A reader with the ever-present name of The Ubiquitous utters this cri de coeur:
During election night, I cheered in irony because if I did not laugh I would not know what to do. The greatness in this sarcastic folly struck me only the following day in conversation with a friend, a God-fearing man who means well — and voted for Mr. Obama.
“But what about abortion? How is that not terrible?”
“It’s just one issue … ”
True to form, I cut him off bitterly, and the weight on my shoulders increased with every word: “It is not an issue. It’s everything. How can it be an issue when the scale boggles the mind? What is it, 45 million in the United States alone, since the ’70s?”
Any man who openly advocates for abortion may seem a nice man, a decent man, who loves his daughters and means well. But these otherwise noble qualities do not redeem a man, but condemn him. It is kinder, in a sense, to Mr. Obama if we demonize him. For the other option is that he is a dupe, willing or unwilling.
The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.
Clean, nice, kind Mr. Obama, with a long solemn face wracked with what might be genuine torment advocates for the clearest, crispest moral evil our country has ever endured and cannot endure for much longer.
It would almost be best if he really were an America-hating devil, a Socialist fifth columnist, a Balrog clothed in nightmare. But instead he is a man who appears, by every indication, to believe he is doing good by doing the very wrongest thing there is in this world.
Evil prevails when good men do nothing, or so goes the adage. This is centrally the tragedy of Mr. Obama: He is not just a good man doing nothing, but a good man doing everything upside down without seeming to notice it, aiding and abetting one of the greatest natural evils the world could possibly know. It is as if a man with a wide, friendly smile began to clean the kitchen by dipping his mop in pus and bile and the droppings of a diabetic.
I believe the theory of the Russian Orthodox writer Father Seraphim Rose that there are four stages of corruption in a society once it severs its ties to an explicitly Christian establishment: the first is classical liberalism of the so-called enlightenment, where matters of religion are regarded by worldly men with a benign neglect. Christ is dethroned from the hearts and excluded from the politics of men in order to win a little worldly peace.
While this first stage can endure in perfect health for as long as a Deist-flavored Judeochristian philosophy, ethics, traditions, and worldview can be maintained outside the limited orbit of a very limited government, the temptation to dismiss religion in favor of bourgeois luxuries and materialistic concerns is great, and, in our history, proved to be overwhelming.
The second stage is socialism, which rejects the worldliness and complacency of liberalism, and upholds the zeal of a religious crusade, but a crusade for the sake of the materialistic goal of prosperity and redistribution of wealth and the creation of paradise on earth.
The third is what Father Rose called ‘Vitalism’ which I think is a misleading name for it. He meant the adoration of what Shaw called the ‘Life Force’ but I think in this class we should include both the gentle mysticism of the New Age and the bloodthirsty mysticism of the Nazis. It is a spiritualism that rejects both socialist materialism and monotheism, leaving one with a bland and tasteless soup of pantheism, or some form of divine “Force” or supernal “Energy” which makes no demands and passes no judgments, but which otherwise satisfies some of the psychological needs for God. I would call this stage ‘Mysticism’ or ‘Unitarianism.’
The final stage rejects all theories and faiths whatsoever, deeming them to be ‘narratives’ or rationalizations of the powerful used to oppress the powerless, or to give an illusion of meaning to a meaningless world. This is the default stance and assumption of our modern age. It is the belief that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that the only truth is that there is no truth, that good and evil are situational and arbitrary, that life is a void or vacuum upon which the Promethean human spirit imposes by fiat any truth upon the void it wills to impose.
The election this week was, among other things, a referendum in favor of the nihilist world view and a vote of no confidence for the classical liberal and Christian world view.
It was a rejection of the idea that reality is real, that debts must be paid, that rules have meaning, the adolescents must one day grow up.
It was a rejection, in other words, of goodness and sanity.
How can a man reject the good and still appear good? How can he maintain kill lists and betray his allies and inflict death and torture on the innocent, and loot and rob the productive and work tirelessly for the ruin his civilization, while at the same time being a charming speaker, a family man, as inoffensive and vacantly smiling as an Eloi from AD 802701?
It is because the primary purpose of nihilism is to disconnect thought from action. It is the attempt to live life without any philosophy of life, without ideals, without metaphysics, without a world view, so that all one’s words and actions spring directly from the will, without any reference to context or meaning or cause or effect.
I will give a single example of such non-contextual, false-to-facts, divorced-from-reality thinking from my recent life and adventures:
My habit when discussing things with the faithful believers in the modern world, is to define my terms, ask them to define theirs; and then use their term in an example sentence, and, when the pure absurdity of what they are saying is so clear no honest man can deny it, when they deny it, ignore them and say a rosary to St Dymphna, patron saint of lunatics.
My most recent example of this practice was when I had a conversation with a coworker, which I did not offer a single opinion or make any statements of my own, merely asked him to define his terms and to use that definition to reference to real world examples. His statement was that the mainstream press, indeed, all the press and all media, were innately conservative and rightwing. I asked him if the Right generally favored private gun ownership and use of guns in self defense, and if the Left generally favored gun control. He replied in the affirmative. I then asking him to name one story in the national media where private ownership and use of a gun in self defense was reported favorably. He said the coverage by the mainstream press of the Trayvon Martin shooting was such a case.
Unable to believe my ears, I asked him if this coverage was an example of the press applauding, affirming and glorifying the use of a firearm, rather than condemning such use as violence motivated by racial hatred. He said that the coverage and the slant of the stories was rightwing, because the press wanted to help the NRA (National Rifle Association) sell guns.
I asked him if Chris Matthews were a right-winger, and slanted his story coverage to help the Right, or Candy Crowley or Sam Donaldson. I asked him if George Stephanopoulos was a Right-winger, the moderator of THIS WEEK WITHOUT DAVID BRINKLEY; he replied that Mr Stephanopolis’ name reminded him of the name of the muppet on Seseame Street, Mr. Snuffleupagus.
