Our Nightmare of Reason
The acclaimed Jewish-Austrian author Franz Kafka placed his characters in bizarre, nightmarish situations that challenged their rationality and reason. One of Kafka’s more insightful biographers, Ernst Pawel, encapsulated this dynamic in his book The Nightmare of Reason. Today an American conservative might well feel like a Kafkaesque protagonist, as the country appears to be drifting increasingly into absurdist territory under the leadership of Barack Obama, the Democratic Party, and leftist elites in the media and entertainment industries.
The lionization of Bruce Jenner’s makeover into a pseudo-woman is but a symptom of this slide into mass irrationality. One might be tempted to compare Jenner’s “transformation” to Kafka’s most famous story, “The Metamorphosis,” where a young man named Gregor Samsa awakes one morning to find he has become a giant insect. But Samsa’s transformation was unwilling, a matter of blind chance within Kafka’s universe. Samsa’s attempts to come to grips with his unfortunate fate give what might be a merely nightmarish tale its resonance and meaning. Jenner’s transformation, on the other hand, has been entirely voluntary, his “courage” seemingly little more than a desperate “reality” celebrity’s attempt to stay in the news.
In Kafka’s novel The Trial, a man is prosecuted for reasons that never become clear. In The Castle, another man is summoned by the authorities and persecuted on similarly murky grounds. “In the Penal Colony” depicts a prisoner horribly tortured by a machine that is supposed to enlighten him just before he dies.
Kafka died of tuberculosis in 1924 about the time a fellow Austrian artist was sent to prison in Germany for leading a failed coup d’état against the Weimar regime in neighboring Germany. It’s unlikely that Kafka knew of Hitler or gave his movement much thought, but after the Nazis’ rise to power (and concomitantly that of Stalin in the Soviet Union), many came to see Kafka’s works as prescient. Kafka’s sisters and much of his extended family were murdered in the Holocaust by a German state that came to share (or at least accept) the delusions of its leader – that some people were not actually fully human, and thus deserved to be exterminated like insects. Or as Hitler said in a speech from 1920, that the Jews were like a tubercular bacillus that needed to be eradicated.
Therein lies the problem with Jenner’s “transformation.” It’s not that he likes to dress up like a woman, got fake breasts, and perhaps eventually will have himself castrated. His delusional ideation that he is a woman would be harmless were it purely personal. But of course it is not. The idea that some men, despite the obvious biological evidence, are in fact women, and vice versa, has become generally accepted by a large percentage of the country, and endorsed by none other than the president himself.
Rather than society sympathetically tolerating Jenner, or offering him mental health treatment, he and other so-called transsexuals (like convicted Army private Bradley Manning) can now medically mutilate themselves at public expense. They can compel girls to use public bathrooms and showers with biological boys who claim to be female. Barnard College (as recently reported in AT) will now accept biological men who claim they are women, and exclude biological women who claim they are men. Perhaps in the near future they’ll accept underachieving students who believe they are geniuses, and reject hardworking geniuses who believe they aren’t that smart. Probably they already do.
What might be harmless as a private delusion easily becomes a menace when adopted as public policy. Hitler’s private delusional ideation, that categories of people were vermin, when adopted as the public policy of the Third Reich led to the greatest deliberate crime in human history. And while public acceptance of “transsexualism” is likely to be little more than one more unnecessary public expense and inconvenience, the principle behind the official and public acceptance of delusional private ideations as fact is not only disturbing for rational people, but indicative of the left’s increasingly aggressive attempts to impose irrational notions on the body politic.
The left’s devotional belief in man-caused global warming is a case in point. It’s one thing to believe, based on disputed evidence, that changes to the Earth’s climate are caused by human activity. That’s hardly delusional, even if a good case can be made the other way. Even assuming that man-caused global warming is real, what is delusional and harmful is the belief that advanced Western countries, by altering their energy policies, can meaningfully alter the climate yet again, in a way that will be beneficial. Penalizing “harmful” industries, promoting “beneficial” ones, and in general holding Western economies hostage to this idea is every bit as delusional a Bruce Jenner’s belief that cutting off his genitals will make him a woman.
Similarly, the current leftist-generated hysteria over the alleged near universal persecution of African-Americans by the police is based on private delusions made public policy. Many African-Americans, with the aggressive encouragement of race hustlers like Al Sharpton, sincerely believe that the police deliberately and systematically persecute them, and particularly single out young black men for special attention, including premeditated assassination. However, objectively, this is simply not true. Not only is this alleged persecution not demonstrable on a widespread national basis, but it is hard to show even in isolated individual cases. Every recent highly publicized case of alleged deliberate police misconduct targeting African-American men has been disproven, has resulted in serious charges against officers involved, has resulted in judicially untenable cases, or is under serious investigation. The damage that this delusional public hysteria has wrought is incalculable. Decades’ worth of goodwill and genuine interest in interracial toleration and community has been damaged, cities have been set aflame, and police action in many places has been stymied. Baltimore today is a city under the murderous impact of delusional propaganda and public policy, with the result that African-American men are now are killing each other with near impunity.
Our foreign policy is being dictated by a chief executive who sees traditional enemies as friends and traditional friends as enemies. His completely irrational hatred of a friendly head of state has led to an ongoing policy disaster in the Middle East, which promises only to get worse, perhaps catastrophically so should Iran acquire nuclear weapons, as now appears inevitable.
Another of Kafka’s famed works, “A Hunger Artist,” perhaps best encapsulates the odd case of Bruce Jenner and the danger of taking delusion to the ultimate extreme. Hunger artists were prevalent in Europe after the First World War (as a child, my father saw them in Dresden). They were men who publicly starved themselves for “art” and of course money. Their object was not suicide, and they were frequently accused of cheating. But Kafka’s hunger artist appears to follow the logic of his “art” to the end (as Jenner will perhaps appear to do should he actually have himself castrated.) But at the story’s absurd conclusion, we learn that Kafka’s hunger artist dies because he can’t find anything he likes to eat. Eventually, perhaps, the left will attempt to convince us of that, too.
The left would have us believe that this is all a matter of a “culture war” that they have already won. Declaring war and then instant victory is an old tactic of the left. They are doing it with increasing frequency because their policies bear less and less relation to reality and so will not hold up to serious public scrutiny. For conservatives, living this nightmare of reason in an increasingly irrational world, it is incumbent on us to dispute and rebut these insanities, lest the public’s grip on reality is completely lost, and we really do all starve to death.