Restless Heart of Darkness — Part Four

The final installment of an essay where one of the great mysteries of the modern age is illumined.

Perhaps, like me, you have wondered how it is that so many people, otherwise honest, can adopt without demur the Orwellian anti-language of Political Correctness; how it is that so many people, otherwise rational, can adopt without demur the paradoxes, self-contradictions and logical absurdities involved in relativistic morality, materialistic ontology, subjective epistemology, and the other nuggets of vacuous blither forming the foundations of modern thought; how it is that so many people, otherwise possessing good taste, can without demur fund and support and praise the blurry aberrations of modern art, praise ugliness, despise beauty; how it is that so many people, otherwise good and peaceful, can praise and support and excuse the hellish enormities and mass murders of figures like Che and Mao and Stalin and Castro; or can view with cold eye the piles of tiny corpses heaped outside abortion mills, and make such enemies of the human race into heroes; or can rush to the defense of Mohammedan terrorists with freakish shrieks of ‘Islamophobia!’ and ‘Racist!’ even though to be wary of Jihadists bent on your destruction is rational rather than phobic, and even thought Mohammedanism is a religion, not a race; how otherwise happy, moral, reasonable and decent people can not merely excuse sexual perversion, but will be swept up in a fervor of righteous indignation even if someone points out the biological or Biblical reality of the situation; and likewise excuse lies in their leaders, and adulteries, and abuses of power, and abuses of drugs, and any number of things these otherwise ordinary people would never do themselves.

And, finally, Perhaps, like me, you have wondered why it is that these people who are otherwise civil nonetheless can neither explain their positions nor stop talking, and their talk consists of nothing, nothing, nothing aside from childish personal attacks, slanders, sneers, and accusation, accusation, accusation.   Why are they so angry? Why are they so noisy? Why are they so blissfully unaware of the vice, injustice, ugliness and evil they support?

As I said in a previous essay, I had an insight into the answer, or part of the answer, into this question.  It is an answer which I do not pretend is original, but which I happened never to have seen before, so it is new to me.

The insight grew out of three conversations (and one non-conversation).

Two of those conversations (and one non-conversation) I have described previously, and they convinced me that the core of postmodern, Progressive thought, or (to be precise) thought-avoidance mechanisms, consist of the following:

(1)    Human nature is cultural, that is, manmade.

(2)    Your nature is made by you, including your natural talents, gifts and good fortune.

(3)    There is no point in discussing the matter.

In the previous essays, I examined these points. First, if human nature is cultural, then the sorrows and limitations of human nature, including such things as the inevitability of death and the ineluctably of decay can be met and overcome by some change to the culture, some progressive improvement to our laws and customs. However, in reality, the attempts to change the culture lead to four stages of decay, from the Christian to the Worldly Man, to the Ideologue, to the Mystic, to the Nihilist. The conclusion of my investigation was that the belief that human nature is infinitely plastic or pliant leads to despair.

Second, if individual nature is personal, then for the sorrows and failures of life you have none to blame but yourself; and likewise the glories and accomplishments you have no one to whom to be grateful, nor to give thanks, but yourself.

Again, if individual nature is personal, and death is inevitable, the only available philosophies to content with this intractable fact are the Stoic or the Hedonistic, which means either the idea of living for duty or the idea of living for pleasure.

The conclusion of my investigation was that individualism logically necessitates ingratitude as the default emotional response to life. This is an airless and suffocating emotional atmosphere, one not suited to sustain human psychology.

The Stoic in this atmosphere maintains himself by pride and iron willpower; and when they fail, he is left with nothing. The Hedonist in this atmosphere maintains himself by distraction, by diversion, by the constant clamor of the stimulation of the senses, by wine and women and song, by sex and drugs and rock and roll; and when they fail, he is left with nothing.

Third, the unwillingness of the Progressives to discuss their beliefs, or unbeliefs, or whatever they are, in a rational, civil, and calm fashion, and their inability to shut up once it is clear they cannot defend, or even explain, their opinions, is not the product of the several reasons a gentleman might have for retreating politely from an unwanted discussion.

It is not the courtesy which prevents a gentleman from discussion divisive matters at family gatherings (remember how Mr Obama wanted the Progressives to ruin Thanksgiving and Christmas by having them proselytize his health care scheme to their ungood thoughtcriming kinfolk?); it is not a admission of one’s own lack of qualifications to have an opinion in the matter, for the Progressive does not shut up when he is ignorant of the facts, he gains confidence and talks louder; it is not frustration that their enemies will not listen to reason, for reason IS the enemy;  nor is it because the matter is a highly technical topic reserved to experts, nor an ineffable topic reserved to mystics, nor matters of dogma reserved to the faithful, since the topics involve matters of common knowledge and common experience known to the common man.

The unwillingness of the Progressives to discuss their beliefs is because one of their beliefs (the most outrageously false of all, and most easy to prove false) is that they are superior beings, superior by virtue of their greater intelligence, open-mindedness, higher education, finer sentiments, and greater compassion, surrounded by yowling and filthy yahoos. These Progressives, who have never read a word of Aristotle, much less read him in Greek, boast that they cannot discuss philosophy honestly with a psychotic yet retarded Neanderthal like me, due to my inferior nature. Well, I cannot argue with their assessment of my education, except to say  ἀντικεῖσθαι δ᾽ ὁ ἀλαζὼν φαίνεται τῷ ἀληθευτικῷ· χείρων γάρ. (And it is the boaster that seems to be opposed to the truthful man; for he is the worse character. Aristotle’s Ethica Nicomachea IV, 7.)

