“Culture is only really culture when it has diffused itself through every root and fibre of our endurance of life. Then it can become wisdom, a wisdom that can accept defeat, and turn defeat into victory. It can render us independent of our weakness, of our surroundings and of our age, a fortress for the self within the self, and a universal thing, breaking down of barriers of race, of class, of nation”. (John Cowper Powys (1872-1863), British novelist, philosopher, literary critic, educator and poet).
Powys thought that this kind of culture should permeate the soul, otherwise what passes for culture is a falsehood devoid of humanity. Just being intellectual or an aesthete is not enough, for culture without human goodness is “weird and even terrifying”. Culture reminded him of horticulture: the problem is how to graft the subtle and the exquisite upon the deep and vital. “Only by this grafting can the sap of the natural give life and strength to the unusual, and the roots of the rugged sweeten the distinguished and rare”.
The grafting is the true task of philosophy: to add to a person’s cleverness and erudition an inner identity that can withstand the jungles of brutality, greed, stupidity, self-interest and self-regard. The innermost self, the fortress, should be a source of real feelings and sensations of kindness, true thoughtfulness for others and concern for the welfare of the community.
Tom Wolfe said, “The more culture a man has the more austerely – though naturally with many ironic reserves – does he abide by his own taste“. In other words he is an authentic person who lives his philosophy of life. He is not an intellectual or a snob – he treats every man and woman with politeness and respect. He smiles a lot, he knows how to conduct a conversation, can give and take, and can diffuse a tense atmosphere with humour (something rare, a sense of humour!) He can cope with opposing “truths”, comment without anger or snide remarks, listen and charm. It comes easily because he has internalised it as part of his daily life. To philosophise is not to read philosophy; it is to feel philosophy.
On this blog we encourage readers to learn about Epicureanism – not so different from organised religion, but without the supernatural, the dogma, the preachers and the sects.
Let it’s principles be your “fortress”.