This is for those who already understand that modern culture has gone fatally awry, that progress is a pernicious god, that there is much essential wisdom from the past that we are losing. Who understand, moreover, that the greatest danger to our culture at present is a willful despising of tradition and love of –for lack of better terminology—pop values. I’m speaking to those who get that the most subversive of these new values are found especially in your most innocent-seeming family film. Or Kindergarten classroom.
Most who know this, know it because they are part of a religion. Or perhaps they have read ancient philosophy, or a great deal of classic literature, or have some other exposure to traditional knowledge or old, pre-modern wisdom. Because the warnings were there, and they have been there for a very long time. How so many people have come to forget them at first seems unclear. Many have been tempted to blame it all on some new false religion—“liberalism,” or “neo-Gnosticism” or something like that. But the truth is that it’s simple ignorance, bred of wealth. Like a spoiled child who has never been told “no,” ours is a spoiled civilization that has succeeded mightily at everything we have tried simply because we have smart technicians who’ve been able to harness for us the power of fossil fuels.
For millennia religions have demeaned and discouraged wealth. We knew it was a corrupting force. But where today does the power of persuasion lie? With those who have, for whatever reason, forgotten this lesson. Those who have grabbed for themselves the biggest share of these new riches.
The power of mass propaganda lies in the hands of those who value fame and wealth above all. Why? Because those who have been willing to sacrifice everything else—duty, tradition, family, etc.—have done best in the rat race to get heard. Victory by exhaustion, victory by fanaticism. And so those who write the modern stories we read and watch are those who most want attention – the most spoiled of brats. And those who select what stories get produced and published are those who most want money and career success.
And so we look around us now and see the masses, the product of this propaganda, all striving for attention in the rat-race of career. Two parents working outside the home, 50-70 hours a week each, no time for children, no real desire for family closeness or bonding, no more true love of nature or growing things. Or romantic poetry or old musty books. Because there’s no money or fame or career-building in any of these. They are not “practical.”
But of course you understand all this, right? But in the mass-noise of modern life, it is easy to forget. We need reminders.
And it is easy to grow tired of it. It is easy to become jaded, cynical in a way. It is easy to become resentful, hateful even. Of these emotions, hate is the least festering and most healthy, because it is active. To bury this hate only makes it rot and mutate, to tie itself in knots and build in explosive power. But what we must do is transform this hate into something loving. We must combine it with love to make: anger.
And here we might learn something even from Nietzsche, the most fame-hungry of decadents, who wrote, “We must get truly angry for once, for things to get better.” And another place: “Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with blood, and you will experience that blood is spirit.”
Just as the medieval Christian kings could learn something from the military talents of the pagan Julius Caesar, we might learn something from the decadent Nietzsche about how to defend what is Good.
Nietzsche, like us, was pent-up. He had a new value system, and he saw the deep flaws in the value system around him, but he could not directly express such idiosyncratic thoughts. He spoke in indirect stutters—aphorisms—and gradually they began to cohere. Surrounded, outnumbered, somehow he held his own. There is something to be learned here about strength.
Again: “We philosophers … are no thinking frogs, no objectifying and registering devices with frozen innards – we must constantly give birth to our thoughts out of pain and maternally endow them with all that we have of blood, heart, fire, pleasure, passion, agony, conscience, fate, and disaster.”
I love this way of speaking because it treats thinking as a living, organic, ecological thing. We maternally give birth to our thoughts. We seek to create living ideas, we philosophers. This gift of creation, shared among all artists, is a god-given, evolution-honed faculty that Coleridge baptized “Imagination.”
The etymology of the term “genius” carries this view: “Latin genius ‘guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth; spirit, incarnation; wit, talent;’ also ‘prophetic skill,’ originally ‘generative power’ (or ‘inborn nature’), from [Proto-Indo-European] *gen(e)-yo-, from root *gene- ‘to produce, give birth, beget’.”
In agriculture and in our daily lives we lack a connection to nature and its generative processes. Our ideal and dream of a good family life now lacks the essential image of the cottage farm or homestead. In our intellectual lives we also lack a connection with our own natural generative faculties. That is, our ideal of intellectual life lacks poetry and philosophy.
As Emerson wrote, “Our hunting of the picturesque is inseparable from our protest against false society.”
Understanding this, I hope you can understand why in my ruminations, recorded in small part on this blog, I seek philosophy and poetry above all else.
And maybe we’re already on the same page about what’s decaying in our culture and what needs to be re-cultivated. But things are still far worse than what I’ve alluded to above.
It isn’t just that people are forgetting religion and missing the point of it. It’s also that our religious institutions themselves are in a state of decay and corruption. Many people would rather not hear this. And in fact they have no reason to listen to me—a humble philosopher, however recovered from his wayward ruminations—on why their religion has a problem. In fact I am likely to be wrong in my diagnosis, being neither a profound theologian nor expert on the founding or leadership of spiritual institutions. I’d prefer to let someone infinitely wiser than me make the point:
“Do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
Oh, but it is worse still. In ancient Greece, Socrates condemned those who called themselves wise, but today none even wish to be called wise. In ancient Israel, Jesus condemned those who called themselves teacher, but today none even wish to be called by that title.
Today, the best wish to be mere sycophants. That is, in more popular terminology, spokesmen, partisans, reporters, propagandists, writers.
The term “philosopher” was introduced in ancient Greece as a term for one who admired wisdom, yet did not pretend to it. A lover of wisdom. To be contrasted with a “sophist,” that is, a self-proclaimed wise man.
Today, none would call themselves a wise man. Precious few sing praises of wisdom. The highest intellectual aspiration is merely to be a “writer.” At this, it must be a “successful writer.” Who speaks of “wise writers”? It is completely indifferent what words you put on the page, what they signify, or even the ultimate wisdom of your notions—so long as they sell. Money, Mammon, is lord and master.
Before we can truly love wisdom we must learn to even pretend to wisdom. It is sophists that precede philosophers.
And we must pretend to wisdom and love wisdom before we can truly love what is most wise, namely the essence of religion.
And until we have learned to love all these higher things, it will be impossible to find spiritual fulfillment, let alone stand up to those man-made institutions that would sell fulfillment, be they corrupt religions or progressive philosophies.
And this is why I am still a philosopher, albeit a tempered one, trying to recover from the disease of aimless speculation. And it is why I think we need more genuine philosophers now, more than ever.