Bubbles from a Deeper World

3A8D12C1-906F-4DB2-A471-FE3E924B67CAIn his 2013 book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” Rolf Dobelli says that (news media) items “are bubbles that pop on the surface of a deeper world.” If so, a profound one popped from the lips of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference August 6, 2018 following a deadly weekend of shootings in the city that left at least 12 killed and 66 wounded. 

“There is a shortage of values about what is right and wrong”, he said, clearly frustrated over a public all too willing to hold the city accountable while holding themselves unwilling to offer helpful information to police.

The mayor spoke as if those values are self-evident to all. Perhaps in times past we might have assumed so. But the meaning and force of right/wrong as categories of moral behavior lost their clarity long ago.

So as news outlets continue to foam up the daily body count around the nation, I believe it’s worth thinking seriously about the source of that little bubble about which the former Mayor of Chicago spoke.

What about the deeper world from which it rose? What is stirring the deadly violence that continues to rise in our nation?

I’m not trying to point a finger. I’m just attempting to think seriously about the mix of ideas, moods and mindsets which increasingly erupt in fatal violence and release those media-bubbles that emerge and pop on the surface of our viewing screens again and again and again.

Obviously elements like the pandemic, social media, mental/emotional health, handguns and environmental stress are all involved. But what other, less obvious elements are part of this deadly, deeper world?

For example, I wonder about the role of Postmodern thought. One of the features of postmodernism is a disbelief of the “meta-narrative”. This philosophy doubts the real existence of any connected totality. There is no one worldview in which all things properly fit. Instead, the real world is better seen in terms of small stories or local narratives which do not have to connect. And as such, they cannot be truly evaluated or accurately assessed from the outside since, according to postmodern thought, language itself is a compromised form of communication. So people are grouped into tribes whose histories can be incommensurate and whose values are incommunicable. In short, if I belong to one tribe and you to another, it’s futile to even understand each other, much less agree on moral standards to which we can both agree and submit.

And I wonder about the influence of Secularism; specifically the crowding out of a real, transcendent hope by the urgencies of the Now. Contemporary spirituality is becoming a less corporate, more private refuge. Visions of a Paradise as held by the religious are figments of their imaginations. Prayer as a corporate response to crisis is seen as useless, even offensive. A present, powerful and material force of change is required. Secularism says that the tools for forging a better world are anthro- ideological hammers, blowtorches and stopwatches because time is short and this present age is the only workspace there is.

And finally I think about the divorce of morals from education. This idea has institutional roots going back at least 60 years. It was once referred to as “ values free” education and continues along many vectors, such as the efforts of some universities to meet academic requirements without imposing moral views. You can know enough to get an A in ethics class yet never learn or feel the need to behave ethically. The big lesson learned is that cleverness trumps character. Every time.

2021 saw the biggest rise of deadly road rage incidents ever. Since the Columbine High School incident in 1999, mass shootings have increased steadily in frequency. A week hardly goes by without a new report of some disproportionate and lethal response sparked by the most trivial offense.

So, what is stirring the deadly violence that continues to rise in our nation? As I said, I’m not trying to pin the blame on any particular thing. That being said, I cannot believe that we are being helped by post-modern thinking that moves us more into an isolating tribalism, a growing sense that this present world is all there is, and a spreading personal conviction that doing what’s right for its own sake is for losers who just aren’t smart enough.

If indeed, the constant rise of lethal violence in today’s news are like Dobelli says, “bubbles that pop on the surface of a deeper world”, then can we change the chemistry of the abyss that is creating the bubbles? I hope so. Because, like most of us, I don’t want the evening news to be the herald of my demise. Or yours either.

2 thoughts on “Bubbles from a Deeper World

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