We are told these days that truth is not objective. Nothing is right or wrong, not really. Simply the mood of the day, the fickle ebb and flow of culture. But who decides? We have replaced our philosopher kings with ‘influencers’ – are we really better off for it? Of course, if there is no right and wrong, then there are no wicked or saintly deeds; and thusly no beautiful and ugly paintings and certainly no great or bad books. ‘Postmodernism’ it is called – where we are all subjected to judgement by unjust judges and unwise seers. How could this go wrong?
I recently finished Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (again, I’m sure I read this before, as I did Timequake. A mistake I won’t make again, life really is too short) – perhaps the most important member of the ‘aburdist’ post-modern literary club (in that he represents its end state). He is the destination on a road that some say began with Camus (and others Dostoevsky) where we are all “wet robots made of meat”; because where does one stop? I am reminded of a scene from The Fountainhead:
“You’d better give up the theater, Ike,” said Lancelot Clokey. “Writing is a serious business and not for any stray bastard that wants to try it.” Lancelot Clokey’s first book–an account of his personal adventures in foreign countries–was in its tenth week on the best-seller list. “Why, isn’t it, Lance?” Toohey drawled sweetly. “All right,” snapped Clokey, “all right. Give me a drink.” “It’s awful,” said Lois Cook, her head lolling wearily from side to side. “It’s perfectly awful. It’s so awful it’s wonderful.” “Balls,” said Gus Webb. “Why do I ever come here?” Ike flung his script at the fireplace, it struck against the wire screen and landed, face down, open, the thin pages crushed. “If Ibsen can write plays, why can’t I?” he asked. “He’s good and I’m lousy, but that’s not a sufficient reason.” “Not in the cosmic sense,” said Lancelot Clokey.
In The Cause of Hitler’s Germany Leonard Peikoff wrote about just such philosophical abdication by German elites all at the service of Plato. First went the writers, then the painters, then the church, then the philosophers and eventually – so went the government. Glorify the ugly, the wicked, the meaningless – ridicule moral fortitude and replace it with, yes, the absurd. Create a Frankenstein’s Monster of a state and then surrender to it – sound familiar?
Vonnegut is basically unreadable. Slaughterhouse Five is supposedly an anti-war protest by a man who had observed the firebombing of Dresden. Does that not give him the moral authority to author nonsense? Who cares if its not beautiful, or tragic even; who cares if it conveys no meaning taken from an incident with such historic power – that is the point after all. Nothing matters – how could writing be any different? And who am I to judge, hasn’t Slaughterhouse sold a million copies (with my novels far, far behind, a fact that you dear reader could certainly help to remedy)? And is not therein found the ultimate opprobrium of a society towards itself?
Of course these days we are taught not to interfere with anybody’s “freedom”. People should be allowed to live exactly as they please, and those with greater ‘courage’ are those who pursue their absurd lives with more abandon in an ever-widening assault upon all that has come before – for is not everything in our past wicked?
Freedom for the ancients meant control of inner passions and the cultivation of virtue and self-control and restraint; at the service of that which is good and true and – yes – beautiful. We’ve come a long way from those days, haven’t we? And who really wants to live in a world created by the insane, at the service of the absurd? I sure don’t.