IDEOLOGIC CONFUSION: Marx, meta-narratives and Norwegian black rockers
At the same time as I write my blog essays, I occasionally write an entry for my column on the site of an international news agency, Interpress Service (IPS). About a month ago, I wrote a comment about the attack on the US Congress and what I assumed to be its historical background. An anonymous person reacted by writing the following comment:
Whoever wrote this piece of trash is a friggen [frigging?] MORON! Good LORD .... the ignorance is astounding!!
Of course, when I had read this short comment I immediately checked if there were any factual errors in my article, though I could not find any. Then I began wondering about what could have inspired an anonymous person to write such a strange, invective-laden and completely argument-free comment. Something that also made me think about my own political position and opinions, the result was this long-winding blog and maybe somewhat confusing essay where I try to trace the origin of some of my opinions. I am also searching for an explanation as to why someone who prefers to appear as a non-person felt obliged to express the oddities quoted above.
When I a long time ago began my studies at Lund University, Jean Paul Sartre was still in fashion. Although I found him a bit far too confident, self-admiring and actually quite annoying I read a lot of and about him. Perhaps mostly because my teachers in Comparative Region spoke so appreciatively about Sartre’s philosophy and maybe also because I wanted to find someone who could combine the prevailing slogan-laden Marxism with something more personal, like a deeper dimension of human existence. Like so many other young people, I wondered who I really was. Why was I here on earth? What does it mean to live? Surely it is strange that I, a concoction of thoughts, experiences and feelings for a short time exist as a unique being, only to disappear, rot away and merge into nothingness. And additionally; every human being on earth lives under such conditions. Each of us is unique and encompasses a variety of thoughts, arising from the most diverse contexts.
Human existence was at the centre of Sartre's thinking and was apparently for him a result of chance,… or misfortune (?). Coincidence? What is that? I read the Swedish 18-century mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, who apparently considered that chance does not exist – like everythikg else in life we choose it. It is the ability to make conscious choices that makes us human. It was after we in the Garden of Eden had eaten the forbidden fruits of the Tree of Knowledge or more precise – The Tree That Provides Knowledge of Good and Evil, that we became fully human.
The Tree of Knowledge grew together with the Tree of Life in the middle of sacred garden, but unlike the latter, it was fruit-bearing. The first two people ate the fruit made God exclaim that they had become “Like one of us!” After enjoying the fruits of knowledge, people could take their own initiatives, choose how they wanted their lives to become. Like God, man could now create new things, as assuming command of his own existence, take responsibility for his actions. God therefore drove Adam and Eve, man and woman, out of his garden so they could be free to do as they pleased.
Sartre often declared that he was a convinced atheist, but he was nevertheless throughout his life preoccupied with the Idea of God and humans’ constant “striving to become God.” His writings are filled with “secularized” Christian metaphors and concepts. So even if Sartre did not believe in God, this divine creature is very much both present and absent in most of what he wrote, perhaps in the same way as God is constantly in the movies of the atheist Ingmar Bergman.
According to Sartre, there is no meaning, no purpose, to our lives, other than what we create out of our our own “freedom of choice.” We have confined to rely on our personal, mental resources. Our existence manifests itself through our choices of action and a conscious person thus ought to be constantly tormented by anxiety about these decisive choices – by the enormous responsibility involved in building our own future, as well as the efforts and strivings of other people. Our joint future is unknown and extremely uncertain and thus the door is wide open for letting in anxiety and despair. We live in the shadow of our anxieties and an ever higher responsibility should lead to even worse anxiety, if it does not, it means that you are an unemotional and cold person.
Sartre argued that anxiety about an uncertain future did not have to lead to any life-paralysing pessimism. Life’s goal and meaning is to use our anxiety as a preparation for what is to come.
I thought a lot about that, especially as I considered that Sartre himself obviously had made quite a lot of lousy choices throughout his life, including defending, or belittling, abuses and crimes against humanity committed by totalitarian regimes. In addition, he had exploited young women to satisfy his selfish, sexual desires. Sartre appeared to me as an unhealthy, ego-centred, drug-abusing, self-glorifying old bugger, who despite his highly intellectual appearance as an incarnation of humanitarian benevolence, did not live as he taught. For sure – no human being is perfect. I have never believed in any “role models”. However, philosophers such as Sartre, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard instilled in me a conviction that every action has a consequence and that knowledge and well-grounded opinions are crucial in both within the “big” (politics, ideologies, religions) and in the “small” life ( family, friends, students).
Of course, I also tried to read Karl Marx, but did not succeed in getting through the heavy volumes that some of my friends and acquaintances tried to get acquainted with during in those days popular “courses in basic Marxism”. They could with great ease present me with long quotes from the Marxist scriptures and excel in an encyclopedic knowledge of Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, Hegelianism, and Socialism. Something I did not even have the strength to strive for. However, being an incurable romantic I read with appreciation Edmund Wilson's well-written history of socialism, To the Finland Station, which included the best depictions of Karl Marx, his life and writings, I have read so far (I have Liedman’s, Wheen’s and Berlin’s Marx biographies, but have so far not finished reading any of them). I picked the raisins I liked from Marx’s awesome pastries. A reading that in my case created a Marx that was not very different from neither Nietzsche nor Kierkegaard.
