What’s to be Done: On Holy Indifference Pt.1
The world today is quite a vexing place for someone who doesn’t think that religion, as well as philosophy and metaphysics are just groundless speculations – like everything else which is not “empirically verifiable”.
This state of mind visits especially those who have once fallen to the nihilism of the age and who now seek recovery within the bosom of religion and in the world-view, which existed prior to the advent of modernity. This vexation occurs the moment one notices the discrepancy between the sophisticated concepts with which he preoccupies himself and the chaotic state of his everyday life, that only seems to strengthen the naive empiricist view.
Despite our best intentions and efforts, we are met time and again by frustration, like a besieging army seeking time and again to climb and take control of the walls only to be repelled effortlessly, at every single attempt.
In time, we realize that words do not match deeds and that we are still tributary to the spirit of the age, which we have the pretense of having left behind.
Even those who have never fallen into the above mentioned nihilism and who still retain a certain innocence which grants them an easier access into the sanctuary, still hold, unconsciously, many incompatible views.
But this is addressed to the first kind of person mainly, although everyone can perhaps find food for thought in it. We will take a look at some of the more common – and so more deeply rooted- false premises by which we conduct our lives and existence and try to re-orient ourselves towards the Truth. The point of view from which I write and from which I combat these false premises is of necessity Christian and Orthodox, because I cannot have any other.
Some of the points made concern mainly East Europeans, while others are more general, to which any contemporary can relate to. The reader should be aware, however, that he might not relate to everything exposed here and this is perfectly normal, since each point of view is personal (this being entirely different from what is meant by “subjective”) and dependent on the experience each faces in his immediate environment and life.
The reader must also understand that this will not be some ex cathedra pronouncement, done from the height of some ivory tower. The main source from which I gathered inspiration as to the errors concerned is actually the observation of self, to the extent to which this article can be rightly called a transcript of what in German is called selbstgespräch, taking as the starting point an expression used by St. Makarios the Great (one of the most famous Desert Fathers of the 4-5th century) that speaking about what one has not experienced or perceived directly, is like when someone is thirsty and drinks water in a dream.
Statement: Through careful study of a plethora of domains I have come to the Truth. I see through all the lies of modernity and, unlike the majority of people around me, I am no longer affected by them.
Implicit premises: The person can abstract itself from its environment simply by thinking about things differently, by a mental adherence to different principles. Also, person and environment are exterior to each-other, they don’t intertwine.
The term metanoia – which, when translated literally, means a turn of mind – can all too easily be misrepresented in the form of the statement above. This is because mind, in the modern sense, is reduced to discursive reasoning and abstract thinking in general. Turn of heart would be a more adequate translation, but this is even more dangerous, since heart has, for a long time, come to be understood as the seat of emotion and sentiment. This is further muddled by the fact that “repentance”, which is the direct translation of metanoia usually used has come to be understood as merely a sentimental regret. This is true not only for English, but also for its equivalent in my own language. I am inclined to think that these two languages are not the only examples of this distortion in the modern period.
So the problem is the word mind. When you read this word in the Philokalia and the Patristic mystical and ascetic literature, as well as in some ancient philosophers – especially of the Platonic kind – the word means not the discursive mind but the mind within, at the center of one’s being. We can call it the organ through which the direct perception of spiritual truth and – ultimately- of God is effected.
But it is not necessary to dwell into these technical details.
What is important to understand is that by theology and metaphysics one should not first of all think about the particular disciplines that go by this name. The human person is metaphysical not because he can read a stack of books that deal with metaphysical subjects and then speak about what he has mentally assimilated in lecture or various social settings (sometimes as an elevated means of personal enjoyment, engaging in a sort of sublime vanity in the process), but is metaphysical in his very nature. Man is created in the image of God, so he is metaphysical because this origin of his is inscribed in every single level of his being. The human person expresses this Image not only in his spirit, but also in his psyche and in his body. As such, man cannot help but be metaphysical in everything he does, speaks and thinks- consciously or unconsciously and not only this, but simply by his very simple existence.
If you exist and are human, you are metaphysical. If you prefer, we can call it: the theomorphism of man.
