Saturday 3 March 2018

Why won't people acknowledge the nihilistic dead-end we live in?

If you try to speak to anybody about the kind of things I discuss on this blog - you won't get far: indeed you won't get anywhere.

And the difficulty is that there is not just one reason for this, but many reasons - mutually reinforcing, like a Roman shield-wall: when one reason is eliminated, another reason steps forward to take its place; and there are many such reinforcements.

It is clear enough that we in The West are on a track to disaster - indeed multiple, linked disasters of damnation, population replacement, civilisational collapse - with mass civil and international wars, epidemics and starvation.

Indeed, it is likely that much of this is unavoidable. Yet by-and-large, people don't care; or prefer not to think about it. After all, we are all bad at prediction, and maybe it won't happen - or won't happen until we are dead and gone (such a hope is one I hear commonly expressed among the elderly).

Probably the core fact is that people don't want to think about things. And this objective of never thinking is easier for them then ever before - with the ubiquity of mass and social media. Observing the behaviour of people as they go about their business, it is clear that not thinking is a major motivation.

And the attitude is - why bother? Why bother thinking when the end point is despair? This despair is multi-faceted - the deepest and most existential level is the despair of death being annihilation; the belief that after we die nothing remains of us.

(Is anybody really convinced by the non-sequitur that we continue to live in other people's memories?  This is not so much false as irrelevant.)

So the mass of people find their life to be rising from nothing and disappearing into nothing. And the same annihilation is the fate of everything in this world which they care about... their family, friends, their village or nation, the arts and sciences, and their churches... all are destined for annihilation of one kind or another.

All possible hopes are therefore focused on our mortal lives - and as culture and everything crumbles around us (or rather, is gleefully demolished and the process labelled progress); our mortal lives have narrowed to a focus on getting pleasure and avoiding suffering.

And since anything we personally might do to improve things in the long term will always increase our personal suffering in the short term - without any guarantee of making any positive difference after all... Why bother?

This sense of Why Bother, What's the Point?  is the root of one of the most prevalent and denied of modern sins - cowardice: both physical, and moral.

The only way to combat our natural cowardice is by faith in a larger perspective; the kind of faith that leads people to do the right thing (as they understand it) regardless of the probabilities of outcomes. Because they see the small, seemingly ephemeral events and decisions of life as being part of larger and permanent things.

There is an extremely high prevalence of lying in public life. In all major institutions - lies are the meat and drink of communication. There are some true sentences spoken and written - because effective lies need to contain facts - but every paragraph is dishonest, tendentious, deliberately misleading. A modern executive, manager, official, leader, spokesman... cannot speak for five minutes without lying.

The lying is thus another facet of cowardice: modern people are lying cowards, cowardly liars. And why not? - when dishonesty and compliance lead to more pleasure and less pain, as they generally do in a corrupt society?  

There is a stark choice, and we are all faced with it; of living within society and outwith it. But modern society has occupied almost the entirety of the material world; so where could we go?

The answer is simple - that living outwith society means living in the larger world of God. To escape materialism and that which controls the material; we can only turn to the spirit. When the mundane has nothing to offer - we must inhabit the transcendent. When our every word and action is constrained and coerced - we need to dwell in our thinking.

And we need to know, with inner surety and confidence, that God, the spirit, the transcendent are all real and of prime importance - and that thinking makes a difference.

That knowledge is the most precious gift we could have - and attaining it should be the objective of everybody; it is the single most important thing in Life.


David Balfour said...

"And we need to know, with inner surety and confidence, that God, the spirit, the transcendent are all real and of prime importance - and that thinking makes a difference."

If I didnt know that, deep down, then I would have fallen prey to helpless depression and probably suicide many years ago as a younger man - I almost did!

It often struck me as baffling, in a previous professional role as a CBT therapist, how many people reveal themselves to be deeply depressed and miserable (often quite despite their percieved and public persona)and are *desperate* to find a way out of their mysery - but yet, investigating potential spiritual answers to their ultimately existential problems ("what is the point?" being the most common statement I found the newly would ask me, and of course this insight is a step forwards of sorts, a beginning or opportunity) did not often occur to them or, more often, was *obviously* assumed to be a dead-end not worth investigating, excluded presumately on the basis of deeply ingrained modern metaphysical assumptions.

