There is an odd distinction in modern politics: Private vs. Public. The assumption seems to be that if the “government” runs something, it is public, whereas when “private citizens” or groups of “private citizens” run something, it is private. However, “private citizen” is somewhat of an oxymoron, as “citizen” has the connotation of belonging to a political entity (most literally a city) and “government” is run by individuals or groups of individuals. A better understanding of the words “private” and “public” might be that they refer to either private or public interest. But if this is the case, things like education, healthcare, and housing are all “public” by nature, since they all serve to promote a healthier community through the care of its members. In some people’s minds, this means that the government ought to run it as a “public” service, but this is because there is no sense that “private” companies have public obligations. Instead, there is a sense that “private” companies are doing something right when they give to charities or form charitable foundations, but not that they are doing something wrong if they don’t contribute to the health of their communities through “public” works. Thus, we have an untenable situation where the government has total responsibility for public works while trying to incentivise public aid through things like tax breaks. Ultimately, the common good becomes a tug-o-war between competing groups of people, the “government” and “corporations.”
Individualism and liberalism are antithetical to politics (and especially democratic politics) because when the assumption is made that we can live according to our own truth (unless your way of life hurts someone), the only way to accomplish anything is to get people to agree with “your” truth because “other” truths are inherently harmful. Thus, you naturally get a polity that is divided not pragmatically but morally. The other side is *morally* repugnant because that’s the only calculus for rejecting someone else’s position in an individualist world view. Furthermore, this requires the individualist to propose a strict morality that applies to everyone thus contradicting the individualism he espouses. This pitting of individualistic, competing and self-contradictory moralities against one another is corrosive to any community whether it be a city, a state, a nation, or an empire; whether it be a democracy, a republic, or a monarchy. If we dismiss the members of our communities as morally “other” we risk categorizing them as unwanted, unneeded, undesirable. It leads to treating others as sub-human and not deserving of charity whether in word or deed. It leads to a broken understanding of justice both in regards to punishment of criminals and our obligations to those around us.
What we need is to embrace a moral vision of humanity and our world that denies this individualism and regards each person as a moral and rational agent with the innate desire for good and the capacity to cooperate toward a common good. It must be a consistent moral vision that embraces all political action that promotes this common good. This political action takes many forms, but its foundation is care for the spiritual and material growth of the people. The family is where this growth begins and our energy should be focused as a society on promoting healthy families where spiritual and material welfare flourishes. Our schools should be places where this moral vision and where the family is supported in its growth as the kernel of a moral society. Our cities should be planned so that the family and the schools are given all they need to fulfill their purposes.
There are many issues that are close to many people; injustices that must be stopped, confusion that must be addressed. What is the answer? What are we waiting for? Do not hesitate on the way to demonstrate your superiority or to revile your opponents. Do not scoff at those who are less fortunate or at those you perceive as less intelligent. They are in need. You are in need. There in only One who can address every need, but we are made in His image and therefore have that capability written faintly in our hearts. He made us to be helpmates. It is time to take heed of the plight of the members of our society; those who suffer violence at the hand of another, those who experience misfortune through no fault of their own, even those who hurt themselves in apathy, despair, or confusion. We need each other and must not let fear and anger divide us, even when justified. We have a great capacity for evil, but an even greater capacity for good. Let us act on that capacity together and perhaps, by the grace of God, we can make our society great.
Leisure is more than just free time. It is time devoted to the unencumbered fulfillment of the human spirit in its reflection of the Godhead. It is a time for love, creativity, and contemplation. In this way, it can only be enjoyed consistently by those who are not required to work for a living.
However, it is proper that our work also contain in itself the seeds of leisure (it should be a service or creative or yet some form of contemplation) so that even those who must work may fulfill the needs of the human spirit (in fact, one may say that work is itself a reflection of God. Yes, truly, but drudgery is proper to the fall and is not work as God Himself works.)
