Miscellanea: Intolerance of Eternity
“It is impossible for natural desire to be in vain, ‘since nature does nothing in vain’ (Aristotle). But every intelligent being naturally desires to be forever; and to be forever not only in its species but also in the individual. This point is made clear as follows. Natural appetite is present in some things as the result of apprehension; the wolf naturally desires the killing of the animals on which it feeds, and man naturally desires well being. But in some other things natural desire results without apprehension (…) Now in both ways there’s in things a natural desire for being; and a sign of this is that not only things devoid of knowledge resist, according to the power of their natural principles, whatever is corruptive of them, but also things possessed of knowledge resist the same according to the mode of their knowledge. (…) things (…) having only the power of perpetuating their existence in the same species, also naturally desire to be perpetuated in this manner. Hence, this same difference must be found also in those things in which there is desire to be, together with knowledge, so that those things which have no knowledge of being except as now desire to be as now, but not to be always, because they do not apprehend everlasting being. Yet they desire the perpetual existence of the species, though without knowledge, because the generative power, (…), is a forerunner and not a subject of knowledge. Hence those things which know and apprehend perpetual being desire it with natural desire. (…) Consequently all intelligent substances, by their natural appetite, desire to be always. That they should cease to be is, therefore, impossible. (…) Now, intelligent substances could not begin to be except by the potency of the first agent, since (…) they’re not made out of a matter that could have existed antecedently to them. Hence there is no potency with respect to their non-being except in the first agent, inasmuch as it lies within His power not to pour being into them.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles Book II: On Creation. Image Books, New York: 1955, pg. 163 – 164)
Throughout the modernity and its aftermath one human right has been quite shamefully left neglected; it seems to remain, as it were, hidden in the eye of the storm of human rights tornado, where each and every whim is being quickly carved in the stone and enshrined in some kind of charter, convention or statute.
We are talking, of course, about the trifling matter of human immortality.
Leaving aside for a moment posthumanists and their “Frankenstein solution” (Kevin Warwick) to the “problem” to be “solved”, as for them it is purely a matter of technical know-how, the ultimate claim for human dignity has been strangely absent from modern philosophy and its somewhat veiled metaphysics. While the posthumanist Holy Grail indeed seems to be the logical conclusion of modern self understanding, we must not forget the “post-” part: immortality is not in human nature therefore we have to cease to be human to immortalize ourselves.
Today you can not only identify as a member of the sex opposite to what your genitals would indicate to an impartial observer, but you can invoke the force of law to protect this fundamental right of yours against those who threaten to laugh you out of existence.
Yet no force of law would come down on someone denying you the right to be personally immortal. You can claim immortality of your race, species or even the particles you are made of, but the only thing that can be logically understood as immortal is denied to you.
To be more precise – the thing denied to you is you yourself.
Aquinas’ passage that we quoted at length is a reiteration of the metaphysical principle of the hierarchical dignity of creation, disclosed also in a hierarchical manner: while all things inherently strive towards being and shun its opposite, they act in different modes; while non-living things passively oppose their corruption by their inherent existential properties such as hardness,the path of least resistance and conservation of energy, living beings posses vegetative and animal-instinctive drives to self preservation through perpetuation of their species. In this sense nature, as the intrinsic principle of action, strives to spontaneously conserve the type reflected in the individual, but not the individual itself.
Only intelligent beings necessarily strive to conserve their respective individuality, i.e. their unique intellectual nature or personhood.
In a sense, the individuality of intellectual substance is the opposite of the material individuum which is the notion a human mind applies to delineate the lowest limit of the material level of creation: while the individuality of intellectual substance lies in its uniqueness, the potential individuality of a material thing is precisely the opposite, i.e. the uniformity that fits it into a series of more or less identical units. Of course, pure individuum as such does not exist in nature, still less as viewed sub speciae aeternis as part of creation, but rather solely in the imagination. The more a thing is devoid of life and intelligence, the less it possesses unified individuality because it can be understood only as a member of the widest possible unity of the whole of which it is a part; while it is certainly quite natural to name our planet, it would be rather stupid to name each and every piece of dirt it is made of; the more something resembles intelligence the more we are prone to name it, as is the case with higher types of animals. Things without personhood are personified only in a metaphorical sense, providing them with properties inherent only to intellectual beings.
However, intelligence, as Tradition relates, is something ontologically different from anything formed and perpetuated by the natural causes.
The reason for this is its immateriality.
While the human intellect needs a body to execute its exterior operation, it is in essence immaterial, i.e. capable primarily of reflecting back into itself, which is quite impossible for a material thing – even the highest sense we have, the eyesight, cannot reflect into itself but only at itself through another, as, for instance, in the mirror.
