I cannot do this in the 500 words allowed for this column. I doubt I could do it in the much roomier venue of a sermon. So if you want to think about this subject some more, go online to https://onbeing.org/programs/jonathan-rowson-integrating-our-souls-systems-and-society/ where you can hear an interview of Jonathan Rowson by Krista Tippett. Rowson is a former British chess champion and philosopher. The interview was forwarded to me by a young friend here in Geneva who also cogitates on such things.
Okay, I have just eaten up eighty-one words without introducing the topic: Why, even when we know better, do we engage in self-destructive or self-defeating actions? You see, that is a big topic.
Rowson and his colleagues spend a lot of time wondering about the sources of disconnection between our emotions, beliefs, and behavior. He, at least, has determined that it is fundamentally a spiritual problem. I like it when philosophers acknowledge the spiritual, which often they do not.
In the interview with Tippett, Rowson lists some monsters of the 21stcentury we know are looming over and around us but that governments and societies are ignoring, denying, or enabling by the ways we vote, spend our money, and act toward one another. There are many more than this of course, but these should top of the list of any brainstorming session:
- Ecological disaster
- Social and political fragmentation
- Technology outstripping our ability to manage it
- Nuclear and biological weapons
- Racial and ethnic animus
- Economic inequality
- Global migration
- Our own mortality
Nothing to sneeze at, right? As a chess master, Rowson knows that if a player ignores or denies the hazard presented by a piece on the board, he will likely lose the game. Problems deferred, ignored, or denied are like wounds that could have healed but were neglected, became infected, and now threaten life itself.
This issue is huge and I am treating it bluntly here, whereas the hour-long conversation with Tippett is more thorough – not to mention the philosophical work taking place among his colleagues. But anyone reading this knows the problem. It is when we know something in our gut needs to be addressed but we cannot quite grasp how to deal with it, or how to resolve it in a way that will not create other problems, hurt, or discomfort. Or, we simply feel powerless in the face of something we do not know how to fix. Seized by such a dilemma, one of our frequent tactics is to disconnect our feelings from the facts of the situation.
Here are some of the ways we disconnect. We deny the problem: “Fake news.” We ascribe false solutions: “Everything happens for a reason.” We throw up our arms and hope for the best: “Oh, it all work out.” We project blame for the problem onto ‘the other’ and pretend to ourselves that the problem will be fixed if we just get rid of ‘the other.’ We do not like the answer so we discredit the messenger, the science, or the institution presenting it.
I just exceeded my 500 words.
All of these are ways we disconnect our emotions from our reason and our behavior. We do it because we are afraid, overwhelmed, angry, or just plain confused. Yet, like that festering wound, the problems we distance ourselves from never get better over time.