Skip to content

How Can You Cure Yourself of Modernitis?

You're soaked in modernity. You think like a modern. It's not good. Consider doing the opposite of whatever your rationality tells you to do.

Do you want to stop thinking like a modern? Then stop putting so much faith in your thinking.

George was frustrated. Every decision he made was wrong.

Jerry suggested that maybe George should just do the opposite of whatever his instincts say: “If every instinct you have is wrong,” Jerry said, “then the opposite would have to be right.”

George conceded the wisdom of the observation and then embarked on a course of acting opposite to what his instincts told him, like walking up to a beautiful blonde and hitting on her . . . successfully. (Seinfeld, “The Opposite”)

That might be the cure for Modernitis.

Most of us are so soaked in Modernity, we don’t even know we’re wet, which creates an enormous problem when it comes to our thinking. If our minds don’t realize we’re soaked in Modernity, they can’t help us break out of it. Modern thinking becomes instinctual.

The way to break out of it?

Do the opposite of what modernity tell us to do. Be like George. You, too, might then start dating the beautiful blonde of the mental world: freedom from the fetters of rationality.

Rationality Is Neither Reasonable nor Reliable

Most of us carry the assumption that we should act in accordance with our rationality.

Unfortunately, as I pointed out last week, this tends to be almost identical to the assumption that we can do whatever we want. As Pascal said, as Freud argued, as current studies about cognitive biases show: our minds aren’t nearly as reasonable as we think.

When we act in accordance with our rationality, we are probably acting more in accordance with our instincts or naked desires. I’m not saying there isn’t a rational component involved, but it’s so freakin’ stilted, you can’t trust it.

The forces that act upon us from inside and out are powerful. So powerful, in fact, that many cogent thinkers even doubt whether we have a free will to act in accordance with our reason at all. I don’t agree with them, but I sympathize with the notion.

Don’t Trust Your Rationality

There’s an old Taoist saying. If a man insists everyone act reasonably, he becomes unreasonable.

Amen to that.

But I’d take it one step further: If a man insists that he himself act rationally, he’s irrational.

That’s the first step out of the fetid pond of modernity: don’t trust your rationality at all.

Trust almost anything else first. A pair of dice, a flipped coin. A Ouija board and Tarot card? No, I wouldn’t go that far. They might work, but there are diabolical elements at play there . . .

STOP. Did you just dismiss my concern about Ouija and Tarot? If so, then scream to yourself, “Out, Demon, out!” like Kenneth Anger[1] at the 1967 Vietnam war protest in Washington D.C. in an attempt to levitate the Pentagon. If you instinctively dismiss the idea that the occult has anything to say, you’re “thinking” (instinctivizing) like a modern. Don’t do that. I’m not saying the occult has anything to say (though I think it does . . . all of it worthless or bad), but I am saying not to dismiss it merely because the occult isn’t rational.

If you can do that, and then bring that habit of accepting things that transcend your tiny frame of understanding, you’ll start emerging from the modern pond.

Never Do Something Because You Don’t See Why Not

There are many other steps you can take to get out of that pond.

Again, act like George. Seinfeld resonated. There’s a reason TV Guide ranked it Number One in its list of greatest TV shows of all time. “The Opposite” especially resonated and ranked as the second best Seinfeld episode.

I believe that episode resonated because we’ve all experienced George’s predicament. We’ve all gotten frustrated with a rational process that gives us f***ed-up conclusions, especially when it comes to how we conduct our lives.

So stop relying on your own rationality.

If you decide on a course of action because you "don't see why not," then you're merely acting like a modern. Instead, pause until you see why not. If, once you see why not, the course of action still seems appropriate, then you might be safe to proceed.

This is crucial.

G.K. Chesterton wrote about an old gate in the middle of a field. It served no apparent purpose. Reformers wanted to remove it because they didn’t see why it was there. Chesterton demurred:

The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever take an unusual or bold course of action. That’s a life for the anemic. I am saying that, if you’re going to do something unusual or bold, you better make damn sure you have something more solid behind your decision besides your rationality.

The best way to do that? When your rationality supposedly tells you to do something, do the opposite, just like George.

In this case, the opposite of doing something is doing nothing. And that's what I suggest: Pause and do nothing until you have more input than your little sphere of rationality.

Six Other Ways to Remedy Modernitis

So what else can you do?

Lots of things.

I outlined six symptoms of Modernitis last week. Consider doing the opposite of all six.

1. Don’t reject the Tao. Embrace it. Accept there’s a first principle that stands beyond principle, a reality that transcends reality.

2. Don’t reject poetry. And by this, I mean don’t reject anything that’s “merely” beautiful. If it’s beautiful, it’s also good and true. Pursue it, even if it feels like you’re wasting time. You’re not.

3. Embrace the classics. See how men and women thought before modernity arose. It’s simply a different way of seeing. You’re not going to start wearing a toga, but the shifted perspective is refreshing.

4. Embrace history. If the number one rule of curing yourself of Modernitis is to stop accepting your rationality as the primary authority, then the number two rule is to find some other primary authority. Deep historical study might be one option. It can’t hurt.

5. Accept imperfection. The world isn’t perfect. We aren’t perfect. Accept it. Progress is a great thing, but it’s not the only thing and, just like the irrational person who thinks all people should be rational, the person who thinks everything should be geared toward progress isn’t progressive.

6. Embrace inefficiency. Modernitis tells the body and soul they must be productive, at all times. Don’t do it. Waste time. Embrace true leisure: not stimulating yourself with TV (or something worse), not exercising, not giving yourself a heart attack in an effort to get out on vacation. Just do nothing.

It’s because artists do not practise, patrons do not patronize, crowds do not assemble to worship reverently the great work of Doing Nothing, that the world has lost its philosophy and even failed to invent a new religion. G. K. Chesterton

[1] Director of the homosexual-motorcycle pseudoepic Scorpio Rising