The prosperity engendered by high technology opens lots of economic room for nihilism, so we should not perhaps be too surprised to see it blossoming these days. But latter-day reproductive technology also makes it possible for nihilism to follow through in reproduction on its moral commitment to death. I.e., it enables nihilism to delete itself from the population. Never before has nihilism had this power to enact its own ultimate conclusions in concrete acts. Until recently, even most nihilists who ended up killing themselves also reproduced themselves in the meantime, willy nilly.
Mutatis mutandis, then, the population of nihilists should be set to crash, just as that of the Shakers crashed.
On the one hand, you have the ephemeral symptoms of nihilism: tattoos, piercings, sex change operations, and soon no doubt random unmotivated pointless amputations of this or that. On the other, you have askesis, that cuts away everything that is not of the Truth.
The first rejects substance and meaning in favor of nothing. It deletes great hunks of being, at the same time complicating what remains – and not in a good way. The nihilists are hunted, harried, gloomy, weakened, fey.
The second abjures partiality for fullness, of being, significance, beauty. It clarifies and simplifies, as the dross falls away, leaving only the dense pure gold. The students of askesis are at peace, or on their way to it. They are hearty, quiet, relaxed, and hard to spot.
The first ends in crabbed miserable death, the second in life everlasting.
Then there is everyone in between, all of whom must sooner or later decide between these two options.
There is no patrimony, and hasn’t been for generations. We’ve been making it up as we go for the last 250 years or so, each of us cobbling together on his own the lineaments of a coherent way of life from the jetsam that is the only remnant of what was once the ship that bore our forefathers up together from infancy, piloted by their fathers and kept by their mothers.
That ship is gone, wrecked, taken apart piece by piece and thrown into the sea by improvident sailors, unofficered, free, and drunk.
In fact, I self-identify as a multi-billionaire. So everyone must treat me as if that’s just what I am. Especially banks and merchants, those dogs.
Not only that, but I self-identify as young, fit, and irresistibly attractive to women. So that’s how they have to treat me.
Finally, I self-identify as a brilliant polymath and profound philosopher, a sage with perfect knowledge of all truth. That’s how I know that my self-identifications are correct. So listen up, OK?
Writing (disapprovingly) in 1966 on the then-nascent reforms to the Roman rite Mass:
Reverence gives being the opportunity to speak to us: The ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei (ed: “capable of receiving God”). Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man’s life. It can be rightly called “the mother of all virtues,” for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose. The most elementary gesture of reverence is a response to being itself. It distinguishes the autonomous majesty of being from mere illusion or fiction; it is a recognition of the inner consistency and positiveness of being-of its independence of our arbitrary moods. Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. Remember that reverence is a constitutive element of the capacity to “wonder,” which Plato and Aristotle claimed to be the indispensable condition for philosophy. Indeed, irreverence is a chief source of philosophical error. But if reverence is the necessary basis for all reliable knowledge of being, it is, beyond that, indispensable for grasping and assessing the values grounded in being. Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him- who opens himself-is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Moreover, once a gradation of values has been recognized, a new kind of reverence is in order-a reverence that responds not only to the majesty of being as such, but to the specific value of a specific being and to its rank in the hierarchy of values. And this new reverence permits the discovery of still other values. …
The irreverent man by contrast, approaches being either in an attitude of arrogant superiority or of tactless, smug familiarity. In either case he is crippled; he is the man who comes so near a tree or building he can no longer see it. Instead of remaining at the proper spiritual distance, and maintaining a reverent silence so that being may speak its word, he obtrudes himself and thereby, in effect, silences being. In no domain is reverence more important than religion. As we have seen, it profoundly affects the relation of man to God. But beyond that it pervades the entire religion, especially the worship of God. There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness: reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the sacred. Reverence, including awe-indeed, fear and trembling-is the specific response to the sacred.
Which jives rather nicely with my earlier diagnosis of modernity as “the institutionalization of rebellion against the order of being,” either birthed by or leading to a kind of spiritual autism, a “pervasive insensibility to the sacred”:
Without a sense of the sacred, reality becomes meaningless, senseless, and incomprehensible; the human condition becomes one not of citizenship and duty but of imprisonment and injustice. Rebellion against that order results, with predictable consequences.
60 years ago, we were told the Mass, that “gobbledegook of Latin ritual” pregnant with “obscurantism” and “magic” (to quote the execrable Paul Blanshard), had become incomprehensible to modern man, and that, far from trying to communicating its riches more effectively, we had to open it up to his appreciation by cutting out much which was worthy of appreciation. Now, it’s marriage that’s up for similar treatment. We’re all spiritual autists now.
Apropos of Kristor’s recent recommendation of an essay, available online, by the redoubtable René Girard (born ninety years ago), I call attention to my latest contribution at The Brussels Journal, “Globalism as Sacrificial Crisis,” a discussion in review of The Mark of the Sacred by Jean-Pierre Dupuy, who works from a declaredly “Girardian” perspective. The Mark of the Sacred is a courageous analysis of the existing crisis in terms of Girard’s concepts of mimesis and the sacred. The review is a follow-up to two earlier ones that also appeared at the Journal – those of Gregory Copley’s Un-Civilization and Eric Cline’s 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed. I am indebted, as always, to Luc van Braekel, for the handsome treatment of the text.
