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March 23rd, 2017

Insight

Visions

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Oct. 13, 2016

The Closing of the American Mouth

Albert Speer, the technocratic master of Adolf Hitler's war machine, busied himself churning out custom-made excuses for his war crimes as that conflict ground on to its bloody end. But what if, in his rush to misjudgment about himself and his motives, he had accidentally stumbled on a truth?

If only he had had a good classical education, Herr Speer sighed, and had paid more attention to each citizen's responsibility for what was being done in the name of We the People, the Reich!, he might have avoided his sad fate. Yes, he might have found himself a martyr to conviction in any case, but that conviction would have been based on something more worthwhile than his own self-promotion.

Is it possible, in today's shrunken little world of American politics, even to imagine such ideals? In the tiny universe bordered on the right by Donald Trump's egotism and on the left by Hillary Clinton's career-long history of dissembling, is there room at all for seriously weighing the merits and demerits of any course of action?

Too many of us are reduced to being watchers, not actors. The worst of it is that, in the end, there is no end in sight. Of course there would be a modern word for this endless emotional boredom: anomie, or the absence of any emotion at all. Depression, the shrinks call it, but it is something much more: a soul-sickness that doesn't even recognize the existence of the soul.


Consider German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's essay "On the Vanity of Existence." He wrote, "we take no pleasure in existence except when we are striving after something -- in which case distance and difficulties make our goal look as if it would satisfy us (an illusion that fades when we reach it) -- or when engaged in purely intellectual activity, in which case we are really stepping out of life so as to regard it from outside, like spectators at a play. Even sensual pleasure itself consists of a continual striving and ceases as soon as the goal is reached." (Yawn.) Has so much effort ever been made to prove that effort is in vain, and worse, a bore?

Or as Ezra Pound put it in one of his ardent poems without ardor, "And round about there is a rabble of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor. They shall inherit the earth." Why not just get rid of them up front and save them from existence, and ourselves from having to watch them struggle in it?

Not valuing our own lives, how can we be expected to value the lives of those so far below us in the economic and social scale? Which is really the essential question about abortion. It's not as if God had created each of these souls, inviolable and untouchable, and that to destroy one of them is to destroy the whole world in which they live, breathe, see and experience life. Ignore the holy and we ignore all.

Much better to just give up and succumb to the spiritlessness of our age. Treat the abstraction called life as just another profit and loss statement. Demand that outfits like Planned Parenthood have some moral justification for abortion. Then ask only what it would cost our own souls to collaborate in such an ungodly undertaking.

Or as the Department of Health and Human Services, in language surely meant to disguise what it's up to rather than reveal it, proposes an executive order forbidding state governments to touch federal money under Title X regulations "from using criteria in their selection of sub-recipients that are unrelated to the ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner."


All of which sounds like phrases poorly translated from the German, specifically Albert Speer's in his memoirs. And so the various states in this ever fluid union would find themselves forbidden to steer federal funds away from groups like Planned Parenthood merely because what they do is morally abhorrent. Namely, performing abortions and trafficking in fetal tissue.

It is hard, though not impossible, to imagine a worse combination of Washington-itis: a callous disregard for human life, more regulation with more overpaid regulators to carry out all these regulations, the rule of government rather than the rule of law, and the culture of death in general.

The wages of sin, it turns out, may not be death but eternal, meaningless, so-called life. Forgotten is the old inner knowledge that, if we but will it, it is no dream. But reality. Which is all too real if only we dare open our eyes, awaken from our coma and wrestle with the angel who's been at our side the whole night long.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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