Why I Talk About Anime On Twitter

My dad once told me a story about a guru that he’d heard while he had been traveling around India. Dad is a Baby Boomer, and Baby Boomers have a special place in their hearts for India. The Beatles went to India, and then came back and recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Steve Jobs also went to India, and then came back and founded Apple. This sort of thing makes Baby Boomers believe that if they go to India, they too might come back enlightened enough to create something visionary and world-changing.

Which doesn’t really ever work. Mostly they just come back with diarrhea.

But whatever the case may be, after dad retired, he bought a plane ticket to India (of course he had the money – he’s a Baby Boomer) to go on the grand adventure at 60 (of course he was retired by 60 – he’s a Baby Boomer) that he had wanted to go on at 25, but hadn’t been able to. Dad didn’t come back and record any chart-topping psychedelic albums or start up a Fortune 500 company (I certainly wish he had), though in fairness to him, while he did not find what he was looking for in India, he nevertheless came to have a real appreciation for what he did actually encounter there. (A few years later, after my sister died, he took a portion of the money he intended to leave her as his inheritance and used it to found a small medical clinic, which bears her name, in a remote Indian village in which he had stayed for a time.)

But if dad was able to find something worth embracing in India, others were not so fortunate. Which brings us to the story of the guru and the Englishman.

The Englishman was also a Baby Boomer, and the Englishman had also come to India on an extended quest to find enlightenment of the sort that the Maharishi had imparted upon George Harrison. This was a task to which the Englishman devoted himself tirelessly. At some point in his travels, he managed to hear about the guru, who had a reputation for great wisdom and spiritual understanding even among other gurus. Unlike the Maharishi, whose taste for fame and all that comes with it eventually caused even the Beatles to disavow him, the guru was a hermit and an ascetic who lived in a humble cabin in an isolated spot many miles from the nearest town. The Englishman became determined to meet the guru. He rented a Land Rover (he had been told that many of the roads that he would encounter would be difficult) and with no more than a few rumors as his guide, intrepidly set out to find him.

And find him the Englishman did. After weeks of driving from town to town searching for information, he finally found someone who both knew where the guru could be found and was willing to tell him. First thing the next morning, the Englishman loaded up his Land Rover and drove off to find the enlightenment he sought. Paved roads gave way to gravel roads, which gave way to dirt roads, which gave way to a narrow footpath, but the Land Rover was designed for such conditions and made its way through them without any trouble. As the Englishman drove along the footpath, he noticed faint but unmistakable tire tracks on either side of it – evidence that he was not the first to have made this journey. Finally, as the sun began to reach its height in the clear blue sky, the guru’s cabin came into view.

The guru lived not on a mountaintop, but in the middle of a wide field, his cabin surrounded by a large garden in which he grew his vegetables. As the Land Rover came to a stop outside, the guru, who had heard the noise of its approach, opened his door and walked out to meet its occupant. The guru was a man of some years, thin and small of stature, but sprightly and energetic. As the Englishman got out of the Land Rover, the guru walked up to him, shook his hand, and gave him a few warm words of welcome. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, considering India’s history of colonization – the guru spoke pretty decent English. After introductions were made there was a pause, as the Englishman prepared to tell the guru about his purpose in coming, the questions he had, and the wisdom he was seeking. But before he could begin speaking, the guru broke the silence:

“Hey, that’s a really nice Land Rover. A newer model, isn’t it?”

The Englishman was rather taken aback. “Well, yes, but…”

“I believe this one has a V8 engine instead of the old straight six?”

The Englishman had to admit that he didn’t know one way or the other.

“Well, why not open the bonnet then…” asked the guru, “and let’s have a look?”

The Englishman answered in a tone of surprise, with just a hint of dismay: “Well… you see… what I really came to talk to you about was of a more spiritual nature…”

The guru had already started a walkaround of the car, and was now standing by its rear gate.

“Yes, of course. There will be plenty of time for all of your questions. You are welcome to stay as long as you like.” Here the guru paused, and then, almost apologetically, continued: “But there is one small thing I would like to ask of you.”

Suddenly encouraged by the possibility that now they were getting somewhere, the Englishman answered that of course, he would do whatever the guru asked.

Delighted, the guru replied: “Is there any chance that sometime later you might let me try driving your Rover a little bit? Don’t worry – I know how to drive, and this is such a fine piece of machinery.”

The Englishman, though more than a bit crestfallen, promised that he would.

It was then that the guru noticed a large cooler in the back of the Land Rover. The Englishman had left it open, and a few bottles of soda poked out of the ice.

“Oh, and… could I possibly impose on you by asking for a Coke?”

The guru’s level of asceticism was most certainly not living up to the Englishman’s expectations, and by this time the traveler’s reaction had gone from surprise to dismay to the increasingly upsetting feeling of having been duped, but he agreed nonetheless, opened the back of the vehicle, and handed the guru a bottle. The guru accepted, took a long drink, and smiled widely.

“Now, this is nice. Many thanks to you.”

There was a silence as the guru sipped his Coke. The Englishman was no longer so eager to interrupt it with questions, so after a few moments had passed, it was the guru, again, who spoke first:

“So you are from England! Have you come from there recently?”

The Englishman said that he had.

“In that case, I have an important question for you.”

Mustering the final bit of hope within him, the Englishman asked what the question might be.

With an interested look on his face, the guru asked: “How is Arsenal doing this season?”

The Englishman had had enough. He quickly concocted some pretext, closed the gate of the Land Rover, and left. As he had promised, he allowed the guru to drive the first half-mile or so back down the footpath, and then left him on it as he drove away alone. The last he saw of the guru was in his rearview mirror, as the guru, after smiling and cheerfully waving goodbye, turned around to walk back to the solitude of his cabin.

* * *

The Englishman had, of course, completely missed the point of everything that had occurred during the encounter. He had expected the guru to ignore the Land Rover, to have no taste for anything as artificial as Coca Cola, and to have no interest in banalities like football. He expected the guru, in fact, to actively wish to avoid such things in the interest of spiritual self-denial. But the guru understood something that the Englishman did not – that spiritual self denial is a point along a path; that it is a means, not an end. Its end lies in the ability of the individual to prove to himself that he can live without luxuries, comforts, and distractions. Once that point has been proven, once that lesson has been internalized, it is then possible to reapproach those things without excessive attachment to them. This is important because it is the attachment, not the thing in and of itself, that is harmful. This sentiment is expressed in the Bible as well. As some libertarians have pointed out, the oft-quoted remark from Christ that money is the root of all evil is a case of misquote by omission, one that changes the meaning of what was said in a subtle but important way. What Christ actually said is that love of money is the root of all evil. Money is simply a tool of trade, necessary in economies above the scale of a small village. It is the love of money – the excessive attachment it – that causes problems.

(One could, in fact, say that herein lies the real reason why Marxism failed. Marxism attempted to abolish avarice, meanness, and envy – all artifacts of excessive attachment to property – by abolishing property. What Marx, whose understanding of human nature was woefully inadequate, could not understand was that property in and of itself was never the problem; excessive attachment to it was. Thus, when the Marxists did abolish property, the negative aspects of human nature that spring from excessive attachment to property simply attached themselves to different objects, like political power.)

The guru, having freed himself from excessive attachments to luxuries, comforts, and distractions, had been able to reapproach them with a proper perspective in mind. By doing so, he could once again allow himself to admit certain truths: for example that Land Rovers are nice machines, and fun to drive; that Coca Cola is delicious, and (as any southerner knows) does wonders to cut the heat and humidity of a noontime sun; and that there’s nothing wrong with a enjoying a bit of footie. To deny that nice things are nice is not enlightenment but only a denial of reality, and there is no evil in simply being happy to have something nice. What had changed in the guru was that now he understood that none of these things is worth the emotional and spiritual damage of getting angry about, much less worth hurting someone else over. If the Englishman had not let him drive the Land Rover or had refused him a Coke, the guru would have lived without these things and borne no resentment towards him. The guru’s smile and friendly wave as the Englishman left were genuine, and would have been genuine either way.

That was the lesson that dad had taken away from the story, and I think it is a good and valid one. But I also think there was something else to be learned from it.