Now, if this fact of existence is inescapable, it is however susceptible to distortion. All Church Fathers insist, that through sin, the Divine Image in man is not erased, but it becomes blurred, covered by a layer of dirt, in the long run becoming unrecognizable. As a consequence of this, your existence and life can become an expression of a distorted worldview. And if you assimilate a lie at the center of your being, all other levels of being will become distorted by this lie; all your gestures will proceed to be an expression of this central distortion.
It is for this reason that the simple intellectual acceptance of Truth is not enough to heal you as a person. Even an initial dose of Grace, no matter how palpable, is not enough and you still have a long and treacherous road ahead. St. Makarios the Great insists, in his homilies, on the fact that the actualizing of the Grace received in Baptism does not happen at once, but takes time and one has to go through a whole series of upward and downward curves. And no one is outside of danger while still in this life. The light of grace can illuminate two rooms inside the dark palace of the soul (an image used by him), while the rest remains in darkness- so it would be a fatal mistake to think that a just because a small part is illuminated the darkness has been dispelled.
In other words: you have studied and read a whole bunch of books, you have studied the Scriptures, you even practice the Faith in the traditional manner and even had some inner experiences.
But the majority of your existence still remains in darkness.
Your way of thinking and mentality, immediately after leaving the strictly spiritual sphere, still betrays the way of thinking of this age. Your gestures, your behavior, even the way you talk and present yourself to the world is completely an expression of the environment you were born and live in and, hence, the old man in you seems to be the essence, while the new man … a simple accident, or even an accessory to make you look more glamorous.
So now we reach the subject of relation of person to its environment. The modern period, from its very inception, presents us with a very curious world-view, unprecedented in its intensity, though somewhat prefigured in essence in the thoughts of some ancient sophists: this is the view of the atomized individual who is not only bereft of any communion with his fellow men, but also radically separated from the environment in which he lives.
Despite all refutation of these ridiculous ideas, for all of us who are born in this period, this is like a second nature. We believe, no matter how much we force ourselves to think the contrary, that we are separated from the environment, from the world and that we can keep it from influencing us through a simple act of will. So I could, according to this view, stop being affected by the Zeitgeist simply by thinking differently.
This is far from true.
In reality, the environment we live in is part of us and we are part of it. The link is not simply accidental, but ontological: we are born of parents who genetically transmitted to us, not only their own lives but also the lives of their parents and so on up the line. There is an ontological link between generations and though each of us is new and unique, at the same time each of us is a synthesis and an effect of those before. This should be understood both in the corporeal, as well in the psychic sense. To this we must add the influence of the world at the moment we are born in it. It is difficult to express this in words – let’s just say that different psychic currents flow at different stages and points of history and they all affect our inner constitution and predispositions.
To this we must add the spiritual aspect. Since we believe that everything is governed by God’s Providence we must accept that the exterior circumstances into which we are born are the ones mirroring our inner attributes and hence are the best within which we can come to know God and achieve salvation. But for this, the jewels must be recovered from the swamp and polished so they can shine as they were meant to.
In this sense, we can come to understand the meaning of Old Testament verses, where it is said that the sins of one generation are visited upon up to the third and fourth generations of descendants, while that which is blessed goes down to the thousandth generation (which actually means – indefinitely).
This leads to one conclusion: the environment in which we live is inseparable from who we are. It is vain to claim that by simply arriving at logical conclusions through the study of books and thinking about things differently, we achieve a state where we are no longer affected by the plagues of our time – affected not from outside, but from inside – that is we carry the disease within ourselves. The set of ideas we have about the world may be fine, but our soul is still captive in Babylon. It takes a long, hard and persistent cultivating of the soul and the final victory can only happen through the intervention of Grace. And victory, in the Christian sense, does not mean destruction, but transformation. In a sense, space and time will go with us in eternity, but not with its dirt, only with its jewels which are now hidden underneath. Nothing, no period of history is without good. Only non-being is without any good and it does not exist anywhere.
As further reading on the subject of cultivating the soul and of the influence of the environment, I recommend this excerpt from the life of Fr. Seraphim Rose. Also, the above mentioned Homilies of St Makarios the Great are an excellent source for the understanding of the soul’s inner workings.
Statement: What I do for a living for about 8 hours a day is accidental and has no bearing on the rest of my life. My real life is before/after hours.
Implicit premises: One’s life can be compartmentalized into neat little parts that have no relation to one another.
