Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Remembering your life

Lately I've been thinking about the general, so-called "dominant" culture as something of a disaster for interpersonal relations. It reflects many different kinds of inequality; many different kinds of "dominance." Whatever isn't dominant is less valued. For example, a lot of the self-expression we see in forums like Facebook are links to corporate material, because that gets far more social promotion than personal self-expression. Personal self-expression is less valued in and of itself; and this in turn leaves fewer opportunities within daily life in which to pursue it, to develop it as a craft. While there is certainly a value placed on personal self-expression once it reaches certain degree of sophistication, the problem for most of us has to do with getting to that point.

When personal self-expression takes a back seat to deciding whether "you" are a PC or a Mac, and relationships are formed around this basis, the end result is that we don't learn very much about each other, because we aren't referencing anything significant about ourselves. In my experience, this is just a fundamental problem of being in today's world: you can have a conversation with a total stranger yet already know the broad outlines of what they are going to say, because we're all saying the same things all of the time, whether induced by the news cycle or the rote repetition of the working day -- or by our responses to them. One reason why I've always appreciated funerals, and the "interruption" of death itself, is that it clarifies what is fundamentally important to people like a thunderbolt. No bullshit stands in the face of death -- how many things can be credited with that? The interposition of mortality into a dead routine becomes a reminder of life itself.

5 comments:

Jack Crow said...

If you think no bullshit gets in the way of death, perhaps you've never been to a Catholic funeral?

drip said...

I'm at an age when the preceding generation is fading away and I've been to a few too many funerals lately and heard too many cliched half-truths to think that what people say at them is too far off the well worn paths of typical social intercourse. Maybe the lives of your friends and loved ones bear the weight of honest evaluations better than mine do. On the other hand, my mother has made it clear that I am not to deliver her eulogy. It is not clear whether she thinks I'd be too honest or too funny, but there it is.

As for your real point, Our collective inability to discern the real from the canned is a major cultural weakness and it is becoming more firmly entrenched everyday as a result of an ever-increasing lack of critical thinking skills which are not taught at school and are discouraged if not forbidden in the workplace. There is also strong social pressure not to pull back the curtain and ask "What is that man doing?" But I plug away, wondering why, for example, people criticize all of the Tea Partier's questions, when some seem to me to be quite good. The answers they give aren't so hot in my view, but at least they see that something is going on behind that curtain.

Anonymous said...

Tragedy of any sort "interrupts" the normal, corporate proceedings of life--if you allow it. I recently had someone close to me leave an abusive marriage, and the revelation that the marriage was abusive shocked a lot of people in our broader social circle. The subsequent responses were instructive, and essentially two: those who learned the whole story and altered their relationships and outlooks accordingly, and those who placed a limit on what they wanted to know. In a sense, the latter category felt too comfortable in the dominant culture (which denies the extent of abuse in this country) to let anything disturb it, and so they entered into a kind of denial. They reinforced the wall of bullshit around themselves; they closed their ears to the thunderbolt. It's a very easy thing for them to do, and a disheartening thing to witness.

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

Although public figures aren't the best measure of the impact of death, the recent flurry of fabrication and furor over the "threat" that was (sic) Osama bin Laden suggests that in death, some find opportunity to disparage the dead for personal gain. And I'm not so sure that's limited to public figures... as drip observes, as Jack observes.

However, the general message of the post is solid, apart from those tiny quibbles just mentioned, which don't take away from the general message really.

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