A NONFICTION BOOK BY O.G. ROSE
Belonging Again (Part 8)
Local Communities Weaken in Proportion to How Much Power the State Accumulates for Good.
Considering our rootless, Cosmopolitism under an ever-growing State, and how toleration empowers the State and the “individual to individualize,” Conyers wrote:
‘But it seems to me a fitting coincidence: for the condition of the modern psyche moves from the depressed realization of the private person in isolation, to the maniacal illusion of god-like omnipotence through the collective powers of the state. The modern self-image seems suspended between the twin obsessions with its lonely despair and its immoderate ambitions.’¹
In line with the thought of Charles Taylor, as beliefs have multiplied and communities undergone inflation, there is an increasing stress on the need for toleration, which if Conyers is right, contributes to growing Cosmopolitanism and the State, both of which contribute to the lessening of local communal authority. As communities weaken, this contributes to their fragmentation off into more communities — “The Nova Effect,” as Taylor called it — which contributes to an increased stress on toleration, growth of Cosmopolitanism — creating a feedback loop in favor of State growth and diminishing of the conditions necessary for both Bonhoeffer and Hitler. While so, we feel simultaneously capable of achieving anything and also nothing, making us likely to oscillate between extremes, of seeing New Jerusalem nigh in one instance and the Apocalypse closing in a moment later.
‘Toleration in its modern form is the solvent that dissolves the bonds of interdependency,’ isolating us as modern individuals, and yet simultaneously making us increasingly “toward” the State and dependent on it.² This creates an illusion of interdependence though, for the State is ultimately an abstract bureaucracy that has little direct impact on our daily lives. And yet is has an incredibly large impact on us at the same time, shaping what we are “toward.” We have an illusion of community “as Americans” — an illusion nurtured by Conservatives and Liberals alike — and increasingly, that becomes our only community or so much our focus that its like our other communities cease to even be communities (like how in the Bible God is so much God over the other gods that they practically cease to be gods). Yet this in mind, for Conyers, it’s important to understand that ‘[t]he individual is not first and foremost, let alone exclusively, a citizen of a state,’ though this is precisely how moderns live.³ Conyers is adamant that ‘the group that exerts the most influence on us is not the [S]tate’: it is the family, our neighbors, the religious institutions, etc.⁴ Arguably forced to live otherwise, Cosmopolitans can live alienated, with something like what W.E.B. Dubois called “double consciousness.” Dubois used in regard to how African Americans lived in racist America, but I believe the phrase is also useful for understanding Cosmopolitan life. Today, we continually identify ourselves relative to an increasingly abstract scale — the nation, the global — but practically speaking, our families and localities exercise much more influence upon us. Feeling increasingly part of something we do not control, we can suffer a social neurosis, one that could incubate major sociopolitical backlash (as perhaps manifest in Trump and Brexit), and an increased splitting of nations into crumbling parts.)
What does Conyers offer as an alternative to tolerance? For him, the answer is humility, which for Conyers is very different from tolerance. Humility is focused more so on ‘the classical idea of the ‘good,’ ’ while modern tolerance tends to make constant reference to ‘human rights.’⁵ This isn’t to say that human rights are bad or don’t exist, but to say that, according to Conyers, “the good” can unify people across countless nations, while “human rights” tend to splinter people off into ever-individualizing individuals, defending their right to be themselves without external influences (an impossibility). Conyers believes we don’t so much need mutual toleration of one another as we need a collective humility before the true, good, and beautiful, and that this state of humility necessarily makes us “open” to “the other.” No one possess a monopoly on truth — truth is bigger than all of us — and from “the other” there is always the possibility of learning new truth and coming closer to it. Conyers discusses how Aquinas interacted with both pagan and Muslims philosophers and theologians, and points out that a mutual commitment to the truth — versus a suspension of the power and authority of all truth-convictions under the State — leads to peace.
Humility is a mutual commitment to truth; tolerance, inevitably a reduction of the authority of truth that leads to a questioning of the existence of truth altogether. Humility opens up people to discussions about truth, while to Conyers, tolerance all too often shuts down those discussions in the name of justice. Humility results in communities interacting with one another peacefully while being “open” to one another, while for Conyers tolerance tends to manifest in a defense of one’s own “personal space” while leaving alone the “personal space” of others, closing everyone off from each other. We cannot reverse Pluralism, but if our doctrine continues to be tolerance versus humility — a weak association versus earned association — the State will continue to benefit and grow thanks to Pluralism, deconstructing common associations and our capacities to freely speak and live together.
As the State grows, local communities weaken, which can make us feel like anything could be accomplished if we only learned to tap into the State’s awesome power. At the same time, we can feel that all is lost, because the community and life we were once connected to or could be connected to has dissolved. We feel alone but also potentially a god, but I suppose this is fitting, seeing as “God is God alone.” In my view, a society caught in this dysfunctional “double consciousness” is one where a “black swan”-event like described in the last section could be more likely. It is also one in which the virtue of humility is especially needed, for humility will help us hesitate before we think we should use godlike power to shape the world (for, to start, surely there is still more we should learn), while at the same time not letting us denounce the possibilities of deep truths on which communities can meaningfully construct themselves (and so make possible “belonging”).
To some, this may seem like being needlessly technical to argue a distinction between “tolerance” and “humility,” but I believe there is reason to be concerned about how modern toleration is practiced in our midst. On this matter, we will turn briefly to Kindly Inquisitors by Jonathan Rauch (for a fuller discussion, please see “The Spectre of McCarthyism” by O.G. Rose).
¹Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 16.
²Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 145.
³Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 223.
⁴Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 14.
⁵Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 42.