Abraham Poincheval is an artist.
His is the art of living inside a small hole, a metal cylinder, a bear’s carcass, or the French Alps for a week or more.
This is from the Washington Post:
As you read this, Poincheval is inhabiting a bear. A hollowed-out, sterilized bear carcass, to be exact. He’s been there since yesterday [April 2, 2014], and he won’t leave until April 13. That means he’ll eat, sleep, drink and — yes — “go to the bathroom” inside the bear.
He talks nonsense.
Poincheval, according to the exhibition’s press release, has long had a “need to become one with such an animal.” During a previous performance, which involved him living in the French Alps, he “repeatedly encountered animal carcasses.” That got the French artist’s wheels turning. What would it be like to live inside one?
His thoughts on the matter got pretty deep.
“The transcendence between man and bear endures since the dawn of time,” the press release says. “A profound symbolism has existed since the prehistory, a symbolism that is still gripping the Western world’s imagination today.”
Transcendence cannot be between two things. For one to transcend the other he or it must go beyond it or him.
And neither man nor bear have existed since “the dawn of time”.
And there cannot have been any symbolism “since the prehistory” [presumably of mankind] as only human beings can create symbols. But what symbolism does he mean? What is being symbolized? However did he discover that the symbolism of whatever it may be is gripping the Western world’s imagination? (It’s not gripping ours.)
Poincheval wanted to make imagination into reality.
Meaning presumably that he wanted to make real something that he imagined.
Though such a feat — especially when it involves residing inside a giant bear carcass for a fortnight — isn’t necessarily an easy task. It takes patience. It takes calculation. It takes a very comfortable pillow.
The piece [of performance art], which he’s filming with two cameras, is being held at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Hunting and Wildlife Museum).
“Thought as being the intermediary between the world of men and the world of animals, for a long time the bear was believed to be man’s ancestor,” [his] press release tells people … “Becoming [a] bear and the wearing of [its] skin is to bring about a liberating choice between human nature and animal nature. … Right from the start, this communion between Abraham Poincheval and the bear will inevitably bring him to a state of profound meditation.”
Will it? Inevitably?
A boon for the Western world’s imagination.
The State Department has spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars acquiring Art. That is to say, paying for objects that its resident or consultant aesthetes swear are works of Art, worth every penny.
The acquisitions were apparently a priority for Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. If you would see her monument, tour US embassies and look about you.
Fashionable Art doesn’t come cheap. So there was no money left to pay for such a humdrum thing as effective protection of the US diplomatic and CIA missions in Benghazi. Denied the security they needed, four Americans, including the ambassador, were killed there by savage jihadis. Well – Hillary might say – there has to be human sacrifice on the altar of Art, it makes all the difference, and if you don’t understand that, you are a philistine bourgeois.
Look on the bright side. The Art is displayed in many a US embassy. Americans can be proud.
In London, there’s a granite wall built by Sean Scully that cost $1million. We couldn’t find a picture of it, but it’s like this one displayed in an art gallery.
Daniel Greenfield illustrates an article on the subject – which inspired this post – with these pictures of works by Cy Twombly. The top one is at the embassy in Rome.
From his text:
Beijing [embassy] contains $23 million worth of art. Bern has $1.2 million and Luxembourg has $2.2 million.
And here is the grave of Ambassador Stevens, murdered at Benghazi. We don’t know how much it cost, or who paid for it.
Post Script: Here is some wall art that really has meaning. The wall is part of the US mission in Benghazi. The paint is blood. A hand put it there the night of the attack. It might have been the hand of Ambassador Stevens himself – or of one of his brutal killers. One does not have to read Arabic to know who signed in for the event on the other wall.
(Hat-tip: our reader and commenter donl)
Continuing our series on contemporary Gnosticism, here is the fourth essay under the title The Darkness of This World. (For the first three put Our Gnostic Age in the search slot.)
The Darkness of This World
Our Gnostic Age
In its defiance of religious and cultural norms, most New Age doctrine and practice (briefly described in the last essay) is comparatively mild. Far more savage messages have come from thousands of pop songs and rap “flows” since the 1960s. Cruelty and religious images are a large if not predominant part of their stock-in-trade. Themes of rape, murder, massacre, torture, Satan, devils, demons, sado-masochism, ultimate doom, universal destruction by nuclear bombs or climate apocalypse, terrorism, suicide, death, are common, hugely popular – and therefore enormously lucrative. Here are words from a rock song called Demons. It was sung by a group named Rigor Mortis – typically connoting something dreaded, in this case death: “We come bursting through your bodies, rape your helpless soul …we force you to kill your brother, eat his blood and brain, shredding flesh and sucking bone till everyone’s insane, we are pestilent and contaminate, the world Demonic legions prevail.”
