“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Heard this often in my youth and realize now that referred to those who don’t see and understand the world as I did at that time. There is vision and then there is “vision” and learning this lesson requires as step one, realizing that at very best we “see” through a glass darkly. To put that in more human terms, we “see” only in accordance to a deep-seated need to “see” the world that we are accustomed to. For example, in my youth in the state of Arkansas, I clearly saw that “Negroes” were not as intelligent and virtuous as were white people. “It is obvious,” I’m sure I told myself. What I failed to understand then is the dictate from my culture which mandated that I saw “Negroes” in this way and that seeing them in such a manner fulfilled my personal and tribal need to have someone that was beneath me on the social ladder; they were “the other” in my early life. The irony of that was that my family was close to the bottom of the ladder itself the first decade or so of my life when those values were being imprinted.
Obtaining vision requires a capacity for paradox, realizing that we see only when we realize that we don’t see, that we see “only through a glass darkly.” This paradoxical capacity introduces us to the experience of “the other” and awareness of our existential loneliness. We are all very much alone in this world and it is only through the illusions of cultural contrivance, the object world, that we can superficially connect with others and pretend that we have connection. And this “pretense” serves a very useful function in this very necessary world of appearance; but it is only when we venture beneath the surface, beyond the pretenses of our persona, and flirt with what W. H. Auden described as the, “unabiding void,” that we can enter the meaningful realm of spirit in which a more genuine connection is possible. You might even say that our tippy-toeing near or into the void, “scares the hell of us”….or it least it can…as hell is living one’s whole life on the surface, failing to answer the famous question of Jesus, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul; or, what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
AN AFTERTHOUGHT — What prompted this post is a story in The Economist about the state of Oklahoma and its egregious lack of vision. Their “lack of vision” so closely parallels the obscurantism of the Republican Party in my country. Here is a link to that story: