"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Misanthropy –A Much Needed Downer In An Age Of Balmy Idealism

Peter Henry always spoke his mind.  He was a ‘difficult’ child who never grew out of his scratchiness and whiny demands.  He never seemed content, was always irritable and complaining; and no matter how much his willing parents tried, they could never satisfy him.

So much wasted energy, they thought, in such a bright boy.  If only he could turn his complaints into ambition, he would be happier and far better off.

Peter, however, was intractable.  Some unfortunate combination of bad family genes and the luck of the draw gave him a sour view of everything.  It wasn’t so much that he was psychologically limited or frustrated.  He harbored no particular resentments or repressed hostility.  He was simply and impossibly irritated and annoyed and annoyed by absolutely everything.

This unfortunate attitude – or trait as his parents and everyone else had to admit – continued well into and past adolescence; but once Peter left home and started college, he seemed to find his voice.  It was still hopelessly complaining, irritating, and sniveling, but campus activists who were initially diffident about this very unpleasant, fractious classmate and wanted as little to do with him as possible, soon found his misanthropy appealing and took him in.  They ignored his general sniping and bad manners and used the narrow sections of his whiny criticisms of the school administration, campus conservatives, and military recruiters for their own ends.

Peter had no interest in either politics or social reform.  His unpleasant carping had nothing to do with meaning, and all to do with a prickly irritability that was innate and as natural to him as sneezing.  Somehow his emotional wires had gotten badly crossed at birth, the happy one short-circuited, and the nasty one  plugged in and sparking; and from that time on nothing could or would ever make him smile.
Although Peter would never admit satisfaction when he read his ‘Manifesto of Meaninglessness’, a cynical disassembly of every tradition, institution, character, and program of the university, it felt good.  Not that he was tempted by purpose.  His misanthropy was if anything even more hardened and absolute; but there was something good about shouting rather than grumbling.

He dismissed the hugs and handshakes from his colleagues as nothing but treacle, expressions of faulty and wearying idealism; retreated to his rooms, and came out only when summoned.
Eventually he became bored with the attention but even more so with the noisy idealism everywhere on campus.  There is nothing worse, Peter considered, than a balmy idealist masquerading as an angry young man. 

Revolutions have nothing to do with idealism.  The French decapitated Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette not because of a claim to a better, more equal, and more just world; but because of hatred of them, an arrogant and insular aristocracy, and a brutal and exploitative neo-feudalism designed to perpetuate enslavement and penury of all except princes.

Image result for images french revolution guillotine

The Bolsheviks were no different; and only after the American revolution did a very idealistic political philosophy emerge.  Idealism never has nor never will incite men to arms.

Which is why Peter Henry left the university and returned to his eremitic life.  He never amounted to anything.  His awful and unmitigated misanthropy would never win him friends except the mentally ill who shared the same cynical view of life but who were tormented by it,  unlike Peter who grumbled and groused without any particular affect.

He was a true misanthrope, one who did not arrive at his cynicism through any misfortune or particular misery, but who was born with it.  No sooner did Baby Peter open his eyes than he quickly shut them.

The cynical philosopher Diogenes had nothing but contempt for society and its inherent moral corruption.  No one could escape such untrustworthiness.  There was no such thing as an honest man, and the only respite or refuge was a life of asceticism.  Diogenes reached his conclusion through objectivity and subjectivity – a historical appraisal of society’s events; and an intuition based on the unvarying selfish lives of its citizens.

Image result for images diogenes

Peter Henry didn’t need a philosopher’s logic to conclude that the world was a miserable place, with no redeeming value. How could it be otherwise if – as Diogenes rightly assumed – an aggressive, self-interested, territorial, and authoritarian human nature was its foundation?

Peter left college before his misanthropy could brake the adolescent hysteria on campus.  His classmates were far too young, immature, and emotionally needy to appreciate him, his cynicism, and his unvarnished sense of random destiny.  In fact he was never able to attract any attention.  No one in a hyper-idealistic world is ever ready to give up an emotional attachment to purpose.  Chasing the phantoms of racism, sexism, and homophobia feels too good.  It is too emotionally satisfying, too appealing, too validating and justifying to be abandoned for rationality let alone cynicism.

America is an optimistic and idealistic place.  It is in our blood.  We cannot help but believe that not only will our lives be better, but the lives of all Americans.  Skepticism is a non-starter.  No European worldliness accepted here.  No weary Plus Ça Change fatalism.  No turning a blind eye, no lack of compassion, and above all no indifference.

Perhaps more people would have paid attention to Peter Henry if he hadn’t been so unremittingly sour.  He never had a bright moment; and who wouldn’t stay away from him?  Had he been simply historically wary; or philosophically primed to suspect over-ambitious ideas; or a social muckraker, he might have found an audience for his bitter antidote to exceptionalism and emotional idealism.

Identity politics – another name for an idealistic belief in the possibility of social reform – will always result in factionalism since, given human nature, there is no such thing.  History necessarily recurs and in the same expected, predictable ways.  Better to accept this recurrence, accept the competitive nature of individuals and societies, forget progress and a better world, and get down to business.  Right now we have too much idealism and not enough cynicism.

Moliere’s Alceste says in Act I of Le Misanthrope  "... Mankind has grown so base, / I mean to break with the whole human race".   Of course all ends well, Alceste rethinks his misanthropy, and returns to society; but for a moment he did what all misanthropes do – challenge the gooey idealism that leads nowhere but back on itself.

Image result for le misanthrope images

It is understandable why idealism prevails.  In a random, purposeless world, a hope for a better future is very appealing indeed.  Yet we all could do with a taste of Peter Henry’s cynicism to ramp down the hysteria.  Things will never get better.  Adjustment is a more apt philosophy than idealism.  Realism leads to a better understanding of what’s what than any more inflated perception.  Better accept what’s what without trying to figure it out and to die before you are too soon old and too late schmart.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.