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new age monstersThe full weight of the failed Enlightenment experiment over-taxes the load bearing pillars that prop up a decaying Western Civilization, pillars that are buckling under the sheer weight of moral corruption on full display in modern society. The ethical structures of the West are in desperate need of repair. This new age is best characterized by the Weird Sisters crowing pronouncement “Fair is foul, and foul is fair, Hover through the fog and filthy air.” The inversion of values has been a massive moral de-construction project that has taken the time honored vertical hierarchy of virtues and vices and turned it upside down. There is still a vertical hierarchy but now society honors vice and maligns virtue; and to add insult to injury, the mind molders call the vertical inversion horizontal equality. The universities and the media constantly hurl out the egalitarian lie that all moral positions are subjective and therefore equally weighted, while clearly giving full gravity to their own positions and often giving practically no weight at all to traditional virtue.

In Ephesians 2:2, St. Paul identifies the root cause and summary of moral decadence as the “spirit now at work in the sons of disobedience.” The bent spirit has captivated the imagination of this age and turned too many hearts and minds away from the narrow path of virtue and towards the highways of wickedness renamed. Too long has our gaze been directed downward towards depravity, so long that licentiousness is mistaken for freedom. Too long has material prosperity dulled our moral senses, so long that we believe we can afford an obscene tolerance of vicious acts. Too long has this generation inhaled the polluted ethos manufactured by philosophers who believe that being proceeds from thinking, that nature requires conquering and that all are entitled to equally pleasurable outcomes in this valley of tears.

The moral pollution is often funneled into our homes by airwaves and manifested on an imprudent surplus of screens. Our eyes are bombarded by violent images, our ears by the incessant din of story after story of depraved criminal acts, and an endless stream of degenerate entertainment from a morally vacuous popular culture infects young and old alike. By imperceptible degrees, scales have grown over our eyes. The violence and depravity hardly quicken our pulse anymore as outrage lies mute in a pauper’s grave. Consider only two recent cases of malevolence and witness crimes that properly belong to monsters.

In September, 2013, the world witnessed wanton violence, destruction and murder at a mall in Kenya. Terrorist organization al-Shabaab allegedly claimed responsibility for the terror that left 67 dead and wounded over 200. Four year old “Elliott Prior was shopping with his mother and sister at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi” and he had the moral insight to declare to a terrorist “you are a very bad man.” It is reported that the terrorist was surprised and he said to the little boy “please forgive me, we are not monsters,” and he proceeded to give the little boy a candy bar to prove it, presumably stolen from the supermarket in which they were murdering and destroying. Before the terrorist let the boy, sister, and mom go, he added by way of explanation that they “only wanted to kill Kenyans and Americans.” A perplexing and empty consolation indeed, but even so, the terrorists murdered at least five Britons.

Also, call to mind the infamous Ariel Castro, who abducted three girls in Cleveland, Ohio and kept them as sex slaves for a decade, he finally had his day in court. On July 26, 2013, Castro pled guilty to 937 acts of rape, aggravated murder, and kidnapping. He patiently waited for his turn to tell the court he “is not a monster.” He supported his claim with the statement, “I am not a violent person, I just kept them there without being able to leave.” He went on to make the absurd claim that there was “harmony inside his home.” And “he did not force himself on the girls.” He reminded the court he “was married, held a job as a bus driver and is a happy person inside.” Based on Ariel Castro’s warped etiology, he was the victim.

These two monsters ought to give the discerning critical pause. Though this is hardly the first time a psychopath has denied the depravity of his depraved acts, this is a sign of something different, something evolved, something cultivated, something for a new age. These two cases are an indication of man’s fallen nature exacerbated by a disturbing and growing trend generated in the West.

Over 2400 years ago Confucius said “be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes.” This folk wisdom reveals a healthy psychology acknowledging both the fact that we all make mistakes and that there is a need to atone for them, for in denying our mistakes the discord they cause in relationships festers. In the two cases mentioned, these men are not ashamed of their mistakes; they are not even expressing culpability for their crimes. And worse still; they claim to feel good about themselves despite a commitment to depravity. This phenomenon is increasing before our eyes. The new age monsters’ depraved activities extend well beyond the cited violence and into all the darkest recesses of man’s soul ranging from lust, gluttony, greed, anger, fraud, up to and including treachery.

Public school teachers, law enforcement, correctional officers and the media are already well aware of this growing phenomenon. Even the secular humanists at Camp Agusta recognize the growing trend that criminals have higher and higher self-esteem as they state: “There are a lot of people with high self-esteem. Mass murders, prisoners, gang members, and delinquent children all have higher self-esteem, on average, than people in the general population of a similar age.” So why do criminals feel so good about themselves?

