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What amazes me is the *speed* of the moral descent

[ by Charles Cameron — the importance of undertows, archaisms, blind-spots ]
Zen writes, in a comment on his post, Skulls & Human Sacrifice:

What amazes me is the *speed* of the moral descent.

Yup. Bingo!  Yes!! Exactly…

That’s why I think it’s so important to track undertows as well as tides – the archaic rituals and myths, the archetypal dreams and nightmares of people like AQ, or La Familia, or even Harold Camping.

They’re below the surface, beneath our radar – until they “show”. And then they blow our minds.


That’s why I think apocalyptic movements are so significant.

By the time the Chinese Government found ten thousand or so qi gong practitioners protesting at Zhongnanhai in 1999, there were arguably as many practitioners (70 m) across China as there were members of the CPC (60+ m) – and any number of them might be listening to Li Hongzhi‘s Falun Dafa tapes while cultivating themselves in the park… The recognition that the Party might have a movement on its hands to compare with the Taiping rebellion (20 m lives lost) was what drove the fierce repression that followed…

It was as though Falun Gong came out of nowhere.

And who knew that Harold Camping’s prophecies broadcast out of a radio station in Oakland, CA could move “several thousand Hmong followers of a sub-Christian messianic cult” to gather for the end in Muong Nhe district, Dien Bien Province, Vietnam – conflating the prophecies of their own messiah figure, “a 25-year-old man named Zhong Ka Chang, now renamed Tu Jeng Cheng, meaning ‘the important one'” with Camping’s returning Christ, and expecting him to “appear and establish a pan-Hmong kingdom” (quotes from Compass Direct).

We laugh at Camping. But he touched a nerve.


Pretty much by definition, societies are and choose to remain unconscious of their unconscious contents until it’s too late, so they always surprise us.

They’re in our blind-spot, by definition.

12 Responses to “What amazes me is the *speed* of the moral descent”

  1. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    "Pretty much by definition, societies are and choose to remain unconscious of their unconscious contents until it’s too late, so they always surprise us."
    Let’s rephrase that:  "Individuals are and choose to remain unconscious of their unconscious contents until it’s too late; if they survive discovery of their unconscious contents, nonetheless the revelation of those contents is always a surprise.  Until it’s not any more."

  2. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    "Pretty much by definition, societies are and choose to remain unconscious of their unconscious contents until it’s too late, so they always surprise us." Charles, I shudder to offer that perhaps what we refer to as abnormal may be a grisly manifestation of people lacking a moral governor—or even in spite of one (in the cases of "religiously" motivated atrocities)? 

  3. zen Says:

    Technically, given that modern humans have been around for roughly 100,000 years, this behavior may be biologically normal and civilized standards are, statistically speaking, aberrant. We forget that Hammurabi and Draco were *restraining* retribution, not empowering it.

  4. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Excellent point, Mark!  Maybe we owe to the fringe our ability, as a species, to adapt and change and avoid ossification.  There is a back-and-forth quality constantly gyrating though; and what comes out of the dance is never quite like either one or the other dance partner.

  5. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Mark, Hammurabi’s first rule illustrates your post nicely: "If a man accuse a man, and charge him with murder, but cannot convict him, the accuser shall be put to death." {I’m guessing prosecutors like Elliot Spitzer are happy this particular line is no longer applicable…}

  6. Charles Cameron Says:

    I think what we have here is a moral code that overlays an earlier code, and at times the earlier code resurfaces.
    The history of sacrifice shows an equivalent progression — from Abraham‘s willingness to sacrifice his son (consistent with archaic local practice), via God‘s refusal of that offering and substitution of a goat, to God’s statement in Isaiah, "I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats" through to the "bloodless sacrifice" of the Catholic Eucharist, finally to the absence of much sense of sacrifice in modern secular society…
    It seems to me that Rene Girard – a difficult read, I have to admit — has some things to say that are relevant to our discussion of moral descent:

    We are witnessing a new stage in the escalation to extremes. Terrorists have conveyed the message that they are ready to wait, that their notion of time is not ours. This is a clear sign of the return to the archaic, a return to the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries, which is significant in itself. But who is paying attention to this significance? Who is taking its measure? Is that the job of the ministry of foreign affairs? We have to expect a lot of unexpected things in the future.

    Which brings up another business…
    I’ve just ordered a copy of Girard’s book, Battling to the End, which is both a treatise on apocalyptic and a revisioning of Clausewitz.  I imagine it will prove to be a book to stir one’s thinking, not a book to applaud for how much one agrees with it – I expect it infuriates as many people as it enlightens — but  I am pretty sure it will contain considerable "meat" for both our interests.
    Perhaps we should consider a joint/group reading here on ZP…

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  8. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Charles, The Girard book sounds very interesting. I’ll order a copy and fit into my list. I’m finishing Gray’s Black Mass (I’d be curious of your take, if you’ve read) and am half impressed and half dubious. Many thanks for sharing the title.

  9. zen Says:

    Great post Charles! Thank you to Dave Schuler for nominating it at The Watcher’s Council

  10. TrevorLoudon.com: New Zeal Blog » The Council Has Spoken!! 05/27/11 Says:

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  11. Charles Cameron Says:

    My thanks to Dave Schuler, too! 
    And it was particularly gratifying to me that he nominated a post — and thus brought it to a wider readership — that was all about our blind-spots, and topics that we habitually and easily overlook. 
    Many thanks again!

  12. The Council Has Spoken!! 05-27-2011 | Virginia Right! Says:

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