Friday, October 5, 2007

Alienation: Our absence from ourselves

The current issue of Communio International Catholic Review is dedicated to the subject of restlessness. Hence, the first article is On Restlessness by Fr. Antonio López, F.S.C.B.

"With a work ethic that assumes worldly success as the governing principle of life," writes Fr. López, "and an increased sense of scientific progress claiming significant mastery over the beginning and end of human existence, the Western world has come to cultivate a seemingly positive, though superficial, concept of restlessness" (Communio, Summer 2007, vol. XXXIV, no. 2, 177-8). Indeed, human restlessness, the inability to be content and satisfied, has been a topic of theological and philosophical investigation for centuries, but especially in the twentieth century as existentialism matured. Indeed, one of the driving forces behind Heidegger's project of the recovery of the question of Being was restlessness, known in his writings and translated into English as boredom.

"Work," continues López, "valued almost exclusively for the sake of income, claims all of man's energies. Culturally speaking, it gives man's time and space their form. Man is ever more tantalized by the idea of moving ahead and upwards, keeping the door open to any change of job, city, country, or interest that may be required" (178). Such an openness, while the having allure of being liberating, is really quite disorienting, not mention destructive of communities.

Cutting to the chase, Fr. López observes that all this change, this standing ready in the hope of change, "signals a permanence of youth" (178). We must "keep going, transforming 'old age' into a sort of adolescence that is blind to its mortality. This restless, spasmodic search for an increasingly exciting novelty, however, is an appalling index of man's absence from himself" (178)

One of the most poignant pieces of television I have watched, albeit on DVD, is the final episode of season two, which was the final season, of the original BBC program The Office, in which Tim discusses the meaning of work in people's live. The monologue, while trying to be hopeful, comes off as a rather sad commentary.

Of course, St. Francis is a model of overcoming alienation, as are all the saints in their own ways, which is not a painless endeavor. We must be willing to suffer, even open to suffering. The saints are the concrete examples of how we become who we already are, how we overcome, in Christ, the alienation between ourselves and God, between each other, and between us and the rest of creation.

I could write much more, but others, including Fr. López, have written better. His article only begins with the critique I have touched on above and then moves toward a Christian understanding and synthesis, locating this all too human restlessness in our yearning for the transcendent and pointing us to the One for whom we long, the One who is our heart's desire. It is this encounter that changes and re-directs us. This certainly gives us something to ponder for Friday and serves as a long overdue philosophical/theological refutation of Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life , a book, at least the contents of which, not to mention the subtitle, I loathe.


  1. Heh. Who moved my cheese. I haven't read it, but it's good to see that others are examining the claims of this "literature of success" as Covey calls it...

  2. Covey is their guru. I'm not much enamored of anything in this genre, including Covey. All of this plays right into what I think Lopez is critiquing. I read your post on Covey and I don't see many Aristotelian connections. Neither am I sure common sense can be meaningfully spoken about.

    I am not looking for a reality filter. I don't even like the language, which I sometimes employ, about seeing through the eyes of faith, with the implication that Christian faith is my filter. This smacks too much of English Analytical assumptions. This is where Phenomenology, even of the unreconstructed variety, like Husserl, is emancipating!

    While I am certainly not anybody's idea of a success I adhere to my lone management principle: If you wait until the last minute, everything only takes a minute, or less.

  3. Balthasar liked the phenomenology also while Walker Percy favored the behavioralists for similar reasons.

    My approach in all this is that it's better to engage this stuff directly than be shaped by it indirectly and unwittingly. It also helps to understand what's going on with people around me.

  4. "it's better to engage this stuff directly than be shaped by it indirectly and unwittingly. It also helps to understand what's going on with people around me."

    You're probably right, though I hate to admit it on this point!