Many things which are dear and opportune have an interesting dual potency, like in-built responsibility or side-effect which accompanies them. Of course I’m not sure whether this observation is original, but I observe that people have a tendency, when presented with something of this nature, either to manage or destroy.
I think that the most visible example of this is the hijab or burqua as it is exists as a compulsory or prescribed practice. This, I propose, is the action of men who experience the effects of the male libido but wish not to have to manage them — the response is to destroy (or in this case to make invisible) that which affects them: female beauty. Men (and women, of course) understand what it is to find a woman attractive and for it not to be appropriate, prudent, acceptable or desirable to go and introduce oneself. In societies in which women go unveiled, one must simply live with the impropriety and the physical impossibility of talking to every attractive women which one sees, it is expected that we manage our desires. Another approach is to destroy the issue.
This is one of the multitude of matters which are a case of priorities: is the tragedy of encountering and seeing so many women and not being able to approach them a worthy trade-in for living in a society in which both sexes are permitted to expose their faces? The British and my answer is yes. This is not to deny that this approach causes angst, it causes complications (many of which are owned by women) and we have to deal with them.
Ayn Rand, in the speech of John Galt from her book, Atlas Shrugged, notes that many of the totalitarian ideologies which torture humans are a denial of our nature and amount to the wish for a destruction of a certain part of the human person. Galt summarises: Mystics of Spirit, such as religious leaders, wish for the destruction of the mind; Mystics of Muscle, such as Marxists and Fascists, wish for the enslavement of the body. Of course I disagree with the dichotomy, but I accept her axiom; in the case of theistic religion, she identifies how reason can be a painful and complicating capability, forcing us to discard fond beliefs and face reality, something which requires effort — the Mystics of Spirit allow people to destroy their reason to be free of these complications, promising eternal pleasure in an imaginary paradise. Galt moves that these ideologies will claim Utopia, perfection, but that they obscure a wish to alleviate the convolutions of life, through death.
One can observe this desire in Buddhism, where Nirvana, peace, amounts to non-existence, also where Buddhists, rather than managing their desires, destroy them. This is a free choice (given that one adopts Buddhism freely) and is personal. But the tendency can be political, such as when Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council or when Brown dismissed David Nutt; at its most disgusting it is responding to the presence of female sexual pleasure and libido through genital mutilation, at its most inane it is the occupation and dulling of interest through voyeuristic television.
The Destruction-Wish manifests itself in unexpected places, also. In reading the Lucy Poems for university, and his Prelude, I’ve noticed how Wordsworth delights in freedom from of consciousness:
‘No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.’
Wordsworth, A Slumber did my spirit seal, ‘The Lucy Poems’
If the reader will have to forgive a popular reading (among innumerable) of this stanza: Wordsworth speaks of how Lucy, his mysterious inamorata, is incognizant and inanimate; at peace one might say. Lucy is dead, having died in another poem, our poet upholds her peace and stillness because in death she cannot be hurt or betrayed. Wordsworth realises that by loving her and wanting her he must game with nemesis, there will be a chance that she could be attracted to another, they could come to hate each other, she could become someone else as she grows older — by destroying her, Wordsworth can avoid all these complications.
My own addition to this interpretation may be strange (or unoriginal, if so, my apologies) I suggest that Lucy represents a sort of perfect-Romantic or Übermench of the natural world. This kind high level of integration with nature would require a massive surrender of personality — Lucy has to die in order to achieve this, or that which Wordsworth is describing is indistinguishable from death.
Faranheit 451 is a polemic literary example in which the annihilation of something is warranted by it’s complicating factors. For those who haven’t read it, the book depicts a future Britain in which the firemen, rather than saving people, their houses and property, are called to the houses of people who own books (which are illegal) and burn them.
‘These are all novels, all about people that never existed, the people that read them it makes them unhappy with their own lives. Makes them want to live in other ways they can never really be.’
And this is why books are so potent, yet so reviled by dictators, and shunned by those who would rather have their mental faculties appeased than challenged.
Yet, one must observe that most of us opt for the close cousin of this destruction every night; at least for me, to lay my head and sleep is to experience what Lucy did for her consciousness. And, when I lay my head and it fills with failings, considerations, wishes and problems as if they were draining from the rest of my body because of my prostration — when sleep is denied — I realise why some people choose to destroy something which possesses an arbitrarily large quotient of large power and nuance; to, as Ayn Rand said, choose not to think.
Drugs are a curious consideration within this subject, mostly because their affects are so disparate between the users. Alcohol is an empirical candidate for a destroyer of the cognitive faculties, though one should find it difficult to make that claim having heard Christopher Hitchens speak while redolently drunk. The best candidate for a categorical drug in this aspect is heroin, which, from the accounts which I have heard and read, is a substitute for life; I recommend Junkie by the astounding William S. Burroughs. Burroughs, however, was a productive and an astoundingly inventive writer — the question being whether he was like this during or outside his periods of addiction; Naked Lunch, he claims, was written while semi-conscious during a junk-stupor. Hunter S. Thompson never used heroin (as far as I have read) but mixed elephantine quantities of depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens like he would lemon juice, tomato juice and vodka; his case was tragic in that the fundamental drugs of his creative process are reckoned to have, ultimately, blunted his creative edge. Contrarily, of the two men it was he that avoided the artificial-life drug that killed himself, Burroughs lived to 87 — however, Thompson was suffering from serious illness and pain when he shot himself.
‘I would feel real trapped in this life if I didn’t know I could commit suicide at any time.’
Speaking of pain; when one is aware of an injury there is no function in feeling more pain than one has to. But, pain is there for a reason — one can imagine what it would be like to live without pain forever, or even to take painkillers preemptively; this is rather similar to what happens to a society which burns its books, or to people who do. Reason delivers the pleasures of poetry, but reason can hurt — and do you know why it hurts? For the same reason as humans feel hunger; when it pangs one needs sustenance. The result of not eating for long enough is clear, and it is the fond acquaintance of what happens if people and societies treat reason in this manner.
Live adventurously. So much which is true about life exists with displeasure or inconvenience as an associated possibility, so much which is astounding or ingenious is also dangerous. This is true for free speech, democracy, empiricism — some examples, like free speech, are now heroic and stout pillars of civilisation; others, like ‘degenerate art’, are piddling foibles in the atrophied mind of a censor. Distrust those who tell you that faith or will can counteract the pronouncements of reason; the attitude is sanguine in the hordes who’re pacified by television, to those who would tell people in benighted parts of the world that polio-vaccine will make them infertile — to choose to live like this is to choose death. Death (so far as we can tell) is inevitable, to waste a second is to die for a second. Choose life.