Heschel’s belief that eternity pierces and sacralizes normal time is rendered in prose which pays homage to “the moment”. It feels reminiscent of Eliot at times, but it gets to the heart of Heschel’s identity as a Jew. “Jews have not preserved monuments,” he writes, “they have retained the ancient moments.” These moments, venerated and hallowed, allow us access to eternity. In fact, they might be our only option as port of entry. The onus is on us to remember the holiness of the time as it passes in before us. As Heschel explains, “The days of our lives are representatives of eternity rather than fugitives, and we must live as if the fate of all of time would totally depend on a single moment.” Redemption, in other words, resides in all time or none at all. And the existential imperative to find eternity in the dissipating movements of time is the conclusion anyone seriously studying Jewish mysticism should reach. “The higher goal of spiritual living,” Heschel reminds us, “is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.” Heschel’s writing in this vein is a reassuring reminder that often times we have trouble sensing God, not because of a great distance, but because of an unfathomable proximity.
Manifesto! Ep. 33: Phil is joined by Eugene McCarraher, Professor of the Humanities and History at Villanova University, to discuss his article "A Providentialism Without God: The Case Against Meritocracy" as well as Goya's "The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters"
Even before Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ was published, however, the young political scientist Elinor Ostrom had proven him wrong. While Hardin speculated that the tragedy of the commons could be avoided only through total privatisation or total government control, Ostrom had witnessed groundwater users near her native Los Angeles hammer out a system for sharing their coveted resource. Over the next several decades, as a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, she studied collaborative management systems developed by cattle herders in Switzerland, forest dwellers in Japan, and irrigators in the Philippines. These communities had found ways of both preserving a shared resource – pasture, trees, water – and providing their members with a living. Some had been deftly avoiding the tragedy of the commons for centuries; Ostrom was simply one of the first scientists to pay close attention to their traditions, and analyse how and why they worked.
The features of successful systems, Ostrom and her colleagues found, include clear boundaries (the ‘community’ doing the managing must be well-defined); reliable monitoring of the shared resource; a reasonable balance of costs and benefits for participants; a predictable process for the fast and fair resolution of conflicts; an escalating series of punishments for cheaters; and good relationships between the community and other layers of authority, from household heads to international institutions.
In a more recent example of how the imagination engages the apocalyptic, Slavoj Zizek following Frederic Jameson, infamously quipped that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. He delivers the observation as counterintuitive, as if it is something astonishing, but it makes good sense. Films about the end of the world typically do not force us to engage with the granularity of a specific socio-economic dispensation but instead allow us to tap into a vast imaginative space which has its own literary lineage and therefore aesthetic grammar.
The imagined end of the world is more coherent to us than imagined specific social shifts because the apocalyptic is depicted in more generally comprehensible forms. There probably is not a more preeminent scholar of these forms than the British literary critic Frank Kermode, who confirmed in his The Sense of an Ending the profoundly fundamental human desire for coherent ends and beginnings. Our interest in apocalypse, Kermode writes, “Reflects a deep need for intelligible Ends. We project ourselves—a small humble elect, perhaps—past the End, so as to see the structure of the whole, a thing we cannot do from our spot of time in the middle.”
“I’m allowed to say things other people aren’t and I’ve never been clearly on the left or right,” he told me. “If I was going to put myself on a political map, I skew more towards populism socially and left on economic things. But also I’m very sensitive to the kinds of things libertarians criticize about government overreach. I’m kind of a mess ideologically, really,” he laughs.
As it happens, a plurality of Americans reside in almost precisely the same headspace—supportive of New Deal-like interventionism, but not at all thrilled with strange elite belief systems like the social construction of gender and critical race theory. While this portion of the electorate has grown tremendously, it hasn’t seen much in the way of mainstream or national political representation.
As the ethnic makeup of America changes, it turns out that ethnic minorities tend to embrace the ideological pairing of the New Deal’s vital center—social democratic economic preferences combined with social traditionalism—even more than the “white working class,” a moniker that serves as cover for long-standing WASP disdain for all working people and the working poor, including those of non-European origin.
“I wouldn’t put things the way you do,” Al-Gharbi said kindly, a statement that is undoubtedly true, and likely speaks to virtues that he possesses and I lack. “When I was attacked, I became really motivated to reach people in a new way. I wanted to understand how people who didn’t know me could believe such insane things about who I am, what I’m about, and what I’m trying do. I’m always trying to frame my work in terms of other people’s values, but I’m never disingenuous about it. I never say or write things I don’t believe. Rather, I say things I do believe but in another way.”
An absence of ritual is another reason for the tiredness induced by the home office. In the name of flexibility, we are losing the fixed temporal structures and architectures that stabilize and invigorate life. The absence of rhythm, in particular, intensifies depression. Ritual creates community without communication, whereas today what prevails is communication without community. Even those rituals that we still had, such as football matches, concerts, and going out to the restaurant, theater, or cinema, have been canceled. Without greeting rituals, we are thrown back upon ourselves. Being able to greet someone cordially makes one’s self less of a burden. Social distancing dismantles social life. It makes us tired. Other people are reduced to potential carriers of the virus from whom physical distance must be maintained. The virus amplifies our present crises. It is destroying community, which was already in crisis. It alienates us from each other. It makes us even lonelier than we already were in this age of social media that reduce the social and isolate us.
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