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"Does the evil of the future largely and thus ultimately come
from a complete willingness to accept it?"
—Michael Armstrong

The Evil of the Ordinary
05/07/2019

The prevailing state

Experience has rubbed my nose in the reality that, overwhelmingly, people are intellectually irresponsible: primitive, lazy or apathetic, confused, dishonest with themselves and others, in denial big-time, heavily into escape mechanisms, spiritually stunted, cowardly and thereby oppressed, suffering from a lack of self respect and self worth, emotionally ravaged by abuse or crippled by upbringing, misguided or indifferent to what is really true and valid, incompetent in thinking critically, hapless victims of their “religious” or scientific programming and conditioning, handicapped in their communication not only by their own ineptitude but also by an amorphous and nebulous vocabulary of poorly defined terms, etc., ad nauseam. They carry all this around practically like an impervious carapace, hampered and controlled by it, reacting to it and with it in ways of which they are ordinarily unaware. Such is one side of the description of the ordinary person.

Here is what Ernest Becker has to say about it:

What we will see is that man cuts out for himself a manageable world; he throws himself into action uncritically, unthinkingly. He accepts the cultural programming that turns his nose where he is supposed to look; he doesn't bite the world off in one piece as a giant would, but in small manageable pieces, as a beaver does. He uses all kinds of techniques, which we call the “character defenses": he learns not to expose himself, not to stand out; he learns to embed himself in other-power, both of concrete persons and of things and cultural commands; the result is that he comes to exist in the imagined infallibility of the world around him. He doesn't have to have fears when his feet are solidly mired and his life mapped out in a ready-made maze. All he has to do is to plunge ahead in a compulsive style of drivenness in the "ways of the world" that the child learns and in which he lives later as a kind of grim equanimity-the "strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and forgetting"-as James put it. This is the deeper reason that Montaigne's peasant isn't troubled until the very end, when the Angel of Death, who has always been sitting on his shoulder, extends his wing. Or at least until he is prematurely startled into dumb awareness, like the "Husbands" in John Cassavetes' fine film. At times like this, when the awareness dawns that has always been blotted out by frenetic, ready-made activity, we see the transmutation of repression redistilled, so to speak, and the fear of death emerges in pure essence. This is why people have Psychotic breaks when repression no longer works, when the forward momentum of activity is no longer possible. Besides, the peasant mentality is far less romantic than Montaigne would have us believe. The peasant’s equanimity is usually immersed in a style of life that has elements of real madness, and so it protects him: an undercurrent of constant hate and bitterness expressed in feuding, bullying, bickering and family quarrels, the petty mentality, the self-deprecation, the superstition, the obsessive control of daily life by a strict authoritarianism, and so on. As the title of a recent essay by Joseph Lopreato has it: "How would you like to be a peasant?” - Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. New York, NY.: The Free Press 1975 p.23

Sleep walking through life

Consequently, their preoccupation is with the ordinary, the mundane, the service of mammon. They have no compelling vision or inspiration, no burning passion of purpose, no energizing mission except to be socially acceptable, get along and strive to make it through life while being on the upside of the normal distribution curve as far as reasonably possible. For religious people this is usually combined with a thin veneer of spirituality and religious activity whereby they cope with and suppress the angst of the human condition, and if they are successful they find comfort in being in the majority, being part of the flock. Their primary reference to their value and who and what they are is comparison to other ordinary people and/or the less fortunate and less privileged. Their primary spiritual standard is tradition, and net worth is their most popular modern goal or way to keep score.

Ah Love! could you and I with him conspire  
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire
Would we not shatter it to bits—and then       
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire?   
Omar Khayyam

Evil of the ordinary

We live in a reality where one of our most intelligent, erudite men said,

"I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them." - John Stuart Mill

Also, sometimes the worst evil for a human being is when nothing much good happens, when a life is so humdrum and mind-numbingly ordinary and uneventful that we turn into little more than complex but habit performing meat sticks. The ordinary bad stuff always happens, but sometimes the really bad doesn't happen, but nothing much good nor wonderful either. And then final decay and death! No ecstatic romance, no fulfilling relationships, no exhilarating success, no deepness of either agony or happiness. Under these conditions we don't even get any sympathy or much attention. We are left unfulfilled and disaffirmed, not even with much of a challenge to engage us. The sometimes unbidden cry of the soul, "Is this all?" can turn into the inescapable woeful conclusion, "This IS all!"

And finally, for those that are willing to come out of denial and courageously look ahead, is this passage in the Iliad:

"O my friend, if we, leaving this war, could escape from age and death, I should not here be fighting in the van; but now, since many are the modes of death impending over us which no man can hope to shun, let us press on and give renown to other men, or win it for ourselves." - Sarpedon to Glaucus in the Iliad

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