Ours is a noisy world. I don't mean the roar of the neighbor’s lawnmower before 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. We live in an age that is saturated with cultural and social/political noise. Western culture is being drowned in corrosive clamor. This can hardly be a coincidence. The moral confusion of our time has a consuming effect on our ability to make sense of reality and to be content with daily existence.
The West has now reached a point when we can no longer afford to ignore the rapid zombification of contemporary man. These people are now legion. Their affronted and mindlessly militant worldview has been brewing since at least the 1960s. Of course, the causes of how and why the West has been brought to this ominous condition cannot be entertained in a vacuum, without first addressing the nature of man.
Aristotle is correct that character is created over time, through the exercise of virtue. In the absence of virtue, it is not difficult to understand how some people can be easily exploited into becoming "angry" zombies. Angry is the new chic. Virtue is definitely not in vogue at the moment. Virtuous people are not cool. Remember, ours is an age that is very susceptible to what is “trending.” We are infatuated with hollow fashions.
Take a young child; indoctrinate him or her from the cradle to think of human reality merely in terms of race, gender or class categories, as the trend dictates, and follow where that leads. Groupthink cannot allow the cultivation of spontaneity or thoughtfulness. Plant envy and resentment, and see what kind of person you will reap. Eventually, this politically constrained view of human reality blinds people into embracing a noxious belief system that incapacitates them to lead happy lives. Predictably, these politically useful souls can no longer think other than in social/political terms.
This is analogous to watching a young athlete build muscle through weight lifting. However, in the education of children, the inverse is the case. Here, the ability for rational discernment and the soul’s capacity for self-knowledge and autonomous action are atrophied. Don’t scratch your head, though. Nothing happens by coincidence in this radicalized age. Curiously, being angry today, besides being modish, is out of proportion to our unprecedented material well being. Our abundant worldwide economic statistics demonstrate this. The angry types, you will notice, are highly affected and disingenuous. They are also masters of deception and hypocrisy, for their anger is blatantly selective. However, such theatrical anger is costly. The cacophony that these hapless souls produce is driving Western culture into an unprecedented abyss.
Western man now meanders through life without recourse to meaning and purpose, without regard for the calming effect that beauty and truth can have on daily life. This is what issues forth from self-loathing relativists and nihilists, people who crave meaning at any prize, while forging a world that negates transcendence and God.
Ironically, the elites who have fomented our social/political dissolution feel that they are the only people qualified to get us out of our dismal predicament. Go figure. This is a classic tale of Marxist self-delusion, which has poisoned the well of all aspects of western life and culture, whether many people today suspect this reality. The funny thing is that Marx referred to such elites as fomenters of false consciousness. Hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty are perhaps better words to describe these elites. If history has taught us anything, it is that the ire and cynicism of demythologizers brings societies to ruin. The subsequent move in this hypocritical and destructive dialectic is to convince people that things are so bad that only a radical fix can save us. Stay tuned. This is textbook radicalism. Twentieth century history has taught us this. Yet how many of the angry ones care to study history?
Marxism, especially under the tutelage of its most brilliant twentieth century agent of mayhem, Antonio Gramsci, perfected this stealthy, angry dialectic. Gramsci provided fashionably angry people with a visible, can’t-go-wrong-while-appearing-angry agenda, while creating a following of those who imagine themselves the guardians of popular causes. How is this possible? Because Gramsci understood that if Marxist theory and its many neo-derivatives were to be effective in annihilating objective values, truth and the nuclear family, for instance, appearance had to take precedence over truth. The best way to accomplish this, Gramsci proposed, is to destroy both, high and popular culture. Just think of Aristotle’s prescience, when he writes that everyone wants to philosophize at the expense of truth. It is not a coincidence that today the West is ruled by morally corrupt individuals who lack constructive ideas.
