Tuesday, January 2, 2018


…being random thoughts recovered from my Facebook page upon my abandoning it…

Capitalism in the service of a ruthless materialism is the compulsive force in the evolutionary reality in which we find ourselves.

A genuinely free society must choose between the only two possible solutions to the vexing problem of "income inequality," taxation or philanthropy.

Born to a father nominally catholic and a mother nominally anglican, I was baptized a catholic. My foundational years were spent in a succession of catholic grade schools, my puberty passed in a catholic high school, my "higher education" was undertaken in a catholic university. I spoke my marriage vows before a catholic congregation and set my infant son as far as possible along a similar catholic path. I retain nonetheless the dogged hope that by the time of my dying I might have sufficiently surveyed this world and its symphony of confusions to be at last finally and actually catholic.

To the generally accepted classification of root personality types, the introvert and the extrovert, I would propose the addition of a third, the controvert.

In prioritizing the list of threats to the security of the nation and the world, it would be wise of our leaders, religious and political, to keep in mind that the definitive manifestation of climate change is nuclear winter.

In a democratic and pluralistic society politics is essentially a language art. Its best practitioners demonstrate the rare ability to tell a half-truth so convincingly as to elevate it to the level of a dogma and by doing so to win elections. The pity is that governing requires an entirely different skill set. ~ Barrett Grinnen, "Demos and Dunderheads"

The problem with atheism as a spiritual position is that it's eschatologically unattractive; there's no future in it.

I have been indoctrinated (as indeed I imagine have we all) to hold that diversity is a virtue, a bedrock value of American consciousness and a wellspring of national strength. I have my doubts. That America comprises a myriad of races, of nationalities, of religions, of souls across vast ranges of development and education is certain and confirmed by the simplest observation. But that this diversity is, in and of itself, virtuous, valuable, or strengthening is much more open to question. Several weeks of steady attention to the evening news is all that is needed to prompt a contemplative pause, and a single full lifetime's disjunct recollections --- sixty, seventy, eighty years’ worth --- is, for some souls, sufficient to bring thought itself to a dead halt: a diversity of ignorance yields no worthy philosophy, a diversity of evils is no paradise.

There is a difference between an ideology and a faith: an ideology constellates around a thought, a faith around a Being. We fail to make the distinction at our peril.

We are born and we die. These are the certainties. Everything in between is simply education.

War, economic disparity, intolerance, religious terrorism, environmental degradation, social injustice, climate change: of all the long list of ills that imperil the continued existence of the individual, the nation, and the world none takes precedence over man’s denial of the very idea  of God.

Money is the instrument of the self-regulation of a free society. Currency --- the circulation of money through such a society --- is the metric of its health and the balance of that circulation the guarantor of its continued liberty of action.

A meme may be the effervescence of a thought bubbling to the surface of a consciousness fixated on the visual, on image, but it does not itself constitute an actual thought. In terms of thought, it bears the same relation to intellect as does a punchline to a joke, a belch to digestion.

I have often heard it said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. I append to that thought this: the luckiest among men lead lives of quiet exultation.

In any sane theology tolerance equates to “love the sinner,” acceptance equates to “condone the sin.” The former is requisite, the latter untenable.

The fact that I disagree with you steadfastly, cannot accept the prime terms of your argument, and so state openly and without reserve as occasion warrants does not constitute hate speech.

I am told that in an effort to be precisely correct and avoid inflaming liberal passions obstetricians have now begun marking the gender question on birth certificates as “To Be Determined.”

Any American who believes it possible to keep religion out of our politics clearly understands neither religion nor politics.

History is the sole competent court of human affairs, whether individual or national.

I have had the rubric written in bold scarlet across my political consciousness that we are “a nation of immigrants,” a thought I sometimes find deployed in service of substantial mischief. Perhaps it would better help to negotiate some of the difficulties latent in that thought to refine it thus: we are a nation of sovereign citizens whose forebears were once immigrants.    