It was Wilson's book that led me in that direction. Like Sartre, Wilson was a fiction writer and literary historian and thus able to discern the man Marx behind the works he wrote. For Wilson, Marx was a great stylist, a German romantic, a poet, a scientist and an epic writer in the same league as Dante and Goethe. Like Jonathan Swift, he was a sharp and often witty satirist, as well as an imaginative narrator. Wilson noted that the first part of Das Kapital – which Marx wrote on his own and reworked several times – is a “true work of art”.
Marx wrote to his friend and mentor Friedrich Engels that he wanted his powerful book to provide the impression of being an “artistic whole”. He explained the constant delays in finishing the project as a result of “artistic considerations”. It was Engels who, after Marx's death at the age of sixty-four, compiled Marx's various manuscripts and notes for the second part of Das Kapital and he wrote a great deal of third part on his own.
Wilson’s story made me flip through Das Kapital and som of Marx’s other writings, skimming over the for me quite complicated “scientific parts”, laden as they are with figures and descriptions of capital formation and other stuff of similar nature, instead I searched for the “literary” Marx, the German romantic who apparently contained all these economic theories, which in themselves were quite interesting as well.
I came to perceive Marx's Utopia as an existence which like music, temper and love did not require any practical explanation, or rational confirmation. In stark contrast to the totalitarian regimes that claim to be based on “Marxist science"”, or The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, I assumed that I in Marx had discerned a homage to the individual freedom, to imagination and artistic creativity. A dream of a world where human activities did not have to answer to a Higher Tribunal deciding duty, morality, obedience, and punishment in accordance to some kind of Absolute Idea, which everyone, except self-glorified leaders, had to submit to. I read Marx as I read Nietzsche, being inspired by ideas I liked while ignoring all I found to be convoluted, or even crazy and outright offensive. In the same way, when I was younger, I read the Bible.
Marx was a rabid opponent of what he called Metaphysics, something that did not prevent him from being a moralist in the sense that morality for him meant a sincere concern for the wellbeing of others. The wanted us all to embark on an endeavour that would create conditions for the benefit of all mankind, so that each and every one of us might be able to make use of the means that are required for developing our creative power and abilities, instead of being thoughtlessly forced to submit to initiative inhibiting dictates from a Higher Power.
Marx was an idealist who believed in the inherent creative power of mankind, in our ability to make change possible through an earnest pursuit of joy and satisfaction. Being human meant for him the ability to use and develop our imagination. Where freedom, art and culture flourish and constantly evolve, humanities best qualities will eventually flourish. In Das Kapital Marx wrote:
A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects in reality.
Marx believed in scientific and technological development. He dreamed of a society where heavy, tiring and monotonous labour could as far as possible be performed by machines, so that men and women would cease to be regarded as soulless tools within a production system that was almost exclusively based on profit. Under such conditions, workers are transformed into units forced to sell their labour force, as if both it and the workers themselves were some kind of merchandise. In this manner, people constituted by flesh, blood and emotions were transformed into abstract, interchangeable units stuck within an insensitive machinery.
For Marx, all production was labour-based, and if it was performed by humans within a capitalist, mass-producing context it inevitably led to a ruthless exploitation that deprived workers of their individual value, while capitalists no longer cared about what they actually produced, as long as the labour of others created a profit that their employer could benefit from.
In his The German Ideology, Marx explained how thoughts and perceptions of life are created from basic needs; constant effort to provide enough food for yourself and your loved ones’ survival:
The production of ideas, of conceptions of conciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaivour.
In The Communist Manifesto, Marx lamented how the ruthless commodity production of capitalism was turning everything into profit. How a commercial, large-scale production transforms each individual part of creation into a commodity and thus constitutes a threat to all human coexistence and well-being, at the same time we could through our ability to reshape and improve our existence put a stop to this horrible development and turn it into to something positive:
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, the callous “cash payment.” It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy waters water of egoistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value. And in place of the numberless and feasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation. The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers. […] All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
For Marx, it was not enough to think and philosophize, to search for the roots of human consciousness. For him, theory must lead to action. The truth of a statement could only be proved by active action. Deeds make thoughts tangible, prove their value. It is not enough to talk and dream about different ideals, we must try to realize them by creating a world in which justice and equality are translated into politics and reality. If we live in a system that turns everything into goods that can be bought and sold, that prevents us from becoming what we really want to be. Oppression, persecution, inhuman, life-denying ideologies diminish us, make as shrink, denigrates and alienates us. We must break this process by rebelling against such a life-threatening state of affairs – thing have to change, this cannot go on any longer. We have to make choice between what is evil and what is good.
Marx depicted a drama in which mechanically based production systems and capital accumulation grew ever stronger. How they gradually replaced more primitive, but a more humane craftsmanship to finally completely crush it by creating a world characterized by a worsening predation on and overexploitation of a defenceless workforce that is being reorganized, increased and streamlined in line with continously ever refined manufacturing methods, until commodity production has become incomprehensible complex while serving profit-hungry capitalists dominated by traits that are
the most violent, the basest, and the most abominable of which the human breast is capable: the furies of personal interest.
Capitalist perpetrators are obsessed by greed, making them insensitive to the suffering of their fellow human beings. They are not at all affected by all the damage they are causing while enriching themselves at the expense of others. Power-hungry egocentrics have imprisoned humanity in a web spun by underpaid wage labour, profit-hunger, and commodity fetishism.
All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force.
