Other worlds and ours: James Cameron, Gene Roddenberry, and Dante Alighieri

You may have heard this report about some fans of James Cameron’s new movie Avatar who have become depressed and even suicidal over the realization that this world can never be as wonderful as the movie’s fantasy world of blue-skinned elves living in harmony with nature.  It brought to my mind an old boast I used to hear:  that whereas people in the Middle Ages were indifferent to their actual lives and their actual world because they’d put all their hopes in an imaginary afterlife, we brave, secular moderns put all our hopes and energies into this life–and, by golly, it’s helping us make progress.  (Whereas in the Middle Ages, centuries would go by without major changes.)  Now, not only is this claim not true, in some ways it seems to have gotten things exactly backwards.  People in the Middle Ages did dream about another world or worlds, and so do modern people.  There is a big difference, though, in how the dreamed world relates to our current one.  For medievals and other traditional peoples, other worlds tended to enhance the significance of this one.  For moderns, the meaningfulness of the fantasy world is contrasted with the meaninglessness of the real one.

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Toward a deeper understanding of conservatism

I would like to recommend that my fellow reactionaries check out this essay over at Dispatches from the North.  It’s a short but penetrating introduction to the great counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre.   A couple of points to take away from it:

1) The author hones in on the real heart of Maistre’s project, which was to examine the nature of authority.  This examination lead to Maistre’s well-known claims that authority cannot be grounded in consent, and authoritative consitutions cannot be deliberately and explicitly manufactured, any more than the people it rules can be so manufactured.

2) The author explicitly points out that traditionalist conservative thought cannot be reduced to Edmund Burke.  This is a necessary corrective to the annoying Burkeolatry one often encounters on the intellectual Right.  It’s been my experience that arguments that start with the formula “true conservatism = Burke” always seem to end in the conclusion “we should capitulate to the liberals”.  One can see this quite fully in the recent books on conservatism by Sam Tanenhaus and Jeffrey Hart.  True conservatism, these men insist, consists in gradual change–never mind its direction–and defense of the status quo–no matter how iniquitous.  Only loony reactionaries like de Maistre acturally tried to undo established liberal policies, right?  In particular, a true conservative would certainly jump on the divorce-feticide-and-sodomy bandwagon by now.  Hence the conclusion of the “Obamacon” Burke-aficionados that Barack Obama is today’s most exemplary conservative.  If this is conservatism, they’re welcome to it.  I’m happy to be a reactionary loon.

The curse of the Wandering Jew

The first man to acheive immortality was Utnapishtim.  For rescuing animal and human life during the Flood, the gods granted him this favor, that he and his wife should live forever, albeit outside the realm of mortal men.  For Utnapishtim, immortality is a blessing–one that the gods have seen fit to deprive from every other man, as Gilgamesh learns with bitterness.

Next came the Sibyl of Cumae.  To win her love, Apollo offered her a gift.  Gathering a pile of sand, she said, “Let me live as many years as there are grains of sand here,” and it was granted.  Having been given near-immortality, she spurned the god–after all, the gift of a god is irrevocable.  Apollo then changed his blessing into a curse:  the Sibyl would continue to live, but she would also continue to age.  She would age and shrivel until nothing was left of her but a voice, pleading for death.  This time, near immortality is a curse, but only accidentally.  Not perpetual life, but the infirmity of extreme old age is what is unbearable.

During the Christian era, another man was given immortality:  Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew.  For mocking Christ as He carried His cross to Golgotha, Ahasuerus was cursed to live on for millenium to millenium and wander the Earth until Christ’s second coming.  Unlike the Sibyl, Ahasuerus does not continue to age–near immortality itself is the curse, as well as the perpetual homelessness which, we shall see, is essentially connected to it.  Nor is immortality a curse only for the Wandering Jew in Christian folk lore.  It is also such for the Flying Dutchman, who is essentially the Wandering Jew at sea.

How could immortality–not immortality accompanied by perpetual pain or aging, but immortality in itself–be a curse?  And why couldn’t an immortal man feel at home in the world?  Why must he be a wanderer?  It might seem that such a man would be more at home in the world, which after all is his permanantly, while we are just temporary guests.

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Brainwashing vs. Indoctrination

My mother once told me a story about a Catholic grade school class.  The teacher (who was a sister in a religious order) was telling her pupils about the evils of communism.  In particular, she told them that the communists used their power to brainwash their subjects and tell them what to think.  One student raised his hand and pointed out that the sister did the same think to her students.  My mother didn’t tell me what the teacher said in reply, but I would like to reply for her.  What they do in Catholic schools is not brainwashing, it’s indoctrination.  The two words both have negative connotations, but they are as different as night is from day, as conditioning is from teaching, as animal is from man.

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Is the right more militaristic than the left?

