Theater of Cruelty

When the spirit disappeared

Spirit / Fear not freedom. About humanism and the humanities
Both Schanz and Thomsen defend the belief that man is more than culture and more than his biological constituents – man is also spirit, they claim. 


However, people are always better than their culture.

Since the creation of the very first religions, the perception of man as a microcosm, as a small expression of the universe, has been a landmark. In the pre-Socrates we are the same substance as the cosmos, in Aristotle and Plato we meet a world soul, in Leibniz and Spinoza, the higher sense of man is a reflection of the universe. Man is built into something greater than himself. At all times, it has actually been more miraculous if we were separated from all of life. But the success of modern Western science has created a self-sufficiency that, in a crucial way today, actually narrows our horizons. It has to do with a way of thinking and a break with the past. There is an assumption that the world of the new thought has in the near past been pioneering, allowing the past to be discarded. These include the notion that modern scientific explanatory models (the productive forces of the economy, Freud's neuroses, Darwinism, behaviorism, neurobiology, anthropology) provide an exhaustive description of man and the complexity of the world. But the belief in the superiority of one's own doctrine has never been a good friend either by reason or by renewal of the imagination.

world expansion

The parceling of science (the division of boundaries) has gradually removed us from thinking about the common human, the human, the universal forces, the beauty and the musical life. In the general public, too, we are accustomed to "thinking" in a divided pseudorative language, for example, we talk about children's upbringing in families and school in a language where general value thinking has been used in favor of pisa measurements, competitiveness and crown-and-ear- arguments. In a therapeutic age, values ​​and ethics are privatized like never before. What must now bind us together are the special conditions, gender, identity, sexuality, ethnic background, and preferably within a Western European cultural circle. The humanities and social sciences programs follow. Sociology, culture and social sciences have invaded the humanities, liberal arts. The idea of ​​open experimentation is reduced to culture, gender and identity descriptions. We have got a distrust of the common human, or better, the world-wide expansion of the mind that since the Greeks and Romans created a thinking for Humanitas - humanity and dignity, strangeness and beauty. And we lack resilience to the simple answer of populism. The consequence is what Thomsen calls "an epoch's savage anxiety [...] and unhelpful individualism". What are we missing?

We will not copy a past, we will use the tradition to critically transcend it.

Spirit: the musical life

We lack spirit, say the two authors. But what is spirit? When we hear the word, we think of something loud, religious, romantic: the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit, the breath of breath. But here it is the thinking ability and the whole mental climate of society and education that is at stake. The approach is probably best formulated by Augustine: Spirit is a relationship that relates to itself. “It is this relationship of existence and thinking that is crucial. Not just an awareness, but an awareness that relates to oneself, ie primarily self-awareness. ” Not a complete picture of man, though bevægelsen is essential to all consciousness: the voice of poetry, the play of exploration, the substance of matter self-life in the craft. The spirit is the dynamics of thought, the necessity for moving the fast. Spirit is a devotion to the specific object that in its recesses connects it to something alive, dynamic, unfinished, staggering. What goes away in the pseudorational thinking of our time is an understanding of it subjective experiences depth as the source of the common. In the Romans and in ancient times, an overcoming of the impulses of affect. In the Greeks an immersion in the song's art of music, a common grace, dance and laughter (Charis). "There is something in man that is at one time higher than man, yet which man still experiences as his innermost and true being" (O. Thomsen). This "something in man" is not an essence, but a life art for the development of a moral character and a world-wide vision. 

The ecology of thought

Thomsen wants a classic formation with models in Hellenism, Renaissance, Grundtvig, Nietzsche and more, but the solution to spiritual decay is not a return to a traditional canon. We must not copy a past, we must use the tradition of critically transcending it. We must use art, myths and philosophy as tools to think about, to make experiences with the language, and thereby to transform the private feeling into recognition and insight. This is how we build up opposition to populism, condemnation, simple answers, fake news and so on. It's about being an idealist without ending in idealism. It is about thinking of reality as a state of tension, the modes of movement of culture, to keep the thought open, in turns. To be more sensitive to reflection's own movement and not immediately be satisfied with a professional box. Spirit is an exercise in doubt of oneself, of the given. Spirit is, well, the ecology of thought.

To ask the essential questions once again

One might ask if we have lost our minds because we have lost the lust for life, the curious discovery that should be the driving force. If man has a spiritual relationship with the world, it is because it is more than himself, it can transcend its given conditions, it can ask for why something is happening, not just how (Aristotle). Why does a rock fall to the ground? Why is something better than anything, what is the good life? It can ask unpleasant questions that break the silence of who we are, what nature is, what we dare hope. These questions have all been asked before. "The problem is not that we do not understand these issues today, but rather that we have become accustomed to asking them in principle. […] We are becoming more and more accustomed to managing and viewing our lives from a social context related to a purpose or a pragmatic purpose, for example, what do I want to achieve. But hereby a dimension is cut away which gives the language lift and openness. Our language, so to speak, is characterized by a pragmatic tunnel look. ” 

"We are becoming more and more used to directing and viewing our lives from a social context of purpose or pragmatic purpose."

Highlighting the everyday language

The fact that the university has evolved into "pure knowledge competence factories" is nothing new. The new thing is that a pseudoscientific and constructivist language invades everything – from universities to journalism and television programs (for example, coach language about children, parents and upbringing) – and stun people. To meet our need for simple answers and measurable solutions, a pseudorative language is used. "The problem is not science and its distinct language, but what this language has come to practice in everyday language." 

Changing our mental compass?

We need a mental climate with duty to practice a kind of self-education; we can actually develop, understand ourselves and others better by seeking out qualified information and insight, studying the ancient myths and tales. The University of Denmark is said to be the last place where the spirit thrives as a living community, where one can think and dream aloud, where one dares to show the wound in our existence. Where one is not subject to a book-like truth that increasingly seizes the lives of young people as soon as they enter the doors of modern education. Not to shape, but to grow (Grundtvig) – because where can you, in a society where everyone is told that they should run stronger, and get out into the labor market as quickly as possible, make money, be a winner? Maybe we don't see how similar and malleable we have become? In the 1960s (Villy Sørensen and others), the purpose, content and idea of ​​welfare were actually discussed. It was committed to its content, as the realization of something general, in which an artistic, literary, musical (spiritual) foundation became important. It was understood that the common human is always at stake in the individual as well as in society. Today we have no discussion about the content and substance of welfare; it's just an empty category for crowns and penny. 

Spirit is the ecology of thought.

High living standards reduce curiosity

Schanz asks how it has come about that the universities have become competency factories, that everything is targeted at economics, which is why economic necessity, globalization and culture must run out of breathlessness and lack of education. And the answer is: "There are probably many reasons for this: The welfare state has contributed to a security of life which in many ways must be regarded as a civilizational gain. It is beyond any doubt. But at the same time, the security of life that has been created seems to have removed much of the individual world openness and the pursuit of a kind of existential complacency. When all possibilities are granted as a matter of course, and there is not much individual effort required – then it seems that people fall back into a kind of dull and stupid satisfaction. Back alone is the challenge of not getting bored. ”

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

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