I tested out my starter-wings of independence in the gloriously nihilistic ‘90s. I might not have known anything, but neither did anybody else; high school even back then not carrying out very well its primary function which is to convey to each of us the seriousness of our ignorance, of how much we didn’t know about what we thought we understood. We knew the books we had read, and assumed that they were ‘settled literature’ as much as we were told that we came from amoebas via a way-stop swinging from a tree was ‘settled science’. Who cared anyway? Was not relativism – moral, philosophical, historical – was it not all nihilistic well after enlightened existentialism seemed far too elitist? “Live and Let Die”, blasting from the speakers while we all watched Point Break (the original!) and gloried in a world where nothing really mattered. Why would it? The cold war was over – the end of history had arrived – the ozone had not burned away leaving us all charred pieces of carbon frying in the sun, neither had Y2K returned us to the age of obsidian knives chasing naked after groundhogs. There was not much left to do, except live our lives, and let others get on with theirs.
To be sure, there was nothing to believe either. Religion? Wasn’t one of the “End of Literature” books we all read “The Scarlet Letter”? – and didn’t that prove that Christians were not really copacetic to the “end of history” vibe? Capitalism – well communism was dead; neo-liberalism (which incidentally is a form of state-utopianism) hadn’t yet been mainstreamed (Fukuyama force-fed to the Tusken Raiders of the third world); Islamism (which has since also been debunked) had not yet given us a world of ‘Topless Minarets and Headless Little Girls’ – life, we were told, was about tweaking around the margins while polishing off the rough edges to make the ‘blue pill’ go down smoother. I mean heck, even government was becoming irrelevant – wasn’t Bill Clinton, the “Incredible Shrinking President”, wasn’t he even balancing the budget and starting to pay off the debt…? Imagine that.
Of course, that was then. Our decade of bliss, into which my coming of age slipped nicely – Savage Garden blasting on the oversized car-stereo in my little Ford Festiva as I careened through the Arizona desert at midnight chasing the fleeing monsoons. Now, for some reason (opinions welcome), we have moved on. “Live and Let Die” has given way to hate, the result of (and precursor to) actual shooting wars – those between countries but also between gangs and groups and tribes and ideologies and religions. These are the days of annihilation – of “Acquiesce or Be Killed”. And it’s everywhere – the whole “who started it” at this point so obscured by smoke from two fallen towers as to be rendered irrelevant as we circle the wagons, loading up our rifles in preparation for the next nighttime assault. Our oh-so-great war of cultures has seen many casualties; cake bakers and fine arts programs and family traditions and great literature burned under ennobled old statues brought down upon the embers. Camus’ “murder of the unjust judges” has turned into the murder of all judges in the final assault on justice itself – our smooth Sartre existentialists replaced by Nietzsche nihilists in perpetual worship of Dionisius, the god of drunkenness and ritualized insanity.
I sometimes read the old socialists, those who were perhaps utopians in youth but long since were polished by the canvas of time upon the wheel of suffering. They have such wisdom, wisdom lacking in a world which no longer cares for the thoughts of great men after they have ceased to be of political use. Enter Milosz; for we would be wise to listen to his words. In a world where Muslim wishes to destroy Christian; Democrat, Republican; woman, man (or in some case the very binary idea of both); communist, capitalist; black, white – all upon the altar of ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘grievance studies’ and intersectional prejudices in a great edifice of hate, Milosz reminds us of one simple reality. This destruction, should we succeed in it, will bring no freedom – neither to those doing the destroying, nor to the destroyed. We must find a way to live together; for our current wars will bring nobody the freedom they are looking for.