A common political call-to-action is to become an informed citizen; rarely, however, is there the follow-up question: with what information? Schools, ostensibly, are supposed to take care of this national “necessity,” that of having an informed citizenry. Such an obligation of socialization promises nothing specific about the nature of that information.
Generally, let’s assume that governments want (see: need) their citizenry to be informed insofar as the information enables that citizenry’s support of the status quo, i.e. that citizens are indoctrinated into sufficient obedience with any possible rebellion metabolized into harnessable energy. Questioning is permitted as an inevitable fallout of any system; the way that questioning gets framed falls under the direction of the system itself, neutering its potential strength.
In American society, this takes the totally acceptable form of liberalism. Elites can complain all they want; their words are mostly empty. Why? They rarely materialize as practical action, relegated instead to the impotent realm of political thought. When I claim “impotent,” I mean that as long as it’s confined to “the bubble,” it sustains only the air within that closed reality. Nothing changes, but the people within the bubble breathe in the illusion of change.
In truth, they inhale only their own breath, nourished by their ignorance and exhaling it with self-congratulatory glee. What good work we’re doing, raising awareness so relentlessly! Unfortunately, most of our awareness is intellectual, i.e. unmoored from action. We dwell so deeply in problematizing division that we sow seeds of increasingly complex alienation. Postmodern thinking introduced to us the horrible fallout of social constructionist activity, but it’s left us with little to do about it except to notice more and more of its destruction; in fact, all we’re noticing is our own self-destructive habits. We’re eagerly tearing ourselves apart into smaller and smaller discrete pieces, stuck in a feedback loop of scapegoating and shaming. Where in all this negativity can we summon the self-love that might actually propel us into a future that makes us whole again? We’re fragmented, and we mistake our fragmentation as a guarantee of renewal, as if the process of breaking ourselves down is enough to enable the process of putting ourselves back together. We’re Humpty Dumpty.
Facing this abyss doesn’t have to mean peak despair. Instead, we can see it as the optimal sign of hope. Of the possibility of new creation. We don’t have to keep ripping ourselves apart. This isn’t to say we should ignore our past nor our part in and responsibility for “evil.” But we also get nowhere through judgment. Reconciliation and redemption come through forgiveness and love; they do not deny the truth of our past, and in fact, they clear the way for the truth of our present and future. We confront and accept what happened, and we learn from it. We don’t settle into it and whip ourselves and then draw others into this self-renunciation and torture. What good does that do? Don’t look back to the past as the origin of our sins. See it as a part of our ongoing project to be better. Because we are all engaged in a project, the present possibility of our own becoming. The past informs us, it does not condemn us. So let’s stop condemning ourselves. We can be informed, and then we can move forward. Better yet, we can move into our only true home: the present. Starting here and now – knowing of there and then but not being held back by that information – we can embrace our project.
How strange it will feel when we stop hating our destructive habits and start loving our creative possibilities. Those strange projections may save us yet!