Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Totalitarian violence

“Vitalism,” the enthusiastic exaltation of life in neopagan and totalist forms of mass-society is, as Bonhoeffer saw, in reality a masked hatred of life, and a radical unfitness for its common and simple joys, the natural joys implanted in nature by God, and which prepare us, by gratitude and hope, to enter into His Kingdom.
Where the animal “joy of living” is expressed brutally with ferocity, and with many violent images, what we have is no longer a superabundance of life but a failure and a deficiency of life. Perhaps the mixture of satiety, boredom, violence, and despair which characterizes our mass-society comes from the impotence of well-fed bodies with empty and lost minds. The obsession with lust and violent, erratic forms of sex is not a sign of great passion but of the absence of passion. On the contrary, Westem society is characterized above all by its abstraction, its confusion, its pseudo-passion (passion fabricated in the imagination and centered on fantasies). There seems to be excitement—but there is only the superficial agitation of a nervous daydream. So much for our lusty apes with cowboy hats—they are not even comic any more!
But collect them together, put uniforms on them, give them a leader that fits into the pattern of their fantasies and knots their dream images all together into a psychosis—then the whole thing comes alive in destruction. The total incapacity for love is let loose, with extreme and efficient effect, in hate that smashes cities and ravages whole countries. Yet even this hate is impotent. It can burn buildings and ruin crops, it can smash and mutilate bodies, it can torture and degrade: but life comes back all the stronger and derides it.
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp202-3