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Saturday, December 13, 2014

God Is Dead... Again

Jean-Paul Sartre
Still frame from The Turin Horse

I.

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
- Frederich Nietzsche

The "God" to which I refer is the god of the 20th Century - a loosely-held complex of values that include Capitalism, American Exceptionalism, and the post-Colonial dream that never quite coalesced - for, after the liberated former colonies dispensed with a few pressing domestic concerns, they promptly set to colonizing what became known as "Third World" with gusto. Of course, the latter effect alerted, at the outset, any serious observer to the taint of this "god."

But we are not at "the outset" of this misadventure - we are firmly ensconced in the twilight of it all, so that now even "un-serious" observers are having their noses shoved unceremoniously into the soilings of it. It is very uncomfortable.

Part of the point of Nietzsche's pronouncement was to illustrate the hazard of not acknowledging to oneself such a murder. The murder of God was an act of the creator of God (humanity,) and the warning and lament was that the murderers were loathe not only to acknowledge their role in the birth, life and death of this deity, but worse still continued the empty rituals and pronouncements that continued to raise the hollowed corpse in puppet-like re-animation.

Such is the state of modern ideology in the "First World" today. We (as a citizen of the country that owns Washington, D.C. I will henceforth use "us" and "we") are "in control" of everything now. And yet, it is clear to many of us and becoming so to most of us that there are forces lurching about - inchoate and undirected as they may be - that frustrate this power to ever-increasing effect.

I mentioned earlier that serious observers would have been alerted to the "taint" of our ideologies due to the ongoing urge to colonize, but this is only the finger pointing at the moon. I want to talk about the moon.

II.

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
- Lord Acton
Nietzsche spoke of a "will to power" as a fundamental driving force in human nature, and this was as least as misunderstood as this death of God metaphor. While this misunderstanding is quite germane to the reasons for the mortality of our latest god, I am not writing that paper here. I mention it only in passing - what I really want to discuss here is Lord Acton's famous quote, and the corrupting influence that language has over truth.

I wish you were sitting here before me, reader, as I would most ideally like to begin by asking you to dissect the Acton quote. I'd like you to restate it in your own way, to explain its meaning. I would like to illustrate the corruption of truth so that I might not get an argument from you when I proceed. But you are not, so I am forced to construct a strawman - as honestly and ingenuously as I can, yet still reluctantly.

I've no idea if Lord Acton held that "power" and "corruption" were two different things, in a kind of tension with each other, but I do know that my initial intellectual response to that quote is as an explication that power causes corruption. With the implication that if a power-wielder could only stave off the corruption bit, then a benevolent influence he could be. It is read as a caution, as if there is a sliding-scale of corruption (and power) that might be tweaked with the proper vigilance.

We are quite certain, most of us, for example, that there is a vast difference between the power of a monarch and power of a representative democracy with "checks and balances" to power. I'm here to nakedly aver that there is no difference, that the decorations of statehood inspired by our efforts to manipulate the relationship between power and corruption are ultimately for naught. As any observer of the state of the world today should acknowledge without protest.

While the Acton quote is true in the sense in which language can approach truth, it becomes a misleading falsehood when fed back into the mind of the speaker. For there is not a schism between power and corruption - they are one and the same thing. Full stop. There is no "tension between the two" that can be metered and regulated, this is not a caution about technique and care, it is a caution against power. Full stop, again.

The God of the 20th Century was America, embodied in systems of checks and balances, invisible hands, rising tides, progressive homogeneity of culture - all projects of the City on the Hill. While she seized some of it at the outset, the world incrementally ceded to her most of the power that she has today, the self-fulfilling coalescence that incarnated the God of the 20th Century. But there are forces lurching about...

Things fall apart, the center will not hold, and in our atomization we are left as a million Nietzsches, in solitary mourning at the onset of this new Death. In our grief we, too, hold out hope for a sort of mass revelation, a burst of creative self-introspection that will once and for all replace the infirmity of false Gods with the firmament of Truth. The prelude to our madness...

With the revelations and spectacles of modern times - police madness, the sanctioned horrors of torture, state-sponsored terror (in our names,) the criminalization of poverty, the fevered seizure of wealth and resource by the few leading to the misery of the many - we are as well being driven mad by a man beating a horse.

4 comments:

  1. Indeed, the last two paragraphs are true and great.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, Michael, I agree with eclecticdog "true and great". But the entire article is compelling and interesting.
    Suzanne D.

    ReplyDelete
  3. And now I am going to have to watch 'The Turin Horse'.
    Suzanne D.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks, Suzanne D. Warning: "The Turin Horse" is quite the meditation. Don't go there for entertainment. ;)

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all reactions and points of view, so comments here are not moderated. Cheerfully "colorful" language is great. I'll even tolerate some ad hominem directed against me... each other, not so much. Racist or excessively abusive comments (or spam) will be deleted at my discretion.