A review of Sirens of Titan.
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Title: The Sirens of Titan.
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
Publication date: 1959/1998
Paul Gosselin 2017
Kurt, I know, I know, you're not around anymore to respond to my questions (if you ever might have felt so inclined), but let's just pretend.
It does seem rather odd in this novel that you made yourself out to be the prophet of the “god-that-doesn't-give-a-shit”. Yeah, I know, that's vulgar, but no more than your pointless concept of “God, the Utterly-Indifferent”. Is such a god even worth the ink his name is printed on? Been feeling like you need a crutch lately? It all seems pretty phony. While you're at it Kurt, you may as well drop the pointless gods, go whole-hog and promote a ruthless and coherent atheism. Isn't THAT what you really believe in anyway? But who knows, maybe that might be too boring in a novel (or in real life)...
But maybe there's another reason you dragged the concept of ‘religion' into your novel. Perhaps it has to do with a commonplace observation about atheism that goes along the lines of: “It's easier to herd cats than to organise atheists”. This may explain your implicit admission that Christian religion (and churches) provides something atheism apparently doesn't. In your Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons collection of articles, you seem to have at least a subliminal appreciation for the community that ‘religion' provides (1975: 79)
"This is a lonesome society that's been fragmented by the factory system. People have to move from here to there as jobs move, as prosperity leaves one area and appears somewhere else. People don't live in communities permanently anymore. But they should: Communities are very comforting to human beings. I was talking to a United Mine Workers lawyer in a bar down in the Village the other day, and he was telling me how some miners in Pennsylvania damn well will not leave, even though the jobs are vanishing, because of the church-centered communities there, and particularly because of the music. They have choirs that are 100 years old, some of them, extraordinary choirs, and they're not going to leave that and go to San Diego, and build ships or airplanes. They're going to stay in Pennsylvania, because that's home. And that's intelligent. People should have homes."
But you should be aware Kurt that if people in the West live in a "lonesome society” it ain't just because society has been “fragmented by the factory system”. Come on... Could you concievably admit your own materialistic worldview has significantly contributed to this fragmentation, and the end result is humans who are seen as no more than interchangeable parts in a big machine? Dump God, and you inevitably throw out the concept of Man made in God's image too. Man (you and me) then becomes no more than the disposable byproduct of a merciless materialistic process. Just accidents waiting to happen... But regarding such matters, moderns are typically incapable of any sort of serious thinking about the repercussions of their own worldview.
Yes, Kurt, we both agree that life in this Fallen World can at times be grim, tragic, brutal and insane (or all of the above). It sure ain't easy to sort out. Reading your novels, one can come away with the impression that life is just a joke. But seeing you attempted suicide in 1984, I expect even you thought sometimes that sometimes the joke wears thin... In your novel Galápagos, you put this very bluntly (1988:127):
"(...) his feeling that life was a meaningless nightmare, with nobody watching or caring what was going on, was actually quite familiar to me. That was how I felt after I shot a grandmother in Vietnam. She was toothless and bent over as Mary Hepburn would be at the end of her life. I shot her because she had just killed my best friend and my worst enemy in my platoon with a single hand-grenade. This episode made me sorry to be alive, made me envy stones. I would rather have been a stone at the service of the Natural Order."
But regarding humour generally, there is something odd and yet particularly human about this ability, this capacity to laugh even in the face of utter darkness. I remember reading stories about the fourteen years the Christian Richard Wurmbrand spent in the Romanian Gulag under the communist regime of Ceausescu after WWII. Tortured on a weekly basis, starving, and cut off from their loved ones, in some instances the more vulnerable prisoners slipped into insanity. When other prisoners noticed the signs of madness appearing in a comrade, they applied a strange form of therapy to rescue their friend, they would tell him jokes. If they managed to get him to laugh, or even smile, then in most cases insanity could be put off. If they failed, then this prisoner might sink into the abyss and not find his way back. Viktor Frankl, a Jew who had similar experiences in Nazi concentration camps, observed (1959/92: 54):
Humor was another of the soul's weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds
My gut feeling about this is that this apparently irrational human trait may in fact be a primitive, instinctual form of faith that, despite the horrendous circumstances humans sometimes have to face, life still has meaning.