This wasn’t the first time that some Baby Boomer westerner had come to find the guru, and by this time the guru knew perfectly well what they all wanted to see. And while he felt no ill will towards them, he also felt no obligation to stage a Mystical Maharishi Metaphysics Show for them. That would have been an act, and why should he put on an act? After all, the guru wasn’t an actor – he was the real thing. Back in New Delhi there were plenty of people (fakers rather than fakirs) who would put on a show that would make the westerners feel very spiritual indeed, and that they could tell all their friends about when they got back to London or New York or Vancouver. Perhaps they should have known that anyone who has to put on a show of being something isn’t really ever the genuine article. Then again, if a person prefers a show to the real thing, then they aren’t ready to truly understand or appreciate the real thing. This is one reason why the guru was willing to gently send such people away.

Beyond that, one of the attachments that the guru had let go of was attachment to the approval of others. He could have gained the approval of the Englishman – and doubtless many more like him – by giving them what they wanted to see. But for someone who’s the real thing, that is both completely unnecessary and rather unseemly. The guru wasn’t going to go out of his way to be off-putting to them or to hurt their feelings, but neither was he going to change who he was to suit their desires. He wasn’t there to impress the Englishman, nor was he going to accept the idea that the Englishman was qualified to set any standards regarding how a proper guru should conduct himself. So he simply acted naturally, without much concern for what anyone else thought about it. He talked about the Land Rover because he was interested in the Land Rover. He asked for a Coke because he wanted a Coke. If the Englishman had been able to deal with that, and had stayed, the guru would have eventually answered all of his spiritual questions, as promised. But if he couldn’t, the guru would smile and wave as he left, feeling no anger towards the man, but no desire to chase after him and promise to do whatever it might take to be liked, either.

In short, as the kids say, the guru was too legit to be frontin’. Not only that, but he was also too based to care if other people couldn’t handle it.

Which brings me to the title of this essay. Why do I talk about anime on Twitter? Because I like anime.

If some people out there are looking for a guy who will put on a Righteous Rectitude Reactionary Show for them – someone who will speak only of the manliest things that were ever manly, who will claim to have no vices, who will say that he enjoys none of Modernity’s comforts, and who will pretend to not like fun things on the principle that fun is for pussies – then I’m not who they’re looking for. I don’t feel the need to do any of that, because I’m the real deal, I don’t have to put on an act, and if there’s anyone who can’t handle that, I’m not interested in changing to suit them. They can pack up their truck and hit the trail.

But hey, no hard feelings: I’ll smile and wave as they go – hell, I’ll even drive them the first half mile down the road.

The Chipotle Effect

“The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” – His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Prologue: Moscow, June 1990

Natasha had great legs.

And she probably still does, wherever she may be. But on that summer day in the last full year of the existence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Natasha, dressed in a businesslike white blouse and black skirt cut just above the knee and wearing a petite pair of black stiletto pumps, captivated the attention of the 16-year-old version of me. I was in the Soviet Union as an exchange student, with an itinerary involving several weeks of traveling around the western end of the USSR, an experience I have ever since regarded as the beginning of my life as an adult. Natasha was my governmentally-supplied guide and minder. She was 24, slender, pretty, with wavy chestnut-brown hair and round glasses. Influenced by American-made Cold War movies, I had expected my guide to be a dour middle-aged male KGB functionary in a trenchcoat and a trilby. Natasha had been a pleasant surprise indeed.

The small tour bus slowly chugged its way up the Sparrow Hills, and Natasha stood at the front of it, back to me, chatting casually with the driver. There were a few American exchange students in the bus, and some of their minders had come along as well. Moscow was where all of us came into the country, before splitting up and going on our separate itineraries. I would next go to Sochi, many years later the site of a Winter Olympics, where I would get drunk for the first time in my life, in a hotel bar with a group of young Afghanistan veterans reuniting as civilians for the first time since they’d come home from their service together in the war. Then I would travel to Donetsk, which as of this writing is the front line in a war that would in those days have been unimaginable. I would, in Kiev, walk through October Revolution Square, later renamed Independence Square, and future site of the Euromaidan protests that touched off that very war. And I would go to Leningrad, where, as the result of a hangover following my second youthful experience with drunkenness, I would, as Natasha looked on in horror, vomit my breakfast into the fountains of the Grand Cascade on the grounds of the Peterhof Palace.

The bus reached the top of the hills. Below, the grand expanse of Moscow stretched out into the distance, with Lenin Stadium, which had been the centerpiece of the 1980 Olympic Games, in the foreground. I fumbled for my camera (Natasha had instructed me that she’d tell me in advance if I wasn’t allowed to take pictures somewhere), but before I could get it out of its bag, we were past the summit and the shot was gone forever.

A minute or two later, we stopped at what appeared to be a nondescript, whitewashed house along a four-lane road. We ambled off the bus. The air smelled odd. Everything in the Soviet Union smelled odd. Pollution – exhaust fumes and factory smoke and un-picked-up garbage. A faint smell of burning plastic was always in the air. It had rained early in the morning – small pools of rainwater still sat peacefully in depressions in the uneven pavement – but even that didn’t help much.

This place was, Natasha explained, actually a church – the only church in Moscow that had stayed open and active through the entire history of the Soviet Union – through the revolutionary fervor, through the Stalinist terror, through World War II and the Cold War. And now, in the last full year of the USSR, there it was still. I wasn’t much of one for churches back then. In fact, I don’t know that I’d ever actually been inside a church in my entire life. My mother was and is a lukewarm semi-agnostic of half-Anglican, half-Jewish background, and my father an embittered fallen Catholic who at the time was a convinced atheist, and has since become a devotee of whatever New Age pablum happens to be in fashion with aging Baby Boomers at any particular moment. I was, at the time… nothing, really.

The day was turning pleasant. Some of the group decided to go inside the church, and some decided to skip it and stand under the shade trees that lined the wide boulevard to relax, and flirt, and enjoy the warmth of the day. Natasha went inside, as this was on the tour and it was her responsibility to show it to me. I followed.

The inside of the church could not have been a greater contrast from the outside. Whereas the exterior was nondescript and unornamented, the interior, though not large, was almost indescribably beautiful. Every inch of the walls was covered in art, as is so often true of Orthodox churches. A haze of incense hung in the air, and its smoke made visible shafts of the light streaming through the few, narrow windows which hung close to the high ceiling. Three or four old women, the faithful who had, at tremendous risk, stayed faithful all their lives, were carefully cleaning the mosaics, and the icons, and the dark wooden floor.

The rest of the group, as disinterested in high culture as any normal American teenagers, poked about the place for a bit, glanced quickly at a few of the artworks until they thought their obligation to do so had passed, and then, one or two at a time, quietly shuffled out the door and back into the warm summer air. Even Natasha left. Before long, only I and the faithful old ladies, who continued going silently about their work, remained.

I stood at the center of the small church, in solitude. Particles of dust glittered as they danced in the sunlight coming in through the windows. The incense smoke made the cool air sweet and heavy with its scent. There was a moment of unearthly quiet and stillness, of clarity, and I felt…

I felt God, there, with me in that place.

It was not a moment of faith. It was a moment of knowing. God’s presence there, in that church, at that instant, was as real and tangible as the physical presence of Natasha, or my parents, or any human being. It was the same sensation as when someone you love enters a room when you aren’t looking, but you can feel their presence; you know who it is even without seeing them. God was there, with me in that place, and in one single blinding flash, I knew it.

I’m not sure how long it all lasted. Not long, to be certain, and it did not need to be. It passed, and yet it did not ever truly pass, for it is with me to this day, and will be with me forever.

Eventually, the front door of the church opened, and Natasha, looking a bit annoyed but not really angry, stepped inside.

“Hey, it’s time to go to lunch! Are you coming?”

Of course I was coming. She couldn’t actually let the bus leave without me, after all.

“Oh… yes… I’ll be right behind you” I stammered.

She turned her back and walked out into the warm air of the summer of that last full year of the existence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I followed, but paused before reaching the door, put my hand in my pocket, pulled out every dollar and every ruble that I had on me, stuffed it all into the donation box, and went away penniless.

Though it would be a couple of decades before I was formally baptized, it would be fair to say that I entered that church an agnostic, and left it a Christian.

