Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


2nd thoughts

Privilege: The Other Cancer — 1


Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes, 1817 look­ing a bit priv­i­leged

The fol­low­ing post is tak­en from notes I made January 3, 2007 (ho-hum and gar­ment rend­ing are duly omit­ted)

’What is the Third Estate?’ asked the title of the most cel­e­brat­ed pam­phlet of that win­ter, by the rene­gade cler­gy­man Sieyés, ‘Everything. What has it been until now in the pub­lic order? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something.’ Anyone lay­ing claim to any sort of priv­i­lege, Sieyés went on to argue, exclud­ed them­selves by that very fact from the nation­al com­mu­ni­ty. Privileges were a can­cer.”
–William Doyle, The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction

I start­ed read­ing The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction with the (in ret­ro­spect) sil­ly idea that every­one pret­ty much agreed about the impor­tance, caus­es, and long term impacts of The French Revolution. I found out that peo­ple don’t even agree on when it actu­al­ly start­ed and end­ed.

It has been con­flat­ed with Socialist and Communist rev­o­lu­tions of the 20th cen­tu­ry, colo­nial rebel­lions, and a hun­dred oth­er things hav­ing to do with the rise of the sec­u­lar state in Europe and around the world. It cer­tain­ly is a nice mark­er for when Enlightenment ideas began to be used to guide or influ­ence socio-polit­i­cal deci­sions. But we can cer­tain­ly see the Enlightenment affect­ing things before 1789, but it runs into the church and tra­di­tion head on at that point.

Somehow, the sec­u­lar­iza­tion of the United States didn’t cause the same upheaval as the French Revolution. “Of course,” you might reply, “it couldn’t because things were so up in the air in the first place.” While we might see a sec­u­lar­ist view as a con­tribut­ing fac­tor in the geno­cide of the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion of North America, the reli­gious view on this con­ti­nent hard­ly slowed down those atroc­i­ties. We Americans have a his­to­ry (and pre­sent) of retool­ing beliefs so that they don’t come into con­flict with our more (ahem) sec­u­lar aspi­ra­tions.

Of course, it’s hard for me not to see that part of what Enlightenment and Revolutionary think­ing gets lam­bast­ed for (in Western cul­ture any­way) is real­ly about an inter­nal strug­gle between Greek and Roman strains of thought — the prac­ti­cal / engi­neered / prov­able truth idea at the cen­ter of things ver­sus the indi­vid­ual / beau­ti­ful / sub­jec­tive truth at the cen­ter of things. Meanwhile the church offers a god cen­tered / good­ness / exter­nal-inspired truth to cen­ter things. European pagans (and oth­er pan­the­ists) prob­a­bly veered toward the Greek view, sans Socrates to pro­vide a ‘ratio­nal’ basis for things.

What I think we find in his­to­ry is that, rather mess­i­ly, we human beings are used to hav­ing all three world views around. We know it’s messy and we know you can’t real­ly have Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA), but we also can’t find any­thing to please all of the peo­ple all of the time either. Revolutions may throw out the Divine Right of Kings and the church that sup­ports it, but peo­ple want some­thing to appear in their stead. Not every­one and cer­tain­ly not for entire­ly defen­si­ble rea­sons — after all, by their very nature these things are unrea­son­able — but if a gov­ern­ment now tries to throw out the Greek idea, peo­ple will respond.

At this point, back in 2007 I went off on what China is deal­ing with in this regard, but after see­ing Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story last night, I think this is all going on right here right now in the US of A. Western European Churches have been replaced by the Capitalism and the tem­ples of finance (some­day I’ll post about the feel­ing one gets when enter­ing the head­quar­ters of a big I‑bank for the first time (I temped in about half a dozen of them dur­ing the 90s) — these places are meant to be tem­ple-like, no mis­take).  According to Moore, the new reli­gion is wear­ing thin. The have-nots are mul­ti­ply­ing and the pow­er grabs and bad behav­ior of the priv­eleged are becom­ing increas­ing­ly intol­er­a­ble.

I, for one, have been ram­bling on about rev­o­lu­tions and the need to final­ly reshape this Society of the Spectacle for so long I decid­ed I was a nut and kept my dark­est thoughts on the sub­ject to myself  or until I was into the bot­tom of my fifth drink. Meanwhile I try to take the body blows of this eco­nom­ic sys­tem with good humor and remem­ber there are viable alter­na­tives. The world always changes when it must and rarely soon­er.