Please notice the plaque over the door in our opening image. The people living in this home (Delft, Holland, 1658) were building ideas that mattered to them into their lives. This is something very few people do in the modern West. This type of self-generated meaning has been replaced with meaning created by others… with narratives created by others and shoved in their faces… for the benefit of those others.
There is a great deal to be said on this subject, and so today I’ll stay toward the center of the issue, but I think it’s very important, and I want to make at least the central points.
A First Example
Just to illustrate the fact and nature of this change, I’ll give you an example you’ll recognize right off: The seemingly mundane issue of naming streets.
In the 19th century, new streets were named after great men. By the late 20th century that had changed entirely. Now, streets are named after geographical features: Fox Run, Spring Grove, Forest Ridge, and so on.
While any individual street name may be trivial by itself, a complete change in a naming convention held by hundreds of millions of people speaks of something deeper. So does the fact that almost no one in the West hangs images and words of personal devotion on their walls any longer. Mainly they hang abstract art.
What Does This Mean?
At one time, Westerners placed images of meaningful people on their walls: beloved progenitors, holy men, and so on. These were “higher than mundane” standards: inspiration toward the high and good… transcendent human inspirations.
If and when you have a chance, I encourage you to attend a cocktail party or some such gathering and begin to talk about the beauty and genius of mankind. But please be prepared beforehand for insults, because such talk is heresy in modern circles. Man, it is understood, is dirty, low, and dangerous. It is largely because of this bias that we no longer place images of great women and men on our walls.
There are a few exceptions of course, but they are exceptions, not the norm.
What this means is:
- We no longer revere humans, except the idols of this year’s election, of course. They’re modern versions of Rome’s gladiators. Westerners watch as they slash and thrust at each other, cheering for their side, and imagining that the spectacle will somehow improve our lives. But they have lost sight of great and transcendent men and women. And so we Westerners (speaking broadly) have lost the expectation of ourselves becoming better than we are, save through the magic of politics. When we had the transcendent man’s face on our wall, we had an image of someone higher to think about and relate to. These images helped us improve and aspire to higher things.
- We no longer have an independent standard. Back when the West had Christianity, there was always an outside standard by which to judge the world. The king may have had the power to kill, but his actions were always compared to a higher standard. And because of that he could be roundly condemned, and often was. With that standard taken away – and replaced with a gaping void – we’re left with no star to guide by. Within that vacuum, politics has become the god of the age, holding power over all human affairs.
How Did This Happen?
The answer is complex, but I’ll summarize here very briefly:
- Christianity was regimented and its implementations were sometimes degraded. Judaism, the other outside standard, was shoved away and violently punished.
- The Enlightenment turned dark about halfway through its run and attacked everything outside itself.
- Nation-states consolidated and grew very large, legitimating themselves with democracy (and now a supposedly “rules-based order”) rather than Christian morals.
- Huge wars repetitively decimated the West, bringing death and privation to millions of families and driving dark philosophies.
- Laws, regulations, and agencies multiplied. Society was overcome by the state and righteousness by politics.
- Mass media allowed millions of people to be cast into the same mold.
- Social media allowed elites to control the narratives running in billions of minds, correcting them in real time.
There’s more to say on this subject, but this gives you a general outline. The West has lost its sense that humans can be great. They’ve also lost their connection to any outside standard.
These things need to be restored.