Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Losing Things

Losing things is maddening. When I lose glasses, wallets, keys, notebooks, I get pissed off at the evil gremlin who keeps moving them from the places I just put them like the washer/dryer where both my socks were. I know it’s not the result of getting older because, when I think back, I’ve realized I’ve lost these things consistently all my life.  It still makes me mad.

Getting old does seem to make me lose words, balance, stamina, and the use of a limb because of a fall. But these losses incite more regret than madness. And so does losing a game and money. 

Losing friends and family brings grief beyond regret. 

Losing a job or income might make me angry. And if that is combined with the loss of dignity, meaning, and purpose, I experience resentment and look for or make up those who caused it. I can’t fight abstract systems or the gods, so I settle on persons who I consider enemies. I resent the immigrants taking my jobs, the rich corporate CEO who moved my job overseas, the new university graduate, a woman no less, courted by employers, the intellectuals who explain it away with abstract economic theories. I join forces with others like me to bring down these evil people profiting from my loss. And I link myself with a self-proclaimed winner who will lead me to confront and win against my enemies.

Losing a sense of worth in a changing world and society, where my values are no longer appreciated, where behaviors which I was taught were wrong are now acceptable, where language I habitually use is no longer considered correct, where the groups with whom I identify are considered backward, where people once considered inferior to my social identity are moving ahead of me, I identify with those who have a general sense of malaise and experience what is labeled by certain elite thinkers as ressentiment.

Ressentiment is the term used by French existentialists and other 20th century thinkers to describe the status of us residents of modernity who have lost our moorings, our beliefs in supernatural beings and places, our sense of purpose in history, the meaning of our lives. Angst, more than anxiety and anger, is the personal feeling of ressentiment or ultimate loss. It is the poison of nihilism that will kill our species.

Is there an antidote to this toxin? Some seek the cure in forgetfulness through addictions in drugs, sex, consumption, celebrity. But that seems to only add to the resentment. Some seek it by giving their minds and votes to a strong man who claims he can fix it. But this populist authoritarian is in fact stirring up the resentment for his own purposes and power. There is an antidote but it starts by realizing the anger, grieving the loss, and accepting the resentment in myself and in others. 

As a nation we are grieving, but I don't want to get stuck there, do you?  Yes, we are in a Moment of Resentment but we can get through it. I want to use this occasion to chose our future.

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