Modern Mysticism: Disputatio Pro Declaratione Virtutis Indulgentiarum
The most impressive feature of western culture in the absence of any primary and universal beliefs is the readiness with which otherwise secular thought relies on metaphysics to explain human events. And having as they do the ability to explain nothing of universal significance, secular thinkers, all of us, have become accustomed to employing a causal mysticism far exceeding the ephemeral occasionalism of any faith tradition ever conceived by mankind.
We have recently been unfortunate enough to witness two events which have made this sociological inclination, as natural as it may be, incredibly apparent and incredibly disgusting. The first being the recent installment of random murder sprees by, in this case, a well fed son of a Hollywood one percenter in Isla Vista. The second being the grizzly stabbing of a young girl by two other young girls obsessed with appeasing a paranormal internet figure, the Slenderman, a case in which two degrees of virtual reality, a story figure and a social network, came crashing together in brutal frenzy.
The first case was a veritable banquet of grievance. Everyone had a pick at the corpses. Everything from the suggestion that women not have abortions because it might be murder (what is termed the “war on women”) to guns, to depictions of women in movies were and are to blame for this and any future murder sprees. A feeding frenzy it was, resembling a covey of vegan vultures suddenly bloodthirsty ripping into the flesh of poached animal carcasses in the Serengeti. It was a splendid scene, marked as it was with one of the most embarrassing examples of human stupidity in recent memory. I am unapologetically referring to the screeching vituperations of the father of one of the slain victims of Isla Vista, who, in a made for CNN moment, leveled blame on “craven politicians” and “the NRA” for his son’s death. Given that the killer mentioned neither politicians nor the NRA as a motive or influence on his actions, it is, indeed, a rather odd conclusion at which to arrive that these two entities deserve special condemnation. But, the man’s conclusion is neither a rational nor a even a reasonable one. It was, rather, it is, a sentiment in service of an increasingly ubiquitous and always annoying idea: that the existence of guns cause murder. It doesn’t matter that victims in this attack were stabbed to death as well, the only body counts that count are the ones taken by the action of a firing pin.
There are, as it turns out, new things under the sun. This explanation is entirely modern and so takes up a special residence in the history of thought as one which cannot be found in some form in the past. Never in the history of human affairs has an inert object been granted so much agency. Twenty three hundred years ago, Aristotle, in accounting for the destruction wrought by a Spartan phalanx or, more precisely, an iron tipped spear, would have made reference to the fourth of his four primal causes, enumerated in his metaphysics, the final cause. Aristotle’s (I here supply Aristotle with possession of this cause, because, as we shall see, nothing is caused by anything anymore, and it is best that we allow the man what he once had) final cause is one constituted entirely of intention, what the Greeks called Telos. In as much as Telos is telescopic , it gave definition to fuzzy edges. Any reasonable Greek examining a spear would never conclude that there is something about that spear’s spatial extent that causes the particular habit of man to kill other men. And so it is with modern law, an example of the old being new, at least for the under educated. A person in a modern court of law cannot be convicted of murder by reference to the manner and means by which the victim met his demise. The killer’s intentions, and he can only be a killer with intention, is the reference used to establish culpability for murder, a fact of jurisprudence which made necessary, some many centuries ago, the lesser charge of manslaughter.
And so in his emotional ineptness, the father of the victim has therefore absolved the murder of his son, a tactic defense attorneys employ with increasing regularity as the jury of public opinion comes to accept these emotive and, to be very plain, idiotic explanations with greater frequency. The father further admonished to everyone in the country that he does not want our “sympathies” — or was it empathy? Since by his implicit admission his son wasn’t actually murdered, it is perplexing that a person in such a circumstance would not at least accept the condolences of the country for the loss of a loved one in a freak accident. Is it not perplexing? If the reader at this juncture finds that I am beating up on the poor fellow too much, I can say with enthusiasm that it is entirely intentional and that your reaction is ordinary. I have no sympathy for men who absolve murderers by bearing false witness. Speak now solemnly of cravenness.
Modern physics has done entirely away with Aristotle’s metaphysics and Plato’s Forms, replacing innate ontological tendencies with universal physical laws and forces to account for the varied structures of nature. But outside the physics lab, across campus in the humanities building, a modern mystical inclination, itself a deference to the Oracle at Delphi, has usurped such hopelessly Cartesian rationalism. Here we find wide eyed undergrads at once sucking up the notion that human agency is an illusion and is also very much real when it comes to the white male, because he is the reason for every conceivable evil; ascribing evil a form in the Platonic sense as a white male and guns as the innate formal cause of murder, a circle of incoherence closes on itself.
