We Have Entered a Looking-Glass World
Why, sometimes, I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
- Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking-Glass
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness
- Allen Ginsberg, Howl
We live in an age characterized by belief -- that is, belief in things that do not exist, belief in complete figments of unanchored imagination, abstractions that have no contact with or bearing on reality. Call it the age of irrealism, of pervasive virtuality, of estrangement from the objective world.
Consider several popular notions or beliefs, memes as they are sometimes called, which operate as delusions erroneously confirmed as fact.
- There are more than two sexes, biology notwithstanding. Indeed, there are “57 Varieties” of gender. Also, in contradiction, gender is a “social construct.”
- Islam is a “religion of peace.”
- The university campus is aswarm with female victims of rape and sexual assault.
- The planet is entering a carboniferous period as temperatures rise to unsustainable levels.
- There is an organized and historical campaign in the Judeo-Christian West of men against women known as the “Patriarchy.”
- There is a vast movement of White Supremacists ruthlessly oppressing those of other races and creeds.
- America is bedeviled by institutional racism.
- There is no such thing as truth.
- Looting, vandalism and physical violence are legitimate forms of civil protest.
- The value of people derives from their membership in a group rather than from their status as unique individuals.
We have entered the looking-glass world. None of these beliefs correspond to reality, as every sensible person knows. They are to a significant extent forms of what Angelo Codevilla calls “subrational submission,” or conformity to the political diktats of a leftist ruling class, but they transcend politics insofar as they are signs of a spreading cultural malady -- the inability to think. Years of bad education, political indoctrination, and welfare dependency have much to do with a demonstrable decline in intelligence and basic knowledge -- a veritable contagion of cultural illiteracy, to quote E.D. Hirsch.
I have spent more than ten years writing books and articles examining and refuting each one of these credos or presumptions with documented evidence. But common sense and a little attention to the world should be more than enough to show how such convictions are merely politically correct hallucinations -- fantasies and fallacies that Sir Francis Bacon in the Novum Organum termed “Idols of the Theater,” sophistries propounded by influential authorities and unquestioningly accepted by the masses. The facts confute the memes.
- Biology has determined that in the non-cellular world there are only males and females and that survival of the species depends on procreation. Every sane person knows this.
- Islam is a violent and imperialistic religion and has been so since the early 7th Century. Every informed person knows this.
- The university campus is one of the safest spaces in the country and sexual assault is rare. Every rational person knows this.
- There is no AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming), but there is climate change for the simple reason that climate is change, driven mainly by solar cycles. Moreover, carbon is an element absolutely essential for plant and crop growth. Every attentive person knows this.
- There is no organized conspiracy in the Western world called the “Patriarchy” any more than there is something called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. There are only men doing what they are supposed to do, including building a rich and inventive civilization from which everyone profits. Every honest person knows this.
- There is no such beast as a widespread White Supremacy movement. Rather, apart from a fringe” of “Aryan” persuasion which is of little to no importance, there is a social group of “Caucasian” origin, emanating from Persia, the Middle East, Greece, Rome and Europe, that has created the most advanced civilization so far known to history. Every educated person knows this.
- America has become one of the most racially tolerant nations in the world. A country in which blacks are materially represented in the national community as entertainers, sports figures, journalists, broadcasters, police chiefs, surgeons, notable scholars, university presidents, corporate executives, municipal mayors, state governors, members of Congress and Supreme Court Justices, including a black President and two black Attorneys General, is not a racist country. Every unbiased person knows this.
- To say that there is no such thing as truth, as postmodernists claim, is a statement intended to be true, belied by its own inherent paradox. Consequently, there is such a thing as truth. Every sentient person knows this.
- Civil mayhem and the destruction of property -- the sacking of people’s homes, shops and livelihoods -- do not constitute acts of protest but acts of insurrection and de facto domestic terrorism. Every decent person knows this.
- A human being feels, loves, suffers and dies as an individual, not as a social integer or member of an identity group. Every thinking person knows this.
It is hard to understand how a vast stratum of a population, whether classified as elites or as marginals, arrives at a condition of virtuality. Is it a function of perpetual dissatisfaction with things as they are, a tendency inherent in the very nature of humanity? Is it the decision to profit, whether financially or in terms of status and power, by redefining the reality of things -- a decision which gains cultural momentum until it becomes a communal principle?
