Against The Spirit Of The Times

Every age has its own zeitgeist, and it is always wrong.  That is not to say that it is completely wrong, but no age’s zeitgeist was completely in error.  Even if you look at the worst regimes in human history, something that is praiseworthy can be said about them, even for all that can be said about them.  Serious writers can claim, with plausibility, that Hitler’s regime was less destructive to the world than that of Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China, all of which killed absolutely more people in their prison systems and through government-caused famines than Hitler did.  And there are no shortage of apologists for dictators who make the trains run on time or who offer public health care to their citizens, regardless of their reprehensible political systems or the poverty and misery they bring to their people.  Likewise, every human age has had at least something worthwhile come of it, be it rock drawings of deer on walls, beautiful music, insightful literature, worthwhile technology–something.  And yet it is worthwhile for us to always be against the spirit of the times.

Why is this so important?  If we are fish in the water, or people trying to cross a river or stream, the spirit of the times is the flow of the watercourse going downstream.  It takes no effort to travel along with the spirit of the times, to go with the flow, but we will not get where we want to go if it is on the other side of the river, because the river will drag us away from that destination in some fashion, dragging us through rapids or over waterfalls, pulling us into disaster.  In many ways, every age will see the ways in which it is more just than its predecessors, correcting some sort of social wrong that was present before.  In that light, chronological snobbery will lead people to look down on the ways of the past, down on the people of the past, and down on the authorities of the past, which will be viewed as obsolete for our present times because our conditions are different.  And yet every age has its own characteristic sins and flaws, which are obvious to those who come afterwards but of which the people of the time are often blind.  It is easy for people to see how others are blind, but hard to examine ourselves to see how we have been blinded in some fashion.

What do we gain by being against the spirit of our times?  For one, we gain the point of view of the outsider.  If we are against the spirit of our times, we will not fit in with those around us, and we will be viewing institutions and fashions and the great mass of our contemporaries from the outside.  As unpleasant as this can be for those of us who desire popularity, this is for the best, because it is by seeing others from point of view of outsiders that we can see how it is that they depart from where they ought to be.  We see the sins and bad habits that are universally and thoughtlessly engaged in, and we see others as they will be seen in hindsight by others who will lack the insider knowledge that accounts for the blindness of every age towards its own folly and error.  Additionally, by being outsiders we will have our own flaws and shortcomings pointed out by those who will be offended by our distance from and disagreement with them.  The pervasive sense of being out of step and out of place will in many ways keep us humble, and will certainly provide us with plenty of material for our own self-reflection, should be be able to handle it.  It must be admitted that many subcultures and outsiders automatically reject anything that is said by those outside the in-group and thus are immune to the benefits that can be gained from unfriendly but ultimately beneficial opposition.  But those who have taken it upon themselves to speak out against the complacency of a fallen and wicked age–and all ages of mankind are fallen and wicked in some fashion–must remember that as fallen and flawed human beings we will need to repent and change (albeit generally in different ways) just as do our contemporaries who bask in the approval of the false prophets of smooth sayings and low standards.

It should be remembered that every age brings with it something that it views as improvements and corrections to the errors of ages that have gone before.  Not all of these improvements are to be rejected out of hand.  Recognizing that every spirit of every age has flaws and shortcomings should not blind us to the ways in which it provides a reminder of something that we might need to work on.  As much as we may hate the political correctness of our own contemporary age, it should at least remind us that far too often our jokes and humor and views of others were coarse and offensive, and that we expected other people to accept it because we had the privilege to speak without having to respect the sensitivities of others.  If we may be inclined to be a bit too oversensitive at present, it is a reminder to us to be more gentle and gracious than we have been in the past, more kind and more understanding about why others are bothered and offended about certain things.  Our critique of the flaws of the present evil age will be easier to take if it comes from a place of respect and concern rather than from a smug sense of self-righteous condemnation and what will be seen (not without reason) as some sort of hypocrisy.  But I do not preach only to the choir, but to myself as well.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Against The Spirit Of The Times

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    Yes, we are required to view this world, good and bad, as ones who already live in the future. What makes Hitler, Pol Pot and dictators of that ilk stand out in our minds is that their mass butchery took place such a truncated period of time. Even though Stalin, Chairman Mao and Genghis Khan slaughtered more of their own people (even on a pro-rated basis) than Hitler, it was over a longer period of time, and many–if not most–of them died through starvation and imprisonment rather than outright murder (even though there were multiple millions of those.)

    We are called to be the sore thumbs of this society and yet to live, as much as possible, peaceably with everyone. You summarized that conundrum very well. We can make our stand very clear and, at the same time, be inoffensive when doing so. The new left, however, takes offense when people do not agree with its platform, even when giving their point of view inoffensively. Yet we have a duty to fulfill and must adhere to it, for our destiny lies on the other side of the river. We will be the leaders of tomorrow and must avoid all thought–as well as action–of the wrongs from the past AND those of our physical lives today.

    • Yes, I agree that the New Left takes offense to disagreement even politely stated, but it can be worthwhile to learn even from those we would greatly disagree with, and even if the people who wish to teach the lesson are not good practitioners of it. 😀 Concerning historical evil, the funniest attempt at comparing between them was a comedy skit that featured an imaginary baseball game between various historical saints and sinners, and where Hitler got injured, tried to goosestep it off, and was replaced by Pol Pot, who had nowhere near Hitler’s numbers but was a fine defensive outfielder, according to a voice that was meant to sound like the late baseball announcer Harry Carey. Anyways….

  2. Catharine Martin says:

    Yes, we have to learn from everyone; much of it is what NOT to do–while taking it patiently. I’m getting a great visual of that baseball game. It sounds hilarious.

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