The Tyranny of Nothing

The Great Eye
The Eye of Sauron

Many people suffer from chronological snobbery; they believe that because today is part of the 21st century and sixty years ago was part of the 20th century, today must be better and more enlightened than sixty years ago by the very fact of being today and not sixty years ago. What people believed and thought in the past is of no consequence to us today, aside from providing us with a whipping boy which will enable us to pat ourselves on the back in self-congratulations that we are better than our ancestors. The problem is that the past, more often than not, proves itself to be right. Miley Cyrus demonstrated this rule, again, when she declared in an interview last week that she considers herself to be “genderless” and “ageless.” She also said that, “I’m just a spirit soul, not divided by human being, even animals…There’s no me and them and there’s no us and you. I just want to be nothing.”

It was G.K. Chesterton who said that there are not so many new ideas as there are old mistakes, and this is the principle that Cyrus demonstrated in spades. Contrary to what some might think, these ideas that Cyrus expressed are not new or daring or provocative but are, instead, quite old and tried. The idea that the real “me” is some non-corporal spirit, a ghost in the machine of the body goes back to the sixteenth century where it was postulated by the French philosopher, Renee Descartes. Descartes arrived at this dualism (the idea that body and soul are two completely separate things) from his conclusion, “I think, therefore, I am.” Descartes came to this conclusion because of all the things in the world, he believed that the only thing that he could be utterly sure existed was himself and he could be sure of this fact because he could think. Since thinking was proof of existence, Descartes held that there was a deep divide between body and soul, contra Aristotelians, Thomists and Aristotelian-Thomists, who held to what is termed hylomorphism, the idea that the human person is not just a body and not just a soul but a body with a soul. As for Cyrus’s claim that “there’s no me and them and there’s no us and you,” such an idea comes from the ancient Greeks, specifically the pre-Socratic philosopher, Anaxagoras, who held that everything in reality is made from the mixing of an infinite number of primary elements. In this way, a blade of grass, a cup of water, a tiger-lily, a pickup truck, an octopus, and me at the most fundamental level are made of the same things; only the ratios are different. There also seems to be a whiff of Buddhism to this expressed desire from Cyrus, reminiscent of their desire for Nirvana, where everyone will lose their personal identity and be one.

If Cyrus were an actual pre-Socratic philosopher or an actual Buddhist, her expressions, while still wrong, might not be as bad. Given that she is neither, her words take on not just a silliness but a darkness that is best incapsulated in the words, “I want to be nothing.” There is a deep and sinister quality to a person wishing that they would cease to exist. If life is a good thing–and all sane people would have to agree that it is because, without it, how can we achieve the Good which all the great philosophers spoke–what can the wish for nothing, oblivion be? It is not a wish for death, for her spirit identity to be free from its material confines since Cyrus specifically claims that she wants to be nothing. That is the true terror of her words: Miley Cyrus, full of smiles and bubbliness, wants to be non-existent. Her words are a truer condemnation of contemporary culture than any analysis. How uneducated, how hollowed, how bored must a person become that non-existence seems to be an actually desirable end? C.S. Lewis once said that we laugh at honor and then are surprised to find traitors in our midst. Lewis’s principle applies here as well: we laughed at beauty, at truth, at home and family, at romance and adventure, at glory and honor, at God and religion. We were told, and continue to be told, that if we laugh hard enough, these ideas will go away and leave us to finally be completely unrestrained and completely free. And yet, almost sixty years after laughter became the sophisticated thing to do, we are bored; bored to the extent that now people actively wish that they would stop existing to be relieved of their boredom.  It turns out that hunting beauty, truth, and imagination from the world leaves the world a barren place that leaves us exposed to every element and storm.

That is the reason for Cyrus’s boredom and the boredom of our culture as a whole. But there is a result from this radical ennui and that is chaos. That might seem like a leap but, as Aristotle pointed out, small errors in the beginning lead to great errors in the future. If Miley Cyrus says that her identity is contained in the words “ageless” and “genderless” then this same conclusion must be a legitimate choice for others. So, already then, this is not a feeling that is contained to Cyrus alone, nor can it be. But what follows from this feeling of being ageless and genderless? For one thing, this feeling forces a serious person to ask: What am I? As humans, we exist in time; time is of such a fundamental part of our existence that we cannot conceive of a state of existence without time. If we are “ageless” though, or at least claim to perceive ourselves as ageless, time can have no meaning for us and one of the primary anchors that keeps us secured to reality is untethered. It is important to realize that ageless is not the same as immortal. Immortal simple means that one does not age, even though one is still passing through time; ageless, on the other hand, implies that one is outside of time itself, having no sense of or reference to past, present or future. But, since we cannot actually conceive of a state like this, what will making that claim mean for us? The same applies with the concept of genderlessness. If I am not a man or a woman–a very hard conclusion to come to, barring illness, since the fact of maleness or femaleness is rooted deep within us physically and metaphysically– and if I am not even any of the countless new “genders” that are being created and discarded then again, the question of what I am comes round to face us. The only logic answer is that I am nothing but being genderless and ageless, at least in the minds of Cyrus and others like her, cannot be the two methods by which nothingness is achieved since, by her own admittance, Cyrus sees herself as already being ageless and genderless and yet she still craves to be nothing. The answer to the question then, it seems, is that an individual thing–not a person anymore–must create its own essence exactly as Sartre said.

This leads to own shop of horrors. If I must create myself then I can recreate myself whenever I wish. In fact, I must recreate myself as my feelings dictate because my feelings are bound to change (assuming, of course, that I still have human feelings since I, in creating and recreating myself, can no longer be human). From that, comes a host of consequences. For one thing, the moral law or Tao, as C.S. Lewis termed it, that stodgy fossil of the past that refuses to limp quietly into the sunset, despite the numerous beatings that it has taken and continues to take, becomes nonexistent. Philosophers ranging from Aristotle and Aquinas to Plato and Lewis, have all argued that the moral law, or Tao, is written on the heart of every person. It is what we can’t not know, as J. Budziskwi, has described it. But, if the Tao is written on the human heart, can it still be there if one decides, through the process of “recreating” himself, that he is no longer human? Some will react to this with cheers and champagne; the moral, natural law is finally dead and there will be freedom! But, if there is no Tao, no standard, than anything possible. In his time, Lewis said gave the example that if there was no universal, moral and natural law, then there was no way to disparage Nazism for its evil since, if there was no standard, there could be no deviation from the standard and, as such, there could be no evil. The same is true today: if there is no standard of morality, then how can there be such a thing as racism or hatred in general? Your calling my views or my behavior hateful, is merely your exercising power over me because you are stronger than I. That is a fine arrangement for you, provided that the tables are not turned and I become the stronger party able to enforce my ideas upon you. Another result,  is that if there are no persons, there can be no relationships. A relationship exists between persons because it is assumed that the persons will be able to discover each other, which means that there is a someone to discover. But, in the process of recreation, the person cannot be discovered since there is no person to begin with and because the thing that you thought you knew at the beginning of the week might have completely changed by the end of the week. Friendship is impossible, as are any of the four loves.

In a world of this sort, where relationships are impossible, and so are friends and families, where there is no chaos because there is no law because there is no Tao, only a Leviathan, as imagined by Thomas Hobbes will be able to keep order. Ironically, the very false freedom that comes from the abolition of the Tao which people chase, leads to the very tyranny which they believe the Tao will impose upon them. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Sauron the Enemy says that there is no life in the Void…only death. There can be no life in nothingness either.