In his novel The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead described how such thinking dominated slavery in the American South:
Each thing had a value and as the value changed, everything else changed also. A broken calabash was worth less than one that held its water, a hook that kept its catfish more priced than one that relinquished its bait. In America the quirk was that people were things. Best to cut your losses on an old man who won’t survive a trip across the ocean. A young buck from strong tribal stock got customers into a froth. A slave girl squeezing out pups was like mint, money that bread money. If you were a thing – a cart or a horse or a slave – your value determined your possibilities.
An awful world skilfully interpreted in Tarantino’s film Django Unchained, in which a former slave stages a ruthless massacre of the perpetrators of such an inhuman ideology. Or to take a historical example – the desperate slave uprising in Sainte Domingue, present-day Haiti, where fomer slaves took a gruesome revenge on their oppressors. A comprehensible reaction of downtrodden and despised people who had been exposed to every kind of brutal, inhuman treatment imaginable. Is it then any wonder that Marx's writings gave rise to vengeful thoughts and hopes among oppressed masses? Among descendants of black slaves, starving proletarians, or poor people who had been exploited to fill the treasure chests of colonizers? As Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist from Martinique admired by Sartre, wrote:
There are too many idiots in the world. And having said it, I have the burden to prove it. […] Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so importance to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that does not fit with their core belief.
Marx's message is split in a rather peculiar manner. In Das Kapital he described the rise of capitalism as a relentless “historical development”, completely inevitable, almost as if it was abiding to an unshakable natural law. At the same time, he provokes his readers to a rage against all the misery created by this development, and the people who have benefited from it. Marx is not only on the side of the wage-workers, the proletariat, he considers this etire class of people as the rightful owners of the earth. It is their work that has created everything of human value, nevertheless the fruits of their hard labour have been usurped by parasites, leaving them in abject want and misery.
Although Marx and Engels boasted of having developed a “science-based socialism” in contrast to an earlier romantic and unrealistic “utopian socialism”, they nevertheless seem to have been trapped within a similar world view. Like the ancient Christians who considered themselves to be quite different spiritual beings while the ”heathen” Gentiles surrounding them all sides were despicable wretches deserving to burn in Hell. In their self-appreciating fanaticism, these anscient Christians sought to establish a Kingdom of God here on Earth. In a similar fashion, Engels and Marx conjured up a morally superior proletariat, whose self-sacrificing attitudes, solidarity, and courage would eventually attack and overthrow the domination of a selfish, global bourgeoisie and on its ruins establish a true socialist world dominion.
What was it then that, according to Marx and Engels, made such a vision scientifically based? Well, the doctrine of Synthesis, equilibrium. If the capitalist system of the bourgeoisie is now predominant, then the natural and unobstructed evolution of dialectical pogress will inexorably annihilate the prevailing thesis with its antithesis, its opposite, the dominance of the currently oppressed proletariat. When these dispossessed finally have obtained power, a state synthesis, equilibrium, will be established – The Classless Society. According to Marx and Engels, this is inevitable. Evidence?
Engels, even more so than Marx, had found his ideal in “primitive” societies whose members jointly shared their joint work and resources. With him, Rosseau's Noble Savage, perhaps mainly in the version presented in Lewis H. Morgan's studies of North American Iroqouis, which haunted writings that were an inspiration not only for Marx and Engels but also for other paradigm-shifting titans such as Darwin and Freud. In his Origins of Family, Private Property, and the State, Engels described an original, primitive societies as a
wonderful organization in all its naivety and simplicity. No soldiers, no gendarmes or police, without nobles, kings, regents, prefects or judges, no prisons, no lawsuits – everything takes its orderly course. All quarrels are settled by the whole of the community affected, by the gens or the tribe or the gentes among themselves.
However, the relentlessness of the historical process affected and obliterated these ideal societies:
The power of this primitive society had to be broken – it was broken. However, it was broken by influences, which from the outset appear to us as a degradation, a fall from the simple moral grandeur of the ancient gentile society. The lowest interests – base greed, brutal sensuality, avarice, selfish plunder of common possessions – ushered in the new civilized society, the class society, in the midst of outrageous means – theft, rape, deceit and treachery – undermining and toppling the old, classless gentile society. And the new society, during all the 2,500 years of its existence, has never been anything but the development of the small minority at the expense of the exploited and oppressed great majority; and it is so today more than ever before.
There is in Marx and Engels a contradiction between all the marvels they advocate for the good of humanity and the ruthless violence and hatred which they occasionally recommend as a viable means for achieving their classless utopia. A discrepancy that has given rise to a great deal of confusion and not the least – violence, power abuse and misery.
I often wonder the reasons for the fact that fundamentally life-affirming, tolerant and humane thoughts in the writings of men like Sartre, Marx, Nietzsche, St. Paul, Darwin and several others, are completely ignored in favour of these authors’ more murky and often directly harmful opinions. Why do the Bible, the Quran, Das Kapital so effortlessly become the basis for intolerant and oppressive dogmas, which defend violence, unbridled carnage and intolerance? Of course, none of the authors of these writings were perfect, balanced, and right-thinking. They all had their weaknesses and shortcomings, all of which found their expressions in ill-considered conclusions and attacks on dissenting opinions. However, this does not hinder that a vast amount of their teachings have been inspiring good and positive thoughts and actions among their readers. At least for me such writings has opened up new manners to perceive the World and its inhabitants.
