A Snake, an Apple, and a Ballot Box
There is no getting around the fact that the "culture war" is at bottom a theological dispute between secular and traditionally religious forces. But it would be a great error to conclude that the war therefore involves atheistic vs. theistic camps, much less logic vs. faith. Rather, it is a war of competing theisms, each rooted in faith and steeped in metaphysics. Radical secularists are rarely neutral about God -- in fact, they are obviously burning with passion about spiritual matters. Secular leftism merely replaces one God with another, but in so doing, destroys man.
Human beings cannot help being religious. One of the benefits of religion --properly understood -- is that it prevents the mind from regressing into the magical worldview that preceded its development. Sophisticated secularists believe they are making progress by leaving the “superstitions” of religion behind, but this is rarely the case. As Chesterson said, instead of believing “nothing,” they tend to believe in “anything,” which is where the pseudo-religion of contemporary liberalism -- that is, leftism -- rushes in to fill the void.
Elections are about intentions and about truth. In an election, we are not just choosing a candidate, but choosing our future and affirming what we believe to be true -- not just the facts, but the paradigm for interpreting them. When truth and intent coincide, then progress can occur. But if there is a rupture between them, then democracy easily becomes the method of its own demise.
Almost all liberals have good intentions. The question is whether their intentions are in accord with reality. For if we could only discern what is true, then voting would be seen not so much as a choice but a ratification of the obvious. In the end, you cannot really vote to reject reality. Or you can, but you’ll lose every time.
It seems that the impending election may represent a forked tongue in the historical road ahead. One way or the other, history will inevitably arrive at its appointed deustination, but an election allows us to vote yea or nay on where it has recently been, and to try to steer it in another direction. But without real truth and insight, this exercise can be as frivolous as taking a vote on where your own life has been the previous two years and expecting things to magically change.
We keep hearing that this election is a “referendum on Iraq,” but as always, it is a referendum on reality. In order to not perceive the simple reality that we are in a world war, the leftist mind must unconsciously “attack” any evidence that leads to that conclusion. Thus, it may look like President Bush is being attacked, but he is incidental to the deeper process of attacking and dismantling a reality that the left does not wish to see.
The MSM and their political action wing, the Democratic Party, is not only wrong, but not even wrong, because it is not operating in an environment where truth is permitted, much less perceived. Or, to be perfectly accurate, the truth is unconsciously perceived, over which is erected a makeshift lie that can be easily discerned by any clear thinker. Dr. Sanity writes this morning,
“There has always been something wrong with the MSM's train of reasoning. First the press persisted in encouraging the delusion that no WMD's or their antecedents were ever found in Iraq and that ‘Bush lied.’ Now they want you to believe that Saddam indeed had a detailed and documented program developing WMD's; but that the real problem is that Bush Administration's reckless publishing of the details of that program has facilitated Iran becoming a nuclear power....
“I suspect that the first MSM meme -- that Saddam had no WMD's -- was a type of ‘concrete thinking’; or possibly an unbelievable lack of imagination.... Or maybe, just maybe, no amount of evidence would ever convince some people that Saddam was a threat to the U.S. and the entire world and that he had WMD's.”
Although we are individuals, we are immersed in a collective mentality out of which our individuality must be won. On the horizontal level, our “groupishness” is anterior to our individual self, while the reverse is true vertically. Thus, it should not be surprising that we have a political system that reflects this primordial division (speaking, of course, in very broad, even cosmic, generalizations that have many exceptions and are rarely seen in their pure, archetypal form.)
For there is a “left hand” party of horizontality, groupishness, and rebellious pseudo-indvidualism, and a “right hand” party of verticality and individual development. Many consequences flow from this initial bifurcation of mankind. Right hand man, because he sees his earthly vocation as vertical transcendence, masters himself and loves doing so. Because of this, he does not require a heavy-handed government to compel him to do the right thing. In such an individual, the conquest of even a petty desire is a victory for God if it brings him closer to his true Self, a Self that can only be discovered and developed in an environment of liberty. For vertical man, society is useful to the extent that it helps man realize his reason for being. A society is more or less sick if it does not embody, preserve, and foster verticality.
Vertical Man believes that our primary obligation is to defend man from himself, whereas Horizontal Man believes that his primary obligation is to generate conditions that allow man to indulge himself. As such, he has no interest in mastering himself, for doing so is identified with judgmentalism and oppression. Horizontal man celebrates what is most common and coarse, for there is nothing higher to aim at. Rather, the only “higher” is more freedom, which is liberty understood only in its horizontal aspect. In other words, while liberty is freedom oriented toward a spiritual telos, mere horizontal freedom is license to express one’s whims and impulses. The former is objective and radiates; the latter is subjective and encloses. Vertical liberty leads to Truth, Beauty and Goodness; horizontal freedom leads to “my truth,” moral relativism, and ugliness and barbarism masquerading as art.
But if truth is relative and perception is reality, then no one’s ideas about the world are any better than anyone else’s. Fact is reduced to opinion, and conformity to opinion is ultimately maintained by the group or institution that has the power to enforce its version of reality. Ironically, this achieves the opposite effect intended by its liberal proponents. That is, if we cannot judge the merit of competing ideas by assessing their value in light of an absolute standard, then either everyone will have their own private truth, or truth will be enforced by the state or some other powerful collectivity. On college campuses, no one is unsophisticated enough to believe that truth exists; however, you'd better not utter the wrong truth, or you will come face to face with the Fist that enforces absolute horizontal relativism.
