From The Captive Mind, written in 1952.
Feeling that there was nothing in him, Dante could not have written his Divine Comedy or Montaigne his Essays, nor could Chardin have painted a single still-life. Today man believes there is nothing in him, so he accepts anything, even if he knows it to be bad, in order to ﬁnd himself at one with others, in order not to be alone. As long as he believes this, there is little one can reproach in his behavior. Perhaps it is better for him to breed a full—grown Ketman, to submit to pressure and thus feel that he is, than to take a chance on the wisdom of past ages which maintains that man is a creature of God.
Milosz here was talking about people embracing varying degrees of totalitarianism because the alternative was to be cut off from a lot of people. This happens to apply to people today with respect to social media, whose effects they see harming their way of life and personal mental cohesion. It also applies to people in China and the Chinese Communist Party’s (even more) increasing control over their lives. And of course, it may well apply to the corporate surveillance state and an explicitly undemocratic near-future America. I’m disturbed by how universal that observation that is.
Is a thriving ketman culture (Ketman is a practice from Islamic cultures in which one strategically praises official thought while secretly fostering different private beliefs) the best we can hope for? Americans perversely lionize individual economic risk while also stigmatizing non-participation in corporate platforms.
Insert hopeful counterpoint here