Thursday, February 21, 2013

Boredom and the Barbarian

Split Rock Lighthouse is the most beautiful sight you can imagine - at least in the Mid-West.


Perched high above the rocky shore of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota, there is something awesome and inspiring about a visit there.

I had taken my 23-year-old actress for a day trip up to Split Rock during the week we were performing on board the North Shore Scenic Railroad in Duluth.  We walked down the path that led to the shore, turned around and saw the lighthouse high above us.  The perfection of God's work of nature coupled with man's work of the lighthouse was the perfect aesthetic.  "Look at that!  What do you think of that!?" I exclaimed to my actress, the waves crashing on the rocks all around us.

"I think I need a cigarette," she replied, and lit up.  She then started talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone.

Later that week, my friend Dale Ahqluist came up to Duluth to visit me.


"Dale," I said, "My actress is driving me crazy.  No matter what we've seen on this trip, she can't appreciate it.  She's either itching for a smoke or on the phone with somebody.  She's not a bad person, and she has a sensitive soul, but she simply can't appreciate beauty - natural or man-made.  She can't see it.  She's blind to it.  She's constantly bored.

"It's a problem of education," I went on, "No one has ever bothered to instill in her anything that would allow her to receive and understand the things around her.  It's like a child that no one ever speaks to, and who never learns a language - like a kid who's been raised by wolves."

My actress may not have been raised by wolves, but was from Arnold, Missouri - which is almost as bad.


***

Today another friend and another fellow Chestertonian, Tom Martin, writes a simple and straight-forward piece for the Kearney Hub which nonetheless at least one commenter finds provocative.  Entitled "Beyonce Makes Me Unfomfortable", Tom uses Beyonce to illustrate a philosophical point.

I am here reminded of Plato who 2,500 years ago addressed the effect of music on the soul and why it is important to educate the young to feel pleasure and pain at the proper things.
“Because rhythm and harmony permeate the inner part of the soul more than anything else, affecting it most strongly and bringing it grace, so that if someone is properly educated in music and poetry, it makes him graceful, and if not, then the opposite.”
***

I think of my 15-year-old tutoring student, a very intelligent girl who has a knack for poetry, but has never read any good poetry or been taught to develop an ear for it.  Worse, she listens to the Music of the Day all day long, and it's serving to educate her in the wrong direction.  Emphasizing lust and despair and angst, my student's music will not prepare her to see what she has the innate talent to see - the beauty of the things and people around her, the pain, the sorrow, the tragedy, the comedy - the great mixture of nobility and meanness that makes up this life.

C. S. Lewis writes at length in The Abolition of Man about how, in the absence of educating our youth toward the good, the beautiful, and the true, we will instead program them into men without chests who are indoctrinated in a man-made agenda and who are left without developed souls, trained to do our bidding.

The purpose of education should not be this.  But this is what it has become; and so our young, supremely self-righteous, self-centered and self-indulgent, can see nothing beyond themselves.  They may be the perfect specimens of the new species of man, homo consumens, but they can never be fully alive.

***

Regarding "homo consumens", consuming man, Erich Fromm explains ...


Modern society creates a type of man whom I have earlier called the homo consumens -- the consumer man whose main interest becomes, aside from working from nine to five, to consume.
This is the attitude of the eternal suckling. It is the attitude of the man or the woman with the open mouth who consumes everything with voracity -- liquor, cigarettes, movies, television, lectures, books, art exhibits, sex; everything is transformed into an article of consumption.
... there is something very deeply wrong with this, because we know that behind this urge to consume there is an inner vacuity -- a sense of emptiness. There is, in fact, a sense of depression, a sense of loneliness. 
... The Old Testament warns that the worst sin of the Hebrews was that they had lived without joy in the midst of plenty. I am afraid the critics of our society could also say that we live with much fun and excitement but with little joy in the midst of plenty...

And what is the opposite of homo consumens, the man educated only to consume, to keep sucking on the Great Teat, the man who sees heaven as nothing more than a place to indulge our base appetites?  What is the opposite of the uneducated boor who can't appreciate the beauty of a lighthouse and lake shore right before his eyes?  Fromm answers this ...


What is the opposite of the consumer? What is the opposite of the empty, passive person who spends -- or as I would say, wastes -- his life by killing time?
This is very difficult to describe, but I would say, in a general way, the main answer is to be interested. Unfortunately, we use this word so often that it has lost a great deal of its meaning, the meaning being how its root is defined in Latin: inter-esse, 'to be in' something; that is to say, to be able to transcend one's ego, to leave the narrow confines of my ego with all my ambitions, with my pride of property, with my pride of what I know and my family and my wife and my husband and my and my and my. It means to forget all these things and to reach out to both that which is opposite me and that which is in front of me, whether that is a child or a flower or a book or an idea or man or whatever it may be.

Fromm, who apparently knew my actress and my tutoring student personally, though he died before they were born, continues ...


Many of the younger generation tend to have no character at all. By that I do not mean that they are dishonest; on the contrary, one of the few enjoyable things in the modern world is the honesty of a great part of the younger generation. What I mean is that they live, emotionally and intellectually speaking, from hand to mouth. They satisfy every need immediately, have little patience to learn, cannot easily endure frustration, and have no center within themselves, no sense of identity. They suffer from this and question themselves, their identity, and the meaning of life ...

And they can't tell a beautiful lighthouse from an ugly water tower.

It's a problem of education.



4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It seems with each generation there is more of a loss of the importance of beauty and truth because of the bright lights and new technology.
With each new app & TV show that emerges time that would be used to open young minds to literature & contemplation is replaced with noise both literal and figurative.

Do you think this problem will ever be repaired?


Beatrice

Kevin O'Brien said...

"Actually, I am a Christian, so that I do not see history as anything but a long defeat." J.R.R. Tolkien.

But it can be repaired person to person, family to family. Kind of like spreading the Gospel.

Joey Higgins said...

To re-enforce what Kevin said, I am far more appreciative of beauty than I was just 3 years ago.

Pat said...

You can lead a horse to water...

I've been bringing my youngest sons to Mass everyday since they were babies (now late teens) and they still fall asleep. Remembering what kind of brain-dead place I was in when I was young gives me hope for them and for every soul that seems oblivious to God at the moment. Once, by the grace of God, they gaze at Him instead of the iphone, I pray, they will fall in love with Him alone.