And yet this propensity, which naturally leads us to anger at the hypocrisy, self-flattery, and incivility of the Progressives, instead ought to lead us to pity: for this is also an upwelling not of narcissism but of despair. It is not that they think they can reason and that we cannot; they think reason is vain, and philosophy is useless.

It is not as if they talk to each other in a rational fashion in the faculty lounge or news bullpen, and then only assume a demeanor of barking moonbat lunacy when they talk to us. They talk to each other in the same way, like loyal party members in George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR, exchanging meaningless and soothing slogans and nonsense words, lulled to sleep by the perfect agreement in the perfectly empty word-noises, unless someone jars the serenity by disagreeing on some small point. Immediately the barking moonbats close in, screeching and caterwauling, until the deviant offers servile apologies and self-flagellation. The power of speech is not entirely removed from them, as it is removed from the disloyal animals at the end of THE LAST BATTLE by C.S. Lewis; but it is removed from them on certain topics, wherever the Correct Speech and Correct Goodthink vetoes individual thought.

It is a trap, like an iron snare that closes on the leg of a wild animal. Once they have entered into the delirious realm of non-thought and non-language, only a radical change, only a miracle, can pull them back into the realm of light.

The benighted fools have surrendered the power of speech and thought out of despair. These gifts have not made them happy, have not ushered in perfection and paradise. If they are useless, why keep them?

In other words, I realized the same root stood at the bottom of their principles:

(1)    Human nature is cultural, that is, manmade. Because if it is not, there is no cure for any of the many intolerable evils of the human condition, and all life is but despair.

(2)    Your nature is made by you, including your natural talents, gifts and good fortune. Because if it is not, there is no cure for any of the many intolerable evils of my personal condition, and my life is but despair.

(3)    There is no point in discussing the matter. Because if there were a point in discussing the matter, it means that the thought that human nature is manmade is not necessarily true, and that my good fortune was self-made is not necessarily true. In either case, life is but despair.

Or, more briefly:

(1) Despair

(2) Despair

(3) Despair

It may be somewhat redundant to recite the final clue that allowed the final tumbler to click into place for me, and unlock this dark and clear vision of what was really behind the paradox of kindhearted evildoers, intelligent idiots, and bewildered innocent villains, but I give it here for the sake of completeness.

THIRD DISCUSSION:  We Don’t Need No Stinking Heroes.

I actually forget what this topic of conversation was. I may have been discussing heroism in science fiction books, and what is behind the dropoff in readership in recent years. It does not matter for my account here.

What matters is that one of the participants in the discussion waxed philosophical, or, to be precise, waxed psychological, in attempting to explain the otherwise incomprehensible appeal of books with heroic heroes in them.

Her theory (I think it was a female science fictioneer speaking) was that teens like heroes because the teenaged readers are uncertain of their social position. An act of heroism will tend to confirm the hero as being a high-status figure, a man with many friends and admirers, perhaps even make him attractive to the opposite sex. Acting heroically feeds the hunger teens have for security in their social relationships. Where the teen has no ability to act heroically, he lives vicariously in a fantasy of heroic action by reading about heroes in books.

My theory is that I, as imaginative as I am, could not come up with a theory as insulting to my fellow human beings — yes, I consider teenagers to be human beings, despite any evidence to the contrary — not even if I pondered the matter for a thousand years, and sat in the center of the Infinite Egg of Meditation with ten thousand swamis assisting me with their mantra energy.

Do I need to say anything to emphasize how despicable this theory is? A hero is someone who is willing to fall in battle for a noble cause. That is the basic definition. It is the sum of the virtues of fortitude, prudence, justice and self-command, because anyone lacking these qualities will either lack the brains or the heart or the stomach needed to conduct himself in an heroic yet not foolhardy fashion. The craving for heroism, in other words, is a craving for virtue, for good character, for the strength to be unselfish, and to put the greater good above one’s own interests.

All that is blown away like a puff of cigarette smoke, using the Abolisher’s favorite, if not their only, tool and weapon. Instead of taking the motive for heroic acts at face value (we admire such things because they are innately admirable) the theory of the Abolishers of Man pretend there is a hidden and occult layer beneath the hero’s thoughts and passions, a layer of utterly selfish appetites, which only the divine insight of the Abolisher can penetrate. And, of course, like every allegedly true and inner motive allegedly laid bare by the alleged insight of the Abolishers of Man, this motive is utterly base and self-serving, namely, a desire for the good opinion of foolish peers, or, in other words, vainglory. Every hero from Achilles onward, as it turns out, died to impress some shallow girl.

This reinforces the other aspects of the world view we have seen. In fact, the Marxist worldview allows for no heroes, only victims and oppressors. No victim can be a hero, because that destroys the alleged moral superiority being a victim allegedly bestows.

And no oppressor can be a hero, or have even distorted versions of any virtues, lest any man feel a trifle of sympathy toward any of them. The designated oppressor class much, each and every one of them, be as utterly void of any redeeming qualities as imps from hell, or else the whole program of the Two Minute Hate is hindered.

Theirs is the world view of a pagan, robbed of Christian hope, rooted in unshakeable despair. Life’s a bitch and then you die, so eat and drink and be merry today. Today is all you have.

