Wednesday, May 04, 2005

More on the 'grand web' thread


In the context of this 'grand web' thread, thanks to Dean [see Tuesday's post below], I am reminded of a fine book by Jedediah Purdy called "For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today." (2000, Vintage Books)

With the elegance of an E. B. White or Bill McKibben, Purdy considers a growing trait in the American character and lifestyle. Indeed, it has become a notable American value if not a civic virtue. The trait is our newly widespread affectation of being disaffected, putting on airs of what we might call ironic detachment. Though less demonstrative and blusterous, Purdy's little book is in some ways a rejoinder to Alvin Toffler's splashy 1970 bestseller, "Future Shock."

Things are changing so fast we're not sure what will stay the same or be dependable or "permanent." Andy Warhol's saying that each of us would get our "fifteen minutes of fame" seemed to foretell our ADD-addled culture, thinking we want (and even expect) immediate gratification but, at the same time, feeling some vague emptiness for regal and comforting traditions and commitments. We are hired and fired and traded and move and buy and sell and watch and drive and dream and delude ourselves at disconcerting rates. We feign an outer toughness, an ironic cynicism or flippancy to cover the hollowness that seems to haunt us - so much so that we're not only remote control happy, we're trigger happy and road rage happy, too. Ah, what new permutations of "happiness" Americans invent!

Of course, this ironic detachment affects the web of our connections, the threads that might bind us, and as Purdy suggests, undermines our trust and our sense of civic and civil commitment. No, we want to be free like kids in a candy store. We seem, as a culture, in general mind you, to equate freedom with the right to be selfish or rich or ruthlessly competitive. We watch murder stories for hours on television, but we seem to secretly admire white collar crime. We think it comes with the territory - that that same sort of cunning and conniving is what got those people to the top in the first place, thank you very much Michael Milken and most recently, Martha Stewart. Not found guilty as much as found dumb. Plead ignorance. Plead ironic detachment.

And so the web of our sentiments is frayed. The web of our soulful, heartfelt connections is akilter, shuffled around, gated and domesticated as we are.

Probably, no one at our funerals will talk about the hours we spent as spectators or slaves (no matter what our wage), virtually detached - shopping, remodeling, fertilizing, TV watching, slaving away at jobs for corporate aspirations - unless these make good stories, at least bittersweet if not funny. Don't we want to conjure and foster the plot, the character, the charm of our lives while we still have a chance?

To replace the plot of life with a vita, to replace the threads with a bunch of duties and tasks and errands and STUFF, to disassociate (to in effect desocialize) ourselves or to allow ourselves to become less social, to ignore sentiment, to put things and work before the content of our character, to put a résumé before stories and anecdotes, to weaken the web, to diss it or dismiss it, is to show an active dislike for others around us, whether strangers or our own parents. When the going gets rough, we want our stories and our sentiments to back us up, to be there for us, to remind us of the worth of living and struggling and prevailing.


At 5/05/2005 10:24 AM, Blogger Rhesus Pieces said...

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At 5/05/2005 10:29 AM, Blogger Rhesus Pieces said...

Then why is the blog-o-sphere clogged up with old white guys. Shouldn't we require more diversity. Let's go enlist/draft some oppressed people to put up a blog. Let's garner participation by the color of their skin and not the quality of their writings or desire to write. Oops, that's what we were trying to avoid.

At 5/05/2005 11:15 AM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Yes rhesus, diversity is good, but the great thing is to WANT to do diverse things, to be inspired and free to choose. A draft is itself a form of oppression. So please, no drafting of anybody to do anything, I'd say. (Otherwise, I'd like to draft millions to turn off their TVs and draft a few billion men to get vasectomies! No, change has to come through educated and voluntary means.)

The breakdown of societies occur through the rapidity of change, through the angst and even anger of a diversity glut - and through force. If we care above all and just do a little nudging via positive strokes, that seems to work the best.

At 5/05/2005 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lawrence, thanks for sharing your wisdom. Yes, we spend most of our time doing things that aren't important, with few moments left for meaningful living. When given a choice between, say shopping and hiking, I should more often ask myself which I'd remember in a year. Live like there's no tomorrow, right?

At 5/05/2005 4:53 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Yes, Anonymous, good question: What would I remember in a year - in ten years?

You're comment has inspired an upcoming blog topic - living for today and how that can be good (a zen-like awareness, attention, taking nothing for granted, etc.) but also how that "living like there's no tomorrow" can go too far and backfire - so that we end up neglecting the future to hide out in the present - trying to convince ourselves as if we're reveling in "the Now" but really living (at least in part or secretly) as if we're fearing tomorrow. (I'll admit to being overly prone to this myself.)

At 5/05/2005 6:35 PM, Anonymous Dean said...

Concerning finding what is permanent, Lao Tzu says, "If you want to know, look inside your heart." I think all we have to do is close our eyes and be still for a moment, still mentally as well as physically.

As concerns choices in living, I find that reminding myself every morning that today could be my last inspires me to use the day in a way I could be content with, if indeed it proved to be so.



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