Modern Times

The Modern Times We Live In

We live in modern times, it is perhaps only a little over a century since people really started to think in terms of modernity. One of the themes of my as yet unpublished book, set in the early 1890s, is that everything is so fast and so comfortable. Well, take the train from Wrocław (1) to Vienna and it’ll take you 10 hours (2). In the November of 1890 it took 11 hours to cover the same distance (3). Albeit that the train in those days was direct; political interference does not always make for better communication.

We live with modernity, everything we know is in flux, changing almost before our eyes: computers that were unimaginable for me as a student are now ten years out of date. Much can be said about any part of our lives, from the way we can travel so easily by motorcar to the breathtaking network of aircraft routes that form a spider’s web of exhaust fumes across the stratosphere. I grew up in an age where there were two flights to Hong Kong every week; now there are two – four? – every day. From London Heathrow. So much for progress.

What’s more, we’re all so used to it that we all watch telly on our smartphones instead of reading the daily on the way to work as they would have a generation ago. Today we are so used to having smartphones that it is impossible for many to imagine a world without them. But that’s how forgetting works, isn’t it? And that really is the point of this post: the way we forget how things were, even just a few years ago. But that isn’t to say that it is what this post is focussed on: no, I want to look at the effect forgetting has had on our society. Because the effect has been dramatic.

So imagine a world where there is no technology worth the name. Perhaps the closest one might get are the watermills of England and the windmills of the low countries. Imagine yourself in the middle ages, where there is no effective technology beyond the mill and the wheel. Where anything you need or want has to be made by hand in some manner or means. The mills are pretty well the only contrivance that makes life a little less of a drudge. But then, is life a drudge when drudgery is all you’ve ever known? Remember that in never knowing the possibility exists means for the mediaeval mind, it simply isn’t imaginable. A little like asking a scientist to measure an emotion: they will be so utterly and completely bewildered by the thought that they will just say that you are being stupid to ask the question. They were schooled in a way that they forgot what emotions were before they even knew they existed.

It’s not so difficult to live in the middle ages, is it? Emotions are very real, even for scientists. They just dismiss them out of hand because they cannot line them up like pinned butterflies in a glass topped drawer. This isn’t to say that emotions are the be all and end all to the problems humanity faces, because we still have to make decisions. And any decision implies “do we go forward or do we do nothing?” “do we turn left or do we turn right?” Either-or. But that’s the material world for you. We live in a material world where concrete decisions are needed, and no emotion is going to change that!

What emotions will do for us is to clear the air, so to speak. If one is going to accept the possibility of the emotion into one’s conceptual, decision-making life, one has to accept the baggage emotions bring with them. That is to say, an awareness that is at a higher level than the merely materialistic decision of ‘Either, Or’. An awareness that only deals with the world in the way the scientist expects it to work. In other words, an awareness that is limited to their comfort zone. This attitude was perfectly acceptable in a world where humankind could build a cathedral, but it would take three generations to do so. Where humankind could make a wheel, but it took a highly skilled man to make it. Leave alone two or four that were usable.

In a world where we can whistle up broadcast entertainment whilst sitting in the seat of a train, or make ships that are so big they will ground if they sail on certain commonly used shipping lanes, this kind of thinking is no longer appropriate. Indeed, it is this inappropriate thinking, comfort zone thinking, that has led directly to such mechanized monsters. In my last post I looked at how the businessman makes decisions entirely based on his knowledge, the scientist and the technologist are doing precisely the same thing. The result is technology, a process I will look at in more detail in an upcoming post.

Since none of us can see anything save what is in our comfort zone, how are we then able to see, imagine or think of anything else? In my posts on the subconscious, there is one theme that runs through them all: the subconscious is so invisible, that in real terms, it literally does not exist.

And that includes me.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be handled, it does mean that if you’re looking inside yourself to find it, you aren’t going to find anything except the dustier corners of your own comfort zone. This is a case where ‘Either-Or’ has real meaning! Either it’s part of your understanding of the world, or it lies outside your comfort zone.

