There is method to the condescension


My previous post has gotten a lot of comments—some positive, some negative—particularly in my forum. On the negative side, a criticism often leveraged against my essay writing style has, unsurprisingly, returned: some of you dislike the condescending tone of my criticisms of materialism, preferring me to stick to purely objective, sober argumentation without scornful overtones. I understand the point and acknowledge that my essay writing sometimes is indeed a little disparaging.

However, contrary to what some might assume, this isn't a reflection of my evil personality (I actually tend to be quite kind in person); it is and has always been deliberate, aiming to achieve something very specific that I consider integral to my work. Allow me to explain.

Since at least the late 19th century, the western intellectual establishment has placed materialism on the high-ground of reason and plausibility (how and why this happened is something I discussed here). The attitude of most academics, for instance, is that the burden of argument and evidence rests squarely on those who do not endorse materialism, even though the latter has devastating—even insoluble—problems of its own.

Consequently, idealists such as myself must fight an uphill battle against entrenched prejudices. Throwing rotten tomatoes down from the high-ground of rationality they believe to occupy, many materialists feel they don't even need to bother acquainting themselves with the opposing argument before mocking and dismissing it. When an entire intellectual establishment is biased in your favor, I guess it is hard to avoid this kind of entitlement complex.

And indeed, the entrenched metaphysical bias that plagues our intellectual establishment manifests itself in the derogatory manner in which materialists feel entitled to criticize other metaphysics. Such derogatory behavior, in turn, reinforces and perpetuates the entrenched bias. The result of this vicious circle is a normalization of conceit, indolence and condescension; provided that they are expressed by materialists. The more we see non-materialist views being disparaged, the more the notion is subliminally inculcated in our minds that materialism is the default metaphysics; the most plausible, coherent and 'serious' view of reality.

The problem is that materialism is neither plausible nor coherent. As a matter of fact, the only reason it isn't considered bonkers is the peculiar intellectual habits developed by our western culture since the early Enlightenment, in the 17th century. The rational high-ground materialists believe they occupy is a fiction without basis on fact or reason, a mere cultural artifact of our ephemeral age.

And this is why I deliberately adopt a condescending tone in my criticisms of materialism and the incoherent arguments of its spokespeople: to level the playing field; to restore some semblance of balance; to help legitimize and normalize a hard-nosed critical attitude towards materialism as well.

Through my own rather uncompromising and vocal example, I want to help others give themselves intellectual permission to overtly break with the mainstream storyline if they can't buy into it. By getting accustomed to seeing materialists being as disparaged as they disparage others, and on solid grounds, perhaps our intellectual establishment will eventually realize that its favorite metaphysics is just a tentative story full of holes; something far, very far from an unassailable fact.

I deliberately emphasize my utter lack of reverence for materialism in an attempt to help dispel its religious aura of untouchable metaphysical superiority. I want to grab the pretentious little impostor by the hair, pull it down to the earth and drag it through the mud in full view of everybody, so people see that materialism isn't a god in the pantheon of reason, but just a very vulnerable conjecture—a mere opinion—full of holes. My overt scorn for materialism aims to get us slowly accustomed to the fact that it is as legitimate a target of rational criticism—and yes, even disdain—as any other metaphysics might be.

The equations 'evidence + reason = materialism' and 'science = materialism'—nonsensical as they are—are very prevalent in our culture and have very real effects. In philosophy circles, for instance, I feel that dualists, panpsychists, cosmopsychists and idealists alike tend to be somewhat shy, submissive, apologetic, even reverential, when submitting their case to the scrutiny of an overwhelmingly materialist intellectual establishment. They seem to implicitly concede that materialism has some kind of head start, so that the full burden of argument and evidence falls on them alone. I find this an extremely counterproductive attitude without any basis on fact.

I make a point of conceding nothing to materialism that it hasn't earned on the basis of good argument and evidence, as opposed to mere intellectual habit; and I explicitly reject materialists' presumptuous claim of rational high-ground: they have the same burden of argument and evidence as the rest of us. My tone aims at illustrating this attitude by example, so to help non-materialists vanquish their needless inferiority complex.

Only by publicly desecrating the false god—dragging the bully by the ear and then scolding it—can we reveal to the world the weakling it has always been. By subjecting materialists to scornful criticism—the same kind they liberally dish out to others—whenever I have a strong, substantive basis to do so, I am trying to empower those who are skeptical of materialism but fear being taken for irrational 'mystics.' I want to help intelligent people give themselves permission to feel proud of repudiating materialism on rational grounds.

A cultural game as this admittedly is, I believe it is as integral a part of my work as elucidating and promoting idealism, for I have never seen others playing the role I've described above; at least not as explicitly as I've been trying to. The substance of my arguments has always been, and shall always remain, the foundation of everything I do; I have never replaced, and shall never replace, substance with empty rhetoric. But whenever the foundation is solid and the chance is presented to me, I shall not be shy to leverage it for maximum rhetorical effect. I believe this to be necessary to restore a semblance of metaphysical balance to our culture and I wish others would join me in the effort.
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The surprising thing materialism has going for it... You won't guess


There is a strange feeling I get every now and then, which is difficult to explain: sometimes, when I get objective confirmation of some conclusion I had already drawn, I get the feeling that I, in fact, hadn't really drawn the conclusion properly before; at least not as assuredly as when the confirmation comes. At that moment, the conclusion suddenly feels so much more vivid and truer that whatever reasons I had to believe it before seem hazy in comparison. I think to myself, "I thought I knew this, but only now do I really know it!" Can you sense what I mean?

Anyway, this has happened to me a couple of times over the past couple of weeks, as I found myself doing an exposé of eliminativism and illusionism—the ridiculous notions that consciousness doesn't exist. More specifically, I sought to refute the incoherent arguments of neuroscientist Michael Graziano and philosopher Keith Frankish. It was when Graziano attempted to reply to my criticisms that I got the strange feeling I tried to describe above: I thought to myself, "this guy really, really does not know what consciousness is! He just doesn't have the capacity to introspect and self-reflect enough to recognize his own raw awareness."
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GUEST ESSAY: The marriage of physics and idealism

By Adur Alkain

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, where it was extensively reviewed and critically commented on by forum members. The opinions expressed are those of its author. For my own views on the subject of this essay, see this paper.)



