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The Quiet Desperation of a Pointless Life
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation…. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.” – Thoreau
I think Thoreau was onto something. Look at the misery of the Left and the Woke. They lead lives that are miserable, in no small part because they are told that everyone is merely an animal, at best a parasite sucking the lifeblood out of Mother Earth. The Left lacks a higher purpose or meaning. They don’t invest in deep and sustainable romantic relationships, or in building families and investing in the next generation.
Indeed, I think this is necessarily part of “natural” religions overall. Nature is circular, and all lives are essentially pointless at best (and in the case of mankind, decidedly negative). If you worship a natural deity, you accept that you and your life has no deeper meaning, that when you die, the world will be no better for you having lived in the first place. Wouldn’t that conclusion make you desperate?!
This explains a difficult verse for me in the Torah. When Moses and Aaron come down from Sinai to confront the people who are worshipping a golden calf, Joshua first says, “There is the sound of war in the camp.” Moses replies:
“It is not the sound of the sufferings of victory, neither is it a sounds of suffering defeat, but sounds of suffering [alone] do I hear.”
I think Moses had a very sensitive ear. He heard what was below the surface, like the sadness of the clown. The people were “worshipping” the golden calf with outward appearances of joy and merrymaking. But those same people, in desperation and fear of the unknown, had just given up on their lives having a deeper or greater purpose. They had slid into the sadness that comes from the loss of hope, from accepting powerlessness in the face of far more powerful and uncaring natural forces. The people had locked themselves into a natural, circular world, a world with no exit. The world of quiet desperation and unconscious despair.
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This post needs a second part. The points raised touches on the broader subject of Civilizational Decline as a phenomenon.
All the translations I have do not say “sounds of suffering” but “sounds of singing”.
Exo 32:18 (ESV) But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.”
In the context this makes a lot of sense. Joshua thinks he hears fighting, but Moses hears a party going on.
However, Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary agrees with your interpretation, and the word is often translated as “affliction”.
Can you explain the conflict between the common translation (singing) and yours (suffering)?
Thomistic philosopher Josef Pieper talked about the elaborate emptiness of the parties at Versailles at its peak, all motivated by an attempt to escape their horror vacui instead of actual joy, mutual affection, and life-affirmation that could more likely be found at a feast day celebration among common people. More sensuality, bigger fireworks, and more fancy cuisine did not really fill the spiritual hole. Most of us have the TV going all the time. Little kids can’t part with tablets, teens with phones. We are training ourselves to crave distraction. We are living in Weimar redux.
Because this word never means “singing” anywhere else in the text. It can mean “to answer” or “humble” or “suffer”. The translators made it this to make it easier to commonly grasp, and that common translation gets the primary point across fine.
But the secondary point needs to be made, because the word is repeated 3X in this verse, and it seems redundant to the word for “sound” for at least the first two examples!
Thanks for the explanation. I was looking at the wrong word!
Not that I’m a Calfist, but there is an assumption here that Golden Calf worshippers have no afterlife to look forward to. I do not think that was how they saw things.
One of my friends used to joke that he led a life of noisy desperation. Seems to me that Lefty is more noisy than quiet.
Is it possible that this attempt to fill the emptiness that comes with a materialist worldview is, in fact, the central problem of our time? Is this the downside of the enlightenment? Perhaps we should embrace the despair head on instead of filling it with, as Pascal said, diversions and distractions. How might we escape from this trap of fear?
It seems to me that those answers are in the bible, both old and new. The despair we feel is the separation from our creator, and a return to that relationship is the only way out.