I keep turning this article about how terrified Americans are of the opposite sex over in my mind. My first instinct was to be overwhelmed and terrified by it, to conclude that 21st-century America is what you get when you combine religious fundamentalism and hardcore pornography without consulting any women in a decision-making capacity. The quotations in this article remind me not so much of Americans of a bygone era as of people in the Daesh caliphate, partially self-conscious post-modern subjects deploying medieval aesthetics to protect themselves from themselves.
But the more I turn it over, the more I feel like people like this understand something crucial that this century’s social liberals do not. It terrifies me to say this, but I see a kind of wisdom in this overwhelming caution towards one’s subconscious impulses that I do not see anywhere in the rhetoric of The Resistance™.
No matter how populist the left tries to sound, its demands still amount to an insistence that people suppress their urges. The left insists that you sit and learn until your mind is strong enough to overcome all self-interest. The curriculum includes some neat tricks for this, like, “The whole planet’s interest is your self-interest, when you get right down to it,” but that’s obviously an intellectual exercise hidden inside an emotional appeal. The electorate of late has been sending a loud and clear message about how much it likes that sort of thing.
But what’s the connection between unrestrained personal urges and ISIS-style social conservatism? Well, that should be obvious. The difference between enlightened liberal norms for social control and the ones most Americans clearly prefer is that the former are intellectual propositions that require consideration and assent, whereas the latter don’t need any more explanation than “BECAUSE GOD SAID SO, OR ELSE, HELL!” And — here’s the kicker — if you’re wise enough to realize that you’re always on the precipice of Hell because of your tortured, tumultuous, innermost urges and how they’re never satisfied, that’s enough for a man in this system to say, “Well, fuck it. Never going in a room with a woman again.”
Of course, the flip-side is, even women who aren’t personally subject to all the Hell-talk realize they’re constantly surrounded by men who are possessed by demons, so they aren’t going into that room, either.
In case I haven’t made it obvious yet, I am indeed saying that I think conservatives have some crucial wisdom about human nature that liberals — at least as they are currently represented in meme-space — do not have. Conservatives take their unconscious gravely seriously, and I don’t know about you, but when I look around, it looks like the unconscious rules everything around me. Super-great TED Talks are not suppressing it.
Only in the art world — where I am fortunate to spend most of my waking hours — do I see liberal people taking seriously the power of their unconscious. The second step conservatives have taken — legislating shared social norms that correct for the unconscious, successfully or not — we’re not quite there yet. But we have gotten as far as creating sandboxes for the expression of the unconscious, experiments in unrestrained human life where the damage can be contained and the beauty can be observed and celebrated. It can’t be denied that the temporary cities of the global Burning Man network are far more liberal with respect to the human unconscious than any cosmopolitan finance-city on the map, and I’m not going to call them social utopias, but hey, they’re still fun enough that we keep doing them.
Since I see no alternative, I have to believe there’s something to this. A liberal world that requires constant sublimation of the human animal seems to be so bad a plan that people will vote for the worst human being ever disgorged from Satan’s womb to avoid it. Listen to the majority: humans contain frightening darkness. They know that of which they speak; they are it. You know it, too; your own nightmares aside, you see it in them, in the world they’re creating despite you, and in the despair it causes you. Our species needs to change the way it is, or it’s going to die. I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that we start by looking at ourselves the way we actually are.
There’s an obvious paradox right there at step one: The thing about the unconscious is that we can’t see it, so how can we account for it? Well, first off, I’m saying it’s progress if the liberal minority of us can simply start acting as if the unconscious exists instead of brushing it aside. But more importantly, based on my lifelong experience with weird hippie stuff, I think there are ways to bring the shadow into the light, or at least to see what it was doing a few seconds ago. It might help to practice that and try to face the darkness a little bit.
I’ve been into automatic writing since I first stopped paying attention in middle school, and after a long break, this whole line of thinking has reignited that practice for me. I bought a Japanese notebook that’s completely blank inside, and last night I started writing on the top left corner of the front cover and made it about halfway down the inside cover before I took my first pause. I intend to finish it — like, the entire notebook. Come on, it’ll be at least as valuable to humanity as any leftist manifesto I’ve ever written. But I honestly believe it will be far more valuable because it will teach me things I cannot suppress or deny about my actual agency within the world — within my mind. And I’m not interested in what that will do for my ideology. I’m interested in what that will do for my compassion. If there really is a Human Nature, whatever weird, difficult shit is in my mind is probably in the mind of the Other, too.