The New White Post

G.K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, in a chapter called The Eternal Revolution, said:

If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.

And indeed I heard these words repeatedly at a theology department at Fordham, so much so that I wondered if the woke at Fordham knew G.K. Chesterton wrote anything else. I kept my mouth shut about the fact that G.K. Chesterton was an absolutely prolific, and superbly quotable, author; that besides numerous apologetic essays he tried his hand at poetry and detective stories; that his works about Roman Catholic doctrine and apologetics by itself represents quite a prodigious output. But as far as the woke at Fordham were concerned, he might have written the "new white post" quote and nothing else. Or at least I do not recall any of the woke who quoted the new white post quote or reference a second work or quote from him; I do not even recall the words up to and including the quote being quoted:

We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.

And the words before it well enough speak of trying to be a progressive above being conservative!

(Now I might briefly mention before passing on that G.K. Chesterton speaks of the "new white post", not the "new paisley post" or, ahem, the "new rainbow-colored post."

The "new white post" I'd like to look at

I'd look to look at a deep new change to being human, and a deeper new change after that.

Depending somewhat on where and how you draw the line, our human race has been around for somewhere between 100,000 and 4,000,000 years. The agricultural revolution took place less than 10,000 years. This means that for over 90% of the time human times, we have lived as hunter-gatherers without civilization, books, or cities. Narnia fans may remember how in Prince Caspian, Cornelius tells Prince Caspian, "This castle is a thing of yesterday. Your great-great-grandfather built it." But if you recognize the realization behind the Paleo lifestyle (I would rather call it "neo-Paleo"), you would recognize that all medieval castles are a thing of yesterday, around for less than 1% of the time humans have been around. We think of medieval castles as something very, very old when, compared to over 99% of the time people have been around, medieval castles belong to the same geological eyeblink as we do.

And the core insight in neo-Paleo is not that we now live as hunter-gatherers or that we should abandon what we have to resume being literal hunter-gatherers, but that we are built on a virtually unchanged hunter-gatherer chassis, and we ignore it at our peril. There are lifestyle choices we can do to counteract depression and other diseases of civilization, and be considerably gentler to our hunter-gatherer nature than people under civilization's auspices live by default.

Nonetheless, I would like to look at just time within the agricultural revolution for now. On this point I would recall a fellow American friend's words that when he thinks about normal human life, he imagines an African village. And for most of the time civilization has been around, people have been living more like an African village than we do.

Electronics in the modern sense date to 200 years or less. If we take the age of civilization as at least beginning about 10,000 years ago, then electronics have been around for perhaps 2% of the time humans have lived in civilization. Jean-Claude Larchet's The New Media Epidemic details technologies that have become endemic for significantly less than 1% of the time civilization has sputtered and significantly less than 0.1% of the time humans have been around and have been human.

These things that are normal to us, the miasma of technologies we navigate are atypical of human life as human life has been lived as we know it, and this is true enough that a speaker in a seminary course video had to point out as far as fabrications go that people who wrote the New Testament didn't have access to Google. To people who think the New Testament to simply write fabrications, one speaker talked about how the book of Acts names four local leaders encountered who had four separate Greek titles, and evidence on coin inscriptions and other sources back up the book of Acts on four out of four. He offered as an example of an ancient fabrication a book that has a then-contemporary traveler visiting the hearts of two ancient empires and receiving a royal reception in an empire's (bustling) capital city when in fact the capital city was an ancient ruins that had just barely begun to be repopulated.

The old white post has turned black and long ago crumbled into dust. If we want the new white post, we don't just have to paint it white; we need to rebuild it. Maybe even hew the wood, or acquire non-electronic tools that can hew wood instead of just serving information.

Now there are a number of layers and aspects to the situation, and technology alone is not responsible. For the eyeblink of human life and the eyeblink of civilization, even, that The New Media Epidemic has been around, there have been profound shifts in culture; scholars look at Einstein's theory of relativity and Picasso's work as representing radical acceleration to the rate of cultural change unprecedented in history, and we've upstaged this. Political correctness used to say that a picture of a group of people pictured has to include a black person and not be all-white; now we take in stride that such a picture should include a hijab or an obese woman and we take this all in stride as instantly relatable. The civil rights movement seems to increment just slightly to advocate for a brainstorm of what in previous days was called sexual perversion. Woke people may accelerate the change and call for more, but even conservatives who have reasonable control of their lives are still living conditions, realities, and changes unimaginable across over 99% of history and vastly more than 99% of the human ways of living that include prehistory.

A lesser "Four Noble Truths"

I really hope Buddhists will not be offended by the adaptation; I wish to evoke the kind of mindset that says that suffering comes when our desires exceed our possessions, and the American approach is to increase our possessions while the approach in India is to subtract from the sum of our desires. That stated, let me offer a lesser "four noble truths":

  1. Almost all human life today is dominated by an empty, unatural, dehumanizing suffering.

  2. The cause of this empty and inhuman suffering is overengagement with technology.

  3. The means to unplug this empty and inhuman suffering is to refrain from use of technology that is not governed by ascesis.

  4. The means to technology use governed by ascesis is the Orthodox ascetical path, in particular such things as fasting, silence, and most of all repentance.

(I intentionally refer to key ascetical assets that have helped me domineer my phone and act without addiction rather than giving eight cardinal virtues of Courage, Justice, Wisdom, Moderation, Humility, Faith, Hope, and Love. I am concerned with what are ascetical assets that form the backbone of a response.)

These lesser "four noble truths" sum up the area of the problem I address, and what I propose to address it.

This brings me to my signal contribution to the conversation. I do not broadly articulate cultural differences, or moral differences, which I am aware of and acknowledge, but I write about one simple, basic issue: how we can live a properly human life in this world of technology. I do not wish to reduce things to a technological determinism, but I hold that our technologies are tremendously important. And our ways of using technology are even more important.

My signal contribution to the conversation

My signal contribution to the conversation is written in the seven volume series Hidden Price Tags, and a shorter introduction to the topic in A Pack of Cigarettes for the Mind. I invite you to click on the links and just explore the cover images; the cover images are both made very carefully to say what the titles are about.

Hidden Price Tags and A Pack of Cigarettes for the Mind discuss, for instance, how I make my smartphone not be a ball and chain, and how I follow Larchet's suggestion and only check email once a day in my better moments. I have explored abstention and moderation in use of technologies, and looked at a historical parallel in the temperance movement.

I personally still live a life incomprehensible for 99% of the ages humans have been around, but I have some relative victories that could be added to the neo-Paleo movement that recognizes that in our hunter-gatherer natural element, we don't just get sunlight and have a diet that balances, for instance, Omega-3 and Omega-6 intake, but we also haven't been compulsively checking consumer electronics. The human race is disintegrating but Hidden Price Tags and A Pack of Cigarettes for the Mind cover real ways to disintegrate less, and that is of profound importance.

I invite you to return to the new white post.