the Challenges of the Coming Age
Berrett said it well, as he often did: "Habit and
routine are great veils over our existence. As long as they are
securely in place, we need not consider what life means; its meaning
seems sufficiently incarnate in the triumph of daily habit. When
the social fabric is rent, however
The Age of Enlightenment laid the
foundation for modern Western civilization. In many ways it shaped
the way we think, our perception of the world, our optimism for
progress and dependency on science. Western nations, and those that
followed in its wake, have reaped many benefits and advantages from
that transformative leap of consciousness. It truly changed the
world and carried the bulk of humanity into the Modern Age.
Unfortunately, all that confidence and optimism
came with a price of philosophical naiveté. The West, fixated
on its rapid advancement of knowledge and technology, saw itself
as a juggernaut of progress that could do no wrong. Thanks to capitalism,
economies grew, nations jockeyed among themselves to dominate the
field, and a cultural hubris settled across Europe and the Americas.
The result of that hubris, a pride that lacked both wisdom and self-understanding,
was the otherwise unexplainable outbreak of World War I. Many believe
that World War II was merely its unfinished continuation.
The shocking atrocities of these wars stopped
everyone in their tracks. They should not have happened. Leaders
should have known better. Their aggressions made no real sense.
The Age of Enlightenment would not have countenanced these terrible
wars, and yet the cause was somehow related. Western Europe has
never really recovered its confidence from the suffering and guilt
it had to bear. While the United States (a late-comer to both wars,
and separated by an ocean from the atrocities), retained much of
its hubris and optimism, it remains vulnerable to making other serious
mistakes, such as trying to force Western values on Middle Eastern
cultures, and interfering with their politics. The severity of these
errors remains with us today, with no end in sight.
arose in response to these massive European wars. It declared that
Enlightenment ideals were too bright, too blindly optimistic, and
overly obsessed with reason (which it still values, of course, but
not to the exclusion of the rest of the human psyche). Intoxicated
by its own progress, the Enlightened West had ignored the darker
aspects of human nature, which tainted everything that followed.
The moral rationale of capitalism became infected with greed. Power
flirted with exploitation. Equality was something to be judged against
local prejudices before approval. The cold, objectivity of science,
with its disapproval of traditional knowledge, was seen as a threat
to the spiritual needs of many religious people. In many places,
the two are now in conflict, contributing to non-action on climate
the individual, it meant inheriting a spiritual deficit, felt, somewhat
debilitating, but difficult to define. It also meant living in a
culture that could only meet superficial needs. For many, the answer
to this inner void was to ignore it, filling time with distractions
that inhibited human potential, which technology and the entertainment
industry were more than willing to supply. The spirituality once
sustained by our relationship with nature and religion was largely
replaced by an avalanche of material benefits, and the transformation
of life toward artificiality.
tells us to courageously face this spiritual deficit, no matter
how painful, and understand its cause. The only way to repair the
situation is to replace what was lost with something comparable.
attempts to do this by setting humanity back on track from where
it left off. It defies the sterile, impersonal, mechanistically-inclined
nature of modernity with the romance of a bygone age, while maintaining
the very real benefits of materialism. It does this by reclaiming
the combined momentum of both reason and conscience, beauty and
science, community and individualism, progress and tradition - for
they are all part of the human condition. Each plays an important
role, and should not compete with one another for dominance.
humanity to be complete, to reach the goal of authenticity, it must
recognize and honor every aspect of its nature, even the darker
aspects, which wreck havoc when ignored.
coming age, if we are blessed to have one, will, no doubt, like
others before it, be a reaction to the preceding age, the one that
we are in. While much of it will be spontaneous, it should also
be driven by necessities caused by previous mistakes. We have the
intelligence. We see the deficits. We fear the unknown where we
are heading, for it seems to have less and less a place for humanity,
in its fullness, to survive.
William Barrett explained:
life has departmentalized, specialized, and thereby fragmented the
being of man. We now face the problem of putting the fragments together
as a whole."