Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Apocalypse Later

There is one thing that conservatives and liberals can agree on, and that is the need – the burning desire – for something called “justice” (or, at the very least, that watered-down thing the liberals call “fairness”, which even Jimmy Carter advised against counting on). The main difference is that conservatives see justice as an infinite, eternal, and divine quality, and thus rely on God to (1) know what it is and (2) deliver it at the proper time, whereas liberals see it as something that we – i.e. mankind – have to discern and come up with, and the sooner the better – hopefully within the lifetime of all liberals now walking the earth. To a liberal, the greatest tragedy is to go to the grave without having seen justice in his lifetime... whereas to a conservative, the notion of humankind as the (only) source of justice is absurd on its face – and any pretense as to whether justice has been, or can ever be, achieved on this plain is the utmost in presumption. And yet many conservatives – e.g. the “tea partiers” -- have been caught up in the political trap of striving, with the greatest urgency, to achieve justice – hopefully within the duration of the current political or election cycle. So the conservatives are now taking to the streets the way the liberals used to do before they took over all of the political and cultural power centers... and the spectacle is no less absurd. But neither side wants to give up on this vision, because it is so central to the character and the strivings of those strange people called “Americans”. This country – and its predecessor colonies, in fact – was founded on the notion of no less than paradise on earth... and it is the very last delusion that will ever be given up, no matter where one stands on the political spectrum. Because to give it up would mean surrender to all of the apparent irrationality and chaos of the world... to the forces of tyranny and oppression (if you're a conservative), or to “superstition”, unreason, and “hate” (if you're a liberal). In other words, neither side is willing to accept the world as it is – and this, I suppose, is commendable enough, except for the vast differences in focus. Liberals want to re-mold, and re-form, the human race, i.e. society, or the “collective”, in their own image – whereas conservatives want to reform individuals in the image of God. And much of the political strife and controversy in our time is based on this primary distinction.

The thing is, the salvation of any one individual is, in fact, a problem – _the_ problem, if you will – that adheres to that individual. And in fact, an individual can seek, and hopefully attain, salvation with or without the help of the “society” in which he happens to live. There have been righteous men in even the worst of times throughout history... and the unrighteous were raising their voices in protest even in the most secure heart of Christendom. In other words, it all boils down to, not only human nature, but to each individual person and their reaction to their lot – to their state of being. But even here we find that the divergence has already occurred – the believing Christian believes himself to be a created being, and part of the created order... whereas the unbeliever, especially in our time – with his arms full of the works of the finest minds of the past 200 years – people like Marx, Darwin, and Freud – believes himself to be the result of nothing more than a series of random (one might say “unfortunate”) events. To the liberal humanist, a man is simply a list of “nothing mores” -- nothing more than an economic being, nothing more than an animal, nothing more than an unwieldy pile of neuroses, obsessions, and superstitions. So this basic metaphysical difference is going to greatly condition the kind of “cure” that is proposed, by the different sides, for the human lot. And the aggregate of various proposed “cures” will constitute one's politics – which is why we see so much “misunderstanding” in our day and age. The two sides are starting with drastically differing, and irreconcilable, views of human nature – and therefore of the significance (if any) of the individual, and of society, and of the individual's place in society. And these are not superficial differences that can be ironed out in a Congressional committee room; they are profound, and they will not simply go away with the next law that is passed, or the next regulation enacted.

If you accept the above premises, you have to agree that the miracle is not that there is so much political strife in this country, but that there is not more. A nation with as wide a range of metaphysical positions (of which religious creeds are a subset) would, at most times and in most places in history, have erupted in civil war and sectarian strife ages ago. It would have been like the Moslem vs. Hindu wars in India after it gained independence from Britain – totally irreconcilable beliefs worth dying for, as many millions did. But we have somehow held together through all of this, despite dire predictions to the contrary (and I don't consider our own Civil War to be an exception – that was one Christian nation against another, and more's the tragedy). But is it just a matter of sitting back and saying “let the best belief system win”? I'm not aware of anyone who takes that position; I know I don't. What's more likely, I think, is that each side is willing – up to a point -- to give things time to sort themselves out. For example, as aggressive as the Progressives, liberals, humanists, and secularists have been to eliminate any influence of religion on “public life”, they have stopped short (to date) of totally suppressing organized religion – even though they have done an excellent job of harassment and persecution. And that, in turn, is based on another curious American belief, which – strangely – seems inconsistent at times with the concept of justice, and that is the concept of tolerance. But “tolerance”, American-style, is not the expression of indifferentism that some claim; it's more like an attitude of “You're wrong, but I'm willing to allow you to continue to be wrong.” In other words, it's a bit patronizing... but it's still preferable to fire and the sword, which is the usual response to that situation. And I suppose that if there's anything this society will be remembered for in the far-distant future, it's that brand of tolerance, which, while humane in one sense, nonetheless had an edge to it. And maybe this brand of tolerance is the best we can suspect in any nation as a whole; we are not, after all, one gigantic Buddhist monastery.

