622. Conflict (XII)
When I worked as a journalist, I once pitched a story on “urban exploration” or “Urbex”—a hobby spawned online where people climb into abandoned military bunkers and Victorian asylums and the like. “Oh, you mean people who break and enter?” said my editor, an ex-tabloid hack. “Urban exploration,” he sneered. Given that journalists will happily do things like nab a family picture off the mantelpiece to get the goods for a story about a drowned child—the parents having declined, and your colleague having distracted them—it seems strange to find such delicate moral sensibilities among them. Well, journalism—contrary to the Clark Kent image—exists to cover things up, not reveal. So, naturally, journalists are not interested in anything that might reveal buried secrets—especially via an activity that is superficially illegal and possibly unpopular with the public, unlike phone hacking (only deplorable when you get caught at it).
Activities like Urbex constitute genuine progress. Genuine progress requires individuals prepared to go into new territory, possibly illegal and dangerous, in order to test the limits. For, indeed, is it illegal to wander around an ex-military bunker at night? Try it and you may find out that much more is permitted than you thought—and that trespass is only a civil offence that almost no one is going to bring you to court for. If you never try, you never know—you can respect property in principle, but why not see where those limits lie practice? Perhaps you will turn up hypocrisies and contradictions in existing property law.
Progress depends on those people, all of them men, who are prepared to “urban explore”. A proportion will walk across a decayed steel beam in the dark and die or be crippled, a proportion will genuinely overstep the mark and be imprisoned for a property violation—a proportion will have to have pellets removed from their behind thanks to the farmer’s shotgun. All these men are counterbalanced by those who reveal the real limits to personal freedom, information about concealed government programs, and the mysterious beauty found in desolation and decay. These “free spirits”, these outsiders—these Nietzscheans, in spirit if not in self-conception.
Conservatives will tsk and say this behaviour is rude and probably criminal and definitely anti-social (“Our sacred right to private property must not be infringed…”)—although they do not know it is so, not until you try and not until you look into the matter through personal experience. Freedom is not given, not through confected “human rights” or even through supposed traditional and conservative “negative rights”. Freedom is determined by the capacity and ability of men and groups of men to exercise and establish that freedom—in this case, to explore forbidden or occult territory.
Fake “progress” comes about when an intellectual, a Marx, sits in his study and writes about how “capitalism” needs to be entirely stripped out for man to progress—whereas if he spent a day in Hyde Park running a lemonade stand his perspective would be entirely different, much more limited in scope and yet somehow more universal and more real. The same goes for the journalist who sits and sneers from his office and the conservative pundit who decries this “rude” and “abnormal” behaviour. This is all false progress and false tradition that explores no new territory and defends no natural instinct—it has no experiential component and no relation to man’s basic needs.
Genuine progress requires individuals and small groups of individuals prepared to explore the limits without preconceptions—to see what the limit of, for example, private property really is in their society, as opposed to what convention or the laws on the books say. Cromwell: “No one rises so high as he who knows not whither he is going.” Formal progressives definitely know the end goal: equality. Conservatives think they have reached the goal: tradition, conformism, caution. Yet only those who go into the mystery without preconception are really free, progressive, and on the ascent.