Will President Trump make us “One with our Toys”?
Posted on 16 January 2017, 9:21
As the United States prepares for a change of leadership, many people are still scratching their heads and wondering how Donald Trump, a man so seemingly unpresidential, at least in the more traditional or conventional ways, succeeded in the pursuit of the presidency. The media claims that it is due to the anger of the voters – an anger said to be primarily the result of economic struggles by the working class. However, I’m convinced that it goes much deeper than that, and it’s not something that presidents or politicians have much control over or understanding of. It’s really existential despair that is manifesting itself. To overcome this despair, people want change, but they really don’t grasp what that change should involve. In fact, the change they think they want conflicts with the change they really need.
I believe that Giambattista Vico, an 18th-century Italian philosopher, hit the nail squarely on the head when he wrote that men first feel necessity, then look for utility, followed by comfort, then pleasure, and finally luxury, after which they finally go mad – when “each man is thinking of his own private interests.” In that pursuit of pleasure and luxury, there is, according to Vico, a certain social disconnection, which involves moral, intellectual, and spiritual decline.
And that is where we now seem to be. At some point in the pursuit of pleasure and luxury, we became so consumed with our own immediate needs that we lost sight of the larger life. Vico’s “madness” is really despair or hopelessness that results from a void in our spiritual lives. In effect, in striving for greater pleasure and luxury, we became philistines – man striving to be “one with his toys,” while increasingly indifferent to matters of the spirit. “Philistinism tranquilizes itself in the trivial, being equally in despair whether things go well or ill,” the existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard explained it, going on to say that many philistines don’t actually realize they are in despair, or if they do realize it they don’t understand what they are in despair about. Neither do their psychiatrists, the politicians, or the journalists.
“Despair over the earthly or over something earthly is really despair about the eternal and over oneself, in so far as it is despair,” Kierkegaard offered. This is consistent with what anthropologist Ernest Becker had to say in his 1973 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Denial of Death, in which he asserted that death is the mainspring of human activity. “The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else,” Becker said. To free oneself of death anxiety, Becker explained, nearly everyone chooses the path of repression. We bury the anxiety deep in the subconscious and busy ourselves with our jobs, partake of certain pleasures, strut in our new clothes, show off our polished cars, jabber on our phones, hit little white balls into round holes, escape into fictitious stories in books, at the movies, and on television, idolize movie actors and athletes (people pretending to be real people and pretending to be real combatants), experience vicarious thrills at sporting events, pursue material wealth, and seek a mundane security that we expect to continue indefinitely, all the while oblivious to the fact that in the great scheme of things such activities are exceedingly short-term and for the most part meaningless.
As I infer from it all, when we get too much comfort, too much pleasure, too much luxury, as we embrace Epicureanism and hedonism, we begin to wonder what we can strive for next. We begin fiddling as Nero did when Rome burned.
It has been suggested that sowing brings greater happiness than reaping, and we have reaped so much that we have become bored and depressed. Renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl referred to it as “mass neurotic syndrome” – the result of an “existential vacuum,” a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness. The more one seeks pleasure, Frankl observed, the more it eludes him. “Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect, or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree in which it is made a goal in itself.” A human being, he continued, is not one in pursuit of happiness, but one in search of a reason to become happy. Self-actualization, he further opined, is possible only as a side effect of self-transcendence.
Pioneering psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote that most of his patients were non-believers, those who had lost their faith. They were neurotics. “They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking,” Jung wrote. “Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears. For that reason the idea of [spiritual] development was always of the highest importance to me.”
Even Sigmund Freud, who was not spiritually inclined, was concerned that one’s attitude toward death has a bearing on his or her psychological health. “Is it not for us to confess that in our civilized attitude toward death, we are once more living psychologically beyond our means, and must reform and give truth its due?” he asked. “Would it not be better to give death the place in actuality and in our thoughts which properly belongs to it, and to yield a little more prominence to that unconscious attitude towards death which we have hitherto so carefully repressed?”
