Restless Heart of Darkness — Part Three
I am engaged in the difficult task of explaining an insight it required my dull brain several decades of experience and one moment of epiphany to see.
Again, in all fairness, this is something which I assume nearly everyone but me has seen for years: but to me it was an intellectual adventure, as shocking as opening a hidden door and coming across the Minotaur in the center of his bone-littered maze. Many others no doubt have trod here before, but still I feel the excitement of discovery, for I have found the heart of the labyrinth.
I have been puzzled for years how it is that so many otherwise wise and educated people can be Leftists; why so many otherwise compassionate people simply overlook the bloodthirsty enormities routinely perpetrated, applauded, excused, and rationalized by the Left, from prenatal infanticide to lauding Che and Castro and other butchers of men; why otherwise honest men approve of the Orwellian lies of Political Correctness, which corrupts both speech and thought; why so many otherwise good and faithful Christians routinely ignore Christian teaching and cling to the shibboleths of Political Correctness on any point where the two worldviews differ; why so many good people so routinely support, applaud, and encourage so blatantly vile an evil.
It is too obvious for the blindness to be anything but willful, and yet it does not seem to be willful, for who can will the destruction of themselves and all they hold dear? How is it possible for so many children of the most blessed, most powerful, most successful, most wealthy, most free, and most benevolent nation history has ever known to hate it? Why are the heirs of Western Civilization the enemies of Western Civilization?
The epiphany visited me in the space of a single hour, along the course of three conversations with honest men I happen to respect, despite our deep differences of opinion.
It was as if I suddenly could see clinging to the countenances of these otherwise honest and able men, the Facehugger from ALIEN which had been invisible up until that point, whose long proboscis entered their skulls though mouth and palate and shot poison into their brains. I wondered why they did not tear the Facehugger away, and breathe free.
Not to spoil the surprise ending, but the reason the exploded into my awareness like a bolt was this: they have nothing else. They leave the alien thing lodged in their brain, eating away their happiness, ruining their lives, spoiling friendships and darkening the light of heaven for the simple, tragic reason that without the alien thing, they would be lonely.
I mentioned the first discussion and one of many, many nondiscussions which clicked the first two tumblers into place in the process of unlocking this moment of insight. Here is the next.
SECOND DISCUSSION: I Forged My Own Life.
The next clue came during a particularly elliptical conversation about the alleged demerits of Disney: there were some in the conversation who despised Disney because his films retell fairy tales without the gore and horror found in some of the Brothers Grim versions, as when the evil stepsisters in CINDERELLA do not have their eyes pecked out by songbirds, blood and vitreous humor dripping down their screaming cheeks, and because Disney tacks happy endings on tragedies, as in the Disney version of CATHEDRAL OF NOTRE DAME.
The basic point being made was this: children should be exposed to all the horrors of real life as young as possible, and kept away from any stories which give them hope. There are no miracles. There is no magic. No marriages are happy endings. You cannot fly. Curse God and die. Give up. Shut up.
As with all Abolisher ideas, it starts as a perfectly reasonable-sounding notion. In this case the notion is that telling children that to “wish upon a star” is enough to win the battles of life without hard work, self discipline, and suffering is deceptively optimistic. The idea is that the child will grow into a more realistic view of life if the fairy tales he sees depict hard work and self esteem as the source of victory, rather than fairy magic.
This sounds reasonable at first. Who wants to raise a child to have faith in something, like an omnipotent and benevolent God, which will disappoint him, rather than have faith in something much more true and practical, like our omnipotent and benevolent and utterly ruthless Political Leadership, which never disappoints anyone?
But the idea that Disney sugar coats his bitter medicine is patently false. There is more evil and it is more horrible to a child in any Disney animated film than you will find in a ‘Progressive’ and optimistic show like STAR TREK. Any show where you have to die and get resurrected to overcome the evil is not a show that promises easy victories.
I will point at the evil Witch in SNOW WHITE, along with the death and resurrection of the heroine; the slaver who turns children into mules in PINOCCHIO, not to mention Monstro the whale, who engulfs the father in a symbolic death and resurrection before the boy suffers a true death and resurrection; the imprisonment of DUMBO’s mother, and his humiliation as a clown, and the symbolic feather of hope which alone allows him to prevail; the death of BAMBI’s mother; the humiliation of CINDERELLA, and her ‘Magnificat’ moment, when, as in the Canticle of the Virgin, the proud are cast down and the humble are raised; The loss and death and resurrection in Peter Pan, not to mention Captain Hook; the false accusation in LADY AND THE TRAMP, and the mess created by the Siamese Cats; the curses and thorns and thunder and flames unleashed by the she-dragon in SLEEPING BEAUTY, with yet another symbolic death and resurrection; and frightening spectacle of the devilish mountain come to life in the Night on a Bald Mountain sequence in FANTASIA … What is a Klingon compared to that?
