The Broken Heart of Man
Part Two in the Decline of the West
In this part I will examine how Western man has charted a great retreat. No more does he seek to be great-souled. He seeks comfort and gratification, not hardship and just reward. This is the story of the thymotic impulse, which was once a glowing coal of hunger in the soul of the west for justice. Now it is simply a cry for attention which burns the eyes of the viewer.
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The Thymotic Impulse
From the actions of the soul to the need to be noticed – by taking offence - the understanding of the thymotic impulse is an indication of the contrary argument to progress. We have become not more morally refined but less, what is within us being rudely understood and bluntly expressed, and the examination of thymos can be adduced to demonstrate this decline. We have made of ourselves a primitive instrument, as the tools we use have become more advanced, impoverishing our interior lives as they are increasingly displaced by digital analogies of the self. This is how we vanish: by infusing pixels with our dreams, we fall asleep to ourselves and our humanity.
We travel from Homer through Fukuyama to the United States Government in this post, tracing the fall from the fine to the febrile.
A Classic Mistake
We may use the past and what remains of it to reflect on what the present might mean. We may try to understand what has survived from our neighbours in time, and what has not.
This is the reason I like to look at what it meant to live, long ago. To look at Homer, to look at Gilgamesh, is to try to see with the eyes of the dead. It is a small wonder, half-imagined and half glimpsed, to picture the world as it was to them. Perhaps we can see around ourselves to something else if we borrow the words of the departed.
It is a waste of time, however, to point to statues and columns as if it made you superior to do so. That is tokenism, and is as valuable as reading out a telephone directory to display your command of names. It is the difference between repetition and meaning - we are looking for the souls of our ancestors, not for a catchphrase to help us to preen in front of people.
All the great songs are about human folly. The Iliad is one - the Odyssey another. Men at every level of life enslaved by their passions, served by their wits, nonetheless to burn out in that mortal way so envied by the Olympian Gods. It is to be remembered that these deities, which appear often in both books, were usurpers and not creators. Amusing themselves by sporting with the fortunes of men, they were gamers playing at life, living for nothing but pleasure and self. They could not be trusted and would often be found roaring drunk, mocking a cripple at one of their cloud-wreathed parties, when not committing outrages on earth.
Mortals could not turn to these deathless poseurs for consolation. The Gods of the Homeric world did not appear as good advisors. They would more likely appear as a sexually incontinent swan to violate your daughter. For this reason Homeric man relied upon himself to navigate the nuances of life. In making sense between his own passions, principles, the customs expected of him and the conduct of the immortals he developed a complex and detailed inner life, drawing with the filament of practical wisdom a web of meaning between his thoughts and his instincts, between himself and the world.
Thymos in Homer points to this rich inner life. It suggests that place where everything that becomes visible in behaviour begins, as well as that which remains “hidden in the thymos”. An intangible source of impulse, then, which may or may not move behaviour in some obvious way. It compasses the desires, emotional responses, the motivation to act and some of the reasoning behind that.
For Aristotle, thymos was a kind of desire, distinct from the desire for goodness or that for bodily pleasure. Although he saw in thymos the root of a special kind of anger - the kind of anger which drives men to right wrongs - it was for him far more than the passion for retaliation. It was the seat of the need for liberty, for self reliance and for independence of means and of thought. It inspired man to be better than his base desires and also gave him the courage to defend what was just.
Nonetheless, to him it was not an intellectual faculty, but something almost bestial. This is the rule of the human being, against that of nous - the intellect - which is the rule of the divine and of the Law. Thymos is said to mishear the voice of Reason,
“like servants who rush to enact a command before understanding it, or dogs who bark before they know who is there”
It is an impetuous humour, and compels reason in its thymotic heat to respond.
“The thymos is aroused more towards associates and friends than towards strangers, if it thinks that it has been slighted”
Here is a distinction between the Aristotelian thymos and that of our times: it feels most keenly the slights of trusted and well known people. The indignation of our times is commonly aroused by things seen on the internet. In Britain, people are questioned and even arrested on the basis of some anonymous person complaining of ‘distress’ at something they have said or liked or retweeted.
To Aristotle the thymos was the impulse to right a real wrong, not to commit one by feigning offence. Such is the degree to which our society, its customs and institutions have become morally inverted, and infused with a zelotic outrage entirely in the imagination of people thereby seeking advantage.
To conclude, thymos to Aristotle suggests self-assertiveness, manly courage, and the desire to measure one’s mettle against that of others, whilst providing for gentleness and friendliness. It is clear that to Aristotle, thymos was one seat at least of the virtues to which man, in his view, ought to aspire to live a good life.
To remind ourselves of the earlier Greeks, let us remember the mention in Homer of the barking heart of Odysseus. This is not to say he has the heart of a mindless dog, but to show a distinction between
“that which makes calculations about better and worse”
“that which rages without reason”.
It is not blind but clear-sighted rage to which the thymos moves Odysseus. It is a recognition of his unfair treatment and also of his appetite for justice. This reaction contains a sense of continuity, for this judgement to be so it must arise from an understanding of the past - and of what can be made in, that light, of the future.
Both in the Republic and in the Phaedrus, thymos is the helpmeet of reason against the urgency of desire. It is the good horse, which loves moderation as much as it does honour, joining the charioteer in its opposition to the shamelessness of the bad.
Later, Chryssipus would reimagine the thymos in a much more modern idiom, seeing it as the expression or site of mental conflict. This idea of the war within the self gave way to the notion, some several centuries later, in the ideas of Philodemus the Epicurean, that the thymos was mere rage.
