Archive for August 12, 2005

In Cold Blood

August 12, 2005 1 comment

When a particularly violent crime occurs and it seems as though the perpetrator has no remorse, we may say that this happened “in cold blood.”

This is another way of explaining what I’ve been trying to communicate about our nonstop bombardment of information and sensuous experiences. From the web to the television to billboards to advertising (anywhere and everywhere) to newspaper headlines, we are assaulted on a daily basis with more information than we can fully process. So what happens? We become indifferent.

In fact, our school systems are set up to break the subjectivity out of the subject. So all of our learning is third person–casual observer. From kindergarten, we learn to be good materialist scientists: observing the world from a cold state of indifference.

How many people actually grieve over the deaths in Iraq? How many wept with those who lost their retirements during the Enron crisis? We know a little about a lot of people’s business but along the way we forget how to feel.

As James Houston once said, “We know more than we can love.”

Or as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (ERH) said, “People who know too much, without sympathy and without antipathy are the curse of the earth today. They know more than they should know, and that they can know, and that they may know.”

We watch life as non-participants. After I was writing the other day, I was listening to a lecture that ERH gave in 1967, and he said what I was aching about, but he says it in a much more articulate manner. He suggested we live in a time when people are not encouraged to identify with what they learn. So we stand on the outside looking in–instead of entering into the struggle of history. Listen to a few of his thoughts:

“What you know about world history is not yours unless you appropriate it, unless you say on day, “That’s really me. I would have done the same.” ..Without identity, no history. And the great illness of all the professors . your examinations on history is that they allow you to write papers without your participation. You aren’t asked to identify yourself with this. What’s this? Do we sit in judgment while the Trojans had to be destroyed by the Greeks? Only if you weep for Hector, or if you participate in the rape of Helena. Otherwise, it’s not your business to know it at all. And that’s why Homer had to write the story in such a way that you may weep. Otherwise, if you read it, you do harm to your soul. And you all do harm to your soul 10 times a day…And that’s why you at the end become totally indifferent people.”

“It’s very serious. You see, the ordinary man at the filling station is much less in danger of his soul today than you are. You are allowed to read too much, to know too many things, and not to know them at all. And that is no use. It spoils you; it ruins you. How can you educate a child, if the child knows that have 90 percent of your knowledge in indifference? In cold blood.”

“…And they speak of urbanization and of rubble heaps, you see, in the cities. But it’s not the visible rubbish heaps. It’s the invisible rubbish heaps in your brain, in your skulls that is so terrifying. If you listen and know a thousand more things than you can take sides, for or against. That is very difficult to avoid, I know.”

He goes on to speak of memory. We need memory. We need to know where we came from and who we are. We need to be able to say our name, knowing our identity. Not what I do for a living: my name, my history, my family, my connection to other humans. Otherwise, we grow indifferent. We think nothing of the deaths from the nightly news or the nightly feast of murders on various television programs or movies.

In one sense, life is about taking our stand in relationships. Bearing the joy and sorrow of others. Entering into the pains and trial of history. Bearing the cross. I don’t write these thoughts to point the finger at others: only at myself.

For the last 15 years, I’ve been trying to learn to live and act more intentionally, more relationally. And yet, I am ever aware of my shortfalls and the ways in which I succumb to the barrage of banality.

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