Let us continue in our exposition of one Greek word, usteresantos, which has been elucidated in connection with the womb and with ‘lacking in something,’ which I believed to be connected to true metaphysics. Before I begin with this post, I want to take note of Andrew’s comment to me in an e-mail of May 20 regarding the previous post:
"I really enjoyed your latest post. Your remarks about the Modern age's idolization of self-sufficiency are right on target. I think this idea could also go a long way towards explaining the dismal state of education in our country. Education that has as its goal mere self-sufficiency has by that fact become something less than education. Instead of fostering a feeling of lacking in students which may arouse their metaphysical curiosity, it promises to furnish them with all they need to know to get on in the world. And so, if something can be known but won't help you get on in the world, it's not really worth knowing.
But my reason for writing is rather to ask you whether this prolonged period of stagnation may not be coming to an end. Do you think, perhaps, that the next generation, looking back at the last century and a half of prolonged paralysis, will begin to discover the insufficiency of self-sufficiency? The end of your post suggests you have some hope for the future - if we survive the present - but I wonder if there aren't any signs now of better things to come. It seems to me that the rantings of the chief proponents of self-sufficiency have become more desperate recently, and that just maybe the sober wisdom of those attuned to the Mysteries will gain a wider appreciation by the contrast. "
I believe that we will begin to discover the "insufficiency of self-sufficiency" as we become aware of the "initiatic tradition." What is this? What is "the Tradition"? What is initiation? How can we even begin to think about "the meaning of the initiatic tradition" when we have no language or experience in which to formulate our thoughts, and even to deal with such an "objective concept" already represents a "problem," so to speak, in terms of modernity? Where, indeed, even to begin – to initiate the discussion, which means, "to begin" it?
Just as a prelude, let me suggest that "initiation" is a concept which is opposed to evolutionism, which is the idea that, in a sense, nothing has a "beginning," but that everything develops or evolves according to the unfolding possibilities in Nature. Of course, it is not strictly true that "initiation" is opposed to "evolution," no more than the poetic inspiration of a sonnet is "opposed" to the form of the sonnet, or that the "meaning" of a sentence takes place in opposition to the grammatical rules of the language in which it is written or uttered.
Nevertheless, in terms of modern thinking, it is roughly true that the initiatic idea, which in the Latin Bible is expressed by the term in principio –"In the beginning" - that this principle of the Beginning is swallowed up by the idea of continuity of natural development.
But more precisely, the concept of initiation cannot be seen as being opposed to what unfolds in time, in the sense that this "unfolding in time" is what is meant by "The Tradition." It is thus "the Tradition" which guards the beginning, that is, the principle of initiation. And this beginning-point is always and only the confirmation of the correspondence of the human and divine world, the natural and the cosmic order. "Initiation" is the experience by which human beings receive this knowledge and certitude.
With this as necessary background, I want to proceed into the matter of this post – which may be something of a long one, as I have much material to cover. I want to discuss the concept of initiation, and I also want to lead back to our original starting point with the idea of the usteron, the womb, the feeling of being in lack of something. But I want to conclude by showing how, when this feeling of ‘lacking something’ is denied, or sidetracked into a materialist rather than a spiritualized understanding, we can arrive at the situation of hysterics – which is yet another word derived from our original usteron, the womb.
I realize I am making many demands on my readers, and I hope they will have the patience and fortitude to follow along as best they can – given my defects as a writer.
Lately I have been reading in the works of René Guénon [1886-1951] the French philosopher and expositor of the ‘Tradition’ – most notably his book, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times. Guénon was a Catholic who, later in his life, moved to Cairo, Egypt, and converted to the Sufi faith. In the West, only Catholic Christianity still continues to bear the initiatic tradition, which was once universal to all peoples and all cultures. In the West, however, the tradition has become ‘deviated’ - that is to say, the impersonal pure intellectual intuition needed to apprehend it has sunk to the level of the ordinary personal intellectualized Reason with its accompanying material evidences, or empiricism. More and more the emphasis in Western thinking has been quantity rather than quality, how things can be measured and utilized rather than how they can be deepened, beautified, or elaborated.
