Saturday, 29 September 2007

Sobering but stimulating

JOHN GRAY: Black Mass. Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia

[Allen Lane, 2007]

If you think, as I do, that this first decade of the 21st century is one of unparalleled moral, mental, and political lunacy, do read this book. John Gray surveys the historic roots of our current follies with magisterial sweep.

The prime culprit, he avers, is apocalyptic thinking, both religious and secular, whose myriad offshoots have dominated most of the West’s concepts and actions for the past four centuries. He traces these complex threads and their mutations with minute yet elegant precision: the chiliastic strain in the Puritan faith of the Pilgrim Fathers which still animates today’s US neoCons; the bastard offspring of 18th century Enlightenment belief in ultimate human perfection which misled Hegel and Marx, and ultimately surfaced as totalitarian Leninism in Russia and Nazism in Germany.

The myth that perfect individuals and societies can be created through political action and social engineering leads inevitably, says Gray, to the doctrine that the end justifies the means; and so all kinds of injustices, and even atrocities such as torture, can be justified by those who believe they are acting in good faith. Whilst deprecating the destructive delusions of ‘God-driven’ politicians like Bush and Blair, whose self-assumed hotlines to God impel them to brush aside uncomfortable or inconvenient facts, Gray nevertheless thinks that the desire of secularists to privatise religion and decouple it from politics is unrealistic. For the religious impulse is endemic in humankind, and has existed since the dawn of history. “Suppressing religion does not mean it ceases to control thinking and behaviour. Like repressed sexual desire, faith returns, often in grotesque forms, to govern the lives of those who deny it.”

He is scathing of the Bush Administration’s invincible ignorance and multiple blunders in Iraq, and cites Robespierre – of all people! – as a witness against the faux-Macchiavellian doctrine of ‘liberal interventionism’: “The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. It is in the nature of things that the progress of reason is slow and no-one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies. One can encourage freedom, never create it by an invading force.”

Gray’s vision of the future is sombre. He forecasts decades of wars as ferocious as any we have yet known, fought with all the violence of conflicting faiths using increased technical know-how to control declining natural resources. It is not a comforting thought. But the enduring lustre of his book is the brilliance of his analysis of our Western intellectual heritage and its use and abuse by politicians who aspire to be statesmen but show themselves up as historical ignoramuses and moral pygmies.


Yankee Doodle said...

The Bush-43 Neocons are not motivated by religion. They are motivated by profit. Since Americans are not mercenaries, Bush-43 Neocons have to dress their imperialism up in religious and other moral costumes so Americans will follow them.

Regarding armed missionaries, people generally have to fight for their own freedom before they appreciate it, although many Iraqis do indeed appreciate what the United States and our allies have attempted to do for them. And, there are many success stories in Iraq that don't get a great deal of press.

The mainstream media can be anti-Bush and report on problems with the war, just so long as they don't bite the hand that owns them, and that is corporate America that is profiting so handsomely from the War on Terror. That's why you don't hear about the good news from Iraq, nor do you hear about the treason in the Bush Administration.

anticant said...

I hope you will read Gray's book, Yankee Doodle. It's far more complex and subtle than I could convey in a brief review. It deserves the careful attention of intelligent Americans such as yourself.

As for Bush and Co. not being religious but driven by profit, surely it's both. Bush is clearly a 'born-again' God-botherer, and so are many of those around him. And it seems as if 'God' and 'success' [= profit] are one and the same thing to many Americans, judging from the spiels of many of your most popular televangelists.

And where is the 'good news' from Iraq? Tell us some! It's time you stopped being an ostrich in that respect, and recognised that it is going to end in unmitigated defeat and withdrawal for the US - even more so if you attack Iraq. It isn't just treason you have to deal with in your current Administration - it's sheer lunacy and near-total incompetence.

Jose said...

Welcome back, Anticant.

Good news from Iraq? No such, hundreds of thousands of dead is not good news. Lack of essential basics is not good news. Killing of innocent people is not good news. Lack of authentic democracy is not good news. Trying to steal the Iraqi oil is not good news.

First of all democracy cannot be imposed because if so it is not real democracy. Democracy must be conquered by those who want it.

A hint of what America is doing with Iraq comes by the hand of the US Senate that approved a "non-binding" resolution to split Iraq into three autonomous sectors.

This is imperialistic procedure.

anticant said...

Good to hear from you, Jose. I hope that you also will read Gray's book. I don't agree with everything he says, but his intellectual sweep is impressive.

As you know, I think the West's predicament is far worse than most Americans - even perceptive critics of the Bush administration such as Yankee Doodle - yet realise. US ignorance and folly in the Middle East, not just since 9/11 but for decades, may yet reap a whirlwind for us all.

This is one reason why I shall be blogging less in future. I shall be 80 next week, and I don't intend to spend the probably short remainder of my life distressing myself unduly about a world situation I can do little to alter.

Apres moi [hopefully], le deluge.