David Balfour said...

The other personal observation I would offer is that it seems that people react in fundamentally different ways to the existential question "what is the point?" Some head straight to the hedonistic imperative and resolve to bury their heads in the sand about the big unanswered questions. Perhaps the majority do this. A smaller percentage become 'seekers' like perhaps Siddhartha Gautama did many millenia ago and become committed to finding solutions to the central problems of the human condition. Indeed, before I became a Christian, Buddhism really did seem to be the best possible option I could find. I suppose I had became resigned to be a kind of 'one life buddhist.' The principles and teachings seemed to offer a lot of solace and wisdom in the face of the inevitable suffering of the world/Samsara. I often wondered why this is not more often embraced by western people once they had exhausted the disappointing attempts to avoid reality (and depression) with sex, drugs and rock n roll or whatever else (CBT?) is left to do when all spirituality is rejected. Oddly, people dont tend to do this, instead they get depressed and try again and again to get drunk (obliterate consciousness), go on holiday or distract themselves perpetually. It just didnt seem very sustainable to live like this and my assumption was that once people had lived long enough (which is more than ever before in modern conditions) and got tired of living like perpetual adolescents then they would turn seriously to 'seeking' spiritual truths. Again, this rarely happens and I only known of a handful of people who even care about what the worlds great spiritual traditions might have to offer. Even as a kind of compromise I would have expected a kind of 'positive existentialism' to take hold in which common sense and a wealth of experience showed us that adopting many Christian and Spiritual values as the 'bottom line' would make this worldly life better! Even science can show us that for goodness sake! For example, basing our societal structure on strong, loving personal relationships (the family being central), treating our neighbours as an extended brotherhood whose welfare is invested in our own, venerating beauty and rewarding classically virtuous behaviour and encouraging it. Building societies that venerate nature and prioritise encouraging people to have regular contact with it to rejuvenate the spirit (better than any CBT in my experience), etc. But it didnt happen and probably because of the rejection of romanticism as you pint point it. A plausible theory...but we have hardened our hearts to all that now and are mostly too selfish to even strive for this kind of only partially-satisfactory earthly utopia.

William Wildblood said...

Regarding those who don't worry about the consequences of our present disorder because "if it happens it will all happen when I'm dead and gone", what they don't realise is that they are never dead and gone. The consequences of their present thoughts and actions will bear fruit in one form or another. What they leave undone in this life they will have to answer for in the next, regardless of what takes place in this world. I'm not talking about reincarnation but about inevitable results on the spiritual plane of one's spiritual activity or inactivity in the material world.

There are an astonishing number of people who are prepared to admit the possibility of God but don't think that has any real bearing on how they live their lives or should determine how they are other than to be vaguely a 'good' person by the standards of secular materialism. It seems they cannot face up to the reality of there being a spiritual foundation to the world and what that means for them as a human being.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David and William - I suspect that the appeal of Buddhism (at least superficially) and the inability to see the relevance of God to life may both be rooted in our highly abstract way of thinking that sees a personal God as childish or 'retarded; and sees the idea of each human life as cosmically-significant as being a grandiose delusion or wishful-thinking.

So if there is a God, it would need to be a desitic (or Eastern) abstraction of forces and tendencies, having nothing to do with my personal life - because the universe is essentially physics.

And such a God (even if it existed) would be useless for our personal purposes - so the matter is not worth thinking about.

Unknown said...

The Buddhists I am in contact with believe in the existence of a True Mind, which can be directly accessed once an individual diligently scrubs distortion and delusion from their ordinary mind. They claim that everyone in principle can access/has/is this True Mind, which allows them to have Direct Communication with others and creatively manifest all manner of phenomena through proper Thinking.

This True Mind is claimed to have both a personal component and a transcendent component: individuals who have manifested their "Buddha nature" are not identical. These Buddhists consider being at the human level of existence (as opposed to either the animal or angelic levels) to be ideal for learning and spiritual growth, a great blessing.

This should all sound very familiar to people here, yes?

It is likely that the Buddhism in popular Western (or Eastern) culture has been corrupted by the same forces we have seen degrade Christian groups.

-- Robert Brockman