Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What would most transform the world would be the recovery of the sense of joy . . .

From the poet Frederick Turner, one of the last great humanists in a letter to Yasuhiko Kimura, one of the great contemporary philosophical mystics - though if we follow Fred's suggestions, he may later be re-considered instead one of the first great humanists of the belated 21st century humanistic revival:

"My question to you is this: What is the theme/objective that you think would be the most impactful? In the historic context of our time with a multitude of issues and problems, what can a small group of committed people accomplish in 10 years that has a significant impact on the transformation of the world? What is the issue the resolution of which by a small group of people will have the greatest impact?

It struck me first that what would most transform the world would be the recovery of the sense of joy. In the midst of amazing and unprecedented general prosperity and technological progress--increases all over the world in life expectancy, health, education, per capita earnings, indeed every objective measure of human welfare--the impression is of huge sadness, disappointment, rage, bitterness, and despair. Such feelings are not good for human beings.

Further analysis showed me that the recovery of joy must be based on a recovery of hope. Only with hope can one embark on life with a spirit of enterprise and a pleasure in work. Your beautiful remarks that for a truly enlightened and wise person, who sees the Beethoven side of the embroidery earthly striving and effort hardly seem necessary--why should one not sit on the mountain and contemplate the bamboo leaves? But this is for the old and wise, not for the young and passionate, who need hope and the courage that comes with hope. The young must meet and win their beloved, must have children, must by their work improve the world and so justify the expense of their upbringing and the pride of their culture. All over the world the young are starved of hope--the "mammone" of Italy who never leave home and live on their mothers, the young shut-ins of Japan, the depressed and anorexic young of America, the miserable and drunken unemployed young of Europe. But their culture tells them their civilizations are evil or false, their history is flawed and evil, their identity as males is oppressive, their identity as females is to be victims; and their more numerous elder generation tells them that their future role in life is to support through government coercion the old age of their parents and grandparents.

The missing factor is courage--these young people are no longer reproducing themselves, they are culturally and politically cynical and apathetic. What is needed for them is grand narratives that can inspire hope, great projects that can call forth courage--and it is the job of the wise to provide such stories and make sure that they are of such a kind that will lead them eventually to the kind of serenity that you have so beautifully shown us. Beethoven's music is not only mystically transporting for the old and wise, it is also stirring and exciting and grand for the young and untested. It looks to the future as well as the past. What we need is splendid and challenging futures for our children and grandchildren to live in and explore when we are gone. This, I think, is part of the theme that we should be exploring.



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