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THE SORROW THAT DARE NOT SAY ITS NAME: THE INADEQUATE FATHER, THE MOTOR OF HISTORY

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Abstract

Although the following essay is literary-philosophical, it arose from a practical interest. I have been struck by how widespread today is the complaint about the ‘inadequate father’. Of course a father may be inadequate in diverse ways, either absconding, absent and weak, or overbearing, bullying, and tyrannical, or some combination of these. Further, I am not restricting the term ‘father’ to its narrow biological sense, but using it rather as a metaphor for any institution or structure which an individual or a group feels should have been in place to guide, direct, and protect them in important situations, but did not do its job properly. Consequently they are willing to concede they are not all they could have been, but they insist it is not their fault, rather the fault of the ‘father’ who should have done his job better. This ties in with the fashionable appeal of ‘victimhood’. Everybody today seems to want to cast themselves as a ‘victim’, for reasons similar to those mentioned above. If you are a ‘victim’, then there must be an ‘oppressor’– and some ‘parent’ organization that should have guided, directed, and protected you against the oppressor, but again did not do its job adequately. It is striking how many individuals and groups around the world today choose to perceive themselves, and to present themselves to others, as ‘victims’; it has indeed become a preferred characterization of our age, for it carries with it a rhetorical advantage that trumps all others. If you are able to cast yourself as a ‘victim’, and have others accept this, you disarm and neutralize criticism, not only of what you are, but of what you are currently doing – because the latter can be presented as a just ‘compensation’ for what you have suffered. As with guilt, there is no built-in quota or statute of limitations. This rhetoric was not as common thirty or forty years ago.

There is an added factor here in America and the New World generally where, according to a whispered criticism, as our ancestors crossed the ocean, they experienced a ‘drop in civilization’. Life here was initially without some of the structures and institutions which had evolved over thousands of years in the Old World, which could thus be presumed there but here were absent. As we won with difficulty our independence, we unconsciously repudiated much of the ‘higher culture’ of the colonial master, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As the ‘economic bubble’ of having won the Second World War has gradually dissipated, we discover we are handicapped by an absence of the forms of maturation and self-realization that arise in and are necessary for dealing with prolonged peace. In our ‘ideology of liberty’, our adults become essentially grown children, unschooled in anything higher, and thus have particular difficulty assuming the responsibilities of parenthood. They are forced to fall back upon a military style of giving orders, because on this side of the water, ‘final causes’ in the form of commonly admired or agreed on goals for striving are not in place. In this sense there is an absence of the ‘adequate father’. Further, as ‘American Culture’ expands through publicity and the media, we spread the same disease.

There is another relevant factor, the ‘celebrity-liberationist’ lifestyle that has been diffused into the general population since the 1960's and has become a default secular ethic of our time, replacing the traditional Judeo-Christian decalogue. The former is invoked as a justification for aggressively seeking fame and fortune, and making no attempt to conceal this; rather than worrying that such an attitude will cause offense, it is worn proudly and defiantly in the hope that others will identify with it, thereby branding the performer a cultural hero. This popular strategy towards fulfilment itself rests on a metaphysic of ‘expressive individualism’, a position that holds that the supreme ethical imperative to which other obligations must be subordinated is for each to bring forward their hidden noumenal core, the only source of value, into phenomenal appearances where it may be admired and benefit others and such that creation will for the first time be complete. This change in Western culture made possible by greater affluence and security represents a trickle-down phenomenon and democritization of the awe reserved for the artist revered as a genius during the nineteenth century, now spread to the entire population. Anything that constrains this expansion, which interrupts or limits this transfer, is to be rejected as parental abuse, psychological repression, or cultural imperialism.

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