To Willing Conflators Of José Ortega y Gasset And Jeremy Todd (one hundred and thirty eighth letter)

Dear Friends,
As you know, some of the Ancients believed our destiny lay in exercising intellect, that we have come into the world to meditate, or to put it another way, take a stand within ourselves.  This doctrine has been given the name “intellectualism”.  It is an idolatry of the intelligence which isolates thought from its setting, from its function in the general ecology of human life.  As if we think because we think, and not because we must think in order to maintain ourselves among things!  As if thought could awaken and function of its own motion, as if it began and ended in itself, and were not engendered by action, as if it didn’t have its roots and its ends in action!
All of my work, including this project, has been in part a fight against this attitude which I have called the “bigotry of culture”, a condition in which human life has put itself at the service of culture in order to be charged with some sort of value.  This way of reversing the relation between life and culture, between action and contemplation, has brought about, during the last couple of centuries — a comparatively short period really — an overproduction of ideas, of books and works of art, a real cultural inflation.  We are in the ongoing midst of a “capitalism of culture”.  There’s production for production’s sake, instead of production in view of necessity, sustainability, health and connection — needed ideas that can be accounted for.  Markets are repeatedly saturated and crisis seems perpetual.
But the most momentous thing about the intellectual aberration which this “bigotry of culture” signifies does not lie here; it lies in presenting culture, contemplation, thought, as a grace or jewel that has to be added to our lives – something outside of ourselves that must be acquired, as if it were possible to live somehow without contemplation.  We’ve been given the false choice of obtaining culture or doing without it.
And it is very clear, here and now, that faced with such an imposed dilemma, too many of us embrace the second alternative to its limits.  The intellectualist aberration which isolates contemplation from action has been surpassed by the opposite aberration – the voluntarist aberration, which rejects contemplation and deifies pure action.  Social conflicts and their consequent wars have stupefied us, and stupefaction, when it persists, becomes stupidity.  Such is the spectacle, always the same, of every epoch in which pure action is deified.  The stage is filled with crimes.  Human life loses value, is no longer regarded, and all forms of violence and spoliation are practiced.
Without a strategic retreat into the self, or the idea of one, without vigilant thought, human life is impossible.  Without a certain margin of tranquility, truth succumbs.  New generations, delighting in clean bodies and pure acts, must integrate themselves with the ideas they are capable of generating, even when seemingly unaware of it.  We must join with thought and reflection again, with all that has been unjustly separated from us.  These things are not flabby, alien, corrupting, decadent or illusory — they are necessary to life, to living.
This for me, and I hope for others too, has been a crucial task of these not sent letters.
jeremy