The Best of Times (Unless You Prize Manners and Logic)

Yeah, yeah—I know.  The cure for cancer looms, self-driving cars have only a few bugs in them now, and artificial intelligence will soon serve us like Aladdin’s genie.  But some of us are also old enough to recognize that things aren’t trending unequivocally upward.

Three examples will do for today.  One is the difficulty simply of navigating a stairwell or hallway wherever young people are on the prowl.  When I was their age, the “right lane” always remained open to oncoming traffic—an obvious extrapolation of our habit behind the wheel.  Sidewalks, too, flowed with relative ease because everyone knew which side was his.  Now you meet people coming at you head-on up the stairs and around every corner.  They’re taking the shortest distance between two points, often as their eyes are glued to a hand-held screen.  And they don’t move over.  You have to flatten yourself against the nearest wall or risk a close encounter with a mass of unappetizing trinketry and hairspray.

It’s not that they no longer drive; pace the imminent self-driving car, our sons and daughters drive more than any generation in history.  But it’s more likely now that their ambulatory texting habit influences their steering competence than that their driving skills impose any “yield right of way” rigor upon their walking.  Even when they come to a halt, usually with fat backpacks bulging out in a campus environment, they project no sense of knowing themselves to be occupying the middle of a crowded thoroughfare.  They stand and converse as if on the plains of Mars, the traffic flow congealing around them until it freezes.  They don’t notice anything amiss, and talk on.

Thing Two: a very good student of mine was in a blue funk this week because a paper was coming due and I hadn’t forced a certain topic upon the class.  She all but begged me to choose her topic for her; and, when I finally coaxed her down a particular avenue, she sent me an outline of her ideas and requested that I supply more.  This really isn’t her fault.  A student in the same class confided to me (and many of this group are graduating seniors) that he has never been allowed to select a paper topic within very broad parameters.  The perspective has always been feminist or Marxist, by default.  On one occasion when he mounted a slight resistance, he was summoned to a private conference and told to check his white male privilege.

Ironic, isn’t it?  The goose-stepping avant-garde is supposed to be leading resistance against the Establishment’s stale group-think… but the truth is that all the little Furhrers and Peerless Leaders to whom we have granted tenure (on the public dime) are raising a generation of trembling sycophants and monomaniacal zombies.  Enter David Hogg.

The degeneracy crops up in the humblest of places (Thing Three).  Now, everybody abuses the third-person plural pronoun these days, and not just college students.  “The therapist should speak directly to their patient if their schedule is interfering with the success of their exercise regimen…” what the hell is all that?  For pity’s sake, make one noun singular and one plural, and then align references accordingly.  In academe, however, such ratiocinative meltdown has a hoity-toity pedigree.  “They” is the new “non-gender-specific” pronoun that allows you to refer to a person not present without assuming that person to be male or female or transgender or quasi-metro-crypto sexual or… well, let’s just say that life in the Ivory Tower has a way of making a world filled with robots look more attractive all the time.

The problem with sloppy grammar, as my example above attempts to show, is that real-life misunderstandings can occur, some of them inducing real-life catastrophes.  At some point, I’m convinced that inability to hook up a noun with its proper referent may even pollute thought processes considered to be non-verbal.  Will the engineers of these Martian igloos and rovers that our young generation is so eager to man (“person”, “bio-activate”… whatever) be putting the right nuts on the right bolts when they can’t even connect the pieces of a basic sentence?  How are we supposed to inaugurate this golden age of interplanetary travel at the same time as our terrestrial communications are being reduced to “me no like uggum nung tungum”?

Of course, I stop at Thing Three only because time in the context of my lifespan is finite.  Should I end with, “God help us?”  But will, or can, God help those who have decided to elevate their ego in His place?

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Death by “Answers”: The Suffocating Narrowness of “Education”

My father’s mother dabbled in oil painting.  The best thing she ever did was probably a Southwestern landscape copied from Mexican-American painter Porfirio Salinas.  The foreground is flooded with bluebonnets, as is typical of a Salinas canvas.  On an overcast day (enhanced in the copy, since amateurs always have trouble with light), a prickly pear cactus rises front-and-center, a stone wall humbly navigates the distance, and a campesino’s hut crouches lifelessly off to the right.  Whatever the copy’s weaknesses, I like it, and it hangs over my mantelpiece.  It takes me out of myself.  I see a faraway place that people have left largely untouched because they have found no way to turn a profit from it (such as by littering it with windmills)—a place where the cry of a solitary caracara carries for a mile, and where a horizon-prowling mountain and you can exchange stares for an hour without blinking.

