Sunday, February 08, 2009

Dalrymple on The Return of Ideology

Substitute the word "religion" for "ideology" and many of the same solutions come up for the eternal question that leisure tends to induce in the thinking person. Theodore Dalrymple himself rejects the comparison of religion and ideology, because religon recognizes limitations in the individual and a higher power. First Dalyrmple quotes J.S. Mill:
“Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?” And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, “No!” At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for."

Then TD follow Mill with this observation:
This is the question that all ideologists fear, and it explains why reform, far from delighting them, only increases their anxiety and rage. It also explains why traditional religious belief is not an ideology in the sense in which I am using the term, for unlike ideology, it explicitly recognizes the limitations of earthly existence, what we can expect of it, and what we can do by our own unaided efforts. Some ideologies have the flavor of religion; but the absolute certainty of, say, the Anabaptists of M√ľnster, or of today’s Islamists, is ultimately irreligious, since they claimed or claim to know in the very last detail what God requires of us.

Dalrymple then points out the coincidence of values that violent reactionary Islamists share with Marxist-Leninists and serial treasonous card-carrying Stalinists like Eric Hobsbawm [who is in his nineties delighting in what His Dotage believes is the downfall of capitalism]. Then TD notes of the Egyptian founder of Al Qaeda in his book Milestones:
Qutb was a strange man: he never married, for example, because (so he claimed) he found no woman of sufficient purity for him. You wouldn’t need to be Freud to find the explanation suspect, or to find his reaction to Greeley, Colorado, in 1950, where he spent time on a scholarship—he saw it as a hotbed of unrestrained vice—somewhat hysterical, a cover for something seething deeply and disturbingly inside him. Devotion to an ideology can provide an answer of sorts to personal problems, and since personal problems are common, it isn’t surprising that a number of people choose ideology as the solution
I myself felt during my five years in the Middle East a certain sort of restive murmuring or susurrus that lay beneath daily life, denoting a restlessness which seemed as though the Saudis or Lebanese at any time would, like Malays, suddenly "run amok" and go batsh*t just like that [of course, living in France gave me parallel experiences! And the Lebanese broke into a fifteen-year civil war shortly after I left for my Saudi embassy assignment.].
Buy, of course, there is one new ideology above all others that the apodictic peremptory airheads of all stripes and persuasions push forward nowadays. I and everyone else is against littering, including dirty air and toxic waste in our water. But Dalyrmple sees much more in today's "ideologie du jour."
The most popular and widest-ranging ideology in the West today is environmentalism, replacing not only Marxism but all the nationalist and xenophobic ideologies that Benda accused intellectuals of espousing in the 1920s [in "Les trahison des clercs" as TD noted beforehand, ed. note]. Now, no one who has suffered respiratory difficulties because of smog, or seen the effects of unrestrained industrial pollution, can be indifferent to the environmental consequences of man’s activities; pure laissez-faire will not do. But it isn’t difficult to spot in environmentalists’ work something more than mere concern with a practical problem. Their writings often show themselves akin to the calls to repentance of seventeenth-century divines in the face of plague epidemics, but with the patina of rationality that every ideology needs to disguise its true source in existential angst.

A very current example of hysteria contains the unreflective lunacy: "Over this century, the average global temperature is expected to rise between 1 degrees and 6 degrees Celsius. Glaciers will melt, seas will rise, extremes in precipitation will occur, according to scientists' predictions.[my emphasis]" Not "some scientists," since about 19,000 senior scientific minds have refuted the nonsense cited above. But that is The Boston Globe, fast going out of dead-tree business.

Or the "penitentes" who on Good Friday have themselves affixed to crosses, or any manner of the several "Great Awakenings" that gave rise to American prominence for the Methodists, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, and even The Oxford Movement among Anglicans.... I believe that the newest and latest form of transcendentalism is an updated Emerson and Thoreau [Emerson in the end repudiated Thoreau's naive Chicken Little views of railroad & telegraph as Luddite excesses]] which posits planetary thrombosis by toxins generated by you and me. Dalrymple goes beyond the silliness of a Col. Blimp like Al Gore and the cheesy maniacs in the Guardian whom he cites and then deconstructs with a damning historical parallel:
The environmentalist ideology threatens to make serious inroads into the rule of law in Britain. This past September, six environmentalists were acquitted of having caused $50,000 worth of damage to a power station—not because they did not do it but because four witnesses, including a Greenlander, testified to the reality of global warming.

One recalls the disastrous 1878 jury acquittal in St. Petersburg of Vera Zasulich for the attempted assassination of General Trepov, on the grounds of the supposed purity of her motives. The acquittal destroyed all hope of establishing the rule of law in Russia and ushered in an age of terrorism that led directly to one of the greatest catastrophes in human history.

Spengler may have been most prescient in his Untergang des Abendlands and Toynbee would have noted the similar aspects to the religious crises which brought down previous civilizations. The U.K. is in profound spiritual misery. The silly socialist nostrums Gordon Brown peddles and the ridiculous judicial rulings there could be a harbinger of parallel nonsense on this side of the Atlantic.

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