“If there is no God, everything is permitted”, wrote Dostoyevsky. Yet he underestimated the despotic potential of godless modernity.
It imposes its own taboos, and they may well be more numerous than those imposed by Christendom. They certainly are different because their purpose is.
Judaeo-Christianity saw man as sinful but capable of becoming better. Both its prescriptions and proscriptions were issued to signpost the road to self-improvement in this world and salvation in the next. The original commandments were chiselled in stone literally, the later ones figuratively, but there was no room left for misinterpretation in either case.
Modernity sees man as perfect, yet tautologically perfectible. But it lacks any moral or intellectual system within which the standards of perfection can be defined.
Having replaced transcendent with transient, modernity has to ad lib commandments as it goes along. In practice, this means replacing morality with a kaleidoscope of rapidly changing fads, some of them mutually exclusive, most of them inane, all of them tyrannical.
The message our herd-driving modernity sends out to the multitudes is arbitrary and therefore despotic: “You must obey what we say for as long as we keep saying it, regardless of how stupid it may be. Tomorrow we may say something else, and you’ll obey that too, even if it contradicts what we’re saying today.”
Moral entropy ensues. Deprived of the absolute, society loses immutable standards of morality, replacing them with variously perverse relativities. As a result, society becomes not only post-truth and post-thought, but also post-morality.
Therein lies madness, and every day brings new evidence of our world resembling the Cuckoo’s Nest, with assorted mini-tyrants in the role of Nurse Ratched. And, thanks to all the advances in information technology of which modernity is so inordinately proud, the onset of lunacy has an accelerator built in.
Things that just a few years ago were seen as criminal, perverse or crazy are now regarded as legitimate, laudable and sane – and vice versa.
Everything is permitted? Far from it. Everything is open to frenzied attack, is more like it. Modernity has found ways to augment its permissiveness with bossiness, and woebetide anyone who rebels – even unwittingly.
For example, ESPN commentator Doug Adler never thought of causing offence when earlier this year he described Venus Williams’s chip-and-charge attack as “guerrilla effect”, a term used in tennis for over 20 years.
Alas, Venus is black, and the word “guerrilla” is almost a homophone of a racial slur. A few years ago, a New York councilman managed to save his job by issuing a grovelling public apology for having used the word ‘niggardly’. But in the interim madness had progressed too far, and Adler was summarily sacked.
It never occurred to anyone that the true racists are those who immediately think of black people when hearing a word that sounds like ‘gorilla’. What about the film Gorillas in Our Midst? Must be Ku Klux Klan propaganda, don’t you think?
Speaking of films, a Memphis cinema has just pulled the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind for being “racially insensitive”. That’s yet another case of PC laws being made retroactive. Neither Margaret Mitchell nor David O. Selznick could comply with injunctions that were another half a century in coming. No one told them that Uncle Tom’s Cabin wasn’t just another version of history, but the only one.
But never mind cinematic classics. Literary ones aren’t faring any better. Libraries all over America are tossing out copies of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn, from which, according to Hemingway, all American literature had come.
Henceforth American literature can come from elsewhere. For that emphatically anti-racist novel features a character called Nigger Jim, a runaway slave.
Twain was depicting the way people spoke in those days. He would have happily called his protagonist Afro-American Jim, but unfortunately the term didn’t exist then. And even if it had, the people inhabiting Twain’s pages wouldn’t have used it.
Art is supposed to imitate not just any old life, but today’s life specifically. If it doesn’t, it’ll be banned, the way Dostoyevsky was banned in Stalin’s Russia or Heine in Nazi Germany.
Modernity is at war not only with past masterpieces, but with the past itself. If little in history can pass muster when held to the tyrannical standards of modern insanity, history itself must go.
It’s not just all those Confederate statues that are under attack. That famous racist Christopher Columbus is about to be expunged from American history (and Columbus Circle) as well. And Donald Trump thought he was being facetious when he asked: “Who’s next? Washington?”
Damn right he is. Not only was America’s first president a slave owner, but he also took part in the Indian Wars, more appropriately called Racist Wars of Extermination Against Native Americans. Not only that, but Washington once caused damage to ‘our planet’ by taking a hatchet to a cherry tree.
Nativist. Slave owner. Murderer of ethnic minorities. Ecological terrorist. And Trump thought he was kidding.
Closer to home, statues of Queen Victoria are dotted all over the country. Now if Cecil Rhodes was rotten to the core, what about this empire builder par excellence? Even though Victoria partly redeemed herself by using opiates (laudanum, to be exact), every petrified likeness of her must offend modernity.
And don’t get me started on that white supremacist Jan Smuts, whose statue adorns Parliament Square. If Nelson was bad, how about this precursor of apartheid? Down with him – and bloody well down with the statue of George Washington in Trafalgar Square too, while we’re at it.
Standing next to him is that murderer of Indians Sir Henry Havelock and, a few hundred yards away, towers Clive of India, another racist empire builder. Add to this a gaggle of Napiers, Edward Colston, Nelson, Wellington and Churchill among many others, whose name is legion, and one begins to realise that no piecemeal solution will do.
All London statues except Nelson Mandela’s must go, along with history in general. Every historical figure must offend somebody’s delicate sensibilities, which means they must all be expurgated, swept away by the madness-causing prairie wind.
The dial of history must be zeroed in every generation. That way we’re guaranteed real-time compliance with every generation’s dicta. We’re also guaranteed a world closely resembling a lunatic asylum, but that’s progress for you.