by Harvey Sarles
The pace of change increases: in the world of work, in the vastness of information, in the unease of ordinary living.
We react, get angry, try to blame; try to adjust. We seek calm and community even as we isolate and insulate ourselves, further driving the sense of felt change. We seek palliatives: conceptual and emotional pills, look outward, ponder schemes of redoing all that stuff which seems to frame our experience.
Attempting to becalm ourselves, we may meditate, commune with our inner selves; try to be nice, seek answers from ancient thinkers, booksâ€¦guarantees.
Mostly we react, living on the edges of our ragged nerves. Little do we analyze the times for understandable patterns, or look to history for examples of similar times. Less do we look inward, to renew but also to move on: to grow, rethink.
What is change; why now; why us? How can we move the institutions which seem to divest us of our sense of spiritual being? Where do we seek the meaning which might grant us the strength and will to move on thoughtfully? How do we…?
I first presented this talk just before July 4th, a few years before the millennial shift. July 4th is really Independence Day, a fact from a history which seldom resonates in our thinking: more a day when we gather to watch fireworks and to praise the day off from work, a holiday. I hoped that this talk would consider change, and also stimulate some sense of history, of the wonder of where we are and how we got here. Perhaps we might critique, reexamine, envision, wonder together where and how we are.
The topic is change: what we do with it; what itâ€™s doing to us; some ways of rethinking these volatile times.
The setting: the classroom where I am teacher in dialogue with students over questions of oneself and others, how we deal with these times and with one another; a course titled Issues in Cultural Pluralism, set as an argument between change and fixity, especially as they define the human condition.
The argument is between Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) and the ancient philosopher Aristotle, whose writings on Politics somehow continue to permeate our thinking. Jeffersonâ€™s idea is that all people are created equal. Aristotle wrote that some (hu)men are destined by nature to be kings, and others to be slaves.
The relevance to the topic of change has two main prongs: 1) how to think about the nature of change – e.g., embrace it, deny it, try and stop it; and 2) whether we can change during our lifetimes; or are we destined to be one way or another by our birth or by nature.
Aristotleâ€™s idea of human destiny resists change by making our fate seem predetermined and fixed, while Jeffersonâ€™s ideas refer to experience, change, and process as lifeâ€™s pursuits. These ideas can powerfully influence, even shape our personal being, our institutions, and our forms of government.
In moments such as the present, when the perception and experience of change (call it felt change) increase to the point where we feel stretched and stressed, these ideas rise anew. They compete and clash in this period of perceived instability. Aristotleâ€™s ideas resonate a great deal as they seem to offer a solution to change which is principally to search for fixity or constancy in our affairs; while Jeffersonâ€™s notions of equality often seem to push for even more change: perhaps especially when the rich get richer, and claim that they deserve what they get/got.
In times of great change, there is some yearning, a wanting to steady the world. Aristotleâ€™s direction is toward a centralized power, a kingship, aristocracy, or oligarchy doing the ruling; while the rest move toward peonage. The idea is that those who are somehow destined to rule should get busy and productive, and the rest should stand aside. Aristotle believes in a clear hierarchy; the metaphorical base for his thinking is the thoughtful mind or spirit which rules over the unthinking body.
As these ideas may be applied to personal being, to institutions, and government, we are left wondering how to think about change. Especially we wonder how to deal with ourselves, vacillating between various temptations: passivity or activity, joining or fighting, hoping for a benevolent despot or wanting to get off at the very next planet.
Call it the 3rd wave of technology, the information age, the global moment, much of what we actually experience is change: change from what we thought would be by now, change in our personal lives, change in our ideas of the future, accelerating change in the idea of change, itself.
So what? Life is change, we may tell ourselves. But whatâ€™s up and at risk is a lot of how we think about the future, thus about the present. Do we even think much about the future as we grasp for stable times?
This seems to be an unscripted time, a moment in history in which our ideas of the future seem really murky, unclear, unsure. From a teacherâ€™s perspective, it is also not very clear how to teach or train students, because the very nature of future work is unclear in such changing times. Our work is shifting rapidly and radically from making things to service: outsourcing is the cover term for a global shift of work from here toâ€¦there.
