This is the time of year when my thoughts turn to the dark cave of ancient European winter solstice traditions. I don’t know what all the specifics are, but I know that Yule was a macabre time when the countryside was skulked by goat-headed demons, wooly wildmen brandishing knobby clubs, vengeful ghosts, hammer-wielding butchers, and other pagan shades visiting comeuppance, disproportionate or otherwise, upon the gullible, myth-hectored children of Europe. And from this I derive comfort. I crawl into that dim thought-cave and hibernate till early January.
As I drift off, I ponder. I ponder, ruminate, daydream, and consider. What is the nature of this historical period we’re living in? Is this really the rightwing version of the Age of Aquarius as it’s advertised to be? If so, what shall we call it? The Age of Acquisitus? The Age of Cupiditus? The Age of Non compos mentis? The Age of Nefarious, Precarious, Usurious, You Serious?
It’s clear that the fascist chaos-mongers of today feel themselves to be simultaneously the functional equivalent of, the revenge upon, and the antidote to the radicals of five and six decades ago. Milo Yiannopoulos, James O’Keefe, and Dinesh D’Souza think they’re the Yippies of the new millennium. The nationalist, nativist, and white supremacist militias consider themselves justified by, as they justifiably retaliate against, not just BLM or the Presidency of Obama, but also the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, and the American Indian Movement from “back in the day.”
And their rank-and-file Paleoconservative fellow travelers in the voting and non-voting-on-principle mass of Americans consider themselves “hip” to the “anti-establishment” message today’s groovy thought-masters are laying down. The execrable Jordan B Peterson has no better analogue in the past zeitgeist than Alan Watts of yore.
Of course, these analogues are not one-to-one. Alan Watts championed the probably mythical founder of Taoism, Laozi, whose work he had some grasp on and whose message he attempted to pass along in relatively good faith, while the bullying Peterson champions a Nietzsche distorted through his own pet peeves and crotchets with, more than likely, an eye to one day setting up a franchise of motivational churches.
The ambition of the Abby Hoffman-wannabes is protracted fame as conservative celebrities. The militias want long-term White Christian Heterosexual Male political domination, the acknowledgement of which they would demand via a hefty investiture in cultural energy, producing a vast menu they could watch on TV every night, to replace the decadence we’re currently exposed to. And Jordan Peterson won’t be happy until he’s the center of the intellectual and spiritual universe. That’s a recipe for despair, and one can detect it in his public relations flailings as he drowns in the ocean of zeitgeisty narcissism.
It’s not merely the analogies that fail to correspond completely. This is simply a different era. The revolutionary era the right wants to ape has already happened, its changes folded into the current timeline along the way.
The right was never silenced. William F. Buckley was more a household name than Gore Vidal, despite Vidal’s superiority as a writer and his appearance in Gattaca. Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion long ago proved to be cultural touchstones. They outlasted Ayn Rand because of her lack of comparative talent, yet the right won’t let her die; they need her to be their Apostle Paul of megalomania, though organic rightwing offerings have already informed the discourse as they’ve been absorbed into it.
Intellectualism has transformed, and as morose as it might have rendered Harold Bloom, the appetite of post-modernism was already well on the way to consummation before prophylaxis against it had time to organize itself into viable opposition, which it still hasn’t accomplished. Culture has always devoured, digested, and incorporated even its stillborn antagonists. Some might point here to Hegel. I’m not saying. I have no dog in that fight. At least, not one named Hegel.
Further, the nature of ideas bruited about on the left as opposed to the right are qualitatively different. One cannot substitute one for another as if a growth-capitalist or free-market pillar could be swapped out for a communitarian or sustainable one and support the same roof. Jordan Peterson isn’t Alan Watts and never will be. The reason Alan Watts and the playful genius of quantum electrodynamics, Richard Fineman, share spiritual DNA is because they are cooking with similarly joyous, loving flavors. If there is a scientist Jordan Peterson shares DNA with, it’s the dour, censorious Richard Dawkins. Who wants to be the spiritual reflection of that mopey dude? And if Peterson resembles anyone in humor, PR, or argumentative strategy, it’s the poisonous Dinesh D’Souza. Even writing that down, even knowing how true it rings, I can’t help pitying them both.
History’s resemblance to a pendulum, swinging now left, now right, belies its nature as an amalgam of continuous, intertwining discourses. Its arc most likely doesn’t bend toward either justice or injustice. It may be a runaway train heading toward the destruction of civilization or perhaps its redemption. Most likely, though, it will not wind up anywhere we can pinpoint, certainly not now, nor when it eventually arrives. The direction of history itself is an illusory narrative with a Christian eschatological map unconsciously, or super-consciously, imposed on it by centuries of philosophical habit.
We may not be going anywhere. History may be spreading and thinning like an oil spill. Metaphors can only do so much heavy lifting and no more. A thing is what it is, and one never knows its nature in the moment of its being.
It’s like an election: you have to wait to know what happened, and even then its significance must be explored. It takes time to peel away the layers of an onion and analyze their nature.
Back in the days of the old, dark Yule, there was a figure named Bloody Thomas. He carried an enormously heavy hammer, bloody from bludgeoning anything or anyone luckless enough to cross his path. If you look up Bloody Thomas in the online Urban Dictionary today, though, you will see it defined, and I paraphrase, as “the act of drenching your penis in Tobasco sauce, then penetrating a partner’s anus while singing the KFC theme song.”
This is what I’m talking about. You can’t compare the Bloody Thomas of old with the current one and expect them to resemble each other in any meaningful way. Imagine what had to go on throughout the intervening centuries in order to effect that transformation. That’s the mysterious process we inhabit.