One of the interesting things about the bonfire of vanities going on on the left side of the political spectrum in the US is watching what happens when people choose to live with no restraints but that which they want and can get.
It’s not a new story. You could say it’s an extremely old one.
There has been a tendency, because we are, after all, a Judeo-Christian civilization, even when people don’t acknowledge that, to think of civilized people, of people who have a high material culture and civilization, as people who also have a high intellectual culture. There is a tendency too, particularly when imagining other civilizations and fantasy worlds to port a lot of our ideals into it, ideals which, honestly, people on the left have long forgotten started out as religiously based.
It is easy to forget that values such as care for the poor and helpless, a sense of restraint in our social and sexual dealings, the idea that just because you’re rich and powerful or in a position of power over others, you shouldn’t use it as a lever to treat them as objects and basically as things, there to serve your will and wishes aren’t “natural”.
There are some excellent mysteries by Anna Apostulou which take place in ancient Macedonia, in the time of Alexander. I’d read about the time but never seen it imagined in detail, as Apostulou did, but as far as I can tell, her research is impeccable, and the society she sketches is appalling.
It is a high civilization. No, sure, they don’t have our mechanical stuff or anything like that, but it’s the kind of high civilization I imagine we humans have attained several times in the past and lost completely, some of which might be under water from the various floodings of the melting of the ice age.
When I say “high civilization” people see spaceships. Um… no. And no cars, no airplanes, no electricity.
But let’s adjust the viewer to what was considered civilized and sophisticated say in the early eighteenth century.
Macedonia was probably that sophisticated. To fair, material culture wise, other than the fact we had electricity, (though often only one lightbulb and only in public areas. No, not us, but I knew people who used oil lamps in bedrooms. I have a hazy memory of sitting and trimming oil lamps at grandma’s when I was really little, and honestly I have no clue if the electricity-in-every-room I remember was then in place, or if we just had to have oil lamps because the electrical supply was so unreliable.) they probably lived at the level of the village, and in some places a little better.
And yet, it is not anything we can picture as “civilized.” Not only is there no care in protecting the helpless, there is no attempt at self restraint, except in the name of an “honor” we wouldn’t recognize. And since their idea of honor is closer to Arab than ours, there are atrocities committed in the name of that “honor.”
But — I did say they are very good mysteries, right — these people are still recognizably human, with all our impulses and wishes and wants. It’s just that the idea you should restrain yourself, or, frankly, give a good goddamn about anything but perhaps honor and tribe doesn’t exist. There is religion and gods, but they’re things to appease, not a dictate of good behavior. Pious didn’t mean “good” or “moral” in our sense.
So, what is this all about?
Well, the code of self restraint and looking after people who need it, as well as of looking beyond family and tribe is not uniquely Jewish-Christian. There were ancient philosophies and schools of thoughts in other religions that advocated both of these, though sometimes with kind of interesting twists. (Often reading histories not of the west is a lot like how P.J. O’Rourke described the Philippines. Everything is great and normal, until you wake up and find mommy eating live snakes in the kitchen at two am.)
In fact, I suspect you could write a history of human civilization/life that swung between the pendulums of “natural man” and “restrained man.” (In which man means human. It just doesn’t scan right, auditorily if I do that.)
But for almost two hundred years now, starting with the romantics and the myth of the noble savage, we’ve been swinging away from “restrained” (by morality or civics) man and towards “natural man.”
Only the natural man isn’t. Not any more than the restrained man. And not at this level of civilization. I suppose there is a “natural man” who sleeps in trees, wears no clothes, eats whatever he can catch raw. He’s not a noble savage, but the amount of damage he can do to himself or others is limited, because he can’t really spread his ideas, since he can’t talk.
The “Natural man” these people aspire to is “unrestrained man” with all the wealth and power of civilization at their command.
This is what’s in the head of western elites at this point. Their very expensive education has destroyed all the historical, moral, civic structures of their ancestors in favor of “just doing what comes naturally.”
I’ll note the right side of the spectrum behaves better, but who knows if it’s natural or simply because they can’t say boo without the press jumping on them. OTOH the fact they identify as right, despite all the material disadvantages of doing that must mean they believe in SOMETHING enough not to just switch it to left and reap those advantages.
However the left, because they are in perfect accordance with the press and other supposed guardians of moral/public behavior, get a free pass even on the most atrocious transgressions.
My guess? What we’re seeing in corruption, betrayal, aiding and abetting enemies (giving uranium to Russia, whatever the hell is going on with Muslim Brotherhood ties, etc.) and just sexual insanity and extortion, is the tip of the iceberg.
The natural man, unrestrained and with no fear of discovery because no one would expose him/her, since they’re the “good people” can get amazingly complex and bizarrely perverse.
I’m almost afraid of what we find next.