The Newly Minted Scholar in the Humanities, though, would see the same scene a different way.  He would zero in on a socio-political issue the way a hound sniffs out a rabbit.  That hut, so dilapidated and shorn of luxury… what an outrage, that people should still be living almost like cavemen when our world contains such wealth!  Where is there any evidence that the peasant has electricity?  Where is his running water and plumbing?  What does he do for health care?

The Newly Minted Scholar knows how to ask questions that quickly reduce everything to the tight parameters of a few answers.  If the answers are satisfactory, we move on.  If unsatisfactory, they indict some crime or other that becomes grist for the activist mill… and we move on, once again; for the mill can never have enough grist.  There’s nothing more to see here as soon as a new Incident Report has been logged.  A distant mountain ridge?  Why mess with that?  It has no purpose, and hence no meaning.

Now, the Newly Minted Scholar may see one of the china horses that I bought as a child (or that was bought for me, I should say) at the Alamo, and he may suddenly be filled with missionary zeal for nature.  Those poor wild horses!  The Bureau of Land Management is brutally chasing them with helicopters, penning them up, and selling them off as “adoptees”.  The BLM will claim that it absolutely must prune their numbers so as to prevent overgrazing and eventual starvation… but the Newly Minted Scholar sees right through that.  Nature establishes her own balances.  Leave her alone!  (Let’s forget that horses are not native to North America.)  All of this rubbish about over-grazing is a problem created by ranchers who want to milk a filthy profit from wide open spaces never intended for ruthless exploitation.  Leave it all alone!  Get the ranchers out of there!  Let the horses run free!  (A few thousand windmills… well, they would disrupt nothing: they would be serving the Common Good, and the mustangs would grow to love their wild, windy blades.)

Others in our corrupt, venal society are too sick to hear the voice of moral obligation… but our Newly Minted Scholar is receiving signals loud and clear from a higher dimension.

As for me, I remember the nobility and love of freedom that I once saw in my white horse’s high-held head… and now I also understand that it’s made of cheap china.  So I see the mass-produced, exploitative capitalist bauble that the Scholar would be sure to sneer at, yes; but I also, even now, continue to understand how that tawdry little article was able to reach a child’s heart.  Like my grandmother’s painting, this is no masterpiece.  Yet all of us—especially children, perhaps—are drawn to powerful symbols thanks to a spirit within us constantly seeking overt expression… if, that is, our spirit retains any vital signs.  As children, we were insulated from the stigma of cheapness.  Even an adult, though, can appreciate the pathos of a favorite toy—something that has the mystical magnetism to draw an unformed mind into a much broader world.

In a way, I regret that we adults so readily notice the seams where the toy fell out of the mold, and that we tend to murmur with a smile, “Just a dust-catcher.”  Sometimes the genuine article doesn’t fare much better with us, and we mutter with a frown, “Just another mouth to transform good prairie into a dust bowl.”  To that extent, the Newly Minted Scholar is right about many adults, all too often.

But how true is our Scholar’s devotion to freedom, or natural beauty, or any of those loftily soaring ideals which he claims as exclusively his?  How receptive is he to taking a holiday from his painfully constructed, finely manicured identity?  Where is the magic in his materialism?  For in his obsession with answers, he is as insistent on having things justify themselves—having them pay their way—as was the shopkeeper who put a price sticker on my china horse. To him, even a real horse is but a token worth X bonus points in establishing his environmental bona fides, as is indicated by the uncompromising fury with which he opposes measures to enhance the horse’s life roaming the range.  Not surprisingly, he himself is often the child of professionals who put price tags on things. If his parents hadn’t left him comfortably well off, how would he have time to stage protest marches against the BLM?  And when he attends “cutting-edge” conferences pledged to effecting “meaningful change”, how much more fuel does his jet to Seattle consume than would a lowly bourgeois pick-up truck making the same transit?  Isn’t everything he sees quickly funneled down a chute whose vortex is his own ego, the hub of the universe?  Does his spirit ever leave its centripetal straitjacket to circulate in the broader world, fleeing “answers” and “meaning” in favor of an elusive but irresistible oneness?

