Since I was a very young child, I have known that my life would be cast out into the empire of death. I did not know this intuitively; intuitively I knew only a certain fascination with life, and a belief that it was all for the best somehow.
As I grew older, I was most aware of an inability to articulate this. I saw people venture forth into ugliness, watched it twist them, and watched their personalities slowly get replaced by something like a machine. At first, I thought this was the machines and money, and I blamed those, like a good liberal as my upbringing suggested I should be. Over time I realized what made machines different from nature was a lesser level of detail, and not much else. Biology is machine-like in that it is systematic and repetitive. The difference is that biology exists everywhere and adapts to everything, where a machine requires a factory building, a concrete floor, a 60hz electrical feed, regular oilings and someone to feed through it refined plastics and metals. Otherwise, it is literally only a lump of metal that will quickly rust.
But I was still aware of how deathlike modern life was. People talked about death indirectly, but it was on their minds from a young age. They went to jobs they hated, but then defended those as intensely necessary. They socialized to the point of repeating things they did not believe and hated the sound of, and participating in activities they hated and did not believe in, such that they could maintain one of these abstractions: status, power, control, popularity, relevance, awareness.
As I was leaving college, someone said to me one of the few spoken statements that have stuck with me over the years. They said, in the vernacular, that the thing that really stung about adulthood was that “people were such dicks.” They meant that people were cruel, petty-minded, defensive, bitter, retributive and oblivious. Crass and content to conveniently not notice what might disturb them from a solitary path of personal enrichment, pleasure and denial of obligation to anything bigger than themselves. I pondered this for some time, envious of how the other person had said so clearly what for me was buried under layers of conditions, if-then statements, and cascading precision measurements via language.
But I kept wondering: why are people so bitter, so egotistical and so bound and determined to ignore anything that might wake them up? For years, I thought it was fear. Then after observing monkeys at the zoo, I realized the vision that Nietzsche had experienced: it wasn’t fear. It was retribution. They resented each other to the degree that they would rather destroy all than think that someone else might get ahead. It took many days to recover from that one. It stunned me into silence.
As I went on through life, I realized I was not the only one who was silent. I have learned that people, regardless of intelligence or educational level, are mostly inarticulate. That is, they can write or talk well enough when they are within a subject area and can repeat key phrases and topics that they have mastered by memorizing the variations among them. However, when asked to put words around a concept they have not experienced before, or something not otherwise obvious, they stand there, uncomfortable and fidgeting. They have no idea how to explain what irks them, or what they desire, unless someone else identifies it first and puts it into thought-tokens (words, images, drama) that they are comfortable with.
Obviously, the only thing to do was to tap into the subconscious language they spoke.
The more I did this however the more intense the pushback became. People found my attempts to reach clarity to be infuriating and would turn on me in rage. I was stunned again by how dishonest and dishonorable they would be. People would spend absurd amounts of energy, take ludicrous risks, and obviously step out of line in order to enact retribution upon me. My crime was not disagreeing with them, as I hadn’t done that. My crime was having found some answers that did not involve the little lies that people tell each other to get through the night. Such as that they are not resentful, or that their actions are motivated by altruism and moral concern, not retribution. Or that the jobs they claim not to hate are instead indeed jobs that they hate, and that they are spending their irreplaceable days muddling through a society they fundamentally want to destroy. Their strategy is sabotage of everyone else while taking whatever they can as compensation for their inadequacy and rage.
But I was doing it all wrong. Writers make their name not by coming up with theories, but by pointing out where the Emperor’s new clothes are not. However, that’s a trap. If you can make people feel like they’re in control with what you reveal, whether positive or negative, they will make you rich. This control takes many forms, including escapism, critique and bitterness, or mindless positive thinking. It doesn’t matter what its content is. The important ingredient is that it makes the person reading it feel like the choice is theirs, and by making a choice, they come across as morally generous, wise, thoughtful, ironic, righteously justified or that they are living the good life and the rest of us are just not smart enough, hard working enough or good enough to have what they have. When we talk about the cult of the ego, this is what we’re speaking of.
