The trucker’s protest near where I live in is a tremendously powerful force for change. Jonathan Pageau, an excellent youtuber writing on “The Symbolic World,” compared it to the siege of Jericho where “the walls came tumbing down,” as the song has it. The energy is excited, quite clear and part of what we need. I say this to preface what I’d written on protest a few weeks ago, which I’ll share here . . .
I like this from writer and farmer, Wendell Berry. Protest that endures is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
I love the question and I want to respond to it.
but I’d like to up the ante on it or at least ask something else first!
What are those qualities of heart and mind that would be destroyed by acquiescence? If we’re to preserve them we must first know what they are. As it is, we are by no means certain to know because we ourselves are changing. All the ways we would measure and know who we are have shifted and are shifting further.
This change in identity has been going on for a long time, but now faster and faster. It’s hard to overstate how profound the changes are. For a very long time, our sense of agency and community belonging has failed to keep up with the rate of change so we’re likely feeling behind. We’ve been uprooted.
We might trace this movement back to the enclosures in the British Isles as, beginning in the sixteenth century, public lands were moved over into private ownership, thoroughly uprooting large numbers of people in large parts of the country. More recently and just a couple of generations ago we might have been part of an intact faith community and shared other cultural and communal values with our neighbors. That’s no longer the case. Nor is it the case that that the social cohesion is easy to make up psychologically or even spiritually. The result is unprecedented levels of psychological ennui that affects individuals and makes its way into all the institutions of society.
Everyone from the priest in his chapel to the owner of the bowling alley feels it. And how does it look, this ennui?
From the inside a great number of us feel caught in an isolating personal performance as we try and look like we’re succeeding enough to get by with all this uprooting. We try and save face by acting normal. I tried to do this passing for normal a lot. I can only say that failing at performance as a way of life is better than succeeding at it because at least, knowing we’re in chains, can keep us alive to the possibility of waking up. And there is such a possibility.
People caught in an isolating personal performance don’t know where to start deal with a concern that is ill-defined or even invisible. We may just feel the effects. Everything goes topsy-turvy in that world and feels off balance. We may lack trust and find “the other” starts to look like an enemy. We may ally with people on the basis of crude symbols and slogans that are easily manipulated by markets and governments. Social media tempts us into belonging to causes and perspectives we’re not sure what to feel about.
So back to the original question, how do we discover what the qualities are we want to maintain. And how do we actually maintain them? There aren’t easy answers. Not now and not ever. These are the important questions that people trying to wake up – not to mention philosophers – have always wrestled with.
The answers aren’t a concept because mere concepts, unless taken fully to heart and lived aren’t very valuable. Think Facebook slogans.
Any answer is a work in progress, a response from now. I want to say what interests me about this because I don’t hear it often. As I see it we work with others on the things that we know in our heart of hearts we run away from and distract ourselves from. We work with others on this, the more committed and taken seriously the better. We take these questions to heart as if our lives depended on them because in a real sense they do. Avoiding the challenges always set us up to get involved in more trouble, not less, because this is a time of change and what’s in our heart needs to be part of that change. We take note of the tendencies we inherited and gathered from our families of origin, because though these may be unseen and invisible – they usually are – they remain incredibly influential. We take the things we hide and run from and bring them to consciousness and to our peers to work with. As we do that, perhaps we find our role in the public story that’s around us.
As I see it, those are ways we can move toward protest that endures, one that brings what’s most important to us into it.