A priest mentioned to me that, when he was in school, he thought “theater of the absurd” was a literary genre. I do not know what we think of it now. A variant form of art or narrative? An alternative way of life? The latest fashionable mental disease?
It is noticeable in our politics, where I suppose it was always noticeable, and long expressed in the (sometimes intrusive) non-sequitur. The patient observer of interviews and political statements must endure many assertions that don’t strictly follow from their premises, and may not follow at all. With time, the departures become more and more striking.
But it is the invasion of everyday life that is more consequential. Evil motives, such as racism, and the various forms of fascism, are routinely flung at apparently innocent people, like battery acid on the city streets.
To be fair, battery and other acids have not yet become brutish playthings on American streets, although they have in Britain, from where too many of our enthusiasms are copied. On the other hand, Americans much indulge in gunplay, whereas in England and elsewhere discomfort with guns has led to more casual knife fights and slashing attacks.
Even a society that is mentally ill is guided by arbitrary law. Usually, this is a matter of convenience. So long as guns are easily available, they will be used, and they continue to be widely available among the criminal classes. All proposals to restrict them are aimed at the likeliest victims of gun violence, to take away their defenses against the commission of crimes.
A well-trained, steady-handed, crack shot has a good chance in American life, even in large cities like Chicago, where the bullets often fly randomly. An exception to the general decay of public and institutional sanity, he can be counted on to know who should, and who should not be, shot during a street altercation.
But the legal implications of applying his skill are formidable. As we are reminded by the tabloid press, the legal system will invite itself in. What deadbeats in the nastier neighborhoods failed to do, prosecuting attorneys will attempt to complete, in return for huge financial prizes. The vindicator of once-respected human rights may find himself in a prison.
Of course, I am by-passing the many new crimes that are created by our legal-entrepreneurial elite. For instance, in the case of men, making a pass at a woman is among the many things raised from a social faux-pas to an infraction of the criminal law, and may be applied to anyone that women (real or imaginary) are reputed to dislike.
This was an experimental legal innovation, in furtherance of women’s “rights” or something with that flavor. It is extended by analogy to minority racial and cultural groups, and the institution of slavery. Now, slavery, as traditionally defined, has not existed in our society in several generations; but its non-existence is no impediment to its enforcement.
“Equality” is the slogan that can set off many of our most disordered minds. It can mean one of many contradictory things, and by choosing carefully between them, a case may be made for many imaginative outrages.
Law, like politics, is the province of lunatics – as is any in which those unequipped with faith or reason attempt to impose their principles on others. Our jurisprudential hysterias are, for the most part, rather dull. Why wouldn’t a society under control of the mentally unstable begin to unravel, quite across the board?
The priest, whose remark initiated this column, was in fact referring to an article about Afghanistan.
But why do we ask questions about this topic – such as why were preparations for the abandonment of Afghanistan done in the absence of foresight? Why do we ask questions of, for instance, bureaucrats who have stipulated that those fleeing the country, at the risk of their lives, must prove that they have tested negative for COVID-19 (the “Batflu”) in the last three days?
Perhaps question-asking is merely a habit, formed during past forgotten centuries when sanity was largely taken for granted.
In truth, it is only when one thought about the massive, unchecked bureaucracy imposing its will in troubled, distant Kabul – for perhaps a leisurely two-and-a-half seconds – that one’s desire to call an ambulance is engaged. For there must be thousands of people working in “public health,” and all are in need of immediate attention.
I was myself, once upon a time, a minor journalist finding my way across the battlefield of Vietnam, and thanks to that experience entirely unsurprised that the United States, with all its advantages in arms and training, would be defeated in Afghanistan by an inferior, despised, and amateur force.
But the “theater of the absurd” extends to all projects in the Western world, and is rapidly “evolving” towards total disaster. For instance, it is now deeply installed in the Catholic Church, and advancing, more at the direction of the pope than by her massive, incompetent bureaucracy. (Though not without their aid.)
The Church, it is alleged, or rather observed, has in its human mission, mostly failed to inspire the world to sanctity, and away from its grim, sinful tendencies. The triumph of savage anger remains quite apparent in, for instance, war.
Why is anyone surprised to discover that, apparently, virtually all the senior authority figures in the Catholic Church are crooks? That many tend to be sexual deviants? That most espouse Marxism, or other “belief systems” that are incoherent?
The recent scandal, or fiasco, in which our pope has effectively made the sacrifice of the Old Mass illegal, can only be seen in light of the above. A central player in our “theater of the absurd,” I wonder what will follow his retirement?
*Image: Three Lawyers by Honoré Daumier, 1855-57 [Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.]