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Of Transcendentalism and Counterculture

Forest pathwayWhen one has spent most of his life lounging and binging, and then, in a time of unprecedented willpower, he pushes himself into fitness, achieving a runner’s high, the world around him starts to glow. His ignorance is dispelled, his perspective irrevocably changed. Suddenly everyone around him who hasn’t yet partaken of this fruit appears unenlightened.

To apply this principle to philosophy, when for years one has been warned against a certain behavior or idea, and then she discovers that this forbidden fruit is, in fact, sweet, she also experiences a high, and everyone around her who hasn’t tasted of this fruit appears unenlightened.

This happens throughout the world. The enlightened seek out those of like-minds. Together they laugh at the ignorance they’d once known. They seek out additional transcendent experiences, wondering how else has their culture suppressed them? Suddenly they are truth seekers on heroes’ journeys, on holy quests against ignorance.

But the world appears to be more random than they’d romanticized. They discover that there’s no dark force trying to keep them in ignorance, that the intentions of those around them are mostly good, if near-sided. Yet the feelings of transcendence are addicting, so the enlightened seek out new thresholds to breech.

They find one, though the afterglow is not as powerful as that of the first. While the first endowed them with pure truth, the second is something of a half truth. But a half truth is better than no truth at all, so they take what they can get, and once again, the feeling satisfies their needs. Almost. With the domino effect in motion, they press forward, though the pickings are getting scantier. Now and then they’re rejuvenated by a full truth, but often they have to settle for more half truths, here and there a quarter truth.

Meanwhile a new culture arises: counterculture. The enlightened spend their time deconstructing the facades of their predecessors. They satirize ignorance. In contrast to sanctimony, they espouse irreverence. To make a point, they replace didactic conventions with a celebration of frivolity. In contrast to unfounded judgment, they cease to make any judgments. They embrace anything that fits the tone of their new culture, always in search of new ideas with which to break up the monotony. Each deconstruction releases a bit more energy, mimicking the glow of that first transcendent experience.

Then there’s a problem. There’s nothing left to deconstruct. The satire is no longer funny. The irreverence is … irreverent. The profane profane. The frivolous frivolous. A culture of counterculture, with no pretenses, no facades, and no judgment is a beginning, but it leaves its citizens wanting. They’re warned against partaking of the forbidden fruits of the old culture.

And then one partakes, and the feeling is addicting.

2 thoughts on “Of Transcendentalism and Counterculture

  1. While that seemed vaguely reminiscent of ideas i think i may have observed in past acquaintances, it was also so abstract that I could not be sure I even knew what you were talking about, and was simultaneously so over-specific that I am certain any experience I might compare it to would fail to align on several criteria.

    In other words … what?

    1. I’m exploring the idea that counterculture is a paradox, because while it may start out justified, you can’t effectively counter a culture without creating a new culture. And if the new culture is mainly founded on deconstructing the old culture (i.e. postmodernism), when the old culture has been completely deconstructed, there will be little left over for the new culture, and the situation will be worse than the first. In other words I’m giving one benefit of the doubt to liberalism and two to conservatism. Bro.

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