Saturday 12 March 2016

Cultural despair evident in revealed preferences

Despair is usually denied as shameful and a refutation of one's life choices - but if the defiantly gay words are ignored and the behaviour is noted, then the ubiquity of despair becomes evident. 

What characterizes those who most assert their happiness, that they choose to do the things they do in pursuit of happiness (fulfilment, personal growth... whatever)? - Especially those who make so much in public discourse of their happy and exciting lifestyles with lots of sex of lots of types with lots of people, choosing their sexuality and sexual identity, partnering and unparternering according to what brings them happiness, engaging in frequent exotic travel, owing the latest technologies, clothes, 'enhancing' their bodies (and 'self-esteem') with dyes, ink, holes, diet, exercise, drugs...

Those legions (especially women) who say they love, are serious about, their careers - who spend years in formal education (but never read anything that isn't on the curriculum, never do work that doesn't contribute to an exam or part of a task set by others) and training and seeking promotion - the same people who never cease talking about holidays past and future, and retire as soon as possible.

The fact is that hardly anybody in this world, and extremely few women, is genuinely motivated by education, or by work, except as a means to the end of participation in socially-approved lifestyles. But most people are motivated by relationships.

So how are relationships in the modern world?

The answer, when looked at over time, is feeble and fragile. The 'promise' is that we can have relationships with anybody, and do anything with them (and with ourselves). The reality is that such relationships have no more significance than a TV that talks back.

Family provides the most solid and secure relationships - but marriage and the family are subject to unending subversion and attack (often paradoxically, justified 'for the good of the children' - as if a careerist, salaried middle management drone of a government official cares anything about 'children' except as a means to their own ends!)

Real friends who would do what family would do (support and make sacrifices over many years) are very few, or utterly absent - instead modern people have a superficially impressive multitude of superficial fair-weather Facebook and Twitter 'friends' who are great at providing distractions and stimulus but useless when times are tough.

There are many people in this world, in the ubiquitous cities esepcially, many people who are in the situation of living in a place, in a life, where nobody - and I mean literally nobody, not one single person - actually loves and cares for you except for what you can do for them as a distraction and stimulus: nobody loves you unconditionally for yourself.

Except (perhaps, and thank Heaven for this) some hundreds or thousands of miles away there exists a member or two of their birth family. But for 24/ 7 they live among people for whom they are just an amusement, an annoyance or a functional widget, a cog in a machine that makes nothing valuable.

What kind of life is this? Was it for this psychological subsistence that so many people - most people - gave-up and rejected God, marriage, family, relatives, church?

My impression is that typically people are confusing happiness with attracting attention, with trying to make other people envy you, with trying to overwhelm their own selves with the most powerful distractions they can self-impose.

It reminds me of that most miserable of life-phases - adolescence - when life becomes a matter of constructing a publicly-convincing shell to cover the fear, turmoil and rage inside; hoping that the shell will becomes so convincing as you fool yourself as well as others. 

Having said all this - what do I feel for these people who are in a bad place and working to make it worse? Whose net effect on the world is to make it unfit for habitation by actual humans? Whose response to existential despair is to try and forget about it?

Compassion and sorrow - that is what I feel. These desperate people who are wrecking themselves and everything else for - what? I don't know for what, and neither do they. They are so far gone in their addicted despair that they do not even want to be cured, not least because they do not even believe in the reality of a life other than the one they experience.

It is not a matter of wanting what they cannot get - but of not even wanting what is good for them.

How can they be helped, when they reject help and are offended and angered by the offer. They are surrounded, they have surrounded themselves, by a gulf of incomprehension.

And how do I know all this? Because of what people do - not because of what they say: by what economists call their revealed preferences.

But compassion and sorrow is the only and proper basis for interaction. Even as we necessarily fear, avoid, even shun such people and such a civilization - even as they anger us and make us afraid (like rabid dogs, or packs of rabid dogs, would make us afraid); even as we cut off our support to them and their lifestyles (as we would need to cut off a junkie from supplies of his drug)  -- even so, and as we try to find the courage and means to do what is necessary to defend ourselves and the world from such people - we Christians must not hate, but must in our hearts pity them for their pitiful, despairing, dangerous state.  

1 comment:

Brandon said...

Thanks for this profound meditation, Dr. Charlton.

As a younger American who is in the process of conversion to the Orthodox Church, my feeble and pathetic attempts so far at participation in sacramental religious practice while attempting to 'make a living' in the secular world of careerism and insanity have brought into sharp focus the depths of despair within my own heart. The brutal contradiction of the two modes of being weighs very heavy.

Lord have mercy on us all.