Recent events all seem to be either going against basic Progressive assumptions or exposing their imperial ideologies as having no clothes. For a conservative, progressivism has become the gift that keeps on giving.
Does progressivism put too much stock in the abilities of scientific elite to manage the collective? Think Jonathan Gruber and all the climate change science shenanigans. Is Keynesianism a failure and the free market the way to go? Think the economic stimulus vis a vis the oil boom as the true driver of job creation. What about President Obama’s “reset” button with Russia and the assumption that the world would get along if only America would give up its dominance? Think, well, every international event since then.
Is it progress to get “the people” to link arms as they march into the glorious future and share their collective burdens, like, in health care? The realities of Obamacare and the recent election have another thing to say about where “the people” really are at. Or how about the various “narratives” driving Progressive cultural thought—on black-white relations, on campus rape—all falling apart one by one, exposed as the deceptions they are. They can’t even get the world to warm up a bit!
Progressivism’s problems go even deeper, to the very foundations of its ideological assumptions.
Progressive Collectivism vs. Internet Individualism
Progressivism was birthed from the marriage of Darwinism and social gospel millenarianism. The belief was that God had pre-programmed human DNA to bring about His kingdom as humanity evolved to higher consciousness. This kingdom would emerge through collective political action guided by scientific experts and engineers, an organic whole moving as one, no different than the bats or bees.
That vision simply doesn’t hold anymore. Progressives falsely premised their movement on the unassailable assumption that the only way to attain a collective vision is through centralized government action. Meanwhile the Internet is changing our thinking about education, health care, and investment in ways that make the original vision of progressivism seem, well, ridiculously outdated. It can collectivize action in far less dictating, far more personal, and freer ways. It’s allowing parents like me to say, “Hey! Twofer! My kids can learn online and not get killed.”
If enough people start thinking this way, soon an entire education industry goes the way of the horse and buggy. The same potential exists for health care, retirement investment, and charity, all things the Government Party believes are best managed by, well, government. The trending reality is that the younger the person, the less likely are they to expect Washington to manage their lives. They’d rather look to their smart phones and manage their own lives. Think Uber drivers versus street cars.
So it might seem as if the pendulum is swinging back to the Right. Yet, the above analysis doesn’t factor in an arguably far more important factor, and that is culture, specifically pop culture or media culture. This takes us beyond the politics of the day into spiritual and psychological mechanisms, the determinant forces in our daily world shaping us as people. On this score, we have a ways to go to be considered Rightward. And this isn’t just a reference to gay marriage and transgenderism, even if those are indicators. It has to do with the generally Gnostic nature of American spirituality as reflected in its pop culture.
American Pop Culture’s Gnostic Meta-Narrative
When social commentators employ the word “Gnostic” to describe the leftward tilt of our culture, they don’t mean Americans are joining the Ecclesia Gnostica (in California, of course) or personally giving their heart to some divinity in the Gnostic myth, some Cosmic Christ or Sophia figure. They mean that it’s the ultimate meta-narrative, an overarching context, a cosmic framework in which we place events and persons to make meaning of our world. Insofar as American culture is driven by pop culture, that meta-narrative is Gnostic.
The Gnostic meta-narrative is essentially the heroic journey of Self against the stifling oppression of this world’s “systems” and “powers-that-be.” According to ancient Gnosticism, the known world is the creation of a lesser demiurge—what most call “God”—as the result of a grand cosmic mistake. This demiurge, along with his “archons” (literally the “powers-that-be”) set up all the systems of the world and its various laws and ruling principles.
Importantly, language is a critical part of the grand crime because it denominates reality, the fabric of which Gnostics deny. Through language the evil demiurge traps our minds into delineated patterns of thought, all rooted in what we falsely think is reality, like little micro-narratives we each have due to our cultural context and from which only a few enlightened ones can escape. (I paraphrase from one Gnostic text proposing liberation from language itself: “aaaeeeieiiiaaaaoooooooooaaaiieeee!!!” Not so different than some of the speaking-in-tongues voodoo otherwise known as leftist thought out there today. Goodness, spend a few awe-inspiring moments at this parade of logical fallacies doubling as an anthem to absolute nonsense.)
Beyond this delusive cosmic arrangement exists the good “God,” the true source of our Selves—ultimately an echo of our Selves—a pre-cosmic, unable-to-be-named (we’re beyond language here), universal “Self field” (Carl Jung’s term) that we’re all collectively part of prior to our births. I am now a Self, a spark of God, trapped in a physical body, but if I wake up to my origins in this other plane, I can begin my journey “home.” This happens when I attain “gnosis,” an esoteric knowledge transcending the current cosmic arrangement. I pretend a beyond-narrative perspective, because I believe I see everything sub specie aeternitatis.