That said, despite the grim reality you've faced yourself, you do seem to sense that the meaning of life has something to do with love.
Generally speaking, the materialist's behaviour and discourse are rarely consistent with their stated worldview, but there are a few exceptions. One of these exceptions is a cheerful fellow who lived a few hundred years ago called Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, or better known as the Marquis de Sade. Were you aware that you share the same materialistic worldview as the Marquis de Sade?
Now as a pre-Darwinian materialist, de Sade figured that since the gods are dead, this raises a question: Where do humans turn to for moral standards? Ok, drop the philosophical jargon, the question is basically: How do we sort out (inevitably conflictual) human relationships? His solution to this dilemma was simple and logical; forget God and the Ten Commandements, just imitate nature. So here is how he worked out the implications of his moral system regarding relationships between men and women (Sade 1795/1972: 112, my comments in brackets):
"If it is undisputed that we [men] have received from nature the right to express our [sexual] desires indifferently to all women, it is equally true that we have the right to require them to submit to our desires, not on an exclusive basis [Sade is thinking of marriage for life here], I should be contradicting myself, but on a temporary basis. It is undeniable that we have the right to establish laws requiring her [the woman] to submit to the passion of he who desires her. Violence is one of the implications of this right and we are entitled to use it legally. But why not? Nature itself has proven that we have this right in that it has endowed us with superior strength with which we may submit them to our desires." (author's translation)
Now I have a question for you Kurt: Do you agree with the Marquis de Sade who basically states that because Nature has made men stronger than women, that this justifies men doing absolutely ANYTHING they want with/to women? If you agree with de Sade, then I would say that you are being logical and consistent with your own materialistic worldview. Wouldn't that be consistent with “going back to the natural order of things”? Because I reject Sade's materialism and do believe in a God who establishes right and wrong, I do NOT agree with his view of male/female relationships, but I do agree that de Sade is at least being consistent within his worldview on this matter. But ok Kurt, maybe you don't agree with de Sade's view of male/female relationships. If that is the case, then how do YOU justify your disagreement and would you mind telling us what the BASIS for your disagreement is? I would be disappointed Kurt if all you can say is that “I don't like de Sade's view of women”... That would be pretty pathetic.
But back to Sirens of Titan (SoT). Do you really believe, as Unk/Malachi put it in chapter 10, “I was the victim of a series of accidents, as we all are.”? So we are nothing more than the product of chance? Is that really it? On the other hand, perhaps you really believe, like Richard Dawkins, that we are lumbering genetic robots and ultimately our genes determine everything we do. In which case, there are NO accidents... One might get this impression if, for example, one switched the Tralfmadorians, in SoT, for genes. So which is it Kurt, pure chance or pure determinism? Gee you sure are confusing us, but maybe you're just confused yourself...
That said, you are still doing us a favour in pointing out this deep contradiction in modern thinking. But if in fact you believe us humans to de be determined, and that they are in fact no more than machines, like Salo the Tralfmadorian (trapped on Titan, one of Saturn's moons), or even like Winston Rumfoord for that matter, the ultimate cosmic manipulator, yet at the end of Sirens Rumfoord comes to the realization that he's been manipulated/played by the Tralfmadorians all along? Are you just a machine? Is that it? But like many moderns doing any serious thinking about a machine that becomes “self-aware”, pretty soon something bugs you about this concept, which explains why you inserted Salo's pathetic attempts at ‘friendship'... If you're just a machine Kurt, can you really have friends? What would be the point since the heart of real friendship is freedom and spontaneity... thrown in with a few common interests of course?