As we know from words like ‘justice’, ‘freedom’, ‘ethical’ and ‘woman’, meanings change over time for reasons other than habits of use. They are informed and increasingly directed by ideological fanatics seeking to Lysenkoise the mind of the speaker into submission.
The dictionary definition of thymos has survived the process which has degraded that of adult human females, and so gives us a fair sweep in this:
1. The mind or heart as the seat of strong feelings or passions.
2. A desire or hunger of people for personal recognition and acknowledgement of their worth and significance.
3. People who are sensitive about their self-worth and the significance of their group.
4. The psychological origin of political action.
Some of the past survives in this, but it is being howled out by the ever-present.
Thymos in the age of the immediate
In the perpetual now of the digital age, where everything is phenomenological and nothing really real, strong feelings or passions are the evidence of justice. Shouting incoherently means you will win, or have already won, the argument, since the other side is likely prohibited from whispering in objection.
Yet it is the second and not the third point above which interests me. I believe the self-worth argument to be as false as that for tolerance. It is camouflage. Such people as cry foul for a living and demand the destruction of civilisation as their blood price do not have honest intentions. Nor do they have sincere grievances. These are gambits for attention in the political economy of raw spectacle. Eyeballs are power. We live, I regret to say, in an age of optics.
The need to be noticed is twofold. It promises - but can never really deliver - to assuage the gnawing sense of insignificance which plagues the Godless. It converts readily into rewards: promotion, advancement, sponsorship, power, vengeance. The broken love to break things. It is how they imagine they will make the world equal, by spoiling everything until it is as ugly and ruined as themselves.
These are the children of the velvet revolution, of the peaceful fall of the Soviet Union. In place of a peace dividend we got a Forever War machine, dedicated to spreading the consumer society as far as its air force could reach.
Francis Fukuyama and the thymotic end of history
Thymos is something like an innate human sense of justice; people believe that they have a certain worth, and when other people act as though they are worth less—when they do not recognize their worth at its correct value—they become angry. The intimate relationship between self-evaluation and anger can be seen in the English word synonymous with anger, indignation. Dignity refers to a person's sense of self-worth; indignation arises when something happens to offend that sense of worth.
—By Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
Fukuyama recalls some of the sophistication of the inner life of Homeric Man, but only enough to yoke it to the contemporary concept of self-centred justice. If it offends me, I am right. This is to ennoble the present as it bemerds the past, for the indignation most fervently expressed these days is done so by people who have long abandoned any human dignity.
Shock haired obese blobs howling of body shaming, strange histrionic creatures screaming ‘fascist!’ about the word ‘woman’. Perverts crying foul over the objection to their being alone with your children to indoctrinate and groom them. In some American cities it seems the remedy for soaring crime is to legalise it.
The reduction of thymos to the indignation of the professionally offended makes a falsehood of honour and of outrage. It is the outrageous themselves who cry foul. Second, Fukuyama’s consumer liberalism must of necessity celebrate the debased values of the self and its tiny, shrill obsessions with its own feelings, since the elevation of these desires to the pinnacle of human aspiration forms the basis of much of his thinking. His is the prophecy of the satisfying marketplace, of the stability of democracy and the consolations of consumption. These are as empty as his contention of ‘self worth’, which is never explained. For Fukuyama, dignity is a function of your self appraisal, anger is the result when others disagree. This is what he calls justice. In case you have missed it, it is usually chaperoned by crime, freaks, shouting and flames.
Robert Kagan, Professional Obscenity
The co-founder of the now defunct Project For A New American Century is Robert Kagan. His wife is Victoria Nuland, who works with his mentee Antony ‘Al’ Blinken as deputy- and Secretary of State of the US Government respectively.
Robert Kagan is an influential neoconservative and has done more than perhaps anyone alive to maintain the grip of this insane death cult on the foreign policy of the United States. He replied to Fukuyama in his book, The Return of History, with a countervailing thesis of international relations. Rather than the serenity of consumer satiety, an opt-in Western Empire of elections ‘n’ stuff, he averred that human instincts could not be changed by these palliatives. Naturally his remedy for this was to continue to ruin the Western world by propelling it into an endless cycle of wars -unwinnable but lucrative (for him and his friends at least).
He too spoke of the thymos:
The ancient Greeks believed that embedded in human nature was something called thumos, a spiritedness and ferocity in defense of clan, tribe, city, or state. In the Enlightenment view, however, commerce would tame and perhaps even eliminate thumos in people and in nations.
Kagan has certainly been spirited and definitely ferocious, but not in the defence of the American people. Together with people like Antony ‘Al’ Blinken, who regards Kagan as his mentor, he has never ceased to undermine any attempt to steer American away from the atrocity cycle of so-called ‘Liberal interventionism’.
Here below is a sample of the kind of work he and Blinken have done in the service of this debased and rotten notion of thymos.
Notable for all the wrong reasons
As Eliot said, to do the right thing for the wrong reason is a dreadful sin. The reasons for what is done in our name these days are as wrong as the deeds themselves. Most politics at the State level makes no sense at all when viewed from the point of view of the interests and welfare of the people. It makes perfect sense when seen as a display - of raw power, of some banner of ‘values’ themselves so degraded as to be parodic in frank description.
I do not mean to say that what the author of the Hagakure said is true - that each generation is worse than the last. With the illustration of the decline of thymos and of the very sense that man has of himself I seek to show that inexorable moral progress is an illusion, and to suggest once again that instead of a line soaring ever upwards, the destination of empires may chart a more realistic course.
Before our times men thought it natural to hold everything up to the seasons. It is a sign of our times that its signs are so seldom noticed at all. Yes, the sun shines outside today, but something of us all has gone the way of winter.
Look out for the third and final part - When Empires Fall
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