In the Jewish Quarter of Prague, the capital of Czechia, there is a strange-looking, if not bewildering statue. It is the tall figure of a headless, faceless, handless creature – with what looks like a massive, gaping hole where the head or face should be – and on its shoulders it carries a comparatively diminutive human figure.
It was created by sculptor Jaroslav Róna, and is a depiction of the absurdist writer, Franz Kafka, astride an inhuman monstrosity, that is based on an early short story by Kafka, titled “Description of a Struggle,’ where a young man rides through Prague’s streets on the shoulders of another man.
The statue is self-explanatory: a human being (represented by the man riding the beast) is carried, or ‘moved’ by a grotesque entity to which it is attached, or something equivalent to this. It is an apt metaphor for what one encounters in Kafka’s work – who can forget the story of Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis, where the protagonist wakes up one day to find that he had turned into a colossal insect during the night, or the ostensibly realistic, but really absurd court procedures and legal machinations, and the nightmarish events that befall the protagonist in The Trial?
Particularly the latter novel is instructive as a kind of mirror for the absurd, senseless time in which we live. Compare this neat summary by Benjamin Winterhalter:
In Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial, first published in 1925, a year after its author’s death, Josef K. is arrested, but can’t seem to find out what he’s accused of. As K. navigates a labyrinthine network of bureaucratic traps—a dark parody of the legal system—he keeps doing things that make him look guilty. Eventually his accusers decide he must be guilty, and he is summarily executed. As Kafka puts it in the second-to-last chapter, ‘The Cathedral:’ ‘the proceedings gradually merge into the judgment.’
What comes to mind immediately (for Americans, at any rate), is the equally absurd recent series of indictments of former US president Donald Trump – patently a concerted, sustained (but unjustifiable) attempt to prevent him from being able to stand as a candidate in the 2024 presidential election, which he may still be able to do even if the so-called Democrats, who are really thinly disguised neo-fascists, manage to imprison him. Absurdity reigns at the ‘highest’ levels in America, vindicating Kafka’s vision of a world where even institutions putatively dedicated to the advancement of justice turn out to instantiate the unbridled sway of absurdity and irrationality.
This word – irrationality – announces another salient, connected thread for understanding the present, to wit, the thought of the philosopher of irrationality, Arthur Schopenhauer. In fact, the Prague statue discussed earlier already contains echoes of Schopenhauer (The World as Will and Representation, Vol 2, Cambridge University Press, 2018, p. 220):
This is termed ‘self-mastery:’ clearly it is the will that is master here and the intellect the servant; this is because it is always the will that, in the last instance, retains the regiment, and hence constitutes the true kernel, the essence in itself of the human being. In this respect the honour of being the Hêgemonikon would belong to the will: but, on the other hand, it seems appropriate for the intellect as well, in so far as the intellect is the guide and leader, like the retainer who walks in front of the stranger. But the truth is that the most apt simile for the relation of the two is that of a strong blind man who carries a seeing but lame man on his shoulders.
I don’t know for certain if Kafka had read Schopenhauer before he wrote the short story on which the bizarre sculpture in Prague is based, but as he was born after Schopenhauer’s death, and the latter’s fame grew as the 19th century got closer to the fin de siècle, it is probable that he was familiar with Schopenhauer’s work, and hence, with his image of the strong blind man (the irrational will) carrying the paralysed, clear-sighted man (the intellect) on his shoulders.
The implications of this metaphor must be grasped clearly: the powerful blind fellow walks, or stumbles, in any direction that catches his fancy, sometimes bumping into sharp objects and hurting himself, with the lame man admonishing him with ‘I told you so!’ But the unsighted brute blunders forth, mumbling curses under his breath. In sum: for Schopenhauer, in contrast with the entire Western philosophical tradition that preceded him since Plato and Aristotle (who famously depicted human beings as ‘rational animals’), it is not reason that is the distinctive human trait; it is the blind, irrational will.’ Schopenhauer writes (2018: 220):
The intellect furnishes the will with motives: but it only finds out afterwards, completely a posteriori, what effects they have had, like someone who performs a chemical experiment, combining the reagents and then waiting for the result.