But if you really think you are a machine (nothing but a machine, so help you the Utterly Indifferent) did the thought ever occur to you Kurt that the reason you wrote Sirens of Titan (and all your other novels) might be only because you were DETERMINED to do so? Logically, this would mean you couldn't really take any credit for the creativity those works involve. Following this (painful) logic, one would have to do some serious thinking about whether you should be allowed to profit from copyrights resulting from the sales of “your” books. Ok, that wouldn't mean the publishers should get all the money, as under your worldview, they too were determined to publish “your” books. Who knows, maybe the reader should get all the money. Yeah, I know, it sure gets complicated fast doesn't it?
But the insane thing about this century Kurt is that there are people like you (materialists) that are now mindlessly pushing man-machine propaganda as the ‘next step in our evolution', so we'll end up with things that look like humans, but are in fact some sort of cyborgs, just like your hopelessly pathetic Martians with antennas stuck in their heads making them think and do only what their leaders want. More pathetic machines Kurt... Do we really need more? We already have enough pitiful zombies stuck in their own virtual reality, walking around our cities or sitting in buses with cell phone screens glued to their faces... What would be the point, sticking antennas in their heads? Why bother... Perhaps what those Artificial Intelligence smart-asses really want would be to populate the Earth with armies of postmodern robots marching around mumbling “Rented a Tent, Tented a Tent, Tented a Rent, Rented....” Is that the “Next Big Thing”? Gee, call it “Progress” or the “next level of connectedness” or some other bullshit and the fish will bite for sure... And for marketing purposes, just make sure those antennas are designed by Apple. Everyone will want one.
In chapter 11, you do have some astute observations regarding the woman called Beatrice Rumfoord who “As a younger woman, she felt so exquisitely bred as to do nothing and to allow nothing to be done to her, for fear of contamination. Life, for Beatrice as a younger woman, was too full of germs and vulgarity to be anything but intolerable.” But perhaps such female behaviour may have a simpler, alternative explanation other than some sort of ‘fear of contamination'. How about Beatrice being a woman whose fantasies and VERY high expectations of life (particularly regarding relationships) were intrinsically linked to her own massively over-blown ego... For some reason I get the impression Kurt you have bumped into at least one such woman at some point... But what do I know?
You know Kurt; you got me wondering about Winston Rumfoord and his role (as the Mastermind of the Mars-Earth war) in your story. Do you really believe that the warmonger's ultimate intent is fostering “the brotherhood of man”? Do you really believe only wars bring people together (even if only as an unintended result)? Is that the meaning of life? I'm so thrilled... Well, I'm trying hard to be thrilled... But maybe I've got this all wrong. Maybe you actually think that Malachi Constant's pre-kidnapping lifestyle of cash, booze and sex is what life's all about. Let us know when you've got it sorted out.
In any case Kurt, whatever your view of religion or God, in the Epilogue to SoT you do seem to have figured out one useful/important thing as you have Unk/Malachi saying: “It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” Not bad actually, even though this is hardly a new idea...
My Propaganda Epilogue
Yeah, I know, you may be wondering about that “Fallen World” stuff I mentioned earlier? What the heck was that all about? Well I dunno, if you're like me, but when life forces you to think about all the insanity and brutality in this world do you get a gut reaction somewhere deep inside that tells us that we weren't made for a crazy, screwed-up place like this? Yeah, I know this sounds like I'm dragging mythology into this discussion and I know you already have your own materialistic mythology, but bear with me a bit. The French Existential philosopher Albert Camus put the question about the meaning of life in an arrestingly simple and concise form (1942/1991: 3):
"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."
