Thursday, April 14, 2016

Genealogy of thought - Introduction

One of the best things about being inspired to write again is the opportunity to dig into my own thought process. All of us are thinking all of the time, yet seldom do we actually take the time to reflect on where those thoughts and ideas are coming from. Writing works like a flashlight in a cave. It brings to light those things that are there, but not visible without some outside source of illumination.

I’m the type of person who thinks about “big” things primarily, and I have lots of ideas about the way that things work and how they fit together. This isn’t to say that my thoughts are more profound than other peoples’, just that I have a different area of focus. If you’re looking at the detailed subject of a picture, I’m probably more interested in the blurred background. I’m always on the hunt for the context of the text.

As a fan of Nietzsche, I like to look into the genealogy of my ideas.  I felt that it would be valuable to examine the history of my worldview, and where I came to the place that I am today. By acknowledging the pieces that formed the puzzle, I can get a better idea of where I am going. This isn’t an exercise in navel-gazing. I want to truly understand and appreciate the various influences that have led me here, and see what I can do to take what they have given me and move it along in my own particular way. Isn’t that what all of us are trying to do?

My history of thought is a peculiar one, because it is shaped in large part by forces that seem to be opposed. I have been influenced in equal parts by spirituality and skepticism, tradition and radicalism. I frequently struggle to understand how the pieces fit together, and whether they should fit at all. But I remain convinced that they do and that they should.

My worldview is influenced most significantly by what you might call the punk rock ethos. By this, I mean not just the music and fashion particular to a certain counterculture movement that began in the late 1970’s. I mean the whole aesthetic and ethic that came out of this era and continues to influence life and culture today. But punk is, of course, just an example or manifestation of a movement that has existed for as long as there have been mass societies.

This movement has gone by many names over the course of history. In any society where a certain culture dominates and enforces norms, there will be those who feel they do not connect, in large part, with those norms. In our modern-day society this displacement is largely symbolic and emotional, but in the past it has resulted in actual physical ostracizing of the people in question.  The various movements have shared a common view from the outside.

It is for this reason that I can find, for example, a kind of kindred spirit between monastic movements in the early Christian church and punk rock in the 1970’s and 80’s. There is a spirit of resistance and removal. The goal is to resist the powers that be, and a removal of oneself from their influence. This movement is usually communal, and it is almost always viewed with great negativity by the segments of society that benefit most from the status quo.

There is also a belief common to these movements that another way of living is possible. In other words, the status quo as given is neither inevitable nor eternal. This requires a type of imagination, to see possibilities of things before they exist. Often this imagination comes to life in art forms and language that challenge the powers and are met with disdain by the majority of the society. But the goal of such acts of speech and art is to, in the words of Dorothy Day, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

So this is the starting place for a lot of my thinking. I am operating from an interpretive stance that takes mistrust of power structures as a given, and looks to possibility as a paradigm. In the next series of posts, I plan to explore some of the specific influences and manifestations of this paradigm and how they continue to inspire and challenge me. 

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