Furthermore, it is proper that the worker also have regular recourse to leisure that is not work, and this is to be contrasted with “recreation” or the recovery of the body and mind after working. Leisure is not passive. It requires the engagement of the whole person. For this reason, leisure is often not possible on a daily basis because for the worker, his mind and body are not recovered sufficiently to engage in true leisure, not to mention various other responsibilities that take his time. Thus, leisure is not just “the time when you are not engaged in your livelihood.” In fact, your livelihood, as I mentioned above, should itself contain at least the seeds of leisure and there are many other uses of free time that are not leisurely.
The other reason why leisure is not possible for the average worker (nor even for the independently wealthy) is that true leisure is not understood because human nature is misunderstood. This leads to a decided lack of education in leisure which in turn leads to an inability of most people to properly pursue it. This is beside the fact that leisure itself is sort of seen as something you “earn” and often makes modern man feel guilty that he is not engaged in some utilitarian pursuit, so called. This obsession with work and utility yet this lack of understanding of leisure and human nature leads to a very depressing society in which fever-pitch activity alternates with boredom and/or bouts of mere inactivity.
This is not good for the individual nor is it good for society. We are all called to reflect God in our daily lives and we must as a society decide to ennoble work with leisure and provide the education in leisurely pursuits to all so that all may partake in natural human fulfillment in the broad variety of ways that we have developed.
Much has been typed about the Laptop Expert in the Information Age. I will not take too much of your time, but I felt that it was my duty to contribute to the conversation, mostly because I find it relevant to what I’ve been discussing, namely authority and individualism. Remember, however, that this blog is opinion, is in no way authoritative, and I reserve the right of the wise to admonish me.
Knowledge, as they say, is power. Someone also said that “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Instant global communication via the internet especially (and of course through other, more primitive means of communication such as a telephone or radio) has made it possible for the greatest number of people in the history of the world to know things. We hail this as perhaps the greatest achievement of mankind; the dissemination of information at high speed is a sign of civilization second only to universal access to birth control.
However, having a knowledge of facts (and of course the media we consume isn’t necessarily all about fact) isn’t enough to become an authority on something. To become an authority on something, we need to learn from an authority what these facts mean, have the leisure to digest the facts and compare the facts with other facts or truths (and to do so with other people), and finally, have a generally well-disciplined and trained mind. In our fast-paced world, the need for an external authority is rejected, we don’t have any time for leisure, and we are too often assaulted by the excess of knowledge (or pseudo-knowledge) at too early an age to have a truly well-formed mind.
Instead, we believe ourselves competent to comment on any subject we come across on the Internet because ultimately we are our own authority and the more people who will listen to us will only cement that idea in our brains. We think that efficiency in knowledge (finding as many fact as possible in the least amount of time) is a value, thus short-circuiting our natural need for contemplation and the integration of new knowledge into our system of thinking. Finally, we have made the democratization of knowledge and information so thorough and complete that we insist on our children having the same access to the information and the ability to express themselves in this immediate and individualistic way regardless of the development of their minds.
Who needs teachers when we have the internet and our own reason to guide us? Why spend time thinking through something with other people when Someone On the Internet is Wrong? If we don’t say something now the time will have passed. Why would we need to form our minds before taking in all this knowledge and information? After all, as I said, knowledge is power and if we are to create a society of perfect equality, everyone needs access to the same information and knowledge, lest some have more power than others.
And yet, without someone or something to guide our devouring of knowledge in pursuit of power, we will become immoderate in our consumption. We will become fat and bloated with our sense of power and entitlement. And ultimately, as in all systems, there will be those that use it better than others, thus creating a natural hierarchy and natural authorities. Are there bloggers we read daily? Do we trust some news agencies over others? Are there journalists we turn to when something important happens?
And yet, through social media we insist on the validity of our own opinion on every subject. Perhaps the global economy of information has created more equality, maybe it hasn’t. Could it be, though, that regardless it has contributed to the conflict that individualism breed? Could it be that we need less information to be more truly free and more truly human?