Camus's brutal query of course raises one of the deepest questions floating about in the modern West's collective subconscious: Is there any point at all in going on with life? What's the point? I expect you've bumped into these questions more than a few times in your life Kurt. That we humans need to ask this question in the first place, immediately highlights our feeling of being out of place in this world. Why does it (this world) seem like that (brutal, disjointed)? Oddly George Orwell, in his novel 1984, seems to have glimpsed this strange truth about humans... At one point Orwell has his main character, Winston, thinking to himself (1949/1984: 52):
Always in your stomach and in your skin there was a sort of protest, a feeling that you had been cheated of something that you had a right to. It was true that he had no memories of anything greatly different. In any time that he would accurately remember, there had never been quite enough to eat, one had never had socks or underclothes that were not full of holes, furniture had always been battered and rickety, rooms underheated, tube trains crowded, houses falling to pieces, bread dark coloured, tea a rarity, coffee filthy-tasting, cigarettes insufficient — nothing cheap and plentiful except synthetic gin. And though, of course, it grew worse as one's body aged, was it not a sign that this was not the natural order of things, if one's heart sickened at the discomfort and dirt and scarcity, the interminable winters, the stickiness of one's socks, the lifts that never worked, the cold water, the gritty soap, the cigarettes that came to pieces, the food with its strange evil tastes? Why should one feel it to be intolerable unless one had some kind of ancestral memory that things had once been different?
Now if we were solely the product of chance and natural selection (or as you put it Kurt, "accidents"), and nothing else, then we would have no incentive, no strong urge, to ask such questions. We would be comfortable and quite at home with all the brutality and cruelty, but as you well know we ain't. “So it goes” is fine in a novel being read on a nice beach on a sunny day (or even as research for a university paper), but this wears thin very quickly in real life. Since we humans were originally made for an UnFallen World, we simply can't avoid asking the WHY questions. The brutality of This World is a painful puzzle to us. It doesn't feel like home... This is the human condition: beauty mixed with ugliness, health mixed with decay, good will mixed with the insanity of war, etc.... Even in the very best of times, with material and social/sexual fulfilment, we humans are still bugged with the stupid, nagging question, “Is that all there is?”
The Bible tells us that we were created for a perfect world, a staggeringly beautiful world. That was the Creator's intent. Just imagine a man and a woman getting along with no arguments, no fights AT ALL? How about that? Hard to imagine eh? Just that by itself would be Paradise enough for a lot of people. But the first woman and first man screwed things up big time. They had it all, but rejected God's offer and bought the lie that they could do ‘better' on their own. So our Fallen World is primarily a MORAL problem. We've all rebelled against God, the Giver of life and of all that is good. And now we're stuck with the results... In fact the doctrine of the Fall is the one Judeo-Christian doctrine that is the most massively empirically demonstrated. On any given day, just check out the headlines of any major newspaper. Natural disasters, wars, disease, divorce, corruption in high (and low) places. On and on and on... Even a ten-year-old can figure it out. No doubt about it, we do live in a Fallen World. We're not in Paradise any more... While we still have a few leftovers from the original Creation in the beauty of a spectacular sunset, in your own child's first smile or a woman's beauty, the world we now know is like the crap stuck at the bottom of a garbage can compared to the original Creation. Thing is, deep down in our souls, we still have some residual/instinctual memory of this original Creation and when we are forced to confront the brutal reality of THIS world this memory sometimes drives us crazy. The New Testament says this about the present human condition:
For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. (Romans 8: 20-22 ASV)
So what's the deal? We're stuck with this dysfunctional, screwed-up world? The END?
Nope. The Bible tells us that immediately after the Fall, a Saviour was promised to clean up things again and break us out of our prison. And the New Testament tells us He did come 2,000 years ago to get things started. But in Jesus' time the Jews got it, for the most part, all wrong. They wanted the Romans kicked out of Israel. They thought that would be the deal. They wanted Israel put back on the map, just like under the glory days of King David or Salomon. We're the same; we want immediate, material issues dealt with. We want more money, a bigger house, a promotion, an end to loneliness, an end to disease, etc. etc... But Jesus told us that the cleaning up he came to do typically did NOT start there. He said odd things like: “My kingdom is not of this world...” (John 18: 36) and “God's kingdom isn't coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!' or ‘There it is!' Don't you see? God's kingdom is already among you.”(Luke 17: 20-21 - Common English Bible) So Jesus came FIRST to deal with our hearts. That's where it all really starts. Get the HELL out of our hearts and put a little seed of HEAVEN in them and make that grow. That is why there is so much in the New Testament about confessing sin and repenting (changing our behaviour). That is the Narrow Gate (Matt 7: 13) Jesus talks about that we have to go through. Once we have humiliated ourselves before God and recognized our own sins, THEN we can find freedom through Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. That is where the Kingdom Jesus talked about starts. That is where we get a first peak of Paradise. That is the real miracle.
