In the old world of Greece and Rome, morality was highly performative, or dependent upon performance or ritual. Bad things didn’t happen because one acted immorally, per se, but something I did angered the wrong god. This morality was performed both on stage in morally concerned plays, as well as through acts of sacrifice made to the gods. From the lowliest farmer to the Emperor himself, all men paid tribute to the pagan gods. Since the deities were in and of this world(immanent), many Romans and Greeks feared the gods would interact in one’s own life, unless proper tribute was paid. This confluence of fears and performances came to serve as not just the foundation of a moral system, but as a spiritual base for western civilization.
In a performative moral system, the performance of ritual represents a never ending bargain between man and the gods; this bargain is intellectual in the case of theater, material in the case of sacrifice. This intellectual exercise was the function of Greek tragedy; a cultural institution that served as a communal thought process ultimately focused on the Good. Simon Critchley in his book “Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us” describes the function of theater and tragedy in Greek society:
“The Ancient Greek word for “spectator” was “theoros”, from which we get the word theoria, theory. Theoria is linked to the verb “to see”, theorein, which takes place in a theater, a theatron, to name the act of spectating. If tragedy is the imitation of action, of praxis, although the nature of action remains deeply enigmatic, then praxis is something seen from a theoretical perspective. Or, better said perhaps, the question of theory and practice, or the gap between theory and practice, first opens in theater and as theater. Theater is always theoretical, and theory is a theater, where we are spectators on a drama that unfolds: our drama. In theater, human action…..is called into question theoretically.”
Since there was no moral code passed down from a single, transcendent deity, morality was a constantly changing set of beliefs contingent upon what the city and its people needed. Greek tragedy helped the polity think through these ceaselessly arising moral questions, taking them from theory, onto the stage, into the human mind to be processed, and eventually turned into more human action. Morality was evolving, certainly not minute by minute, but there was always a deal to be had specifically on this earthly plane(this is different from the coming transcendent God of the Bible.)
In this old world, one could well imagine man lending his hand out to the gods present somewhere in the ether, shaking hands with an apparition. The Romans
and the Greeks did not perform to Mars or Zeus or Jupiter because they were conduits of a transcendent morality without which humanity would be lost. The ancients bowed to these gods in hopes of obtaining material prosperity. In this sense the performance was not faithful, but hopeful; not rooted in love, but desire. Cicero wrote,
“Jupiter is called the Best (Optimus) and Greatest (Maximus) for this reason, not because he makes us just, moderate, or wise, but because he makes us safe, unharmed, rich and well supplied.” – Cicero, The Nature of the Gods
With the coming of the Old Testament God to Europe, this old world system of performative morality was shattered. Look at the men who tried to bargain with God(Job and Abraham come to mind); it did not go well for them. For within this new system morality was no longer rooted in performance, but obedience. Man did not lend out his hand to shake God’s, morality came from the skies like a rain; it was given to us, not agreed upon in unison. They are, after all, called the Ten Commandments; the Israelites were commanded to act within the bounds of a strict, but above all covenantal, moral code.
Then Jesus came, adding yet another dimension to this new top down morality, installing above these moral clouds a save haven of salvation. We were still commanded to live by the rain, but now, the supreme good was faith in the Son, a mediator to the arms of the Father. Morality was no longer merely the way into God’s ultimate graces, within God’s ultimate grace were now nestled the gifts of faith and Love. Men now lived according to their faithful hearts, not their material concerns. The severing from the old world morality was now complete. After Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, those living within the bounds of the Roman Empire(what would eventually become know as Christendom) inhabited a Christian moral universe.
Fast forward to the 21st century.
For most, the ideals of the enlightenment have seized the day. As a result of deflated metaphysics, great mantras like Marx’s “religion is the opiate of the masses” or Nietzsche’s declaration of “the death of God” have become rather ubiquitous amongst the learned in western societies. Contemporary atheist thinkers like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have staked entire careers on the simple notion that now is the time for the human species to move on from religion —especially the Abrahamic faiths.
Then came the summer of 2020, and Black Lives Matters protests erupted not just across America, but across much of Western Europe as well. This is not to a segue into some hackneyed, tired politically partisan argument as to the merits and legitimacy of the BLM movement. Many Christians I know didn’t actually talk about the political implications. For those paying attention, what we saw on display in the streets of D.C. and New York City and London was something beyond politics, it was overtly religious.
The sanctification of George Floyd in mock sacred images, the comparisons to Jesus Christ himself, the ritual washing of the feet of black freedom fighters by the supposedly wretched hands of white sinners; it was all too obvious. Politics aside, it goes without saying that George Floyd resembled(spiritually or otherwise) the God-Man Jesus Christ in about as many way as Woody Allen resembles LeBron James. Nor do the stated aims and goals of BLM represent well the aims of, say, the Catholic Church— an institution that venerates both the transcendence of race and the indispensability of the nuclear family. So how are we to make sense of a seemingly anti-Christian movement adopting so many seemingly Christian habits?
