September 24, 2014
That fear of Acheron be sent packing which troubles the life of man from its deepest depths, suffuses all with the blackness of death, and leaves no delight clean and pure. — Lucretius.
It may be inevitable that, when a civilization dies, its inhabitants undergo a major transformation in character. No longer having formal social expectations as a guide for personal behavior, men and women take on the traits of the living dead; bodies capable of automatic, robotic movement, but without any focused, moral direction. Those whose personal identities had been attached to institutional systems, now find themselves uncertain as to both the purpose and propriety of their actions. Like so many refugees from war or prison camps, they are left to wander aimlessly, without reflection.
Such seems to be the state of modern Western societies, particularly America. Our culture has become dominated by reptilian-brained humanoids who worship death. It is not surprising that so many current motion pictures and television dramas repeat the “night of the living dead” theme in which zombies plague the neighborhoods. Body tattoos, decorated T-shirts, cartoon shows, and computer games are dominated by dark-side expressions of anti-life sentiments. Psychopaths — both in and out of government — inflict pain and death upon the innocent. The “blackness of death” has long been a useful metaphor for mankind’s response to death, whether of individuals or cultures. In his book, The End of the World: A History, Otto Friedrich explores this connection. The fourteenth century plague that killed tens of millions of Europeans was known as “the Black Death,” just as “the Black Hand” was the name later adopted by extortionists and political terrorists. Black is still a sign of mourning, with relatives wearing black armbands, and black wreaths sometimes found on the doors of grieving families.
SWAT teams — as well as police officers assigned to intimidate public demonstrators — show up in black uniforms, their faces — and thus their identities — concealed by black helmets and sunglasses. The Darth Vader character in Star Wars was likewise clothed entirely in black, with his face hidden from view. He operated from the “Death Star,” a black satellite that was home base for the evil in the film. Life manifests itself in the vibrancy of colors: flowers attract us because they celebrate life. The blackened remains of a forest or building destroyed by fire do not inspire us. It would be pointless to publish colored photographs of cities destroyed by wartime bombings: black-and-white photos are sufficient to illustrate their anti-life character.
It is not a matter of coincidence that our modern zombie culture expresses itself in the art and language of violence, rage, and destructiveness. Many rock concerts seem to be grounded in ever-escalating levels of noise, enhanced by fire and performed by men and women made up and costumed in the symbolism of death. The passions for life that inspired the music of Beethoven, Wagner, Richard Strauss, and other composers, is lost in the frenzied rage and angry furor of so much modern music. Even the more popular music of traditional and modern jazz retained its celebration of — not alienation from — life. The Botticellis and Michelangelos are difficult to find in exhibits of modern art.
It would be easy to fix the blame for the varied manifestations of vampirism on movies, TV shows, and rock music. Explanations for our participation in this death march are to be found in much deeper realms: in the release of dark-side energies that have been mobilized by collective forces. Among these is our identification with, and dependency upon, the institutions that we allow to dominate our lives. I have written of this in my book, Calculated Chaos, and need not reprise it here. We have learned to think of ourselves as attachments to various abstractions — the state and modern corporations being the more dominant ones today — and gauge our health and well-being by how well we believe these abstractions are doing. We look for confirmation of our thinking in public opinion polls and Dow-Jones figures.
But by their very nature, institutions and other abstractions are not expressions of life. Like zombies and robots, they are embodiments of the lifeless. They are brought into the world only by our thinking, and do not die unless we stop believing in them. They are unmoved by the passions that make us human; they do not cry, dream, fear, or express such emotions as joy or anger, love or hate, happiness or disappointment; they do not experience sadness or sympathy, worry or grief, beauty or ugliness; possess neither a sense of humor nor the ability to engage in pure silliness. In place of the passion for life that drives the living, these agencies have only a lust for power. They have no values that cannot be listed or quantified. The longer-term search for “eternal truths” and transcendent principles that motivate people has given way, in our institutionalized world, to more immediate bottom-line considerations that satisfy ambitions for power or material wealth.
Because corporations and other institutions now dominate human society, it is not surprising that their sterile, lifeless values and images should be so prevalent. Corporations have been declared “persons” by political fiat, but they are not alive. The “liberty,” “spontaneity,” “spirituality,” and “emotions” that fire the human spirit, are regarded as entropy to be controlled — or destroyed — by institutional force. The practice of abortion reflects this commitment to the war against life.
