“The Obsolete Man” in the 21st century

Can a half-hour TV show be a masterpiece? The genius of Rod Serling’s best work is he isn’t taking aim at left or right, patriot or rebel, believer or unbeliever. If you’re displaying the behavior, it’s about you. Minus commercials, twenty minutes to tell a story that sucks you in and often turns you inside out. What’s more, in these times of trigger warnings and public vilification for a careless word or unpopular perspective, The Twilight Zone is at least as relevant as when originally broadcast in 1959-64.


The Obsolete Man, emblematic of Serling’s best work, features Romney Wordsworth (Burgess Meredith), a librarian in a state without books, judged to be obsolete and sentenced to death. The warehouse-like courtroom is a gray beehive with buzzing drone-like people. Serling introduces this dystopian state as a place where “Logic is an enemy and truth is a menace”. We learn the “State has proven there is no God”. When he’s judged to be obsolete, Wordsworth responds, “No man is obsolete. I am a human being. I exist”, to which the Chancellor responds, “Delusions that you inject into your printer’s veins with printer’s ink…the state has no use for your kind…no more books means no more librarians”. When the state lets him choose the manner of his execution and permits the broadcasting of his death for its “Educative effect on the population”, Wordsworth chooses to die in his book-laden room, invites the Chancellor to observe him prepare for his “educative” death. But unbeknownst to his executioner, Wordsworth has locked the door so both men will perish. The oblivious Chancellor poses the question: “How does a man react to the knowledge that he is going to be blown to bits?” With the locked door revealed and the clock on the wall ticking, Wordsworth counters with a word of his own: “Let’s see how a Chancellor of the state dies…let’s have a little chat…just you and me and the great equalizer.”


Wordsworth proceeds to read from Psalm 23, from the Book of books forbidden by the state, the Chancellor smoking in nervous silence, both men defined in the moments the clock ticks down to the blast.


Serling’s postscript sounds quaint today: “Any state that does not recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, is obsolete.” In the verdict the state levies on the disgraced Chancellor, we might recall the Robespierres and Trotskys of history, the “Chancellors” in our day dragged down by their ideological brothers and sisters for one false step, one moment of weakness. In black and white and in 30 minutes, Serling depicts flashpoint issues in ways that chips away at our psychological and ideological biases.


In his time, no one would have called Serling a reactionary or religious zealot, but his views about human dignity no longer correspond with those who apply gender, sexual orientation, religious, psychological, racial, ethnic, or class struggle lenses to every spoken or written word. He was from a generation that witnessed the “obsolete” eliminated by the millions. The Chancellor says the problem with Hitler and Stalin was they didn’t go far enough. Serling was a humanist who knew that liberty, justice, and solidarity can only be built on a foundation of “The worth, the dignity, the rights” of every human being.


See No Evil

In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, many are asking the question that was asked after the West learned about the trains to Auschwitz, after 9/11, and after the Paris theater massacre: “Why did he (they) do it?”


We look for clues, we hear from people who knew the perpetrators, we wring our hands, but we find it hard to apply the word that best describes the act: evil.


After each of these horrendous acts of violence, the usual explanations are trotted out: mental illness, an overabundance of guns, festering grievances, addictions, brainwashing, but most of us, in our secret hearts if not our public voices, aren’t satisfied that these things adequately explain such monstrosities.


Though not popular in the sociology and psychology fields, many believe that human beings are born with a conscience. One of the most eloquent and understandable explanations for native (though not fully developed) conscience is supplied by C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. Even so, our conscience is far from fully formed at birth. Like a physical muscle, it must be exercised and developed, and this occurs via good formation.


The conscience “muscle”, properly formed, wards off evil; that is, grievously disordered behavior, but if this “muscle” becomes atrophied, or is damaged, disorder invariably results. Mental illness, addictions, strong emotions, and brainwashing can also weaken the conscience “muscle”, though a well-formed conscience can ameliorate the effects.


All human beings experience temptations, and many experience inclinations toward evil. Some succumb to the urge to commit evil acts without willfully embracing evil. Though they commit the act, they do not succumb wholeheartedly, and may later repent.


The embrace of evil is different, dismissing conscience, disregarding the welfare of others, considering the evil act and willfully committing it as the self’s prerogative. Addictions, emotions, propaganda, and mental disorders are peripheral to the willful embrace of evil. What’s more, those who dismiss conscience and willfully embrace evil are often more skilled at concealing their attitude and schemes than those who commit evil acts but are still pricked by conscience.


One cannot set aside conscience without doing grave harm to oneself. We are so wired, and we cannot un-wire ourselves and still make a pretense of being healthy. A person with a well-formed conscience could not sit in a room with Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Stalin, or Mao Zedong for ten minutes without realizing that something was very wrong,


The elimination of conscience that results in the embrace of evil—not merely succumbing to the temptation to commit an evil act—produces a grossly disordered self-regard and a cancerous self-hatred, a death wish if you will, even if the person doesn’t acknowledge it. Self-regard to the degree that no one else’s welfare matters, self-hatred as a natural consequence of the destruction of conscience and the willful embrace of evil; a form of possession in the sense that the self no longer exists apart from the evil.


Though temptations and inclinations toward evil may remain, a well-formed conscience strengthens the will to resist evil, and the experience of self-giving love is a powerful anti-virus to the “evil germ”.


The answer to the question “Why did he do it?” is evil exists, and some embrace it.

The Decline of Western Civilization and “He Who Must Not Be Named”

Source: The Decline of Western Civilization and “He Who Must Not Be Named” | Catholic World Report – Global Church news and views

The Illogic of Compelled “Faith”

True allegiance to the Creator requires our willful cooperation. Efforts to convert should be judged by whether they advance reflective free will or constrain it.

Source: The Illogic of Compelled “Faith”