I observe this phenomenon in all “politically correct” positions.  Our enlightened superiors see a beggar and quickly bottle him up as Exhibit Q in the ongoing prosecution of mainstream society… yet the beggar is never given a name.  He may receive food stamps and a health-care card, but never an invitation simply to converse about how trusted colleagues stole his business or how his infant son perished.  The self-appointed custodians of our society’s pity and conscience are pitiless in their programmatic crusades and robotic in their reduction of life’s complexities to checklists.  They are indeed well adapted to the process referred to, in their corridors, as “transhumanism”, the next great leap forward: fusion of human beings with Artificial Intelligence.

The spirit will have no haven in this new destination, because the spirit bloweth where it listeth; it dissolves answers rather than forcing them to crystallize and makes a reverent space for the inexpressible rather than deleting unused blanks.

Inasmuch as the Newly Minted Scholar is the footsoldier of an onslaught that would annihilate mystery, he is unwittingly, perilously serving the cause of darkness; and the inspiration of this cause is nothing less than the active power of evil.

Cultural Disappearance Is Contagious

The following article began as a review of Thilo Sarrazin’s L’Allemagne Disparait (Germany Is Disappearing) for Amazon… but it grew to such proportions that I thought I’d post it here, as well, with slight adjustments.

I read this book in French because I feared that my German might not suffice to guide me through the learned Sarrazin’s highly abstract discussion.  Alas, French was little better—and my native English would scarcely have closed the comprehension gap.  For the real difficulty lies not in vocabulary per se, but in the densely terminological, thoroughly arcane idiom of the social sciences, where trails of nouns often end up forming a single noun-adjective group referenced to some airy statistical reality.  And of statistics, too, there is an abundance.  These are often the more vague as they grow more clear—by which I mean that a patent dependency of one factor on another has a way of shutting down what should be a deeper probe into a complex issue.

Now, all of that said, I’m very sympathetic with regard to the Sarrazin case.  Western nations on both sides of the Atlantic are currently engaged in shouting down critics of uncontrolled immigration with the “Nazi racist” slur.  Sarrazin has been pilloried before for speaking in cold facts.  Those facts are as follows: Germany (and, by extension, other prosperous Western societies) cannot absorb a steady deluge of unskilled Third World laborers who have large families requiring ample public subsidy and who are so comfortable with dependency that they attempt not even the degree of assimilation implied in learning their adoptive home’s language.  Sarrazin has repeatedly and predictably run into trouble by insisting that Islamic culture, especially, nourishes this retrograde attitude.  Of course, he is right, inasmuch as the harmful Muslim tendencies at issue are not religious but cultural: the large families of the Near East and North Africa, the inferior role of women, the “unmanliness” of long study, and so forth.  To claim that Germany’s population must inevitably grow less intelligent as its proportion of weak student-material escalates thanks to open immigration—and that the German way of life itself must disappear as future generations become more inept with advanced technology—is not really racist at all.  It’s certainly not the same thing as saying, “Syrian Muslims are dumb.”  It is a commentary, rather, on the cultural friction between an atavistic society and a progressive high-tech society.  East Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese immigrants do not pose the same problem to the Western educational system, Sarrazin notes.  They are also far less attracted by the advantages of a de facto guaranteed minimum income provided by the German system.

It is painful, as an American, to read Saarazin’s applauding our more sensible handling of the issues in this work, most of whose research belongs to the previous decade.  We have not kept to the wiser path during the intervening years.

The single point that nags me about Thilo Sarrazin’s analysis is its philosophical materialism.  Christianity appears to be lamented in these pages as a body of helpful illusions that once made life happier, just as (one might say) the innocent deceptions practiced on children make Christmas happier.  To me, this is indeed the great flaw behind the book’s reliance on sociology and statistics: not their complexity, but their reduction of the central issue to a very practical one of economic sustainability.  If the West dies, I think it will be because she has terminally misplaced the purpose of individualism, of liberalism: to liberate the soul from bestial servitude in order to pursue things that have no “market value”.  Because of our contemporary spiritual malaise, we have exchanged the degrading drudgery of intense manual labor for the degrading addictions of an anemic will.  Our moral decline, after all, is intricately involved in the plummeting birthrates that cause such alarm to Sarrazin. Our steady, centuries-long desertion of largely self-sustaining agrarianism to have the affluence and convenience of city life has likewise exposed our pastimes to suicidal frivolity and snared our physical surroundings in a vicious cycle of unwholesome artifice.  We are courting depression through hedonism, poisoning ourselves with pollution, and turning chronically neurotic thanks to our mechanized pace of living: all of these factors leave us in no mood to produce a new generation, and sometimes physiologically incapable of doing so. Such issues cannot adequately be diagnosed without a spiritual reference… and the Christian Church in Europe, all across the denominational spectrum, seems incapable nowadays of providing this.

