A guy named Solomon stopped by my office last week. Solomon is from Nigeria, and he’s currently enrolled at Harvard Divinity School (45 Francis Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138). We got to talking about the allure and deceit of consumerism, palatability, aggressive appeasement, and salesmanship. We spent a lot of time talking about the emphasis of Jesus of Nazareth, and how His most frequent and forceful comments and choices were at odds with the consumeristic and salable priorities of the swarming crowds and sanctimonious savants.
Then, today, a guy Wendell told me, that there can be no such thing as a “global village.” No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, because one can only live fully in the world by living responsibly in some small part of it. He said, “We are all to some extent the products of an exploitive society, and it would be foolish and self-defeating to pretend that we do not bear its stamp. …It seems likely that the identity crisis in our culture is a conventional illusion – one of the genres of self-indulgence. It is an excuse for irresponsibility and/or a fashionable mode of self-dramatization. It is the easiest form of self-flattery—a way to construe procrastination as a virtue—based on the romantic assumption that “who I really am” is better in some fundamental way than the available evidence would suggest. The fashionable cure for this condition, if I understand the lore of it correctly, has nothing to do with the assumption of responsibilities or the renewal of connections. The “cure” is “autonomy,” which is simply another illusory condition.”
I though Wendell was spot-on!
Wendell went on to say, “The modern urban-industrial society is based on a series of radical disconnections between body and soul, husband and wife, marriage and community, community and the earth. At each of these points of disconnection the collaboration of corporation, government, and expert sets up a profit-making enterprise that results in the further dismemberment and impoverishment of the Creation. Together, these disconnections add up to a condition of critical ill health, which we suffer in common—not just with each other, but with all other creatures. Our economy is based upon this disease. Its aim is to separate us as far as possible from the sources of life (material, social, and spiritual), to put these sources under the control of corporations and specialized professionals, and to sell them to us at the highest profit. …The first principle of the exploitive mind is to divide and conquer. And surely there has never been a people more ominously and painfully divided than we are—both against each other and within ourselves. Once the revolution of exploitation is under way, statesmanship and craftsmanship are gradually replaced by salesmanship. Its stock in trade in politics is to sell despotism and avarice as freedom and democracy. And thus, we long ago gave up the wish to have things that were adequate or even excellent; we have preferred instead to have things that were up-to-date. Motivated no longer by practical needs, but by loneliness and fear, we began to identify ourselves by what we bought rather than by what we did. And we are caught in the never-ending cycle of chronic discontentment, and an unrelenting ambition for “the bigger and better.” Tragically, once we build beyond a human scale, once we conceive ourselves as Titans or as gods (think The Tower of Babel), we are lost in magnitude; we cannot control or limit what we do. The statistics of magnitude call out like Sirens to the statistics of destruction. If we have built towering cities, we have raised even higher the cloud of megadeath. If people are as grass before God, they are as nothing before their machines. Past the scale of the human, our works do not liberate us—they confine us. They cut off access to the wilderness of Creation where we must go to be reborn—to receive the awareness, at once humbling and exhilarating, grievous and joyful, that we are a part of Creation, one with all that we live from and all that, in turn, lives from us. They destroy the communal rites of passage that turn us the wilderness and bring us home again. The world has room for many people who are content to live as humans, but only for a relative few intent upon living as giants or as gods. …Invariably the failure of organized religions, by which they cut themselves off from mystery and therefore from sanctity, lies in the attempt to impose an absolute division between faith and doubt, to make belief perform as knowledge; when they forbid their prophets to go into the wilderness, they lose the possibility of renewal.”