Late this morning our previous post attracted a sudden flurry of distasteful comments. I don’t usually moderate comments — life is too short — so I’ve just removed all comments from that post and shut it down.
I’ve generally been very fortunate in this regard. I flirt with serious heresy here sometimes, and so far I haven’t attracted a plague of trolls. Unlike most people who blog about the things I do, I write under my own name, and although I’ve reached a point in my life where I am not as vulnerable to the most serious consequences of crimethink, I nevertheless have friends and acquaintances who read this blog from time to time, and I have a family (and yes, a personal reputation) to think of. It’s one thing to examine uncomfortable questions, or to push back against propaganda and falsehood; it is quite another to revel in viciousness and needless provocation. Given how electrified these topics are today, and how fraught with terrible history and the darkest of human emotions, it is no sign of timidity to handle them with care and clarity. It is also important to remember always that even when considering the grimmest and most unfortunate realities of human nature and human affairs, the subject, ultimately, concerns human beings — real people, who live and breathe and love and hope and suffer and bleed, just as you and I do. If we lose sight of that in all of this, then we become, in a vitally important moral sense, less human ourselves.
My aim in thinking and writing on these topics is focused only on a better understanding of a few critical questions:
What best fosters and encourages human flourishing?
Why have things seemed to have gone so astray in the modern world, despite obvious advances in material well-being?
What truths of our nature do we deny at our peril?
It’s foolish to romanticize the past, to yearn for a Golden Age that in many ways was never so golden at all, and anyway can never return. But it is equally foolish — indeed, far more so — to revile and reject and discard it all, to imagine that in the world’s long history, the present, radically disruptive era is the first and only flowering of understanding and moral truth. This juvenile and hubristic presentism, this temporal solipsism, it seems to me, is obviously and utterly false, yet it is now hegemonic in our cultural institutions. To me, then, the most clamant question of our time is:
How do we harmonize the wisdom of the past with the unprecedented human context of the present, and of the accelerating and onrushing future? What do we keep, what do we discard, and what must we create?
It’s very easy, especially as we watch our society coming apart both here and abroad, just to choose up sides and focus on the fray. Certainly that’s what we see all around us; it’s just human nature. As Mencken said: “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
I feel that temptation very strongly, and yes, I yield to it sometimes. I’m a fighting man — and the stakes are high, and the crisis very nearly upon us. My own language here is often barely temperate. But it is also essential that some of us, while we still can, be not only warriors, but philosophers; that we seek not blood, but wisdom. When the tempest is upon us, it will be too late.