Germany Is Disappearing is a powerful work and a “must read”, in any language, for those who want to project the future of Western civilization with some mature degree of probability.  But it also seems to me to be missing a vital element.

Cashing in on Grief for a “Better Tomorrow”: More Than a Little Sick

Love! his affections do not that way tend;
Nor what he spake, though it lack’d form a little,
Was not like madness. There’s something in his soul,
O’er which his melancholy sits on brood…

Hamlet III.i.163-166

It was almost exactly a year ago that a “shooting incident” struck my institution… sort of.  The alarm turned out to be false: someone had dropped a book down a stairwell, and hyperactive imaginations with no real-world experience of a gunshots phoned in the “active shooter” report.  What followed was a fiasco.  Some trembling functionary or other entered my class, interrupted my lecture, and communicated to me in whispers that we needed to evacuate at once.  The hush-hush attitude as we urged students to leave their books and file outdoors “in an orderly fashion” was meant to avert panic, I suppose.  In fact, it naturally induced everyone to picture the worst-case scenario.  Fingers worked feverishly on iPhones.  A few women were almost in tears.

I myself started walking home from the parking lot (having previously gathered up my books as I was advised not to do).  Others told me later that somebody with a bull horn ordered them into an auditorium.  Really stupid idea.  What shooter would have any success trying to run down targets in a vast sea of cars?  But if even a single entry to a crowded interior space were improperly secured… fish in a barrel.

Obviously, there was no coherent plan.  (The original evacuation certainly contradicted the instructions for lockdown posted at every classroom’s door.)  What with the eventual arrival of state troopers by the dozen, all in riot gear and with weapons drawn, I suppose you could say that the event was traumatic for many.

But there was no shooter.  And here I will extend an observation to the Parkland shooting a month ago: for the vast majority of students, the trauma grew out of initial panic and later confirmation that seventeen students had been slain… but more out of the former than the latter.  You’re shocked when you hear that a friend has died in a car wreck—but life on earth is made of such shocks.  Whatever special trauma was stirred into the situation for most came from the mounting suspicion that this wasn’t just another fire drill.

Most students were not shot at.  Quite a few would not personally have known any of the victims in so large a high school.  Nobody who “looked down the bore of the shooter’s rifle” would have been upright to tell Marco Rubio, mere hours later, that his presence inspired the same sensation.

I don’t recall the student’s name who uttered that fatuously theatrical remark on national television, and I’m not going to look it up.  He doesn’t deserve the publicity.  There seem to be two, in fact, whose youthful mugs keep occupying our screens with the same “scolding nanny” look of prophetically monomaniacal dedication.  They’re beginning to annoy me.  I say here and now that their response is an affront to anyone who truly wishes to grieve.  Their immediate and highly rehearsed—sometimes even slur-laced—diatribes are not the normal reaction of someone who has met mortality head-on around a tight corner.  We’re so insulated from life in our various artificial alternatives to it that we no more know the face true mourning wears than we know how to distinguish between a gunshot and a falling book.  A mourner looks into the void.  He has no words… and then too many.  He asks God why the horror happened, why it happened to this one and not that one, and why anyone—in the dark dawn of such nonsense—should believe that there IS a god.  He becomes profane, perhaps.  He rambles.  He remembers.  He weeps.  He shouts furiously and incoherently, accusing the clock for not running backward.

He doesn’t uncork cool, sarcastic indictments of the NRA and its lobbying activities.

This is crap.  I’m sorry, but these two over-exposed young brats have been fed with it by their parents and other handlers… and now they’re spewing it back on cue.  That’s all I see.  Call me insensitive to the grieving process: I’ll see you and raise you in that game, because you’re being inconsiderate of true grief by indulging such a charade.

