KEEP OFF THE GRASS
The standard response when one addresses questions or even expresses dismay at any of the iniquities of the modern world is now to assert that any concern over such things is “abnormal”. Because the internet is the great distiller of discourse, this phenomenon is most obnoxiously showcased in irony accounts inviting others to “have a normal one”. Such comments are not worthy of our consideration in and of themselves, but their form and function is – as are the types of people who make them.
It will be apparent to everyone that comes across these arguments that they have very little regard for the what is and isn’t normal. Their most obvious function is as an exercise in tactical framing: to dismiss something as “not normal” is to discredit both the opinion and the person expressing it. The thing to note is the form that this frame takes. Not an appeal to righteousness, but an appeal to convention. Not an admonition to do what is good, or just, or even that which duty demands, but to stay in lane and not frighten any horses. Perhaps more interestingly, these appeals to convention come from people who have no business describing themselves as “normal” by anybody’s standards. “Normal” people (not “normies”, although the two are related) do not have 11-year-old accounts on Twitter with over 150k tweets. They are not concerned with politics. They don’t lie in ambush of those asking uncomfortable questions about public policy which harms them as much as it does their enemies.
What is going on here?
It would be simple – and tempting! – to dismiss this tendency as the triumphant crowing of the bioserf camp followers of the Progressive Agenda. But examination reveals that this type of attack is ubiquitous. It exists across the discourse in varying degrees of sophistication according to the intelligence and disposition of those making it. The “irony left” version is just the most basic expression of a general cult of normalcy.
More sophisticated examples of the Normal at prayer can be found in the world of officialdom and punditry. These layer malicious framing with censorious handwringing. We are told that expressing such and such opinion or allowing such and such a slight to go unpunished threatens to “embolden” imagined enemies – whether they be domestic “far right” elements or foreign dictators. This angle suggests these parties are not themselves actors in the world, with their own interests that they must pursue, advance, or defend. Instead, they become unnatural, engineered phenomena that can only exist when given form by “harmful rhetoric” or the inaction of the righteous. Abnormal by definition.
We’ve recently seen a spate of attacks on various thinkers on the right which take this approach to its logical conclusion: they make no attempt to deal with the output or arguments advanced. They instead declare them to be beyond the bounds of conventional thinking, and thus ipso facto “bad”. This isn’t critique or even insult, it’s just henpecking. Elsewhere, we find those who will chide you with evident relish to “grow up” on various positions which they take to be “unreasonable.” One such commentator declared that the online right has “turned its back on reality” and warned, with the scolding tone of a middle-aged schoolteacher, that all this nonsense and immaturity won’t seem so funny when you’re older. He later admonished those with dreams of colonising Mars, saying they could just as well work in a strip mine here on Earth. As you might expect, what this champion of pragmatism thinks is normal and reasonable, if one reads his back catalogue, is making peace with multi-ethnic internationalist post-liberalism and embracing Marxist populism.
This writer’s example is useful in illustrating the attitude of mind that I believe underlies the cult of normalcy in all its forms: an almost complete absence of higher ambition. The explorer has always been a heroic or aspirational figure, even if he has not always been a normative one. Few men with any kind of spirit would deny, in their heart of hearts, that they have not passed a moment in idle fantasy about exploring some great undiscovered frontier. Many might feel they are not up to the task; whatever its appeal, it might seem out of reach to them. Space colonisation might not quite capture their imagination or speak to their individual temperament or sense of wonder. This is fine. But it takes a true philistine to question why anyone would want to undertake an expedition to another planet because “we have hard jobs you can already do right here”. Specifically, it takes a utilitarian.
Utilitarianism is “a low morality of low aims”, to quote BAP. But it deserves examination because it reveals some very important truths about the inner lives of the mass. In our world, almost all moral, ethical, and philosophical thinking exhibited even among the “elite” is utilitarian in kind. By this I do not mean that our society has been guided by some shadowy Benthamite conspiracy to become more utilitarian – quite the opposite. Far from being an innovation of 19th century, utilitarianism is the default standard of moral reasoning. In terms of the unspoken emotional and sentimental motivators which govern our “rational” actions, it represents a very primitive impulse; naked tit for tat. The most important thing to understand is that for all the ink spilled to justify this most base of approaches in terms of “rationalism”, the utilitarian reasons on a purely emotional basis. Regardless of any tribute paid to “higher ordered flourishing”, by instituting a system of values that equates or prizes the basic material comfort of the meritless with the transcendent qualities of true merit, it seeks only to drag the high to the level of the low. It is an envious and spiteful approach to life: “you have wronged me, and must be wronged in kind.” This formulation also lurks behind lofty appeals to equality and fairness, which are, at bottom, little more than expressions of resentment.
“A rat done bit my sister Nell, but whitey’s on the moon.”
This impulse is not, in and of itself, bad. It is also the font from which arises the natural instinct to vengeance and restitution which, when cultivated, is also the foundation of justice. But the result of allowing it to run rampant – in either this primitive form or in the version whose practitioners flatter themselves that they are engaging in philosophy or ethics – was explicated by Parfit as the “mere addition paradox”:
“For any possible population of at least ten billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living.”
For the utilitarian, all roads lead to yeast. Whether by pure logic, or because of the yeastlike quality of the utilitarian soul. All this is probably obvious or at least intuitive to many of the people reading this. But it’s worth covering because I believe it explains the beating heart of the normalcy cult – it is an expression of a “utilitarian” frame of mind.
