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Obscurantism, tyranny, and the fallacy of either black or white

It is no coincidence that the world's first great popularizer of totalitarianism was also the first great spokesman in the West of Philosophical Idealism, the doctrine which preaches that the everyday horrors with which men beset mankind are of no real consequence or significance, are indeed nonexistent, illusions, figments of our own perverted outlook created by our blinded, crippled senses. It was Plato who advocated the "Noble Lie," the lie the ruler, the Philosopher King, would broadcast to the ruled, always of course for the ruled's own good.

Rulers of church and state, the sempiternal Establishment of this world, have always seen things in this congenial light, the light that Plato ignited for them 2,400 years ago. No doubt they still would have if Plato had never lived, but with Plato as their Authority, the argument that pain and injustice are unreal, mere images and imaginings, gains repute, upstanding, righteousness, and, above all, philosophical status.

All dictatorships that have emerged in the West since 350 B.C. are a mere exegesis on Plato, the man who wrote that laughter is undignified, who chose Sparta rather than Athens; and on Philosophical Idealism, which is nothing more than an attempt to divide Existence itself into two unequal parts, external appearance and Inner Truth, The Good Essence and its bad shadow, the Divine Inexpressible and the sublunary meat and potatoes. As Bergen Evans reminds us in The Natural History of Nonsense, "Obscurantism and tyranny go together.... The mist of mysticism has always provided good cover for those who do not want their actions too closely looked into."

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This danger inherent in obscurantism is not merely of theoretical interest. Martin Heidegger, Carl Jung, Konrad Lorenz, Alexis Carrel, Ezra Pound, Louis Ferdinand Celine, D.H. Lawrence, and T.S. Eliot were all highly intelligent and, at least two of them, humane, kind, and thoroughly decent men. Yet all experienced no trouble whatsoever in embracing a strong element of fascism to his heart, this after a lifetime spent in the contemplation and evocation of obscurantism. Once one has developed the habit of abjuring the rational in favor of the willfully obscure and mystical, the descent to the bottom of the night is an easy ride.

Obscurantism is ten parts humbug, and humbug is Tyranny's first name, the one it has chosen for itself and by which it is known to all its closer acquaintances. Was there one honest tyrant ever, was there one, who said, I have taken charge and mean to keep it for the good of myself. Not for the sake of the People, nor the State, nor this Faction nor that Party, nor God, nor the Holy Mother Church, nor the Prophet of God, nor Right, Freedom, Equality, Justice, and the Brotherhood of Man but for myself, for my own good, because it pleases me to do so.

Only in the name of humbug shall Tyranny declare itself, at least in its more public utterances. Privately, in its own house, Tyranny may unbutton its vest, put on its slippers, and call itself honestly enough, though even of this we cannot be sure. But whenever it broadcasts its message it uses only its first name, humbug, just as any king or emperor, as if it had no parents, no ancestry, but had sprung, full-panoplied, out from the skull of God.

But it is not only obscurantism that forms a smokescreen behind which tyranny can hide. There is also the little matter of dividing all existence into two, and just two, totally opposed, totally opposite categories. People from whom we might expect better reasoning processes to be in evidence surprise us by their unexpected lack in perspicuity.

Sociologists and psychologists tell us about "dominant" or "leader" types, "dominated" or "follower" types, implicitly or very often explicitly inquiring of us which we would rather be, implying through it all that of course our choice, assuming nature allows us to have one--which is another kettle of red herring--should be to lead, to command, to dominate, to impose our wills and our concepts on others, for their own good of course, to win friends and influence people. This "either/or" insistence by supposedly intelligent and mentally skilled professionals is deeply worrying. It never seems to occur to these highly trained experts on human behavior that the only sensible answer to the query, Do you wish to be a leader or follower, a master or a slave, is: What sane person would want to be either.

Dividing everything into two is all right in the monkey house, the sandbox, and the digital computer, but one can only wish this binary reasoning, this plus-or-minus-and-no-nonsense-please approach to things applied in social situations, would end somewhere between our twelfth and sixteenth birthdays.

The ability to see the world, its meaning, and its humanity, in strict dualistic terms, as two, and only two, distinct and mutually exclusive entities, forms the backdrop and backbone of almost all religion, philosophy, politics, economics, law, sociology, psychology--indeed virtually every human enterprise that has led to disintegration or petrification of society or the individual. Plato or Aristotle, St. Augustine or Descartes, Calvin or Torquemada, Freud or Jung, Nietzsche or Baudelaire, Eysenck or Skinner, Stalin or Hitler, no matter in what specifics they may have differed one from the other, agree that everything is to be divided into Two, which, whatever they choose to call them, can be reduced to a common denominator: the saved and the unsaved, those on God's side and those on Satan's, the abstractions of the pure reasoner and the concretisms of the pure observer, the totally sensory and the completely analytic, the blessed and the damned, the holy and the infidel, the material and the spiritual, the mind and the heart, wave and particle, holism and reductionism, nature and nurture, the Hellenic and the Hebraic, the superman and the herd, the Romanticist and the Classicist, the representational and the symbolic, the exploited and the exploiter, the gifted and the dull-witted, inductive analysis and hypothetico-deductivism, the justly rich and the deservedly poor, the black and white, Us and Them. Pluralism remains a luxury that only a few minds can afford, or even window-shop for.


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