Sunday, December 30, 2007

Unpopular Essays, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 (pages 76-81), “On Being Modern-minded”

While a modern person knows much about other countries, he is likely to see little value in the ideas and opinions of the past – a stance which has only become complete since the Great War. Fashion now dominates opinion, making thought unnecessary, and requiring only knowledge of how to appropriately use jargon. The jargon words themselves may originally have been the product of thought: “like paper money they were originally convertible into gold [p. 77].” Now they have depreciated, raising the nominal value of ideas while the real values decline.

A modern person does not aspire to transcend the thought or emotion of his contemporaries, only to arrive at the common ideas slightly ahead of the curve. A solitary mental life holds no appeal, nor can it conduce to social improvement as its ideas cannot compete with popular ones. Monetary rewards and (fleeting) fame are available to those whose opinions match those of their contemporaries. The return to discovering new truths also has fallen, as the pace of scientific advance ensures that any such truths will rapidly be superseded. “Newton lasted till Einstein; Einstein is already regarded by many as antiquated [p. 79].” Further, the old, motivating belief that one’s scientific work served God’s purposes has been eclipsed. The substitute ideals of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, proved unsustainable, too. But it isn’t the “decay of theological beliefs [p. 81]” that is the main problem; rather, it is the “loss of solitude,” a “certain degree of isolation both in space and time [p. 81].”