Archive for August 6, 2005

Social Gatekeepers

August 6, 2005 Leave a comment

The modern world was founded with the notion of affirming the individual—it has succeeded in creating a homogenous society that reproduces itself around the world and gradually eliminates the individual. Every country has a McDonalds and every child wants to go to Disney World.

At least that is the way is was supposed to work. But suddenly, everyone didn’t want to be the same. In fact, some people were mad that “dead white males” had created the world we live in. And so they opened their mouths and started talking. Everyone at once: feminists, indigenous people groups, homosexuals, heterosexuals, conservatives, liberals, various races. Actually we’re not one at all, but multiple tribes with multiple ways of seeing the world. And if the truth be confessed, we’re all in tribes of one.

As Plato says somewhere (?), each of us thinks we are god. This is the curse/blessing of particularity. RD Laing realized this when he said that “I can experience my experience, and you can experience your experience, but I cannot experience your experience.” Or as one of my college professors once said, “We’ve gone to the moon but I would suggest that the distance from one human heart to another is even greater.”

The Social Gatekeepers I mentioned before, helped hold some kind of peace “however tenuous” between these tribes. If I accept the idea that I must become my own gatekeeper without qualification, I am accepting the possibility that each of us may move farther and farther apart as we choose to view reality through our own filters without a common intervening force. That what’s a social gatekeeper is. It is a common intervening force built on a framework that the participants accept as valid.

Alexis de Toqueville was fascinated by what he saw in America, but suggested experiment in individualism would only work as long as we had strong commitments to family, community and government. These three realms prevented democracy from descending into an abyss of unrestrained individualism. When I use the term social gatekeepers, I am looking at the forces that help keep us connected by maintaining or reinforcing some kind of common language.

This tenous relationship between the one and the many has never been perfect and the modern world erred both ways. So what does the future hold? It will require us struggling with some difficult questions (which many have been wrestling with since the dawn of man). Some of the questions include: What is knowledge? Or How do we know what we know? While there were several minor camps, the modern world had two major camps: one looked at rational thought is the way we know and the other suggested that what we know is only as reliable as what we can see, feel, hear or touch. These two frameworks battled and worked together to help us understand knowledge.

People like Bernard Lonergan struggled with understanding this question in new ways.

Other questions that come to mind is “What is a person?” “What does it mean to be a human person?” This leads to questions about communication, technology, society, destiny, etc.

These types of questions, might help us to begin thinking about How Should We Then Live?(a question that Francis Schaeffer faced and invited us to join him).

When I say that I am a Trinitarian Christian, I am saying I belief that the source of all things is essentially relational—thus relationality is both our origin and our destiny. Working this out in the way I act and think and make decisions is taking a lifetime of shaping and struggle. When I approach these questions of knowing and being, of communicating and creating, I am looking at them through a lens or a presupposition that the one and the many find a common, if not paradoxical, relationship in the mystery of the Trinity (three in one).

Not everyone shares this presupposition, but I believe each of us come to the table with certain presupposition (certain ideas that we build our other ideas upon). It might be worth thinking about our presuppositions and then trying to think and talk more about knowledge, the meaning of person and these others ideas that will shape the larger context of our relationships in society.

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August 6, 2005 Leave a comment

After awaking from a grog and posting earlier this week, I received a variety of responses (both online and offline). One person thought I might be suffering depression, while another suggested canceling satellite could only be a sign of insanity. And oddly, enough many identify with my rambling. Several people suggested that we need to become our own gatekeepers in this less than brave new world. (See comments and ecommunity)
I agree that personal passivity can be a perilous position in this postmodern milieu. We must cultivate thoughtfulness in our actions and relational patterns. Not thoughtfulness as in kindness but thoughtfulness as in living by intention instead of on autopilot. While we may have difficulty verbalizing our value system, it influences our decisions nonetheless.
So it might be helpful to think about what we value and how these values do or not shape our actions. Is our inner world congruent with our outer world? For instance, I may think that I really value relationships and community, but do I act in ways that encourage or discourage community.
When we live passively, there is a tendency to drift toward incongruity. I may complain about lack of time while wasting precious time on mind-numbing activities. I may complain about financial pressures and at the same time accrue more debt on a daily basis by purchasing needless luxuries on credit. These personal incongruities cause stress among other things.
Living intentionally is not as easy as it sounds. Over 10 years ago, I studied community at graduate school and professed my belief that forming healthy, long-lasting relationships is fundamental to being human. I confess that after 10 years of seeking to live more intentionally, I am only beginning to realize the weight of such a commitment.
So the first challenge/question we face is learning to live intentionally in a culture that may view this at times as subversiveness. And I ‘m not talking about some communist regime. For example, anyone who chooses to walk away from the consumerist calling of the average American may considered strange at best and possibly dangerous (cultish) at worst.
One prime example of this might be living in such a way that you believe human life really is valuable—or embracing a culture of life as the late John Paul II would say. The ramifications of such a position will often turn both liberals and conservatives against you.
There is another challenge. In addition to becoming our own gatekeeper (learning to live more by intention and less by drifting), we also face the challenge of living in society. I, the one, live with other people, the many. The challenge of the one and the many has been a question that cultures throughout history have struggled to balance. This is the challenge of balancing universality and particularity. Are we all one as some would imagine? And if not, what keeps us from falling apart into absolute chaos?
But more on that later.

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