Connect The Chaos: Acedia, American Debt Crisis, Failure of Democracy

America is not in the grip of mass hysteria. It’s more like mass acedia.

Americans are jamming the Congressional switchboards with telephone calls, as political and economic chaos draws near, but what’s the message? We have no consensus for constructive action. And surprisingly, we lack even a widely shared impulse to avoid self-destructive behavior. What we see and hear is more like a combination of teen-aged indifference and childish impatience: “Do something. Do Anything. Just stop bothering me.”

Democratic processes are failing, and we have no King Solomon, no leader with the sure wisdom to know the right thing to do in the present circumstance.    A few politicians try to be serious and constructive, but they’re surrounded by a pack of dogs intent on tearing them apart.

Kathleen Norris writes:

“I think it likely that much of the restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair that plagues us today is the ancient demon of acedia in modern dress.”

Acedia. You could look it up in a dictionary, and find “sloth” and “apathy.” Ms. Norris has a more nuanced explanation:

“At its Greek root, the word acedia means the absence of care. The person afflicted by acedia refuses to care or is incapable of doing so. When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet can’t rouse yourself to give a damn. That it hurts to care is borne out in etymology, for care derives from an Indo-European word meaning “to cry out,” as in a lament.”

Democracy is a failing proposition when people are incapable of “caring.”

We’ve achieved a society and economy where daily life and survival are so challenging that few people are able to be engaged in democracy. It’s too important and too complicated — to the extent that people are aware, it irritates them. They want it (democracy) to go away and leave them alone.

When good people are disinterested, the door is open to . . . Who? . . . What?

Remember, democracy requires the attention of the masses. Chaos can be instigated by a few, and out of chaos can come despotic rule by a single strongman or a handful of thugs. Remember the Weimar Republic in Germany, or the Fascist period in Italy. 

I think we have good reason to be afraid. What do you think?

I need to reread “Acedia & Me,” by Kathleen Norris, this time with an eye on the implications of acedia for survival of a modern society.

— John Hayden

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7 Comments

Filed under Books, Debt crisis, Democracy, Economy

7 responses to “Connect The Chaos: Acedia, American Debt Crisis, Failure of Democracy

  1. I’ve said for years that the people with money and influence were manipulating things as much as possible to keep the majority of people so desperately floundering that no one has any time to engage in democracy. How can people who are working two jobs and raising kids as a single parent, with a 90 minute commute both ways? Just for one common example.

    Hell, I haven’t got kids and I have no commute, and I just can’t stand the sight of idiots long enough to engage in the process anymore. Did it, saw how absurd it is, can’t think how to change it.

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    • Ms. Sled, your observations are always right on. You could probably throw more light on the travails of democracy by writing that second novel. — John

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      • Third. The second is out there, full of Philip Marlowe repartee. Actually I wrote most of it and then got cold feet because I had somehow predicted something that played out in local politics so precisely that I couldn’t publish without either a total rewrite or the appearance of calling a community theater director a spouse-beater and murderer (he publicly echoed things that I had hung on a character drawn from whole cloth).

        I sometimes imagine that the only thing that will create change is a general mutiny, a mass refusal to jump through ever higher hoops in return for the illusion of security. No we will not get in our cars and drive two hours to get to a job, for example. We will buy health insurance on the new exchanges and invest our own retirement money and sell our services as contractors and refuse to dick with people who treat us like serfs.. Imagine if the whole Federal workforce one day said God Damn It, we are not coming to work until someone fixes the Metro system. Yeah, a fantasy… we were talking about fiction, I guess…

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  2. Ms. Sled, The Arab Spring comes close to being a general mutiny, although only history will tell how much is changed. In light of the news of the past few days, a general mutiny may not be so far away, in America or Europe. London is burning, Wall Street is crashing, and several members of the European Union are teetering.

    And I still haven’t read your first novel. I look forward to it this fall.

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    • What I would like to see, though, is for the mutiny to be peaceful. Pipe dream, perhaps, but just imagine if everyone who was taking years off his or her life by sitting in a car for two hours to sit at a desk for eight, being bored and humiliated to little good purpose, were to just sit down and say NO one morning. Or better yet, say NO and put on shoes and go out in the fresh air.

      What would the corporate machers do? Call out riot police to make them come to work?

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  3. It would be wonderful to see a mass movement of nonviolent resistance to the corporate-political ruling class. We need a leader like Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi. But I don’t know what you’d have to do to shock the mindless masses into following such a leader.

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