Modernity and Tradition

Try to express any sort of admiration at all for traditional culture, particularly for the culture of Christendom. See how far you get. See how long before you are interrupted with a “yeah, but toilet paper and plumbing are nice,” or some platitude about “modern medicine.” (Never mind that Christendom created modern science and technology.) Nearly every single person living in the modern West sees the world today as a uniformly better world than the world of the past. They literally cannot understand why anyone would want a return to the things of old. Their faces glaze over, and their phones come out. Moderns almost physically cannot hear praise of the past in conjunction with criticism of the present. Why?

No one today denies that there are problems in the world. So why shouldn’t we be able to look to the past for cures to our modern ailments? The answer is simple: Moderns see the past as the ailment, and only progress can be the cure. Looking to the past for a cure is like looking to smoking as the cure for lung cancer. In this frame of chronological snobbery, it is truly ridiculous to express admiration for the past, and no such sentiment can be taken seriously.

But is this view of the world true? No. There are a great many ills of the present that did not exist in the past. There are a great many things we have lost in order to gain what little we have. As the Son of Man said:

What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?

But that is essentially what modern civilization has done. We have achieved the greatest material comfort and security ever in all of history, and all it cost our civilization was its soul. Its purpose. We earned money at the expense of meaning. We have gained everything for the low, low price of eternity.

This should be obvious, but apparently it is not. No one today seems to realize that we have lost anything. Sure, there is a pervading air of nihilism and existential terror, but we assume that this is just part of being human, and that this problem is best dealt with by ignorance. Or, more accurately by distraction. We salve the cry of our souls with silly distractions. “What is the meaning of life?” our subconscious asks. “Shh, it doesn’t matter. Watch this cool movie though,” we answer.

Moderns see their society as the pinnacle of human achievement by changing the criteria for achievement to tilt in their favor. If you use the measuring stick of modernity, yes, we are the most modern. But are we the best? They cannot understand this question. To a modern, “best” just means richest or safest or freest. To the men of the past, “best” meant something very different. Thus these men were not the richest or safest or freest. But these men were better. Or at least capable of being better, because they knew of a “best” to strive for. We, have only our toys to amuse; they had tools to achieve.

This problem is, as the PUAs say, one of frame. Modernity frames reality as physical only. It lets the social and the spiritual rot, and then claims victory because it has the most toys. He who dies with the most toys does not actually win, though. The real frame is God. Any society without the vision of the Transcendent Logos at its heart is a society built on straw.

Beware the wolf who comes a’blowing.

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