Discussion: (1 comment)
Comments are closed.
| American Enterprise Institute
View related content: Society and Culture
The world has changed since the philosopher Owen Barfield wrote those words some 40 years ago. But the paradox, as he calls it, has got no nearer to being resolved, while the evidence has continued to accumulate that his hunch was right. Learning to manipulate the world does indeed appear somehow connected with its loss of meaning. Why? And does it even matter?
Despite the brittle optimism constantly proclaimed by advertising and not infrequently by government spokesmen, the defining mood of the modern era is one of disappointment. That is not just my opinion: It is as near a fact as such things can be. People are measurably less happy today than they were 50 years ago, when we first started measuring, despite staggering improvements in material well-being. There is much to feel proud of, of course, advances in conquering disease being just one example, and we live longer—prompting the question: For what? We know so much, we can make so much happen, and we certainly invest much in the attempt to control our destinies. And yet, if we are honest, we feel as though it all ought somehow to have added up to—more than this. If we permitted ourselves to think in such a way, we might say that we feel as though we were destined for something better, something greater—something more than “reality” TV, Facebook, and the annual pilgrimage to the sun. “Man is the dwarf of himself,” as Emerson already saw.
We have come to believe that really—when the chips are down, when we have stopped trying to cheer ourselves up by believing that there is still room to believe in virtue, love, courage, truly unselfish behavior, or even a realm of spiritual value—really we are nothing but blind mechanisms, the dupes of our equally blind genes, with no choice but to play out a sorry farce of cruelty and self-deceit. In other words, the world is without meaning. And if we read meaning into it—well, we are frail and somehow not properly grown up.
So far, so familiar. Nonetheless, I want to suggest to you that this vision is less compelling than it looks. Logically less compelling. I think there is in fact evidence that it may itself be a cruel deception, one that we have been far too gullible in swallowing. And I think in fact the explanation may have something to do with the evolution of our brains.
Brains cannot tell us what, how, or why we are what we are, but they may tell us about what it is we might be missing.
Comments are closed.
1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
© 2019 American Enterprise Institute