Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Habits of the Heart/ Parts 1 and 2

By Brian George

Note: This essay was first posted on "Reality Sandwich" during the height of the 2008 global economic crisis—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say at the depth of the global economic freefall—and, over the past three years, the pessimism that I expressed in the essay—that the "American Dream" was rapidly becoming a faded image on a postcard—has remained unchanged. (Just to clarify: I do have a sense that the universe coheres in a state of multidimensional perfection, but it was also becoming clear that Gurdjieff's claim that a large percentage of the human race is asleep might be something more than a metaphor.) I did not share any of the general intoxication about Obama as the Messiah, and, for the most part, he has governed exactly as I expected that he would. It is only quite recently, with the birth and spread of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, that I have begun to feel some cause for guarded optimism. Here are the first two of eight parts.

Liberty the Spiked Goddess Calls

In “Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life”, the five authors—R. Bellah, R. Madsen, W. Sullivan, A. Swidler and S. Tipton—explore the ways in which contemporary Americans use private and public modes of thought to make sense of the world around them, even as that world is swept from under their feet. This book is the result of a research project in which more than 200 people were interviewed. Out of this number, the authors choose to focus our attention on four individuals, who represent the four dominant orientations found among the larger group. Each of the four is mature, intelligent, responsible, and involved in caring for others. These are people who act on their beliefs. Each is living proof of the magnetic force of Liberty—that spiked goddess who draws home both the best and worst of her abandoned populations.

Like the dream that gave them birth—which now exists in a state of suspended animation, and to whose upkeep they contribute—each of the four presents both a solar and a shadow aspect, of which the first is on view. Neighbors would not hesitate to describe their characters as good. Each is successful in his or her chosen career, life path or calling. Each is at least normally self-aware.

At first glance, we would say that they were happy. As we come to know them, however, we realize that each wrestles with a similar and unacknowledged sense of isolation. Although confident as to their own choices, actions and values, all of the four find it difficult to articulate their relationship to any larger structure of shared meaning. Whether explicitly or implicitly, all seem to assume that there is something arbitrary about their goals—that they may well be building hallucinatory castles out of sand.

But how much do we really know about our place within the time-cycle, or of how each act connects to the precession of the equinox?

Perhaps roles chosen before the present world existed are only just now coming into focus. There are ultimatums, no doubt, that we have chosen to ignore. Future versions of ourselves may be reaching backwards to destroy our habitual right/ left oppositions. It is always possible that it is not 2008; somehow, we have gotten the year wrong. Even now, the archaic lifestyles I record may not exist outside of this essay.


And we, the last survivors of the deluge, having boarded our UFOs, might comment on the signs that pointed to the freefall of the world economy, as though we were beyond it, as though the one self could be separate from the many. But hyperspace is not a shelter from the storm. It will leave no intellect standing.

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