Exiled in Cyberia? Tradition offers a way out
BY C.S. MORRISSEY
Summer vacation, and everybody’s taking “selfies.”
But a thoughtful artist can still capture the essence of a person, in a way no photograph can.
Take that remarkable pencil sketch of Ilsa Faust, for example, that shows up in the best movie of the summer, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.
That drawing communicates the essence of the actress who plays Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) in a unique way, unmatched even by all the glorious cinematography of the film.
The iconic pencil drawing occurs within a film that is itself a loving tribute to classic Hollywood’s most iconic films. Rogue Nation proves a truly great movie doesn’t need nudity and profanity. Sometimes “old school” really is best.
Does anyone remember “the good old days,” when a stranger would offer to take a picture of you and your beloved?
Those pictures didn’t always turn out so well. But when they did, they became special treasures.
But now, we can fuss and preen until we get the perfect “selfie.”
And then, “sharing” becomes something done primarily with a computer.
If so, then the word “sharing” is losing its moral sense. Instead, the world unwittingly adopts a morality determined solely by the number of “likes” something gets.
But what other ways are there to gauge good and evil?
The Irish Catholic philosopher Mark Dooley has a brilliant new book out. Its title is bracingly direct: Moral Matters.
In it, he discusses the cybernetic world devoted to instant communication and material abundance that we increasingly inhabit: a world epitomized by selfies, sharing, and liking.
Dooley has a great name for this world. He calls it “Cyberia.”
Think about it: it intentionally sounds like “Siberia,” that harsh and remote place of Communist exile.
The subtitle of Dooley’s book is A Philosophy of Homecoming. That’s because he hopes to get us thinking about returning home from all forms of cybernetic exile that afflict us.
What binds people together now? Most people make romantic connections these days with computers. But is it possible for love’s promise to be found primarily online?
We are already seeing the consequences of this increasing trend. Communities are dissolving and losing their traditional configurations.
Still, our happiness depends upon saving and conserving the old ways, argues Dooley. In this regard, Dooley is opposing Cyberia by making the case for a “conservative” philosophy of homecoming.
We cannot flourish as human beings when we digitally detach from society. If new technologies enhance our individuality, then that comes with an enormous social cost, and an enormous social loss. Not to mention enormous unhappiness.
Dooley emphasizes the important social function of “inherited moral wisdom.” Hence, the title of his book: Moral Matters — because it is morality that matters the most.
In the amoral online world, we find ourselves in a situation of “separation and homelessness,” says Dooley. “We have opted for a rootless existence where alienation and amnesia are the norm.”
But this doesn’t mean we have to repudiate the hyper-connected online world. It simply means that we need, now more than ever, an incarnate community rooted in time and place.
Without such a community’s traditional, real-world connections, and their concomitant moral obligations, we cannot ever achieve happiness.
Thus, while Dooley’s book starts off by speaking in the first chapters of “Homesickness” and “Playing with our toys,” he proceeds to bring us back to the world of what truly matters. Dooley gently offers profound philosophical meditations on death and loss, and on life and love.
These are the themes that matter most in our lives. Dooley rightfully gives them pride of place in his philosophy. He shows us how we can really live and truly feel at home. (Spoiler alert: it means we have to give up all our most cherished but most ridiculous fantasies.)
Not only that. From the rooted place of a loving home, grounded in reality and not in illusion, we can confidently reach out to the world. Dooley concludes his book with three magnificent chapters on the grandest of philosophical themes: “Caring for creation”; “Conserving culture”; and “Saving the sacred.”
In doing so, he integrates into his vision many profound insights learned from the great contemporary English philosopher Roger Scruton. His book thereby contributes to the urgent intellectual defense of the need to conserve traditions.
Yes, it is an unfashionable philosophy. Cyberia is dominated by a liberalism that says you should be not just free, but actively empowered, to do anything you desire.
But, for Dooley (and Scruton), this sort of liberalism is a poisonous philosophy. It offers only the illusion of freedom.
In reality, it creates a world in which we cannot possibly dwell. It removes the prospect of a peaceful home. It brings only the destruction of settled conventions. It plunges us into homelessness and heartlessness.
But Dooley sketches for us the way out of Cyberia. We need not remain exiled in its grim individualism. We can reject its alienation from traditional social obligations.
Only by living according to a real philosophy of love do we have a chance.
A chance to escape Cyberia’s prison of empty “likes.”
A chance to return home to a world illuminated by real “loves.”
Dr. C.S. Morrissey is a philosophy professor in real life. He is also a Fellow of the Adler-Aquinas Institute who loves pencil drawings and teaching the Great Books. His address in Cyberia is: moreC.com.