Unlike individuals — who, alone, are the repositories of mankind’s future — institutions cannot reproduce themselves: only living, subservient men and women can do this for them. The people running corporations may create subsidiaries, but the arrival of such new abstractions are not met with the same joy and happiness as humans experience with a child. Human parents see a baby as life reconfirming itself; corporations see their subsidiaries as they do human beings, namely, as additional resources to be exploited on behalf of expanding materialistic advantages.
The institutional rejection of life takes many forms. Government schools exist not to help children learn how to explore and be creative within the limitless nature of their imaginations, but to train and condition them to be useful to the institutional establishment. Increasing numbers of churches — to which many look for spiritual expression — have converted to the faith of politics and militarism. The more dominant members of the journalistic media see themselves not as investigators and communicators of information that would enhance the understanding of individuals, but as propagandists for reinforcing the childhood scholastic conditioning.
Perhaps the most depraved and obvious expression of the zombie culture is found in the practice of sports teams — particularly in football — dressing themselves in the costumes of war. Activities that had once been treated as play — as re-creation — are now treated as entertainment performed in massive stadiums — not unlike Adolf Hitler’s well-orchestrated shows. No matter what the “school colors” might otherwise be, more and more college teams show up in black uniforms and helmets. To add to the university’s commitment to war, player costumes display the American flag, while the game is preceded by the obligatory march to the center of the field by a military color guard and the playing of the “national anthem,” for which spectators are expected to stand. Lest the attention of any fans be distracted by the game, numerous soldiers will be seen standing along the sidelines dressed in the camouflage clothing suggestive of their just having flown in from the battlefield!
The state has long used war as a form of entertainment to keep members of the boobeoisie compliant and submissive. War-time propaganda in the form of artwork has helped plague mankind with the mania for hatred and murder for centuries. From football stadiums to movie theaters to television programming we continue to witness art imitating life. That “entertainment” and “wars” are performed in “theaters” is not simply a matter of coincidence in language.
The modern “cult of the zombie” — dominated by seemingly endless images of the celebration of death — is evidence of the death of our civilization. Our culture may be dying, but you and I need not be. Albert Jay Nock reminds us that the collapse of a culture is accompanied by what he called the “Remnant,” the men and women who both understand and embody the ideas and values upon which a succeeding civilization can be built.
When Richard Weaver observed that “ideas have consequences,” he was expressing the importance of abstract thought in helping to provide the understanding for living well. But ideas are our conscious mind’s efforts to put into words a deeper understanding — found within our unconscious minds — that precede verbalization; the insights of which Eastern philosophy has told us cannot be spoken, otherwise “everyone would have told everyone else by now.” No matter how beautifully stated or carefully reasoned, words, standing alone, will not suffice. Art, poetry, and music are some of the more familiar means by which we endeavor to express our inner sense of being.
Aesthetics, like philosophic principles, matter, not so much for providing direction, as for reflecting what is already within. If you are attracted to the costuming, music, and other symbolism of war and other forms of destructiveness, is it not because your inner life is in conflict? Do we not play out the “dark-side” of our inner being when we engage in the herd-oriented, reptilian-brained celebration of death and its varied instruments?
But Nock’s references to the Remnant remind us that we are not fated to partake of the vampire culture’s lemming-like march to self-destruction [please excuse the mixed metaphor]. Life finds expression only within the uniqueness of individuals, and each of us has the power to withhold our energies from the institutional forces that treat human life as little more than a fungible resource to be capitalized for abstract purposes.
The peaceful power that resides within each of us was brought to our conscious attention in that wonderful 1997 Italian film, Life is Beautiful. A father and his young son were prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp, and the father was intent on doing his best to protect the inviolability of the boy’s innocence. Like that now-classic photo of Wang Weilin — the young man who faced down the machinery of death in Tiananmen Square — this film emphasizes the ongoing struggle between the human spirit and the institutional order.
Each of us may soon have the opportunity to confront our own rows of government-issued tanks in our communities. In the meantime, we can reject the culture so wildly celebrated by the living dead who show up at football games, rock concerts, and other collective venues. For myself, I bring CDs with me in my car and, while driving to work, listen to recordings of such beautiful works as Beethoven’s Ninth, Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, Wagner’s Tannhauser, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, or such big-band or jazz offerings as Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis, or the Queen City Jazz Band. When a football game is preceded by the playing of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” or Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” perhaps I will purchase a ticket!