Superstition & Subscendence: An Essay in Honor of Tom Bertonneau

Bear with me here. I hardly know where I am going with this, although I feel I have caught the spoor of something Tom would find delightful – that he would join with me joyfully in this new hunt. I’m confused because all I have is that spoor, and my spirits are in a hurry and a muddle due to his too soon death. I miss my friend of many years – of too few! I am not yet sure how to do with the world that, henceforth, shall miss him.

Tom has been a valued colleague since we first encountered each other. We corresponded often – not often enough, alas – about our hopes and worries in respect to our work, much of it coordinate here. We sometimes asked each other for editorial advice upon that work. I could rely on Tom for sound counsel. I hardly know how I shall manage without his sagacity.

But I must. I bid you all help me in that project, in which we may hope we can all together proceed for many more years to come. That would be a fitting legacy of his penetrant honest cheerful mind.

I propose that this essay be an early installment in something like a festschrift for Tom. Let us all try to limn what it was that he taught us. Perhaps we might make a book out of it. Or maybe just something on the scale of an issue of Amazing Stories, circa 1935: the sort of thing that was an important source of grist for the mill of his wits. That would please him, perhaps above all things we might do to honor him.

Would that we could arrange for Boris Vallejo to provide a cover illustration … Tom, rampant atop a mountain crag against cloud addled skies, bare chested and improbably muscular under an Oxford cloth button down shirt ripped to shreds (apart from the buttoned button down collar) and blowing in the gale – bow tie all awry. In his left hand, the shield of a massive codex – something about Satan in the title of it – and in his right a bloody spear … wait, what is that, a 7 foot pen?

I’ll leave out the nubile shield maidens, basically naked but for their space helms, mukluks and fur bikinis, huddled in the snow at Tom’s feet and under his stern righteous ward – his fatherly ward, NB. Actually, I suppose I just included them. OK; he won’t mind. Au contraire.

Contra Tom, and falling mortally wounded, several monstrous demons with inadequate leathery wings, bleeding … what is that black stuff, India ink?

High beyond the montane wrack and careless thereof stands the pale blue wintry sky, that has no firmament – that rises – no: that leads – upward, to and beyond all limit.

That would be good. But, we can’t arrange that. So, at least a bit of a festschrift, or at any rate my own contribution thereto.

All right then: superstition and subscendence. Subscendence is word Tom here coined, to denote the enemy and opposite and ruin of transcendence – and so, as all men since Plato have known, of truth. Like all of us here, and like all Christians – indeed, like almost all men, albeit unlike them in respect to his deep perspicuity – Tom was concerned with transcendence. Not, NB, rejection or abhorrence of merely mundane concerns – that’s the wrong knee jerk reaction to life’s vicissitudes of the Gnostics against whom Tom ever set his lance – his pen, I mean. Hatred of the quotidian, the normal, the ordinary, and the traditional – of the imperfect, of life – is the hallmark, tell and sure sign of those who *just don’t get creation,* but who find themselves somehow arrayed against her, and so against her Creator. The Gnostics want the world to be perfect, when in virtue of sin she can’t be; so they deplore all those as deplorables who, like us, nevertheless love the world and all her creatures (including even the Gnostics) as fundamentally good, despite their manifold illnesses.

We are such as would succor Grandma in her last desperate most noble, brave and sacred hours; they are such as would cut her short.

Contra the Gnostics of all ages, the reality of perfection nowise renders the imperfect abhorrent. As Tom well saw, transcendence nowise derogates the humble. On the contrary; transcendence ennobles all things. This is obvious to all mystics, and pervades all their writings, without a single exception. The mire of the gutter is to their opened eyes revealed as constituted entirely of jewels.

Excursus: Latter day physics has supported this perspective: on the Standard Model, each glob of feces is constituted of massively, deeply coordinated and thus harmonious music of billions of particles, each of which interpenetrates and informs all the others, according to the order of a gorgeous beauty.

Excursus: True transcendence – which is to say, righteous transcendence – does not at all abhor the minor things it transcends, but rather in so doing loves them. It blesses and so ennobles its subsidiaries by due recognition of their participation and meritable part in a drama that far outpasses their poor small cognizance and power – which, because their tiny part so often entails their confused but agreeable suffering for the sake of its inscrutable purposes, is all the more to them meritorious, all the more tragic, and noble.