The relationship between the clear ideas of the intellect and the unruly will is comparable to the shiny surface of a deep lake and the dark depths that it hides – an apposite metaphor for Schopenhauer’s anthropology, which anticipates cognate metaphors in Freud’s work, such as that of a house with an attic and a cellar, where the living space denotes the Ego (reason), the attic stands for the Superego (conscience, which reflects societal values) and the cellar instantiates the irrational, instinctive Id.
In fact, Schopenhauer is probably the most ‘legitimate’ precursor of Freud, in so far as both – terminological differences notwithstanding – paint an unflattering picture of Homo sapiens sapiens (the supposedly doubly wise hominin), a creature that fancies itself as the paragon of reason, but is, in truth, a slave to its irrational will (Schopenhauer) or its primordial instincts (Freud). Neither Schopenhauer nor Freud denies the function of reason in humans, but they do not regard it as being decisive.
You may wonder why I am paying so much attention to these two thinkers, and Kafka before them. Simply because the events of the past four years – and arguably since the beginning of the 21st century – have shown irrefutably that the insights of this trio of anthro-pessimists have come home to roost in the present era.
Here is another instance which demonstrates the validity of my claim, as the irrational persecution of Donald Trump, alluded to earlier, does. Again it involves the courts and someone being charged with, in this case, a mere ‘misdemeanour.’ The individual involved is journalist and television personality Owen Shroyer, who was given a 60-day prison sentence for his role in the events of January 6, 2021, although the court acknowledged that he did not participate in any violent behaviour on that occasion. In a recent interview with Tucker Carlson – published on YouTube, but since then removed (itself a telling fact!) – Shroyer spoke at length about his sentence, of which he served 47 days before being released. (I am hoping that this interview will be republished on Rumble, which Carlson has since joined.)
From his account of events it was clear that there were no legitimate criminal grounds for his incarceration, but that the presiding judge evidently wanted to send an intimidating message to anyone who might be tempted to repeat Shroyer’s ‘crime;’ namely, to speak in a manner that, among other things, contradicted the official version of events such as the 2020 presidential election. Despite his legal team arguing that prosecutors had violated Shroyer’s constitutional right to speak openly and to do his journalistic work, the prosecution insisted that the First Amendment did not protect the journalist in this case. The judge evidently agreed.
It is glaringly obvious that officialdom’s ‘reasoning’ about the First Amendment not applying to Shroyer’s case is underpinned by irrationality, considering that this amendment of the US Constitution covers instances where people gather to protest and criticise the current government, however vociferously. At the same time the perverse ‘logic’ of such irrational actions as sentencing a journalist to prison on unjustifiable grounds should be clear: it is an instance of what George Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four (or 1984), published in 1949, presciently dubbed ‘thoughtcrime’ and ‘crimethink’ under the dystopian rule of the ‘Party’ in the fictional state of Oceania.
Recall that the protagonist of the story, Winston, emphasised that what citizens of this totalitarian society feared most was being found guilty of ‘thoughtcrime’ by the ubiquitous Thinkpol or ‘Thought police.’ And the logic in Shroyer’s case is revealing as far as this goes: for him to say something, which led to his conviction for a misdemeanour, deemed serious enough to pass for a crime, he had to have committed a thoughtcrime first. This is a manifestation, in 1984 as in the real-world case of Owen Shroyer, of sheer irrationality, which is incarnate in the perverse ‘logic’ underpinning actions carried out to maintain an unjustifiable, but patently powerful, regime.
Moreover, in the interview with Tucker Carlson, which was deleted on YouTube soon after it was posted (for obvious reasons), but which I had fortunately listened to by then, Shroyer’s account of his time in prison highlighted the irrationality permeating court decisions under the Biden administration. According to Shroyer, even his fellow inmates confessed that his sentence made no sense – that it was irrational – considering that he was locked up for a mere ‘misdemeanour.’
To add insult to injury, he was even forced to spend time in solitary confinement, which is usually reserved for hardened criminals who transgress prison rules. Furthermore, it was intimated to him that the order to treat him in this manner had come from ‘higher up,’ and he speculated that it might even have come from the Attorney General’s office itself, not only to ‘teach him a lesson,’ but to serve as a warning for anyone who might think of repeating Shroyer’s ‘speech crime’ offence.
