Clinging to the Wreckage

Four months ago I wrote a post titled In Praise of Feeling Utterly Confused. I said confusion, self-doubt, feeling like you're treading just above water, deep uncertainties about things others seem so certain about: this is part of life, or at least part my life.

Andrew Sullivan has a thoughtful meditation on this topic on his blog. He reflects upon his internal angst and confusion by noting the failure of some of his most cherished institutions: the Catholic church, conservatism, and America.

After describing how those institutions have failed him, he ends:

Maybe this is adulthood finally arriving a little late: the knowledge that everything is flawed and you just need to get on with it. But a church perpetrating the rape and abuse of children through the power of its moral authority is not a flaw; it's a self-refutation. A movement betraying its core principles in office and then parading as a parody of purists is a form of anti-conservatism as I understand it. And a democratic country using torture to procure intelligence it can use to justify more torture, and prosecuting a war that never ends against an enemy that can never surrender: this, whatever else it is, is not America as its founders saw it. Again, it is a kind of self-refutation.

Where to go? What to do? You read me flounder every day; and you can find many less conflicted bloggers to read. Maybe I should take a break and live a less examined life for a while. Or maybe I should do what I am still doing: trying to make sense of where I belong, stay praying in a church that has sealed itself off from modernity, cling to a conservatism that begins to feel like a form of solipsism, hang on in the hope that America can reform itself and repair the world a little. I think, in fact, that this is obviously the right and only serious choice. Life is always a temporary and losing battle, an engagement with the deadliness of doing. It just feels deadlier than usual in these past few years of brutally unsentimental education.

Or maybe I should laugh more.

Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.

I think there's some truth to the idea that "everything is flawed and you just need to get on with it."

As Martin Buber said, "The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable."

8 comments on “Clinging to the Wreckage
  • Great topic. I think that Andrew has it right that at some point we have to accept that everything has flaws. Most organizations are an imperfect combination of imperfect people. Look at any intimate relationship and tell me that you don’t have to accept someone’s flaws; it doesn’t work any other way and you can’t change people, not matter how hard you try. Peace.

  • This also sounds like marriage. Disappointment held at bay at first, but eventually a flood of doubt as expectations collapse. But yes, I think that adulthood is learning how to embrace the marriage anyway.

  • What a lot of depressing ideas!

    There are a lot more wonderful things in the world that make the trials worthwhile. For a start, disappointment etc is most important as a way of learning and growing, so we can live better, more wonderful & constructive lives thereafter. Turning “bad” to good makes everything worthwhile, and is eminently & perpetually possible, on an individual level.

    Check out the Jewish philosophy of “teshuva”. It’s not just about righting the wrongs you did, the same approach applies to getting over your own upsets. (People who don’t believe in God can do it anyway).

  • I must echo what Alice says. This is a needlessly depressive way of looking at the world. Is Sullivan suggesting that those who carry on in the world, flawed as it may be, are living a less than examined life? Surely disappointment is as much an intrinsic property of the ‘disappointing’ object/ event as it is a function of the ‘disappointed’ person’s expectations which may well have been out of whack. e.g. Ref Audi Byrne’s comment. People expect their future spouses to be perfect without nary a critical look at themselves. For years I have been telling a smart, good looking, single, male friend of mine that to wait for Cindy Crawford may be an awfully long wait even as he watches his own hair turn grey and his waistline run away with his age.

    Seeking perfection in anything but nature is a losing battle for every institution is but a negotiated agreement between conflicting agendas.

    Perhaps the answer lies in continually examining, challenging, refining our expectations, not sitting still, taking the smooth with the rough. That is life.

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