“Man has no Body distinct from his soul; for that called Body is a portion of a Soul discerned by the five senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.”
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Physics, without doubt the most successful and prestigious science of our time, has been traditionally married to a highly problematic companion: physicalism. Physicalism can be simply defined as the metaphysical thesis that everything in reality is physical. It isn’t surprising that most physicists would readily subscribe to this thesis, since it grants physics a privileged position as the most fundamental science. Sadly, this marriage of convenience has brought not only physics, but all related sciences like cosmology, biology, neuroscience, etc., to a hopeless dead end. The reason is simple: physicalism is false.

The purpose of this essay is to propose an amicable divorce, followed by a new marriage to a much more suitable partner: idealism. Only by decisively separating itself from physicalism and embracing idealism will physics be able to truly thrive and flourish.

To achieve this, idealism will also need to embrace physics, giving it its proper position as an indispensable ingredient in our understanding of reality. Like in all successful marriages, both partners will need to be willing to listen to each other, and to let themselves be transformed in the process.

ONLY OBSERVATION IS PHYSICAL

The first step is to reject the misguided belief that ‘everything is physical’, and replace it with a much more humble—but true—thesis: only observation is physical. Physics is the science of observation.

This very simple but far-reaching idea may seem obvious and disconcerting at the same time. To clarify what I mean by it, I offer the following points:

  1. The laws of physics don’t describe a hypothetical world made of ‘matter’ that exists ‘out there’. The laws of physics only describe our observations. In more precise terms: the laws of physics describe the probabilities of future observations.
  2. Physics is essentially founded in observation. From the point of view of physics, the following is true: “if it can’t be observed, it doesn’t exist”. This attitude gave rise to physicalism. But the true corollary is this: if it can’t be observed, it lies outside the realm of physics. For example, according to physicalism one of these two options is necessarily true:
    • (a) consciousness can be reduced to observable physical processes in our brains.
    • (b) consciousness doesn’t exist.
      But in idealism we have a third option, which happens to be self-evident:
    • (c) consciousness exists, but it is not a physical phenomenon.
  3. Only our observations show the regularity and consistency that we associate with the laws of physics. All other conscious experiences (thoughts, emotions, dreams, hallucinations, etc.) are not constrained by the laws of physics.
  4. The physical world is the observed world. It doesn’t exist outside our observation.
  5. Since observation happens in the mind of conscious observers, physics is a branch of psychology. Psychology, and not physics, is the most fundamental science.

WHAT IS OBSERVATION?

Given the fundamental role we ascribe to observation, we should provide a precise definition of what we mean by this term. Here it is: observation = detection + consciousness.

Let’s unpack this definition:

  1. I’m using the somewhat awkward term ‘detection’, instead of possible alternatives like ‘sensation’, to take into account the fact that in modern physics most observations are carried out with the help of scientific instruments, making it possible to acquire data beyond the reach of the human sense organs. Sensation, as carried out through our natural senses, is a particular form of detection.
  2. We can define detection as the acquisition of information about the physical world, that is, about previous observations (since the physical world is nothing but the sum of all observations), combined with the creation of new information. We will explain later in detail what we mean by this.
  3. Observation vs. perception: Although in informal contexts the terms ‘observation’ and ‘perception’ can be used interchangeably (I have done so myself in some of my writings), in modern psychology perception is understood as the processing and interpretation in the mind of the ‘raw data” coming from the senses. Perception implies mental concepts, acquired knowledge, memories, expectations, etc., and lies therefore outside the realm of physics.
  4. The crucial element in the equation is consciousness. Self-driving cars, for example, can detect red traffic lights and react accordingly, but they are not observing anything. Without consciousness, there is no observation. (Ultimately, without consciousness there is no detection either, as shown by quantum mechanics. We’ll come back to this later. But let’s not forget that, according to idealism, without consciousness there is nothing.)
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The destiny of Western culture: An open letter to Peter Kingsley



"Well over two thousand years ago, science as we know it was offered to the West with a warning tag attached to it: Use this, but don't be tricked by it. And of course, impatient little children that we are, we tore off the tag and ignored the warning."
Peter Kingsley, in Reality (2003).

One of the more salient intellectual events of 2019 for me, personally, was my discovery of the work of Peter Kingsley. Earlier this year, a friend gifted me a book by Kingsley, having perspicaciously suspected it would resonate with me at some level. And it surely did, for which I am deeply grateful to my friend (you know who you are). Unlike most of the books I read—which I tend to regard rather soberly and coolly—Kingsley's work left me irate, inspired, bemused, delighted and a few other things, all at the same time. Whatever the case, I am anything but indifferent to it, which is probably the greatest compliment I could pay to any author.

More importantly, Kingsley's work helped me situate my own in a historical context. It has become clearer to me what it is, exactly, that I am trying to do, where it fits in the long line of Western thought, what role it is supposed to play in our culture, and what the ultimate purpose of doing it is. I see the path ahead more clearly, have a sharper sense of direction for my work, and recognize how it ultimately comes together with that of others. This is what I'd like to discuss in this long post, which is doubtlessly the most important of the year.

In what follows, I refer to two books by Kingsley: Reality (2003) and Catafalque (2018). For the sake of simplicity, I shall cite them as 'R' and 'C,' respectively.


      


A culture's source and telos

Kingsley's central premise is that all cultures have a sacred source and purpose, including our own Western civilization: "everything, absolutely everything, anyone can name that makes our so-called civilization unique has a sacred source—a sacred purpose" (C: 228). The seed of every culture, including our own, is planted not through mere chance, habit or deliberate planning, but instead through visionary experience in altered states of consciousness. It is prophets who learn, and then inform us of, what our purpose is: "western civilization, just like any other, came into being out of prophecy; from revelation" (C: 231).

In our case, we can trace our roots back to visionary Greek philosopher-poets living in southern Italy about two and a half thousand years ago, particularly Parmenides. In Parmenides' poem On Nature we can find the origins of our Western culture. Uniquely, however, we are the only civilization that has neglected and forgotten its origin: "nowhere on this planet are you going to find one single traditional culture that doesn't remember ... having its sacred purpose and source" (C: 230).

Misunderstanding Parmenides

Indeed, Kingsley claims that we in the West have been misinterpreting and misrepresenting Parmenides' ideas since Plato, and modern scholarship has compounded the problem even further. Parmenides is seen as the founder of logic and rationality, of our particular way of discriminating truth from untruth, fact from fiction, through reasoning. According to this mainstream view, the Promethean powers of Western science, as embodied in technology, are the culmination of a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that can be traced back to Parmenides' manner of argumentation in his famous poem.