Let me present a thought experiment.  Suppose the twentieth century had gone a different way.  Europe is now ruled by a rejuvinated Habsburg Empire.  These Austrians are America’s main compeditor for world power.  The Habsburgs are aggressively Catholic; they have declared that they will use any means at their disposal, not excluding military force, to rid the world of American-sponsored evils like abortion.  Suppose half of academia was Catholic and fairly obvious in their support of the Empire.  Suppose crypo-Catholic movies were constantly coming out of Hollywood.  Who do you think would be more inclined towards a confrontational posture towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the right or the left?  Who would be more inclined towards negotiation or even appeasement?

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Another reason to despise the Iranian protesters

They’re trying to do to Islam what Western liberals did to Christianity:

To varying degrees, thinkers and theologians identified with the democratic movement have been offering a new reading of Shiism that makes the faith more amenable to democracy and secularism. The most significant innovation—found in essays, sermons, books, and even fatwas—is the acceptance of the separation of mosque and state, the idea that religion must be limited to the private domain. Some of these thinkers refuse to afford any privileged position to the clergy’s reading and rendition of Shiism–a radical democratization of the faith. And others, like Akbar Ganji and Mostafa Malekian, have gone so far as to deny the divine origins of Koran, arguing that it is nothing but a historically specific and socially marked interpretation of a divine message by the prophet. The most daring are even opting for a historicized Muhammad, searching for the first time in Shia history for a real, not hagiographic, narrative of his life.

As this book explains, for a Muslim to deny that the Koran comes directly from God is equivalent to a Christian denying the Incarnation.  I strongly suspect that the only reason the Greens don’t openly advocate atheism is because they think they can do more damage through subterfuge.

Now, not being a Muslim, I myself am not committed to a belief in the uncreated nature of the Koran, so you might think it strange that I should mind anyone else expressing skepticism about it.  However, when evaluating a movement like this, we should not just ask ourselves whether the criticized beliefs are completely true.  We must also ask whether the beliefs that the skeptics are steering the Iranians towards are truer.  We must also remember that truths can be tied up with falsehoods in the minds of men–if a falsehood legitimates a truth, we should be wary of attacking the former lest we cast doubt on the latter as well.  Now, I have little doubt that these religious reformers have privately abandoned belief in their historical religion.  They have done so not because they suddenly found Islam to be incredible, but because they encountered a new faith that they found more credible.  This faith, it can hardly be doubted, is liberalism.  So the choice here is not between Shia Islam and whatever you think is a perfect belief system.  It’s between Shia Islam and atheist liberalism.  I myself am quite convinced that the former is closer to the truth about the universe, man, and society than the latter.  I’m also convinced that the former is connected in most Iranians’ minds to a number of important truths.  Islam provides them with a sense of the sacred and the profane; it reinforces the claims of morality; it helps people put the good of family, clan, and nation over their own; it affirms a person’s sense that what he does with his life matters in some ultimate way.  Liberalism would take all of this away.

Fortunately, as Daniel Larison points out, the embrace of liberal theology will be political suicide for the Greens.  By the way, my Burkean defense of the Iranian regime can be found here.

Another reason why the Republican Party is worthless

It does things like this.  Senator Reid pointed out that the fact that President Obama speaks without a Negro dialect helped him to get elected, and this is a scandal why?  First, does anyone seriously doubt that there is such a thing as a negro dialect?  If you do, read this by a black linguist, and then stop pretending to be stupider than you are.  Does anyone doubt that people would be less likely to vote for someone who they thought sounded like a black gangster?  Note that Reid didn’t say people would have been correct to feel this way, only that that’s how it would have been.  Finally, has anyone not noticed that Obama speaks standard English?

I’ll admit that I feel a little sorry for the Senator.  After all, I thought the big advantage that comes with selling your soul to the Devil and becoming a liberal is that you finally get to stop groveling before assorted wedge minorities.  So, due in part to his nitwit Republican detractors, Reid has apologized to the Negro community, and all whites will suffer for it.  The fact is that every time a white person cowers and grovels at the feet of the Negros, it only encourages them to become more belligerent.  When whites try to make reparations to blacks, it only convinces the latter that the white man’s guilt is indeed beyond question.  Then there’s the matter of displaying weakness.  The black community has learned very well that the white man fears being called a “racist” more than death itself, and small acts of moral blackmail can yield big rewards in money and status.  Finally, there’s the issue of precedence.  Nobody could give a sensible explanation of why Reid’s comments were offensive, but we have now collectively agreed that such statements are beyond the pale.  This will just make it that much harder for the next poor shmuck who gets called down to Human Resources for using the word “niggardly” or the next first-grader who gets suspended because she says she doesn’t like Mexican food.  Ironically enough, the only friend that white American’s have had during this farce is President Obama, who has (quite reasonably) striven to downplay the incident.