Progressives At War with Reality
In his essay The Part Played by Labor in the Transition From Ape to Man, Frederick Engels wrote, “Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us.” Engels may have been a dunce on economics and class sociology, but his warning was prescient to progressivism’s attempt to subvert the shackles of reality.
Listening to today’s progressives, you get the impression that we are on the inexorable path to utopia. People are more tolerant and accepting than ever before. Abortion and birth control are readily available. Sex selection of the unborn is on the rise. Marriage has ceased being a sacred bond and is becoming a catch-all term for any contract agreed to by one or more persons. As government takes over more swaths of the economy, promises of material abundance keep escaping the mouths of politicians.
The implicit goal in all of this progress is total domination over nature by man. Poverty, sickness, intolerance, ugliness -- the left wants nothing to be left to chance or God’s hands. The power to mold the future so that it fits one grand vision is the Holy Grail of progressivism.
A slew of recent news stories elucidate this sweeping objective. In Slate, transgender activist Christin Scarlett Milloy condemns the practice of assigning gender at birth. She -- her preferred pronoun, though this photo makes me question its accuracy -- writes that upon birth, a child’s “potential is limitless.” The second that gender is determined, the newborn’s “life is instantly and brutally reduced... down to one concrete set of expectations and stereotypes.” Essentially, the baby’s future is split, so that its career as a blue collar construction worker or ballet dancer is now predetermined.
Not giving the infant or the parents consent to “choose” gender is now seen as a great injustice. It may sound strange but it shouldn’t. In the great age of choice, why shouldn’t we subvert the tradition of gender assignments? Are we not free unless we can ignore a doctor’s “cursory assessment” of what’s between a newborn’s legs?
If nature is the enemy, then biological reality must be defeated. Hence the move to transcend gender, and its social expectations, through medical operations. But even the construction of artificial genitals doesn’t seem to be enough to soothe the unrest of those uncomfortable with binary gender roles. Milloy notes that transgendered individuals have a higher rate of suicide and depression than cisgender folks. Why is this? Milloy attributes it to bullying and being assigned the wrong gender at birth. The idea of revenge for believing man can overthrow nature is not given a hint of consideration.
Striving to master sex and gender is not the only mission of progressives. Now, there are attempts being made to counteract life’s one guarantee: death. A recent front page story in the New York Times detailed how a funeral home in New Orleans specializes in posing the corpse of the recently deceased performing their favorite activity. One deceased woman was photographed while propped up at a table “amid miniature New Orleans Saints helmets, with a can of Busch beer at one hand and a menthol cigarette between her fingers” as was her wont in life. The practice, which originated in Puerto Rico, is still relatively rare. In San Juan, viewings in recent years have included a “paramedic displayed behind the wheel of his ambulance” and “a man dressed for his wake like Che Guevara, cigar in hand and seated Indian style.” Some people are beginning to request this type of funeral upon their death. Elsie Rodríguez, vice president of the Marín Funeral Home in Puerto Rico, rationalizes the custom because it eases the burden felt by the deceased’s family. He told the Times, “the family literally suffers less, because they see their loved one in a way that would have made them happy.”
In the scheme of things, does posing the dead engaged in a favored activity really corrupt the soul? Perhaps not, but it’s indicative of a fanciful longing to not leave things as they are. This year, a man in Ohio received his wish that upon his death, his body was to be placed on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and towed to the cemetery in a custom plexiglass coffin. Did parading his lifeless body around bring some happiness to his spiritual being? We’ll never know the answer. But does clinging to the last vestiges of earthly existence undermine a person’s contribution to the living world? I believe the answer is “yes,” despite what reprieve it may bring for family members in anguish. As Wesley Smith of the Discovery Institute writes, conducting “living” funerals is just another contemporary disposition that attempts “to deflect the ultimate reality of human mortality.”
Gender-bending and death denial aren’t consequences of a flawed philosophy on life, but merely symptoms. If you believe mankind can conquer the mountains, squash all injustice, and create a society of pure happiness, then it makes sense to push the limits of nature and see if God will truly stand down to His own creation. Of course, in the fight between God and man, man must always lose, or else he wouldn’t be man to begin with. That’s why progressivism’s march to conquer nature nearly always ends in despair.
Pushing too hard against reality is liable to create unintended ramifications that distort and disorder our own well-being and sense of purposeful design. In short, it conflates what we know to be true with what’s false. Pretending the dead are still alive doesn’t bring proper closure. It only delays the inevitable reckoning. Just the same, arbitrarily choosing one’s gender based on personal inclinations doesn’t appear to boost self-esteem. The epidemic of suicide attempts among transgendered individuals says there is something highly disrupting about challenging one of nature’s most embedded realities.
Without a recognition and acceptance of natural order, things become disorienting to the point of meaningless. If good and evil are no different, if life and death hold no meaningful difference, if girl and boy are simply words with no distinction, then what foundation do we have to plant the flag of reality? It is as Milan Kundera wrote:
“...it reminds us of Stalin’s son, who ran to electrocute himself on the barbed wire when he could no longer stand to watch the poles of human existence come so close to each other as to touch, when there was no longer any difference between sublime and squalid, angel and fly, God and shit.”
Kundera called this feeling of weightlessness in a world crying out to be grounded “the unbearable lightness of being.” When it attaches itself to a person, our moral compass goes haywire. Life begins to lose all direction. The only way to recalibrate ourselves is to rediscover our role in the universe.
The difference between the man who sees reality as living truth and the man who must control all external factors is surrender and pride. Those who surrender accept the path given, and find joy along the way. Those who have the overwhelming need for control -- and are prideful enough to believe they can succeed -- end up destroying what nature provides. They pull reality’s various poles together, flattening the landscape until they are left with nothing.
In Canto III of Paradiso, Dante summed up the ordered liberty position perfectly: “For in His will is our peace.” Those who try to conquer the laws of nature will never find peace because they are ultimately trying to accomplish the impossible. Failure leads to dismay, dismay leads to arrogance, and arrogance leads to an inability to distinguish between what’s right and wrong. And without that moral fortitude, we may as well be animals without a higher purpose.