Opinion: Modern activists and armed provocateurs don’t appreciate beauty

Provocateurs who commit violence have diseased and hateful, rather than principled and healthy, minds. They are incomplete, fractured human beings.

As I have watched the chaos in our beloved Berkeley unfold over the course of these tiring months, I have made one crucial observation: modern activist leaders, on all fronts of the ideological spectrum, possess no sense of true happiness or appreciation of aesthetic beauty.

I cannot justify this claim with rigor or quantitative proof. I can only ask you, my reader, to imagine, in your mind’s eye, the personalities of those armed provocateurs who secretly delight in injuring their fellow citizens, or those whose feverish calls for protest after protest and rally after rally seem to spring from a diseased and hateful rather than principled and healthy mind. Bluntly, one does not imagine these fellows stopping to smell the roses on their way to Sproul Hall. There is no joy to be found in their countenance; their senses are not excited by the transcendent beauty of Mahler or Schubert. They do not, and perhaps cannot delight in the delicate flutter of a hummingbird’s wings or the ponderous song of the ocean’s waters. Their psyches are entirely inimical to love, affection, and the selfless devotion thereby entailed; rather, one imagines their relationships chained in perverse thralldom to their ideology. In essence, I suggest that they are incomplete, fractured human beings.

So the citizens of fair Berkeley march onward spurred into motion by the tireless exhortations of the leaders of these modern movements and recalling a past in which their leaders shared with them a spiritually and aesthetically wholesome vision of the world’s potential. We march onward, not realizing that the well of our noble spirits is poisoned by the malice of those who lead us now, and that should we deign to lower our chalice into this well, so, too, are we poisoned by their noxious essence. We march onward, not realizing that the tapestry of our values has become frayed beyond recognition, that the steel of our resolve has become corroded by a potent but invisible acid. We march onward, forgetting why we march, or what we ought to march for, but doing so for the sake of doing so. We forget ourselves.

The act of creation may be conceptualized as a materialization of some aspect of the artist’s inner world, which possesses such radiance and clarity as to form the telos for its own consummation. Accordingly, I ask: what springs, unbidden and uninvited, from the inner worlds of these modern radicals, for whom the essential and vital joy of life has been consigned to the dusty attics of memory? As Michelangelo constructed the Basilica of St. Peter—a work so great that one would think him divinely inspired—so, too, do these suffering souls construct their own labyrinthine cathedral of hate around Berkeley, and in the intense depth of their unrealized suffering do they draw in common men and women, so as to seemingly render creation unthinkable and destruction inevitable. Thus drawn in, we perceive no exit, nor even the possibility of an exit.

When Theodore Kaczynski spoke of Industrial Society and Its Future, he warned against this—that instead of our future, instead of traveling toward a world of our own creation, the worst depredations of modern industrial society might accumulate in our minds, as destructive and potent toxins in our collective body, and come to manifest as a telos which draws us toward the consummation not of great and overwhelming artistry but of the unretractable summoning of the psychic terrors which tear apart our comprehension of the basic loveliness of life.

Trapped within the ascendency of overpowering nihilism, we confuse the acts of creation and destruction. We forget that activism in its purest form—that, in fact, all efforts at civilizational improvement—are predicated upon the creation, or at least the articulation of a vision, of a more beautiful alternative than what presently exists. Instead, we begin to imagine that it suffices to demonstrate the incoherence of our “enemies,” and absolve ourselves of the arduous responsibility of creating the change we wish to see in the world. Modern radical leaders are incapable of apprehending the world’s beauty, and therefore even more incapable of truly conceiving of a better world—or even recognizing that which renders life worth living at all. In confusion, they strike out, falsely believing that reducing enough of the world to crumbling rubble and dust will reveal some great salvation. What they fail to realize is that their disgust with the world they inhabit is often little more than an externalization of the brokenness of the world within themselves.

Do not forget that the world used to not be so—that Americans once envisioned their destiny as to create a “city upon a hill,” a glorious exemplar for the world to follow. Do not forget that when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the “drum major instinct,” the human tendency to “surpass others, to achieve distinction, [and] to lead the parade,” he did not merely condemn its worst manifestations but spoke of its capacity to serve as the engine for good. Though we have lapsed and fostered the growth of rot which chews at the foundations of the cathedral that is our civil society, we are not yet entirely lost. If we were, there would be none left to write as I do.

Gazing about at the ruins of the Great War, Yeats wrote, prophetically, that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” As this “passionate intensity” eclipses the peace to which we were accustomed, we forget that there are roses at all to be smelled. Let us not be overtaken by these dark tendencies. Let us laugh, play, love, and above all live without restraint—and, above all, let us not forget, as the extremists have, that around us is a world of infinite beauty worth saving.

Richard Keats II has lived in Berkeley for 37 years and has been a scientist, tutor, writer, and artist. Currently, he occupies himself in retirement with long walks in the hills and local gardens.