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Immature Speculations

in Columns/Musings of Mariani/Opinions by

This is a poorly researched, ill-structured, half-baked attempt to answer a question I do not know. It is uncertain this attempt should even have been undertaken, and it is unclear this description is accurate. In the face of such uncertainties, I can only ask you to read this article as a personal favor, inasmuch as the possibility that you will read it creates the possibility that at future points in time you will reflect positively upon your decision and act of reading it, creating the possibility that my creation’s existence could at least be partially justified through even a single contribution to another being’s existence and conceptions.

I think there are forces we can somehow conjure that are beyond any explicit or even theoretical framework of understanding that we could possibly devise with science, reason,philosophy, or even religion, if religion is only defined as the practice of a particular theology. Our inability to articulate these forces as thoroughly as compliance with our intellectual values requires, does not preclude us from talking about them, but it makes it difficult to determine what they really are. Yet we cannot hope for better ideas not yet conceived to spread like wildfires and solve our problems, because even when good ideas have been popular, they have never prevented us from making mistakes. The articulation of perfect principles is insufficient so long it is possible for us to defy even our most dearly and authentically principles. Saints and heroes make mistakes; in fact many of truly remarkable and courageous people of the past are motivated by a desire to correct mistakes they made which they know they cannot solve without total dedication, and perhaps not even then. We will not solve our problems by trying to find specific solutions to them, no matter how broadly we define the scope of problems. Something like faith or instinct or hope or humanity or culture or humility or confidence has been so thoroughly lost as to be beyond our contemplation or at least far outside of our interests. Whatever we have lost as a civilization or a species or whatever constitutes us is something I think Children have in abundant supply.

To expand on the previous point, that children tend to possess a component of the human being that currently has an inadequate and unbalanced role in how adults manifest themselves within existing societies, I want to describe what I think this component is or at least what its attributes are. I think it is possible for children to interact with the world and with themselves in a more integrated and better way than adults. Children are not just required to listen to their adults and teachers; they simultaneously have an easier time complying and defying both. We only authentically listen to those we are convinced are the most thoroughly able to conceive of problems and solutions. As we accept fewer solutions as the number of problems multiplies in a compounding fashion, a consequence which itself contributes to the existence of the widespread and complete uncertainties that produce this climate of intractable uncertainty. Simultaneously we can only manage to significantly resist the most outrageous and unjustifiable authority. Our mistrust extends even to our own ability to believe in ourselves as beings, even as we our intimidated and controlled by the petty and the superficial whose capacity of action is surely less than the capacity of action the good and the kind and the wise and the loyal and the
humorous and the creative.  

I think that we think our abilities are the products of faculties, like reason or our creativity or our humanity or our biology rather than these faculties themselves. The implication for this is we cannot create or destroy anything in existence but we can only be involved or affected with the birth and the death of things. The distinction between a process like creation and a process like birth is that a human creation come into existence through processes we can at least partially understand, whereas processes like birth, or capacities like reason, we intimately participate in, yet do not cause and do not understand. No separation exists between understanding and action or between reason instinct and feeling. When we utilize our core human faculties we can transcend the lack of understanding and the lack of courage which seem to alternatively dominate us, because the act of engaging with our core faculties requires partial courage necessary to act upon we understandings we understand to be limited. We do not have to know everything or even believe that it is possible for us to do so, but rather we must, I think, forever be disturbed by unanswered questions and the possibility not only of evil forces but also of our complicity with these forces.

Personally I find it possible to have faith in humanity and therefore also in the desirable reality produced when there is an egalitarian distribution of power that I and others pursue to make possible. We practice what we understand to be the specific actions this faith requires, and in the long and human activity I am joining when I attempt to do the right thing.

I think that I cannot identify my problems with an amount of certainty sufficient to overcome the socially reinforced cowardice and complacency which sabotage my ability to
do good, but then this conundrum itself might by the identity of the problem. Perhaps I must learn to be thoughtful in such a way that I do not make the mistake of letting my fear stop me from being courageous.

Musings of Mariani: humanity is not hopeless

in Columns/Musings of Mariani/Opinions by

The unseasonably and unnervingly warm weather along with the continuing and developing efforts of the current Presidential administration to ruin as many people’s lives as quickly as possible are working together to create a disturbed mood on campus. Yet a specific incident reminded me of the quotidian heroism characteristic of humans in their best moments. The impaired help of my roommate and the courage and charity he and his friends showed was truly inspiring.

My roommate fell very ill this week because he has been unable to access essential medication which allows him to be healthy. Like many of the truly great students that go to our college, he orients his studies so that the pursuit of his academic interests coincides with  positioning himself in order to maximally engage with the world, with the goal of benefiting mankind. He loves studying the processes of the natural world and wants to be an ecologist so that he can be part of the efforts to combat the ongoing disasters produced by climate change. Even in his state of near total debilitation, what upset him most was not his own physical discomfort, but rather the disruption of his own work. Like Nathan Hale at the gallows, his own sickness was for him a personal tragedy because it meant he could not serve the noble cause to which he is determined to devote himself.

In addition to my roommate’s own selflessness, I was profoundly moved by the concern people showed for him. Though he was very sick, he summoned the strength to go to classes and study sessions. His bad condition was so obvious that many people offered help. People texted me and asked me if there was anything they could do for my roommate and if he was able to access the medicine he needed. These were not close friends of ours, but simply classmates whose own human sentiment for charity drove them to help a member of their community who needed it.

I am prone to feel a disillusionment with Swarthmore and with humanity, in part because I worry that both have become—or perhaps always were— so corrupted that they do not offer a home for me or for anyone. The world is far from perfect, and Swarthmore is even further, but in both places we can obviously count in our company many saints and heroes and prophets and virtuosos. Yet, we often lose sight of this. In attempting to fight the injustices of the world, we learn to see past the false goodness and shallow values which pervade and erode our world. Yet our radical critiques do not and must not take away our ability to really love and really believe in things with certainty. The extent of our despair and outrage at suffering in the world can only be equal to our belief in beautiful and sublime opportunities of human existence. We can only be profoundly disappointed in the human race if we have faith in its capacities and capabilities. If life is hopeless and people are inherently bad, then there’s no reason to expect or fight for better things.

If serving the oppressed and pursuing justice seem hopeless, we must remember that lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. Progress is made when people try to do things they are told are impossible Undeniably, the world faces grave crises. Our own government is now controlled by the orange-haired personification of greed and vileness and the sorts of people that would voluntarily and enthusiastically choose serve him. Nevertheless, we are in a position no different from the heroes of the past. In fact, we are perhaps more able to create change than anyone else. We are in a community where many do really care about justice, where there are many efforts and opportunities to help, to reform, and even to revolt. Our institution is not perfect and does in some ways limit our ability to conceive of and enact change, but surely these limits are not insurmountable and surely we are better off being engaged with our school and with our society than remaining in a perpetual state of cynical hopelessness.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech William Faulkner addressed the problem writers face in examining the human condition when people constantly felt bodily, animal fear because of the ever-present threat of nuclear destruction. Faulkner said that we cannot let this threat take away a writer’s ability to appreciate the noble side of humanity. His words seem as relevant now as they must have been then: “I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking… but I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail… because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

 

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