How To Cultivate Wisdom Through Writing (Pt. 3)

Part 1 is here and part 2 is here

Given the earlier, practical, description of wisdom, the question arises, “How do we get wisdom?”

There are four essential acts that we must perform to gain wisdom, and each grows in importance as we climb to the more advanced forms of wisdom.

First, we must believe in wisdom. If we don’t believe in wisdom and if we don’t believe it matters, we won’t seek it. This sounds silly, but the truth is, very few people believe in it. Most people want their immediate tensions resolved, and that is all the wisdom they believe matters. But if you believe in truth, your immediate tensions take their place.

Believe in wisdom. Get wisdom.

Second, since wisdom really exists and since I don’t have it, and since wisdom is bound to truth, and since truth exists independently of me, I must begin my quest for wisdom by opening my eyes. It’s not enough to desire it. I must seek it. It is not enough to long for it. I must will it.

Open your eyes. Get understanding.

I speak of the powers of perception. Wisdom arises from seeing things as and for what they really are.

Third, since my eyes are cloudy, befogged, dysfunctional, once I open them I encounter discomfort and unease. I am confronted with a choice. I can either close my eyes again, or I can clean them.

If you would walk the path of wisdom, you must have your eyes cleaned. I speak of purity.

Fourth, if my eyes are open and cleaned, I still find that my vision is short and that the room is dark. I need to turn on the lights.

I speak of contemplation. With open and receptive eyes, I must behold what is (the truth), I must seek out its glory (the good), and I must love its radiance (the beautiful).

If I take this quest seriously, I have to begin at the simplest level. I should “simply” let the tree be a tree and not seek to insert it into my paradigm or worldview. I should let a story tell itself, so I can learn the truth of the story. I should let a painting be a painting first, not an expression of a philosophy.

We do see through paradigms, I understand that. But that is why we need our eyes cleaned. Wisdom submits to the nature of what it observes, knowing that there is no other way to know that thing.

For example, if I have a philosophy on what a woman should be and I continually impose it on my wife, spite of her nature, God help us both. If that philosophy does not arise from and cannot be corrected by actual women, then it is false, evil, and ugly.

It is not wise.

Wisdom that comes from above, therefore, is first gentle. It does not overthrow what it is learning about. It loves it. There is no other way to know anything.

Thus to become wise, we must begin by believing in wisdom, and with a vehement appetite, we must open our eyes, purify them, and turn on the lights.

And writing can help us do those things.

How to Cultivate Wisdom Through Writing (part 2)

Click here to see Part 1

To understand how to cultivate wisdom, we need to understand what wisdom is. Now, any number of definitions are available, but I want to look at this from the practical angle.

In other words, if we’re going to think about “how” to do something, we need to think of it as the end of actions. If it can’t be seen that way, then there is no how to.

For example, if redness is simply a state of being and there is no way to become or make something red, we’d be wasting our time trying to think about how to become red.

Looked at from this angle, there are three ways to look at wisdom that all mean the same thing but are worth expressing in three different ways.

First, wisdom is the knowledge of causes.

Second, wisdom is the ability to order and to judge.

Third, wisdom is the ability to perceive the nature of things so as to know how to appropriately relate to them.

These definitions help us see that there are different kinds of wisdom.

There is what I call, for lack of a better term, mechanical wisdom, which is characterized by great precision and regularity. It is guided by the principle of effectiveness and its end is utility. The standard of excellence for this form of genuine wisdom is usefulness.

Then there is artistic wisdom, which is less precise and therefore requires more judgment. It is guided by the principle of propriety and its end is creative human production. The standard of excellence is the beautiful.

Next comes ethical wisdom, which is even less precise and requires even more judgment. It is also guided by the principle of propriety, but its end is human action itself. The standard against which human action is measured by this wisdom is virtue.

Even higher comes philosophical wisdom, which is amazingly imprecise though its foundations remain absolute. It is the knowledge of first causes or principles. It requires astounding judgment. Philosophical wisdom is guided by the principle of truthfulness and its end is knowledge of truth; therefore it is measured by the standard of the truth.