Such songs could be, and sometimes are, interpreted as instructions to do evil. But then, almost any song could be – and was. Charles Manson, mass murderer and cult-leader of a mass-murdering group, declared himself profoundly stirred by a Beatles song called Helter-Skelter, into whose quite innocuous words about sliding down a fairground slide, he read a coded message about the coming of a final conflict between the black and white races. 
But songs, however gruesome, and even if sometimes inspiring real cruelty and murder, are not the source of the moral rot in twenty-first century Western culture. Nor are the video games that require the killing off of humanoids in such profusion that they’re often blown away as copiously as brown leaves in a gale. Such popular indulgence in Halloween-like fantasy are analogous not to the old Gnostic cults themselves, but to imitations of their rites as pictured and misunderstood by less educated outsiders. The deliberate “sinning” of the Gnostics, with orgies and drugs, was performed for several reasons or excuses: to “use up sin” – ie. commit as much sin as possible in order to hasten the end of the world, on the assumption that there was a fixed amount of sin pre-ordained by the evil Creator, and when all of it had been committed his creation would be done for; or on the grounds that it wasn’t sin at all, only named so by the evil creator, and by defying him they were acting for the good; or on the grounds that true Gnostics – the “Spirituals”, or “Masters”, or “Perfects” – were incapable of sinning and so were free to do anything they liked. Those who were fascinated by the cults but excluded from them – being despised by the Gnostics as “hylics”, “animal men”, creatures irredeemably belonging to the earth – caught rumor of the rites and misunderstood them to be ways of worshiping the Devil.  The performance of “Satanic” rituals such as the Black Mass may very well have begun in imitation of Gnostic rites as imagined by “hylics” who hoped they would summon up the Devil to grant them occult powers. The Devil was supposed to be able and willing to sell such powers to any buyer willing to pay the price of his or her “immortal soul”. Sometimes the drug-intoxicated, orgiastic rites included human sacrifice. To the Christian churches such beliefs and rituals were not only heresy, they were blasphemy; and through the Middle Ages, when such blaspheming heretics were sniffed out by the moralists of almost any Christian denomination, they were punished with torture and fire; burnt at the stake as witches and “black” magicians. It’s certain, however, that they did far less harm, hurt and killed far fewer victims, than did the churches themselves.
No. The power to effect evil on a vast scale lies not with the many but with the few; not with the uneducated but with the educated; not with adolescent entertainers but with intellectual elites. Evil as, or for, a “higher good” becomes a force that deforms civilization only when it issues from the top of the tower. They affect the way teachers teach, students learn, and governments govern. They are professors, philosophers, priests, psychologists, writers, critics, film-makers, rogue scientists, politicians. They are the revolutionaries with a long reach. They could be called the legislative branch of the new orthodoxy. They write the laws of “political correctness”.
The executive branch whose members are responsible for disseminating the toxic ideas, are the powers that appoint the teachers at the universities; publish books and newspapers; choose the plays and the works of art that are to be presented to the public. They are the givers of grants and awards, the producers of films, the social-engineering bureaucrats.
A counter-culture with a mood of sustained rebellion has become dominant in the early twenty-first century in the West not as an imp daring to do mischievous things to provoke an old-fogey establishment, but as a loud, bullying, relentless thug. It rules in the academies and the press; it permits and cheers on the jolly viciousness of popular culture. And it has come to political power throughout the Western world. It is no longer an amusing adversarial movement confined to a demi-monde of the young, the envious and the frustrated; it is now the culture itself. It camps on the public square, wallowing in its own detritus. It stinks. It threatens. It crows triumphantly on its own dung-heap. It gloats over its crimes. It riots in the streets of the cities, smashing the windows of stores, setting fire to banks regardless of whether there are people in them. It burns cars. It shrilly demands much in exchange for nothing. And it legislates, and it taxes, and it makes war on small nations for no better reason than sentiment.
