Up the coast in Northern Ireland, in the county of Antrim, sits Dunluce castle. From many angles it still look majestic and strong, sitting upon a thick carpet of deep green grass, held high against the sky. But to look from the water, straight up the cliffs, you realize that something went wrong. Thought to be a strategic location, it was a symbol of security to a village of people, but only for a short time. The demise of the castle was not from an enemy by sea or by land. It was by the sea and the land together. Though it was (and is, even in its relics) both beautiful and strong, the builders forgot to account for the foundation it was built upon. Over time, it crumbled into the sea.
“Calculations of risk may help in a world marked by regularity. But irregularity is the trademark of the world we inhabit.” (Loc1980)
The above quote is from Zygmunt Bauman’s book Collateral Damage. These two concise statements sum up the present bleak outlook of the world in which we live and the futile attempts we have made to address the issues that have contributed to them.
In our Canadian context we have very clearly been met with the shortcomings of our policy driven, reason centred approaches to issues of accommodation. In separate articles on consecutive days in one of our national newspapers (January 13 and January 14), it is apparent that our proposed solutions have created more questions. The foundations of our society are shaking.
It appears that in our efforts to provide “safety” and “security” to each people groups and by extension to each individual, we have at the same time created a tangled cultural and sociological mess that Bauman addresses at the outset (Loc 420) of this book. Despite the supposed advances in our technology and education, despite the relative abundance of income, opportunity and freedoms, there is a growing line of discontentment which paradoxically mixes with a growing number of short-sighted “solutions”. Reading through the newspaper is no different than reading through this book and in fact similar to some of the ideas discussed in Charles Taylor’s Modern Social Imaginaries recognizing again that the promises of modernity have left large cracks in the foundations upon which we have attempted to construct our twenty-first century lives. The pursuit of our ideals is creating a growing number of marginalized populations, locally and globally, which we blatantly ignore as collateral damage in preserving our sense a preferred society.
It is easy to blame globalization and the, at times, unwelcomed pressure it has placed on our communities to embrace those who are different than us. But blame doesn’t bring solutions, it only causes further divide by accentuating differences while creating mountains of untested and temporal policy as a veiled attempt at diplomacy.
Bauman’s elaborate definition of the “stranger” provides an opening toward understanding:
“A stranger is, by definition, an agent moved by intentions which can at best be guessed – but of which we can never be sure. In all the equations we compose when we deliberate on what to do and how to behave, the stranger is an unknown variable. A stranger is, after all, ‘strange’: a bizarre and puzzling being, whose intentions and reactions may be thoroughly different from those of ordinary (common, familiar) folk.” (Loc. 1150)
Bauman’s view stops short in recognizing that, in our new globalized communities it is increasingly difficult to determine who is the “stranger”. We live in a world of strangers and we appear as strangers to the world in which we live. While many seek the security of the comforts they once knew, the solutions (if there are any) can not be found in the past because we live in new present realities. The solutions must, as Bauman suggests, be found in the future: “..sociology has little choice but to follow, now as ever, the track of the changing world; the alternative would be nothing less than a loss of relevance.” (Loc. 3346) The danger for us as a society is in trying to define that future and then erect more walls within which we restrict its growth.
The opportunity is there for a different way, if we allow ourselves to think beyond our concerns for safety, comfort and security, which despite our best efforts continue to conceal resources from those otherwise deemed as collateral damage. Perhaps the new solutions are not easily mapped, but are still desperately required. Instead of policies and political or social agendas, perhaps there needs to be a movement back toward people. Not in categories or groups but in interactions and genuine concern and awareness. Despite all our technological advances, we are growing increasingly separated, isolated and anxious about our future. Bauman correctly claims that, “We lack both the needed knowledge and the required potency. Our ignorance and impotence in finding individual solutions to socially produced problems result in a loss of self-esteem, the shame of inadequacy and the pains of humiliation.” (Loc 1941)
Therefore, it is refreshing to recognize that the opening that exists for us in this complex world of globalization and increasing collateral damage is one of intentional dialogue (Loc 3376). The capacity to listen, understand without fear and toward common goals is an imperative. It is another way in which I believe that we as followers of Jesus can make a tangible difference. Our faith should free us from the cultural norms of self-preservation and social status pursuits. My fear however, is that we have contributed to the problem by shrinking back from the challenges instead of embracing them. Perhaps we have tried to patch up the old foundations, instead of being willing to look afresh at the world in which we are building. Do we truly value the “other” (define them as you will)? Or do we only value those who agree with us?
Is it possible that we are guilty of trying to build new structures upon old foundations, without first examining those foundations? May the lessons of Dunluce Castle not be ours to repeat, because there is a fallen world that is looking for strength, refuge and hope that is reliable, trustworthy and enduring.
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