This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Be careful with reflection and do not dwell too long on yourself

Still waters run deep can sound flattering to the inward-oriented individual but considering the fact that darkness and unknown dangers lurk in the deeper places, you should take this as a warning. Meditation is good, reflection is necessary, but do not over-extend yourself and do not become too caught up in your own inner life. It can be a lonely place, and you were placed in bodily form during this life because it is the condition proper to your utmost development. Do not neglect the outside world or consider yourself superior to it, or you’ll suffer for it.

Pope Benedict XVI has said: “No one shapes his own conscience arbitrarily, but we all build our own “I” on the basis of a “self” which is given to us. Not only are other persons outside our control, but each one of us is outside his or her own control.”[1] This is a concise summary of traditional autology.

The meaning of our lives is not conjured into existence by ourselves. It is detected and once detected, nurtured and brought to fruition.

As written by José Ortega y Gasset: “It is only in isolation that we gain, almost automatically, a certain discrimination in ideas, desires, longings, that we learn which are ours, and which are anonymous, floating in the air, falling on us like dust in the street.”

We think too much about what we are meant to do with our lives, as if life were a grocery store where God sent us to ‘pick up a few things.’ We are not sent here so much for the doing as for the becoming. If we do not do anything ‘real’ it is because we ourselves have not become real. The purpose of life is to be what we were intended; particular actions will follow of themselves. If you find your identity in God, nothing will stop you from doing what you were meant to do; but if you do not first become who you were meant to be, how could you possibly do what you were meant to do, since only the person you were meant to be is capable of these things.

It is no exaggeration to say that we are undergoing a crisis of alienation, and this alienation is two-fold. Man is alienated from himself, and stemming from this fact, he is alienated from others, for a man can only related to others to the same depth that he can relate to himself. We go back again to the observation that “if an ape peers in, an ape peers back out.” If a man perceives himself as an atom following a mundane but predetermined path as nothing more than a single part in a chaotic mass society, then he will see everyone around him in the same way and will be incapable of perceiving them as anything more until he is able to perceive something more in himself.

Alienation drives men quickly to the escapisms which modern society has learned to mass produce. These troubled men can’t help but perceive themselves being tossed into an absurd existence, in an environment echoing with superficial chattering, meaningless catchphrases, hollow compulsions, unsatisfactory diversions. They live amidst a constantly frantic, but acutely futile activity which is called “work.” Any lucid individual recognizes his conscious life as something more than animal existence, but it currently caught up in a civilization which compels him to spend his entire life developing only those aspects of himself which he has in common with the beasts. The successful man today is the man who has material comforts, is physically healthy, secure, emotionally balanced (again, this is a biological homeostasis, and not a spiritual one), and who has all the most primitive satisfactions. What accompanies this kind of ‘success’ is, of course, the extreme atrophy of every superior power within himself. To become successful is to become degraded. Hence the Gospel saying, he who is great in the world is least in Heaven.

The inner void of modern humanity must be filled. The mania for athletics, whether child or professional, is one example. When directed at children it is quite disturbing. In the case of adults and ‘professional athletes’ it tends meld with a materialistic celebrity worship—a Cult of Personality combined with the Cult of the Body. Aside from the practice of democracy and its pseudo-religious rituals observations, professional ports might be today’s most widespread and vulgar mass opiate.

Psychology goes wrong in its theories of personality in the same way that science in general goes wrong in its theories of matter: it is a reductionism. The problem is not that Freud traced psychoses to the subterranean drives of sex, and I would not even deny the validity of the Oedipus complex in certain contexts. If he had stopped at what he saw, which was often insightful and could therefore have been helpful, he would have retained his legitimacy as a scientist, but he did not. He did not say that certain manifestations of madness are unhealthy expressions of the unconscious—he said that all of them were. He joined in the scientific reduction ad absurdum which has contaminated the sciences in general.

