Living In A Time Of Madness

I’ve been toying for the past few days with a new twist to Idle Theory. In Idle Theory there are two states – busy and idle – which all living things (humans included) alternate between.

And in Idle Theory economic growth is growth in idleness, A society may start out in one era with 8% idleness, and then thanks to their skill and inventiveness and organisation they eventually get to be 91% idle.

They move from a condition of constraint to one of freedom. They were never completely constrained, and they never get to be absolutely free. But they end up much more free than they started out.

And I think that’s this is roughly what has happened with Western civilisation over the past few thousand years (yes, I know some people will disagree, and say that we actually lived easier lives in the past than we do today).

And the new twist I thought up was that constrained, busy, working people are always being kept inside the real world. The guy with the spade is digging in some field or garden or road, and he’s got a defined task to perform. He’s got to collect potatoes or parsnips or onions. And when he’s finished that task he’ll have to wash them and weight them and put them in a sack and take them to a market to sell them. And he can do these tasks badly. He might do it too slowly. He could accidentally smash up the potatoes with his spade. Or he could drop them or lose lots of potatoes. And he might end up with nothing to sell. Or end up with something that nobody wants to buy. His is a moral universe, in which some things are the right thing to do, some the wrong thing.

But the idle guy lounging on his chair with a beer and a cigarette doesn’t have any task to perform. There’s nothing he has to do. He could sit all day drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. And if instead he reads a book or watches a movie or goes for a walk, that’s just as good a thing to do as sitting drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. There’s no right or wrong about doing more or less anything.

Busy people live in a moral universe. There are definite right things and wrong things to do: like don’t smash the potatoes. But idle people inhabit an amoral universe from which right and wrong have largely vanished.

And that’s the conundrum that comes with living an idle era: it’s no longer obvious what you should do, because you have lost the constraints that kept you in place. Maybe you’ve even lost the constraint of gravity to keep your feet on the ground. And as you lose moral constraints, you’re likely to become demoralised. Or you’re likely to be easily carried off by the slightest breeze of fashion. And you might even go mad.

Vincent van Gogh was arguably a man who lived an idle life. And in the end he went mad and shot himself. As an artist, he was supported by his brother Theo.

Theodorus “Theo” van Gogh was a Dutch art dealer. He was the younger brother of Vincent van Gogh, and Theo’s unfailing financial and emotional support allowed his brother to devote himself entirely to painting.

Vincent van Gogh painted about 850 pictures, but he only ever sold just one. And in his paintings he’s arguably gradually, and visibly, losing touch with reality. His paintings become suffused with currents that flow through them like eddies in a river.Vincent van Gogh entered into an unreal reality. Looking at the same scene, anyone else would have seen a few olive trees. But he saw something else in it.

Other impressionist artists were doing the same thing. Here’s another unreal reality, painted by Cezanne.

Within a few years abstract artists had completely lost touch with reality.  Like Mondrian below.

But in some ways these artists were just early explorers of unconstrained, idle existence. They went in all directions.

And if Vincent van Gogh is now a celebrated artist, and his paintings sell for millions,  it’s because a great many people now live unconstrained, idle lives, and they can see in van Gogh one of their forerunners.  And the entirety of Western civilisation has been quietly going mad for the past few centuries as more and more people slip into ever more unreal realities.

One might even include philosophers like Karl Marx in among the artists and musicians. Rather like Vincent van Gogh, he was supported by his patron Engels throughout much of his life. He didn’t paint pictures, but he wrote voluminous tomes in which people now perceive another unreal reality, rather like those in van Gogh’s paintings.

These people were the Marco Polos and Livingstones and Amundsens of their time, only they were exploring an intellectual world rather than a physical one. But they also very often got lost, and many of them died out there.

I’ve begun to think of the Sixties (through which I lived) as a time of collective madness when people didn’t go off their rockers individually like van Gogh or Marx, but collectively en masse. They saw the world through different, often drug-fueled eyes. I was a student back then, and us students lived pretty idle lives. Universities are sleepy, idle places. And that’s probably why students are often the first to explore new ideas, new ways of seeing, and go a bit crazy. It’s also why their professors very often follow them. And if you live in a sunshine state like California, it’s probably pretty easy to live an idle life, and slowly lose your mind.

