The Good Life
The ascendancy of today's lefty wokism presents us with a profound challenge. This challenge, as Spencer A Klavan demands, is to come up with “a vision of the good life more compelling than the fanatical march toward a virtuous future that the Left offers.” We must generate a new answer to the eternal question that every human yearns to answer: the meaning of "life, the universe, and everything," and which the left has got so thoroughly wrong.
But this new answer will not be an Absolute Truth, the meaning of "life, the universe, and everything" for all time. It will not be Forty-two: the representatives of the union of philosophers have ever demanded "rigorously defined areas of doubt and uncertainty." It will just be a pretty good answer, for now.
What should it be? The Olympian gods that determined the outcome of the Trojan war? A revival of Christian culture? Enlightenment reason and logic? Romantic individualism emphasizing inspiration and creativity? Obviously not the religion of lefty politics.
I have come to believe that this new vision must be based on the German Turn, the revolution in philosophy, in science, in politics, and in the sciences of the mind, that began with the philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. It is the language of the modern world, and in particular, the language of the left: if you do not understand the German Turn you cannot understand the Wrong Turn of the left.
What does that mean? It means abandoning the idea that we can know reality, because logic and reason and because the other guys are governed by their feelings. On the contrary, said Kant, we cannot know "things-in-themselves" and anyway, as Freud said, 90 percent of our mind is "unconscious," or feelings by another name.
We humans have come a long way. We used to experience life and the universe as a complete mystery known only to the gods. Then we got wise and decided that our understanding of the world had been handed down by God to humans in a divine creation and a program of divine law. Today the modern imagines himself as the creator. He is a discoverer, an explorer, a creator.
Thus we no longer believe that the meaning of "life, the universe, and everything" is the story of the gods on Mount Olympus. Nor do we advanced thinkers believe that the world was created in six days and that the suffering of life ends with a Redemption and the End of Time.
Nor can we advanced thinkers accept the leftist narrative that suffering is the fault of white oppressors, and will end when the arc of history finally bends towards justice as demanded in mostly peaceful protests by leftist activists.
The new meaning of "life, the universe, and everything," I will propose, is a personal existential journey, full of peril and most likely to end in disaster, or at least in failure. The creative explorer cannot be a proud activist but instead a humble traveler, a Sacrificial Hero.
The German Turn tries to understand this, lurching through Kant and Hegel and Goethe and Schopenhauer and Marx and Wagner and Nietzsche and Freud and Jung and Heidegger and Marcuse and Habermas and their Anglo-Saxon adepts like Joseph Campbell and Jordan B. Peterson, as I have investigated at length.
I say that the German Turn starts with Kant saying we cannot know things-in-themselves, but only appearances, sense impressions that we then conjure up into a theory of reality. It continues, with the Romantics, that there is something that comes before logic and reason. It means, with Wagner, that there is a lot more in those ancient myths than mere superstition and something more in medieval romances than rescuing damsels in distress.
It means, with Nietzsche, that any time a God is Dead the former believers cannot avoid a nihilist eternal recurrence ending in a revaluation of all values. It means, with Freud, that 90 percent of our mind is the unconscious mind. It means, with Jung, that we should work to better understand our unconscious and the archetypes with which it seems to be programmed to interpret and interact with the world.
It means, with Horkheimer and Adorno, that “Enlightenment behaves towards things as a dictator towards men. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them” and with Habermas that humans do not live in a mechanical world but in a Lebenswelt, a “life-world,” Heidegger's being-there in a face-to-face culture of shared experience in the world.
But why are we so inspired to understand the world in a new way? Because the old ways do not have meaning for us any more.
For a start, we cannot believe in the primitive experience, where humans are eternally obsessed with the suffering of life, and that there must be a reason for all the misery. To primitives, according to Mircea Eliade, human misery arises out of a fault, in ourselves or in our neighbor.
Primitive man, according to Eliade, solves the problem of existence and its suffering by denying history, living life in an annual repeating cycle, with each New Year representing a new Creation following a brief descent into Chaos. We still celebrate the new hope of every New Year, just like the ancients.
With the Axial Age religions mankind dares to enter history, but is taught to believe that suffering ends with a Redemption at the End of Time, the hope that the natural self-hate that issues from our universal suffering will be dissolved in the moment of Redemption.
The Left’s secular religion prophesied by Marx imagines it is replacing the Christian experience of personal Sin and guilt, and yet has proved to be just another priestly attempt to resolve human suffering with the hope of Redemption -- here on Earth rather than in Heaven. And it seems to include a lurch back to the primitive, insisting that all suffering arises from a social or economic fault or a “hate,” and that there has to be a fault. It doesn't seem to have worked out very well.
So now it is time to grow up and understand that suffering is forever, and imagine a new experience and analysis of suffering, one that does not deny history or insist on fault, or resolve it in the Sin and Redemption binary, but rather accepts its inevitability: dealing with suffering rather than blaming the Other or magically resolving it at the End of Time.
But how do we get to this new understanding of the meaning of "life, the universe, and everything?" The best place to start is by telling the story of one modern creative that got it all wrong.
He was a modern religious prophet, rich-kid son of the leading lawyer in Trier. He created an ingenious meaning of "life, the universe and everything" that explained the world as a sub-lunar battle between Us and Them: the capitalists vs. the workers. But then there were special people like him, Communists, who would volunteer to organize the workers and lead them to justice against the mean-spirited bourgeoisie. Subsequent rich kids have proposed to organize the minorities against the racists. Or the women against the patriarchy. Or the gays against the haters. Was Marx a genius, or what?
