Sunday, December 21, 2014

Some reflections on turning 40

Joining the ranks of the over forties, a category associated with increased precariousness and risk, is a good occasion to reflect on how I seek to define myself as far as possible according to the values I cherish most. For the greatest freedom we have is that of shaping own ourselves and one of the arts which we should all aspire to master is  "the care of of the self".  Here are some of the things I aspire to as I get older.

1.      Intellectual honesty which means always speaking truth (which is always subjective) to power and to keep a healthy distance from the dominant economic and political powers while always be ready to engage intellectually with anyone decent and never to look down on anyone.  It is only detachment which gives the necessary perspective for lucid analysis but one should be wary of being self righteous.  The dissident intellectual denounces what he tries to understand not what he simply dismisses or shuns. 

2.      Ageing gracefully i.e. embracing the prospect of becoming more sober and tranquil as one gets older and to value silence and just listen to it without attempting to hear anything in particular. The opposite of ageing gracefully is to resist the flow of time and to seek to lose oneself in the noise. Ageing gracefully is also about continuing to grow up with the people close to you and nurturing friendships.

3.      Upholding a dignified punk ethic   i.e. to be politely and intelligently irreverent, never rude or dismissive towards anyone but to practice the art of  refusal when confronted by demands from those who wield economic or political power.  Its not a question of contempt but a choice one makes in order to be free and happy within. While compromises are unavoidable to achieve pragmatic goals these should be out in the open.

4.      Upholding a Christian humanist perspective, reconciling with what essentially remains a revolutionary theology whose ultimate logical consequence is the withering away of the God of Power so that the "meek (represented by the humble son) shall inherit the earth" (the incarnation).  A religion which gives value to apostolic poverty is in itself revolutionary especially in the context capitalist globalism where even citizenship is sold while migrants are viewed as a disposable source of cheap labour.  While fundamentally secular in my beliefs, I have grown to give greater value to religion as an ethical system which can make the world a happier and fairer place to live. I therefore have no qualms defining myself as Christian albeit an agnostic one.  Living a good life is an end in itself even if the definition of good has been corrupted by an obsession on sex by most religions.  The more time passes the more I am convinced that an eco-socialist alternative needs to be upheld by an ethical system of values which can be partly found in radical Christian thinking and liberation theologies as well as in other religious/spiritual traditions.
5.      To reclaim time and to challenge discourse which glorifies hard work  and which commodifies what is left after paid work.  The greatest violence committed against the working classes  is that of robbing them  from time and the ability to control their limited time on earth in ways they can enjoy.   Instead of celebrating 'hard work' we should be encouraging people to reclaim more time for their own well being and that of others.  In short idleness is to be praised, work  enjoyed and toil avoided like the plague.  I would also like to propose the idea that the more people enjoy their life the more lucid and dignified they are during their hours of work. Ultimately the desirability of endless economic growth for its own sake  is to be questioned (especially in view of the ecological crisis) but even from a growth  perspective i contend that the less people work the more productive they are.

6.      To be able to see the bigger picture  and to defend the forts of a system one dislikes when it is attacked by the hordes (racists, bigots, fascists, crony capitalists, prophets of profit, speculators, regimes in the making, aspiring Bonapartes and Berlusconis etc etc).  That is why  in the face of the risks posed by authoritarian democrats and right wing populists political and social alliances have to be variable even if counter hegemonic blocks have to be build on shared values.

7.  The more time passes the more I attach importance to the aesthetics of power.  It is in the way power manifests itself and animates its supporters that one can smell the first signs of a  regime whose main aim is not hegemony for social reform but hegemony aimed for its own perpetuation.  The greater the personalisation of power the greater the risks of political regression from old boring but precious democratic wrangling to the authoritarian democracy which ultimately could lead to kleptocracy. Being sensitive to these questions distinguishes liberals from sheer secularists, a distinction which is not made in the local context.

8. Not to mind being dubbed a conservative when defending public ownership of strategic areas like energy and in defending the post war european social model  against neo liberal detractors.  Public ownership and the  welfare state may be sometimes inefficient and may be badly in need of reform but like democracy are worth defending in principle.

9.      To stop trying to control things which are beyond control.  Sometimes one has to recognize that you can only change things up to a certain extent while other things remain outside our control.  Changing that part which is in our control is the first step. The second is to join others in seeking to bring more areas in life under democratic control.  Here comes the value of solidarity and struggle.  But there will always be things which are beyond our control both on a personal and collective level.  In fact expecting miracles outside the realms of the possible often leads to the worse perversions.

10.      To seek happiness as an end in itself and feel it by living those moments of joy with those you love most for the longest time possible.