The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them where it will. Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, Chapter 1.
What is meant by this? There doesn’t seem to be any thing wrong with this statement. Commonplace is good, right? We all want to be a good old boy or girl, right? Well, sure some might be called to that station in life. However, what is being communicated here is that the good old boys and girls aren’t content with being just that. The commonplace man of society is no longer willing to take directives from anyone (unless they’re from the common man, of course). Instead these people believe that being commonplace privileges them to act as if there are no restraints on their prerogative. It is a rare sighting, indeed, to encounter someone who is willing to submit themselves to something other than commonplace authority in religion, politics, philosophy, manners, etc….
The same thing is happening in other orders, particularly in the intellectual. I may be mistaken, but the present day writer, when he takes his pen in hand to treat a subject which he has studied deeply, has to bear in mind that the average reader, who has never concerned himself with this subject, if he reads does so with the view, not of learning something from the writer, but rather, of pronouncing judgment on him when he is not in agreement with the commonplaces that the said readers carries in his head. Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, Chapter 1.
I think what Ortega y Gasset is getting at here could be cross applied to the interaction between the commonplace man and the subjects I mentioned earlier (religion, politics, philosophy, manners, etc…). It seems that no one in America is at all concerned with traditions–unless of course one is talking about the tradition of “tradition hate.” Any authoritative traditions in religion or ethics are looked approached skeptically, if approached at all. In the process, society as a whole is bereft of any substantial direction and guidance. The masses continue in their hatred of tradition and flounder in their attempts to govern themselves without it. The irony of it all is that rather than correct their ignorance towards authoritative tradition, the masses blame tradition itself. I could go a lot of places with this, but I would like to end with a few questions.
When you approach an authoritative tradition, whether it be a text or a teaching, what is your method of approach? Is your concentration immediately lost to the act of thinking up objections and caveats? Or do you approach such traditions with humility and gratitude, hoping to learn something? I think that answering these questions is the first step one takes towards rising above the “commonplace.”
P.S. being in the commonplace isn’t a bad thing unless one decides that their opinions on matters outside of the commonplace are authoritative on their face
without external authority (tradition, reason, mores, etc…).