Thursday, January 16, 2014

Are we experiencing a collective, unconscious "existential moment"?

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin dedicated his entire State of the State address recently to the problem of drug addiction, particularly the heroine addiction of too many of Vermont residents, linked both to the legalization of opiates that initiate the problem for many and the criminal approach to those who are addicted, commonly known as the 'war on drugs' that is simply not working.
While pointing to the difference between drug-dependent people for whom the society does not have, and does not need to have any fear, and those whose actions required a frightened response (the legal system) the governor is hoping and planning to present legislation that directs, trains and implements social policies that can be administered to accomplish two fundamental goals: the reduction of costs for incarceration, and the rehabilitation of those who have become addicted.
So far, "highly enlightened" is the way we would characterize the Vermont Governor's thinking. He has a problem, and a proposed solution. He has also courageously brought the problem out of the closet.
We would like to speculate, not so much on the public processes, as on the root causes, which, although highly complex and multilayered, can nevertheless be teased out of the culture that has evolved in the United States, and also in many other countries around the world.
Underlying too many of our social and political problems is the language that frames too many debates, and the attitudes that gestate that kind of perception. We have aborted time, by magnifying the nano-second and attempting to grab all of the extrinsic, extreme and orgasmic rewards from that instant, at the expense of a longer, less needy, less neurotic and less narcissistic motive. And of course, that "clutching and grabbing" is little more than a desperate feeling of scarcity:
  • of too little hope,
  • of expectations being dashed,
  • of things falling apart that used to work,
  • of institutions failing in their tradition, assigned roles and expectations,
  • of corporate, political and traditional "public leaders" demonstrating the same attitudes, and inevitably stumbling on the same shoals of instant gratification, personal aggrandizement in the pursuit of phoney and merely extrinsic prizes
  • of too many parents out of work
  • of too many cupboards empty of food
  • of too many deaths and too much denial of its meaning and purpose 
  • of too many super-bugs and too little acknowledgement of how too many antibiotics produced them
  • of too many texts and twitters devoid of both content and connection
  • of too many guns in too many hands and too little promise of restraint
  • of too many wars and too many refugees and too little hope of truce
  • of too many digital devices and too much distraction
  • of too much activity and too little meaning
  • of too much frenetic competition and too few, if any intrinsic rewards
  • of too much globalization and too little fairness in its application
  • of too much insouciance and too little truth telling
  • of too much power and wealth at the top and too little "trickling down"
  • of too much heat and too little water in too many places
  • of too much incontrovertible and indisputable evidence of human complicity in global warming and too much denial and avoidance of prevention
  • of too many fires and too little prevention
  • of too many broken lives and no comprehension of shared responsibility for those lives
  • of too many examples of runaway "trains" carrying too much danger without public and applied brakes or the promise of brakes
  • of the pursuit of too many 'hits' and too few hugs
  • of too much preaching and no listening, for the obvious reason that it has worn out its usefulness, its relevance and its caring
  • of the quantifying of one's reputation through the acquisition of things, cars, houses, degrees, office space, and digital devices and the concomitant dependence on money, too much for some and too little for too many
Of course, this list is reminiscent of the existentialist moment, on a grande scale, leaving us all having to confront, without a culture of adequate support, training, skill-development and perspective, that moment when we all become painfully conscious of our own meaninglessness. And the corollary to that moment is that each individual is responsible for finding and executing meaning in that individual life. How does the corollary of taking responsibility become activated if and when  the moment is collective, unconscious, and denied?
 And when that moment, on a collective, unconscious level is paired with all the readily available placebos and more penetrating pain-killers (of the psychic and the physical and emotional variety)and when that moment is also paired with the denial of the reality in which we are living, a denial so profound that only micro-glimpses emerge from the occasional academic study without a framework or a public lens to evaluate its validity....then we have a rush into a kind of oblivion merely to survive, at least for the moment.
Really that rush into oblivion and painlessness is a loud and primal scream both to stop the madness and to find others who feel and are prepared to confront the same emptiness.
Like Leningen's ants merely following their own kind to oblivion, we are all in a vehicle that is careening over a very steep cliff to our own self-immolation, with no responsible driver and no safety net, yet with an engine so powerful and so unleashed that it cannot be stopped.

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