How to prepare for a world whose future is unscripted? What should be taught, or not? These are complicated questions.
This period of felt change recalls our attention to some underlying ideas of the great Western tradition of which we are heirs. Our experience tells us that change and continuity or permanence are paradoxical: some truth to both; sometimes a lot of change, other times not much. But right now change looms very large. If our lives are a balancing act between the poles of a tippy axis, we are maybe balancing, but now more precariously.
At some moments, and in some ways, much of life is very steady. We still go to sleep every day, get up, eat, drink, do our days. Much of life is regular and seemingly well regulated.
The other pole of the paradox is change, which seems to be growing at an ever increasing pace. This perception throws our own sense of being to one pole of the axis of change and permanence, feeling like too much change borders on chaos. We are tipsy, out-of-balance, a bit nervous that we might be falling off. (Then there is more and more technology which is, itself, changing rapidly, doingâ€¦whatâ€¦to our being and thinking?)
The usually balanced paradox reveals in moments of great change, that a kind of hidden axis of change and chaos is driving our experience. No wonder we want to get off this axis, and may seek permanence and continuity if only to have some sense of control over our feelings, who we are, the world, the future. Very big stuff, experientially; but difficult to unpack!
I suspect that change is the way of the world only until it increases too much; then we want to stop experience and get off the chaos axis. Invoking older theories of human nature is one way to do this. Another is to look to theories outside of nature, the supernatural, to tell us that permanence – in this case, the eternal – is a way of acting as if change can be stopped or controlled by making life into some sort of preparation for death. That is, the rise of conservative religion is directly associated with this period of felt change.
Our tradition of Western thought, inspired mainly by Aristotle and his teacher, Plato, is particularly a means of stopping change by saying that our lives are predestined; i.e., The Bell Curve. I donâ€™t think it any accident that Allan Bloom, one of the chief spokesmen for the current neoconservativism, was a scholar and champion of Platoâ€™s works, as was his teacher, Leo Strauss. For them, truth and authority reside in the past, in famous texts, in the sense that the prophets and seers knew all there is to know…leaving the present, where?
A move to the poles of this axis of change and permanence, calls our attention to this powerful paradox. Change, whenever it gets too big, reveals the other pole of the change and permanence axis.
We react, trying to stop change by grasping for ideas of permanence and continuity: favorite places are in religious and philosophical texts â€“ analysts like Machiavelli who taught how to grasp and to grab power – using the thinking of various ancient figures who proposed these ideas in other times of great perceived change.
Much of the sense of felt change is pushed by the rapidly increasing pace of technology development. While we seem to accept many new products and ideas, and are able to place each next transformation into some conceptual background, it is important to review what is happening to us as technology and change accumulate and accelerate.
We donâ€™t, for example, have a very good critical sense of what television is doing to our thinking. Most of us donâ€™t read much any more: newspapers are failing or shifting to online production; we get most of our information from the internet, or from TV or talk-radio. Is passively obtained, and vibrant information substituting for knowledge that we formerly gained from active reading and quiet thought? Does information without thoughtful active reading knowledge, accelerate the sense of felt change? As one author characterizes these times: the self is saturated, full-up, unable to absorb any more(1). Even a little bit more change can feel like an assault.
History and present experience are interwoven in complex ways. As we often use history to inform and interpret the present, play with history has become an art form with television. This is revisionism, ways of re-seeing and recasting history to manipulate our present experience. So called spin doctors continually revise history, which acts to revise our understanding of the present. It is truly difficult to understand present experience when the media are playing full-time with our thinking.(2)
Other imports of the technological revolution include conceptual issues. We are undergoing some massive changes in our understandings. Example: the instantaneous globe. The view of the earth in the late 1960s looking back from the moon, created for the very first time in human history the concept that the globe is truly one, that CNN and ITN can be anywhere in the world instantaneously.
