Our identities, religions, nationalities, occupations, life choices, philosophies, political ideologies, political leaders—none of these are “given” anymore: whatever we face, we find ourselves full of questions. “Is this true? Is this best? Is this valid?” We live during what James Joyce in “The Dead” called ‘a thought-tormented age,’ which, as James K.A. Smith put it when writing on Charles Taylor, is to say that our world is a ‘contested, cross-pressured, haunted world [...] [T]raditional definitions of reality which previously provided stable [guides] for living everyday life (in courtship, marriage, child-rearing, religious faith and practice, interpersonal exchange and the like) are increasingly fluid, fragmented, and deprived of plausibility.’ Individuals today have more freedom than ever before, but at the expense of “givens” which would help them determine what they should do with that freedom. Choice has increased while direction has decreased, so where should we go now?
As warned by thinkers like Peter Berger, James Hunter, and Philip Rieff, under these conditions of incredible freedom, humans are likely to become existentially and psychologically anxious, and in this state, everything solid can become liquid and incomprehensible. In order to restore “order,” with increased freedom can come the increased appeal of escaping freedom into totalitarianism. At the same time, “givens” were deconstructed because of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”: sources of order can legitimize force and forcefulness. Have we escaped oppression through a means that makes oppression appealing? Can we change course?
Belonging Again (Part I) will attempt to outline and explain our historic moment, drawing on a number of thinkers found in what I call “tragic sociology,” which is necessary for us to understand if we are to approach our world today. Without that right framing, no “address” will prove possible, leaving us nowhere to be found. But maybe we can find our own way? Perhaps, but perhaps only if we can stand to be free.
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Congratulations, a much needed explanation qua paradigmatic framing of tragic sociology.
Great work Daniel -- huge congratulations, this looks like a momentous text -- Just ordered my copy & can't wait to dive into it