Jose said...

You're right in what you say, Anticant, as couldn't be less.

80 is nothing with a brain like yours. Would that I be like you in six years (am 74 now).

What I am cautious about is that I pre-feel that what is happening with America might some day be our problem, too. I mean multinationals which, as you well know, rule the world, being comfortably installed in Europe decide to carry out the same politics here.

And the cycle to start again!

anticant said...

Jose, I fear it is already our problem; and it is a worse problem than just the profit-greedy amoral internationals. Even more than terrorism, it is the problem of the accelerating infiltration and penetration of 'legitimate' businesses and even governments by totally conscienceless and ruthless international criminals - the global mafia, who could turn out to be the real winners in the end-game of our present mess.

Yankee Doodle has some very interesting and disturbing current posts about this process in the Balkans, and in the former Central Asian Soviet republics, as well as in Turkey, Afghanistan and the Middle East. He also suspects bribery and corruption - which he doesn't hesitate to label 'treason' - in the current US Administration.

The question is, is there such a thing as 'legitimate' business, or even legitimate government, any more in a growing number of countries? Or does Enron set the acceptable standard for global business corporations these days?

My Father and Grandfather were old-fashioned Chartered Accountants. If they had found any wrongdoing or illegalities in any of the companies they audited, they would have blown the whistle, however valued and long-standing the clients were. Their signature to a company's annual accounts was a guarantee of honesty. Nowadays, the only criterion seems to be 'whatever you can get away with'. We are living in an utterly corrupt business climate, don't you think?

Jose said...

100% with your appreciations, Anticant. The world is upside down, bribery is a sine-qua-non condition in all kinds of business. Lies for everything, it seems lie is now an essential part of life. And I am not only talking of politicians. If you use the public transport you hear things that people do that reflect in a lesser scale what leaders do. As though they were normal things to do.

anticant said...

Many people - especially younger people - don't accept the concept of objective truth any more, and have swallowed the 'post-modernist' twaddle about meaning being whatever you choose it to be. As Gray pithily puts it, Blair was not deliberately economical with the truth; he simply lacked a normal understanding of what truth is. [Humpty Dumptyism again!]

Many people simply don't understand when they are lying, because they BELIEVE that what they are saying, however false, is the truth.

And bribery, of course, is a way of life in Arab countries, and an integral part of their economic systems, which is why it's impossible to sell them arms, or anything else, without a slush fund for kickbacks.

Whatever these religious zealots of all faiths claim, their real god is money and the power that it brings.

Emmett said...

GOOD Stuff, keep it coming!

MR Yankee Doodle is absolutely spot-on about the many layers of motivation at work; and, how narrative-proprietors twist the knobs of it all.

I Do not know if it will bring much comfort to either Aunty or to Mr Jose, if I point out that very likely bribery and corruption, historically, /are/ the norm. An accomplishment of confucian China, and the late-modern western nation-state, was to put all of the stealing on a fancy credentiallist & meritocratic, civil-serpent, basis. In the american 1946-64, generation we have thus created a situation in which the gang & relays of subsidised psychologists, Yoga-professors (just ASK me!) & state-liberallist federally-funded small-city "managers" and such un-producing gentry between themselves are sucking away AT LEAST as much again as the interglobal thieving corporation-heads.

AS My occasional commentor in /Bodwyn Wook/ says (the young krakisdottir), there are really "just too many of them and there just can not keep on being enough expensive stuff to go around for a lot of pigs like this!"

Emmett said...

BY-The-by, anticant, I just got me hands on Angus Wilson's life of Kipling -- we sometimes forget that our forebears was a dire shower of neurotics, too, only they didn't have such evasive lingo then yet, and instead said 'moral insanity'. Which may be the much of it in a nut-shell, after all?

Yankee Doodle said...

"First of all democracy cannot be imposed because if so it is not real democracy. Democracy must be conquered by those who want it."

Too true! Nothing better than fragrant bait to trap a bat!

"I shall be 80 next week"

Happy birthday!!!

" He also suspects bribery and corruption - which he doesn't hesitate to label 'treason' - in the current US Administration."

For Sheikh bin Mahfouz:

Terror is a riddle,
An enigma inside a puzzle;
Who seeks to solve it,
You seek to muzzle.

Your men are on the board,
And to the game I come late;
But I will see you the twin towers,
And raise you your caliphate.

You slink in the darkness,
And are wary of the light,
But the mystery of your terror
Is hidden in plain sight.

You are now on my radar,
In fact, in the top ten;
But others are above you:
Do you know who and since when?

Bin Laden had helpers;
Millions were their reasons.
They say it's business,
But I say it's treason.


Time for the latest installment of Gotham City, as we wonder -- Where is the Batman?