But thing is, we CAN'T change our own hearts. Can't do a damn thing to change who we really are, this itch to destroy, things or people... So why do I bring this up? Well you know there are situations when crap goes down and people tend to say: “Someone will have to PAY for this!” Yeah, well SomeOne did, Christ. In dying on the cross under Pontius Pilate, Jesus loaded on Himself all the crap, the destruction and insanity that humans have laid down from the beginning of time. All the lies, the betrayals, the abortions, all the wars, the cheating on spouses. All of it... So Christ PAID. The bill is paid. Being “nice people” will not get us to heaven. Nothing else will cut it except the Cross. Now a Door is open, an escape hatch out of our own personal Hell. So the question is: do we want OUT or do we just prefer to have our hell redecorated? Waddaya say Kurt?
Here's an example of the real Gospel at work. One guy called Zacchaeus heard of Jesus and wanted to meet him. So one day Jesus is out and about (with a crowd hanging around as usual) and this is what goes down.
And behold, a man called by name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd, because he was little of stature. And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, Today is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19: 2-10)
So after hearing Jesus' message, this corrupt bureaucrat and rip-off artist recognizes his sin and becomes an honest and compassionate man. This is the REAL thing when men and women recognize the darkness in their hearts and their accountability to God, and accept God's escape plan, then this is the sort of thing that can happen. This is the REAL DEAL. When the real Gospel is preached, it has recognizable results in people's lives.
But refuse the humiliation of my/your massive ego, refuse the fact that I/you have to answer to God, pretend I/you can sort it all out on my/your own, then we're back in our own little hell. Return to Jail, do not pass Go... And of course one day we'll still have to face the Final Judgement and the real, ultimate HELL. Sure, we're all for the Hitlers or Stalins facing judgement (add your favourite dictator or politician). THEY deserve it after all, but God does not play favourites. On that day, there won't be any place to hide. Men and women, ALL will have to account for their sins and rebellion and face judgement unless they confess their sin and take God's deal. Yeah I know, postmoderns in particular absolutely HATE the idea of judgement or the idea of personal accountability to Someone else, yet they still want a “happy afterlife”, but the thought would never occur to them that their postmodern heaven (with no judgement) would also be home to the Hitlers and Stalins, the friendly neighbourhood rapist, the irritable and manipulative mother-in-law, etc... How about Jack-the-Ripper, Pol-Pot or the Marquis de Sade as your next-door neighbours in your postmodern heaven? How does that sound? That's what you'd get with your postmodern "no-judgement" heaven. Ideas have consequences I've been told... Yeah I know Kurt, you don't believe in that life-after-death stuff. You believe in no heaven and in “No-Hell”. I know all about that... But then you're still stuck with Camus' question. Do you have an answer to that? Malcolm Muggeridge, who for a long time was an atheist like you had this to say about life:
While the New Testament does tell us that those who have humiliated their egos by going through the Narrow Gate and have put their trust in Christ's work on the Cross to cover their sins can expect a coming perfect, staggeringly beautiful world, for the time being Christians still have to deal with living in a Broken, Fallen World, just like everbody else. C.S. Lewis, who survived WWI trench warfare as a soldier, had this to say in his book God in the Dock: "If you think of this world as a place simply intended for our happiness, you will find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for training and correction, it's not so bad." And when Christians find themselves battling with the insanity or the cruelty of this Fallen World, they can remember the words of the Man who conqueured death and said:
Ok, ok, don't complain Kurt if you feel I'm dragging in my religion and attempting to ram it down your throat. What can I say Kurt? You started it...
