In the Netflix documentary Night Stalker, a mini-series that chronicles the terror-spree of Richard Ramirez in Northern California, the viewer is given a first hand account of crime seen footage and witness testimony of a gut wrenching years long ode to unhinged depravity.
Correspondingly, we are also taken front and center in his infamous criminal trial. Throughout the hearing, Ramirez had a clear motive to shock and provoke the viewing public with Luciferian imagery—in one instance brandishing a pentagram on his hand for all to see—capitalizing on every opportunity to shine a light on his self-professed Satanism.
At the end of the trial, conscious that the gas chamber awaits, the murderer made his final statement to the court, “Lucifer dwells within us all. You don’t understand, and you are not expected to, you are not capable of it. I am beyond your experience, I am beyond doing evil.”
Pop Culture Satanism
In a more contemporary act of Satanic theatre, the insatiable American consumer feasts upon a presentation of banal proportions by the rapper Nas X. In it he takes on many versions of himself in a solipsistic celebration of sterility and disintegration. The video also presents Montero—the split personality of Nas X—on a dramatic journey from the Garden of Eden, through the Roman Coliseum, and finally into the bowels of Hell.
Truly Montero comes to represent the post-modern, self-obsessed, deconstructionist Dante for which the prophets of the Frankfurt school have long been pining. In these rather extreme presentations of the transgressive, triumph of the individual over society, the celebration of boundless appetite, and finally the full inversion of the good we see the thread that binds these characters.
For Ramirez and Montero there is a longing for transcendence turned upside down. Nas X manages this imagery through wresting the crown of hell from Lucifer while Ramirez gesticulates about overcoming evil itself.
Each persona presents himself as subversive figures—Montero through decadence, and Ramirez through terror. The challenge, however, for Montero—in the 21st century— is simply that the upside down is no longer interesting and therefore redoubles his efforts on obscenity. For Ramirez’ reign of terror, there was still a general social cohesion and common concept of the good.
Transcending the Good Only Goes One Way—Down
This theater of the diabolical brings an important question to the surface. Why does the quest to transcend good and evil seem to only cut one way? When we talk about the classical definition, first articulated in an Aristotelian binary, we mean that good has a form discernible to our reason and evil is parasitic and lacking in any form. Evil only exists insofar as it is an absence, or a privation of good.
These categories suited man well for millennia, and has only really began to unravel in the modern era. The about face is most prominently distilled in the thinking of characters like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, both of whom undertook the arduous work of deconstructing goodness as the final end of man, and replacing it with concepts of sovereignty and power.
Fast forward about two hundred years, and we find the full expression of the philosophy of power brought to its absurd conclusion in Nietzsche’s poet/prophet Zarathustra.
Here, the character reveals to himself on a mountaintop, an inverted image of Moses to be sure, the death of God. Zarathustra sees this moment as one to redefine those boundaries of good and evil. The project, not for the weak-willed, must be asserted through pure willpower by artists, philosophers, and performers.
Naturally, Zarathustra—as the first prophet to claim occupation of a metaphysical plain that transcends good and evil—does not descend from his revelatory mount to seek out the nearest soup kitchen and devote himself to a quiet life of service. No, this post-modern prophet seeks out society to assert his will.
This is the grand irony of the somatic implications of living “Beyond good and evil.” The project will consistently be undertaken by the prideful, and it will always deconstruct the good at the cost of society. It will atomize. The reader will never find a quote attributed to Mother Teresa where she boasts living beyond evil, as does Richard Ramirez, right before she goes out to serve the decrepit and dying in the ghettos of New Delhi.
You will not find such a quote because it does not exist. Transcendence of the Aristotelian binary only occupy the minds of the prideful, and therefore will only be used for unfortunate ends. In this way, Montero and the Night Stalker come to reflect each other. One through decadence and the other through terror, both find their final ends in isolation, eclipsing a privation only to find themselves alone.
A Lonely End
Art reflects society, and only a society as narcissistic as ours could consistently manifest in such self-obsessed manners. This is the rub for those of us wishing to live a life of thick community. Consumerist corporate liberalism has thus manifest in a culture of blue and purple haired Zarathustra wannabes, imbibing the sterile imagery of Montero, lacking in any formal understanding of good, and redefining those useful classical boundaries through the highly celebrated prism of pride. In this paradigm, there is no place for self-negating service inspired by love for the other—only the triumph of the ever-expanding boundaries of self.
Jonathan Pageau, the host of the podcast The Symbolic World, aptly casts this imagery as the turning upside down of Christ’s parable of the good shepherd. Contra the shepherd moving heaven and earth to return his one lost sheep to the fold; today’s media environment will turn it upside down and seek to cast the entire herd into the wilderness. Less morally confused societies naturally understood the implications of this premise, and the necessity of social norms for a healthy society. Christians in twenty-first America, unfortunately, must reconstruct these norms within their household without any faith in a culture to galvanize them.
Humility presumes human finitude, it also accepts the boundaries of place and time, and joyfully labors within such a framework. Bewitching concepts like Ramirez’ “beyond evil,” or Nas X’s ode to himself, accepts pride as the underlying operating concept, and it necessarily terminates in a seething hatred for the good. Fortunately the extremes of Nazi gas chambers and the depraved crimes of the Nightstalker are uncommon events, but the ramifications of this contemporary state of mind will never end wholesomely.
Culturally speaking, Montero and Ramirez underscore the manner in which the culture war is over. We are all now in the wilderness, and we must work tirelessly to reconstruct the deconstructed, to return the genie of pride back into its bottle, and somehow—against a pervasive and self-obsessed media—convince our children of the psychological and physiological benefits of a life of humble assent.
No easy task to be sure. But, as history becomes instructive, rebuilding from the ashes of a burned out culture is common to the western canon. As common, in fact, as the decadence and deconstruction that currently defines our world.
Photo Credit: Film Talkies