It prevails. And it seems to have come upon the prosperous, brilliant, powerful West quite recently. It has called itself the Red Army of this or that; or Anarchists against Capitalism; or a movement for Hope and Change; or the Occupy Wall Street Movement… It entered the Parliaments of Europe late in the last century, and now it is in the White House of America. But actually it grew slowly through the last three centuries.
It began in Europe, it spread from Europe, and in Europe it became malignant. It began as a reaction to the Enlightenment, that marvelous long morning when the sun of Reason rose to its zenith in the eighteenth century, and the Age of Science gathered pace. Technology, the daughter of Science, gave birth – first in England – to contraptions, contrivances, devices and engines that spun wheels and let off steam and smoke, appalling those blessed or cursed with sensitive souls. Religion blanched. The power of the Churches drained away. Christianity itself declined, but with its fading came a nostalgia for its mystery, for its visions of dim glories, and even for its guilt and its terror.
Jillian Becker October 31, 2013
1. In August 1969, Charles Manson sent Susan Atkins with two other women and Charles “Tex” Watson to a house in Beverly Hills to kill the actress Sharon Tate and anyone else they found there. Atkins states in her autobiography Child of Satan, Child of God, that as they approached the house, “I was deeply aware of Evil. I was Evil.” She and her companions brutally murdered Sharon Tate and four other people with knives and a gun. “Tex” Watson said to one of the victims (according to Atkins), “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.” Atkins wrote: “I was to learn later that this was the home of the beautiful Miss Tate and [her husband Roman] Polanski, who was out of the country at the time. … Polanksi had produced the controversial Rosemary’s Baby, a film about a woman who bore a child by Satan.” Shortly before meeting Manson, she records, she had refused to participate in a ritual of Satan-worship conducted by Anton LaVey – occultist and musician, founder of the Church of Satan, author of The Satanic Bible, father of a son named Satan LaVey – because she believed in God. When she joined the Manson “family”, she thought that Manson “might be God himself; if not, he was close to him.” Her life with the Manson “family” was full off drugs and orgies which made her feel that she was “one with everyone”. “What Charlie taught us,” she said, “was love”. She bore a child which she insisted was not Manson’s, and named him Ze Zo Ze Cee Zadfrack “for no other reason than that at the torn and twisted time it seemed like a good name”. (So it must be a coincidence, though an intriguing one, that the magic formula for gaining direct access to the highest heaven of the Gnostics, according toThe Book of Ieû is: aaa ooo zezophazazzzaieozaza eee iii zaieozoakoe ooo uuu thoezaozaez eee zzeeezaozakozakeude tuxuaalethukh. – Gnosticism: An Anthology by Robert M. Grant, Collins, London, 1961.)
2. A misinterpretation of Gnostic ritual as devil-worship probably accounts for some of the testimony given at the trial in France, in 1310, of the Knights Templar, a military branch of the Cistercian order specially founded “to protect pilgrims visiting the Holy Land”. King Philip IV, known as Philip the Beautiful, feared their power and coveted their wealth. They were the international bankers of the age, as well as a considerable military force and an efficiently organized intelligence network. They owned vast estates in France. Their reputation as heroes of the Crusades, as warriors and carers of the sick and wounded, made them glorious in the eyes of the common people. Philip was determined to bring them down, to confiscate their lands and treasure, to extirpate them from his own realms and destroy the order wherever his power or influence could reach. The means he chose was to accuse them of heresy. On the night of October 12, 1307, every Templar in France, along with his servants and dependants, was arrested and imprisoned by order of the King. Two and half years later the trial began. Witnesses told of secret meetings behind locked doors, through whose keyholes they had seen and heard abominable rites. Almost all said that the Knights had denied Christ, spat upon the Cross, and declared that it was right only to believe in “the Highest God”. Some reported that they had seen them pay reverence to idols and the devil. Some Knights, being broken by torture and unable to face the terrible punishment that awaited heretics, themselves “confessed” to performing such rituals. Though their legal defense was cleverly devised and persuasively presented, the verdict was a foregone conclusion. The last officers of the order were burnt at the stake on March 19, 1314. Some historians maintain that all the accusations were false and the order was free of any taint of heresy, and no direct evidence has ever been found to prove the case one way or the other. But the more credible testimony of the witnesses strongly suggests that what they glimpsed and heard through keyholes was a Gnostic rite as had been practiced by the Cathars in the Languedoc region of southern France, of whom the last few were then being hunted down and burnt to death by the Inquisition. But beside the possibly true witness accounts, tales were told of devil-worship, including the ritual kissing of the Devil’s behind, which were probably the stock-in-trade of common gossip in those heresy-obsessed ages of Catholic tyranny.