One more thing—and this is perhaps the main thing.  I have written often before that people opposed to the murder of adolescents in schools should also be opposed to the murder of babies in the womb.  This past month has led me to recognize my error: there is, in fact, no inconsistency of position here.  My confusion arose from identifying  the sentiments expressed with a concern for individual lives.  No such concern exists in the progressive mind.  To make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.  Specifically, X millions of fetuses must die so that, at long last, we may have a society freed of the nuclear family’s retrograde influence.  The state must guarantee women the right to “evacuate” the consequences of rash sexual behavior rather than draw men into a tangle of personal responsibility and investment in the future.  When and if a woman decides to bear a child, the state will raise that child.  Fathers are not needed.  Mothers, indeed, may soon be unneeded as the blueprint grows more Huxleyan.

In the same way, I have done the anti-gun crusade an injustice in assuming that its minions do not imagine scenarios where a woman must endure a brutal rape or a parent cower with the children behind a flimsy door as home invaders rifle the premises.  The gun-banners don’t lack imagination: they just don’t care.  Their imagination is riveted on the higher vision of a futuristic society where only uniformed, designated enforcers carry deadly weapons.  To get from here to there, yes, many women will have to be savaged helplessly and many children abducted and sold into slavery or murdered for the joy of bloodletting.  That’s how you make an omelet.  Eventually, as more and more guns are rounded up and more and more malefactors forcibly donate their sick brains to science, Earth’s one society will make a great leap forward.  Next stop: Mars.

That hard, unblinking stare of the smooth-browed, slick-haired snot who has now become the poster child for firearm round-up says it all: “You egotistical self-defenders deserve to die.  You’re standing in the way of progress!”

More on the Death of the Spirit: Why English Majors Can’t Read Literature

I wrote last time about the truly spiritual life—a life of forcing one’s principles to engage a hostile world and one’s preferred order to negotiate inconvenient necessities. In opposition to this stands the spirit-stifling life of embedding oneself in fantasy and demanding that everything and everyone around one flatter the assembly of illusions.  As in all human truths, there’s great irony here.  People who stifle the spirit will insist that they are “engaged”. Yet manipulation, intimidation, distortion, suppression, and prevarication don’t get at the kind of engagement I have in mind.  I suppose they could work, for a verbal contortionist; I suppose plowing a house under and leaving a rubble with an entry point to crawl through could be called “redesign”.

Certainly the people who declare the mud hole where they nestle to be holy ground and then rail against passers-by might be said to expend a kind of energy in their endeavor.  They never seem to know a moment’s peace, for practically everyone is moving in relation to them and thus needs a good dressing down.  When you declare your entire life a safe space, denounce all that you see beyond your narrow borders as offensive, and charge every intruder who doesn’t utter the password with failing to give a trigger alert, you probably won’t get much rest.

But that’s perfectly okay; because, as I wrote earlier, the ultimate objective of the exercise is precisely to keep one busy denouncing morally inferior people—to prove over and over again, every day, that one belongs to a unique group of higher beings.

I know this subject well.  I’ve passed virtually my entire adult life in Academe, as a formal college student and a teacher employed in some capacity: six or seven years as the former, and about thirty-five as the latter.  From either side of the lectern, I have observed “professionals” mutilate classic literature by insisting that no such qualities as “the classic” or “the literary” ever existed, but that—instead—only some specific socio-political dialectic or other is for real: only the struggle of women, or Hispanics, or blacks, or gays, to rise above white male patriarchal oppression.  All else is smokescreen.  All else is the established power structure conditioning you to revere a value system that locates its elite members on top of the heap; and by “mystifying” your conditioning so that its parameters appear holy and questioning them becomes strictly tabu, your masters spellbind you into mistaking your chains for artistic worth—for “beauty”.

If this sounds exactly like the hoodwinking our educational gurus are trying to work upon the upcoming generation, we shouldn’t be surprised.  An integral part of the mud-dweller’s m.o. is to project the ugliest impulses of his own soul upon that surrounding world which he strives constantly to condemn as inferior.  The snobby elitism, the abuse of power, the intolerance of open exchanges, and the magnification of a self-serving design to the authenticity of religious revelation all belong to the Playbook of Dead Souls.  There can be no more classic case of the Pot calling the Kettle black.