It follows after all as a matter of mere logic from just the notion of omniscience: God knows the predicaments of the chambermaid and the stable boy from the inside, and understands the crucial contribution of their sufferments and their labors to the General Project of Creation as they muck out and tidy the rooms assigned to them, and so doing play their parts in his own Grand Scheme for the deliverance and redemption to permanent utter bliss of all beings.

Omniscience knows perfectly how the chambermaid and the stable boy – aye, and the father and the mother (ergo also – tace Freud – the son and the daughter) play into and for his Scheme. On his Perfect Knowledge, all their hurts and labors then *simply cannot be worthless or stupid.* On the contrary: on Omniscience, everything must make perfect sense together, somehow, and beyond our poor ken; so, all this life must be worth doing, as well as it might be done.

On that conviction, men may proceed into the fray that is life. On no other might the battle be worth the trouble.

It’s all in the Bhagavad Gita. And the Iliad. And, of course, Exodus and Joshua.

True transcendence, as opposed to the noxious and specious Gnostic sort that disdains its mundane predicaments, is rather a spacious and above all friendly perspective – a loving perspective – upon our petty worldly perplexities, that can enable an understanding of all those little things and great that so worry us all, and that allows the mind to see them, all, as participant in a grand good scheme of redemption and rescue – of creation, simply said – that shall lead all things on (that are willing to go along), on to sempiternal glory.

On a consistent and thoroughgoing Gnosticism, the happy amazed play of the toddler with his delighted big sister and his little ball (which was first hers, of course) – you roll the ball to me, I roll the ball to you, again and again, to high mutual delight – is, like all such mutual donations among and between creatures, and so like the entire created order, only sordid, wicked, doomed: evil. That alone should suffice to any sturdy and wholesome evaluation – indeed, to a speedy and confident damnation – of Gnosticism.

This, Tom saw, and so said. It was I think perhaps the fundamental realization at the core of his whole work as a philosopher. I do not know enough about his spiritual life to comment upon it, but I cannot but think that the reality – the concrete reality, above and before all other things of this world – of the things that transcend and so bless us, all, was a core component of that, too. It might have accounted in part for his inveterate, indomitable good cheer. Surely it contributed to his quiet courage and equanimity as he lived his last months here below the orbit of the moon.

Tom noticed subscendence as a modern social phenomenon, essentially characteristic of modernism, and massively increasing each day with the increased pervasion of the perversions of modernity, which implicitly rejects the notion, and so the bare possibility, of any true transcendence of life’s irks, which might render them intelligible, and thus honorable, good, apt, and so at last doable – bearable – so as to enable heroism. And thus, mere survival.

This all, of course, taking modernism – as indeed she takes herself avowedly – as secular, and so as atheist; or, what is perhaps even more stupid, as stupid. What is doctrinally and carefully secular is by definition subscendent, and so rules out the transcendent categoreally, including especially God (but also Lucifer)(and any notion of absolute morality)(that’s where and how Lucifer wins (for the time being)).

Subscendence makes us all incorrigibly and totally subject, like the snowflakes whirling about Tom’s feet in the cover art described above, to the bad stuff that, in the nature of things, happens to all men, which they have no option but to bear – and, if they be men in true, to front. It puts evil in control of life. It makes us slaves to ill fortune. It makes any sort of mastery – or indeed, even mere competence – impossible categoreally. And it renders all our ills – ergo, our wills, to boot – mere fortune, mere happenstance, mere, utter, tychic (“tychological” is a contradiction in terms, for there is no lógos to tyche) random chaotic stuff happening for no rhyme or reason.

On subscendence, it is simply impossible to understand by any act of thought what is happening to us. Understanding – and indeed even thought per se, which aims thereat – are acts of intellectual transcendence eo ipso. It is impossible to think about x without transcending x. Understanding supervenes transcendence. So, on subscendence – on, that is to say, the zero of transcendence – there can be no such things as thoughts, or so a fortiori as understandings.

