|Photo of a plaque I saw in Columbus, Ohio
“In 1941 at the age of twenty-six, [Thomas] Merton sought refuge in the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemane. Kentucky, “in revolt against the meaningless confusion of a life in which there was so much activity, so much movement, so much useless talk, so much superficial and needless stimulation,” that he could not remember who he was.” (“Introduction,” by James Finley. In Merton, A Book of Hours, 16)
I wonder what Merton might say were he alive today. The phenomenal explosion of media technology functions as a gigantic amplifier of ever-changing banality and stupidity. There’s really no more ignorance under the sun than when Merton lived. It’s just more known.
The result is that people no longer know who they are. This is why dictionary.com’s word of the year is “identity.”
Lacking knowledge of their identity the wandering herd creates personas in whatever images they happen to like, and imagine their social media friends admiring. Huddles of self-congratulatory selfies text to applaud their life wisdom, little of which has been thought out. Never before in history has the meaning of non sequitur found so many instantiations.
Thanks to the twin gods Google and Siri everyone is a Renaissance polymath, an unreflective mass of omniscient beings lacking knowledge in precisely nothing. And all this without being able to think critically about anything.
T.S. Eliot wrote:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion…
That was in 1925. By comparison Eliot’s hollow men would be viewed today as seers.
Both Merton and Eliot saw the total absence of identity coming. We’re not quite there yet. But I think I see the tipping point that will take American humanity over the abyss and into the unhuman. Welcome to the Book of Revelation.
That’s the point of the Zombie Apocalypse, right? Bodies without souls, with hopefully some remnant still alive to revolt against the masses.