I call this meaning of "life, the universe, and everything" Ego Heroism.
That’s what our modern artists and writers and activistes and revolutionaries and Ego Heroes are all about. You heroically solve the sufferings of the world in your creative manifesto or work of art or activist agenda and then demand, in a mostly peaceful protest, the right to implement it, as activiste, or revolutionary, or expert, or Minister of the Department of Silly Walks and end human suffering for evermore. And never mind the butcher's bill.
But shouldn't the activiste heal himself before he heals the world? Maybe the Egoistic Hero is not the answer. If not, then what?
The answer is as old as the hills and as new as yesterday: the Sacrificial Hero. We all know something about him because we all know about the iconic Sacrificial Hero, Jesus Christ, who died on the Roman cross, not to mention Moses who died before the Israelites reached the Promised Land. The Sacrificial Hero is an archetype that shows up everywhen and everywhere, and has been an especial interest of the followers of Carl Jung, including Joseph Campbell and recently Jordan B. Peterson.
But what is the Sacrificial Hero for our own time?
Perhaps the best place to start is to check off what the Hero is not. He is not the fanciful knight of the medieval romance. He is not the lefty activiste acting out a fantasy of revolution. He is not the leader of the nation, feted by battalions of flatterers or serviced by a 2,000 woman “Pleasure Squad.” He is not the peacocking journalist truckling to the powerful while imagining himself speaking truth to power. Nor is he the expert or the academic.
Our Hero is instead the mediator between Order and Chaos, and will probably die, a Sacrificial Hero, on that fateful border. But that is where the creative life must be lived, for life cannot long thrive in the arid safety and often cruel hierarchy of Order and the experts. And life is unendurable as unmitigated Chaos.
Notice how the idea of Sacrifice has changed over the years. Prior to Abraham, you sacrificed your son to the gods. Then, Abraham discovered, it was OK to sacrifice a lamb instead of Isaac. Later, God sacrificed his own son, Jesus Christ, to teach us to sacrifice ourselves rather than sons and lambs.
So the Hero, privileged and masculine and Sacrificial, must descend from the safety of privilege and offer himself to suffering, as he learns to navigate the dark realms of Chaos in a generalized and vaguely constructed archetypal journey into the underworld of the unconscious. For here be dragons. Another version of this is Nietzsche's journey through decadence, nihilism, and the terror of eternal recurrence to the revaluation of all values -- but that ended, in his case, in madness.
And the Hero's journey ends on the border of Order and Chaos where, if he is fortunate, our hero may expand the realm of Order just a little and thereby benefit the rest of humanity. Or maybe not.
Our hero does not experience suffering as someone else's fault; that is the primitive world-view. He does not experience suffering as something to be escaped through Divine Redemption; that is the Axial Age world-view. Nor does he experience suffering as the wages of inequality, or racism, or bigotry: that is the lefty world-view. For the Sacrificial Hero suffering is life, and life is suffering, and there is no escape from it.
To repeat: the meaning of "life, the universe, and everything" for the Creative person, for someone who aspires to the highest and the best, is the journey of the Sacrificial Hero, a terrifying journey into the underworld of the unconscious, and not the Ego Hero, the simplistic self-worship of the "ally" bravely advocating for the "oppressed peoples" suffering under the domination and exploitation of the "white oppressors."
Wow! This is cool. But what about the Old Ones, the folk still living by the light of the Old Ways? What about the primitives, who experience suffering as somebody else's fault? What about responsibles, that accept the challenge of dealing with their own fault and suffering, but live in hope of eventual Redemption? And what about our lefty friends that live to be Redeemers, allies that will defeat the dragon of oppression?
The answer is simple. The Old Ones get to live their Old Way, and we, the Wise Ones, understand them, their reality, and the meaning of "life, the universe, and everything" that they have developed to make sense of the world. And if we understand them, then surely we will be able to live in the world with them, to share a "life-world" with them and, as Habermas says, communicate with them and develop moral agreement. One thing we will not do is cancel them.
The new world that is to come begins with the discovery of a new meaning of "life, the universe, and everything" by a Sacrificial Hero that suffers on the border between Order and Chaos. But that is just the beginning. Then it is up to the prophets to prophesy new religions. Then it is up to the writers and artists and thinkers to imagine new cultures. Then it is time for politicians to teach a new generation of people how he cares about people like them, and for Anybodies to create the next technological revolution.
And what these creative prophets will preach and creative writers will write and sauntering politicians will enticingly offer will also include a respectful and insightful understanding of the needs of people not like them: ordinary Responsibles, for whom meaning involves accepting the challenge from a God that created the world and laid down the rules for a good life that they try to follow; and the needs of Subordinates, who will always look to a beneficent Oz to make things right.
Years ago I thought that it would take generations to work all this out. But then I thought that if a guy like me, that had read a few books, could see the blurry outline of the problem and the glimmerings of an answer then probably brighter lights had already solved the problems. Only their lights were still emerging from under a bushel. So now I have a faith that the truth is out there, the prophets are already born, the writers are already writing, and the politicians are already rehearsing their sound bites.
If I can imagine a blurred “vision of the good life” through a glass darkly, surely the geniuses have already seen the new peaks rising vividly before them, face to face.
Next step: "What is the Meaning of Life?"