The highest wisdom of all is theological wisdom, which becomes knowledge of the unknowable. It is the knowledge of Him who transcends knowledge. No judgment can reach this knowledge and all other forms of wisdom are subject to it. The standard by which it is measured is, if there can be one for here I am speculating far beyond my capacity, the harmony of the useful, the beautiful, the virtuous, and the true.

If that is what wisdom is and if these are the kinds of wisdom, the next question becomes, “how do we get it?”

More on that in my next post!

How to Cultivate Wisdom Through Writing (Part 1)

Andrew Pudewa honored me with an invitation to his IEW Symposium on writing a few weeks ago and what a blessing it was. Keep your eyes open for a July 2012 repeat of this wonderful conference.

One of the things he asked me to address was the question, “How can we cultivate wisdom through writing?” During this talk I got a little carried away on one or two points, so I didn’t say everything I hoped to and I also offended at least one person in the audience enough for her to get up and leave.

Nevertheless, I think IEW will be including this talk in a DVD or CD set in the not too distant future and I did make some discoveries along the way that I’d like to share with you.

Naturalistic materialism has come to dominate modern thought, which eliminates the soul from consideration. Thus when we try to define education, we find ourselves either confused or reduced.

In the old days, prior to the triumph of naturalism, education had to do with wisdom and virtue. Now it is necessarily utilitarian. Here’s why: Wisdom and virtue are qualities of the soul in which the will is guided by reason rather than appetite.

To the naturalist, there is no soul to be guided or formed, only a highly complex chemical structure called the brain. There is no will to be guided by a reason that also doesn’t exist.

In the old days, at least in its ideals, the goal of education was twofold: discipline the will to virtue and cultivate the reason to wisdom.

The way we understand the reason is determined by the paradigm with which we approach it. If I am a naturalist, I will think of the reason as the ability to calculate my advantage and make adaptations accordingly. Thus, I will build education on that presupposition.

If I actively believe in the Divine Image and apply that belief to my thoughts, I will think of the reason as that faculty that perceives the law of God written in our essence and that, from that preconscious perception, produces the impulses and activities that give rise to language, creativity, knowledge, membership in communities, and the other things that make us human.

In such a context, the education I provide will not be a matter of learning processes by which I can adapt to or overcome the environment. Instead it will cultivate the virtues that lead to every human excellence.

The reason and the will will be cultivated and the appetites controlled.

Conventional education does exactly the reverse.

How then can we cultivate wisdom? More on that in my next post.

The Tempest: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Freedom

I have the feeling Shakespeare has been shadowing me lately and writing his plays based on things I’m thinking about. You laugh, but think about this.

I’ve been reading the Tempest to prepare for discussions with the apprentices. So this morning, I read Act 5, and I come across lines like this:

Ariel: If you now beheld them/ Your affections would become tender.

Prospero: Dost thou think so, spirit?

Ariel: Mine would, were I human.

Ah yes, he’s been thinking about next year’s conference theme: What is man?

But that’s not all. He goes on:

Prospero:
And mine shall.
Hast thou, which are but air, a touch, a feeling
of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th’ quick,
Yet with my nobler reason ‘gainst my fury
Do I take part. The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance. They being penitent
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go, release them, Ariel.
My charms I’ll break, their senses I’ll restore,
And they shall be themselves.

I think that we fail to realize how much Shakespeare’s philosophy and ethic enabled his poetry. Shakespeare was a wise man, a man of such profound insight that his literature tempts people like Harold Bloom to turn it into a secular literature.

He knew human nature. Notice the language he used, some of which would now be considered archaic because it does not reduce man to something kindless (unkind).

“Shall not myself, one of their kind… be kindlier moved than thou art?”

In other words, should I not, sharing the same nature/kind with these men, act as one who shares a nature/kind with them. Should I not act humanely, humanly?

Do you see how very high a conception of humanity Ariel has? “Mine would, were I human.” Where does it come from? Until this day, he’s only known two humans, Prospero and his daughter Miranda.