The first thing to argue about the above is that even conceiving of your life as split in two – between work and outside-work – is a sign of defeat in the face of the profane, secular environment.
Though expressed by many, I will use Rene Guenon’s way of stating it, as it is very well formulated to the present purpose and very strong at the same time: there is no such thing as a profane domain, only a profane point of view.
It is another way of saying that nothing is outside of Divine Providence.
Of course, the nature of most jobs that can be found nowadays is an incarnation of the secular, profane mentality and it is nearly impossible to view them otherwise then as distasteful jobs to which you have to drag yourself everyday in order to make a living. Other than that, working at a desk, in front of a computer is not at all conductive towards virtue- as manual labor and the artisanship of the past are. Also, being completely mechanical and artificial in nature, it either calls for a very limited and fragmented part of the intellect and a superficial creativity (as in most IT or marketing jobs) or atrophies them altogether.
But by holding on to an ontological duality of sacred vs profane you are not affirming the sacred, but ascribing to the profane an ontological significance, which it has not.
The important aspect here is that you begin to look at your life as something which is divisible into different parts, independent of one another. It is here that what I have called in a different article as “the technocratic disease” begins to manifest.
From a simple and common-sense point of view it is simply irrational to believe that something you do for over 40 hours a week can leave no traces on your psyche, in your everyday behavior and relation to the world and, finally, on your spiritual life as well. It would be an error of the same nature as that outlined in the first point, only this time a little more localized: not the environment as a whole, but just a part of it can be considered as of no consequence to one’s self. It would be naive to underestimate these things just because what goes by the name of “corporate culture” is something so stupid that anyone with a minimal interest for higher things will reject it by simple impulse.
But I would say that precisely this very impulse, this knee-jerk reaction is the catalyst to a whole range of problems.
While it may seem logical to adopt a completely indifferent and cynical attitude towards your daily tasks and the working/corporate environment around you, you really have to ask yourself: where will the cultivation of cynicism and indifference, sprinkled with not insignificant amounts of bitterness-for 8 hours/day, at least 5 days a week- lead you?
Do you think you can keep this separation going- between your daily job and the rest of your life? Chances are that you will soon see yourself adopting the same attitudes towards the things that matter in your life, as well.
After a short while you can look into the mirror and see an embittered and cynical person, with a habitual apathy towards everything around him. You will be almost the typical apathetic and disenchanted nihilist of today. And the more you will deny the influence of your immediate environment, the more you will sink into this state.
Besides this, even with utmost repulsion you still have to perform your work, nonetheless. But performing it will open yourself to all sorts of alienating premises which will be the topics of further points to be analyzed below.
And now for the hard question: what is there to do? A Westerner, especially from the Anglo-Saxon part of the world, will immediately reply that if you just wish differently and work hard, you will achieve whatever you want to do in life. This is understandable, as in their parts of the world such possibilities are still open – though I see many arguing that it is not so to the extent that some imagine. But anyway, an Easterner will just laugh at such a suggestion. Because, those of us who live here, know far well that, but for some few privileged exceptions, the possibility of having a meaningful career or of achieving anything significant other than a repetitive job is close to none. Even if you have all resources in hand and the possibility of implementing them, you can get screwed from so many different directions that this fact alone intimidates anyone from even trying. So unless you want to head westwards and start a new life there – usually accompanied by a sense of estrangement and isolation – there is very little on the horizon for you.
So, what are you to do?
In my opinion, do what you can.
If there is nothing outside of Providence, you will be able to find the good in this situation as well, if you look without passion. At the very least, you can use it as an opportunity to learn some more about what’s hidden inside you. You might hate everything related to technocracy and its post-modern incarnations, but aren’t you, perhaps, showing symptoms of it, maybe in a more subtle, but no less real, manner? Perhaps you daily get what you deserve and for this reason you are called to purify some aspects of yourself – meanwhile confined to some quarantine where you cannot do damage to yourself and others, as would happen should you have been given greater responsibility in hand.
So, if you truly place the Kingdom of Heaven at the center of your concerns, you will have no trouble extracting benefits from all sorts of situations. At the very least, you will detach yourself from the dream of earthly success and bring fruit on higher planes. The constant struggle to do better in the world, especially when not pressed by objective needs for simple everyday survival, can only become a distraction from the true purpose in life.
