The Utter Pointlessness of iPhones

by Brad Nelson   2/11/15

I’ve long thought that our lust for technology stems not just from a desire to scratch an itch for novelty and “cool stuff.” I do believe that lust also masks an existential hole — one that is inherent to human existence and that has traditionally been filled by religious belief. It’s an itch not satiated by material wealth or comfort.

Therefore read this article by Anthony Daniels (France’s “Submission”), if only for this first excerpted paragraph below. The article itself is a review of the book, Soumission, by Michel Houellebecq (there will be a spelling test at the end of this blog post).

Houellebecq is a writer with a single underlying theme: the emptiness of human existence in a consumer society devoid of religious belief, political project, or cultural continuity in which, moreover, thanks to material abundance and social security, there is no real struggle for existence that might give meaning to the life of millions. Such a society will not allow you to go hungry or to live in the abject poverty that would once have been the reward of idleness, whether voluntary or involuntary. This, in Houellebecq’s vision of the world, lends an inspissated pointlessness to all human activity, which becomes nothing more than a scramble for unnecessary consumer goods that confer no happiness or (at best) a distraction from that very emptiness. For Houellebecq, then, intellectual or cultural activity becomes mere soap opera for the more intelligent and educated rather than something of intrinsic importance or value. That is why a university teacher of economics in one of his books describes his work as the teaching of obvious untruths to careerist morons, rather than as, say, the awakening of young minds to the fascinating task of reducing the complexity of social interactions to general principles.


Houellebecq’s physical appearance as relayed in the press suggests that he fully inhabits the word he describes. He looks like a man who has crawled out of a giant ashtray after a prolonged alcoholic binge in clothes that have not been washed for weeks. This does not mean, however, that he approves of the world he inhabits: it is simply that he can conceive of no other, at least for Western man, and if anyone thinks otherwise he is deceiving himself. Grunge is reality; everything else is veneer.

The very success of the Enlightenment project is the root of its failure. Having eliminated myth and magic from human life, it has crushed belief even in itself out of society.


[A Muslim now having been elected as President of France] Meanwhile, the Muslim Fraternity has modeled itself on the Muslim Brotherhood and, confident of demographic developments in France that work to Islam’s advantage and with a clear understanding that ultimately culture is more important in determining a society’s future than its economy, insists only on controlling the schools and universities.


The protagonist and narrator of Soumission is a teacher of French literature in a Parisian University, a specialist in the work of Joris-Karl Huysmans, principally known today for his novel of decadent aestheticism, À rebours. This was a clever choice on the part of Houellebecq, for Huysmans returned to Catholicism later in life and became an oblate, his last book being Les foules de Lourdes (The Crowds of Lourdes). In other words, Huysmans followed the path that the protagonist, in desperate need to escape his current nihilistic condition, will follow; but Catholicism, in the meantime, having lost its faith and becoming, under Pope Francis, little more than transcendental social work to the hosannas of the right-thinking, there is no living faith in France except Islam for him to convert to. It is Islam, faute de mieux.


And the professor’s relations with his two wives—perhaps he has two more hiding somewhere—seem to be those of effortless domination, unproblematic in fact. Since the protagonist’s relations with women have always been difficult, a year with the same woman being the longest he has ever managed, in large part because sexual equality so often creates power struggles within a couple, unabashed patriarchy such as that promoted by Islam would be a solution to his loneliness.

This novel could indeed be a look at the near future of France. This book does not appear to be sold in Kindle format at the moment. I wouldn’t mind reading it but I’ll have to wait. And reading good writers is perhaps the best way to improve one’s own writing, mind, and skills. This is a superb book review by Anthony Daniels from the website, The New Criterion — a site that might not exactly be a model for this one but one I have my eye on as a source of excellence. Mr. Kung had initially brought this site to my attention.

Anthony Daniels (also known as Theodore Dalrymple) is one of the premier cultural observers in the world. His many books are well worth a read, some of which have been reviewed here and here.

Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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12 Responses to The Utter Pointlessness of iPhones

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    In effect, this is what liberalism did in America: they allow conservatives to control some aspects of society as long the liberals (in true Fabian Socialism fashion) keep control of the news and entertainment media as well as education. Fortunately, their control has slipped a bit in the past quarter century.

    Soumission seems to bear a great resemblance thematically to Camp of the Saints; both are books by French authors, with French protagonists, set in France, and foreshadowing a grim future for feckless Western civilization. It would be interesting to see someone do a “compare and contrast” between them (perhaps in National Review, which may be where I first heard of Raspail’s book).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Timothy, I think it was telling that this Frenchmen wove in a major sociological theme: People who have nothing else to believe in turn to trinkets. And trinkets are not a sufficient underpinning for the maintenance of a culture.