But Kingsley argues very persuasively (R: 1-306) that what Parmenides was trying to say was nothing of the kind. According to him, logic for Parmenides wasn't a formal system based on fixed axioms and theorems, meant to help us discern true from false ideas about reality; it wasn't grounded in some metaphysically primary realm of absolutes akin to Platonic Forms; it didn't derive its validity from some external reference. In summary, Kingsley argues that, for Parmenides, logic wasn't what we now call reason, but something much broader, deeper, unconstrained by fixed rules and formalisms.

True logic as incantation

As a matter of fact, according to Kingsley Parmenides' logic was a kind of incantation. The idea is that we live in a world of illusions, caught up in our own internal narratives and made-up categories about what is going on, completely oblivious to the true world that surrounds us and from which we derive our very being—i.e. reality. This illusion is unfathomably persuasive, has tremendous power and momentum. So to help one see through it and ultimately overcome it, an even more persuasive rhetorical device is required, a kind of spell or incantation woven with words, meant to disrupt our ordinary mental processes by poking them in just the right spots. This incantation is the true logic Parmenides gifted us: "We were dragged into this illusion by a force far greater than ourselves. Something even stronger has to drag us out. That's what logic is" (R: 143). True logic is thus a kind of spell meant to trick our internal story-telling, make it catch itself in contradiction and thereby release its grip, so we can escape the illusion. But unlike ordinary logic or reason, true logic is not grounded in fixed or absolute axioms and rules of derivation. It is malleable, flexible, not bound to external references. A 'logical' argument in this sense is whatever argument will actually persuade its target, whatever it takes.

This is a critical point, so allow me to belabor it a bit. If I were to use Parmenides' true logic on you, I would weave whatever argument line I felt would be compelling to you, irrespective of whether the argument is strictly rational or not, strictly consistent with a given set of fixed axioms or not. The ultimate goal of true logic is way too pragmatic for that: it is to get you out of the bind in which you continuously tie yourself up. True logic, thus, is a rhetorical incantation meant to be more persuasive than our inner narratives and categories. In essence, it is a semantic trick meant to break the spell of illusion, like cracking a crystal by gently tapping on it in just the right spot.

Kingsley explains that, for Parmenides, there were only two ways to approach reality: either we judge that everything we feel, think, perceive, imagine or otherwise experience exists as such—regardless of any correspondence with objective facts—or we must ultimately dismiss everything as non-existing. The latter option goes nowhere, for obvious reasons, which leaves only one viable path. The bind we find ourselves in is due to our hopeless attempt to find some compromise or middle ground between those two canonical options: we try to discriminate which of our mental states correspond to actual existents—i.e. to some external reference—and which don't. This, according to Kingsley's interpretation of Parmenides, is the core of the illusion. And true logic is a rhetorical tool meant to show that all such discriminations—if pursued consistently to their final implications—are ultimately self-defeating.

Parmenides' metaphysics

The implicit metaphysics being adopted here is, of course, subjective idealism: "for Greeks, the world of the gods [i.e. reality] had one very particular feature. This is that simply to think something is to make it exist: is to make it real" (R: 71-72). Therefore, "whatever we are aware of is, whatever we perceive or notice is, whatever we think of is" (R: 77). Everything that has mental existence exists as such—i.e. as a mental existent—and there is no other way in which it can exist: "There is nothing that exists except what can be thought or perceived" (R: 78). Therefore, the use of reason to discriminate between what exists from what doesn't exist is, well, ultimately unreasonable: "To choose good thoughts is to reject the bad ones—and to reject something is to entertain it, is to make it exist" (R: 80). The act of deciding that something does not, or cannot, exist immediately backfires and makes it exist, by the mere fact that the act forces us to think it into existence to begin with. Reason, as we normally apply it, is thus ultimately incoherent, even though it has its practical applications within the context of the illusion.

It is the subjective idealism he attributes to Parmenides that renders Kingsley's interpretation plausible and internally consistent: subjective idealism does away with the correspondence theory of truth, according to which mental states that correspond to objective facts are true, whereas those that don't aren't. Once these external references are done away with, all criteria of truth and existence become internal ones, and thus logic boils down to persuasion: what exists or is true is whatever mind has been persuaded to make exist or true. There is nothing outside mind, no objective facts out there, to make it otherwise. This is important, so allow me to repeat it: without external references, such as objective facts, logic boils down to persuasion; there is nothing else it can be.

Kingsley explains: "facts are of absolutely no significance in themselves: it's just as easy to get lost in facts as it is to get lost in fictions. ... All our facts, like all our reasoning, are just a façade" (R: 21-22), they hide something more essential behind them. And this 'something' is reality: pure stillness, a realm in which nothing ever moves or changes, in which everything is intrinsically connected to everything else in an indivisible whole, and where no time but the eternal present exists. That's why true logic is "a magical lure drawing us into oneness" (R: 144)—i.e. back to reality. But what is the metaphysical ground of this reality? It is consciousness: "Wherever it seems that you go, or come, everything happens in your consciousness. And that consciousness never moves, is always the same" (R: 80).

Notice that Kingsley's attribution of subjective idealism to Parmenides is based on the implicit assumption that the consciousness in question isn't just your or my personal consciousness alone; it is, instead, a transpersonal, universal consciousness within which all existence unfolds. Kingsley: "our thoughts are not ours; never have been. They are simply reality thinking itself" (R: 80); reality, or consciousness, is "utterly impersonal" (R: 160). Therefore, from the point of view of seemingly personal, individual minds, such as yours and mine, the idealism in question is actually objective idealism, such as the one I pursue in the body of my work. It is crucial to keep this understanding in mind, otherwise you will dismiss Kingsley's story way too quickly. His metaphysics isn't solipsism; he isn't saying that reality is your personal dream, or the materialization of your egotistic fantasies; he is not giving the ego divine powers of creation.

Reason is not true logic

Kingsley explains that, because we have historically misinterpreted and misrepresented Parmenides' intended meaning, we've ended up conjuring up reason out of what was meant to be true logic. But reason is a tool precisely for discriminating between mental states that correspond to ostensive external facts from those that don't. Under the metaphysical view that to think is to make exist, such discrimination is incoherent.

Therefore, by misunderstanding true logic, we've also departed from what was meant to be Western culture's foundational metaphysics. We've invented external references outside consciousness—i.e. outside reality—such as matter, energy, space and time. And then we've forced true logic "to operate, distorted and disfigured, in the world it had been designed to undermine" (R: 144). The result is reason, the rational discrimination of fact from fiction in an ostensively autonomous material world independent of consciousness.

