A MELANCHOLY CALCULATION
Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist (Random Walks)
and author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and
Identity and Hear,
O Israel! (Mantua Books). His editorials appear
regularly in PJ
Media. His monograph, Global Warning: The Trials of
an Unsettled Science (Freedom Press Canada) was launched
at the National Archives in Ottawa in September, 2012. His debut
Guitar, is now available, as is his latest
on Music, Poetry and Politics.
is too big to fail, including civilizations, and ours is no
exception. The decline of the West is historically inevitable,
subject to the universal principle of entropy that functions
on every plane of natural existence, including the cultural.
The agencies by which it works on this level are readily isolated:
the endemic vices and pathologies of human nature (greed, resentment,
hatred, envy, sloth); the tendency to take for granted the benefits,
rights and privileges that have been painfully won in the past
and gradually squandered in the present; the eclipse of historical
memory and the concomitant exhaustion of mental vigilance. Whether
decline can be retarded is, of course, an open question, but
one thing is certain: pushback is futile absent the recognition
of the symptoms of decay.
the most evident sign of civilizational devolution is the inability
or unwillingness to acknowledge reality, to come to terms with
things as they are, and to oppose the suppression of objectivity
and its substitution by fantasy, illusion and wish-fulfillment.
The resonating dictum of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher
Parmenides from his fragmentary poem On Nature—variously
translated as what is, is, and what is not, is not!—sounds
like an empty tautology. But it has relevance for our present
historical moment, with respect to the cultural and lexical
inversions of contemporary thought and discourse. Apart from
its metaphysical implications, which we won’t go into
here, the Parmenidean maxim expresses the criterion for survival,
the need to separate truth (aletheia) from opinion
(doxa) and to recognize things as they are if an individual,
a culture, a people is to transact successfully with the existing
world. But when thought and action come to be governed by the
anarchic principle that what is, is not and what is not, is,
a process of social, political and epistemological disintegration
invariably sets in. This is the condition in which the West
finds itself today.
every turn, the real is conceptually abolished by a cult-like
mindset that vitiates the social and cultural life of a people
by performing, as David Mamet points out in The Secret Knowledge,
an act of sacrifice on the altar of superstition and willed
ignorance. The new observances, he writes, “must absolutely
repudiate the old,” a form of disavowal especially typical
of the Left which is in the process “of sacrificing production,
exploitation of natural resources and an increasing standard
of living” in order to propitiate its gods and ensure
the preservation of a global hallucination, a pervasive climate
is as if the Soviet pseudo-scientist Trofim Lysenko has risen
from the grave and, by a mordant historical irony, infected
not the burgeoning Russian empire but a weak and decadent West
that has succumbed to a sterile and perilous sort of intellectual
vernalization—a term glibly misused by Lysenko to describe
the process, mistakenly thought heritable, of forcing winter
cereals to behave like spring cereals. As plant biologist Richard
Amasino writes, Lysenko’s belief that vernalized transformations
could be inherited “fit the Marxist ideology that . .
. Marxist society could produce heritable changes in attitude,
and, thus, if the proper environment was provided, future generations
would consist of improved citizens. Lysenko's efforts,”
he continues, “to obtain or fabricate results that supported
a political ideology…had disastrous consequences for Russian
genetics.” Where the speculative and the real are in flagrant
contradiction, the results are almost always catastrophic.
West is now busy at work across the entire field of social,
cultural and political life promoting its own version of Lysenkoism,
a misconceived exercise of supposedly vernalizing reality by
transforming fact into fantasy and truth into lie for the purpose
of creating the perfect society and the redeemed human being,
transferable across the generations. Its assumptions about the
world are guided not by common sense or genuine science but
by the precepts of ideology and political desire.
abound of the ubiquitous tendency to replace ontology with myth,
the determinate with the fluid and the objective with the delusionary.
A modest inventory of such noxious miscontruals would include:
Biological sexual differentiation must yield to voluntary
A cooling climate is obviously warming.
The demonstrable failure of socialism wherever it has been
tried is proof that it has not been properly implemented.
Democratic Israel is an apartheid state.
Islam with its record of unstinting bloodshed is a religion
Illegal immigrants are undocumented workers.
Terrorism is workplace violence.
A child in the womb is a mass of insensible protoplasm.
The killing of the old and the ill is merciful, even when
the recipient of such tender concern is not consulted.
There is no such thing as truth, an axiom regarded as true.
