Is firstly dependent on isolating the Western tenets; Christianity, imperialism, humanism.
Takes as a given we’re dealing with centuries of theocracy, followed by quasi and/or appeased theocracy, and that the Abrahamic Christian death cult is unusual in its emphasis on human purity and the flawed sovereignty of the species (paralleled in its sibling Islamic mythologies), though the bigger themes are appropriations from older memeplexes. For all its many timeless, superstitious functions – the blessing of the newborn, the sanctifying of (ideally) exclusive sexual unions, the consecration of structures – perhaps the vast cult was at its most relevant when its clerics officiated English beheadings and fascist Spanish firing squads.
I was rereading Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Sunset Express’, which is concerns the symbolic, existential despair of a stridently atheistic white intellectual. His arguments for the logic of suicide boil down to the ruination of his Western optimism: “The things I believed in dont exist any more. It’s foolish to pretend that they do. Western Civilization finally went up in smoke in the chimneys at Dachau but I was too infatuated to see it. I see it now.” (sic)
A hard line to refute, if you hold the faith in the first place, and if you are tormented to a point that takes you beyond mundane, necessary concerns, i.e. when you place great value in post-Christian humanism (not unrelated to Christianity itself). Going back beyond the pseudo-scholarship of Protestantism, and back beyond the Catholic religious brand – i.e. in keeping with the definition of the word itself ‘broad ranging, widely encompassing’ – and you’re looking at subsumed tribes all over the place. Including those ancestors of the white Western world. We are able to look at the postcolonial experience of Christian conversion all over the world and acknowledge the ubiquitous latent ‘paganisms’. We openly acknowledge the Germanic paganism in our own major Christian festivals. But after all these centuries – theocracy, humanism, modernism, globalisation, the recent exponential surge in consumerism – we still, to varying degrees of faith and articulation, distinguish ourselves from the primitive.
This despite the apocalyptic wars waged by Westerners. Did the Ragnarok of WWI eventuate on some subliminal level, not merely geo-political, because the dispossessed native peoples of empire had not delivered the white tribes the kind of epic confrontation they all thought they wanted? Did the legions of tribal kin reconvene en masse to slaughter one another because, at the end of the day, they had always fought their own with the greatest zeal, on common ground? Somewhere in those trenches, blood-spattered and amazed and probably going mad, Hitler looked out across it all and when he wrote his planetary nightmare across continents, it was ways of old he invoked; the Nuremberg rallies recalled the pagan warrior cults; the sagas were recalled and warped and retold in frothing bloodlust. He was, perhaps, some appalling form of neo-pagan. There is no more sobering a title for a history book than: ‘Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century’, (Mark Mazower, 1999).
So what does that leave us with? Pre-Christian barbarity, Christian barbarity, post-Christian barbarity. Barbarity is not a Western failing, given there’s nothing to point to when ‘everything was alright’. As it unfolds, there is not point when a realist can say “we got it right”. Western thinking makes itself the big sister of the human species. Self-appointed, it gathers up the other children and bustles them around, hoping to win the approval of some parental figure who doesn’t actually exist. By definition, humanist Western thinking is set at an incline, 45% straight up. Lose faith in the mechanics of that escalator and you MAY be in trouble. Stay on that escalator and you may also be in trouble: a faith in the excesses of ‘leisure’ culture has delivered endless television and even vaster screens on which to watch the programming; non-nutritious ‘instant’ foodstuffs and hefty furniture on which to grow obese. I don’t think it is too subjective to suggest that this aspect of Western life seems notable for its genuine lack of DELIGHT. Leisure without delight IS something – undoubtedly it is relaxed, on some level – but it might be time to come up with a specific word for this familiar, alienated phenomenon.
So where is the ‘Unifying Theory’? Jesus was probably a Buddha, an enlightened being. The white tribes got way too carried away with the erroneous death cult, and were no less savage for it. Eastern traditions do not preclude such savagery. Some contemporary adherents of Islam are dramatically indicative of such timeless savagery. Fuelled by interpretations, they enact medieval horror, dutifully. Older superstitions often have unspeakable outcomes. No mystical schema is guaranteed to inoculate the human animal against itself. I have not been taught disgust, not in every case, and neither have you. It’s just there, and if you can’t hold onto it then you might as well follow McCarthy’s tortured character, ‘White’, wilfully into the screaming path of the titular Sunset Express train. I have not been taught delight either. Men of all colours grin wildly back at each other in the pounding surf; I see that all the time. That raw celebration of existence. We’re communing out there, it is primordial. Delight is where you find it, but caution is required, or else false delight will devour you, and someone else will make a buck from it; consumerism, addiction, misplaced loyalty. Such are the mechanics of the capitalist West. Lust is grand and problematic but when it’s a source of automatic shame, you’re in trouble. Mating is calibrated through evolved human cultures but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And an afternoon’s read of Alain de Botton’s status anxiety will reveal the absurdity of societal standards, ever in flux as they are.
The subjectivity of the ages will kill you if you let it. Our ancestors painted their faces and told stories around fires. Expression is as important as meat and air and sleep. Bang a drum; it’s your birthright.