January 20th, 2009


Wherever you go, there you are

I was watching a Michael Wood series on India. He wandered about Tamil Nadu, gushing over everything. He seemed especially taken with the idea that the culture he was witnessing belonged to both the 21st Century and to Antiquity. He mentioned it over and over.

Wood is an icon of modern liberal humanism, and the emptiness inside it. At bottom, Modern Liberal Humanists are obsessed with a search for authenticity. They feel that our society -- and they, themselves -- are inauthentic, divorced from their past. They keep looking for the magic kingdom where the past and present are both fully realized, where you can truly "have it all." Sometimes, that search leads them to "invent" traditions to comfort themselves with; when their search leads them to places like India, they think they've found Shangri-La for real.

The idea that you could be authentic -- have it all, culturally speaking -- right here at home does not engage these types. Watching Wood blurble over all things traditional -- in India -- made me think, "Hey, I follow an ancient religion, too: Christianity is almost twenty centuries old, and in its roots goes all the way back to Abraham, maybe forty centuries ago. Meanwhile, the classical heritage of the Western world goes back some twenty-five centuries. And, don't let me forget my linguistic and cultural roots that go back over sixteen centuries (Hwæt!).

I live in intimate, daily contact with my personal and cultural past. I am at home both in the 21st Century and in Antiquity. I know who I am. I'm sorry that Michael Wood, et. al., don't know who they are. But that's their problem. At bottom, modern liberal humanism is just cultural self-hate. Even in Shangri-La, they will never be at home.