America’s Dying Arts and Philosophy
Hold the Cure
by John Stanton
May 27, 2003
The wonderfully bizarre and philosophically fertile novel Insatiability, written in 1927 by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, describes a society in rancid decay faced with the external threat of a “Sino-Mongolian” army with some very distinct Soviet and Nazi characteristics. The armies of conformity are on the border waiting to attack.
Meanwhile in Witkiewicz’s society, religion, philosophy, politics, art, literature and sex have become devoid of transcendent qualities. They serve only to further the utilitarian interests of racism, nationalism and patriotism. Sex is no longer surrounded by love; instead, it is merely a means to produce more workers, more soldiers, more taxpayers. Witkiewicz’s nation is frenetically engaged in an orgy of motion for motion’s sake which means that it is has extraordinarily high rates of productivity. The people’s days are full of activity whether it be producing or manufacturing, reading the newspapers, visiting an art museum, listening to music, or propagating the human species. The masses, as Witkiewicz describes them, “all those dukes, counts, farmers, peasants, workers, craftsmen, army…” are vacuous automatons who had long ago lost the ability to look beyond the given image or word; that is, to think with depth.
The dying society that Witkiewicz portrays can only be saved by the artists and the unblemished spiritualism of religion freed from corporate structure. The writer, the philosopher, the poet, the painter, the musician, and the religious leader collectively hold the cure for a culture on its death bed. Why? As they have throughout recording history, this merry band of refuseniks are constantly exposing the brutality of reality and are continually challenging institutions and the propaganda they spew forth. It is their lot in life and their duty to ask the tough questions. No open society can prosper for long without them. In Witkiewicz’s world, those with the cure have relinquished their responsibilities. They no longer refuse-- they join, they are indoctrinated and they conform. Indeed, it is far easier and more lucrative to praise and promote the established order than it is to challenge it. Such has been the choice of the Christopher Hitchens’ of the world. For others though, having taken that road, the sense of guilt that going-along-to-get-along breeds haunts them. They suffer no matter what they do.
“A man who used these Murti-Bing pills changed completely. The problems he had struggled with until then suddenly appeared to be superficial and unimportant. Those once tormented by philosophical in satiety now entered the service of the new society [the new faith]. Instead of writing the dissonant music of former days, they composed marches and odes. Instead of painting abstractions as before, they turned out socially useful pictures,” according to Czeslaw Milosz, in his forward to Insatiability. In the end, hooked on Murti-Bing, Witkiewicz’s characters have been, in essence, lobotomized. “Sturfan wrote abominable things—novels without any ‘heroes,’ whose role was now assumed by groups…Lilian continued to perform in theater…He operated exclusively with the collective psyche, dispensing entirely with dialogue.
Art and literary criticism were at last completely abolished.”
Insatiability has many lessons in it for Americans. As Milosz points out, Witkiewicz was describing a Western society. One in which the quantity of material produced—be it philosophy, art, literature, or even politicians—had no relation to quality. The critics, whether literary or general culture, knew very little about the subject matter they were assessing. The critics were either employed by organizations who circumscribed their views to preserve the bottom line, or they held a particularly snobbish view of the changing world around them. “Because of a spurious sense of social duty and a desire to instruct petty people in petty virtues…whatever appears uncomfortable is either glossed over in silence or else deliberately misconstrued and misinterpreted…What can be expected of the public if the critics themselves are below the average reader?”
Here in 21st Century America, Witkiewicz’s novel world has become a tragicomic reality. Critics take the form homophobic Michael Savage, a savage intellect whose tirades appeal to millions of predominantly white males who believe that American history began with George Bush II. Another critic and hustler like Rush Limbaugh, whose website urges boycotting France and Germany--and encourages visitors to join The Presidential Prayer Team--speaks volumes to the depth-free nature of the American intellect. One wonders if the Savage and Limbaugh audiences know that Baron de Montesquieu was the inspiration for the “checks and balances” of the US government. Or that the French have greatly influenced US military doctrine since at least 1776 (not to mention salvaging the American revolution). The vaunted shock and awe tactics used recently during the War in Iraq were set in place long ago by Napoleon Bonaparte who revamped the French army with doctrines that ensured speed, maintaining the offensive, maneuverability and joint training. That revolution in military affairs took place over 200 years ago. Immediately after World War I, the US Army solicited German gun designers recognizing the inferiority of US designs. Of course, without former Nazi Werner Von Braun, the USA would have had far greater difficulty getting its machines and warheads into space.