Besides that, you should strive by any means at your disposal to educate yourself in the classical manner and to cultivate your soul in the way described in the text of Fr. Seraphim above.
I know that this may sound as an invitation to give in to inertia and quite simply do nothing, but I tend to favor the view that you first need to make peace with your current circumstances and understand the reason for why things are so before you can look around and try to move on; it is to be remembered that we would have no power unless given from Above. So maybe bidding your time with patience is the best you can do.
Statement: I do not identify with my people and land. I identify more with the values of [insert the name of some nation at the other side of the continent or even globe]
Implicit premises: You can actually change your identity at will and throw away your inheritance at a simple whim.
I should probably send the reader back to point one, but for the sake of the argument I will try to stress some particular aspects more than I already have.
I have said above that you are not some tabula rasa, an atom completely detached from the world you live in. From the very day that you are born you have within you a whole world-view, you have a particular point of view from which you will interpret and understand the world and yourself. You do not interact with anything for the first time. Not even in the spiritual life do you start from a blank state, from a white sheet of paper that you fill with characters according to the whims of your will.
You are both a unique person and an expression of human nature, of an essence which is common to every human being. But within this general nature or essence, there are particular essences corresponding to the different branches and divisions of humanity, which although preexist only virtually as particular determinations of the one nature, nonetheless become actualized in the course of history, making them not arbitrary social constructs or external to one’s self, but part of the self, without which a person would not be him/herself. There is no such thing as an abstract, self-subsisting nature as there is no single person which exists “in general”. So the claim that one is “a citizen of the globe” is only a symptom of bad anthropology.
St Maximos the Confessor speaks at length about particular and general logoi – I invite the reader to seek out his Ambigua, section 7. Also his interpretation to the Lord’s prayer.
Back to the point: from the day you are born and until the day that you die (for the present argument we leave aside the question of eternity) you cannot be anything other than what you are. You cannot “identify” as anything else. You can impair the manifestation of your nature by pretending that you are what you are not (mutilating your genitals, pumping hormones and demand to be addressed by some newspeak genderless noun or by changing your nationality and adopting a parvenu type of posh accent), you can act out a role and attempt to disguise yourself as something else, but even as you will act out your little fantasy it will be done in such a way as to give away your true self.
You can despise your own ancestry, you can loathe your compatriots and feel shame towards your origins, but however hard you try, you cannot uproot your true self.
In reality, the thing you loathe is only yourself.
This is a wide spread phenomena in many countries of Eastern Europe, especially among the younger generations. Alienated from their roots, incapable of understanding their own religious and ethnic heritage and history, they use the West as a Procrustean bed by which they would like to revolutionize their countries. They do not understand that some things, even though good and functional in the West, can never be adopted here, because they are alien to our way of life and mentality. There is absolute good, which is good everywhere and at all times, but there are also relative goods, which are dependent upon space and time.
On this point, the practical advice is this: the harder you deny your own identity and adopt masks to negate it, the more subtly and decisively it will crawl from underneath the disguise. The problem is that when you don’t accept who you are and don’t consciously work at actualizing your God-given potentialities, it is only the negative, inferior aspects that will manifest, because the good demands conscious effort. When you are adopting disguises, you are not working with your true, inner nature, but are confined to the periphery, engaging only the most superficial aspects of your soul. As such, the passions within yourself will have free reign to drain your good energies – in an act of a sort of vampirism- and tie them to the yoke of darkness. To give a simple concrete example, from the harmless end of the spectrum: a Romanian of today would like to adopt the efficiency, competence and good managerial abilities of Western countries, but he would still like to keep his passion for Oriental type of feasting. The two cannot, obviously, work together, so what you have in the end is inconsistent action paired with a nasty hangover.
The conclusion is simple: each people on the face of this Earth has a particular history and displays different sets of virtues and vices and just like in the individual person, these two are present side by side in the nation as well. Sin and virtue are not only personal, but also ethnic categories. It is only through knowing yourself – not as an abstract atomized entity – but as someone born in a particular place and time and within a particular ethnos that you can come to understand and discern the good and the bad in yourself and the people you are part of. It is only by accepting who you are and what you are made of that you can appreciate the good you see in the other and try to assimilate this good in an organic manner and in a mode which is still in accordance with your nature and not in an artificial, Procrustean way.
