It is a convenient practice for those who despair at the human predicament in these times to claim that “the world has gone mad”. There is much evidence for this proposition. Think Covid madness. Climate madness. Woke, social justice warrior, statue crashing madness. Yes, it is an entirely plausible thesis. To interpret our predicament in terms of societal madness.
The chroniclers of modern madness, such as Charles McKay and his worthy twenty-first facsimile, Douglas Murray, have placed their chips on “madness” as the core explanation of the modern and postmodern malaise. In so doing, have they fallen for the ultimate trick of their, and our, opponents? Have they merely parked “badness”? Murray’s ultimate appeal to his readers, and to the broader culture, is to our innate rationality. This is madness! We see through it. We must reject it. Is this, though, the ultimate naivety?
What if the core problem ain’t madness, but badness? What if the enemies of our culture are evil? What if the enemies of our culture won’t play fair? What if they mean to kill us? Cancel us? Telling them they are not rational, not enlightened, may not help. At all.
What if accusing the postmodern world of madness is to let it off the hook? Painting our enemies as mad is, no doubt, deeply satisfying on one level. It is reassuring, comforting, to paint ideological opponents as stupid, ignorant, irrational, unenlightened. It is the default play, the go-to debating point of endless social media culture warriors and faux politicians. They are idiots! We win. But, we don’t. They win. Evil is insanely clever.
It is satisfying the be intellectually superior. But what if “satisfying” misses the big point?
The big point is that there is evil in the world. There are those who wish to destroy our society, our institutions, our way of life, our history, our traditions, our ordinary pleasures of family, faith, community and flag. They have a plan. They have absorbed the teachings of Saul Alinsky and Antonio Gramsci and the rest of them. They hate us, and they mean business. They want to destroy us. And they are very good at it.
To accuse the enemy of mere madness lets them get away with it.
The notion of evil doesn’t sit comfortably with the left liberal zeitgeist of our age. Sin is so passe. At least, sin traditionally considered is.
The problem of evil is now, well, not a problem, in a post-truth world. If there is no “truth”, well there is no non-truth. There is only your truth and my truth. There is no ultimate “good”, objectively defined. When truth is excised from our experience and our belief system, there can only be power, as Douglas Murray indeed himself recognises. In a world of relativism, the problem of evil is simply defined out of existence.
The character Verbal Kint, who may have been Keyser Soze, in The Usual Suspects, famously quoted the French writer Baudelaire when he is said to have stated, “the devil’s greatest trick was to convince the world he did not exist”. The success of satan’s masterstroke is everywhere to be seen in the modern world. We know that the prince of the world has many, many tricks up his singed sleeve. Perhaps satan’s second best trick was to have everyone believe there is no objective definition of evil.
To recognise that evil is behind much of the modern world’s problems is, in no way, to deny the work done, often innocently, by the unwitting servants of evil. One of Vladimir Lenin’s very few contributions to the human good was to introduce the notion of the useful idiot, if indeed he was the source of the term.
The plentiful useful idiots who bought into satan’s master play are all around us. Just look at Black Lives Matter, social justice warriors, and the rest of the servants of postmodernism.
We have fallen for the devil’s second trick.
It is the greatest convenience to us all, sinners, liberals, hedonists and non-believers alike, to consider the notion of fallen man, and evil, as fake news. Post the Enlightenment, we purported to have discovered, with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the secret to the meaning of life (the tree of knowledge). It is – there is no meaning to life! Other than the pursuit of private freedom, pleasure and public non-harm. A la John Stuart Mill, and many modern liberals besides. This has become the philosophy of the age. The “software” of our time.
What of those who say – there is a badness of crowds?
The fate of anyone these days who brings up “evil” as a motive attributed to opponents is to be accused of being a “conspiracy theorist”. There is no greater modern insult. Well, other than being called “racist”. The progressive, enlightened, rationalist left giggles at this.
To find evil lurking behind, say, the Black Lives Matter movement, or the attempts to defrock Trump, or the green movement, or the one world government push, is to invite ridicule, a powerful rhetorical weapon. For the left, it establishes moral superiority, by consigning those who see evil in and behind these movements to the lunatic fringe. To the status of truthers, or anti-vaxers, or birthers.
The charge of conspiracy theory is a mighty powerful tool. It always works as a means of shutting down debate over the remote (as opposed to the proximate) causes of events, ideologies and movements. It is foolproof. There is no satan, no evil that drives human actions and events in a relativist world.
It is a masterful strategy. It is an attempt, in its own way, of accusing an ideological opponent of madness. This is what they are up to. And we fall for it. And in return we accuse them of – madness. Mere madness. It is a copout, and it leads us nowhere, ultimately. It is a “get out of gaol free” card.
