10.07.19 | Second Mountain

Followers of David Brooks are undoubtedly aware of his recent book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. The first mountain needs no introduction. It is the individual's necessary early construction, largely driven by the culture, as the means to thrive, even survive. The issue arises, then, not with the fact of such early development but, rather, being shaped by an individualistic culture that inflames the ego and numbs the spirit. This is where the real story starts (focus article, click:The Moral Peril of Meritocracy).

It is at this point where life on the first mountain -- the mountain of worldly success, pedigree, career, comparative achievement, reputation, judgement -- reveals itself to be transitory and ultimately wanting. Some will indeed remain on ego-pilot for their remaining years, finding a kind of comfort, even happiness, in this constructed self. Others yearn for more. Their reckoning may come about after having experienced success and finding it somehow unsatisfying. Or, it may come about having been blown off the first mountain through some profound failure or life setback. Happiness is thereby revealed to be the illusion it is.

The second mountain beckons. It is here that some people are broken open to the spiritual dimension that arises out of ego dissolution. Look upon our upcoming discussion session as an opportunity for each of us to share what this actually means. Reach deep for your own truth rather than serve up what sounds to be the correct answer you learned during your stay on the first mountain. The second mountain language includes, to some, lots of squishy words e.g. spirit, soul, religion, grace, energy field, even joy. May those who are comfortable with the vernacular hold hands and have patience with others still striving to find their own truth.

The notion of sacrifice would certainly resonate with most as the most tangible manifestation of the move beyond the self -- likewise, when it comes to the search for meaning. First, though, one needs to note one's underlying intention to distinguish such notions from those of the first mountain mindset i.e. perhaps sacrifice and the search for meaning is nothing more than the search for permanence in drag -- look at me, commands some inner voice, look at me, my progeny, my novel, my discovery (see that new planet I found -- it even has my name attached to it!), my donation to PETA, my granite inscription and, most of all, my belief (no, my certainty) in my own personal everlasting cosmic abstraction.

We may begin with a base case, perhaps off-putting for some, so we'll just couch it as a simple thought experiment rather than a belief system. Suppose man is simply just another animal that happens to possess a neocortex. And, as we discussed in our session Sapiens (MM 9/23/19) homo sapiens back in the mists experienced a genetic mutation arming the neocortex with the unique capability for cognition and language. With that came the power of imagined reality or, in other words, abstract thought. Regard our sense of self and the thereafter as perhaps the ultimate cosmic abstraction.

The threat posed on the first mountain -- an assault on the conjured ego -- thus becomes meaningless on the second. The fear of death -- the death of the ego -- is a non-issue on the second mountain for the ego has already dissolved, see Get Over Thyself (MM 8/27/18). The Brooks quest for a moral life is itself the joy of the the second mountain.

Your thoughts?

Steve SmithComment