Concomitant with the pursuit of pleasure and luxury is the glorification of the ego and with it a trickle-down narcissism effect. “It’s not necessary for everyone, or even most people, to be narcissistic for materialism to increase in a society,” offer psychologists Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell in their book, The Narcissism Epidemic. “Similar to the trends in vanity, narcissistic people begin materialistic trends that raise the standards for everyone else. They show off their possessions and make materialism cool through their charm and outgoing personalities.” Twenge and Campbell cite various studies indicating that young people today are much more focused on “becoming well off financially” than earlier generations. In one study, 93 percent of teenage girls said that shopping is their favorite activity. Can there be any doubt that television and Internet commercials have been the primary instigators in this regard?
If I am interpreting it all correctly, the conscious self wants pleasure and luxury, but the subconscious (the soul) wants peace of mind, and that comes only with seeing this life as a part of a much larger one. Therein is the conflict that goes unrecognized by presidents, politicians, and the press. It is much easier for our politicians and the media to say that people are angry than to say they are in existential despair. If they suggest that people are in such despair, they have to explain what they are in despair over. It would not be politically, journalistically, or scientifically correct to say that their materialistic lifestyles have detracted from their spiritual values and pursuits and that they have lost sight of the larger life. At least it would not be proper for our more left-wing subscribers to suggest such a thing, since it would give recognition to totally unscientific ideas. If the more right-wingers were to suggest it, it would be seen as nothing more than religious fundamentalism and folly. It is so much simpler to blame it on anger over economic deprivations and social injustices than to say it results from the pursuit of pleasure and luxury, the very things we think we want.
It seems very unlikely, therefore, that President Trump will get us back on the right track.
Next blog post: January 30
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Thanks for your comment. I vote primarily for policies, not for people, but I also look for the paradox.
Michael Tymn, Wed 24 Mar, 10:13
It is now 2021. When I read that you voted for Trump I lost all faith in your opinion. How could a person who voted for this man have any kind of spirituality?
terry, Tue 23 Mar, 23:34
Wow! Am I impressed, such eloquence but also your article exhibits incredible scholastic skills and research - which I so admire as I confess like you I am an inveterate researcher for the truth. I think you might have noted this in reading my book “The Paranormal is Normal’ (“The science validation of Reincarnation, Your Immortality and the Paranormal”), which you kindly endorsed and reviewed recently. I might claim like you to be a researcher and author, but cannot match those talents of yours I mention above.
What impressed me particularly is that in your article you chose not to criticise Trump – which is so easy. But rather identified the root cause of mankind’s current problems - not by expressing your own ideas (which is also easy), but those of a number of other brilliant and perceptive individuals of awesome intellect. Many like myself are rather bewildered with the Trump phenomenon, but your article gave myself and others I am sure, what I now feel is the true cause of increasing dissatisfaction spreading throughout the world where so many now are wrongly choosing inclusiveness instead of oneness with all countries and races. I was bewildered before, not so now!
Thank you again for your article, I so look forward to reading many more like it from you.
Bruce Scott-Hill, Wed 15 Feb, 07:09
That is a brilliant blog posting, Michael, and one to which I intend to give more thought.
In recent times I’ve said often that I believe the recreational drug epidemic stems solely from an inability to find meaning in life when one’s energies - mental and physical - are not sufficiently or correctly taxed.
All my life I’ve kept and personally looked after animals - horses in particular. Their presence gives me the kind of peace and emotional intimacy that few humans can offer and the work entailed in looking after them leaves me with a feeling of relaxation that I suspect others gain only from drugs.
You have said all that I’ve been thinking of late - but not put directly into words. Thank you for that focus.
Julie Baxter, Tue 7 Feb, 15:59
Here in Australia, we have a barking mad Prime Minister. He is controlled by the Far Out, Far Right, born to rule by divine right elements of his own Party. Said PM is currently trying to persuade Australia that we will soon possess the alchemists dream - no, not gold but “clean” coal.
We expect that he will soon announce the advent of cars that run on water and exhaust pure oxygen into the atmosphere, closely followed by nuclear weapons that are radiation-free and do no harm to anyone.
Has there ever been a politician who acts for the good of the community? I have known a number of politicians throughout my long life. Some of them were the greatest of rogues. Their ‘achievements’ would have (and did) put lesser men in prison but they belonged to an untouchable elite! Their sole reason for being in politics was to line their own pockets, an activity at which they were highly successful. I have known just a few politicians who served the community but, without the backing of Big Money, lasted only a single term.
With such examples to follow, Materialism rules, OK!!