We’re living, I think, in a new time of collective madness. Some of us see the world completely differently than others. It’s something that was visible in Donald Trump’s State Of The Union address a day or two back: half the listeners would stand up and loudly applaud what he was saying, while the other half sat sullenly silent. One bunch of people saw (and heard) one thing in Donald Trump, and the other bunch saw (and heard) something completely different, just like van Gogh and Cezanne saw something else in the landscapes in front of them.

It’s the same with the antismokers in Tobacco Control: they also have entered an unreal reality in which tobacco smoke has become highly poisonous – rather like their companions in climate science have entered an unreal reality in which carbon dioxide is going to fry the whole planet. And the ‘dream’ of the EU is yet another unreal reality: the ‘project’ is going crazy, as it imports millions of Muslims into an historically Christian culture.

Back in the 60s it was mostly young people – mostly students – who got caught up in the prevailing madness. But now it’s much worse. These days the madness afflicts entire professions (like the batshit-crazy “healthist” medical profession), and much of the mainstream media, and the political class and the civil service. In the 1870s there were only a few Vincent van Goghs, and in the 60s there weren’t that many many more crazy hippies: but now the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

But my point is that this was all perhaps rather inevitable. It was inevitable, as Western society filled up with more and more idle people – students, people on welfare, immigrants – that they’d all gradually enter into new, unreal realities – just like Vincent van Gogh. Because they had the time in which to put together new pictures of the world, new depictions of it that were as detailed as any painting by Cezanne or van Gogh. Or they could get easily carried away by one fashionable new idea or other.

Most likely, and almost inevitably, we’re going to find ourselves coming back to earth with a bang one day. And reality – the real reality of digging potatoes – will overtake us again.

About Frank Davis

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18 Responses to Living In A Time Of Madness

  1. Frank Davis says:

    Continuing the essay above, about Donald Trump:

    I saw some politician who had walked out of Trump’s SOTU address. He said he couldn’t stand listening to all the hate that Trump was saying. I haven’t watched the speech, but I’ll bet that Trump never said anything hate-filled or racist or sexist or homophobic. He never does. But somehow some people seem to hear something completely different to what I hear.

    Trump stands for working Americans, of all creeds and colours. And working people have shared values, and a shared moral code. But Democrats like Feinstein and Pelosi and co get their votes from people on welfare, students, and illegal immigrants. i.e. they get their votes from idle people. And they themselves live largely idle lives: politicians live at public expense. Many of them have been politicians all their lives. They also are living on welfare. As is much of government.

    Also it seems to be mostly artists and musicians and actors and comedians and media people who tend to belong to the progressive liberal left.

    And so the current deep divide in US politics is between the busy and the idle. Trump’s values are pretty much classical, working, American values. The values of the liberals in the Democratic party are very different. Trump thinks people should work for what they want: liberals think its their entitlement. Hillary Clinton even saw the presidency has her own personal entitlement. She didn’t work for it, liked Donald Trump did. Trump worked his socks off.

    But… Trump may win out this time, but if social idleness keeps on rising, eventually the idle will outnumber the busy. And then there’ll be no stopping the Obamas and Feinsteins and Pelosis.

    • beobrigitte says:

      He said he couldn’t stand listening to all the hate that Trump was saying.
      But he has no problems with the anti-smoker hate?
      The anti-smokers homed in on India. a country that has to deal with real problems. Anti-smoking does not care about rapes or the poor people there. And, by the looks, the Indian anti-smoking lobbied government doesn’t either.
      How may jobs are gone when the tobacco industry leaves? Fuck the poor/?

      Anti-smokers are the worst of the low lives on this planet. no consideration, just pressing ahead while they can, This is their doom.

    • Philip Neal says:

      The left have always believed their own nonsense and it is no different with the nonsense about “hate”. In conversation with millennials about Brexit I have routinely come across reactions like “So why do you hate foreigners then?” and “I thought only stupid people voted Leave,” spoken with genuine surprise. The Jordan Peterson jokes (“Lovely weather.” “So you’re saying…”) are true – they actually think like that.