I return to the term “ambition” here because I think we can construe it as the foundation of all higher forms of reasoning, morality, and action. Ambition is what spurs us to act even in the face of apparent futility. To attain to ourselves something more than what we have. Maybe you have been asked, when in pursuit of something, anything, “why do you bother?” Why bother to cultivate strength or beauty in the face of the certain knowledge that the body is a monument to waste? Why gamble on any unsure thing? Why seek fame undying if even the gods must die in their time?
The answer must always be that ambition pulls us forward. Mercy, compassion, patriotism, charity, virtues of all kinds beyond these, are ambitions more or less sublimated to different ends. The lowest, and for many the only form of ambition, is the ambition to survival, safety, and perhaps, when these have been achieved, to a basic level of comfort. It is one thing to desire these things when survival is in doubt. To possess the will to face and deal with genuine privation. But if this ambition to mere existence persists when all danger or discomfort is eliminated? At this point we can identify a deep poverty of spirit. A poverty of that which animates man, as the poet says, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Insofar as a “lack” can drive anything, I believe this is the animating principle of the cult of normalcy. Men of low ambition are men of low spiritual horizons, and these low spiritual horizons manifest themselves as both a profound disinterest in anything other than comfort and fitting in. Frequently, they also manifest themselves as an extreme and paradoxical arrogance. Perhaps you have experienced this before: people who not only are content with their own ignorance or inadequacies, but who revel in it. Who take a lack of particular accomplishments, or disinterest in particular pursuits, as a point of pride?
In “our” sphere this is most visible in a small subculture that might be described as “aspiring serfs” – those who appear to believe that the only authentic mode of living is that of the subsistence farmer. It is not, of course, my intention to tar anyone who works on the land or with their hands with the same brush. But anyone can spot the kind of resentful, almost vindictive lionisation of “blue collar” or “rustic” signifiers.
But the most general expression of this attitude is kind of embarrassing re-enactment of a high school movie. The enjoyer of normal ones likes to see himself as an Ordinary Person, standing together with his fellow Ordinary People in opposition to the imagined organs of traditional authority, or its symbolic stand ins. Ergo: clueless teachers, administrators, and Fauntleroyesque caricatures of preppy rich kids.
(I believe this, by the way, is the reason for the popularity of the Harry Potter novels among a huge number of left-wing adults. And of the popularity of the so-called “young adult” genre in general, which extends far beyond the enjoyment one might expect adults to take in especially charming or diverting children’s entertainment. Its devotees, on some level, perceive themselves as juveniles.)
The vision of “victory” in this fantasy is never anything so grand as to usurp the place of the old order, to better or even equal them in terms of position, achievement, or deportment. It is instead to expose them as out of touch or hypocritical. Their highest hope is that they can one day prove that their betters are no better than them. The Weltanschauung which arises from this impulse is, by nature, accompanied by a kind of voyeuristic sadism. Because questions of “good” and “bad” are reduced to questions of relative suffering, “good” is defined in terms of relative absences of suffering, and soon becomes a negative quantifier.
Notions of virtue, dignity, propriety, are foreclosed upon: all there can be is basic pleasures and their absence. Any kind of suffering becomes something to be eschewed, even when voluntary. Death becomes the greatest enemy and evil of all. Meanwhile, the level and intensity of cruelty which can be applied in the service of correcting the behaviour of those who do “bad” – which at length becomes identical with “falling out of line” – approaches the infinite.
Discerning readers will already see this conclusion coming, but here it is: it is this impulse which lies beneath the chitinous hide of the Longhouse. It is not so much the case that the Longhouse is “rule by women”, or “rule by the weak”. It is rather the absence or rejection of higher aims. Women rule in the Longhouse not because anyone desires them to, but because if men have no ambition of their own, they will defer to those who do. And women, always and everywhere, are possessed of roughly the same ambitions: safety, security, and stability.
None of these basic concerns depart very far from the basic utilitarian impulse, and are liable to decay towards it. The Longhouse emerges in a climate of deficient ambition, but it quickly works to stifle any potential ambition. In turn, it begins to cultivate the worst possible mixture of traits, even in those with the potential to achieve more. It is ironic, but telling, that despite its almost sycophantic centring of youth, rebellion, of difference, of “counterculture” and “transgression” and “direct action”, we live in a society that is older, more obedient, and more obsessed with conformity, normality, than any which has come before it.
In all likelihood, the next several years will see a rapid and extreme narrowing of the bounds of “acceptable behaviour” for all groups. Persistent calls to “normalise” various different pathologies, neuroses, and self-destructive tendencies do not reflect a drive towards permissiveness anymore, if they ever did. Instead, they reflect a pure expression of a drive towards slovenliness, apathy, and despond.
I believe this trend is already far more developed in some groups than it is in others. Specifically, in what we might refer to as “protected classes” or “regime clients.” While these groups enjoy a degree of insulation from the material reality of their situation, the price they pay for such is the complete surrendering of their own destiny into the hands of another. There is a word for this.
Where, then, does this leave us? Where does it leave you?
There is only one answer.
THIS PIECE IS AVAILABLE IN PRINT FORM IN VOLUME II ISSUE VI