Abellanosa: Modern society and its pretensions

“Busy, too busy in perceiving and constructing art in a now tasteless society while the rest are too (self) absorbed in selling themselves to the public’s approval, I am in isolation in the modern market.”

QUOTED for an introduction are the thoughts of a soul, a searcher of meaning. The words are honest protests against modern society. At the very least it is a cry for truthfulness. It is a forceful challenge to stop all pretensions.

The modern world has achieved a lot of advancements and innovations. It has remained impoverished however in one thing: genuine living. Where modernity abounds, pretensions abound all the more. Beneath the pretension of abundance are famine and hunger. Behind the pretension of wealth are poverty, sickness, and disease. Despite the claimed achievement by science that discoveries have advanced and thus improve the quality of life, lurks the reality of death and the truth of suffering.

Yet no one admits his pretensions. Everyone believes that he is genuine. We know a lot of things except our own pretensions. There is so much hesitation to embrace the realities of living. The truths about life are unbearable. Thus, people would rather hallucinate fictions than feel the pain in the real world of flesh and blood.

Irenaeus of Lyon once said that the glory of God is man fully alive. Living however is more than just breathing. To be alive is to embrace everything that one is, imperfections and limitations included. Lost in the complex networks of modernity, man appreciated almost all things except himself. Man’s appreciation of himself as an art of the cosmos is so little if ever there is any.

So life is auctioned to the highest bidder. It becomes a commodity in the market. Like art, it has lost its priceless value. Its intrinsic worth is converted into cash, which now becomes the determinant of its beauty. By definition art is not that which can be auctioned. It is not just a square painting or an aesthetically appealing artifact. Indeed the modern world is lost. It confuses color for art, shape for art, and texture for art. There is so much forgetfulness that art is greater than the mere combination of color, shape and texture.

So we are a people where each individual tries to be sold to the highest bidder. Social approval – the desire to be accepted, how is this different from marketing a commodity? In the end how different is the human person from a handy gadget? How different are we from the objects we own? Do we live, work and walk as persons? Or do we simply exist as another object but only of a higher value?

The quotation that opens this essay is not from a philosopher. Not from any of the literary geniuses I have known. It is from a former student who sent me a note he wrote a few days ago. Eventually he became a good friend, a fellow traveler and searcher of meaning.

He took seriously not only his lessons in philosophy but life itself. Apparently, his breed is rare in an age where education is understood in terms of transcripts and diplomas.

When I got the note and read his lines, I was consoled. The presence of a searching soul in this world is grace in itself. That at least there has remained someone who reflects, lonesome the endeavor may be, is a spark that assures hope. It is a sign that someone has remained human.

My former student got it right. To think and to take “life as life” is not only serious but also risky. However it is a risk worth taking and must be taken. Indeed the journey to authenticity is costly. And because the price is high, it is, in many ways, lonely.


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