Green energy is a social and economic good irrespective of
crony profiteering, exorbitant cost, wildlife devastation,
and unworkability in its present state.
Storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis
and mortality itself are natural phenomena, but Nature, which
cares nothing for human life, is nonetheless sacred, vulnerable
and at the mercy of human indifference.
Women are disadvantaged in the workforce, academia and society
at large despite the fact that high-end hiring practices,
legal judgments, custody protocols and university appointments,
as well as student enrollment, wholly favor women to the detriment
An enemy is a friend.
Criminality is innocence.
Losing is winning.
Prosperity is avarice.
Redistributing wealth, i.e., robbing the affluent and productive,
is a form of compassion and basic justice.
Those who claim victim status are always credible.
Accumulating debt is an economic stimulus.
Big government is a boon to mankind.
War is passé (so 19th century).
Diplomacy and talk—the higher Twitter—will prevail
The most gynocentric society ever created is a rape culture.
Palestine is a historically legitimate nation.
Uniformity of thought and action equals cultural diversity.
An exploded lie merely confirms what it lies about (e.g.,
Morality is relative.
Merit is an unearned distinction.
in other words, what is, is not, and what is not, is.
us hope that sociologist Emile Durkheim was right when he wrote:
“There is a limit to the quota of abnormality which the
collective mind (the public) is capable of perceiving.”
But the prospects are not encouraging. This species of Orwellian
inversion, supplanting the real by the imaginary, is now an
intrinsic component of the Western psyche and firmly embedded
in what French thinker Pierre Bourdieu in his influential treatise
Distinction calls the social habitus—
a system of norms, usages, taboos and conventions that steer
thought and behavior in certain approved directions and from
which individuals should strive to emancipate themselves. Of
course, Bourdieu’s notion of “social emancipation”
remains solidly in the camp of Leftist mischief and he would
likely approve of the “misrecognitions” (his term)
listed above. The current habitus is most conspicuous
in the repressive operations of political correctness and the
canard of “social justice.”
celebrated 1920 print Angelus Novus by Paul Klee (pictured
at top of article), now in the collection of the Israel Museum
in Jerusalem, foretells and encapsulates the degradation of
Western civilization. The work represents a premonitory and
grieving angel blown by the winds of Time backward into the
future while gazing upon the detritus of the present and the
past. In the words of philosopher and critical theorist Walter
Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History from
Illuminations: “This is how one pictures the angel
of history….Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees
one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and
hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay,
awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a
storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings
with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.
The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which
his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows
skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” Or, rather
than “progress,” in the sulphurous light of ongoing
Western dereliction, one might more aptly say “progressivism.”
a civilization, or its cultural and intellectual curators who
wield the instruments of power and authority, re-interprets
reality as merely discretionary, decline and eventual extinction
are guaranteed, and the Angel of History will preside over the
ruins. When pretending becomes believing, and believing becomes
mandatory, and calling out the naked emperor is punishable by
law or fine or ostracism or loss of employment or worse, and
when the scale of such abuses becomes effectively global, the
“lifeworld,” or communal nature of daily life, as
we have known it has ceased to exist.
Nature, economic forces and human nature are not disposable
artifacts, fashion accessories or hypothetical creations of
unanchored will. They can be investigated, plumbed, to some
limited degree modified and harnessed to advantage, but they
cannot be turned into something they are not or conveniently
abolished without unleashing tragic consequences. As Ludwig
Wittgenstein disarmingly put it in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,
channelling Parmenides, “The world is whatever is the
case” and “the totality of facts determines what
is the case, and also whatever is not the case.” The implication
is that reality is an unforgiving taskmaster. It is oblivious
of civilized—and indeed, human—life, despite the
confidence of those for whom reality is only a “social
construct” (or in updated jargon, “socially determined”)
or a pliant servant of ideological conviction. Such hubris exacts
its price and it is one we cannot afford to pay.
only sensible response to the collapse we are experiencing is
probably terminal depression. Yet what choice do we have but
to persist in trying to beat back the flood of cultural desuetude
and personal despair, as at the end of Samuel Beckett’s
novel The Unnamable:
must go on.
I can’t go on.
I’ll go on.
perhaps in the long run the only way to beat the cultural odds
is to let the culture crash of its own accord, as it most likely
will, and hope against hope that a viable replacement, a new
and better form of civilized life, will rise Phoenix-like from
the ashes. A melancholy calculation indeed.