Enlightenment Mental Blocks
The disciples of the Enlightenment have never been too interested in any serious introspection regarding the real social repercussions of their own worldview. Unlike Christianity, repentance is not a concept found either in the modern or the postmodern ideologico-religious systems. As a result, when moral questions are raised by moderns or postmoderns, they always point away, at 'someone else' who must question their attitudes or behaviour and deal with guilt and sin. "Remember the Inquisition!, the Crusades!, the Salem Witch Trials!, blah, blah, blah..." But asking serious questions about the millions of deaths in the 20th century, no that is out of the question... As a result, moderns or postmoderns are extraordinarily adept at guilt-mongering OTHERS. But questioning their own attitudes or behaviour and dealing with their own guilt and sin is simply unthinkable... Well there's a good explanation for this built-in hypocrisy. It's due to the fact that the modern and postmodern belief systems have no concept of “sin” to begin with. How could they recognize their own sin when they reject the very concept of sin? That would be pointless... Moderns and postmoderns have no higher law they are accountable to since sin implies an objective Law above the individual established by a Divine Lawgiver. And of course they reject all that... And to pre-empt having to deal with any painful moral questioning about the 20th century, moderns put into circulation the "Hitler was a good Christian" meme. Thing is, if one cracks open Adolf Hitler's Table Talks then one is exposed to the fact that Hitler had plans to eliminate Christians. So much for the "Hitler, the good Christian" nonsense... And if you really want to figure out what “a good Christian” is all about, there was only one of those, Jesus Christ. Read the New Testament to see what he said and did to sort it out.
But just to get an idea of how incapable moderns and postmoderns are of any serious self-questioning, let's take a look at a VERY rare case of a modern intellectual who at least attempted to reflect on the horrors of the 20th century. In Grammars of Creation, British literary critic George Steiner observed that the twentieth-century, as far as Europe and Russia was concerned, was not heaven on earth (as predicted by 19th century Enlightenment propagandists), but rather hell. Steiner notes that between August 1914 and the Balkan wars of the 1990s more than 70 million people died. While the First World War set the stage for mechanized massacres, the Second introduced industrial-scale extermination and the following generation experienced the terrors of imminent/random nuclear incineration. Reflecting on the source of this insanity, Steiner goes on to note (2001: 4-5):
There have been hideous visitations of pestilence, famine and slaughter before. The collapse of humaneness in the twentieth century has specific enigmas. It arises not from riders on the distant steppe or barbarians at the gates. National Socialism, Fascism, Stalinism (though, in this latter instance, more opaquely) spring from within the context, the locale, the administrative-social instruments of the high places of civilization, of education, of scientific progress and humanizing deployment, be it Christian or Enlightened. I do not want to enter into the vexed, in some manner demeaning, debates over the uniqueness of the Shoah ('holocaust' is a noble, technical Greek designation for religious sacrifice, not a name proper for controlled insanity and the 'wind out of blackness'). But it does look as if the Nazi extermination of European Jewry is a 'singularity', not so much in respect of scale - Stalinism killed far more - but motivation. Here a category of human persons, down to infancy, were proclaimed guilty of being. Their crime was existence, was the mere claim to life.
The catastrophe which overtook European and Slavic civilization was particular in another sense. It undid previous advances. Even the ironists of the Enlightenment (Voltaire) had confidently predicted the lasting abolition of judicial torture in Europe. They had ruled inconceivable a general return to censorship, to the burning of books, let alone of heretics or dissenters. Nineteenth-century liberalism and scientific positivism regarded as self-evident the expectation that the spread of schooling, of scientific-technological knowledge and yield, of free travel and contact among communities would bring with them a steady improvement in civility, in political tolerance, in the mores of private and public business. Each of these axioms of reasoned hope has been proved false. It is not only that education has shown itself incapable of making sensibility and cognition resistant to murderous unreason. Far more disturbingly, the evidence is that refined intellectuality, artistic virtuosity and appreciation, scientific eminence will collaborate actively with totalitarian demands or, at best, remain indifferent to surrounding sadism. Resplendent concerts, exhibitions in great museums, the publication of learned books, the pursuit of academic research both scientific and humanistic, flourish within close reach of the death camps. Technocratic ingenuity will serve or remain neutral at the call of the inhuman. The icon of our age is the preservation of a grove dear to Goethe within a concentration camp.
