Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Modern Maturity

Another section of In Search of Zarathustra that got me thinking was this:

It's tempting to see the mentality of early medieval Europeans as rather childlike, marked, like infants, by innocence, ignorance, irrationality, fatalism, thoughtless cruelty, extraordinary credulity and unquestioning acceptance of authority and of "the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate." By and large, it was enough for the illiterate masses that something had been written down in a book, or even spoken by a priest or Bonhomme, to make it certainly true. ... In general, a wide and deep intellectual fault separates the medieval mind-set from our own. [Loc. 1333 & 1340 of 4637]
To which I say, you lost me at the conclusion.

Are we really that different from the ancients? Well, we're less fatalistic about who gets to be the rich man in his castle. Before it was determined at birth, but now you can claw your way in. And we're no longer illiterate. But replace "a priest or Bonhomme" with "a professor or a TED talk" and you've basically described 90% of the Western world.

Every age thinks they've got it all figured out and their ancestors were hopeless rubes. But Kriwaczek's description of medieval people is more a description of people than of the Middle Ages. We live in an age when most Westerners oppose killing the most vile of criminals in completely painless ways, while also supporting the right to kill unborn infants (who are known to feel pain) by literally pulling them limb from limb. Tell me again, Paul, where the irrationality and thoughtless cruelty has gone.

I don't believe the modern world is all that different from the ancient one. We just have different influences we treat as a god now. Back then it was the pronouncements of church leaders, and now it's the pronouncements of social leaders. There is no intellectual fault separating the medieval mind-set from our own. It just has a different name.

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