Last week I was talking about why people are not living naturally in the present.
I noted a lack of good ideology (capitalism is a joke because it’s obviously self-destructive), and I could have mentioned lack of good religion too (Christianity being useless in this regard because it obviously isn’t true).
For a religion we should have one that is not based on worship of a false idol of a ‘sky-father’, cut off from the world he is supposed to have created. Instead we should embrace a religion that talks about life on earth and the energy that courses through natural systems as the energy that courses through us, our being and our instincts. We should also think of a religion that has regard to the ancestors and the descendants, and then we would not think so lightly of our treatment of the environment, or think that in talking of ‘discount rates’ and the consequent lack of any urgency in altering our actions, we were not excusing the worst of crimes.
In last week’s blog, I also noted people not sleeping enough, eating badly and having the wrong sort of exercise (if any) leading to a society where people live longer, however longer with poorer life quality, and where people are half-sick all the time.
This week I’m going to talk about other factors which ensure that people do not, in generally, have natural vitality.
I have already inveighed excessively against the lack of good literature in society. People are not used to creative use of language and hear only clichés and half-truths and so tend to think with these, and then wonder why their lives don’t make sense.
Similarly I have already written about the lack of good music in society. In that blog post I was mainly talking about classical music, but I expect the same holds true for popular music: that despite a small stream of high quality music, the great majority of music produced is low-quality and highly stereotyped in form and content. The lack of vital music to listen to, is another reason for the dullness and stolidity of society.
In the same category belongs our lack of contact with the natural world and our lack of becoming hand-made things (just as the Arts and Crafts movement said). People everywhere should have access to the natural world in the sense that they should be able to walk from where they live and from where they work to ‘semi-natural habitat’ (as the ecologists say). If people could do this it would be a refreshment to their spirits and a tonic, and a source of wisdom to be able to observe life in the fields and paddocks and in woodland and forest.
And with hand-made artefacts the story is the same, it is the refreshment of spirit that comes from something well-made that fulfils its function well, not something that doesn’t work, looks ugly and is constantly in need of replacing, as with so many things.
All these points together cause me to diagnose society as being composed of people who are living longer, but living sub-optimally.
This brings us to the most difficult argument in these two posts. This is the argument that every failing of our society is redeemed by the increasingly peaceful nature of global society. This argument, based on the observation that violence has on average decreased across the world in the C20 and C21, despite the First and Second World Wars, has recently been summarised by Stephen Pinker in a book, The Better Angels of our Nature. This argument is a familiar one from those who like to trumpet western exceptionalism (and is similar to the one that celebrates longer western life-spans), but it only really applies to developed countries, and some non-developed countries, eg Congo, are more violent places than they have ever been. In this regard the peacefulness and lack of violence in the west can be seen in the same terms as the peacefulness and lack of violence in a US gated estate compared to outside.
Moreover, Pinker himself acknowledges that there is no guarantee than this state of affairs will continue (it won’t, as anyone reading these blogs will have released (and I hope realised before reading these blogs)).
I would argue, by contrast, that our allegedly peaceful society is none such, because its peacefulness conceals a lack of repose and an inner war. This is caused by the constant stress with no let up that people are subjected to in modernity. Our society is such a large-scale one, that people feel isolated and intimidated by seeing and interacting with so many people. In traditional societies people lived in smaller communities and interacted with a smaller circle of people. Violence then was more likely, but when it came, more predictable.
People in our society also have to perform work they don’t want to do and which they know to be futile and useless, this is obvious a state of peaceful violence. In the past people were often required to perform forced labour, but they didn’t have to pretend they liked it or that it was ‘a career’. In other societies people had their own work and looked out for their own. They could protect themselves against threats of violence. For example in C18 London gentlemen carried swords and other men (and women) carried cudgels and knew how to use them. If they went out after dark they expect that they might have to defend themselves. Nowadays no-one expects to have to defend themselves and few people can against people who are less inhibited than themselves: drugged-up adolescents, professional criminals and the violently insane.
[Incidentally, this is probably why much populist media product is fear-based in its approach. People in modernity live in a constant state of tension, but without any obvious violence or dramatic events to correspond to their inner feelings. And so the yellow press has discovered that by covering every story from the point of view of ‘be afraid of...’, ‘the threat to your family...’ they can chime with readers’ emotions and get more attention for themselves (though not nowadays make more money).]
It would be my argument that people are happy when they are able to concentrate on their own work and live in small communities, sometimes having to defend themselves against others, than people who have to live as we do, endlessly stressed and never relaxed. [The stresses caused by advertising and the siren-songs of consumerism should not be underestimated in this regard either.]
The former of these states is real life, not a mock-life as we have.
Next Week: the Future