This particular analysis is written from the Eastern perspective and mainly addressed to Easterners, but the same can be applied to those in the West that today idealize us, fail to see the good in their nations and become susceptible to being co-opted by dubious counterfeits.
Statement: The adoption of the technocratic/managerial/corporate mentality is good because it creates prosperity and abundance which can enable one to develop in other spheres of life, as well (even the spiritual). We can use our spare time for higher pursuits. Without a full stomach you cannot even hope to ascend to heights of any sort.
Implicit premises: That which is higher depends on that which is lower. You cannot possibly say that things are bad when you have a full stomach and all the comfort at your disposal. It is perfectly feasible to pursue two opposite directions at the same time. To hell with gravity, we make our own laws.
This point almost exclusively concerns the East, which after about 50 years of communist and some 10-15 years of post-communist regime gets to enjoy some of the pleasures of material wealth.
The statement regarding the “full stomach” is something you hear a lot these days around here and from a great variety of people of otherwise different backgrounds, usually accompanied by the explanation that without a full stomach you cannot even dream to rise to any heights, of any sort. It is, apparently, a complete contempt for the law of gravity, as, in this view, the greater the weight you acquire, the higher you raise yourself.
Also, it displays a peculiar misunderstanding of some basic physiological facts – namely that a full stomach is always a catalyst for sloth and a vegetative state. If all the blood and energy goes into your digestive system, there is not much left for other parts of your body – especially for your brain. But according to this view, the full stomach is a condition sine qua non to achieving success in other domains.
This ideal of comfort and prosperity is an enemy not to be underestimated; it acts as a kind of tacit blackmail upon the subject: you have everything you want, the fulfillment of every single desire you can possibly have is at arm’s length, how can you possibly believe and say otherwise than that you are blessed?, so says the seductive voice in your ear.
When you object that the very essence of existence – i.e. its meaning – is entirely missing, the seducer will go on: but you can have whatever meaning you wish for – there is no one to prevent you. Just respect the other’s right to give his own meaning and you are fine. There is no limit to what you can achieve.
Like every successful sales man, this devil seducer of ours “forgets” to mention a few things. Namely, it is this general relativism, where everyone is free to do, think and give whatever meaning they desire to life and existence, which dries up both the society as whole and every soul living in it. It creates a sort of plastic environment, completely contained within a bubble where it becomes near to impossible to penetrate through to any deeper level of life. When all one’s energies attend to material gain, all which is related to it will seem as the only palpable things in life, while everything transcendent will acquire, in one’s perception, a more and more abstract and doubtful character.
In this regard, the Fathers are once again unequivocal: “The way of God is the daily cross – no one ascended to heaven through comfort” (St. Isaac the Syrian, as cited by Peter Damascene). “No one will reach this [likeness to God] if he doesn’t convince his own soul not to let itself be seduced by the spell of an easy life” (Diadochus of Photike- both quotes are my own translations from the Philokalia).
What can we say in the midst of this giant mall, which is the post-modern world? Even our best efforts have something artificial about them, even if we abandon idle talk and turn to real ascetic action, there is still something inconsistent about it all. It has the taste of some food that you’ve kept in the fridge for quite some time and are not really sure if it is still safe to eat it or not.
In this type of world, there is no tension, there are no dilemmas. Everything is up for sale at a more or less accessible price, you can have everything at your feet with the most minimal amount of effort. Everything is easy. Not only that, but the spirit of democracy (not to be understood as solely the political system, but the worldview governing it) has destroyed any possibility of an ordered existence; and this democratic spirit goes hand in hand with the drive towards material abundance.
An ordered life cannot exist in anarchy. Cosmos presupposes hierarchy, which is an essential component in the process of reaching maturity – both natural and spiritual. Egalitarism is a mark of chaos, not order. As such, the practice of obedience is at the center of a truly authentic existence, which is something completely other than a perpetual state of adolescence. Obedience places a limit to your arbitrary will, it presents an obstacle which prevents the hyper-inflamation of your egotistic narcissism. It forces you to recognize boundaries, to admit your rightful place and to know that your desires and ambitions are not absolute, not even important.