Lamentably, the average person does not realize that for Gramsci and his current cadre, man is just cattle, grist for the mill of the sinister notion that the end justifies the means. This, we cannot forget, is the altar and substance of secular religion. Radical ideologues must wage perpetual war on human reality. Even more menacing still is the realization that the educational establishment has not only swallowed the Gramsci pill to-end-all-our-woes, it actually relishes it. Thoughtful people have tremendous cause for trepidation today; our moral/spiritual havoc issues from the world’s allegedly educated elite.
Stanislaw Witkiewicz and Aldous Huxley were right when they assessed that the brave new world of the future would become violently consumed by the happy pill. It is also ironic that the happy pill, the murti-bing pill, as Witkiewicz called this, is making man violently ill. This feel-good, entitlement pill has destroyed Western man’s ability to reason and our capacity to cultivate genuine emotions. We have also lost the instinct to identify danger and the will to resist the totalitarian impulse. The glare of technological barbarism can’t be too far behind. George Santayana, who is best known for his observation that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, defined radicalism as "redoubling your effort after you’ve forgotten your aim."
Currently, many of the institutions, customs and manners that dominate our world are based not on genuine, but rather politicized values. This is exploitive and high combustible. However disingenuous, the latter is promoted through the power of public relations. Virtuous people are being conned by morally corrupt, idea-deprived people whose purpose it is to push the status quo as the new norm.
Our vicious spiral into the maelstrom of radicalized, technocratic savagery is the inevitable result of our destruction of objectivity and time-proven values. This goes against the whole point of learning from our mistakes, doesn't it? The greater the clatter, the less societies need wisdom. Of course, wisdom has always been a threat to power. Our present predicament has hardly come about through common accord. This sets a very dangerous precedent for the future of democratic institutions and human liberty.
Sensibly speaking, there is no convincing reason why our culture must embrace experimental values just because intellectual hipsters urge the rest of us to accept the latest and coolest moral trends.
A fruitful question for us to ask today is whether moral relativism begins or ends with the emptying of the human soul: nihilism? Regardless of the imaginative, up to date monikers that nihilism embraces: neo-this, relative-that, or post-something-or-other, immorality can’t hide its vile talons. Regardless of the fancy names, we are left with mind-numbing and character-annihilating noise. The lasting effects of relativism on democracy are ominous. The value-free existence of people in the West is devouring the worth and purpose of free societies.
If Marx is correct to assert that bourgeois hegemony creates institutions and values which protect the people who benefit from them the most, then we can be certain that our progressive nihilism is the product of morally corrupt people who are merely protecting themselves. These are C.S. Lewis’ men without chests. This is also the curious case of adaptation preceding evolution.
The denizens of moral relativism have succeeded in creating a self-indulgent world order in which only they can flourish. While embracing self-serving values, they promote veiled nihilism as the greater good. This is a winner take-all formula. How can they go wrong with the popular appeal of this formula? As Jacques Barzun effectively argued, we now have the culture we deserve.
It is now next to impossible for people of good will to have a fighting chance to embrace virtue. How can young people today embody the virtuous life that Socrates envisioned or the values of Christianity, in light of the barrage of social/political mendacity and aberrant cultural/spiritual nonsense that dominate contemporary life?
In Warning to the West, Alexander Solzhenitsyn points out key ways in which the totalitarian impulse has come to rule the West. One of these is the retreat through which older, wiser generations have yielded “their intellectual leadership to the younger generation.” Solzhenitsyn argues that this goes against common sense and human experience: “For those who are youngest, with the least experience of life, to have the greatest influence in directing the life of society.” This is a formula for disaster on all levels: cultural, spiritual, economic and social/political. Why do it, then? Because it is a winning formula for radical ideologues to have the passion of youth do their dirty work. They understand that young people do not fear the precipice.
Books by Dr. González
Dr. Pedro Blas González is a Professor of Philosophy at Barry University, Miami, Florida and is finishing a book on Ortega's The Revolt of the Masses. Professor González's professional interests include the relationship that exists between subjectivity, self-knowledge, personal autonomy and philosophy; ancient Greek philosophy; the thought of Schopenhauer, Albert Camus, Louis Lavelle, Karl Jaspers and the relationship between form and philosophical vocation. He blogs at Castle to Castle.