Random Thoughts On The Way Down
“Make America Great Again!” “Forward!” “Vive la France!” “Workers of the world, unite!” “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!” “Make love, not war!” “Serve the People!” “Yes We Can!” “Black Power!” “Don’t Mess with Texas!”
Political slogans all. Each one loaded with calculated emotional heft, and each one intellectually empty and abstract, often deliberately so. The purpose of these slogans, and others like them, is rarely to inform or define — that is, to serve as intellectual shorthand — and never primarily so. Rather, their main purpose is to circumvent thought, argument, reason, by stirring blood instead of curiosity, rallying the listener to blind enthusiasm instead of careful consideration.
Typically, they appeal to feelings of petty self-interest (class envy, fear of war, the security of immersing oneself in a group), or alternatively to infantile dreaming of a politicized return to the womb, in the form of a State surrogate (America’s past, French glory, “the People,” the Dear Leader). Political slogans are the linguistic antithesis of political philosophy, and can become barriers to its development, to the extent that they become accepted as meaningful political speech.
Someone — Jordan Peterson claims it was Jung, though I haven’t seen the source — said, “People do not have ideas; ideas have people.” Whatever the merits of that claim as a general description of intellectual life, it perfectly encapsulates that mode of modern politics that is embodied in competing slogans, and mass sloganeering. A man who says, “Don’t mess with Texas,” for example, undoubtedly thinks he is making a powerful declaration of his independence and manliness. On the contrary, at the moment of uttering that slogan, he has given himself entirely over to someone else’s quaint abstraction, one without substantial meaning, a fact punctuated by recalling that this particular slogan was originally contrived by the state’s Department of Transportation as a clever injunction to Texans not to litter.
When political discourse is reduced to, or best embodied in, clipped phrases emblazoned across mass-produced T-shirts, baseball caps, or protest signs, you can be sure your society is comprised of men who do not have, but are rather had by, ideas. That is to say, they are being had. Take off the T-shirts and caps. They are unworthy of a people who wish to be free.
If anyone tries to defend the U.S. Constitution or the nation’s founding principles against progressives, including even the most intellectually respectable ones, he will be sure to meet with the quick rejoinder that the Founders were hypocrites and slave owners, and therefore worthy only of the contempt of any modern advocate of equality.
If, on the other hand, one dares to call abortion the murder of an unborn child, the most intellectually respectable progressives, along with their most intellectually respectable counterparts among “conservatives,” will leap with double quickness to say, “You can’t say murder; after all, even if you disagree with the pro-choice position, you have to understand that the general culture has accepted abortion as part of mainstream social life, so women who seek this procedure, and doctors who provide it, are not to be judged morally.”
Is that a sign of the deep-seated dishonesty and progressive bias of modern political discourse, or merely a symptom of the universal human weakness for judging our own foreground experience with gentler eyes than those with which we view the distant past, where “people had such strange ideas,” and “thank goodness we’ve overcome those shortcomings”?
Speaking of T-shirt politics and the murder of innocents, I have recently noticed that Che Guevara, one of the giants of both endeavors, is becoming a bit of a trend here in Korea, as he has long been on campuses throughout the West. Confront any of the students about the cool revolutionary on their shirt, and you’ll be sure to meet with the typical unknowing certainty of the propagandized (i.e., unthinking) activist.
Even if these innocent young communist sloganeers know where the man on their T-shirts was from, or when he lived and died, they will be predictably perplexed, not to say shell-shocked, by the revelation that their adopted revolutionary leader exhibited a gleeful mania for summary executions, sending homosexuals to forced labor camps, and the vociferous defense of Stalin and Stalinism, even long after the rest of the leftist world had been forced to skulk away from that sadistic killer of tens of millions of peasants and infamous developer of the workers paradise known as the Gulag.
I am here in Limbo because, all things being equal, it seems the safest and most reasonable place for a person to hide with what’s left of his reason, during this era of civilization’s soaring dive into the abyss.
Okay, to be honest, one doesn’t choose Limbo, one is chosen for it, and I have accepted my fate as one of the chosen, i.e., the somewhat mercifully condemned. After all, I am humbled to reside here in the greatest of company: Aristotle is here, and Plato, and Socrates. Even a few of the living are here, too. (For instance, you are here — resident or visitor?) We get by, and though it’s dark sometimes — failing to enter the Light is the chief sin of those in Limbo, as Dante Alighieri teaches us — we find a certain peace in the melancholy; particularly, I suppose, by comparison, such as during moments like this one out there in “the real world.”
And of course, like people everywhere, we have our comforting slogans. If we had T-shirts here in the First Circle, mine might read, “O my friends, there is no friend.”