We tend to see the conscious mind as a kind of fixed point at the summit of our being, but this is not so. I think we tend toward this reductionistic view because when we peer out of the seat of our consciousness, we see only things of an inferior order. We look down at the body, at the world, and we perceive through our senses, and the primary purpose of the rational faculty is to perceive and direct these lower orders. There error lies in forgetting that just because we naturally ‘look down’ at what is lower, that this does not mean that there is nothing up above or to the side. We can reasonably admit that there is something like a ‘subconscious’ below what our rational faculty deals with and sees, but there is also a superconscious, even if we cannot easily turn around and see it, and there are, in addition, a number of forces that operate on a somewhat parallel plane and are called ‘psychic.’

This brings us back around to the reductionism of Descartes. What he did with his “cogito ergo sum” amounts to the institutionalization of alientation from the self. To arrive at the knowledge of our existence through our “thinking” is to move in reverse and to distance ourselves from ourselves. Confusing the mask for the man. It should be no surprise what follows from this: existence is then reduced to a rational concept, to be thought about objectively rather than experienced as a reality. Once the self was reduced to a mental construct, God followed almost immediately. Descartes’ proof of God was essentially the same as his proof for himself; that since I can think of God then he exists.

Descartes reduced himself to a thought about himself and reduced God to a thought about God, thus ushering in the age of rationalism and the slow alienation of man from God. But let Descartes serve as the example: with his “cogito”, he was first alienated from himself. The entire Enlightenment is a grand “following of suit”, and modernism is its child.

Psychoanalysis is the natural consequence of this thinking—a boomerang effect. Descartes denied everything outside the rational faculty. Freud discovered that this is not the case, but being unacquainted with the traditional understanding of things, only recognized that the rational faculty is exceeded in a downward direction.

When the rational faculty is made the summit of man’s existence, access to the Self, to man’s true Identity, is barricaded. The “I” or the superficial “ego” becomes all there is. Man was once open-ended, able to climb to the heights, or sink to the depths. Descartes closed off both the heights and the depths, binding man within his consciousness. Freud reopened the depths.

In our rare moments of clarity, when we are really scratching the surface of reality, there is no ‘cogito’, for the rational mind becomes speechless; there is no ‘ergo’; because logic has become futile; there is only SUM: It is only then that we glimpse the great ‘I AM’, which we are, and it is only then that we become real by participation.

Contemplation is not a passivity. Remember that passivity is a drift away from life into lower instincts and eventually dead compulsion. Neither is it the peaceful extinction sought by the Buddha, being freed from all desire only to sink into an eternal slumber of non-existence.

Awakening feels like a calming awareness and a detachment, which does not “leave” the awareness of life but only becomes detached from it. It amounts to a sort of “lucid inebriation”, which is the polar opposite of that ecstatic opening of oneself to primordial forces, instinct, etc., which we find it the various forms of hysteria and demonic invocation. In the former case one becomes a being eternally awake—in the latter one temporarily ceases to exist, as a human, and is for a time seized and directed by forces either below him or surrounding him.

In the latter one rather weds himself to emotions and impulses which underlie the purely biological existence.

It should also be said that familiarity with self is not limited to certain “types” of men, in the sense of certain personalities and temperaments. It is not limited to the monastic life; it is not limited to the thoughtful; it is not limited to those inclined to sit for long periods in silence with a blank stare on their face; it is most certainly not limited to intellectuals (in fact, it is probably precluded in the case of most modern intellectuals).

The passive personality which we quickly call to mind at the word “meditation”, then, may actually present a barrier to contemplation and such a man may have serious difficulty puncturing the film of the superficial self and go deeper. His passivity may well prevent him from experiencing the crisis that finally wakes him up, that ruptures the superficial veil of personality and “I” and sends him beyond into a strange void where neither personality nor intellect can find expression—into what mystics call “the dark night of the soul”.

On the opposite end, we also have the man who is far too active and ambitious to easily pass into the void. Men who, like myself, tend to seek contemplation and the self as if it were a “goal”, achievement, or prize to be won by an effort of intellectual—or even ascetic—exertion. Ambition is an appetite of the intellect and leads only grasps outward—it cannot reach behind itself, behind the intellect, and towards the self. As long as ambition exists as an active force, all reflection will be stopped dead in the intellect.

