Thursday, 19 September 2013

The astonishing triviality, the shallowness and fakery of modern life


The shallowness and triviality of modern life is nothing new - I felt it very strongly in the seventies - mostly as a contrast to what I knew from reading Tolkien - but it is one of those things that just keeps gets worse and more obvious.

I realize that this places me, always has placed me, outwith the major mass effects perpetrated upon us - simply an appalled and incredulous onlooker.

But I cannot - not really - understand, and I never have been able to understand, how so many people participate in this relentless, minute by minute... nothing. How many people simply dissipate their whole lives...

What is the point of it? How can they be bothered?

This masquerades as 'fun', as 'having a laugh', as 'joining in' - but so obviously is not that I am astonished that people can continue to suppose it is. It masquerades as important moral concern - but, really, who is fooled?

I cannot understand how people let themselves be manipulated into faking feelings of excitement, concern, hatred by a mass media which is ever more formulaic and ever more stale.

I keep expecting people, en masse, to wake up - and to admit to themselves that they are faking responses all the way down to the level that they supposedly regard as the bottom line. I presumed people would rebel, would demand meaning, purpose and relatedness from life. I have, indeed, been expecting this for forty years - but clearly my expectation was delusional.

In fact the situation is even worse than described above, because there is an actively aggressive quality about this shallowness and triviality - it wants to impose itself on every last person by loudness, by intrusiveness, by subversion and fake indignation.

All this stuff I knew and felt with certainty long before I was a Christian - but I didn't have an explanation for it because I could not perceive its source: I could see only layer upon layer upon layer of shallow, trivial fakery.

But what I did not understand before I was a Christian, is that the endemic and near-ubiquitous STFakery is in the service of evil, of the destruction of Good - and that is exactly why it is aggressive, intolerant; why it seeks-out opposition in order to overwhelm it.

Indeed, this is the nub of the problem. Life at a level of shallow, trivial fakery would be just about tolerable if it was in the service of truth - that would be what is called hypocrisy. But that is not the situation.

Well, now I know the source - which is absolutely important to know; and reveals the situation as far more dangerous, of far deeper significance, than I could possibly have imagined.

But how to 'fight' shallowness in the context of an ever-shallower public domain? Impossible. That would be fighting shallowness with shallowness, and there could be only one victor.

Answer: don't fight it; do different.



Elijah Armstrong said...

Has shallowness worsened over those 40 years?

Bruce Charlton said...

@EJ - Certainly: the curve has shifted toward shallowness so that the shallowest is far more superficial than anything in the early seventies, while depth is very hard to find.

In the early seventies there was still residual genuine idealism on the Left (especially the Christian Left and the 'ecology' Left derived from William Morris etc) - but not any more. And there were large islands of resistance to modernity- for example the medical profession and much of academic was pretty much outside of modernity and did things in their own way. Now they are assimilated. And there was also hope that all the shallowness was a pendulum swing which would self-correct - didn't happen.

So yes worse, much worse.

Nicholas Fulford said...

People have a hunger for meaning, so why are they eating junk food?

Because junk food is cheap, available, and requires little commitment and effort. To mine for meaning requires hard effort, and many resist that. Laziness is learned by default, and it becomes akin to a sysiphian boulder which weighs down the spirit and drains vitality.

Give a person something worth the effort, show them that they can realise something beyond themselves, but they have to struggle, be diligent, patient and driven. Do that, and there is a chance they will take up the torch. (But also show them that failure is something they will experience, but it has to not be a roadblock, but a teacher.)

Adam G. said...

People content themselves with shallowness because they are afraid.

They are afraid that if they confront ultimate questions they will find that life is meaningless.

It isn't a conviction of nihilism that makes our culture the way it is. It's a worry that nihilism may be right.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - Wise words, I think. Presumably based on missionary experience.

"It's a worry that nihilism may be right." - I think there may be a further reaction to this worry - which is a kind of pre-emptive cynicism - where people deliberately expose themselves to the worst they can, in order not to be caught by surprise, to 'toughen' themselves.

But instead a diet of sordid shallowness leads to numbness and worsens the alienation, which leads to further self-exposure in an attempt to feel... anything.

Maximo Macaroni said...

The technique of making life shallower is to coarsen everything. Every subject that would not be mentioned in public even 30 years ago now appears everywhere, on TV, on billboards, in newspapers, on websites, in movies. Decency is not just mocked, it is driven out by vulgarity. I predicted in the
'70s that, the way things were going, there would someday be a TV or radio program consisting of 24-hour continuous shouting of violent obscenities and obscene profanities. The prospect seemed absurd. Watched a rap video or video game lately? That day has come.

Alex said...

When I read commentaries like this on the emptiness of modern life, I ask myself what could turn things around. If a reactionary tyrant came to power could he infuse meaning into our lives by decree? I think not.

Draconian measures won't work when Draco himself is a so-called "liberal".

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alex - For me, it was turned around by marriage, family and conversion - the triviality, superficiality and fakery are still there in public life and institutions; but now I know for sure that it is not the real reality.