How the ‘problematized world’ can never become a home

My last post rushed to this conclusion: ‘Thus, the problem-solver who tries to make the world into a home cannot do so.’ Let me try again, this time more slowly, in order to reach this conclusion.

Recall that the kind of person we are describing believes that, in a basic sort of way, the world is full of problems and is therefore demanding human solutions. We have to imagine how typical this form of consciousness is today: this person looks around himself and sees the world as problematic. All the subjects his mind ranges over are problematizable, are always already problematized. For him, everything from food to sex, from transportation to the natural world, from political to the personal, from the workplace to the home are problems demanding solutions. (So, he can have no trouble speaking of ‘a problem child’; these words are second nature to him.)

I now come back to the basic metaphysical premises he has to hold if he is to regard the world in this way.

1.) The world as it is experienced or as such is bad (or: ugly or undesirable).

2.) The world is not as it ought to be.

Recall now his starting place within any situation. When he comes upon something, he treats this something as a problem from the very first. Thus, in the situation at hand, he has to assume that

3.) Some agent (person, organization, institution, etc.) does not have what is good or desirable at the same time that it has what is bad or undesirable.

To see why the world problem-saving life is ever-unhomely, consider a simple case: a lawyer who, believing in social justice, works assiduously on behalf of victims of spousal abuse. Daily, this lawyer is confronted with undeniable facts: male aggression exhibited in the wife’s countenance, a bundle of fears she expresses, a sense of despondency, and so on. For this lawyer who meets daily with victims of spousal abuse, the world is ‘out of joint,’ full of violence, ugly in its repercussions. The world is not as it should be, and only human action, combined with educational retraining, psychological counseling, legal changes, and the like, can do something to change this. Thus, he regards it as his mission to do away with the problem of spousal abuse or, at least, to do his part in doing away with it.

Never, though, does he feel satisfied. Couldn’t he always be doing more? The problem does not go away. Each day, new cases are presented to him, perhaps more than he can possibly accept; this too is painful. On darker days, he may come to believe that the whole thing is futile; on brighter days, that some progress is being made. Inconceivable, however, is the idea that, notwithstanding his genuine care for others, the program of problem-solving could have its own constitutive or conceptual limits, the limits beyond which it cannot logically pass. For beginning from the claim that the world is not a home, he cannot–whatever he does and however well–transform it into a home; this is impossible. I submit further: even if he were successful at ending spousal abuse for goodhe still would not arrive at the homely, i.e., at the affirmation of the world qua world as good. Rather, he would dwell in a ‘middle category’ between doing away with the bad and achieving the fullness of the good.

It is hard not to conceive of such a life as being one of ‘noble misery.’ And what goes for the lawyer, I believe, also goes for anyone–be it the serial entrepreneur, the ecological activist, or the inventor–who seeks to spend his life on world problem-solving. Set in these terms, the world will never prove to be enough.

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