News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: What Now?

Friday, May 13, 2005

What Now?

"We have the best country, government, society," is what an American might say, no matter what political persuasion, when pressed to give some account of US actions around the world. "The best..." but obviously people from many different cultures are finding this "best" inadequate. Look at this way: even in the US people are quite willing to forego so-called individual rights in order to stave off a perceived threat to order. In the mid-east and third world countries, the lie of American-style democracy is obvious. It only benefits those in power in the western nations and Israel.

But the issue is much deeper than this. Many people wish to see a universal basis for this talk of freedom. They want a set of rules that are not simply jigsawed together based on human whim or self-interest. The latter is the basis for western "freedom"--that is, left to their own devices and seeking their own self-interest a state of equilibrium will realize itself. Unfortunately, when this continues, the shortcomings become all too painfully obvious--the self-interests of some become more important than the self-interests of others.

Sure, in the short-term there can be various balancing actions to make the parties somehow equal; but eventually, the balancing act begins to always favor those with power--ie., those with the capital. We see this in the US--for numerous years, the unions and the capitalists fought in the streets for some form of fair representation. A kind of peace was attained in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Then the unions became the target of a concerted campaign of de-legitimation. Union membership fell and continues to fall. Even though many in the US identify with the working class, most do not see the unions as their representative. Instead, most are willing to allow themselves to wallow in consumerist fantasies and social alienation.

What has happened, in some respects, is that the center of gravity has given way--there are no more spiritual resources on the part of the workers to find the energy to assert their rights. Why? Because there are no more ideas or ideals for them to identify with. The sole criterion of income and salaries simply rings hollow now. People are looking for some other rallying cry. Such things as justice and freedom ring hollow as well. Justice for whom? the pederasts and malcontents who disrupt the communal angst? Freedom for whom? Those whose only interest is to upset the status quo? I think that many people are reeling from the idea that too much freedom brings a social and individual stability that upsets the social fabric. They want stability at any cost--they want to protect what they have.

I think the malaise begins in the soul. People simply do not know what it means to be a human being anymore. Look at the fantasies that they flock to in the movie theaters: androids and other worlds and elves and fairies. Then look at the tremendous response to The Passion. Another other-wordly fantasy that simply fills the void and terrible despair that fills most people's lives. There simply are no objective or subjective measures anymore of what it means to be a person. People are left with two options: either to cobble together a sense of identity by aligning their passions and desires with a group (think football, generation, fad, music genre, consumer niche). But these are ultimately unsatisfying for a desire that seeks this sense of self from sources that must transcend contingency. This is where the churches come in--but they are simply mouthing old formulas and doctrines that have their emotional and even intellectual appeal but are simply another means of herd control.

The other option comes from a recognition that nothing in this world can satisfy the desire for transcendence. That the ultimate basis for a true, just, and free existence is to find solace in a reality that transmutes the contingent into a never-ending ethical task of purification to meet an ideal that is infinitely pure and infinitely loving, even while one suffers. Obviously, since this command rests in the duty to love one's neighbor as oneself, I am not talking about resignation or moving into a monastery--no, this command must be lived in the world as it is, anything else is shirking one's responsibility to oneself and to others and the Other.

The question for the near future is whether such an individual can exist in society as it is now organized. Everything is set up to squash individual responsibility (on the left and the right) and people simply are nurtured to believe that this-world goods and services are all that must be expected from life; anything else is simply pie in the sky. Modern culture has desacralized the world and horizontalized eternity itno temporality.

The demand is on the individual to find oneself--tehre are no social solutions that can guarantee anything without a prior regeneration of the human spirt--person by person, not state by state. If one wants to translate this into non-religious terms, then I am talking about an existential revolution.

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