A kaleidoscope is an optical instrument, made up of glittering beads and plastic surrounded by mirrors. Fragments of light reflect off these materials creating beautiful, symmetrical distortions. The word Kaleidoscope can alternatively be defined as ‘constantly changing patterns or sequences of events in life’. A kaleidoscope has no end and is never completed, rather fragmentary details of the original image can be observed. The kaleidoscope is a metaphor for the shifting moralities, cultural trends and tropes we have to deal with on a daily basis. As ideas circulate around our minds, we struggle to always grasp them distinctly due to their unfocused state. Similarly, our moral codes are becoming less and less mapped out.
At a dinner party a few weeks ago, a friend picked up on this point; ‘what the teenager once deemed acceptable has now become the benchmark for ‘general morality’. Whether this concerns promiscuity, swearing in public or freeing the nipple there is little persuasive agreement on what is ‘proper’ and even if there is, nothing demands this should be any concern to us anyway. Taking into account the fact that we’ve chosen to follow such a mindset, the bridge has been made to encourage us to accept a permanently oscillating sense of wisdom. Whilst sounding liberating, having few such guidelines can turn us into drifters or sesh heads floating through life without ever actually having our feet on the ground.
The moral ambiguity and confusion that is integral to the Western world now, could not be further removed from the predictability of the lives of the majority of Britons in medieval times or even as little as 100 years ago. Their lives were planned for them, continuing to work in their family’s trade and having the consolation of organised religion. Nowadays we often come to find ourselves with no path or guidance in a directionless trance. Emancipation lies in embracing this confusion.
Over the years many have ascertained philosophy to discuss how confusion should be the central mark of maturity, whether we listen to Socrates saying,
‘The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing’.
Or to the French Existentialists such as Derrida and Sartre who obsessively wish to deconstruct all our preconceptions of truth. Whilst we may reject the nihilism of such lines of thought, these philosophers’ appreciation of absurdity is admirable. It is in accepting the bizarreness of this ‘creation’ that the vanity of the world is exposed. As noted in Rochefoucauld’s book of aphorisms, ‘Those who do not see the vanity of the world are vain themselves’. Regardless of whose philosophy we prefer, all imply there is something inherently absurd about our predicament.
Whilst elements of absurdism aren’t constantly on our minds or present in our moral actions , we only have to look to art, music and other creative mediums to see its implicit expression. Whether this be in the mixtapes of Apex twin or the messy surrealism and erotic derangement of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting ‘the garden of earthly delight’.
However, we should be encouraged to linger in the hinterlands of moral confusion from time to time, as we cannot encode our own dilemmas if we try and push our uncertainties to the outer peripheries of our minds. Welcoming confusion is something which should not just be accepted but encouraged. It can actually provoke periods of intense reflection; this can be incredibly useful in preventing us from being overly judgmental, causing us to view situations less in black and white terms. Situations are often more absurd than we first observe.
Alternatively, if we all became too absorbed with absurd concepts, the drudgery of day to day living, chores and society’s boring but necessary structures would deteriorate. There is nothing wrong with recognizing and even being awestruck in the moments when the world becomes set free from its logical moorings, providing we have other more banal things to balance our minds with to create a harmony of intellect and sanity.
Yet is there a hypocrisy in saying this when each and every individual alive has felt insane at times be it for the monumental force of their grief or gratitude. Such rare moments are magical in their unapologetic authenticity so we shouldn’t discourage them.
It is also worth observing that there is confusion surrounding society’s consensus of what people define as abnormal in our unfortunately Americanised ‘smile or die’ culture . We are continually encouraged to maintain a presentable exterior of rationality to the outside world, but this is impossible to sustain. As a matter of fact, responding to the genuine fears and tribulations of our weirdness should be viewed as a symptom of being human and in essence inseparable from our condition. If our weirdness, confusion, moral ambiguity, vanity and troubling desires were eradicated, not even the shells of our former selves would remain. Modern utopianism views these fundamental human traits as ills which can be cured or eradicated through adjusting our socio-economic model, and socially conditioning individuals from childhood so that they may be without flaw. But we are ill-designed creatures who possess a flickering insight into humanity, and to imagine out of the chaos and erratic state we inhabit that we might fashion an earthly paradise is deeply naive and arrogant. We shouldn’t believe we can emancipate ourselves from imperfection entirely through human action; we simply have too little self-knowledge.
Philosophy, if it is worth bothering with, should be a celebration of humans’ attempts of elevation from moral derangement, whilst simultaneously recognising that error and failure are instinctively ingrained within us. Good philosophy often realises, that as a heaving, directionless mass of crude, fleshly biological organisms we will never be fully capable of escaping our impoverishment. We are crude by design, thus so much confusion stems from our base and higher natures grating against one another.
Although confusion does not have a positive character in relation to the image modern media projects. Being trapped in our saturated consumer culture makes it more difficult to have a clear understanding of what we want from life versus what we need. Being plagued by a host of tacky and pallid sentimental videos on Facebook about self-development and positive thinking can skew our already hazy yet fundamental beliefs of what ‘ought’ to be important in place of superficial desires such as material success. Sometimes life feels like wading through a quagmire of cultural bullshit . The media seeks to blur and confuse, the result being a detriment to our collective mental health. Throughout the course of time, philosophy has sought to untangle reeking cultural waste, but its effects are only felt when we admit our bafflement- when we own up to the frailty of our minds. This is not submission to mass media.
Without any reference to the the tragic genre of self help books, quiet reflection is lacking from modern culture. It may also be tempting to pluck the heart out of the human mystery of our existence, call it a day and go home but John Gray cites ‘human reason could never grasp the nature of things’. The universal themes we learn through our adolescence, and the bizarreness of our attempts to cotton on to the moral ambiguity are so important as they prevail through the rest of our lives; wisdom can grow from accepting you know nothing. Therefore, we should be not as quick to cast off the illusions of the past, yet simultaneously accept the conscious cultivation of modern day illusions.
And if nothing else, hopefully brief reflection on our disorientation and lack of real insight should help to dim the arrogance of youth which really…. can always do with being dimmed.
Written by Emily Rafferty.
Imagery by Alex Theaker