Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ideas Have Consequences, Chapter IV- Egotism in Work and Art (Part I)

"The sin of egotism always takes the form of withdrawal. When
personal advantage becomes paramount, the individual passes out of the
community. We do not mean the state, with its apparatus of coercion, but
the spiritual community, where men are related on the plane of sentiment and
sympathy...." Richard Weaver

Weaver has demonstrated throughout his book, Ideas Have Consequences, just how important religious moorings really are. When a society embraces a Big Story (some would call it "myth"), they are unified by the truth therein. People work together toward the same transcendent goals, each individual knowing exactly where he fits in and what his role is in achieving the greater good. Consequently, each job is executed skillfully and with an eye to achieve excellence in the quality of that work. The intangibles of truth produce a tangible ideal: perfection in craftmanship.

Do your everyday purchases bear the marks of excellent craftmanship? I think of the dishwasher we purchased last year, a well-known name brand. At one time they were made in Iowa, but now have been out-sourced and are produced overseas. The dishwasher was an absolute lemon. It had to be replaced before the year was over.

How about clothing? My daughter wore a new pair of socks ONE TIME, and they had holes in them. Another daughter bought a lovely knit sweater that literally did not last through the first washing.

We've all had similar experiences, and we perhaps sadly shake our heads and complain that "things just aren't what they used to be". But we don't stop to think WHY? and search out the reason for the deterioration.

With the cutting away of religious moorings, work ceases to become an act of worship. Instead, it becomes a utilitarian necessity done only for self enrichment. This philosophy of egotism promotes materialism to such a degree that the individual laborer is totally deprived of understanding how his small part fits in to the big picture.

As an example, Weaver sites an incident that happened in a factory during WWII. Factory workers were assigned to make parts for the bombs. They had no idea what they were making or how they fit together. If they had known, would their consciences have pricked them? There was no way to find out, because the workers were never given full information as to what they were making, why, or how these things would be used as weapons of warfare.

Because such factory work is mindless and meaningless, it is ultimately done for only one reason: for the paycheck. Workers must receive more and more oversight and discipline from the management because there is no inner gratification to keep on the task or to do it well.

Egotism, which Nathanial Hawthorne dubbed the unpardonable sin, has the potential of opening the door to tyrrany:

"...the spirit of self, which has made the worker lose sight of the calling
of his task and to think only of aggrandizement, is the plainest invitation
yet offered by the Western world to the tyranny of force." --Weaver

Did you catch that little phrase "calling of his task"?

We still have some wonderful, called individuals in this society. I can think of teachers, preachers, librarians, cooks, nurses, and custodians who do their work because they are called of God. They do not receive financial remuneration in proportion to the worth of their work. Some do not receive any financial remuneration at all, and yet they labor on with excellence because they see something bigger and more important than a paycheck. They see from an eternal perspective, and they know the lives they touch are worth much more than a monthly paycheck. They know that because they touch living, breathing souls in their everyday rounds, they are affecting eternity.

Do you know any such individuals? I think of my dear hairdresser, D., who feels called to provide haircuts for pastors' families as a ministry and who has blessed me immeasurable. Or W., a kindly and very industrious man who cheerfully cleans our BIG church building week after week just as an act of service to the saints who gather there. Viola was the first Sunday School teacher that I remember and she went home to be with the Lord after serving children-at no cost-for 62 years!

As I provide education for our children, I want to offer an alternative to the world's standard which tells them that education is something they have to slog through in order to get a fat paycheck at the other end. That alternative education must sensitize them to TRUTH, which in turn will cause them to aim for ideals of virtue in whatever calling they embark upon. Classical models of virtue, the ones we read about in great literature, are all great and wonderful, but I think it also important that they rub shoulders with living, breathing examples of people who are actually living those high ideals- eschewing the fat paycheck and serving others because they are CALLED.

This chapter was so long and rich, I'm going to review it in 2 parts. The next half of the chapter will be about the effects of egotism in art, literature and music.

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