Not least the Marx's thinking has laid out the foundation for social systems where efforts have been made to realize a fair distribution of resources and a decent life for everyone. Unfortunately, the opposite has also been based on his thoughts about class struggle and a justified hatred of perpetrators, parasites and Government backed bullies. The perfect human being does not exist – no Noble Savage, no Stakhanovite, super worker of the Soviet Regime, nor any Superman (or Superwoman)of the United States, accordingly the perfect State/Society do not exist. Nevertheless, history indicates that an aspiration in the right direction, an ideal based on respect and human rights, is far better than to pay homage to violence, contempt for human beings and self-excellence.
It is quite easy to forget that all those “great” men and women we read about, role models and crocks, in spite of their “greatness” after all were human, with shortcomings and good qualities, just like you and me.
Like most of my other blog entries I am writing this essay in our Roman “storage” and I do occasionally rise from my chair, stretching my back and step over to the bookshelves and take out a book. This time it happened to be Alistair Hornes’ more than a thousand pages long biography about the entire life of the former English Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Of course, you might wonder why I would have such a book on my shelves. Why would I be interested in the life of a, by many forgotten, conservative PM whose greatest interests were grouse hunting and Jane Austin. I do not know anything about the delights involved in grouse hunting and sorry to say I have never been particularly attracted by Jane Austin, though a good friend of mine wrote her Ph.D. thesis about her pencraft – Woman’s Whole Existence.
The Macmillan biography ended up with me in a rather peculiar manner. An Italian bartender gave it to me, stating that an English customer had left it behind some years ago and never came back for it. I recognized the author´s name and accepted the gift. Sir Alistair Horne had in his youth been a fighter pilot and skilled ice-hockey player, he studied English Literature in Cambridge, and eventually became a professor in both Oxford and Cambridge. Horne wrote more than twenty books, most of them biographies and studies in French history. While I lived in Paris I did on several occasions visit the former battle fields outside Verdun, always engulfed with the same dreary atmosphere. This made me read Hornes’ The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, one of the best descriptions of warfare I have ever read.
Hornes’ Macmillan turned out to be a fascinating acquaintance and while reading about his life I obtained a well-written account of crucial instances in the history of the last century. When I now randomly paged through the book I came across an anecdote, which exemplified what I just had written about the intimate life of “great” men.
During a rainy autumn night, Alistair Horne found himself sitting with Macmillan in front of the fireplace in the old man’s country estate Birch Grove, situated in the countryside of Sussex. The men probably each had a glass of whiskey by his side and while they locked into the flames their conversation “run as it always did in the ‘Fortress’.”
However, during this particular night the by then eighty-six-years-old 1st Earl of Stockton was quite worried and did not want to go to bed – his son Maurice was undergoing a complicated operation on a collapsed lung and his father feared that Maurice might die. The always witty and seemingly composed former Prime Minister, who during most of the century had found himself in the midst of the world political arena, confessed to his friend and confident Sir Alistair Horne, that he like so many other men in exposed positions ever since his early youth had been harassed by the Black Dog of Melancholy. Macmillan told Horne how this imaginary hound sometimes would visit him when he was alone in the office:
then I´d go to Birch Grove for two days, read Jane Austin. My wife understood … didn´t want to see people … it was seasonal … makes you inward-looking, isolated … external things like Porfumo [at the time a serious political scandal involving sex and espionage that shock the Government] never really worried me … it was just the inside feeling that something awful and unknown was to happen – or sometimes, a great exhilaration ...
After pondering a while about the scene in Birch Grove I returned to my writing. Frantz Fanon’s thoughts about a core belief refuse to be influenced or adapted to ideas that might overthrow it, made me remember the title of a book by Joseph Campbell – Myths to Live By. I read it during my time in Lund. Although Campbell’s book was somewhat overwhelmingly optimistically written as it was in a spirit that later came to be known as New Age, namely praising beliefs in religious rituals, myths and dreams indicating that they might help us to live a rich, harmonious life. However, this did not hinder that Campbell’s books to me appeared as being exciting and thought-provoking.
In one of the book’s collected essays, Campbell describes the mythical hero who seems to exist in most mythologies and religions – the Superman, whose mission it is to obliterate a constant return of evil. Furthermore, Campbell opposed “Eastern thinking” to “Western beliefs”. Undoubtedly a rough generalization, but I cannot help applying it to Marx’s thinking. According to Campbell, “Western religion and philosophy” has emphasized an “individual existence” in which we choose which “mythology” we want to apply to our existence, in accordance with the myth of “free will”. He also points out a constant “mythologizing” concerning war and peace, making me remember Engels was extremely interested in war history and therefore used to be called The General. According to Campbell do “Western religions”, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, seem to be constantly emphasizing the presence of an almighty deity who throughout history has endowed “believers” with a sense of superiority above people who doe not nelong to their own group of the belessed and saved. A vision that nevettheless has constantly given rise to its opposite, for example Jesus who emphasized the love of our neighbour as a fact transcending all boundaries and included our enemies as well.
Stubbornly clinging to “life-lies” and make them control your life, blinidng you to anything that threatens to overthrow your faith, was impressively portrayed in Hendrik Ibsen's play The Wild Duck where truth-seeker Gregers Werle becomes part of a family where community and security , according to him, are based on lies. When Gregers confronts the family with what he considers to be the truth, he crushes it, making the lovely little girl Hedvig in doubt and despair taking her own life. The family’s friend and neighbour, Dr. Relling, who has witnessed the terrible drama, holds Gregers accountable by stating that “Rob the average man of his life-illusion, and you rob him of his happiness at the same time.” When Gregers defends his actions by claiming that people should know the truth about their lives, Dr. Relling mumbles: “Oh damn, the Devil might believe it!”
