More screens but still nothing worth knowing

(from the novel in progress A Republic of Books, more of which can be found elsewhere on this ethereal site)


What is to be done? It is the question that comes shortly after you have asked, ‘what part do I play?”

And well that you should ask.

What are the chthonic joys of living underground, beneath the heel of the walking dead? The term ‘underground’ is metaphor today, much used and abused, mostly by those who would like to see themselves as some sort of ‘resistance,’ but don’t know what to resist without being told and haven’t the guts for their convictions, without being paid, much less the intelligence to understand the consequences of their resentments. Just about the same as it was in the 1960’s. Many of the slogans are even the same, but with history no longer taught, the latest generation of youth wouldn’t know. What’s passed for such opposition lately—good for making the six o’clock broadcast by playing on the left-wing sympathies of ill-educated ‘journalists’ in TV newsrooms as well as it is for name calling in lecture halls—is bought and paid for by such nuevo-marxist establishment types as Tom Steyer and George Soros, who are only the current generation of Frankfurt School graduates looking to maintain their control ‘of the conversation,’ further their own agendas, or upset some part of the remaining establishment standing in their way.

Meanwhile, on the ‘right,’ the conservatives—the supposed children of Burke—who should be the natural enemies of this authoritarian anschluss and the protectors of the republic for which they stand, have succumbed to their own vision of world order through bizniz, preaching a path to salvation through immigration and globalization and the corporations directed by them—and by their flak toadies who get regular paychecks from ‘non-profits’ that are heavily funded by the likes of the Koch brothers or a Phil Anschutz. But all of them left and right are really only arguing over who gets to control the spoils. The ‘deep theory’ behind this thinking, whether it’s Soros on the ‘left’ or Koch on the ‘right,’ is only that when need be they can buy whatever politician is triumphant. They can even buy the triumph, by creating votes. Meet new boss, same as old boss. This has usually been the case. Meanwhile, true rebellion, that is of the individual against authority, is always rare.

In the America of the 1960s and 1970s, ‘underground’ was a only synonym for Marxist, and essentially the leading edge of the left-wing assault on middle-class America. Much of that attack was conducted publicly in the New York Times or the Washington Post and in the pages of countless poorly printed and hardly edited tabloids. A little of it was necessarily ‘underground,’ like the erstwhile Weathermen, and Black Panthers, or the poorly named Symbionese Liberation Army, because they were doing things that could not even be condoned by the fellow-travellers in the left-wing establishment. Most of them naturally incompetent and brutish. They often blew themselves up. But like the Muslim radicals today, bombs were a favorite weapon—impersonal and nasty. Maximum chaos for minimum cost. No aiming necessary. Politics ruled in those days too.

This is the matter, then and now.

And now again, there are a lot of very bright but poorly educated people who cannot make anything of their lives but trouble because they have taken up politics as their trade.

If asked, as I have asked them, what the objective might for their destruction, they haven’t a clue. Equality? In nature, what, exactly, is equal to anything else? And who enforces this? Fairness? How is that determined and who does the determination?—the Mob?—a judge? Appointed by whom and with what agenda? Reparation? To whom and from whom? And are the innocent who die in your explosions of no other consequence in the eyes of your god than was Isaac? If Caravaggio could ask, so might I.

“Hah!” one fellow said to me. “Is it that any different that you Catholics who think that an unbaptized child is unworthy of heaven?”

“You have a point there to make with someone else. I am long and faithfully lapsed in my Catholicism.”

And if it’s the color of your skin that matters, then you have a few more questions to ask, and answer, and all that before you set up your society, because there are a few people of paler persuasions who might object. Justice? Tell me what that is and why. In the movies, the good guy wears a white hat, or the color of choice, but the closest they will ever come to an answer there is to kill the ‘bad’ guy. Have you studied the alternatives or the consequences? Are you willing to be the first sacrifice on your new alter of fairness?

This then brings us to something like Marxist critical theory, where the modus operandi is to destroy the existing structure and replace it with something ‘fair.’ It is most appropriate that this ‘theory’ (theories, actually, because of the incoherence it has spawned) arose in Frankfort, Germany during the 1920s and 30s. It was a time and place for such things. Marxism was about seventy-five years old at that point and needed some explaining to do beyond the ‘oppression of the working class.’ The world they envisioned—as if floating on a nebulous cloud with no underpinnings—is a sort of Metropolis. Ignore the old movie for a moment (where there were no people of color, and other such ambiguities) and focus on the objective: a more perfect world where everything functions in mechanical harmony. Yes? And tell us again, where exactly in nature does that exist?

