[percy-l] Re: Some Random Thoughts, Largely Unrelated, Based on Previous Discussions and Readings

Steve Dye sldye at bluegrass.org
Tue Dec 3 13:19:10 EST 2002

Well put!  I may copy this and just hand it to folks who struggle with my own overblown and "convoluted" attempts to "explain" Percy!  Thank you.
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Karey L. Perkins 
  To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org 
  Sent: Tuesday, December 03, 2002 12:05 PM
  Subject: Re: [percy-l] Re: Some Random Thoughts, Largely Unrelated, Based on Previous Discussions and Readings

  Aristotle thought the teenagers of his day were all going to pot.  An essay in Percy's Signposts says more (American) men were killed in the Civil War than WWI and WWII put together. On a physical level, the 20th century wasn't any worse than other centuries... On a material level, our lives are terrific (Percy would agree) and far better than they have been ever (at least the Northern Hemisphere).   The 9/11 tragedy and the wars that are following it are tragedies of course -- but no worse than those that came before and actually far less I would say.

  However, on a spiritual level, we don't know why we're here, or who we are -- THIS is what's different about our century.

  On an ETHICAL level, however, I'd have to say this century is no better or worse than any others...  We can still learn to be "ethical" in this transient, anonymous, capitalist, postmodern society -- ethical implies a statement about our behavior in the physical world, and the laws of nature still apply.  I.E.:  If you're lazy and don't work, you won't produce and hence you will be fired, become hungry, and become motivated to work.  If you're a freeloader, people will know it, resent you, abandon you, and you'll soon lose people to freeload off of.  If you cheat and lie, you will (eventually) be found out.  Enron and WorldCom.  Being unethical just doesn't work -- in the long run -- and the structure of the universe will ensure that we learn our lessons and act ethically to succeed, or not learn our lessons and fail.  "What doesn't work will eventually fail."  There are exceptions, of course, but generally our world -- THE world -- works that way.

  However, ethics is different from spirituality -- though the two are related more often than not.  Spirituality implies a sense of meaning and purpose behind our actions.  Spirituality implies something that is transcendent of the physical world.  Spirituality implies, esp. for Percy, something human -- different from the animals -- and entails such concepts and experiences of "joy" and "alienation" and a "soul" and a "dark night" and "pattern" and "purpose."

  In other words, I can act ethically for the physical rewards/benefits of that and have no spiritual purpose behind it at all (though spirituality usually entails ethical actions).  You referred to the "Thanatos Syndrome" -- in it you have the characters cavorting about engaging in all sorts of meaningless sexual acts -- it's not that that's unethical that is the problem with this -- but that it shows the absence of spirituality -- there's no meaning or purpose behind what should be a spiritual act.  In TS, the water is tampered with to make a happy society on a physical plane, but there's no purpose to the happiness, no transcendent meaning related to that.  (In this way, to me, Thanatos Syndrome is very closely related to Huxley's Brave New World -- in events and in theme.)

  Huston Smith (best known for his "World Religions" work) has a great little book, a pretty quick read, called "Beyond the Post-Modern Mind" (1989? though that might not be the first edition).  In it he says the middle ages was an era in which man saw himself as a creature of God, as a creature with a soul, and his place in the world was determined by the state of his soul and relationship with God.  So the middle ages was "Man with a soul," which became usurped in the Renaissance by mind, science, and intellect -- man was "Man with a mind," and in the 20th century, we no longer view our place in the world as defined by soul or mind, but by body.  We are physical creatures, and that is the end of that.

  So, what's wrong with making society productive on a physical plane (certainly what the Nazis wanted -- Hitler was a Utopian) and people happy through physical inducement?  It lacks any connection to meaning, purpose, and man's place in the world as it relates to anything transcendent.  It (the postmodern age) lacks a spirituality.


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Earthrise Press 
  To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org 
  Sent: Tuesday, December 03, 2002 7:07 AM
  Subject: Re: [percy-l] Re: Some Random Thoughts, Largely Unrelated, Based on Previous Discussions and Readings

  "Wade Riddick"  wrote:
  > Well, the list appears to have gone dark, which isn't surprising what with
  > the increasing corporate ownership of media and all.

  I've been occasionally lurking around for some months out of interest
  in Percy's work, surfing the website too. How about attempting a
  "revival" with one of my favorite quotations from Percy:

  Sign Posts in a Strange Land, 309:

  "The old modern age has ended. We live in a post-modern as well
  as a post-Christian age which as yet has no name....

  "It is post-modern because the Age of Enlightenment with its vision
  of man as a rational creature, naturally good and part of the cosmos,
  which itself is understandable by natural science--this age has also
  ended. It ended with the catastrophes of the twentieth century."

  What are we to make of the catastrophes of the 21st Century?
  Not off to an especially good start, are we?! Or too gloomy
  a quotation to prompt comment?

  Frederick Glaysher

  Earthrise Press
  P. O. Box 81842
  Rochester, MI 48308-1842
  Voice: 248-651-3380
  FAX: 248-608-6424
  EarthrisePress at Comcast.Net

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