He summarizes as follows: "As soon as it has lost all effective communication with the supra-individual intellect, reason cannot but tend more and more toward the lowest level, toward the inferior pole of existence, plunging ever more deeply into ‘materiality’: as this tendency grows, it gradually loses hold of the very idea of truth, and arrives at the point of seeking no goal other than that of making things as easy as possible for its own limited comprehension, and in this it finds an immediate satisfaction in the very fact that its own downward tendency leads it in the direction of the simplification and uniformization of all things; it submits all the more readily and speedily to this tendency because the results of this submission conform to its desires, and its ever more rapid descent cannot fail to lead at least to what has been called the ‘reign of quantity.’" (94-5)
There are certain characteristics of the state of mind to which we may affix the character of "the reign of quantity:"
- Insolence and presumption of knowledge concerning religious or spiritual matters, and by extension in all matters of courtesy, intellectual and social. Take, for example, the recent book by Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, and other books of that ilk, now appearing in profusion; a new kind of militant atheism which argues that people would be nicer to each other if they had no religion. The fallacy of this belief is the idea that man created religion. But the truth is more likely that religion created mankind. We do not in fact know how prehistoric human beings stepped forth from the nexus of mere animal sociality into human language, action, reason and culture. This is precisely why the concept of initiation is needed. For initiation concerns the "striving for humanity" at whatever level it occurs, and it would be contradictory, if not nonsensical, to suppose that this "striving" could take place without the participation of man. Thus the naturalist fallacy begins and ends with the notion that no effort is needed, or that we need not bring distinctions, or distinguish qualities, of efforts. Thus the "reign of quantity" ends with the destruction of culture – i.e., utter complacency, which is the "moral" side of the doctrine of self-sufficiency.
- A "horror of mystery" which arises from the notion that "reality" is only what can been seen, measured, quantified, and rationalized.
- Lack of manners, reticence, reserve, humility, receptivity, patience and an aggressive utilitarianism. If there are no "qualities," why bother?
- An inability to understand or appreciate symbolic or imaginative discourse -- a "one size fits all" approach which derives from "uniformization" and of seeing all things on the same level.
- Emotional autism, of being encased or solidified in one’s own ‘individuality,’ with a corresponding lack of empathy or interest in others .
- Manic activity and restlessness, especially in the economic but in other realms as well, which "… is why the period can be said to be using up everything that had been set aside in earlier periods;" (p. 177; italics mine). This is called entropy; it means dispersal or the exploitation of natural and cultural resources without limit, leaving nothing for future generations.
- And finally, the inability to give sustained attention and even to think. For thinking presupposes at least two things: the correspondence of words and things, and the ability to order concepts hierarchically. The first of these is the last echo of the correspondence of the human and cosmic order, and the second of these is the last echo of the sense of quality. Both of these presuppositions, in the "Reign of Quantity," have virtually collapsed.
