Saturday, 12 August 2017
What is wrong with culture?
He spoke of the spirit of Europe, and the nature of our age. Everywhere, he said, conformity and the herd instinct prevail; nowhere do freedom and love have the upper hand. All this gathering together, from student fraternities and singing clubs to entire nations, is taking place under a kind of compulsion — they are communities of anxiety, fear, and shame, and on the inside they are old and rotten and about to collapse.
“Community is a beautiful thing,” Demian said. “But what we see flourishing everywhere around us is no such thing. True community will arise again when actual individuals come to know each other; then will come a time when it reshapes the world. The communities we have now are just herds. People run as fast as they can to each other because they’re afraid of each other — the rich come together over here, the workers over there, the educated elites somewhere else! And why are they afraid? Fear always comes from a split in yourself. They are afraid because they have never gotten to know who they really are. A whole society of people afraid of the unknown in their own hearts! They all can feel that the principles they live by are not valid anymore, that they’re following the old laws; none of it, neither their religion nor their morality, is right for us today. For a hundred years and more, Europe has done nothing but go to school and build factories! They know exactly how many ounces of powder it takes to kill someone, but don’t know how to pray to God. They don’t even know how to be happy for an hour at a time. Just look at these student bars! Or anywhere rich people go to amuse themselves! It’s hopeless!
“My dear Sinclair, nothing good can come of all this. These people huddling together so timidly are full of fear and full of wickedness; no one trusts the next. They cling to ideals that no longer exist, and throw stones at anyone who is trying to create a new one. I can feel the conflicts. They will come, believe me, and soon! And naturally they won’t make the world ‘better.’ Whether the workers kill their capitalists or Russia and Germany blow each other to bits, the only thing that’ll change is who owns whom. But still it won’t have been in vain. These conflicts will clarify how worthless the current ideals have become; they will wipe out all our old stone age gods. The world as it is wants to die, it cries out to be destroyed — and it will be.”
“And what about us?” I asked.
“Us? Oh, maybe we will be destroyed too. Our kind can be shot and killed too. But they can’t get rid of us that easily. The will of the future will collect around whatever remains of us, or whichever ones of us survive. The will of humanity, which our European marketplace of science and technology has struggled for so long, will reveal itself. And then it will be as clear as day that the will of humanity has nothing, nothing to do with the so-called communities we have today — the nations and tribes, the clubs and churches. What Nature wants with us human beings always stands written in individuals: in you and in me. It was there in Jesus, it was there in Nietzsche. Those are the only tendencies that matter — of course their appearance may change day to day — and there will be room for them once today’s collectivities collapse.
— By. Herman Hesse, Demian