Well, a new whirlwind that had been brewing off the coast and heading towards the homeland, has now made landfall. Is it a tropical storm, a hurricane, or perhaps just the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida? Of course, we are familiar with all three phenomena. Will this one be any different? Of course not! There will be lots of thunder and lightning. Many will get soaked or displaced in the downpour, others may die from boredom, the loss of an anchor, or simply crushed by the weight of all the uncertainty. Surely, the usual suspects will be rounded up, keeping the brown-shirts from homeland security busy throughout. Perhaps the true believers among them will even supplicate their storm-god, Yahweh, to assist in the clean-up effort.
All the terrorists will be collected together under the small big-tent. Misfit Mitt, Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, Rand Paul and Poppa Ron will all make their appearances, in person, if not epistemologically. Our own village idiot, Sister Sarah, is sure to make an appearance and throw a few bombs from the cheap seats in the back, or perhaps center stage. And, of course, there will be lots of cheering to complement the usual gnashing of teeth. Hands will be wrung, dreams dashed, visions launched, passions released, backroom deals fixed, promises offered, and illicit sex in the VIP tents. All while Yahweh threatens, as only he knows how, and Gaia moans under the yoke of yet another tragic human spectacle.
Unspoken presences will also make apparitional appearances, if only silently: Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, the Israeli Defense Minister, Iranian nuclear aspirations, four dead Hondurans, Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans, Afghanis, and Iraqis. Even the current American hegemon, Barry Obama, will have his name offered up in ritual sacrifice to the god of guns and money. No one is safe in the midst of such a spectacle.
The future of the American way of life will be in the balance, on center stage, and on trial. Destroying the infidels and insuring the destiny of the greatest nation in the history of the planet, while safeguarding the wealth of the one percent, will be the constant, rhythmic, unfailing drumbeat. And all the talking heads will be on hand, and on the air 24/7. Fox, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC will all have people ‘on the ground’ to cover the drenching speeches, dissecting each word and thunderclap for our lazy and overweight democratic consumption. Boy, isn’t freedom a wonderful thing. Can someone just shut the fuck up already? (asks the boy from the Bronx)!
The unemployed, the homeless, the retired, the forlorn, the sick, the destitute, the disabled, the hanger-ons and the voiceless will remain voiceless. The search for the Holy Grail – fossil fuel and a future free of welfare or reliance upon those terrorists in the third world – will be on everyone’s tongue. “Full employment,” “a chicken in every pot,” and “let them eat cake:” these memes will figure prominently as the thunder rolls through. There will be dancing and fighting in the streets; the first will be first; the last will be left to die. And mother earth will have moaned and gasped yet again!
Perhaps you can tell that I am writing this in advance of the actual spectacle. I am not making prognostications mind you; I am just ranting, as I have done on more than one occasion. I have the right to be wrong, even in full-throated rant. But we will see; and we can all play Monday morning quarterback. After all, we have been well trained to stand on the sidelines, cheer, and analyze the play-by-play. So what’s new?
You may ask me, what is this all about, Sandy? What exactly is the storm you are describing? Is it a natural disaster or the manmade one? Yet, that is not the proper question. It may not even be the most important question. The real question appears to be somewhat more elusive, somewhat less easy to articulate. It is the one that concerns each of us personally, as individuals. It concerns the issue of trust and the problem of belonging, amongst the anomie of post-industrial civilization and the relationships it engenders.
Let me ask you: who touches you? For whom is your life a primal concern? Who can you trust to watch your back? Have you surrounded yourself, or do you find yourself among those (or even with ‘the one’) who care for your welfare as much as they do their own? It is not altruism that I am looking for here. It is the challenge of a genuine and profound engagement with the Other that concerns me today. How does one find others (or a specific other) in whom to place their trust; how does one know he or she has found one? That is my question.
It has been said that we humans are social animals. If so, how does this basic sociability manifest itself? Is it sated through participation in urban spectacles like the one described above: the political convention? Is it found within a tightly controlled military formation, the closely monitored corporate cubicle, the simple marital license, the local boy-scout troop, in the church of Christ, the Mosque, or somewhere skulking within the Jewish lawbooks? Where is it hiding? Someone tell me so I too can taste such satisfaction.
Is it possible even to find the correct answer in a world where the question can no longer be put properly? Have we created an epistemological framework in which authentic relations with one another can never be established (or restored) because our focus on the self and selfishness is no longer adequate to feeling the Other, be it another human being, or the Otherness of an apparently objective and inanimate planet that nevertheless shelters and cares for us? Rather, our sites seem set on the survival of the individual, in a hostile world where being right or being successful is more important than being loved. Do we even know what we need, what we seek; or are we just mechanically channeling impulses provided by deep cultural expectations, our taken-for-granted assumptions about happiness or the meaning of life?
Martin Heidegger describes the phenomenon of “being-with” the Other as a fundamental aspect of the human condition; a dimension of our being human that pre-thematically includes the self within it.
By “Others” we do not mean everyone else but me – those over against whom the “I” stands out. They are rather those from whom, for the most part, one does not distinguish oneself – those among whom one is too. (Being and Time, p117)
Heidegger himself refers to the proper attitude characterizing the self’s relation to this Other, as one of ‘caring’ or ‘solicitude.’ Care, for Heidegger, emerges as the authentic human relation viz. a viz. the Other.
Hilary Clinton once hired a ghostwriter to help her pen a book called, It Takes A Village. But perhaps it takes an entire tribe. Maybe the lost tribe holds the key to our own sense of safety, security, love, belonging, and maturation. I state this with no certainty about the answer. I only speculate (there goes that spectacle again!), trying to locate the source of my own discomfort with the structure and types of relations we have constituted and have come to consider “normal” in our advanced urban, industrial, and competitive nation-state or empire.
Personal, social, and economic relations tend to reinforce one another, either towards healthy or pathological ends. I believe we are living with the results of the latter. I often speak with, or hear from, others who are also seeking sanctuary, love, understanding, and wholeness in this otherwise madhouse of anomie we call life in the modern civilized world. To whom can we turn for comfort, respite, and rest: Mitt, Barack, Ayn, Aristotle, or Aquinas; your teachers, managers, neighbors, husbands, or wives; your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren? How and where are we connected, by what threads, invisible as they may be? What bonds bind us to one another: a social contract, a state constitution, legal precedents, a marital agreement, a sense of guilt or obligation? “Who am I to this person standing before me?” And, “who is he or she to me?” These are the most penetrating questions I can pose today. What about you, my readers?
Where is Noah and his ark when you need him? Or, are we just waiting for godot? We need to find a way to reconstitute our mutual relations upon a radically different foundation; not one based upon legal necessity or economic convenience, upon winning and losing, but upon a basis of mutual trust and loyalty, grounded in real care – founded upon consanguinity and genuine, transparent affinity. But this can only happen if we recognize that I am the Other, and the Other is me. This rigidified shell of selfhood, this state of hyper-individuality that we now worship, must be breached if we are to recover that space to stand out, that ek-stasis, the ecstasy of being-there-with-the-other. But wouldn’t you know it. Paul Ryan has all the answers… the only problem is we cannot trust any of it, nor would we. Lying in this culture is pathological at all levels because the Other has become a mere object, a hurdle to be overcome.