Need I go on? Need I also mention the sea-witch in LITTLE MERMAID, the huntsman in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (with yet another symbolic death and resurrection), the evil sorcerer in ALADDIN, the scheming brother in LION KING and the father slain before his son’s eye, the sinister magistrate in HUNCHBACK whose song of lust conjures up images of hellfire…
The idea that Disney does not scare the peanut oil out of little kids’ brains, and confront the wee ones with death, curses, dragons, monsters, more death, injustices, pirates, even more death, loss, loneliness, and on and on … it is simply a lie unworthy of refuting.
No. Any child watching a Disney movie has the idea driven into the depths of his tender soul, and fixed there as if with nails, that evils and horrors exist, and pain, and loss, and death.
What Disney gives, as all sound fairy tales must give, is a eucatastrophe, a good and miraculous ending beyond hope, with joy as huge as woe, and the terrible, secret promise that if you wish upon a star, heave will send salvation in some secret disguise, to resurrect you.
Allow me to quote the Apostle of Common Sense, Mr GK Chesterton:
“Fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination.
“What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”
Hence what the Abolisher wishes to abolish is not the fear caused by a fairy tale, but the hope, for he finds it to be a false hope.
To the Abolisher, all hope is false hope.
All hope? No, not quite. Some Abolishers, at least, retain the Enlightenment faith in mortal man, that most warped of building beams.
The conservation dwelt for a moment upon the scene in SLEEPING BEAUTY where the three fairies rescue the Prince out of the dungeon of the beautiful but evil witch (so sue me, I always thought she was beautiful). He is told that only truth and righteousness can overcome the evil power of Maleficent, and he is given a magic sword and shield. The fairies protect him from the gargoyles and hobgoblins of the castle, and brush away all their stones and arrows into bubbles and flowers, for his fate in not to be stopped by them.
Then, in a scene that hardly seems in keeping with the gentleness of Disney, the evil fairy in a whirlwind of fury appears before the prince, and sheds her beauty forever for hate’s sake, and becomes a monster, announcing, Now shall you deal with me, O Prince, and all the powers of Hell!
I voiced the opinion that this climactic scene was perfectly true to life, truer than any documentary, since indeed this is exactly the way life works. No man by his own effort can free himself from the dungeon of sin, despair, and death, but by supernatural intervention by a higher power. And yet that power, not because of any ineffectiveness or indifference, cannot fight man’s final battle for him, but only provide the weapons of truth and virtue, which are magic indeed, enough to slay monsters, and defy not merely some, but all the powers of Hell.
The sacraments and gifts from heaven will do their part; man must see to it that he does his, if true love is indeed to conquer all, as all prophets have promised it shall do.
Ah, but the rebuttal to this was swiftly said: my interlocutor thought the scene was a cheat, if not a lie, because the fairies aided the prince. No man needs any help to win life’s battles, or to achieve his dreams. And no help is coming.
This was said, not by a bricklayer, but by a writer, and I fear I swooned in astonishment. Many questions whirled in my pounding head, to which I, strangled with surprise as I was, could give no tongue.
I wondered where he thought his ideas came from? From himself, or from the muses, or whatever name one gives to the mystery of inspiration? Where did the traditions and tropes and tools he used in his writing come from? From himself? Or from his masters and teachers and ancestors? Where is his fame come from? From himself? Or from the kindness of his audience, the grace of good fortune, the smile of heaven?
I must have gasped out some question along these lines of some sort, because he polled all who were listening to the discussion, which was not a small number of people, and asked them who was responsible for their success, in art or in life? Themselves? And all but two raised their hand.
Everyone in the room was content to take credit for the blessings in their lives, as if it were no more than their just wage, the merited reward of their own works.
It is an inescapable truth that no man can take all credit to himself and at the same time feel any gratitude to any for his blessings. If you earned it, it is not a gift. If you earned it by yourself with no one’s aid, you owe no thanks to anyone.