  2. Rose says:

    I saw some politician who had walked out of Trump’s SOTU address. He said he couldn’t stand listening to all the hate that Trump was saying

    I watched it all on the BBC and I suggest you watch for yourself

    The video is better than reading the transcript because you get to see the amazing expressions on the Democrats faces, I’ve never seen so many people doing impressions of a bulldog chewing a wasp.
    Any hate around was coming exclusively from what I assume were the Democrats.
    Their having to sit still for an hour and 20 minutes and not speak, gives you time to study their faces and I recommend that you do.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I doubt if I’ll find time to watch it. But I saw clips of the Democrats sitting in silence. I assume I’m right in suggesting that there wasn’t a single word that Trump said that was in the least bit racist, sexist, or homophobic

      • Rose says:

        Not that I heard, it all seemed very well reasoned to me whether you agreed with his solution or not and some parts were very moving, he used real people and their experiences to illustrate his policies so it was hard to understand the fixed expressions.

      • waltc says:

        You really should watch it. Most of it was a tribute to average Americans (of all colors) who’d done heroic and otherwise admirable things, and one remarkable guy who’d escaped from North Korea. The theme was that it was Americans themselves who were– and would — Make America Great Again.

        What the Perpetually Outraged got outraged about was his mention of the brutal murdering-and-raping-for-sport M13 gangs (rumored to have 70,000 members nationwide) which consist mainly of illegal Mexican and Salvadoran “youth” who would sooner kill you than say Hello, and which the outraged cast as an attack on all Latin Americans. And, of course, any talk of (sensibly) limiting chain and lottery migration is considered to be categorically racist and bigoted.

        But the shit hit the fan when Trump said subtly that “Americans have dreams, too.” This, in indirect relation to the group of 800,000 “children” who were under 18 when illegally brought here by their illegally-arriving parents (yes, some were as young as single digits) and all of whom were goo-ily labeled Dreamers (supposedly dreaming The American Dream) by the last administration. NO one is in favor of deporting them en masse and, to the stifled dismay of some in his party, Trump in his speech offered them not only amnesty but “a pathway to citizenship” but was nonetheless accused of conflating them all with M13 and wanting to round them up and deposit them in the heart of a Guatamalan jungle. As things stand now the Democrats are willing to shut down the government to protect these Dreamers (many of whom not infrequently march loudly to protest their entitlement) but apparently the Dems won’t take Yes for answer.

        God, Rose, I loved the image of the bulldog eating a wasp. ‘Bout says it.

    • Tony says:

      Thanks for that Rose. I will try to find time to watch it all. Presumably the guy behind him with grey hair is VP Pence but who is the one with dark hair?

    • Joe L. says:

      the amazing expressions on the Democrats faces, I’ve never seen so many people doing impressions of a bulldog chewing a wasp.

      The obviously pre-planned reactions from the Globalists (pretty much all Democrats) was childish, and IMHO, backfired badly.

      Their unwavering refusal to applaud or stand for nearly everything made them look really bad. I can understand not applauding Trump’s proposed Nationalistic policies, like immigration reform, but to refuse to applaud the simple fact that unemployment rates are lower than they have been in years??? What kind of a statement does that make?

      Fuck partisan politics, unemployment rates being low is a good thing–period–no matter who the guy in the Oval Office is. This disgraceful behavior only helped expose the Globalists’ true intentions. They don’t approve of the unemployment rates being low; they actually want more unemployment, because desperate people will gladly accept Progressive, Globalist policies.

      Specifically telling was a shot of an entire section of black Democrats’ non-reaction to Trump’s specific claim of lower African-American unemployment rates. This should be a wake up call to anyone who thinks Black politicians are looking out for regular black citizens. Just because they themselves are black doesn’t mean they give two shits about poor black people. After all, they’re rich and powerful; they’re not struggling to survive. It was a disgusting display of virtue signalling gone away.

      Here’s an article detailing all the things the Democrats (read: Globalists) refused to applaud during the SOTU:

      Resistance: Here’s What Democrats Refused to Applaud During Trump’s SOTU Address

  3. Smoking Lamp says:

    It certainly is a time of madness. Just today I see that Swiss Rail is being besieged by the antismokers and is looking at banning smoking on train platforms. Check out the comments at “Swiss train stations test smoking ban”

  4. waltc says:

    My comment on Trump’s speech is somewhere above but on the main thesis, proves the old saw that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” I once decided, too, that nature not only abhors a vacuum but equally detests a vacuum cleaner, which is what these people are–sucking up all the necessary and pleasant detritus of life.

  5. Pingback: Cultural Fragility | Frank Davis

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