Indeed, the worldview is sub-pagan. The pagans at least believed in heroism, in justice, in prudence, in moderation and in fortitude. To be sure, it was common among the classical pagans to believe that heroes, once they had burned brightly in their brief moment of godlike glory, fell and fell hard into tragedy and madness and death, to become twittering shadows in the underworld, or amnesiacs trapped on an endless wheel of reincarnation, like a series of books with no meaning, no happy endings and no ending at all. The most a hero could hope for was the poets would recall his name in generations to come, but even that would fade with time.

Our modern postchristians do not even have that. Most do not believe in reincarnation, or believe its only escape is into the paradise of self-obliteration. The more optimistic believe that obliteration comes immediately at death, and there is no soul nor spiritual substance to survive the decay of the body into elements, any more than there is anywhere for any software to linger when a computer is smashed to dust, or a place for words to rest once the book is burnt to ash.

Now, the natural desire for heroes cannot be expunged from the human breast, any more than the natural desire for meaning in life, and all high dreams and noble things.  But this particular worldview allows for heroism only in martyrdom and victimhood, or perhaps those who leave their lives of ease and speak up for the martyrs and victims. But even these are not admired for fighting in the physical sense, which requires physical bravery. The heroes of the left are protestors, and when they cannot find any policemen to beat them to death, they riot in an aimless fashion, over nothing that can be described nor explained, hoping for wounds to make their lives grand.

The Christian martyr dies in the believe that death is not the end, but is the gateway to glory, including the reward from a grateful sovereign divinity for longsuffering loyalty. The Postchristian martyr believes death is the end, and ergo he may be willing to expose himself to some discomfort in his activist efforts to tear down, ruin, or destroy some ancient institution or productive corporation for reasons that never seem to make much sense: but he can never give the full measure of his devotion which even the most commonplace soldier, fireman or police officer is prepared to give. This gives and atmosphere of cowardice and hypocrisy to all they do.

Gratitude is the only thing that makes life worth living. The gratitude of the civilian whose liberty or life is saved from evildoers by soldiers and policemen should be spontaneous, because it is healthy. The gratitude of child to parent, student to teacher, penitent to father confessor, patient to doctor, man to his bride or wife to her bridegroom: we all, all feel the natural impulse to those who save and sustain us.

Heroes sacrifice for the common good (and even those placed not in harm’s way surrender freedoms and pleasures civilians take for granted, such as where in the country, or the world, you will reside). They also give us goals, dreams, idols, someone to look up to and admire.

In the postchristian world, a confirmed and longstanding effort is in effect to denature all heroes and heroines, and hold them up to disrespect and disgust. First, any person not of one’s own race or sex or narrow grievance group is disqualified as a hero, for it is assumed that no one can identify with nor imitate any person outside the group. You cannot be as brave as George Washington during his many heartbreaking defeats and retreats because you are not a Caucasian, Male, Heterosexual, Wooden-toothed, Slave-owning Virginian. You cannot be as temperate as the Virgin Mary because you are not a Jewess. You cannot be as prudent as Confucius because you are not a Chinaman. You cannot be as righteous in judgment as Ahasuerus or Job or Noah because you are not Persian or Chaldean or Antediluvian.

Every hero held up to admiration must be regarded with suspicion by the postchristian mind, because, in a world with no fixed measures of right and wrong, where vice and virtue are arbitrary value-judgments, the only purpose of holding up a hero to admiration is to deceive, swindle, or enslave the unwary. Ergo the only fair-minded thing to do when beholding an alleged hero is to sit in the seat of the scornful, and mock. You must give your idol feet of dull clay even if his feet are shining like unto fine brass as if they burned in a furnace.

Even imaginary heroes must be subjected to the destruction of deconstruction: see, for example, the brilliant, and brilliantly vile, WATCHMAN comic book of Alan Moore, which (despite its vacuous moral evil at its core) merited all the high praise heaped on it; or the poorly constructed and fatuously applauded ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy of Philip Pullman, which did not.

The process never ceases, because the despair that drives them makes the Abolisher unable to refrain from abolishing his own heroes. Admiration is too akin to gratitude; gratitude is too akin to humility; humility is antithetical to self-esteem; and humility is deadly to the project of acting as the creator and savior of the future generations of mankind which the Abolisher fondly wishes to create, once normal human sentiments, morals, thoughts and rational faculties are abolished.

STAR WARS continues to win fans precisely because it was a deliberate and wholehearted dip into the wellsprings of nostalgia. It was Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon and all the terrible, cheap, shallow, penny-dreadful, pulpish, goodness of totally unsophisticated popular entertainment come again. The galaxy long, long ago and far, far away was filled with heroes and villains. The public, weary of a long line of movies pleasing to postmoderns yet alien to human nature, reacted with overabundant joy. When an older and less talented filmmaker made the prequel trilogy, he added elements pleasing to the postmoderns: heroes who were weak and flawed, villains who were sympathetic, and a denunciation of absolute standards of good and evil — and the audience, for this and many other reasons, was deeply offended.

What is this prejudice against heroism? Whence comes it? I suggest that to have a hero is like having a star in the sky to guide your bark. And the Abolishers hate the stars.

Stars are too elvish, too high, too pure, too proud, and remind man of his humblest and lowest place in the universe. Looking up at the constellations on a dark and clear night is like looking into the stained glass windows of some celestial mansion, vast beyond the imaginations of astronomers. It makes a man feel glorious in his smallness.

