Right-wingers puzzle over how to explain liberalism and the Left. Where do they come from—a sheltered upbringing, arrested emotional development, scientism, a general lack of realism, managerial class self-interest? Some even look at modern culture and politics and conclude that the love of equality is simply the love of degradation and death, so it’s the latter that really explains everything.
When several things all imply each other to varying degrees it can be difficult to say which is most basic. At Turnabout we mostly like simple conceptual explanations. They seem to explain basic issues more clearly and comprehensively than speculations about histories or motives. In order to understand what a whole society consistently does you have to look beyond what people want or even what they value to how those wants and values come about. Modern culture isn’t degraded just because people like degradation. There are always people with every conceivable motive, including the drive to degrade themselves. How does it happen that in our time that drive is able to present itself as truer and more in accord with the way things are than anything else—and therefore, weirdly, as good and morally compulsory, so that anything else would be a cop-out? And values like freedom and equality don’t explain themselves. People always have things that they value. How does it happen that today it has come to seem obvious that things as abstract and empty as those particular values are supreme and everything else must give way to them?
To my mind the reason things have turned out as they have is that something has gone radically wrong with the way we sort out impulses and goals and make sense of them and declare some good and others bad. In other words, it’s because of a basic problem in our most general concepts of what things there are and how we know about them and attribute meaning to them. To my mind, the problem is that we’ve fallen into the Cartesian abyss—that we’re only willing to accept the reality of things that are immediately and obviously present to our consciousness. If you assume that’s what’s happened, then all the rest falls into place. What’s real is what we can see, what’s compelling is desire, reason is formal logic, and life becomes a matter of getting what we want simply because we want it. Freedom and equality, the satisfaction of desire and the equal validity of all desires, become fundamental principles. But then our integrity, which is now the only basis for understanding what we are, demands that we debunk and throw off transcendent and therefore vague and external and false conceptions of what we should do. The consequence is that moral degradation, defiance of all evolved and inherited understandings of what’s good, becomes a sort of discipline through which we hope to break the chains of unreality and attain a sort of personal godhead. Sade becomes the new Christ who shows the way to salvation and theosis.