My thesis is that there is a reigning conception of the world that is held, consciously or not, by ecologists, political activists, designers, entrepreneurs, academics, NGO workers, as well as by those in the caring professions. And it is made explicit in the following set of assumptions, conceptions, and conclusions:
1.) Because the world is lost and fallen, it needs to be changed or ultimately saved.
2.) Because the world is broken or out-of-order, it needs to be fixed or restored.
3.) Constituted by problems, the world requires solutions.
4.) In virtue of our being inherently weak and prone to suffering, we human beings yearn to be helped.
5.) Because the human mind, like the human body, tends to be sickly and ill, it seeks healing or cures.
My interest lies in investigating all of these in turn, following them to their conclusions as a propaedeutic–that is, a preliminary exercise–to coming to radiance. For all of these assumptions foreclose the possibility that the world qua world is good, affirmable, beautiful. The sense of wonder experienced in the presence of the affirmed world, in the emphatic sense that ‘life is good,’ is utterly foreclosed. Wonderment, fascination, awe, appreciation, gratitude, praise: these experiences will be at most fleeting instants scarcely noticeable by modern human beings who hold fast to the deep-seeded assumption that the world is bad.
I have already begun tracing out a line of thought leading from number 4 to the conclusions that there are victims, there are witnesses to the pain experienced by these victims, and there is, in the final analysis, a sense of utter agentlessness and utter helplessness. Hence, the phenomenon experienced as ‘a welling up of feeling bad for the being who is trapped beyond help, rescue, or relief.’ That phenomenon is sometimes called ’empathy,’ but it could just as well go by other names. My concern is with this common phenomenon, not sensu stricto with what it is called.
I gather that it is not surprising, then, that I should select number 3 as the next subject of investigation. For the world being a ‘problem to solve’ seems to be the contrary of the world’s consisting of victims and witnesses. From one vantage point, we make the error of ‘actively listening’: sharing, listening, consoling, feeling bad or feeling sorry for. From the other vantage point, we make the error of believing that we can do away with something on behalf of another for good (e.g., a problem with his boss at work).
In the case of problem solving, something can be done; in the case of being empathetic, nothing can be done. Yet in both, something is demanded to be done. I wonder: what is going on?
To get started on this inquiry into the world as a problem to be solved, it is enough to pose the question: ‘What assumptions underlie the claims that the world consists of problems and demands or requires solutions?’ In asking this question, I have yet to inquire into the meaning of the claims above; that question shall be answered in the following post. The assumptions first:
1.) The world as it is experienced or as such is bad. (In the sense that it cannot be affirmed in experience or as it is.)
2.) The world is not as it ought to be. (Cf. Kant on is/ought)
3.) Something has to be (needs to be, must be, ought to be, demands to be, etc.) done about the world’s being bad.
4.) But then the world as it is experienced primordially consists of actions (human, institutional, etc.) and inactions.
5.) Good actions solve problems; bad actions or no actions leave them unsolved.
Primordially, therefore, we stand in the world as beings who negate it. In light of this, we are tasked with the onus of doing something about this. We first negate it, then ‘remake’ it. Soon enough, we shall find that ‘solving the world’s problems’ implies a particular kind of negating–that is, doing away with–what is bad and this doing away is a doing away with for all time. All that is an odd thing to say and believe. Odder still to live this way.