Proposed: a more purely secular rewrite of the document to better suit the spirit of the age…
We hold these assertions to be rationally defensible, that all humans are born equal, that they are entitled by the simple fact of their birth to certain fundamental privileges, chiefly the sufferance of their living and dying. ---That to manipulate that privilege Governments are imposed upon them, deriving their inescapable power from the distraction of the governed, ---That whenever any Form of Government lets slip its power to so delude    it is the Prime Opportunity of the governed to each restore their individual clarity of thought and to alter or to abolish blind allegiance to such Governance, to establish new Governance internally, laying its foundation on principles more lucid, sane, and proof against the raw ambition of others and organizing its powers in such form, as to them seem most likely to preserve moral self-governance. Prudence, apathy, and the understandable human abhorrence of the effort required for genuine self-control will indeed usually dictate that Governments long established should not be changed, period; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that human majorities, repeatedly duped and ill led, are nonetheless more disposed to suffer evils, while evils are more comfortably sufferable than is lucidity, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms by which they have been subjugated. (Still, sooner or later, there comes a point when the soul says enough is enough…)

Life lesson: it is true that to be fully human in this life requires one to keep an open mind. It is equally true that to be fully human in this life further requires one to determine when to close it.

I have come to the conclusion that, contrary to a general distaste for such a project and despite our recent and repeated failures therein, “nation building” is indeed a noble pursuit and worthy of our effort. Let’s start with this one.

Diversity is a virtue only to the extent that it is deployed in defense of civilization, and a glance along the arc of evolutionary consciousness leads one to conclude that only that which we style western civilization has hazarded the attempt to so deploy it.

Short rumination on the Golden Rule:
As a guiding principle to the conduct of life and the construction of reality “Live and let live” is the natural and logically consistent consequence of the dispositive reciprocity of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and is morally the sole acceptable operative construct right up to the moment when some Other says, “I want you dead.” Then all bets are off.

            I have heard it reported that, nationwide, membership has been surging in the newly formed women’s group the Lady Macbeth Society, their motto being “Unsex Me Here.” (And we all know how that turned out.)

Our politics would improve immediately and exponentially were we to shift the focus of our conversation from our rights to our obligations.

The most dangerous of all political locutions, regardless of whether the speaker represents government authority or the popular will: “We must all….”

I labor daily with a mighty resolve and with all the resources available to my thought to understand the obvious insanity I observe all around me, but I must admit that the effort tends to produce a state of mind best characterized as unsettling.

Visit art museums often enough and you put yourself in grave danger of developing over time an inkling of an esthetic, an unsettling acquisition in an age so disjointed as this.

Observing the actions of any and all of the myriad of fractious communities that constitute the national polity --- the rich, the poor, the young, the aged, the elite, the oppressed, the hale, the injured, the educated, the ignorant, the believer, the atheist, all of them --- it seems to me that for each without distinction its self-interest stands in need of serious enlightenment. That such is forthcoming appears unlikely given the current enfeeblement of our educational institutions and the consequent impossibility of civil discourse.

In assessing the answers to most questions of moral thought, action, or governance wherein Church and State entirely agree, you can be fairly certain that one or the other of them is either mistaken, insincere, or lying.

The most puzzling thing about modernity is that in a world so suffused with knowledge there is so little wisdom.

Even a cursory reflection should make apparent that the First Amendment to the Constitution in barring the Legislative Branch from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion” does not thereby formally commit the polity to a state of irreligion. Indeed, the second half of the clause, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” ensures against such a state. It is a cause of confusion to aver that we are a Christian nation. A more correct --- and statistically supportable --- locution would be that we are a Christian polity in a secular nation. This secularity is incumbent upon and enshrined in the government structure, not thereby in the individual nor in the common psyche of the people. To be an American does not commit one to disbelief or indifferentism.

That which can be neither proved nor disproved can only be believed.

“One must always be careful lest one’s arguments cripple one’s thought.” Advice from an older dialectician.

Live as though forgiven.

My heart’s deepest desire: a perfectable marriage and sufficient lifetimes to perfect it.

“Time moderates the sins of an honorable man. That’s what makes him honorable.” A. Burnbridge, “Penitent: A Revisionist Teleology” in Eschatology Today, vol. 16, no. 2

As a slogan “America First” is but a slight distance from “Physician, heal thyself.”