3. One example of sentiment at work in international affairs to brutal result arose out of the United Nation resolution known as “R2P” – The Responsibility to Protect. It requires the strong and wealthy nations of the West to be guardians of vulnerable populations in any foreign state. It was invoked as a reason for French, British and American intervention in Libya in 2011, to overthrow the dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, to the time of this writing, there has been no effective government in Libya. Rival Muslim terrorist groups control their fiefdoms, ruling arbitrarily and ferociously by a mixture of sharia law and vicious whim. The population is a lot worse off than it was under Gaddafi. An earlier example was the interference in the 1990s by the West – chiefly America – in the Balkans. The socialist governments of Western Europe and the Democratic government of the United States believed it was right according to leftist principles to make war only where the interests of their own countries were in no way served by it. The American and NATO soldiers who died saving Kosovar and Bosnian Muslims from alleged Catholic or Orthodox Christian oppression (so positively assisting Muslim terrorist groups in Kosovo), gave their lives not for their country, or freedom, but for the need of their leaders to feel good about themselves. The idea that it is the height of morality to sacrifice oneself (or one’s country’s soldiers) for others, particularly if the others are perceived as underdogs, derives directly and exclusively from Christianity.
Christianity and Islam are both cults of martyrdom.
We’ll say no more just now about Christians seeking and applauding martyrdom. We’ll just let the gorgeous picture below tell its own story of Christians being tortured to death by Muslims and their souls winding their way to a weird sort of heaven.
But here’s a tale of Muslim martyrs that feeds our prejudice and endorses our judgment against the Muslim Brotherhood. It comes from Gatestone, and is written by Raymond Ibrahim:
New evidence indicates that some of the pro-Morsi protesters reportedly killed by the Egyptian military, after the Muslim Brotherhood president’s ouster, were actually killed by fellow pro-Morsi protesters. They did this, according to the report, to frame the military, incite more Islamist violence and unrest, and garner sympathy from America, which has been extremely critical of the military, especially in the context of the post-Morsi violence.
“Garner sympathy from America”. It’s an old Arab trick. They condemned generations of their fellow Arabs to a life of misery as “Palestinians” in order to “garner sympathy” from the West. They largely succeeded too. The West has been complicit in keeping them as beggars – the West’s way (these days) of dealing with beggar nations being to put money in the outstretched left hand while quaking at the threatening right hand raised in a fist.
The Arabic satellite program, Al Dalil, (“The Evidence”) recently showed the evidence, which consisted mostly of video recordings.
One video records events on July 8, during pro-Morsi protests in front of the Republican Guard building in Cairo, where Morsi was being held, and where the bloodshed between the military and Brotherhood began. The video shows a young man with a shaven head and a Salafi-style beard approaching the Republican Guard barrier; he gets shot, collapses to the ground, and dies — as other protesters fly into a rage against the military.
At first watching, it seems that he was shot by the military. But when the video is played “in slow motion and in zoom” it becomes apparent –
- that someone from behind him, from the pro-Morsi throng, shot him. The whole time he falls, in slow motion, he is still facing the Republican Guard. Yet when the camera zooms in, the bullet wound and blood are visibly at the back of his head; his front, facing the military even after he falls, does not appear to have a scratch. Considering that the military was facing him, it seems apparent that a fellow Morsi-supporter shot him from behind.
On the same day this man in the video and others were killed, Muhammad Mahsoub, a former Brotherhood member and politician tweeted the following: “The Brotherhood sacrifice their youth in the streets, even as the sons of their leaders are at the beach resorts … Allah curse the hypocrites [based on a Koran verse];” and “I repeatedly warned al-Baltagi against his plan to antagonize the military in order to implicate it [in] an attack on the protesters, but he insists on his plan…”
Baltagi is a Brotherhood leader who has been especially vocal about “getting back” at the military; he apparently also enjoys close relations with the widely disliked U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson.
