Sanctimonious, moi?

By itself, taking part in the Extinction Rebellion circus doesn’t make Benedict Cumberbatch a “sanctimonious fraud”, “stupid” or “shallow”, as some of his disappointed fans are calling him.

How many miles to a gallon is that, Ben?

It makes him a modern man par excellence. I’d even go so far as to suggest that Mr Cumberbatch is the sun for which all modernity tropistically reaches.

The fans detect, and are upset by, some incongruity in Mr Cumberbatch’s febrile hatred of carbon emissions and his frequent lucrative endorsements of muscle cars, such as the MG and Jaguar.

Shilling for the latter, he once delivered a snappy line: “It’s good to be bad.” Possibly, provided one knows what good and bad are. That’s where the problem is.

Good and bad are, or rather used to be, moral and therefore metaphysical concepts. They presuppose the existence of some ideal of moral truth acting as the measuring stick of virtue and sin.

By definition such an ideal has to be absolute and timeless, for if it isn’t, it leaves the realm of truth and enters one of fickle relativities. In the process, words that in the past denoted metaphysical realities are prostituted to physical appetites and thereby desemanticised.

Thus Hemingway, another quintessentially modern man, felt justified to write that “if it feels good, it’s moral”.

If that’s not a category error, I don’t know what is: the writer equates sensual, which is to say physical, which is to say transient, which is to say relative, pleasure with an absolute metaphysical ideal. Hemingway could write, but he couldn’t think.

Such an understanding of morality is consistent with the rampant, all-conquering materialism of modernity. To a modern man, relating his appetites to first principles isn’t so much alien as incomprehensible.

Yet even a modern man is still human. While pursuing material gains in the form of money and the sensations it buys, he still feels a longing for that elusive something he can no longer define, something bigger than himself – or rather something he pretends to be bigger than himself: inveterate egotist, deep down he knows that nothing really is.

Since truth is no longer part of his vocabulary, nor metaphysics a word that means anything to him, he looks for that something in the material passions of today. He seeks the superpersonal while rejecting the supernatural.

For those who retain some vestiges of sanity (and their number is dwindling), this quest is a pleasant, ego-stroking diversion, a way of feeling good about themselves without having to do anything serious to deserve it. Ego thus stroked and purring with delight, they can resume real, material life.

Thus I’m sure Mr Cumberbatch doesn’t quite understand why some of his fans are calling him names just because he promotes carbon emissions on wheels and then protests against carbon emissions.

The first is real life, the second is onanistic self-gratification. What on earth is the problem? Can’t a chap do both? A secular materialist during the day, a secular idealist in the after hours?

Indeed he can. Especially if he doesn’t realise that he, along with all quintessentially modern men, suffers from schizophrenia. When the proportion of such madmen losing touch with reality reaches a critical mass, our civilisation will perish – while ‘the planet’ will remain in rude health.

It’s not long now, judging by the public response to this current bout of madness. What used to be condescending acquiescence has become mandated approval. When it becomes compulsory participation, we’ll know the end is nigh.

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