This inner activity of intellect is the simplest stamp of its uniqueness, power and, finally, indestructibility. As intellect cannot be generated from matter by a spontaneous, i.e. natural, act it cannot really have a beginning in the sense physical things and other non-intelligent created beings do; while they are, as individuals, generated by the formation of matter, the intellectual or spiritual soul is created by a pure act, without the need for the temporal process that always conditions everything coming to pass in the visible world.
Simplicity as the hallmark of immaterial nature is therefore not an atomic indivisibility of matter, to which something is reduced in intellectual imagination, always pointed towards the regulatory image of individuum, but rather the uniqueness encompassing all the stages that are below it; this is necessary not because it needs lower beings to come to pass, but because it is endowed with a power that precedes them and without which they cannot be understood at all.
If we say that soul is simple, we mean that it is “in a sense, all things” (Aristotle) and is therefore capable of identifying with each – by not being any particular thing below its level, it can encompass all of them.
One very interesting and poignant image or, one could say, archetype of this, that is plain to our senses, is the genesis of an individual human being whereby the body is being formed passing from the mineral up to the highest form of life, stage by stage during the nine months of pregnancy; in effect this is a mirror of the hierarchy of the whole visible world resolving in the birth of the individual encompassed and informed by its spiritual soul. It is interesting to note that the modern notion of evolution as a reigning creation myth in fact externalizes this intrinsic process to project it as the true formation process of the world in general, stamping the human form on all of creation and, quite consequently, projecting its god into a perpetual not yet of the future in which he stands as the still not existing, purely potential purpose of all. This idea of a god that is coming to pass underlies the evolutionary myth in all its forms that are logically consistent and it is a pure inversion of Traditional outlook; what was inner, ended up outside; what was in the beginning, ended up being the last; what was impossible, became necessary and what was nothing, became something.
Once the underlying understanding was that every single man is a mirror of the world, now the world is being forced to mirror the man.
As inversion is one of the best terms to explicate the essence of evil, this displays the ultimate inversion of theology into demonology; the very fact that godlike qualities are ascribed to a process that by definition cannot be creative but only formative, tells us something about the nature of its subject – it is a being that by its very definition cannot create but only imitate the act of creation. If we deny the act of creation altogether and, consequently, abolish the existence of God, then we end up at the mercy of the supposedly purely natural force that is nevertheless constantly adorned with godlike qualities of being, “the principle”, “the origin”, “the purpose”, etc. that are at the same time denied by its negative essence – it is the “unprincipled principle”, “sterile origin” and “aimless purpose”. In this respect one should not wonder that such a god would by forming things be rather busy disfiguring them.
However, as our purpose here is to cast some light rather than study the shadows, we’ll return to the positive content of what Tradition tells us.
The fact that intelligent being has been purely created, with no intermediary causes that are at work in the extrinsic, material nature, and is in fact free in assuming the form it encompasses, explicates to a certain extent that “desire for everlasting life”, as a modification of the all encompassing “desire to be”, reveals the truth: soul is immortal because it was created for eternity by a pure act of creation which originates in eternity. The only being that could dissolve the soul is its Creator, because it can never entirely leave His bosom, i.e. detach itself from its eternal Origin. The reflective nature of intellect is activity stemming from its immediate connection to its whence – man, as an intellectual soul, cannot abandon or sever his ties to God because in immaterial beings the reversion of effect into its cause is unimpeded by anything but by the power of the cause itself.
It is interesting how the fact of intellect being created as an individual contrasts with the animal, being formed as the member of the species. From St. Thomas’ text it is obvious that the perpetuation of the biological species is the apex of perfection for plants and animals; in a sense, each domestic cat has insomuch reached perfection as it procreated and thus perpetuated its species, became identified with its type at the expense of its individuality. Man, on the other hand, not only transcends this process but also perpetuates it, participating thus in the lower hierarchies of creation. Yet for him, the purpose always remains what is inherent in his nature as a living soul – true everlasting life is based on his essence being purely and simply created.
So why deny this so vehemently?
The seemingly obvious answer that it is obsolete to think in this manner is not as convincing as it is prevalent. The ideal of everlasting human life in a material mode of infinite durability is quite mainstream, if only implied, in popular science and morals; posthumanist extremists are a vanguard movement that give this idea the recognizable face of man-machine immortalised in a way that matter appears to be indestructible; yet other, less extreme, but still more acceptable forms of ersatz immortality maintain their sway over human minds. One, for example, cannot help but notice how contemporary identitarian political movements reclaim the biological perpetuation of the species as the ultimate purpose of human life, particularized into individual races struggling for “living space”; to take these vanguard movements as marginal would be to overlook the prevalence and universal acceptance of the underlying idea fromwhich their systems are projected. This is the idea of the animal- or machine-man, that affirms his existence by becoming animalized or mechanized. The protestations people inherently, but with no great clarity, feel about such acts only swings them out of the fire and into the frying pan – on the one hand, there’s a push towards the mechanical, digital unification of humanity opposed, on the other hand, by particularism based upon the biological notion of races as different species of human beings that are fundamentally unable to reconcile their differences.
