Most people sense that something is wrong with modern culture. Even if they can’t put it into words, most have at least a vague feeling of discomfort. It’s a feeling of dread about the future.
What we’ve known as Western Civilization is slowly breaking down. It’s happening because of changes rooted in bad philosophical ideas and misunderstandings about how technology affects us. Rational people lost the culture when they allowed irrational people to take over academia and substitute the fuzzy ideas of postmodernism for the ideas of the Enlightenment. And now we are heading for a new Dark Ages again.
But even if you start seeing outlines of the core issues, it’s hard to create a coherent narrative to explain to others what’s going wrong. Without that, you’re powerless to change anything, because it’s almost impossible for most people to see the precise nature of the intellectual, moral and cultural rot around them — even if they’re vaguely aware that something’s wrong.
Without such a simple narrative, nobody will listen. They’ve been taught they already know everything worth knowing. Technology has destroyed their attention spans. They want everything presented as a funny “meme” — with maybe 10 words to attack whoever they hate — and they’re not interested in looking beyond whatever shiny thing has caught their attention right now.
This is one of the most important things I’ve ever said — to anybody, anywhere — but almost nobody will hear it. Even fewer will understand. Their eyes will glaze over instead. And that breaks my heart.
I don’t have all the answers. It’s taken me years to understand the questions clearly. But as the questions come into focus for me, I find more wisdom in some old ideas — many articulated by “dead white men” from the past.
The modern scientific society that I grew up being taught was superior in every way loses more and more of its luster as I understand what we’ve intentionally thrown away.
I don’t expect the world around me to suddenly start reading philosophy or listening to lectures that explain what we’ve lost by setting the Enlightenment aside. I used to be naive enough to believe that I could just explain ideas to the public and they would suddenly understand. I know better now — and I suspect it’s always been more complicated than that.
The wisdom of the past was transmitted through stories. We have powerful ideas that are repeated n the myths and religious texts of various cultures. If you’ve ever read any of Joseph Campbell’s work, you know how many of these stories are the same across cultures. (Campbell was an academic who spent his career studying comparative mythology and comparative religion.)
When you listen to Campbell talk about the ideas from different cultures — and how they align — you suddenly realize that psychiatrist Carl Jung was on the right track when he claimed that humans share a form of collective unconscious — and that it’s filled with archetypes and lessons that are universal.
We accept that it’s instinct for birds to fly and for trees to grow toward the sunlight. It shouldn’t be hard to understand that we have certain archetypical lessons that are burned into our genetic code as well.
For most of my life, I put value on a message which was delivered directly and clearly — with declarative sentences and linear reasoning. That was the only way I consciously knew how to communicate. But I’ve realized that this isn’t the way people are going to learn — and it’s not how people of the past learned.
The archetypes that recur throughout myths resonate with people — even today — because there is something in those images and stories and lessons which simply feel true. And this instinctive understanding is more powerful than all of the direct reasoning of my millions of published words.
I’m realizing that I have to stop trying to use a direct approach which is never going to break through. Instead, I have to turn to storytelling — and to the power of the archetypical truth that’s already wired into your soul — to make connection with people who are never going to listen to my direct reasoning.
I have to find a way to tell stories which deal with meaning. I have to tell stories that say to modern people, “The treasure you’re longing to find will only be found in the place you’re most afraid to look.” And maybe in this way, I can lead them to look for meaning and to bring meaning to a culture which is dying a slow nihilist death without it.
All of this is related — philosophy, modern culture, your life and the people you choose to be in your life. The things you do and the things you believe are rooted in philosophy, whether you’re conscious of it or not. The culture taught you deadly ideas that you were not even aware of — and then those assumptions you were taught led you to choose people for your life who make you miserable.
Meaning matters more than happiness. We’ve pursued pleasure in the modern world, thinking it would make us happy. Instead, it’s just dulled our senses and left us with little or no understanding of meaning. So most of us go through empty lives and wonder — in the times when we can be honest with ourselves — what we’re living for.
You probably don’t think any of this matters.
You’d rather scroll Facebook. Or watch television. Laugh at “memes.” Make money. Impress others. You have a thousand other priorities.
You might even say you’re too busy raising your children. But the truth is that you’re sending your children out into a world where they’re going to make all the same mistakes you made — and worse — because you didn’t bother to find meaning and build a healthy culture for them.
The culture in which we live today is sick. It’s failing. Most people are starving for something that’s real, something which has meaning, something to make their lives matter.
I see too much of this to close my eyes. I’m struggling to figure out how to find others who see enough of it to help me, but I’m still half stumbling through fog. I know we need to use the archetypes of human myths — and the truths at the core of real religion — to build a culture in which there’s a loving and healthy structure in place. One where it’s easier to find meaning and even happiness.
I don’t want to see any of this. It would be easier to be like most people and simply chase shallow pleasure and stumble toward the end of life without real meaning. That doesn’t involve real thinking. It’s simple. But I can’t.
The people of the past instinctively understood quite a number of things. They knew there was a power far greater than they were — someone who I call God — and they understood that there were basic lessons of nature which gave them certain roles to play in life. They accepted all of this wisdom and they found meaning in what it taught them about their lives.
There’s meaning to be found today in these old ideas — and in this Spirit we call God. Helping individuals to find that meaning is the best thing we can do to help reorient this dysfunctional culture — and it’s the best chance we have to leave a culture that doesn’t send our children into something even worse than what we’ve faced.
I want to be a part of that challenge — of building a bridge back to the Enlightenment — and I need to find a partner who wants to be part of that adventure, too.