In Lund, I was constantly confronted with people who stubbornly applied their beliefs to a variety of more or less fixed beliefs; “convinced christians”, “socialists”, “communists"´”, “feminists”, “nationalists”, “professional immigrants”, ”hippies”, “yuppies”, “vegans”, “environmentalists”, “pagan believers”, even Nazis, in other words – people who clung to a variety of “life-myths”.
I myself did seldom chose any side, but thought I was trying to “nuance the beliefs”, something that often caused me quite a lot of problems. Maybe I was basically influenced by my father, who was a journalist and obviously a supporter of what wuring the 1950s in Swecden came to be described as “the infidelity position”. An attitude that, for example, foud its expression in sveral books written in the author and physician Lars Gyllensten, books beginning in his Modern Myths from 1949 until Desperados pubkished in 1962.
In these writings, Gyllensten experimented with an “existentialist, ideologically critical commitment” which meant that he tried to maintain an ironically critical distance to all forms of fundamentalism, though at the same time assert the importance of knowledge and obligations connected to “human rights”. A positioning that was quite explainable after the ideological and humanitarian breakdown caused by World War II and the ongoing Cold War. Of course, neither Gyllensten nor my father could always apply their convictions to their daily life. I even less so, though in Lund I found several like-minded friends, not the least my well-read corridor mate Mats Olin who guided me to free-thinking, critically monmded writers. Through Mats I acquired a taste for Postmodernism, a weakness that I later had to endure some criticism for from my more convinced comrades on the “left wing”.
What probably frightened them was “chaos” reflected through the assertion of several postmodernist writers that there is no longer a general, overarching theory able to explain everything, whether this might be the idea of an Almighty God, Karma, the Law of Cause and Effect, an unshakable Dialectical Materialism, etc., etc. We have all ended up within a chaos of contradictory information and ideas.
During the Enlightenment, philosophers and social reformers believed that Science would find the fixed laws of the Universe and thus put Reason at the centre of all thinking and action. The oppressive, malignant, and falsifying religious dogma would be passed on to history’s rubbish heap Down with everything that has become old and outdated! Everything has to be cleaned out, refreshed and aired! Metaphysics, ignorance, superstition, intolerance and chauvinism must be defeated and made obsolete through the application of rational science. The general well-being of mankind has to be promoted through Freedom, Brotherhood and Equality! Beliefs which in a somewhat different shape were captured by German Idealism, which claimed that all knowledge can be united into an all-encompassing Truth.
But two World Wars shattered this firm belief in the reforming impact of Science. The wars carried with them the invention of poison gas, atomic - and hydrogen bombs. Scientific calculations and theories facilitated the mass extermination of humans, enabled the establishment of effective communication, planning, propaganda and innovative methods to kill humans en masse. Although science has developed ever better medical methods and improved agricultural yields so more and more people might live without starvation and enjoy an ever-improving state of health, scientists have also discovered that the laws governing the Universe were not so easily calculated and predictable as that had previously thought. Quantum physics had made everything unpredictable – electrons could for example incomprehensibly and simultaneously move in two in two different directions. Most scientists stopped asking themselves: “What kind of research will reveal the laws of the Universe?” Instead, it became more common to ask: “What works best?” and/or to state: “We do what we do, because that is the best way to act and because it pays off for us.”
In this chaos, it happens that people, as they always have done, are seeking security and conviction in dreams and chimeras, which they transform into an easy to grasp “reality”. Awareness of this did in Lund direct me towards French philosophers like Baudrillard and Lyotard. The thoughts they put forward were far from perfect, though for me they became, as the English say Food for Thought, something to think about and carefully analyse.
What first caught my attention when I read Jean-François Lyotard was his view that dreams are visual, three-dimensional notions and that the “subconscious” through them expressed itself in a completely different manner than the kind of “language” that Jacques Lacan and other philosophically inclined psychologists like him, hitherto had claimed. Since I am fascinated by both art and dreams, I was attracted by Lyotard’s way of looking at the world from a “mythical” and multifaceted perspective. Freud and Lacan’s language-based, i.e. grammatically/linguistically, way of explaining the nature of the “subconscious mind” was for Lyiotard just one of many interpretations, une métarécit, a meta(over)-narrative, a limiting world of ideas, not unlike a painting, or rather “vision”, created by a specific artist. Lyotard takes as one of his examples a painting by Cezanne of Montagne Sainte-Victoire, which is a personal interpretation of a landscape made with different shapes and shades, some sharp, others opaque.
A dream, or a thought, can similarly be just as personal and compile concepts that do not really seem to have anything to do with each other. Like the metaphors used in poems:
O my Luve is like a red, red rose.
That’s early sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s newly sprung in June.
To indicate how different interpretations of the world may be expressed and communicated, Lyotard used a concept coined by Ludwig Wittgenstein – Language Games. The Austrian philosopher had to begin with searched for a perfect, logical language enabling him to describe human existence with clarity and precision, but he soon realized that there are a variety of languages that may be used for that purpose and none of them could be considered as sufficiently comprehensive, clear and concise, not even mathematics.