* * *

Silicon Valley, Many Years Later

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon in the Silicon Valley in early autumn, a mix of cool sunshine and low, billowy clouds, and a temperature just to my liking. I was out for the day, with a little extra money on me, shopping, exploring, enjoying nothing so much as simply being there. And now it was time for lunch – with my bit of extra money I could have whatever I wanted. And what I wanted that day was Chipotle. For those of you who may not be from a land where Chipotle exists (more’s the pity for you!), it is a chain of burrito shops, a step up from fast food of the McDonalds variety and a step down from places with actual waiters. A step down in formality, at least – Chipotle burritos are renowned for tastiness, and have a particularly strong following among Silicon Valley tech types.

Silicon Valley is a nice place; flush with tech money and full of young, high-IQ optimates. On weekends, long lines of expensive cars carrying the wives of executives at companies like Google, Apple, eBay, and Oracle clog the entrances to upscale malls like Valley Fair and Santana Row. It’s not uncommon to see $250,000 Lamborghinis parked in front of coffee shops, their 25-year-old owners standing in line inside for a frappuccino or a bubble tea. It’s all very new, and very commercial. Locals joke that El Camino Real, the wide, traffic-choked boulevard that runs through the heart of the Valley, repeats itself every five miles – a store or restaurant from every imaginable chain recurring just as quickly as it makes financial sense for it to. The joke is only slightly an exaggeration.

Yet this represents something comfortable – something comforting – for a child of late-20th century suburban America. The shopping malls, the big box retailers, the chain restaurants, the wide streets lined by single-family homes with neatly-mown lawns, the office parks with late-model sedans lined up in freshly-pained spaces out front; all of these things feel like… normalcy. But of course, it is not just normalcy, but the normalcy of the most safe and prosperous age that mankind has ever known, or is likely to know again any time in the foreseeable future (it is, in fact, already in the process of slowly disintegrating).This is what generations to come, not as pampered as we, will never quite understand about this age. They almost certainly will be amazed at the aggressive hedonism that our prosperity has allowed us to fall into, but what they will never be able to truly feel (for while hedonistic pleasure is understandable to all creatures of the flesh, this will be quite alien to them) is the sheer comfort of it all, the safe and warm feeling of it, that sense of normalcy which contained as part of it in the belief, plausible for the historical blink of an eye, that it could all be maintained forever.

The particular Chipotle to which I had come had a few outdoor tables, which on a day like that were preferable to the noise and artificially-processed air inside. I sat at one with my burrito and my Coke Zero; it was past the lunch rush and I was blissfully (as I am an introvert by nature) alone. I removed my iPod from my pocket, put on my earphones, and scrolled through my podcasts for something to listen to over lunch. Being in a light mood, the RetroMacCast caught my fancy. I love retro tech from the 80s and 90s, and old Macs especially. Were the world not in the shape that it is in, were it not necessary to write what I do as AntiDem, I would probably write a blog or do a podcast along those lines myself. I ate, and listened. The food was satisfying, the air was cool, and it was quiet except for the podcast. The discussion turned to the short-lived Macintosh clones of the late 1990s – Ah, yes, I had one of those! My old Power 100! A quirky machine, but it sure served me well, and for a long time! – and I felt a bit of wistful nostalgic cheer. Everything was good, everything was comfortable, and I had not a single care or a complaint at all.

It was then that the thought came to me: What really is so wrong with this world? Surely, all this comfort, all this ease, all this prosperity – it should be enough to make me contented, shouldn’t it? Is it not a waste – of time, of energy, of happiness to which I could devote these moments – to make myself miserable by railing and raging against this, of all things? Shouldn’t I just enjoy it all instead?

This was not like those times when, in despair, I find myself wondering whether my efforts are futile in the face of a system that is far beyond my abilities to affect; or even worse, when I wonder whether the left may actually be correct, and this – in all its materialistic, soulless, hedonistic existential horror – might really be the end of history. No, there was no dread in what I felt; quite the opposite. I felt safe and warm and comfortable, and all of the things wrong with this age suddenly all seemed very distant and abstract and not so very worth worrying about.

And it was when, in one single blinding flash, that I felt the touch of Elua upon me.

But perhaps here some explanation is in order.

Neoreactionaries often speak of Gnon, the “crab-god” they have created to embody the ideas of teleology, of consequences, of inevitability – no more and no less that the simple yet somehow, in the current age, revolutionary idea that implementing bad ideas will lead to bad consequences. The implications of the existence of Gnon, whose horrifying visage hangs heavy over the merry bustle of every civilization (whether they believe in him or not, for he is one of those realities that continues to exist no matter if you do or don’t), is that maintaining a civilization is hard, tireless work; that monsters are always waiting in the darkness to devour those who slack off in this task, whether it be because they have become soft and lazy, or incapable and feeble, or even (perhaps especially) due to the hubris of believing that they are so advanced that such drudgery is beneath them and they can instead devote their energies towards utopian schemes meant to perfect the human condition. Gnon – who is compatible with both a theistic and non-theistic worldview – punishes these sins: this sloth, this gluttony, this foolishness, this pride, this hubris. Gnon is seen both in the God who rained fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah, and also in the collapse of Marxism in all of its supposed “inevitability”. Gnon is to be feared, for he is a destroyer god, and a merciless one. There is no bargaining with him, no reasoning with him, no begging for mercy with him. If you fail, if you slip, if you trust the wrong people or the wrong ideas, if you are foolish or careless, he will destroy you and everything you care about. He exists as a caution to you, and you had better take heed.

In opposition to Gnon, Scott Alexander has placed Elua, a god who he has appropriated from the novels of science fiction author Jacqueline Carey. Rather than explaining Elua to you myself, I’ll let Dr. Alexander explain it in his own words (with apologies to him, I’ve mashed up bits of two of his columns here):

“Somewhere in this darkness is another god. He has also had many names. In the [Carey] books, his name was Elua. He is the god of kindness and flowers and free love and all soft and fragile things. Of art and science and philosophy and love. Of niceness, community, and civilization. All the other gods are gods of blood and fire, and Elua is just like ‘Love as thou wilt’ and ‘All knowledge is worth having’. He is a god of humans.

Other gods get placated until we’re strong enough to take them on. Elua gets worshipped.”

Elua is not the god that humanity deserves, nor the one that it needs – but he is the god that we want. Indeed he is a god of humans, and he is the reason for the warning that if you agree with your god about everything, take caution, because you made him up. Whereas the God of the Bible has commandments etched in stone that must be obeyed, and Gnon is the heartless god of consequences, Elua is the god of no commandments and no consequences. “Love as thou wilt” – and worry not about disease, or about the effects on your children, or about inheritance, or about the descent of your culture into coarseness and licentiousness. “All knowledge is worth having” – even terrible yet seductive ideas that have led to the pointless deaths of millions. Elua, always, in every circumstance, tells us what we want to hear. He tells us to spend, and that the bill will never come due. He tells us to eat and drink, and that we will never get fat, and there will be no hangover the next morning. In other words, Elua is a charlatan. If in Moscow I met the genuine God, then at Chipotle I encountered a fraud of one.

And yet Elua really is a god of humans – he is a god that humans want to worship, because he is the reflection and embodiment of their own desires, whether noble or tawdry – and I, too, am human. There in that place – though I must admit, far from the only time in my life – I was seduced; I allowed myself to momentarily drift into the dominion of Elua and the lotus-eaters who follow him. As in Moscow, the experience lasted for only a moment, and, as in Moscow, the experience never completely leaves me, nor can it, because in Modernity the pull of Elua is everywhere around me: in the shopping malls, in the chain stores, in the wide streets and the mown lawns, and even in my lunch. It is in the ease and comfort and security of it all – things to which, because I am human, I cannot help but have an attachment. But if I am able to break free of Elua – to reject him as a liar and a cheat, to face the true ugliness hidden not far beneath the surface of Modernity, and to rebel against it – most Moderns, understandably, cannot. Elua comforts them, placates them, assuages their doubts, and gives them lotuses to eat – 500 channels of cable television, craft beers, oversized SUVs, spectacularly dirty internet pornography, and wonderfully tasty burritos. In return, they embrace Elua (they may voice an occasional “It’s an awful shame” about the worst aspects of the moral state of the world he presides over, but little more), because they so desperately want to believe his promises, and to not believe that what he offers will result either in Gnon’s consequences or God’s judgment.

