In the comments on the environmentally tinged previous post, ‘Suzanna’ wrote that:
"Some is my faith community are thrilled that it is so "easy" to go to Nairobi in a group 60+ to help with AIDs sufferers.
Airfare? CO2 emmissions? What kind of economy are they demonstrating?"
It’s a frustration I fully sympathize with. The problem is that it seems that our every good turn is armed with poison for somebody. Our desire to do something for AIDS sufferers kills the planet. Just yesterday I went out to buy something… the environmental, organic version was only available from a shop some distance away. Do I drive and get the more ‘just’ product, or walk to the local shops and buy a big brand?
It seems, as Marquez wrote so beautifully of General Bolivar "is there any way out of this labyrinth?" If we are not careful, our determination to ‘do no evil’ leads us into a path of total inaction. It’s the end-game of postmodernism: there is nothing true, nothing to pin our colours to, nothing firm, nothing real… and nothing we can do.
I think there is a way out. A third way between blind belief in the goodness of our actions, and the tangled web of hopelessness. It is what I would call ‘the symbolic life’. It is, for me, what The Symbol Society is all about.
To live symbolically is not to do nothing, and nor is it to believe that we are saints with pure actions. It is simply to attempt, in everything we do, to point to something beyond ourselves. It is to live in hope, realizing that everything we do will have some ill effect somewhere, but believing that to keep raising symbols will, in some small way, have some greater impact at some unknown time in the future.
If I keep turning the lights off in my classroom when we leave, I know full well I am doing little to save the planet. But this tiny act is perhaps in some way symbolic, pointing people to a greater thing, to an idea about care for resources, and discipline to do our bit.
The Symbol Life is thus connected to the gift, which goes out of sight, and thus to generosity. We can’t do everything. But we can not do nothing. So we keep raising symbols, throwing up symbolic acts in raw hope…