The late, great David Stove once said,
There are scarcely any human beings who do not have some lunatic beliefs or other to which they attach great importance. People are mostly sane enough, of course, in the affairs of common life: the getting of food, shelter, and so on. But the moment they attempt any depth or generality of thought, they go mad almost infallibly. The vast majority, of course, adopt the local religious madness, as naturally as they adopt the local dress. But the more powerful minds will, equally infallibly, fall into the worship of some intelligent and dangerous lunatic, such as Plato, or Augustine, or Comte, or Hegel, or Marx.
By “scarcely any” he of course meant “none.”1 People get all hot and bothered about the word “transcendental,” I suspect, because lots of us think other people use it as secret code for J-E-S-U-S.2 But it isn’t. The transcendental is just a “lunatic belief…to which [we] attach great importance.” If you’re not sure what yours is, fill in the blank:
It’s just a _____.
Everyone has something to put in the blank such that, if someone said it to you, you’d sock them on the jaw. Atheists are the most fun meta-example. Tell an atheist that hey, it’s great that you’ve got 1001 irrefutable proofs that there’s no Invisible Sky Fairy, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter a bit — if all we are is dust in the wind, dude, then our illusions are actually more valuable, because otherwise Camus is right and philosophy’s only real problem is suicide. You first, Cheeto-breath. Atheism is just another teenage fad. You’ll grow out of it, just like you grew out of being a goth and a metalhead and a skater and the seventeen other things you were sophomore year.
And so on. Your teenage Libertarian — otherwise so calm and reasonable — will break down crying if you tell him that The Smiths are “just a band.” Tell a Packers fan that football is “just a game” and watch what happens. Tell the guy who’s doing twenty-to-life that those Air Jordans were “just sneakers.” See what I mean? We don’t want to believe that people can find transcendental meaning in a pair of sneakers, but 1200 homicides a year say otherwise.
The fastest route to transcendence, though — and by far the most consequential — is through politics. A successful revolutionary movement is just a cult writ large, and revolutionaries damn well know it. Why do you think Lenin created a cabinet-level Ministry of Education — complete with Enlightenment Commissar! — to proclaim that The Workers are the source of all that is good and vital in the world? And he wasn’t a patch on Heinrich Himmler, whose neo-pagan fantasias would be awesomely kitsch if they weren’t so terrifying. We can infer a general rule here:
A successful revolutionary movement must offer
- A transcendent goal, and
- Transcendent experience.
The first without the second is your basic New Year’s Resolution — you think about how great life would be if you were to drop 20 pounds, but since the future benefit is only a fantasy and hauling your sweaty, hungry ass up the stairmaster is reality, most New Year’s Resolutions don’t make it past January 4. The second without the first is your basic rock concert — it’s fun to get drunk and high and half-naked with 20,000 of your new best friends, but it’s back to the office on Monday.
It doesn’t have to be explicit, and it sure as hell doesn’t need to make sense. The clowns who shoot each other over sneakers almost certainly can’t articulate why that makes sense to them, any more than Packers fans can explain why they stand shirtless in subzero weather for three hours. Indeed, the Left got where it is, I argue, simply by romanticizing college.
Betcha didn’t see that coming!
College sells itself as both 1 and 2. The transcendent goal is, of course, “a good job,” which if you remember your own adolescence is entirely hypothetical at that point. But it’s also the whole “going off to college” thing — going to school, getting the gear, giving your parents the “College Mom” bumper sticker at Christmas. Why do you think NCAA football still exists? As eggheads outside the ivory tower always point out, only a handful of programs make money. Not to mention all that toxic masculinity!!! Football is marketing — that’s it. My old employer, Flyover State, made it the cornerstone of the campus experience, even though the team last won a bowl game in Nineteen Seventy Never. A whole bunch of kids around there took it for granted that they’d go on to be Flyover State Fightin’ Deplorables when they graduated high school, just like Mom and Dad (and these days, often Grandma and Grandpa too).
Which is also the “transcendent experience” part. I don’t know about you, but I started missing college by about the fourth time my alarm rang at zero-dark-thirty and I had to haul my suited, necktied ass down to the cubicle for another eight hours of the rat race. By the end of my first month in The Real World, I’d forgotten all the shitty parts of college and could only recall the good times. By the end of the second month, The Good Times had acquired their own capital letters. Remember how great it was to be able to roll out of bed at 2:30 in the afternoon? The endless nights of cheap beer and easy girls? All the afternoons lazing around the frat house with Chugs and Dudester and Munchie, solving all the world’s problems over some cool tunes and righteous bud? Me neither, but by the time I had to file my first income tax returns I could swear all of that stuff happened, like, all the time.
That’s how they get you. Because, of course, the radical Leftist politics were always there, steady white noise, like your Mom’s heartbeat in the womb. You may not remember anything specific — in fact, they’re counting on it — but you remember the gist of it. Quick: What did you learn in English Lit 101, all those years ago? “Uhhhh…. something something Shakespeare oppresses women.” How about HIST 201, Colonial America? “Errr….. Harriet Tubman? No, wait, Crispus Attucks! Also something something genocide of the noble Native Americans. And slavery.” How about MATH 101? “Something something algebra is racist. Also sexist.”
Any successful revolutionary movement must focus on the revolutionary experience. Fights over whether we should all wear white Patriots hats — or should we wear hats at all, or do they have to be Patriots hats, and does white make my butt look big? — are all fine and good, but without the experience, it’s just fashionista crap.
The point is meeting people — “male bonding,” if you must. We can all prance around dressed like Tinkerbell, Queen of the Fairies, for all I care. You build a movement by giving people an experience. It doesn’t have to be the whole Leopard Lodge, Grand Poobah deal — shouldn’t be, for obvious OpSec reasons — but it has to be something more than just grousing on the Internet. Wearing a hat — or a fez, or a Tinkerbell costume — is only a conversation starter, a wink and a nod, a way to let other people know you’re in the know. It’s the same as wearing college logo gear to the grocery store. “Oh, you’re a Fightin’ Deplorable, too?”
Being in #TheRealResistance is, by definition, a bonding experience. The trick is to plausibly deniably let everyone know you’re in it. It’s no Big Rivalry Game, but it’ll do.
1. though I suspect Stove, who was not without intellectual vanity, gave himself a pass.
2. Stove was one of them.Loading Likes...