Leslie Harris, Sun 5 Feb, 02:15
Thank you for filling in the blanks that I left. I agree with you on everything, except possibly for the comment about Trump eliminating health care for the underprivileged. He claims that he has no such intention, although I fail to see how he can reduce premiums and deductibles any other way. I doubt that the replacement for Obamacare will be much different or cheaper. What we really need, I believe, is an overhaul of our welfare system, so that people are put to work on public works projects of some kind after six months or so on welfare. As it is, they can make more on welfare than in low-paying jobs and so stay on it as long as they can, while also getting free health insurance. In effect, our system promotes sloth. Taking care of the underprivileged is not the same as taking care of the slothful.
Thanks also to others who have commented.
Michael Tymn, Thu 2 Feb, 20:26
When I was growing up, the religions claimed to have the answer to everything. At that time, places of worship were packed every week; now, they barely fill a few pews. Why? I suspect that the pursuit of materialism took over. Pie in the sky lost out heavily to wealth, status material possessions.
Here in Australia, the once all powerful and highly influential Catholic church is now well on the way to being just a smoking ruin, brought about by disclosure of rampant sexual abuse of children over a very long time. It is now known that the hierarchy was deeply complicit; whilst knowing of the abuse, all they did was shuffle the abusers around to other parishes. Hitherto staunch Catholics are reeling, totally at a loss to understand how this could happen.
With the dramatic decline in the influence of religion (I am talking about the Western countries), what is left? TV, the Internet and mindless babble! In the absence of anything remotely resembling spiritual guidance (for want of a better word), the lifestyles of entertainers, sports stars and ‘celebrities” become all dominant. Flash cars, mansions, drugs, all glitz, all bling is what life is all about!
My reading over the last decade indicates that the consciousness survives physical death and that there appears to be some form of afterlife. The nature of this ‘afterlife’, as described by various communicators, is far from clear and subject to many anomalies. In holding the view that the consciousness survives, I probably share this with about one squillionth of one percent of the world population. This squillionth has a view, however clouded, of what lies ahead. A tiny fraction might believe in the traditional pie in the sky but the rest believes only in what they see, which is live high on the hog while you can because you will be dead for a very long time.
It is hard to blame the materialists for their ignorance – they are simply following the established examples. The world of the young is limited to what they see on their iPhone; the older is dictated by the stock market. They are unaware of any information about the survival of the human consciousness.
I cannot help but think of the ever growing problem of “refugees” around the world. The “affluent” countries are being besieged by floods of opportunists from countries run by religious extremists, militaries or, in some cases, not run at all but just scarping along, and all of them deeply unstable. Amongst the floods, there are some very few genuine refugees who are escaping persecution, be it religious, ethnic or political, but the vast majority are opportunists seeking a slice of the cake enjoyed by the stable countries.
Such opportunists think that they are entitled to the cake and many don’t hesitate to loudly demand their slice. They take no responsibility for the state of the countries that they came from and do not see that the perceived affluence of the western countries is the result of millennia of struggle to establish humanitarian principles, a process that is ongoing. Whilst materialism is still dominant, the humanitarian side of things is fairly good in the Western countries that the opportunists so envy and desire.
Well . . . in the US, that was the case but one must now wonder, given that the first act of Trump was to throw out the programme designed to give health care to the underprivileged. In Australia, we have such a programme that has been in place for a long time. It works well and the poorest members of our society get health care for free. What else is Trump going to target? I cannot help but think of the old expression “the fox is now in charge of the fowl house”!
Leslie Harris, Thu 2 Feb, 04:02
Bismarck, the 19th century German chancellor, said, “God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America.” And it does seem that when the country needs that special divine providence, it appears.
Rick Darby, Mon 30 Jan, 21:18
Great article, Michael.
Two points to ponder about first, Trump and second, his recent decision.
First, the late Theosophist, Manley P. Hall, wrote in his book, “The Secret Destiny of America,” that many times throughout history, strange men have appeared “out of the blue,” to save a country that is in distress. He cites the story of the signing of the Declaration of Independence many years ago.
After a whole day of arguing about whether to sign the document or not, a strange tall man suddenly stood up in the balcony, which was locked and guarded, to urge the founding fathers to sign it. They did, and when they turned toward him to thank him, he had vanished.