For Kingsley, it is reason that keeps us stuck in the middle ground between the two canonical paths—namely, between judging either that everything we can conceive of exists as such, or that nothing exists. This, according to him, is the seminal mistake that has put our entire culture on the wrong footing. Logic is no longer regarded as a magical incantation meant to persuade us out of illusion, but has turned into a tool for perpetuating the illusion: "All our attempts to discriminate between reality and deception or between truth and illusion are exactly what keeps on tricking us" (R: 211).

The telos of Western culture

But what was it that we were originally supposed to do? What goal are we supposed to pursue? What is the "burning purpose at the heart of our Western world" (C: 205)?

Kingsley is not terribly explicit about it, but he does drop enough hints. For instance, he says that the modern attitude towards the divine can be summarized in the words,
“Let’s make sure the divine takes good care of us. But as for finding what, in reality, the divine might possibly need: let it look after itself.” From here onwards one can sit back and watch how the idea of looking after the gods starts, almost by magic, vanishing from the western world. ... And now it never for a moment occurs to us that the divine might be suffering, aching from our neglect; that the sacred desperately longs for our attention far more than we in some occasional, unconscious spasm might feel a brief burst of embarrassed longing for it. (C: 29-30)
The suggestion is that the meaning and purpose of our lives is to help fulfill some divine need, which can only be fulfilled in, or by means of, the state of consciousness we call life. This is reinforced by the fact that Kingsley overtly associates himself with the thought of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, particularly Jung's book Answer to Job. And in that book, we find Jung saying:
what does man posses that God does not have? Because of his littleness, puniness, and defencelessness against the Almighty, he possesses ... a somewhat keener consciousness based on self-reflection: he must, in order to survive, always be mindful of his impotence. God has no need of this circumspection, for nowhere does he come up against an insuperable obstacle that would force him to hesitate and hence make him reflect on himself.
It seems to me that all cultures have the purpose to serve the divine by means of the state of consciousness we call life, the latter not being available to the divine itself. But each culture is meant to fulfill this sacred task in its own particular way, according to its own particular dispositions or strengths. In the case of Western culture, our strength is our sharply developed meta-cognition, or self-reflection; our introspective ability to turn our own thoughts, emotions, perceptions and fantasies into objects of thought, recursively. Western culture is thus meant to serve the divine by contributing to it the meta-cognitive insight of self-realization: through us and our Western science—"a gift offered by the gods with a sacred purpose" (C: 229)—the divine recognizes itself.

The failure of the West

However, Kingsley ultimately concludes that we, in the West, have failed in our divine task. We've failed not only because we've misunderstood Parmenides—and thus bungled our metaphysics and became unable to properly use the sacred tool we were given, i.e. true logic—but for other, more insidious reasons as well.

Indeed, to serve the divine requires "a deeply religious attitude, the sense that it's all for the sake of something far greater than ourselves" (C: 122). But to nurture and sustain such religious attitude, people must "step out of their personal dramas" (Ibid.). Yet we, in the West, indulge in personal dramas, having conflated individual freedom and expression with egocentrism, even subtle forms of narcissism. We've forgotten that, "as humans we are archetypes" (C: 143), instances of a universal template of being, so that "Whatever we think of as personal is in fact profoundly inhuman, while it's only in the utter objectivity of the impersonal that we find our humanity" (Ibid.).

We've immersed ourselves in the dehumanizing "brutality of our western society with its normality and triviality as well as the hollow emptiness of its surveillance" (C: 230). And "when a culture forces a human to act so automatically, talk so robotically, the humanity inside the person is lost ... Everything can seem to go on working and functioning, for a while. But our role in existence has been hollowed out; our human purpose on this planet turned completely upside down" (C: 434-435). By losing touch with our own humanity, which is what links us with the divine, we've forfeited intimacy with our sacred destiny.

Worse yet, Kingsley maintains that there is no fixing the problem, no rescuing Western culture, no finding our path again: "this world of ours is already dead. It existed for a while, did the best it could, but is nothing more than a lifeless remnant of what it was meant to be. ... And this is the moment for marking, and honouring, the passing of our culture ... to keep on indulging in optimism is a shameless dereliction of our duty" (C: 442).

Well, I am not an optimist... But I don't agree.

De Facto Western culture & the value of error

The first thing to notice is that, although Kingsley has convinced at least me that we did misinterpret Parmenides, and that the correct interpretation is that offered by Kingsley, the fact of the matter is that what we call 'Western culture' embodies and is based on the values, premises and modes of cognition set by Plato, Aristotle, and the rest of the post-socratic philosophers and scientists. According to Kingsley himself, Parmenides was misinterpreted already within a single generation, so there has never being a 'correct' Western culture, so to speak. Factually, even if it is based on a seminal misunderstanding, being Western effectively means what Plato and his successors defined it to be; it has never really meant anything else.

Western culture, it seems to me, has three central, differentiating characteristics:

  1. More than many other cultures, its approach to reality is based on self-reflection, critical meta-cognitive reasoning, so as to discriminate between fact and fiction, truth and falsity; (Empiricism is a relatively recent invention of the late renaissance or early enlightenment, so I won't list it as a central characteristic of the West. We have had, for instance, well over half a millennium of scholasticism, when empiricism played hardly any role.)
  2. More than many other cultures, the West's metaphysics unreservedly acknowledges the existence of personal, individual minds and, therefore, the existence of an objective world out there, outside such individual minds;
  3. More than many other cultures, the West fully embraces the illusion we call the world.
Notice that, although the view that objective facts are material has dominated Western culture for the past couple of centuries, over the more than two millennia of its existence the West has also entertained other possibilities: Western idealists, for instance, posit that objective facts are grounded in a transpersonal mind, whereas Western computationalists posit that they are grounded in pure information.

Now, I acknowledge that the three characteristics listed above are not what Parmenides intended. Moreover, I also acknowledge that they are all ultimately illusory: logic is largely a mental invention, not a Platonic absolute; the very distinction between my personal mind and the world out there is ultimately illusory; and the physical things I perceive are mere representations, not essence.

But I don't think that these Western errors are a waste of time either. Wisdom sometimes comes only with error, as any wounded healer will know. Sometimes a misstep is more useful and important than the correct way forward, because of the experiences and insights it creates the space for. Getting to the right answer only after having exhaustively tried, and failed with, seductive but wrong ones arguably leads to a deeper, fuller insight than getting things right first time round. For in the former case, one is more intimately acquainted with why and how those seductive answers are actually wrong, and therefore has an equally fuller comprehension of the right answer.

