14. Sense before Utility

For animals, there are only three kinds of things in the world: dangerous, enticing and indifferent. Man, unlike animals, finds inner meaning in things, compares their value and (sometimes) declares some of them shameful or forbidden.

In the worldview of the bygone era, the most important place was given to sin and shame. Personal morality in the Old World was defined primarily through the observance of prohibitions. Loyalty to the state, honest service were in it secondary, pagan components; inoculation of Rome, without which Christian Europe could not manage.

The course of events abolished religious morality (in some countries forcibly, in others by gradual loosening of morals). Service to the state not only remained, but also increased in value. But loyalty to the state is not enough. A person needs something that can guide everyday life; if not a broad and all-encompassing worldview, then at least its replacement; something that gives a sense of meaningfulness and justification of actions, in Christian terms — personal righteousness.

At different times man turned to different forces for such guidance. More often to religion, less often to philosophy. Nowadays, he seeks support from a strong, self-confident, but hardly long-lasting doctrine of a meaningless world, the riches and powers of which man (a strange exception, a bubble of consciousness in a stream devoid of reason, source and purpose) must take and use in a rational way….

But let us return to the subject of our conversation. When religion weakens, the first impulse of reason becomes: to keep the crumbling image of the world in order.

It is natural for reason to see the world as intelligently organised, and as a whole, i. e. as reasonable from bottom to top, down to man and his soul: not only at the level of the dance of invisible forces, which science deals with. Here is an impenetrable boundary between science, on the one hand, and philosophy, on the other: science studies the world without man, for philosophy man is a necessary part of the world order.

The idea of a universe without gods or with such gods, who are indifferent to the course of earthly affairs, does not give man a foothold. Philosophy becomes a response to a challenge: the challenge of the meaninglessness and unnecessariness of all things. The thinker is not a dreamer; he seeks, or rather should I say creates, a firm foothold for the mind in the midst of defiantly (apparently) disordered, unjustified events. Philosophy dies if the mind agrees to accept a meaningless world.

However, philosophy needs soil to develop. The ability to value wisdom above usefulness, the readiness for disinterested thinking, mental luxury — is given to times and peoples unevenly. And wisdom alone, the art of thought alone is not enough for philosophy: one needs also a reciprocal attention, readiness to listen, otherwise philosophy will remain a personal fad, a funny hobby of an unnecessary person…

After the decline of the Old World, this ground disappeared. The ‘liberated’ masses had neither the ability nor the will to philosophise; still less did their leaders. However, from living on the margins of the former cultural world, these leaders retained some stock of ideas, of ‘correct conceptions’ about history, society, man… Feeding on this stock, the ‘ideology’ of the new world grew up.

The ideology could be called ‘the doctrine of right thoughts’. At first glance, its task is almost the same as that of philosophy. Ideology gives meaning, if not to the world, then to the life of society. But where philosophy goes about overcoming difficulties, lifting weights, constructing a building — ideology prefers not to see what it does not like, builds a house of cards and hopes that there will not be a strong wind.

If a philosopher comes to conclusions that determine his life, an ideologist determines only opinions, and only opinions expressed aloud. Ideology is something external and coercive to the individual; it does not grow out of his inner needs, but is imposed by an outside force. Its ‘ideas’ do not pass one into another through internal development, but are taken on faith or discarded in their entirety.

The ideologist speaks of a ‘correct’, i. e., proper understanding of things, while the philosopher speaks of a ‘clear and logically inconsistent, and yet meaningful’ (i. e., not allowing any doubt about the meaningfulness of the world). Ideology is personal righteousness applied to opinions: ‘think this way and you will be long-lived on earth’. The logical value of worldviews does not occupy it.

And at the same time ideology resembles Christian morality. It also puts man in an unbearable relationship with himself. The demands of ideology, like the demands of Christianity, cannot but be violated. Thoughts, deeds and feelings are divided into the right, for others — and the real, for oneself. ‘Ideology’ in all forms presupposes doublethink.

The similarity of ‘ideology’ to Christian morality is not accidental. It solves the same problems by giving the individual, as a reward for ‘correct’ behaviour, a sense of self worth. The difference is that ideology, understood as a system of morality, redefines ‘sin’ (the forbidden) through the external rather than the internal. Harm to the soul is replaced by harm to society. It is shameful not to ‘think one thing and say another’, but to ‘say what everyone else thinks’. The good of society (understood as its undisturbed sleep) becomes the last value. Personal righteousness is achieved through service to external and only external ends. Fortunately, in Russia this secular morality did not last long, but managed to devastate the minds of two or three generations and lead to a complete moral loss of their descendants…

After the long domination of ideology — we find ourselves in an empty land. What are we to do?

A return to a religious morality based on the suppression of desires seems not just unlikely but unfruitful. The old world was both highly developed and rich, but because it accepted the morality of prohibitions only up to a certain point (that is, it was not fully Christian, as strict preachers were relentlessly pointing out). The dam put up to the human desire to live in peace and rejoice in the sun has already been broken, and if it is to be rebuilt, it will be under the sign of another religion.  I think we no longer have the right to retreat from the world into the soul, leaving the world in abandonment, as was once done, but neither can we abandon the soul for the sake of the world. The present scholastic mindlessness (lessons of the use of a meaningless world) will satisfy no one for a long time.

As for the wisdom that fills the world with meaning even when the voices of the old gods are not heard… To live in a meaningful world is, strictly speaking, more difficult. The meaningfulness of things is a burden that the weak mind willingly throws off. What is useful is that which makes life easier. Why, by the way, culture is useless — a set of rules, patterns of behaviour, feelings and thoughts that complicate life. And why we should hold on to culture and the memory of its achievements, no matter how many people tell us about ‘utility’ and ‘progress’.

In order not to keep repeating the vague word ‘culture’, it is easier to say: ‘spiritual labour’. (And let us not be deceived by the resemblance to Christian usage.) We are talking about the labour of the mind and the senses, aimed at complicating and deepening the personality and the ways of its expression. After all, society (however much some would like to believe otherwise) is, among other things, an educational institution. There is no ‘natural state’ of man, except for the state of savagery. Every superior human type is nurtured by society, its ideas about culture, that is (in the end) about education.

That is the importance of the question. The relation of the soul to the world, the meanings it puts in things and doings — all this concerns not idle abstractions, but the most important thing: the upbringing of man. Whatever we choose: righteousness through observance of prohibitions; ‘use’ of the senseless world; ‘correct names of things’ with indifference to the inner life of the soul; philosophical belief in the meaningfulness of the world order — the chosen meanings will determine the state of mind of man in the new world, which is already under construction and will be built someday.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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