Whose sympathies were long ago garnered by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Another video shown on Al Dalil is even more obvious. An armored vehicle appears slowly driving by a group of pro-Morsi protesters, many easily discernible with their Salafi-style beards. A shot is heard and the man nearest the passing vehicle collapses. Again, at first it appears that the men in the armored vehicle shot him.
Played, again in slow motion, however, it becomes apparent that the man in a gilbab [long Muslim style robe] standing directly behind the murdered man is actually the one who shot him, then walked over to another man near him, gave him the weapon, and then quickly walked off the scene. Even the man on the roof who is taping this scene is heard to be asked, “Did the car [armored vehicle] shoot?” only to reply, “No, no.”
Even so, the desired effect of all these “human sacrifices” by the Brotherhood was accomplished: as with the other man, shot in front of the Republican Guard, many other pro-Morsi protesters rushed to the fallen man, screaming Islamic slogans and vowing relentless war on the military, as it supposedly “shot first.”
This second incident prompted the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, to call for “an uprising by the great people of Egypt against those trying to steal their revolution with tanks.”
To many Islamists, killing an ally to empower Islam is legitimate, especially in the context of two Islamic ideas: 1) jihad [war in the service of Islam], in Islamic jurisprudence — for its function, under Muhammad, of making Islam supreme — is considered the “pinnacle” of Islam; and 2) Islam’s overarching juridical idea that “necessity makes the prohibited permissible” – in other words, that a pious end, such as empowering Islam, justifies the use of forbidden means. All that matters is one’s intention, or niyya.
Thus, killing fellow Muslims, lying, prostitution, even sodomy all become permissible, so long as they are seen as ways of advancing and empowering Islam. Those who commit or promote even the most horrific crimes are exonerated, and those “sacrificed” to empower Islam — as those pro-Morsi supporters killed by the Brotherhood — are deemed martyrs who will achieve the highest level of paradise.
The Ten Thousand Martyrs on the Mount Ararat by Vittorio Carpaccio, 1515
A passing thought: “Carpaccio” is also the name of a dish made of sliced raw meat.
The Left, as a whole, in the Western World, has become far more extreme in this century than it was in the last. The Socialist and “Conservative” parties of Europe, the Democratic Party of America, the universities everywhere, the media and the film industries, book publishers, song writers, judiciaries, and a slightly varying half of the voters in almost all Western countries, are predominantly of one opinion, consciously or semi-consciously, articulately or silently, that Marx and Lenin, and even (though their names may be spoken a shade more sotto voce) Stalin and Mao, were right.
This is from Front Page, by Vladimir Tismaneanu:
It has become fashionable among leftist circles to invoke a return to Lenin, to radicalism, to utopia. Among those who advocate such imperatives to “retest the communist hypothesis” one can count French philosopher Alain Badiou, a former admirer of the Khmer Rouge, and Slovene thinker, Slavoj Zizek, the new idol of Western university campuses, subject of documentary hagiographic movies, and prophet of a new phantasmagoric world revolution.
To know more about Slavoj Zizek, see our post Red alert, January 21, 2009. And to get the flavor of the man, watch the video at the foot of this post.
Did the partisans of such positions ever stop to think how it would sound a call for “retesting the Nazi hypothesis”? One must be totally oblivious to history, an incurable cynic, in order to ignore the fact that Leninism, just like National-Socialism, means political terrorism, the apotheosis of fanatical partisanship, the boundless cult of violence and nihilism, etc. In short, Leninism presupposes … the destruction of the inner man. Leninism is theoretical and practical anti-humanism.
‘The inner man” in this context means the individual for himself alone, not as a unit of “society”.
There have been conferences and symposia where Lenin is presented, in an academic context and without any trace of compassion for the millions of victims of “the great experiment”, as the philosopher of the break with an order putatively condemned by history.
The “order putatively condemned by history” is of course capitalism, or the free market. Those who condemn it and praise “the great [Communist] experiment” have not noticed that the free market has brought widespread prosperity wherever it has been allowed to, or that Lenin’s experiment, the miserable Soviet Union, failed and fell and lost the Cold War.
All in all, it is unsurprising that the prophets of violence worship Lenin. What is surprising is that intellectuals, who should have learnt from the catastrophes of the 20th century, are engaged in an endeavor driven by programmatic irresponsibility. It is simply shocking that in countries where the Leninist model was implemented, one can still read and hear hymns honoring the architect of a criminal system.
