Saturday, 25 January 2014

But what do YOU want?


Upon this question, in various forms, hinges the plots of countless novels, TV soaps and movies.

First two thirds is about the individual struggling under the oppressive weight of expectations and rules imposed by their background, society, church, boss, parents, spouse or even children - then comes the decisive moment in which the protagonist asks themselves or gets asked "but what do you want?"...

And then the dawning realization of failure to live-up to the highest modern morality: self-fulfilment, self-expression (self-ishness)... after which the protagonist breaks free of their background, parents or family - and is met by the intoxicating joy of... whatever.


As Saul Bellow used to argue (and he would know; being a prime example of it), the masses are 'The Romantics' now - and attitude which used to be expressed by a handful of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers) is now mainstream: the individual sees himself (more often herself) as standing against everybody and everything else; and as in the Economy chapter of Thoreau's Walden, the prime question of life becomes how to get the most from the world in return for the least amount of effort.


At an instinctive level, most people recognize that this perspective is evil, but in a secular society there is no compelling reason not to reject demands and duties when they become aversive and if you can get away with it.

(After all, you only live once, you have a duty to make the most of your time, everyone is doing it, in fact it is our duty to fight oppression - so divorce is an act of heroic rebellion...)


Why not? If it something make me feel happier - if it is what I want; then why not do it?

The only true answer, the only compelling answer, requires a religious understanding of human life, and of the life of humans.

Lacking that, we will get what we are getting.



David said...

This post is very astutely observant and it pin-points an instinctive 'Itch' I have been trying to scratch for a long-time. Perhaps a life time. Thank you. Every once in a while, and until recently i'd find myself lapsing into justifying my lapses of bad behaviour with this kind of reasoning. Like the Nazi's before cynically manipulating a mixture of Darwinian 'Survival of the fittest' and Niezchian existentialism to produce a potently evil mindset; I find the modern cultural 'faith' in the 'Ultimate truths' of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, particularly dangerous. People who have never studied these subjects and have a distorted knowledge of them accept whatever the 'experts' say as revealing ultimate truths - they believe them wholesale and a bitter taste at first soon turns into a blank cheque of behaviour.

I recently listened to a radio programme in which a German author described confidently that human consciousness and free will are illusionary. He sounded very convincing. People called into the show and were 'converted' by the hard science. How could it not be real? The brain scans prove it right? If you believe this, and I have to confess it had me fooled, blinkered and lost in abstraction for a lot of my adult life! then you can do anything you want, after all, if it's not your choice right? And if bonobo's have several sexual partners and use sex so liberally, and if we are genetically engineered to seek alpha male status, power, influence and propagate our 'selfish genes' then why not?! Everyone else is doing it? It can be framed as an almost heroic embrace of natural law and, let's not forget, without free will, those evil guys on wall street and at the big banks worldwide squandering wealth and partying through life until they bite-the-dust (heroes of instant gratification: champions of low effort, the western dream of material and sexual success) are just biologically born winners! How could we blame them for their masculine potency?!

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Just plain wrong.

This is playing out in the literature you discuss I believe. The archetypal hero of old is increasingly updated to fit a new morally expedient playground of...whatever! No wonder, as you also astutely observed in a previous post, modern writers have so little to say! This illusion of no free will needs to be radically redressed if we are not all to be lost as zombies. Zombies filming grotesque acts of violence behind camera phones and cowardly observing people being mugged, attacked or murdered, instead of intervening and using our free will as a divine responsibility. Worse still selling the videos or posting in 'cyberspace' to compound the moral crime. I often ask people if they have free will. It comes as a surprise but few of us know how to harness it anymore, perhaps even myself but I am working on it and I pray God will guide me. Perhaps literature worth writing or reading can change this and help re-exert the virtue of free will, service to a higher purpose and heroic responsibility over self- gratification and individualism. Hmm perhaps I will take a look at the Mormon literature you describe in a previous post. Thanks again for these helpful posts.

asdf said...


I went through the same thing. I really tried to just go with that. I was faced with a situation where doing the right thing required great sacrifice of which I would never be rewarded or acknowledged for even by those close to me. And I remember logically trying to convince myself of all in your post, but the holy spirit wouldn't let me. Rejected it entirely. I never found a logical reason to do the right thing like I did, and yet there was a force in my soul that demanded it. Since I could not explain that force outside divine inspiration I had to accept it. It helped that I was reading through That Hideous Strength and the time and it exactly mirrored my real life. Helped me process it all.


As to media the rise of anti-heroes and contrived trolley car scenarios is part and parcel with allowing people the joys of sin while maintaining a veneer of morality.

Anonymous said...

Cicero had this to say
There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil.

Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing today and another tomorrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must forever reign, eternal and imperishable.

God himself is its author, its promulgator, its enforcer. He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man.

When a man is inspired by virtue such as this, what bribes can you offer him, what treasures, what thrones, what empires? He considers these but mortal goods and esteems his own divine. And if the ingratitude of the people, and the envy of his competitors, or the violence of powerful enemies despoil his virtue of its earthly recompense, he still enjoys a thousand consolations in the approbation of conscience, and sustains himself by contemplating the beauty of moral rectitude.

To the modernists, and the Romans before Christ, virtue is just another choice in a sea of choices.