Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to Make a Cultural Revolution

Sometimes we think that it’s all about politics. Or Fed policy.  Or reality shows.

Radical thinkers know that if you want to change the world you must change the culture. Perhaps because it’s the path of least resistance, and thus greatest vulnerability.

That’s why the 1960s counterculture wanted to transform American customs and values. It wanted to produce a cultural revolution that would change the way we related to each other.

It wanted us to become more spontaneous, loving, and emotionally labile, by overcoming our propensities to good manners, decorum, and respect for others.

We know that educators, therapists, and journalists have been working on this enterprise. We are less clear about how they have been going about it.

My theory-- for today-- is that they have done so by creating an alternate world, a fictional world, and have been trying to trick us all into living in it. 

We can even call this a possible world, one created by a counterfactual. But not just any counterfactual.

It may be surprising, because our own cultural revolutionaries tend to be atheists and agnostics, but the counterfactual is Biblical in nature and scope.

The counterfactual is simple: What would the world be like if Adam and Eve had not succumbed to temptation and eaten the forbidden fruit.

If our common parents had spurned the serpent’s entreaties, we would all be living in a very different world, a world before the Fall, a world without good and bad, without rampant human pride, without sexual shame, and without sin and death. We would be living in prelapsarian Eden.

This is not quite the same as wishing to return to the state of nature. Still and all, this will to return to a mythic human origin feels reactionary, at the least.

Those who try to live in that world have certainly taken leave of reality. They refuse to recognize reality checks; they do not care whether their nostrums work; they are not even willing to negotiate with the real world.

To define life in prelapsarian Eden, we will lay down a few predicates.

What if you lived in a world where there were no right and wrong? Not necessarily a world before time, but a world before morality and ethical principles.

What if you did not have to choose between doing the right thing or the wrong thing, but could be “free” to “do your own thing?”

During the 1960s countercultural revolution, this phrase permeated the atmosphere. Everyone spoke it, as a mantra, without thinking very much about what it meant, or whether it really meant anything.

If the only thing that matters is whether what you are doing is or is not yours, then you have escaped the world that was created by the first transgression, the world where you can be judged ill for doing the wrong thing. 

If we are living in a world where there is no good or bad, right or wrong, then clearly we have no business judging good or bad behavior. 

If there is no good or bad behavior, then there is only behavior, yours or not yours. If it happens to be yours, then you need to embrace it, to take ownership of it.

If you want to show how well you have adopted these new values, you should refrain from passing judgment on anyone’s behavior, even your own.

Clearly, the first two inhabitants of Eden did not need for social skills. You are not going to have too much trouble relating to your incarnate rib. Nor will you normally find yourself in conflict with the chest from which you issued.

In Eden you do not need to concern yourself with social skills, with the niceties and the decencies that would make you a respected member of society. You do not even have to worry about modesty or sexual transgressions.

How then do you relate to other people in this Edenic world? Emotionally, of course. You feel for them, you care about them, so much so that you wear your heart on your sleeve, and advertise what you are feeling.

Keep in mind that you are the ultimate authority on what you feel. No one can credibly assert that you do not feel what you feel. And no one cannot feel what you feel. Your feelings are yours, and yours alone.

Given their prelapsarian emotional life the denizens of this new world have lots and lots of positive feelings. They do not judge each other; they do not hate; they do not compete; they do not feel anger.

Those negative emotions are reserved for those who have not gotten back to Eden, and thus, who live in a post-lapsarian world.

But what happens when you are sharing the world with people who do not share your values, with troglodytes who have not been touched by the cultural revolution.

Clearly, you must denounce them for trafficking in hate and being consumed by anger. If only they could live in your alternate world, they would not feel these feelings. And then, neither would you.

But, when you get all lathered up about the fact that everyone else is lathered up, don’t you sound just like them? What is the difference between your anger and theirs, aside from the fact that yours is righteous and theirs is depraved?

The difference is easy: if you belong to the morally superior group that lives in a prelapsarian Eden, you are not responsible for your negative feelings.

You hate haters; you are angry at those who are angry; the fault lies in those depraved souls who refuse to join you in the perfect fiction you have chosen as your new habitation.

If you are consumed with negative emotion because the majority of people in this country voted for Republicans last week, to the point where you denounce them as ignorant teenagers throwing a tantrum, well then, you had best find a very good way to rationalize the fact that you are acting like a teenager throwing a tantrum.

Try this: dissociate yourself from your emotions. Blame them on those other people. That way, you can feel anger and fear and still consider yourself a loving and caring individual. You erupted in paroxysms of rage because you care so much.


Robert Pearson said...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too...

Indeed, did anyone ever put the substance of the "prelapsarian" world more precisely than the author of this song? A fantasy world, indeed.

I was at a party not too long ago and someone put this song on the cd, and the next thing you know there were several 50-something professionals singing along with imbecilic smiles on their faces. I strove to maintain a diplomatic demeanor, while thinking to myself "You stopped smoking pot at least 20 years ago, as I did; what the hell are you thinking right now?"

But of course they weren't thinking about what the words mean, they were feeling, feeling that they were back in the fantasy world of their youth, where the reality of what the Universe is had not yet intruded.

My God, I am grateful that the lyrics of that song thoroughly disgust me.

David Foster said...

"The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew into richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they-this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that Man might hope again in wretched darkness."

--Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: Becoming What They Hate Most....

....and Loving It.

The only way these people will be able to achieve their 'perfect world', i.e., one without opposing opinions, is to kill everyone who disagrees with them. And they'll be able to rationalize it.

I'm reminded of the argument for killing all the Christians in the Left-Behind series. That the presence of the Christians prevents the achievement of their 'paradise on Earth'. However, in the effort to achieve said paradise, they make it a literal Hell on Earth.


[Whereas Good can tolerate the existence of Evil. Evil cannot tolerate the existence of Good, as Good will continually be pointing out Evil's faults. Therefore Evil must always try to destroy Good.]