Posted on | February 1, 2015
We are heirs of a tradition. Each of us is born into circumstances that were created by our parents, by our grandparents, by our ancestors, and by the civilization in which they lived. Human life existed before we born and will continue after our deaths. As children we inherit the past. As parents we create the future. Wisdom requires us to understand ourselves as a single link in an infinite chain of human existence, rather than to imagine ourselves as free-floating atoms unconnected to others.
Popular ideas of “democracy” — the modernistic idolatry that speaks the language of “rights,” “choice” and “equality” — obscure the truth of human existence, trapping us in the present tense, isolating us as rootless individuals removed from the authentic traditions of our inheritance. Children are taught that the past is not merely useless, but actually harmful, because human history is nothing but a catalog of oppression, atrocities and victimhood. Thus, the modern child cannot be allowed to believe that his grandparents were wise or virtuous, that the great achievements of our civilization are worthy of respect.
The great idol of modernity is Progress. Everything that happened prior to today is “old-fashioned” and obsolete, and nothing is more obsolete than yesterday’s ideas. Whatever your parents or grandparents believed in 1980 or 1950 or 1920 is presumed to be wrong. Your ancestors were all racist sexist homophobes enslaved by patriarchal religious bigotry. Never mind that their beliefs enabled your ancestors to survive hardship that would be unimaginable for most Americans in the 21st century. In a remarkable span of six decades, America survived the Great Depression, triumphed in World War II and destroyed the Evil Empire of Soviet tyranny. Yet the American child today is taught to despise the values of the people who accomplished all that. The child cannot cherish his own inherited tradition or respect his own ancestors, and is instead commanded to bow down at the altar of Progress.
“To live for the moment is the prevailing passion — to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity. We are fast losing the sense of historical continuity, the sense of belonging to a succession of generations originating in the past and stretching into the future. . . .
“Narcissism emerges as the typical form of character structure in a society that has lost interest in the future.”
— Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1979)
What has resulted from this modernistic idolatry of democratic Progress — the utopian fantasy of an imagined future where we all live in absolute equality, free of “old-fashioned” beliefs — is a sort of social epidemic of bipolar hysteria, in which minds unmoored from cultural tradition constantly shift between utter confusion and radical certainty. Anyone who paid close attention to the “Occupy” protests of 2011 saw evidence of what kind of disordered personalities this progressive epidemic has produced. Young people who were clearly incompetent to manage their own lives nevertheless felt themselves entitled to dictate to the rest of us how “society” must be changed so as to “empower” these mobs of emotional unstable misfits. Refusing to take responsibility for their own failures, the Occupiers believed they were supremely qualified to pass judgment on the “system” that served as an all-purpose scapegoat onto which they could externalize blame for their misfortunes.
Duke: The lights are growing dim Otto. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am.
Otto: That’s bullshit. You’re a white suburban punk just like me.
Duke: Yeah, but it still hurts.
Great art speaks great truths and the death of Duke in Repo Man is an under-appreciated highlight of 20th-century cinematic art. Whatever the authorial purpose behind Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic, that scene speaks eternal truth. Duke and his girlfriend Debbie try to rob a liquor story, and Duke laughs in psychopathic glee as he points his pistol at one of the clerk: “I’m going to kill him! I’m going to kill him! I’m going to kill everybody!” Unfortunately for Duke, there is a thing called karma in the world, and when Duke is momentarily distracted, the store clerk gets his shotgun and fatally wounds Duke. Debbie responds by shooting the clerk dead and it is then that Duke’s death scene plays out. Breathing his last gasps and spitting up blood, Duke speaks his own epitaph, expressing the worldview of every worthless punk who ever lived: “I blame society.”
Irresponsible people always need a scapegoat to blame for their faults and failures. They can never be satisfied to let their own shortcomings or disappointments be blamed on bad luck. Other people may be unlucky — indeed, many millions are far more unfortunate in their circumstances than the punk — but bad luck won’t do for him. No, the punk must always have someone to blame. His own failures and the problems that he has caused for himself? Not his fault. Blame society.
A punk’s entire life is basically one long quest for revenge, an attempt to even the score with “society,” to get back at the people he blames for whatever it is that has made him unhappy or unsuccessful.
The Cult of Progress has spawned a Punk Generation of people with no system of values except intellectual abstractions — “democracy,” “rights,” “equality” and so forth. They have learned nothing of sturdy virtue, nothing of classic Stoicism, nothing of the Calvinist ethos of enduring life’s hardships with a spirit of reverent gratitude.
We are told that democracy is synonymous with freedom, but we see how a false belief in “equality” between the wise and foolish, between the evil and the good, must ultimately enslave us all.
“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”
— Romans 1:22 (KJV)