Herein lies the crux of the issue : what moral universe do we westerners inhabit? The moral plane upon which we can reach out and bargain with the pantheon of gods? Or beneath the moral sky of the lone transcendent God?
For Christians who believe in the eternal truth of Jesus and his promises, the realm we inhabit is still the Christian moral universe. But for the new pagan death cult, not only do they inhabit a moral plane that has reverted back to something resembling the pagan plane of performative morality, but they have also taken this reversion one step further by removing any Gods from the equation. In the world of our new moral leaders(the politicians, business leaders, and cultural elite that support BLM), they are our gods.
Now, the performance is two fold.
One, a mask of morality is worn, whereas morality from the old Christian worldview is wholly ignored. I call it a mask because it is only a facade; there exists no moral substance beyond this phony face. How could a group insisting on the importance of black lives support, nay, actively promote, abortion? How could they espouse to be for something called “racial justice” yet hold white Americans to an unobtainable moral standard void of the possibility of forgiveness?
Two, the performance is no longer between man and God, theorizing and
beautifying their way through a shifting complex moral universe. Now man and man do the bargaining, deciding how they are going to make one another powerful. I respect your power, in return bolstering it, and you mine, creating an infinite feedback loop of power serving power(think main stream media serving up a softball interview to a politician as a good example.)
Though, no matter how powerful they become, the truth is inescapable, and one shortcoming of wearing a mask is that sometimes it slips, exposing the fool(or the monster) behind it.
“I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”
This doublespeak is brought to you by BLM cult devotee AOC. When being called out on her many counterfactual blunders, AOC reaches for the performative mask of morality and says that she makes factual errors because she is too busy being moral. This is virtue signaling: the go-to moral performance of our day, the capstone of this new performative morality.
Allow me to translate her statement.
“The facts bend to my moral will. I will call upon morality to serve me when I please.”
This, though, is not how moral people act. Moral people do not dismiss their mistakes by signaling to how virtuous they are. This resorting to tricky rhetoric is in itself immoral. Actually, it seems to be something beyond morality, something I see to be supramoral.
Author Harry G. Frankfurt wrote a medium sized essay called, “On Bullshit.” In it he embarks on an intellectual quest to define what we in 21st century culture call “bullshit.” He comes to the conclusion that a liar, by nature of the act, must first acknowledge the truth so that he may skillfully dodge it. Wherein the bullshitter ignores the existence of the truth altogether, operating with the vacuum they have imagined for themselves. Frankfurt surmises:
“Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point in a set or system of beliefs, in order to avoid the consequences of having that point occupied by the truth. This requires a degree
of craftsmanship, in which the teller of the lie submits to objective constraints imposed by what he takes to be the truth. The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth.
On the other hand, a person that undertakes his way to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a falsehood at a specific point. And thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared, so far as required, to fake the context as well. This freedom from the constraints to which the liar must submit does not necessarily mean, of course, that his task is easier than the task of the liar. But the mode of creativity upon which it relies is less analytical and less deliberative than that which is mobilized in lying. It is more expansive and independent, with more spacious opportunities for improvisation, color, and imaginative play.”
Notice the observations of the bullshit artist operating with a “panoramic” view rather than the “particular”. This language can map directly onto the previously outline dichotomy of navigable(panoramic) moral landscape of the old world vs. the precise(particular) moral commandments made by the Old Testament God and later updated by his only Son. But in AOC’s case, when the truth plays no part in her moralizing, what she is doing is operating with zero regard for the truth, operating within a panorama born of her own imagination; that’s what makes it bullshit. Such disregard for the truth is a negative transcendence of the previously established Christian moral order; it’s not a victorious soaring above the previous moral order to a higher moral plane, but, like a rat, a digging beneath the good earth to slink and survive yet another day. Such bullshit leaves the polity misinformed and inhabiting the make believe world the supramoral elite have conjured up for themselves. But as we will see, this negative transcendence of morality serves as a harbinger of something much more sinister than just a simple power play.
This new elite that functions beyond actual concern for morality is what the anti- Christian philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche dreamed of…in part.
It seems that large portions of our societies are now operating within Nietzsche’s moral landscape. Nietzsche dreamed of a moral vision of the world beyond Good and Evil—the title of one of his final works—where men could create their own values. What a world beyond Good and Evil might look like practically? Well, he did not really provide a real world application of that ideal(as I’ve said before, theory is
Nietzsche’s strong suit, not pragmatism.) However what his theory posited was something beyond the old Christian conceptions of a transcendent morality, one where man willed his way to his own values, most desirable of which would be the new chief value— Power.
