097 - On Our Rotten Times - Moral Letters for Modern Times
Have you noticed that each generation inevitably becomes convinced of two things, Deuteros? First, that they have reached the pinnacle of wisdom with current science and civilization; that their way of life and pursuits are correct and good and the one true path. And second, they simultaneously laugh at how their ancestors were so gullible and dangerously ignorant in so many things; while they lament that their children are both gullible and dangerously ignorant in so many things. “Contemptible idiots behind us, and superficial fools ahead of us! However will the world survive when we are gone?”
It is not the times that give rise to such convictions. The folly is peculiar to humankind itself, and so passes unbidden and unseen from generation to generation. It is true that each generation finds a way to express its failings uniquely. Just as advances and accomplishments belong to an age in history, so too do the embarrassments that the next generation take but a few decades to clearly perceive. Humans are powerful in so many things but applying perspective to our own imperfections is not one of our inherent talents, nor do we seem to have any desire to develop it.
Is our own generation really the first to be free from error? Have we become enlightened as a whole, such that our every utterance deserves to be inscribed in the skies for all to wonder at? Let us seek to be impartial judges and consider the evidence. We live in times where serious people seriously expound the idea that you can tell something important about the inside of a person by looking only at the outside of that person. That all of society can be explained by power, and that there is no objective reality behind power structures, only self-serving and self-perpetuating identity groups.
Consider the supposed attributes of “whiteness,” which we are told have been invented and used to oppress non-white people. These include that whites value self-reliance, rational linear thinking, and the idea that hard work is the key to success. That it makes sense to plan for the future, delay gratification, and make progress. That we should have an action orientation and seek to master our circumstances. Before you find yourself nodding along in agreement with the items on the list, recall that they are held out as symbols of oppression, not freedom.
Social justice movements hold out as heroes the victims of police brutality, as if somehow resisting arrest is the better example of virtuous conduct. Among the most exalted are the ones who have been martyred, and it does not seem to matter what their prior record may have been. Mobs vandalize and burn city streets and we call it justice. Crowds loot stores and we call it redistribution of wealth. City councils tell you they expect to see less crime when they defund the police and stop prosecuting offenders.
For our own parts, we fill our bellies with junk food and we fill our heads with junk science. We buy junk products on credit and amuse ourselves with junk entertainment to tickle our ever-shortening attention spans. We go into debt to pay for educations that fill our children’s heads with dangerous nonsense. We borrow money to buy cars and houses that we don’t need and can’t afford. All this bring us more sadness than satisfaction in both the pursuit and the possession.
On the national level, our politicians have elevated empty talk to a new art form. With one side of their mouths they stoke our most base emotions and outrage. So aroused, with our eyes burning red and our ears ringing, we do not notice when they utter out of the other side things like: there are no limits on what we can spend and there is no consequence to running our deficit higher and higher. As if! This is one time when future generations will look back not in amusement but in horror at the delusions we felt comfortable with, for we are burdening them with both our sins of omission as well as those we commit.
No, we would know on a moment’s quiet reflection that ours is not the golden age, Deuteros. At least, no more than any other age. Despite our advancements in science, technology, health care, productivity, and more, we have spent little time in the laboratory of the human soul. For all our progress in external things, we have forgotten that the natural course of our minds inclines downward. Stability in human societies is only ever temporary. We fail and we have never not failed. The reason is that we have never removed our weaknesses and our vices from the equation. We have too few examples of virtuous behavior, and pay too little attention to the examples we have, for them to tip the scales in our favor.
In their hearts, people are not so easy to fool. We know when we are consuming garbage, though none admits it aloud. We suffer in our hearts and our thoughts when we proclaim satisfaction with superficial things. And these internal maladies do not remain suppressed, but are expressed through ill-health, depression, and turmoil in society.
Thus we have sown the conditions for our downfall: those who are told they are well-off are nonetheless unfulfilled and so restless and eager for change; while those who are told they are suffering are angry and mobilized to tear down the systems that have failed them. Who will fight to preserve the good that humankind has achieved in its centuries of struggle? Who will ensure that the good humankind is capable of is not extinguished in the fire along with everything else?
In our rotten times you cannot stand on the sidelines. You are either pouring water on the flames or you are fanning them. By your silence you let the rot spread. By your words, do you seek to build and fortify or only tear down? The early few may sacrifice themselves in standing up against madness, true. But if none stand, all will fall. And perhaps we will find that there are others who will stand with us to slow the fall.