Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ideas Have Consequences

I like to challenge myself with at least one dense read at a time. Since I just finished The Intellectual Life, which took me a year to get through, I decided to move on to Ideas Have Consequences by Richard M. Weaver (1948). It's been on my want-to-read list for several years. Dana and her friend at Dominion Family have just finished excellent, in-depth chapter reviews of this book and my only regret is that I wasn't timely enough to join them. I'll be looking back at their chapter comments, though, as I go along.

The introduction of this book took me a l-o-n-g time to get through. This is not a book to read when you're tired at the end of the day. The thoughts expressed are philosophical and deep and the author wields a VERY rich vocabulary. **

Weaver's purpose in writing is to analyze the cultural disintegration of the West and to offer a remedy. His philosophy is that man intelligently chooses the ideas he embraces, and that the culture will reflect the consequences of those choices. The author traces a journey back past the consequences to the ideas that are behind them. It is thus a book of philosophy, but not without concrete application.

I'm already seeing that my summertime immersion in Neil Postman's books have been a good preparation for this read. Postman majors on the institutions of publicity and how they have profoundly changed our culture.

Weaver similarly notes that the media "makes a virtue of desecration." The uninhibited baring of the nation's soul leaves us unrefined and barbaric. No mystery remains in life. When stark realities, once forbidden to our gaze by propriety, are laid blatantly before our view~~we cease to behave in a refined, intelligent way.

This triggered my remembrance of an episode from the C.S. Lewis book Till We Have Faces. In it, the people of a mythological kingdom worship an abstract image--an image whose facial features could not be clearly seen. When the well-intentioned ruler replaced it with a statue that had beautiful, clear-cut features, the peasants rejected it. The abstract suited them best; they needed the sense of mystery that it projected.

A healthy culture maintains its identity and cohesiveness by embracing a universal STORY. That story unites them by giving a transcendent sense of purpose to each individual, an eternal purpose. Like the faceless statue, there is an aura of mystery which enshrouds this whole IDEA of eternal purpose. But although the idea may be abstract, the results produced by embracing it are concrete.

One measurable result of assimilating the idea of eternal purpose is self-control. A person becomes willing to delay self-gratification now because of the belief that there will be a commensurate eternal reward or blessing.

Being smack in the midst of child-rearing years, I am naturally applying these thoughts to my role as parent. It seems to me that Weaver has articulated the very basics that a parent needs to pass on to the next generation. Namely: you were put on this earth for a purpose. Find it! Self-government is the measure of maturity. Wait for the best rather than gratifying your desires impulsively. The ideas you choose to guide your life will produce a harvest in later life. Choose wisely!

Couldn't resist making a list of the words I've already picked up from Weaver so early-on in the reading:

1-ontological- the branch of metaphysics studying the nature of existence

2-somnambulistic- I should have been able to figure this out! "somn"= sleep and "ambula"=walk. A sleep walker.

3-heuristic- encouraging a person to learn, investigate, and solve problems on his own.

4-noumenal- an object that is independent of the mind, as opposed to a phenomenon.

5- perspicacity- (fun to say!!) keenness of mental perception and understanding; discernment, penetration

6-prurient- restless desire or longing leaning towards lust

1 comment:

Dominion Family said...

I will look forward to your posts. I am finding all this discussion extremely helpful in keeping the ideas in my mind. I am a forgetful bear!