The Deeply Subjective Self
The postmodern self is a deeply subjective self. By rejecting traditional values and even recognizing the limits of scientific understanding, and by understanding intuitively that we construct reality as we go along, we are left with only our inner, subjective experience as authority. Our truth is relative. We cannot exercise judgment because there is no place to stand to determine validity. We reject the notion that anyone has anything of real value to say because we distrust both authority and hierarchy. And our feelings become the ultimate arbiters of good and bad, right and wrong.
In the end, we evade personal responsibility, because, after all, there are no true standards which can universally govern our behavior. We alternate between terminal “niceness” (because, after all, a person’s feelings are at the core of the truth of their being) to a rampant meanness (because I have a “right” to my opinion and a responsibility to assert myself to avoid giving in to my “victimhood” or to establish appropriate “boundaries”). This is the world of the sensitive self, the “Me” generation, self-righteous political correctness and cultural creativity.
When you strip all of this away, you are left with a very loud mantra: “Nobody tells me what to do!” This, in essence, is a deep form of narcissism and it is potentially quite dangerous. As Elizabeth Debold says in her article “Boomeritis and Me”:
[I]n the context of a world careening out of control precisely because we are so out of control, this is actually no joke. Narcissism is a force in us, built up over hundreds of thousands of years of human history, which must be renounced in order to make the evolutionary leap to a new way of being. It is a willful, and aggressive, denial of the creative force of the universe, whether we call it the Divine or God or what you will. This core motivation—Nobody tells me what to do!—sounds like the peevish rant of a two-year-old, which it is, but it is not harmless when it provides us with an excuse not to care beyond ourselves, destroys the true nobility of the spiritual quest and the imperative to reach for the highest in human potential, or justifies the rage of the innumerable sensitive selves who feel victimized in contemporary culture.Boomeritis in the UU Church
I see this in myself and I see it everyday in our church. We UUs participate in this cultural complex without even thinking about it. We see it in our culture of criticism. We see it in our intolerance of conservatives. We see it in our stated commitment to liberal political action but failure to back up that commitment with sacrificial action. We see it in our token environmentalism and our claims to seek diversity (while our churches remain overwhelmingly homogenous). I am the first to admit to my own hypocracy in all of this. I am infected as well. However, for the good of the planet, I have to move on and I suspect we in the UU church have to do the same.
The trick, it seems to me, is to recognize that I am not here to have my way but to serve. I am here to contribute, not to take. I am here to lay my life down. I can no longer afford to say “Nobody can tell ME what to do!” but rather I must fundamentally say “My only hope lies in being of use in this world and what gets in the way of that is my self.” To my mind, that requires that I seek deeper spiritual truth -- that I learn and realize the true nature of my egoic self.
Jean Gebser, Don Beck, Chris Cowan, Ken Wilber and many others claim that we are on the threshold of a new level of consciousness. If we manage to negotiate that process, we open ourselves to new stages of human evolution in which we deeply see and understand the integrative nature of reality. Those perspectives hold promise for our solving some rather pernicious and dangerous problems. But those perspectives require that we let go of myopic understandings of who we really are and begin to understand that all that we think we are is merely a passing emergence in flow of infinite time and space.
© 2007. Matthew Wesley. All rights reserved.