Lonely? We All Are.
In a time without culture, there can be no community.
We’re a lonely people now, far more so than the generations that preceded us. Certainly, we have smaller families, and we no longer live with multiple generations in a household, but that alone can’t explain our loneliness. Just two people in a room need not be lonely, should they share enough of interest. How much need they share in order to not feel lonely? Or, what might be between them such that they might wish to be a bit more alone?
You venture into a mall in search for a single item amongst the bustling consumerism and dehumanizing excess of products that promise to fill the void within us, if we can just get one more. In the distance, you hear the signature sounds of our age— what at first sounds like a firework becomes clearly articulated gunfire, clarified by screams and hurried footwork, as if to remind us how quickly our civilizational attempts to elevate man above pure survival needs can collapse in an instant.
In the frenzy, you find a small back room, full of heavy boxes that are to be used for restocking. Frantic, you close and lock the door behind you, and begin barricading the boxes against the door, before you notice another man, sitting in the back of the room. He too has fled the gunshots. He will be your companion throughout this crisis. As a hostage negotiation begins on the other side of the barricaded door, it becomes evident that this may take several hours. Who would you have your companion be? There is nothing that you can do about the situation that unfolds with the shooter. It’s you and the unknown man, for hours. If you had to spend several hours with a stranger, what interests would you want him to have?
If we embraced generational stereotypes of the modern man, he could be the proud boomer, who bemoans modern technology and an entitled youth, bragging of the time when he worked his way through college and came out debt-free (an increasingly difficult feat with modern academic costs). Or perhaps he could be the Gen Xer who seems entirely disinterested in advancement of any kind, satiated if could just be left alone? How about the Millennial who thinks that his arts degree mandates regular promotions and a job of “meaning”? Or the Gen Z kid who spends his time gyrating from one 30-second TikTok video to the next? Every living generation has its own brand of vacuousness.
Would shared political values be enough for you to enjoy your companion’s company? If you voted in the same way, there might be some comradery in that. Yet, I suspect that red and blue would mean less in that environment, even as we are surely getting closer to something that matters. It’s still not enough for a connection — to create the warmth of friendship.
What about shared stories, books that you had both read and enjoyed? The written word has an unusual power to connect us to something beyond ourselves, and counterintuitively, we must look beyond ourselves in order to find connection. I’m reminded of my own childhood. I read at least a dozen of The Famous Five series of books, written by Enid Blyton in the 1950s. That wasn’t my generation, but the books were cheap, and my family was not one of means. When I met another child who had read the same series, we became instant friends. We had shared an entire world together. We were connected through a sense of shared experience, even while those experiences had taken place in the mind. We had journeyed together, along with the adventurous and oft recalcitrant children that made up the Famous Five.
Again, in the stockroom, what cultural references would you want to share? Would you feel reassured by his favored appraisal of modern music? How about if instead he referenced with familiarity and nostalgia the songs of the past, with which you were familiar? Do you feel how the bond changes?
What if this man was not the modern man at all? What if he stood apart from all of it? What if he rejected the perversity of modern architecture, the nihilism of modern art, the degeneracy of modern music, and the shallowness of modern literature? What if he was the pre-modern man (that is, the pre-Enlightenment bogeyman that today’s academics and influencers urge us to guard ourselves against), who could speak of the architecture that built Cathedrals across three generations, because there was a cause greater than themselves? What if he could tell you of the beauty of Gregorian chant, sung and sustained for centuries, a song that had been heard by generations of people who were seeking to adore, not to immerse themselves in reminders of their vices? What if he shared with you the stories that had inspired men of olde to lay down their lives in service, not just to posterity for its own right, but that those next generations might too get to hear them? What if he told you of the art that was worth protecting and the painters of the ancient world who didn’t sign their names to their pieces because the art was meant for the glory of God, not for their own egos?
It might sound fanciful to modern ears, but this is what it means to have a culture. It is to be immersed in the best of what we have produced, for generations. It is to never be alone. It is to have these shared connections that remind us who we have been, for why we exist, and whom we serve, together.
Who are we, in the stockroom? If we are with pre-modern man, the room quickly fills, as he always brings his ancestry and posterity with him. If we agree that the pre-modern man in our description is the better choice, do we look like him? Can we be for our contemporaries the arresting alternative that the unexpected pre-modern man is for us? Do we herald what is beautiful and what inspires? Do we share those things with our loved ones and with our children? If not, let us begin building the culture that we all yearn for by guarding, uplifting, and cherishing those works from our people’s past that remind us who we are, where we’ve been, and which give us a sense of connection that the modern man can scarcely imagine.
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