The Sheer Superficiality of Modernity
The world today stands in morning. Not for the countless thousands butchered by the mindless hordes of ISIS, or the hundreds of lost souls lying at the bottom of the Mediterranean, or even the horrendous revelations of Planned Parenthood in the States. No, all and sundry keen in grief for a lion, apparently by the name of Cecil, shot dead by a dentist in Zimbabwe (a nation that incidentally suffers from rampant poverty and hunger under the jackbooted rule of a senile old strongman named Robert Mugabe).
This can very much be taken as a snapshot of all that has gone wrong with the world. I am not shy about expressing my disdain for much of modern existence. The world has become, in many ways, crude, crass, vulgar, and shallow. One particular area where this is true is in the realm of the spirit. The soul of anything, be it an individual or a nation, is what you have when you take away the physical. Put aside the soul and all you have is the material; the day to day struggle to find food and shelter and place to lay one’s head in peace. Art, music, literature, philosophy: all are expressions of the spirit of both the individual and the nationality, outcroppings of something greater than the mortal husk of matter we all inhabit.
It is quite sad to say, but very much apparent, that in many ways we have come to live in a soulless age of emptiness, with morality and spirit slowly leached away by the atheistic, material relativism of the modern world. Now I do not ascribe to the view that one cannot be moral without being godly. There have been countless examples throughout history of atheists who have also been profoundly moral men. What I do espouse is that to be moral one must believe in something, even if that something is not a deity of the divine. The atheists of the past might have rejected the existence of a God, but they did have a code that governed their existence. They studied metaphysics and sought to grasp a rational explanation of the world around them. Their morals might have come from the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle or the ethics of Kant instead of the commandments of the Lord, but morals they remained.
In stark contrast today we exist in a void of nothing. In school we are taught neither the ethics of Greeks or of Jesus, instead relativism governs all. Self-esteem is promoted at the expense of self-worth. Fame for its own sake is worshipped over true achievement. The worst sin that can be committed is to possibly offend someone by telling them they are wrong, and in doing so we have completely abandoned the concept of right. The words of menial entertainers, superficial academics, and sound-bite journalists are held up as the gospel of this new Babylon, and I fear there will be no writing upon the wall this time to warn us off the path we have stepped on. God is dead, morality is in hiding, and virtue is nowhere to be found; look on the wonders you have created, oh philosophes of the Enlightenment and weep.
Just as we have slowly abandoned our inner sense of self, we can see how on the exterior we have seen the slow erosion of all sense of outer self. Look at how we present ourselves today. The old concept of always putting ones best foot forward has instead been replaced by slovenliness and the mantra of “don’t judge me”. Look to pictures of the old days, when the
great Depression was at its height, and you’ll see pictures of people lined up before soup kitchens, unemployed and in dire straight, dressed in suit and tie and properly pressed dresses. There was no need for such care in appearance, obviously, but still our forbearers did so out of a belief that when one presented oneself to the public one should do so in the finest possible manner. Today go to venues once considered the definition of high culture such as the symphony or the opera and we see are fellows decked out in t-shirts and sweatpants (the modern day equivalent of drawers and a nightcap).
Before I hear cries of “don’t be a snob” (which admittedly I am), it is not so much that the slovenly ask not to be judged, but that the slovenly ask to judge those who refrain. A few months ago, on my way home from work, I sat patiently waiting for one of the TTCs commonly delayed subway cars only to look up and see three ever so charming teenagers all giving me the finger from across the tracks. Having never met these admirable cretins before I can only assume they took some affront at my attire for the day. It was what I would typically wear on a casual Friday, a hound’s-tooth blazer and dark slacks, accompanied by a tie and pocket square with my usual dark fedora. Apparently the sight offend our dear youth, who were not content to merely exist in their own squalor but must single out and shame those who do not conform to their own low standards.
What does this say about our society? I stand very strongly for the notion that one should always dress well, both for the pleasure it brings oneself but also out of respect for others. A world of beauty, both internal and external, is far less depressing to live in than one of ugliness. Yet ugliness, it seems, is all there is. Once we were a people that created beauty, but now instead of palaces we have concrete skyscrapers, instead of the Mona Lisa we have modern art, in the place of Handel and Mahler we are given Taylor Swift and Kanye West, in the place of Shakespeare and C. S. Lewis we have Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey (and the fact that hardly anyone can name the authors of the latter works speaks volumes to the lasting significance they will have on society whatever commercial success they may enjoy).
Why is this important? It is because mythos, morals, legends and virtues are what makes us a people. They are what knit us together and give life an appearance of being something more than a daily quest to fill the belly and procreate. In their absence there is a void; one that modernity has sought to fill with pop culture and reality television and the materialistic pursuit of stuff, sad golems of what was once there before. We have been told that nothing is all there is, and our so called elites continue to chant this mantra from the top spires of their Cathedral, even as those below seek to drown out the maddening drone of the void with white noise. Without the spirit we are left with only the superficial, and we are the poorer for it.