I have just received a new book I ordered, Rob Riemen, To Fight Against This Age, and began to read it in bed with the accompaniment of some music playing quietly on a little portable speaker under my pillow. The vision of this author is amazing, as he analyses an état d’esprit that predisposes some people to a violent and indifferent “don’t care” attitude towards their world. I have had the advantage of reading about this problem of humanity from a psychological point of view – the various personality disorders and psychopathy. Not only do such people have no empathy, they couldn’t care a (you name it) about anything.
In this book, we read about a doctor in Northern Africa during World War II who found a dead rat on his landing. He took no notice. The next day he found three of them, and the caretaker of his block of flats dismissed the problem as a prank. More rats were dying, and then an increasing number of patients came to see the doctor with nasty symptoms leading to death within two days. The epidemic turned out to be bubonic plague. Denial become a situation of absolute emergency. Human nature brushes many things under the carpet until it is too late. In 1947, the French existentialist Albert Camus wrote the novel La Peste (The Plague) as an allegory of Fascism. The Nazis had been ostensibly kicked out of France in 1944, but the germs remained. You can never get rid of plague bacteria. They will go dormant for years and decades, and then they find a new vector to wreak devastation and death.
Riemen dissects and analyses the disease, and there are so many times as I read his words that I exclaim – I knew it! The nefarious potential is within each one of us. Even in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the bacillus would remain virulent in humanity.
I won’t reproduce Riemen’s book here. He deserves his royalties and I advise my readers to buy this slender hard-bound volume that says everything in so few words. I give you above a scene of two rival gangs of Yellow Vests in Lyon this weekend. One side is nationalist and the other is left-wing. Both sides share the same bestiality and violence. As I continued to read, I discovered the notion of the mass-man, the man of the crowd, the rot already detected by Göthe in 1812 and Alexis de Tocqueville who had been to America in the 1830’s to research its attempts at constructing true democracy. Nietzsche was the prophet of the consequences of nihilism. The man who has nothing and who lives for nothing becomes aggressive and violent. The “mass-man”, the man of the masses, has no mind of his own, no critical sense. He follows fashion and refuses any challenge to his certitudes. Man’s social instinct brings him to the lowest common denominator.
I have commented considerably about the British situation and the looming threat of no-deal Brexit. I live in France, but sheltered from the troubles by living in the country. I sympathised with the early Gilet Jaune movement, because the elected authority of a country has a duty to listen to its citizens and institute reforms for the sake of social justice, welfare and humanity. Many of us find it hard to make ends meet and increasing financial pressure makes people very bitter. Even though President Macron showed good will and willingness to dialogue with those expressing these grievances, the breakers and fanatics continued to break, burn and terrorise. Now they are fighting each other. Here in France, the alternatives to Macron are the extreme right Marine Le Pen or the extreme left Jean-Luc Mélenchon who is a kind of “French Corbyn” and as anti-European as his English opposite number. The Plague is no solution to our woes!
Look at this video. Is this what we want in our world in the name of populism or opposition to oligarchy and extreme capitalism? A man using “Byzantine” as a part of his handle has sent toxic comments to this blog with personal insults. They were trashed and that e-mail address has never been admitted to freely commenting here. I suppose this man is one of those fanatics who converted to Orthodoxy and in no uncertain manner carries the bacillus of the dead rats. He can’t kill me from where he is (USA) nor can he haul me off to a concentration camp, but I feel pity for him in his blindness, bitterness and anger. Only prayer can do anything good there.
I have no pretensions about my own “holiness” or resistance to the disease, but there are certain things in my life that I consider essential. There are the Transcendentals of Truth, Beauty and Goodness – but also a willingness to be critical about my own certitudes, to be constantly thinking, feeling and caring about others. Another important thing is that I have empathy, even an excessive degree of it thanks to autism which in my case is not “self-diagnosed”. It isn’t a label to absolve me of any responsibility for moral failings, merely a “tool” that helped me come to terms with myself and begin to find knowledge and balance. Three things are especially vital: faith, reason and humanity. Over the past five hundred years, humanity in the Christian west has seen the sublimity of the medieval cathedral, the Renaissance and art, the Enlightenment and science, and then the re-humanisation of both faith and reason by the Romantic movement. Religion without humanity can be truly evil like the atheistic and nihilistic ideologies of Soviet Communism and Nazism. Only humanism will save faith and spiritual life.
Populism and voluntarily contracting the Plague is not the way. Those who catch the germs will die from them. Perhaps this warning comes too late. At Mass this morning, I read the Gospel of St Matthew about the the storm at sea and Jesus sleeping. Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? In one way or another, we will return to the night of the middle ages: darkness and bestiality or light and sublime beauty. The choice is ours.
Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!