Lee-Roy Chetty
Lee-Roy Chetty

Beyond symbols, we need substance

“The unexamined life is not worth living” Plato says in line 38a of The Apology. The thoughts of an ancient Greek philosopher personally grappling with self-examination and intellectual exploration.

But how do we examine ourselves today?

What happens when you critically interrogate yourself? What are the consequences when you and I begin to call in to question our tacit assumptions and unarticulated presuppositions that we have of the world, our country, ourselves and the people who inhabit it?

Not something we consciously think of every day is it? Certainly not.

It requires what Professor Cornel West refers to as a shift from living in the superficial to living in the substantial.

A process that takes discipline and courage. Courage to think critically and for oneself. Courage to question our abstract virtues. The courage to cut against the grain.

But do any of us really possess that type of discipline and courage?

Or do the majority of us settle for conformity and complacency?

Especially in today’s market-driven society, which rewards and celebrates the hedonistic, individualistic and narcissistic among us.

Where success is all about making as much money as we can, living large, the bling-bling and all that goes with it.

That somehow success is defined on the narrow axis of economic status and financial prosperity. Where often superficial demeanour and appearance pass for reality.

Where too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

Indeed we live in a world today that has been seduced by the romanticism of the ordinary.

Allowing the culture of celebrity and often talentless individuals to dictate the living standards and aspirations of society. Especially our youth.

Justified and reinforced by the licensed coercion of mass media.

Where the entertainment-industrial complex that so effectively bombards all of us, but more in particular our youth with weapons of mass distraction, that keeps them titillated, over-stimulated and so thoroughly distracted.

In 1947, American writer and playwright Tennessee Williams published an essay titled “The Catastrophe of Success”.

In it, Williams describes what happens to people who experience a modicum of success.

He cautions that if in fact you are not spiritually, morally or politically prepared to deal with success, then a form of catastrophe follows.

That far too often, we confuse and conflate financial security with personal integrity. We misinterpret our prosperity with our own magnanimity. That it’s very easy to think that life is all about fleeting pleasures and collecting commodities and that somehow we are able to possess our souls by possessing these commodities.

But it’s not only the wealthy and the middle class that suffer from this catastrophe. It has also become increasingly prevalent among the destitute in our country.

Because the destitute have developed a fetishism of commodities. A fetishism of success.

They believe that all they need is “success” and then somehow they will become a “better person”. “More human”. People will finally “accept them”.

Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote that it takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.

Do we have the courage to examine ourselves critically?

Courage to move from the superficial to the substantive?

The courage to ask ourselves hard questions?

I hope so.

Because the opposite of courage is not cowardice. It’s indifference.

And indifference is contagious. That’s far more dangerous.

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  • 5 Responses to “Beyond symbols, we need substance”

    1. Chris Lombard #

      It is a bit patronising for you to rattle of all your criteria for “happiness” straight after you insist that everone “think” for themselves.

      The point Plato tried to make is that everyone has to go on a journey of self discovery. The point you make is that if that ends up with a different view to your own, it is somehow unexamined.

      March 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm
    2. The Creator #

      Is this post, completely devoid of substance and loaded with irrelevant symbols, deliberately ironic and self-deconstructing, or is the author going for the “Least Self-aware” prize?

      March 4, 2013 at 9:10 am
    3. JitsZA #

      The sheep can only follow the shepherd. The path of the sheperd is different today. The sheperd cannot see it himself, he must be forced to. A second comming of sorts?

      March 4, 2013 at 9:40 pm
    4. Yaj #

      More self-introspection is to be recommended and a re-examination of our values and lifestyles is required to assess its impact on the wider society whether it is environmental or socioeconomic in nature. What values are we promoting , displaying and encouraging ? Are’nt we all implicated somehow in destroying the environment or indulging in crass conspicuous consumption which rubs salt into the wounds of those less fortunate, spurring envy ,anger and greed ?

      March 5, 2013 at 1:05 pm
    5. Yaj #

      What we need to refrain from is the temptation to bury our heads in the sand , live in a state of wilful denial because the challenges we face are so big and ghastly to contemplate such as peak oil, climate change and economic collapse. We simply refuse to accept that the current economic orthodoxy and paradigm can provide no answers and is indeed the problem itself. We have become too cynical and intellectually lazy to even try and understand the iniquitous nature of our debt-based money system of fractional reserve banking and compound interest. Stuck in our personal comfort zones we refuse to consider alternatives that some activists are proposing with regard to monetary reform with full reserve banking and /or public banks. There is not even any debate on this issue simply because it is sidelined by the mainstream media.

      see http://www.positivemoney.org.uk and http://www.newera.org.za

      March 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm

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