Decipimur specie recti

Lured in by what seems right

A wise man recently reminded me that the devil plays both sides of any crisis. At no point has this struck me more than now, at no point have I needed to be struck by this more. Whatever side you are on, radicalization is always immanent, ready to have your actions stray from the ideals you set out to manifest. Out of a position of love you lament that the world is lacking in goodness, and in turn you proceed to repay it with hate. It is perhaps not a scientific, but at least a practical truth that both good and evil are not to be found in the world, but in ourselves. The world just is, it is we that suffer, love, hate, are bored, have sympathy. These modalities of our affectivity; love and hate, are our modes of orientation inside this world which knows not of these affects.

Almost two years ago, people arose in union to fight division, blinded by fighting the battle that ensued, we have failed to notice that it is now we who are not fighting against, but for, division. Ideas matter, and convictions are to be held, but only insofar as they are expressions of a worthy affect, do they express the life-affirming modality of love? Or the life-denying modality of hate? We check ourselves, repent for our failures, a new opportunity opens every day to fight anew, but this time for a better cause. I see recent times as the dawn of a sort of spiritual sickness, that drags our hearts away from what unites, so that we can only see what divides. An intoxication fell over the earth, and like the alcoholic who is ashamed for last night's words, we will all feel shame in the months to come.

The appearance of good deceives, says the poet, and this is indeed true. For the appearance of good is not the good, but its appearance. The appearance is what appears in front of us in the world, an object. We invest this appearance, as the humans that we are, with all sorts of values and modalities of passion. We love it, we idolize it, we hate it, we scorn it, we shame it, we laugh at it till it shrinks back into non-being. This act of investing the appearance with value, with life, is only possible because life and its necessarily value-oriented modalities were already present, not in the appearance, but in us. The object is only able to excite our love or our hate, because we are willing to love it or hate it. The appearance of what is right deceives us, because the appearance is never right, it just is, it is we who make it right.

We are like the mesmerized fool in Bosch's The Conjurer, so deceived by the shiny object in front of us, we fail to realize we are being robbed of our worth. Puking nonsensical words all over. Words that do not stem from considered thought, but from the blunt causal workings of an object held in front. What separates this man from the worst of animals, acting solely by instinct, unconcerned whether these instincts destroy or build? At least the animal is protected from stupidity by its instincts. We reduce ourselves to cogs in a machine, a machine of our own making. It is said that Bosch's painting is not meant to criticize the conjurer himself, those individuals that lead societies gaze, and deceive it wherever it lands. The painting is meant to have us pay attention to the one who lets himself be deceived. It is easy to blame the deceiver, but his deception would be powerless if it wasn't for us letting ourselves be deceived. I imagine the shiny object in the painting to be any hated peer that people perceive in our world, mesmerized by this hatred, and drowning in our own words, we fail to realize ourselves being robbed of our love. The devil truly is on both sides, there is the deceiver, but also the one who lets himself be deceived. Who is worse? Both equally partake in an act of robbery, the deceiver robs attention, but only the deceived can rob himself of his love.

For Jean-François Mattéi, civilization and barbarism are not only designations of historical periods that follow each other in a perpetual flow of the one into the other, like the ages of Hesiod, or the Yugas of the east. They are, before they are designations of historical periods, designations of transcendental modalities found in each and every individual. Civilization designates a striving for growth, freedom, beauty, harmony, union, and love; whereas barbarism designates a striving for destruction, slavery, disorder, division, and hatred. These two, civilization and barbarism, are two faces of one and the same humanity. They don't follow each other, but live together, both mortal enemies and eternal lovers.

It might be so that both civilization and barbarism have a face and a heart. An appearance in the outside world, and a transcendental root in the individual. You might see an act of barbarism in the outside world, and believe that you are fighting it with the impulse of civilization, but it could just as well be your own transcendental modality of barbarism at work. An external manifestation of civilization might hold the prospect of life, it might hold the appearance of goodness, but perhaps it is nothing less than bait for the internal sickness. The barbarism that shows itself in the world is the shining pearl in Bosch's painting, and raging forth to grab it by the throat, we rob ourselves of our hearts. The same is true for civilization, that shining pearl that obscures the darkest individual motives. Before you rage against the world and its demons, rage against yourself, for the demon lurking in the world wants nothing more than to awaken the devil inside.