The reason that I cannot maintain faith in Elua is both because I have come to understand the truth embodied in Gnon and because I have felt the touch of the one true God. Gnon will not allow illusions, no matter how beautiful, to carry on forever. And as for God, his commandments are often unpleasant, wearying, and burdensome – they require discipline and hard work and self-denial – but in them are also truth, nobility, and decency. Those who follow them – who fight for them – may at some point find themselves denied the comforts that Elua promises, but down that path is also a measure of greatness (perhaps the greatness of a martyr or a saint, or only the simple greatness of a traditional wife and mother), and that is the one thing that Elua cannot offer.

La Rue Sans Joie (Pt. 2)

I’ve decided to post a second favorite excerpt from Dr. Bernard Fall’s nonfiction masterpiece Street Without Joy for you to read:

*  *  *

“A last chapter of the of the Foreign Legion’s colorful history in Asia was written, in, of all places, the drab surroundings of an Israeli Navy court-martial in May 1958.

The defendant was a 25-year old man, in the neat white uniform of the Israeli enlisted seaman. Eliahu Itzkovitz was charged with desertion from the Israeli Navy, but this case was not an ordinary one, for he had deserted from a peacetime hitch in Haifa to a twenty-seven months ordeal with the Foreign Legion in Indochina.

Eliahu had grown up in a small town in eastern Rumania when the country threw in its lot with the Nazis at the beginning of World War II. Soon, the Rumanian Conductorul (the “Leader”) Antonescu began to emulate all the tactics of the Nazis, his own version of the Brownshirts calling itself the “Iron Guard” and practicing mass murder on a large scale. In fact, according to the British writer Edward Crankshaw in his book Gestapo, they “offended the Germans on the spot by not troubling to bury their victims; and they offended the R.H.S.A. (Reichs-Sicherheitshauptampt, the administrative section of the Nazi police in charge of mass exterminations) by their failure to keep proper records and by their uncontrolled looting.”

The Itzkovitz family did not escape the collective fate of the Rumanian Jews. Eliahu and his parents and three brothers were sent to a concentration camp, no better and no worse than most Eastern European camps; one lived a few days to a few weeks and died from a wide variety of causes, mostly beating and shooting. Rumanian camps were not as well equipped as their German models, the “death factories” of Auschwitz and Treblinka with their sophisticated gas chambers. Again, according to Crankshaw, “the Rumanians showed a great aptitude for mass murder and conducted their own massacres in Odessa and elsewhere,” and the Itzkovitz family paid its price – within a short time, only Eliahu, the youngest boy, survived.

But he had seen his family die, and he had remembered who killed it. It had been one particular brute, not the coldly efficient SS-type but a Rumanian from a town not too far away from his own home town and who enjoyed his new job. And Eliahu swore that he would kill the man, if it took all his life to do it. More than anything else, it was probably that hatred that kept him alive; he was a skeleton but a living one when the Russians liberated him in 1944. Eliahu then began his patient search from town to town. Of course, Stanescu (or whatever name the brute had assumed in the meantime) had not returned to his hometown for good reasons, but Eliahu found his son there and took his first revenge; he stabbed the son with a butcher knife and in 1947, a Rumanian People’s Court sentenced him to five years in a reformatory for juveniles.

Eliahu served his time but did not forget. His family’s murderer was still at large and he had sworn to kill him. In 1952, he was finally released and given permission by Communist authorities to emigrate to Israel, where he was drafted into the Israeli army in 1953 and assigned to the paratroops. Training was rigorous in the sun-drenched barracks and stubby fields south of Rehovoth, and thoughts of revenge had become all but a dim memory. There was a new life to be lived here, among the people from all corners of the world who still streamed in and who, from Germans, Poles, Indians, Yemenites, or Rumanians, became Israelis. To be sure, Eliahu still met some of his Rumanian friends and talk often rotated back to the “old country”, to the war and the horrors of the persecution. Camps and torturers were listed matter-of-factly, like particularly tough schools or demanding teachers, and Stanescu came up quite naturally.

“That s.o.b. made it. He got out in time before the Russians could get him,” said a recent arrival, “then he fled to West Germany and tried to register as a D.P. but they got wise to him and before we could report him, he was gone again.”

Eliahu’s heart beat had stopped for an instant, and when it resumed its normal rhythm, he had shaken off the torpor of peacetime army life. The hunt was on again.

“Do you know where Stanescu went then? Do you have any idea at all?”

“Well – somebody said that he had gone to Offenburg in the French Zone, where they recruit people for the French Foreign Legion, and that he enlisted for service in Indochina. The French are fighting there, you know.”

On the next day, Eliahu’s mind was made up. He reported to his commanding officer and applied for a transfer to the Israeli Navy; he liked the sea, had learned something about it while in Rumania, which borders the Black Sea, and would be happier aboard ship than as a paratrooper. A few days later, the request was granted and Eliahu was on his way to the small force of Israeli corvettes and destroyers based in Haifa. A few months later, the opportunity he had been waiting for came true; his ship was assigned to go to Italy to pick up equipment.

In Genoa, Seaman Itzkovitz applied for shore leave and simply walked off the ship; took a train to Bordighera and crossed over to Menton, France, without the slightest difficulty. Three days later, Eliahu had signed his enlistment papers in Marseilles and was en route to Sidi-bel-Abbès, Algeria, the headquarters and boot camp of the Foreign Legion, and again three months later, he was aboard the s/s Pasteur on his way to Indochina.

Once in the Foreign Legion, Stanescu’s trail was not hard to pick up. While no unit was made up of any single nationality, each unit would have its little groups and informal clans according to language or nation of origin. It took patience, but in early 1954, he had located his quarry in the 3d Foreign Legion Infantry. The last step was the easiest; the Foreign Legion generally did not object if a man requested a transfer in order to be with his friends, and Eliahu’s request to be transferred to Stanescu’s battalion came through in a perfectly routine fashion. When Eliahu saw Stanescu again after ten years, he felt no particular wave of hatred, as he had somehow expected. After having spent ten years imagining the moment of meeting the killer of his family eye to eye, the materialization of that moment could only be an anti-climax. Stanescu had barely changed; he had perhaps thinned down a bit in the Legion; as for Eliahu, he had been a frightened boy of thirteen and was now a trapping young man, bronzed from his two years of training with the Israeli paratroopers, the Navy and the French Foreign Legion.

There was nothing left to do for Eliahu but to arrange a suitable occasion for the “execution;” for in his eyes the murder of Stanescu would be an execution. Stanescu (his name was, of course, no longer that) had become a corporal, and led his squad competently. The new arrival also turned out to be a competent soldier, a bit taciturn perhaps, but good. In fact, he was perhaps better trained than the run of the mill that came out of “Bel-Abbès” these days. He was a good man to have along on a patrol.

And it was on a patrol that Stanescu met his fate, in one of the last desperate battles along Road 18, between Bac-Ninh and Seven Pagodas. He and Eliahu had gone on a reconnaissance into the bushes on the side of the road, when the Viet-Minh opened fire from one hundred yards away. Both men slumped down into the mud. There was no cause for fear; the rest of the squad was close by on the road and would cover their retreat. Eliahu was a few paces to the side and behind Stanescu.

“Stanescu!” he called out.

Stanescu turned around and stared at Eliahu, and Eliahu continued in Rumanian:

“You are Stanescu, aren’t you?”

The man, the chest of his uniform black from the mud in which he had been lying, looked at Eliahu more in surprise than in fear. For all he knew, Eliahu might have been a friend of his son, a kid from the neighborhood back home in Chisnau.

“Yes, but…”

“Stanescu,” said Eliahu in a perfectly even voice, “I’m one of the Jews from Chisnau,” and emptied the clip of his MAT-49 tommy gun into the man’s chest. He dragged the body back to the road: a Legionnaire never left a comrade behind.

“Tough luck,” said one of the men of the platoon sympathetically. “He was a Rumanian just like you, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” said Eliahu, “just like me.”

The search had ended and the deed was done. Eliahu was now at peace with himself and the world. He served out his time with the Legion, received his papers certifying that “he had served with Honor and Fidelity” and mustered out in France. There was nothing left for him to do but to go home to Israel. The Israeli Armed Forces attachè in France at first refused to believe the incredible story, but the facts were soon verified with the French authorities and a few weeks later Eliahu was on his way to Israel. At Haifa, two Israeli M.P.’s, perfect copies of their British models with their glistening white canvas belts and pistol holsters, took charge of him and soon the gates of Haifa military prison closed behind him.