Why have I characterised these two instances of the treatment of individuals at the hands of the justice system in the US as ‘irrational?’ In its broadest philosophical meaning, taking my cue from Immanuel Kant, ‘reason,’ and corresponding to it, ‘rational’ decisions and actions denote the shared human capacity, or faculty, of reasoning within certain limits and principles – namely knowledge resulting from a synthesis of the structure of reason and (the limits of) experience, on the one hand, and the moral principles pertaining to what Kant termed the universally applicable ‘categorical imperative,’ on the other. It is only within these limits that humans can claim to have knowledge; strictly speaking, knowledge of God, for instance, is not possible within these boundaries, because God is not an object of experience in space and time. (Hence faith in God.)
Within the relevant limits rational knowledge is possible, which means that all reasoning that claims affirmative cognitive status also occurs within them. Judged in these terms, I believe that neither of the two judicial instances discussed above would pass muster in terms of the criterion of reason, or rationality: the reasoning as well as the experiential basis pertaining to them is faulty, as a scrupulous investigation would almost certainly show.
One more instance of (extreme) irrationality has to be added here, to vindicate the beliefs of Kafka, Schopenhauer, and Freud, that human beings are fundamentally beings who engage in senseless, absurd, irrational actions. It concerns the clash between two things – first, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations (U.N.), Article 3, which reads: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person;” and second, the arguably irrational – that is, contradictory in relation to Article 3, above, and inimical to life – actions of funders of so-called ‘gain-of-function’ research and of the scientists involved with this.
In a video the pseudonymous ‘Ice Age Farmer’ (2022a: 7 minutes, 28 seconds into video, and further), discusses the gain-of-(lethal)-function research of a scientist, Dr Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and who has stated that a “hybrid swine-bird flu virus [is] possible,” and would be “extremely lethal.” In this video on Kawaoka’s research it is disclosed, and supported by documentary evidence from a press release by the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Ice Age Farmer 2022: 7 min. 43 sec. into video), that the research has resulted in something extremely pathogenic. In the university’s press release it is observed that (Ice Age Farmer 2022: 7 min. 50 sec. into video):
What is so interesting about Dr Kawaoka’s recent experiments is that he targeted PB2, the segment which few know enough about to be decisive. Dr Kawaoka and his research team have taken a human PB2 gene segment and spliced it to H5N1 bird flu. The result is a more lethal and even more virulent virus than the parent H5N1 strain. Dr Kawaoka and his staff have now, and pretty conclusively, named PB2 as the gene segment responsible for lethality in humans.
The Ice Age Farmer (2022: 8 min. 30 sec. ff into video) informs one, somewhat reassuringly (as far as the ‘rationality’ of other scientists is concerned), that Dr Kawaoka’s research has resulted in a storm of controversy in the scientific community, who have “…expressed horror for the creation of this virus that would render the human immune system defenceless.” Here is the rub: regardless of how strenuously scientists like Kawaoka, and (unscrupulous) gain-of-function entrepreneurs like Bill Gates may try to defend such research by arguing (as they do) that it enables one to prepare for possible ‘pandemics’ (caused by these laboratory-created viruses?), it is conspicuously disingenuous, and an example of obvious gaslighting to boot.
This has to be understood in the context of the colossal, irrational assault, by a shadowy group of neo-fascist technocrats, on the lives of ordinary people, whom they regard as ‘useless eaters.’ Arguably, promoting gain-of-function research on the production of potentially lethal pathogens represents the ne plus ultra of irrationality, as it risks destroying the biological foundation of life itself.
The point is: what are the chances that a natural addition of the PB2 gene segment to the H5N1 bird flu virus would occur? Pretty slight, if not impossible, one would guess. The mere fact that such research (which also includes the laboratory construction of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Wuhan) has occurred, and is probably still taking place, is an unmistakable manifestation of the kind of irrationality that Kafka, Schopenhauer, and Freud unmasked on the part of the not-so-sapiens human race. I rest my case.
Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
For reprints, please set the canonical link back to the original Brownstone Institute Article and Author.