Do you ever feel just a little bit dirty after scrolling down your Facebook feed, or through the articles of your favorite news aggregator, reading the headlines from rags like Huffpo or the NY Times (yes the Grey Lady has chosen to dress down)? Does your heart sink over morning coffee – a bagel and Nietzsche declaring himself Dionysus, god of drunkenness and ritualized insanity with every click of the mouse?
I certainly do. I’ve found myself dreading opening my computer – knowing I am inviting into my quiet tranquility assailants in the form of “friends” who have no compassion, no reason, and no lucidity – only outrage. Nowadays, people prefer to read propaganda or the knee-jerk ‘needs’ driven by advertising. Sites dedicated to feeding their discontent; new novels popular as “what everyone else thinks everyone else reads”. Freed Zacharia with a side of Harry Potter. “Ideas” hastily pasted all over cyberspace product of “safe” educations and winner-take-all politics, echo chambers that reverberate through peoples’ consciousness, gyrating them toward the cliff over which Dionysus has convinced everyone else that everyone else is jumping.
“Run away, run away!” So, when I can I turn to the classics to recover.
“Classics are books that everybody wants to have read, but nobody wants to read,” so the saying goes. They are complex friends who are no fun at a party but who are wonderful to talk to over aged single malt on a rainy day. As you engage with them slowly, getting to know them – internalizing the way the great writers think and reason and argue and work out the answers to the complicated dilemmas of life, they become a “mentor who speaks to you across the ages”.
So too the obscure works of modern enlightenment written in dusty digital journals tucked away in desolate corners of the internet – yes, there’s even wisdom in cyberspace, although it requires a quest of sorts. Christian’s temptations from Pilgrim’s Progress. But you can find it – and you will be better for it. I read a lot of The Imaginative Conservative because I find there a special nexus between beauty and clarity; family and faith and tradition – and wonder – fused by lovely prose and sentimentality that is nevertheless not maudlin. They feature a lot of J.R.R. Tolkien – which brought me there first; I’ve always liked that greatest of fantasy authors because of his clear descriptions of the battle of good against evil. Not simplistic or reductionist – only true. “The issue is now quite clear,” said G.K. Chesterton on his deathbed. “It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.”
I certainly hope my own last words are even a fraction as memorable.
I was reading again today – a post on pride and humility. Pride predisposes us to a sense of ingratitude for our existence, and not only our own existence but the existence of everything else. Such ingratitude succumbs to the sin of cynicism, blinding us to any sense of wonder, thereby preventing contemplation and promoting mindless distraction in its place, closing the mind to reality. Pride, ingratitude, cynicism, distraction, and the closing of the mind: This is the five-fold order of misperception which numbs our senses so that they are no longer able to sense or see the presence of the Real. Cue Salon.com! Now isn’t that so much of what is wrong today? Dionysus has been working hard indeed. The way of humility leads, via the rolling road of wonder, to the heaven-haven of the reward. The way of pride leads, via the thorny path of prejudice, to a hell of one’s own devising. Chesterton was right. Everyone must choose his side.
Which side do you choose?