Tuesday 4 October 2016

According to HG Wells (1934), modern Western Man is not civilized...

With the dawn of human foresight and with the appearance of a great surplus of energy in life such as the last century or so has revealed, there has been a progressive emancipation of the attention from everyday urgencies.

What was once the whole of life, has become to an increasing extent, merely the background of life.

People can ask now what would have been an extraordinary question five hundred years ago. They can say, "Yes, you earn a living, you support a family, you love and hate, but—what do you do?"

Conceptions of living, divorced more and more from immediacy, distinguish the modern civilized man from all former life.

From An Experiment in Autobiography (1934) by HG Wells


Note: This deep question version of 'what do you do?' was pretty commonplace up until, say, the early 1970s; but is now all-but absent from public discourse, and - I suspect - private conversation. It is a measure of our civilizational decline.

Any spiritual awakening would include a revival - in some version - of this question.


What I Do Is said...

In today's world the most common question is in fact what do you do, asked by women who are trying to find out just how much money or status their prospective sexual (ahem, "romantic") interest has for them. They are not asking for any other reason.

What would have been the good answers in the past?

I would like to say I pursue direct knowledge of God, which is true, though regarded as mad in today's world.

Jonathan C said...

For those of us born too late, can you please explain what this means? In Wells' time, was "What do you do?" not shorthand for "Tell me about your paid employment" as it is today?

Bruce Charlton said...

@JC - The point seems to be that the question refers to ultimate matters, aside from employment and emotional stimuluation: implicit is the belief that there *are* such matters.

David Balfour said...

The modern public and much of the privates discourse is fundamentally unserious. If one tries to discuss the bigger questions of life outside of the usual secular context with its unswerving and unquestionable metaphysical assumptions, my experience is that you will become a 'marked man' who will henceforth be labelled as potentially mentally unstable or 'weird.' To make matters worse, if one abvertises a beliefs in God or Transcendent meaning or purpose to life or (the worst secular *sin*) is silly enough to self-label as a Christian; well lets just say I have found that there is nothing quite as effective to permanently alienate people or invite ridicule and open hostility than to mention that you feel our lord and saviour Jesus Christ is someone worth taking seriously. You *will* be despised if you do this. I tend to keep it to myself nowadays because nobody I know wishes to share this with me.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David. It is interesting that - in contrast, HG Wells thought that by 1934 serious public discourse had become normal for the first time. I find facetiousness a bane of English conversation.