The public school system is one of several tributaries flowing into this quagmire of confusion. One major goal for nearly every classroom across the entire west is to build self-esteem. Modern pop psychology and modern philosophy form the stream-bed over which the fetid waters flow. Was not Maslow’s narcissistic hierarchy of needs for self-actualization only a foray into Freud’s untethered psychology? Was Dewey’s utilitarianism and political activism disguised as vague philosophy any more representative of a true understanding the human person? Most modern “philosophers” from Rousseau to Foucault have taken part in a massive rebellion against reality. The intellectual movement has been a profane rage against the proper order of things and an act of hubris against truth goodness and beauty.

Out of dehumanizing psychology and reductive philosophy was born the false assumption that people need to feel good about themselves to do good things. In the public schools, there has been a concerted effort to make students feel proud of themselves by whatever means necessary. Teachers are encouraged to become adept at contriving less than genuine reasons for inculcating a high self-opinion. The last several generations have been witness to a frenzied pathological obsession to increase students’ self-esteem, and the efforts have met with success.

Even though the psychologists and teachers have the best of intentions in trying to make everybody feel so good about themselves, it is indeed a misguided cultivation of self-esteem and thus a propagation of the number one deadly sin, PRIDE. In The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains that properly ordered pride “seems to be a sort of crown of the virtues” and it is “impossible without nobility and goodness of character.” He goes on to explain that disordered pride, a man being proud without goodness of character, “is vain.” The misguided cultivation of this disordered pride on a massive scale is precisely what we are witnessing today, and because the cultivated pride is lacking good character and nobility, those in possession of this false high self-esteem are vainly emboldened to act on their bad character.

Good character is a prerequisite of good citizenship. Creating good citizens is often cited as a desired outcome of public education. A healthy and properly ordered self-esteem is a result, not a cause of the well-ordered character. So the labors of a school ought to be the cultivation of the good character which will be followed by good acts which will be followed by properly ordered self-esteem, which will be followed by the formation of good citizens. Unfortunately, the opposite has corralled consensus amongst educational experts and university professors. The endless time and effort that goes towards building up a false pride in students will soon produce an army of narcissists who feel great about themselves without the precondition of good character. We are already beginning to see a growing mass of new age monsters created by a society that cultivates vice and eschews virtue. Call to mind the growing violent gangs. The existence of these new age monsters shouldn’t surprise us because like Victor Frankenstein, we created them.

The Western imagination has been seized and held captive by debilitating materialism. The roots go at least back to Sir Francis Bacon who advocated that nature should be “tortured” or “put on the rack” to conform to “man’s reality.” At the outset of the Enlightenment, we embarked on a fool’s quest to conquer nature by cutting ties to our creaturely status and attempting to usurp the authority of the creator to satisfy our restless hearts by disordered means.

C.S. Lewis keenly observes in The Abolition of Man, that “for wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality, and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique.” We must end this mad race to contrive technical solutions for our moral problems. We must recover the truth that man is made for virtue and reinstate the vertical hierarchy properly ordered to the Logos that honors virtue and excoriates vice, or we will continue to produce monsters no matter how technologically advanced we become. St. Augustine can aid our recovery if we remember his profound words: “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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10 replies to this post
  1. Probably the best thing ever written in the 20th and 21st centuries on this whole self esteem thing was Two Ways with the a Self, also by C S Lewis. He balances evil self esteem against evil self hatred ( which I have been guilty of) in the best way.

    • Hcat, Thank you for that reference, as you say, superbly delineated!

      “On the one hand, it is God’s creature, an occasion of love and rejoicing; now, indeed, hateful in condition , but to be pitied and healed. On the other hand, it is that one self of all others which is called the I and me, and which on that ground puts forward and irrational claim to preference.”

      Socrates says at the very end of the Apology “reprove my sons if they seek anything above the virtues, or if they think they are special when they are not.”

  2. Considering the source, I find this post a bit dubious. After all, didn’t conservative political leaders do all that was mentioned above before it became popular. Ronald Reagan called people like Osama Bin Laden ‘freedom fighters’ and supported them while condemning Nelson Mandela. He, and his successor, George H. W. Bush, supported Saddam Hussein and called him a moderate, that is until Hussein invaded a neighbor and rich friend of the Bush family. Then we have Margret Thatcher who praised Pinochet and condemned Mandela.

    And we have our own actions to account for. We helped overthrow democratically elected governments in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile to install dictators who gave us business favors.

    But most of all, conservatives emphasize individual liberty so much that some see it as the only liberty. And thus they see democracies as potential sources of coercion because their binding decisions just might infringe on an individual liberty or two.

