"Again and again some people in the crowd wake up,
They have no ground in the crowd,
And they emerge according to much broader laws.
They carry strange customs with them
And demand room for bold gestures.
The future speaks audaciously through them."
—Rainer Maria Rilke
Where are the people through whom the future speaks? Apparently not in Washington D.C. where everybody’s attention is turned on to sex, lies and videotape. Nobody has “emerged according to much broader laws” inside corporate owned televi-sion either, with its hopelessly redundant, cynical and sophomoric shows. The newspapers only bedevil you with details. There is no vision there, no “strange customs” for comprehensive truth. No future worth having speaks through these media outlets.
It’s weird to talk about cynicism and intolerance when you’re in a good mood. These are heavy subjects to lift up with an essay, but they do invite comment. And though I don’t feel heavy (in fact life is very light at Alternatives Central), you don’t have to feel the gravity to notice the weight of things around you.
I’ve been noticing how prevalent cynical chic is these days, at least with the Left and “progressives.” Cynical chic is a lot about style. Have you noticed it’s often the most cynically articulate among us who is considered the funniest, or the smartest? I guess it’s been a dominant paradigm for a long time so I can’t say that it’s a new development exactly. But I can’t get used to it. Cynical speech in all its guises affects me, sort of like unseen pollution. It gives me an ache in my heart that didn’t have to be there. I don’t know but it seems like some people have to make a wound in the world, just to make an impression. In this society, you’re considered “objective” (i.e. scientific or intelligent or something) when you posture distance. Distance here is code for “uncaring,” but it’s the caring that I want and find missing.
I rather expect cynicism from the Right Wing, or more precisely, the kind of people who want to be in power, but that’s different—it’s a more dangerous kind of cynicism because when they get the power, they’re willing to sacrifice vast territories of life (ecosystems, ancient forests, human beings, other species) to the rationale of geopolitical imperitives and economic development. Such rationalizations make sense only in policy papers. On the ground, they’re murder. And it’s just that relationship—between policy sense and murder—that defines the worst kind of cynicism. Such has been the signature of this 20th Century of ours, may it rest in peace.
You don’t have to be paranoid to be aware of the dangers present in the global village. What about these “fundamentalists” working everywhere for “God?” Some of these people are not above homicide to make their ends meet. I feel profound sadness at news of the murder of those culturally creative writers in Iran, strangled by Islamic fundamentalists. Their crime? Having the courage to share their vision for a more just, diverse and loving society. Of course, we have fundamentalists working for God right here in the USA whose intolerance of anything or anyone outside their neat little “Christian” reality construct causes a great deal of suffering and injustice.
This rising fundamentalism is inextricably associated with xenophobia and prohibitionism—fear of what is new or unfamiliar or out of their control. Are these people constantly at war inside themselves? Can they only feel in control of their own lives when controlling other people’s lives? Fundamentalists of all religions are scary people because they’re so brittle. They cannot bring themselves to accept the relativity of individual truths, the fact that each of us is the center of the universe. They strike out vehemently at all that is unknown or different. For fundamentalists, what they don’t know that they don’t know makes them very dangerous for people they don’t know, i.e. us.
I’ve been paying some attention to the “Hearings,” listening to speeches from the floor of the Congress. Lawyer politicians have talked themselves into a world so far apart from the one I inhabit that it is difficult to take it in. These people talk Rules. We have the Ten Thousand Laws, the Ten Commandments, the Original Sin. So many rules and consequences, so little time. But—lucky them—they get to stand in judgement.
What I keep listening for in all of this is compassion. But I am not hearing it from the politicians nor from the pulpits. I am listening for compassionate truth telling, and judgement becoming of a just society. What I hear is vindictiveness and hatred (as within, so without?), and the wheedling voices of hidden agendas.
I am determined to hear the future spoken “audaciously” by those who have found their true voice. It’s what I want for myself and it’s what I listen for in you. By contrast, cynicism is annoying. If that were all, it wouldn’t matter so much. But it does matter because cynicism is a distraction from our true purpose here, to “wake up” and “demand room for bold gestures.”