The three Israeli Navy judges rose. Seaman Itzkovitz stood stiffly at attention as the presiding judge read out the judgement.

“…and in view of the circumstances of the case, a Court of the State of Israel cannot bring itself to impose a heavy sentence…. One year’s imprisonment.”

*  *  *

I believe that this excerpt illustrates something not only about seriousness, but about commitment, dedication to family, and selflessness.

And honor as well… he carried his dead enemy’s body back to friendly lines because he was a Legionnaire, and it simply is not done that one Legionnaire leaves another behind, living or dead; he turned himself in at the end of his quest and faced the legal consequences of his desertion, no matter how justified it may have been morally for him to have done it, because it was still a violation of the law of a government that he had sworn allegiance to and of a solemn commitment he had made.

There is something in this story about what it means to be a man that should be deeply considered.

La Rue Sans Joie

I was recently contemplating why history’s winners win, and why history’s losers lose. It cannot be simply size and strength of armies, nor amounts of money or political influence they hold, nor momentum from long periods in power, because those with less of all of these things than their opponents have often ended up as the winners. I wonder if perhaps the secret ingredient is most often not these, nor intelligence, nor leaderly charisma, nor even (in the clichéd words of football coaches) “wanting it more”, but is instead seriousness. We live in a superficial age full of unserious people with unserious desires who cling to unserious ideas, and it may be difficult for native-born sons of Modernity (as we all are) to fully understand such a quality. To try to illustrate it, I will here reprint (without anyone’s permission, for I am a rebel and an outlaw) a short passage from my personal favorite non-fiction book, Street Without Joy – Dr. Bernard Fall’s firsthand account of his experiences during the early 1950s traveling among French expeditionary forces fighting in the First Indochina War, while he was doing research for his doctoral dissertation at Syracuse University. The short vignette he relates took place only a few months before the decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu that resulted in the French withdrawal from its Indochinese colonies.

(As a short aside, if any readers perceive any similarity between Dr. Fall’s narrative writing style and my own, it is because his writing has been a strong influence on me ever since I first read Street Without Joy during middle school).

* * *

“Sometimes, there occurs an almost irrelevant incident which, in the light of later developments, seems to have been a sign of the gods, a dreamlike warning which, if heeded, could have changed fate – or so it seems.

One such incident occurred to me in October 1953 in Cambodia, at Siem-Reap, not far away from the fabulous temples of Angkor-Wat. I has been in the field with the 5th Cambodian Autonomous Infantry Company and was now in need of transportation back to Phnom-Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Siem-Reap, a quiet and pleasant little place with two hotels catering to the tourist trade and a few French archaeologists working around the ruins of Angkor, might as well have been a small garrison town in southern France, such as Avignon or Nimes.

A few French officers were still around, mainly as advisers to the newly-independent Cambodian Army. Their chores were light; there were no Communists in the area and the handful of obsolescent Renault trucks and World War II-type weapons needed a minimum of maintenance and care. An assignment to Siem-Reap was as good a sinecure as could be found in Indochina in October 1953 and the officers made the most of it.

When I went to the Transportation Office that afternoon at 1530, the Cambodian orderly told me apologetically that “le Lieutenant est allé au mess jouer au tennis avec le Capitaine” and that they might well stay there for the rest of the afternoon. Since a convoy which I expected to catch was supposed to leave at dawn, I decided to stroll over to the mess in order to get my travel documents signed there.

The Siem-Reap officers’ mess was a pleasant and well-kept place; with its wide Cambodian-style verandahs, its parasol-shaded tables and the well-manicured lawns and beautifully red-sanded tennis court, it was an exact replica of all the other colonial officers’ messes from Port Said to Singapore, Saigon, or even Manila, wherever the white man had set his foot in the course of building his ephemeral empires.

I found the two officers at the tennis court, in gleaming white French square-bottomed shorts (no one in Europe would be caught dead in the ungainly Bermuda pants called “shorts” in the United States), matching Lacoste tennis shirts and knee-long socks. Their skins had lost the unhealthy pallor of the jungle and had taken on the handsome bronze of the vacationer engaging in outdoor sports; their wives, seated at a neighboring table, were beautifully groomed and wore deceptively simple (but, oh, so expensive!) cotton summer dresses clearly showing the hand of a Paris designer. Both officers played in the easy style of men who knew each other’s game and were less bent on winning than on getting the fun and exercise of it. Three Cambodian servants, clad in impeccable white slacks and shirts, stood respectfully in the shadow of the verandah, awaiting the call of one of the officers or women for a new cool drink.

Since the men were in the midst of a set and I had little else to do, I sat down at a neighboring table after a courteous bow to the ladies and watched the game, gladly enjoying the atmosphere of genteel civility and forgetting for a moment the war. At the next table, the two women kept up the rapid-fire chatter which French women are prone to use when men are present. The two men also kept up a conversation of sorts, interrupted regularly by the “plop-plop” of the tennis ball.

Then emerged from the verandah a soldier in a French uniform. His small stature, brown skin and western-type features showed him to be a Cambodian. He wore the blue field cap with the golden anchor of the Troupes Coloniales – the French “Marines” – and the three golden chevrons of a master-sergeant. On his chest above the left breast pocket of his suntan regulation shirt were three rows of multi-colored ribbons: croix de guerre with four citations, campaign ribbons with the clasps of France’s every colonial campaign since the Moroccan pacification of 1926; the Italian campaign of 1943 and the drive to the Rhine of 1945. In his left hand, he carried several papers crossed diagonally with a tri-colored ribbon; travel orders, like mine, which also awaited the signature of one of the officers.

He remained in the shadow of the verandah’s awnings until the officers had interrupted their game and had joined the two women with their drinks, then strode over in a measured military step, came stiffly to attention in a military salute. and handed the orders for himself and his squad to the captain. The captain looked up in surprise, still with a half-smile on his face from the remark he had made previously. His eyes narrowed suddenly as he understood he was being interrupted. Obviously, he was annoyed but not really furious.

“Sergeant, you can see that I’m busy. Please wait until I have time to deal with your travel orders. Don’t worry. You will have them in time for the convoy”.

The sergeant stood stiffly at attention, some of his almost white hair glistening in the sun where it peeked from under the cap, his wizened face betraying no emotion whatsoever.

A vos ordres, mon Capitaine.” A sharp salute, a snappy about face. The incident was closed, the officers had had their drink and now resumed their game.

The sergeant resumed his watch near where the Cambodian messboys were following the game, but this time he had squatted down on his haunches, a favorite Cambodian position of repose which would leave most Europeans with partial paralysis for several hours afterwards. Almost without moving his head, he attentively followed the tennis game, his travel orders still tightly clutched in his left hand.

The sun began to settle behind the trees of the garden and a slight cooling breeze rose from the nearby Lake Tonlé-Sap, Cambodia’s inland sea. It was 1700.

All of a sudden, there rose behind the trees, from the nearby French camp, the beautiful bell-clear sounds of a bugle playing “lower the flag” – the signal which, in the French Army, marks the end of the working day as the colors are struck.

Nothing changed at the tennis court; the two officers continued to play their set, the women continued their chatter, and the messboys their silent vigil.

Only the old sergeant had moved. He was now standing stiffly at attention, his right hand raised to the cap in the flat-palmed salute of the French Army, facing in the direction from which the bugle tones came; saluting, as per regulations, France’s tricolor hidden behind the trees. The rays of the setting sun shone upon the immobile brown figure, catching the gold of the anchor and of the chevrons and one of the tiny metal stars of his ribbons.

Something very warm welled up in me. I felt like running over to the little Cambodian who had fought all his life for my country, and apologizing to him for my countrymen here who didn’t care about him, and for my countrymen in France who didn’t even care about their countrymen fighting in Indochina…

And in one single blinding flash, I knew that we were going to lose the war.”

Two Years Together

Today marks two years since the founding of this website. On this occasion, I felt it appropriate to extend a heartfelt thanks to the people who have made this all worth the effort – you, the readers. Traffic numbers here have increased close to tenfold in the past year, and in the same period I’ve gone from eight Twitter followers to a little over two thousand, so it’s been a good year for my efforts. With God’s grace and a bit of luck, next year will be just as good; but I never forget that it is you, dear readers, who are the reason why I do what I do – so my sincerest appreciation goes out to you all.