Gnostic Progressivism’s Non-God God
This latter trait has always marked the Progressive mind, this claim to possess a knowledge transcending culture-bound dogma and philosophy. But more than that, the Progressive takes the next step and establishes this knowledge as prescriptive for society. It’s why progressivism has become a species of godless fundamentalism: Sure, we know there’s no God but we also know these absolute truths about what we should do with the environment, economics, and culture. Somehow meaningful assumptions sneak into their necessarily meaningless cosmic architecture, all with a patina of scientific reasoning: Studies show bats all work together; it’s where evolutionary psychology would have led you, too, if you weren’t so dumb and conservative. As if dumb conservatives are an evolutionary anomaly the Left needs to fix, because, um…who appointed them?
This is where their “God” comes in. They grant themselves, somehow, an absolutist cosmic framework by which they determine we’re something other than randomly evolving sludge. If they were consistent with their scientific, materialistic assumptions, they would conclude our species has a destiny no different than previous species destroyed by a meteor. A meteor? Global warming due to man’s individualism? What’s really the difference? Nature—both astronomical and human—is a capricious bitch. Yet somehow Progressives imagine a cosmic truth transcending cold reality—No, really, we are destined to work together and make a difference!—and can’t understand why the rest of their less enlightened species goes on with life as if it’s all what Darwin said, survival of the fittest, adaptation, and—what do all the teens say? Random.
Does this not summarize the lessons we’ve learned over the course of Barack Obama’s presidency? In a sense, Progressives are playing chicken with human nature, believing that if they unmoor humanity from the notion of a God their evolved DNA will lead them to paradisiacal islands where love rules. Of course, only faith can affirm such thinking, and here Progressives would be loath to recognize they are a species of nineteenth-century Evangelicalism. In truth, random evolution could just as well take the ship of humanity careening toward the Bermuda Triangle, where, well, Vladimir Putin, the Islamic State, and other realities prove far more enduring.
Rebelling Against the Elites—Or Co-opting Them
Let’s move along to another theme in the Gnostic meta-narrative, the archetypical role of the archons (the powers-that-be) and their “systems.” A Gnostic’s Weltanschauung is filled with the dark reality of these various systems of suppression: The evil Koch brothers and Halliburton are the archons running the world and setting up systems of control! And on and on. Patriarchy, the law of economic scarcity, the biological reality that male and female are reproductive designations, the twin-cylinder engine of meritocracy and self-interest that drives socialization, the stubborn persistence of ethnic and national boundaries, the language oppressively dictating our reliance on labels and designations for true communication: all these systems, the Gnostic says, are essentially evil.
Rebellion, or antinomianism, or deconstructionism against these systems becomes the obvious next step. Burning bras; upending marriage law; screaming at economic realities like scarcity, meritocracy, and self-interest; rioting; treating national borders like arbitrary designations; reducing thought to image-based engagement; such iconoclasm constitutes the necessary breakdown of the old order and its systems.
But let’s back up a bit. There have historically been two kinds of Gnostic. One believes this world can’t be fixed, so why change it? For him life is a desperate quest to escape this earthly veil of tears. We’ll leave this kind of Gnostic alone in the mountains, monastery, or his mom’s basement; he’s harmless. The other kind concerns us, because he believes that, once we awaken to the demiurge’s overlordship of this world, he can take the reins and run the world for the good of humanity—a good, of course, understood only by the Gnostic.
These latter Gnostics are those who embarked on the “long march through the institutions.” Are marriage, church, state, language, and the free market evilly-conceived archons guarding the gates of their various systems, preventing the liberation of Self? Don’t destroy these institutions; deconstruct them, and then construct the new order under their old names. Take church and “change its paradigms” from doctrines, rituals, and sacraments to images, music, and emotion. Take marriage and make it so unidentifiable that positive law becomes its only support. Take the forms of constitutional rule and make them roving lodestars for constantly changing penumbra. Take over the magical powers of marketing but use these powers to take back Kansas for the good guys.
Forging New, ‘Benevolent’ Powers: the Narratives
For the Gnostic-progressive, everything boils down to competing meta-narratives; everything is about “optics.” There is no essential reality, only interpretations according to various narratives. The game is just one big power quest of who will control the narrative? Likewise, there are no flesh-and-blood people filled with good and bad, but only two-dimensional characterizations according to the Gnostic archetypes.