Nietzsche ultimately came to what one may describe as a worship of power. With all the theory that he provided, one could easily posit the idea that power could serve as the gods did in the old moral system and as Christ did in Christendom— as the greatest conception of Good. This world where negotiations between power bases takes precedent over any and all questions of morality certainly seems to be “Beyond Good and Evil”, just as Nietzsche dreamed of.
In the old world, pagan ritual made up the “performative” aspect of this moral universe. The modern technocracy that now lords over every aspect of our lives has revived pagan ritual in supramoral ways.
Today, those in power give speeches making promises that they never fulfill, thus simultaneously lifting up the powerless with a glimmer of hope and letting them down when failure to fulfill those promises is made manifest. Via social media and the many news channels, politicians and business moguls also go before “impartial” “journalists” to partake in what amounts to performative interviews that definitely contain unscripted, unprompted moral challenges. All joking aside, even when an unscripted, unprompted moral challenge does occur, they are often in bad faith, rooted in partisan hatred. So even when people get something hinting at a real moral moment, it is born of lust or desire to rip power from one another. The courts, too, have also become performative partisan institutions.
In what was a clear, legal case of self defense, Kyle Rittenhouse, a seventeen year old boy charged at by rioters threatening to kill him, was taken as a political prisoner to appease the raging mobs that were burning down cities all across the United States in the summer of 2020. Rittenhouse shot the men who charged him(one hit him in the head with a skateboard, another charged him with a drawn pistol.) The media labelled him as a domestic terrorist, and the courts acted swiftly to issue an arrest warrant.
This all started in Kenosha, the city where a man named Jacob Blake was shot by police for repeatedly resisting arrest, then going to his car where a large knife was hidden under the seat. The mobs of liberal goblins turned out to riot and burn the city down over this “unjust” police shooting.
For any impartial observer, Jacob Blake deserved to be shot. Liberal detractors would say he was shot by racist cops for being black, but there is not a shred of proof to bolster such claims. Not only was he being arrested for the rape of a
young girl, not only was he resisting that arrest, but he was potentially reaching for a weapon to harm keepers of the peace. For days after his shooting, things were peaceful, but waiting right beneath the surface was an eruption of violence. The mobs were awaiting word as to whether or not the police officers would be charged in the shooting of Jacob Blake. Why was it, then, that these monsters rioted and destroyed the lives and businesses of many working class families? Because in a rare instance of true justice in this country, the DA refused to charge these officers with any serious crime(one was charged with a petty offense and suspended.)
The response was anarchy, violence, and the destruction of yet another American city. There can be no doubt about the objective truth: mobs of the lost and Godless responded to justice with unrighteous anger, rage, and destruction. This clearly portrays that those in power in this country, the Liberal establishment and their shock troops, are no longer concerned with moral questions of justice, of right and wrong. They rioted because their power was not served.
So, a denial of their sacrifice had been handed down by the courts. A man sharing their power deity(BLM) was harmed by state power, and refused to acquiesce to their collective power. As is always the case, those looking to further their own personal power leeched onto the scene. AOC and the black race pimps like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson decried yet another miscarriage of justice. Herein using the language of morality and justice not with genuine concern, but with the hopes of performing, kneeling before the altar right on cue. These lackeys thirstily opining after power— an entire half of the American constituency— do not matter to those that are truly in power. Our sons and daughters are addicted to heroin and dying, they are saddled with mountains of predatory student debt, too poor to afford to start families of their own or even move out of their parents house. We matter insofar as we can bolster their power, not in any other instance. For again, when true justice is served cities burn anyway.
In our current day, many people refer to our political arena and the things that take place there as political theater. I am certain they do not know how accurate those analogies are. In fact, I am not sure they are aware they are making analogies at all; analogies back to the old Greek theater where performance used to hold a more virtuous, pragmatic function as the bridge from moral theory, into the conduit of written theater and acted theater, finally back out and into the human heart.
Now, the old Greek theater has been hollowed out, the stage cleared of any great moral questions, converted into a great altar to power, where the powerful go to partake in performative ritual. In the end, this instantiation of the old Greek theater is indeed beyond Good and Evil as Nietzsche had theorized, and indeed is a place
where the will to Power takes precedent over old, outdated, and weak Christian morality.
As stated in the opening pages of Nietzsche’s “Antichrist,”
“ What is good? All that enhances the feeling of power, the Will to Power, and power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is increasing, that resistance has been overcome….What is more harmful than any vice? Practical sympathy with all the botched and the weak Christianity.”