is the knowledge of self (Cogito Ergo Sum) and the fact of your own perceptions. Even if that means you might be the only real person in existence.

     The last known literary work posthumously attributed to Samuel Longhorne Clemens (better known to the world as Mark Twain) It is called No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger.  I include it here to illustrate what I mean by solipsism, radical Cartesian doubt, confusion, and existential dread. Link to the very spooky e-book here here but only if you can handle it! There is a strange tale of editorial fraud surrounding this work in real life, which ratchets up the creep-factor even more. What follows is a fragment from the final chapter of the authoritative 1969 version. The title character is giving a long parting speech to Theodor, the narrator: 

     “...You are not you--you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream--your dream, a creature of your imagination. In a moment you will have realized this, then you will banish me from your visions and I shall dissolve into the nothingness out of which you made me

     In a little while you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitless solitudes without friend or comrade forever—for you will remain a thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable, indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!

     Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago—centuries, ages, eons, ago!—for you have existed, companionless, through all the eternities.

     Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane—like all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell—mouths mercy and invented hell—mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites a poor, abused slave to worship him!

     You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks—in a word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks are all present; you should have recognized them earlier.

     "It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream—a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought—a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!...” 

     He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true. 

     The Postmodern Veritas is the Mysterious Stranger, loosed from the pretense of fiction to wander through dry places. The philosophy of the Void is nothing to toy with, though the minds of many an edgelord and ubermenschen end up there eventually. I don't recommend nihilism myself even though it's supposed to be the ultimate intellectual rigor. As St. Paul said to the Church at Phillippi, so I say to you-- "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Truth, as a transcendent property of being, points the way to a transcendent absolute Life, which Jesus is. Beauty, Goodness, and Truth live and breathe as one. They herald the Way, sing the Gospel, and embrace the Life. Beauty exists not for it's own sake but rather as an invitation to contemplate goodness. Individual adoption into the body of Christ might be best accomplished when Beauty is the first stage, Goodness the second, and Truth the last. The only way automatic progress can be guaranteed is for Progress itself to become a Postmodern ambiguity ... which it has! If the eternal and the transcendent are dissembled, what happens to the epistemic foundations of Truth? It will march on, but will we? Keep along the narrow path our feet can find only because we are sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. We are obliged to doubt all things in turn if we are to find Truth, that one strong and mighty tower in which every mundane reality has its foundation.

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