‘Tis true, ’tis day, what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise, because ’tis light?
Did we lie down, because ’twas night?
Love which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.
Must business thee from hence remove?
Oh, that’s the worst disease of love,
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.
John Donne, The major Works, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 102.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 16/11/2008. No idea what this will be about.]
Nothing like an early 17th century poem delivering an early 21st century truth. It is a testament to the ease with which words can travel. ‘Busy, busy, busy,’ – the more time we reclaim from nature, the less time we feel to have.
Formulated in this way, it’s a boring old commonplace but that’s just because we don’t take time to lie still at the break of day. If we would, we would question the busy-ness of business.
Why do we reclaim time from nature, just to wind up spending all of it to change nature in ways that satisfy this self-defeating circular obsession to be able to spend ever more time changing nature?
The answer is simple: we are in dire need of some serious brainwashing! When we were all brutes and beasts we needed an unsatisfiable drive to bend nature in ways which would allow us to cease to be just beasts and brutes. This got some elites into a situation of actual human behavior which was rapidly denounced as a state of decadence. It were the elites that started calling this behavior decadent because they liked it and they knew only a few could have it so they needed to do everything to avoid that the masses wanted it as well.
This situation was not evolutionarily stable. Through ups and downs the elite started to grow until, at least in some geographies, it became the strangest kind of self-denying majority. Indeed, once you are part of the elite there will always be another more elitist elite. This means that the majority feels simultaneously threatened to fall out of grace and out of the elite and unsatisfied for not being a part of the never vanishing minorities who are even more well off. This is more evolutionarily stable.
[But more stable doesn’t mean stable. We see before our eyes how it’s becoming unsustainable. Maybe in hundred years or so somebody will look back and see how predictably this was going to crash.]
The end result is that the growth of the elites is unavoidable [and let’s hope that its unhappiness isn’t similarly unavoidable]. Cultural pessimists need to realize that society ‘deteriorates amazingly well’ nowadays.
The role of cultural pessimists is a crucial one: they keep the evolutionary dynamics as per the above intact. They avoid us getting a thoroughly enjoyable brainwashing and keep our hands and minds continuously dirty, keeping us honest by warning is of the twin aspiration/insecurity horns.
They point out that the elite is and will always be perceived to be a happy few so the struggle to get there or keep your offspring in it is a continuous sruggle. Let’s call this first point the ‘original sin argument’, or, when you are less religiously inclined ‘The Carrot’. On top of this they highlight that, being in the elite, too much is worse than not enough. The old scare stories about ‘decadence’ are put in arms again taking coincidental moralizing standards and showing how decadent elites not only violate them but will infect the ‘lesser’ classes thereby blocking progress for all. Let’s call this the ‘armageddon argument’, or the ‘fall of the Roman Empire’-argument or, more simply, ‘The Stick’.
[I added the insecurity thing above so the quought is even more confused than it originally was. But I think the insecurity argument makes a stronger ‘Stick’ than the decadence one. Probably decadence is the threat you get from combing The Carrot with The Stick.]
This way the business that was the means to an end becomes the end in itself and all of us hurry at the break of day away, away from our true love:; away from spending time with ourselves and others disregarding nature, nurturing the words with which we speak to each other & using our movements for furthering our human pleasure.
Yes, that’s decadent!
Once our brains are washed in a shower of nice words, and dried in a light of love, we will understand (and feel!) that decadence is what we need to create what others crave. We will never be busy again, and our business will be instrumental again, instrumental to get a maximum amount of people to become part of an elite that is bestial only insofar as it behooves them (in bed, in sports but not in business). This is not a plea against business – once our brains are washed clean from the desire to over-achieve, we will continue to consume (in fact we will only consume) because we know we are not responsible for keeping things on track.
In fine: we will know we are not responsible. Responsibility is a bestial notion. It is a notion that is completely superfluous in the context of real love (not the lovy-dovy kind of love, not the romantic love of feeling responsible but simply love of being human and acting as humans with no interest except human interests).
Neither the carrot, nor the stick will impress us. Insofar as the elite is by definition a minority, we will no longer feel this compulsion to be part of it or have what they have. Inasmuch decadence consists in violating non-coincidental moral claims of what makes humans human all will be cognizant of the fact that such is not the way of real decadence – because decadent love is love of what makes humans human.
I am, in short, very pessimistic about cultural pessimism 🙂
But I am also not going to put in hard work to make it go away. I will wait for it to self-defeat itself!
[Whilst writing this I was listening to ‘Shostakovich: The Jazz Album’ but I advise you not to because: it is a hoax, my friends.]