      Yes, how easy it would be for Islam to take control of the choke points — the university, the media, and movies. And look how acquiescent many people in Europe are already to Islam. It’s hard to imagine Europeans having the gumption to push back. Everyone now is simply living our their lives, putting in their time until retirement. The future is not for them to worry about.

      We are looking at a generation (or two, or three) who are really screwing the pooch in terms of the legacy they are leaving their children. If there are believable scenarios where Islam could take over in Europe, culturally speaking, I find it easy to believe that the younger generations, if faced with hard times, could treat anyone over 40 like the French Revolutionaries treated Louis XVI. I’m already picking up tracings of a general malaise in yutes. I can foresee hordes of these semi-thugs (or just those wandering around in meaningless lives) becoming a factor.

      I found that book you were referring to: The Camp of the Saints. One of the Amazon reviews sounds pretty good:

      This book is so politically incorrect that I admire for actually carrying it. Written in the early 1970s, this book looks beyond the cold war to a North-South confrontation in which European civilization is unilaterally morally disarmed. The thesis is simple: suppose a million starving people from the Ganges actually took Western rhetoric of compassion, explotiation, etc., to heart, and comandeered, en masse, shipping, with the intention of moving to the shores of France? (Raspail, of course, is French.) Would anyone stop them? The imagery employed is interesting. The title comes from Revelation, Chapter 20, and refers to the forces of evil laying seige to the camp of the saints, here meant to be the nations of the West. “The thousand years are over…” is chanted from Third World lips, harking to the millenial reign of Christ, as well as to the millenial domination of Europe over the globe. Raspail has the Vatican, World Council of Churches, and other organs of what he saw as Western liberal compassion try to feed the Armada, as it sails around the Cape. The bodies of their would-be benefactors are cast into the sea. The characters who oppose, with violence, the Armada are named with names like Constantine Drasages and Luke Notaras, namesakes of the last Byzantine Emperor and Admiral. They are portrayed as villans in the media; one of the more thoughtful leftists, fashionably in support of opening up France’s shores, but cynical enough to see the potential results, reflects on the parallels between Byzantium’s fate and that of the West. The author’s point is that any who dare to say that ‘white’ civilization has a right to exist are branded racists and cast out of the pale of polite society. The narrative is set up as a flashback. The Armada is about to disgorge its human cargo in Provence as we begin. An old man, M. Calgues, awaits them, Mozart playing in the background, after setting what he expects to be his last supper among the living. From there, we go back to the beginning, in India, as a Western cleric preaches quasi-liberation theology to the masses. Along the way, as the news spreads over the world, we digress, looking at Manhattenites holing up in skyscrapers as the spectre of race riots beckon, and at Russian troops on the Manchurian border contemplating the human waves gathering to wash over them. The central question of the book is this: will the West (including Russia – more properly, the North), when (not if) confronted with de facto occupation of national territories by Third World people, coming to live, but not to assimilate, use violence to save itself? Is there left in Euro-American civilization a will to live that is strong enough to pull a trigger? The stark question is answered in one of two possible ways by the concluding chapter. This astringent book, whether you agree with Raspail’s views or not, demands thoughtful attention to the questions posed. How will we deal with population/immagration issues? Is our culture

      The part I bolded is, of course, highly operative in our own culture, on either side of the Atlantic. Rare is the Republican, for instance, who will stand up against the hordes of illegal immigrants for just that very reason. The weak, simple-minded, or more devious don the psychopathic mask of “compassion.”

      These books do not sound far-fetched at all.

      One Amazon reviewer recommends Civilizations and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History by Lee Harris as a companion book. It’s available in Kindle format so I’ll definitely download the sample and check it out.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        This is why I did my review of it here last summer. Events finally caught up with him ever in America (having already largely done so in Western Europe). And the basic point — the lack of will for the West to defend itself — has been an increasing problem for decades. Raspail was prescient.

        As for the horrible legacy Europeans may leave their children — how can you do that if you have no children? And perhaps that is a large part of the problem.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          As for the horrible legacy Europeans may leave their children — how can you do that if you have no children? And perhaps that is a large part of the problem.

          An excellent Steynian thought.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One of the shocking things is to hear a guy from France sound like me:

    In other words, Huysmans followed the path that the protagonist, in desperate need to escape his current nihilistic condition, will follow; but Catholicism, in the meantime, having lost its faith and becoming, under Pope Francis, little more than transcendental social work to the hosannas of the right-thinking, there is no living faith in France except Islam for him to convert to.

    This is so much more effective and believable coming from an artist (writer) in France than from me. And yet isn’t this bit of fiction-mixed-with-fact just the vibe that Mark Steyn writes about? Weak, multi-culti Leftism (or watered-down liberal/liberation theology Christianity) is no match for Islam.

