America and the Faceless Society

The newly-formed United States, having repudiated the mother country from which it derived whatever culture, morals and custom it possessed, found itself curiously faceless—a great, exhilarating question-mark. And as it had come into being during a time when great new notions of heroic universalism were sweeping the world, it was perhaps understandable that the new nation would choose, not so much to preserve what culture it had inherited or even to birth a coherent one of its own, as to embrace this facelessness and even press it to its limit. This is particularly apparent in many of the country’s founding documents–which tended to sideline traditional political methods in favor of universalist abstractions such as “contract”, “proposition”, and “right”–but also in the general trajectory of the society itself.

The resulting nation-state would center its identity not so much in any traditional form, custom, or even set of convictions, as in a careful sidelining of any such things, in favor of technical forms, relentless acceleration and—following the romance of the frontier—outward expansion. The Faustian longing-for-infinity, as well as the Enlightenment enthusiasm for pragmatic, materialistic, and universalized rationality, thus escaped their original European nurseries and found a fertile soil like none other.

So the American Experiment (whose radicalness has been largely lost on present generations) became a thoroughly “progressive” or “Enlightenment” project, one effectively sympathetic to—if not deliberately directed at—steadily eliminating all sense of place, face, or demos in favor of vast, amoral, technocratic systems with universalist aims. The result—which, aided by the USA’s immense prosperity and influence since WWII has spread to render huge swaths of the world similarly faceless—is now plain for any and all to see: an anomic constellation of disconnected, increasingly resentful individuals and pseudo-cultures, obsessed with rapid, virtualized self-gratification at the expense of authentic experience or character formation, all embedded helplessly in a planet-girdling technological matrix that enervates and stupefies its human thralls at least as much as it excites or entertains them.

This is the landscape that author James Kunstler frequently calls “the Geography of Nowhere”, or “places not worth caring about”; but we may also describe it as the physical embodiment of centuries of progressive, rationalistic Simplification. The basically dystopian character of this landscape is more than anything why, in the years ahead, a complete re-envisioning of the USA—up to and including a new Constitutional Convention, civil war, and a rejection of the whole modern understanding of the nation-state—will become increasingly inescapable. It is also why, in all probability, such re-envisioning will spread to all those areas of the world and daily life where the plague of facelessness has gained purchase.

The great “disenchantment of the world” commonly attributed to the rise of science and industry and the discrediting of religion was, as we must soon come to realize, itself a form of enchantment; but what are we to do with ourselves at last, when this enchantment, too, is unmasked and discarded? What strange visages will erupt from the psyche of mankind (or perhaps from some god) to fill the gaps, when the mesmeric doctrine of universalist facelessness gives way in earnest to the simple human need for a human face?

We have already begun to see something of the Left’s answer, in the form of identity politics, the sanctification of subjectivism, and in the increasingly anarchic spectacles of transgenderism, transablism, and even the creeping sexualization of children. The Right’s answer, however, is still unglimpsed—and possibly still unthought. (Most likely, though, its name isn’t “Donald”.)

 

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