To look up at the giant figures in history, mighty lords renowned in battle, or wise sages whose words still rang like trumpets calling man to virtue as to battle, or modest and temperate philosophers or maidens or servants or fools who avoided vanity and vainglory, or prudent saints and martyrs whose wisdom was beyond this world, likewise makes a man both small and glorious, bright as a star himself.

That star must be quenched if the postchristian postrational posthuman Abolisher of Man is to be successful in his despair.

CONCLUSION

Despair is the key. It explains nearly everything that is so puzzling about the madness of modern life, the pack of self-contradictory dogmas that make up the default assumptions of the Dark Ages in which we live.

They have nothing else. No wonder they are bitter. No wonder they are irrational. No wonder they lie like dogs. No wonder they boast. No wonder they are full of envy and malice. No wonder they kill babies in the womb and fete socialist dictators and mass murderers. No wonder they love death. No wonder they admire, protect and love Islamic terrorists. No wonder they admire, protect, and love sexual perversion.

It is because they have nothing else. They live in a world of darkness, without hope, with nothing but their seven great friends to sustain them: pride, which they call self esteem; envy, which they call social justice; wrath, which they call activism and protest; sloth, which they call enlightenment; gluttony, which they call health food and legalization of recreational drugs; greed, which they call fairness in taxation; lust, which they call sexual liberation.

The modern age is suffering from spiritual and philosophical starvation in the midst of what should be the greatest feast of mind and spirit imaginable. Someone has told them offal was food and food was poison, and so they gnaw on foul things which cannot satisfy them, which make their hungers grow. They are dying of thirst, and someone offers them seawater to drink.

Let us now and forever eschew anger and indignation at these creatures. Like are like blind kittens who cling and claw and scratch that hands that come to feed and comfort. No man should be angered at a blind scratch.

Neither should we do them the honor of assuming their is a philosophy, political or otherwise, or a coherent worldview, or anything that can be discussed or debated. It is a dream, a delirium, a vision, a nightmare.

Surely was can answer, or at least fend off, any questions they might have concerning our vision, which is brighter and better and sane and whole and true, because more often than not, it is a frivolous reason, a matter of mere emotion, which prevents them from seeing this light. Their eyes are closed, their reason is dark. Reason is of limited use to them, who have no faith in reason.

Beauty is the key to lure them into opening their eyes. I mean not merely the physical beauty in song and architecture and story telling where Christendom has no lack and has no peers; I mean also the beauty of virtue, of charity, of sympathy, of humanity, of heroism, of martyrdom.

Did not the sheer mind-boggling beauty of Mother Teresa of Calcutta attract more skeptics to our banners than did the sneering sarcastic ugliness of Christopher Hitches attract to his?

They are lost in the dark. That is the truth that stabbed my soul like lightning. They wander in their jerky motions from one idle fashion and meaningless fancy to the next not because they are bored, but because they are desperate, because they are starving.

To cure them we must love them. That is what I saw.

To cure them, we must be a light to them.

We must actually live up to the difficult, nay, the impossible task of becoming saints, as humble and glorious as stars in the host of heaven.

We must first cure ourselves.

50 Comments

  1. Comment by Toz:

    The whole series of posts reminded me of this verse:

    To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. – Titus 1:15

    They cannot see heroes because they see no virtue.

  2. Comment by Brian Niemeier:

    Congratulations on another philosophical triumph.

    Father Robert Barron expounds on evangelization through beauty here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBMOwZFpZX0

  3. Comment by Worsel:

    The unwillingness of the Progressives to discuss their beliefs is because one of their beliefs (the most outrageously false of all, and most easy to prove false) is that they are superior beings, superior by virtue of their greater intelligence, open-mindedness, higher education, finer sentiments, and greater compassion, surrounded by yowling and filthy yahoos.

    To my mind, this is heart of the matter. It is the sin of pride, not the sin of despair.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I do not doubt in the least that Leftism is the sin of pride, my dear Valentian (you are THAT Worsel, are you not?). Leftism is based on the idea that human reason is sufficient to save us from the human condition and make heaven on earth, so that we will be like unto gods, without any help from any higher powers.

      But allow to suggest that, because pride erases all gratitude (which alone gives joy and hope to life) therefore pride IS despair.

      The two are one and the same. Think of the portrayal of Lucifer in Milton.

      • Comment by indpndnt:

        Mr. Wright, thank you for these posts. It was a joy to read this one, simply because I felt the same flash of insight once you laid it out. It became quite clear to me, as it seems to have been to you, once the discussions were in place.

        I was thinking during your post about why pride is despair, and I came to a complimentary conclusion as yours. It’s likely the very same thing stated differently, so I hope you understand my desire to share it in order to help my own absorption of your ideas.

        In the form of a loose syllogism, here is why pride is despair:

        1. Pride, as an elevation of the self above all others, must reject anything that is not the self (God, the eternal, moral duties, etc.). For if pride does not reject these things, then something is above the self, and pride has failed.

        2. The rejection of the realm of the eternal implies that life is purely physical, temporary, and unable to have meaning (for what intrinsic value can the physical and temporary have?).

        3. Therefore, the prideful have forced a worldview upon themselves that contains no values or meaning. What is that, if not pure despair?

        I find this view to also be helpful in understanding why Atheism exists. For those us who read Aquinas, Kreeft, Craig, and Augustine, the logic of God feels quite clear and compelling. Atheism, as part of Leftism, will pretend to reject God because of reason. However, it is their pride that led them to atheism first.