Should we be amazed by all this? What could one expect from the epigones of Georg Lukacs, the Marxist philosopher who declared … that he preferred the worst form of socialism to the best incarnation of capitalism. …
Georg Lukacs was the Hungarian Commissar, and philosopher of drama and art, on whom Jillian Becker’s character L is based in her novel L: A Novel History.
Real history does not matter for such sectarians. What does matter is the dogma to which they are faithful in total disregard of reality. … It is quite telltale that one of Hugo Chavez’s intellectual heroes was Istvan Meszaros, one of Lukacs’s former students who … has remained a flaming Marxist, faithful to the dialectical sophistries of his mentor.
An excellent example of such world-view is a recent memoir by a Romanian Marxist intellectual, Ion Ianosi, who happened to be deeply involved for long stretches of time in the ideologization of the country’s culture during communism. The volume’s title is My International. Some critics glorify the book as testimony of heartfelt sincerity. What is missing in those more than 800 pages is an honest analysis of Bolshevism as justification of social genocide. Ion Ianosi seemingly excels on topics such as “Marx and Art”, “Lenin and Art”, pretty much the same fields for which his expertise was called upon during his activity within the Romanian communist party’s Agitprop. But Ianosi shies away from trying his expert pen on topics such as the crimes against humanity inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology.
Even before the Bolsheviks’ coming into power, it was clear that Lenin was a fanatical propagandist, a utopian ideologue fixated on social purity and purification, an heir to Robespierre and St. Just, but no philosopher. Philosophy implies doubt and Lenin was the man without doubts. …
Lenin was the practitioner of a simplistic, partisan, and exclusivist philosophy. He rejected emphatically any possibility for a middle path, of a tertium datur between what he called “bourgeois ideology” and the “proletarian” one.
We at TAC are all for “bourgeois ideology”, if the bourgeoisie as such – the successful middle class – can be said to have such a dusty thing as an ideology. We value the middle class, anyway, above the others, because out of it has come almost every one of those men (and handful of women) who have advanced our civilization and augmented the glory of our culture in the last five hundred years. (Though also most of those who’ve done our civilization the worst harm, such as Marx, Lenin, Lukacs …)
Lenin’s Manichaeism [bourgeois bad, proletarian good] was inexorable. For Lenin and his followers, ideas were (are) always the manifestation of class interests. … This is the meaning of a notion essential for the Leninist conception about ideas, ideologies and philosophical consciousness: partiinost – partisanship, class position, militant commitment, total and abject subordination to the party line.
Leninism is a revolutionary doctrine that sanctifies political violence and condemns entire social categories to state-engineered extinction. It is … rooted in the visceral contempt for the rule of law, legality, and the universality of human rights. “Back to Lenin” means a return to barbarism, blindness, and murder.
We are not enamored of the phrase “human rights”. We prefer to speak of human freedom, which we suppose is what Professor Tismaneanu, who has lived under Communism in Romania, probably means.
Now here’s Slavoj Zizek. He starts at about the 2 minute mark. Don’t expect to be rewarded for over 15 minutes of paying attention with any impressive ideas. He says nothing much, but with strong emphasis, and what he does say is notably wrong. For instance, that Norway is intolerant of immigrants! (Go here to test this notion, and to any other of Bruce Bawer’s numerous articles on the same subject.) He thinks the major political groupings in Europe are now the “capitalist anti-immigrants” on one side and the [Islamic] immigrants on the other. (Would it were so! ) He calls himself a Leftist, though oddly declaring that in America there is “an excess of anti-capitalism”; calls Fox News “the enemy”; and implies that the worst problem facing mankind is … you guessed it … global-warming.
Yes, the culture of the West is superior to all the rest in every way that affects life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Here’s part of what Daniel Greenfield writes at his website Sultan Knish, thoroughly endorsing our boast on behalf of a maddeningly diffident and self-deprecating Western world, specifically America:
We are better than them. When all the other arguments for why we can’t fight back have been exhausted this is the one that remains in the background presenting our moral exceptionalism as the reason we shouldn’t fight to protect ourselves.
“Fight back? But then we’d be no better than them?” If we waterboard then we are no better than the headchoppers and mutilators. If we profile then we are no better than the genocidal jihadists. …
But is that really the difference between us, that we treat everyone equally even when they are cutting our throats, and the moment we deviate from the standards of the Trial Lawyers Association then we’re no better than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda? Does our exceptionalism derive from our laws, in which case if we compromise our laws then we [have] given up the only worthwhile thing about us and there is nothing more to fight for – or are our laws the means by which we protect our individual and national exceptionalism?
