A recent college graduate looking into the future….
As far as I can tell, what we think of as the American middle class lives as though they expect nothing to change. To refer again to Heideggerian terminology, we anticipate change without expecting it, just like we can only anticipate Death, but do not expect it to come. We’re in something like the Marxist end of history, convinced subconsciously that it will last forever and that the world goes ever on in a state of improved technological advancement (“better stuff” as someone put to me a couple months ago), high standards of living, peace, health and modern medicine, humanism, office buildings, wars in the Middle East and missions to Mars.
There will be a startling awakening from that false sense of security, coming from different directions and displaying various symptoms, but with the same root cause. I think that this root cause is one of those things so simple, that the most educated people tend to rationalize their focus away from it.
While many people carry on the tradition of living and working and raising their 2.1 kids, there is a growing class of immigrants who seek passionately to earn their share of the American Dream. This by itself, most people are aware of. But they may not have felt the intensity with which many of these people wish to be accepted. How much those receiving government money want to achieve autonomy. How badly many of them feel about what they see as a lack of acceptance. While the old WASP America wants to hold on to its power while assimilating and accepting new people into it, it misunderstands how the future will change were the US to become a majority-minority country. We fail to see how a post-racial and post-oppressive society, even when intended by all parties involved in the transformation, never works out that way. Square pegs into round holes. Things are going to change, and I suspect that the conflicts we’re seeing in Ukraine right now are a hint at what awaits the America of the late 21st century; competing ethnic interests, wealth redistributed from the middle class to the lower class by a wealthy few.
There is a worse alternative though, and that is that I’m way off. What if I’m wrong? What if all this just keeps going on, and we keep growing the economy and people keep working and living without fear of famine, plagues, or slaughters? I can’t pretend I don’t have a vague desire to see everything crumble and turn into a Fallout-style apocalypse where we all have to shoot monsters and scavenge radioactive ruins in order to survive.
The same corrupt thought process which places tolerance and peace in a more desirable realm than violence and harshness implicitly authorizes, permits, and enables the body and will to slip into sedentary weakness, and eventual non-Being. If we never get there, what then? We’ll be slowly and comfortably phased out of all tradition into a spiritual death like zombies, paralyzed. Every ritual will have become a metaphor for consumerism, and every human being will be treated like an interchangeable unit, and even pre-programmed to be so. We know what it’s like to live in a modern era and have technology. We don’t generally imagine what it would be like to have technology along with the values which preceded it. That might have to come after we’re all gone.
Peace is not a value by itself. Comfort it not a value by itself. Doing the right thing for the sole reason that it is the right thing may resonate more deeply in our consciousness than anything else, and yet it may lead us into a slow peaceful oppression. If an object (person, plant, rock, building, star, whatever) does not do what it needs to do in order to preserve itself, it vanishes. If you are ethically predisposed toward peace and tolerance when an invisible war swarms around you, then the victory belongs to the unethical, since survival is obviously a necessary condition for ethics.
I remember in 5th grade when we learned the phrase “making a mountain out of a molehill.” What does it matter?
We are each thrown, or geworfen, (another term of Heidegger’s) into the world, forced to deal with the environment in which we find ourselves. Any conflict is between a person or people against the environment in which they find themselves, which includes the other people. That environment may suit you better than it does me, or the other way around. If I have the will, I can change the environment to suit me. Or I can sit still and allow it to exert its dominion over me. The third option, the postmodern lifestyle, is hostile to almost every culture. Within the little moments of our waking hours, it pulls at our dignity in ways that allow violence to subtly evolve into a disease, shouting at us silently from every direction to seek pain, struggle, conflict.
That conflict is life-affirming. To be exclusive, to say that someone or something does not belong to the group, is necessary for that group to go on. The cruelty of that exclusivity is an exercise in courage. When the mob is telling you to tolerate cancers growing inside it, it is not the mob which gets to revel on its mountain of a moral high ground. The story of a people’s fight goes on between the cracks in the sidewalk, the torn pages of books, the sounds of car horns in traffic, and the gossip of high school hallways, office cubicles, museums, hospitals, prisons, and one day, someplace out of gravity’s reach.