And this indeed was the attitude, which I take to be the modern attitude. The Abolisher triumphantly announced that he needed no good fairies, no magic, no grace, no gift from heaven to achieve all his dreams. He disdained to take a magic sword of the elfland; he would forge it by himself, for himself, or do without.
I had a prophetic vision then, and saw how Sigfried, who did indeed forge his magic sword for himself, and relied on none but his own strength, came to an end. For he is foredoomed to fall speared in the back, a coward’s blow, by Hagen, a man with the heart and heritage of a dwarf. The man who lives by himself cannot escape his fate, which is to die by himself.
I hope I will not be understood. I do not mock. I bow my head almost in respect akin to fear. I salute the melancholy, doomed, and gloomy pride of this sad and great pagan with whom I spoke. I do not doubt his word, no, not by an iota, the tiniest of letters. I think he is entirely responsible for his life, and he accepts no aid.
And he will die, and his loved ones will die. Some of his loved ones will die in slow pain, and others in merciful swiftness. Some will die before him, so that he will weep by their graves, and there will be no consolation; and some will die after him, so that they will weep by his, and likewise find no consolation.
I bow my head, because at once, as if with a stoke of lightning, I saw that he and all his kind live in a universe which is a sepulcher.
To be sure, it is a coffin of appalling vastness, fifteen billion lightyears in radius, too large for the imagination of man to comprehend even its smallest moiety, godlike in its sheer magnitude of size: but it is a coffin nonetheless, an airtight coffin, hermetically sealed with all the stars trapped inside, and all within are the prey and sport of death and entropy. Everything dream and everything done inside the sepulcher will come to nothing in the end. Escape is not merely impossible, it is unimaginable.
They cannot wish upon a star because to them the sky is black. There are no stars, nor Star-Maker, nor light.
For the pagan, there is by definition no outside, no other realm, no home to which to return, no happy ending, no elfland, no magic, no hope, and if you wish upon a star, you are a childish fool.
And if you pray to that sovereign Providence who fashioned the stars, when all the Sons of Light shouted aloud for joy, then you are both fool and enemy.
For the noble pagan did not spare to tell all his audience how terrible the false beliefs of the Christian were, and how strong and great the fairies and spiritual beings and princes of the middle air he worshiped were. No, I am not speaking in a metaphor: the man was an occultist.
By no means is every Liberal, Leftist, Progressive, Nihilist, Socialist or other Abolisher of Man a warlock trafficking with unseen powers in hopes of worldly gain; but they all share his goal and his spirit. Only their methods differ.
Let me explain what I mean. I propose that, with minor variations or precursors, in the modern world, there are only three true and honest philosophies which make an honest attempt to deal with the intolerable truth of the world of despair and death in which we live.
Here again is the intolerable truth: Without hope of heaven, without true love, every single desire and aspiration of any kind whatsoever is in vain, for in time, long or short, all pleasure will be gone, and even the pleasure of memory will fail as memory fades.
Death comes unto all estates: princes, prelate, potentates, both rich and poor of all degree. His awful strike no man can flee. Timor Mortis Conturbat Me.
Even an elf as immortal as Oberon would perish when the Earth is swallowed by the sun; even a living machine, long ago having lost all trace of his human origin, who flees beyond the further star, will in time be overcome by entropy, degrade, and perish.
The three ways to deal with this are this intolerable truth: Hedonism, Stoicism, Christianity. Stoicism is true to the character of the noble pagan; Hedonism to that of the ignoble.
When I speak of pagans, I do not mean only those who serve the classical gods and spirits of wood and mountain, sky and underworld. I include their modern brethren who believe in nothing but mortal matter and mortal minds.
Those who speak in cold tones about how life is a Darwinian war of all against all, and pity and mercy have no place, but the state needed self sacrifice and noble courage to fall in battle if the state is to survive — such men are pagans even if they are atheists, because they are Stoics. They are dignified and noble, but doomed, for in their world mankind is the most rough and tough hardcore streetfighters in the circus of life, and we will flourish until some monsters rougher and tougher overwhelm us, and go down fighting, gaily, to the unmarked grave. Read Robert Heinlein’s STARSHIP TROOPERS if you want an undisguised dose of such rhetoric.
Likewise, those who speak of life as a hunt for pleasure, the soaring fumes of wine sparkling in the sun or the profound kisses of women in the dark, and that the deep matters of the end of life or the ends of life need not concern us, for today we laugh, and scorn those who mock our fellowship and cheer — such men are pagans, even if they are atheists, for they crown themselves with floral wreathes and loll at ease like lotus-eaters. Read BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley to see the logical outcome of such a philosophy in action.
