Sunday 31 July 2011

We wanted peace and prosperity, we got it - what did we do with it?


For many centuries, humanity had wanted peace and prosperity.

We got it, in the West, for a couple of generations.

What did we do with it?


Did we use it in pursuit of higher things?

To attain spiritual heights? No, we discarded that stuff.

What about science? - no, we converted that to spin, bureaucracy and careerism.

What about beauty - we had leisure and resources to do more than ever before? No. We created no great works of beauty - actually we weren't even trying.

We made artworks, music, and (especially) architecture of unparalleled vileness: and deliberately so. This was supposed to be good for us.

But what about good, in the sense of virtue. Without and reason to be evil surely we attained more in that sphere? Actually not - we merely rewrote morality so we could do what we wanted.


Did prosperity and peace free natural genius  from its trammels, allowing it to soar?

No, there aren't any geniuses any more

(we prefer managed teams with clear aims and roles).

What about education? Disinterested study? The love of truth?



What about the (good) socialist dream of a world where (near as dammit) poverty was abolished?

Yeah, we did that too. Poverty was utterly abolished by world historical standards, the socialist dream was achieved.

But we pretended we didn't do it, pretended things were unbearably bad and getting worse; so as to provide permanent careers for politicians of envy and bureaucrats of compassion.

All the good socialists became bad socialists. 


We did not use peace and prosperity - we were peaceful and prosperous but did not know what to do with it.

Did our society become a wonder of the world like Byzantium: dazzling craftsmanship, heavenly habitations, arenas and gardens; permeated with aspiration and devoutness?


We had it but didn't know what to do with it, so pretended we didn't have it, or needed ever more of it...

We did anything except use peace and prosperity as a means to a higher end, as a stepping stone to better things - because for us there were no higher or better things; there was just more and more lower things.

Until in self-disgust at their own complete and utter failure, our rulers have decided actively to destroy peace and prosperity on our behalf - but without even the residual honesty to admit that they are destroying it.



The Crow said...

What we wish for can become obsessive.
If we actually get what we wish for, it very quickly becomes taken for granted. Why we ever wanted it in the first place, seems to become lost in the having.

Sages, through the ages, have noticed this thing:
Desires, fulfilled, do not happiness bring.

R. Sopkin said...

I have just discovered your blog (through a link to your Harry Potter review) and it is fascinating. You may have discovered this elsewhere but are you familiar with the concept of freedom through limitations. The best illustration is that children are more free in a yard next to a highway if it is fenced than if it is not. Our culture thought that removing limitations from art, poetry, literature, dance, and architecture would produce more creativity, but instead it killed creativity. Just one of the many ways we have misused our peace and prosperity. Sigh.

Bruce Charlton said...

@R Sopkin.

Indeed. I first read about the importance of boundaries in Chesterton; in Orthodoxy, I think it was.

James Burke said...

This post is brilliant, Mr. Charlton.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JB - thanks!

BTW when I was a kid I really enjoyed your coverage of the moon landings and appearances on Tomorrow's World

or was that, perhaps, another James Burke, I wonder? ;-)

The Crow said...

Wow! It's James Burke!
Not THE James Burke?
Now there's the sort of anti-celebrity that lives on in peoples' memories forever.
I agree with BJC on this :)

The Sanity Inspector said...

Reminds me of an epigram of E. M. Cioran: "A millennium of warfare consolidated the West; a century of "psychology" has ripped it to tatters."