In Which Baloo Explains the Importance of Ontology

It was probably 1991 and one of my refuges during a year back in my birth country was American cartoons; cartoons like Talespin. In a way I envy my children who at ages 8 and below are able to navigate multiple streaming services to find the show they want. At age 11, I felt like the manager of television programming was a capricious god who delighted in thwarting my viewing desires, so it was a heady feeling of Herculean conquest when I managed to locate a show I wanted to watch.

It was Baloo who taught me the priority of Ontology over Epistemology, but I wouldn’t have known those terms at the time. The plot of the episode (Sheepskin Run, episode 51) was that Baloo needed to go back and get his grade school diploma so that he could attend his class reunion and see his buddies. After failing the final exam by one question, he realizes that he has been marked wrong regarding whether or not certain flora grew in the mountains. Baloo realizes that he has physically seen this species growing in the mountains and so he takes his professor on a death defying airplane ride to show him an actual plant growing where the professor though it could not, and in light of this reality the professor corrects the test and Baloo earns his degree.

This is the old way of thinking. This is science as I understand. This is biblical. The world and everything in it have a nature and our job is to discover and nurture that nature so that it might be fruitful. The sacred writings call this “dominion”. There is a reality which was spoken into existence by God; it is the endeavor of man to search out that reality and better understand it, though his understanding will be limited and, thanks to sin, twisted.

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.

Proverbs 25:2

What modern man seems to want is the opposite. Man wants to invent in his mind and then force the world to conform. In the Renaissance this was called magic, and in the 21st century it is called science. My suspicion is that this is what is behind the drive towards a “virtual existence”, where there are no limits at all. Modern man cannot give an answer in words to the most basic questions that our ancestors knew in their souls because modern man refuses to acknowledge that we were created with a nature that, while flexible, is nevertheless fixed. If this episode of Tailspin were to be written today, I wonder if the professor would rather deny reality rather than change his mind.

For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality, and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique.

CS Lewis, the Abolition of Man

Perhaps our refusal to accept that created things have a nature also lies at the heart of our failure to exercise dominion: we break the world around us, and ourselves, because we attempt to impose upon it that which its shoulders are unable to bear. If man exists to serve God and care for His creation, then it follows that abandoning this grand purpose will result in frustration, anger, bitterness, and anxiety. The childlike joy of discovery is largely missing today, even from the world of science, where discovery and laughter have been divorced.

The veneer of intellectual plausibility for all of this is provided by evolution, in which anything can turn into anything given enough time. If what we see now used to be something else, then modern man can feel confident that given enough time and effort, he can turn it into something else completely in the future. In the hands of modern man, dominion looks cruel and without compassion: the created world is his slave to be disposed of at his will. Our physical bodies are sacrificed upon the altar of our will.

The world we live in is organic but also established. Mankind will always be mankind, even if he enters the Metaverse. Men will always be men and women will always be women, regardless of surgeries and hormone blockers. Individuals and even entire generations may get drunk on the wine of some new philosophy and seek out marriages of 3 or 4, but like a rubber band that can only stretch so far, society will return back to the beautiful number of 2. Let all who rage at the heavens despair in this, and let all who bow to heaven’s will rejoice.

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