Tuesday 26 February 2019

The hour is getting late...

William Wildblood believes that time is running-out - and I agree...

When I look around me it seems that most people in the Western world are completely oblivious to any kind of deeper reality. They don't appear to think very seriously about who or what they are but carry on with their lives as though appearance were reality, absorbed in their usually unimportant work and petty distractions as though these actually meant something....

Perhaps, and I certainly am not dismissing anyone since everything in our contemporary society conspires to obscure truth. Nevertheless, how anyone can live in this world without making huge mental efforts to try to work out what it is and what it means and what they should be doing to live life in a way that corresponds to reality is an enigma. 

The problem of existence is not solved by evading it, and if it is lack of interest that prompts the refusal to look at what this world and our life mean, that is even worse. 

So many people really seem to think that it is an intellectual luxury to try to penetrate the mystery of life or else they all too readily assume that there is no mystery and that life is what it appears to be, a meaningless accident which must just be made the most of. They seem to have little or no intellectual or spiritual curiosity, especially not in a way that would actually be applicable to their lives and open up something more than the fulfilment of ephemeral desires whether to do with mind or body...

Read the whole thing...

William signs-off by stating his conviction that 'the hour is getting late'. What might this mean, in practice?

My understanding of the way that this works, is that when something needs doing - when it must be done -  the longer the delay, then the worse the consequences will be.

This is a kind of law. If things are done at the right time, then there is usually the possibility of a gradual and reasonably comfortable transition. But doing the right thing always entails some degree of short-term sacrifice in order to attain the best long-term consequences.

In other words, the short- and long-term are different; so that doing the best thing to optimise the short term will take you further and further away from what is best for the long term...

Until, eventually, the long term arrives.

At that point it may be too late. But even when it is not too late, there is an unavoidable accumulation of problems from all those years, decades, generations-worth of easy, expedient short termist decisions. They amount to a large deficit that must be paid - one way or another.

Of course, it may be that this deficit cost is so great as to be lethal. But even when it is not lethal, it will extract a very heavy price in exactly that suffering which all those cowardly, greedy, short-termist decisions were hoping to evade.

As I said - I regard this as a kind of law of life.

So, what are the costs that we have accumulated? In essence they are material costs of spiritual life. We ought to have been abandoning our superficial pleasure-seeking ways; but we preferred to avoid the necessary cost in immediate pleasure and consumption.

When the spiritual necessity is forced upon us; the price extracted will be hedonic: paid in pleasure, comfort, convenience, material goods, amusing and distracting technologies etc.

As I see thing, this is literally unavoidable; and the longer delayed, the bigger the cost will be.

The time for payment by easy instalments is long past. Soon, the debt-collectors will be calling. And they will collect in full

Be prepared... spiritually prepared, that is.


William Wildblood said...

Thanks for pointing to my post, Bruce. I didn't much like writing it and when i had put it up I almost took it down again. It just seemed, as I added in the note, a bit excessive in its tone. But I somehow felt forced to write it and express it in that way. Your reinforcement of its message is much appreciated.

Matthew T said...

Enjoyable piece from William, of course. When he talks about the "enigma" of apathy, where it makes me go is to the idea I've expressed any number of times, to the effect that I can NOT grasp people who are intelligent and foresighted in career, finances, every other facet of life - but yet refuse to consider this MOST important question, the meaning of it all. How can people so foresighted and conscientious in general, be so short-sighted on this?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Matthew - I do understand, because it is not all that long since I was the same myself. The only advantage I had was that I was honest enough to admit that secular-materialism did not work, and was getting worse all of the time (the iron cage of bureaucracy, the systematic, progressive destruction of all the institutions I valued etc). It is *always* easier, more expedient, to put-off - and (one hopes) leave other people to deal with the problems.

Epimetheus said...

I think people day-dream of future materialistic success as if it will be some sort of glowing, transcendent Eden. I worked with guys that thought lottery tickets were a promise of heavenly fulfillment - they talked about their millionaire dreams with soft, glowimg eyes, about how they could follow their lifelong dreams of helping the poor etc. if only they had a hundred million dollars.

When I pointed out that everyone already has about as much money as they can handle ie. if you could safely handle millions of dollars without utterly destroying yourself, you would already have it - they reacted to this with... religious indignation.

It's not that people are callous or indifferent to spiritual joy and hope - my colleagues openly spoke of such things re. lottery - they're placing their hopes in Mammon.

It isn't mere wealth that people pursue by buying lottery tickets - it's the transcendent warm joy they think it will bring. Ditto for all our absurd fantasies of sex, fame, and power.

People are immensely concerned with Logos, but they trust Hell rather than Heaven with respect to getting it. Or they've given up on both and are committing suicide on a variety of installment plans.

Bruce Charlton said...

@E- I've not often been materialistic in that sense, but my flaw (sin) was rather a craving for security - which is, of course, impossible to attain in a materialist way.

For example - I had a friend who was one of the wealthiest men in Britain - powerful famous, fit and full of energy; but he died young of a very rare disease.

And anyone can be brought-down, no manner their attainment or contacts - James Watson was the most famous living scientist, but his life was destroyed over nothing.

So, security was even more foolish a goal than wealth.

Epimetheus said...

interesting. A dreadful feeling of existential vulnerability... I think I understand what you mean. That's a bit like William James and the mental patient - his feeling of being suspended delicately above a black void of insanity.

I guess I've suffered existential helplessness, a similar thing really... thus a craving for efficaciousness, material success, and power.

It's quite something that we die, actually, that all of our desire to live is helpless against the onslaught of death, that we end our lives with the ultimate failure. It's the one final lesson from God, I guess, and the most emphatic of them all.

Ah well, pass the Ketchup!

Matthew T said...

Very striking comments there about security, Bruce. I too used to want security. Not to digress too much, but my wife and I have had this conversation many times, to the effect that life has (in so many ways) not turned out how I always pictured it, and I know that part of the reason is because God has lessons he's trying to teach us. And one of those lessons is about security - that, as you say, there IS no security.

Apart from God, that is. It's funny how dependent we really are on him. Sometimes I've been tempted, like King Uzziah when he entered the temple, to believe that my worldly success and lack of any truly pressing problems means that I'm free to "wander off the path", so to speak; maybe indulge in a little mildly objectionable behaviour, after all, it's not going to hurt anyone, right?

It's astounding how, every time I'm tempted like this, all it takes is one small problem or worry to arise to make me realize how many things could actually go wrong if I ceased to depend upon God; as if God has crossed his arms and is lecturing me, look, bud, I can make your life so miserable it's not even funny, if ignoring me is really the road you're gonna choose.

We really can be such foolish little creatures.