Archive for May, 2013

“Granted, you exist…”

The president began so kindly, but ended with his fat declaration of loving constraints. These blocks were allowed us, except and until androids claimed them for storage and thrash zones. Then we had to present ourselves for thrashing. They beat us with the excess steel of unburnt cars. During either the fifth or sixth thrashing of that year, Father said he would never mow again. He never lied, and that is why the weeds have strangled our homes.

We are characterized by our economic activity: consider the way children’s education is discussed on the news. Marx and Rand (influential if not exactly great thinkers) both saw us as vessels of productivity. The exploitation of that productivity was Marx’s concern; the reward of (some) productivity was Rand’s.

The constant talk of men and money—of men as money—makes aspects of Kierkegaard’s view of the individual attractive. It is important, first, to recognize that K writes from a Christian perspective that is largely alien to me as a secular Jew, probably alien to all non-Christians, and a large percentage of people who call themselves Christian because well, hey, Jesus.

K starts from the idea that the relationship between each of us and God is the most important relationship of our lives. Everything else is less than secondary: it is of no importance. Abstractions about race and politics mean jack: “The race, mankind, differs from an animal race not merely by its general superiority as a race, but by the human characteristic that every single individual within the race (not merely distinguished individuals but every individual) is more than the race.” He writes in reaction to thinkers like Hegel, who introduced the concept of the “World-Historical Man” and developed to a high degree the idea of all history as a kind of process in which the rest of us are either abstracted out of identity or made into bit cogs of the machine.

Such wide-reaching systematizing and mechanizing is anathema to K.  To counter it, he counsels a break with crowds and conventional political participation. These sorts of relationships, regardless of cause, build the system at the cost of the individual: “… every individual who flees for refuge into the crowd, and so flees in cowardice from being an individual … such a man contributes his share of cowardliness to the cowardliness which we know as the crowd.” You know what he means if you have ever felt a sense of diminishment of self in crowds, whether at theme parks or football games. The mediation of a TV screen elevates the sense that crowds are alien—non-human—events at which the Gator chomp is performed uselessly. But I hadn’t thought of cowardice before, and now I imagine the crowd as a many-eyed blob of cowards who can’t play ball—can’t do—while the pathetic rest of us look to add our own eyes to the blobby mass.

K contrasts my vision with, natch, the example of Christ, who “repelled people absolutely, would not found a party, did not permit balloting, but would be what He is, the Truth, which relates itself to the individual.” This sort of withdrawal is heckled constantly by regular voters, but it has my full sympathy. It does not mean a lack of involvement with the world. (Whatever else, Jesus went to that temple. He had his say.) It means the involvement is qualified first by the individual relationship with God and second by the individual’s confidence in himself, a willingness to draw a contrast between himself and the crowd, a strength to flip off the system, the way everybody does it.

I do not have the God-relationship K described. I can never have it. Someday, maybe I’ll figure what I might have to replace it. Right now, though, it’s that second qualification that interests me most. It has the veneer of cliché: stand out, etc. But everybody knows that you can’t be an individual by going to business school. You can’t by buying commenting on blogs or listening to underground bands either. You have to find less comfort in your economic and political choices. You have to worry less about finding people to agree with.

To be this sort of individual requires a kind of constant reevaluation of your position in the world, your relationships with others. It’s an integrity to which I must constantly aspire.