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Life's Rich Pageant
Taking Breaks from Business As Usual and Reorienting One's Perspective
Sometimes you gotta get away from it all. Well, not literally away from it all, because then you’d be floating off into outer space somewhere, but you know what I mean. All the business-as-usual BS that will consume your life with meaningless trivia if you’re not careful. From time to time, you have to distance yourself from your daily routines, in order to interrupt your habitual thought-patterns and reorient your perspective on Life’s rich pageant.
I recently did that, which is why I haven’t posted in ten days (but who’s counting?). I took the kids to a family reunion of sorts, which was a short but sweet whirlwind of fun and fellowship. It was great, and then it was back to the daily grind, with everything that entails. I always get hit with a wave of wistful longing shortly after returning home from vacations like these, and this time was no different.
That sudden shift in mood — going from a joyful enthusiasm about Life while visiting family and friends, to a melancholic yearning upon returning to everyday business (busy-ness) — grabbed my attention and got me wondering about what it is that triggers that emotional response. This sense of inarticulate longing reminded me of what C.S. Lewis, in Surprised by Joy, oddly described as a type of “joy.” We catch a glimpse of what is good and beautiful in Life, but what is in terribly short supply in this world, even in the best of circumstances; and that awakens in us a desire for something deeper and more real than the empty palliatives the world around us offers.
I think of novels like Tom Jones, The Pickwick Papers, Tom Sawyer, and Things Fall Apart — especially Things Fall Apart — and the humanity those stories convey: a world in which occasions of cheerful camaraderie among lifelong friends and family are the norm, rather than an aberration from one’s daily routines; a world in which the best things in Life are not devalued because they are free and, therefore, cannot be monetized, commoditized, and somehow used to create a financial instrument that can be traded by Wall Street banksters for obscene profits. A world where society is made for Man, not Man for society. A world where cultures are based on our Human Nature, rather than opposed to it.
I think of the warning Jesus gave, when He asked, what does it profit a man to gain all that the world has to offer, if it costs him his soul? We live in a civilization that perfected the art of “being productive,” but what did we produce? A whole lot of cheap and convenient crap for constant consumption, but then we stopped producing even that, because we were able to get the Chinese to produce even cheaper crap for us with their abundance of child laborers and Uyghur slaves, and all we had to do was print a bunch of worthless dollars to pay for it all. So now in this United States of Enron, all we produce are zero-sum financial schemes, which in turn produce fewer winners every year, and a whole lot of formerly middle-class people are joining the burgeoning precariat class as a result. So it goes. But we still produce some really lifelike virtual reality. Meanwhile, real reality is breaking down and falling apart, but that amazing virtual reality makes up for it, right? We gained all the mass-produced conveniences and gilded luxury the world has to offer, and all it cost us was our souls.
I don’t mean to sound all down and out about it. I think what we’re going through is necessary and, therefore, good. We’re in the midst of a larger cycle that is playing out as it must. Once upon a time, the majority of the World War II generation intuitively understood the importance of traditional virtues and values, but over the course of their lives, the world changed so quickly and so dramatically and so completely, that they were unable to convey that wisdom to subsequent generations. They grew up in humble households, mostly in rural communities among family and friends, in a healthy culture — i.e., a culture that actually cultivated strong character, faith in God, and civic pride, instead of their opposites. That generation paid their dues on the front-end in Life, during the hardships of the Great Depression and the bloody battles of World War II; and then they came home and created a world of prosperity and comfort, and it all worked, because they had the virtue and understanding to make it work. They retained the sturdy character ethic of their upbringing. They never forgot where they came from. They could live lives of abundance without being spoiled by it, because they had already been tested and tempered by Life and had come out the other side of that with their integrity intact. But by and large, they were not able to pass on those lessons to the generations that followed, because such virtues and understanding cannot be taught with words alone, no matter how clever-sounding and memorable those verbal formulations may be; the most important life lessons must ultimately be learned by wrestling with Life, the way Jacob wrestled with God; and it’s hard to really wrestle with Life when everything is so cheap and convenient.
As Thomas Paine said, “That which we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly.” And in a world of cheap and convenient comforts, we learned to be cool and ironic and to scoff and snark and to see through everything; but we never learned to esteem anything enough to really fight and sacrifice for it, and it turns out that the easy life of comfort and convenience and self-indulgence and self-absorption is also a life of emptiness and futility and absurdity. We thought we were clever, but we became fools instead.
An analogy: an old man who was an excellent rugby player in his youth tries to teach his unathletic grandson how to play rugby while they watch American football on television together. The grandfather points out things the football players are doing wrong and compares them unfavorably to the great rugby players of his youth. The grandson never attempts to play either rugby or football; he rarely even goes outside. The grandfather is no longer able to play rugby, because of his advanced age, but he maintains a healthy, active lifestyle. The closest the grandson ever gets to playing sports is playing Madden football on an Xbox.
Another analogy: a world in which people are fed only intravenously, rather than orally. Nobody even remembers what food looks or tastes like. Nobody has ever seen anyone use his mouth for eating or drinking. Nobody knows about kitchens, grocery stores, or restaurants. People just buy bags of Brawndo and hook them up to the IVs poking out of their arms. People still find themselves feeling hungry, but they have no idea what that feeling is or what it means. They experience a deep and abiding desire that they cannot articulate, a longing to eat and drink and break bread with their fellow humans, but they cannot make sense of that longing, and they have no idea how to satisfy it. “Why are you not happy with your IV?” well-meaning people ask, if anyone ever complains. “Don’t you know how lucky you are to always have Brawndo to put in your IV? Not everyone has Brawndo. In some parts of the world, they have to go hours, sometimes even days, without it.”
