What Is Wrong With Our Culture?

The present age is one of confused non-understanding, of incoherent reflection, totally devoid of passion, a decadent age which flies into a rage of swirling enthusiasm for a moment only to decline back into its carefully chosen state of natural indolence.

No one who wants to commit suicide does not do away with himself out of desperation. He carefully weighs and considers the act so long and so deliberately, that he often kills himself with his self-chosen torture of thinking. One could barely call it suicide since it is tortuous thinking which takes his life. He does not kill himself 'with' deliberation but rather kills himself 'because of' deliberation. Therefore, one can not really prosecute this generation, for its art, its understanding, its virtuosity and good sense lies in reaching a judgement or a decision, not in taking action. This deliberative non-luminous passion for total inaction pervades our governance, our society and our culture today. The most clever thing to do in our culture is 'not to do anything at all'.

Weapons were freely given out during Revolutionary Ages, but in the present age everyone is given clever rules and calculators in order to aid one's non-thinking! If any generation had the diplomatic task of postponing action so that it might appear that something were about to happen, even though it would never happen, then one would have to say that our age has achieved as mightily as Revolutionary Ages.

Someone should try an experiment with himself: he should forget everything he knows about the times and its relativity amplified by its familiarity, and then come into this age as if he were from another planet, and read some book, or some article in the newspaper: he will have this impression: 'Something is going to happen tonight, or else something happened last night!'

I cannot help quoting Soren Kierkegaard's words which mock at time:

'A Revolutionary Age is an age of action; the present age is an age of advertisement, or an age of publicity: nothing happens, but there is instant publicity about it. A revolt in the present age is the most unthinkable act of all; such a display of strength would confuse the calculating cleverness of the times. Nevertheless, some political virtuoso might achieve something nearly as great. He would write some manifesto or other which calls for a General Assembly in order to decide on a revolution, and he would write it so carefully that even the Censor himself would pass on it; and at the General Assembly he would manage to bring it about that the audience believed that it had actually rebelled, and then everyone would placidly go home- after they had spent a very nice evening out.'

An enormous grounding in scholarship is alien to the youth of today, in fact, they would find it laughable. Nevertheless, some scientific virtuoso might achieve something even greater. He would draw up some prospectus outlining systematically some all-embracing, all-explaining system that he was about to write, and he would manage to achieve the feat of convincing the reader (of the prospectus) that he had in fact read the entire system. The Age of Encyclopaedists is gone, when with great pains men wrote large Folios; now we have an age of intellectual tourists, small little encyclopaedists, who, here and there, deal with all sciences and all existence. The age of great achievers is gone and the present age is an age of anticipators.

I have come across many youths who plan very carefully to study from 1 February for an examination, and in order to solidify their resolve take a holiday for the entire month of January, such is our generation which has decided resolutely that the next generation will work very hard, and in order not to interfere with or delay the next generation, this generation diligently - goes to parties. However, there is one difference in this comparison: the youth understands that he is light-hearted, the present age is on the contrary very serious - even at their parties. Action and passion are not noticeable in the present age. Action is devoid of every peril, even as peril is absent from swimming in shallow waters. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Men only passionately desire money, and money is an abstraction, a form of reflection. Men do not envy the gifts of others, their skill, or the love of their women; they only envy each others' money. These men would die with nothing to repent of, believing that if only they had the money, they might have truly lived and truly achieved something. Thus the established order continues and all the members of the public seek their satisfaction in an insoluble ambiguity.

No person wants to destroy the power of the king, but if little by little it can be reduced to nothing but a fiction, then everyone would cheer the king. No person wishes to pull down the pre-eminent, but if at the same time pre-eminence could be demonstrated to be a fiction, then everyone would be happy. No person wishes to abandon religious terminology, but they can secretly change it so that it doesn't require decision or action. And so they are unrepentant, since they have not pulled down anything. People do not desire any more to have a strong king than they do in regard to a hero-liberator or a religious authority. The ever present public wish is that the established order should continue. At the same time, the tragedy is that, in a sort of reflective way, they more or less know with helpless anguish that the established order no longer continues.

The un-stated purpose of reflection, as it were, is envy, and envy is therefore twofold: it is selfish in the individual and in the society around him. The envy of reflection in the individual hinders any passionate decision he might make; and if he wishes to free himself from that kind of reflection, the reflection of society around him re-captures him and puts him into a trap of indecision and impotence. Overweening Envy constitutes the principle of character-lessness of institutions, men and women, society and culture today.

Envy in our passionless age only stifles and hinders - it only levels in a mindless manner. This levelling is a silent, mathematical, abstract process which avoids upheavals. Levelling at its maximum is like the stillness of death, where one can hear one's own heartbeat, a stillness like death, into which nothing can penetrate, in which everything sinks, powerless.

During ancient times in classical Rome or Greece or India, the mass of individuals had this value: 'that it made valuable the outstanding individual'. They adored their heroes. In ancient times, the single individual in the masses signified nothing; only the outstanding individual signified them all. In the present age, the tendency is towards a mathematical equality which is devoid of any soul or theme or purpose - excepting for the electoral gains of petty and unscrupulous politicians.

How does this mathematical equality come about? In order for levelling really to occur, first it is necessary to bring a phantom into existence, a spirit of levelling, a huge abstraction, an all-embracing something that is nothing, an illusion - 'the phantom of the public'. The public is the real Levelling-Master, rather than the leveller itself, for levelling is done by something, and the public is a huge nothing.

The public is not a people, it is not a generation, it is not a simultaneity, it is not a community, it is not a society, it is not an association, it is not those particular men over there, because all these exist because they are concrete and real; however, no single individual who belongs to the public has any real commitment; some times during the day he belongs to the public, namely, in those times in which he is nothing; in those times that he is a particular person, he does not belong to the public. Consisting of such individuals, who as individuals are nothing, the public becomes a huge something, a nothing, an abstract desert and emptiness, which is everything and nothing.

To conclude in the matchless words of Soren Kierkegaard:

'Media is an abstraction (because a newspaper is not concrete and only in an abstract sense can be considered an individual), which in association with the passion-lessness and reflection of the times creates that abstract phantom, the public, which is the actual leveller. ...This lazy mass of third parties, which understands nothing and does nothing, this public gallery seeks some distraction, and soon gives itself over to the idea that everything which someone does, or achieves, has been done to provide the public something to gossip about. The public has a dog for its amusement. That dog is the Media. If there is someone better than the public, someone who distinguishes himself, the public sets the dog on him and all the amusement begins. This biting dog tears up his coat-tails, and takes all sort of vulgar liberties with his leg - until the public bores of it all and calls the dog off. That is how the public levels.'

The pseudo-secular mafia of mass media - all our English Newspapers of National and International fame, all our television channels - derive their inspiration for indulging in disgraceful acts of national perversion or national sabotage from this phantom of the public and its hunger for cheap publicity and satisfaction.   


More by :  V. Sundaram

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