Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Once More Unto the Breach

I have recently been gently chastised by two of my loyal readers for having, apparently, taken a mysterious vow of silence. But I claim no such noble intent! Indeed, a true vow of silence would have to be undertaken in the same spirit as a vow of poverty... or the intention to become a hermit. That is, it would have to be based on both an objective and an intuitive realization that the state of “going without” was superior to the state of “going with”... and not only superior – i.e. closer to God, which is the only reason that makes ultimate sense. Prudence would dictate that it also be achievable (based on one's talents) and appropriate (based on one's state of life). But alas, I find that I am not serene enough for silence... not detached enough for poverty... and not wise enough for the hermit life. Thus, I must remain engaged and partially immersed in the world, and allow it to propel me to ever-greater heights of incredulity and indignation.

I believe I have, in fact, just described the “blogger's dilemma”, if I can coin a term. Life in these times has an addictive quality, in that the more offended and discouraged one gets, the more apt one is to jump back into the fray. We may despair, but we do not give up. But for what purpose? To try and achieve that staple of humanists and Miss America candidates, “world peace”? But that would be to ignore human nature – fallen human nature, that is. The prospect of a “peaceable kingdom” may brighten the eyes of Utopians, but it can only make the cynic... the skeptic... the misanthrope... all the crankier. It's a truism that some of the greatest catastrophes ever to befall mankind have been based directly on the “thought” of socialistic, Utopian dreamers of one stripe or the other – them and their facilitators, implementers, and willing executioners. Behind every humanistic, socialistic, or collectivist mask lies the face of someone who hates the human race – or at least a great portion of it. They see, in other words, people who are willing to cooperate with their program, and those who are not; and the latter are fit only for killing. The cynic and the naysayer may see the cup as chronically half empty, but at least they will be right half of the time. The optimists and Candides of this world, on the other hand, expend a great deal of their energy in denial – especially denial of the inevitable outcome of collectivist, Utopian schemes, their own in particular. And even Utopianism on a small scale can be fairly benign, as witness the many such communities that sprang up across the United States in (mostly) the 19th Century. But those were voluntary organizations; they had borders – one could leave without much trouble (and many did). But to impose one's scheme – one's notion of “the way things ought to be” -- on an entire nation or society? This inevitably has to be done by force – the threat of violence as well as actual violence – and we see the results quite plainly in the histories of Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Mao's China, and many other smaller, but equally if not more vicious, societies. We see it, but we don't make the connection. We assume that bad results can come from good ideas... that it's just a failure of proper implementation that gives rise to so many catastrophes. But in fact, bad results, more often than not, grow out of equally bad ideas; it's just that the ideas are disguised whereas the results can't be. As long as it's only a matter of casual conversation in college and university lounges, with much puffing of pipes and sipping of brandy, almost any idea can be made to seem humane and benign. Communism... fascism... Nazism... these were all dreamed up by men in suits and ties, with clean fingernails. They had families, pet dogs, and parakeets. But when it comes down to cases, we find that for every “idea person” there are – and have to be – a hundred, or a thousand, jack-booted goons. And said goons, as it turns out, have no interest in ideas at all! For them, it's about lust and power and loot, and nothing more. So you always have to ask yourself, when considering any system (real or theoretical)... any “morphing” of philosophy into politics... what it takes to create and maintain that system. What is its life's blood? Is it true reason (rather than that vicious thing called "reason" that characterized the French Revolution)? Is it charity, both individual and collective? And – perhaps most importantly – does it reflect a reasonable concept of the nature of man, or something ginned up by a mad social scientist? That is, is it designed for real, normal, created and evolved human beings, or some sort of Frankenstein monster (the “New Soviet Man”, e.g.)?