So that's it George? That's your “grand conclusion”? The savagery of Nazism, fascism and Stalinism all emerged from "within the context, the locale, the administrative-social instruments of the high places of civilization, of education, of scientific progress”. That is so deep... I am trying hard to be impressed... Well, actually if it comes to serious moral self-questioning, this is pathetically weak and superficial, but then again it's probably the best one can expect from Enlightenment devotees... Unfortunately it is also to be expected that modern and postmodern self-blindness will insure that in academia the horrors of the 20th century will remain “enigmas, veiled in mystery”... After all, moderns and postmoderns need their beauty sleep too. And there are marketing issues to consider after all...
Now if Steiner does go further in his reflection than the vast majority of modern and postmodern thinkers it is rather likely this was forced on him because of his Jewish background... But in the end, Steiner himself doesn't have the courage to look under the carpet and connect the dots back to the modern ideologico-religious system, a belief system he has clearly bought into himself... Following the chain of ideological causality to its source might prove to be too painful a process. Though it's not clear he connected all the dots as we are doing here, this does seem to be an issue Alexandr Solzhenitsyn ran into in the course of his internement in the Gulag, as he exchanged with communists who also happened to find themselves imprisoned there (Solzhenitsyn 1974: 336):
Western mainstream media followed this avoidance behaviour to a T in the case of Anders Behring Breivik (see Bergman article) the young man who in 2011 went on a killing rampage, murdering 77 young persons at a Youth League meeting on the Norwegian island of Utøya. As Orwell figured out, moderns (and postmoderns) are efficiently conditioned in avoiding going “too far” in their thinking. In his novel 1984, Orwell put this in the category of “thoughtcrime"... the avoidance of forbidden thoughts. So if anyone expects to see modern or postmodern elites engage in any serious self-questioning about the dark side of their worldview, perhaps it might be a good idea not to hold one's breath...
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 - Gosselin is a Social Anthropologist and the author of the Flight From the Absolute: Cynical Observations on the Postmodern West series. The author would like to thank Gary Hitch, Adrian Chira and Jerry Bergman (author of Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview 2012) for their feedback.
 - And, I expect, involuntary...
 - Oddly enough, Richard Dawkins, the arch-atheist, seems to have arrived at a similar backdoor conclusion. In a recent article in The Telegraph (Knapton 2017) Dawkins points out that teaching UK students something about religion (and, gasp, Christianity) may not be an entirely bad thing. So perhaps materialism can't be an entirely self-sufficient worldview?
 - Materialism is one of the major repercussions of the Enlightenment. Materialism is simple enough to understand. It claims that the material world, the stuff we can SEE and TOUCH, is ALL there is. So, of course this leads to a simple conclusion: dump all the gods in the garbage can... Dump heaven and hell too...
 - For further comment, check out the annexe, Enlightenment Mental Blocks.
 - But Kurt, despite being an ardent atheist, in the past you have voiced a few reservations about the Darwinian origins myth and it's social repercussions (Vonnegut 1975: 238):
"I'm not very grateful for Darwin, although I suspect he was right. His ideas make people crueller. Darwinism says to them that people who get sick deserve to be sick, that people who are in trouble must deserve to be in trouble. When anybody dies, cruel Darwinists imagine we're obviously improving ourselves in some way. And any man who's on top is there because he's a superior animal. That's the social Darwinism of the last century, and it continues to boom."-
 - I have been told that in some instances, a woman obsessed with an overarching urge to keep everything in her life (physical environment, relationships, etc.) under control, may produce a similar result, though admittedly, the performance may not be so elegant.
