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When you get rich without thinking, and powerful without trying, the tendency is to pull back from the things you once fought against. You're sick of doing the laundry; pay someone. You're bored of cleaning house; pay someone. You don't want to make up your own mind, or even question others, so you delegate that, too.
Our time is one of riches we didn't directly earn, and a lack of combat for anything of meaning. A war in the modern context wouldn't even give us the challenge we need. We can have hobbies, and try to climb mountains others have long ago conquered, or invent new sports like snowboarding to try ourselves against nature, but... is that really a challenge, or an endurance and skills test? We need something to challenge our souls.
Lack of engagement with reality is what keeps us puny. Like all modern popular music, which seems to cloak the same chord progressions and scales and structures in a new image, and new type of sound with the same values as older sounds. Like modern art, which makes freakish combinations of the same six subjects (death, inequality, sexuality, unequal death, sexual inequality, being an artist) but has no new content. It's like we connected all of humanity with telephones and computers, and found out we had nothing to say.
All I've got are things to say. I am not good at dressing them up in slick new forms that people think are "creative genius" for the two weeks before they forget and go on to the next new incomparable creation hashing out the same old refrains. These refrains aren't even unique to our time. They're the neurotic expression of people in any time who have lost the thread of pursuing meaning, the intangible, in their lives and so they focus on the tangible.
What fascinates me are the design choices that can be outwardly similar but radically different. Beethoven, through the careful placement of a few notes outside of what a more mundane intelligence would do, created beauty, and then let his technical skill fulfill it. The right combination of words can make a poem and not a cliche. You can throw all the energy, money, and time in the world at a problem, but without this inner dimension of the intangible, the dimension of design, you do not accomplish what you could have.
In your lives, if you want to live well and rise out of the internal combustion quagmire of this time, you will challenge yourselves -- internally, in intangible ways. Do not accept easy answers or excuses from yourself. If you can dream it you can do it, with some work and some thought. There is no reason to step back from the world, say "well I coulda done that if The Man let me," and then sulk in failure. Life is joyful war. Go for it.
November 11, 2007