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Finding Comfort In Hard Work

| 05.25.2017 |

We live in an age of the snowflake, those gentle spirits who are cast about wherever the wind may take them but are obliterated by the slightest pressure. Call them Millennials, hipsters, or man-children, they are the immature who are unable to deal with pain and suffering. The create artificial environments, called bubbles and "safe spaces," and they are often making demands for more luxury in a life already filled with comfort.


But this is not a new phenomenon. Richard Weaver, in his mid-20th-century book Ideas Have Consequences, took up Rousseau's warning against infantalizing adults and expanded it to culture as a whole. To Weaver, it was indoctrination that emphasized comfort above all other concerns that destroyed the ability for people to commit themselves to a life of hard work.


Weaver begins by the history of this childish attitude: "Having been taught for four centuries, more or less, that his redemption lies through the conquest of nature, man expects his heaven to be spatial and temporal, and... he expects redemption to be easy of attainment. Only by these facts can we explain the spoiled-child psychology of the urban masses."


Technological advancement and false promises undermined the natural human spirit and encouraged the worst aspects of the individual: "The scientists have given him the impression that there is nothing he cannot know, and false propagandists have told him that there is nothing he cannot have. Since the prime object of the latter is to appease, he has received concessions at enough points to think that he may obtain what he wishes through complaints and demands. This is but another phase of the rule of desire."


The individual is limited from becoming a true adult because they are kept ignorant about the nature of reality: "The spoiled child has not been made to see the relationship between effort and reward. He wants things, but he regards payment as an imposition or as an expression of malice by those who withhold for it. His solution as we shall see, is to abuse those who do not gratify him."


However, Weaver notes that it is not necessarily the childish individual's fault that he is this way because he has been conditioned from birth to seek only comfort: "No one can be excused for moral degradation, but we are tempted to say of the urban dweller, as of the heathen, that he never had an opportunity for salvation. He has been exposed so unremittingly to this false interpretation of life that, though we may deplore, we can hardly wonder at the unreasonableness of his demands. He has been given the notion that progress is automatic, and hence he is no prepared to understand impediments; and the right to pursue happiness he has not unnaturally translated into a right to have happiness, like a right to the franchise."


This is the result of everybody being a “winner.” We were not exposed to loss early on, so we never had to struggle and pick ourselves up. This teaches us that we should succeed even when we actually failed, and we should blame others instead of ourselves when things go wrong: "He has been told in substance that the world is conditioned, and when unconditioned forces enter to put an end to his idyl, he naturally suffers frustration. His superiors in the hierarchy of technology have practiced an imposition upon him, and in periodic crises he calls them to account."


Ultimately, the childish attitude of seeking comfort is created by a society that dehumanizes the individual: "The truth is that he has never been brought to see what it is to be a man. That man is the product of discipline and of forging, that he really owes thanks for the pulling and tugging that enable him to grow"


Greatness requires hard work and sacrifice. It requires seeking something greater in life, even if it is painful. However, even minor success satisfies the individual in a way comfort cannot: "Men no longer feel it laid upon them to translate the potential into the actual; there are no goals of labor like those of the cathedral-builders. Yet, unless man sees himself in relation to ordinances such as these, what lies ahead is the most egregious self-pampering and self-disgust, probably followed by real illness. With religion emasculated, it has remained for medical science in our age to revive the ancient truth that labor is therapeutic."


The problem with comfort is that it can never truly be comforting, and it creates a vicious spiral of decay in which the individual is constantly suffering because he cannot free himself from suffering. Thus, like an addict, he seeks more and more comfort: "The polarity of the actual and the potential creates a tension in the presence of which complete comfort is impossible. Here is the secret of the mass man's impatience with ideals. Certainly there is no more innocent-seeming form of debauchery than the worship of comfort and, when it is accompanied by a high degree of technical resourcefulness, the difficulty of getting people not to renounce it but merely to see its consequences is staggering."


Ironically, those who seek comfort are seeking only a temporary state, which can never truly satisfy: "The worship of comfort, then, is only another aspect of our decision to live wholly in this world. Yet here man encounters an anomaly; the very policy of living wholly in this world, of having no traffic with the other world which cannot be 'proved,' turns one's attention wholly to the temporary and so actually impairs his effectiveness."


Ultimately, the only way to achieve societal greatness is to emphasize hard work and not comfort: "As we endeavor to restore values, we need earnestly to point out that there is no correlation between the degree of comfort enjoyed and the achievement of a civilization. On the contrary, absorption in ease is one of the most reliable signs of present or impending decay."


Pleasure and decadence go hand in hand, and they are the antithesis to success. Society wants to achieve great things, and individuals want to be part of a great society. But we are educated to seek comfort by those who gain from this mentality. By infantalizing the people, those in power gain more power just as a parent continues to hold sway over the child who is never given a chance to act on their own.


Social programs, safety nets, and other “social justice” issues are all rooted in this mistaken view of comfort, and it conditions people to avoid work. A dependent people is not a happy people, yet they are told to seek more comfort to overcome their issues. Thus, it is no surprise that psychological problems, including depression, are more prevalent.


The only way we can overcome this problem and reaffirm the natural humanity of the individual is to promote hard work and reward real effort. We need to acknowledge that suffering plays a vital role in life, and that there are more important goals than immediate, temporary pleasure.


Jeffrey Peters is an Annapolis, Md.-based writer and political consultant.