Excursus: We could indeed, were we being strict about this, say that experience per se is an exercise of transcendence of its data. We suffer a thing, and in so doing we stand outside and in some way above it, evaluating and judging it. Such is our feeling either of pain or of beauty, or of both (as, e.g., with tragedy).

So, on subscendence, experience per se is impossible. Subscendence, then – that mélange of solipsist notions which by their own first definitions cannot be true of what they subscend (and, so, since subscendence is itself a notion absolute, cannot be true of anything) – cannot but be false.

Excursus: This is one way we can be absolutely sure that a notion is false ab initio: it has the consequence that experience – not just experience as such, but *any experience we do in fact have, whatsoever* – does not happen in fact. If your theory rules out my enjoyment of Cheetos – renders it illusory or delusory or a mere heuristic, or any of the sad pathetic dodges of the eliminativists – it must be false. For, experience per se is *the only evidence we can possibly have* about what it is to exist.

Excursus: I suppose I should now here at last make plain that what I take Tom to have denoted by “subscendence” is, qua social phenomenon, an habitual resort to what I have here so often denoted by “improper reduction.”

Subscendentalists say, “There is no objective truth; all notions whatever are subjective, and therefore tendentious; so, abandon all hope of understanding what you are doing; just go ahead and do what you feel like doing: all of life is nothing more than your tendention versus all others.”

I.e.: there is no logic to things, so no Lógos. You therefore simply cannot be wrong. You can’t be right either, but what the Hell: for, do whatever the Hell thou wilt is then the whole of … well, not the law, for there can in such a case be no such thing as law, or even of regularity; rather, do whatever the Hell thou wilt is just everything. There is nothing beyond or above what you will; there is nothing transcendent to you.

The random and wholly unintelligible scurryings and collisions of Democritean atoms are in this notion counterparted by the random scurryings and collisions of utterly discoordinate and confused wills, that can lead to no sort of animate order, but rather only to a Hobbesian war of all against all – ever the terminus ad quem of socialism, which is the ideology of envy and resentment, and opposite of the theology (we might as well call it by its true name) of love and so of beauty – of all theology, per se, and properly so called.

So much for subscendence – for now, at least, since there is much more to be said about it; but what has it to do with superstition?

Notice first one of those pregnant significant curiosities of aetymology: superstition – “a stand above” – is the opposite of understanding – of substition. None of us are greater than our worlds, so all of us are doomed to do our best to stand in humble subjection under them, rightly and intelligently, so as to comprehend them, and so to order our acts appropriately: to order our own thoughts and acts in congruence with the form of our wider and environing world, which – as even the most foolish of us must see, is at the most basic level, and thus utterly, entirely dispositive of our affairs (viz., GNON). The proper and so the prudent ontological stance then is epistemological humility: to be properly, we must be in proper orientation to the Order of Being, who is the Lógos. Best get on, then, to a life of constant ascertainment of him, and reconciliation thereto. Not nice to fool with Mother Nature, and so forth, right?

This has been common knowledge since the Paleolithic. Any animal worthy of the name incorporates it as a first principle. Even flatworms and amoebae.

Indeed, it’s as plain as the nose on your face, and to argue with it is like cutting off that nose to spite that face. Go along to get along, or … don’t get along. You can’t prosper in conflict with GNON – with, i.e., the Order of Being, the Tao, the dharma, the Lógos: or, to put it bluntly, YHWH.

What sort of idiot – literally (viz., the aetymology of the term) – could think otherwise? Yet, so many moderns do. Because why? Because modernity is (among other things) a rejection of authority per se, and so of the authority of cosmic order. Modernity wants the triumph of the individual will, as against *everything else whatever.* It wants the universal triumph of idiocy; so, of death (thus its acronym of late, as it rips off its mask and bids us always all wear ours: DIE).

Excursus: that triumph is of course impossible. This is why the modern mind cannot ever rest; it accounts for Zippy’s Hegelian Mambo. It accounts also for modern nihilism, alienation, and psychopathology.

The curious thing about it is that modernity cannot see that the triumph of the individual will it trumpets is the defeat – in one’s own life, at any rate – of any good greater than the onanism of solipsy; of, that is, perpetual, perfect loneliness.

