Thermidor

© 2017 Thermidor Magazine.

Designed by Jonathan.

Political Violence And The Superfluous Man

Political violence is rapidly replacing sportsball as America's favorite mass spectacle. Who wants to watch the Marlins play the Yankees when they can watch the SoCal antifa fight the "Proud boys"? I sure as hell know which one I'm going to be watching. But beyond the visceral thrill of streetfighting, there is a deeper appeal to the violence (which as of right now, is still very much in its infancy.)

Put simply, as a certain postal service enthusiast and cabin dweller once said:

The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering.

Regardless of whether Kaczynski's programme (mailbombs and anarcho-primitivism) was the correct solution, it is almost impossible to argue against his premise. Life, for the vast majority of humans living in the Western world, has become unfulfilling and alienating. People have become atomized, traditional communities and their institutions have completely collapsed. Family networks have fragmented. People take antidepressants in order to make it through the day at jobs they hate only to come home exhausted and fall asleep while binge watching Netflix melodramas. Of course, this assumes that the human in question is nominally employed and not a member of the Amerikwan Lumpenproletariat. In which case he or she is more likely to "fall asleep" in the back seat of a friends car with a needle full of delicious smack in their arm.

Of course, we don't need to dwell on this state of affairs too much, as it's all too obvious unless one has absconded into one of America's gentrified SWPL bubbles (themselves being merely a particular kind of malaise) in which case they're probably busy consuming $20 artisanal tacos, drinking craft beer and playing frisbee golf with their genderqueer neighbors.

For everyone else though, the pathologies of modern life are far too evident, so evident that they very literally end up staring one directly in the face during any average day in America. Again though, everyone already knows this, as the pathologies in question have been analyzed and reanalyzed ad nauseum.

In a society where the concept of the sacred has almost completely disappeared and been replaced by brutal utilitarian calculations, all social relations have become voluntarist and contractual alienation is the norm, not the exception.

As Pankaj Mishra explained brilliantly two years ago in The Guardian:

It is not hard to see that populous countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia will always have a significant number of takers for well-paid martyrdom. What explains, however, the allure of a caliphate among thousands of residents of relatively prosperous and stable countries, such as the high-achieving London schoolgirls who traveled to Syria this spring?...

We must ask if the millions of young people awakening around the world to their inheritance can realize the modern promise of freedom and prosperity. Or, are they doomed to lurch, like many others in the past, between a sense of inadequacy and fantasies of revenge?...

Dostoevsky first began to explore at length the very modern torment of ressentiment that the misogynists of Twitter today manifest as much as the dupes of Isis. Russian writers from Pushkin onwards had already probed the peculiar psychology of the “superfluous” man in a semi-westernised society: educated into a sense of hope and entitlement, but rendered adrift by his limited circumstances, and exposed to feelings of weakness, inferiority, and envy.

Almost all men today, if they are born into the Western World, are superfluous men. While born into a world of material plenty, they are simultaneously born into a world of immense spiritual despair and poverty. And not merely because their's lacks "Religion" per se, but because it lacks any sort of meaningful narrative framing at all. A larger story into they can see their lives playing a meaningful part in.

Though they may be encouraged by their Neoliberal professors or therapists to "make their own meaning in life" or perhaps try out a boutique religion (Yoga, Westernized Buddhism, Hinduism etc.) this always seems false. For if a grand cosmic narrative can simply be constructed Ex nihilo based upon the arbitrary whims of the human will, or if it can simply be purchased from a boutique as a therapeutic act of "consumer choice," said narrative immediately ceases to be qualitatively meaningful. For just as if "everything is art, nothing is art" so too "if anything can be a meaningful narrative, then nothing can."

Thus the superfluous man is left in an untenable position wherein he wishes to give meaning to his atomized life by incorporating it into a metaphysical narrative, yet when his search nets him only milquetoast counterfeits he is left with a sensation similar to what Cioran described in On The Heights Of Despair:

I resign from humanity. I no longer want to be, nor can still be, a man. What should I do? Work for a social and political system, make a girl miserable? Hunt for weaknesses in philosophical systems, fight for moral and esthetic ideals? It's all too little. I renounce my humanity even though I may find myself alone. But am I not already alone in this world from which I no longer expect anything?

Those who take Ciroan's path of complete cynicism and renunciation usually end up as the bitter hedonists which populate Michel Houellebecq novels. They have taken upon themselves that most pitiable of all human roles, that of the "animal which knows philosophy", a modern Silenus who drinks to forget a knowledge he cannot escape.

Those who attempt to find a meaningful narrative beyond the confines of pure cynicism can go any of a hundred ways. Anything from Radical Islam to Anti-Globalist Nationalism to "Anti-Racist" militancy will be considered, as is evidenced by the violence which now has become a normal part of life in the Modern West.

Ultimately, all the individuals drawn to such movements are "seekers" of one sort or another. Looking for meaning, meaning which can only be found in a social life-world of hierarchical values, and hierarchical values which are not arbitrarily determined. The narrative must, in a sense, choose them.

This desire for metaphysical meaning disquiets the rusty, mechanical minds of the technocratic ruling class (a species commonly referred to as "the bugmen") who are puzzled by the eternal appeal of these strange superstitions. They share Orwell's bitter annoyance when he famously noted that:

Whereas Socialism and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people "I offer you a good time," Hitler has said to them "I offer you struggle, danger and death," and as a result, an entire nation flings itself at his feet.

While the Liberals may decry men's desire for a compelling narrative into which to graft their lives, preferring instead that they would find satisfaction in the Bugman's world of artisanal foods and egalitarian sexual relations. Yet ultimately this is little more than tyranny, a ruthless demand that all men become as mediocre as the Bugmen already are. A demand that, furthermore, is unlikely to be realized.

For men desire meaning so much they will sometimes even sacrifice themselves on behalf of narratives which they don't even fully believe in themselves as Mishra noted concerning Turgenov's protagonists:

Rudin in Turgenev’s eponymous novel desperately wants to surrender himself “completely, greedily, utterly” to something; he ends up dead on a Parisian barricade in 1848, having sacrificed himself to a cause he doesn’t fully believe in.

It's truly morbid to contemplate the number of men who went to butcher innocents in the Middle East simply because it beat the alternative of the Consumerist Nihilism offered up by the West. Or, less dramatically, to contemplate the number of men driven to earnest online activism and even street fighting, men who merely a few months before may have been completely disengaged, on behalf of an opportunistic reality television personality who just happened to become the perfect vehicle for their resentments.

The question which haunt us is:
If such passions can be elicited by such mediocre and uninspiring ideas (a trite civic nationalism which nobody really believes in) how much more passion, and power, could be channeled by a man who actually found something these superfluous men could believe in?