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.