Years ago, when I began this blog, I was a much younger man who had just escaped a constrictive, shallow culture and had to build my own worldview from the ground up -- my foundations being skepticism and human-centered values. I was then just starting my twenties: I am now entering their twilight, and feeling the advance of age (I am sure older adults will find that risible), not so much for a declining body but for the increasing weight of responsibility and outside demand for deepening maturity. That owes, in part I suppose, to age, but perhaps more to the fact that in pursuit of certain ends, I have voluntarily placed myself into positions where more would be expected of me. Such, I believe, is the key to self growth.
The ends I speak of involve my community of Selma. After having lived for three years in Montevallo, I was won over completely to the charms of small town life, and in particular to the fact that I spent so much time relating with other people in our common place. My friends ate together, we explored the town together: we frequently bumped into one another in the course of seeing to our own separate affairs. When I returned to Selma, I was determined to restore that sense of community in my life. Although Selma is my home, I had never considered it such until then. After returning from university, I began to walk its streets, and immersed myself deliberately in what social fabric it had: I began volunteering at the library as I looked for work, and even began attending services at the local Episcopal parish, since they offer opportunities for community life and spiritual/personal growth without the usual downsides of religion, the suppression of thought and coercion to authority. (The Episcopal church is of course very traditional, but the relationship between humans and tradition there is proper: there, traditions exists for humans and are maintained or changed at will.) In the time since I began both endeavors, I have become a member of the library's reference staff, and an increasingly involved member of the parish life of the church.
There's an essay in my making peace with religion, one I have attempted to write but have never published because it invariably involves experiences of mine which had a profound impact on my perceptions, but which are impossible to communicate to other people. Not that I was felled from my horse on the road to Damascus, but I eventually realized there was sometimes more to people's faith in divinity than an arbitrary, stubborn belief in a Santa Claus for adults. I think most people believe in deities for meaningless reasons, but I've developed an appreciation for the realm of mystery, of people being moved by things they can't explain. I don't think religion can be banished from the human mind any more than the abuse of authority can be riven from human politics. And while usually I wouldn't be one to settle for defeat, in this case I'm more willing to bury the hatchet with religion, and perhaps even embrace it as an ally, against anomie, meaninglessness, and consumerism. Marx wrote that religion was the heart of a heartless world, the soul of a soulless situation. It will remain with us for as long as people need comfort against oppression, and I cannot imagining that changing. That doesn't mean giving religion a free pass: I see it as useful, and sometimes benevolent -- but ever dangerous. It's like fire: protected against itself, kept in its place, it does good work and is charming in its own right. Outside of those bounds, destruction waits.
So the years have seen the furious fire of idealism within me be tamed into a murmuring hearth of their own; quieter now, but still hopeful despite a lessening of intensity. I think it a safe assumption that most people here will never be won over to some of the ideals I cherish, and so in the interests of relating with them and working with them, I turn to more pedestrian matters, matters of interest to everyone, subjects that cannot be boxed up and buried in a partisan camp -- matters like transportation. As I spend more time with people of different political convictions, I realize how perfectly asinine the liberal/conservative dichotomy is. Why should fiscal conservatives embrace war and the waste of suburban sprawl? Why should liberals tolerate the increasing dominion of the state over individual lives? The world of beliefs and values is more complicated than I ever imagined.
My own beliefs are not free of contradictions. There are moments when I am still the young social democrat, who believes in government and who thinks people should make health and education public issues out of pride: of course we should work together to do this, we're a team! And there are moments when I want to run away, to retreat into the woods living a simple life and subsist on fish and mushrooms or something. I dream of the future, of what the human race can achieve -- and yet look nostalgically toward the simpler past out of despair for what eager attempts to Create the Future have resulted in. In the end, of course, my world will neither be transformed into a Star Trek utopia, nor fall apart to such a degree that I would be justified in not being concerned with it. What is left for me is to continue to live in the world I currently inhabit, the one with messy politics and people who act in distressing ways -- to continue to live in it, and to work to create and preserve a worthwhile life, to make my local community a better place to live...to practice the noblest virtues humanity has conceived to aspire to.
In future posts, I will be working through the contradictions occupying my mind -- the tension between individualism and community life, for instance, or between the value I place in science and the annoyance I have with human life being overly complicated by and dependent on gadgets and technotoys. Practical philosophy, especially Stoicism, is still of interest to me, but I may muse about the human environment more, from the viewpoint of a concerned citizen. The particulars of the world in which I live are of increasing importance to me, not only because they give me an area to work with others to improve, but because as I grow older, I look at the world through the eyes of someone who may one day introduce children into it...and I want it to be as conducive to human flourishing as possible.