In which I unleash my inner sixteen year old Angst
Tyler Cowen says one of the most influential people of 2017 was … Jordan Peterson.
Who the hell is Jordan Peterson? And why am I, twenty years too old for it, thinking again about Nietzsche and Oswald Spengler and Heidegger, rereading Abolition of Man and its Catholic equivalent, the last chapter of Belloc’s “The Great Heresies,” or it’s Catholic fictional equivalent, Lafferty’s Past Master. I have a good career, a home, a wife, and a 401k. Why the hell am I reading Jordan Peterson?!?
Why am I feeling angst? The arguments against angst are all straight-forward and I believe them all. Let’s go down the list:
- Globalism is happening, Trump or no Trump, Bernie or no Bernie. And thank God it is. What our grandparents would have defined as poverty ceases to exist everywhere trade is allowed to flourish.
- People are living longer and safer lives.
- People have more leisure than ever before. This one is controversial, because people waste most of their leisure time on television and video games, but poorly chosen leisure is still leisure. I have nothing in particular against video games, but if a professional adult with a family can put 300 hours into Skyrim, he can’t complain about a lack of freetime as well.
- Technology is working miracles. Many are worried about automation destroying humanity, but lurking in all these fears is an assumption of a post-scarcity society. If cheap technology can fulfill all human material want, then all human material want is fulfilled. If it can’t fulfill all human material want, then there will be jobs left to do.
I don’t agree with any of the arguments that say that humanity is materially worse off, particularly in America.
So why angst?
I don’t know. Let’s get away from all that.
Let’s talk about Past Master, a science fiction novel by RA Lafferty. In Past Master, a future utopian society faces an undefined crisis. It is a post-scarcity society and material want is no longer a concern. But people are unhappy, committing suicide en masse in the readily available suicide booths. Others check out of society and live painful, miserable lives outside of it, miserable and painful for no purpose, toiling and dying in misery because…because why? The social engineers don’t get it, we don’t get it. The social engineers go back in time for Sir Thomas More, writer of “Utopia” and Catholic martyr. And Sir Thomas More doesn’t get it either! Actually, that’s not the only thing More doesn’t get. When More discovers the story of his own martyrdom, he is perplexed as anyone that someone as irreligious as himself would be a martyr.
Then he travels to the post-scarcity Utopia and…has the same feeling I have about the world I live in now. Everything on the surface is wonderful. People live exactly as long as they want to, and exactly as comfortably as they like, and every material want is provided for and…
And lurking behind it all is something sinister. The longest of all long cons. And then he is sent back to his own time, an impious man to be martyred on something he himself considered a mere technicality, because he saw the long term implications of that one move is the long con.
And that is how I feel, not the matyred bit, God-forbid, but the sense that everything is just wonderful and great and somewhere underneath it is all a con. And I look around and everywhere I look people on all sides of the political spectrum kind of say the same thing, just they ascribe it to different sources.
There is a shocking level of agreement in the pages of Mother Jones magazine, the more apocalyptic writings of the Chesterbelloc, American Conservative magazine, Jordan Peterson, C.S. Lewis, RA Lafferty, Heidegger, and Nietzsche. People who profess to hate each others philosophies with passion all agree that modernity is a wreck despite its successes.
Calemorinna is probably right. Her response to all of this is “Go back to the Old Testament. Nothing is new. The thing that all the modern philosophers get wrong is thinking there is something special and different about modernity.”
I put words in her mouth, but that is how I understand her. And the odd thing is…I haven’t gone back to the Old Testament. The same reason I’m irrationally convinced somewhere deep down that the day is coming when I have to pay the piper for all my good fortune, because it’s just not fair that I get a six-figure salary for doing my damn hobby. When I was living on mimimum wage, I was a techno-utopian. Now that I’m a successful technologist, I’m a pessimist that still believes all the core tenets of techno-utopianism.
Maybe Calemorinna is right and I should just go back to being a Christian.
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