Friday 1 July 2011

Who does not perceive the vanity of the world? A Pascal Pensee


Anyone who does not see the vanity of the world is very vain himself.

So, who does not see it, apart from young people whose lives are all noise, diversions, and thoughts for the future?

But take away their diversion and you will see them bored to extinction.

Them they feel their nullity without recognizing it, for nothing could be more wretched than to be intolerably depressed as soon as one is reduced to introspection with no means of diversion.


Blaise Pascal - Pensees - Number 36 (164). Translated by AJ Krailsheimer, Penguin edition of 1966.

Note: 'Vanity' here (derived from the King James Bible) means something like futile, pointless, meaningless, purposeless, empty.  



Pascal, writing in the mid-17th century, already saw that the only way to avoid perceiving the futility of the world is to lose oneself in diversions - in noise, action, daydreams; and that the only people who can really achieve this are 'the young'.

And, presumably, if Pascal were alive today he would see that our modern secular culture is, in this sense, permanently 'young'.

Necessarily 'young' - because in a secular society we must never be allowed to perceive the vanity of the world, since (for a secular world) there is nothing that can be done about it. .

We never grow up.

We are never allowed to grow-up, we never allow ourselves to grow-up: growing-up is indeed punished severely since introspection must be avoided; since introspection leads to wretchedness, boredom to extinction, intolerable depression.



Ariston said...

Evagrius said the passion of the young is gluttony, and that of the old, pride.

The good thing about pride—though it is deadlier—is that pride can at least motivate its bearer to do good things. The glutton cares only for appetite. The example I always like here is how the very wealthy no longer create true public goods anymore; whether or not they were for pride or out of sincere commitment, those useful monuments are no longer built.

In this way also, we're young.

Bruce Charlton said...

I hadn't thought of it before, but there is something in this - so long as the gluttinous 'young' are regarded as the pre-pubertal; I think adolescents are perhaps the proudest of all, or are *trying* to be...

Ariston said...

I can't find my source for the distinction now, it's just something that stuck in my memory as evocative, but I think the distinction was meant as young and old men, not the infant and the mature. I still think it holds: adolescents are self–obsessed, but the obsession is with gratification and image, not social standing in the mature sense or ambition.