More specifically, by having embraced objective facts and reasoning fully, unreservedly, we are making sure that every stone is turned, particularly the most seductive ones; we are laying the ground for a deeper future insight than what those shooting straight for the end can achieve. For in the latter case, there may always remain a residual seed of doubt or temptation to go and have a look under that beautiful, round, shiny stone over there on the corner, which has never been fully turned.

The destiny of Western culture may, for all I know, intrinsically entail experimenting with extremely seductive but wrong answers first, exhausting the alternatives, and only then setting itself straight. Of course, the price we pay for this is unfathomable. Generation upon generation have endured grief, despair, unspeakable suffering of every kind for having followed the siren song of illusion. This is the West's sacrifice. The only question is whether we will eventually get it right or not.

Prison break

But just how can we eventually get out of this bind and unveil reality? Kingsley talks often about μῆτις (mêtis), a kind of cunning wisdom that can be used to trick, enchant or persuade. The illusion we live in is a product of μῆτις, and only more persuasive μῆτις, such as true logic, can get us out of it.

Now ask yourself: What would be truly persuasive for the Western mind? What kind of story could short-circuit our inner narratives, expose its inner contradictions and force us to review our unexamined assumptions? The answer seems absolutely crystal clear to me: reasoning consistently pursued to its ultimate implications.

The Western mind only acknowledges reasoning as a valid story. It will dismiss anything else without even looking at it. So if one wants to use true logic to trick the West out of illusion, this true logic must come disguised as reason; it must entail embracing the illusion fully, objective facts and all, and judiciously applying reason within it. That's the μῆτις required here; there's just no other way. And Kingsley himself left space open for this approach: "when we live the illusion to the full, to its furthest limits, we are nothing but reality fulfilling its own longing" (R: 258).

Kingsley could counter this argument by claiming that those who use reason today aren't at all aware of true logic; they aren't trying to get us out of the bind, but simply hand-waving and gesticulating furiously and frivolously within the illusion, which only makes things worse. But is that really the case?

With deep and absolutely sincere respect for Kingsley, I should like to suggest the following: If one doesn't have affinity with hard-nosed reasoning, one will probably not become acquainted with present-day efforts to use hard-nosed reasoning in the spirit of true logic. And in failing to notice these efforts, one may become unjustifiably pessimistic, concluding that true logic has died. Maybe it hasn't; maybe it's still alive, just disguising itself as reason—a tactic of μῆτις—so as to not be immediately recognized and dismissed by the vulgar spirit of this time.

To free the West from illusion, we must first break into the prison wherein the West finds itself, and then break out again carrying the rest of the culture with us. We must fight the duel with the weapons chosen by the opposition, for those are the only weapons the opposition recognizes as real. Kingsley himself is well aware of this approach: "there are methods that reality can use to work its own way into our illusion and start to draw us out" (R: 255). Ditto. What a fantastic movement of μῆτις it would be to use pure, strict, sharp reasoning to undermine reason itself... wouldn't it?
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The nuclear option is inevitable


Our civilization faces tremendous challenges today, and its very survival is at stake. The population is expected to stabilize at over 11 billion people at around mid-century. Given that the average person's standard of living—with associated resource consumption and pollution—is also increasing, this may more than double the already unsustainable strain we put on the planet. The resulting human-induced climate change is a big threat, but isn't the only one. In a couple of decades large cities are forecast to run out of drinking water, the so-called 'water crisis.' The velocity and ferocity with which we extract resources from the planet far outstrips our ability to recycle these resources. Our current waste management strategies soon won't be able to cope with the load. Food production will have to more than double, although the planet's surface isn't getting bigger. The challenges are many.

You see, the planet itself will do just fine even if we throw our very worst at it: give it a million years or so—the blink of an eye for a rock that's been around for 4.5 billion years—and it shall have luxuriant forests, rich oceans and abundant fauna again, after we are gone. As a matter of fact, even our species will survive: there are a few of us in Africa, Australia, the Amazon and the arctic circle who have the skills to ensure human survival even if technological life ceases to exist.

I am not concerned about the planet or even our species. My concern is our civilization, our culture. Letting these die would be a waste of, literally, planetary proportions. We've striven and suffered for thousands of years to learn a thing or two, have an insight or two, and now we are about to reset the clock on all that. Despite the deplorable state of our metaphysics today, we have made progress. True insight is only achieved when we've turned every stone and flirted with every vaguely attractive but ultimately stupid idea conceivable, at great cost to ourselves. And now that we've finally done much of the suffering and are about to emerge into daylight, to reset the whole process and go back to square one would be just unspeakably, unthinkingly catastrophic. All the wars, all the famine, all the despair... for nothing? Just to start over before we bank anything?

No, we must survive. But to escape catastrophe we require what in military jargon is called a 'forward escape.' Technology—used for resource extraction, industry, transportation, manufacturing, etc.—carries much of the responsibility for the crises we now face. Yet, to overcome these crises while preserving the positive things about our culture and civilization, we have no other option but to deploy more technology. If we were just a billion or two, perhaps we could do without technology, but not with over 11 billion people on such a small rock.

To effectively address the many challenges we face, we need energy; no, abundant levels of energy; no, even more: we need practically inexhaustible and cheap sources of energy everywhere. The reason is simple: recycling consumes huge amounts of energy, and we need to recycle a whole lot more than we do now, for the planet is not getting any bigger or richer; desalination of ocean water consumes enormous amounts of energy, and we will soon need to do a lot more desalination, for only about 1% of the planet's water is suitable for drinking (that is, after it is treated and pumped to the people who need it, which also requires significant energy); waste management, from sewage treatment to incineration to air pollution control, requires a lot of energy; vertical farming—of which we will need to do much more to keep a growing population fed—requires a lot of energy because of its reliance on artificial lighting and automated systems; and so on. You get the picture. Abundant cheap energy everywhere is the key to addressing our problems through the use of advanced technology, in a forward-escape to avoid catastrophe.

But wind farms, solar panels and the other sustainable, non-polluting energy sources embraced by eco-conscious people today cannot provide it. Sun and wind aren't reliable or abundant sources of energy, even if we project significant advances in the associated technologies. And they have their own cost for the planet, given the huge areas they require. These otherwise sustainable energy sources face enormous challenges to merely meet our current energy needs, let alone what is required for a forward-escape. I know this isn't a popular opinion, but I have had the chance to look at the numbers. For a forward-escape, we will need a lot more energy than we currently consume; wind and solar just won't do, I'm afraid.