Eventually he said that all figures in the media are right-wingers, because the press and the television networks are owned by the rich, who are, by definition, rightwing. This included all magazines.
I asked him if Hugh Hefner, who owns a publishing empire including gambling casinos, and is therefore rich favored typically leftwing ideas such as legalizing and normalizing pornography and fornication, or favored typically rightwing ideas, such as traditional family values, chastity, and modesty. He said that Hugh Hefner was a man of the right, and supporting rightwing ideas, because he is rich. I said “We’re done here.” And he became irate and accused me of being closed-minded.
Naturally, I vowed never to discuss politics with this lunatic again, if I can help it, but I will say a prayer for him.
Now, you might think that persons with scientific or literary backgrounds, literate people able to reason clearly and honestly, would be mostly immune from false-to-facts thinking. Not so. Indeed, nearly the opposite is usually the case.
In order to perform the agile mental backflips needed to look straight at a fact and deny its existence, one needs an emotion investment in a theory, a theory so wide and so elegant and flexible, that it can be used to explain everything and explain away anything that challenges it. One needs a certain intellectual juggling skill to be able to change the subject and blank out inconvenient facts.
Now, speaking as an intellectual, I can assure you that only intellectuals are open to the temptation to disregard facts for love of theory.
This is what happened with my coworker above: According to the theory, all rich magazine owners are Rightwingers who favor the status quo. Hugh Hefner, being a magazine owner, by theory must be right wing. The fact that his prints pornography and was the main standard bearer for the sexual revolution, and the sole source of the normalization of pornography in the modern day, is a fact not to be contemplated.
What happens when an intellectual in love with a theory meets fact which casts doubt on the theory, he immediately parries reality with a few and tried-and-true psychological sleights of hand, usually an ad hominem attack on whatever person brought the inconvenient fact to this attention.
(As when my coworker declared me ‘closeminded’ for thinking it not worthy anyone’s time to discuss a theory that proves Hugh Hefner to be a rightwinger.)
An easier way to avoid the mental convulsions that occur when reality does not yield to theory is to deny the existence of reality. In this way, any fact can be dismissed as the theory of whichever person brings the inconvenient fact to one’s attention. The fact is now a mere opinion of the messenger, and of no more authority than any other man’s.
Only the messenger’s intentions matter, and then it is a simple thing to ascribe to the messenger a malign intention, or some moral or mental failing, such as racism, or lack of compassion, or lack of openmindedness, or lack of loyalty to the glorious vision of the future, or of clinging bitterly to guns and Bibles.
You see, this is why the abolition of metaphysics is central to the nihilist case and nihilist psychology. Once the link between the will and reality is severed, only intentions matter, for intentions fall within the region of the will, and the results of one’s words and actions either are unrelated or are counterproductive of those intentions.
In this way a man with good intentions can do precisely what will produce the opposite of good, congratulate himself on his goodness, and be unable to discuss or perceive or reason about or even to imagine that he should take responsibility for the evil he does.
Because irresponsibility is at the core of nihilism, its defining characteristic, the nihilist in economics can both claim to be attempting to take wealth from the greedy hence ill-intentioned rich and give it to the victimized hence well-intentioned poor in the name of social justice AND can achieve the direct opposite of its result.
One example of an opposite result is a socialist country which, in the name of abolishing class and hierarchy, eliminates the middle class, creating a vast division between the Nomenklatura , who live in special housing and shop are special markets and generally live well, and their masses of wretched and terrorized slaves, inevitably racial minorities.
Another example of an opposite result is a semisocialist economy where companies “too big to fail” (who make large donations to politicians) urge politicians to enact regulations allegedly for the public good which actually suppress competition. The long run effect is to increase rather than decrease the gap between rich and poor, because under semisocialist regimes, the politicians are dragooned into protecting the wealth of the rich from competition, which relieves them of the need diligently to serve their customers. Ah, but the reality of what happens in the long run need not be consulted, because, in the words of that grandfather of all nihilist economic policies, and gross irresponsibility disguising itself as intellectualism, John Maynard Keynes, ‘In the long run, we are all dead.’
I should close by pointing out that I am not dead at the time of this writing, but John Maynard Keynes is, but that my whole life I have lived with the cycles stagnation, inflation, and the permanent unemployment rate and slow growth his economic policies put into place. He is dead, and I am living in his long run.
And yet he also was no doubt a well spoken and genial man, no doubt faithful to his wife, one who never cheated at cards. I am sure the same is true of Rommel, or any number of Nazi generals or Soviet apologists. I have never heard that Walter Duranty ever kicked puppies or ate babies, and yet he used his prestige and talents loyally to act as an apologist for the unthinkable evil of the Stalinist famines, purges, show trials, gulags, and so on.
Once the link between intention and consequences is broken, the conscience is presented with the relatively easy task of merely maintaining one’s self esteem, not of standing in judgment on one’s actions, because actions have no meaning. All moral reasoning merely becomes introspection, and then degrades itself into narcissism, a repeated attempt to self-medicate the woes of life into drugged stupor, and to feels good about oneself.
Metaphysics is the study of axiomatic truths, those truths that must be true under all times, places and conditions. If the despotism of moral relativism successfully abolishes all study of metaphysics from the minds of men, no axiomatic truths will be contemplated nor imagined by the minds of men, and link between the objective fact of right and wrong intentions and the objective fact of intentional or negligent consequences will be severed.
That men will thereafter accomplish ever more destructive and ever more inhuman evils on ever more vast magnitudes in the name of ever more noble-sounding intentions, and be ever more foolish and incompetent as they do so, is the natural, perhaps inevitable, consequence.