If you should want to find me through other channels, you may find me here, as well:

Twitter: @antidemblog

Ask.FM: @Antidem

Email: antidem at yandex dot com

Notes on Interstellar: American Stoicism vs. The General Theory of Relativity

(Warning: This is not a review in any normal sense of the word, but an analysis. If you want my review, here it is: If you’re a rightist with a high IQ, go see Interstellar. Otherwise, go see the Spongebob movie. This analysis assumes that you have seen the film, so no synopsis is provided. Don’t bother reading this until you’ve seen Interstellar – it won’t make any sense until you do. Also, it will be a little disjointed because I have no desire to repeat what others have said or what you could learn about the movie by reading IMDB).

I have at times referred to Christopher Nolan’s last film, The Dark Knight Rises, as “Batman vs. the French Revolution”, which, though meant lightheartedly, I believe is ultimately a fairly accurate assessment of it (spoiler: Batman wins). There is no doubt that, intentional or not, there is a rightist flavor to many of Nolan’s films. His latest, Interstellar, is no different, though it is not rightist in the mainstream conservative sense, nor in the neoreactionary sense, nor even really in the identitarian sense. The rightism on display in Interstellar is of an older sort; a sort that hearkens back to the pre-Modern, pre-Industrial age. This doubtless makes it a bit difficult for most people to fully wrap their heads around. As I noted in my last piece, we are all ultimately native-born sons of Modernity, no matter how we may wish otherwise. As a technologist once told me, two people on opposite ends of a paradigm shift really have no way to fully understand each other, and there have been many paradigm shifts since the Modern/Industrial age began, such that Nolan being able to successfully call back to times before it at all is an impressive feat. Connecting with these themes takes a bit of careful analysis, and I will do my best to provide some here.

To start with, yes, there is a lot of Classical pagan Stoicism in Interstellar. Don’t worry if it’s been a while since you read Epictetus though – fortunately, there is something of a lifeline in the film that we may grasp as we try to pull ourselves closer to its center. This is found in Interstellar’s mix of Classical Stoicism and Americanism. The Americanism here, however, is also of an older sort – the Americanism of the Old Republic (by which I mean, again, pre-Modern, pre-Industrial) and its old (small-r) republican virtues. This is not so odd a combination as one might think. The Old Republic was in itself an attempt at a Classical/pagan revival of sorts, founded largely by those who held to Deism, a sort of monotheistic paganism in which, like the gods of Olympus, the One God stayed mostly apart and aloof from mankind and his travails. It consciously, intentionally called back to several aspects of the ancient world. This included a resuscitation, with a few updates, of the Roman Republic’s form of government as a means to rule over what was intended to be a small-time farmer’s republic, run by a meritocratically-selected natural aristocracy of gentlemen-farmers elected by independent freeholders. It is easy to see how this would not survive Industrialism and urbanization, and in fact, other than on paper, it really hasn’t. And yet, there are enough echoes of the Old Republic imprinted on the hearts of Americans (those who bother learning the history of their country at all, that is), that it still resonates with us to at least some degree.

It is here where we can find perhaps the most prominent thread that leads from Greece to the Old Republic to Interstellar – the film’s revival of the Farmer-Hero. Like Odysseus, like Cincinnatus, and like Washington, Cooper is called away from his fields, his home and hearth, and his children to face a great and necessary task (and one that is dangerous to the brink of being suicidal). Like Odysseus, Cooper reaches his destination and then spends the rest of his time desperately trying to return to his fields and his family. There is something of a disconnect in this; an inconsistency that is both undeniable and ultimately necessary in order to reconcile the Classical and the American aspects of the film’s soul (with Cooper serving as the embodiment of that soul). To be American, Cooper must embrace Manifest Destiny; to be Classical, he must above all else want, like Odysseus, to return home. This is papered over with the explanation that he wants to return to save his family, but without preparing the new world for them, how would he accomplish that? Perhaps the elder Dr. Brand’s theory would work (which it ultimately does, thanks to Cooper’s daughter) and they could all go live in cylinders orbiting Saturn, but if he was so convinced that it would, why did he leave on the mission to explore the new worlds in the first place? This is not very convincing, and thus on the level of a character, analyzed logically, this can rightly seen as inconsistent. Yet we must remember that this is art, and it doesn’t have to be logically consistent (TDKR had some serious logical inconsistencies as well, and they didn’t matter either). Consistency is necessary in the hard sciences, but the rules that work in the hard sciences don’t work well in other spheres of human endeavor. In areas like philosophy, religion, art, and governance, consistency is for autistics and midwit trolls looking for “gotchas” by which to cheaply “win” internet debates; everyone else understands that life is just too complex for perfect consistency.

(It is worth noting that there are no cities in Interstellar – none on Earth, nor even in space, where the humans living in space stations have recreated farm villages inside their vast cylindrical space stations, despite what one would assume would be a desperate need for living space for the masses of surviving humans. Another logical inconsistency, yet another conscious, and necessary, artistic choice. In the world of Interstellar, for all the high technology on display in the film, there is little room for the artificial or unnecessary, much less the unheroic [and big cities are certainly all of these – one may recall the ancient Chinese dictum that the only two necessary professions are farmer and soldier]. Big cities are also dehumanizing, and Interstellar is about what it means to be human, so it is little wonder that Nolan avoided them).

So Nolan squares the circle by having Cooper act inconsistently in a strictly logical sense, and yet in terms of the artistic and philosophical content of Interstellar, it is a clever and effective way to fuse two threads that must be fused.

Since Cooper really is the living embodiment of the soul of this film, he is worth dwelling on a bit more. He is, as so many things are in this film, a throwback, though not to a time so far distant as some other aspects of it. Cooper represents a class of people who are disappearing from American life in the 21st century, but who were greatly prominent in the 20th: the smart blue-collar types that once made up the high end of the working class. It was from this class of people that America drew its industrialists, its generals, its airline pilots, and ultimately its astronauts. Now the working class has been largely destroyed; everyone is expected to go to college (even if they study something useless), live in a big city or its near suburbs (even if that environment is totally unsuited to them), and work 8-to-5 in an air-conditioned building in front of a computer screen (even if it makes them miserable) – blue collar work is looked down upon with disdain and those who do it are regarded as failures, and working with one’s hands (whether in a rural setting or an urban one) is ever-more unprofitable due to a combination of factors that includes such things as the rise of huge agribusiness and the inundation of the labor market with a flood of penniless Third Worlders. But it was not always so. Once in this country, the idea that the man who was landing a spacecraft on the moon knew how to drive a combine (and had learned to do so at 14) was not only not shocking, but was expected. This class of people had an attitude and a set of mannerisms to them that is now rare, but I have known enough people of that sort to recognize it when I see it. Among its traits are an easy confidence that may accurately be described as a “modest swagger”, a sensible and levelheaded intellectualism combined with a genuine lack of disdain for those who are not of an intellectual bent, a good-natured and easy way with people contrasted with a strong distaste for double-talkers and blowhards, a sense of humor that is gently sarcastic, a natural and unaffected plain-spokenness, a capacity for understanding complexity matched with a taste for drawing concrete bottom lines, and a natural capacity for motivation and leadership. Cooper is a good examplar of this type, and Nolan does a fine job of writing dialog that shows it (it is worth noting that Matthew McConaughey’s native rustic twang, which he has suppressed for roles in the past, is in full effect in Interstellar, and I have no doubt that this was completely intentional).

The loss of this class of people – of, let’s be honest, this class of men – is a tragedy for what was the historic American nation. These were the men who made our past glories possible, and we are no longer producing them (certainly in nowhere near sufficient numbers, at least) because our society is no longer geared towards producing them. This will not go well for us.