Yet we do have the knowledge to solve any conceivable energy challenge within my life time, or even earlier (I am 45 years old as I write these words): nuclear energy.

Okay, before you dismiss me, please continue reading just a little further. I am keenly aware of the problems associated with nuclear energy, not the least of which are safety and radioactive waste. I know why you probably despise this idea. But perhaps what you don't know is that there are extremely robust and effective solutions to the problems of nuclear energy.

The nuclear reactors we despise—think of Chernobyl and Fukushima—are from an old generation, technology from the 1950s and 60s. These reactors require active-safety: unless one actively intervenes to keep the reaction under control, the reactor melts in a nuclear runaway. These systems are inherently unsafe, no matter how many levels of redundancy one builds to prevent a runaway reaction; there can always be an unfortunate alignment of circumstances that leads to catastrophe. And catastrophe in these cases is unacceptable even if it happens only once. So I believe we should eventually phase out all reactors that depend on active-safety, which is just about all reactors in operation in the world today.

But there are also passive-safety reactors: these require active intervention to stay running. They are inherently incapable of a runaway reaction. If you shutdown all power to the reactor and/or if every system in the plant fails, the reactor just stops; it just can't keep itself running unless it is in some way poked or stimulated to do so from the outside. Such reactors are inherently safe; they just can't go out of control. And as if this weren't enough, there are passive-safety reactors being developed that use, as fuel, what current nuclear reactors produce as waste! Many passive-safety reactors do not require uranium enrichment, so the technology also cannot be used for weapons. It's hard to think of any significant risk or disadvantage associated with these technologies.

The holy-grail of passive-safety reactors is, of course, fusion reactors, which produce no harmful waste products (mostly helium, an inert gas used to fill party balloons). Many groups are now actively doing research to develop nuclear fusion power plants. The problem is that we are still decades away from large-scale commercial deployment, time we may not have. Right now, China, for instance, isn't waiting: the Chinese are building new active-safety nuclear fission reactors at a very fast pace.

There are options to bridge the gap between now and the time when fusion reactors can be deployed. Liquid fluoride thorium reactors come to mind, although a more prominent recent example is the TerraPower reactor, pushed by Bill Gates. This latter one is a fission reactor with passive-safety. The problem is that 'nuclear energy' has got such a bad name in our culture that many people, including politicians and regulators, aren't even aware that these new developments effectively solve the problems of older technology. To simply assume that all nuclear energy is bad is, frankly, a dangerously uninformed position. Here we have the most promising—perhaps even the only viable—way to effectively address the many incredibly difficult challenges we now face, and we dismiss it unthinkingly. We don't have the luxury to act based on slogans and prejudices here; the issue requires thoughtfulness and a rather pragmatic attitude.

I believe governments and regulators must aggressively facilitate research and development of passive-safety nuclear technologies; we must allow prototypes to be built, which right now isn't possible in the West. Moreover, Europe, the USA and Japan must use their technological lead and entrepreneurial culture to not only allow, but also foster and accelerate these developments. Significant government funds must be allocated for it, for we are dealing with a matter of survival here. Passive-safety nuclear reactors can potentially solve our world's growing energy needs in an inherently safe way, without significant pollution or waste.

We have a way out, but we must want to explore it.
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What we get wrong about democracy


In a previous post, I've discussed the fact that elite-thinking and monolithic, mainstream narratives no longer hold as much sway as they once did in determining the general views and ethos of our culture. I shared my opinion that this is, by and large, a positive development in human history, but one that invests us, the people, with more responsibility than ever before. In this context, and in view of the latest UK election, a proper understanding and use of the system of democracy—the power (kratia) of the people (dēmos)—becomes a matter of survival for organized human activity.

The legitimization of demagogy

We have become extremely desensitized for what, in my view, are naked abuses and distortions of the democratic system. We hear politicians, parties and pundits alike talking very matter-of-factly about the need to 'listen to their bases,' to 'take the pulse of their constituencies,' to 'understand what the voter wants,' etc. We have focus groups, polling organizations, marketing consultants and whatnot, all trying to grasp what most voters want, so the candidate's program and rhetoric can reflect those wishes and win elections. In this latest election cycle in the UK, such approach was so extreme that a party's very position on the defining issue of the election was left ambiguous for fear of alienating part of its base.

As you read this, you may be saying to yourself "of course, that's the point of a democracy, isn't it? We want politicians to listen to what the people want." It sounds so self-evident, doesn't it? Yet it isn't; in my view, it is in fact a fatal error. We misunderstand democracy so drastically that we don't even know anymore when we contradict it. I don't want a government formed by people without convictions or views of their own, who won an election merely because they were best at doing focus groups so as to mirror my own tentative and uninformed views back to me. This is manipulation, not campaigning; marketing, not politics. This is telling the people what they want to hear anyway, for the sake of winning. We have a word for this: demagogy. Google's dictionary defines demagogy as
political activity or practices that seek support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.
The point of a democracy is not to choose those who are best at persuasively telling back to us what we want to hear. Such a system merely elects the best liars, manipulators, actors, tacticians, demagogues. Yet we seem to have legitimized demagoguery through the normalization of the notion that politicians should be 'attuned to their base,' or 'know what the people want,' or 'listen to the voters' wishes.' We've replaced convictions, reasoned views and integrity with focus groups, polling and naked manipulation. We've conflated democracy with demagogy. This is a disaster. Not only are we deceived, we now think it is good and proper to be deceived.

In a democracy, I want to vote for people who actually think generally like I do, who share my values and understand my difficulties, for that's the compass that will actually steer them in their job. This is very, very different from wanting politicians to tell me what I want to hear, without any conviction or rationale behind it. An election is not a competition to win a prize or a job (well, at any rate it shouldn't be that), but an opportunity for the population to identify which politicians hold sincere, heart-felt views and positions that happen to resonate with the people. For an election to work properly, it must reveal what views these politicians actually hold, and why they hold them, as opposed to evaluating how well they can attune their program to the results of a focus group.

What else, then?

Okay, so if politicians shouldn't campaign by promising the people what they think they want, what then? How should a democracy work? Who should I vote for, if not those who are telling me what I want to hear?

The core of the democratic system is deputization: to invest a politician with the power to act in our name. To deputize someone entails trusting that he or she will make decisions in our own best interest. Normally, this means that we choose deputies that have our wellbeing at heart, are competent to carry out their responsibilities, and adhere to core values and views that overlap generally with our own. None of this, however, means that the ideal deputy will simply do exactly as we think we would, for in such case he or she wouldn't be a deputy at all: we might as well do the whole job ourselves, instead of entrusting someone to do it in our name.

