Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Monday, December 8, 2014

Hitler's art and functional alcoholism

Dear Hannah,

Walk through any bookstore in the United States, find the history section, shuffle your way toward "Germany," and you'll be treated to almost nothing but information about the Nazis.  It shouldn't be too surprising why.  Most of the Protestants I know aren't concerned enough about their own religion to think heroes like Martin Luther are interesting, and Hitler was the most exciting supervillain to have happened only yesterday.  Aside from these two periods, and maybe World War 1 and the invasion of Rome by the Goths, the rest of German history is a gigantic void to Americans. 

Hitler, as a character, is far more interesting than nearly everyone else anyway.  He takes all the things we say about evolution and science and social planning and ran with them in the most logical direction -- which is racism and survival of the fittest and global domination.  If nearly everyone is willing to say that species vary within themselves, Hitler was willing to say the same applies to humans.  I'm willing to say that he's wrong -- very wrong; and I think he's wrong because English people were the world's rednecks before they conquered a quarter of the globe and then gave the world America.  In other words, we don't know what any race has hiding under their sleeve (although I've heard a white nationalist once mockingly ask a man in a debate, in response to the assertion that Arabs once ruled the world, to tell him stories about the great aboriginal empire -- which has never existed and will probably never exist).  It isn't necessarily what the races are, but what they could be that makes us really human.  In a certain sense, everyone -- or at least, mostly everyone, in terms of moral potential, is a fallen god.

But that doesn't mean Hitler isn't asserting something that each evolutionist knows they've been asserting, on some level, ever since we began talking about evolution in the first place.  If our ancestors were the apes, we simply have to ask who not only who directs the affairs of others the most, which is the surest way to test any kind of adaptation, but also who least resembles the apes physically and behaviorally, and say they're the most advanced -- or at least, the furthest from where we started.  To believe not only in evolution, but in the idea that some branch of humanity hasn't advanced in some fundamental way past the tribesmen running around in the bush, is essentially to say we believe that everyone is changing, but we're all exactly the same.  By admitting one thing, we admit others -- and then we pretend we never admitted anything at all.  This is one of those difficult things that I'm glad, by my religious persuasions, to have avoided.  But enough on the topic of racism.

Looking away from Hitler's plans for the ideal state, you'll find in nearly every one of his biographies the fact that he was a failed artist.  Everyone calls him a failed artist; everyone except the people who actually do art for a living.  An artist knows that the overwhelming majority of professional artists are failing in the sense of business, which means that they are really only failed businessmen -- like anyone else who's tried to make a living by selling something that nobody wants or knows about (unless of course they're patronized by the state, in which case citizens are forced to buy art they don't want -- which may also be considered another form of failure).

The fact of the matter is that Hitler wasn't a failed artist, because he was making what most of us would consider good art.  If popularity alone is the reason why nobody is a successful artist, then nearly everyone who paints or writes or sings would be something other than an artist -- which would make them nothing.  I would go as far as saying that the fact that he was "unsuccessful" proves he's more of an artist than being successful.  An artist makes art because he likes making something beautiful, not because he's well recognized or well paid.  Most artists are poor, which is why they hate competing on a national scale: they want to only compete with local artists, because they know they have a better chance at making a living. 

In the same way that people talk about "failed artists," people speak about double predestination and functional alcoholism.  The first of these is probably the most ridiculous, because nobody can be predestined to anything more than once (as I've mentioned in my essay about Calvinism); if God is going to make a decision about someone's fate, then certainly He would have made it right the first time.  This goes to show you how much theologians think about the things they say, and how far they have to go to deny the things they've already admitted -- so far, that they have to pretend that words mean things other than they mean.  But the second phrase about alcoholism is more pernicious, because it assumes there's a such thing as functional alcoholism.

The implication in functional alcoholism is that someone can drink a lot and not have any serious problems; or at the very least (according to the most popular usage), it's that he can be an alcoholic and still hold a job.  The phrase says, in a kind of way, that you can drink a lot and somehow have a drinking problem without having any serious problems, and it seems to imply that you can be an alcoholic simply because you enjoy drinking frequently.  But of course, alcoholism, in its truest sense, has nothing to do with how much you drink.  It has everything to do with how much you ruin.  It's precisely at the moment when we realize that Bill's drinking has been causing fights with his wife, or causing him to be rude at work, that we say he's an alcoholic; if there isn't any trouble, then there can't be a name for a disease, because everything is in good order.  There is a point at which gluttony becomes ruinous, and it's the point of obesity or heart disease, not the point at which Timmy eats too much turkey on Thanksgiving.  Likewise, all alcoholism is inherently non-functional: it gets in the way of how things are ideally supposed to function. If there is no problem, then alcoholism should be called drinking.

But if by functional we only mean holding a job and not maintaining a happy family, then I think we have a bigger problem than alcoholism, because we think that being functional has more to do with work than home.  The reason this is backward should be obvious: because the only reason we work is so that we can have a home in the first place.  That we can see alcoholism as functional when it ruins our relationships so long as we keep bringing home the bacon shows we've gotten our priorities all backward.

Your father,

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