The article is here: http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/5148
I am also indebted, as often I have been in the past, to Angel Millar, webmaster of The People of Shambhala, for posting my essay on “Ur-Civilization, Cosmology, and the Invention of History,” which couches a discussion of how much we know of the human past, and of how certain many people are of knowing everything about it, in the context of a quest for the merits inherent in what its detractors refer to as pseudo-archeology. Readers of The Orthosphere who are familiar with such names as Ignatius T. Donnelley or C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne, might find some modest pleasure in my paragraphs. (As I hopefully predict…)
The article is here: http://peopleofshambhala.com/ur-civilization-and-the-invention-of-history/
One of the many reasons I posted so little here at the Orthosphere over the summer was that in the months leading up to the family vacation that began in mid-June I had been feeling more and more discouraged about the culture wars, and thus enervated. The handwriting was on the wall, the Persians at the gates of the City; and other watchmen on the web were doing a great job. What could I add, really, to the fight, especially given that it seemed foredoomed to go against us?
Sure, I was busier than at any time in recent memory with family and business affairs. But such business had not kept me from writing in many decades.
In retrospect, I just needed that vacation. I was tired. I know this because only a few days into the vacation I began to feel hope again.
An article of mine has appeared at The Brussels Journal under the title, “Hannah Arendt and Richard Weaver on the Crisis of Western Education.” It is accessible at: http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/5141
Here is a sample:
Arendt writes of assuming responsibility for the inherited world, as the conservative or curatorial heart of education. A strikingly complementary notion occurs in the work of one of Arendt’s contemporaries who also wrote about the perils threatening education in the period of the Cold War. This writer saw in the self-styled progressive pedagogy of his day, which in his view had already begun to subvert traditional education, an essential ‘irresponsibility to the past and to the structure of reality in the present.’ Indeed, he saw that the assumptions of this revolutionary coup-d’état in the classroom could never ‘serve as the foundations of culture because [they] are out of line with what is.’ It was the case that ‘where [these assumptions] are allowed to provide foundations,’ or to allege to provide foundations, ‘they imperil the whole structure.’
The other writer is Richard Weaver (1910 – 1963) and the lines quoted above come from the chapter on ‘The Gnostics of Education’ in his book Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time (published posthumously, 1964). Arendt was a woman of the Left; Weaver was a man of the Right. That their separate and independent commentaries on the same topic, appearing in book form within three years of one another, should be so convergent and complementary is striking. What explains it? A commitment to civilization, shared across the political frontier, might be the best answer to the question. Both Arendt and Weaver, in contrast to the advocates of avant-garde pedagogy whom they criticize, see education in its conservative or curatorial role as a civilizational, rather than as a social, institution. When the high-school English teacher in Santa Monica brought his portable stereo to the classroom and invited his students to listen to Wagner, he appealed to them in the name of civilization, not in the name of society. At the time, society’s idea of music was The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones. When I challenge students to read and appreciate Tono-Bungay by Wells, I do so in the name of civilization, not of society, whose notion of literary challenge is non-existent.
When, several semesters ago, my department chair asked me to teach the local version of the nowadays-pervasive “popular culture” course, I consented with some mild misgivings and, as I like to do, took a mostly historical approach to course-content. I have no investment in contemporary popular culture, the wretchedness of it striking me as consummate. My students, for their part, being morbidly, continuously immersed in contemporary popular culture, require no one to acquaint them with it. At least they require no one to tutor them in it directly, since it regrettably is their ubiquitous, hortatory guide, and their authoritative cue-giver, for all facets of life. But one might apprise them about the insipidity of existing mass-entertainment indirectly by putting it in contrast with the popular entertainments of the past, including the classic films that most of them have never seen and, more importantly, would never seek out on their own. One film that I showed to students was the Errol Flynn vehicle The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), directed by Michael Curtiz. Another one, not so well known as Robin Hood, was the Roger Livesey/Wendy Hiller vehicle I Know Where I’m Going (1945), directed by Michael Powell (1905 – 1990).
Meet the late Elliot Rodger, 22-year-old serial murderer and self-proclaimed “supreme gentleman,” who blamed his killing spree on his inability to attract a lover.
There’s a lot that can be said about Mr. Rodger from a sociological perspective — from whence his narcissism, his self-entitlement, his will-to-power? — but regular readers of the Orthosphere could likely anticipate such an analysis or produce a better one on their own, so I don’t feel the need to write one. Instead, this post is aimed at those in a similar situation as his (on the off-chance that any might read it), those who have ever asked themselves, “I’m a nice guy; why can’t I get a girlfriend?”
If you have ever uttered these words, you are almost certainly a beta male.