February 16, 2004

L'habit seul fait le moine aujourd'hui

Posted by Curt at 04:10 PM in Ramblings | TrackBack

It seems to me that the sociologists may have it right that racism is increasing today, but not as a result of the standard litany of rote causes. We certainly obsess about the idea of race probably more than at any other time in the history of humanity, certainly more than anyone did in the segregated South except possibly Joe Christmas. Perhaps I should reach back a little further. A strange thing has happened in the world: there was once a time in which the majority of people in the world were animists, that is believed that every sensible object in their view was possessed by, or under the influence of, a guiding spirit, a living thing which interacted with us. The world was a great mystery, but endlessly stimulating, inspired by the interaction with new and unknown personalities every day, in the trees, in the grass, in the building stones. Then came the long shadow of Plato and his age. He did not deny the existence of true forces and animating powers in the universe, but he consigned them to some distant netherworld, far removed from the empty shapes and illusions of ours. This was only compounded by the relentless monomania of Christianity, Islam, and the like, with their reduction of all cause and force to the sheer singularity of an omnipotent God, like the single animating eye of the sun in the desert. And finally we have arrived at the era of Nietzscheanism, with its dictum that “behind the masks lie only other masks,” and now we are literally unable to comprehend the possibility of real substance in the world in which we interact, and instead resort to investing meaning in purely arbitrary and incidental appearances. It is no wonder, then, that we should fix on race as a talisman of cultural and existential significance (this is as true of academics and activists chanting “Black is beautiful” as it is of any confirmed racists); if ideas, principles, passions, or even simple intuitions no longer hold any significance, then why not build up something as utterly meaningless as skin color into a founding determinant of personality? It should be clear that I do not view this fixation as a disease limited solely to the subject of skin color implied by the term “racism” but rather as a product of the time-bred suspiciousness and nihilistic idealism of centuries of academic thought.