Pope Benedict XVI coined a phrase, “The Dictatorship of Relativism”, but relativism (by its very nature) is a slippery subject. In Beheading Hydra I said trying to counter it is like wrestling with an octopus in oil in the dark. This is because relativism is an underlying philosophy that manifests in various ways. Like the Father of Lies himself, relativism wears many masks.
One of the most pernicious is the mask of sentimentalism. Sentimentalism is the habit of making all one’s decisions based only on one’s subjective emotions. Sentimentalism is woven into contemporary culture at the basic level. For lots of reasons that I go into in Beheading Hydra, sentimentalism is part of modern Western society’s genetic code. Its the air we breathe. Its everywhere: advertising, politics, educational system, romance, social media, mainstream media–our whole world is saturated with sentimentalism.
Why? Because emotion motivates. In fact “emotion” and “motivation” come from the same root. There is an old Russian saying, “The heart moves the feet”. Good storytellers know that to succeed the story has to, in some way, touch the heart or push some other emotional buttons: fear, horror, anger, loathing, resentment etc.
Sentimentalism is the natural consequence of relativism for if there is no such thing as truth (which is the broad definition of relativism) then all one has to rely on is one’s emotion. You might say, “Hold on. What about one’s reasoning faculties? What about rationality?” But rationality can only operate if one believes there is such a thing as truth. Truth is the meat that rationality chews on. No Truth? No rationality. No rationality? All that’s left is emotion.
We might think that’s not so bad. Emotion means love and tenderness and tolerance and being nice and sweet right? Emotion means Valentine’s Day. Hearts and Flowers and remembering your Grandma’s birthday and little adorable children and puppies and kittens right?
Right–and all that is sweet and nice and good, but in our embrace of the sugary emotions we forget that there are other emotions–the darker emotions of resentment, rivalry, rage and revenge, These too are emotions, and here’s the trick: once we have yielded to the dictatorship of sentimentalism by being attracted the sugary emotions we start believing that our emotions are good in and of themselves and that we are therefore good people for having and cultivating those tender emotions. This what we have called “virtue signaling.” Which is a trendy term for self righteousness.
We believe our sugar emotions are good because they make us feel all warm and wonderful–especially we feel warm and wonderful about ourselves. We come to trust and not challenge our emotions. We go with them, because like any happy drug, they make us feel good. Then like every addict, we go back for more and we then feel even better about ourselves, and once we are addicted to our own sweet emotions, like any addict, if someone should dare to challenge our emotions, or the actions we have taken and the decisions we have made based on those emotions, we get angry. “Don’t take the baby’s lollipop!”
This is when folks start to pout and play the victim. They use emotional blackmail and begin to abuse others who might challenge them. Like spoiled infants when they don’t get their own way, they scream and yell and throw things. They blame the others for being mean, for being racist, for being heartless, for being intolerant. This blame game can get very violent as the sentimentalist attacks those who challenge him.
The next step in this dictatorship of sentimentalism is that it actually falls into resentment, rage and revenge. The sentimentalist goes on the attack, but now he has come to believe that his emotions are good and he is good. Therefore he not only believes his emotions of resentment, rage and desire for revenge are justified. He thinks they’re actually good and that he is an even better person for having these noble emotions.
If he is not checked he will actually carry out violence against others or their property based on these emotions. If he should join a gang where he shares his resentment, rage and revenge with others watch out. They will gang up on their perceived enemies and carry out every kind of persecution, harassment and (ultimately) violence against them. This dynamic is something I go into more detail in in my book Immortal Combat.