Thursday, May 9, 2013
Descent into Darkness
My Rabbi wrote in our local synagogue magazine that as a youngster she was never “allowed to say ‘I am hungry’ in front of adults” – It was in deference to those who had experienced the Hunger Winter of 1944-45 when many Dutch scrambled to survive starvation by eating grass. I worked alongside of Russian factory workers who remembered the Great Patriotic War (of 1941-1945). They still carried a hunk of bread in their trouser-pockets. It was a habit for those who never knew from where or even when the next meal would be.
Compare that to the ‘me - obsessed’ generations that have followed on from the 1970’s and we could be excused for feeling smug in our so-called moral superiority. It is not that we are by necessity, more ethical in our behaviour but our saving grace is our perception of consciousness. We may not follow our consciences but we are at least aware of our actions.
The resurrection of the Left, in particular the hard Left, is only possible because it harnesses the frustration felt by many of us within the post-Communist consumer driven wasteland. These comfortable followers of liberal politics experience a deep dissatisfaction which unlike previous generations of fascisms’ foot soldiers has not prevented them from fighting their battles from the safety of their homes.
One alternate justification is that we are all too easily led and a substitute for the spiritual wilderness of our current age leads many young men and women to the seductive embrace of a rigidly prescriptive faith such as that of the casual bigotry of Islam or the hard left.
In any case, extremists are only able to manipulate dissatisfaction because of the paucity of competing philosophies, and once ensnared, the gullible are susceptible to ethical corruption. Because of this it would be arrogant to believe that a barren spiritual life is any more desirous in our secular age than a life of spiritual seclusion or material deprivation. But the opposite also applies here. It is only through knowledge that we can choose.
During the Roman era, two thousand years ago, allegiance to competing gods and goddesses was as common a fashion statement as this year’s fashion labels are to us. If we no longer bend our knee to Zeus (Jupiter) it is because we prefer football teams, pop icons and fashion labels. In relative terms our following of modern idols is probably no less time consuming or expensive than the latest sculptural offering of Dionysus (Bacchus) or Aphrodite (Venus) was. We still talk about fate, we fear the tempests and it does not matter whether they were created by nature or the gods; we have not much more control now than we did then (when at least we could beg for the intervention of our favourite deities). We have bad luck or good fortune and ascribe both to something that is beyond our control.
Perhaps the reason that our idols are now a mindless but glittering theatre of the arcane is that they are an alternative ritual to religion while politics is become a passionate expression of belief. They do not require much of our input apart from what we take out from our pocket. The competition for souls may have had its basis in ignorance of our physical world but ‘knowledge’ was clarity in ancient times. How are we better off today? Are we any different now that our heads are filled with constantly changing truths presented to us as fact? We may not be as susceptible to peripatetic allegiances but our clarity dips into and out of focus leaving most of us alienated from our spiritual sources, confused, frightened and insecure for the future. It is much easier to worship celebrity, fashions change. A life without spiritual depth still requires an emotional anchor and it may as well be Versace or Manchester United as God or Brahma.
And hence the dilemma for our society. The shallowness of contemporary society robs us of the opportunity to confront the issues that divide us by providing us with a world of benign distractions and credit card funded comforts on one side and on the other side, selected biases defined by cant and comfortable prejudice. Those people that do choose to engage with society do so from the safety of familiarity and too often it is the extremists that define the direction because only they care enough to scream and shout. It is society that encourages them because it empowers them in order to render them less threatening to the majority. Their tactics of intimidation work. With no organised opposition to confront them their path to power is assured and like sheep we and our descendants are skipping backwards into darkness mostly oblivious to the gathering storm.