Darren Wilson and Michael Brown were not flesh-and-blood people possessed of the capacity for good or evil seen in the light of what actually happened, but symbolic characters in the narrative which preordains the interpretation of their actions: evil cop (archon guarding the gates of the “system”) suppresses innocent black man (an oppressed Self seeking liberation) engaged in lawlessness (Self iconoclastically breaking bonds of the oppressive system of property ownership, racial hierarchy, or whatever).
The same is true for the college rape narrative, the facts be damned. Or the narrative pinned to murder done by an American Muslim screaming allahu akbar! No terrorism to see here; Islam is a peaceful religion; go back to your regularly scheduled programming. Shut up and accept what the pretty people on the news tell you to believe.
Or consider gay marriage and transgenderism according to the Gnostic meta-narrative. The idea that sex can be abstracted from the physical body, based on something science calls the reproductive system, and reconstituted in its current weird ways is nothing short of madness. (Try doing this to the digestive system, say, by institutionalizing public post-meal vomiting at Bob Evans as a form of “alternative eating.” Hey, who are you to say bulimia is a “disorder”? Didn’t psychology call homosexuality a disorder until 1973?) The only way we can arrive at this point is through the Gnostic reading of humanity, which says the Self has nothing to do with the physical body, but rather the body is nothing more than vesture to be tailored any way one wants.
It’s all rooted in the narrative of one’s “Self” being liberated from the stifling oppression of the body and its various determinations (like genital), rooted in the Gnostic notion that life is the story of the Self’s liberation from (or reconstituting of) family, church, economic, national, linguistic, and bodily realities in order to pursue the heroic journey of Self-divinization.
Pop Culture and the Gnostic Meta-Narrative
Pop culture elites almost always assume this meta-narrative. It criss-crosses American culture at all points. It explains neo-evangelicalism’s “New Reformation” focused on self-esteem and “changing paradigms” of worship, trading 2,000 years of tradition for the Swedish self-massage otherwise known as “contemporary worship.” It explains the dominance of pop existentialism in Hollywood’s scripts, existentialism being a species of Gnosticism (see Hans Jonas). It explains deconstructionism and the decline of language, to be replaced by the magical use of language, or cynically using it for social manipulation. It explains the decline of logic and linear or propositional thinking, to be replaced by memes, symbols, logos, and other such sigils. It explains the liberating role given over to the erotic, music, and drugs. It explains our addictive society, ever seeking that buzz, that ecstasy, that utopian life which, of course, can’t happen—nature and reality being what they are. That leaves only melancholy and depression, another sign of America’s pathological Gnosticism. Recall the general melancholy, even suicidal ideation, following the movie “Avatar” a few years back. Returning to real life was downright depressing.
So long as our minds marinate in electronic wonderlands and see the regular burdens of reality as a prison cell to escape, the American soul will always be slouching toward political and cultural collectivism, because we will ever be susceptible to promises that things can “change for the better” or that the world can become “a better place” provided we support some person or movement promising the fulfillment of that hope. We’ll also be ever seeking that charismatic leader sold as the voice and promise of the collective vision.
The Gnostic meta-narrative pretends non-conformist individuality, its focus on the Self and all. It seems so rebellious and antinomian, but only in the way a television ad convinces you and 20 million other people you’re being unique by rebelling against convention and buying these jeans. The dynamic defines so much of Leftism: Rebel against convention, be yourself, and now join that throng of zombies linked arm-in-arm to save the world while the emotive chords of “Imagine” tinkle in the background. Because together we can make a difference! It goes back to Martin Heidegger himself, who after midwifing existentialism became a fascist. Go figure.
Can the Right Take Control of the Narrative?
Can the Right take hold of the meta-narrative and craft its own conservative archetypes and storylines? Can the Right own popular culture? Based on decades of evidence, no, because the facts of life are not a narrative, or the product of optic-crafting or image-manipulation. They just are, and that doesn’t captivate or sell advertising. Pop media is escapist, and who wants to escape back into reality?
In Gnostic terms, the facts of life are the enemy. So long as our minds are saturated in the meta-narrative that reality and the facts of life are cosmic antagonists in our personal heroic journeys, we’ll never truly embrace—I mean in a long-term, fundamental way—the conservative orientation. True, every day people come to realize the facts of life are something to redeem and not rebel against, but until we see a mass movement of Americans rebelling against mass media itself, or popular culture, these will be exceptions to the rule.
To redeem nature or rebel against it. Is that not really the question marking the difference between conservativism and progressivism? If it is, the fault lines of how this question is answered go back a long, long way, to the question whether the Divine Logos took on human nature to redeem it, or whether, as the Gnostics said, God is so outside this cosmic framework that he couldn’t and wouldn’t do such a ghastly act.