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The Essential Heroism of Man

Marcus Tullius CiceroJul 2, 2017, 6:42:01 PM

Jordan Peterson has made this matter of nihilism and totalitarianism part of the public consciousness like no other major public figure. Jordan Peterson has impressed on the minds of people that the philosophy of nihilism, that everything is worthless broadly speaking, is in fact the antecedent to totalitarianism, the natural reaction to nihilism. Peterson isn’t the first to suggest this, as Aldous Huxley said as much in his essay Beliefs 75 years ago. We therefore need to discover what characterizes the middle ground between nihilism, the assertion that everything is ultimately meaningless and totalitarian regimentation.


Whatever philosophy emerges to fix this problem, which has lingered for more than a century unsolved, it certainly must be something unlike the existentialist compromises that have existed thus far which mainly focus on the human ability to give value to an otherwise meaningless life. This is unsuitable, mainly because it’s still nihilistic. Everything is still worthless at bottom in these theories so it looks like exactly what they are; a fancy philosophical gadget, which only flatters nihilism while trying to explain away how anyone else could think any differently about life. Whatever emerges to combat this strain of thought must regard it as so weak and cowardly that it is impossibly pathetic.


Equally religion can’t solve the problems facing us today, not because religion is necessarily immoral, but because our society has for good reasons, drifted away from Christian values. There’s more utility in a completely questioning and self-examining attitude, although what will always puzzle me is how monotheism seized the world for centuries with such certainty, only to be discarded in a sea of doubts just as easily. If anything, this doesn’t show that mankind is particularly brilliant, but ultimately that we are a childish and inconstant species. We never do anything with wisdom as a group; only according to emotion do we react. At any rate there is nothing left here for mankind, some people will continue to be able to understand religion going forward, but the critical point is that even in the ages of faith, these people were as rare as their modern spiritual counterparts. For everyone else, the mask of faith hides nothing from view except nobility.


Societies are bound to fail, to abuse power, and people will allow the weakness of nihilism to creep into their minds. For a single individual striving, not so much to be above this, but rather to sail by his own compass, what way apart from this continual cycle of confused ideas and modes of living exists, other than heroism? Heroes are not defined by strength, intelligence, wisdom or skill necessarily, but all heroes are defined by their willingness to participate, to create enduring meaning in the moment of the charge, so that people afterwards will wonder credulously at their courage. Each hero is his own tyrant over his weaker nature, the cowardly nihilist who says pity me I am dying, so that he can have permission of others to wail at his own funeral like a Trimalchio. The hero reins this in and in so doing, becomes a force of humanity likened unto a force of nature, he feels empowered and this is good for him and good for others to see and be influenced by. He is skilled in magic, not of a crude kind, but magic that takes defeat and transmutes it into victory, that takes mortality and transmutes it into temples dedicated to the gods, that takes fear and transmutes it into Achillean rage.


**Leonidas and the 300 could have choosen to retreat, but how would they have been remembered?**


This heroism is not just for the battlefield, it can be found in all human endeavours. For example a tradesperson or an artist can be heroic. The heroic tradesperson only does what is useful – he doesn’t dwell on sophistic questions that are the roots of the philosophy of idiocy and nihilism that recedes from the world and invites only self-pity. Only new meaning will be charted, not new meaninglessness. Likewise, the heroic artist makes no useless art, his art will tell stories, and the modernist art so much in vogue today, that consists of paint splattered on a wall is for this artist the pornography of despair. Heroic art is figural art; it will depict the excellence of mankind, not splashes of paint, the existential wailing of nihilists, who wear the affectation of being self-conscious but instead should be branded with the label of self-important cowards.



**Art should decorate what is useful with useful stories**


This kind of heroism is perhaps the spirit of Hellenism; the real beating heart of the west that continued beating even after Christ evicted the gods from Olympus. A kind of heroism that attacks the world even while the dispassionate gaze of religion would passively look on at the works of providence, and which nihilists would turn their backs on. Individualism and religion are not stable middle grounds between nihilism and totalitarianism, the individual can still lament that he is weak, the religious can still have a crisis of faith, but heroism is stable, perhaps only because it is an insane supererogation in a world filled with self interest. It is only the hero whose battle cry invokes long-forgotten gods, which ring in the ears of lesser men as long-omitted duty, who arbitrates disputes with the authority of fairness or creates useful things with art and skill and pride, he can do this because his faith is in himself and the worth of his commitment to the virtuous fulfillment of the task he has given himself.


**The Scream by Edvard Munch exemplifies the pornography of despair. In its existential angst, it is the apotheosis of cowardice. This is the most serious threat that the individual must transcend.**


This is what society needs most, because so long as there are people willing to help and strive, the willingly helpless are ignored. This is the way it has always been, and the only way we will continue to have freedom. As it stands the only place we ever see these kinds of people in our society is on TV and in fiction, everyone else is put under the clock and kept helpless in equal drudgery. It’s no wonder that we have nihilism; everyone is out for himself or herself in a world where you need to work in an office so that your children can go to university, so that they can work in an office, so that their children can work in an office. No wonder we have so little humanity left, we treat one another like machines, rather than fighting for one another, we pity ourselves. No wonder when a new Persian menace comes to our shores again and we can’t find 300 shields, instead we’re told it’s all part and parcel of living in a major city, it is providence, it would be wrong to turn them back, they are no different than you, they are like Christians.


But this is the road to serfdom.