But where to practice obedience today, even if you would like to? The democratic spirit of our day presupposes that we are all equal. Wherever we go and whatever we engage in, we only meet our equals; hierarchies – where they still exist- are reduced to a technocratic, managerial function and in such a state there can be no room for the concept of obedience, only for such concepts as “input, output, feedback etc.”.
The diabolical drive to destroy all ordered existence extends even to the instinctual hierarchy inside the family where more and more extensive efforts are made to reduce the child-parent relationship to that of the egalitarian-managerial type as well. In school the kids are supposed to call their teachers by name as if they were their peers and with this, all possibility of authority is dissolved from the start. When you are taught that everyone is your equal and no one can have any authority over you, belief in God becomes close to impossible – at least belief in the True, Living God. There is still room for the god of every man’s imagination – a type of manager whose main function would be to see to the desires of his quasi-equal partner.
So, there should be little wonder if our most sincere efforts are met with a deep frustration. We are simply, unconsciously, approaching everything, including the spiritual life, from the angle of the plastic, democratic environment of today.
Further difficulties brought by the lifestyle of abundance with its relativism is general atomization which has made near to impossible any sense of personal belonging within an organic community. Within the general world-view of complete relativism there are only isolated individuals, each with his own individual purposes and objectives – all of them being irredeemably egoistic. In this general state of isolation and feeling of loneliness there can never be any community, only associations and collectives – the contractualist entities from the illuminist project, today recycled in the confused movement of libertarianism, on the one hand, or artificially created identities, on the other hand.
The first are centered around an unenthusiastic cooperation whose sole motivation are the individual purposes of each of its members (the so-called “win-win” situations of corporate jargon), while the second are mere imitations of true, organic community, centered around hobbies or different passions, in which one can sense a kind of desperation to be recognized as a group and to display the adherence to this identity through outward signs and behaviors.
While these things are well recognized, what is more serious is that these kinds of mentalities have infiltrated the understanding of life in the Church, as well; this is now viewed through the same lenses of either self-interest or as belonging to an identity or a “lifestyle” among a plethora of others. No longer is there any question of St. Paul’s teaching of the One Body with Christ as the head, where its members are ontologically united to one another and support each other. Instead, salvation is now regarded as mainly an individual concern, with a sense of “every man for himself”. So all the above stated difficulties are further increased by this sense of lack of support and being left to one’s own devices, which really makes one wonder if there is any point in continuing the struggle.
Of course, this does not affect the objective nature of the Church, which is not influenced by human misunderstanding, but of how each of us participates in it.
To sweeten things a bit, I could refer to St. Peter Damascene from the Philokalia, where I see that those who constantly fail at virtue and are incapable of a sudden and deep repentance can strive, as a final possibility of escape, towards humility and patience – and that is no little thing. Also, St. Paul clearly states several time that one’s own weakness can be the source of one’s greatest spiritual strength, as Christ meets one in his weakness. This however, might involve losing one’s self – and the self is one thing that modern man would do anything in the world to prevent being lost.
But let us return a bit to the topic of material abundance and the lifestyle it presupposes.
In the post-modern relativism it is very easy to believe that you can pursuit all sorts of opposite directions. You don’t really have to renounce anything, there should be no sacrifice involved. You can pursuit material abundance during the day and have some spirituality in the evening, if you care to. Of course, such things are impossible. Many possibilities in life are mutually exclusive- they cannot co-exist and are inversely proportional to each other. To the extent that the one grows, the other will diminish.
You cannot have serious spiritual and intellectual pursuits and at the same time strive to climb the “corporate ladder” and look like Brad Pitt in Fightclub. These are contradictory directions, which cannot co-exist.
A question remains for the Eastern European: are technocracy, corporatism, managerialism and everything around them so intricately tied to the nihilistic, post-modernist world-view? Can we not adopt some of the unquestionable material advantages, without letting in through the back door such things as: homosexual “marriages”, abortion, transgendarist non-sense and, all in all, the destruction of everything organic, sacred and traditional?
The answer is no, we cannot avoid the second if we embrace the first.