The US is populated with thousands of Savage’s and Limbaugh’s in corporate board rooms, the government and military, universities, media outlets, sports and entertainment, and the world of arts. These are the petty people to whom Witkiewicz refers. The very ones whose “spurious sense of social duty and petty virtue” has somehow landed them in positions of power that allows them to comment, or critique, an entire society and its culture and government. Yet their commentary is as staged and hollow as George Bush’s comedic Top Gun stunt on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. And it’s killing America. But that false imagery and the language that goes with it finds a paying and voting audience in the tens of millions—Witkiewicz’s masses--who either truly believe in the simplistic and erroneous notions of American mythology, or who have
auctioned off their transcendent souls for the safe havens of profitability and conformity.
These vacuous people—senators and congressmen, CEO’s and generals, preachers and rockers, white collar and blue collar alike--when confronted with the factual record of George Bush II’s record of being AWOL from the Texas National Guard and his many business failings, or informed that every political rally held by this president is a lesson in Hollywood production 101, simply deny that reality and opt for the fantasy. But Bush is not the problem. It is what he has come to represent. And that is the antithesis of what US citizens are taught to believe it means to be American. It takes years of labor to purchase and maintain a home, to stay on the payroll, to get an education, to believe there is more than crass profit and loss, to tolerate tax cuts for the rich, to raise a family, to worship ones god’s, to be honest and trusting.
That quaint American philosophy of life has been beheaded. Now the “leaders” aren’t even coy about parsing the truth with the country. It’s in-your-face lying on a global scale. Full spectrum perception management via the US government, incorporated, ensures that what was false remains false, but you’ll believe it to be true, just like you still believe the New York Times. Where else are you to turn? You are too busy being productive to believe otherwise and, besides, you don’t have the time to fight the system.
The modern day Murti-Bing pills--Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax and prime time media—let you tolerate the madness that is fed to you on a daily basis: Trillions in tax cuts
for the rich are good. $700 billion for defense and intelligence is good. Outsourcing 850,000 government jobs is good. Cutting highway funding to the states is good. Cutting social programs is good. Eliminating pension plans and social security is good. Don’t criticize, we are at war. America: love it or leave it. “Mission Accomplished”. Ditching the United Nations and international treaties is good. It’s not about oil. We don’t need a commission on 911—trust us. Hussein was a threat to the United States. Your safer now with Tom Ridge in charge. There is an opposition party. The president’s speeches and rally’s are spontaneous. Without the US military there would be no freedom. Freedom means the ability to buy and sell. Media deregulation is good. Guantanamo Bay is not a death camp. The War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism are successful. The US Department of Homeland Security does not have former KGB officers as consultants. Missile defense works.
In this national psycho ward, you want to do “something” to contribute because there’s an emptiness you just can’t seem to shake. You want to be a refuseniks. One day, you say to yourself, I’ll do “something” about it.
“Perhaps sunlight, the smell of the earth, little everyday pleasures and the forgetfulness that work brings can ease somewhat the tensions created by this process…But beneath the activity and bustle of daily life is the constant awareness of an irrevocable choice to be made. One must either die--physically or spiritually--or else one must be reborn according to the prescribed method, namely, the taking of Murti-Bing pills. People in the [USA are often inclined to consider the lot of converted countries in terms of might and coercion. That is wrong. There is an internal longing for harmony and happiness that lies deeper than the ordinary fear of the desire to escape misery or physical destruction.”
The people of America have difficult decisions ahead. Their economy is awash in a sea of debt and the unemployed. Its military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq are far from complete. It’s corporate boardrooms and halls of government are indistinguishable. The invisible hand of censorship is everywhere. Million’s are afraid to speak in fear of the state’s security apparatus. The state has become god-like in its ability to inculcate fear through constant “terrorist” alerts.
American’s can easily choose to be “reborn” and conform to a system which delivers the goods, as Herbert Marcuse once said. Do they have any art, philosophy or spirituality in them? What will they do? Stand and fight, or stand and help deliver the goods. Mr. Witkiewicz’s choice, however, is not recommended. In 1939, recognizing that the Soviet’s and Nazi’s were on the way into Poland, he committed suicide.
John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in national security matters. He is the author (along with Wayne Madsen) of America’s Nightmare: The Presidency of George Bush II available at www.booksurge.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org