Purgamentum init, exit purgamentum

Many years ago I had a philosophy prof, former Marine and great brilliant gentleman, who in his gruff way spoke to us about insanity.

He observed that insane minds produced bad results, not in conformity with reality.  But in the modern world we are more and more exposed to the artificial and the aberrant.  Garbage in… garbage out.  We are more and more becoming insane.

I picked this up from the indispensable Laudator

Wendell Berry, Andy Catlett: Early Travels (Emeryville: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006), p. 93:

    Increasingly over the last maybe forty years, the thought has come to me that the old world in which our people lived by the work of their hands, close to weather and earth, plants and animals was the true world; and that the new world of cheap energy and ever cheaper money, honored greed, and dreams of liberation from every restraint, is mostly theater. This new world seems a jumble of scenery and props never quite believable, an economy of fantasies and moods, in which it is hard to remember either the timely world of nature or the eternal world of the prophets and poets.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I have heard that many have become depressed after they have seen the movie Avatar, which has a computer generated world (that is the most expensive Gaia info-commercial ever). People are getting hooked on their artificial entertainment world and become depressed when they re-enter the “real world.” Just as the advertisement of one theater company – “escape with us.”

  2. Father S. says:

    Fr. Z., that quote seems to me to be right on the money. I am stationed at a fairly rural parish (I say “fairly rural” because I am aware that there are some parishes that are in far smaller places than this town.) and notice this phenomenon every time that I go to a bigger city. I think that “theater” is a wonderful description of what I seem to notice.

    In popular culture, I think that the best expression of this was in the Matrix movie series. Whatever you think of the series’ overall merits, spend a few minutes in rural American and you will see why that movie makes more sense in a big city than anywhere else.

  3. ray from mn says:

    Years ago, someone told me that a good definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

    Owners of personal computers these days know that sometimes that’s the only way to get the desired results. Repeating the same keystroke, over and over, quite vigorously.

  4. Tom in NY says:

    Over the last forty years? What about Dickens’ accounts in the changing life in England’s Industrial Revolution? Check the date of Galsworthy’s “Quality”, 1912. What about the flappers of the 1920s, and the American mood of in the 1920s as agriculture languished in deflation, yet economic opportunity beckoned in urban America?
    Salutationes omnibus.

  5. amont says:


    In these remarks your Venerable Instructor seems to be giving voice to the same idea’s expressed by Tolkien etc. Personally, I have had thoughts along these lines also, but I lack the skills/knowledge of a Chesterton to propound a plan of action that would be in true fidelity to the Faith. Sounds like a job for GKC or someone of that ilk !

  6. JonM says:

    Father Z, thank you for this topic.

    Amont is absolutely correc: JRR Tokien morned the loss of continuity experienced with the industrial and technological revolutions. With each subsequent spasm, we have been driven farther away from God’s Creation.

    This sort of subject entails serious care because there is a fine line sometimes crossed by Luddites et. al.

    Back to Tolkien… In the Lord of the Rings, the dark forces relied upon the machine for power. On the contrary, free humanity, elves, and particularly the Hobbits participated in the naural world. This is not some ode to Hippie life (though it is sometimes wrongly appropriated as such), but rather a veiled song of praise for God’s work.

    We see ‘Mordor’ all around us. The drive to patent genetic sequences and then change them, the obecession some have with the most terrible weapons imaginable, the break down in understanding of basic aspects of life (agricultural cycles, fertility cycles, seasonal/climate cycles), etc.

    We have His grace though, and that is sufficient.

  7. Agnes says:

    The desire to escape from responsibility, vocation, and in the most extreme circumstance, one’s own life echoes Adam hiding from God in the Garden. Paraphrasing: “Where are you?” “I heard You walking in the garden, but I was naked, and so I hid.” The culture and our own personal sins strip us of the garment of grace and we languish in dark hiding places – the insanity of running from what will make us whole. All the while the Lord calls, “Where are you? Where are you?” All the while the world, the flesh, and the devil whisper, “Run!” Stand strong and find your peace in Christ.

  8. Tom in NY says:

    Even in ancient times, it was possible to be disconnected from the seasons and human goodness. We can indeed be thankful Horace was high-minded — and not depicting the world as did Juvenal and Martial.

    Maecenas gave Q. Horatius Flaccus, a budding poet, the original Sabine Farm. The farm afforded Horace comfortable shelter and an income. The poet had needed Virgil’s introduction to meet Maecenas.

    A poet without connections could have lived in Rome in tenement housing. There was a large group of men who sought the patronage of local pols; there was “urban” industry, but sharp competition from slave labor in city and on the farm. However, early imperial Rome was starting to enjoy the end of dislocations from more than fifty years of civil war.

    Republican and Imperial governments bought popular support with cheap and abundant grain from North Africa. This competition had squeezed Italian farmers. When employment wasn’t universal, many Romans spent their day at the arena or at the track – hardly productive.

    Salutationes omnibus.

  9. ericc says:

    Substitute facade for theater, what you want people to think of you, which isn’t usually who you really are. Movies are easy to see but think of politics and those who say they’re catholic. High theater, such a great facade, and yes, afraid even to look.

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