I have already said that the material advantages in question are predicated upon the self-absorbed, individualist lifestyle outlined above, where there can be no limit to individual desire. The type of man raised by such a mentality is one who simply does not care about anything outside the sphere of personal gratification. A problem simply does not exist, if it is not within the range of said personal interest. Not only this, but the simple affirmation of an objective truth, outside of one’s subjectivity, can only be greeted with hostility as a perpetual threat to what is perceived as “individual freedom”.
We can ask ourselves a simple question: can a technocratic/corporate world subsist in an environment where healthy families – being headed by strong men – natural hierarchies, religious and ethnic identities, men and women performing their natural roles and a traditional lifestyle are the norm? Of course not. A plastic, corporate ideology needs a plastic environment where it can manifest: and this is the post-modern world: the world of narcissistic, effeminate men and women from whom a meaningless career is more important than raising children, a society without gender, ethnicity, race, religion, anything.
In closing this section, I would also point out that the material abundance brought by this corporate lifestyle is itself artificial. It is not real, only a bubble, which is bound to explode some day, leaving us literally in thin air. This is reflected more and more in the type of consumerism which prevails today: no longer striving to accumulate as many objects as possible (of all sorts, I mean, not only trivial stuff from the market) which, even though excessive and not justifiable they can be passed from one generation to the next and thus be put to use. Today’s consumerism involves the consumption of “experiences”- which means hunting after sensations which are of the most transitory and illusory sort.
I do not propose a solution here, for I do not know one. We are all part of this mess and contribute to it everyday- one way or another. Some may live in above than average material conditions and enjoy a great variety of the commodities of modern living and so feel the contradiction in themselves. This contradiction should by no means be shunned but acknowledged. I am not advocating radical solutions taken without discernment, nor abandoning everything and going to the desert (though the lives of saints are full of such examples). The least we can do is become conscious of the fact that a comfortable lifestyle not only does not easily lead one anywhere past a simple egotistic gratification, but it can be a serious obstacle in the path of everything worth living for. From then on each of us can attempt to find his own measure, the one which is most suitable to his particular condition. The resolution can only be personal- as the outcome of the personal war each of us has to fight with himself. Surely, time spent in silence and prayer is of infinitely greater worth than any political or activist agitation or rash decisions motivated solely by ego.
“We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves […]Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place .And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.”
Isaiah, chapter 28
Statement: Technology is neither good nor bad in itself- it is how you use it that matters. If you know how to use it, only good will come of it.
Implicit premise: Technology emerges from a neutral background and only becomes good or bad in the hands of its users.
Each of us engage modern technology on a daily basis, to a lesser or greater extent. In the modern metropolis, it is a near impossibility to make a living without using at least something from it’s system. The article you are presently reading is on internet – the most post-modern of all inventions.
How’s that for irony?
Once again, the question here is not to hypocritically throw empty anathemas, nor to offer radical solutions, but to attempt to understand the problem we are dealing with, leaving once again the resolution to be considered personally according to circumstance and personal struggle.
The first thing which bothers me when I hear this statement of “knowing how to use technology” is that almost always the one uttering it implies that he is surely among those who know.
Technology is not neutral, nor can it ever be such.
Every technological article is and has been invented by a particular group of people who had certain presuppositions about life, the world and man’s place in it and also about human nature. It is unavoidable that the effect will reflect the cause – the cause being, in this case, the mindset of the inventor(s).
Let’s take an example: a car is being driven by a computer and no longer requires a human person behind the wheel.
The simple fact of its existence presupposes that those who have come up with idea consider it desirable for one reason or another. There can be a multitude of reasons, among which we could count:
-if we can do it, we should do it
-while in the car and no longer need to focus on driving, you could take your laptop and do some extra work
-humans are unpredictable, everything should be handled by machines so we can have near to 100% predictability and achieve an environment without risk
The list can go on, but as you can see each of these points speaks volumes on the mentality, the outlook on life and existence of those who hold them.
Or maybe the multitude of applications that allow one to find out any information or to have everything at one’s fingertips in a few seconds or minutes. For example, ordering of the food at the doorstep and even paying for it online, so you are spared the horror of being forced to at least have a minimum conversation with someone behind a counter; or why make the effort to orient yourself on a map or through the help of the environment – or simply ask someone on the street for help (again, the horror of needing to have a conversation) – when you can just mechanically follow an impersonal, robotic voice on your GPS?