It reminds me of Miranda’s words when she sees the nobly dressed dukes and kings later in Act 5: “How beauteous mankind is. Oh brave new world that has such people in’t.”

She’s young and naive and has enjoyed the loving affection of a good father. By brave, she means wonderful, imaginative, splendid – bedecked in wonder might be a fitting expression.

She had not endured what her father had. He replies to her awe: “‘Tis new to thee.” He is less impressed.

And no wonder, he had been betrayed by a brother, “that entertained ambition, expelled remorse and nature.” Nevertheless, to this brother he says, “I do forgive thee, unnatural though thou art.”

Ariel and Miranda are full of admiration for humans. Prospero less so. And yet, Prospero respects them more. He has one goal in mind, expressed a few different ways.

Line 36: Penitence.
Line 40: They shall be themselves
Line 197: To “requite them with a good thing” which restores a just order
And then, the very last word of the play, at the end of the last two lines:

As you from crimes would pardoned be
Let your indulgence set me free

In other words, the purpose of Prospero’s project (line 1) is that these human beings would realign themselves to nature and thus be set free.

Ironically, perhaps, it takes something more than nature to achieve that end.

Read the Tempest with these three themes in mind (but just read it for the pleasure of it) and you will be drawn deeper and deeper into truths that will open your eyes and, while they will “take the ear strangely” you will “be wise hereafter, and seek for grace.”

What are Children For?

Thanks to Barbara Moore for pointing me to this provocative article on the place of children in the family and society.

What’s truly fascinating – and not just a little troubling – however, is that our society has reached the point where we are using a “balance sheet approach” to assess the value of children (net worth equals assets minus liabilities) and a gain/strain ratio to evaluate the benefits of parenting.  We now live in a world where the decision to procreate has become a “lifestyle choice” to be weighed against the benefits of remaining free to devote ourselves and our lives to, well, ourselves.  The best educated, most affluent, socially progressive among us have in large part concluded that the age-old impulse to “be fruitful and multiply” can be explained by a combination of evolution and economics, neither of which applies to them.

Worth the trouble if you want or need to gain perspective of the place of children and your relationship with them.

A word of testimony. I always felt children were more important than career advance and that the Lord would look after us. As a result, we had children before I had a college degree and I received my only degree, a BA, when I was 30 years old. Along the way I had regrets. I now have none.

To walk in-step with our college system is harmful for most people who do it. More importantly, to bear children when it is convenient is so illogical and presumptuous as to make me wonder.

Conservatism, Ideology, and the Death of Seeds

Our country is being pulled further and further in two directions, one that can be safely described as progressive and the other as conservative, though not in a way intended by many who use that term now.

To see a nice summary of the progressive position, take a look at this article.

Progressives see the world in terms of ideologies in conflict, each trying to achieve what they consider a just representation. It is a politics rooted in relativism and one that, historically, tends toward centralized planning and thus to tyranny, though in varying degrees.

Conservatives, in the sense that I use the term (rooted in Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk’s writings, not the Weekly Standard or Rush Limbaugh), regard ideology itself as a poison. We don’t see the world as the battlefield of ideologies unless people are foolish enough to embrace an ideology.

Conservatism in this sense is opposition to all ideologies. Conservatism is not an ideology itself for one simple reason: it acknowledges a law of nature and of nature’s God to which everybody is bound.

Ideologies may begin within the constraints of natural law, but they possess an inner impulse to break down those constraints. They turn to the identity of the group instead of human nature.

In general, they join the money-lovers in their assault on nature itself, but they attack it from the other side. Thus, while the money-lover comes from a position of strength and thus strives to establish an oligarchy in which he uses his capital to build a fortune and then buys the state to secure it, the ideologue usually arises from or uses those in a position of weakness.

He organizes the oppressed into a force that rises up against the oppressor, whether that be the Roman Republic of the era of the Gracchi (2nd century BC), the English peasantry under Richard II (late 14th century) the French peasantry under Louis XIV (18th century), the unorganized forces of labor during the railroad years (late 19th century), or the descendants of the slaves in our own time.

