a novella by benjamin kerstein

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Valintism’s success was instantaneous and inescapable. Among scientists, it not only offered a bold new world of intellectual possibilities, it also reawakened a pride which had been degraded by decades of professional self-flagellation.

The advent of the atomic bomb ushered in the era of existential scientific guilt. In which knowledge was seen by its practitioners as an act of violation. A form of intellectual imperialism. Uncomfortable with the moralities of power, fearful of government suppression and the mistrust of the masses, scientists became increasingly skeptical of themselves and their calling. They had come to accept, if only subconsciously, the idea of knowledge as a form of rape.

Valintism instantly crushed this ethic of self-pity. Valintism promised a knowledge that could not violate. The conquest it prophesied was not of the physical but of the intangible. Valintism unleashed the full powers of science without guilt, remorse, or consequence.

Valintism was perfect.

It was not only the ideology but the man himself. Doctor Valint’s evolving persona was impossible for young scientists to resist. The quiet and disarmingly modest academic underwent a shocking metamorphosis. He began to wear immaculate white suits and drive European sports cars. He was accompanied to conferences and lectures by one or two of his young mistresses, who were usually photographed smiling and hanging on the Doctor’s arm. He bought a mansion in south Maryland and announced his plans to transform it into a center for Valintist research. Like most abnormally intelligent men, Doctor Valint was unused to attention or approval. He was determined to enjoy it. Before long, vague rumors of orgies involving the Doctor and his admirers began to leak out of the south Maryland mansion. The old maxim, for true than false, that genius is sexy began to be heard once again on the tongues of the gossip inclined.

But Doctor Valint did not neglect his scientific duties. An authorized plethora of books, CDs, internet sites, articles in the popular press and videotaped lectures fed the insatiable market for Valintism. Only a handful of these hundreds of products were geared towards the esoteric, academic discourse favored by Doctor Valint’s peers. They were overwhelmingly intended for the popular audience that bought them by the millions and hung on Doctor Valint’s every pronouncement. The appetite for Doctor Valint’s proclamation of a new stage in human existence was insatiable. Mankind has always been mesmerized by the possibility of apocalypse. The 20th century was rife with such phenomena. But Doctor Valint outdid them all. One lecture, entitled “The Metaphysical Imperative: Synthetic Death and the Future of Mankind” was delivered to an audience of six hundred seventy-five thousand at Madison Square Garden. Another half million hopefuls were turned away at the gate. Over one billion watched the internet simulcast. No scientist before or since has commanded so much non-professional attention. Derek Valint was the first of previously unknown species: the scientist rock star.

There were detractors. Some objected to Valint’s vulgar and grandiose exploitation of his own celebrity. Others found his tendency to publish his theories in popular press rather than in properly reviewed academic journals distasteful and suspect. But there were some, Aluicious Baumgartner of Cambridge University most especially, who went raised serious questions about the moral content and scientific value of Valintism, ultimately attacking the basis of the movement itself.

Baumgartner’s book “The Perpetual Division”, considered the founding text of anti-Valintism, was published in 2051. It reasserted the scorned dualism of post-Enlightenment science in firm, some said violent, rhetorical terms. The partition of physics and metaphysics, claimed Baumgartner, was no tragedy. It was the liberation of science from the tyranny of superstition and enforced delusion. Far from a revolution in human thought, Valintism was reactionary in the extreme. It was repopulating the world with gods and demons. It resurrected nothing but the mirages which stood in the war of the true progress of human knowledge.

Baumgartner went further than this. From a strictly moral point of view, Valintism was a horror. It devalued the physical world to the point of negation. And it did so in favor of a suicidal embrace of nothingness. The deliberate induction of death was not a conquest but a submission. The ramifications of the Valintist delusion were terrifying. Baumgartner formulated a counter-historiography to Valint’s fear of death hypothesis. Human civilization, he claimed, was not motivated by the terror of death but by the will towards life. By the conscious or unconscious refusal to submit to despair even in the face of our inevitable non-existence. Valint’s belief that he had begun the conquest of the intangible realm was hubris of monstrous proportions. The fact that one could return from death did not mean one had conquered it. Non-existence was, by definition, beyond conquest. Human beings were physical creatures, said Baumgartner. We exist. Our existence is the definition of our existence. In his book’s most famous line, Baumgartner rewrote Decartes himself. “I exist,” he wrote, “therefore I exist. Non-existence was a negation. By definition, it could be nothing. And being was the possible state of being. Doctor Valint, claimed his critic, had erected a vast intellectual house of cards around his own terror of death. A terror he had sublimated by embracing it. Valintism, charged Baumgartner, was nothing more than an expression of its creator’s subconscious urge towards suicide. He famously nicknamed his target “The Pope of the Church of Thanatos”.

Baumgartner came too early. His book was dismissed by those who bothered to read it at all. It went through a single printing and was then relegated to the shelves of various university libraries. Nonetheless, an anti-Valintist trend began to gather momentum in elite circles, although the general public remained as enamored as ever. Particularly in the medical community, and despite the conclusions of various ethics committees that the practice was acceptable so long as the consent of the patient and his or her legally recognized guardians was obtained, the very concept of synthetic death raised serious questions which would not be easily quelled. Hippocratic principles remained deeply influential despite the ubiquity of the Valintist paradigm.

In the philosophical community a more serious criticism was gaining ground, particularly among the empirically inclined. They found Valint’s most grandiose claim, that of a fundamental change in human consciousness as a result of L61938, simply impossible to accept. It was, they charged, fundamentally unscientific because it was unfalsifiable. It could neither be proved nor disproved. As such, it was, in empirical terms, of no more use than a declaration of religious faith. Moreover, it was an extraordinary claim, and therefore required extraordinary evidence. By definition, such evidence would not be forthcoming. Edward Munchausun, professor of philosophy at Columbia University, emeritus, declared the entirety of Valintism “intellectual charlatanism”, and recommended the rejection of Valintist papers by all reputable journals. This statement was printed next to an article entitled “Valintism and the pre-Socratics: an Inquiry” by T.S. Honeydew, one of the Doctor’s most prominent disciples.

It is easy to understand the attractiveness of the empiricist contention. The inevitable byproduct of great success is the charge that the emperor wears no clothes. The rush of the sudden leap wears into something resembling an intellectual hangover. It was all too fraught with implications. Minds were exhausted. They wanted to climb down from the dizzying heights of Valintism and examine the new terrain. Even belief grows tiresome, and skepticism them seems a reflexive proof of the independence of one’s mind.

For these reasons, the anti-Valintist philosophers were enjoying some measure of success by December 2055, when events proved them all wrong.

About Me

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Benjamin Kerstein is an Israeli-American writer, editor, and novelist.

Michael J. Totten, the prize-winning author of The Road to Fatima Gate, has called him "one of the finest American-Israeli authors of his generation."

Jay Nordlinger of the National Review has referred to his work as "some of the most intelligent, clearest, most honest writing I have read in a long time."

He lives in Tel Aviv.

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