Memorial Day, Quarantine Fatigue, And Dried-up Secular Culture

Memorial Day

Many mainstream news outlets reported that partygoers failed to observe social distancing guidelines at a Lake of the Ozarks Memorial Day party that was jam-packed with people. While no laws were broken, Missouri officials have since recommended that anyone who attended the party voluntarily quarantine himself or herself for 14 days.

This shouldn’t be where the story ends. It should be where the philosophical investigation begins.

Quarantine Fatigue

In recent days, I’ve heard a number of people speak of “quarantine fatigue” and of the desire to “get back to normal” or, barring that, to experience “a new normal.”

I would to suggest that so-called “quarantine fatigue” is nothing more than a sign of secular culture’s basic failures. It should be clear, I hope, that the old normal sucked, that the new normal is bound to suck, and therefore that there is nothing on offer worth getting back to. Let’s see why.

The Bourgeois Dispensation

Ordinarily, as Ernst Junger once averred, the bourgeoisie have set as their highest value that of security. In the first place, the physical body is to be maintained and is to perdure for as long as that is possible. And in the second place, comforts and conveniences are to be regarded as genuine goods.

The bourgeois dispensation, which has been with us throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, amounts not to the good life but to “the goods life.” However, what’s curious about the goods life is that while there is nothing genuinely worth risking one’s life for, there can, all the same, be clashes between security and pleasure.

The case in point is the Lake of the Ozarks party held yesterday. The tragedy is that people might suffer or die–for nothing. Which brings me to secular culture’s depravity.

The Dried-up Nature of Secular Culture

Secular culture reveals its hand when it’s seen that it can offer us no more than what Paul Tillich has termed “matters of provisional concern.”

  1. When Americans start to feel as if they are living under house arrest, they long for freedom, yet such freedom is nothing but freedom of mobility (and not, say, genuine political freedom of the kind defended by Classical Athenians in the Persian War).
  2. When people are fatigued (compare clinging or craving in Buddhism), they long for pleasure: to socialize with friends of pleasure (Aristotle), to have sex or else hook up, to drink or use drugs, to enjoy recreations or play sports, and so on.
  3. And when “workers” are implored to work from home, companies–and “workers”–worry that they’ll be less productive.”

What, Under Secular Modernity, Is There To Live For?

What is there to live for? In a word, bupkus. What a strange and impoverished landscape! To wit,

  • To be able exercise one’s freedom in the sense of mobility.
  • To experience pleasure.
  • To experience romantic love–that is, to enclose love entirely within the confines of the bourgeois family and thereby make it possessive.
  • To achieve success or attain status through work.

And that’s it! Nothing high or higher!

Pascal And Transcendentals

Pascal once wrote, “All of man’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Sitting alone properly is meditation, and meditation, rightly understood, is on the contemplation is of the nature of reality and the self.

But then what, it occurs to one in the midst of contemplation, is worth living and dying for? What, perchance, worth risking a life–possibly mine–for? What justifies this ramshackle existence? What affirms it all?

We come, at the end of this post, to the rudiments of a genuine culture. Transcendentals like love, goodness, truth, beauty, and the sacred would be the basis for a new culture, one that could, without equivocation or deceit, answer the question: “When would it be wise to go outside again?” At the present time, we have no good answer to this question; we can barely even hear its supplication.

May the rain from on high come soon for us.

Work Is Nothing Special: See This And Be Free

One thing that has become clearer to me since reading Michael Walzer’s The Revolution of the Saints (1965) is that we probably owe our fetishization of work in key part and in one specific way to the Puritans. Let me explain.

What’s interesting about Puritans is that they averred that each believer had a “particular calling,” one, to be sure, chosen in accordance with God’s will, and this calling  meant that he had come to a “settled course” as regards his business. A carpenter’s calling was to be a carpenter, a merchant’s to be a merchant, a lawyer’s to be a lawyer, and so on. What this effectively meant was that a carpenter would henceforth be doing one thing called carpentry for that was his “office” and so he would not, at some later point, be lawyering.

I believe that this notion of a particular calling very probably has influenced how we think about work well after Puritanism has left the scene and in the very maws of our secular time. What does talk of having a career, of doing meaningful work, and of having a calling share in common?

  • Mistaken Belief #1: That the work I do is a single thing. (I know some people are generalists today, but I’m speaking about the common mistaken belief here.)
  • Mistaken Belief #2: That that single thing I find and do is something special.
  • Mistaken Belief #3: That that single special thing I do is what makes me special.

In short, what must be critiqued is any Unity Principle under which work could be subsumed. Any single profession. Any careerist story, traditional, “portfolio,” or otherwise. Drop all the unities as well as all the purported specialnesses Right Now!

Observe how finding that Single Special Thing is bound up with the desire to Be a Special Somebody. The truth is that this is delusion.

Once you see that it is delusion, you’re free!

  • You can do a single thing, in terms of work, but without taking it to be anything special (because it’s not).
  • You can do multiple things, in terms of work, yet without making any of these into anything special (because they’re not).
  • And in either case, you’ll drop the delusion that you yourself are or could ever be somebody special.

How is this true liberation? Because once you see this, you’re thereafter free to see that whatever work you do can never be any more or any less special than anything else in life–such as watching the breeze blow, making love, chopping wood, writing a poem, going on a long hike, dreaming up an intentional community, filling out tax forms, and so on.

Stop torturing yourself and thus stop trying to find that alleged one special thing that will somehow have made you that special somebody before this body perishes. Consider: is it possible to love all of life? Is is possible to have different–that is to say, right–reasons for the activities you engage with? Can you write a short story or paint a landscape for its own sake? Can you pick up something (whatever that something is), be one-pointedly engaged with it, and then put it down just as easily as you picked it up? Indeed, must even greater commitment (such as mine to philosophy) entail unnecessary clinging or craving due to delusional self-view?

To be in right relation to work is to have made your peace with work. And to have made your peace with work is to have seen work directly and clearly for what it is: nothing special at all.