by Robert Gear (November 2017)
Inverted Personages, Joan Miró
In a previous article (NER, October 2017) I briefly mentioned some well-known people who had swallowed the red pill, those who had undergone what could be called a ‘political’ metanoia. Here I want to enquire into the catalyst for such change. Can it be engineered? What happens when an individual has a change of heart or mind and suddenly understands how his whole worldview, constructed as it has been in support of ideas long known to be failures, often enough reprehensible and the cause of much misery, sees the curtain drawn apart? I am talking about moral, intellectual and secular awakening in the individual, a Scroogian metamorphosis, presumably a necessary condition (but clearly not sufficient) for a more general societal moral evolution. After all, neuroscientists assure us that our brains have enough plasticity to be remapped at any age. For Socrates, the illusory state was both a moral and intellectual error from which Sophists had to be dissuaded, and any conversion had to be both emotional and ethical. For Kierkegaard, such a transformation was spiritual and had to be emotional and non-rational; but sudden spiritual epiphany with a divine origin of the Saul/Paul variety is outside of my concern here.
Societal moral change has been analyzed in a groundbreaking work by Kwame Anthony Appiah in The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen in which he explores varying notions of honor in both the preservation and elimination of now reviled practices such as the Atlantic slave trade, footbinding and dueling. These are larger societal changes, Copernican in broadness and Cambrian in their relative suddenness, but I am not examining society-wide conversion in this article.
How does one convince the frenzied Jacobins of the Global Progressive Left (GLOPROLES?) that their worldview is, with regard to, for example, the ongoing depredations of Islam, just plain wrong? Or how about the whack-a-mole impudence of their own tribe of cargo cultists lusting with renewed vigor after the God that Failed? Clearly they are not just morally, but factually in error. Attached to their peculiar worldview is a remarkable ability to deny what is apparent to others. For example, Leftists regularly excuse Islam as ‘the Religion of Peace.’ Oh, come off it! Really? To those among us who are occasionally exposed to the important events of the day, even in what is now often called the Legacy Media, this is a ludicrous conviction. For those of us who have gingerly dipped into the Islamic trilogy of the Koran, the Hadith and the Sira, this belief seems to reside in a parallel universe—in the Bizarro world of cubic htraE (Earth spelt backwards), as the writers at DC Comics called it. Islamic imperialism is all around us and uses all means to further its aims. How can GLOPROLES not see that? The roots of this land of mental shadow are, of course, multifarious and the psychological literature is vast.
An enjoyable and profitable time can be had scrutinizing literary works and even productions of the entertainment industry from the period of Pre-New-Islamic-Onslaught for parallels to our current dilemma. For example, in a previous article (NER, August, 2017), I pointed out that the 1932 movie The Mummy could help thoughtful viewers to understand the bubbling to the surface of an ancient predatory menace. In another article (NER, September, 2017), I used a mundane newspaper headline, a Gospel narrative, and situations from Thomas Hardy and George Orwell to illustrate the current perils facing European civilization and beyond.
Here I want to examine Edwin A. Abbott’s wonderful late-Victorian satire Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions and this work’s prominent theme of denial in the face of overwhelming evidence. For readers who are not familiar with this work, here is a brief synopsis. The protagonist, A. Square, resides in Flatland, a region of only two dimensions. In the earlier chapters, A. Square describes the world he inhabits, and in so doing the author satirizes in laugh-out-loud narrative sketches many peculiarities of our own world. But the essential theme is denial of the obvious and the problem of how a two-dimensional creature can be made to see the reality of three-dimensional space. In a foreshadowing of his own illusions, A. Square suddenly finds himself (or perchance dreams) in a one-dimensional ‘Lineland’ and tries to persuade the King of Lineland about the errors of believing in only one dimension. He fails to convince Lineland’s Monarch with straightforward argument. Here, for example, is a fragment of their dialog:
King: Exhibit to me, if you please, this motion from left to right.
A. Square: Nay, that I cannot do unless you could step out of your Line altogether.
King: Out of my Line? Do you mean out of the world? Out of Space?
A. Square: Well, yes. Out of your World. Out of your Space. For your Space is not the true Space. True Space is a Plane; but your Space is only a Line.
King: If you cannot indicate this motion from left to right by yourself moving in it, then I beg you to describe it to me in words.
A. Square: If you cannot tell your right side from your left, I fear that no words of mine can make my meaning clear to you. But surely you cannot be ignorant of so simple a distinction.
King: I do not in the least understand you.
A. Square fails to convince the King of the ‘reality’ of his own two-dimensional world. He tries showing as well as telling, but all such attempts at persuasion are equally ineffective. The King becomes indignant that A. Square would question his strongly held belief. The protagonist then tells the King that he came to visit him in the ‘hope of enlightening your ignorance.’