The problem is, tolerance works just fine if all we're talking about is belief, or faith, or creed – qualities that seem somewhat abstract when it comes to everyday life. But here's the rub. This country is also, I would say, a uniquely “political” entity – which means that, precisely because of our notions about democracy, everything eventually becomes political... which means that everything becomes subject to our various metaphysics, belief systems, and so on... which means that these “abstract” things don't stay abstract for long. They become, in fact, vital forces when it comes to public life – and the increasing role of government in the lives of the people just aggravates that fact. I cannot walk out my door and out onto the street without becoming immediately subject to the aggregated belief systems of other people – hundreds, thousands, even millions. I become involved in politics, whether I want to be or not. And it's no longer “let the best belief system win” -- but the fact that there already is a winner, namely the collectivist, totalitarian mindset that has overtaken our politics and our life as a people. Of course, this in itself is “a matter of opinion”, since for many, the bigger and more overbearing government becomes, the better they like it.

So I wind up living in a world I never made – but which was made for me, to serve what were claimed to be my best interests, namely to exist as an unquestioning serf of the Regime, i.e. the “system”. And as long as I make the proper noises in that regard, I'm reasonably secure (in my serfdom). But try coming up with a radically different opinion, and see how far this “tolerance” goes. A cynic would say that “tolerance” is simply a strategy used by those in power until they obtain total power – at which point tolerance vanishes. And there is plenty of evidence for this! We have passed the point at which tolerance serves as a useful tool; it is now morphing either into oppression or into that thing called “diversity”, which is a total fraud that pretends to be tolerance, but is nothing of the kind. If you want to be “diverse”, you still have to be diverse in politically-correct, socially-acceptable ways – otherwise you might as well be living under the Taliban. What if, for example, a black intellectual or academician decides to “out” the liberal establishment for having maintained the black community in a state of at least moral and psychological slavery – a less tangible version of the plantation system before emancipation? You think he's going to get a fair hearing? All you have to do is read the paper in order to realize that he's not; in fact, he's going to be declared persona non grata and, basically, drummed out of his race the way Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas have been.

So yes, tolerance has its limits (due to human nature) and I think we're seeing them in our time. We have the media going after the Catholic Church with all the fury of Attila's hordes... the liberal elite denigrating Christian believers in general and allowing all sorts of blasphemies, many with public funding... elected officials responding “Are you kidding?” when asked if their favored programs are consistent with the Constitution... and all the various instruments of false humanism and “diversity” being used against ordinary, law-abiding citizens (well, they _thought_ they were law-abiding, until Title IX and affirmative action came along...). So the flood waters are rising, and the country the tea partiers thought they were born and grew up in has vanished like the morning fog under a burning sun – and all that is left is a glorified concentration camp. And so they protest – which is only right, and natural – but the way the “agents of change” operate is that, by the time their victims realize anything is wrong, it's too late... and as I've said, I really do think it's too late, despite the exertions of the tea partiers, the Ron (and Rand) Paul crowd, “talk radio”, the paleocons, the libertarians, and so on. You know that the oppressor has the upper hand when he no longer cares what anyone thinks – and we are seeing this now, on a daily basis. “Public opinion” really means nothing to the ruling elite – and one reason is that our true masters are not elected, and are, by and large, unknown. They will offer up the occasional elected official as a sacrificial lamb to appease the wrath of the public – think George W. Bush, for example, or Jimmy Carter – but that's only in order to make their job easier. They job will be done, in any case.

