Some time ago, a casual acquaintance of mine complained to me that he had no real friends, no real interests outside of work, and that, although he was dating, it wasn’t going well. Wanting to help, I suggested that he join a gym or weightlifting group, and supplied him with contact information for several in his area. This would give him some kind of routine — and purpose — outside work, I thought to myself, and his body would improve (which would be better for his health, and for attracting women), and, of course, he would make friends.
When, a couple of months later, I ran into him again, nothing had changed. He hadn’t contacted any gyms or any of the groups I suggested, and he hadn’t made any other steps to improve his life, which he now described as “not worth living.”
Perhaps he really had no interest in improving himself physically (even if it would have a positive affect on his spiritual and mental well being and on his life in general). And, certainly, we all go through periods of stress, despondency, or of feeling “stuck.”
I have noticed over the last year, however, a certain attitude of pessimism or defeatism in some people who consider themselves to be very serious, hardcore, and uncompromising individuals.
Around the same time that I had spoken to the above acquaintance about taking up some physical exercise to improve his life, although not about exercise as such, I had found myself having an oddly similar discussion with a friend of mine who, superficially at least, was in every way very different from him. I had suggested to my friend that I wanted Phalanx to be a vehicle for ideas that were not only not mainstream, and that wouldn’t be published elsewhere, but that could actually help those willing to help themselves.
It was fine to point out problems, I said, but I wanted to offer some solution to any problem raised. To do that, I wanted to explore martial arts, fine art, literature, movies, and really anything that would help us to think outside the box and about better ways of living, I said.
My friend was outraged. Every article, he demanded, had to be an attack on modernity. Everything in the modern world was bad. Nothing was good. We couldn’t let up criticizing, not even for one minute. I was a sell out.
We have come to associate such myopia, fanaticism, and desire to attack others with the “social justice warrior” phenomenon. But, this attitude — in which negativity and funk is equated with seriousness — is growing on the margins of alternative spiritual movements, men’s movements, and certain political movements.
It poses as deeply serious and important, but there is something superficial about it. It is flat, monotone, monotonous. If it were music, it would be endless crashing and droning, and absolutely lacking the complexity, subtlety, and symphonic highs and lows of nature — life, death, birth, winter, summer, sex, color, trees, oceans, mountains — and lacking the symphonic highs and lows of initiation and the long path of learning and self-overcoming.
This defeatism claims to be the attitude of the warrior, but is, quite clearly, the attitude of the defeated. It believes that no brighter time is possible, that nothing can be overcome, that we are perennially on the edge of the abyss. Victory, it tries to make us believe, is for sellouts or losers.
For sure, there is much to lament in modernity — pollution, deforestation, the destruction of the family, strained and politicized male-female relationships, politics that seeks always to divide and whip up hate.
Perhaps we are on the edge of the abyss. But those who will certainly be destroyed by it are those who have already accepted and, in fact, fetishize defeat.
Indeed, we know that dwelling on negative thoughts, believing that there is no possibility for something better, and thinking that everything is getting worse, will, without any doubt, carve out a path of self-destruction or self-defeat. Although it is true that “positive thinking” has often been presented very superficially, we know that if we change our thinking we change our destinies as well. And, whether we want to admit it or not, this is perhaps more the case today, in the modern West, than anywhere else or in any other time.
Many unique problems have arisen in modernity. But modernity itself is a kind of amoral, liquid energy that can be directed in different directions, whether for good or ill, and whether towards ourselves or towards others.
To believe that there is some cosmic or political force that will inevitably drag us down, to want to criticize all the time, or to want to convince others that things will only get worse; this is a kind of cowardice and a shirking of our obligation to ourselves and our groups of friends, families, brotherhoods, sisterhoods, and so on.
If we must resist anything today it is the belief that negativity is a sign of seriousness. It is not.
We see posturing of “seriousness” in the screaming harpies of the politicized mob; in the depressed, though usually famous artist; and in the feeble and glum intellectual, whose every word is negative. It is a great pose. It tells the people watching television that the famous, or at least the televised, are far removed from them intellectually. But it is a pose nonetheless, and one, moreover, that is thoroughly late twentieth century and early twenty-first century — or in other words, as modern as you can get.
Sure, Van Gogh was depressed — because he was mad. But his friend Gauguin moved to the Marquesas Islands, where he drank and painted exotic scenes and nude women all day. Picasso spend his time inventing new and shocking styles of art, boozing, having affairs, and watching bullfights. Dali, best known for his Surrealist art, seems to have reveled in life, involving himself with movie making, literature, sex, esotericism, and so on.
That is the artist, the warrior, the writer — not the actions, necessarily, but the seizing and redirecting of the energy.
By having a vision, setting goals, and working toward completing them — as a path toward our vision — we can in fact change ourselves and our own lives, and can create and do things that will inspire others, and that have and will have meaning for a long time to come. This is what creates movements and change in the world. But, more important is the change within us, and in our life, that we can make if we do not give in to defeatism and the pose of seriousness.