Reflections On Meaning and Modernity

When the alternative to being what they hate is being what you hate, you must ask yourself which of those alternatives you would prefer to avoid.

All and Some.– If you want any of your life, you must accept all of it. Coming to terms with that fact and its deepest implications is perhaps the greatest challenge of the serious life, and its achievement the surest indication of the serious man.

Eurocentric politics, white supremacist institutions of science and belief, sexist economic systems: all pathetic and psychologically illiterate attempts, by fools of all races and nations (white and European above all), to explain away that which, if examined honestly, could provide genuine philosophic insight, i.e., knowledge of human nature. It is cold in the north for much of the year, harsh conditions for human life, demanding much effort, vigilance, and of course ingenuity. And men gathered in relatively close quarters, under difficult physical conditions, finding themselves radically culled by periodic plagues and wars, will have the greatest incentive to decipher the codes of material survival, along with the most urgent compulsion to form agreements aimed at the mutual protection of life and property, and the inviolability of physical self-preservation. Necessity, as Thomas Hobbes, a denizen of the cold Scottish climate of the 17th century, taught us, is the mother of invention. Ergo, something finally happened in Europe that had not happened before. It was the furthest thing from “systemic” or institutional; it was rather the most natural and necessary manifestation of a basic and universal passion when confronted with specific and historically unique practical conditions.

Pragmatism, by which I mean the broad philosophical attitude associated primarily with the anti-rationalist heirs of 19th century logician Charles Sanders Peirce, most importantly William James and John Dewey, only makes sense in a context in which man is understood as essentially a being of practical intentions, and the human good as essentially indistinguishable from practical efficacy. It is therefore a philosophy that could only have developed in the United States of America. This is not to say that pragmatism is quintissentially American as a theoretical position. On the contrary, one could argue that it is fundamentally anti-American in its ultimate effects. But it is the embodiment of a homegrown form of anti-Americanism, which sought to adapt the distinctly European forms of late modern social illiberality and materialist reductionism, i.e., utilitarianism and Marxism, for American application.

Pragmatism, the anti-philosophy developed by a few results-oriented Americans, begins and ends with the premise that what is true is what works. But this makes practical efficacy, and specifically efficacy defined by popular sentiment or transitory political enthusiasm, the standard of reality.

What if reducing the pain of life, or increasing its comfort, were necessarily also to reduce life’s pleasure and excitability? Would you choose the reduction of pain and the enhancement of comfort at that price?

The speed-obsessed believe they are outrunning death. In fact, they are running towards it. For speed indicates a lust for Point B; and what is Point B but a symbol of death (exhausted effort, a final rest from exertion) held before one’s mind?

Their speed indicates a wild craving to outrace the limits of time, and yet a life devoted to speed is precisely one that divides life into nothing but start lines and finish lines, which is to say that every moment of such a life has the end as its defining aim. They habitually pursue death like a heat-seeking missile, all in a frantic effort to avoid it.

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