Why do we deputize attorneys, accountants, financial planners, insurance brokers, doctors, etc., to act in our behalf, instead of dealing with all associated issues ourselves? Because we think they are in a better position—due to education, expertise, experience, availability of time, information, infrastructure, etc.—to deal with the issues, in our best interest, than we ourselves are. I don't have the time, expertise, information or infrastructure to deal with all my tax, insurance, financial planning and health issues myself. I don't have the time or expertise to follow the latest developments in the law, regulations, economy, jurisprudence, medical research, etc., so as to best act in my own self interest. I think my attorney, tax advisor, financial planner, accountant and doctor can best do it for me, so I entrust them to do it; and I think I will be better off for it, instead of trusting my own tentative and uninformed opinions on these matters. Moreover, if it turns out they fail me, next time round I will simply choose someone else, instead of adopting the unreasonable and rather naive position that I could, say, defend myself better in a court of law than a defense attorney, or treat my own medical condition better than a doctor.

In doing so, the very last thing I expect from my attorney, accountant, doctor, etc., is that they will simply do exactly what I tell them to do! That would defeat the point of the whole exercise. Why pay them to help me out if ultimately they won't leverage their own expertise? I don't want to hire monkeys, but thinking human beings instead, who have more knowledge and time to deal with the issues in question. After all, I am busy with a number of other things—my actual life—besides the details of my taxes, mortgage plan, insurance package, the guy suing me, or my medical condition.

That's the essence of a democracy: to deputize someone we trust, who has more expertise, sound judgment and time to deal with society-level issues than we would as individual citizens. In choosing my candidate, I would expect him or her to leverage this time and expertise to look more carefully at the data and arguments in question than I ever could as an individual citizen, and then come to his or her own informed conclusions and decisions in my name, as opposed to merely echoing my own partial judgments and tentative opinions.

The fallacy of direct democracy

The alternative is to do away with deputies and organize ourselves according to some extreme form of direct democracy: every issue would have to be decided by a direct referendum.

Imagine for a moment that this could be logistically practical, which of course it isn't: it would still require that each and every one of us be sufficiently informed about all the relevant data and arguments associated with each issue, in order to make an informed choice. It would require that the entire population—as opposed to a parliament or a cabinet—be properly apprised of everything of significance for the decision. It would require that you took the personal time needed to acquaint yourself with, and ponder, everything of relevance. It would also presuppose that every citizen has the education and cognitive capacity to carry out all these extensive and rather overwhelming evaluations.

This is just impossible. And that's why democracy is based on deputization: it is possible to ensure that a parliament or a cabinet is sufficiently apprised of all data and arguments relevant to the issues, in order to make informed choices. It just isn't possible to ensure that an entire population can play such a role. So we have to entrust deputies, who we believe share our values and general views and are competent to do the job, to act in our name in government.

The consequence, of course, is that these deputies may make choices that differ from the ones we would make, based on our tentative and partial knowledge and understanding of the issues. This is their very job; that's what happens when people have more time and expertise to study an issue: they choose differently than those who don't. Entailed in the trust we grant to our elected officials is the trust that, when they choose differently from what we would, they probably have good reasons to do so; reasons we would understand better if we were as privy to the relevant data and arguments as they are.

The point I am trying to make is not that we should give carte blanche to our elected officials; no. The point is to judge them based on the results they achieve for us, as opposed to whether each particular decision they make matches with the decision we would make ourselves. I don't judge my doctor or my tax advisor based on the specific technical choices they make about my treatment plan or tax filing, but on the results of this treatment plan and tax filing. If, based on these results, their choices prove to consistently go against my best interests, I will pick a new doctor and tax advisor next time round. But if I get good results, I will stick with them even if I don't quite understand or initially agree with the choices they make. That's the point: I trust they have more expertise and time to study the issues and make better choices for me.

Final thoughts

As I discussed in an earlier post, it is a good thing that delusions held by previous generations are being shattered: elites don't always know best; we must make up our own minds about the issues we care most about in our lives, such as e.g. our metaphysical positions. However, we can't possibly expect ourselves to be sufficiently informed and cognizant of everything. Running a city, a state or a country is a very complex task that requires deputization; it is a demanding, difficult, full-time job, not something we can do on the side, next to everything else in our normal lives. It is frankly quite naive and presumptuous to think otherwise, in a world that is facing so many extremely complex problems.

The power we hold in a democracy is not to decide on every issue ourselves—or to expect that a politician always does exactly as we would, despite his or her having more time and access to information to ponder the issues—but to deputize someone we trust and resonate with to look after our interests. Our power resides also in our ability to choose differently next time round, if the results achieved disappoint us.

The problem is that, now more than ever before, many of the relevant results are long-term ones that can't be judged properly at the end of a term. Often, reckless economic choices may in fact improve the economy on the short term, just to wreck it on the long run. Global issues, such as climate change, are also long-term ones: they can be comfortably ignored until, suddenly, catastrophe is upon us. This increasingly significant reality doesn't fit naturally with relatively short political cycles and may become a key problem for our democratic system: it creates more space for demagoguery and threatens the very survival of organized human activity.

Democracy has many other problems as well. Arguably, it levels society out at its lowest cognitive degree, since only arguments that can be understood and embraced by a majority can win elections. Unfortunately, however, truth doesn't always correlate with simplicity and appeal. And the room democracy creates for demagoguery, as discussed above, isn't a new problem either: while the long-term character of our issues today may have worsened the problem, democracy is structurally vulnerable to those who prey on people's prejudices and simplistic views. After all, it's much quicker and simpler to check whether politicians promise to do what we think we would do in their place, than whether they can achieve the (long-term) results that will actually improve our wellbeing. It is so simple to high-five, just before falling into a precipice, the guy who took us exactly in the direction we wanted to go, although he knew (or should have known) of the precipice, whereas we didn't.