I wonder whether Trump, who was the first man in history to “come out of the blue”, politically speaking, might be part of this mysterious process. Truth is the daughter of time.
Second; Never in the history of mankind have different cultures, in large numbers, ever been able to get along. Even here in Canada, we have a problem.
Pamela J. Evans,
Pamela J. Evans, Mon 30 Jan, 18:03
London, Ontario, Canada
I’m one of the millennials that grew up from the late 90s to now. And I do have to say, I feel more alive than ever before after the big protests against the Muslim ban. Massive protests to protect those in harm. It’s truly joyous and I feel like a real American after being disillusioned by the hypocrisy of its foreign policies and the materialistic messages within many religious holidays.
The people revolted against the tyrant and the embodiment of greed and materialism. And they’re not stopping. This is something revolutionary and I believe you are correct of what’s wrong with this modern world. There’s lack of spirituality within the hearts of American people, who are told to work and go buy stuff to be happy. And now that spirituality is awakening.
The answer to problem of Evil (if God exists, why does he let suffering to endure) is simply a reflection of ourselves: Why would you let suffering to happen in the world?
Evan Bao, Mon 30 Jan, 04:14
I am not recommending war. I am only pointing out that the history of human beings, for thousands of years in almost all cultures includes conflict after conflict after conflict, many of which ended up in all-out war. You seem to agree that, “Conflicts there will always be.” It seems unlikely to me that we have seen the last of major conflicts in the history of the world in spite of everyone’s efforts to avoid them and perhaps that is what is necessary to relieve anger and hatred for a while and to restore a period of sanity among the people.
Personally Rick I do not believe that killing other people or things is the answer to anything. I am definitely against capital punishment as I believe there are other ways to punish those who plunder and kill and I never have intentionally killed an animal in my life. I even capture insects and spiders in the house and return them to the outside environment as I believe that all living things have a consciousness and are aware. No need to kill them. I do the same for mice and snakes that may be in the house. There is no joy for me in seeing anything killed.
As a child I lost part of a tooth in a fight with a neighbor who found it great fun to tie a string around the neck of baby birds and swing them around until they were dead. No amount of talking would have got him to stop. So perhaps I am not the pacifist I think I am. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 24 Jan, 14:31
Excuse me? I am perfectly content with our nation enjoying peaceful times, and I suspect most Americans feel the same. War may provide, temporarily, a greater sense of purpose but the cost is far too high.
Lincoln’s War involved 214,000 combat deaths on the combined Union and Confederate sides, many more than that including disease and civilian deaths. Our foolish and pointless entry into World War I led to more than 53,000 combat fatalities. World War II was responsible for over 400,000 American deaths from all causes.
Conflicts there will always be. Most don’t need to be settled by force of arms (and often are not settled: see Afghanistan, Iraq).
I’m not a pacifist and admit that sometimes war is the answer. I enjoy reading about every bombing that kills more members of the dreadful Islamic State. But generally William James’s idea of a “moral equivalent of war” is my idea of a reset of values.
Rick Darby, Mon 23 Jan, 16:23
History attests that humans apparently need to be at war or in conflict with somebody or something in order to reset values and, paradoxically to be happy. Recent wars have not really touched most of the people of the United States as World Wars I and II did. Maybe reinstitution of the draft, for both men and women would get their attention. Only when the American homeland is attacked will its people wake up to what is good and important in life. Perhaps we can only appreciate what we have when it is lost. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 23 Jan, 01:24
Thanks to all for the comments. No one seems to have disagreed. I am not a fan of President Trump, although I will admit to having voted for him as the lesser of two negatives. I believe, unfortunately, that the only way he can succeed is by failing. That is, it is going to take a major economic collapse or a major catastrophe, a far-reaching and long-term one,to get our nation and the civilized world off the materialistic track and on to a more spiritual one. Trump will get the blame, and so Mrs. Clinton should be thankful she didn’t win the election as she would then have been the scapegoat. So much of life seems to be paradoxical. In winning, Trump lost. In losing, Clinton won. I hate to be pessimistic and hope I am wrong.
Michael Tymn, Sat 21 Jan, 20:04
Good insight Michael.
