David Brooks recently gave talk before the Aspen Institute. Brooks writes for numerous establishment papers, and has a reputation as the sort of conservative liberals like. Considering the pathetically liberal situation of the conservative movement in America today, this is really saying something. The Aspen Institute, let us recall, is hardly a town-hall meeting in Tupelo. Brooks informs us that American culture is too centered around attaining happiness, at the expense of a different goal in life that is deeper and more important. Already, we think that this is a very strange proposition. Perhaps we find it hard to disagree. But since this is the Elite of our society, let's go ahead and assume they have an evil ulterior motive.
These ideas and these conferences have a trickle-down effect to the wider culture. Thus, they are very instructive in finding out where the Elite wants to take the country. Desire is a permanent feature of the human condition. Buddhism set its goal out explicitly as the elimination of desire (they desired to end desire) and one glance at modern Japan should instruct as to how successful this 2,600 year experiment was. Desire for happiness is such a nebulous idea that philosophers have spent volumes arguing about whether happiness and satiation are identical or whether one can be happy if one wanted to be, and became sad, etc. One thing is certain: Happiness is not the opposite of depth. Shallowness is. He might appear to be arguing against shallowness, but he uses the term "Happiness". I wonder why. For a man smart enough to be able to call up complex cabbalistic arguments for accepting the misery of the human condition and continuing to serve one's fellow man, this seems to be a strange oversight. Then there is his idea of "depth." Traditionally, "depth" has been viewed as a function of contemplation. The contemplative and the active lives were known to Dante and the medievals by the parable of Rachel and Leah. The contemplative has always been viewed as higher, but it had very little intrinsically to do with the "service" that Brooks speaks about. It was in an inner direction, and service and charity are outward foci.
The real reason for the talk should be clear: they are priming us for "the new normal" when previously promoted things like rampant consumerism become untenable. They directed us to the one thing when it served their interests to do so and now they direct us to the other. The Elites have determined that, having served their agenda by spreading false values across the planet and by reducing all existence to a sort of chattel slavery to Mammon, it now suits them to reduce us to the level of serfs, and we might as well be prepared to accept our lot with all the amor fati of a character out of Russian literature. That's pretty simple, and that is the most likely reason Brooks is making these points.
Of course, there is no point in saying we should try and be "deeper". Some people are already "deep" and they will remain so, others will remain superficial. Miguel Serrano, in his classic travel memoir, "The Serpent of Paradise", pointed out that perhaps, in the wake of the enormous psychological upheavals of the 20th century, the West would become more contemplative, and the East would become more active. This is exactly what we are seeing today, with the rise of the Asian Tiger economies and India, while at the same time the religious traditions of those countries are becoming less and less profound. Today, seminars on the business applications of the Bhagavad Gita are all the rage in India, and in China, my sources inform me that every single Taoist master is dead or in hiding. We in the West are getting less involved in the affairs of the world, or less able to involve ourselves. We are amply compensated: spiritual currents in the West are becoming more and more profound- look at the current right-wing "scene". Interest has exploded in Evola and other metaphysical thinkers--while fewer rightists care very much about the "science of race". This is mirrored in the general populace, which is increasingly rejecting climate science, evolutionary science, psychological science, etc. It matters little and less. The science of the skepticism movement is by no means limited to flyover country either. Many of our young undergrad philosophers are becoming enamored with complex arguments for the irrelevance of empiricism and positivism and all that "19th century baggage." Perhaps for the wrong reasons, but these reasons do not matter. We are at the end of an Era. This is--for better or for worse--the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
But back to Brooks. He wants to get us used to less, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Here is the Big Secret. The processes which control the destinies of man and civilizations are cosmic and universal. Everyone is merely acting out his or her role in the drama, lila, the play. In a healthy, sustainable society, people have less materially, but also want for far less. Instead of waking up at 40 and asking, “is this it?” they will be inserted into the passion of the seasons, of Sowing and Reaping, Working and Sleeping, Sex and Death. They will struggle with the land and love it, they will raise their families and feel the warm embrace of community and identity. The future is Agri-Cultural. It is the Growth of the Soil. The elites are inadvertently paving the way for a beautiful future, because they cannot help but do so. They are themselves constrained by the stars.