    So either this author, because he sounds like me, is getting smarter or I’m (because I’m sounding like a Frenchman) am getting dumber.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Believe me, I noticed that part about the Pope, and I knew a LOT of people here (including both of us) would agree with it.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I’m glad you noticed that. And I’m astonished that someone else – someone actually living in Europe – had the self-awareness to write it.

        I was thinking today how much I dislike “secularism” as a cultural identity. To me it’s dumb and shallow. And I don’t mean “dumb” as in “stupid” but “dumb” as in anesthetized-making.

        And how sad it is to see so much of the official Christian hierarchy turn away from the idea that man is a moral creature and toward the idea that he and his world can be explained entirely in terms of the material.

        One thing I find shallow about the secular world can be seen in this emphasis on the material. There is just nothing to life but “health,” the greatest meaning the secularist mindset can come up with. That’s why you see walks and ribbons for breast cancer, for Alzheimer’s, for heart disease, and on and on. But you’ll not see a walk organized by these same folk for truth, for honor, for integrity, for fidelity.

        Dennis Prager, I think rightly, says that the Left is obsessed with the small evils (smoking) while ignoring the big evils. It pains me therefore to see Christianity, and Catholicism, doing the opposite of “standing athwart” and instead adopting what is ultimately a materialist-Marxist paradigm.

        There are a few people, such as this author, starting to notice that they are throwing something away that is vital. It may be too little, too late, but one must give credit where credit is due.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I just read Mark Steyn’s latest post at, and he has some interesting facts about Combo (the French graffitist beat up by people he chooses not to identify but everyone reasonably assumes were Muslim) and Kayla Mueller (the latest victim of ISIS savagery). It turns out Combo is of North African ancestry, and a Muslim (or at least a Muslim sympathizer); of course, he was doing a COEXIST logo at the time. And Mueller turns out to be a Palestinian sympathizer who went to Syria to help the cause.

    And both ended up violently attacked (fatally in Mueller’s case) by the Muslims they were eager to support — and Combo still doesn’t want to say who did it. How liberal. Camp of the Saints was prescient, and Soumission merely describes the France (or Europe, and much of America) of today.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      And Mueller turns out to be a Palestinian sympathizer who went to Syria to help the cause.

      I think I got wind of that yesterday. And everyone on conservative talk radio has been falling all over themselves to tell us how tragic this is.

      Well, the unfortunate truth is that if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

      There seems to be a rough parallel with what perhaps drove the Christian martyrs. These Progressives are ready to die for their faith. But perhaps that’s not quite right. Christian martyrs were usually well aware that openly professing their faith was dangerous. But does a Progressive believe anything other than that their “good intentions” are so powerful that they are therefore never in danger? Isn’t it a cloud of narcissism that surrounds them, much like that doctor who exposed his family to Ebola in Africa (the one the Ann Coulter had an article about)?

      Laying down your life for another in need is one thing. Being so delusionally led that one isn’t even aware of the dangers is another. And I don’t know the specifics of her case, but there does seem to be a “type” that now engages in this reckless, even indulgent, behavior disguised as compassion.

      As for that Muslim of North African ancestry, I wonder if he is the equivalent of a typical Jew whose religion is no longer guided by the Torah but by the principles of Leftism. Is this guy a Muslim or is he really a very rare bird indeed: a Leftist/Progressive with the outer accoutrements of Islam. Certainly there’s nothing in Islam I’m aware of that would lead one to paint a “Coexist” mural and to cling so tightly to the identity of “diversity,” “tolerance,” and multiculturalism so as to deny the identity of those who beat you up.

      You can call a dog a cat, but if it barks, it’s still a dog.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Or, as Cousin Abe famously put it: How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Five, because calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it one.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Coincidentally, Norman Rogers has an article about Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook: Tim Cook Enough Already. The guy is an obvious clown of identity politics. As one commenter, Chestertonian, said:

    I think it’s because announcing as “gay” puts one in the demographic of “minority”, covered with the social sauce of “victim.” It automatically absolves white men of the sin of being white men, trumped, as it were, by their preference.

    The meme of “White man as exploiter of people and the planet; genocidal maniac; woman-hater and child-molester” becomes moot.

    So, multi-millionaire, white men employing Asian slave labor for profit, polluting the atmosphere and radically altering the social dynamics of humanity, are automatically absolved and forgiven if they engage in bare-backing and/or fellatio.

    Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

    Remember the days when men worked hard to be thought of as tough, rugged, and masculine? Now you have these clowns who, for all intents and purposes, proclaim to the world “I take it up the butt” and are given a gold star and accolades. Brave New World, indeed. Great article, Norman.

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