I see in today’s protesters of Trump’s inauguration exactly what Giambattista Vico described. Those that I see in the protests appear to be rather well-off young people with everything going for them but perhaps with a “certain social disconnection which involves moral, intellectual and spiritual decline.” They may try to blame economic deprivations and social injustices but many if not most of those I see protesting appear to be economically and socially privileged young college or university students obviously in pursuit of pleasure and luxury.
A country or government is no better or no worse than its people. No one person, President Trump or no, can get us back on track. We are what we are as a people, and maybe as a culture we are in decline acting in mass much like Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
What it all comes down to is individual responsibility for elimination of one’s own existential despair. No one else can or should do it for us. For those of us who are on a spiritual path the journey may seem long and tortuous and often we stumble along the way. There are no guarantees that one will find existential peace even after years of searching. I must admit that existential despair has haunted me for most of the years of my life in spite of much effort to eliminate it. Life has its own plan for each of us however, regardless of our best efforts.
Although now, much of my despair comes from living in a world in which morality, intelligence, honesty, beauty, value and spirituality are out of sync with my beliefs and I no longer feel that I belong. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Fri 20 Jan, 23:58
Yvonne Limoges, Fri 20 Jan, 05:06
Extremely interesting article and references.
I believe it is inherent in all humanity to survive and to seek happiness.
Many in the world do not even have the basic necessities of life…so they seek these,
but they also still seek happiness, even if in a sunset, a rainbow, a smile, a special moment, etc.
depending on each person.
Those that may be somewhat comfortable in life, and the well off, also seek happiness.
It is the HOW one achieves it… and WHAT one thinks provides it, that is important.
Materialism may seem a temporary fix ...the “toys” ...but as we mature to higher moral levels it is spirituality that remains, is eternal and will truly satisfy our souls.
(I am a firm believer in reincarnation)
A marvelous article, Mike. Thanks so much for writing it and referring to the authors whom you cite. I agree with your conclusion for many folks, but there are still many who are struggling merely to “make it,” to pay the bills and get enough sleep from working two jobs. For them, I’m not sure what you write applies. One can’t be concerned about the spiritual if one is struggling merely to exist on the physical. At least, that’s my opinion.
But it is a marvelous article, and I am most appreciative for your sharing it.
John F. Miller III, Tue 17 Jan, 03:20
Great job Mike,
I agree with everything you say.
I would, however, add that deep resentment in the red states over the urban elite blue state value system of political correctness coupled with government knows best insanity. For example, the Obama/Clinton cowtowing to the professional victimhood of blacks, women, gays,lesbians,bisexuals,transsexuals, gender confused special bathroom needing neurotic school kids along with punishing their critics for exercising their first amendment rights to call into question the whole political correctness value system of embracing professional victimhood.
Anyone who questions black lives matter or criticizes the killing of cops is persecuted as a racist but blacks hating whites is OK and not racism. Any man who criticizes the excesses of feminism is persecuted as a sexist or mysoginist but it is not sexist for women to trash men.
Anyone who criticizes gays and lesbians is persecuted as a homophobe but it’s OK for gays and lesbians to believe they are superior to heterosexuals. It is perfectly OK for Hispanic illegal immigrants to scream injustice but not OK for their critics to demand that immigration laws be adhered to.
Notice that these professional victims groups constituted the core of Hillary’s supporters. The soft spoken moral majority went to the poles to quietly and lawfully say they have had enough of—in fact too much of—political correctness.
We mainstream heterosexuals don’t run around taunting our gay friends as heterophobes even though it may be applicable in quite a few cases.
Hope you agree that this is another important dimension of why Hillary lost the election.
David Stang, Mon 16 Jan, 22:56
Once again, great work on your blog!
Good Essay Michael. We often forget the mental confusion we (me included) experience when we ignore the influence of immortality, and implicit purpose, to focus on the material aspects of this lifetime.
Just imagine how it must be for people who do not accept survival, but are still influenced by the urge to gain understanding from an immortal perspective. It would be like an itch that cannot be scratched.
I referenced the essay on a FaceBook group I follow: https://www.facebook.com/groups/121904924954796/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED
Tom Butler, Mon 16 Jan, 18:50
Brilliant article!! Sadly all too likely to be true - but the world will now have to just wait and see.
Dr Howard A Jones, Mon 16 Jan, 17:02
I agree with every word of your essay, except “opined.”
Rick Darby, Mon 16 Jan, 15:57
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