Facing a time of darkness
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An elderly client wrote to me today in a mood of despair. His portfolio is doing ok, it’s just that his nursing home is in an uproar because they don’t have any idea how Obamacare will affect them. The management is warning the residents to gird their loins for steep increases in fees, or … something, they know not what. The whole community is terrified. He is despondent over the course of the country, and thus of the world, which he sees as irrecoverably disastrous. And his body has begun to pen him into a smaller and smaller ambit. He sees no way out.
He is right. There is no way out, for any of us. I wrote to him, seeking to console him. He immediately wrote back, “I am copying your piece for reading in the future when things get dicey. You should give copies to your children, Kristor. I intend to send copies to mine.” Apparently my words were some comfort to him. Perhaps others might find them of some use.
It is too early to say yet whether we are “after” the debacle, though it seems that we are (so far at least as the market is concerned)(touch wood). I have to think that the upward tilt of the market is in part an index of Obama’s programmatic prospects—i.e., that those prospects are not good. I gotta have hope, right? Let me know of your funding requirements as you learn of them; I do not anticipate any great difficulties in meeting them, provided the economy keeps stumbling along as at present. If it follows its normal patterns of post-recession behavior, we may be in for a new period of sustained growth. In that case, your Portfolio should more than meet your needs. No guarantees, of course; we are in the wrong universe for them.
I am saddened to hear of the limitations this earthly coil more and more imposes upon you. I encourage myself in this, by considering the great vitality, range and power of your mind, which are always among the most important factors of the emotional quality and depth of our experience, whatever its material circumstances. We are all of us imprisoned in our skulls; but that limit is also a bridge that connects us to all other things whatsoever, so that we may touch and enjoy them, even if only conceptually. Whether we do, or not, is our own.
The future of the recovery, like that of our lives, is as ever much in doubt. Disturbing changes of a fundamental nature seem to be in the offing, perhaps more so than in former times. But here, again, I console myself with the reflection that I have almost always felt this way. Perhaps that is because I live during a period of accelerating cultural decline and dissolution. Often I feel that this is the case; that I have remained myself, while all around me the world has come undone, and seems ready to come yet more undone; and that the depravity now everywhere prevalent is unprecedented, at least for our nation. Yet men of my seniority, and of yours, have perennially expressed such sentiments, even as the species has muddled through from one disaster to the next—has grown, and prospered withal. I like to remind myself that confusion and disorder are business opportunities; new things will arise, and perhaps better. A cultural meltdown is like a market or economic meltdown, in that, albeit costly, they are all groundwork for vital new enterprises.
Even so, all this-worldly enterprise ends in bankruptcy, sooner or later. Creaturely life cannot be otherwise. JRR Tolkien said (I paraphrase), “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic; so I cannot but look upon history, whatever its beauties, as a long defeat.” Implicit in this statement is the recognition that the defeat of this world, and its ultimate dissolution, while inevitable, cannot be the whole story (or that story could never have got going in the first place). The gloom of what Frodo called the end of all things, as he and Sam lay dying on the slopes of the exploding Mount Doom, must therefore be also the gloam at the dawn of that Day wherein all things are made new, which therefore subvenes all lesser days. The ineluctable, long defeat of our lives is thus the prelude to a great and permanent victory, in which all the values we have realized here below will find refreshment. So the defeat of the world is the forecondition of its final redemption.
I hope that I have not in this message presumed too much upon our relationship, or upon your own presuppositions. The risk seemed warranted, for I hear in your message a bitter despair, that I would could be repaired, or even prevented, by a proper recollection. I too sometimes find it hard to stave off my occasional feelings of futility, anger, and contempt at the way things seem to be going for this world, a way so very different, so base and so much worse, from what we all were led as children to expect as the future of our civilization. It helps when I thus remember the most general context, the proscenium as it were, wherein this tragedy plays itself out. I hope it may help you, too.
Rick Darby writes:
Once again I am astonished at the philosophical depth and the poetic beauty of Kristor’s style.
His message put me in mind of the famous lines of John Donne:
Thou [Death] art slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men
And dost with poison, war and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
It is an honor to be thus honored by those I honor, but I don’t know about philosophical depth or beauty. I have heard them out there, have seen their tracks on the floor of the forest, and once or twice I have seen them vanish over the lip if the hill far ahead of me. But I don’t think I have ever captured them.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 27, 2009 04:59 PM | Send
Just yesterday I was browsing in a local bookstore and opened a book by John Rawls that was mostly his senior thesis. It was SO MUCH BETTER than anything I have ever done, and him a wet behind the ears boy when he wrote it, that I just about … well, I just about croaked with admiration. And I disagree with Rawls almost entirely. If this is what he was doing as an undergraduate, he was definitely one of the great philosophers.
Learned that he began life as an Anglican, too. Like many Anglicans, he fell away, rather than toward.