Wednesday, June 30, 2004

It’s Not a Well?

Watching television informercials on the golf channel, you have to wonder why Ernie Els and Tiger Woods don’t get themselves one of those patented rescue clubs so they, too, can reliably hit 200 yard shots out of deep bunkers. Since it is likely that they can afford the three easy payments of $69.99, it must be pride. Or, perhaps what we have here is the commercial version of something that happens all the time in the realm of religion and the occult. Mystics and gurus of all sorts perpetually advertise amazing secrets that must be kept from the profane mob, but what they reveal in their more exoteric statements is typically far more extreme, lurid, and downright screwy than the vastly more guarded remarks they make to their actual students. Thus, for example, of the two attested works of the philosopher and shaman Empedocles, the Purifications, which is addressed to all the citizens of the city of Acragas, teaches an elaborate doctrine of reincarnation with many mythological trimmings while the book On Nature, which is addressed to a fellow philosopher, offers a reasoned and admittedly provisional physical account of the universe. In this instance, as in many others, the esoteric is less exotic than the exoteric.

Nothing is more plebian than the rhetoric of secret wisdom. Since the content of popular religion is a mix of banalities and science fiction, it is absolutely necessary to tart things up with mystifications about things hidden since the foundation of the world. Meanwhile, the conversations of people seriously interested in figuring things out are extraordinarily modest and matter of fact since the object of the game is not to impress the natives by claiming to possess God’s unlisted phone number and actual knowledge, as opposed to humbug, is damned hard to come by. There is a secret about real thinking, however. Most people will never understand how grounded you can feel once you’ve acknowledged to yourself that neither you nor anybody else can see through walls by sheer concentration.

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