        All their arguments are devoid of reason, because they cannot embrace reason when it will tear down their pride. They appeal to reason, because reason appeals to the Christian, but it is a false appeal. In the end, Atheism, Leftism, and all the post-modernism is like a child’s tantrum at the loss of a dessert.

        The loss of pride, the loss of the elevated self, and the need to unclench the fist and bend the knee (to borrow Kreeft’s phrase) are too great a pain to bear for them. The response is, as you aptly noticed, to yell, reject, argue, and scream.

        Our response, if you will forgive my continued summary of your writing in my own words, is to be lights in the darkness. It is to live and show the joy and hope that is available to us, because they are gifts from God who loves us. It is, as you say, to show beauty to the world.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          I cannot believe you are asking me to forgive your summary. I wish I had spoken to you before writing my essay, as it would have clarified and focused my thoughts. In fact, I you had written my essay: you say it much more clearly and briefly than did I.

          Anyone who speaks in syllogisms wins my admiration. And, yes, I agree with what you said.

      • Comment by Worsel:

        We call it Velantia. The inhabitants of Valentia are, perhaps, Valentines? Logically, pride may imply despair, but I have yet to meet an introspective Leftist.

        • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

          At what point does their lack of introspection betray how introspective they actually are? I know of a couple of Leftists who scour the internet and the news, looking for the smallest of crimes committed by Republicans and Conservatives. Never a word said about the ongoing enormous Crimes committed by the Democrats and the Left, which even our pathetic press must cover from time to time. They can’t have missed those stories, but not even a hint of awareness is shown.

  4. Comment by Christopher:

    ‘They are lost in the dark.’

    I think it maybe a bit more than lost:

    http://protectthepope.com/?p=9899

    Sounds more like outright demonic.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      It is demonic. Moloch and his crew have acted the same way since the times before the Hellenes drove the Phoenicians out of Attica. The grotesque rituals of child sacrifice of those times are reflected in old legends of Chronos eating his own children. What the Classical Gods rose up and overthrew was the same thing we are being called on to rise up against and overthrow: human sacrifice.

      • Comment by tmbridgeland:

        I think this is precisely correct. Going back to the interrupted sacrifice of Issac, first the Hebrews and later the Christians were at war with child sacrifice. The story of Issac must have been a classic horror story for later generations of Jews, as Abraham approached and attempted the great sin that separated the Hebrews from their neighbors. The prophets warned that Israel’s great error was returning to child sacrifice.
        The nations that fought child sacrifice, the Persians and later Romans, were blessed. The Bible is clear that the early kings of Persia were under God’s favor. The Romans detested human sacrifice, and banned it everywhere they had power. Later, the Spanish eliminated human sacrifice in the New World. The history of the last 2500 years is the gradual destruction of this practice throughout the world as the word advances.
        God truly hates human sacrifice, and nations that practice it are blotted out. I think this is the great blasphemy, because it mocks the death of Christ. Modern people have begun to approach this, as abortion is being seen as not just a cruel necessity, but as an actual good in some circles.
        Thanks for another interesting lesson!

  5. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    Pity and love for the morally and philosophically insane “Progressives”? A hard, nearly impossible goal to attain. Yet, I agree that is what we need to strive for. And that it will need the assistance and grace of Christ to attain.

    I would like to comment briefly on some of your remarks. You wrote: “Again, if indiviudal nature is personal, and death inevitable, the only available philosophies to conten[d] with this intractable fact are the Stoic or Hedonistic, which means either the idea of living for duty or the idea of living for pleasure.” And: “The conclusion of my investigation was that individualism logically necessitates ingratitude as the default emotional response to life.”

    I agreed with these statements of yours. The only quibble I have was how SOME Stoics, such as Marcus Aurelius, did not suffer from ingratitude. The famous first chapter or “book” of the Emperor’s MEDITATIONS is a long expression of the gratitude he had for his friends, teachers, and family. I esp. recall the passage wherein Marcus Aurelius wrote of the affection and respect he had for his adoptive father Antoninus Pius. But, I’m quite aware you would allow for exceptions to the “ingratitude rule.”

    Sean M. Brooks

  6. Comment by sparrow:

    To me the notion that Leftists reject the reality of human nature is just another example of irrationality rather than an insight. I think your understanding how they function from despair is more to the point. I think you can get to despair by believing human nature is fixed and entirely intractable (also untrue) just as easily as believing it is culturally fluid. I think of human nature as the head wind we trod against and that our willful progress against our natural reflexes defines our humanity. I could see a lefty talking the opposite view of a culturally fluid human nature to affect a victim-hood stance whenever it suits them. I think the problem with defining an over arching explanation is that the left is irrational and seeks to avoid any discipline of the will. Irrationality and the rejection of actively grappling with the daunting/difficult world is the overarching commonality but it need not be rooted in any singular belief. Any fantasy and in fact every fantasy will be tried. I think the despair underlies the realization that these pursuits are hopeless and fruitless. It is always such for the faithless.
    Roughly from memory: “Lord then who can enter heaven? For man this is impossible but nothing is impossible for God.”

  7. Comment by Asher:

    We must first cure ourselves.

    Can you specify this “we”? It can’t be each one of us as individuals because that precisely the root of this problem. That “we” has to be a very specific and well-defined group.

  8. Comment by distractedbrony:

    I agree that beauty is the answer to despair. Or perhaps a better word would be glory? It is when the beauty of something becomes so real and solid to you that it seems to jump out from the rest of the world, like a pop-up illustration in a children’s book–that’s when you learn for real that despair is wrong, and that there’s real, objective meaning and goodness in the world. (Or that’s how it was for me, anyway.) But it’s the beauty of human virtue that does this, which doesn’t seem like the same kind of thing as the beauty of art or even the beauty of creation.

