To Be (an individual) or Not to Be

Numerous and writers of very diverse perspectives have noted the negative effects of post-modern radical individualism on the psycho-social well being of people.  The effects include alienation, isolation, and divisive separation between people who on the one hand crave independence and yet on the other hand want to belong to something greater than themselves yet cannot see community as a way of achieving this.

I recently read the following:

“The person with a secular mentality feels himself to be the center of the universe.  Yet he is likely to suffer from a sense of meaninglessness and insignificance because he knows he’s but one human among five billion others – all feeling themselves to be the center of things – scratching out an existence on the surface of a medium-sized planet circling a small star among countless galaxies.”   (M. Scott Peck, A WORLD WAITING TO BE BORN)

That quote reminded me of something I read a long time ago, in quite a different literary genre, the book FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk.    I actually found the book far more interesting than the movie, which I thought was way too graphically and senselessly violent.   In FIGHT CLUB the evil alter ego Tyler Durden offered a rational for why being violently evil actually had a positive effect in overcoming the alienating isolation which causes meaninglessness in life.  

“How Tyler saw it was that getting God’s attention for being bad was better than getting no attention at all.  Maybe  because God’s hate is better than His indifference.               If you could be either God’s worst enemy or nothing, which would you choose?  …   Unless we get God’s attention, we have no hope of damnation or redemption.           Which is worse, hell or nothing?            Only if we’re caught and punished can we be saved. … ‘If the prodigal son had never left home… the fatted calf would still be alive.’       It’s not enough to be numbered with the grains of sand on the beach and the stars in the sky.”  

As Tyler Durden saw the world to be numbered among God’s chosen people or among the redeemed in heaven makes you nothing – one among countless others.  This translated into his totally warped thinking that being singularly evil would at least attract God’s undivided attention to the individual.  Even if God was totally concentrating His wrath on you, at least you would then be the center of the universe and exist as a person!

Such is the result of the alienation/isolation of post-modernism’s radical individualism.

Dr. Peck at least offers a hopeful alternative to violent evil as the way out of the meaninglessness of alienation.

“The person with a sacred mentality, on the other hand, does not feel herself to be the center of the universe.  She considers the Center to be elsewhere and other.  Yet she is unlikely to feel lost or insignificant precisely because she draws her significance and meaning from relationship, her connection, with that Center, the Other.” 

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