It has never surprised me that so many leftists are so devoted to the medium of film. The ambiguous meaning can be captured in any still frame. The controlled context and outcome is neatly fixed in less than 120 minutes. Such hypocrisy is only matched by the faint-hearted who love violent movies but have never faced actual life and death or responsibility for their lives. How many basement dwellers playing war games have been soldiers?

And in any case, what art is there left in a film?

Now, ‘reel’ life may be directed to a sharp technical edge in the age of CGI, but what real life we are allowed by the authorities (who know better, of course), may be pretty dull by comparison. Weren’t we also told in the 1960s and 70s that art is life? And by some, that life is art? But I ask this question today: if it was created by a computer, is it art? And exactly what art is that?

Must I now be careful of what I say and how I say it? So it would seem. In my own bookshop? Certainly. Will my ideas be proscribed, and not just the words? Reducing language to political memes is a regression akin to doing away with the thousand year old content of our dictionaries and grammars and returning to the pictograph. Of course, the schools began this process with sight reading in the 1920’s in order to enhance their sundry rote, all of which was designed from the beginning not for the pupil but for the convenience of the teacher and the administration of the schools which are now mass indoctrination centers rather than for the actual enlightenment of the student. And the process is fairly complete after barely a hundred years. The loose ends and deckled edges are easily trimmed in the digital age.

The teachers themselves often take such criticism personally, as if a judgment on the architecture of a building was an attack on the carpenters and electricians. True, most teachers are a careful and intelligent lot, albeit too willing to follow orders, and their intentions are for the ostensible good of their charges, but few question what they do any more than the carpenter might question the architect. But today, for every teacher there are two or more administrators. And as an extension of the political structure, even those with tenure understand that to object to the fundamentals of the process they are engaged in is to end or limit their careers. Their role is thus very much like the policeman who follows procedure rather than doing the right thing. Their intention may be to keep the public safe, but the effect of the laws they enforce are usually to buttress the political establishment and too often detrimental to the welfare of the individuals they are supposed to protect.

Yes, I’ve said it! The teachers are at fault too. And the cops! And the care-givers! (Doctors and nurses, you know.) And the first-responders. (What post-modern names they have!) . . . . No. I would give the firemen a break from this condemnation. I have yet to read of a political fire. And the military, most certainly. They may be properly bound to the command of politicians, but must they so often do evil so willingly?

In any case, the administration of our educational process is already no less than Stalinist. The progressive children of John Dewey and his American ilk, born into a society with so much freedom, however flawed, understand the stakes. For them it is a matter of life and death. Free thought is dangerous. Call it by another name—antisocial, bigoted, arbitrary. Better yet, following Orwell, reverse the very meaning. And the schools are at the foundation of this utopian state that the authorities have envisioned for us. Even the alternative, to avoid teaching the same prescribed agenda in private schools, has been eliminated in just the last generation by the necessity of all institutions to comply with federal standards in order to maintain an attachment to the federal teat. Out of the many hundreds of colleges in the United States, only one—one that I know of, anyway—refuses federal money and is thus able to freely pursue the teaching of knowledge and remain dedicated to the development of curious and questioning minds.

In that context (the ‘establishing shot,’ to use another term of film), I despair now of making my own case from this small shop of ideas. Right or wrong, how do I put forward the truth that I see—that the common law civilization upon which we stand was built by ungloved hands, grown from the soil of Arthur’s Britain, by way of Kings and Queens, Lord Protectors and Parliaments; from Norman Conquests and medieval subjugation, to slave trade, convict transportation and indenture; from gunpowder plots and revolution to glorious emancipation, manumission, and suffrage; from plow and stars and cottage industry, coal dark shafts and mill work drudgery to Newtonian physics and technical wizardry, and thus it has blossomed with Chaucer and Shakespeare and Austen and Dickens and Poe and Melville and Twain and Eliot and Kipling and Yeats and Conrad and Orwell. . . . No chance! No chance at all, if history is not taught. The amber prism of those authors and all the best of all the rest is unintelligible. Without history the world the student might know is only the world that is, and must now suppose it always was, and in fact, without history, the world that will always be—but it is worse. Without context, all desire for betterment is lost on the digital battlefields of a computer game. Two thousand years of human struggle is redacted and the masses will be appeased again by bread and circuses.

No? Maybe not. Alchemy might work. Phlogiston might illuminate. Magic might be. In truth, this began years ago, and I have played my own part in it by too often avoiding the use of certain language and doubtful ideas in public. ‘Don’t drive the public away,’ as Margaret always said. But I don’t blame her. It was not her doing. I did it willingly! Good biblio-soldier that I am. I vent and rant in the pages of my books but seldom speak out in the shop in the same way, much less on the street. I am at fault, as much as any undermining teacher or crooked cop. I am also responsible for this grave state of affairs.

Just another fine mess I have gotten myself into.