Written for OPWW by OP413
In an age of decline, success comes to some precisely because they are inferior. Today, the purpose of running a great institution or being associated with a cultural pillar is precisely to undermine it. As some have put it, the current system will kill your gods and heroes, gut their corpses, wear them as a skin suit, and then demand respect and worship anyway. This probably understates the case. They don’t try to co-opt the worship due others, they actually demand tribute for the desecration itself.
We especially see this with ancient history. A few weeks ago, there was an online frenzy focusing on women being shocked that their men think about the Roman Empire. Generally, when journalists notice people are doing something, there is a predictable response. A series of either skinnyfat or obese “experts” are dutifully trotted out to explain that this is a Very Bad Thing about which Something Must Be Done. The main purpose of being an “expert” in a field now is to discourage anyone from being interested in it. Thus, court historian Mary Harrington sneered, “In some ways, ancient Rome is a kind of safe place for macho fantasies.”
One “Rosa Sanchez” complains that the trend “may have a big, white problematic undertone.” “Of course, I am not saying your boyfriend is intentionally supporting these extremist ideals because he sometimes thinks of the Romans,” she says, “but what gender studies professors, internet culture experts, and historians whom I spoke to can agree on, is that the media targeting your boyfriend is helping keep the patriarchy alive.” (If your girlfriend is taking cues from “gender studies professors,” your relationship is already over, you just don’t know it).
The Harvard Crimson prissily declared the trend was a “farce of masculinity” and instead praised a trend of women saying their Roman Empire was a celebrity drag performance. One might say that rather proves the point.
The Australian Broadcast Corporation found some “experts” in ancient history to berate people interested in ancient history, with one expert trying to deconstruct the association between Rome and conquest. “It’s leading into this idea that we associate Rome with military power and strength and ways of being a tough man,” he said. Another said university courses “were working to expand the worldview of Ancient Rome” and intoned that we “must also think about the terrible effects of conquest and colonization and the fact that so many later empires sought to copy Rome.”
Think about this instead – Vae Victis.
It’s no surprise the minders and hall monitors act this way. The ancient world has historically been the great counter-example for those dissatisfied with current values, whatever the values actually are of the age. Italians finding themselves politically marginalized and divided in the late Middle Ages appealed to the Greco-Roman tradition for different values, sparking the Renaissance. Nietzsche, who preached the transvaluation of all values, began his career as a classical philologist. The use of classical sculptures and columns is so prevalent on self-improvement accounts on social media it is practically a cliché. And yet it’s leading to people ignoring their minders at universities and in media, with self-published books about the ancient world like Selective Breeding and the Birth of Philosophy far outselling academic texts.
What’s dangerous about the ancient world is that it shows “the West” (bad as that term has become) didn’t begin with Christianity but is far older. Advanced civilization is compatible with a different system of values. While most academics despise traditional Christianity and religiosity, they are still dependent on a degraded post-Christian system of ethics. It’s simply more incoherent and nonsensical, with God, salvation, and authoritative teaching removed and nothing left but the worship of ugliness, victimhood, and suffering without the hope of redemption. Coincidentally, the more people believe this message, the more power those preaching the Gospel of Weakness have. Hierarchy can never be removed, only subverted.
But even the subverters can themselves be subverted if people glimpse an alternative. It’s thus no surprise that academics and journalists (the Clerical Class) are working to make sure classical history is defined by the same neuroticism, deconstructionism, and self-loathing that has driven many young men away from studying modern history. The destruction is the point, because for those incapable of creation, this is all they can do. Besides, if they burn a field to the ground and kill off all interest, their positions are secure. “The behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies,” said Robert Conquest. That holds true of any field of study now. The point is to ruin it so normal people can’t use it for anything inspiring or productive.
This even extends to works like The Iliad. As much as many undoubtedly regret it, The Iliad probably can’t be destroyed entirely. It was central to the ancient mindset in a way that none of us can even conceive. Reciting Homer was part of the Olympic Games. Alexander famously carried a copy of it on campaign. Even Elon Musk recently recommended listening to it, as it was meant to be enjoyed.
So naturally, the effort is underway to destroy it. The murderer in this case is Emily Wilson, praised as the first woman to translate the work. She complains about the poem’s “structural violence, which points to Homer’s very hierarchical and unequal society, in which the obvious violence of the spear going through the flesh is a manifestation of all the other kinds of violence that are always ongoing – of enslavement and colonization and one group of men coming to steal from another.” Her translation of The Odyssey begins with, “Tell me about a complicated man,” before begging the goddess to “tell the old story for our modern times.” In The Iliad, one of Hector’s horses is renamed to “Sparkle.” The whole point is to destroy the rhythm of the poem and the gravity of the story, and instead fill it with the faux irony typical of late night comedy since Jon Stewart, which is why she also does recitations while wearing goofy costumes and making faces mocking the whole thing. Nothing can be taken seriously except guilt for the “enslaved.” Naturally, this has won rapturous praise from PBS, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and other such types. “I could not shake the feeling, while reading Wilson’s Iliad, that it was meant for children,” said a rare hostile critic, noting that it somehow is overly simple and yet clunky and hard to read. But that’s the point – it’s to make the whole thing a joke, thus diminishing anyone who knows about it, cares about it, or takes inspiration from it.
Why care about any of this? We could put this question another way. Why do they care about any of this? Some of this seems marginal, but our minders (notably Mark Zuckerberg’s sister) have been in something of a panic about the “wrong people” getting into the classics for years. It’s especially absurd because those books have already been driven out of normal people’s education. Now, it’s apparently a problem if you get into it yourself, or don’t read the “modern” translation to steer you away from problematic values.
Obviously, there’s a lot of nonsense with the whole Statue Avi Mindset. Posting pictures of pagan gods doesn’t make you one, going to the gym a few times a week doesn’t make you Alexander the Great, complaining about Slave Morality doesn’t make you an aristocrat when you’re struggling to pay the rent. And obviously, with the new direction X has taken, there’s a lot of engagement bait. People are paid to share the kind of content that makes you feel good even if you aren’t doing anything. The danger is that people feel like just having certain opinions makes them better off. This complacent, self-congratulatory mindset has its own dangers.
But the upward path must begin somewhere. Heroic action doesn’t just come out of a vacuum. And there’s no reason to mock those who may start out in a low position – physically, financially, mentally – but want to strive for greatness. There’s a reason that at every level, from pop culture to rarefied academic circles, those in control want to tear down images of positive masculinity, strength, and above all, an absence of guilt. In the kind of Permanent Year Zero we live in, it’s subversive and dangerous to know about a different kind of world, because once you see it, you might want parts of it in your own life.
Real life is often disappointing. Friends fail and drift away. Injuries get in the way of physical goals. Factors completely out of your control, from sheer chance to the whims of those in positions of unaccountable power, can cost you money and time. Given all this, it’s easy to just stop caring, give up on dreams, and live vicariously through entertainment or escapism.
But “escapism” can also be a spur to action. Having an heroic Ideal is what keeps a person driving forward, even in the face of disappointments and failure. An awareness of Fate that the ancients shared can help you overcome the hardships we all must endure. And the ancient world is a reminder that people in far more hostile environments were able to accomplish great things when the world was young.
In some ways, we have it harder in our supervised, surveilled, and overly controlled world. But having counter-examples from any time reminds that another kind of existence is possible, even if a “RETVRN” isn’t possible or desirable. The sheer existence of a different kind of life is what they are afraid of – and that’s why they want to take away the knowledge that it ever existed in the first place.