As a result, I have for several years now taught senior-level English majors—within months of receiving their degree—who cannot read a classical text like the Iliad without inveighing against how women are carried off as chattels, or one like the Odyssey without harping on the hero’s detainment by Circe and Calypso as if he were whoring in Las Vegas.  To them, Euripides’ Medea slays her two sons because of post-partum depression, or because male-dominated society has left her no other options.  As a teacher, I should say that I fail more than half the time ever to convince them that the mythic backdrop of such narratives puts them closer to symbolic commentaries about the human psyche than to social histories.  Our latest graduates don’t understand how there may be a “Medea side” in all of us: too tribal, too passionate, too irrational.  This ancient text and every other are all about men versus women: that’s as far as most of them can go.

Or else they instantly, almost reflexively (thanks again to their academic conditioning) see a Marxist class struggle unfolding.  I was at considerable pains last month to sell a class on the notion that clannish cultures do NOT have an autocratic ruler atop a steep pyramid and masses of slaving peasants beneath—that such stratification occurs only with the rise of complex settlements, as certain people abandon herding or tilling to learn martial arts and protect the community.  And while class struggles are by no means invisible in, say, the Odyssey (whose hero spends much of the epic disguised as an abused beggar), I’m uncomfortable with a student of literature’s retreating immediately to that level of interpretation as the right and only one.  Odysseus is not leading some kind of Marxist revolution.  If anything, he’s showing us that humility and awareness of others are increasingly esteemed virtues in a society where lions and floods are no longer the only kind of existential threat.

Where do students learn to apply such hermeneutical hacksaws to great books?  Why, from their “mentors”, of course!  Only look at the “cutting-edge” publications in a literary database: this same level of severely reductive thought is on display in all the “best” journals.

In my view, we need to know much about a distant work’s cultural environment precisely so that we may filter out those practices that keep us from the common humanity of its creators.  I’m not sure that I will ever quite understand what induced the Aztecs to cut the pumping hearts out of young girls in hideous human sacrifice… but I’m willing to keep trying.  And, yes, it’s grotesque that Achilles should have bestowed his love upon a woman whom he carried off as plunder after murdering her husband and family; but not only was this an unfortunate custom of the times—it is very likely intended by Homer as an ironic indication of how tragically cut off from normal human exchange the shamanic superhero is.  Can we really not get beyond the wounded feelings of the twenty-first century coed who has “sexual harassment” ringing through her head like a persistent migraine?

The squirrels in my back yard have destroyed my apricot harvest for years.  They start when the fruits are green and bitter, taking one bite and then throwing the rest away.  It continues until the tree is bare, usually before a single apricot has actually turned golden.  That’s the Ivory Tower: that’s the “engaged” mud-dweller who sits deeply where he is and slings grime at anyone who won’t stop and jump in.  It’s a world without beauty—a world without spiritual fruition: a mere hall of mirrors whose occupants can see nothing but themselves.

Where Dusk Turns Night: The Moral Putrefaction That Infects Utopianism

In recent weeks, I have thought more and more about what I can only call the “spiritual vector”.  It seems that we are surrounded by so very many people telling us that they are so very good and we so very naughty or depraved… they want to throw open our borders to the poor while we Scrooges want only to hoard our wealth, they want to collect and melt down all firearms while we sadists want only for more children to die in school shootings, they want to liberate women and finance the health care and education of minorities while we patriarchalists want only to keep women pregnant in the kitchen and minorities scrubbing toilets and mowing lawns.  We’re bad, so bad… and they are so very good—oh, is even Heaven worthy of them?

This level of hypocrisy has gnawed away at many of us for years, and even decades.  The open-borders multiculturalist professor who gripes incessantly because his students write poor English and his research on Mycenaean tholos tombs is underfunded… the gun-banning crusader for innocent lives who considers the murder of an unborn child tantamount to wart-removal and turns abusive if the word “baby” appears… the woman-and-minority rights advocate who insists that all the sisters must abjectly “vote their genitals” and that all people of color are genetically too unpromising to make their own way… the list’s could grow by dozens with a moment’s reflection.  If Heaven is populated by such whited sepulchers, I’ll take the other place.