Just as interesting as the class implications of Cooper’s personality is the fact that this personality type is shared by the robot TARS (and to a somewhat lesser extent by CASE as well). It is perhaps another example of logical inconsistency – Why in the world would someone in the late 21st century design a near-indestructible robot with an advanced AI and program it with a 20th century working class personality? – that is nonetheless reasonable and necessary from an emotional and philosophical standpoint. Cooper and TARS are kindred spirits, with the same upper blue-collar American swagger and dry sense of humor to them. Nolan’s movies (like Kubrick’s) are noted for being emotionally cold, and yet the bond between the two is, while appropriately understated, both prominent and unmistakable. It briefly seems as if Cooper means to betray this bond (understandably, perhaps, if he wishes to gain the data he needs to save his family, and yet it is without a doubt emotionally unsatisfying) by sending TARS into Gargantua to relay measurements back to the ship. Yet when Cooper sends himself into the black hole as well in order to save the mission, and it becomes clear that he and TARS planned this in advance (TARS’s comment “See you on the other side” was less spiritual and more literal than it at first appeared), the emotional polarity of the decision becomes reversed. Here we see Cooper as leader, and TARS as his loyal servant* – Cooper has not ordered TARS to do anything that he wasn’t prepared to do himself. And of course Cooper chose TARS to take with him – TARS is his robot, his retainer, his squire, and will, without fear or complaint, follow his master into the dark unknown, and go against the gates of Hades with him.

(Yes, I know that he’s a robot. I know that he doesn’t have genuine feelings, and will do what he’s ordered. I also know that this is a movie. Again, it doesn’t matter if it makes logical sense; it’s art).

A total contrast to Cooper is presented by Dr. Mann (Matt Damon, assiduously suppressing his own working-class Boston accent). Mann (name surely not coincidental) says all of the right things as far as this film’s ethical foundations are concerned, and they are all very pagan sentiments about the survival of the species (for which one could just as easily substitute volk, tribe, nation, empire) being more important than the survival of any one individual, and the need of the individual to accept this. He is hailed as “the best of us” for advocating, and for inspiring others to believe, an idea that is basically a repackaged version of the old Roman sentiment: “Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori”. Yet things go bad quickly when “the best of us” (believed in too eagerly by the not-as-worldly-as-Cooper NASA team) turns out to not be so great after all; when it is discovered that, despite his own apparent best efforts, Mann cannot quite get himself to believe his own lofty ideals. He is not evil (not in the sense of the word that Hollywood understands and normally projects); he is merely a coward – and yet in the Stoic world, this is enough to make one a villain. He lacks both Christian hope and pagan fortitude, and thus, faced with the prospect of his own death, sinks into a self-preservationist semi-insanity in which he lies, and sacrifices others to save himself, and finds ways to rationalize it all away. Unable to force himself to find the faith required for Christian hope or the inner strength required for pagan fortitude, he is left with only cold rationality; with Scientism, which, it seems, is not enough (in making this point, Interstellar provides a strong contrast with the nasty atheist nihilism of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, an otherwise very similar film). What Nolan asserts is that man needs more than equations and rationality – it is Stoicism or Grace, or, finally, it will be panic and madness. As much as some may wish to believe otherwise, it is only natural – as Dr. Mann points out, it is simply the survival instinct in action.

(Think of that the next time someone tells you about “social constructs”).

The end of Cooper’s journey represents an peculiarly Classical pagan view of time and the future. The ancients consulted oracles and engaged in astrology in order to know the future, but (as incredible as it may seem to Moderns) not to change it. They didn’t even believe that they could. Here it must be remembered that Oedipus Rex was a cautionary tale – it reminded the Greeks that once one’s fate has been decided, it cannot be changed. To believe that it can be constitutes that worst of sins of Greek tragedy, hubris. Oedipus does try to escape his fate, but instead he himself becomes the instrument of the fulfillment of the prophecy that he so desperately sought to thwart. So too does Cooper come full circle by becoming the driving force behind his own journey. He initially tries to deliver to his past self the message to stay on his farm, yet once he realizes/remembers that this is futile, he accepts his fate and sends himself the messages that will start him on his path. Like Oedipus, he is powerless to be anything other than the instrument of the fulfillment of the destiny chosen for him by the gods (yes, technically they aren’t, but for the film’s purposes they might as well be). For his quick acceptance and eventual willing participation in this, the gods reward him with an end that’s better than the one Oedipus ended up with, though it is still at least bittersweet.

Cooper’s recollection, early in the film, of his wife telling him that as parents they exist to be memories for their children, is one of the most Stoic and pagan of sentiments expressed in the film. The pagans were deeply concerned about being remembered, which for them was the most important way in which they lived after death (this drive to be remembered explains much of the pagan emphasis on family – for who will, or should, remember you more than your own descendants? – and of the ambition seen in Roman society). Cooper’s experiences with time means that this will work both ways – his daughter’s memories of him propelled her forward as she solved her equation and saved her people, and at the end of the movie, she has died and exists for him only as a memory. This is deeply unnatural, and the tragedy of it is the price paid for his walk among the gods, even if there was a good reason for it.

One last question comes to mind when considering this film: the importance of the Dylan Thomas poem that the elder Dr. Brand recites over and over throughout it. Was it merely a sort of noble lie on Dr. Brand’s part, to try to keep others focused on an impossible task that was at least better than panic or nihilistic resignation? Was it a statement of fortitude and defiance in the face of the inevitable? Or perhaps did Dr. Brand, deep down, believe that a solution was possible, even if he couldn’t find it? Certainly, Murph took the poem’s advice to heart, and eventually did find the solution. As angry as she was with him when she discovered his lie, it is worth noting that the words of the poem were inscribed on the monument found inside the space station that Cooper wakes up in at the end of the film. If she had a hand in creating the place (and, as it is named after her, one might presume that she did) the poem wouldn’t be there unless she had come to understand its importance and, perhaps, to make peace with Dr. Brand.

Even more than The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar deserves analysis and interpretation, especially among that alt-right. I hope that my disconnected thoughts can spur some conversations about this most uncommon film. Many thanks to Aidan Coyne (@raptros_ on Twitter) for having gone along with me to see the it, and for having given me inspiration for some of the ideas I explored here.

(*There was, in that scene, a definite feeling of TARS as a high-tech Samwise Gamgee to Cooper’s Frodo Baggins, with Gargantua as the Mt. Doom that must be entered, no matter how terrifying it may be).

Roofs And Closets

We live in a very strange age.

We live in an age of Totalism, an age of resurgent Puritanism, an age of ideology in which the personal is everywhere and always the political. And not only is this the spirit of the age in which we live, but we have all internalized it so much that even we who declare ourselves to be in open rebellion against that spirit often accept its frame and fall into its mindset without even realizing it.

But wait… an age of Puritanism? Is this not the age of progressivism, even of libertinism? How can it be Puritan? And what is Totalism?

To take the latter first, Totalism (not to be confused with totalitarianism) is what John Derbyshire described as the philosophy of “no middle”. It teaches that only extreme views on a given question are possible – that you can only either celebrate something in the most gushing of terms and wish to throw it a parade, or you must hate it and want it destroyed by the most violent means available. You cannot mildly dislike it, or give it lukewarm support, or (perhaps worst of all) simply be apathetic. One can only love Big Brother, or one surely wants him destroyed; one cannot say: “Emmanuel Goldstein? Seems like a bit of a twat to me, I suppose, but I don’t really care all that much”. You are either present at every Two Minutes Hate session, prepared to jeer at the top of your lungs, or you are an enemy of the state who must be assumed to be working for its destruction. Nothing else is possible.

Now, Puritanism: one must not be tempted to assume that because our culture (such as it is) is filled with degeneracy, licentiousness, and sin, that this means that Puritanism has left American life. The truth is quite the opposite, in fact. No, Puritanism never went away in this country – it can’t; it is too much embedded in the American mindset to ever really go away – it simply switched sides. This was not so very hard to do. Puritanism is, more even than it is a set of religious or moral beliefs, a mindset, a worldview, an attitude towards life and humanity and how to deal with the problems of living. You can substitute one set of variables for another, i.e. liberal morals for Christian ones, but the mindset remains the same and thus the method of applying those values to the world remains unaltered. America is, in fact, just as Puritan as it ever was, if not more so. This can be seen in the Puritanical behavior of Modern American leftists – conformist, fanatical, absolutist, priggish, nagging, instructive, finger-waving, tut-tutting, pearl-clutching spoilfuns who careen from one moral panic to the next and inject their ideologies into everything they come in contact with, no matter how inappropriate it may be or how badly their ideas fit in that that arena (e.g. Gamergate, Metalgate). Nothing may be left alone, no transgression may be let slide, and the guilty must always be shamed and made to publicly confess their sins as a warning to others. This is American Puritanism in its most essential form. And since Modern leftism, wherever it may be practiced, is Americanism, and Americanism is all Puritanism, all Modern leftism is Puritan in nature.