See, the basic political motive – the model for all political thought and activity – is quite simple. It's one's answer to the question, what is the nature of society as it is, and what is the nature of society as we would like it to be, and how do we get from one to the other? Thus, the essence of the political mind set, when not informed by morality or philosophy, is dissatisfaction – discontentment, restlessness, frustration – and eventually, in most cases, rage and hostility leading to violence. Think of “political man” as a sort of overgrown two-year-old. He sees what he wants, tries to get it, fails, and throws a tantrum. Now, this sort of thing can be managed (more or less) in the two-year-old's case, but try it if the subject is a president... or a dictator... or a “community leader”. Or a revolutionary. And, try it if he makes his appeal, out loud and repeatedly, to large numbers of other people, who were already harboring deep resentment at having to grow up and become adults, but they had never quite found the words for it until this demagogue came along. But now they have a leader! So take up your red flags, mes citoyens, and man the barricades! And by all means, come up with some fancy words to make it sound like you don't just want your diaper changed.

It's amazing, in fact, how much insight one can gain into a given political movement simply by examining the psychology of its leading personalities, and of its followers as well. I was privileged (if that is the word) to attend a small and quite liberal college, and one of the first things I observed about most of the liberal “activists” was that they were, psychologically, no more than infants and spoiled brats with a towering sense of entitlement. Their infantile mindset had morphed into a form of sociopathy disguised as humanism. And -- even though it's an old chestnut, it's still true -- they “loved mankind but hated people”. Like so many politicians today – and many of them are the same people, in fact! -- they mouthed words about “diversity” and "free speech" but spent every waking hour attempting to thwart and crush true differences of opinion... and they had a visceral hatred of anything resembling tradition, ethnicity, and most of all “organized religion”. But even this was not the innermost layer. What lay behind it all was an infantile, solipsistic insistence on having things their way all the time. Even metaphysically, they seemed convinced that it was their world... and, in extreme cases, that they were, in fact, the only inhabitants of that world, the rest of us being mere wallpaper or cup-bearers. But it would hardly do to express things this way, especially in an “intellectual” atmosphere that was “open to inquiry and debate” (and shot through with Freudians to boot). So it all got sublimated (but not very successfully) into social activism, and causes, and “ideas” -- but at the root of it all lay a profoundly anti-social, metaphysically autistic point of view.

And even this would not have constituted that much of a threat to the Republic if these people could have been confined to the campus for the rest of their days. But no! They were set free, and loosed upon an unsuspecting populace like some plague bacillus. They spread out across the land, and over the entire globe, spreading their poison – which should have remained confined to their own fevered brains and neglected bodies. But even this is not the worse part. Not only did people believe them – they acquired many followers, and formed many cells, organizations, and parties – but they were even handed the reins of government, either via elections or as the result of brute force or simple negligence. Because, you see, they are the believers – and there is an unfortunate human tendency to “believe the believers” -- to be dazzled and mesmerized -- based simply on their manifest zeal and energy, and on their demonic social dominance, without giving serious consideration to the content of their alleged beliefs. So the questions that ought to be asked -- “Does it make sense?” -- “Does it correspond at all to my own practical experience?” -- “Does it have moral or ethical merit?” -- “Does it represent a reasoned view of the nature of man and of his potential (as well as his weaknesses)?” -- and especially “Would the implementation of these ideas likely lead to an improvement in people's lives, or to misery and destruction?”... these questions are never asked. In fact, they aren't even asked once the disasters occur. Then, it's, once again, “failure of implementation” and still another reason for giving it another try, this time with even more stringent “safeguards”.

