the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world













The Spanish use the word ‘desdichado’ to mean “miserable” or “misfortunate”. Wilfred of Ivanhoe, in the famous romance, used it to mean “disinherited”. Like Ivanhoe, I too have been outcast because of my views. Also like Ivanhoe, my rejection has made a wretch of me, in part because I feel I have been denied my birthright. I am, after all, a native of this very land whose people have determined that I am unacceptable. Should I not have as much right as any to say what behavior becomes a Yankee and a Hoosier?

I have given up trying to justify that. If these self-titled “Americans” can’t accept me, they can keep their bloody misnomer. It is a mark of my emotional security that I need not belong to a particular country, ethnic group, or nation. My country is the whole of lands, my ethnic group the whole of beings. My nation comprises all those who have no other, who are outcast and dispossessed. I call myself and my fellow leftovers ‘desdichados’.

If los desdichados can be said to have any characteristics in common, they would have to derive from our shared status. We will tend to not be patriotic, even as wretches, because we of all people know well what patriotism leads to. We will love, if not plain anarchy, then at least autonomy. As such, we will favor persuasion over coercion as a means to agreement, and reason over emotion as a means to persuasion. We will not, though, seek agreement where it is less than necessary, believing as we should in individuality. Above all, we will respect all things and revere none. Those of us who do otherwise will soon find ourselves the thralls, willing or unwilling, of those from whom we have just now wished ourselves free.

Convention and tradition in greater society are taken as self-justifying. For me, though, it is not enough to do something simply because my neighbors do so or my forebears did so. It is not enough even to be without a reason for not doing so, though this is seldom the case anyway. Every action must be done with a positive justification, or not done at all. As for what counts as acting, and what as refraining, I don’t have Archimedes’ place-to-stand from which to determine the starting point. We could do a lot worse, though, than to consider our non-human fellow earthlings, and those humans whose societies are simpler, as models. We have, at least in this culture, shown a tendency to oversimplify what we can’t control and overcomplicate what we can, which is a greater mistake than doing the opposite. Faith in convention and tradition has blinded us to what is artificial, and we must exorcise those artificialities along with the faith that maintains them. Among others, most of the earlier inhabitants of these very Americas lived lives much less complicated and artificial than their conquerors, whose heritage in large part is ours. And members of other breeds, though more difficult than other humans to understand, have collectively almost no artifice, and, as ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ suggests, can be counted more wise for the very reason for which they are generally counted less. Who, for our presumed superiority, is the happier?

I cannot, though, neglect the dual nature of myself, you, and many others besides. Only in the physical context in which we find ourselves now can any of us be said to be organisms. In my essence, I am a mind, and as such I have more needs than the purely earthly. When my earthly needs are satisfied, I will still have a desire to overcome even one small part of my confusion. Is this artificial? I can perhaps ascribe my spiritual awakening to the complexity of the greater culture, but, having realized my spirituality, I cannot deny it. And the chaos of ideas offered by the dynamics of dialectic would have suited as well to the purpose; such dialectic is more prevalent in the briefest meetings of desdichados than the longest debates of polite and contented society.

For this reason, I would willingly reconvene in a society, but only with those whom I knew well, and could expect to adhere to a few simple principles ― reason, respect, and frankness. I would consent to a common cause, survival, but only if it worked towards the greater good of creating an opportunity for both autonomy and dialectic, of which the former is rare and the latter rarer.

Even if you aren’t generally disillusioned with greater society, I can virtually guarantee that you make your life more trouble than it needs to be by relying on convention and tradition. Get real! If you haven’t yet done so, ask yourself why you do what you do. Ask yourself what the important rituals and values you depend upon mean. If you don’t know, or aren’t sure, they probably don’t mean anything. No reason to mourn, though. You’ll be required to think about what you do from that point on, but such a requirement can hardly be considered unreasonable. You can think, after all. You might even find, like me, that thinking is what you were meant to do.

A maritime conceit: most of us have lived our whole lives on an oceanliner. All around us are stormy waters; yet we do not notice, because the cruise is as smooth as a walk on the beach. The ship is big and stable. It provides for us a safe, secure world wholly apart from whatever goes on in the seas beneath. Most of us are now perfectly dependent upon the ship for our survival. We know nothing of the dangers of the waters. Still, we fear. The cardinal rule which our mutual contentment counts on: don’t rock the boat. Break the rule and you will find yourself deprived of your freedom. I personally can never be happy among persons under such a spell of fear, and I intend eventually to set off in a lifeboat for wherever it may bear me. I will take with me all those who are willing, and I encourage all to consider it. The choice, in my opinion, is clear. Disembark, or go down with the ship.

There is, of course, another alternative: learn to swim.


Original version


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