And yet, through all of this, the quest for “justice” continues – while at the same time frustration and despair at its lack only grow more intense. And what do people do in response to this frustration? Why, they do what prophets both true and false have always done – call down the powers of the Almighty upon the heads of the offenders. If they can't have justice, they will have destruction, on the same scale as the Flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The problem for liberals, of course, is that there _is_ no Almighty – so they have to call down the wrath of something else, and that something else is usually the Earth itself. “Mother Nature's gonna get you for that.” The Earth will, somehow, figure out a way to extract “payback” for the great and many offenses of mankind – and if you keep up with “Steve Newman's Earthweek”, this process is already well underway and is, in fact, “irreversible” (despite the pleadings of Al Gore et al). Even if we stopped using fossil fuels today, the Earth would still turn into a lifeless cinder well within the lifetimes of many living today – and that's a promise! Even the Gaia principle is not enough to turn back the clock on global destruction and mass extermination – because, as always, by the time we managed to define the problem it was too late to do anything about it.

And I must say, it is bizarre, to say the least, to have oil companies trying (and failing) to drill wells a mile under water... or gas companies using this “fracking” technique to squeeze the – absolutely, positively! -- last drop (or whatever the gaseous equivalent is) of natural gas out of the Marcellus shale. These are actions that say more about sheer desperation than about technology... about man's “conquest of nature” (and how long has it been since you heard that term?). And when the last molecule of fossil fuel is forced out of the ground and burned... what then? Of course, we've only been using oil for less than 200 years... and natural gas for not much more than 100. Coal is a different matter, of course, having been in use somewhere in the world since ancient times. But in any case, it's not hard to project, based on population trends, technology, and known resources, a point in the future when this stuff is going to be just plain gone. And what then? Well – we won't have to worry about “carbon footprints” any longer; that's for sure. But are we really going to have a billion or so windmills, or solar collectors, at that point? Or nuclear reactors? Or geothermal plants? And how about “harnessing the tides”? (It hasn't worked yet.) What I'm getting at is if the Earth itself is the “enforcer”, this collapse may fall under the heading of “the apocalypse” -- you know, that event which all the faithful (whether religious or otherwise) anticipate with fear and trembling.

But there's so much that could happen in the meantime that would render all of this moot – like the _real_ Apocalypse, for example – you know, the one in the Book of Revelation. After all, don't forget that James Watt, Reagan's secretary of the interior, said – right out loud, in front of Congress! -- “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations." Of course, the media had a field day with this statement, and (after they had picked themselves up off the floor from laughing) called it a half-cynical, half-insane way of making excuses for the pillaging of our natural resources. But what if he was right? I mean... that would be, let's say, an alternative plan for the Apocalypse – rather than the Earth saying “I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more”, God would be saying that (or words to that effect). And in fact, this is one element of the “end times” zeal on the part of our fundamentalist brethren – that God has just about had it, and that He will not stay His hand much longer. But again, isn't this just another version of the yearning for justice? And isn't it an attempt to force God's ways to be, or become, our ways? Their fond hope is that, any day now, God will look down upon “the mess that humankind has made of things” and say, well, it might be time for another flood... or for more fire and brimstone... or for something totally unexpected (and there are plenty of candidates for that alternative, from all across the political spectrum). But is this really in God's plan – to conform His sense of justice to match ours (even that of fervent believers)? One Gospel quote that must cause endless annoyance to the end-times buffs is “No man knoweth the day or the hour” -- since many of them are convinced that they, indeed, know both of those things – with absolute precision and assurance. (How many times have you heard, or read, that “the end of the world will come on (date) at (time)”? And the “global warming” zealots have their own version of this, needless to say.) Again, it's trying to tell God what His policies and priorities should be. Plus, it calls into question another quality of God that is as important as His justice – namely mercy. For what else is it but mercy that causes God to be “long-suffering” -- much longer-suffering and patient, in fact, than any of His created beings are? Now the cynic, or unbeliever, might (for the sake of argument) claim that God is playing a cat-and-mouse game – just keeping the human race around so He can play with it a bit longer. But this is not the theme that runs throughout the entire Old Testament, or that has been restated so many times by the Church. It's really about giving individuals – and the human race in general – more time to repent and amend. And yes, another day of “parole” means another day of suffering for many – but this “statistical” approach is that of materialists, secularists, and “experts” -- and has never been properly attributed to God. If He, and His purposes, exist outside of time and space, they must also exist outside of mere numbers as well, and the quantity of physical, or material, suffering is of little ultimate importance compared to that which will count in eternity. And in fact, this impatience and striving for justice “now” might fall under the heading of a besetting sin – in that it represents a failure of faith... or a process of putting a distorted form of hope before faith.

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