“The rearrangement of the material of the world is entirely a consequence of thought, which is not a material process, the assertions of neuroscience notwithstanding. To be a free being in this world is to live constrained by matter and yet to remain essentially beyond its reach. It is upon such reflections that one may begin to build a theology.” Burnbridge, Alexander. The Inconsequential Wilderness: An Interior Cosmology

I have been told repeatedly that “we are a nation of laws,” but consistent observation has led me to suspect an error in the transmission of that assertion and that it should more properly read “we are a nation of lawyers.” Further, I have come to question whether we are indeed a nation so much as a commercial enterprise and to conclude, at least tentatively, that a more accurate locution would be that “we are a commercial enterprise governed by an oligarchy of lawyers.”

I do not argue with my wife. Somewhere in the course of nearly fifty years of marriage it occurred to me that doing so was simply looking in the mirror and arguing with myself.

Absent the idea of God, there is no morality only legality, no will only coercion, no grace only force.

It guts reality to hold that only that which is apprehensible through the senses or the varieties of their technological extensions can be held as actual, as true.

I have been schooled from my youth to hold that a bedrock doctrine of our form of government is immutably enshrined in the formula “one man, one vote.” Consistent reflection over the course of succeeding years, however, has led me to conclude that the principle would be more properly phrased “one citizen, one vote.”

The root aspiration of the American political form is the creation of a fair model of what might justifiably be called heaven on earth, a polity wherein peace, justice, liberty, and harmony prevail. What we know of history, however --- that of America and that of the world --- as well as our long-arc understanding of the nature of humanity, flawed, distractible, and suffering, mitigate heavily against the possibility of our achieving that goal in this life, on this planet. It would greatly improve our odds of success were we to more closely align our project with the actual facts of our nature and recast it as the ongoing attempt to model a more tolerable, more effective purgatory.

As individuals we are no longer creating our future, rather we are being swept into it, often against our will.

Reality check: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, and how’s that going anyway? establish Justice, maybe we ought to agree on definitions first insure domestic Tranquility, anyone paying attention to the news? provide for the common defence, against whom or what no one seems to know anymore promote the general Welfare, not so general these days and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, mostly to ourselves, and Devil take the hindmost do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (Seems like after more than two hundred years we ought to be farther along.)

What we call art is God’s narcissism expressed through the perceptions of His prime creation. All the other usurpations of the word are simply one form or another of advertising.

Life goes on until it doesn’t, after which it continues.

Keep an open mind, they told me…an open mind, then a prerequisite for education become now an open invitation…to stupidity, to lunacy, to pathology, to a world unhinged. No. Nor will I take action beyond the tending to my own estate. I secure the synapses that lend architecture to my thought, firm up the pathways axon to dendrite. I shake the dust from my shoes. I lock the gates and turn my back.

I can no longer fit my mind into the frame the world around me provides. It is a matter of being, not a matter of opinion. The contrasts are too strong, the contradictions too unsupportable. I move yet along the same path upon which I set out so very long ago, confident then of the destination despite the unmapped rigors of the terrain and youthfully sure of the strength to clamber over the inevitable rubble, to slog through the ensnaring undergrowth.

Often in disputation it becomes clear to me that there is no form of argument, however rational, however elegant, sufficient to persuade a contrary opinion. Some minds are simply and resolutely made up. In such instances I turn my attention to limiting as best I can the larger consequences of their stupidity. There is no other moral choice available to me.

Everything in our lives constellates around two fundamental questions, which are perhaps the first we formulate in our thinking infancy, “Where are we going?” and “Are we there yet?” (Note: “Where did we come from?” marks a developmental advance and thus comes later.)

As an American, and therefore by definition a free being, I can conceive of no greater calamity than the loss in any degree of any freedom that I arrogate to myself, excepting those I willingly surrender.

Anyone who believes that gender is a matter of choice could as easily be convinced that gravity is as well.

From my youth my understanding of history as I was living within it was that it described a world in process of throwing the baby out with the bath. I understood that the bath was necessary. I wanted to catch the baby.