The editors at the blog from which the girls who stabbed their friend 19 times drew inspiration are paradigmatic of the new sense of things. After learning that the girls had committed this evil in service of a bizarre and disquieting character populating their blog (creepypasta or something even more exceedingly stupid) called Slenderman, the editors of the aforementioned exceedingly stupidly named blog were in the mood to offer condolences to the victim (who isn’t?) but were not of the mind to take responsibility for anything. One editor wrote,
I don’t believe it’s the fault of Slenderman or horror writings in general that this happened. I remember reading scary stories and watching slasher movies when I was a child and young teenager and while they gave me nightmares, they did not instill within me a desire to murder my friends. “
I am, too, not convinced that Slenderman is responsible for anything. I am, though, suspicious that ideas about Slenderman, may, as the girls have attested, have had something to do with it. And if we can, as the above confident idiot demands, take as exculpatory evidence against the suggestion that ideas about Slenderman caused the stabbing the cases in which ideas about him did not cause stabbings, what is the standard of evidence for determining motive of anything?
The reader may now be allowed to form a mental image of this editor, this confident idiot, sitting over coffee at some horribly furnished hipster pub with other equally confident idiots discussing the innocence of Slenderman. An interlude occurs. Something incredibly cosmetic yet meaningless happens. Satisfaction with the aesthetic originality of the event is considerable. Perhaps a few cigarettes are smoked, greetings exchanged. The conversation shifts to the baleful influence Christianity has had on mankind and American politics. Further, the confident idiots induce, though they will all say they deduced, that Medieval Christian antisemitism was the final and exclusive cause of the Holocaust.
It is now necessary to regard the above image as a damn near real certainty, taking place somewhere at some hip club, coffee house, internet forum, or other equally intolerable place.
We too, the reader and myself, are now sitting among the confident idiots. We have no scruples with the idea that Christian ideas about Jews in the Middle Ages influenced the Germans in their decision to kill six million of them, but we waver when committing to the case as a sufficient cause. There was, we argue, much about the holocaust that was scientific and Darwinian. Biological ideas, we continue, informed the SS Eugenics program. It therefore is not enough to make Christianity carry that cross to Golgotha alone. Where we agree, we point out, is that ideas about Jews, whether informed by science or Christianity influenced the Germans to commit the holocaust. The confident idiots are now barely with us. We refocus the conversation back to the Slenderman. If , we propose, we take the girls’ testimony as at least marginally true, and if it is true that ideas about Slenderman did not influence the stabbing, then it was the knife. And since it has been made abundantly clear that guns are the only inert object in the observable universe able to precipitate homicidal ideation, it was not the knife. Then, they exclaim, it was the girls!! Indeed, but why did they stab that other girl? They reply with nothing but a probing stare.
And if it wasn’t the girls, then it was nothing at all that caused the 19 stab wounds in the 12 year old girl from Wisconsin. It’s all pretty spooky stuff. Our interlocutors nod their heads approvingly. Better things happen for no reason, they say, than for reasons that require reflection. And much better, they continue, that things happen for reasons which can be legislated away. We assent.
“Then how,” we demand, ” can we say anything intelligent about the holocaust?”
It is therefore best if we speak of nothing at all.
Modern mysticism is a system of philosophical occasionalism that would make Al-Ghazali and David Hume proud and envious. While Ghazali and Hume were concerned primarily with the motions of the heavens and there indeterminable causes, the modern mystics have accounted for human action by answering with a resolute “nothing” , because nothing is easily marginalized while something is always difficult to contain.
It is therefore to the Oracles and Seers of modern mysticism we should turn. There are many of them. It is rumored that there are above average concentrations of them in and around the swanky palaces of southern California.
When it happened that a Washington post editorial suggested things without sufficient consultation from the Seers and Oracles, the writers were branded heretics and forever forbidden entrance to the southern regions of California on account of their impurities. The editorial suggested that it was the perverse and truly misogynistic manner in which Hollywood portrays and uses women that the Isla Vista killer was mimicking and that the expectation for female gratification not being supplied, he, in frustration turned to violence. Seth Rogan and his pal Judd Apatow, two progenitors of increasing filth and decadence, were incensed. They offered no real rebuttal except the customary “that’s not true.” They are not responsible for their ideas and behavior and the effect it has on the general culture. Here we come to an incredible intersection. This is the point at which neither the killer nor anyone else is responsible for the ideas that provoke them to action. Remember, it was the guns, craven politicians, and the NRA.
There is, as the rest of us are told to speak of nothing, a freedom of speech enjoyed by the Seers and Oracles that functions in the same way as the indulgences of Pope Leo X, a Medici, and so both a Seer and Oracle as it happens. You get what you pay for. The formula is thus codified: Make overture to gay rights, you are granted permission, free of guilt, to objectify heterosexual women; make overtures to the reproductive rights of heterosexual women, you are granted permission to make pornography and write rap lyrics; support gun control and call the NRA evil, make millions off of needlessly violent entertainment.
Modern mystics forget that ideas precipitate every action, and that these are not innate and settled. Guns don’t fire because they are in hands. They fire because there exists a river of torment behind the forehead and that river seeps to the nerves and depresses a trigger, to use a physicalist explanation. Theses on doors, roughly 95, are needed. Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum