The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
10.2 (Spring 2010)
FAITH AND CULTURAL MELTDOWN
courtesy of artrenewal.org
The Godless Intellectual’s Fantasy Football: “Anywhere Out of This Society”
As our nation collapses (and the collapse will greatly accelerate once the international community finally refuses to buy our debt), more and more of us will ask ineffectually how things could ever have come to such a pass. How could the educated, professional adults whom we elected to Congress really believe that resources might be created out of thin air? Why did they pledge us to a path whose vector would clearly lead straight over the cliff? Could they all have been conspirators in league with our enemies? How could any of them NOT have been a deliberate traitor, when the highly improbable alternative would be to suppose that person a complete idiot?
Such an analysis overlooks one very significant motive in modern and post-modern man: boredom. The French poet Baudelaire knew it as ennui, and he esteemed it perhaps the very heart of that darkness which quickly gathered when God died during the nineteenth century’s florition of science and technology. Brooding over the city from his garret window in “Crépuscule du Soir”, the poet calls upon a redemptive fantasy “while, under the whip of Pleasure–that torturer without mercy–the vile multitude of mortals rushes forth to amass regrets in a servile celebration.” “Anywhere out of this world,” the same sad genius proclaims in another work upon asking himself where he would prefer to live.
The terrestrial world has always been composed of routine. Those of our ancestors who lived off the land (and all of us had such ancestors, if we wander far enough into the past) necessarily lived according to the cycles imposed by the seasons: weather patterns, planting times, animal migrations, and the rest. One looks in vain for boredom in their midst because, no doubt, they hadn’t the leisure to grow bored–but also because natural cycle inspires a mystical and exhilarating kind of surrender in those who behold it intimately.
The Industrial Revolution changed all that, and scarcely for the better. Whatever other benefits it ushered in–and there were indubitably many–it managed to liberate man from the “tyranny” of natural cycle only to place upon his bent neck the yoke of several more oppressive, less sublime cycles. People now lived by the clock. As technology advanced, they regimented their time (or suffered its regimentation by their artificial environment) to the point that no single hour of the day remained unaccounted-for. Entire lifespans were mapped out in advance. Many of us begin saving for a child’s college expenses before his birth, on the certain assumption that the child MUST attend a college in order to command the lofty wage promised by some white-collar grind. Yet we did not lose our altruism in the process of transforming ourselves into robots. We created Social Security and Medicare for those among us who lacked either the resources or the wits to begin providing for their “golden years” while in their twenties. We ensured (or thought we had ensured) that ant and grasshopper alike would have plenty when the first snow should fall.
In such psychically straitjacketing circumstances, Russian roulette became all the rage. Our most secure and well-programmed society in the human race’s history developed such suicidal passions as skydiving and bunji-jumping. We indulged in alcohol and recreational drugs until they became epidemic. We continue to push the sexual envelope in directions which have long since crossed the boundaries of past perversion and call to mind an ancient Persian king’s offering a prize to anyone who could invent a new pleasure. Our children record locker-room slugfests on their cell phones and post them on the Internet. Our masses pay money that might have reduced their credit-card debt to see 300-pound men scream insults at each other and then attempt murder by means both fair and foul. Even our straight-laced bureaucrats waste untold hours on the job tracking their “fantasy” football team in hopes of digitally annihilating the competition.
This moralist’s spectacle of advanced decadence is already cliché. In its margins, however, rests a particularly dark self-indulgence of which most of us have–until now–lived wholly unaware: the progressive ideologue’s insane tinkering with basic social institutions. Lawyers and politicians get bored, too–none of them more so than the faithless. Without faith in a reality beyond, around, and within the present one, a man figures himself to have only four-score years of sentient existence, at best. What to do with them? That he should pass his prime of life punching clocks, completing forms in triplicate, and yielding–all smiles–to idiot superiors while precious sand drains from his hour-glass is an insufferable prospect. This is an educated person, mind you–a man or woman of ideas. At the very least, our white-collar hack demands that his kowtowing and treadmill-running be liberated from the horror of sameness. It must serve the infinitesimal ticking of some epochal time-bomb. The lawyer must be arguing cases which are slowly but surely overloading present society’s noisome mill of routine; the politician must be passing legislation which will eventually shred the fabric of present society’s straitjacket. Both must have a fifty-year supply–if only in the form of an occasional whiff–of that heady elixir of life, CHANGE!