“We used to have art, then we traded it for the movies. Maybe not such a good deal. When I was a boy and I read a book, it gave me the story but I had to provide the pictures myself. That’s what my imagination was for. I owned it and I controlled it. It was the point of contact between me and the author, a one to one relationship. Same for painting. There the painter gave me the picture, a product of his unique vision, and if I wanted whatever story there might be, actual or potential, certain or speculative, I had to make the effort to discover or to provide it. The movies gave us both at once and in the process usurped our individual imaginations and replaced them with a corporate imagination, fixed and unyielding. The story was the story as they read it for me, not as I read it, the pictures were the pictures they saw, not the pictures I saw or might have seen. I sometimes wonder if there might not be a sort of crime against humanity here.”  ~ A. Burnbridge, in conversation.

If a thought isn’t hard won, it’s unworthy of aspiring to truth. I judge veracity by the pain its acquisition entails and the mercy its attainment requires.

“Just try to land on your feet,” my father always told me. “There’s no way round getting spun up now and then, so just try to land on your feet. There isn’t any other way really.” Well, the world has spun me three times round up and over more than once, but I’ve always managed to land on my feet, always...broke my legs once or twice, but I always landed on my feet.

Virtue is the energy that makes possible the manipulation of time.  Burnbridge Axiom Number 14.

What we call popular culture is the attempt to cast the language of truth in the vernacular; unfortunately, the vernacular is inadequate to the task.  Burnbridge Axiom Number 11.

“When I was young and went to my mother for an explanation of some injustice that I perceived in the world and asked how I was to accommodate it, she often told me, “Don’t spend too much time worrying about it. It all comes out in the wash.” It was only as I grew older that I came to realize that what she failed to say --- wisely --- was that, as far as my own soul was concerned, it was up to me to do the laundry.” ~ A. Burnbridge, in conversation.

Friday, November 4, 2016

On Rereading Burnbridge: A Reflection After Napping

“In a society increasingly constructed on the power of the computer, one would be well advised to hold fast the thought that the idea of God is the master algorithm.” ~ A. Burnbridge, Particle and Wave: A Navigational Guide to the Practical Transit of Light. 

