Monday, August 19, 2013

Seeking Eden

A friend pointed me to this very interesting article discussing the role that the British played in turning modern Iraq into a terribly dangerous place.  In essence, the article argues that the Brits possessed an idea of their own history that they sought to make into Iraqi reality, at great expense (in terms of life wasted, in pretty much every sense of the word: the idea was so important and compelling that people failed--and continue to fail--to notice how its implementation caused more harm than good).

To me what matters is not so much what people see (a vision of primitive Eden) or even what they do (e.g. become bodybuilders or political propagandists) but how they treat others.

I don't care what crazy nonsense you want to believe in. Believe in anything you like (with or without something I would recognize as good reason). I don't care what you do to yourself as a result of your beliefs. Smoke dope. Do yoga. Build a tent and go into the wilderness, or start a multinational corporation dedicated to spreading the gospel of GMOs. As long as you don't coerce participation in whatever stupid scheme you may have (a scheme that might be "modern" or "ancient" in character, "progressive" or the opposite), I don't mind. I may disagree with you and even work against you (especially if you are into GMOs), but I respect your right to live just as I want you to respect mine.

My problem with the status quo is the recurring trope that demands all of us be on the same page, no matter what. I want the freedom to dissociate, to disavow, to work for Edens that are not yours using means that you despise (even as you despise my own view of Eden, with or without good reason). I don't want to force you into my Eden; to do so would be to invite you to do the same to me, and I would rather rot in hell (thanks, anyway). This means that I necessarily have to make my Eden small and non-threatening: I don't want to "assert myself" on Hegel's stage of history, inviting you to create WMDs and discharge them against the hell you see lurking somewhere in my Eden (just as surely as I see it all over yours: I know you think yours is pretty, that to see it must be to love it, but that just isn't true). I want to step away from "fixing the world permanently" and concentrate instead on doing whatever I can to fix my own little corner of it impermanently.

I cannot dictate to other people, especially not those with whom I must live and rub shoulders every day. Living with others means accommodating (changing my idea of Eden when it proves unexpectedly poisonous to my wife, my kids, my friends, my parents, my siblings, my students, my work colleagues, etc.). Accommodating means paying attention to data that move all the time, changing overnight in ways that are often wholly unpredictable. I cannot become so attached to today's Eden that I fail to allow for tomorrow's. And that is just within my own life--a ridiculously tiny piece of the gigantic throbbing mess that is humanity. Humbled by my own inability to deal perfectly with the impossible vastness of my own small humanity, how could I dare presume to deal with yours? How could I take that charge away from you--unasked, uncalled for, with no respect for the autonomy that Nature gave you (as she gave it to me)? I am not special. I don't know myself (except insofar as I know that the exercise of seeking such knowledge improves my experience). How could I presume to know you? The most I can do for both of us is graciously give you the space you need to meet Nature on your own terms. Make your own Eden. Until you come to blow mine up without noticing, I won't mind (not even if the world ends tomorrow, and it turns out to be all your fault--when God's angels fire up the celestial supercomputer and discover a butterfly effect emanating from something you did or failed to do).

Life is made out of death. I accept that--and live in a constant struggle to be ready to die. Enjoy the journey, and be mindful of others on it. That is really all I have to offer.

No comments:

Post a Comment