Negative attitudes to the world

Kenneth asked:

Does there exist a philosophical term for a general “Hate/ disgust for the contemporary society/ modern world”.  I think it’s becoming quite widespread. I would myself like to suggest: Pan-misanthropy.

Answer by Craig Skinner

You clearly dont have in mind, say,  the desperation of ordinary people in contemporary Syria, or those starving to death in poor countries.  Rather, an attitude of people in stable societies who can count on a roof over their heads, clean water  and enough to eat.

I dont think a negative view specifically of the modern world is specially common in philosophers.

Of course, since time immemorial, the older generation has thought the world is going to the dogs, morals are getting lax, respect for elders has gone, violence is on the rise, community spirit is gone etc. This is usually coupled with a rosy view of their young day when we all helped each other and had no need to lock our doors. The word that springs to mind here is “nostalgia”. The facts are against these oldies. All research shows the world to be a safer, more healthy place now than it ever was. If the level of violence, robbery and murder in Oxford was what it was in medieval times or in a typical stone-age society, I’d be frightened to go there for a pub lunch. Never mind disease, early death, oppression and lack of civil liberty in the good old days.

Among philosophers, despair is sometimes expressed, not about the modern world, but about the perennial human condition. Bertrand Russell, reflecting on the vast, empty, purposeless universe and future extinction of the solar system revealed by science, famously said in 1903:

“Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” (‘A Free Man’s Worship’)

Despite this he went on to live a very long enjoyable, productive and interesting life.

Another famously pessimistic philosopher who enjoyed a long and comfortable life was Schopenhauer.

And then we have the existentialists expressing “angst” and “ennui” about the human condition, usually while drinking coffee in upmarket cafes or debating in nicely-furnished drawing rooms.

Existentialist joke:

Scene: family car en route to holiday destination.

Small boy: Dad, Dad! I feel ennui.

Father: Well, I’m not stopping. You should have reconciled yourself to the absurdity of life before we got into the car.

Dont trust philosophers bearing despair. Dont join the panmisanthropists, as you term them. If you feel it coming on, think again. You can make a difference.

 

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