Although I had started out thinking that people resented being manipulated, I soon saw this was not true. People do not mind being manipulated, nor do they mind being controlled, or even subverted. As long as those corruptions do not make them look foolish to their peer group, or in other words “out of control,” they are completely fine with having other people manipulate them. In fact it makes their task easier, as now there is someone to blame when things go wrong. People want most of all the appearance of being in control of their lives, and succeeding at what they want to do, and “freedom” from being held accountable if they get it wrong. This works better with strong control systems, not with whatever geegaw catch-phrase buzz-word substitute we’re using for “liberty” and “freedom” these days.
The most recent twist in my thinking has been realizing what comprises the Empire of Death. I started thinking that it was a sinister force that, like Satan or Hitler, had imposed itself upon us. I thought it had ill intentions, like the twisted face of a mad scientist in a horror film. Gradually a sickening thought worked its way from my numb skull to every cell in my body. The realization broke my heart, and I’m still not over it. I probably never will be. This realization is that the Empire of Death is made of selfishness. Our radical individualism has us drop that which does not bring us immediate pleasure, convenience, wealth or power. Thus no one is watching what we share, which is civilization, culture, learning, a moral standard to society, a values system, language, art and wisdom.
In fact, people are trying to destroy these things because those things interfere with the pursuit by the individual of what it wants. Those things require that we pay attention to the consequences of our actions, and “conserve” things, meaning (in a Natural Selection or perhaps God sorting His angels style) that we keep the good, ignore the mediocre and throw the bad back. That takes work, and involves a risk of getting it wrong, so it is no space for selfish people or moral cowards. But it scares the people of this society, who are in the grips of what I might call “radical individualism.” Radical individualism, like The Enlightenment itself, suggests that all comes secondary to human form. Humans are perfect, thus whatever humans want are perfect, and reality (and/or God) have no bearing on what we should want. We alone decide. We are Satan and we are Hitler. At our whim, armies march and dissidents die shrieking in basements. At a flick of our finger, a whole city might be obliterated, or a whole countryside appropriated. We are God.
I have found the villain responsible for the empire of death. It is not a person, or a group of persons. It is not even a place. It is a notion: the idea of hubris, or that we can place the human form before reality in our valuation and somehow come out ahead. Like all things evil, it wins in the short term because its focus is absolute and all of its motivation is placed behind that focus. Good is too busy with a broad range of activities to be so narrowly-directed, like a laser beam or rifle bullet. But the cost is that it destroys everything good and replaces it with things that take on the appearance of good, but are hollow within. Thus it turns society into the third world, where all the officials are corrupt, the jobs don’t involve work, and nothing is under stewardship so nothing works except those special things that only lots of money can buy. It converts people into whores and liars, and it turns the countryside into fodder gobbled up by the need of each individual to escape the growing horde. It will destroy what is good about our society, then our civilization, and then our land. If anything is evil, it is this. And yet it is born in our hearts not out of hatred, but out of a desire to live. That desire is perverted by the notion of hubris into something destructive and vile.
It used to be that I had days where I could let the day end without having done something to assert order around me. Now, as I see the disease spreading, I cannot sleep until I’ve at least done something against it every day. Some will say I am Ahab, mad at the wheel of his ship, but others will point out that perhaps I am another character who whispers to him that his obsession is madness and it’s time to turn around, go back to port and enjoy life instead. To fill our hearts with a love that transcends ourselves, to see each branch of the tree as part of ourselves, to design a civilization that will rise like that of the ancient Romans and Greeks. To aspire to the stars again, instead of fighting over power, status, money and convenience until it pulls the cloak of doom over us all. Perhaps I am mad to resist it. But having seen its true face in its unguarded moments, I can never go back to ignorance. I must fight it until I cannot anymore.