Hedonism seeks to distract the mind with pleasures, and find fulfillment in them, as a means to turn away from the looming and silent inevitability of death. It says, let us eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
Stoicism turns to look at the oncoming night, and, knowing their is no remedy, seeks to train the soul to die without fear or tears. The choice is to die with dignity like a man or to die shrieking and begging like a slave. The stoic logic is cold and irrefutable: man has no power to avert death forever, nor to escape pain, but he does have to power to do his duty and to adjust his mind to reality, and live according to nature, that is, according to logic. What he cannot avert or avoid, such as death, he accepts with tranquility; what he can avert and avoid, such as falsehood or immodesty or cravenness, he rejects absolutely.
The Stoic teaches that man can only find what tranquility is open to him, within his own mind, where he is sovereign, but in absolute obedience to reason, which is to say, to the conscience. And he leaves the world to inflict pain and wounds and death upon him when so events decree, and he suffers without fear and without regret, knowing that these external things are indeed indifferent to him. He takes firm hold only of what is in his grasp, namely, his soul, and he does not reach for things beyond him, namely, his fortune and his body and his life.
The Christian is akin to the Stoic in despising the world, but surrenders more, even his own soul, in to hands he trusts more than he trusts his own, and he hopes for more than merely tranquility and the hope of enduring pain with dignity. He does not resign himself to death, because his Master has overcome it, and promises to share the endless joy of that infinite victory with any who follow Him.
For the pagan, wishing on a star, or holding a feather of hope to help one to fly, or trying to overcome the rude nature of our birth so as to grow one day into a real boy, all these things, if at all, are pleasing distractions.
They are the distractions of the hedonist, the child’s version of sex and drugs and rock and roll, and the suicide by morphine in the needle of a Euthanasia doctor, once hope for luxurious pleasure in life is gone.
For the Christian, wishing on a star is childhood practice to train the sterner mind of young women and men to wish upon the Bethlehem Star. Holding onto hope as thin and light as a feather is practice to train for grasping angel’s feathers as they bear us aloft in rapture. Seeing puppets made in the image and likeness of man grow by miracle into the higher life of man is a practice for man growing into the higher life into which he is made.
Fairy tales are sometimes claimed by the pagans to be their special property, growing from their traditions. Nonsense. They are as thoroughly Christian as diatonic music, or chivalry, or the Gothic Arch, or the romance, or the Julian calendar, and the pagan names for months and weekdays mean only that those lesser gods are now vassals of our greater.
Greek tragedies, I grant you, belong to the pagans, and express in perfect clarity the hopelessness of a world where death leads either to nothingness, or to the endless suffering of an endless torture-wheel of reincarnation.
No doubt some alert reader will object that there are many other views of life, many other ways of addressing the tragedy of the human condition aside from these three. What about the Eudaimonism of Aristotle, or the sober philosophy of Confucius? What about the mysticism of Lao Tzu, the sublime visions of Theosophy, the rash boldness of Nietzsche, or the Millenarianism of Marx? What about the faithful Mohammedan or the observant Jew? Surely none of these fit into those three categories.
If the categories are taken in their broad sense, these three suffice: whatever is not done for duty and not done for pleasure is done for the sake of the divine. Buddha preached a mystical form of Stoicism, but it was still an attempt to reject the attachments human nature forms to vain and transitory life in this world. Confucius sought the good in the discipline of the social order, and this was to serve humans ends defined by duties and pleasures: a combination of Stoic and Hedonistic philosophy. Nietzsche was a pure hedonist, but his pleasure was in spiritual pride, and he scorned bodily pleasures. Mohammedanism is an offshoot of Christianity and Judaism is a precursor, but both place faith in God rather than in duty or pleasure. In sum, there are only three reasons for any ethical imperative: you should do this because you want to (or you should want to, considering your long term best interest); you should do this because you ought to (and it is noble to do as one ought, no matter any pain involved); you should do this because God wants you to.
If I wanted to be technically accurate, I would distinguish between Hedonists, who seek base and bodily pleasures only, and Epicureans, who seek the longer lasting and truer pleasures involved in a clean conscience, good fellowship, the educated life and the uplifted sentiment — but even this endless essay must have some metes.
