Saturday, July 14, 2007

Prophetic witness

According to Cornel West in Democracy Matters:

Prophetic witness consist of human deeds of justice and kindness that attend to the unjust sources of human hurt and misery. It calls attention to the causes of the unjustified suffering and unnecessary social misery and highlights personal and institutional evil. The especial aim of the prophetic utterance is to shatter deliberate ignorance and willful blindness to the suffering of others and to expose the clever forms of evasion and escape we devise in order to hide and conceal injustices.
This definition seems to fit the beliefs and actions of a great many activist on the left. I agree with it's premise that if all mankind strove to be prophetic witnesses and acted accordingly than suffering in the world would be reduced. However, I am concerned that being actively conscious of all the injustice in the world is hard. Not that it is too hard on me personally. I am mearly pointing out that my life would be easier if I choose to ignore injustice and pretend it doesn't exist. Or better yet I could blame the victim for their ill fate and my
conscience would be clean.

In my opinion the Right has done a very good job of building a culture that blames the victim. To change this culture will be extremely difficult because it requires people to do something which is much harder on them personally. We want them to take responsibility for their part in creating and/or exacerbating the suffering in the world, and to change they way they live.

The Right tells the middle class and wealthier people that they are innocent, the poor are responsible for their own stake in life. Then the Right plays to the wealthy's pride in achieving their status, "You are a responsible citizen and look at how you have succeeded, if only they worked hard, like you, they too would be wealthy." The Right says you are just fine the way you are. The Left says you are part of the problem and you must change to make the world a better place.

You can see why the Right's message is appealing to many people and why the people who agree with the Right just want those pesky leftist to shut up and go back to wherever they came from. (Note: pesky leftist are always from someplace else, but that is another post.)

Around the Left blogosphere people are writing about creating a progressive culture. We realize that we can not reverse the long term political rightward trend in this country, if we do not replace the culture of "individual responsibility" with a culture of "caring and community." A culture where it is not "every person for themselves" but one where "we are all in this together." I applaud this effort and think it is absolutely essential.

But we must recognize that we are asking people to choose the harder road. Individuals have to sacrifice some of their wants and desires in order to build community. If we do not offer people some reward for their sacrifice then I fear our efforts will be in vain. No, I don't know how to describe the reward, but a better world is not a sufficient reward. It has to be something personal which rewards each individual for their sacrifice.

To live in community is more fulfilling than to live in isolation. We each try to build a circle of friends whom we trust, but we ignore those outside our circle. When we are young we have free time and our circle of friends tends to be large. As we get older, work takes more time, family takes more time, and as everyone gets busier our circle shrinks. At the extreme, people only associate with coworkers at work and their family for the rest of their time. To engage in your community to address common concerns is a way to break this cycle of isolation, to expand ones circle and thus live a more fulfilling life.

American today is a very alienated society. Americans feel isolated from their neighbors and fear people they do not know. The elite in this country benefit from our isolation and appear to reinforce our individualism constantly. They know that only in combination can we challenge their power and status. This is a challenge for the Left but it is also an opportunity. People are uneasy in their isolation. If we can convince them that not only are we stronger together we are happier and more fulfilled as individuals when we are together than we will be moving in the right direction.