I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Reason

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In clearing up the underbrush of privilege and prejudice, liberalism or rationalism was convinced that it held in its hand the naked truth, undisguised, unstained by dogma or tradition. Reason discovering nature can test everything by experiment. There is no room for traditional habits: fashion takes the place of habit. But it is precisely fashion which enslaves Reason. The philosophizing mind has its prison of sensuality and drudgery exactly like a pupil of the Jesuits or a child in a backwoods village. Its fairy-tale and its prejudice are not dependent upon miracles or dogmas or incense or witchcraft, but the apparatus of Reason is subject to the same laws of sensuous disguise as any other part of the human soul. Superstition sends us to the medicine man, physical pain to the physician. We have a native sense that urges us on toward Reason and Philosophy: this sense is curiosity. Without a sense for novelty, no thinker can succeed or affect the life of the community. The self-indulgence of Reason is its predilection for the new. The newspaper is the true expression of this quality of philosophical perception, the sensuous form which enables man to recollect truth in its disguise as news. New facts and new ideas inflame our imagination. Without this flame the best idea, the wisest thought, remains useless. Any influence upon our senses is useless so long as our senses do not react. Indifference is a state of perfect equilibrium. When we feel neither cold nor warm, our internal thermometer is not registering anything. As long as we feel neither joy nor pride, our emotional system is quiescent. Philosophy has recognized the external dependence of all our senses. It is aware that they are all based on impressions, and react to influences from outside.

Now Reason is exactly the same kind of servant. It serves us well whenever its proper centre is stimulated. It is created and given to us for the purpose of distinguishing between new and old. It begins to move and to be stimulated by sensations which are new, unheard of. Reason is tickled by novelty. The nineteenth century changed the oldest truths into sensational news. We are willing to believe that the wind bloweth where it listeth, or that to him who hath shall be given, if we read it on the front page of our newspaper as the latest cable from Seattle. As the latest news in the newspaper, the oldest truth is welcome to Reason. The Age of Reason reveals truth by proceeding from news to news. It believes that the age of Revelation is gone; it believes in Enlightenment. But it itself is wholly based on Revelation. Reason cannot understand eternity or old age. It scorns tradition, ancien régime, customs, irrational weights or measures. It is clear, precise; but it also destroys everything which cannot be made either bad or happy news. Anything that is not willing to break out or happen or change is hidden to Reason. The nineteenth century forgot all eternal truth which was not ready to step down into the arena of Latest News, telegrams and publicity. A man had to become a sensation lest he be a failure.

. . .

These, then, are the “grandeurs et misères” of the victory of Reason. Reason, abstract and unreal, without roots in the soil, without rhythm in its movements, cannot govern its world without submitting to the directing power of sensation.

Today we are somewhat tired of this self-indulgence of Reason. The titillation of our sense of novelty is expensive and ruinous, because world, facts, truth and values lose their roots in the timeless when they are made to depend upon being rediscovered from time to time. Under the dictatorship of Reason, man begins to live like a solitary and one-celled animal. This unicellular life can get nowhere except by eating and swallowing. Multicellular life can depend upon older achievements without eating and digesting them. The modern society of the nineteenth century kills everything which cannot be swallowed in the form of news and sensations. It is unicellular. Now civilization does not form visible cells; its cells consist of generations, ages, periods. The repressive and outstanding feature of the age of Reason is its “single-aged,” one-generation character. Such an age may go on for two hundred years; but it will always remain a one-generation affair as long as its values depend on reproduction in the form of novelty. We meet reality through various senses. Any sense which states a difference is able to inform us. A consideration of our modern life will reveal how much of its information is based on a mere sense of curiosity. Curiosity arranges the things of the universe according to their quality of being new; and this produces an order of things of remarkable futility. The movie star comes to the foreground, wisdom is ridiculed, forests are sacrificed without a qualm because they grow so slowly, and skyscrapers are adored because they go up so fast. It is a very limited outlook on the universe which we gain through our instruments for news. There are other instruments, like hunger, reverence, patience, faith, which work in a different way and discover very different parts of the world.

The sense of novelty has been organized in the last hundred and fifty years as our main highroad of information. We say: it has been organized. The nineteenth century did not make discoveries or inventions in the same way as any other period of history. It invented the technique of invention; it formulated the methods of discovery. The secret of the French Revolution is the organization of discovery. We no longer stumble from one invention to the next; we have learned to plan our inventions and discoveries.

The sensation of novelty is sanctified by the campaigns carried on in our laboratories into the unknown. But like any sacrament, this one is stained by terrible superstitions. No one wishes to minimize the miracles performed in the laboratory; but we must overcome this appalling destruction of family, discipline, faith, by curiosity and by the growing paralysis of the rest of our senses. Because everybody has been trained in curiosity, most people have neglected their other senses; our deeper, wiser, better and more important links with reality have degenerated under our system of newspapers, radios, phonographs, movies, with their organization of novelty. They are the bane of modern life. The prohibition of news would restore the peace of many families. Truth will die if the masses see it based on nothing but novelty. Truth is not new, it is all around us. It was before we were. The original thinker knows that true originality consists in being as old as creation. (Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution, 248-253)

Rosenstock-Huessy’s comments on the organization of scientific progress call to mind Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Each revolution in history—and doubly so the coming transition from empire to tribe—involves a gestalt shift. Usually this is a generational shift because old wineskins cannot handle new wine. And until it happens, we often cannot see clearly how it will take form, though we know that the old ways will cease to work, things will fall apart, and the new ways will not be exactly like anything that has come before. But what is exciting about this is that, if you are willing to heed the prophets, you can still give your children a head start by freeing them from service to the fashionable–idols and helping them to love what is true and good and beautiful.

Written by Scott Moonen

September 19, 2021 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Books, History, Quotations

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