Our civilization got so good at producing things cheaply and conveniently, that people eventually forgot how to do anything except produce things and consume them. Nobody bothered to ask if the things were actually worth making or consuming; asking such questions took time away from the all-important task of producing more things. Always more. Nobody bothered to try to make better things, because metrics like “better” and “worse” were hard to measure. But it was easy to measure “more,” and so that’s what we focused on: making more, and consuming more.
And because we neglected all those other things that go along with being human, we got depressed and anxious. We deeply felt the pangs of our alienation from our own humanity, but those pangs were hard to understand in any kind of left-brained quantifiable way that could be easily commodified, so we just focused on making and consuming more things, while leaving those deep and intractable existential problems in the care of slick self-help charlatans.
We avoided ennui by working harder to produce more things to consume, because that’s all we knew how to do; but those empty palliatives we produced didn’t satisfy that yawning, inarticulate void in the core of our being, and over time, that void continued to grow, until it consumed even our desire to produce more things. Besides, the Chinese could produce more things for us, so we eventually outsourced all the production to them; and that freed us up to spend more of our lives consuming!
Eventually, we forgot how to produce more things for ourselves, or even to maintain the things we already had. It got to the point that all we wanted to do was consume things that other people produced, but then we found ourselves feeling even worse: we still had that yawning, inarticulate void in the depths of our souls, but now we also felt lazy and undeserving because we weren’t even working to produce the things we were consuming.
So now we’ve arrived at the point where our civilization has bottomed out completely: whereas we used to work hard and consume hard, now we just consume. And the postmodern “consumer” is the absolute lowest life form that has ever defiled God’s green earth — well, almost the lowest; the sub-humans parading themselves under the rainbow flag, twerking in front of toddlers, and proselytizing children into their tranny cult during Pride Month, those demons are the most debased and degenerate things ever to pollute the earth. I suppose that abomination is where the culture of consumerism, where “the customer is always right” (we no longer believe in an infallible God, but we do believe in the infallible customer) — i.e., where “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” at least as long as you have the money (or the credit) to pay for it — I suppose that this is where it was always doomed to end up: perverts and pederasts parading down Main Street. This is solipsistic self-indulgence at its absolute lowest and most venal. There is no further to fall. This is rock bottom. Our civilization may be too high on its own supply of clownworld craziness for it to register just how far we’ve fallen, but the party cannot go on forever, and eventually the hangover will hit, and it will be brutal when it does. And as recovery groups point out: sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you are willing to embark wholeheartedly on the path towards sobriety.
Anyway, I am optimistic about the future. Not in the near term, but in the long term, Truth and Virtue will ultimately overcome all the clownworld bullshittery. The old order has run its course. Certain eternal principles have been validated by the suddenly sharp decline of the degenerate regime. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, there are opportunities for real good that will be revealed as that which is hopelessly corrupt collapses in on itself.
As for America, I think our saving grace will be what’s left of State sovereignty under the federal system. The federal government is over. I mean, it will continue for a while, but it’s basically like a terminally-ill stage-four cancer patient who doesn’t even want to live anymore because he’s an old, bitter bastard that has alienated everyone and burned every bridge he ever crossed. The pathocratic, parasitic elites are content to feast upon the civic body while it dies. The military is run by Marxcissists. The FBI has been weaponized by communist apparatchiks against their political enemies. The only thing that keeps the US of Gay going is the Ponzi Scheme known as the “federal reserve note,” and the dollar is already on its way out as the world’s reserve currency. Once the federal government lacks the ability to paper over its corruption and incompetence by just printing more money, it’s all over. The future is at the State and local level. Perhaps a group of Red States can band together and maintain some semblance of civilization, the way the Byzantines preserved some of the glory and grandeur of Rome. But the America of our grandparents is gone, and it ain’t coming back.
On a personal level, though, we have an opportunity to wrestle with Life and develop those virtues and values that are in such short supply in the postmodern West. As the broken systems sputter out, we can create new ones, based on Truth instead of bullshit. As the power grid fails and as our screens go dark, we can rediscover those ancient pleasures and pastimes that brought so much joy and meaning to our ancestors: we can reconnect with real reality and work on improving that, instead of feasting our attention on a fake and gay virtual reality. The best things in Life are still free, though they are not as convenient as the easy palliatives all around us; but when our money is no longer worth anything, and when we are no longer able to afford all those cheap substitutes for the things that really matter, then maybe we can relearn the value of those things that money cannot buy. The cultural changes coming our way will force us to confront things about ourselves and the world around us, things that we have been able to ignore because we had it so good for so long, in a civilization that we inherited but failed to maintain.
In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton observed that there are two ways to find your home. One way is to never leave it. The other is to travel all the way around the world until you at long last come back, full-circle, to where you started, this time seeing it as if for the first time, with a new perspective, enabling you to appreciate what was there all along. Chesterton had made that journey in his search for meaning, eventually coming back to the Christian faith. I suppose I have made a similar journey of my own. And it looks like that’s the grand discovery that awaits the West at large. We mortgaged our souls because we wanted what the exciting postmodern world seemed to offer; but we soon learned that this world overpromises and underdelivers. The disappointment and dejection we face is actually an invitation to come home again, to seek the One who can lead us back and make us whole. And that choice is going to get ever more stark in the coming years. But if things never got this bad, and if the choice between good and evil was not so stark, many of us would never have made this choice in the first place.
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