We are better than they are, is the argument put forward so often by those who do not truly believe that we are, and even when they do they don’t understand why we are. The Bill of Rights did not spring full-grown out of a barbaric culture …
We are not better than they are because we guarantee civil rights to our enemies – we are better than they are because of Michelangelo, the microchip and universal education. We are better than they are because of Shakespeare, the space shuttle and the World Trade Center. We are better for all the reasons around us, the accomplishments, the achievements, the knowledge we have gained and the society we have built.
Our laws were crafted to protect these achievements, the exceptionalism of the individual from the government, and that of the nation from internal and external enemies. The laws have no individual life apart from the culture of the nation that created them and maintains them. It would be possible to transpose the United States Constitution to Indonesia, Libya or Pakistan and it wouldn’t last a single day there. No mere document can safeguard rights and freedoms that a culture does not value, and no culture that does not value them is deserving of their protection if such protection has the cumulative effect of destroying those same rights and freedoms.
Freedom isn’t just defended on the battlefield, by the time things get that bad then the damage will be hard to contain. We defend it every day by defending the culture that makes it possible. Against external enemies there is the war of armed conflict, economic competition and geographic positioning. Against the internal enemy there is the culture war, the war of ideas and institutions. …
Governments are instituted to keep laws and laws are implemented to keep the people. Governments serve the law, but the law serves the people. And the people are not some random mass, they are not defined by passports and identity cards or place of birth – the people are the keepers of the flame of their culture. This need not be a matter of birth, immigrants can be among the greatest heroes and natives among the greatest traitors. But no one who is committed to the destruction of the culture, in concrete or abstract terms, in the immediate present or the indefinite future, can enjoy the protection of legal codes that exist to protect the freedom of the individual within the integrity of a free culture.
The more sophisticated a culture becomes the less it is concerned with survival. Bubbles grow in its centers of government and learning within which philosophies and ideas seem more real than reality. Opposing philosophies struggle to lobotomize the culture with revisionist histories and social philosophies that place their own ideal at the center of all human striving. But ideas are sterile without a culture to carry them forward. Kill the culture and the ideas become orphans that [are] adopted in an altered form by some other culture – if they are lucky.
Tolerance and civil rights are worthless unless the countries and cultures where they are expressed are also defended. Any form of tolerance which leads to its own destruction is not only poisonous to a host culture, but is also literarily self-destructive. All healthy entities whether biological, organizational or intellectual contain the means for their own continuance and self-perpetuation. Any entity which does not is poisonous and must be treated as such, and to defend any idea or code above the survival of the culture that carries it is a homicidal act.
When conflict comes, two questions are asked. Is the threat real and is our culture worth fighting for. The latter question is most often asked by elites whose bubble ideals no real culture can ever measure up to, and by outsiders who have the least invested in the survival of the culture.
“If we do this how are we any better than they are?” is the question of the bubble elite whose abstract ideals exist apart from flesh and blood people, who do not measure their ideals by the culture, but measure the culture by their ideals, and always find it wanting, who think that the culture with its millions of people and centuries of history exist to shepherd their ideals and die for them – and ought to be grateful for the privilege of dying so that no Muslim is ever profiled at an airport.
The bubble elites distrust nationalism and patriotism because they center not around ideas, but the people’s sense of solidarity. The only exceptionalism that they will accept is the exceptionalism of ideals, and if the nation does not represent its ideals then it does not deserve to live.
In the face of such reasoning it is important to remember that we are not better than our enemies because we represent ideals, but because we create ideals along with skyscrapers, paintings, high powered microscopes, novels, better mousetraps, systems of philosophy, muscle cars, musical styles, theorems, charities and sandwiches.
Of course a comprehensive list would be immensely long, but we’d like to add computers and the internet to Greenfield’s samples. How did people endure existence before they came into common use?
We are makers and shapers, movers and thinkers, seers and doers. We reach for the stars and find ways to keep premature babies alive. We are imperfect, dynamic and changing – and the world would be a much poorer place without us in it.
Whatever we do to protect ourselves against outside enemies in thrall to a hostile ideology, regardless of where they were born is fully justified by our accomplishments, our past, our present and our future – and even if all these things were not present by our right to individual, national and cultural survival.
