Building upon his prior treatment of fragmentation, Weaver takes it to the logical extreme – egotism. This concept is built upon subjective values, wherein the individual focuses only upon his own rights, but ignores the larger framework of obligation. In this view, what the individual wants is all that really matters, and any restraint that one may face is only due to a bastardized authority that should no longer have any sway. Weaver makes the point that “egotism always takes the form of withdrawal.” By this, he refers to the atomization of society.
The person is no longer part of a community, which he defines as a “spritual community,” rather than an external force, such as the state. Ultimately, we might consider his point to be that the individual becomes more important than the family or any other organic institution. Even more damning, Weaver shows that this withdrawal, or individualization, is “inspired by the desire to be ‘equal.'” Since any semblance of cultural organization has already been destroyed (see previous installments), there is nothing to stop this downward slide.
However, this “freedom” from society comes with negative consequences. With no community, there is no support or sympathy from others. Sadly, this leads to a vicious cycle, where withdrawal leads to selfishness, which exacerbates withdrawal, and so on. Weaver argues that this focus on “I” causes the larger world to become distorted. In fact, the self has become deranged. He quotes Plato: “the excessive love of self is in reality the source to each man of all his offences.”
So rather than being truly free, the self-absorbed person is cut off from reality (what really is) and therefore from social harmony. Rather than being released from bondage to society, the self is tricked into believing in an inflated view of self-worth. Rather than becoming “more,” such a person is immersed in ignorance, being confined even more severely than previously.
Looking back at earlier, and in Weaver’s view better, societies, learning was supposed to lead to self-depreciation, where one learned that he was not really all that important in the grand scheme of things. If a person dies, the world keeps spinning. In modern times, however, increased knowledge has been judged to make a person more self-absorbed, thinking that they are the focus of the entire universe.
One thing that is lost is the concept of “forbidden knowledge,” which was presented in both Christian and Greek Pagan literature. There are some things that can be known, but should not be. At the root of this problem, as already mentioned, is a misunderstanding of what truth really is. To the subjective perspective, the individual’s views are all that matter, excluding any real concept of objective truth.
This lack of objectivity leads to a real inability to truly learn. That brings the person to a state where working is no longer useful, or even really possible, since the purpose of work is to bring potentiality into actuality (as in Aristotle). Weaver states that this is the obvious result of an egotist failing to recognize his obligations to society. In prior eras, work was understood to have an ideal manner of completion, but that has been lost. It produced a desire to do one’s best, hoping to do a job perfectly. Perfection was understood to exist. For the egotist, there is no objective perfection, so quality suffers. This difference (between the potential perfection and modern approaches to work) can be seen in architecture.
This shift in societal expectations draws undue focus to labor (as a means to an end, rather than the end itself), leaving no room for statesmanship or philosophy. It is a direct result of fragmentation and can only end in chaos. Payment for a job well done is not the same as payment for one’s own subjective opinion of self-worth.
The lack of societal obligation causes various self-interests to battle with one another, rather than struggle for a common good. Each loosely organized group competes with others, and inside the groups, individuals compete with one another. There is no loyalty or bond holding people together. This leads to sabotage, whether direct or indirect. If one laborer does not feel he is being valued appropriately, he may be able to stop an entire production, causing others to suffer.
Weaver counters with the view that just as a leader may be chosen by the people, once the leader is in power, he must be guided by what is right, not by the desires of individuals. Likewise, a worker may be employed by someone else, but his work itself should be directed by the ideal completion of the task. Without that understanding, a culture loses all cohesion. At that point, the culture is ripe for totalitarianism.
Not only is work damaged by Egotism, but art is also ruined. An old adage states that nature follows art, but what does that say about our current state of society?
Nature is an enduring reality, but in an Egotistic society, art is divorced from that reality. By art, Weaver refers to any artistic enterprise: painting, music, literature, etc. With no sense of objective truth, where can there be meaningful conflict in a story? Each character strives for his own interests, and all are right to do so. In other words, if truth is subjective, then each person, acting for himself, is doing the correct thing. Everyone is good and right. Every experience is appropriate. If one traces the descent of literature over the centuries, this shift from holding to objective truth to “everything goes” is clearly evident. Weaver gives several examples, but for the sake of space, I will skip over those.
What is plain is that in earlier centuries, good characters were focused on doing what was objectively right, serving society. Heroes were those who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the community. For an egotist, that is absurd, as the loss of self can only be a world-ending event.
Music follows the same pattern, where Weaver notes the move from “fugues of Back to the cacophonous arrangements of modern jazz.” He notes that the degenerative influences of music are the same as in literature, though they lag in time somewhat. He hold specific disgust for jazz, which he is confident shows the degredation of society. He deems it barbaric, yet appropriate for an egotist, barbaric society. Again, he discusses several examples, which I will not relate here, but the overall argument matches that of literature.
Painting also moves from healthy and objectively wholesome to degenerate. Yet, he also notes that painters are the first to recognize that egotism and individualism are a dead end, as they are “seers.”
In the end, literature, music, painting, and the paths they have taken, show us that egotism has the urge to collapse all order. It is a heresy of human destiny. It abhors discipline and structure. Those who espouse such a view have no desire for direction or responsibility. Rather than seeking perfection, which should be the goal, the person is focused on personal sensual pleasure.
What is sorely lacking is self-discipline and a respect for community. Rather than seeing oneself as an individual, people need to recognize that they are part of a community. People have become spoiled and unsuited to produce anything of lasting value. When they die, they turn to dust and are quickly forgotten.
To this point, this particular chapter is probably my favorite. I do not “enjoy” it, but I recognize the truth contained therein. Obviously, with a quick summary (this chapter is 22 pages long), I leave out some important details, but the logic works, for the most part. While there may well be disagreements over whether or not jazz has some value (I am not a fan), his descriptions match the societal breakdown that is readily apparent for any discerning observer.
Individualism is a cancer. It infects and destroys a community (such as the family, church, neighborhood, work place, etc.). As it does so, the larger society is damaged and ruined. It is high time that people realize that the individual is not the smallest unit of a culture. The family is the smallest unit of a healthy society. The individual is a necessary component of that family. We could make similar arguments for those other necessary communities that compose a culture.
People should recognize the objective ideal. Truth exists, and it is not dependent on the individual, but upon eternal reality, rooted in God Himself. When a person holds themselves above that Truth, they bring harm to the family, church, work place, etc. This is a lesson we need to learn and learn quickly.