There are also examples of human experience which superficially resemble contemplation but which are actually abdications of consciousness in favor of emotional and psychic hysteria. These collective expressions of “mystical” enthusiasm are escapes from consciousness, but escapes in a lateral direction rather than an upward direction. It is a surrender of awareness as in sleep or hypnosis, which really goes nowhere. Contemplation releases superficial awareness only for the sake of transcending it.

I have mentioned group or individual hysteria as a way of escaping awareness, but this would be to present the practice as something not necessarily helpful, but also relatively harmless. This is not entirely the case, and the reader will do well to consider the historical uses of this hysteria, which, in civilizations more in tune with the spiritual dimension, were used not simply to suspend normal consciousness, but to invoke certain subterranean influences into the then vacant personality. That is to say that these group hysterias were used in the past for spiritual edification, just as they are today in various churches, but they were only found useful for the invocation of demons in rituals of possession. They were generally not considered a valid means of non-demonic spiritual expression.

The self-induced ‘possession’ sought by certain tribal groups wherein they say they are ‘ridden’ by demons, is rightly described by psychoanalysts as a “flooding of the id.” It represents a release of the lower, subterranean forces, the demonic things (in the older impersonal sense of the word), which expresses itself largely through irrationality and sub-psychic means, powered by emotions, instincts, and evidencing itself through spasmodic physical contortions, etc. Contemplation does not involve seizures or psychic paralysis (aphasia). Invoked spiritual or social hysteria, however, might. Such are the symptoms of the demonic forces, and are to be expected.

Before we end, it is important to note that while it is a supreme pity for man’s reality to be reduced to only that which his five senses can perceive, it does not necessarily follow that those who intentionally limit themselves in such a way will live morally inferior lives. Christian condescension has made a habit of assuming that the virtue of faith, in and of itself, invokes all the other virtues along with it, and therefore its absence implies a rejection of any hope of good behavior. This flies in the face of reality, and causes a great deal of unnecessary animosity and confusion among the faithful.

There are a great number of individual who live their whole lives in an impoverished state, alienated from themselves and limited to what they can prove with their five senses, and who are at the very same time quite moral and personable. The great crime of such an existence is not that it results in rampant carnal vice, but that it precludes the familiarity of man with himself. The “self” of such men will be forever hidden from them, and they will be stuck only with a personality to be “expressed”. For such men, it is perfectly valid to say that only psychoanalysis can save them, because they have set themselves within its absurd limits. They have adopted the impoverished human existence that psychoanalysis assumes, and so they have becomes appropriate material for the manipulations of the psychoanalyst. Man must invalidate himself, then, before Freud’s theories become helpful to him, but, as we have seen, they can only help become stable in his alienation—they cannot save him from it. They may well live a comfortable existence, conditioned entirely upon sense experience—let us not lie to ourselves and assume that because they are closed off to the heights, and to God, that they will necessarily drop to the depths. He may wait there very much within moral safety, but unable to answer the call of God which asks each to venture out beyond the infantile security of the five senses.

The history of psychology is actually a hopeful one, and we have reason to be optimistic about its advances, despite whatever parts of it we must currently reject. Consider this progression: Freud based much on a will-to-sex, Adler stepped a bit closer to transcendence by adopted instead the will-to-power, and the clear-thinking Viktor Frankl came closest to the truth yet when he identified man’s deepest urge as a “will to meaning”. We see here in psychology an encouraging progress from the most materialistic reduction of man to biological drives (Freud) upwards, ending with something undeniably metaphysical.

Take also the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, and his famous “hierarchy of needs”. It takes no stretch of the imagination to see that his pyramid leads directly to contemplation and the “experience” of God. He called such things “peak experiences”. Let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater, but enjoy the gifts which such minds can present to us, all the while, of course, rejecting their claims to universality.

A wise man said: “Two souls, alas, live in my breast”. This is a very optimistic assumption today. The average man today, liberated from castes and any “oppressive” traditions, he is often at a loss, impotent, caught in a ceaseless flux of the will, formless and liquid, defenseless against the supposed limitlessness of his possibilities.

[1] Caritas in Veritate, 68.

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