    /rambling

  9. Comment by paul.griffin:

    Someone has told them offal was food and food was poison

    Now, leave us not speak ill against offal. Offal is food. As a once professional and still occasional chef and charcuteur, I personally find quite a bit of offal to be delicious and practically indispensable to a proper diet. Liver, brains, pancreas, intestine, lungs, heart, tripe, and even blood… all delicious when prepared by a trained hand and eaten with an adventurous appetite.

    To get back to the actual topic of your post, yes, someone has told them that all food is poisoned, better not to believe in food at all. Then they mock us for eating, with their stomachs roaring all the while. We must continue to offer them a seat at our dinner table, as their hunger and our generosity may join forces to overcome the meager dust of lies with which they have been trying to sustain themselves. Every so often, one of them is hungry enough to taste and see, and it is a marvelous thing to behold.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I was using the word offal not literately, but as a polite substitute for shit. Like all poetry, the poetry if euphemism is not technically accurate.

      • Comment by paul.griffin:

        Oh yes, I took your meaning sir. I meant my comment (or at least the first half of it) in the most jovial of spirits. Perhaps it was the black pudding from my breakfast today that inspired me to speak on the subject.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          I am too much a pedant myself to argue with any pedantry. You are correct — I am now expecting you to start a chain of offal restaurants all across the nation so we can all enjoy those delicacies with a drive-through window.

          • Comment by paul.griffin:

            Well, my friends and acquaintances will tell you that I am constantly pushing something on them: a black pudding, a slice of liverwurst, some smoked tongue, head cheese, sweetbreads, poached heart, or any number of cured meats. Those brave enough to try are usually delighted to discover that whatever it is much more palatable than their overactive imagination would have them believe.

            As far as starting a restaurant based on offal, this man has already beaten me to that particular idea, and has made quite a name for himself doing so. I don’t think he has installed a drive-through window, however, so I may be able to corner that particular market!

          • Comment by Bobby Trosclair:

            Come down and eat at Chef Paul’s! It’s “offal” good!

  10. Comment by Nate Winchester:

    If this is the final part, You forgot to put in links to all your previous parts of the essay.

  11. Comment by Stephen J.:

    “The conclusion of my investigation was that the belief that human nature is infinitely plastic or pliant leads to despair.”

    It struck me suddenly that this is actually a very neat inversion of the Problem of Suffering, but from the Prog-Gnostic point of view rather than the Christian. The Prog-Gnostic is dedicated to three propositions:

    1) All suffering is arbitrary and unnecessary;
    2) Human nature is infinitely pliant and plastic;
    3) Attempts to force humans to live in conflict with human nature always cause suffering.

    The problem is that, as the atheists are so fond of saying of the classic version, you may have any two of these, but not the third.

  12. Comment by Centurion13:

    Man, looks like I have my work cut out for me.

  13. Comment by Centurion13:

    Ay, caramba. I ventured to comment on an online article concerning the disposal of a giraffe – in the Netherlands, I believe. I stated it seemed to me the giraffe was the property of the zoo and that they could do as they darned well pleased. They’d had several reasons for doing so, and put it down humanely. They didn’t skin it and sell the hide – instead, they fed it to the zoo lions.

    As soon as I expressed this opinion, a firestorm ignited. I was called everything under the sun, all of it rotten. I wasn’t wrong, I was evil. Or I was a troll. I tried to answer, but finally responded to someone by stating that no doubt I would be deleted from the column (it was on Facebook) for merely disagreeing. I was polite all through, mind you.

    Sure enough, I was locked out ten minutes later.

    Is it me or is Facebook the ultimate refuge for the Leftist who does NOT want to confront opposing views while surrounding himself/herself with a cadre of fools whose only attraction is their emotional gullibility?

  14. Comment by Hale Adams:

    Another cause for the despair of the PC crowd is probably the idea they have that the world is “running down” (see the Club of Rome’s famous report from the early ’70s). Basically, we Boomers (I was born in ’62) have been told for the last 40 years that the world will end any day now from the scourges of overpopulation, pollution, famine, and the depletion of natural resources. And so the PC crowd’s thinking is probably along the lines of “There’s no tomorrow, so why act like there is one?”

    I think the loss of a belief that tomorrow can be better than today is inducing them to grab what they can now, before it all goes down the drain.

    Never mind that the Club of Rome’s conclusions were (and are) utter hogwash, as a moment’s thought would reveal. Three (overpopulation, pollution, and famine) of the Club of Rome’s “dooms” are merely aspects of the fourth (lack of natural resources). Given the resources, overpopulation, pollution, and famine can be overcome. As for the natural resources, yes, we have only one Earth, but who ever said we were confined to the Earth in our search for natural resources? We have the entire Universe to play with, ever since the Soviet Union opened the door to space on 4 October 1957.

    But some people just aren’t very good at thought. And so they turn on themselves and on others in their despair, believing that the end is nigh, determined to starve in the midst of unimaginable material plenty.

    People are very strange, sir.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Ironically, even without the space program, the Club of Rome’s predictions are hogwash. They are based on the writings of Malthus, which are writings Malthus himself revised and abandoned before his death, because they are based on static analysis. Static analysis assumes everyone will continue to act in the same way as the conditions change, and will not react to the changed conditions.