Like Lyotard, Wittgenstein had tried to understand the structure of language by referring to imagery, what he labelled “the image theory of language”. Like an image, language my be sub-divided into details, building blocks, which if combined in clusters form comprehensible structures, which in turn create impressions and interpretations. Languages build their own worlds, only to become contained by them. Our use of language creates generalizations that we then may relate to – they become our world, our language games. Wittgenstein stated:
We are inclined to think that there must be something in common to all games, say, and that this common property is the justification for applying the general term ”game” to the various games; whereas games form a family the members of which have family likenesses. Some of them have the same nose, others the same eyebrows and others again the same way of walking; and these likenesses overlap.
An entirety is be built up by specific elements which we perceive in common, meaning that we relate every detail to something whole. What does not correspond to this whole, thus becomes a disturbing element within what could otherwise appear as a perfect language game. If, for example, we allow concepts such as Christianity, or Swedish, constitute a language game constituted by established, unshakable rules and preconceived relations, this applies to any single individual who wants to to be part of this construct. Anyone can either adapt to the regulations governing a language game or refuse to participate. Wittgenstein again:
Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science do. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness.
What Wittegenstein seems to mean is that we have to make an effort to discern the language game that is confining us and brake out of it, do what is now so commonly preached as “thinking out of the box.” Lyotard interpreted Wittgenstein's language games in such a way that they become a matter of faith and belief. If we without questioning accept a certain language game as an absoulte truth we will thus interpret our whole existence on that basis. Large overarching thought systems such as a dogmatic beliefs or a certain scientific paradigm are by Lyotard defined as monolithic “meta narratives”, belief systems that for a long time have shaped and characterized human thinking. Each meta narrative does story in turn consist of a number of micro narratives. For example may Christianity be divided into Catholicism, the Greek Orthodox Church and Protestantism, and within each of these faiths we find in a variety of sects. Now when war and conflict, changing lifestyles, the questioning of religious and scientific dogmas, and an unmanageable social and largely impersonal network have invaded our individual life spheres, we may feel compelled to cling to any micro narrative that provides meaning to our existence and adapt base our lives and opinions to it and thus find firmness and security within an otherwise bewildering reality.
In the worst case scenario such meta-narratives may consist of anti-human fundamentalism based on insane theories like Aryan Superiority, after life rewards for terrorist acts and/or a strong belief in nutty conspiracy theories like Qanon. If we question an individual’s strong belief in and wholehearted support of such madness, s/he might perceive this as an attack on her/his person and the world order s/he so wholeheartedly adheres to. In a direct confrontation with such fanatics, our only choice may be to surrender to the madness and unite with the maniacs, or expose us to their contempt, anger or even attempts to annihilate us. Sounds unbelievable? Not at all, let me only remind you of the Holocaust and Gulag.
Our current global situation provides a significant number of frightening examples of such irrational and dangerous behaviour – Qanon supporters storming the Congressional building in Washington, Isis’ mass slaughter of “infidels” or the Norwegian web hermit Anders Breivik who for two years sat glued to his computer, in what he called the “fart room”, allowing his mind to be gravely infected by crazy conspiracy theories, until he in an attempt to “stop the massacre of the European people” cold-blooded and single-handedly murdered sixty-nine defenceless and completely innocent youngsters. Unlike science, which requires so called experimental verification, conspiracy theories only asks for “convincing arguments” and loose rumours.
In a scathing critique of conspiracy theories, Umberto Eco provided an excellent construction of how easily a line of thinking can be constructed on base different “mind boggling coincidences.” Jokingly, he chose the “relationship” between the U.S. presidents Lincoln and Kennedy and came up with the following results:
I read on the Internet that Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846, Kennedy was elected in 1946, Lincoln was elected president in 1860, Kennedy in 1960. Their wives of both of them lost a child while living in the White House. Both were on a Friday shot in the head by a southerner. Lincoln’s private secretary was named Kennedy and Kennedy’s secretary Lincoln. Lincoln’s successor was Johnson, born in and Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's successor, was born in 1908. Lincoln’s killer, John Wilkes Booth, was born in 1839 and Lee Harvey Oswald in 1939. Lincoln was shot within Ford’s Theater, Kenndy in a Lincoln convertible made by Ford. Lincoln was shot in a theatre and his killer hid in a warehouse. Kennedy’s killer shot him from a warehouse and then hid in a theatre. Both Booth and Oswald were killed before their trials. To top it all, a vulgarity that only makes sense in English – a week before he was killed, Lincoln had been “in” Monroe, Maryland. One week before he was killed, Kennedy had been “in” Monroe, Marilyn.
An exercise in the art of finding connections which actually are meaningless and irrelevant, something that conspiracy theorists are masters of. The results of their quests may be quite impressive and there are several examples of fortuitous searches for meaningless connections, such as Paul McCartney's alleged death and replacement by a double, how New York's twin towers were destroyed by the U.S. Government, that the moon landing did not take place, or that the dimensions of the Cheops Pyramid can predict the future. A patiently search for connections and an uninhibited imagination can do wonders and even if the results have no bearing in reality they might nevertheless have fatal consequence. They can, in contrast to Campbell’s Myths to Live By, become Myths to Die For.
I one again took a break from thinking and writing and relaxed with an Italian comic book. As soon as I arrived in Rome, I started reading comic books in an attempt to improve my (still) inadequate Italian. In Italy there has for a long time been established an unusually sophisticated publication of well-made comic books. Since I have always been fascinated by horror stories and mystery, I early on became an infrequent reader of two such monthly comics magazines – Dampyr and Dylan Dog. The latter has ontained a certain international fame and two films have been made based on the cartoon character, the best of them is without a doubt Dellamorte Dellamore from 1994, which was appreciated by a master director like Martin Scorsese.
