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.
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.”
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.