Hearing these words the King advanced towards me with a menacing cry as if to pierce me through the diagonal; and in that same moment there arose from the myriads of his subjects a multitudinous war-cry, increasing in vehemence till at last methought it rivaled the roar of an army of a hundred thousand Isosceles, and the artillery of a thousand Pentagons. Spell-bound and motionless, I could neither speak nor move to avert the impending destruction.
A. Square wakes up at this moment. Was it just a dream? The thin-skinned king had turned to violence when the protagonist failed to convince him with rational argument; and this is, of course, the modus operandi of the modern unholy alliance. Often cheered on by elements of the media and academy, the likes of Antifa, BLM and the clownish SJWs indulge in brutal confrontation. Ideologues turn to violence in an effort to stamp out rational discussion. Of course, Islam has been from its inception ‘Jihading’ with violence anyway. There is and was no argument here. But within the leftist domain violence is now not far below the surface. They will even (or is it naturally?) turn to the State to enforce their strongly held convictions. For example, there are elements of the Global Warming Hysteria Crowd (GLOWHYCs?) who advocate the jailing of skeptics (i.e. those who still believe in say, a Popperian view of Science and a commitment to an Open Society).
But back to Flatland. At the turn of the new Millenium in his 2D world, A. Square is visited by a Sphere from the 3D world. A. Square proves as hard to persuade about the existence of this dimension as the King of Lineland was about the 2D world. The Sphere tries to convince him with rational explanations but fails, and yes, A. Square becomes more and more incensed. He takes the Sphere to be some sort of trickster.
Monster,’ I shrieked, ‘be thou juggler, enchanter, dream, or devil, no more will I endure thy mockeries. Either thou or I must perish.’ And saying these words I precipitated myself upon him.
So A. Square himself cannot be persuaded by rational arguments and turns to violence to destroy the physical representation of ideas he cannot fathom or accept. The Sphere, has to resort to deeds to get him to accept another way of perceiving the universe. Sphere forcibly transports A. Square into the 3D world of Spaceland. Compelled to live for a time in this new reality A. Square has a painful epiphany.
I shrieked aloud in agony. ‘Either this is madness or it is Hell.’ ‘It is neither,’ calmly replied the voice of the Sphere, ‘it is Knowledge; it is Three Dimensions; open your eye once again and try to look steadily.’
I looked, and, behold, a new world!
The residents of Flatland are akin to the prisoners chained in Plato’s allegory of the cave. A. Square is forced to see that the shadows cast on the cave wall are mere shadows. In The Republic, Socrates asks Glaucon about a hypothetically released prisoner,
And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he’s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated?
And like Plato’s escaped prisoner, he will not be believed by the other cave prisoners. Returning to Flatland, A. Square plans to evangelize his new knowledge. But just then he hears a herald’s proclamation.
Listening attentively, I recognized the words of the Resolution of the Council, enjoining the arrest, imprisonment, or execution of any one who should pervert the minds of the people by delusions, and by professing to have received revelations from another World.
Abbot sounds here almost like a prophet of the nastier side of 20th Century history; an Orwell ahead of his time. A. Square is eventually imprisoned by the authorities for daring to challenge the reigning belief system. Treated rather better than Winston Smith, he later reflects,
Only yesterday, when the Chief Circle (in other words our High Priest) came to inspect the State Prison and paid me his seventh annual visit, and when for the seventh time he put me the question, “Was I any better?” I tried to prove to him that he was “high”, as well as long and broad, although he did not know it. But what was his reply? “You say I am ‘high’: measure my ‘high-ness’ and I will believe you.” What could I do? How could I meet his challenge? I was crushed: and he left the room triumphant.
If there is a message in this delightful satire, it is perhaps that an individual, be they one, two or, yes, three dimensional (that’s us!), cannot easily be persuaded of the error of their strongly held opinions. Facts and logic supported by empirical evidence are of little or no avail. Some lived experience, perhaps even a forced one, may be requisite, as, for example, that performed by the ghosts of Marley, Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come in their successful engineering of the moral redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge; a mugging by reality that may lead to some kind of chain reaction in the mind.
In Orwell’s ending, Smith finally submits (interesting word, submits) to the brutal persuasion of Big Brother; a metamorphosis, yes, but one not unlike that of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa—regressive; back to an insect level of existence and final obliteration.
But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother. THE END.
But in Flatland, the imprisoned A. Square does not submit. He reflects finally:
. . . all the realities of Flatland itself, appear no better than the offspring of a diseased imagination, or the baseless fabric of a dream.
The unwritten sequel is all around us, enveloping the world with yet unrealized potential.
Robert Gear now lives in the American Southwest. He is a retired English teacher and has co-authored with his wife several texts in the field of ESL.
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