The ‘deviated’ course of Western history which René Guénon traces from Renaissance Humanism, through Protestantism, to mechanism, rationalism, materialism, positivism, pragmatism, etc. to the purely ‘quantitative’ outlook of today, is not enough, in and of itself, to bring about the final ‘dissolution,’ which he regards as the consummation of this phase of manifestation. Dissolution demands an actual work of ‘subversion’ – through the erection of a counterfeit spirituality, a counterfeit hierarchy, a counter-initiation. Thus:
"This is the moment at which the second kind of work, which had at first only been carried out in a more or less hidden manner by way of preparation, and in any case on a restricted scale, had to come into the open and in its turn to cover an increasingly wide field…" (p. 195)
"’Anti-tradition’ found its most complete expression in the kind of materialism that could be called ‘integral,’ such as that which prevailed toward the end of the last century: as for the ‘counter-tradition,’ we can still only see the preliminary signs of it, in the form of all the things that are striving to become counterfeits in one way or another of the traditional idea itself…" (p. 260)
It is important to distinguish what is still a kind of ‘innocent’ or ‘naïve’ materialism from the work of subversion, which can only proceed from a Spiritual Being:
"… after having worked always in the shadows to inspire and direct invisibly all modern movements, it will in the end contrive to ‘exteriorize,’ if that is the right word, something that will be as it were the counterpart of a true tradition… Just as initiation is… the thing that effectively represents the spirit of a tradition, so will the ‘counter-initiation’ play a comparable part with respect to the ‘counter-tradition’: but obviously it would be quite wrong and improper to speak of the spirit in the second case, since it concerns that from which the spirit is most completely absent… nevertheless opposition is undoubtedly attempted, and is accompanied by imitation in the manner of the inverted shadow… However that may be, the thing that makes it possible for affairs to reach such a point is that the ‘counter-initiation’… cannot be regarded as a purely human invention… the ‘counter-initiation’ proceeds from that source (i.e. the spirit, from when comes all manifestation) by a degeneration carried to its extreme limit, and that limit is represented by the ‘inversion’ that constitutes ‘satanism’ properly so called…(pps.261-2)
* * * * * * * * *
It may seem paradoxical that human life under the "Reign of Quantity" should more and more take on the character of the ‘hysterical.’ And so we return to this word once again, the root of which, usteron, is the womb. The ‘hysterical’ aspect is a counter-image of the metaphysical depths we explored in our previous post. "Hysterics" is womb-without-mind – without the ordering principles of the higher Logos, without intellectual intuition, without receptivity to truth. In the physical body, this receptivity characterizes the womb; in the spiritual organism it is, or should be, characterized by the mind. A "concept" is a mental birth, as the conceptus is of the physical.
Lately there has been an even more radical step into the purely quantitative realm – or even beyond the mere quantitative into the dissolutional. Consider the Large Hadron Collider, an underground science lab in Switzerland that will shoot particles through a 27-kilometer tunnel and analyze the resulting collisions (in a four-million-megabyte –per-hour stream of data," as Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker put it). She quotes one scientist, "What we want is to reduce the world to objects that have no structure, that are points, that are as simple as we can imagine. And then build it up from there again." Here is the best possible summary of Guénon’s thesis: how the quantitative becomes the dissolutive and finally achieves a total reversal, that is, a counter-image of the hierarchy of Nature.
Yet I would like to suggest an additional feature as well. In the supposedly emotionless calculative agenda of this science it is easy to miss the fantastic element in this scientist’s remark. The idea that scientists can "build it up from there again" is pure fantasy, a complete delusion. But is it not also a kind of ‘hysteria’ ? Here is evidence of how the human imagination has become unmoored from Nature, and in so doing, has become self-inflated – with the idea that a scientist can "rebuild the world" again from a mass of shattered particles.
At the very least, this scientist sees no contradiction in the fact that a science intent upon the dissolution of matter can hardly possess the requisite skills for rebuilding. One might say that the skills in the resume are vastly different – poles apart, indeed. But this is merely "Reign of Quantity" thinking all over again – that somehow there is no difference between the work of destruction and the work of construction. Kolbert reports that a few people have ventured to suggest that the Large Hadron Collider will "destroy the world." Perhaps they express more of the truth than they know. Only, it is not a physical destruction that is the portent here. With a science poised between calculated dissolution on the one hand, and hysterical delusions on the other, there is a sense in which any mere physical destruction would be an anticlimax – a mere postscript that never could be written in words - this being the ultimate 'counter-image' to the inexpressibility of spiritual truth itself.
We have come a long way from usteron of the path of the Logos to usteron as a type of receptable or even breeding-ground of demonic beings of pride. For remember, usteron is that in us which must have metaphysics – and that is why we are historical beings. For History is the daughter of Metaphysics.
The Metaphysics of Creation are the truths of initiation, the story of First Principles. It is not wrong to have fables – even the fable of evolution – but it is deadly to have fables without counteracting First Principles. The hour is late. The time is now. For the abyss has no bottom – no, not even for us, favored and forgiven by God numberless times throughout the course of our laborious centuries of striving to become human.