There can also be no question that the internet is the purest incarnation of the democratic mentality – as such it is an unending source of the rapid spread of all sorts of mental disequilibriums to all corners of the world.
Modern technology is not developing in the vacuum. It is mainly predicated upon materialist and atomistic thinking and hence the need to create an illusion of absolute self-sufficiency, which, in reality, transforms in absolute dependency and impotence, when people are no longer able to do anything by themselves and should their smartphones be taken away from them, even what was until yesterday a simple task of everyday life will have the potential to generate a personal crisis.
While the content of this paragraph may seem banal by now, we should all be aware that all technology comes with a package of presuppositions which are unconsciously adopted when used and so cannot but influence and shape us to a greater or lesser extent. None of us can be free from negative influences, nor should we underestimate them.
Statement: If deviations are spread through the Internet, good things can also be spread through it. Also, you have access to all the information in the world so there is no limit to the knowledge and education you can acquire.
Implicit premises: The medium through which something is communicated has no influence on its content. Information inevitably leads to knowledge and large quantities of information lead to a great amount of knowledge.
The presupposition that the container has no bearing on the content or that the medium through which something is communicated has no influence on the thing being transmitted is a particular emanation of the abstract manner in which we see the relation between person and environment (see section 1.)
In reality, content and container are closely tied together as form and matter.
Everything needs its proper context in order to communicate its proper nature. The container needs to be adequate to its content, to have the necessary consistency and transparency best suited to the essence of the thing it contains. Failure to understand this leads to all sorts of bizarre manifestations in the post-modern world.
Thus, to give examples from the contemporary “religion market”, you have the all too well known neo-protestant denominations where there is no discernible difference between a heavy metal concert and a religious gathering. After all, it just takes a change of label and you’re fine – you get to have both death metal and life eternal in one stroke.
Another example is the modern phenomenon of museums. You gather objects from all over the world, rip them out of their proper context and put them on a hospital-like square white room inside an impersonal, ugly Bauhaus style building of some metropolis. And this is called the “preservation of culture”. Probably – but only if the process of embalming can be called the preservation of life.
The same goes for all internet mediated information. The sterile environment that it creates cannot be suitable for a truly transformative assimilation of knowledge. By ‘transformative’ we mean, mainly, personal in the sense that knowledge becomes existential, becomes one with the person acquiring it. The sphere of internet, by its very nature, can only touch the outer edges of the personality. On-line you can believe that you have the whole world in a little box within your room. But the reality is you only have shadows which appear to give you the impression that you can easily master any subject. But these shadows and phantasms have very real effects on one’s psyche if we just take a simple glance at such a phenomenon as on-line researchers who, through a couple of clicks, have deciphered the mysteries and hidden intricacies of the most controversial events of international politics and have even deciphered whole narratives of universal history from the most ancient times. Through on-line research they know what nobody else knew and nobody else knows, at any point in time. All the while, the real man, the inner being, remains starving for reality.
There is one more thing: it has been remarked that studying with these artificial means – being computer, kindle, smartphone etc. never yields the same results as “old-fashion” study with the book, pencil and paper beside you, although from the quantitative point of view it seems to be the same thing: what is the difference if I’m reading an on-line .pdf or a real book? The content is the same. What I wrote above should put us on guard regarding this “content is the same” expression. The reason for this state of things is not clear, but in my opinion the material from which the support itself is made of actually matters. A book is a real, existing object in the external world. An electronic “book” is simply an artificial image, a mirage mediated by all sorts of technical components. The real, external object has a greater and more unmediated participation to Being than the image on the screen and is thus a more suitable support for the transmission of knowledge. It may also have to do with the way these electronic devices interact with our neurological system. The two possible explanations are to be seen as complementing each other.
If something from the internet can be used positively- as regards the acquisition of knowledge, in my opinion, it needs to be taken out of the on-line environment and into real life.
As to there being positive aspects, this is no doubt the case. But a shadow always lingers, even in that regard. I freely admit that I am more radically skeptical of technology than many others, but if you don’t necessarily have to be anti-technology, at least a high degree of reservation towards it seems more than advisable.
I will just use an image: suppose you have all sorts of materials: bricks, mortar, wood etc. You also have manuals on architecture and how to build a house. Now try building the house – you have all the information at hand, right?
Read the part two.
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