Death by Vitalism

Vitalism, the third stage of Nihilism, is defined as the endless pursuit of excitement absent the belief in truth.

Today’s New York Times reports (headlined at Drudge):

RIO DE JANEIRO—A fire ignited by a flare from a live band’s pyrotechnic spectacle swept through a nightclub filled with hundreds of university students early Sunday morning in Santa Maria, a city in southern Brazil, leaving at least 245 people dead, police officials said.

Throughout Sunday morning, health workers hauled bodies from the nightclub, called Kiss, to hospitals in Santa Maria, with some survivors were taken to the nearby city of Pôrto Alegre to be treated for burns. Valdeci Oliveira, a local legislator, said he saw piles of bodies in the nightclub’s bathrooms after entering the venue with rescue workers.

If students gathering by the hundreds in a crowded nightclub to be entertained by a music group setting off high-tech fire and explosives is not the pursuit of excitement without regard for truth, including the truth of rational limits, nothing is.

- end of initial entry -

Bruno L. writes:

I am from Santa Maria, born and raised there. Although currently I live in California, I often travel to Santa Maria, since my family still lives there.

I can attest that nobody is entirely surprised by what happened there. That nightclub in particular clearly was not safe. It barely had more than one exit. Its license had expired over one year ago. Its fire extinguishers were not working. Every single night it was overcrowded up to twice the maximum capacity. And none of the employees knew how to handle the kind of situation that happened yesterday.

Most of those things were known by everybody. Yet, people kept coming. And the authorities kept silent. It was almost an announced disaster.

LA replies:

Thank you for this information. Basically it sounds like mass homicide-suicide by negligence, a negligence so extreme (and shared by the management, the authorities, and the customers) that it becomes depraved indifference.

Alat writes:

I’ve been reading your thought-provoking blog for several years, but I don’t think I’ve ever sent you any comments. This time, I feel I must comment on your “death by vitalism” because it touches very close to home. I am Brazilian, and have family and friends in the city of Santa Maria (so far none of mine were affected, but I have not yet been able to have all acquaintances accounted for).

Santa Maria is a medium-sized city, less than 300,000 people, but its population is swelled by students, since it has a good (for Brazilian standards) federal university (i.e., free of cost if you pass the entrance examinations). The party in question was organized by the students of five majors to raise funds for expenses such as graduation ceremonies and housing for out-of-city students. I haven’t read what exactly the NYT and Drudge have said, but the point of the show was music, not “high-tech fire and explosives”; the “fire and explosives” part was only the use of sparkle by one of the bands when they came onto the stage. Of course this was unnecessary and imprudent, but nevertheless the band had done so hundreds of times and gotten away with it. This time it didn’t, but that was because the nightclub used a highly inflammable (and illegal) material in the ceiling to buffer the loud sounds, and this material caught fire.

Of course you have no obligation to be aware of this, since you depend on sources thrice-removed from the originals (i.e., the American press, which copies the central Brazilian press, which copies the local sources which are actually near Santa Maria). But, given this information, I do suggest that, this time, what happened was no good example of nihilism, just a tragedy caused by the greed of the nightclub owners and the laziness or corruption of the authorities who granted the permits for the nightclub. All this, of course, unless new details materially change what is known so far, as this is a developing story. [LA replies: But Bruno L. says that the entire community was aware of how dangerous the nightclub was, yet people continued to patronize it and the authorities continued to allow it to stay in business. There’s a lot more to this story than “greed.” And if it was caused only by wrongful greed, as you say, then it’s not a “tragedy,” but a crime.]

So far, 232 dead and more than a hundred injured. By the way, I found your comment just as I was beginning to listen to Brahms’s German Requiem, moved by the events, of course. You can find a video of a performance by the Symphonic Orchestra of Porto Alegre, the capital city of the Brazilian state of which Santa Maria is part, here. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Changing the subject, I hope your health improves and you can keep up your good work. My country too is lost, and if you Americans cannot get your house in order, conservatives here will have no chance of ever turning the tide. The pressure of the mass-produced filth which the USA unfortunately distributes throughout the world is too strong, and although it’s our fault that we consume it so eagerly, the USA is too powerful not to have had its way even if we had tried to resist (which, again, we didn’t). And since our elites try to copy yours to the last details, a return to sanity in the United States would have immediate beneficial effects here. So health and good luck!

LA replies:

Thank you. And my country, and your country, also need (moral) health and good luck if they are not to continue to go down.
Alat replies:

I agree with the comments you included when posting my previous email. “Tragedy” was a careless expression, of course it’s (also) a crime. And there’s no doubt that moral health is the primary need of our countries nowadays. Also, I don’t disagree with Bruno L.’s comment, which you had not yet posted when I saw the entry. If he’s a native of Santa Maria, which I only visited, it stands to reason he knows the city better than I do. However, granting that the victims were somewhat reckless to go into such a place (as proved by events), I nonetheless do not think they can be blamed for not anticipating the full extent of the danger. They would presume that the nightclub obeyed security regulations, as the relevant authorities had given it a permit. And nobody wonders if the ceiling contains forbidden inflammable material before entering a music hall.

I don’t doubt that nihilism is a baneful characteristic of our times. My objection was to your using this event as an example of it, as if the setting-off of “explosives” was a relevant (or the most important) element in attracting people to the venue, and as if the victims were fully aware of the dangers they were exposing themselves to and went anyway (in your words, “the pursuit of excitement without regard for truth, including the truth of rational limits”). I continue to think the story known so far does not support this interpretation.

Again, thank you and good luck in your travails.

LA replies:

You make a reasonable point. What made me think of the vitalist stage of nihilism was the description of the band’s act in the news story. It sounded symbolic of the wildly excessive, decadent forms of entertainment that are common today, aimed at overwhelming the senses and emotions in a kind of collective ecstasy, but without any meaning, as in Gunther Grass’s The Tin Drum in which the narrator’s drum was symbolic of Nazism. And this, combined with the unprecedented, shocking number of 245 young people, college students, killed in the blaze, made me think: The pursuit of sensational, meaningless excitement in which one’s reason is wiped out has resulted in mass death.

Frankly, I also liked the resulting title, “Death by Vitalism,” which, in addition to its own irony, echoes “Death in Venice,” Thomas Mann’s story about a middle-aged intellectual abandoning himself, nihilist-like, to an all-consuming homo-erotic fixation which destroys him, and also reminds me of the humorous title of Neil Simon’s Agatha Christie spoof, “Murder by Death.”

Bruno L writes:

While the band’s appeal was not merely the pyrotechnique spectacle it provided, it was part of it. There are videos of it: the band did it every time.

I agree, of course, that greed and laziness played a part in the disaster. But no one could ignore that the nightclub was unsafe. It was that obvious. There were no exits, and severe overcrowding was usual. Most patrons do not even care about going to a nightclub unless it is beyond full. All the other factors—including the flammable ceiling—were mere “adding insult to injury”.

Finally, this evil indifference to people’s safety and well being by authorities and business owners is also a part of the social degeneracy caused by nihilism.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 27, 2013 01:12 PM | Send

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