The recent events in Orlando, FL and England, should leave us stunned, but not paralysed. When emotional reactions and hate are all we can muster, we have already lost most which makes modern North Atlantic values worth saving. Once cognition does not even come to mind, the very notions of inclusion and national inter-reliance deplete. And these are the values without which we cannot tackle difficult problems such as climate change.
Let me be clear. I am not endorsing a particular way religious, economic, or political relations are structured. I remain a Utopian in the original Greek sense. Utopia: literally—no place, from Greek ‘ou’ not + ‘topos’ a place. To hope for, dream about, and fight for an alternative structured future is Modernity’s gift to us. Now for a small dip into what I’m worried is happening today.
In A Secular Age, Charles Taylor postulated a slow drift in individuation facilitated by the social change from the premodern to modern. Whereas premoderns saw themselves as permeable—open to spiritual, social, and other powers outside their control—moderns are buffered. Buffered individuals believe there is a minimal distance between their circumstances and choices. Taylor hints at how the premodern public sphere had direct access to the individual’s private sphere. Moderns, in turn, are buffered from the public domain.
Today, however, the consensus of the buffered self is slowly disappearing. It still is uncertain what kind of individualised self is replacing it, in the so-called post-secular world. What is clear, is the current fundamentalist hard-line self, whether terrorist or nationalist, is not a return to the premodern. Although there have always been hardliners of all political, economic, and religious colours, the developing tohubohu of self is different.
The post-secular self, it seems, vacillates between straining to buffer the private person and absurd public explosions of (almost Benjaminian divine) violence. Modernity’s gift to us is a public sphere of relative safety, where thoughtful discussion means steady progress. It is a space sustain by listening patiently and loving others more than being right. It will take all who still believe in its possibilities to maintain a hopeful glimmer of the non-place it tried to be.