Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why we have Bereshit; "There is no personal solution"
If we want a sustainable world, we have to be willing to examine the power relations behind the foundational myth of our culture. Anything less and we will fail.
Questioning at that level is difficult for most people. In this case, the emotional struggle inherent in resisting any hegemony is compounded by our dependence on civilization, and on our individual helplessness to stop it. Most of us would have no chance of survival if the industrial infrastructure collapsed tomorrow. And our consciousness is equally impeded by our powerlessness. There is no Ten Simple Things list in the last chapter because, frankly, there aren’t ten simple things that will save the earth. There is no personal solution. There is an interlocking web of hierarchical arrangements, vast systems of power that have to be confronted and dismantled. Lierre Keith

I can almost hear the Canfei Nisharim people now; "But Avraham Avinu was just one 'person', and every little bit counts and everyone can do their part and it will all just mount into this wonderful fulfillment of every diverging and...uh...conflicting agenda, dream and illusion we have!". And just one little drop of cynicism forestalls the arrival of Moshiach!" It's just this sort of "Golly Gee Willikers" Judaism that drives me from identifying with the LWMO settings - where a significant percentage of "prominent", idealized "devoted" members of the communities doubt that Avraham Avinu even existed...who doubt the kashrut of Torah as the yardstick by which their lives, livelyhoods and pasttimes are to be measured.

Even they fall prey to the typically-Charedi "anything for chinnuch, anything for kiruv", where all manner of delusions and wishful thinking and half-baked revisionism can be put forth to bolster unrelenting, unimpeded, un-reflective optimism to keep true believers and gain new ones in the face of complexity (at times verging on a Jewish YCYOR, of sorts). Do Jews honestly so believe that virtually every facet, every power structure, every social and industrial system can be kashered or rendered muter (Where there's a rabbinic will, there's a halachic way"...)? That industrialized Western Civilization - over all others, in actually or potentiality - has some haskamah from On High, that this state of affairs is fate itself, and that the only way is more and faster management of the world?

Read with deep, fundamental questioning in mind, I think Avraham Avinu would have been more in agreement with the mode of thought of this quote than in the outcry against it. A little chinnuch and counseling here-and-there was not how he related to the excesses of civilization of his day. "Civilized" isn't an inherently kosher notion. He left a deeply complex, deeply imbedded, corrupt and destructive 'high society', considered the height of the ancient world (ditto for Israel in Mitzraim....)! Does that even have to be mentioned?! What did he do next; move to a new city where it would be safe to raise kids and find nice, eidle work? He became a sheepherder. Who founded cities anyways, as far as Torah is concerned?...Caine. Throughout Tanach is, I believe, the refrain that "stages" of cultural evolution are human projections, that the kashrut of a society is determined by how well it optimizes actual Jewish modes of life (which is not be definition, always convenient), and that certain ranges and depths of human civilization can be koshered - and certain are to be avoided at all costs. And the differences between them are not always obvious.

Throughout Tanach we have people who were "frum" in various societies - The Avot and their struggles are not there as a reminder of "humble origins" in a "rags to riches" climb to the top of industry, progress, leisure and empire - Bereshit is there to remind us of timeless mandates of fundamental ethics - do good, be good and ethically sound, etc, etc, etc in the way of The Avot...we're counseled to follow the ethics (the central lifeways), of the city-leaving, nomadic, sheep-herding Forefathers...All of which is to some degree possible in virtually any situation we find ourselves, from rural Saskatchwan to H"V a deathcamp to nebach, Deal, NJ. But obviously some are more preferable to others. Where Jews revere Shlomo haMelekh in much popular Jewish literature for the vastness of his empire, his connections, etc, etc...the very same Jew's Tanach criticizes these very achievements (accumulating horses, i.e. chariots, a standing army of conscripts, marrying for political allegiances to expand the empire, etc). I think the current setting of the post-industrial West is reaching the "get the hell out of Dodge" stage, by the sweat of our own brow.


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