Philosophy and Contentment in the Age of Radical Skepticism

p>Were called upon to exercise their skill,
Not in Utopia, - subterranean fields, -
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us, - the place where, in the end,
We find our happiness, or not at all.

William Wordsworth
The Prelude, Book XI

Michael Oakeshott is correct that we should cherish the present, if nothing else, for the degree of certainty that we encounter in its immanent reality. The promise of a rationalized or idealized future can always wait. No doubt, it also makes great sense to prefer “present laughter to utopian bliss,” Mr. Oakeshott. Consider that human beings are the only entities that we know of that have the capacity for self-knowledge. This is hardly a minor consideration, for how is this ultimately reflected in our ability to be well balanced and contented persons?

What is it about utopian types - those legions of reality-loathing radical skeptics - wretched souls who are incapable of finding contentment in life from anything that does not resemble a political category? I am not talking about attaining white-heat bliss, but rather the cultivation of a mature and humble capacity for contentment. That’s all. We ought not to forget that contentment is a condition that has to do with the whole person, and not an isolated personality trait. Contentment is enjoyed by people who possess a seasoned understanding - and more important still - acceptance of human reality. This is one major reason why malcontents never enjoy contentment, much less happiness.

If we had to identify the core pathology that defines our age, one which will serve as the definitive point of contention in understanding our time by future generations, that would have to be our incessant conditioning by social/political/economic engineers to make us conceive of happiness as the result of entitlement. Curiously, an increasing number of people today believe they have the right to be happy, and that the vehicle that will deliver them to happiness is the state. Lamentably, today the pursuit of happiness has given way to vulgar, lazy vices that demand happiness at all cost. While the former requires the exercise of imagination, sacrifice and will power, the latter is predicated on the simplistic condition that happiness, as an end and not the pursuit thereof, must be shared.

We should keep in mind that “pathology” originally invoked the ancient Greek word pathos, that is, the human capacity for profound emotion and suffering. It is not difficult to understand how a healthy pathos leads to spiritual and moral growth for individuals and the societies they help to create and nourish.

Seemingly, like small children who must be held by the hand, the average adult today is incapable of experiencing a life of conviction without engaging in mindless social/political doubletalk. How can they? Such is the extent of the conditioning that we have undergone in the last five decades. Of course, this is one of those asinine contradictions that our "post-modern" era proudly celebrates.

Ours is truly a pathetic time, the lasting and ominous consequences of which we have not even begun to scratch the surface. Western man can no longer make sense of life and the world around us without displaying a maniacal allegiance to the superficial scourge that is politics. We have shamelessly reduced human existence and our inherently human capacity for understanding our place and role in the cosmos to the trivial and mundane dictate of social/political categories. To sentient observers of our age, this lamentable condition signals a dangerous erosion of personal autonomy, existential longing, and our sensibility for transcendence and the sublime. This also means that we are hypocritically willing to give away our primal, existential freedom to the highest bidder whenever we deem it convenient.

Hesiod gave us Pandora’s Box, Prometheus proved to be too crafty for anyone’s good, and Lucifer couldn’t handle being second fiddle in the Kingdom of God. Twenty-first century man is left with Marx’s legacy of perpetuating envy, class warfare, a penchant for destruction and debilitating resentment, where everyone is made to look over their shoulders. So much for our cathartic exploration of the sublime.

Perhaps no thinker has expressed this better than C.S. Lewis. He enlightens us in "The Great Divorce": “The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

There are many signs that our illness has quietly advanced beyond our darkest expectations. Listening to grade-school age children talk about current events, one cannot help but wonder about the damage inflicted on their psyche by the bombastic, social/political indoctrination that they undergo daily. One thing is clear: Math, reading and writing have proven to be stubbornly inadequate vehicles to foment social/political discord.

The epistemological and moral aberrations that children are made to learn in public schools today are simply mind numbing. Is this coincidence or merely the incompetence of the cadre that run departments of education? Or, is this simply the most efficient way to destroy the middle class?

High school and college students have also lost all capacity for rational/moral discourse. Their inability to understand metaphor, historical and Christian allusions and allegory places us all in tremendous danger of becoming a civilization without history, one that, in negating the past, makes itself vulnerable to the invective of party-line toeing messiahs.

Inevitably, the insatiable zest of radical skeptics and ideologues to transcend good and evil always has a laughable way of promoting evil in the end. Just don’t mention this to the radical elites who fund and fuel our social/political and moral bread-and-circus spectacle.

Is this the best that Western man can do, especially after more than 2,500 years of accumulated knowledge, culture, scientific technique and the practice of virtues that foster civility, meaning and purpose? Perhaps it is time that we all read Solzhenitsyn’s "A Warning to the West."

There can be no denying the nasty fact that our time is dominated by radical ideologues. This is the fashion, the hot-button preference of our intellectual elite today. Such is the corrosive extent of this disease of our age that we can no longer converse about medicine, science or the arts without some radicalized, half-wit bringing up irrelevant and coerced social/political categories. Even national television and radio sports networks now make it their job to view sports from a politicized angle. Ours is the age of the New Man, a time when the only game in town is a morose, radicalized culture.

Radical ideology, like a corrosively addictive drug, is an illness that blinds people to common sense, and which brings them and everyone in their grasp to neglect their own well-being. Radical ideologues have destroyed our instinct to detect and defend ourselves against conspicuous danger. Proof of this is that radical ideology conditions people to work against their own better judgment. This is what happens when genuine philosophical reflection and vital culture are squeezed through the sieve of social/political categories.

Any mention of transcendence, the sublime, and God brings up the ire of radical ideologues today: “What God are you talking about?” they snicker. Part of the obsession that radicals have with destruction means that they always find it necessary to go for a clean sweep. They must make sure to gut history and the essence of man, so that no trace of the glory of beauty, imagination and creativity are left standing. Much like a malignant tumor, our dismantling of goodness and virtue necessitates a radical approach. This means a sweeping and all-encompassing erasure of tradition. This is the burning hope of the New Man, of the walking zombies who rule our age.

I suppose that the objective order of the universe, of time, and the reality-of-all-realities that exist beyond our capacity to possess full disclosure of it, all of these depend on the whim of the radical elites who have taken the world hostage. It requires unspeakable arrogance - and shallowness - for these finite, radical entities who inhabit a small planet 93 million miles from a run-of-the-mill sun (as suns go, we are told), to convince themselves of their self-importance. This is a case of effrontery to the second power. Of course, this maniacal thirst for power and political control borders on criminality, if we are to judge by the actions of these people in the past.

Ironically, the downfall of man in our time is that we are incapable of tragedy. We have reached a point in Western history when common sense and our instinct for survival force us to ask: Can an entire age be spiritually and morally sick?

If so, what is the root of this collective illness, and what can be done to cure us from the slow and painful death that we are currently experiencing? Our inability to tame the primitive, totalitarian impulse of the radicalized elements that currently run our world will deliver us sooner than later into the abyss. What can be next, a technology-aided, twenty-first century gulag? We ought not to forget that, "the devil knows how to row,” as Coleridge reminds us at the end of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

A quick glance at our world today easily reveals how vile stupidity has taken over man. We have traded the wisdom of the ages for the temptation of social/political categories and the timely rewards offered us by the exercise of power. It recently dawned on me how Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn” seems to capture our current condition best. Ours is truly a pitiful time, “when old age shall this generation waste.”

Date posted: December 31, 2011