Only in the past few weeks, however, has it occurred to me that something significantly directional distinguishes the humble person of faith from the fire-eating utopian.  Faith draws the spirit outward in constant efforts of clarification and qualification—a challenging, intimate struggle with surrounding realities; theatrical self-righteousness draws everything inward like a black hole to orbit a narcissistic core.  The believer finds and expresses his individuality by channeling his conviction through daily opportunities that exact compromises or require courageous declarations; the spiritual poseur strikes an inflexible posture, as before a mirror (or, these days, a lens framing a “selfie”), and demands that reality arrange itself into appropriate background.  Guns, for instance, must be categorically hideous things whose complete abolition is the only morally tenable stance.  If their use were nuanced (as, say, in the defense of children from psychopaths), then our Saint would not show forth with such éclat.  Resistance to the minimum wage can only be processed as overt racism and class warfare.  If the real-life economic catastrophe posed to blue-collar workers by such thoughtless rigidity were weighed, this would-be personification of society’s moral conscience would have no prancing charger from whose saddle to strike a Napoleonic pose.

In its most elemental form, we see here the wicked delirium of playing God.  The utopian seeks to recreate the human universe just as he would like it to be—just in the fashion that puts him, with his superior moral lights, securely at the summit, handing down laws to Moses and the children, thundering away when he is disobeyed.

A sincere believer is probably distressed that guns exist—but he recognizes an overriding interest in preserving through deadly force the lives of innocents, who must not be left exposed to the mercies of a lunatic ready to harvest them with the joy of a wanton grump whacking down roses with his cane.  For that matter, the believer understands that objects in wild nature, though not endowed with free will, should not be destroyed merely to create an amusement park or a speedier bypass; for the soul profits from acknowledging its partnership with the rest of creation and from sensing the imaginative outpouring that we call aesthetic perception.  To ruin things that stir us just to put more cash in our pockets or to save our lazy bodies five minutes of walking is ignoble and degrading.  A lot of self-styled believers spend too little time reflecting upon this.

But is our Saint Utopian any better off?  I saw two unrelated documentaries last month that portrayed the same shocking variety of self-absorption in different venues.  In one case, protesters were insisting (in the streets and at well-funded conferences) that lions, rhinos, and elephants must be allowed to roam free throughout Africa.  In their incalculable ignorance, they obviously did not know that such creatures would starve themselves into oblivion in their already imbalanced ecosystem if not managed—and, of course, there was no detectable awareness of the stresses placed upon the continent’s burgeoning human population.  In the second case, an equal ignorance was fueling a vigorous lobbying effort to let mustangs range free throughout the American Southwest.  Yet mustang numbers are already so excessive that mass starvations occur regularly, while dozens of plant and other animal species are also imperiled by locust-like over-grazing.

Doesn’t matter.  These zealots have their full reward when they pack up their placards to retreat to Olive Garden in the evening or repair to the hotel bar after the day’s final conference paper.  They are better than you and I: more caring, more animated, more “woke”.  The very animals or people on whose behalf they make endless noise (as others of us work for a living) will likely suffer further—if not die—should their protests effect “meaningful change”.  None of that matters.  The mission is, and always was, to establish their moral superiority.  Mission accomplished.

At some point, naive souls foolishly misled into this maelstrom of egotism must either lose their innocence or paddle out of the whirlpool upon recognizing it as a death trap.  At some point, error morphs into evil.  A person whose life is dedicated to a kind of perpetual “selfie” is a corrupt being from whom no good can be expected.  I could float several theories about why such beings are among us today in such abundance.  Perhaps the electronic lifestyle itself is largely at fault, drawing us deeper into the service of mere appearance—the utterly artificial existence of the supporting actor tossing on something from the wardrobe chest and mouthing a few cliché lines.  Or perhaps the steady accumulation of our sins—our history of hook-ups, abortions, slanders, betrayals, and cowardly flights—has left us (certain ones among us) suffering from so severe a self-respect deficit that we crave an instant and constant infusion of moral superiority.  In this, of course, we only mire ourselves more profoundly in moral squalor.

I grieve for our sick society.  I pity the gullible fools who flirt with lapse into real and abiding wickedness.  I wish I could warn the away from the radioactive company of “God-substitutes” who declare that their own heads are tingling with brave new worlds—and that everyone and everything in the real world must be made to comply if “happiness” is ever to come.  Milton’s Satan is brimming with just such visionary futurism when he looks about Hell and decides that the furniture can be pleasantly rearranged.

