Wednesday 12 March 2014

Mortal life and sheer survival, coping, and looking after our families


For most people in the world and throughout history, mortal life was mostly a matter of 'sheer survival' - a struggle - of doing the things necessary to maintain ourselves and our situation.

How does this reality fit with the understanding of our divine purpose?

It sounds, and is, very... mundane.

Surely there can be no fulfilment of destiny in the life of a semi-starving, disease ridden, war-torn, constantly toiling peasant and his wife, whose children all die before adulthood?


But a closer look reveals that such people are almost always extremely religious, by contrast with ourselves.

Whereas, those whose lives are comfortable, and full of pleasures and distractions and sensuous satisfactions, will often - will nowadays usually - vehemently reject any purpose or meaning; will deny even that there is a reality outside of their own current thoughts.


Indeed, the way that the problem is framed by us, and that we see it as a problem, is telling. We perceive the lives of the past in secular terms; we regard that as primary - and we disbelieve, indeed angrily reject, the obvious fact that the secular pleasures and comforts were not the main thing for those of the past.

We simply fail to perceive and acknowledge, or else deny and dismiss, that which 'made life worth living' in the lives of the past.

Consequently we moderns typically cannot find anything at all in our lives, or indeed the whole world, which objectively and as a real and solid truth, makes life worth living. 


We know about the frequency of self-imposed religious hardship on-top-of the (already extreme) toils and troubles of normal life which happened almost universally in traditional societies - self-imposed asceticism, fasting, trials, hardships.

But instead of noticing that this is not the behaviour of pleasure and comfort and distraction seekers; we moderns frame this kind of self-imposed hardship on-top-of natural hardship as either stupid, wicked or mad - the behaviour of manipulated dupes, dishonest exploiters, or undiagnosed psychotics. 


Why would any conceivable divine plan be associated with birth into such hardships as have been suffered by the majority of Men?

The implications include that the sheer-fact of mortal incarnation and death are, in and of themselves, valuable.

And that there is transcendent value in the ordinary life of the mass of men - the life of sheer survival, coping, and doing our best to look after our families and those around us.

Or, more exactly, that a life of semi-starvation, toil and failure, a life of slavery - is potentially a wholly-valid human life - a life which fulfils divine destiny.


The mass of human life is and has been tragic; but whether Life Is A Tragedy is a very different matter..

It seems certain that past people certainly did not regard life as A Tragedy in the way that has become mainstream and reflexive in the secular modern and prosperous West - especially among intellectuals, but now spread almost universally.

It is clear that in its evaluation of human life modernity is missing-the-point in a gross, spectacular and historically-unique fashion.


We are missing-the-point to the extent that the mainstream modern moral imperative is that the fundamental problem of contemporary society is insufficient peace, prosperity, comfort and convenience - that it is our lack of pleasures and distractions which stands between us and fulfilment - that the fundamental and greatest purpose of human life is to provide a greater quantity of sensuous gratification, and to ensure it is homogenously-distributed.

In sum, modernity sees Life As A Tragedy because we lack a sufficiency of exactly that which makes Life A Tragedy. 

Having framed understanding in such a bizarre and counter-factual fashion; it is unsurprising that mainstream modern people find the idea of a real divine purpose and meaning in such a world to be not so much untrue, as utterly incomprehensible... 



DrBill said...

Here is your argument in song. It helps to like Bluegrass, but you can't fail to like the lyrics.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DrB - Yes, I agree - it is saying much the same.