So let us not be naive here: democracy is a deeply and structurally flawed system. What it has going for it is that everything else we can think of is even more structurally flawed, which is a rather decisive differentiation. So yes, we may have the least problematic governing system available, but that doesn't mean we have a good system. We shouldn't inadvertently translate our pride in our democracy—a form of government achieved at great cost over generations—into naive and dangerous complacency with its gargantuan flaws. On the contrary, I believe we should be very critical and alert, for democracy can take us straight to hell if we don't continuously pay attention to its inherent flaws in an almost paranoid manner. We are not driving a reliable vehicle here, so we should always take precautions, such as having a tool box and parts for repairs on the road, first-aid kit at hand, extra fuel in jerrycans, and perhaps even a satellite phone to call for help as a last resort. Our situation is rather precarious.
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A suggestion for Church reform


A polemical initiative for reform of the Catholic Church in Germany is under way, as reported by the Deutsche Welle. The context is all the recent scandals about child abuse and sexual misconduct by priests, as well as a continuing, significant decline in Church attendance. The latter has been going on for decades, but is now reaching a point where the very survival of the Church is at stake. Many parishes have already closed. In my country, even the Cathedral of Utrecht, home of the archbishop, has had to close last year. It is fair to say that the situation is coming to a head and the future of religion in the Western world looks bleak.

In my book, More Than Allegory, I have stated my views on religion: I think it is a valid and important part of human life that we neglect at our own peril. Religious mythology, although obviously not literally true, is symbolic of something that, while transcending our rational faculties, is integral and critical to being human. The primordial religious impulse reflects, in my view, a true, transcendent aspect of reality; it must be nurtured if we are to be complete human beings. As such, I believe the Catholic Church, whose history has been inextricably intertwined with that of the West since Constantine, has a critical role to play. The European collective mind, obfuscated by the rational and secular spirit of the Enlightenment as it may have been, continues nonetheless to rest on Christian mythological foundations. The continuing erosion of these foundations will exert—well, is already exerting—a heavy toll on our psychic balance and health, as the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, ennui and despair attest to.


I am thus very interested in the survival and revitalization of the Church. Without extensive institutional support (more specifics on this below), it is difficult to see how the flame of a religious life can be kept alive in the West. However—and to merely state the obvious—the Church can only be saved with uninhibited, extensive, far-reaching, courageous reform, for it is completely out of synch with the spirit of this time. Should it continue on its present course, it doesn't take a genius to see that the Church will be relegated to irrelevance and become, at best, a kind of museum or tourist attraction (anyone visiting e.g. Cologne Cathedral for Sunday mass will see that this, in fact, is already happening). In this post, I dare to offer a suggestion for what this reform should entail; must entail.

In times past, the Church has performed the function of social control through its moral dogmas. Priests used their Sunday sermons to keep people straight, so to speak. Religious moralizing may have had a role to play in those times, absent the proper rule of law. Today, however, things are very different. Ever fewer people will take that kind of moralizing seriously, and many will think it pathetic. To be judged and absolved for their alleged sins is not what people today are looking for. They have a whole new attitude to life in which the very idea that they are sinners doesn't resonate. I don't feel like a sinner; do you? I do feel confused, but not guilty. I miss a more personal relationship with transcendence, but not judgment. I would like to experience a deeper meaning in my life, but not to be given an outdated list of behavioral norms. Moreover, we have perfectly good, secular rationales for our laws, as well as law enforcement. We don't need the Church to keep society working at an operational level.

What we do need the Church for is meaning, contact with something transcendent. Our daily, secular lives lack in depth and true purpose. Ordinary goings-on are banal and ultimately pointless. Consumerism offers an ostensive escape route, but it doesn't work for long, for mere things do not have the numinous power of religious symbols. We've replaced the altar with cigarettes, alcohol, porn and new pairs of shoes, but it didn't work quite well for us, did it? A doorway to transcendence and meaning is what the Church could help us with, if only it would drop the moralizing and focus on liturgy, i.e. the ritualistic part of a religious life.

So here is my suggestion for the Church authorities: drop the focus on moral codes, judgment and guilt trips. Nobody is looking for that today and nobody will go to the Church on Sunday to get that. Jesus Himself did not focus on judgment, so why should those who labor on His name do so? Replacing judgment and moralizing with the attitude of tolerance and understanding characteristic of modern psychotherapists is, in my view, entirely consistent with Christianity.


Focus on liturgy, on the ritual of the mass. Be conservative in that regard, go back to using Latin and the elaborate rituals of times bygone. The mass doesn't need to be understood, for it is not meant for the intellect. Goodness knows we have enough stuff keeping our intellect engaged already. The mass should be precisely a way for us to defocus from the intellect and open space for other psychic faculties, such as transcendent intuition and feeling. If the mass achieved such goal, I, for one, would attend it every Sunday and contribute more to the Church. For then the Church would nurture an aspect of my humanity that nothing else in this secular society can.

Priests already receive extensive training on philosophy and counseling. They are already well equipped to play the role of helping, understanding, non-judging guides to a life of meaning, without all the moralizing that puts people off. They could play a role that no secular psychotherapist today could, for priests can navigate the waters of metaphysics. They are also invested with the formidable energy of tradition; an energy that constantly circulates—unnoticed—through the deepest layers of our psyches and, if mobilized properly, could have a huge positive impact in our lives.

So here you go: priests as counselors. But priests also as actors in a symbolic drama staged as a ritual—the mass—whose purpose is to reawaken within us our dormant but innate link to transcendence; a symbolic ritual that evokes transcendence in us, so the attendants of the mass can have a direct religious experience facilitated by the Church. This, in my view, is the vital role of the Church: to point to transcendence, as facilitators, so we can find our way there. The notion of the Church and its priests as intermediaries, or spokespeople for God, is not one that will thrive in the 21st century. We don't need to regard priests as superhuman beings with privileged access to God; they have never been that anyway, and today we all know it. Trying to maintain that implausible image is a dangerous waste of time for the Church. Yet, priests have vital roles to play in our society; and they can play those roles at the drop of a hat—for many are already equipped to do so—if only the Church would reform its orientation and purpose accordingly.

Will my suggestion be heard? Of course not. It won't even be noticed. More than likely, the Church will die a slow, agonizing, sad death into irrelevance, because those in it who pronounce themselves adherents of tradition fail to see that the core of the tradition has itself been buried under layers of social moralizing. Christianity became the foundation of the West's spiritual life not on account of its dogmatic prescriptions, but because, originally, it touched something alive deep within us. Now it will only survive and thrive if it, once more, re-learns to touch us again.

This post is not an attempt to patronize anyone. I am no authority in these matters anyway. But I am very sincerely interested in seeing the vitality of the Church restored, while I despair at being confronted with its decline everywhere around me. So this is my somewhat clumsy attempt to do something about it, for what it's worth. Whatever faults this post may contain, it is at least sincere and heartfelt.
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