In reality, there’s not that much discrepancy between these two modes of metaphysics gone wrong and they encompass a much wider spectrum than is apparent at first sight. For instance, both contemporary multiculturalism, which is a fundamental element of the vision of globalization, and its identitarian counterpart advocating for something like racially based particular states or some other biologically individualized form of human community, are established on the idea that man is a “becoming being” and not the direct creation of God. This means that, whereas all creation is indeed created, the being that is created without being separated from its Creator by anything intermediary except the incommensurable extent with which His power transcends it, can never be something that becomes or evolves, but only what it is and what, once created, it will always be: His image. Denying this has one necessary consequence that multiculturalism hides and its identitarian nemesis reveals: the pure biological man can never understand himself as transcending his biologically conditioned group. For both halves of the same outlook race is the ultimate expression of humanity and the only dispute is about the nature of the highest racial achievement that will immortalize the “upright animal”: a total meltdown of all differences or their radicalization; the idea that the race is a social construct is not anti-racial per se, but only presupposes that differences are detrimental to its perfection.
From the standpoint of Tradition, however, both outlooks express all the subtle difference existing between dog crap and dog turd.
The evolutionary metaphysics underlying the contemporary outlook is a form of extreme degradation that goads man into identifying with lower forms of the created world, an act that is quite possible for him because the nature of intellect is such that it can indeed freely identify with everything provided it has been liberated from matter.
In this way, we end up with deification and anthropomorphizing of natural forces quite akin to the animism that was supposedly the hallmark of “primitive religions”: processes of nature are somehow understood as purposeful in the sense that they are striving to give birth to an intelligent animal that will finally perfect them through reaching immortality or, as is the case in posthumanism, downright re-create everything in technical fashion, whereby creation is not a spontaneous development of biological form, but the deliberate action of an artisan. While the first option degrades man to the level of animals and plants, the second degrades him to the level of mineral, where the ultimate realization lies in the power of death over life: man should reject not only his intellectuality but also his biology, reducing himself to a machine and thus acquiring everlasting durability. For anyone who spent more than a month of his life removed from the computer keyboard, it is obvious that this means death or, at best, some sort of living death, where the human being strips all its qualities in order to identify with what it imagines to be its purest, immortal form – the individuum as an atomic, purely material unit.
One thing we should bear in mind is that this level of absurdity is not in any way something removed from the mainstream; not only is it mainstream, but it is such for quite a long time by modern reckoning. The fact that people naturally shun the effects – in the form of, for instance, dissolving gender differences, mass surveillance, etc. – does not mean that they intellectually grasp the cause.
The peculiarity of our age, i.e. late modernity or postmodernity, is that the discrepancy between thought and act becomes more and more obvious, pushing people into making radical decisions; one clear sign of this is the very ability to argue the position of Tradition without any need for the rhetorical caveats that were needed up until twenty to thirty years ago. The rhetorical caveats are in themselves merely the expression of intellectual diplomacy: i.e. I accept the truth of Tradition but I give due respect to its opposite because it reigns in the public consciousness and yet tolerates my corner of the academic or plainly personal world. As it seems nowadays this tolerance has become obsolete, because causes are coming to claim their effects and thought and act seem to finally converge upon each other; if you are, for example, a posthumanist you don’t have to feel obliged to respect traditional social mores of speech and conduct, because the legacy of modern and pre-modern social mores are increasingly becoming obsolete; conversely, if you are the opposite, there is no way you can hide from yourself that you are a progressively becoming not only a social reject, but also you can clearly see that the metaphysical basis for the rejection of the normalcy you are trying to retain is manifestly absurd for the same reasons it would be absurd in 13th Century.
To wit, it is plain to see that world in truth hasn’t progressed anywhere and there is absolutely no excuse for not saying this openly.
In conclusion, let us note one thing about human immortality that sometimes gets overlooked even by those who are aware of its basis and naturalness; being a gift, it is also a responsibility and a grave one at that, because it dissolves any basis for excuses once it has reached one’s awareness sufficiently. While man has his animal nature to blame for not seeing things clearly, he can also use it as a good excuse for not acting properly. And this is also something that is given, but for a time, whereas immortality transcends time. Therefore, any fundamental decision made when things are being seen clearly has the gravest of consequences not for one’s temporal but rather one’s eternal well being.
As man cannot escape himself, so he cannot escape the consequences of being himself. If the sole consequence of one’s life is the escape from this fact, and we could safely assume that ideas like posthumanism are precisely that, then the denying of eternal life in the mode it truly is eternal is an infinite flight into nothingness, away from being in any of its forms.
Let us bear this in mind each time we feel tempted to even rhetorically tolerate a lie.
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