 - For North Americans, elevators...
 - And for some reason this seems truer with women even more than with men I suspect. Ever meet a woman that was truly satisfied and at peace with her relational or physical environment in this Fallen World? For example, take a woman in her 20s, at the peak of her beauty, turning men's heads wherever she goes and, with other women, inciting ‘comparisons', but just put her in front of a mirror for a few minutes and leave her to herself... What's going on?? What's gotten into her? Her face suddenly turns into a pout. Unbelievable... she has found a ‘fault' with herself... Guys looking on scratch their heads and wonder what the heck is the matter with her... There seems to be an unquenchable instinctual itch, a self-destructive agitation in the soul of the Woman: There's ALWAYS something that could be better...
 - Which brings to mind a question: Have you ever cracked open the Book of Job? Job was the ultimate loser. Well, he did lose his bank account, his kids and his health and pretty much everything else... And to top it off, his cranky wife dumped on him saying "After all this you still trust God? To Hell with God and croak!” Yup, Job was as miserable as miserable can be. As a writer I expect you'd like some of his lines. How about “But man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”? Not too bad eh? After all the crap went down, Job had some pals over for a misery party, but that quickly went down the tubes as the ‘pals' ended up guilt-mongering Job for stuff he didn't do. Strange though, Old Job holds up incredibly well nonetheless and tells off his pals. The thing I get out of this is that God doesn't mind our cranky griping (or even yelling) about this painful, screwed-up world. He can take it. Yeah Job's story has a happy ending (down here, ours don't always). Job gets his bank account and his kids and his health and more stuff back. But clearly the real thing Job got of all this is that he met God. THAT is something he didn't have before. Yup, more of the “Invisible Kingdom” stuff.
 - Which also implies Kurt that if you've run into bogus, hypocritical "Christians" in your day, then you can count on the fact that they bought into a bogus “Gospel”... In any case, the real Gospel isn't just about “being nice to people”. Though it does include “being nice to people” it digs a LOT deeper than that. The part of the Gospel that REALLY gets stuck in postmoderns throats is that Christians have to conform their thinking and behaviour (including SEX) to God's Truth (and NOT to how they feel). One of Jesus' parables puts this clearly enough.
Every one therefore that hears these words of mine, and does them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and if fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that hears these words of mine, and does them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof. (Matthew 7: 24-27)
The early Christians certainly had this part figured out. To them Christ was GOD, the only God. Given the choice by the bureaucrats of the Roman Empire between offering a pinch of incense in honour of Caesar as god or lose their property or life to the lions, many of them had the courage to take the loss. Do Western Christians in this day have THIS courage to walk in TRUTH? That remains to be seen...
 - A time period when in fact Enlightenment devotees had gained power over virtually all of the major social institutions in the West.
 - Albert Camus made this comment regarding Hitler's rhetorical exploitation of the “God” concept in his political speeches (1951: 178):
As for Hitler, his professed religion unhesitatingly juxtaposed the God-Providence and Valhalla. Actually his god was an argument at the end of a political meeting and a manner of reaching an impressive climax at the end of speeches.
 - This is how Orwell presciently (and inadvertantly) described modern and postmodern behaviour in his novel 1984 (1949/1984: 174):
A party member is required to have not only the right opinions, but the right instincts. Many of the beliefs and attitudes demanded of him are never plainly stated, and could not be stated without laying bare the contradictions inherent in Ingsoc. If he is a person naturally orthodox (in Newspeak, a goodthinker), he would in all circumstances know, without taking thought, what is the true belief or the desirable emotion. But in any case, an elaborate mental training, undergone in childhood and grouping itself round the Newspeak words "crimestop, blackwhite, and doublethink", makes him unwilling and unable to think too deeply on any subject whatever.
Ingsoc, of course, is English Socialism, is the political ideology of the totalitarian government of Oceania in George Orwell's novel 1984.