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The Tired World: That Old Ennui

Life is our reaction to the basic insecurity which constitutes its substance. Hence it is an extremely serious matter for a man to find himself too much surrounded by apparent securities. A consciousness of securities kills life — José Ortega y Gasset.

Ennui — Listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from lack of interest; boredom: "The servants relieved their ennui with gambling and gossip about their masters..."

The proliferation of a godless religion is pandemic today. Even some Christian groups and other anointed ones in the cafeteria-style wing of the Roman Catholic faith have joined in on the act.

Those who possess a keen sense of smell can easily attest to the morally and spiritually directionless stance that contemporary man has taken on existence. Often, one has to take a second, closer look to see if the people before us are not some robotic entities that merely go through the motions of living. In many respects, we can say that man today is utterly bored. But bored with what and why?

However, for now, let us reflect on just what has happened to man in the last hundred plus years. In the span of that time we have come to enjoy a level of comfort that was unattainable or unimaginable by kings in prior eras. Propelling ourselves through land, sea, and air in machines of our own devising, today we have come to take these creations of our sweat and toil for granted.

Today we can readily communicate with loved ones who are far away and with people physically near to us, with whom we are reluctant to communicate. We do this through an elaborate network of touch-tone machines.

The awe and wonder that has delivered us to such a science-fiction reality has come about through the inspiration and sacrifice of dedicated individuals, visionaries. The standard of living that we enjoy currently is unprecedented in human history. We have managed to ease discomforts and cure diseases that killed us not long ago. Today toothaches do not hurt as much as they once did.

Indeed, ours is truly a confused age. While we possess the riches of applied science, few today care for or respect science. With the exception of scientists, we do not demonstrate any sense of awe and wonder for the insights and discoveries of science.

Equally true, in questions of ultimate reality, our scandalously bogus, theoretical, and speculative theology demonstrates no conviction or even the possibility of accepting the existence of a vital, life-infusing and affirming God. Instead, what we encounter today in most of our theoretical theologians and thinkers is a detached; far afield look at make-work, sterile intellectual questions.

Genuine believers believe out of an intuition and perception of the relationship between the incommunicable, the ineffable, and the conditions that inform daily life. It is not until our life, as a felt and vital existence courageously confronts the contradictions and limitation of the intellect, that individuals – and civilizations – come to encounter the sincere realm of a living belief.

Unfortunately, there is much in contemporary life – circa 2010 – that is nothing more than mere posturing. We have created colossal, yet myopic edifices and institutions that serve the purpose of carnal existence, and which ultimately serve to distract us from ourselves as differentiated, autonomous individuals.

Today we have given up on the practice of imagination in the service of life. This has given rise to a very ominous and unambiguous moral/spiritual frigidity that continues to exert profound damage to our ability to relate to objective human reality.

Having lost our capacity, or instinct for religious belief, mythology, and the awe and wonder necessary for engagement with science and philosophical reflection, we have instead opted for the trivial, mundane and the ravages of social/political make-believe categories.

In many respects, what we are witnessing today is the death throes of man. Is ours the first example of a post-humanity? If so, this will be the anti-thesis of a genuine humanistic and religious pathos, but the equivalent of pre-history.

Going about the world, engaging with people, especially the young, one gets the strong Impression that something drastically wrong is afoot in the state of our contemporary moral/spiritual make-up. Judging by the destructive nature of our beliefs and the behavior that they lead to today, undoubtedly the direction that our world has embarked on is a false one.

Granted, what I mean by this has nothing to do with the state of the world, that is, with our current geo-political problems. These will always be with us in one configuration or another. What is most worrisome in our current predicament, however, is the anemic state of our pathos and ethos in confronting the exigencies of human reality. The state of our moral/spiritual health is what I have in mind.

Today we seem to operate from the animalistic belief, as it were, that we live for the here-and-now, that our raison d’être is that of a social/political engagement with the State. This is utterly simplistic…and dangerous.

Lamentably, what we lack today is the very idea that our true and lasting engagement is with reality proper, and how this demands that we know our respective role in it. How we embrace the aforementioned determines how we view ourselves and the world.

So much is determined by our existential outlook on life that perhaps few know or care to understand just what a difference, what effect the plight of autonomous, self-governing and self-respecting persons can make in the world. If ours is indeed a tired and bored world, this is certainly not the result of a lack of physical comfort and our seemingly secure way of life. Yet these things should never be understated, for without the physical comforts that we enjoy, we would certainly be impacted in other, more intangible ways.

Ironically, the coldness that we encounter in many people today - especially the young - their lack of genuine aspirations, illusions, and a defined and focused sense of self - may very likely have arisen as a result of man’s triumph over some of the vilelest aspects of nature.

However, by no means can man ever convince himself of total security, for our life is characterized by a fluid, dynamic, and existential engagement with our own being that beckons our undivided attention and respect. Human life is ultimately grounded in existential communion with our spirit and the creator.

However, this reality places us in a rather precarious situation today. If we build anything of lasting value for future generations, the sweat and toil that brings this about must in turn be imparted on our children.

Human existence is nothing but a lived moral tale. Let us say that human life is but an Aesopian fable in 3D. This is the true meaning of nobility. But nobility, which is essentially nobility of spirit, of transcendence takes energy, dedication and most importantly, a sense of care to cultivate. Whatever moral/spiritual values we pass on to our forebears is precisely what we will reap – individually or as a civilization.

This, then, brings me to the crux of my concern: the advanced stage of our current moral/spiritual corruption. Just like diseases of the body and mind, our spirit, too, can become overrun with the inability to cultivate a genuinely healthy pathos and ethos for the very existence that it embodies.

When societies become morally and spiritually corrupted, one has nowhere else to search for causes and symptoms other than in its component parts: the moral/spiritual make-up of individual persons. In turn, we must recognize that this incapacity for truth essentially leads to a lack of respect for other persons. Unfortunately, one of the staples of contemporary man is the lack of respect that we bestow on one another.

Ours is most definitely a pathos that is ruled over by existential boredom. Somehow, today, we think that we have seen and experienced it all. The life of the majority of people today is ruled by the rush of the next cheap thrill, the next weekend. This is all a very daunting sign of our moral/spiritual malaise, and how this in turn affects our existential capacity to view ourselves as the recipients of an inexhaustible cosmic mystery.

Books by Dr. González

Dr. Pedro Blas González is a Professor of Philosophy at Barry University, Miami, Florida and is finishing a book on Ortega's The Revolt of the Masses. Professor González's professional interests include the relationship that exists between subjectivity, self-knowledge, personal autonomy and philosophy; ancient Greek philosophy; the thought of Schopenhauer, Albert Camus, Louis Lavelle, Karl Jaspers and the relationship between form and philosophical vocation. He blogs at Castle to Castle.

Published: May 6, 2010

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