    And as for Paul, the quote from him leaves identifying the actual characteristics of spirit that is working in the sons of disobedience rather difficult. But what is not vague is Paul’s description of the love of money being the root of all kinds of evil. What conclusions should we draw using Paul’s description of today’s ethic of maximizing profits, not increasing the minimum wage, and today’s neoliberal capitalist economy?

    Thus, for this post to make its intended point, it needs to do so without regard for collateral damage. For this post has a valid point regarding the teaching of self-esteem in the schools. It isn’t just the enlightenment and the proliferation of high self-esteem that contributes to today’s problems, it is some of the ideology that conservatives hold near and dear too.

  3. I’m reminded of RIchard Weaver in The Southern Tradition At Bay:

    “But nature is not an opponent, as ancient systems of belief could have instructed us; it is the matrix of our being, and as such scientists we are parricides. Piety is a realization that beyond a certain point victories over nature are pyrrhic.” (p. 16)

  4. Not all is lost. In each of Mr. Rummelsburg’s examples, evil is met with good. One of the terrorists in Kenya meets a boy with the moral courage to call him what he is. Ariel Castro’s house of horrors is discovered by a neighbor who hears screaming and has the presence of mind to investigate it. Other examples come to mind, too. September 11 marks not only the craven violence of terrorists but also the insuperable self-sacrifice of policemen, firemen, and bystanders. Speaking of the schools for which the author expresses so much concern, the teachers and paraprofessionals inside Sandy Hook Elementary last December showed something of God’s grace as a young gunman took aim at children. No phony self-esteem there.

    Jesus said that the poor will always be with us; perhaps the same can be said for evil. However, according to C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, evil is a parasite on good and cannot exist without it. In other words, every evil act affirms the presence of goodness, which is an irony of faith.

    • Mr. Cote, you make an excellent point! My overarching point is not that there is no good in this world for there is much and it is just as you say, but that you will not see good coming out of the public school by teachers who are doing what is expected of them.

      • I understand, but your examples speak to an evil that is deeper than any character flaw that can be blamed solely, if at all, on public schools. I have been a public high school teacher since1991, and in my experience the prideful students have come to me that way; they were not entirely made, Frankenstein-like, either by my colleagues or by the system as a whole. Ironically, many parents are culpable in this matter. Certain parents, in fact, complain vociferously when their children earn low marks on essays or tests. Like the students themselves, they believe that their children are entitled to As and Bs, especially if those children are enrolled in AP courses. Parents fear that low marks will threaten their children’s eligibility for admission to top colleges and universities, so they pressure teachers and guidance counsellors to change grades. Students, of course, witness this powerplay, and learn that such tactics are acceptable in life.

        I will grant you that praise is often too freely given to elementary school children. Americans are sentimental about little kids, and no adult, teacher or not, wants to be a Gradgrind or a Grinch. Society should acknowledge, however, that even young children are resilient enough to endure constructive criticism judiciously leveed.

        Thank you for your reply.

        P.S. Evidently, I am the only currently-employed public school teacher who regularly reads TIC, but I am happy to “represent.” I both enjoy and agree with much of the discourse here.

  5. Sorry to dissent, but the author’s first two examples reveal his otherwise good piece as a rant. After US invasions and others, and foreign powers toppling the extreme but popular Islamists who at least brought order to tragic Somalia, came the foul terrorist attack in Kenya: an indefensible but understandable effect of foreign meddling. The American psycho who kept slaves at home was, um, a psycho. The sensationalist 19th C press was awash in similar Jack the Rippers, Burkes and Hares, remote sectarian uprisings and others. Do either of the author’s examples work as self-esteem problems? As New Age? Did any modern Western liberal defend the Somali terrorists or the US kidnapper/pervert, much less defend their choice of their own lifestyle? How was either caused by the Enlightenment? Opposing real moral decline with such unfortunate examples weakens an important point.

  6. Thank you Mr. Masty for a thoughtful criticism- though perhaps not clear- the “man is the measure of all things” that did spring from of the Enlightenment gave both the terrorist and the psychopath, (admittedly hyperbolic examples perhaps rendering my point a “rant” and weakening the truthful case) the arrogated authority to self-reference for truth and justice- I can’t think for a moment that you believe it a logical conclusion that the terrorists committed that murder? You say “indefensible but understandable” and I agree indefensible, but understandable? Wanton indiscriminate murder of innocent people seems to me never to be understandable, and I had hoped to emphasize that what was extraordinary in both cases was their own personal notions that they were “not monsters.” They were monsters and we live with an ethos that is covering the globe and it springs from western education, that self-esteem is the highest virtue. And though these two are not your average school children, they do share in common that they all feel great about themselves in spite of horribly formed character and monstrous behavior, and I believe the source is the same Have you been in the public schools lately?

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