57. Corners of the mouth (II)
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Honesty is brutal. The virtue of honesty lies in its authenticity: even if it hurts, we give the other person something real. It is better to feel pain than to be swaddled in a thick and soft blanket of lies. The lies are comforting, but there is no point in comfort if it has no integrity behind it. Does it make you feel better that a person who despises you tells you that they love you? You know it is not true, but politeness and, frankly, cowardice keeps you wrapped in the easy lie. If you give someone something real it is likely you will lose them, but you will lose them with an authentic force that is worth more—in the hatred and passion—than years of puking warmth.
We are an overcivilised people. We are too used to comfort, politeness, and cleverness. We are the great ironists. The ironist is a liar. In the last decade of the 20th century, as America ripened into decadence, a great ironist, David Foster Wallace, arrived. He was a man who would not say boo to a goose. He was very clever—super smart, the superficial ironist would say—and, in the end, he hanged himself; why? He hanged himself because beneath the clever affectation that he was a good and kind person lay immense anger. He had swaddled the anger in comforting illusions and, ultimately, in drugs. But the anger was there. Finally, the anger turned on him and he killed himself. Now all America, all the West, is as he was: we have been too clever, too ironic, and not admitted that we are angry—now we turn the anger on ourselves. Even the barbarian Trump—an honest man, for a politician—has not turned honest enough.
Our decadence comes from our technology. The Romans went soft when they defeated Carthage. Slaves poured into Rome and the average citizen went from owning perhaps twenty slaves to hundreds, cheap flesh of victory. I have 20,000 slaves in my pocket: it is called a smartphone. My slaves are made of oil and silicon, and, though they do not scream, they have turned me soft like a post-Carthage Roman. Soft people come to love illusions. They have time for status games, for decadent politeness—for worrying about pronouns.
Politeness is a lie; it is a small lie, a necessary lie for social cooperation, but in times of decadence it becomes the big lie, the flabby lie. We are so comfortable, so wrapped in technology and lies and irony, that, like a Roman aristocrat pinching his goosey flesh after eating thirty sparrows and quaffing two amphoras of wine, we hurt ourselves so as to feel anything at all; hence white privilege, a concept invented by bored whites to compete with each other for status. (People who really care for the blacks would bring back the noose and keep hanging until the ghetto experienced a genetic curtailment of wicked traits; such men of honesty will be called haters, and the politely decadent will, ironically, eat their avocado on toast while black butchers black).
The ironic ones love to speak of empathy. The empathic person imagines themselves in another person’s shoes; the truly empathic person will even imagine the other person’s illusions. Honesty must destroy illusions. The honest man knows that empathy is rare and only happens eye to eye; there is no empathy for people you have never met. “Love thy neighbour”. No, I would rather love an imaginary man two thousand miles away: this what the soft men of empathy really mean; they do not have the balls for empathy, for the hot fat of the real. Sadism is more common than empathy and we overcivilised people—pinching our own skin, just to feel something—know about sadism. We know about slow tortures in offices and pointless disputes and playing dumb. When there is nothing on the line, when it is all so easy, it is simple to play dumb.