And remember that like the mediaeval person for whom nothing could exist save what existed around them, we are no different if we live exclusively within our comfort zones. Looking back at the time I enjoyed possessing a motorcar, I thought nothing of enjoying sitting in it and being comfortably warm on a wet winter’s morning. Turning on the engine had no more significance for me than it was the beginning of a journey. I simply had no idea of the consequences.

Just as most people have no idea of the consequences of what they do. After all, they’ve known nothing else, how can the world be any different – and the concomitant excuse to this is how can one person influence the entire world? Both questions are intimately bound with the comfort zone.

And not that which lies outside it.

We live in an age that demands humans learn the reality of the consciousness soul. Now I do not usually bring terms like this into my public blog – they are reserved for my private blog and those friends of mine who have a real grasp of their implications. The human soul is our ability to reflect on the world in a conscious manner; the extent of that reflection shows where the human being is in their life. Most people today still reflect on life as though they lived in the middle ages, where they could do so little wrong that any wrong they did would be absorbed by the midden heap. The problem humanity faces is that today we have the capacity to think in terms of technology – but without the power to reflect on the consequences.

The consciousness soul, the ability to reflect not only on what one has done, not only on what one has known – but also to look to the future and see its effect on others. But this comes with a sting in the tail: I all but grew up in jet aircraft; I drove a motorcar for many thousands of miles and never thought anything more about it. The sting in the tail was for me, personally, to realize what I was doing. Sure, it wouldn’t save the planet or make one jot of difference – but the sting certainly stung. The problem for me was that all I had done was in the past… and there’s no undoing the past, is there? That in itself should show the shortcomings of the comfort zone: after all, all one knows are things that have happened in the past. There’s no connection to future possibility – put better, a future that diverges from the comfort of what one already knows. The answer is simple: forgiveness. Of oneself, and of others. The discussion of which is on my private blog, for obvious reasons. Christians in our day and age want the comforts of Christ’s forgiveness from on high. But not the challenge that comes with forgiving others. Or worse, themselves.

Because the world we live in is challenging. It cannot be otherwise if a person is to develop the broader awareness that comes with the consciousness soul. The awareness of the effects of what one does in one’s daily life. The very society we have created for ourselves with all this technology is now a challenge to us all: how can we use this responsibly? How can we use technology in a way that it does no harm to others and does no harm to the planet we all depend on for our physical lives?

Without that level of awareness we are not going to be able to survive, the results of the intellectual soul – the lower organ of the human consciousness and reflection that is the foundation of the consciousness soul – are all around us. Smartphones, jet aircraft, missiles, motorways, central heating, electricity, and GMOs. We have to learn how to use these sensibly and in a way that is sustainable – and all we do is to say “I need my comfort”.

What we need in our life today is a little discomfort. Camping in September is uncomfortable enough for me, and to see the mist rise over the river Saale at dawn was worth all the discomfort. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. Had I been in my favourite bed and breakfast, Onkel Ernst on the Marienstrasse, I’d have been up at eight as usual and enjoying their extraordinarily generous breakfast. Well, they are Germans, and Germans are nothing if not hospitable – for all the media shouting. The point is that by the time I get out their door an hour later, I’d have missed the sunrise by a good few hours. I mean, their breakfasts are memorable – albeit they are much the same every day. The sunrise over the Saale was rather more special. By a few miles. Memories aren’t made of the humdrum – and that is the key to understanding why dementia is a condition of the comfort zone. Or as we have been introduced, the ‘Intellectual Soul’, whose qualities allow one to reflect through the lens of all that one knows.

The morning mist rising on the Saale near Naumburg in Germany.
The morning mist rising on the Saale near Naumburg in Germany.

My memory of the Saale was the direct result of a little discomfort. That is, after all, to meet the challenge of the comfort zone. In a modest way, of course. But awareness isn’t limited to size, any meaningful beginning is a beginning. Which is the challenge of our time.

(1) Wrocław, pronounced ‘Vrotswav’ is the Polish name for the German city of Breslau in the Prussian province of Schlesien. It became part of Polish territory after the Second World War after the US carved up Germany in the way it wants to carve up its supposed enemy, Syria, today.
(2) German railways timetable found at
(3) Prussian Railways Timetable for November 1892, Railway Museum Library, Utrecht.


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