On the Loss of Solitude

In the title, by “solitude” I mean independence of mind – the ability to be an independent judge separated from the whims of the current crowd. The “modern-minded man,” as Bertrand Russell calls him in his essays, is a person who only thinks, speaks, feels, and acts as everyone else by: forsaking his individual powers for the admiration of the herd. Today’s modern-minded man believes profoundly in the progress of these times, and disregards the past all-together.

Being modern-minded has many advantages: it reduces thinking and reflection, and it enables everyone to attain the highest level of conversation. By mentioning words terms like “theory,” “left,” “socialist,” “maverick,” “pro-America,” and “change,” anyone can appear bright without knowing the correct use of those terms, or why those in power are using them. Why should anyone think for themselves? Is it not clear that Obama is a socialist or that McCain is a fascist? What use is it to have a dissenting opinion when it can never defeat “the great agencies of publicity.” Darwin should never have published The Origin of Species. Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler should have kept their mouths shut.

Aside from his fashionable speech and action, the modern-minded man has a disdain for the past. Since the First World War, it seems that history en bloc has been looked down upon. It was not always this way. The Renaissance emulated antiquity. The Baroque Era admired the Middle Ages. The Enlightenment valued ancient Rome and Greece. The Romantic Movement of the nineteenth century embraced the medieval period.

But now, it seems that knowledge, awareness, and appreciation of the past is in freefall. Part of the reason for this is that we are advancing so quickly everyday in the twenty-first century. If a scientist sits down to write a great work, someone will have made it obsolete by the time it goes to be published. Another reason is that information spreads so quickly that it seems useless to remember what was going on a year ago, or even a few days ago. Because information spreads so quickly, the emotional tone of the public changes rapidly, as well. This drives people from one illusion only to be duped into another.

Old errors should not be used to combat present error. Many people have found that detachment and objectivity were embroiled historically with old taboos and norms. What happened was that the “wisdom of the past” was thrown out still entangled with the traditional beliefs.

However, there is a way to separate the two. But, anyone who wants to promote reason or independent-mindedness is seen as an “old-fogey” regrettably out of touch with the “progress” and wisdom of the current age. A stronger energy of conviction is needed for a person to stand against the current of popular opinion than would have been required in previous eras. A degree of isolation is necessary for the most essential work. A conviction in something that is felt to be of greater importance than the admiration of the crowd is needed to generate independence, preserve the sound ideas of the past, and prevent the loss of solitude.

~ by jsacc001 on December 15, 2008.

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