Dylan Dog appears in a novel I wrote in 2000. In it, I let the main character write novels that plagiarize Dylan Dog-stories. He renames the “nightmare detective” Dylan Dog a Douglas Fright, a private detective who lives in a closed down Supermarket in a suburb to Stockholm. If Dylan Dog has a slightly disturbed assistant who imagines himself to be Groucho Marx, Douglas Fright's assistant assumes he is Humphrey Bogart.
Daniel Ahlgren, a Swedish cartoonist who published his works by the same publisher who issued my novels, met at a book fair a publisher who just had began to market Swedish translations of Dylan Dog. Ahlgren told him about my Lonely Men and the publisher contacted me asking if I could write an an essay as an epilogue to one of his Dylan Dog albums – Hellborn. Daniel Ahlgren made a witty illustration for my essay.
Anyway, now I read the last issue of Dampyr, just as skilfully drawn as Dylan Dog, though the stories are more uneven, but nevertheless quite fascinating due to the fact that they generally are built upon well-researched myths and horror stories from around the world, several of which I have not heard about. Most Dampyr stories are carried out within places I am rather familiar with, especially those from Prague and Italy. The stories always take place in the present, though episodes and characters from other time periods and imaginary realms enter the dramas, particularly the inhabitants of a demon kingdom within another dimension, which houses a nasty tribe of grotesque vampires. The whole thing is for sure rather silly, though can occasionally by quite intriguing and fascinating. Even Nordic countries appear at regular intervals, especially Iceland, Norway and Sweden. For example, a couple of years ago a well-substantiated Dampyr story revolved around the Swedish fin de siècle artist John Bauer and his depiction of trolls from the deep Nordic forests – The King of the Mountains.
Now I read Stavkirke, Stave Church, i.e. medieval wooden churches that may be found particularly in Norway. The story told how a Norwegian Black Metal band of becomes infiltrated by a demonic vampire, making the band members and some their fans burning down stave churches, practice asatro, Norse religion, and perform human sacrifices to ancient Norse gods. Two brothers are due to their fascination for Black Metal music drawn into the satanism practised by a secretive group that convenes in the cellar of a record store in Oslo, as well as within a New Age collective worshipping Asa deities in a remote forest area. The brothers have been attracted by Black Metal’s unbridled anarchy, cross-border behaviour and outsider status, until they finally realize how the insane cruelty practised by their cult comrades and how they all are manipulated by sinister forces.
Again, it seemed to me that Swedenborg's opinion that chance does not exist one again had been confirmed. How else can I explain that during a break in my writing I randomly began reading a comic book dealt with my current writing theme, i.e. how people can be engulfed by a crazy meta-narratives which take possession of their entire consciousness?
Norwegian Black Metal? The first time I heard about the phenomenon was as late as in 2007 when I in Norway participated in a survival course organized by NATO, under the auspices of the UN refugee organization. When I arrived at Oslo Airport I was received by a Norwegian officer and while we were having a coffee together awaiting transport to Starum outside Lillehammer, he told me about his great interest in Black Metal. He was genuinely surprised when I exposed my ignorance that Norway was world famous for that specific music genre. He proudly told about this Norwegian contribution to global music culture. Of course, I wanted to ammend my ignorance as soon as possible and tried to listened to “music” by bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone and Emperor, as expected it was awful and it all seemed rather silly with band members’ infantile and satanic pseudonyms and masquerade equipment à la Kiss.
To me appeared as poorly executed punk versions of the not-so-enjoyable, though to some extent innovative and at least rhythmically discernable Black Sabbath. A migraine-promoting collection of roars, moans, deafening, distorted guitar riffs with tremolo picking, deliberately lousy recording technique, raspy raw, high-pitched voices and gurgling grunts. The intelligence-free texts were not much better, if they could be perceived above all the noise. I did not know it then that members of these in my opinion bad music groups had been involved in no less than fifty church arsons, not least had they burned down unique medieval stave churches. Several of the extremely confused participants in this so-called music culture were archetypes of the damage that belief in a crazy meta-barrative can cause. A foretaste of Anders Breivik’s rampage and brutal mass slaughter.
An important inspiration for the Norwegian black rockers was the teenage band Bathory, cerated created in 1983 as a Swedish equivalent to English rock bands like Motörhead and especially Venom, the latter gave through is album Black Metal in 1982 name to the the entire musical phenomenon which by then had been called Thrash Metal, or Extreme Metal. Bathory focused on Satanist Rock before it in 1990 switched to ultra-nationalist Viking Rock and devoted itself to Norse mythology. The band dissolved in 2004 when their leader Thomas Forsberg, Quorthon, at the age of died from a heart attack.
Shortly after 1990, the Norwegian Black Metal bands to gain a wide following and Norwegian-inspired bands appeared in Europe and the United States. The most successful Norwegian Black Metal was Mayhem, led by Øystein Aarseth, who went by the name Euronymous.
Another prominent black rocker was Kristian Vikernes, who in contempt for his Christian baptismal name called himself Varg [Wolf] Vikernes. He was reluctant to perform and often mixed his records himself under the label of Burzum, a word invented by J.R.R. Tolkien to mean darkness. In 1994 Varg joined the group Mayhem.