The advantage of the ideologue is that he always has justice on his side. In other words, oppression is always wrong and people always absorb guilt into their souls and their communities when they practice it.

The other advantage of the ideologue is that the oppressed are excluded, by definition, from both the centers of influence and the means to those centers of influence of the wider culture. In every case I can think of, that means education. In other words, the oppressed tend to be illiterate.

The illiteracy that the oppressor imposes on the oppressed is the very weakness that leads to the overthrow of the oppressor. It’s simple. Illiterate and oppressed people (they need not be the same) feel vulnerable and weak. They are looking for someone to protect and strengthen them. They become, in varying degrees, gullible.

The ideologue thus becomes the demagogue. He promises peace and prosperity and delivers violence and suffering.

But in so doing he adds a meaning and a hope to the lives of the oppressed that fuels the revolution the seed of which was planted by the oppressor himself.

Then sets in the law of the catastrophic continuum. Once the ideologue is able to gather power to himself, he is attractive to anybody who wants a share of his power. More and more people find themselves oppressed. They establish an identity for themselves. They form a group and feed off the ideology.

And who is not oppressed?

But here is the fatal problem with both money-loving and ideology. Both of them, having built their kingdoms on greed and envy, are idolaters. Both of them are trying to overthrow nature. Both of them, to do so, need ever-expanding power.

The money-lover buys out the established government. The oppressed threatens it.

Both expand it and then find themselves unable to control it.

This is why amoral capitalism leads to socialism and why democracy always leads to demagoguery. The forces of greed and envy unleashed are demons of violence and suffering. Both are impatient. Both deny limits. Both centralize power.

This is where we sit as a nation today, on the knife’s edge between the money-lover driven by greed and the ideologue driven by envy.

Conservatism has been taken over and redefined by the money-lover. Liberalism has been taken over and redefined by the ideologue.

Conservatism has become a sounding brass and liberalism a tinkling cymbal.

The one sure thing is that we will continue to watch our government expand and intrude relentlessly until either we repent and assume responsibility for our lives, our families, and our communities, or we will find ourselves under a “benign” tyranny that stultifies every genuinely human ambition or impulse that does not meet the narrow goals of the ideologue.

What solution, then? Practically, I don’t know. But certainly if we don’t acknowledge truth and a law of nature that governs all of us, including the ruler, the merchant, and the revolutionary, then there is no solution.

The always insightful CS Lewis put it this way in his most important book:

Only the tao* provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.

The Abolition of Man

* by “tao” Lewis means what the west has commonly referred to as the natural law.

Because our people have formally rejected this natural law for over a century (as seen, for example, in the maxims and decisions of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.), the oppressed have nowhere to turn but to the direct quest for power themselves.

When the powers that be determine that they are the ones who determine what is right and wrong (the practical definition or at least effect of moral relativism), even their best intentions leave no genuine hope for the oppressed.

This happened to slaves in the pre-civil-war era and it has happened to workers and to descendants of slaves since then.

But if the oppressor does not acknowledge a higher law, then how can the oppressed be expected to?

We are driven by ideologies in conflict, each seeking enough power to protect themselves and to overthrow the oppressed.

But, says St. Paul, if you bite and devour one another, take heed lest you be consumed by one another.

Let us learn not to trust in the deceitfulness of riches, nor to allow envy to drive us into ever new forms of slavery. Perhaps we can model again what Gandhi and King imitated:

Unless a seed falls in the ground and dies, it abides alone.

Born Free?

Have you seen the Amistad? I can think of few more heart rending movies. It tells the story of a group of Africans captured and sold into slavery who break free on board ship and kill almost all of the crew. They are captured and taken to Massachusetts, where they stand trial for murdering the crew.

Their case makes it all the way to the supreme court, where John Quincy Adams helps defend them with a stirring speech. In it, he raises the point that we think about too little.

He argues that the case hinges on the fundamental question, What is man? More specifically, he asks, are men by nature free or are they by nature slaves?

This story is deeply disturbing but among the very few important movies. Watch it.