All the people from the entire globe, now here in our lives, interwoven actually and conceptually. Ideas from way outside the Western tradition are powerfully affecting our own: just one example, the ideas of wellness transported here principally from South and East Asia are right now affecting the practice of Western (so-called Scientific medicine).(3) Much of so-called alternative medicine, for example, attracts us greatly; some for good reason.
But this movement is also undermining some of the privileged relationship between curers and patients. The power of curing is passing from physicians/curers who act in our best interest, to accountants whose primary drive is toward economy. Patients become consumers just as students have become consumers. Is nothing sacred? Is anyone at home? Change toward what?
Another technologically revealed paradox: we have joined the entire globe, but are all feeling more isolated, yearning for real community while we watch the vast populations of the earth scampering across the tube. We have become a nation of isolates looking for community, finding and joining audiences of millions watching the world, but not finding one another in ways in which we can find energy, synergy, respect, understanding, love, or hope. Immigration? We canâ€™t seem to come to terms with the facts of immigration, focusing on ill-defined illegality, waiting forâ€¦?
Artificial intelligence, the advances in computing are breathtaking; biotechnology, is changing the very nature of species, and fooling with some 5 billion years of natural evolution overnight in chemistry labs. Patenting species. Cloning babies. Whew! Nanotechnology? The history of morality and ethics never foresaw the idea that we might predict who will likely get a dread disease in the future…sometime. Are we so mortgaging the idea of the future, that it leaves us outside of our own time and place?
Exciting technology, mixed blessings, heightening the sense of paradox, driving many of us to worry about change, trying to halt it.
The market economy, hurried by TV, has great power in enticing us to believe the images which it presents to us. Is image everything? Is image at war with reality? Representations without human presence? Where are we? Artificial Intelligence? Robots more exciting thanâ€¦?
We donâ€™t understand fully what television is doing to our thinking: the ways we understand ourselves or one another. No wonder many people look to alter reality through drugs. No wonder we wonder about the mystical to tell us about reality. No wonder we look to continuity and stability to stop the spinning and the spin doctors. Hey good looking, nothingâ€™s cooking unless we are tall and slender and photogenic. Truth is what looks good! Myself is my self-image? Where does that leave (the real) me?
Important especially for those of us who try to understand the world of ideas, the market economy has brought with it the idea that money and fame are more central and worthy of our interest than knowledge, understanding, or authority. Everyoneâ€™s a consumer or customer now, all living in the world of caveat emptor: let the buyer beware. Cynical realism is the technical term!
Who is important? Being in the company of the famous people, showing up on the talk shows, is somehow worth more than what we know or how well we think. That is, authority has been replaced by celebrity and spectacle.
Another paradox reveals itself: While responding to too much felt change, we react by yearning for more change. The big-news-day has left the rest of our days seeming fairly empty, slow, and boring. We yearn for something to happen, leaving the ordinariness of our lives as feeling like nothing is happening. The richnesses of simply being have become banal, while we seek out the next trials and tribulations of the rich and famous, reducing and diminishing ourselves to passive observers of our own being.
All is representation, images. Barney is replaced by Lion King is replaced by Pocohantas in a Disneymated wonderland where sci-fi is much more interesting than science per se. Our kids are saturated by video images, experts in rhetorical manipulation so that by age 4 or 5 they demand a level of artistry in everyday life which we parents and teachers find impossible to fill. Bored with the mundane, can only the successfully bored do well in the worlds and bureaucracies we have created to manage one another?
What is real? Stories, images, representations, narratives? No wonder we seek out ancient texts to tell us how we are; and that we are. No wonder we look to religion which is no less real than other narratives, and has been historically powerful in ameliorating the felt effects of rapid change. If I stop the world, will I find myself?
Truth in the world of caveat emptor? Bah! Blah!
2. The Crisis in Meaning
Loss of the Idea of Progress and Purpose
Another reason to think about Jefferson is that the ideas of the 18th century which led the soon-to-be United States to declare its independence, also promised us that we would continually move forward.
This idea of independence was also an idea about the future: that change could be – would be – progressive, purposive, toward a better future. We would form a good and great country, be able to live better lives, be self-determining, able to pursue happiness…and be able to figure out what that means in good times; and in other times.
