Sunday, July 6, 2008

Our Debt to the Serpent

If the first fruit of Romanticism was the belief that Man may feel as he will, and if the subsequent harvest of Modernism dictated that he may then do as he feels, it is a question worth pondering why even now we have such a word as "Inhibitions." The ethical interests of Modernism have not shifted much with the passage of a century, and when the word in question is brought up and tossed about, it is most always in a tone of voice reserved for discussions of Richard Nixon, Kristlnacht, or Evangelical Christianity, subjects which, in the mind of the speaker, are inseparably related.
Inhibition, as the speaker would have us believe, makes a man's soul small and his glands defective. It leaves him to be governed by values without, rather than within himself. The inhibited man is a suspicious citizen, but his suspicion is turned on himself rather than his neighbor. The two gentlemen act with no fear of one another aside from "What he might think if he saw me engaged in. . ." But this in no way stumbles either in their exchanges of politesse. Thus it is that inhibition bodes well for democracy. In fact, democracy is the only bedfellow inhibition, in its shivering chastity, is willing to keep, and democracy, ever considerate, must make plenty of room under the sheets. The repressed man must be made to feel "Self-actualized," and to this end requires outlets for that potentially baser energy which he has bottled up inside of him. The political left ingeniously offers this in the form of any number of popular causes that afford him both personal satisfaction and a purchased morality, while keeping him an affectionate ward and dutiful philistine.
Were I to write the history of inhibition, I should no doubt have to include some discussion of the Puritans, the adjectival form of whose name attends inhibition as crumpets attend tea. But I should be wise to go only this far: the Puritans did not introduce us to inhibition. They introduced us to representative government, and representative government, given a couple of centuries, did the rest. The Puritans were radicals and fomentors, two personality traits which, while completely intolerable to a civilized man, leave little room for repression. The best of them appear to have had guts and testicles in due proportion.
We must go further back. To recount the history of inhibition is to recount the history of Original Sin, for both begin at the same moment, with the eating of the apple. It was then that Adam and Eve saw that they were naked and knew Shame. Before this, thoughts of propriety and personal reservation were as alien to them as thoughts of evil. This is why it is foolish to blame hypocritical forms of repression on Christianity, or even more absurdly, on God Himself. Restriction in the Garden of Eden was nothing if not itself restricted. I would advise anyone who thinks the breadth of Adam and Eve's allowances too closely fenced to reflect on the fact that the first list of "Thou Shalt Nots" God ever imposed upon mankind began and ended with a bit of damned foliage. Let us pursue some other case study of despotism, shall we?
Many of the same people who read despotism into a single restriction have sought in themselves not a New Adam but the Original, sans the Original Sin. They have attempted to speak his language, but the sincere poetry of "Flesh of my Flesh, Bone of my Bone" can only sound cynically contrived in modern mouths. Language becomes less sincere the older it gets, which it in part makes up for with a wider and more varied vocabulary. It makes us capable of greater ironies, all of which have at the back of them a refined and middle class knowledge of Good and Evil, a knowledge which makes us not only sinners but gentlemen. So before we crush the serpent's head for the first we can thank him for the second.

-Thomas Banks-

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