Modernity’s malcontents

Terrorism goes geeky, the Queen goes hippy, and the far right goes green.

Patrick West
Columnist

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Topics Politics
  • Terrorist geeks

The Iranian scholar Navid Kermani writes in the Times Literary Supplement that we should not look to the Koran to understand 11 September, but to Nietzsche. It is the West’s culture of nihilism, and a Nietzschian lust for action, violence and infamy, that was the real driving force for these attackers, he argues.

I can partially believe this, because we do live in nihilistic times. However, the problem is that we adhere to the wrong kind of nihilism, a kind of passive, Chestertonian nihilism, where instead of challenging organised religions, people retreat into crystals, astrology and narcissist ‘healing’ rituals; where people’s ambition is to be on Big Brother.

I favour an argument forwarded by the award-winning author David Langford that the real inspiration for 11 September was the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. In Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ series, one man, Hari Seldon, observes that civilisation is in irreparable decline and decay. So he creates an organisation in a poverty-stricken world from where he plans to destroy the decadent ‘West’ and rule the galaxy once it falls. Seldon even prepares videotapes of his prophecies. ‘Foundation’ is often renamed ‘The Base’ in Arabic countries, and the translation of ‘The Base’ in Arabic is of course ‘al-Qaeda’. What’s more, ‘I a Seldon BA, man’ is an anagram of a certain notorious international terrorist’s name.

Other nerds say that bin Laden clearly resembles Paul from Frank Herbert’s Dune, a young hero destined to topple by himself a giant interplanetary empire with the help of desert tribesmen. Whatever book the al-Qaeda hijackers did read, taking inspiration from pulp sci-fi is fitting for a group of people who found it hard to make friends or sexual conquests in the real world. The 11 September murderers were classic geeks.

  • Tragical history tour

It’s difficult to know what to make of the Queen’s decision to make All You Need is Love the official song for her golden jubilee. Although I would class myself as a Beatles fan, its lyrics serve as an unwelcome reminder of how annoying The Beatles could be in their hippy period. Only one song of the era outclasses All You Need is Love for its sheer vapid dreariness – this being Joni Mitchell’s moan that they ‘paved paradise and put up a parking lot’.

Who is this ‘they’ that people always complain about? It is an unspecified grumble, used by people who haven’t thought things through properly. But we can’t have expected anything more specific from the hippies, the godfathers of today’s anti-modernists, who were convinced everything was better before modern civilisation came on the scene – that it was far better to live in a state of constant warfare and die from pneumonia at the age of 29.

As Radio Norwich’s Alan Partridge remonstrated with Mitchell’s above sentiments in Big Yellow Taxi, this was ‘a measure which actually would have alleviated traffic congestion on the outskirts of paradise, something which Joni singularly fails to point out, perhaps because it doesn’t quite fit in with her blinkered view of the world. Nevertheless, nice song’.

From The Beatles’ hippy era, A Day in the Life, Tomorrow Never Knows and Revolution 9 stand as stark reminders of just how boring and weird drugs can make people. George Harrison cannot escape censure either, for the unspeakable sitar dirge Within You Without You. Taxman was rather more interesting – written 20 days after the 1966 general election. Harrison found himself paying a 95 percent tax rate, so he decided to write a song about the Inland Revenue. What an old romantic.

  • Blood and soil

The handsome George Monbiot has declared his alarm at the fact that racists are jumping on the green and anti-globalisation agenda. ‘There is no question that the far right’, says Monbiot in the Guardian on 30 April 2002, ‘is now seeking to climb aboard the unleaded bandwagon driven by the new progressives’. This is like Naomi Klein announcing to the world that capitalism exploits people. Yes, we’ve known this for about 150 years now. And Monbiot merely writes what everybody has similarly known for ages: eco-worriers can be fascists too.

The British National Party has always been ‘anti-pollution’ (whatever that means), and its leader, Nick Griffin, is a countryside campaigner. The far right, like ‘new progressives’, campaigns for the rights of local cultures in the face of a vast international capitalist conspiracy – the difference being of course the far right wants to protect ‘our’ culture and not ‘theirs’. But for both camps, the system must be smashed now (we’ll use exclamation marks at whatever moment possible!), and we’ll work out what we’ll replace it with afterwards.

With both ‘new progressives’ and fascists alike, we see an incoherent hatred of the modern world. From these malcontents we hear the infantile cry: ‘It’s just not fair.’

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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