For verification, just check the divorce and fertility statistics. It’s all there. Modernity is death. Life is tradition.

For Pete’s sake, it’s all in Darwin. And Plato. What are they teaching in school these days?

On superstition – the opposite of true understanding – we take our take on things prior to us as to them prior, and so – in the behavioral limit – as of real things determinative. On superstition, we can believe … well, we can believe whatever the Hell we want, and can then carry our beliefs into practice, whether surgically, politically, or culturally. To Hell then with Mother Nature; to Hell with the Lógos; to Hell with GNON.

To Hell with reality.

Excursus: Such indeed is the condition of Hell: Hell is a fundamental and incorrigible and total disagreement with the Ultimate Real. Modernity is the asymptotic determined approach thereto.

But here’s the thing: superstition is notoriously next to the zero of understanding. Everyone agrees about that. To think that we understand more than we do is to understand less than we do. Then superstition is stupid, is merely wrong magic – errors in support of acts in service of some end difficult to nail down (because all such nailing depends upon our own errant – and, so, derelict – perspicuity) – that has but a poor idea what it is after, or, so, actually doing.

If you are a magician, then (despite your conviction to the contrary) you don’t even understand what you are trying to do. So, by your magic you do something other than what you intended – or was it, really, that different than what you thought you wanted to accomplish when you set out on your magical project?

The cargo cults are fairly sapient (ergo, harmless) instances of this sort of thing. Ditto, sympathetic magic (this, despite the portal it opens to demonic influx). Ditto, the mass psychoses (in re witches, white supremacy, the Templar threat, climate change, running dog capitalists, Caesar, Jesus, &c. – and, as we should in all propriety here admit, of conspiracies we see at work (perhaps too readily) against such as us (never mind the overwhelming evidence that those conspiracies are indeed at work – deplatforming, anyone?)). Everyone, of all sorts, agrees with this. Even the Satanists agree. It is not possible to disagree and also continue to make a bit of sense, so that anyone might possibly find a notion anywhere vouchsafed worthy of attention, let alone suasive. The perfervid fantasies of the climate change weenies, e.g., simply cannot be entertained prima facie in the absence of a shared and indeed religious presupposition that the atmosphere simply *must* be intelligible. The climate change mongers are motivated by a desperate terrified conviction that they understand what is happening.

They don’t, really, to be sure. But they think that they do. That thought reassures them, so that they feel they live in a cosmos that, as being intelligible, is amenable to such as they. That thought quiets their visceral fear that they live in a cosmos that cares about them not a whit – that, indeed, as at bottom quite wholly chaotic (as it must be, per their stupid blind metaphysical doctrine, which they all accept without a blink) reckons them not at all – so that all their whingeing about the climate amounts in the end to nothing, inasmuch as, however well they think they might understand the atmosphere, their power to affect it is utterly nil; and who cares, anyway, when in the long run they are after all with all other things all dead, period full stop, so that nothing can matter?

Excursus: Suffice to say that their fears are well founded.

Excursus: The cosmos is indeed intelligible, and thus capable of misinterpretations like those of the climate change weenies. What is unintelligible cannot be misinterpreted; for, it cannot be interpreted in the first place. It cannot be interpreted at all.

Excursus: The existence of the climate change hysteria is in fact a great thing. It testifies to a widespread chthonic conviction that the cosmos is orderly, intelligible, and so amenable to our intelligent interventions.

Hysteriae about the future of the cosmos, or of man, or of Earth, testify to a basic conviction that there is a cosmos to begin with, which is good and worth preserving. It is then and therefore a radical and total repudiation of modernism.

Likewise by the same token the wild fantastic notions both of witches and of their persecutors can be sustained only in virtue of their shared supposition that the witches are actually doing something in respect to a cosmos that is intelligible and open to their intelligent suasion.

Superstition, then, supervenes substition: it comes along with a presupposition that understanding is both possible, and that it has in some respects been achieved. Superstition presupposes that we ought not superstice.

Superstition is depraved substition. It is intellectual hubris. It is thinking that you understand more than you actually do understand.

