Thursday, May 29, 2003


More Signs of the Times: The week the History Channel ran a couple of hours on torture and mass death under Saddam & Sons. It was about as awful as anything I've seen; my wife had to leave and go watch another channel. But then I heard Amnesty International criticize the US for stopping that psychotic pain. At first it's a little hard to accept that those two of statements could exist on the same planet. But in fact it makes serious sense.

"Decadence" in art and literature is the period at the end of an artistic movement when the indwelling spirit has died and all that is left is the external form. That is, artistic forms and movements come out of something new in human experience, something that can't be expressed in the old forms. Artists struggle to capture the new experience, and evolve into new forms that can in fact do the job. But as the Spirit of a Time that stimulates the new art weakens and finally dies, the form doesn't die nearly so quickly. And with no genuine content, the natural tendency is to give even more attention to form, to let the elaboration on form hide for a time the fact that the real content is dead.

This is where current liberalism is. This all came out of good impulses and perceptions many years ago (although people too quickly forgot the old wisdom that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions). People could believe it was good to want to stop war and poverty, and to want racial equality, and to try to be fair and compassionate, and the rest. And the ways of going about these things that evolved, which did naturally express the human impulse early liberals felt, made sense too. But now, simply, that liberalism is dead. Flat out dead. And all that's left is the increasing emphasis on the external, the form. So we get this: War is bad, so any use of the American military is bad. It doesn't matter what Saddam was or what kind of awesome human misery he and his sons caused that the US military has stopped. All Amnesty International could do is jerk its knees and condemn the US. With no genuine indwelling spirit, all there is is form, and Amnesty International has to follow the old form, again and again and again. This is modern decadence.

Expect more of this. These folks have their lives entirely tied in the old, old Spirit, and they will have an awful time as they confront more and more deeply felt evidence of its failure. They will stress the old forms more and more, and more knees will jerk, and more people will hold hands and sing We Shall Overcome, and the press will pretend tiny groups of people making the same old signs and marching the old marches are still worthy of news (Our campus paper covered as significant a meeting to which five -- yes five -- feminists came. We have more people than that almost any given time in our small private adoration chapel at my church-- which of course would never make the papers.) and professors will keep trying to indoctrinate students, and all the rest. But it's all over, all dead.

And we'll still pay attention to this silliness. But the real interesting questions are about what is going on elsewhere.