Harry Says Chapter 26: The Performer

It is important right from the start to clear away some misconceptions.  It should not be though that The Master was merely a cynic exploiting the values of a corrupt world.  If this was the case he would be a very unremarkable person.  The problems went deeper than that. The problems were structural, even metaphysical. There was no decline in morality and to use this kind of language would be to apply an outmoded way of thinking.  There was something more profound happening: there was a crisis of coherence. The old structure of cause and effect no longer existed. Action – in the old sense – was no longer possible.  It was no longer possible to create a causal link to an event in the future.  Because action was impossible morality too was impossible.

It should not be thought that The Master realised any of this and consciously exploited it.  For one thing, a lack of the higher mental faculties was one of his weaknesses (though also a practical strength).  The Master was just the man who naturally and intuitively captured the zeitgeist.  Like nearly everyone, The Master believed he was still living in the old world of cause and effect.  He merely adapted better than anyone else to the new situation, and this was a large part of his magic.

Most men continued in the old ways.  As if to compensate for the loss of coherence there was a sudden upsurge in activities based on the old assumptions.  Planning was the new religion, or the new witchcraft.  Plans became more ambitious, more grandiose and long-reaching.  Yet in their heart of hearts, or with some vague perception, people began reluctantly to realise the futility of action. For example, and it would be a mistake to give this specific point undue importance, the political demonstration was a thing of the past.  If one did take place it was more of a media and social event than anything else. Men had started to accept that they could no longer act on the substance of existence. And as they could not act at all, they could no longer do good or evil.

If action was no longer possible, what had taken its place?  Action had been replaced by performance.  People now gave performances.  Each performance was a discrete event.  Performances could not be joined together to have a cumulative effect. They could only be judged as good or bad. The key skills of the age were those of the performer: the strongman, the comedian, the tragic actor, the comic actor, the illusionist.  Even those in supposed positions of power began slowly to realise that they were only moving from performance to performance. And you were only as good as your last performance.

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