      In real life, the Western World is currently suffering a UNDERpopulation problem, as the European nations are no longer reproducing at replacement rates. Materials in the environment which at one time were not considered natural resources because at one time no one knew how to extract and use them (think of shale oil or uranium, for example) are now considered natural resources. Jobs that did not exist at all in the 1950’s, professions such as computer programmer or web designer, now exist, because they represent useful work. Pollution is simply no longer a problem in the developed world: the air and rivers were growing dirty in 1940-1960, and now they are not.

      If the world were a refrigerator with a specific number of apple pies or bowls of potato salad sitting on the shelves, then, logically, as the pies were eaten, there would be fewer and fewer of them, and their price would become more dear as they grew more scarce. Once the pies and bowls were all eaten up, there would be no more.

      If the world were a farm and not a refrigerator, let us say a farm with an apple grove, a potato field, a fishing pond, and chicken coop, and so on, then the more farmhands put more labor into the growing of apples and potatoes, or restocked the pond, or bred the chickens, then the resources are scarce when and only then the number of farmhands eating the apple pies and potato salad outstrips the number laboring to bring apples and potatoes into existence. Whenever a technical innovation in farming technology is found (such as a new and more efficient pesticide or fertilizer or mechanical means of milking a cow or separating cream) then the ratio between labor expended and food produced changes for the better. In the current day, in America, roughly one man in a hundred lists ‘farmer’ as his occupation, which means, roughly that one farmer can feed a hundred non-farmers. This ratio is much, much steeper than it was during any previous period in history. The Mathus assumption is that the productivity of land does not change, and that the amount under cultivation does not increase as fast as the population. Both assumptions are grossly false-to-facts.

      • Comment by Jay Santos:

        All quite true. Unfortunately the distribution of human intelligence, initiative, and creativity follows the well-limned bell shaped curve.

        Which, as the world continues on its anti-Malthusian path, leads to the question: what shall become of all those now-redundant farmhands?

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Are you making a joke? Or do you think that there is a pile of dead bodies somewhere, of young men destined to be farm hands and yet for some reason not able to work as factory hands, or fishermen, or shopkeepers, or policemen, or clerks, or computer programmers, or science fiction writers? My mother was a farmgirl. Why is it that I have a different job than did she?

          If you are not making a joke, I am not sure what is behind your question. When farming because automatic and less labor-intensive, the labor goes to the next most urgently felt desire for it, as expressed by the height of wages, as defined by the law of supply and demand.

          • Comment by Jay Santos:

            I would love to have been a science fiction writer. Or a fighter pilot, or a major league center fielder. But I know that I simply do not have the talent for any of these professions.

            Likewise there are many out there who do not have the talent to earn their living in the manner I do.

            And at the left end of this curve, there are those whose talents suit them only for the jobs which are increasingly exposed to technological improvement. Were the leftist dream of a $20 wage at McDonalds to be realized, the Taiwan-built robotic burger flipper would be doing that job in no time.

            Mind you I do not wish to demean honest manual labor (three well-spent years of my life were occupied by it), and I regret that there will be less and less of it available in the future to those whose talents allow them to aspire to nothing more.

            (edit) “factory hands, fishermen, and clerks” are increasingly going the way of the farm laborer. Only policemen seem immune, and in my opinion this country has quite enough police, thanks very much.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Once again, your point eludes me. It occurs to me that I have been around farming people, off and on, for a major part of my life. If you have not, you might have some odd notion that it is unskilled work able to be performed by ignorant and useless people who cannot find other jobs.

              However, rest assured, no economy other than a socialist one would look at a huge heap of laborers, skilled or unskilled, and not see all the countless tasks to which they could be put.

              The only reason why this nation has a permanent underclass of unskilled nonworkers is that we are rich enough to afford the folly of paying for them to stay unemployed. But we are out of money as of 2030, so that particular extravagance will go away.

              • Comment by Jay Santos:

                Shall we take farmers out of it, then, and generalize.

                Except for that dwindling number of positions in which face to face contact with customers is considered essential, no sane employer wishes to hire a human when they can employ an equally capable device who never complains, gets stuck in traffic, or has a sick child.

                As we move toward a civilization in which manual labor is increasingly less a component of any given product or service, there will be an increasingly large number of people who lack the innate ability to be productive in its economy.

                Unless we perhaps return to the “workhouses” so beloved of E. Scrooge. And oakum can now be mechanically picked with excellent results, I imagine.

                You obviously see possibilities here which I do not.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  As we move toward a civilization in which manual labor is increasingly less a component of any given product or service, there will be an increasingly large number of people who lack the innate ability to be productive in its economy.

                  The statement is false, utterly, comically, outrageously false. Not only is it false, it is not even REMOTELY related to reality in any way. Where in the world are you getting your information? Or is there a heap of dead bodies of half a million unemployable young men heaped up somewhere of which I am unaware?

                  You are talking as if the Industrial Revolution was something that was about to happen, not something that happened over a century ago. Labor goes where it is needed, if the market is free to act, because people need labor, other people have labor to give, and all goods and services and products whatsoever need human labor as a component.

                  If a given task requires more brainwork than you seem to think people like my mother the farmgirl can provide a competent manager will break it down into simpler steps so that anyone, or anyone with minimal training, can perform. Do you actually, you know, KNOW any poor people? Have you ever talked to anyone outside your class, your circle of friends? As a newspaperman, maybe I was exposed to more of them than you. Those that cannot work are because they are lazy or they are stoned. Honest, hardworking men with temperate ways, who avoid drugs and drink, can always find work. The only time honest men cannot find work is when the government drives the work away, by their well intentioned and ill advised laws concerning minimum wage, work conditions, labor monopolies, and so on. Labor unions are the enemies of the workingman.

