Luke Bretherton, baby-faced Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University in the US, has written a powerful article describing Brexit and Trump as responses to the “sense of precariousness and disorder we experience now.”
This view which politicians like to make use of – that we are living in a more uncertain world – sometimes brings me up short. I think,
What? Compared to living through world war? Compared to living before penicillin? Compared to living in Dickens’s London, or the Ireland of the potato famine? Compared to when exactly? Aren’t we living in a time where the possibility of imminent death has never been so distant, so unreal?
And then someone like Bretherton comes along and spells out with beautiful clarity why it is that “this sense of disorder is no illusion.” Here are some of the questions he says we are confronting in the current moment:
- When we can manipulate the basic structures of life at a genetic and planetary level, we are forced to ask what does it mean to be human? What is our relationship to the land, the sea and the air? And what are our responsibilities to the planet as a whole?
- As we become more ethnically and morally diverse as societies and some states collapse – even while historic wounds fester and erupt in others – we are confronting questions about how to remember the past and whether a common life is even possible?
- Amid economic crises and the dominance of the plutocratic 1%, we are asking whether there are limits to the market or is the market the only reality we all share?
- Through debates about gender and sexuality, we are asking what does it mean to be a man or woman?
- Amid changing patterns of work and the incursion of information technology into every area of life, we are asking what is work? What is social life? And what should be the relationship between humans and machines?
- With changes in medical technology, we ask what is health? And how are we going to care for the elderly?
- In a globalised world made up of networks and flows of people, information, goods and services, we are debating what the role and form of the state should be? And is democracy fit for purpose?
It’s a great article and I urge you to read it (see the link to the article at the end of the post). Following are some further highlights.
Institutions, whether they are part of civil society, state or market, are tools for solving collective problems and pursuing, fulfilling and ordering the goods necessary to sustain a common life over time. We no longer trust the institutions we have, yet we cannot imagine the institutions we need for the problems we face. For example, we know we have to educate our children, but there are basic disagreements about what schools are for, how to teach, who should be in the classroom, and how to train teachers.
Obsessed with technique
We also ignore questions of ends by obsessing over what are the right means. We focus on producing potable water rather than what we are morally obligated to do with it. We focus on techniques of education rather than its purpose and meaning. We focus on sustaining life rather than asking what is the meaning of life … And we focus on the means of mastery: economics, science, technology, politics. We are obsessed with the means of mastery …
Trump, the campaigners for Brexit and the populist parties (on both left and right) on the rise across Europe trade in weaponised forms of nostalgia. They present faux solutions for a world that no longer exists …
The condition of possibility for a common life
Attentiveness and reception – characterised by a posture of listening or contemplation – is the precursor of shared speech and action, and thence the coming into being of a common life …
To read the article, click here: Brexit as Theodicy and Idolatry