My thoughts keep returning to an exchange I recently had online with someone who, almost from the outset of the discussion, angrily declared:
“We’re all just animals; humans are animals no different from the rest of the animal kingdom; the only difference is that we stupidly think we are better and act all conceited. If we weren’t just animals, we would behave better to each other and seek peace and quiet…” etc., etc.
Sensing a certain heatedness in the above, I first thought of saying something flippant to lighten the tension. But suddenly I felt the view expressed was really so grim and dangerous that it would not help to mince words. So I instead said what I really felt:
“I think this is an overconfidently reductionist and also highly fashionable view, one I don’t think I can share.”
Interestingly, the person gave no arguments, but simply ended the conversation at once, and I have not heard from them since. (Perhaps I was too strong, but then immediate rejection and silencing of those who do not abet one’s beliefs is also, as we have seen all too clearly and all too many times, quite standard procedure now.)
Really what my sometime interlocutor does not see—because she is too busy congratulating herself for quoting scientistic bromides and therefore, by a sort of crackpot modus ponens typical of the lumpen-intellectuals of today, being “smart”—is that the view she expressed is monstrous, not only because it allows one to degrade humans without limit, but because it actually allows one, as a first step, to degrade animals without limit.
The slip, I believe, was in her saying animals are “just animals”—meaning biochemical machines with no “higher” potentials or capacities. This is, after all, pop-scientistic boilerplate now: all life is merely “moist robots”.
But just as one feels no moral pang in taking apart a vacuum cleaner or smashing a TV with a hammer, why, if an animal is “just” an animal, should one feel any such compunction about doing the same to it? And thus, if humans are no better, to a human being…?
The implications of the whole view, it is not too hard to see, are actually horrifying: they admit no limit of brutality, for they deny all moral basis for distinguishing brutality from taking apart a watch.
In fact the situation was even worse than this, for my friend’s tone betrayed an actual hatred of the human, a desire to place it not equal to, but below the animal. Why? Most likely, as she hinted, as punishment for humanity’s not “behaving better to each other”, and so failing to live up to those selfsame “higher” potentials which she loudly denies–and ultimately, for disappointing her.
If this interpretation is right, we see here an extraordinary phenomenon–out of a reflexive spite or a personal sense of disappointment, she has committed to deny the existence of these potentials—in order to get back at them!
Here is the irony: in their need for revenge at personal failings and slights, the progressive-minded of today must admit, albeit backhandedly, to the very things they are driven to deny—much as the postmodernist must concede the existence of truth in order to deny it, when he says, “truly, there is no truth”!
Like all nihilistic drives built around rage, revenge and resentment, we find self-negation at the core of this kind of “progressive enlightenment”. For is not my friend herself a human? What are we to make of this conflict? Does she then yearn actually to be lesser than what she is? Would she like, perhaps, even to be degraded in some way, perhaps even be forced to be a “moist robot”–all to relieve her of this pain of being human?
But self-contradiction inevitably breeds restlessness; and so, as long as it is never resolved at its source, it can feed on itself indefinitely, continually expanding the perimeter of its grievances, and continually degrading that which it claims to restore or heal.
This very line of thought might provide, in fact, a most useful definition of evil: Evil is that which begins by promising everything and ends by sparing nothing.