A response to a lost and isolated reader
What a great post and reply. I hope you don't mind me offering my own answer, since my name was mentioned.
I certainly identify with the inquirer. I also dance between these two poles: simply being here, and trying to 'figure it all out.' A few years ago I wrote a book called 'Savage Gods' which was about precisely this. I concluded that writing was getting in the way of reality for me. I stopped writing after that for nearly two years. I thought I might never start again.
But I did start again, on here, and the reason was not so much that I wanted to explain everything, or develop a grand theory of the world - which is indeed a path to madness. It was more than my head was buzzing with the madness of the times, and I needed to figure out, to my own satisfaction, at least some of the shape of things, so that I knew how to live through it. We can only ever see a small part of this shape: grand theories of everything are extremely dangerous. We have to be humble seekers.
But, as NS says, I reluctantly concluded that, though I would like to be a Buddha, I was never going to be. And things are moving so fast out there, I had to write it out of me - which is how I work things out. And I do know that this proves useful to at least some people. We are, in the end, all working it out together, and that can provide us with guidance as things crumble. From the reading I do, including here, I come across ideas and perspectives I hadn't considered, and they deepen mine. That makes me, at least, feel less and not more alone. And it gives me a sense of what I should and should not do in the world.
Having said all that, I am not on social media, and I try to balance online with real. There are a lot of landmines on the internet. It is almost designed to drive us mad. We have to be careful. But this is how it seems to me.
May I add a practical remark on what gives me peace of mind?
Classics only, mostly before 1900. Bible to Nietzsche, Sophocles to Shakespeare. Trying to live in the true, the good, and the beautiful, which are everywhere.
No TV, mobile phone only as a phone, no mainstream media.
Internet access only from PC in my study. Reading or writing a serious text by smartphone is virtually impossible for me: "The medium is the message," therefore large screen and books only.
Deep background reads and videos on current issues, few news.
Internet newsletters on current info with anything from NYT to Breitbart: Scanning headlines is sufficient to know issues and perspectives, most of the time, and to stay out of echo chambers.
Bach instead of modern music, almost no art and architecture after 1900.
I cheat by using internet synopses of texts: I can not read all I want, but we have V.D. Hanson videos on war, Hillsdale for C.S. Lewis, etc.).
Lots of nature, cooking for friends, my own essay writing (of course not at the level of N.S. Lyons, but helpful to clarify thoughts).
Since I do that, I feel up to almost any discussion on any topic.
I must admit that access to American sources (Peterson, Hoover, Prager, Mises, etc. as starting points) has helped my enormously to focus my life in a classical way and avoid unproductive distraction. I envy America because the (free of charge) sources on anything from neurobiology to cosmology are overwhelming and gratifying.
Hope I don´t sound like a smart-ass but I have friends who spend lots of time on info-gathering with shady sources like social and mainstream media, without ever getting anywhere.
A most wonderful question and replies, beginning with our host's, easily equal to it. The great and continuing conversation of which this is a part and toward which our host directs our attention is also nicely outlined and grounded in the recent study of Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau and Tocqueville by Jospeh and Jenna Storey ("Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Question for Contentment," Princeton, 2021). Besides astonishing me that anything truly helpful could come out of an Ivy - it offers solid hope and a clear sense that our disorientation and longing is neither new nor pointless. Nor without serious hazards and dangers (cf Rousseau). Rather, something we can profitably encounter with the help of offerings such as these. Thanks to all.
Excellent response, I certainly can relate to C. I love the verse in Ecclesiastes, "God has set eternity in the human heart " . We all know there is more, but cannot fully connect to it. I like to say to friends when one of us is going to he away for awhile, "See you on the other side". And I think we will see each other on the other side of death and remember our time here. If I have learned anything valuable it is this , God of the Bible is real, same for Jesus and Holy Spirit. God created everything, and God Loves Us. Thats it.
That was an important email, echoing concerns that have been bubbling in my own mind and surely the minds of many. Thank you for responding so thoroughly and thoughtfully.