However, in this moment of great change, we are much less sure that the future portends progress. We are less sure that we can rule ourselves: donâ€™t much trust others, donâ€™t trust ourselves so much, and look toward ancient texts – philosophical and religious – to tell who we are and who we are to be.
Change-as-progress has lost its sense of direction. We are tempted to move to some notions of the past where all seemed well; where those who ruled (maybe) knew what they were doing. Aristotle is still alive and kicking especially when we get nervous about the future.
Trust him. Trust yourself? We have moved from a once healthy skepticism about what makes sense where we could trust ourselves to know what we are doing, and have become much more cynical about truth and other peopleâ€™s motivations. This cynicism moves in its turn to a destructive nihilism; a slippery slope from doubt about some claims to truth, to the crippling doubt that there is any truth, anywhere. Progress and purpose often seemâ€¦well, foolish. Science->fiction?
Much of the loss of the idea of progress has been pushed by technology. â€œBetter living through chemistryâ€ has been replaced in Dupontâ€™s logo by â€œBetter things for better living.â€ But it is now quite clear that technology is a mixed blessing. â€œBetter wars through better bombsâ€ is a bitter underbelly reminding us that life and the earth are more fragile than we had wanted to think. Too many products are chasing too many people chasing too many cars burning too much fuel scorching our earth.
Yet another paradox: the successes of medicine enabling us to live longer so that we can push worries of death further and further away, now raises odd questions about social security and the point of living till 100 and beyond. Living longer is its own purpose? Retire from hard work, perhaps; but toward what? Progress? Assistedâ€¦?
To repeat: cynicism rules in a time when meaning has lost some of its directions. We move from the rational and scientific idea of a healthy skepticism, to a cynicism which tells us that nothing means very much, to a kind of destructive nihilism which hints that life itself has no meaning.
This is surely pushed by the notion that all of our institutions are or ought to be just like businesses: that we are all consumers and customers. The irony of this movement becomes clear when we confuse students with consumers. Consumers-customers are supposed to operate in the world of skepticism and cynicism, caveat emptor. Students live in relation to their teachers, to knowledge, and motivated toward their futures. Consumers live in the present, students in the future. If there are no students, is there any meaning to the idea of the future?
The loss of progress and purpose now translates into a crisis in meaning in which there is no current authority in ourselves or in others to help direct us, and little sense of direction of what forward might mean. Woe is us! 0r, time out! Or, only God knows!
The Millennial Moment
These time are certainly complicated. And if change itself isnâ€™t enough to set off a crisis in meaning, and progress seems to many like regress, the time of our calendar has entered a most unusual moment; at least for a lot of people.
While most of us looked forward (that idea of the future again) to the end of last century and the end of two thousand (Christian calendar) years with some anticipation of opportunity and new energy, we have also moved into a moment where an ancient text provides a particular prophecy. Rather than this prophecy from the Biblical Book of Revelation carrying us forward into any progressive sense of the future, it tells us a powerful story which spells the very end of time.
This narrative tells us of the return of the messiah in a moment which will return the good folks to (a Christian idea of) Heaven and to God in a moment of rapture. And the rest of us will presumably be condemned to a hellish existence left behind and abandoned for all eternity: a millennial or messianic moment at the end of a thousand years – so the prophet reveals to us.
This prophetic story is very exciting and powerful in its narrative, and seems to be rapidly gathering interest as the calendrical millennial moment continues to gatherâ€¦momentum. It takes us directly into that most interesting (and for many, urgent) paradox – life and death – and blends them in a way which is very appealing to many. It also seems to solve problems of change; in this case, once and for all. The paradox of change and permanence gets resolved on the side of permanence: Heaven, the deity, our souls get to return to the place where they â€œbelong.â€
What it also does is to call attention away from life experience and existence. Time, change, all of these vexing issues which can drive us to distraction, are finally put to rest. Questions of present and future, even of the past, diminish in comparison with this singular offering of eternity and eternal life.
