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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Absalom Bolt, The Contrarian–Why Right Never Mattered

Two of Absalom Bolt’s Facebook friends had unfriended him in the past week. One, whose feel-good site was intended to build community through positive thinking, objected to his nihilistic insertions. Nietzsche and Schopenhauer had no place among images of Paradise Valley, the sayings of Rumi and the Dalai Lama, and hyperlinks to healthy aging. He wanted his site to be welcoming and emotionally comforting, not addled with doubt and irony.

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The other found his conservative views on climate change, women, race, and ethnicity objectionable.  He had designed his site to promote progressive causes and wanted nothing to divert attention away from the principles of the canon.  Although Absalom’s posts were far from right wing screeds and simply presented the point of view of the rational opposition, his friend wanted no part of them.

Absalom took these rejections in stride. He took liberals to task for their ignorance of Scriptural verses which energized the Right. He shook conservatives’ cages, calling out their contradictory positions on immigration and free trade. He was just as acrid and sulfurous when it came to pillorying fundamentalist cant. Libertarians, he said, were always on the fence, but often caught in the barbed wire when they stumbled to explain contradictory positions on drugs or foreign alliances.
"'If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads” (Leviticus 20:13)
Absalom Bolt was a contrarian who had no interest whatsoever in ‘right’ or ‘truth’ nor any commitment to causes or principles; but who delighted in needling, unsettling, and annoying. Épater la bourgeoisie was his own, the rule he lived by. Process trumped content every time. It mattered little to Absalom which cause he chose to expose, but how elegantly and brilliantly he unfrocked it.

All true believers leave logic and rationality at the door, so not any gotcha moment would do. The challenge was to expose the illogic and the proponent. He had always found it surprising that egos were so fragile and poorly defended, and that picking victims could be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.  No, he had to dévoiler and discredit, so not just anyone would do.

Alan Marquette was such a prey.  He was a progressive’s progressive, committed to improving the status of women, eliminating racism, exposing homophobia and promoting gay rights, working to save the planet, and tireless in the pursuit of world peace.  He was on every board that counted, a frequent contributor to The Nation and The Guardian, and a speaker at the most well-attended conferences on transgender equality, climate change, civil justice, and demilitarization,. He had made his bones early, clerking for the right judges, altar boy for Peace, early supporter of George McGovern, and an enthusiastic cheerleader for Bernie Sanders.

There was no give in his commitment, no humor in the outrageous transformations of sexual identity, no attenuation in his belief that a climate change Armageddon was coming, no wavering in his support of radical, although discredited, socialism.  In other words, he was an easy target, and nipping at his heels would be sport.

There are chinks in every wall, and the responses to Absalom’s posts on Alan's site were disturbing. There were those within his carefully-curated online community who weren’t so sure after all about his absolutism.  Maybe there was another side to the abortion question; and perhaps it was wrong to ignore the Biblical injunctions against homosexuality. Perhaps GMO foods were a boon, not a bane; and the doomsday fracking scenarios might in fact be overblown and theatrical at best.

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Which is why Alan shut Absalom down, deleted his posts, and unfriended him. “Enough is enough”, he said, and pushed the button.  Once Absalom’s posts no longer appeared on Marquette’s site, questioning and increasingly querulous comments disappeared. The site returned to uniformity.  Gone were any dissenting and in Absalom’s case – acrid and testy remarks.

Phil Baskin was the other unfriender.  Absalom had known him for years and had watched his evolution from a happy gay guy to a universalist shill.  Phil, despite his pedigree (a direct descendant of James Monroe) and his impeccable logical credentials (MIT), had become a New Age proselytizer and evangelist.  Everything would be just fine, he said on his website, as long as one believed. The New Age was here, and a better age would come if – and only if – individuals joined in a universalist collective of ideas. Life was good, and if only we remained in awe of Creation and celebrated its many expressions, we could hasten the journey. 

Phil posted pictures of sunsets, Panamanian forests, and Sierran  peaks.  He quoted Buddha, Georges Moustaki, and Paul.  There was no room for Absalom’s pictures of Hallmark cards, Nietzsche’s insolent, out-of-hand dismissal of utopianism, or Jan Kott’s theories of human nature and its ineluctable influence on human history.

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“Process”, said Absalom. “It’s all about process.” Nietzsche was on the right track when he concluded that in a meaningless world only the acts of individual will can possibly validate human experience; but went off-road when he focused on Will and determination.  Concentrated, defiant will was only part of the equation. The expression of non-willful, even desultory irony is an even higher ideal.

If life is meaningless, then only ironic diffidence makes any sense at all.  Every willful act will ultimately end up neutered and ineffectual if the historical context is broad enough. Dismissive consignment of values, purpose, and intent to the rubbish bin is the only truly existential answer.
Absalom never contended that his provocative stance was meaningful or that his contrarian antagonism would result in positive change.  It was simply fun.  If it was also a statement of neo-nihilism, so be it. All Absalom knew was that puncturing balloons, stabbing puffed up believers, and deflating outrageous egos was what defined him best.

“What exactly do you believe?”, asked Alan Marquette. “Nothing”, replied Absalom. “That’s your department.”

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