Irresistable force vs. immovable object
The near universal outrage over recent events regarding French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo is clear proof of man’s mechanicalness. The masses of men are not conscious, but merely react to stimuli according to predetermined conditioning. Consider this: people in certain circles who would have decried Hebdo as degenerate atheism just one week ago are now furious that twelve members of its staff have been murdered. They now see the French publishers of juvenile cartoons as heroes of free expression, soldiers in the war against militant Islam. What brought about this change? Was it the result of a conscious decision? No, it was purely a reaction to external events, as simple as a billiard ball hitting another and setting it in motion.
The murders were carried out by people who many rightly consider to be enemies of Western civilization. And so, the formatory mind — the mind that can only think in black and white terms — thinks, “The enemies of my enemies are my friends!” Thus publishers of immature tabloid journalism, which mainly appeals to rebellious individuals, are transformed into mighty symbols of the good fight. Of course one can make the argument that even degenerates ought not to be murdered. But being killed by lunatics doesn’t make a sinner into a saint.
The survivors at Charlie Hebdo have seized this opportunity, the deaths of their colleagues and friends, in a fervor of self-important righteousness. The next issue will have one million copies, rather than the usual 60,000. No doubt fundamentalist Islamists around the world will fete the killers. How can we make sense of this madness?
“Man cannot do; in him, everything happens.”
Let us start by attempting to examine the motives of the basic parties involved. Why did the men at Charlie Hebdo spend their days publishing cartoons of religious figures having anal sex with each other? Perhaps they were molested by a priest in their youth, or perhaps they hated their religious parents. Who knows. Why do other men take up the mantle of Islamic jihad? Perhaps out of envy for the permissiveness and wealth of Western nations. Who knows. If asked, each side would have its story to tell, each perhaps compelling in its own way.
The point here is not to psychologize cretins and lunatics, but to elucidate something more basic: man cannot do; in him, everything happens. In this incident, two extremes have met, extreme authoritarianism confronting extreme irreverence. But can it be said that either side really chose their stance with a real Will, independent of external events? In the end, each was utterly controlled by their subjective experiences, by the chaos of the world. Without really thinking, people queue up to take sides, attaching to things a symbolic importance, again always based on each person’s subjective past.
An opportunity to awaken
What good can be taken from these horrific events? Will holding Hebdo up as a symbol of free expression really change anything? Will it stop Islamists from promoting their agenda? No, the world will continue mechanically along the trajectory on which it already moves; the forces involved have their own momentum. At some point a larger force will act to alter that trajectory. Perhaps it will be a natural catastrophe of some kind, a volcano or a change in climate. Perhaps it will be an a war which relieves the pressure of these forces through exponentially greater bloodletting.
Let us not then pour gasoline on the fire, but rather step back and attempt to reach a more objective understanding. This is a perfect opportunity to observe that mankind lives its entire existence in a deep sleep. As long as man is asleep, nothing can be done to change anything. We will each continue to react to stimuli mechanically, according to our own subjective story. The truth of this is a good place to start. When one realizes that life is taking us nowhere but in circles, only then is there a possibility of meaning.
“When one realizes one is asleep, at that moment one is already half-awake.”
– P.D. Ouspensky