Horizontal man lives below himself because that is all he can do. Quantity must somehow make up for qualities that can only be found in the vertical, which is why horizontal man can never get enough of what he doesn't really need, and why no economy will be “good enough” for him. Tomorrow, millions of horizontal men will be basing their vote on a fantasy that the economy is “doing poorly,” which flies in the face of the barest acquaintance with reality. By definition, horizontal man can only measure progress empirically, but even then, empiricism must ultimately be ignored because it does not speak to the unrecognized non-empirical needs of the soul. Thus, the impoverished soul, with no other outlet to express itself, will do so in the language of quantities -- the many variations of the infant’s “more! more! more!”
The horizontal/vertical divide can also be seen as a reflection of the division between id and superego, or impulses and standards. Based upon a profound misunderstanding of Freud (if a misunderstanding can be called profound), a horizontal psychology emerged in the 1960s to go along with the horizontal ideology of the left, in order to legitimize what in any traditional context would be regarded as the essence of pathology. Major leftist intellectuals like Herbert Marcuse and N.O. Brown developed a bastardized version of Freudianism to argue that people only imagined they were happy, but that they were actually living "inauthentic," repressed lives. In order to be "real," they had to express themselves in an uninhibited and unrepressed manner. Thus followed the idealization of the primitive in all its ghastly forms. For horizontal man does not actually remain horizontal. Rather, he simply removes the impediments to his own fall -- which can admittedly feel exhilarating until one eventually reaches a realm that is without light or warmth.
Regarding our horizontal groupishness, multiculturalism devalues the concept of the individual in favor of the ethnic group, while socialism in all its forms favors the large and powerful state that unites us all (and suppresses -- for any time government does something for you, it does something to you). Deconstruction throws all objective meaning into question, so no one has to have the disappointing experience of being wrong or denied tenure, no matter how stupid one's ideas. The burden of personal responsibility is mitigated, because one's being is determined by accidental factors such as race, class and gender, not one's owns values, decisions and actions. Skillful knowledge acquired by intense effort is replaced by an obnoxious, hypertrophied adolescent skepticism that knows only how to question but not to learn. It is grounded in a sort of bovine materialism that is not the realm of answers, but the graveyard of meaningful questions. The primitive is idealized, because it is within everyone's reach; it is painful to have standards, because not everyone can attain them.
The purpose of religion is to become human. Biology will only take you so far, which is not very far at all. A merely biological human being would also be a monster, a misfit, something grotesque. In our bones we know this. In Genesis, the first thing Adam and Eve realize upon attaining self-consciousness is their nakedness, of which they are ashamed. They know instantaneously -- another one of those things we cannot not know unless we are highly educated -- that they are not like the other animals and that there is something shameful in behaving like one.
In so many ways the contemporary left presents a teaching that is completely at odds with our divine blueprint. “You and me baby ain't nothing' but mammals, So let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel,” as the Bloodhound Gang put it. How did this monstrous inversion occur? It has nothing at all to do with classical liberalism, which was always rooted in the traditional virtues, those perennial truths of our humanness.
Leftism, in all its forms, is a revolt. Specifically, it is a revolt against our divine-human nature. With the 1960’s came the pervasive message that one could be an authentic human only by being subhuman, by rejecting all of society’s hypocritical mores and values. Therefore -- in a complete inversion of the cosmic order -- the purpose of life was to become “unrepressed” and to overturn tradition, which was simply an illegitimate means of control and domination.
This is why the left cannot help aligning itself with movements -- no matter how vile or evil -- that further this goal of overturning Western values. On a more mundane level, it is one more reason why they do not wish to see the war we are engaged in, because recognizing it would expose the frivolousness of their world view and their very lives.
The establishment does not require the rebel but the rebel requires the establishment, in the same way that the adolescent requires his parents to act out his rebellion. Therefore, leftism isn't just reactionary, but it is a dance of projective identification in which the leftist projects the most human parts of himself outside and then rebels against them. This is what allows him to live without guilt, for the guilt is converted into the imaginary “right wing fascism” that persecutes him.
Ultimately, radical secularism fails as a religion because it has no God, only demons: George Bush, Christian fundamentalists, Mark Foley, "domestic surveillance," Israel, tax cuts for the rich, “stolen elections,” water boarding, Halliburton, Fox News, Abu Ghraib, Karl Rove, corporate profits, disparities in wealth, strict constructionists, parental notification, talk radio, and so many more. On the other hand, the sort of classical liberalism to which I ascribe -- now embodied in the modern American conservative movement -- recognizes that politics must aim at something that is not politics, something higher, not lower. The alienation of the world can be healed, but not in the flat and horizontal line of secular history, or in the endlessly recurring cycle of primitive fusion with nature, but in the ascending, evolutionary spiral.
The secular world is a value-free flatland of nihilism and urgent nonsense, whereas the vertical world accessed by authentic spirituality is a world of hierarchical values to which we are perpetually drawn. It is here that the frontier of psychohistorical evolution lies, for so long as there are free individuals endowed by their Creator with an orientation toward the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, there will always be upward frontiers, not just horizontal edges.