It is not by becoming pacifists that we will be better than them, but by fighting for what we have and who we are. And if we do not stand up for our countries, our peoples and our cultures then we will not inherit the moral high ground, but the low killing pits of the victims of the thousand year spree of terror. There is no moral high ground to be gained in refusing to struggle to your utmost for the things that you hold dear, only through the struggle to protect our individual and national exceptionalism, can we gain the high ground and justify the assertion that we are better than them.
The Europeans are discarding the rich Western culture built and paid for with blood and tears by their forefathers through hundreds of years, as though it were trash. Will Americans, who so enormously augmented and enhanced it, preserve it now that it’s under severe threat? Not if Obama, the Democratic Party, the Occupy Wall Street protestors, academia and the mass media have their way.
If there must be a culture war, dulce et decorum est to become warriors on the side of our inherited, enlightened, culture.
You might consider this post to be a recuiting ad. We want YOU!
In a fervently, almost ecstatically, favorable review of Terrence Malick’s “mystical” movie The Tree of Life, John Boot writes:
Malick gorgeously imagines the creation of Earth and its development through periods of fire and mayhem. We see wonderfully done shots of the early days of the planet that include images of dinosaurs. At one point, one dinosaur lies stricken and perhaps dying on the ground while another dinosaur comes up and seems bent on killing it — but then apparently thinks better of this and walks away again. It’s as if Malick is illustrating the most rudimentary appearance of mercy.
He goes on to say:
Each of these [human] characters ultimately stands for the same idea: That we are all, in a sense [what sense? - JB], children of a great power that we can never hope to understand. … It’s entirely proper, and refreshingly unusual, for a filmmaker to try to use the majesty of cinema to make us feel the majesty of God.
We’d enjoy feeling awed, but how can we when we’re still laughing at the merciful dinosaur?
Adolf Hitler wanted to to be an artist and believed he had the necessary talent.
In his book Hitler, the historian Norman Stone contradicts some assumptions about the young Adolf that were and still are widely held:
Hitler inherited enough capital [from his father] to keep him roughly at the level of a junior schoolteacher, and he did not have to starve – on the contrary, as he grew up, he became a fussy dresser, and indulged his taste for opera. He could pay for his own studies, and he made for the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, hoping to study architecture. The academy thought quite highly of him but competition for places was severe and he was twice rejected in 1907 and 1908.
Actually, Stone gets one thing wrong there. Hitler’s “test drawing” in 1907 was “unsatisfactory”, according to Academy records. And in 1908 his submissions did not even qualify him to take the entrance examination.
But he did make some extra money by selling his paintings to tourists.
Norman Stone writes:
Contrary to legends that he later propagated, he was never crushed by poverty, forced to live in a home for tramps, or become a house painter.
During the Second World War it was commonly believed in the allied countries that Hitler had been a house painter. (Hannah Arendt says so in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, perhaps because she really believed it, or perhaps because she wanted to believe it. It was an occupation that intellectuals naturally scorned. It would have been unthinkable to her that Hitler was a painter in the sense of being an artist – even a poor one.) Among intellectuals, art was then, as it is now, held in high esteem, and the calling of the artist was to them as near to being sacred as anything on earth could be. It was a view that Hitler shared.
To what extent his failure to become a renowned artist contributed to his becoming a monster, recognized universally as the personification and archetype of evil, nobody of course can know, though many theorize about it. The fact remains that the revolutionary national-socialist genocidal mass-murderer and destroyer of Europe, Adolf Hitler, was an art-loving bohemian, animal-loving vegetarian, and passionate admirer of Wagner’s death-loving operas. (“Death-loving”? See our post The cultivation of evil the sickness of Europe, July 20, 2010.)
Aesthetics should never be confused with ethics. Nor is strong feeling in itself a moral good. Beauty is not truth, nor truth beauty. And often what is true is extremely ugly.
Post Script: The paintings in our post below are by (in descending order):-
Some of these paintings are by Winston Churchill and some are by Adolf Hitler.
Some are signed, but of the rest can you tell which are by whom?
It should be easy.
Art critics have praised Churchill’s and slated Hitler’s.
But was that because they knew who the painter was in each case?
Which of these works are good and which are bad, and why?
Are the characters of the two men revealed in their painting?
If so, how?