Monday, January 30, 2017
Blind Children Studying the Globe, Julius Kirschner (1914)
To those who imbibed the toxic cocktail of denial, self-deception, and wishful thinking in the last presidential election, there’s still hope for a full recovery. Your fears, anger and insecurities are ill-served by a fascist populist and his would-be kleptocratic cronies whose narcissistic megalomania and Midas complex glorify the conspicuous vices of contemporary capitalism in a manner that seeks to trump democratic institutions, values and principles as it eviscerates the triune principles and virtues of liberté, égalité, and fraternité. It is still possible to awaken your potential to exercise the tenacity and courage needed to break through the authoritarian character armor sub-consciously constructed out of the fragile and feeble fabric provided by the more regressive and perverse socio-cultural materials found in this country’s history: conformism, homophobia, (white and ‘Christian’) ethno-nationalism, militarism, parochialism, racism, sexism, conspicuous consumption and acquisitiveness, unbridled ambition, celebrity worship and fame-seeking, the will to dominate others, in short, the “false consciousness” well-captured in Erich Fromm’s locution, “the pathology of normalcy.” We know too well the debilitating and deadly powers of human vengeance, senseless destructiveness, and violence, the ease with which even the most “civilized” peoples can descend into the dark vortex of chaos, needless suffering and evil. The need to “fight fire with fire” is rare and regrettable, and certainly avoidable should we learn to build the emancipatory structures of the Good Society.
Abandon the residual messianic tribalism incarnate in the idea of a “chosen people” atop a “city on a hill.” In other words, to the avowed Christians in your ranks, recall that all human beings are created in the image of God, that God’s covenant is thus with humanity as such, and that Jesus’s foremost moral and spiritual teachings revolve around the Golden Rule and the double commandment of love (hence the Christ of Tolstoy, not Constantine), and it is that which should provide the pile-like foundations of your social life and democratic politics. As Daniel Burston writes in his book on Fromm, “the Hebrew concept of idolatry implies the misrecognition and reification of our own divinely begotten essence [an idea found in Stoic thought as well], which, like the burning bush, is in a process of continuous and inextinguishable becoming, and is not something finite, static, or dead, like a graven image.”
“The Circle,” LaSalle at Amsterdam, Todd Webb (1946)
It is not easy to cultivate a disposition to truth (which depends in the first instance on the power of sublimation and thereafter on individuation), an elusive character trait indispensable for a full-bodied appreciation of the moral requisites of human dignity, the power of virtue, and a lifelong commitment to the Good. It is this dignity, virtue and commitment that, historically speaking, first found moral, legal, and political expression in the notion of human rights, in the idea of jus cogens norms, and the Liberal principles of democratic constitutionalism. It is such dignity, virtue and commitment that allows us to imagine a socio-economic system beyond capitalism, one that extends the logic of democracy and principles of environmental sustainability throughout the social order such that all human beings on this planet are accorded the capacity for the development of their basic capabilities, thereby encouraged to ascend the mountain of self-realization while discovering, creating and exploiting ample opportunities for human flourishing in harmony with the motley and marvelous (non-human) animal creatures that likewise partake of the precious “breath” of life.