So Much Silliness in Modern Life

Tuesday, 26 Oct 2010 12:17 PM

By Herbert London

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You have undoubtedly heard of existentialism, a philosophical position based on personal choice without the benefit of normative judgment. Well I reject it since driving through a red light is hazardous to your health.

However, I am a resistentialist, an eponymous condition in which adherents categorically reject the fatuities of modern life. Let me cite several examples.

Automobile manufacturers produce cars with high horsepower so that the cars can remain stalled on the Long Island Expressway during rush hour.

Art is often described as post-modern, a school that has flash but no pan. However, if modern is new, how can you be post new? In fact, at what point does new go post?

Texting is the communications channel of the young. But from what I can discern it is an addiction to banality since the text hasn’t any substance and the language is puerile shorthand, e.g. RUOK?

The iPod is one of those devices that permits toxic modern music dedicated to debasement of women and glorification of guns and drugs to enter the brain without filter.

These examples are the symptoms of modernity that resistentialism oppose.

Fortunately personal liberty suggests you don’t have to drive a car with a turbo engine or admire Michael Graves’ architecture or use a handheld device to communicate or put any electronic wiring in your ears. But it is hard to avoid the conditions of modernity since they are osmotic, in the cultural air surrounding us.

Hence resistentialists must be tough-minded cultural snobs who reject the lure of advertisers and marketing mavens. They are obliged to write their own social scripts. “I won’t go there; I won’t touch that item” is the lamentation of resistance.

When the pressures are great and they will be, especially as the teenage daughter demands her own iPad, the emotional test begins. If the resistentialist concedes, he will become a “resentialist,” brow beating himself for the concession. If he doesn’t concede, the children will harangue and display the unadorned bad behavior their uncivilized friends will encourage.

There aren’t many triumphal moments for the resistentialist, but the few he does experience are memorable. I recall with satisfaction my resistance to the plasma screen TV. After all, I noted, is it really so different from the conventional color TV? “Well,” said the salesman “yes it is different and it will change the nature of viewing.” I wasn’t about to change my viewing patterns and would certainly not do so for $2,500. So I resisted.

A year later this same television set sold for $2,000 and despite entreaties from my family, I remained firmly opposed. By the third year, the price was $1,200 and I conceded, but at least I had the satisfaction of knowing my resistance saved $1,300. Needless to say, others didn’t see it that way. “Dad, you denied us three years of viewing pleasure.” That was the price they had to pay for my resistentialist dedication.

I doubt my obdurate stance will catch on as a public philosophy. Camus and Sartre need not worry about the rise of resistentialism as an antidote to their existential views, but one never knows. I am confident there are others who see the silliness in so much of modern life. But I should note before you get the wrong idea that there is much about modernity I embrace including freedom and even many aspects of technology. I am not a Luddite; modern toilets suit me very well.

But absurdities abound. I would like to know what “free range” chickens do that chickens in a coop do not. I would like to know why a player has to dance in the end zone if he scores a touchdown? And I would love to know why the brim of a basketball cap is now worn on the side of one’s head.

I resist all of this, all of the absurdity that accompanies contemporary life. And I have incorporated my beliefs into this philosophical stance. I don’t know if I can stick to my guns, but you can be sure I intend to try. Viva resistentialism!


Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute and author of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction Publishers).

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