                  Your ideas are so remote from reality that I am astonished. Read Adam Smith, or any primer on economics; and then see a psychologist about your unhealthy attitude toward honest workingmen, or, on second thought, see a priest.

                  • Comment by Jay Santos:

                    Having worked in hospital emergency rooms and clinics for the last fifteen years, I can assure you that I have had plenty of face to face contact with the “poor”.

                    My views are a direct result of that experience.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      No, your views are a result of a popular error in economics which says that increasing automation creates unemployment. This can be shown by a simple logical argument not to be the case.

                      Your contempt for your fellow man may indeed be a result of your face to face contact with the poor when they are in the midst of medical emergencies, but that is a matter for you to discuss with your confessor.

  15. Comment by Bob Wallace:

    “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” –
    Meister Eckhart

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      Yes. Thank you, God, that you exist and make us know and love you!

      Problem is — for the nihilist, that is — that you can’t stop saying that once it has dawned on you. It sometimes makes you act like a fool, raising your arms and laughing and dancing, and other silly things the self-righteous “sourpusses” (as Pope Francis would say) take for stupidity, and the “sad and high-minded Rationalists” for “buffoonery and blasphemy” (as Chesterton would say).

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  17. Comment by Jay Santos:

    When an older and less talented filmmaker made the prequel trilogy, he added elements pleasing to the postmoderns: heroes who were weak and flawed, villains who were sympathetic, and a denunciation of absolute standards of good and evil — and the audience, for this and many other reasons, was deeply offended.

    And yet fandom loves Boba Fett, and was outraged when the retcon made Greedo the shooter. Go figure.

    • Comment by Stephen J.:

      Boba Fett, I think, has the advantage of being in fact an extremely under-developed character in Episodes V and VI; we never see his face, we learn nothing about him other than his ruthless pragmatism and competence as a bounty hunter (he sees through Han’s escape where the Imperials do not), and he exits the trilogy in what is actually a fairly undignified manner (one can, perhaps, see the foreshadow of Jar-Jar Binks in the sense of humour that had the Sarlacc belch upon ingesting him). But because he is one of the only characters in the trilogy who seems absolutely unintimidated by Darth Vader, and he is responsible for the (albeit temporary) downfall of one of our heroes, we are left with a certain impression of badassedness nonetheless and no actual canon personality to get in the way of exploring it in our heads.

      As for the outrage at removing Han’s own demonstration of cold-blooded ruthlessness, I don’t think that the argument has ever been that Han Solo wasn’t a flawed character — but his point in the trilogy is to demonstrate an entirely different form of heroic journey than the others do. Luke’s journey is a spiritual journey of acquiring wisdom and maturity; Leia’s is an emotional journey of learning to love in person rather than in principle; Han’s is a moral journey of learning to put others above himself — and the whole point of that arc of moral redemption is undercut without that punch of demonstrating the starting point. But Han goes on that journey; his character arc is about overcoming his flaws, flaws that the trilogy never defends in any way as “the hard choices of hard men in hard times” or deliberately obfuscates with dilemmas meant to make us think “is there any ‘right’ thing to do here?”

      Anakin in Episode III has a much less clear cut choice, at least as far as the emotions of a primarily Western audience will interpret it; yes, he succumbs to treachery and eventually to atrocity, but it is in the honest (if misguided, and eventually Dark-Side-befuddled) conviction that it is the only way to save the person he loves most in all the universe — and Yoda’s answer to that, that this is exactly why Jedi are not supposed to form such passionate personal attachments in the first place, is (if technically on the nose) far too Buddhistly detached to be satisfying to audiences today. Furthermore, in order to increase our sympathy for Anakin, the Jedi Order’s calcified inflexibility and unsympathetic, Knight-Templarish tendencies had been played up throughout the entire prequel trilogy, completely contradicting the picture Obi-Wan had formed for Luke and us about their heroic nature; an operatic tragedy need not have the good guys win but it should never be unclear on who the good guys are.

      • Comment by Jay Santos:

        his character arc is about overcoming his flaws

        Quite right, we admire characters who rise above what they originally seemed to be. (“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”)

        And sometimes we admire those who try to rise, and fail. (At the climax, Frodo sold out to the One Ring.)

        But I think that what has fallen out of favor is the hero who is good without flaw, and who never falters or doubts. I have tried to read many a 19th or early 20th century novel which features uncompromisingly good goodies and uncompromisingly bad baddies, and almost always put down the book far short of the last page.

        • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

          I think you would have to tell us first which books of Western literature feature a flawless hero who never falters or doubts. That is not the Biblical model, or the pagan Greek or Roman one. It is not the model of the Norse tale or saga. The only such persons I can think of are literary representations of the New Soviet Man, and I should hope you’re not reading those.

          OTOH, the literary hero “sans peur et sans reproche” is usually regarded by the authors of days past as simply a normal man of chivalry and honor, or if you like, professionalism. No matter how much fear and doubt one may feel, one does not display it and cause panic in others. No matter how wrong things go, one does not waste time on blame games and name-calling. And although every man is a sinner, there is no point parading one’s sins or trying to glorify them; and it is wrong to set a bad example to one’s companions.

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