“Progress” is the same god by another name–by a euphemism, in fact, for those who cannot quite bring themselves to face the pall of nullity yawning over the god’s pompous train. The truth is that any change at all is “progress” to such a mind. To have executed millions in pursuit of a utopian state which fails to materialize is progress, since it… leaves things different, creates a lesson to be learned. (No, not the lesson you would imagine: something on the order of “if only we had killed two million more,” or, “now the survivors will not be so obsessed with mere life,” or, “next time we must kill bloodlessly and preserve no records.”) Any kind of change at all is, by definition, an orgasmic rupture of sameness. When I write that nullity haunts this vision, I mean that change for its own sake–constant destabilization–can only be self-annihilating (if we can even identify a self, individual or collective, amid such incoherence). The City of Man–the New Age’s City of God–can of course never exist as conceived–i.e., with perfect charity to all neighbors and perfect dedication to necessary labor and perfect responsibility in the practice of leisure; but if it might exist, it would be such a stifling, stultifying mausoleum of sameness and routine that bourgeois capitalist society would seem a garden of houris, in comparison.
Our current leadership does not care that the path it has mapped out for us runs straight to oblivion. Everything runs straight to oblivion–and this run, at least will be exciting! To be sure, the venture’s lieutenants and corporals (not to mention its footsoldiers) were in few cases fully aware that they had been conscripted into a suicide expedition; and now they find themselves, having all been made to murder some friendly natives, under the necessity of marching to World Conquest or Bust. Military men, indeed, sometimes recognize this situation all too well. You at last figure out that your platoon-leader is a maniac who dreams of walking right up to the enemy on a spray of bullets… but by then your outfit is isolated in hostile territory, and all you have left is the solidarity imposed by a lunatic dream. Even self-styled men of God may be found among the high command, the poor wretches who dutifully followed them having supposed that surely no one in a collar or a cassock could also wear secularist fatigues. Yet so it may happen, alas. Such deranged minds are in practice among the most dangerous; for they regard their vision of a perfect terrestrial society, not as an adversarial plan to God’s of eternal salvation (which it is, after all), but as God’s plan, precisely–thrust into a newfangled eternity insanely woven of infinite human generations, all of them living painlessly, dying painlessly, living longer through new technology, dying in smaller numbers since fewer are allowed to be born, well fed, tirelessly amused, guiltlessly dedicated to selfish pleasures now and forever more deemed “innocent”…. The President has just such a prophet at his side today, the author years ago of a book narcissistically titled (in its presumption to have the answer) Who Speaks for God?
When people cease to believe that their thirst for truth and justice will be fully satisfied only in a higher reality, they make themselves the gods of this reality. They no longer feel compunction for the irreparable damage (in the earthly terms of their own understanding) which they do individuals by presuming to prescribe solutions for all humanity; for they “mean well”, after all, and there is nothing beyond them, after all, that could possible “mean” any better. They lose their conscience, their ability to distinguish right from wrong. They become insane. The inexorable destiny of powerful human beings who believe in nothing beyond themselves is to grow ever more self-serving in their selflessness, ever more incoherent in every moral endeavor, and–in two words–ever more proximate to the fearful image of the lunatic tyrant. An unbelieving, secularist republic of free, energetic individuals constantly mindful of their neighbor’s welfare is an absurd construct of fluffy, wind-driven clouds whose shadow over the face of the earth is blood-red.
A frequent contributor to this journal for years, Peter T. Singleton teaches writing in the North Texas area at several institutions while enjoying semi-retirement.