Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Conservative Horror


Many are familiar with the conservative thinker Russell Kirk.  However, not as many are aware that, along with his more serious work, he was also an accomplished writer of ghost or, "horror" tales.  This is perhaps not as incongruous as it might first appear.  The genre is one perfectly suited to the conservative mind.  Horror, at its best, is about the past coming back to haunt the present.  Someone upsets the status quo, asks too many questions, looks too deeply into the heart of things and is punished for their hubris.  What is more, studies have even begun to show a difference in chemistry between liberal and conservative brains that reveals a great deal about their, no pun intended, mindset.

The conservative psyche lives in a state of perpetual fear and disgust, the very bedrock of horror.  It is perhaps the sense of disgust especially which has always characterized the right's overwhelming lack of empathy.  They live with a fear of the "other" which is almost supernatural (and is supernatural where fundamentalism is concerned) in its intensity.

We can see this type of thinking perfectly illustrated in the work of H. P. Lovecraft.  Lovecraft was notoriously racist, and a reading of his "The Horror at Red Hook" will instantly conjure up images of contamination and too close a proximity to filth.  Thankfully for his admirers, Lovecraft appears to have dispensed with many of these views in his later years, but his work stands out as an excellent guidebook to the dark corners of the conservative mind.

It makes one shudder to think at what strange vistas of hell we could witness, if Cheney ever pulled himself away long enough from shouting angry epithets to set pen to paper, even the Necronomicon might be put to shame.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The God Of The Gap

It is commonly assumed that there are but two positions in regard to theism:

1.) That an individual adheres to a given religion and its attendant god or gods.

Or

2.) One holds to no religion and no belief in a god or gods, a state referred to as a-theism.

However, what we see in practice is more often in-between these positions.  On the one hand, most except the concept of some form of a god as the probable truth, and delve no deeper than this surface gloss, (most likely due to the fear of ignorance on the issues involved) but assume there are answers "out there" to meet any objections which may arise.

As an atheist, I have no objection to the philosophic contention or contemplation of a god or gods.  Rather, it is the un-reflecting acceptance of such a position which troubles me.

As outlined above, most individuals hold to some vague theism, and find renunciation of it, in an absolute form, to be socially unacceptable.  It does not often occur to them that they are themselves engaging in a form of weak atheism/theism.  The commonly held view that everyone should adhere to some form of theism is not the same as belief in a religion.  At the risk of creating a false dichotomy, one may be theistic and non-religious, and one may be religious but non-theistic, but to be theistic and religious implies a deeper commitment which entails sacrifice and adherence to a set of prescribed dogmas, that most, in an increasingly materialistic society, are unwilling to risk preaching lest they be held to their standard and found wanting.

That it is possible to be religious but non-theistic is exemplified by Buddhism, where belief in a god of any kind is not essential.  That it is possible to be theistic but non-religious is nobly demonstrated by Spinoza, whose pantheistic god makes worship and prayer in vain, if not solipsistic.  Yet, both sides of the coin contain within themselves a structure, or a set of values which serve to guide the initiated.  In contrast, the vague quasi theism of many Americans (neither genuine religion nor genuine philosophy) may be viewed as either cowardly or ignorant, or a combination of the two.  Cowardice for the lack of a deeper commitment to what should be paramount issues in one's life, courage for greater introspection, and perhaps ignorance of the skills necessary for unbiased self-reflection.  Thus, one ends up filling the gap between commitment and conviction, and the conveniences of secular modernity, with a god cut to size.  A state even more broad in its interpretation of theology than Cafeteria Christianity, and twice as hollow.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

We Can Be Heroes

"I want a hero: an uncommon want..."
                                ---Byron


The age of hero worship appears to be past.  The "Great Man" theory of history is seen as too neglectful of the contributions of the people plural, if not outright dangerous after its manifestation in twentieth century Germany.

I have written before about the concept of the hero as example for personal conduct.  There is a distinction here that I think is often overlooked.  The "Great Man" was never meant to be emulated, how could he be?  His circumstances, his opportunities were unique.  It would be foolish to follow the example of a Napoleon.  The circumstances of history have changed, and the opportunities are not ours.  We may ask ourselves what we may have done in the same place, but the hypothesis can never be put to the test.

Nevertheless, the value of heroism should not be discounted outright.  Where would we be without imitation?  Our parents are the first we come to respect, and through their example learn to perfect our own.  But as we age and move into the wider world I think the only safe heroes are dead ones.  Lives that have been fully lived, have a beginning, middle, and end like a work of art.  Those who still live may live to disappoint us.  But we should always be mindful, and ready to take issue with them when our own judgment is at odds with theirs.  So, heroes are not to be worshiped like dogma, but exists for us like signposts to guide us on our way through life.  An active engagement, or dialogue, with the past's best exemplars serve as reminders of what even the lowliest among us may achieve given opportunity and time, and sets for us the task of being heroes ourselves, if only for the ones we love.

Even Napoleon had predecessor's he admired.  Had he only learned better from past examples he would have known that no man's good fortune is inexhaustible, and human glory must bend to human frailty.