Blue is the water by which comes the green.
Tall is the lady; she's Gotham's queen.
Under her eyes, the Roman commands,
Fueling the vices of his empire's lands.
For wont of their vices they give freedom away;
High is the price for their habits they pay.
See the green lady, she is a slave,
See her blue knights, they are but knaves.
Powerful is the Roman, this land he does rule;
King takes queen on a knight for a fool.

anticant said...

I still think the Gotham Chronicles in book form would be a best-seller, YD!

anticant said...

Emmett, have you read Kipling's "Kim"? Besides being one of the most wonderful stories ever written, it's an object lesson on how to run an Empire.

Emmett said...

OH, Yes...the great game. My old dad's people all were in on it in India the first time around -- a forebear was said to have been suffocated in that dungeon, or converted powder-room, at Calcutta. They were Catholics, those Smiths, who somehow & nevertheless inveigled places in John Company notwithstanding? I don't think that means they were cavaliers, before. Just peasantish & stubborn Dorset- and (in those days) Lincolnmen, who doubtless thought the Puritan ranting a bit obscure, I expect. It took /me/ to 'go mahometan' & lounge around with hasheesh & having sufic visions of The beyond...three hundred years on.

THAT'S The thing -- the terrifying thing. We begin to realise that history does /not/ end; that's the root & branch of chiliasm & /apocalpsis/; dreams of escape:

ARMAGEDDON? Too right, Dusty, armageddon outta 'ere!

anticant said...

Which part of Dorset? Still one of the loveliest counties in England, fondly remembered from my wartime 'teens.

Jose said...

Could we not consider, Anticant, bribery the subjugation powerful lobbies exert on our politicians?

From what I know about Asians, bribery is also current practice, generally speaking, over there. And there is bribery all over Europe, in our local governments, in Town Halls, everywhere. Not the classical bribery, just another subtle type of it.

Yes, I am afraid, Yankee Doodle, what we are sold as democracy is just another giant lie. While there exist loans, debts and the likes of them, it's really difficult to have full democratic rights. We almost may consider them another type of bribery. The banking system - a powerful ally of Capitalism - sees to it that we are all reined in.

anticant said...

This whole 'undue influence' business may well be where the cronyism of Freemasonry plays a malign role. How large, it's impossible to tell.

Emmett said...

THE Sufi spin on freemasonry is that it was a specific operation brought in for particular reasons (in the early-modern age & to maintain the link with a certain body of mediaeval alchemical psychology); and, which now persists as a diversion; or, part of the entertainment industry. In this respect the post-modern freemasonry may be said to be akin to professional "sports." Before the second part of the 20th century World War (1914-1989), and in the 1930s in America notably, there was only football (mostly collegiate) and baseball; indeed, the latter was played personally by perhaps a majority of americam young men in the first half of the late-modern age: my own maternal grandfather played baseball for the Eagle Lake, MN, team in the run-up to 1917.

AFTER The second war-half, after 1945, certain persons in key capital- and planning-positions noted: a) an increasing sub-urbanisation in the post-war West; and b), the concomitant sedentarisation of western and increasingly jaded, post-religionist, /urbanes/. Upon studying the Hitler-example, and the vulnerability of large numbers of psychologically-menaced individuals under crowded conditions of technological abstraction from reality, it was concluded that these large numbers harboured, altogether, an reserve of untapped, possibly very dangerous, libido. Accordingly, over decades and throughout the West, the kind and variety and all-year-round availability of, specifically, spectator-sport was enormously differentiated and extended. The purpose, of course, was to drain weekly, regularly, the larger part of the free-floating male energy-excess which, otherwise, bid fair to be at the avail of yet other demagogues. The corollary is that, now that sport (like the freemasonry) has obtained its purpose, it /afterward/ presents its extravagant apotheosis in its most lurid form: ceremonial fezes be-jewelled with /actual/ diamonds; or, the ponzine Mr OJ Simpson. Such circumstances mark senectitude; they are the stigmata of an exhausted operation in culture. Yet such relicts serve still useful purposes, even in decline; the Sufi task, hence, is not usually direct dismantlement; rather, it be a matter of /further/ innovation.
THE 'Internet' is the key example of this early post-modern period:

FOR Us who 'blog', palpably it /is/ the cybersex sighing-space, of the government schools-oppressed and the digitally-misled, the corporately God-damned and already-castaway.

SO Here we are all, hived off and not impeding our betters?

THAT Is perhaps what they have been led to believe, in order that they may be persuaded to finance the thing: 'keep the erks oogling smut and out of our oily way!' However, in the nature of the historian's /layered/ motives and purposes, there may well be another (and even sufic) intent-layer. It can be said to be that, by using the still-crude devices of PC, modem and mouse (bell, book & candle!), the chaps (AND 'their' women!) /are/ exorcised of the despair latent in all that is molecularly physical; and, that they are exposed to the potential realm ahead, of the electronic level of existence; and, as opposed to mere crude physical and bodily molecularity, with its false binarisms (religion 'versus' science); its vile cancers and race-murders; its detestable and too-high signal-to-noise ratio.