For me love of wisdom is it’s own reward, it seems intrinsic, it’s reliably uplifting, it is comforting, it is fun and vital. I also get a voyeuristic pleasure, I’m completely amazed at the brilliance of some people (N.S. Lyons for instance) I find that immensely enjoyable, spiritual. As for isolation, I accept it is a process, a way of being, I don’t worry that I can’t figure it out, I don’t deserve that, didn’t do the work, don’t have the chops, no way, no how. All manner of people we meet suffer from the same sense of being alone, none of us can speak our truth, people will reject you as a kook, you’ll be thrown out, foisted on on your own petard for being superior. We cannot share this stuff socially, get over it, it’s better that way, it avoids wars. If you trespass on someone’s belief system they will want to kill you, live alone it’s much safer and don’t worry you’ll soon be dead.
I see fewer comments here on friendship than I would expect.
Communities need more local philosophers that go unknown to the larger world. We cant all put forth the time to have a substack or run a blog(myself included). But those of us who do read a little, who do seek around the edges when we can, need to have faith that where our heart and mind is guiding us is relevant. First and foremost to the people around us and if we are lucky locally. Healthy communities need minds engaged in the thousands year old questions. I do think, at least for me, a cure to wading in the swamp of thinking to much is to have a physical relationship with your surroundings. You cant out think a tree, but you can learn from it.
N.S., I really can't think of much to say here except a very genuine thank you. Never until now have I considered I may have a yearning for philosophy, but that's exactly what seems to be going on and I feel I have no choice but to embrace it. I've recently found myself asking a very similar question as your "reader" here. I've been diving into the likes of Paul Kingsnorth, Peco's "Pilgrims" and Ruth Gaskovski who pointed me back here. The last thing I expected to find was encouragement to keep writing but that's what's happened. My time here on substack has been short (a year..maybe) and I've considered deleting the whole thing. 'Who cares what I think? Am I posting more nonsense into the world?' But to work out what the hell is going on, I will take this as the encouragement I needed.
Again, thank you.
Your version of Gnostic seems to be opposite of what I understood here, that we create an image in our imagination and believe it to be real, would love to hear your thoughts
The Gnostics, grounded in nature, understood that the infectious claim of the archons and demiurge, that humanity was “created in the image of God,” was pure abstraction, grounded in imagination and nothing more, lunacy. Once that seed was planted in the ripe and fertile soil of reified imagination however, the snowball gathered, evolving into an avalanche of self-deception that just kept growing, today mechanically and exponentially inflated by global propaganda and technology, an archon's dream come true.
We reify the flowing river of entangled energy that defines ‘us,’ so the mental images we conjure fit into our subject-object, “thinging” language and metaphors, then forget that this is what we are doing. And upon this pervasive “ignorance of our true nature,” our world spins into increasing chaos.
Krishnamurti observed evil was not the opposite of goodness, rather a different and independent force. The mental parasites the Gnostics described are real in terms of our near-infinite capacity for self-deception, which is, in this thesis, the root and essence of evil. Once a false reality becomes reality, that template cannot self-correct. Inventing war strategies to battle invisible mental phantoms only deepen the deception. Not unlike the layers and layers of deception we face with weaponized public health and weaponized government. A completely different approach is needed.
I couldn't help but notice your link to onlinegreatbooks.com. I participated in it for two years and just recently had to retire because of some schedules changes. It's a great program and I recommend it to anyone.
I find reading these works as physical books instead of online (even if many great works are available legally for free online), helps keep me grounded. That and running for hours outside with nothing but a watch and the clothes I wear.
Going off the rails in my own searching for a grand theory was not at all difficult. For longer than I would like to admit (maybe 55 years or so) I was not even close to being a humble seeker and even today my personal drive for certainty is still a significant part of my make-up despite the personal suffering it has caused me.
Your fear about this type of searching being simply another gnostic detour or maybe even an invitation to insanity is, from my experience, well-founded.
I often feel I have only really scratched the surface of my own will-to-power (and how clever I am at covering it up) but our attempts to articulate checks and balances to this desire now seems fundamental to taking on the mega-machine.
Tell him to read BAP and live it, teach that to children not prayer. BAP addresses our deficiencies, Socrates who took being a fierce Hoplite for granted does not speak to us, for he would not so degrade himself if he got a good look at us. We do not defend anything, certainly not our cultural inheritance. Our problem is not no brains, or the search for Truth , it is no balls.
Frankly if you have no balls better not to know, eh?
Aristophanes had his tombstone inscription “Fought at Marathon “ not “wrote Comedies. We have him and the “gadfly” exactly wrong.
BAP; I refer to Bronze Age Person as BAP. Aka Bronze Age Pervert (he isn’t).