A Nonfiction Book

Belonging Again (Part 50)

O.G. Rose
10 min readMar 27, 2024

History can repeat because it can feel like going home, but can we be Children instead?

Pluralism weakens the authorities and powers of any given X over the individuals who ascribe to it; the only way to maintain this authority is to exclude “the other” (which suggests ‘[t]he problem is where our long-standing aspiration to sustain some inclusive moral order now leads us’ ).¹ In the past, when it was much more difficult to travel around the world and Globalization was slower, nations naturally excluded “others” not because they so much directly willed it, but because technological limits made it a fact of life. Radically different people just didn’t cross paths as much, not because they actively wanted to avoid one another, but because the nature of the world was one in which they “just didn’t.” It was nobody’s fault, and so the exclusion was easier to live with, as it was easier to enjoy possible “belonging” (psychologically, existentially) — things could be no other way.

Please don’t mistake me as saying that radically different people groups never in the past encountered one another: the Silk Road was amazingly diverse, for example. What’s different today is that average people are encountering “the other” regularly — not just military personnel, politicians, businesspeople, traders, or elite classes, and not just through newspapers. And pivotally, average people are encountering “the other” face-to-face, personalizing them. As Kwame Anthony Appiah points out, when you’re a Christian and know Hindus exist, that’s one thing, but when your cousin becomes a Hindu, that’s another.

With incredibly beneficial personalization, there is a tradeoff: it becomes increasingly implausible to people that any given X could be the X; it becomes increasingly plausible to people that every X is ultimately and actually just an x. X(s) weaken, weakening CCE, but arguably precisely thanks to a moral evolution through empathy and the personalization of “others.” And would you really want governments and societies to stop this? How? By exclusion and injustice? Protectionism? Populism? Trends tempting our existentially anxious world today?

As Pluralism advances, as Capitalism lifts millions around the world out of poverty (as Deirdre McCloskey discusses), as marginalized groups feel increasingly included and accepted, and as arguably the world becomes a better place, and as governments let these changes happen as justice would compel them to (and so as all government will likely do unless we come to support injustice), then CCE becomes increasingly unsustainable for the majority, the existential anxiety becomes more prevalent in which totalitarianism is appealing, and the more unlikely that people will forgo their self-will in favor of what needs to be done (say if a crisis were to emerge in which such was necessary). In Pluralism, we can no longer maintain “givens,” X, and CCE without consciously participating in injustice, the doing of which causes an existential tension and anxiety in which authoritarianism may become appealing. We seem crushed on either side: if we are as inclusive as we ought to be, then what we ought to do makes CCE increasingly unsustainable in weakening X. Justice would have us ruin the possibility of CCE, which may take with it the possibility of a Bonhoeffer in a world where I fear Hitler is still possible.

What can we do? Well, what seems necessary is a process by which society can become ever-Pluralistic (which seems to me an unavoidable trend) without causing too much existential anxiety. We must figure out a way to make change “existentially bearable”; otherwise, authoritarianism will likely gain in appeal. Unfortunately, we live in an age in which process is “dying” (as discussed in “The Death of Process” by O.G. Rose), and whatever process we create, our hunger for justice will necessarily oppose it; also, we are increasingly reliant on laws to bring about change, laws which themselves cause existential anxiety (discussed in “Equality and Its Immoral Limits” by O.G. Rose). We must try to balance the need to change with the need of keeping “givens” plausible by establishing a balance of powers and giving power to localities, but localities can use power to support injustice. And this is us, “the tragedy is us.

Societies establish “givens” naturally, and these “givens” make it possible for citizens to have “the freedom of belonging” (at risk of “the banality of evil”). However, “givens” are necessarily exclusive (and most effective when seemingly-Transcendent/X), and thus there are always people denied “the freedom of belonging.” Alienated and wanting “freedom from alienation” in favor of “freedom of belonging,” those so denied destabilize the “givens” to gain entry, but in justly so acting, in the name of achieving “freedom of belonging,” they weaken the conditions that make “belonging” possible. This causes alienation for those who before had “belonging,” which creates tension between the in and out groups — tension that can lead to societal conflict if not collapse. Additionally, the group whose “givens” have been destabilized, to quell the resulting existential anxiety, can begin to find totalitarianism appealing (though they likely won’t realize they are appealing to power until it’s too late); likewise, those wanting access to “belonging” can find totalitarianism appealing as a means to destabilize “givens” in order to achieve the “freedom of belonging” they have unjustly been denied (without which whatever “meaning” they may have can feel shallow and a distraction from doing the work of facing and stopping injustice). It should be noted here that the processes that lead to totalitarianism rarely “feel” like totalitarianism, but like “saving the country,” freedom, justice, righteousness, and so on (for indeed, those who oppose “givens” are “justified,” as those protecting “givens” are indeed “saving their country”). History can repeat because it can feel like going home.

If “givens” are totally deconstructed, society is likely to devolve into totalitarianism, but if “givens” perpetuate injustice, then these “givens” themselves oppress people like a totalitarian regime (and practically speaking, there is arguably no difference). Thus “givens” need to be evolved but not deconstructed; revolutionists need to be reformers. Deconstructing patriotism, for example, will lead to Conservative backlash, as deconstructing “social justice” will lead to Liberal backlash. Rather, patriotism needs to be evolved so that “the love of country” includes “love of minorities,” as “social justice” needs to be evolved to incorporate patriotism. If Liberals deconstruct patriotism as always being nationalistic and evil (as Richard Rorty noted), and if Conservatives always deconstruct “social justice” as nonsense and destructive, societal tension, collapse, and breakdown will prove probable.