Questions of meaning and progress are engulfed in the singular sense of purpose of a Christian return to Heaven; souls being saved even as our bodily existence fades in importance. Change, experience, life itself, are mostly illusory; chimerical. â€œRow, row, row, your boat,â€ the song admonishes us, â€œlife is but a dream.â€
Life, change and progress are eclipsed with the paradox of life and death. This is a theological way of solving the problems of felt change by declaring that time, history, progress and all, have no meaning, no real reality. We observe an increasing number of people who are attracted to this prophecy in reaction to the destabilizing power of change on our ideas of future, present, and past.
If the ancient Chinese proverb/curse – may you live in interesting times – is taken seriously, these surely are…interesting times. Calmness and harmony are not useful admonitions in these unfolding millennial times.
An Unscripted Future
With ever increasing advances/changes in technology, the very nature of work is changing radically. Due especially to the rapidly changing nature of work, it is very difficult for most of us to visualize our futures very clearly.
Yet it seems to us that modes of preparation for work and for life were not always so complicated: work hard, study hard, play the game right, and things would take care of themselves. The American dream seemed clear with few interruptions to disturb our paths of thinking or doing: work hard, study hard, it seemed so obvious.
Now with issues of the reinvention of work, downsizings, shifts to service economies, none of this seems sure or clear. Global economies, NAFTA, do even the boundaries of our nation contain holes? Few of us much richer, many of us increasingly poor: it is difficult to discern where fault lies; even what it means. Work hard? Towards what? Dream on!
Decisions made once and for all in work, family, in the nature of oneâ€™s character – now seem somewhat vague; for many of my students fairly opaque. Get a life might have been good advice not too many years ago, but now there is a kind of disconnect between what one is doing or preparing for, and what actually might be. Even in the professions there are no guarantees. Connect with others; disconnect from ourselves, from our futures?
Get an education has been replaced by get a credential…to do…to be…what? Does it make any difference…what? And do it quickly: four years; guaranteed! We are very unsure about the future, but want to purchase it with degrees.
In a deeply ironic sense, we suspend much of the present as we try to deal with the future. We spend a great deal to insure our futures; pay mortgages, health, and life insurance. But we donâ€™t feel sure that what we do now will have much actuality when the time comes to…pay off or cash in. Loyalty to jobs, to one another, perhaps even to oneâ€™s own sense of self cannot be cast very far forward in our thinking.
For the educator, for the student, this creates some especially interesting problems. What should one teach in an unclear time, toward an unscripted future? What skills and knowledge should one aim toward, in a world where uncertainty is a virtual given, and promises derived from the past have few or no contractual guarantees?
Surely we all aim to be able to stand on our feet in the midst of the most changing and unpredictable of worlds. No simple curricular fixes here: no skills which will surely last or sell.
Some directions: how to think out the world, no matter what; critical thinking skills, ability to analyze, to infer, to surmise; to think out what one is doing. But these skills need to be cast within critical historical readings of how the world is working, cultural perspectives, issues of opportunities and costs, what are ideas, how to be strong yet flexible, what does it mean to be truly human? Donâ€™t think about history? – then we are doomed to reinvent it!
This is not the first time in history that change has accelerated. The ideas in which we cast the world are not all new either. In fact, some of them were developed to deal with other times of great felt change. What can we learn from a critical understanding of the past without needing to reinvent some version of that past to feel safe, at home, and comfortable that we can deal with the future whatever it may bring?
We need to think about who we are, what it means in any moment to be someone of depth; to be able to regenerate some sense of purpose and directedness, to be a person of integrity and honesty who can find oneâ€™s bearings no matter what; to be a person who can trust oneself, in whom others may find some depth of character. And we need to be somewhat open, not knowing what will be. This is a tall order, especially in these times which seem to worship celebrity.
Better think it out with some very good minds with whom you can enter into dialogue!
Letâ€™s hope that some of those minds stand on some more solid grounds than the rest. My mantra as a teacher is that I can help to inspire my studentsâ€™ futures.
3. Hope and Vision
Sacred within the Secular
The temptation in times of great change is to look for meaning outside oneself, even outside of our natural existence. We may look to the supernatural, religion; to mysticism or spirituality; drugs. Or we are tempted to look to older ideas and texts for solutions and answers to these complicated times. These may act to handle the experience of change feeling too much like chaos, and give us forms of inspiration and meaning which seem more certain than ongoing experience. The past: Yes! The future?
All of this is quite understandable. But it also has a great power in diminishing our own experience, self-reflection, and understanding in the ongoing present.
Instead of abandoning oneâ€™s experience, I think it is particularly important in these times to look inside: at ourselves; with and at the others with whom we share this life, working together with thought, love, and responsibility.
There is, however, nothing certain in the ongoing present – no quick fixes, no work, no theory of being, no maps, no obvious solutions to lifeâ€™s problems – to provide us direction or the sorts of sureness and clarity for which we might be yearning.
What we can begin to study are those arenas within life and the secular, which are sacred. These are the places where persons yield some aspects of their being to another: to curers, teachers, parents, friends, spouses.
If one is not physically well, one yields oneâ€™s body (literally) to a curer; most dramatically to a surgeon who does a smaller harm in order to gain a larger cure. One yields aspects of oneâ€™s mind or spiritual being to a (deserving) teacher, who promotes the possibility of greater growth. Similarly, oneâ€™s m/other give greatly to her children who put themselves in her care. As my studentâ€™s teacher, I attempt to inspire the future.
If the Teacher (now capitalized and critically thoughtful about oneâ€™s responsibility) enters into a thoughtful dialogue with students, the assuredness of futurity is greatly enhanced: study with an older, more experienced person, a person of integrity with a love of knowledge, a trust in her or his authority. Such a Teacher can often enter deeply into the thinking of students now and toward their futures. (Most of the successful people I know have at least one such Teacher still wandering actively in their minds â€“ even after many years.)
The dialogue is important in several senses: students can enter the thinking of their Teacher to see how ideas work and resonate; to see and study the nature of the teaching authority, so they may learn to grant themselves authority; to observe and thoughtful and critical minds at work with them.
To study with…not take a course from, or under…is teaching as dialogue. As the aim of teaching is toward the students becoming auto-didacts (self-teachers), the handing of culture to the next generation who are the future, is an active aspect of teaching as dialogue.
There are sacred areas with the secular. We all have to be more thoughtful about entering into them, our relationships, and mutual responsibilities.
Meaning and futurity generate themselves within these conceptual spaces. And wisdom hovers.
Creation of Conceptual Space
With the authority students grant to me – authority over knowing and thinking – it is often possible to open up conceptual space for many students.
â€œYouâ€™ve got forty, fifty, or more years of creative life,â€ I might say. â€œTake on some task, some realm of ideas which are barely possible. Beyond the ten or fifteen weeks of this course, what would you like to try? Who would you really like to be?â€
â€œHm-m,â€ they respond. (They think: â€œjust tell me the facts please!â€ â€œWhat do you want us to do?â€)
â€œYâ€™know, there are ideas and stuff in here, in there, which you havenâ€™t even imagined yet. Maybe no one has. Human nature? The very idea of the globe, all those peoples and ideas coming together just now. How can we live together?ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Sustain peace?
