We have nothing to fight for,” Sørine Gotfredsen told me during my interview with her for The Murmur’s January issue. And, in the most basic sense, the priest and Christian philosopher is right. Those of us living in the West live relatively pampered lives. Our values are boring and therefore our politics and politicians are boring. This boredom is driving us towards proto-fascists like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, as well as radical leftists like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.
In March 1940, right before Germany invaded Denmark, George Orwell wrote what might be the most important book review in history on Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler. Orwell had spent years fighting against fascism in the Spanish Civil War and had acquired a deep understanding of not just the dangers of fascism, but more importantly it’s appeal.
He understood that what it offers is the same that Gotfredsen offers us with her Christianity-driven idea of purpose – something more than the here and now, more than the ego. That the sacrificing of individual pleasure is just as much ingrained in us as a species, as striving for pleasure.
“Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades.”
In some ways I can feel a form of envy for the young men and women who go off to join ISIS. They have found some truth – as deplorable as it might – that they are willing to die for. All my beliefs are so vague they are barely worth fighting for. This is why I couldn’t help but agree with so much of what Gotfredsen said during our conversation about the dangers of modern narcissism.
I believe in democracy, personal freedom and trying my hardest. I have no existential truths, no knowledge that other people don’t possess, no cause I know is right, and most certainly none I’m willing to die for.
But when I read about the young men who willingly sacrifice themselves for their beliefs, or see a conspiracy nut banging on with conviction about the fake moon landing, 9/11 or chemtrails, I can feel a bit jealous. They know something – something true. I have nothing but doubts and discomforts.
“Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life,” wrote Orwell, but what did he mean by that? That it was better for the psyche to dominate minorities and kill those who are weaker? Doubtful, Orwell knew that violence and blood are bad for the human soul, but he equally knew that humans crave answers to the difficult and struggles for the existential.
“Whereas socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.”
There it is. ISIS promises to young people across the world the “struggle, danger and death”, that commodity-driven liberal capitalism can never deliver. It can only deliver goods and comforts and therefore, when it stops being able to provide even that, our yearning for struggle is awaken.
Oscar Wilde once wrote, “a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.”
Maybe the answer to our problems with ISIS, right wing fascism, Donald Trump and our mistrust of politics does not lie in fighting to maintain our current world, but in providing a struggle. Maybe we need to search out the hard truths, because all the soft ones have left us feeling empty and alone. Perhaps we need a struggle worth fighting for, a struggle that might yield something good and wonderful for this world. A struggle that is real. M