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What is notable, Eco observes, is an “unbridled individualism” prompting people in the liquid society to “move from one act of consumption to another in a sort of purposeless bulimia: the new cell phone is no better than the old one, but the old has to be discarded in order to indulge in this orgy of desire.” In a 2005 essay, he contemplates the cell phone in all of its culture-changing glory, hailing its convenience but regretting the way it has muscled its way into nearly all aspects of human life, forcing “a loss of solitude, of silent personal reflection,” and condemning its users to “a constant presence of the present.
The Jesuits also created the CIA, of course, and pulled the strings during Richard Nixon’s presidency.
The wide appeal of crackpot history prompts concern about our culture’s continuing inability to know the difference between the imaginary and the real.
In a 2008 column he describes one French website, “Homeric” in its conspiratorial fantasies, that blames the Jesuits and their shadowy collaborators, the Knights of Malta, for sinking the Titanic, assassinating John F.
Kennedy, and plotting just about every other cataclysmic event of the last century.
Today’s communications media, Eco writes, “seem to be aimed more at the broadcasting of information than its conservation.” So, “I’m happy those books are still there on my shelves, useful backups for the time when electronic instruments eventually pack up.” Eco’s Leftwing Traditionalism Actually Eco was a traditionalist, of a sort—a left-leaning, sometimes cranky agnostic who nonetheless understood Western culture and loved its marvelous and often religiously inspired accomplishments, its literature and art.
As an Italian he registers with displeasure a growing disrespect for Christian symbols like the Crucifix, which is now commonly used as a piece of jewelry, seen “nestling in the chest hairs of Italian Lotharios” or dangling from the necks of young women “who go about with their bare navels and skirts around their groins.” He points to the religious illiteracy of many schoolchildren in his country who, faced with a painting by Fra Angelico or some other Renaissance master, can’t begin to understand why a young woman is depicted “in conversation with a winged youth,” or why an “unkempt old man” is pictured “leaping down a mountain carrying two heavy tablets of stone and emitting rays of light from two horns.” “It’s virtually impossible,” Eco writes, “for people to understand, let us say, three quarters of Western art unless they are familiar with the Old and New Testaments and the lives of the saints.” He mentions Benedetto Croce’s well-known remark that “we cannot call ourselves Christians”—referencing all Europeans, practicing or not, whose civilization retains such deep Judeo-Christian roots.
“At one time,” Eco writes, people “were persuaded they did have at least one Spectator,” the “all-seeing eye, whose gaze” brought meaning to all human lives, however lowly or great.
The disappointed mother, thus, could tell her ungrateful child: “God know what I’ve done for you.” The abandoned lover could proclaim: “God knows how much I love you.” When this “all-seeing Witness” is gone, being seen on a video screen is for many “the only substitute for transcendence,” one’s best shot at pseudo-immortality.
“I am by nature, out of skepticism, always inclined to doubt any conspiracy,” he writes, “since I believe my fellow human beings are incapable of dreaming up a perfect one.” Moreover, “only naïve Freemasons and followers of bogus Templar rituals believe in a secret that remains unbroken.” Far more frequently, people spill the beans—particularly when financially incentivized to do so.
Eco recalls the British army officer who, in the 1990s, received a publisher’s compensation as well as media fame for detailing his extramarital affair with Diana, Princess of Wales.