Is mass derangement, as Melanie Phillips (among many others) argues in The World Turned Upside Down, the product of the rejection of Judeo-Christianity which underpinned both Western reason and its moral code? “Concepts such as truth and justice,” she writes, “have been stood on their heads, with the result that irrationality and perversity are now conspicuous in public life.” Thus, “objectivity has been replaced in large measure by ideology.”
Or is the descent into civic dotage a function of the adage: “those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad,” as Longfellow in The Masque of Pandora readapted the famous verses from Sophocles’ Antigone.[i] In other words, have we in the privileged West become so pampered and complacent and arrogant and weak that the gods -- or the force of history -- are driving us to our own eclipse?
This is where the ancient doctrine of anacyclosis comes in. Historians as various as Polybius, Cicero, Vico, Gibbon, Spengler and Toynbee hold that civilizations are labile and tend to traverse the natural span of birth, youth, maturity, senescence and dissolution, like human beings writ large. According to this doctrine, we would now be in the stage of senescence, if not senility, incapable of recognizing what stands before us and contracting with phantoms and projections rather than with objective facts and verifiable data. Is the translation of a subjective fiction into a counterfeit of objective reality a symptom of a culture in the last throes of its historical trajectory?
The question is moot. How long can a post-truth culture be expected to survive, a culture in which language has been so debased that the valid nature of things cannot be named? As Venezuelan poet and author Fernando Baez writes in A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, “our souls persist only through language.” But when language is systematically used to be factually incorrect -- Bacon’s “Idols of the Marketplace” -- when words bear false significance and, deployed as substitutes for true ideas, are cemented in public and institutional discourse, our souls wither, as do the culture and the nation.
Whatever the explanation may be, we have created a kind of Erewhon (an anagram for “nowhere”) where everything is backwards and common usages are turned inside-out -- in effect, a social, cultural, political and scientific mirage that has become all-encompassing, a virtual reality, an ersatz world that must, as every reasonable person knows, eventually collapse. We believe that, and act as if, things that are, are not; things that are not, are. We have become denizens of Wonderland; as Alice says, “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” We now live the lie -- or at any rate, far too many of us have been recruited by the political left, the legacy media, the Internet platforms, the feminist cabal and the nation’s professoriate into a gossamer world of intricate duplicities.
But reality always has the last word. Those who believe in the rhapsody of dereliction and the pathology of inversion will find themselves “cancelled” by the revenge that reality always inflicts upon illusion. People who kneel before a deception may find they cannot get up again. Those who live in a virtual world must one day succumb of oxygen deficiency. Those who believe that gravity does not exist, or that “gravity” is a word signifying stasis, will hurtle to their deaths, however lengthy the fall. One thinks of the old joke about the man who falls from a fifty story building and, as he passes the tenth floor, says: So far, so good.
The real question is whether a plummeting culture, nation or civilization can right itself and correct course before it is too late. The verdict of history is not encouraging. It may happen, but it would take a miracle.
[i] The celebrated passage from the Antigone reads: κακὸν δοκεῖν ποτ᾽ ἐσθλὸν τῷδ᾽ ἔμμεν’ ὅτῳ φρένας θεὸς ἄγει πρὸς ἄταν. My Greek is rusty but I translate the phrase as: “harm (or damage) sometimes seems good in the heart (or mind) of those whom god leads toward (near to) destruction.” The theme is also developed in Aeschylus’ Oresteia (particularly the third play of the trilogy, The Eumenides) and Seven Against Thebes, where the Furies are the agents of delirium. In Eurpides’ The Madness of Heracles, it is the goddess Hera who drives the hero mad, leading him to slaughter his own family, that is, his future. There is a deep insight to be found in the insights of the Greek tragedians. Whether ordained by “the gods” or simply in the nature of things, individuals, polities and civilizations eventually enter a condition of senility or madness and events unfold as they must. The Greek dramatists knew all about the intimate relation between egoism, self-deception, madness and ruin -- an illustration of the Greek concept of Μοῖραι (moirai), or fate.
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