â€œWhat an interesting moment to be alive! Can any of us be sufficiently strong, can we generate the knowledge and confidence to live with difference? Can we handle angers without feeding any vengeance? Can you or I look back from, say, age 80 or 90 and tell ourselves we are doing something interesting? Something productive? Growing, not just adding facts or information, but really growing? Going beyond today, so that I can look back and see where I was, where I have come, how I have moved. A task deserving of a life well-lived?â€
Or with older persons who are discovering that they would like to rethink or explore some new realms of thought or ideas: â€œItâ€™s probably useful to begin thinking about ideas and issues right now. Ideas, themselves, have a history: some of the issues of right now are those which were thought about in ancient Athens. Some of them are still in our thinking today? How come? How does that happen?â€
â€œThey seem to have a politics, these ideas. They give us power, even create the idea of power. Should they? Should we accept them uncritically? Do they apply to these complicated times? They have a market, a sociology of knowledge: do we buy or sell; get on or off the bandwagon? Can we look outside at other traditions in this now global world; those traditions whose heirs we now know as neighbors and fellow citizens. How do we understand them? Does understanding them help us to understand ourselves and the world better, more critically? Toward some shared ideas of futurity?â€
Much opens up in here, for all of us. The possibilities are palpable: that there is much more thought, knowledge, and conceptual growth. The likelihood that we can (all) move on well, critically, thoughtfully, creates the openings we all need to grasp the idea of futurity with some positive sense that we can find understanding, no matter what…
Towardness and Becoming
The temptation to stop the world grows during times of great felt change. We lose purpose and meaning. We tend to respond to any sense of crisis by looking to solutions outside of our own lives: in ancient texts, in the supernatural, in the market of ideas; lots of places outside our own being.
With television especially, the growth of market economy has created in us the sense that celebrity is more important than authority: we dote on the famous, react passively to images floated past our eyes, and forget that we are doing the viewing and yielding spirit to spectacle. We have become consumers of our own visualizations: life is image and representation, cynical and hard!
But life itself has its sacred centers. The problem is what to do positively and within life with concerns of an unscripted future, the sense that we are about to lose control at every next moment, or that events, economies, and institutions are too powerful and beyond our ken or power to do anything.
My observation is, in this changing moment, that each of us, including our institutions, is involved and invested in the swirls of change. While it may be easier to think that the idea of a market will somehow decide, it is important to remember that it is you and I and others pretty much like us who decide, who yield, who buy and sell, whose activities will actually determine much of the future. If we donâ€™t tell and act, who will?
Beyond defending ourselves against some unclear sense of change, what is there to do? We can begin to study the ongoing present: The Present Age.
We can acknowledge that these times are complicated, and that we need to begin to change ourselves in order to change our institutions and make them more livable and human.
We have to think about character and vocation, stuff and work appropriate to the longest life; not career and success in the small politics of making-it right now. What is my best imagination of who I would be? What are my â€œNext Placesâ€ at any moment of my changing being?
If we are to take responsibility for others, we have to begin with ourselves. While we are all cynical realists with respect to market issues, we need to harbor and explore parts of ourselves which have continuity and integrity: hope, but with critical understanding and some strength and critical self-trust. If not, then we are all totally susceptible to the next spectacle or celebrity trial to give us meaning or provide enough new NEWS to make the day, each day.
The idea of self-esteem is very useful, but only a beginning. One also needs to ask about self-authorizing: how do I trust what I know, and who I am? How can I grow? Do I rethink myself, study the hard issues? How can I grasp what is happening to the world; to me? Where is my firm ground-ing?
What about others? One needs good critical friends: a person or two or three who can like me, and can tell me where I have strayed, sold off some bits of my character; a teacher or mentor; some good, thoughtful minds who can speak their minds directly without always seeking fame; someone who trusts oneself, has some knowledge, thinks out the world with some others; my spouse.
It helps to study oneself, to affirm to others I know or work with, that I am interested in their thinking, their being. If our institutions would change, it requires that we become critical thinkers, and develop some sense of where I and they would go; could go.
I would like at least one University, for example, seriously to take on the issues of change and futurity directly; to study and to discuss publicly how the world of work is changing, how you and I may find some ground upon which to stand and think while we feel the impingements of huge technologies upon our being.
What power, for example, do the new technologies have upon our thinking about ourselves? Do we serve them; or do they serve us? – seems now too simple to cope with the realities of global information or genetically engineered, literally new species: most of the peoples of the world moving to cities; the nature of curing changing even as we enter into dialogue together; how to teach in changing times with some sense of towardness and becoming which will grow as we all get older; how to sustain the world in these volatile and fractious times.
Toward some senses of purpose, approaching life more through wonders of living than from fear of change…
Toward some future dialogues in which we meet minds and spirits, and thinking through the ongoing present…together. Letâ€™s talk. Soon!
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