Wittgenstein once wrote that we wrongly ‘expect[ed] an explanation, whereas the solution [was] a description,’ a line that has stuck with me.² Ultimately, I do not believe there is a solution to the problems described in this essay, only a description, and the best we can do is found in us knowing this description and managing its reality best we can. This essay has primarily hoped to paint an explanation as a picture, and it has suggested ways we might better manage the situation: cultivating epistemic humility, pursuing “substantive democracy,” learning to handle “The Conflict of Mind,” and so on. There is no way to “solve away” trade-offs between individuals and institutions, foregrounds and backgrounds, freedom and justice, “givens” and non-exclusivity, “belonging” and non-oppression — only a description of the trade-offs and proof that we must live with “an unstable situation.” Indeed, society is inherently unstable, which means we cannot escape existential anxiety that will motivate us to try and solve that instability. But problematically, efforts to solve it will not solve it and only make it worse, of which might motivate us to solve it even more — a vicious cycle.

Societies aware that the best they can do is a “balancing act” will function better than societies which believe there exists a “solution” and attempt to find what doesn’t exist. Those societies will understand there is an imperative for citizens to learn the mental skills and fortitude necessary for handing “an unstable situation,” which will not erase “existential anxiety,” but perhaps help it feel manageable. The Conflict of Mind, Belonging Again — all of these works have argued that “living is living with instability,” and that we must resist our natural inclination to stabilize this instability to efface the resulting anxiety. These works have attempted to describe problems with thought, reality, and society that can only be managed not solved, and notably all three feed upon one another, both positively and negatively. If we don’t know how to manage the instability of thinking, we will not know how to manage reality and society; if we don’t know to manage society and thinking, our understandings of reality will not translate into useful action; and so on. Can we live and act in an existentially unstable society that always feels like it’s about to collapse but doesn’t? Hopefully, for if we do not accept that society is unstable and recognize that “a dialectical balancing act” is the best we can manage, then we will contribute to worsening social instability. But isn’t this exactly the kind of thing a dictator would want us to think so that he or she can stay in power? Indeed — see the instability?

Suggesting it is more than just a “power move” and trying to “prove that we must live with an unstable situation” might not seem worth the effort (after all, we start with instability and end with instability), but I am of the opinion that the majority of people do not believe society is essentially “unstable,” but rather believe that society is unstable because of “others” who don’t think like them. Rather than face the “essential instability of society,” we’d rather create an “us versus them”-dynamic in which we can “hole hope” the possibility of a world that finally lets us “rest” without learning to live with “existential instability.” But this is not possible (and will lead to an endlessly repetitive cycle like described above), and “hole hoping” for this will keep the majority from engaging in the work that needs to be done so that we might negate/sublate our current historical moment into the next, better one. This is a “Hegelian hope,” per se, and to help force people to put their hope in this versus a “hole,” I have attempted to “explain” that instability is unavoidable. Next, in Belonging Again (Part II), we will have to “address” that instability and see what conditions might help the majority become Children. If this is not possible, then atomization seems our best hope.

“The problem of belonging” is the struggle not of a day or a week, but of a lifetime, and though this sounds noble, the lived experience of it will be, for the majority, a reason to rationalize totalitarianism, racism, xenophobia, ideological divisiveness, and all other means that provide a fake sense of hope. No, we will not feel at home if all the Conservatives leave; no, we will not feel at ease if people who didn’t look like us left us alone. We might feel better, but not for long, and then we will search for the next scapegoat. René Girard is correct that scapegoats can hold society together, but this will only work until the scapegoat is gone instead of dead, and if a people feel at ease and like they “belong” in a society that is held together by killing, then this is a society that is easily unified by a “banality of evil.” Considering this, and faced with the problems of our historic moment, we might be tempted to long for the past, a simpler world where things were easier and life made sense. As I hope this paper has made clear, not only can authoritarians use nostalgia to empower themselves, but a past age that was “simpler” has never existed — the complexity was rather just hidden and levied on “others” who weren’t allowed to speak.

Every age has had its own problems, and though our problems today might be unique (the mass loss of “givens,” the loss of X, etc.), it shouldn’t be said that our problems are “worse.” At this moment, Americans are not being drafted to trenches to die, a Black Plague isn’t sweeping across the globe, and “the middle class” is growing globally. Millions are being lifted out of poverty in China, cures to once incurable diseases are being produced, and, for Theists, religion seems to be making a comeback in some parts of the world. Yes, perhaps we have made the world “too big to fail,” and yes, perhaps this means that if a crisis occur, it will be incredibly horrific, but both World Wars were apocalyptic, and yet we are still here. As Rick Yoder writes:

‘Every age has been full of tyrants and heretics, massacres and miracles, heroes and hysteria. No epoch is ever really better than any of the others, for what one may lose, another may gain in some unforeseen way. Human nature remains the same.’³

We face unique challenges — “confusion’s masterpiece” — but we mustn’t give into the temptation to claim we live “in the worst of all possible worlds.” “Restless” or not, we must do all we can to “redeem the time,” to be the history which rightly fits our age into itself and make our time “belong.” All of us were once children; our work is to “(re)turn” to being Children (a)gain.





¹Hunter, James Davison. The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000: 10.

²Allusion to Wittgenstein, as found in The Fragility of Goodness by Martha Nussbaum. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991: 23.

³Allusion to “Benedict Shrugged” by Rick Yoder, as can be found here:




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O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose