By A.G. Moore May 21
Narcissum by Benzcur Gyula
Having recently read three books by D.H. Lawrence, I find myself amazed that this author, with his absurd ideas, has held sway in literary circles for so many years. Admittedly, Lawrence was brilliant – but so were Mussolini and Stalin. Why the endurance of this author, with his mystical concept of natural rulers and contemptible commoners ( whom he refers to as monkeys)? It is not much of a leap from Lawrence’s theory of innate superiority to Ayn Rand‘s ideology of rational egoism. Both writers endorse the pursuit of self-interest at any cost, and both justify this pursuit with what they see as a new kind of moral paradigm.
My instinct, my gut reaction, to both these writers, is to dismiss them – but how can I, when their reach is so extensive?
Of course, in reading Lawrence and Rand it is impossible to avoid Nietzsche. Lawrence speaks of “the will” everywhere in his writing. And Rand, in her early work, admits to having been strongly influenced by Nietzsche’s philosophy. So, I place responsibility for both these egoists at Nietzsche’s doorstep.
Nietzsche is noted for having declared that God is dead; having made that statement he’s left with a problem: with what does he replace the moral rules prescribed by traditional religions? The absence of God means there’s no longer justification for Judeo-Christian codes of behavior. Nietzsche meets this challenge by turning to the individual. Every person, he posits, is responsible for achieving happiness and for reaching a state of self-actualization. In order to do this, the person must become extraordinary and exist beyond morality and social constraints.
Nietzsche’s behavioral template for existing in a universe without God has inspired any number of philosophers – both serious and not so serious. The later group includes Lawrence and Rand, who, though not particularly profound were nonetheless very successful at popularizing the cult of self.
In the cult of self an individual is invited to succeed without regard for collateral damage. Through sheer force of will the gifted person rises above the common and becomes: for Lawrence a natural leader; for Rand a rational egoist; and for Nietzsche a superman. The three writers propose an alternative to traditional religion, an alternative which is derived from their own inspired insight.
And so, in this essay, I consider Nietzsche, Lawrence and Rand together, not because any one of them would have accepted the association, but because I see their essential premises as identical. While each insists upon a rejection of religion all three have inspired in their followers a religious loyalty. This is especially true of Rand, in honor of whom an organization has been created (The Ayn Rand Institute) to insure the propagation of her ideas. This Rand Institute imposes ideological discipline with a rigidity that even the Vatican could admire.
In the cult of self, the strong, the superior, the natural leader prevails. Marketed as a philosophy of the powerful, the cult of self is in reality the desperate grasping of the powerless. For, what power do these achievement-hungry individuals wield? In pursuit of their own gratification they inflict damage on others. The shedding of a concern for consequential damage is supposed to streamline the progress toward success. But, as with everything, it all depends on how one defines success. Is it a short-term goal that gives one the sense of satiety, as do most sensual experiences, but eventually leaves behind a feeling of want?
I suggest that instead of asserting power, acolytes in the cult of self are admitting defeat as they submit to the forces of nature. They are not rising above morality, they’re succumbing to instinct and appetite.
Nature on its own is a brutal thing – it is indifferent to life, death, suffering, sorrow. It does not acknowledge joy or grief, but threshes through the cosmos mowing down and flattening indiscriminately everything in its path. The cult of self merely accommodates the maw of nature. It facilitates the decimation of humanity and of the earth – until they, the acolytes of self – are overtaken by the same machinery into which they have thrown others. And there everyone eventually rests, indistinguishable, consumed and obliterated in one common soup of destiny.
The prophets of the non-religion religion have chutzpah – they are indifferent to censure because they place themselves and their adherents above judgment. So I double down on their chutzpah. They propose a system of belief based on what they see as strength – I say their system is based on weakness. It is a shallow nursery rhyme which lulls the uncritical. It is the bit of aluminum which attracts a crow who flies away with a shiny trophy convinced something has been achieved. I say the cult of self is selling aluminum bits to the unwily, because instead of prompting followers to prevail over nature, it encourages them to be absorbed by it.
How, I ask, does the the cult of self’s promise of happiness differ from the promises of traditional religions? Only in the sense that happiness will be realized by the selfists in the short-term. But then so is their reward short-term. For, as we all know, despite ideologies and philosophies, we all end up as worm meat. And in so brief a lifespan that most ask, “What was it all for?”
The selfists are like passengers on a doomed ship – they are the few, who, when confronted with certain extinction, seek comfort in sensual abandon; they grow drunk and predacious. Discerning no fellowship in their shipmates, they ultimately perish in an orgy of terror and death-denial. These egoists are the most contemptible of passengers and while some on board may run from them in fear, others will rise up and impose order until the whirlwind descends and all are inevitably dispatched.
Just as the egoists have an alternative to traditional religion, I have an alternative to the cult of self. I propose a cult that calls for true strength, one that requires rising above nature, defying it in the face of devastating odds. My religion will not issue commandments, but it will have a premise and principles. If one accepts the premise, one can easily be guided by the principles. Here goes:
1) We are all going to die. 2) No one knows what happens after we die 3) Life is really hard 4)No matter how much we try, we cannot alter the basic character of nature – it is unforgiving 5) Ruthlessness reinforces the natural order of the world (note, as did Darwin, the Ichneumonidae, which grows by inhabiting and slowly eviscerating another living creature). 6) The only power we can hope to have is to change the course of nature. 7) Changing the course of nature means to make it less brutal – to ease suffering. 8) In my religion, we do not seek to rise above our fellows but rather to affect the lives of others in a way that nature never intended. 9) My religion does not concern itself with moral rules derived from traditional orthodoxies – it dedicates itself to defying nature. 10) The success of a life is measured by the beneficial influence exerted on everything in the environment.
Please note: I neither deny nor endorse traditional religion. I deny the legitimacy of Randism; I reject Lawrence’s mystical hypotheses; and I deplore Nietzsche’s proposition that some of us are superior and destined to rule over our fellows.