So, here’s the connection: subscendence is an artifact of superstition. Superstition overestimates the power of human intellection, and in so doing inevitably promotes this or that idolatrous false notion as the truth, that must be reckoned and obeyed. Subscendence ensues. “Subscendence” is almost a way of saying “idolatry.”

Superstition is of course the opposite of understanding. So is it the opposite of theology, and of her handmaiden, philosophy. As superstitious, we believe we understand. But really we don’t. As superstitious, we found our acts upon some misprision.

Examples abound: not just magical thinking, but magic per se: sorcery, mancy of all sorts, voodoo, scapegoating (as if killing this guy could solve that problem, forsooth), cargo cults, witchcraft and the persecution of witches; on and on. Not to mention the scares du jour: global warming, covid, white supremacy, fat shaming (somehow these are in the stupid popular discourse of the stupid fools who prevail amongst all populations aspects of the same one monstrous evil), tomorrow God knows what. There is little need to set forth here any exhaustive list, for anyone alive to history knows well what I mean. All such superstitions have founded and justified acts that contravene reality and harm man.

To illustrate a basic and intimate example of superstition, I adduce our understanding of our own movements of our limbs. We know a lot about the innervation of nerve and muscle cells, contractions of the latter, the chemical transduction of signals from the Central Nervous System to the muscles, the passage of such signals across synaptic gaps, and so forth. The logic of this whole system of events is to us more and more clear. So far, so good.

It remains to us however – and, apparently, incorrigibly so – a complete mystery, how we are able to will the motion of an arm such that it then moves. This came home to me with massive and indeed somewhat terrifying effect when I was about 4: I can think about moving my arm, and nothing happens; but when I somehow move my arm, *it moves.* That flabbergasted me at 4; it still does.

So here’s the nub of it. Thinking we understand how we move our arms is superstition. It is a sort of intellectual hubris; of the sin of pride.

Realizing per contra that we do not understand is (as Socrates saw) the beginning and sine qua non of true substition. It is to humbly wait upon the deliverances and revelations of what we have accepted is greater far than anything our poor wits might ever encompass.

Subscendence is proud to think that it understands. Transcendence humbly, patiently knows it does not … yet.

As Tom noticed to us, subscendent acts deprave man; they sicken his mind, his society, and in the end his body. They run from the Limit in virtue of which each thing is itself, and so seek the antipode of sublimity. They more or less succeed in that ill errant transgressive urge to devolution and dissolution. They generate crass dross, ugly ersatz art, in which the moral, epistemic, and ontologic ruin of the artist is manifest, and by which that disaster is visited upon all who observe it.

But some works are innocent of modernity’s high falutin’ subscendence. So was it that Tom was able to see in deplorable pulp fiction, which is not hobbled by highbrow modern notions, a blithe echo and a hidden life in what he could ascertain was true literature of the traditional transcendence of the West, and could connect pulp epics by a thin golden thread back to Homer and Virgil. He saw true.

Tom has transcended this mortal coil, and we may hope that he is now numbered among the hosts of the Church Triumphant who bless us here subscendent. May God bless Tom, and may we at his prayer on our behalf share in that blessing. Vale, Tom. See you soon, I trust.

5 thoughts on “Superstition & Subscendence: An Essay in Honor of Tom Bertonneau

  1. All you need is the scent of wisdom carried by the torch of freedom. If you cannot provide it someone will. Perhaps me, or you. Are we really different at all?

  2. A worthy tribute. “Subscendence” is a great term. I didn’t know him but seeing the eloquent, heartfelt essays by smart, talented people shows me he was a great man.

  3. I only just learned of Bertonneau’s death. I was so busy these past three months, I scarcely kept up with reading. If it wasn’t for this fine tribute, I would have remained in the dark.

    In less-busy times I never missed one of his essays on Orthosphere, and elsewhere. He was a source of much insight for me. He was always able to keep the first things in mind.

    God bless and may he rest in peace.

  4. Tom Bertonneau once posted a video of the song “Suliko,” a beautiful Georgian song. It inspired me to study Georgian music and the Georgian language. Thank you Tom. Thank you Orthoshpere.


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