“Security is mostly a superstition,” said Helen Keller, “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
Today, however, society seems in the final stage of making itself so safe that it has become a danger to the human spirit. Indeed, we live at a time in which we have become — as Erich Fromm feared we might — virtual robots, acting as a cog in a machine at work, and being amused by mass entertainment in the evenings. We live at a time in which we fear that AI (artificial intelligence) and robots, will one day replace us.
Such a fear is only possible, and reasonable, at a time in which daring has been submerged, pushed down by a kind of bourgeois radicalism — a kind of will to conformity — that warns about the dangers of thinking outside the box.
This has occurred partly because Western education has split the mind from the body (as if the latter is merely a vehicle for driving the former around) and partly because “radicals” — in sharp contrast to my own youth, in which nothing was more satisfying than offending people — demand that nothing be uttered that offends, claiming, even, that “offensive speech” should be criminalized. The result is a society that is too afraid to say, and too easily hurt to hear, anything different. It is a society without warriors, without myth, and with nothing higher than its own social engineering.
“The peculiarity of the bourgeois’ relation to danger lies in his perception of it as an irresolvable contradiction to order, that is, as senseless,” Ernst Junger has remarked, “In this he marks himself off from other figures of, for example, the warrior, the artist, and the criminal, who are given a lofty or base relation to the elemental.”
The Christian “fear of God” is, in its true or, at least positive, understanding, a way of fearing nothing on earth. If you fear Divine, cosmic, or eternal law, you don’t fear speaking your mind or even risking your life. In the Bhagavad Gita, too, Krishna warns his disciple that he must fight against the invading army, telling him he will be seen as a coward if he does not. The Hindu deity also tells Arjuna that he is merely the instrument of the Divine, and that when he goes into battle it is really Krishna that acts through him. Danger — daring — and spirituality are one.
While the importance of myth has been grasped, not only by movie makers, but, more importantly for us, by the various spiritual traditions that have emerged in the modern era, from Freemasonry to neo-paganism, there exist within this sphere of reawakening the human spirit, and freeing it from the hypnosis of modernity, a counter-movement, that wants either to modernize myth or eradicate it. Hence, the “spiritual warrior” is an internal sort that never faces any existential danger. Such a figure believes it daring to “explore himself,” never grasping that he will only know what he is made of in the face of real threat.
Then there is the fear of myth. Take Damian Walter in The Guardian newspaper: “The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings aren’t fantasies because they feature dragons, elves and talking trees,” he says. “They’re fantasies because they […] ignor[e] the brutality and oppression that were part and parcel of a world ruled by men with swords.” For Walter, we have to be very wary of Tolkien’s world of runes, creatures, warriors, and dark forests. For him Tolkien’s vision is “profoundly conservative.”
“Both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings turn on the ‘return of the king’ to his rightful throne,” he says. “In both cases this “victory” means the reassertion of a feudal social structure which had been disrupted by ‘evil’.”
Yet, the spiritual individual can grasp the metaphor (Tolkien was Catholic, and underneath the Anglo-Saxon-inspired mythology one detects a certain aspect of Christianity). Anyone who has ever looked at Tarot cards or read Jung, perhaps, will grasp the symbolism of the “king” — the higher Self that the spiritual seeker aims to embody.
Walter might give a quick nod to “the anti-capitalist metaphor of The Hunger Games” but the Hobbits are essentially anarchists, and Tolkien’s heroes are free spirits that exist outside of, and even rebel against, their societies. The Hobbits should have stayed in the shire. Yet they do. The elf has no business defending the Hobbits. Yet he does. Gandalf would have had an easier life, if he had just gone over to Saurun. But he doesn’t.
The Heroes of Middle Earth come from different tribes, but are united in their quest, their daring, and in the risking of their lives for each other. That is as real life, but it contradicts the society envisioned by ideologues, because it is one that must be lived by warriors.
There is a large element in “radical” politics and spirituality that wants the entire world to be, in effect, bourgeois. They appear to want a world without danger, without passion; a world for which there is nothing higher than its own “social contract.”
“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing,” to recall Keller’s words. And danger is an essential element, not just of life in general, but spirituality in particular. One cannot have one without the other.