Sound familiar? I would say that the political atmosphere in this country at this time is certainly not the worst that can be imagined, but it is so blatantly inferior to that at the time of the founding as to cause amazement that we are still, even nominally, living under the same system and the same founding documents. And the sad fact is that there is really no limit to how far we can drift from original principles, while still considering them a heritage. We could turn into a supersized version of North Korea, and we'd still be claiming direct descent from the Declaration of Independence, and that we had a government based on the Constitution. The problem is that when you have a nation – a system, a society – founded on ideas and only on ideas, the meaning of those ideas can suffer any amount of “creep”, no matter how drastic, and the ideas can always be reinterpreted to fit the current situation. And this is because people lose track of the objective, natural basis for ideas, and those ideas acquire a life of their own, which readily becomes mutated. I suppose that every word and phrase in the Constitution could have been expanded, or footnoted, to include specific examples -- “This is what this means” and “This is what this doesn't mean”, etc. -- but such a tedious exercise would have been considered totally unnecessary at the time, because we had something that we no longer have – a common frame of reference (culturally and historically), strong and stable habits of economy and prudence, and a sense of morality (not just of “ethics” or of what I call “raw reason”). In other words, for everything the Constitution (and other founding documents) says, there are a hundred things it doesn't say, but that are assumed. The entire enterprise was permeated, for example, with the notion of Natural Law, which Congress, during the Robert Bork hearings, declared null and void. We enjoyed a temporary truce between Enlightenment humanism and monotheistic morality – probably because the two had been exerting force upon each other for some time (in what might be termed proto-ecumenism). And while common sense may not have been the highest philosophical value, it would have been hard to make political headway by preaching directly against it – whereas in these times that is just about the only way to make political gains.

So in this sense it can be said that we are running, basically, on fumes – that most of the good that remains in the American system is based on sheer inertia and habit, and little else. We are, in effect, a hollow society – morally and philosophically – and most recently economically. Or to put it another way – if we all woke up tomorrow morning with absolutely no memory of the founding documents, and no records or archives, would we able to reconstruct the system in original form – or even in the form in which we find it today? And would we even be inclined to? I think the answer almost has to be a firm and absolute “no” -- and this, paradoxically, could be cited in support of American exceptionalism – the notion that we, as a nation and a society, really are (or were) something new, different, exceptional, and perhaps unique in history. And I'm not too interested in all these historians' quibbles about “why” this occurred – how this window of opportunity came about. What's more important is that it seems to have closed – and, furthermore, that it was closed intentionally. We have seen a revolution as much from above (the power elite) as from below ("the people"). Or, one might say, a newer set of ideas overtook the older set -- by force, intimidation, persuasion... through any number of means, and always taking advantage of crises – wars, social strife, economic depressions, etc. There are more ways of doing a thing wrong than of doing it right, and this applies as well to societies. And once again, when the neurotics – the people with a life-hating agenda – start spouting their poison, otherwise-good people are fascinated... intrigued... and, in some cases, converted. And this is just human concupiscence at work – fallen human nature. And yet it's a powerful force (or anti-force). And the time was when people who knew they were foolish were willing to elect men to public office who were wiser then they – or at least appeared to be. But now it seems that the leading criterion for a politician and leader is that he be “just like us” -- “a man of the people” -- and so on. Which means: fallible, self-centered, myopic, impulsive, dull, philistine, and prone to tyranny and violence. “Oh yes, please! Let's not allow anyone to occupy public office who might actually be better, or superior in any way, to the average citizen – or even to the below-average citizen. Because this is a democracy, after all, and everyone deserves a chance. 'Meritocracy' is no more fair than monarchy. Plus, it makes me feel a whole lot better knowing that no one in 'high office' is actually any better than me in any respect. I don't care how many trillion dollars they control, or how many ICBMs – they have to be just as much of a schmuck and mediocrity as I am.” This is the mindset of our society today – and we wonder why we get the results that we do.