Back to the matter:
So the second clatter of the tumbler falling into place was hearing this sad, doomed voice of a tired old man, old as Nestor, still talking with the zest of youth about how he had created his own life himself, by his rules, made himself, saved himself, and owed nothing to any.
And I seemed to see his face, still boasting vainly and smiling an empty smile, as it might look if he were trapped in a coffin of glass like Snow White, and sinking every deeper into a dark and silent ocean with no farther shore and no bottom, drifting slowly out of sight into oblivion, void, and darkness. If his nerve does not break, he can spend his last hours in the airless oblong box playing with his fingers and toes, or writing brave sonnets in his blood on the inner surface of the cover.
Do not think for a moment I mocking or joking. I would honor and salute any man brave enough to face that prospect unafraid. All my life I sought such stoic courage as that, and indeed, deemed it the only prize in life worth having: the Stoic fortitude to live life without craving life. Ah, but experience is a cunning jester. The only time I ever lost my fear of death and become a true Stoic was the hour when the Holy Spirit came to me and baptized my soul, and became a Christian and left the vain and empty arrogance of Stoicism behind forever. Throwing my Stoic philosophy to the wind, I found the Christ returned that and more to me.
Because Christianity is the fulfillment and perfection of human nature, and humans should not fear death, not after death is swallowed up in Christ. Stoicism, much as I admire it, was an early attempt to abolish human nature, by decreeing certain fears and desire absolutely central to human nature, such as the desire for life and fear of death, to be illogical and unbecoming.
Let us return to the question from whose seed this oak of vast and sprawling essay sprung. Why are the Abolishers of Man filled with hatred for all things normal to human sentiment and human pleasure, of which Disney, by his sheer charm and goodwill, surely must serve as the best example of optimist, hope, wishing upon thosee highest and fairest and brightest of things we call stars?
Why are the Abolishers so angry, so unhappy, so noisy, so bent on destruction and on self destruction?
I will tell you the secret of happiness Oriental sages sought in vain for eons. It is gratitude. When you are grateful for it, a spoonful is a feast. When ungrateful, a feast is a spoonful.
The Abolisher have fled their source of strength, which is Christ. The noble ones fled to Stoicism or some form or variation of it, such as Buddhism, the hardheaded willingness to take the harsh world at it is, without complaint.
The ignoble ones fled to the harem and the barroom and the opium joint, seeking to drown their awareness of life’s harsh reality in the soft haze of distraction and entertainment. The ignoble pagan becomes infantile and whiny, and wants his Nanny and Nurse to do everything for him, from wipe his bottom to pat his fluffy head and feed him pablum: these cravings are shifted by a psychological maladjustment to the government in this modern time, hence, the modern Liberal movement.
Do you see? The noble pagan condemns Christian hope as if it were the false haze of distraction and diversion of the ignoble pagan. The noble pagan cannot tell the difference between the ignoble pagan’s desire for the opium of paradise, and the hard command of Christ that we take up our crosses and follow Him. One moron actually called Christianity the opium of the masses.
Hence, the noble pagan thinks hope is false and despair is truth.
When one knows despair, there is no room for gratitude. Hence, no gratitude, hence, no happiness.
They can never be happy, and so their hearts are restless.
Another quote from Chesterton is here needed:
…The pagan was (in the main) happier and happier as he approached the earth, but sadder and sadder as he approached the heavens. The gaiety of the best Paganism, as in the playfulness of Catullus or Theocritus, is, indeed, an eternal gaiety never to be forgotten by a grateful humanity. But it is all a gaiety about the facts of life, not about its origin.
To the pagan the small things are as sweet as the small brooks breaking out of the mountain; but the broad things are as bitter as the sea. When the pagan looks at the very core of the cosmos he is struck cold. Behind the gods, who are merely despotic, sit the fates, who are deadly. Nay, the fates are worse than deadly; they are dead.
The common bond is in the fact that ancients and moderns have both been miserable about existence, about everything, while mediaevals were happy about that at least. I freely grant that the pagans, like the moderns, were only miserable about everything — they were quite jolly about everything else. I concede that the Christians of the Middle Ages were only at peace about everything — they were at war about everything else.
The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. Yet, according to the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic, this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled.
Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity.
This is what I call being born upside down. The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstacies, while his brain is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found his feet again he knows it.
Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. The vault above us is not deaf because the universe is an idiot; the silence is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world. Rather the silence around us is a small and pitiful stillness like the prompt stillness in a sick-room. We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy: because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce. We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.
Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.
(Alas, I am not done yet. On to part four.)