One important part of Puritanism is its lack of distinction between the public and the private spheres of life. Sin anywhere is an offense against their god (whether that God is Yahweh or the god of equality) and a lurking threat to the stability of their order, eternally waiting to burst out of the shadows and into the light; as such, it cannot be abided. Thus the dream of the Puritan, expressed both in the religious literature of the 17th century and in progressive literature stretching from the reformers of the 19th century to the present day, is to lift the roofs off of all the houses; to peer inside and discover the sin occurring behind closed doors, and to punish it. In his 1846 novel Dombey and Son, Charles Dickens, that best-known of Victorian reformers, invoked Le Sage’s the tale of the demon Asmodeus when he pled, “Oh for a good spirit who would take the house-tops off, with a more potent and begignant hand than the lame demon in the tale, and show a Christian people what dark shapes issue from amidst their homes, to swell the retinue of the Destroying Angel as he moves forth among them!” If one merely changes the variables – substitutes “progressive” for “Christian”, and “racism/sexism/homophobia/bigotry” for “the Destroying Angel” – one has the mindset of the leftist progressive in the 21st century. A fine modern-day example of this can be found in the case of Donald Sterling, until recently the owner of a professional sports team. The roof was, metaphorically, lifted off of his house when a recording of him making remarks mildly disparaging of a class of people protected by the progressive establishment, clandestinely and illegally made behind closed doors and within the privacy of his own walls, was revealed. That the remarks were private, and that in his public life and in the conduct of his business he had always been gracious and equitable with members of that class, meant nothing. The private, the public, the personal, the political… to the leftist, these are one – there is no distinction, and no sin against their doctrines nor offense to those under their protection, no matter how privately expressed, may be allowed to stand unpunished.

“Beware of those in whom the will to punish is strong”, said Nietzsche, and it should be clear now exactly why we ought to be. Modernity is full of utopianism, Totalism, and a strong will to punish that extends into every corner of life, public and private. It is easy – ever so easy – to fall into, for it is the spirit of our age. And yet, as much as our Modern hearts (and we all have them, for as much as we may wish otherwise, we are all native-born sons of Modernity) may cry out for this, it must be resisted. In a healthy age – indeed, in the Victorian era whose ways Dickens condemned in his desire for something “better”*, but that now every man of sense and decency regards as the height of the Western culture – there is an understanding, empathetic and reasonable beyond the ability of our rigidly ideological and Totalist age to comprehend, that private vice, while by no means something to be praised, is universal, inevitable, an ineradicable part of nature and of the human condition. It is for this reason that the Christian teaching that all people are fallen sinners, so often misunderstood (willfully or not) by atheo-leftists as cruel and condemnatory, is revealed as actually being comforting and humane. It says: you are not alone, this is the way of all mankind; you are not particularly evil, you are only human, and it is human to be a fallen sinner. It does not approve of private vice, nor does it obviate the need for repentance of it (far from it – repentance of sinful vices is one of the core requirements of Christianity), but it acknowledges the reality of human nature (Yes, human nature – that eternal bane of all utopian ideologies!).

Presuming that one is not a subscriber to the ideology of Puritanism (and I cannot speak for you, dear reader, but I have had quite enough of it myself), then the search is on for a means to avoid moral chaos without succumbing to Totalism and ending up in the excesses of Puritanism. That might seem like a rather tall order, but – and here’s an idea that should suit the tastes of a reactionary – why not simply look to the past for an idea that worked perfectly well in decent, stable, orderly societies for a very long time? Why reinvent the wheel, when our ancestors took so much care to develop it for us? Before the Puritans and the progressives came along, they believed in the separation of the private and the public spheres of life, in which vices were kept behind closed doors and discreetly overlooked by the larger society. This was the philosophy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” rather then that of the only two choices being the forced public apology or the pride parade. It was the philosophy of leaving the roofs safely on the houses in the belief that, like Chesterton’s fence, they were there for a reason. It was the most humane and realistic way available to acknowledge and deal with two ineffable facts regarding human existence: first that vice will always exist among humans; second that we must all find some way to live together in a modicum of harmony in an orderly society that keeps itself out of the bottomless pit of relativism. This is a compromise, yes – but that is just another way of saying that it is not Totalist. And as rightists, we must remind ourselves that it is the left that incessantly comes up with utopian schemes that make no concessions to reality or human nature – we should not feel that we are somehow obligated to make exactly the same mistake, but with our favored variables substituted for theirs. And we should not feel so strong a will to punish that we recoil from all that is humane and tolerant.

Yes, I used the word “tolerant”. But here I mean it in its actual sense, not in the debased sense in which the left means it (they have a long history of redefining words in order to make their demands seem far more reasonable than they actually are). To tolerate something does not mean to celebrate it, nor even to approve of it. If one hears that somebody has “tolerated” an experience (perhaps something like a business-related social function), the meaning is clear enough – they put up with it, but they didn’t enjoy it. To tolerate something means not that one likes something, but merely that one has chosen not to punish over it.

For those in whom the will to punish is strong, this is an untenable proposition – they must punish, for to them the desire to do so is irresistible. For the ideological Totalist, it is an insensible position – something must either be celebrated or punished, with no options in between (one is reminded of the description of Mao’s China as a place in which everything that was not forbidden was mandatory). Puritans are always the latter and frequently the former (for Puritanism attracts such people into its fold and gives them social status, and thus authority, within the Puritan in-group). But that does not mean that Puritan Totalism is the only, or is even a very desirable, way to order human affairs, and it does not mean that society would end up in moral chaos were we to order them another way.

Of course, it should go without saying that a line must be drawn, definitive even if unspoken, between which vices are tolerable and which are not. I propose a simple formula. First, a tolerable vice must not involve anyone who, for whatever reason, is unwilling or unable to give informed consent to participate in it. Thus, for example, anything that harms a little child, or sex acts that begin with an involuntary drugging, or knowingly concealing a sexually-transmitted disease from someone and passing it to them during a sex act – these would all be beyond the pale, and should not be tolerated or discreetly ignored by anyone. Second, the vice must be assiduously kept private. It should not be tolerable to attempt to poison the social order or coarsen the culture in the name of accommodating emotionally exhibitionistic, needy people who feel a manic desire to make their private lives public and to impose upon the world a demand for validation of their vices. In fact, the optimal situation is for most vice to be technically illegal, on the understanding that prohibitions on such vice, when indulged in discreetly and behind closed doors, are both unenforceable and not very worth enforcing, and thus would remain essentially unenforced. These laws would, then, simply be a hedge against attempts to bring private vice “out of the closet” and to demand for it the approval of the public. Any activist who attempted to do so would end up in jail, technically for practicing the vice in question, but really for being a disruptor of public order.

So the formula is indeed simple: You keep your closet door closed, and we will keep the roof on your house. If you insist on making your vices public, they will be dealt with in a courtroom; otherwise they are best left to be dealt with in a confessional. This is the way of dealing with vice that our ancestors, who were far more sensible people, understood was best; whereas it is we, absorbed in the absolutist, uncompromising, Puritan-infused Totalism of Modernity, who turn up our noses, point our fingers, and shriek “Hypocrisy!”.

And perhaps it is. But there are far worse systems than one based on a little bit of prudent hypocrisy. You should know that, dear reader – you are living in one.

(*The above-quoted passage from Dombey and Son continues: “For only one night’s view of of the pale phantoms rising from the scenes of our too-long neglect; and, from the thick and sullen air where Vice and Fever propagate together, raining the tremendous social retributions which are ever pouring down, and ever coming thicker! Bright and blest the morning that should rise on such a night: for men, delayed to no more by stumbling-blocks of their own making, which are but specks of dust upon the path between them and eternity, would then apply themselves, like creatures of one common origin, owning one duty to the Father of one family, and tending to one common end, to make the world a better place!” This quote reveals much about the mindset behind it. It is based upon the assumption that private vice can be eliminated from the human experience [which is a kind of variation on the idea of the perfectibility of man], and the idea that it must be, for only when it is can the world be made “a better place” [which fits in squarely with the Whig view of history as a slow march towards a perfected state of mankind]. For a man as perceptive of the ways of human nature as Dickens, that level of denial of its realities can only be attributed to ideology).