Almost. Saw. The fishbowl.
That thing giving my world shape and form. That thing I’m living in, but unaware of.
If you think relating to a refugee from Syria is hard, you should try relating to these guys.
Life may exist, and even flourish, at near boiling point temperatures without the help of the sun.
What would such a life feel like? Would it really even be life, or just another hoax perpetrated on us by the untrustworthy scientific community? How would I personally be changed if I could, and did, live without the sun?
I know some of us humans go long periods of time without seeing the sun, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about creatures that live without it permanently. The sun is not a part of their world. Even if they had enough brain matter to conceive of it, that far down, they couldn’t.
I have grown up in a culture drenched in what Berry refers to as “public life”. As a matter of fact, the only real proof I have that “public life” is not actually just life is Wendell Berry’s obvservations. Especially the distinctions he draws between the two in “Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community.”
I couldn’t finish the essay.
I had to put it down when I felt something tug at my awareness. Something distant, potentially down in the depths, something that perhaps had no idea the sun existed. This thing grabbed the bait I had unknowingly dropped.
What was it?
I don’t know. It was gone before I could reel it up. When it got to the surface, all that was left was refuse and this idea–
Every thought I have in the course of the day, every solution I offer, every problem I identify, every bit of advice I give, every decision I make is informed by a force that I am unable to name.
A revelation with refuse? Not quite. This is nothing that hasn’t occurred to me before. And yet, I felt newly unsettled.
This force… what could it be?
Nah. Not here. Not now.
Wendell Berry calls it “public”. And he’s skeptical of it’s value.
When a public government becomes identified with a public economy, a public culture, and public fashions of thought, it can become the tool of a public process of nationalism or “globalization” that is oblivious of local differences and therefore destructive.
When I read these words for the first time, I thought, “Berry, you’re wrong!”
The word “globalization” can’t help but place me squarely in our current, dare I say global, political dialogue. The anti-globalists appear to be in, while the, um, globalists (?) are out. It’s just coincidence that the current batch of anti-globalists are also money hungry bigots.
So, the question becomes how can non money-hungry egalitarians defend those values without embracing the, um, destructive values of “globalism. Well, if we’ve fully consigned our fight to the public life then we’re definitely screwed. We can’t do anything about the public life. We have no control over it. We don’t belong to it. It just is.
If we want to defend these values we have to do it locally. We have to create places that reflect a world that doesn’t burn up natural resources for personal profit or consolidate power based on exclusionary principles.
The next question is how do we do that without becoming goddamned hippies? Especially if we’re used to living the public life and have little or no connection to the community we live in.
It’s not going to be easy, but here’s my suggestion.
Start saying hello to people on the street.
Stop looking at me like that, you asshat. I said start there!
I personally do not always say “hello” when I pass people on the street now. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I politely glance their direction to see if they’re glancing back. If they are, then I’ll say it. If they’re not, I move on. It seems a bit childish, but if they don’t want it, I’m not gonna give it. Other times, I feel them giving me the glance, but I’m having a bad day, feeling vindictive, ya know? And somehow withholding my “hello” seems like striking a powerful blow against my inferiority complex. Ha! I’m too good to even say “Hello” to that old lady. How could I possibly suck? That said, certain people always get a hello, because they’re always ready to give a hello. So, it appears current protocol is “Let the other person establish the protocol.” •___*
By saying “Hello” to every person I meet, in a very small way I’m forcing them to be a part of my community. And I’ve always been reluctant to force anything on people.
What would Wendell say?
He’d say, “Hello” or “Good morning”. I’ll say the same thing.
I still don’t know what impact the *pull* of “public” life has on my individual life. What have I given up to participate in the public life? Have I gained anything of value from participating? How does my time in public affect my time in community?
As a matter of fact, I’m writing this now on the large patio of a cafe. I can quickly count 17 people within 50 feet of me.
Many of these people are here with others. I’m alone. There are three other poeple alone. One studies his laptop, and quietly mouths something to himself. Another one leans over what looks like recently printed paper for class, marking it up with a pen. In the corner, the third loner has her earbuds in and, oblivious to me, and apparentely the world around her, scans through her phone.
I am in public with them, but owe them nothing. I owe the groups of people even less. I can choose whether to interact with them or not. I can choose how to handle them if they decide to interact with me. I can treat them rudely. I can be polite but guarded. I can send them packing. I can invite them to sit down. Whatever decision I make it will be made based on my individual values, and my individual desires in that moment.
This is not community life. This is public life.
Did I mention I have earbuds in?
This force, whatever it is, would have been present before I got here. From the very first day of my life it would have begun pulling me slightly to the left or to the right. Maybe like an out of alignment car drifts. Or better yet like a boat on the ocean. This force may be an ocean current, pushing me imperceptibly in one direction. And without landmark to mark my original direction by, I would never know.
One last thing. As a reward for making it this far.
The ears are different, but the hair is in all the right places.