Yes, there are always useful idiots in service of evil – students, feminists, social justice warriors, protesters, victims groups. These are the front line soldiers, the human shields for a more sinister backstory. They bask in victimhood, and innocence. Victimhood is a front, and a very effective one. But to focus on the appearance of victimhood is to deny the powers that are behind the master plan, so carefully laid out by the cultural marxists. It is to fall for the absence of a plot, to fall into the trap.
Consider two contemporary examples of our tendency to attribute innocent motives to those who would do evil.
First, the Pell case.
There is evil behind the get Pell campaign. It was an attempt to render the Catholic Church totally impotent in the face of the culture war. It nearly worked.
There has been a strange, post-Pell middle-of-the-road, have-it-both-ways position adopted by those who either don’t wish to offend and be targeted by the victims movement – both Pell and the “victim” are innocent! The “victim” was mistaken. He was deluded, perhaps. We still believe him! For the victims’ sake. The pretence remains.
This is a vapid response, designed to protect the moral virtue of Pell’s accuser and his supporters and the integrity of the MeToo movement that drove the whole campaign. It preserves the pretence.
But … What if Witness J is a chancer, a liar, and not merely an unfortunate, deluded, confused, innocent, drug-addled fantasist? Like Carl Beech in the UK, and Billy Doe in the USA. As a victim of manipulation at best, and a non-truth teller at worst. If Pell is innocent, as was found by the High Court, then certain other things follow. Pell’s enemies were lying. They made it all up, for purposes both venal and ideological. There was a sting. It is as simple as that. What if Pell was set up?
This becomes a problem of evil, not of delusion. There was a Get Pell campaign, and it all but succeeded.
Second, consider the current attacks on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews over his execrable, palpable Covid incompetence. The attacks on Andrews confine themselves to his bungling. What about his evil? His Covid fascism, his fanatical grab for ultimate power? The attempts by the right in Australia to confine themselves to painting Andrews as incompetent, even mad, and anything less than an instrument of a marxist power grab, sell him short. Those who follow this line fall for the “mad not bad” fallacy.
Recognising the big evils is easy.
Think Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot. Admittedly, a whole generation of communist fellow travellers looked the other way, even as the evils of the Stalinist regime and of the Gulag were chillingly exposed, by Malcolm Muggeridge and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn among others. The Maoist cultural revolution killed tens of millions. Innocent lives lost. It could have been me living there, at that time. Or you. We got lucky.
But Planned Parenthood is also evil. Euthanasia is evil. Infanticide on demand, as now practised in most states of Australia, is evil. Denying essential freedoms is evil. Political corruption for personal gain is evil. Wasting trillions of taxpayer dollars is evil.
Evil exists. Now. In our midst. Failing to recognise this is to cooperate with evil. The greatest sin we can commit. It isn’t merely madness, and shouldn’t be dismissed smugly as such.
Recognising the evils hidden by the collaborative actions of useful idiots, whether motivated by innocent do-gooding or by ideology, is less easy to spot than the big evils, and to call out.
Those who wish to bring our civilisation crashing down, whether they are GetUp activists, or Antifa revolutionaries, or looting statue destroyers, are real, motivated, focused, resourced and strategically aware. They have their playbooks, whether sourced from Saul Alinsky or the Eurocommunist cultural marxists, and they are out to change the world. Our world. Yes, they have their more innocent, deluded, well-meaning front line troops. The folks who take the knee, like the idiot cops, sportsmen, corporate flunkies and associated puppets who fall into line, feeling virtuous all the while.
The perpetrators of all this are bad, not just mad.
They have a plan, and as things stand, things are going according to plan. They have convinced the former guardians of tradition, common sense and freedom to come on board with the big plan. The churches stand supine before the power of the woke state. The media are now an arm of the state. The universities are lost. Corporations, for their own venal purposes, are the ultimate on-message foot soldiers for the revolution, thinking, perhaps correctly, that the gullible punters (their customers) will endlessly buy it.
And the perpetrators have their crowds who are, ultimately and sadly, just as bad.
Suggesting that they are deluded, or stupid, or irrational, is to underestimate them, mightily. Read Murray and enjoy the cheap laughs. Refer back to Charles McKay, by all means. Understand that, yes, there is a form of madness at work in the way that crowds form around appealing, if deluded, or worse, evil, ideas. But do not feel good about this. If you do, and feel relieved that they are merely mad, well, they have won.
They, like Baudelaire and Verbal Kint, have grasped the opportunity for victory and have employed the ultimate game plan. Convince the world that there is no evil at work, and actively in play, and the rest, as they say, is history. To question this is to admit, well, that you are a dimwit conspiracy theorist. The ultimate modern sin.
As Martin Luther King said:
He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
Evil is, alas, all around us. Just ask the devil, the author of evil. Those who wittingly or unwittingly cooperate with evil do not deserve to be let off the hook with the lesser charge of madness, innocent or otherwise.