It's another truism that “people get the government they deserve”. Well, yes – in the collective. But some people get the government that _other_ people deserve. Or some even get better than they deserve; they at least get a modicum of “justice” when all they deserve is the knout. It is, in fact, the people who feel left out of the mainstream who make the most noise – them, or those who are afraid they might be left out of the mainstream. Misery loves company, and it's consoling to be part of a party, or a movement, or even a majority – as long as one can keep on feeling persecuted. So now we have this bizarre situation where most American citizens feel helpless, and like they're a member of some persecuted (or about to be) minority. The paradox is that the people who feel that way are in the majority! So what's going on? Well, part of it is an inchoate reaction to a very real fact – namely that we are no longer a democracy in any real sense, but are ruled over by a nameless, faceless elite... and that our visible, high-profile “national leaders” are no more than their servants, albeit highly-placed and well-paid. But really, most people down through history have lived in what amounted to tyrannies or dictatorships, and they didn't complain nearly as much as we do – so what's the problem? Again we have to go back to our ideational roots. It's not enough to simply live out one's existence – to sit beneath one's own vine and fig tree. The world has to be changed to suit our tastes, and we are deeply offended when it isn't. Thus, people who in almost any other society in history would have been fairly contented with their lot are taking to the streets, and writing angry letters, and watching and listening to people who are even angrier than they – and for what? That the world might change “for the better”, as defined by ME.

Even when it comes to taxation, I've adopted the attitude that my income is what actually shows up in my bank account; the rest is just so much fluff. But the government persists in calling the income tax a “voluntary” system – and that creates a mindset that wants the money spent in the proper way. People want a return on their “investment” in the government. But this attitude would have been thought absurd and laughable by people in almost any society up until the 20th Century. The powerful take (by force or the threat thereof), and the powerless make do with what they have left; that's the human lot when it comes to society. The notion of getting indignant about this on principle is a fairly new thing. Now, certainly, if over-taxation meant you had to starve, or go around naked or homeless, then you might have taken notice in any era; the Bible is certainly full of references to unjust taxation and corrupt tax collectors. But the principle? The notion that the government ought to take “our” taxes and “do something” with them – something useful and of general benefit – this is something new. The powerful in ancient times built palaces – and some of them still stand, and are greatly admired by all. Will our ruling elite be able to make the same claim in 1000 or 2000 years? One tends to doubt it. They don't know how to be rich... and we no longer know how to be poor (especially poor in spirit). So more's the irony that our sense of values has more and more boiled down to money... and even more's the irony that our “money”, so-called, is basically worthless. We are a society that worships small slips of paper with fancy designs on them; what could possibly be emptier, or less edifying? The simplest peoples of ancient times would laugh us to scorn if they knew. We have sold all of our birthright, and a good deal of our humanity, for a trash heap of signs and symbols – and yet we fancy that we are, and remain, the most dominant, exemplary, and powerful society on earth! (And worse yet, we may be right!) The moral health of the rest of the world can be assessed, roughly speaking, as the extent to which they emulate us and support our empire-building. (Well, that's what the Neocons say – but I mean it in just the opposite way.) We love to accuse the Marxists of “materialism” -- but who has now wound up on top of the materialistic heap? We, and the former Marxists who have converted to our own faith. If you would find the righteous, you have to get off the pavement – off the superhighways, off the Internet, away from the Money Power and all of its pomps and works. You have to find – if any are left alive – natural men... not “natural” in some brute, unthinking, primitive sense but in the sense of being in touch with their true nature and valuing that which supports and glorifies that nature, and avoiding that which destroys and degrades. Do you feel better about yourself after an encounter with any of the million arms of the federal government? Or with any of its leaders? Or its bureaucrats, minor functionaries, hangers-on, and plain parasites? I know I don't. These are things that suck the life blood, and spirit, out of a man. Do we even know, any longer, where to find refreshment? We are panting, like the hart in the Psalm, for truth and righteousness – but if we look to the whited sepulchres of Washington and the state capitols we will find neither one. This is the bottom line of our long experiment with collectivism and with adopting the political mindset as our highest value – the fact that it reduces us as men, and then turns us into something less than men. Not animals; they have their own perfection and nobility. I mean that it turns us into a mutation, and something to be despised – but who is, then, left to despise us, but ourselves? But at least we are capable of that much. The “second death” -- in this life – would be to simply no longer care at all.

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