Posted by: Dan | January 9, 2009

The Fundamental Crisis of Being

For some time, I’ve been thinking about writing a post arguing that the fundamental crisis of being, in our culture at this moment of history, is that of meaning.  Specifically, how we are no longer certain, and no longer know how to be certain, that anything, or any of us, have any fundamental meaning, significance, or value.

Tonight I sat down to write this post and let my mind dive into this crisis, seeking to face it personally (as it has been a crisis that has been weighing on me more and more over the last six months), while also trying to root it in it’s particular socio-historical context, and so on.  However, as I was writing, it struck me more and more powerfully as to how this crisis of meaning is related to one’s rootedness within the milieu of the bourgeois, the wealthy, the comfortable, and the privileged.  That is to say, for the vast majority of people in history, and even in the world today, the fundamental crisis of being isn’t meaning — it’s survival.  The crisis of being, for most members of humanity, is that one is unlikely to continue to be for much longer.  The crisis is not having any food to eat, not having clean water to drink, not having an immune system that functions properly, and so on and so forth.

Consequently, I became so ashamed of myself and my crisis of meaning, that I couldn’t bring myself to finish my original post.  Instead, I wrote this.

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Responses

  1. What a privilege, and an embarrassment at the same time, that we can find ourselves in crisis of meaning, ultimately a place of selfishness because of our place of privilege. I too have been in this place for at least 6 months. Apathy has and is swallowing me whole. I need some HS paintball to revitalize my joy and some salt of the earth relationships to see the face(s) of Christ once again… I miss it up there Dan.

    Dave S.

  2. And yet western man still has it and faces it.

    Dunno if your familiar with it, but I am currently reading “the road” by Cormac McCarthy which sets up a scenario of what it might look like for western man to face the crisis of survival. What happens when there is nothing left but survival. and what this cisis does to meaning of western man. Scary. Helps you to see what your life would look like if you were in the congo or rwanda or gaza..but it was happening on East Coast USA. Worth a look IMO.

  3. I don’t think it can be said it’s a place of selfishness to be searching for meaning simply because much of the world is not in the position to do so. It is a natural thing to do if you don’t happen to be starving to death. The existence of one does not negate the need to do the other because I would say that our breast beating and despair and shame at our privilege come out of the very fact that we DO feel so bereft of meaning, significance and value, Isn’t it a kind of slough of despond that we need to climb out of if we’re going to get to the end and find some sort of meaning and maybe THEN have a shot at effecting change?

    Or is that your point ;)

  4. Agreed Sue.

    As my pastor says, you have to put the oxygen mask on first before you help others.

    Freely you received, now freely give.

  5. In reference to contemporary critical theory and meaning I look not so much to Solomon in his leisure reflecting on the meaning or lack there of in life but to the prophets who warn against those who would call good evil and vice versa. I do not put all my stock in theory but I do respect people who attempt to not confine themselves to our culture’s given model of meaning-making.

  6. I was drawn in my the thread you followed and fell into my own shame as you fell into yours.

    I probably live much closer (geographically), to where the struggle for survival takes place for a large swathe of people, day in, day out. Across the railroad, not one kilometre from my house, is one of Africa’s biggest slums.

    Perhaps, though, the two need not be mutually exclusive, and not just for you. Because if you had to struggle to survive, day in day out and you could not see a way out, wouldn’t you pause and ask yourself what the point is, in it all?


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