Monday, May 12, 2014

What Is the Monster of the Twenty-First Century?-Part Five

Monsters Out of the Nineteenth Century

The murderous psychopath has probably been around for as long as there have been people. A way of explaining him is another matter. Before the development of psychology and its promotion to a kind of science, the psychopath was explained as like a supernatural force. It would be silly now to say that Ted Bundy was a vampire or that Jeffrey Dahmer was a werewolf. But because the psychopath can now be explained as a material phenomenon, he has survived Fritz Leiber's "era of cottage and castle" and into the age of science.

It seems to me that the survival of the psychopathic killer as a monster for the modern age was made possible by mass developments of the nineteenth century. In fact, the psychopath has thrived because of mass developments, not least of which is mass disconnectedness of one person to another. There is another monster that has always been with us but was made fully possible only with mass developments of the nineteenth century. That monster, whose face we recognize from the history of the murderous twentieth century, is the totalitarian.

The totalitarian impulse may very well arise from human nature. If that's true, then the totalitarian has always been and will always be with us. However, the totalitarianism of the twentieth century--exemplified in communism and nazism--may not have been possible before the nineteenth. The success of the psychopath, preying as he does upon urban populations, was not wholly possible before those populations reached critical mass during the late 1800s. And of course the existence of the psychopath would not have been tolerated before the explanation for his activities became materialistic or scientific. No one would have tried to understand him or sympathize with him. No one would have blamed his parents or, worse yet, society for his crimes. He would simply have been strung up or burned by an outraged populace. Likewise, the totalitarian, prior to the nineteenth century, would have been largely frustrated in his goal of overthrowing the world and remaking it in the image of his own private Utopia. (1) But with the mass movements of the nineteenth century, moreover, with the perceived triumph of science over faith, the doors to a totalitarian society were thrown open. Karl Marx (1818-1883), "a thorough-going materialist," went beyond Hegel, who "saw the universe as essentially spiritual." (2) Darwin (1809-1882) did away with special creation in favor of random mutation and a directionless process of natural selection. As the century turned, one to the next, Freud (1856-1939) laid the groundwork for a scientific--and ultimately, for some, materialist--interpretation of the human psyche. The fourth great revolutionary of the nineteenth century and the only one trained in the physical sciences, was, in strong contrast to the others, virtually unknown in his time and a man of faith, in fact a man of the cloth. This was Gregor Mendel (1822-1884). (3)

The point of all this is that if the totalitarian was a monster of the twentieth century and is a candidate for the monster of the twenty-first, he would first have been made possible by developments of the nineteenth. Those developments were mass developments involving industrialization, mechanization, and urbanization, as well as mass education, mass media, and so on. Mass developments are not enough, however. In order for the totalitarian to succeed, he must have a philosophy or ideology to support him and his efforts. Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, and men like them provided that philosophy. Also, the individual must be blotted out. He can have no special place in the eyes of God or his fellow men. Mass society has made that possible. More significantly, twin developments in philosophy and science have separated the individual from God and from his family, church, and tribe. He has been reduced to a cipher, submerged as an undifferentiable and easily expendable nobody among the masses, easy prey for the totalitarian and his supreme State, the means by which the totalitarian exercises his monstrousness upon his fellow human beings.

* * *

I would like to quote once more from Lenin by Michael Morgan (1971). Actually, this is a quote from a quote, one from Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (1862), in which the protagonist, Bazarov, goes with two young serfs to a marsh in search of frogs:

"For what do you want frogs, barin?" asked one of the lads. 
"To make them useful," replied Bazarov. . . . "You see, I like to open them, and then to observe what their insides are doing. You and I are frogs too, except that we walk upon our hind legs. Thus the operation helps me to understand what is taking place in ourselves." 
"And what good will that do you?" 
"This. That if you should fall sick, and I should have to treat you, I might avoid some mistakes." 
"Then you are a doctor?" 
"I am." (4)

Bazarov is in fact a medical student. He is also a nihilist--in the nineteenth century Russian sense of the word. I'm not sure what the connection is between nihilism and communism, but Lenin's biographer, Michael Morgan poses the question and allows the nihilists to answer:
How to rectify the social body? That was the problem. By revolution and science was the nihilist answer. (5)
Morgan continues a few pages later:
Marx always claimed that Marxist socialism was scientific: that it was based on a scientific diagnosis of the facts of life. . . . Correct diagnosis was vital, and just as the Christian doctors had been of great importance to the church in the early centuries of its history, so were Marx and his fellow "doctors" to the workers' international. (6)
It may or may not be symbolic for Bazarov to be a doctor, one who diagnoses problems--and presumably makes prescriptions for their treatment. In any case, when I read that passage, it makes me think of two things. First, it puts me in mind of the reduction of the human to the mere animal ("You and I are frogs too"), which can and should be made available for use by the one who does the reducing. We see that at work in our own society of today. More than that, I hear the voice of the psychopath--"You see, I like to open them, and then to observe what their insides are doing"--for cutting people to pieces is what the psychopath does, all, I sense, to find out what makes us human, in contrast to his own inhumanity. (7) These developments--revolution, nihilism, socialism, materialism, scientism, psychopathy, keen interests in medicine, philosophy, and genetics--ultimately totalitarianism--all came together in one of the most fearsome and horrifying monsters of the twentieth century, Doctor Josef Mengele, the Nazi "Angel of Death."

Notes
(1) The perpetrators of the French Revolution in its later stages gave it a shot, and although they failed, as all leftist revolutionaries do in the end, they provided a template for totalitarian revolutions to come.
(2) The quotes are from Lenin by Michael Morgan (1971), p. 20. Both Marx and Hegel believed in the idea of historical "progress." That idea survives today and remains one of the most effective pieces of propaganda for those who wish to subjugate and enslave their fellows.
(3) Although he studied medicine and science, Charles Darwin was more properly a natural philosopher or natural historian. Freud, too, studied medicine, as well as philosophy and zoology, and graduated the university as a medical doctor. Marx was trained in law, though, like Freud, he enjoyed literature and philosophy. Gregor Mendel was a physicist, astronomer, meteorologist, and natural historian. His work alone among the four is scientific, meaning, it is observable, measurable, repeatable, and verifiable. Nazis, in their way, liked genetics. Communists did not, believing as they did that all human problems are caused by an imperfect society. Leftists of today have come around to genetics because it allows them to continue to excuse the individual from responsibility and accountability for his own actions. Nevertheless, leftists also still cling to Lysenkoism in a general sense, using science, pseudoscience, and people's faith in science and scientists for political purposes.
(4) From Lenin, p. 12.
(5) p. 13.
(6) p. 22.
(7) If that murderous desire to see what makes us tick is what animates the psychopathic killer, then I think it safe to say that he, too, is a materialist.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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