Personal, political, cosmic

So… you find yourself believing something counter-cultural. Maybe it just happened, maybe you argued yourself into it. But now it’s who you are.

Possibility 1: you argued yourself into being a hermit. You go off never to be seen again.

But too much about human nature conspires against this being widespread solution. Most of us want possibility 2: to be in a society/culture.

Ah, but who you are is counter-cultural, remember? You can’t be in the society. Sure, you can be present in the society in various ways: taking up space, staying invisible or silent, engaging in some of its impersonal relations, etc. But “taking up space and staying silent” isn’t who you are. No one is that. No one should be that. Making a society for yourself is inseparable from your desire simply to be.

So you carve out a part of the society or join a part carved off. You pick out your friends, your news-sources, your rituals, your gathering places. You get a part of the whole. It’s better than nothing.

But wait – someone doesn’t have to content himself with just a part. If someone is counter-cultural, then he stands against the other guys who go with the drift and flow of the culture and society simply. Why do they get the whole and I don’t? Why does my little group have to renounce claim to some levers of power but theirs doesn’t? Everything they love and believe gets to be celebrated and made lapidary in law, media, literature, and the citadels of power and public glory. Contra Hobbes, not everyone has desires that are limited or hemmed in by society. There are literally millions of persons who freely say all they believe, whose kids are taught all they want them taught in public school, who find themselves agreeing with everything on TV, who deeply value one of the presidential candidates and feel he is really the most worthy man in the nation for the job, who love and are fulfilled to the core of their being by all the music, reality shows, fast-food, public rituals, and acceptable religious notions that are now popular, etc. etc. They are fully alive and satisfied in the culture just as it is. Sure, some of them would like whatever is there without questioning it – but then, by definition, they would like my thing too. So how come They get to live fully but don’t?

The desire to live at all is therefore corrosive of any sort of partial existence. To settle for it is as contradictory as settling for injustice, because it is settling or injustice. To be at all ends up tied to being something not just in a family or club or nation but even in the universe. If, for example, the universe is indifferent we must be something within this indifference (a beacon of meaning? an ironic existence? A player of backgammon?) If it is something else, we must be something within that.

Seen from this angle, the personal is not just the political but also the cosmic, since its my individual desire to be at all is intrinsically implicated in these.



  1. dpmonahan said,

    July 9, 2015 at 11:03 am

    So culture war, with winners and losers, is inevitable?
    But isn’t there also a hierarchy of values among the personal, political and cosmic. I may win or lose the political argument, but gaining the whole world matters little compared to losing my soul. I can lose the political battle and keep my soul, and even my sub-culture within the wider culture, if I am willing to fight for it.

  2. July 9, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    ‘But then, they would like my thing too’ – so there is no good reason they do not.

    Somehow I am reminded, since you’re circling the common v. proper good issue again, of CDK on the angelic sin, which rejects the common good not as good, but as common. Not ‘non serviam’, but ‘serviam, quia bonum mihi est’. Regard for my good as ‘countercultural’, as such, drives a will to dominate others. Bad news for revolution and reaction.

    • July 9, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      That’s one of the ideas I was kicking around while writing this: one would only be counter-cultural if he saw that life as better, but as counter-cultural it is essentially a part and not the whole, and so inferior.

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