Wednesday, May 23, 2012

All the best people are dead

A body is not a person. A person is created when a growing body interacts with other bodies in a particular cultural context (language, manners, technologies, values...).

And, from the perspective of this particular person, the people being formed at present and for the foreseeable future will come with serious deficiencies of mind: attention-span limitations, an inability to embrace silence and solitude, no sense of history or cultural continuity. Technological factors are the main culprit.

There will be a small number of individuals (of conservative or contrarian persuasion) who will transcend their circumstances and shine, but on the whole it will remain the case that the best people are dead.

Such a claim need not be absolute or categorical. In fact, it will be stronger and truer if put into hypothetical form. If one espouses certain (you might call them old-fashioned) values associated with self-discipline, restraint, focused thought, etc., and believes current and likely future technological and cultural trends will not support such values then the bleak proposition that the best people are dead (or well on the way to oblivion) seems to follow inescapably.

This sort of claim is routinely ridiculed as the typical and utterly predictable refrain of groups associated with the old order as society changes (as it always has and always will). But a case can be made that this time it's different. (A case I will not attempt to make here, however, merely noting that the digital revolution is quite unprecedented in its scope and intrusiveness.)

And the claim about the best people being gone or fading fast need not be made in a whinging or complaining sort of way. For me, it is an (admittedly sad and regrettable) observation, but also a tribute to teachers and intellectual ancestors.

And finally, with respect to the future, I did speak only of the foreseeable future.

There are other times, other worlds...