For most of human history, mankind shared ideas through oration or literature. The Buddha never wrote anything down, neither did the Christ…their followers scribed the teachings for future generations. Likewise, Socrates shared his philosophy orally. It was recorded by his students, and even under penalty of death, he would not recant it. The ‘Self-Examined Life’, the great philosopher concluded, was mankind’s highest calling. He was apparently satisfied with what he found in himself, as he willingly drank the Hemlock surrounded by distraught friends and students.
Fast-forward a couple thousand years and we discover that civilization was still busy about philosophy, and that the great ideas from the past had taken hold and were taught and debated in their various cultures. In Greece, Socrates’ philosophy was followed and advanced by his student, Plato. Plato had a student whose ideas continue to permeate human thought. Aristotle’s arguments for reason, over two thousand years ago, became the foundation of western philosophy…to this day.
Of course, at the same time in the East, Buddha’s teachings were similarly followed, debated, and reconciled into foundational understanding about reality that also exists to this day. Along comes Christ a few hundred years after that and He preaches a doctrine of Love and selflessness that provides increasing aspects to this ancient wisdom, which is reconciled with Aristotle’s philosophy of reason by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, as the Zen Buddhists in Tibet, and the Gurus in India, were continuing to reconcile the Enlightened One’s teachings. The Chinese eventually decided to abandon Confucius’ teachings in the name of progress and modernization – to become the most industrial and soulless nation on Earth.
Now, let’s move to the beginning of our modern era, philosophically. The reaction of the Enlightenment in the nineteenth century would usher in the confusion of conflicting notions called ‘Existentialism’ – the idea that none of the philosophies of the past could be true because ALL views of reality come from within. It argued that whatever was, in fact, concrete and absolute could not be known but only danced around in our minds. This marked the solidification of the philosophy that there is no reality apart from our consciousness, which undermines previously held understanding about human existence…and does to this day.
Now let’s examine our time, when industrialization and progress trump all pretenders to the throne…when a lie may be made to look like the truth and stand in for the truth (since what we learned in the Enlightenment is that there is no truth but what we call it). And then, the magic of technology – we bring our new understanding into everyone’s private space through television, where untested and conflicting ideas may be reproduced as unquestionable knowledge…where emotional strings may be manipulated by willing puppet masters…where no one ever need read a book, or look to the past again for answers. We struck an artery straight to the hearts and minds of the future generations.
What have we come to produce, in the place of sage wisdom, for the waiting world to ingest? – ‘Hollow Drama’ – cathartic un-reality for the mid-life-crisis generation who lacks the philosophically principled mind to reject it, or the stamina to resist. We go from the ‘Iliad’, to the ‘Expendables’, and no one raises an eyebrow. We go from natural leaders and teachers, to empty suits and indifferent administrators, and convince ourselves we are progressive. We have ‘reality TV’ without a shred of reality. We eat chemical poisons in place of food because a beautiful person on the television tells us to.
Why do we listen to this beautiful person on the TV lying to us? What disconnect from everything that has ever been held worthy of our attention allows this abomination? Because we have a crisis of conscience…because we haven’t a philosophical leg to stand on. We imitate mindlessness. We aspire to indifference. We have long tuned-out ancient wisdom so we can tune-in modern emptiness and despair. We have, through much pain and obedience, become vacant vessels, and we now prefer it that way.
Have you noticed how our modern hero differs from the ancient ones? Homer’s hero reeks of humanity…he is but a man, he is normal. His strengths are never without his weaknesses, his thoughts and actions always in doubt – as most of ours are. Jack the Giant Killer is the simplest and weakest of adversaries, but fights the giant not because he can, but because he must. David is the most unqualified pipsqueak in history to challenge Goliath. Even the Greek demigods must beware lest a mere mortal unearth them.
But what of our modern hero? Well, he or she is usually an assassin, or some form of professional killer. They are the strongest, fittest, wittiest, and unconquerable due to their individual strength and superiority, not the supremacy of their moral stance or the inherent righteousness of their calling. They are portrayed to us as super-human, though their unnatural pre-eminence and self-reliance betray them as sub-human. They fight because they can, not because they must. They kill because they are good at it, not in spite of it. They entice the weaklings of mind and spirit to be like them in physical prowess. They are not heroes because they are better than us; they are heroes because they are stronger than us. They disregard the ancient imperative that true strength resides in weakness…they forget that David slew Goliath with a stone.
And while an ancient might never know the feelings of a misplaced purpose in life, our mid-life-crisis generation seeks resolve in the self-empowerment of hollow drama. We seek the attributes of power because we have been told it is the only real strength, and because of this, we are the weakest and most impotent generation in history. Our power is only to take and to destroy. The words of the sages are lost on us…the power of love – a superstition. Where for thousands of years, mankind sought knowledge and truth, this mid-life-crisis generation seeks only stature and gain.
Where can the mid-life-crisis generation go? How does our drama end? Ancient Buddhist wisdom finds eight hot and eight cold hells at the end of the self-absorbed rainbow. It sees mankind descend to its animal-like beginnings, tearing each other to pieces, before emerging once again from the caves to a more communal worldview. Christ promised His followers that if He did not return ahead of schedule to rescue humanity, there would remain no flesh left to save. Shiva needs to destroy the temporal world of suffering so it may begin again. How do we reconcile the wisdom of the past with the blindness of the present, or can we? Would ANYONE from past civilizations relate to the storyline of the mid-life-crisis generation, and our oblivious march to oblivion?
Of course, the mid-life-crisis generation is buying none of this. Why should we? – We are making up existence from our minds. And so, after watching our super-hero splatter blood all over the screen, we turn to our favorite reality-TV show, where groups of people are forced to lie, steal, and cheat to attain victory. After that, we’ll pop a Prozac and tune into the mainstream media for the slice of reality we are to believe in today. We are pop-culture pawns, with a vision of fifteen minutes of fame. We don’t question the official story, because we lack the wherewithal. We cannot see Socrates spinning in his grave. Our self-examination is preformed by our cohorts.