Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Society Without a Soul

11/3/2018—In a review/essay in the September 27, 2018 issue of the New York Review, Jackson Lears, Rutgers Professor of History and the editor of Raritan Magazine, wrote about the year 1968. Lears tried to capture the sense of the period just prior to 1968, when whatever promise there had been succumbed to violence, government undercover agents and political assassinations.

The sense that Lears emphasizes is religious. He likens 1967 to a moment of yearning for a new Reformation—-a more direct connection to the ultimate. He associates Martin Luther King, Jr. with Christian existentialism.

In one insight, Lears captures the ultimate critique of the technological world of management: He quotes King, “Somewhere along the way we have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live.” And concludes, “A society of means without ends was a society without a soul.”

This conclusion seems very apt for us. But how can there be ends when all ends are arbitrary posits? Your ends. My ends. Even if a society had ends, they would just be a collection of arbitrary individual ends.

Unless the universe itself makes sense and has ends, we cannot. Not really.

Once, the end was to bring about the Kingdom of God. That was the heart of the Christian West. It did not survive WWI.

I suppose now it could be, without much difficulty conceptually, to build a society of prosperity, justice and peace in a world heading in those same directions. It is hard to see why that sort of movement has either never caught on or ran out of steam. Maybe materialism just does not give me a reason to care how anyone is doing other than myself.

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