Thursday, February 10, 2011

Actor Michael Moriarty on Literature, Existentialism and The Fragile Minds of American Youth

The mind of a young person is God's marvel. The more the young mind encounters the more it absorbs; however, what that supple organ makes use of what it takes in can be dangerous. Parents, priests and pedagogues are best agents to direct the and chennel the course of experiences and epiphanies taken in by young people. There are very bad ideas - drinking mercury, diving off of a water tower, or basing one's actions upon seductive principles founded on misery.

The Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard built a theology on dread as the basis for making decisions. Abraham agonizing over his pact to sacrifice Issac as the blood bond of God's covenant was the spark of existentialism - a negative philosophy that morphed Kierkegaard's sermons into a Romantic precis of Satan's wildly idiotic battle with God. Knowing full well God's omnipotence, Old Scratch never-the-less gave it the old Ivy League try - again, and again. Byron's Childe Harold in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, lines 1031-1102 whines:

I have not loved the World, nor the World me;
I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bowed
To its idolatries a patient knee,
Nor coined my cheek to smiles,-nor cried aloud
In worship of an echo; in the crowd
They could not deem me one of such-I stood
Among them, but not of them- in a shroud
Of thoughts which were not their thoughts, and still could,
Had I not filed my mind, which thus itself subdued.

What teenage girl girl could not go weak in the knees ( Vampire, Matrix-caparisoned dark eyed, pale and pasty dreamy non Jock) over the sentiments of this brooding youth? J,D. Salinger's Holden Caufield - the quintessential American Teenage Male - narrates his negative world view and spits ironic scorn at the phonies of the ordered world. Young minds are attracted to the dark - death - dread and the Gothic.

The greatest generation and their Korean and Vietnam heirs had their bellies full of death and dread and created a lifestyle and standard of living that was the antithesis - a life affirming ethic and commitment to service - for their children. The American brooding generations had the luxury to hurl defiance at order and life itself with parsing nods to dim authorities found in books and spouting semiotic nonsense from the plush podiums of the Academy - whatever the hell that is.

Chicago-rooted actor, composer,essayist and anti-abortion activist Michael Moriarty wrote a sound study of the dangers of toxic doctrines ingested by young minds without the rigorous oversight of parents, priests and capable pedagogues - that's teachers. Mass murderer Jared Lochner seems to be a case study of toxic thought unchecked . . .and most likely unsupervised.

American Existentialism: Jared Loughner

By Michael Moriarty
web posted February 7, 2011

While Jared Loughner's list of favorite writings run from Hitler's Mein Kampf and Marx's Communist Manifesto to George Orwell, Hermann Hesse and Ernest Hemingway, a mysteriously missing set of fashionably well-respected names are the French Existentialists, such as Abert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre.

By the time I had finished that relentlessly compelling tale of gratuitous murder and vague redemption (Albert Camus' The Stranger which ends with the words, "all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration,") my sense of the world had been shattered into a thousand pieces.

The essentials of this quote are from Stranger In A Strange Land – The Enduring American Appeal Of Existentialism, Nick Gillespie's still startling review of George Cotkin's Existential America.

With the endearing confession I can share with Mr. Gillespie about existentialism – "I still never quite understood it" – I suddenly began to comprehend a few things I had not even dreamt of during Freshman year at Dartmouth and the existential labyrinths of Philosophy 101. The course was taught devoid of the endless examples of senseless murder available even then. Somehow the anti-hero of Albert Camus' The Stranger was held to be examined in an a-historical vacuum. The ghosts of Jack The Ripper and Lizzie Borden were just begging to attend class; but the Professor would not even utter their names.

After this past week, however, and the nightmares rolling out of Tucson, Arizona, with the massacre there, the insane slaughter handed out to all of America by one Jared Loughner?

Cotkin's most original insight is something that escaped Camus and the others: "Existentialism, American style ... jibes well with American antinomianism, that willingness of the lonely individual to rebel against entrenched authority in the name of his or her most intense beliefs. Antinomianism, like existentialism, challenges easy certitude, entrenched religion, and moribund political assumptions."


Quite possibly.

This is Jared Loughner, as attorney pro-se, defending himself in court.

The crime in Albert Camus' The Stranger is merely a small example of the massacre in Tucson which America may never recover from. Yet the obscenely joyous anticipation within the murderer that "a huge crowd of spectators … should greet me with howls of execration"?

This, for an existentialist apparently, is not insanity.

This is classic anti-heroism.

"L'enfer est les autres!"

"Hell is other people", as a profoundly existential character proclaims in Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit. The brilliant critic, Walter Kaufmann, encapsulated existentialism as defined by the 4 D's: "death, despair, dread and dauntlessness". According to the likes of Jean Paul Sartre, Jared Loughner is the quintessentially existential anti-hero.

To a French existentialist, Jared Loughner is not insane.

He is "dauntlessly" addressing "death, despair and dread" with a defining existential act, multiple versions of that apparently liberating but cold-blooded killing in Albert Camus' The Stranger.

Is existentialism a true philosophy?

Or is it merely a rationalization for the "enlightened despots" of France, from 18th century Robespierre to the 20th century's Jean Paul Sartre, to either commit mass murder or openly relish the shameless homicides of Jared Loughner, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, et al?

I believe Existentialism is the 20th century effort of French intellectuals to rationalize their horridly bloody, 18th century revolution. Existentialism was, and still is for many Frenchmen and women, the effort of intellectual supremacistsin Paristo defend what is the heart of the French Revolution and the rationale for the French Guillotine: it was the Existentially justifiable thing to do at the time.

Death, despair, dread and dauntlessness!

This is the moment in which I must remind my readers of the true enemy of the French Revolution. The ultimate and permanent enemy of the French Revolution was not the aristocracy nor even the bourgeoisie.

It was and still is the Catholic Church.

In addition and more to the point of this article, the number one enemy of the Progressive Revolution or the Obama Nation's "Fundamental transformation of the United States" is not the Tea Party but the Catholic Church. Rome's unflinching and unwavering condemnation of abortion strikes at the very cornerstone of Progressive philosophy, strategy and visions of the future. While the very black attire of Catholic priests similarly signify the very existential themes of dread, death and despair, the antidote, however, is not a mindless or homicidal dauntlessness.

It is Life!

Life, life and more life!

Life that is even more dauntless, forceful and abandoned than the mad eyes of Jared Loughner.

Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at

The American classroom could use Michael Moriarty.

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