I have, over the course of many years, spent considerable hours reflecting on the multitude of things conveyed to me by my revered mentor, an exercise of some difficulty given his writing style and teaching methodology. As a writer, Burnbridge is most often characterized --- many would say justifiably so --- as irrational, illogical, turgid, inchoate, fragmentary, fundamentally formless. In his retrospective overview of Burnbridge’s magnum opus, (re)Evolutionary Biotics, Philip Anthony Macklinmore, writing in Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, says: “On the whole, the four volumes of this admittedly massive undertaking must be considered as a sort of tautological conundrum, a mash-up of thoughts each wrenched from its context in its home world of theology, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, literature, and science and arrayed across the four volumes as though on some infinitely multi-dimensional chessboard, free from the tyrannies of both time and space, a mental universe essentially and entirely self-referential resonant nonetheless beyond the boundaries of its tight closure, a bass line to a fugal music of the spheres. Largely unreadable in any ordinary sense of the word, it can only be experienced and allowed to gestate.”
His pedagogic style was no less idiosyncratic. He took on few students, perhaps no more than three dozen over the entire course of his career, and chose these by criteria incomprehensible to any but himself. One did not apply to be Burnbridge’s pupil, one was invited out of the blue. Nor did there appear to be any prerequisite for his tutelage. One was simply beckoned out of his own world and plunged, consciousness first, into Burnbridge’s. In his teaching as in his writing, he labored (if indeed for him it was a labor) not so much to impart knowledge as to produce an effect. He held no formal classes, conversed but did not lecture, suggested readings but did not guide them, and stressed above all else silently patient and reflective observation of the reality in which one found oneself submerged. “I am not a teacher,” he once said. “I am simply a vocabulary, a means whereby one day to speak.”
I note these few disjunct facts in hopes of giving some context, however vaporous, to what follows. I have been rereading Particle and Wave for several years now, rereading it in the only way possible to read Burnbridge, without hope of comprehension and driven simply by the recurrent desire to be intimately in his presence, rather as one stands before a fine painting or an ancient tree or an oceanside sunset. The quote at the head of this musing is one of many that has stuck with me throughout that endeavor. As with much of Burnbridge’s thought, it has seemed to me at one and the same time unintelligible and fecund with import. In particular, it has been what at first seems merely a minor detail of emphasis, that grace note of italization --- “the idea of God” --- that has confounded my understanding and troubled my imagination.
In reading him, I never lose sight of the fact that Burnbridge was a Jesuit, a profoundly religious person though never ostentatiously so, a thinker not an evangelizer, and it is that primal fact about him that oscillates through the whole of my reflection on this thought of his, a sine wave of vexing perplexity. Would it not have been more theologically conventional, more crisply metaphorical if a bit more mundane, to assert simply that “God is the master algorithm?” And what to make of the faintly threatening admonition “one would be well advised?”
Silently patient and reflective observation of the reality in which one finds oneself submerged. As I do often these days, I have been napping sunk in the plush brown recliner in the converted upstairs bedroom that serves as my study, drifting through the gauzy dreams induced by the dappled sunlight on my shuttered eyelids, the luminous rhythm of a crisply fall day’s brilliance conducted through the window by the gentle swaying of the maple on the treelawn beyond, until the sound of my wife’s vacuuming the hallway carpet nudges me back to the world. Returning from such a midday sleep --- itself a minor violation of the normal order of the day, a privilege of the very young and of the aging --- has always seemed to me a sort of fleeting rebirth, an instantaneous transit part improbable memory, part fragile fantasy across a dim and shifting boundary separating a distant unthought elsewhere from an insistent here and now. Were it not for the fragments of a personal past (or pasts) dragged along in the wake of the transition like scattered bits of flotsam pulled behind a speedboat, there would be no more to the change of state than the simple flipping of a switch, sudden and certain.
Today these images are of a distant youth, glimpses of my earliest education floating leaf like through my awakening consciousness as though gently fallen from the height of some great tree grown tall beyond the limits of my seeing, the catechism of my childhood rife with wonder and with terror, the germinal ideas of God planted in the furrows of my fertile reason and imagination, the notion of a reality omnipresent, all knowing, all seeing, all powerful. The thoughts that sprouted from these primal revelations --- all very early education is accepted by the nascent mind as revelation --- were not as wholly comforting as I am certain they were intended. Indeed, to my infant soul there was something about them vaguely unsettling, disquieting, an insistent drone of something faintly sinister, faintly threatening, just beneath the possibility of perception. Omnipresent, as in inescapably everywhere; all knowing, as in the repository of all possible knowledge; all seeing, as in ever and immediately conscious of every constituent datum of individual existence, mine and all others; all powerful, as in mediating all that makes human existence possible, and thus by reason or caprice the font both of reward and of catastrophe.
As I grew, the conclusions my imagination spun successively from such considerations, a complex web of consequentiality and obligation ever more extensive, ever weightier, seemed to me too immovable an impediment to the burgeoning liberty I so thirsted after, the unfettered freedom that was the promise of the world into which I was born. Offering no opposition to the swelling currents of that world --- increasingly rationalist, increasingly atheist --- I settled into a placid agnosticism and called it maturity.
Agnosticism is a species of skepticism, and the most certain fruit of skepticism is irony: this is the intuition that brings my reflection back to Burnbridge. Staring at the screen on which I type these words, I am suddenly, oppressively, conscious of the computer that makes it possible, of its wonder and its ubiquity. The highest achievement and chief instrument of our technological genius, it has quietly assumed the central role as prime architect of the reality in which we find ourselves. Increasingly inescapably everywhere, it is if not yet actually then certainly potentially the repository of all human knowledge, needing only the inexorable expansion of its capacity and the continuing transference of all of humankind’s memories. Deployed in the service of our security, extended by the smartphones in our hands even to the most trivial affairs of daily life, its eyes seem everywhere. It catalogues our thoughts, our desires, our votes, our preferences, the simplest facts of our birth and our aging and our dying, and of this catalogue constructs for each of us a collation of data points it then interprets as our selves. It controls the energies that make our lives comfortably livable and the weaponry that makes our destruction conceivable. 
“…the idea of God is the master algorithm.” Omnipresent, all knowing, all seeing, all powerful. No, the irony is not lost on me. It is as though, having dismissed the fact of God, we have constructed, out of some deep unconscious imperative essential to our nature, a working model of the mind of God and in doing so have confirmed Voltaire’s observation that “if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.” I only wonder if we have somehow managed to include among those attributes we have unconsciously modeled the comprehensive beneficence of the divine love…and therein, I think, lies the import of Burnbridge’s disquieting “one would be well advised.”