Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Meaning? You mean like intention?

Bellatrys has a long post, musing about the genus of human that (a) has its basic material needs met, often to excess, but (b) does not seem to have much curiousity (or courage) when it comes to the rest of life. She posits that these men and women like living in nice, safe suburbs, and like to go to nice, safe, comforting churches, where the basic message is: "You're saved/going to heaven; those Others aren't." And I've wondered about this myself, for a long time (since high school, really, which is a long damn time ago). Here's the thing. For some of us--those of us who were social outcasts of one kind or another, to one degree or another--it can be relatively easy to see a multitude of alternatives, to live a considered life. Add the kind of family background I possess--lots of free thinking and atheism; basic, working/middle-class morals; no addiction histories; strong sense of justice; lots of brains, if not a lot of formal education; and not a lot of money, but not real dire poverty, either--and, really, I'm not much of a surprise. My brother is a lot closer to the safe alternative posed above (and my sister-in-law is closer still), but he's quite radical in his own ways. I'm just not that interesting a test case, even if there are interesting or entertaining facts about me. (And this particular background also means that certain kinds of taken-for-granted privilege are forever lost to me--the kinds up with which one must grow--but that has to be a different post.)

The more interesting cases, it seems to me, are the people who grew up in more encompassing worlds/visions--like Fred of Slacktivist, for example, or Bellatrys herself, by some of her accounts, or like my friends Z and J--but who break away from what could very well be a nice, safe, neat, life. It's possible, of course, that in each of these cases, in every case, Something Happens, something shakes up that orderly view of the world. But some people respond to shaking up by looking up and going, "Huh. Imagine that," and then they start asking questions--and who knows where THAT's going to lead. Perhaps the safety-inclined also have Things Happen, and they run away from the questions, or perhaps nothing happens; Things Happening is, in part, a function of the person who recognizes that something has, indeed, happened. In any case, that just moves the question back a step--is it that nothing happened, or is it that the person didn't recognize or ran away from the thing that happened? For this question, it really doesn't matter.

Some of it probably has to do with honesty or authenticity, as well as a tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty--those last two can be real kickers. (Witness the Certainty on the right, and the mocking and derision sent the way of people who dare to suggest that perhaps some questions might benefit from a full, open, multifaceted discussion, and that honest, moral people might actually reach different conclusions and still all be honest, moral individuals.) But that starts making it sound like I'm claiming that We have some other kind of superiority going on here, a different kind of saved, and that doesn't strike me as a helpful way to answer the question. (Yes, I know I've already posed it as an us/them in some ways.)

So what is it?

It's not the how that really concerns me; I think that every one of us had some person in our lives who gave us an example and/or who gave us permission and/or who even gave us a negative example. That is, perhaps, a necessary condition. But it's clearly not a sufficient condition, else all our brothers and sisters would be more like us. That is, it's the why that I don't understand. Much as I prefer the honesty and authenticity and so on--and even regard some of it as absolutely central--I don't know that honesty/authenticity is necessarily opposed to safety, is it? So what do those of us whose paths are similar and/or have crossed shared? And why? Each of us can tell our individual, personal stories, but without understanding how and why those narratives are similar, without figuring out what the similarities are, how can we transmit what we know?


Blogger kStyle said...

Emma, could you elaborate on how family addiction histories could smother the inclination to move out of the safety zone? (You mention your family has no addiction histories in the context of saying that your family background prepped you for leaving the comfort zone.) Is it that, for example, the child of an addict might feel unsafe/unstable in her environment and so would seek out safety/stability as an adult? Because it seems, in theory, that the opposite could happen; that the child of an addict could say "f*ck it" and become the biggest radical of all...

11:12 AM  

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