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A Procession of Trivial Defeats – “On Youthful Cynicism” – Bertrand Russell

May 9th, 2011 · No Comments · Criticism, Culture, Elitism, Humanism, Philosophy

A prominent citizen in a small city State, such as Athens or Florence, could without difficulty feel himself important. The earth was the center of the Universe, man was the purpose of creation, his own city showed man at his best, and he himself was among the best of his own city. In such circumstances Æschylus or Dante could take his own joys or sorrows seriously. He could feel that the emotions of the individual matter, and that tragic occurrences deserve to be celebrated in immortal verse. But the modern man, when misfortune assails him, is conscious of himself as a unit in a statistical total; the past and the future stretch before him in a dreary procession of trivial defeats. Man himself appears as a somewhat ridiculous strutting animal, shouting and fussing during a brief interlude between infinite silences. Ùnacommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal,’ says King Lear, and the idea drives him to madness because it is unfamiliar. But to the modern man the idea is familiar and drives him only to triviality.


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