Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why are we so unhappy? Let's ask Max Weber.

It would take more than one lifetime to experience salvation, success, power, beauty, pleasure, and truth. Pick the one that's right for you, and go for it, understanding that doing so means sacrificing the others.

by Philip Gorski, Public Books

"In his magisterial essay, “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions,” the German sociologist Max Weber painted a tragic picture of our ethical situation.8 In the premodern world, he lamented, life and the world were of a piece. Abraham could die in peace, knowing that he had lived a life in full. He had been blessed with wives, progeny, and property. There was nothing more to want. But “cultural beings” (Kulturmenschen) such as ourselves can never experience this sense of completion. There is always more to know and experience. Nor is that the end of the tragedy. We also live in a world of multiple and competing “value spheres”: religious, economic, political, aesthetic, erotic, and intellectual, among others. Each sphere is held together by a particular value, an “ultimate value” that demands our total devotion: salvation, success, power, beauty, pleasure, truth, and so on. What to do? Some would be dilettantes, flitting from one experience to another, collecting stories along the way. That is perhaps the dominant ethos of the present age: “YOLO!” But that was not Weber’s creed. He longed for the unity of life that Abraham had enjoyed. The only way to achieve this, he believed, was to devote one’s life to a single god, the “daemon” that seized the very fibers of one’s being. Not monotheism, the worship of the one true god, then, but monolatry, devotion to one’s own true god—that was Weber’s ethos."

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