We need to recognize this pernicious influence for what it is and mount an effective resistance to it, or else the victims of extermination may include more than equids and pachyderms.

Suicide: Dark Goddess of a Youthful Cult?

I learned yesterday that one of my favorite students had committed suicide.  As far as I knew, she had continued on from her Bachelor’s to a graduate program.  I don’t think she managed to be admitted into the university of first choice, but she had settled into a program that would prepare her to be a professional editor.  She seemed to “have it together”.  While I was aware that she suffered from severe insomnia and was on medication, I had supposed that the problem had been brought under control.  She had a boyfriend of whom she spoke with much warmth, so I wouldn’t have imagined her to be agonizingly lonely and isolated.  She was not unattractive, though the average male these days would likely have been drawn neither by her looks at first glance nor by her quiet, retiring manner.

The person who broke the news to me explained that the girl was bipolar, as if that accounted for everything.  My informant was almost in tears, and I’m certainly not criticizing her individually; but I’m a little vexed when someone hands down the bipolar diagnosis as being sufficient reason for tragedies like this.  We can resist, we can fight—all of us can.  A genetic or hormonal predisposition to gloom means only that some have to fight harder than others.

I couldn’t help but recall, as well, that our victim had been enrolled in that class about which I’ve written so many times—the one whose members (well, three or four of them) howled at me when I once remarked, “I guess the homework assignments drove them to suicide,” in an effort to wave away my irritation at certain frequently absent students.  I have always made clear (including when the incident happened) that I was NOT joking about suicide, but rather about the lack of commitment in this group; and I have since stressed, upon reflection, that I view the manner in which my remarks were received by the loud few as willful, wanton belligerence.  If I say, “I’m out of ammunition,” am I showing insensitivity to the school children slaughtered at Parkland?  If I say, “I’m kind of spacey today,” does someone whose sibling died of a drug overdose have a grievance against me?

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I was indeed joking about suicide.  Why shouldn’t I, or why shouldn’t anyone?  Why should the word “suicide” only be whispered, and always with fear and awe, as if she were some ancient goddess from the dark side like Hecate or the Erinyes?  Why should not Suicide be scorned and derided like the opportunistic, cowardly assassin that she is?  At the end of The Haunting—original version, directed by Robert Wise—Richard Johnson’s character subdues a murderous poltergeist by openly, mockingly laughing at her.  Why should not Suicide be shown the same degree of respect… which is to say, none at all?

When I was suicidal in my mid-twenties (as I, too, enjoyed the delights of graduate school), I fought my way out of the haunted house by observing to myself how melodramatic I was being, and how stupid and cowardly an exit by way of The Pit would be.  I can hear one of my detractors from two years ago right now: “Well, that’s fine for you—but it doesn’t mean that other people feel that way.”  No… and your style of “sensitivity” doesn’t mean, either, that you’ve shown more mercy or saved more lives than I have by refusing to venerate the dark goddess.  What if you have actually contributed to the problem by inducing those around you to bow before spirits from hell?  Are you so sure that you haven’t?

Personally, I am convinced that such “sensitivity” is somewhat implicated in the suicide epidemic.  Suicide has become an Event, perhaps the Ultimate Event (in a society that has no other use for the metaphysical or the supernatural).  It is the dramatic exit always accessible to people whose lives otherwise have no drama and attract no notice.  I’m not suggesting that the friend we lost last week was such a one: if her insomnia had returned, that alone may have driven her over the edge (or that and the useless medications so freely and heavily prescribed by “professionals”).  Yet even under such horrible torment, perhaps she would have held out if the shame of suicide were still prominently etched in everyone’s soul.  Feeling shame before certain acts is healthy.  It can protect us from catastrophe.  Now that we’ve decided that shame is “judgmental” and “lacks compassion”, our brothers and sisters have a diminished power of resistance which makes them easy prey for the spiritual parasites gnawing the human psyche.

But that doesn’t really matter, of course: the only thing that really matters is for you, generation of hair-trigger outrage, to make clear to the world—and yourselves—that you are morally superior beings.  Gee, what great friends you must all make! What comfort the despairing must find in you!

Rest in peace, S.B.