The modern mind, strictly speaking, is not a mind at all. If the mind is, among other things, that part of the human person that seeks truth, weighs claims and seeks, as far as possible, to come to an objective understanding of reality, then the average modern person has been rendered mindless.
This is not to say that the average modern person is stupid. Rather, the modern man’s approach to life does not value detailed examination of ideas. The modern man does not seek to create a life characterized by a logically consistent belief system and ordered, purposeful behavior. Above all, the modern man does not think in terms of truth and falsity.
The seeds of this condition have always lain within us. Most people are not naturally inclined to seek truth or to do the hard work of developing a coherent worldview. Most people are more inclined simply to seek sensation, amusement and novelty, never clarity, insight or depth.
The ancients knew this. From the beginning, Western literature contains instructions telling audiences to allow their reason to rule their passions. They knew that, left to our own devices, we would live, not as fully developed human beings, but as machines programmed simply to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
Since men have always been the sort of creature to abandon themselves to their feelings and passions when left to their own devices, what makes the modern man so different from those who struggled with the same problem long ago? Simple: modern man is left to his own devices in a way people in previous times were not.
Liberalism has burned away from the individual every unchosen obligation. Obligations to family? Gone. Obligations to religion? Gone. Obligations to local or national governments? Gone. Unlike any other era in history, the modern man stands alone, disconnected from all that once called people out of themselves and directed them to behave on the basis of moral law, custom, good manners and reason. This set of interconnecting institutions is what allowed the individual mind to develop and function.
Moreover, liberalism has substituted its own set of demanding beliefs for the religious framework that once shaped men’s thinking. Even the least intellectually inclined once received instruction in right and wrong from some authoritative source. Now, it’s each man for himself. The modern person is tasked with constantly reinventing the moral wheel. Every man must be his own God, charged with deciding for himself what is right and wrong, and creating his own experience of meaning.
People can’t do this. It is too much pressure. The emptiness of the modern world is unavoidable. Modern people sense that emptiness when they attempt to engage the world in all its complexity without the resources the old institutions provided. For the average modern, the world feels barely supported over an endless abyss.
So, people shrink back. Their goal ceases to be understanding the world, but to avoid as much of it as possible. People don’t ask too many questions. Questions they cannot avoid, they answer with meaningless cliches everyone pretends to understand. Having been taught that truth claims are mostly a cover for power-grabs, and that no one can really know the answers to the questions that plague them, modern people fail to see the purpose of their rational faculties.
The result is a withdrawal into the world of emotion. Rather than finding truth through a process of study and reflection, truth merely becomes whatever feels right at the moment. If an idea feels right, there is no need to examine it further. If an idea initially feels bad, the only right responses are to escape it or to punish the person who brought it up.
This attitude is part of what causes the tremendous anxiety of our age. In a world where we hang precariously over an abyss of meaninglessness and where disturbing ideas that challenge us to face it might come at us from anywhere, it’s hard to relax.
Liberalism, which ostensibly sought to free the individual, has ultimately enslaved him. The modern man while free at a shallow level, has surrendered his deepest, most important freedoms, including the freedom to exercise and develop his mind, and the freedom to live his life ensconced in a web of meaning.
The institutions that once bound an individual’s choices, did not restrict him only. They also provided him an identity and the encouragement to develop and obey the dictates of his reason rather than his passions. Without the force of those institutions, modern man has ceased to be at home and instead become a wanderer who has lost his way, his hope, and even his very mind.