Black Metal bands declared themselves to be decidedly anti-Christian and deeply misanthropic. They spread a message coloured by Satanism and a vicious interpretation of ancient Norse religion, including xenophobia, violence, doomsday prophesies and tributes to a merciless wilderness of dark forests, snow-capped mountains, ice, snowstorms and volcanic eruptions. “Earnest” practitioners of Black Metal wanted at all cost be worthy of the label Underground and consciously erected a barrier between an inner hard core and what they characterised as dilettantes and dishonest poseurs. A true Black Metal supporter was a heathen, maybe even a devil worshipper; someone who would never compromise with any “politically correct views” and who instead wanted to spread terror, hatred and evil in order to create respect and fear among his/her fellow human beings.
Eventually it turned out that hardy black rockers lived, and died, as they taught. In April 1991, Mayhem’s vocalist, Per Yngve Ohlin, who went by the name Död, Death, took his own life by cutting his wrists and shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. Död was considered to be an odd and inaccessible person who before a live performance could spend hours putting on make-up and dressing-up like a corpse. He also had a pronounced self-harming behaviour and during his stage appearances he could cut himself.
Shortly after Död’s suicide, Euronymous appeared on the scene and before the police arrived he had rearranged some objects around Död’s and taken several photographs, of which one was used on as a cover for Mayhem’s album Dawn of Black Hearts. Euronymous also cut pieces out of Death's skull and integrated them into necklaces which he gave aways to musicians he considered worthy of the gift, while declaring that Död had taken his own life to protest that Black Metal had become far too trendy and commercialized, despite the fact Euronymous in Oslo had opened a record store called Helvetet, Hell, and futhermore established its own record company – Deathlike Silence Productions. Death's suicide was not the only one among Black Metal musicians, in 1999 Grim, Erik Brødreskift, took his own life and in 2001 he was followed by Storm, Espen Andersen.
Euronymous’ grotesquely insensitive behaviour and exploitation of the unfortunate Per Yngve Ohlin’s suicide clearly indicated that something had gone seriously wrong for the young people in his circle and that their Satanism was becoming removed from earlier play and become a serious meta-narrative fuelling social exclusion and emotional misery.
Beginning in 1992, one church after another burned in Norway. First of them was Fantoft’s stave church, originally built in 1150. The police suspected Varg Vikernes, who eventually was proved guilty of burning down the churches of Åsane, Storetveit, Skjold and Holmenkollen. In connection with the release of Mayhem’s record De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Vikernes and Euronymous had planned to blow up the nationally venerated Nidaros Cathedral, but before this could be realized Euronymous had been murdered.
The church arsonists who could be arrested were all Black Metal supporters and none of them showed any remorse for their deeds, but defended themselves by saying that their pyromania was a “symbolic revenge” for Christianity's attempt to obliterate Norway’s autochthonous Norse religion. Several of them stated they also had wanted to burn down mosques and “other places of worship” foreign to “traditional, Norwegian faith.”
Probably due to financial disputes, Euronymous and Vikernes became enemies. On the night of the tenth of August 1994, Varg Vikernes travelled fromhis home in Bergen to Euronymous’ apartment in Oslo. The next day, the body of Black Metal’s foremost prophet was found with 23 stab wounds, two in the head, five in the neck and sixteen in the back. Ten days later, Vikernes was arrested and sentenced to 21 years in prison (Norway's maximum penalty) for the murder of Euronymous, the burning of four churches and possession of 150 kgs of explosives. He was released in 2009. By then, a number of black rockers had been convicted of a variety of crimes. However, the movement lives on, albeit much less militantly than before. Several rock bands have switched to performing Viking Rock, a music genre with nationalist overtones and an often pronounced xenophobia, something that has made the tunes popular among neo-Nazi groups.
An example is the Swedish band Ultima Thule, which was formed in 1984. Their album För fäderneslandet. For the Fatherland, became wildly popular among the influential political party Sweden Democrats’ core troops and has with more than 100,000 albums sold platinum. The Viking Rock performed by Ultima Thule has a calmer aspect than the violent Black Metal sound, with its elements of folk music and chauvinistic sentimentality, being far more melodic and apt for drunken sing along sessions. Of course, Ulitima Thule has distanced itself Nazism and outspoken racism, descibing its texts and music as Swedish patriotism paying homage to the proud history of the Fatherland and expressing love for Swedish roots. Something that has not prevent the band leaders from being involved with extremist rigth-wing elements. Their first album received contributions from the racist organization Bevara Sverige Svenskt, Keep Sweden Swedish. Their record store in Nyköping sold records by neo-Nazi music groups such as Heroes in the Snow, Swastika and White Aggression.
If the anoymous person who called me a friggin moron would have read what I have written above, although I wonder if s/he woulkd have the patience to do so, s/he might probably maintain that I am afflicted with an astonishing ignorance, or possibly that I have been exaggerating by taking such an odd phenomena as Norwegian Black Metal as an example of how young people might be brainwashed by crazy meta-narratives and nutty conspiracy theories. However, when I look around and listen to some of my acquaintances, I actually do not think I have been exaggerating at all, but fear that we may possibly may end up in even worse times than those we presently live in. However, I do not think as many black rockers claim; that Ragnarök, The World’s End, is on its way. In any case, not as long as their message may be opposed and countered by sensible people who have not fallen into the trap of any meta-narrative created by conspiracy theorists, web eremites, or religious fanatics.
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