For more than 50 years, the constant outdoor hiking and roaming of these backcountry has been my go-to way to combat urban worries, money, work, and overweening ambition. I didn’t start hiking regularly just when this “On the Trail” column started 11 years ago. No, no, it was already a completely satisfying way of life since 1971.
Sigmund Freud aptly describes the trade-offs involved between “civilized society” and its myriad advantages over the very specific (and selfish) wishes of the individual in his 1930 book “The Malaise of Civilization (Civilization and Its Discontents)” ( 4.1.1.).
Despite the recent reduction in mileage due to a few minor eye surgeries, I still manage to get out into near-nature at least three times a week, and during these forays there are those quiet periods that allow the mind to relax. ‘set up, then start thinking about the world in general. Even if it’s against all advice, I regularly go out alone because I don’t have a job and I like to go there whenever the mood takes me (yeah, it’s easy to hate retirees like me!). Issues looming on the planet at large obviously include the war in Ukraine, the pandemic (it’s not over!), climate policy, and funding the education of all our children.
The past informs present thought, even controls it, and these larger thoughts sometimes dominate. While teaching courses in Western Civilization, United States History, and Comparative World Religion for the past 40 years, I have always emphasized civic values: the need to serve “the common good.” Whether in a small native group, in the Empire of Hammurabi, or in classical Athens, individual members of society have always been inculcated in the practices of essential civic virtues (4.1.1.).
As we will write “citizens” today, no matter what group humans live in, the individual must give back to the original culture and learn to do so. Sometimes we should serve others for the common good. Sure, it may seem obvious, but it seems like we’ve failed over the past half century or so. Thus, I discovered that many Americans today do not have a global narrative instilled in them, and therefore have not absorbed the crucial civic virtues or understood their value. A stark example in a democracy is the sacred value of voting (voting) in elections – exercising your right to vote, as people used to say. Too many people forget how absolutely crucial voting is as a civic value.
When the conceptual shackles of “Judeo-Christian civilization” and Western civilization’s white male hero worship necessarily fell into the hands of anticolonialists, deconstructionists, postmodernists, and feminists, critics threw far too much structure and narrative unity. (Some of this happened during the intense culture wars of the 1980s.) At the same time, most Americans report feeling pressed for time, typically running around town or working for pay, and they often display world-weary attitudes – uh, just exhausted from the whole process of exploding 21st century urban and digital lifestyles. Teachers struggle to promote constraining civic values amid these debilitating time wars with mad rushes on frantic parents and overbooked kids.
The Germans have a cool term for this psychological condition, which many of them also suffer from: Weltschmerz – the pain of the world.
This infamous condition did not simply begin for us with the appalling images unfolding in the current Ukrainian tragedy or the searing photographs of the genocide in Rwanda. Again, through the newsreels of 2003, many of us endured horrific feelings watching the disgusting “shock and awe” bombings during the unprovoked US assault on by Saddam Hussein Iraq (2003-07). I was traveling in southern Greece during the American attack on Iraq in 2003 and felt the harsh disdain, even detestation emanating from other French and Spanish tourists.
Across the highly connected world of the 21st century, these violent wars have struck and, beyond death and destruction, they have also damaged civic sentiments at home as well as relationships between nations. Consider by Vladimir Putin destruction of Grozny in 1999 (called Chechen wars), by Xi Jinping continued repression against Uyghurs in Central Asia, by Viktor Orban autocratic antics in Hungary, by Rodrigo Duterte crimes in the Philippines, etc. These autocratic rulers destroy civic pride in their own country. (Just as many Americans opposed the stupid war in Iraq, today some Russians suffer when they oppose what their country is doing to a good neighbor, Ukraine.)
This crushing Welschmerz amplifies our stress and the feeling that we are out of time and only to care about ourselves and ignore the declining ideals of civic virtue – and just then we forget to express our gratitude for the service of others. Originally a romantic concept, the idea of worldly pain is full of contradictions. It seems humans can rise up and serve others heroically during miserable times (e.g. how Polish families welcome Ukrainian refugees), but the general civic spirit still feels splintered with a widening chasm between shared values. As a society here, we can express our gratitude to healthcare workers, first responders, grocery store workers and all the mothers who feed their loved ones.
The COVID-19 pandemic intensifies everything, including heartbreaking fear and anger over the Ukrainian war as well as personal anxieties over lack of time, money and a quality education for our children. These negative emotions drag us into ever-faster hells of activity, anxiety and doubt, and prevent deep reflection. For children, in particular, and those left unprotected against these forces, they can become deeply upset, psychologically fragile, and writhing without the comfort of a clear narrative of the world (story). Who teaches effective civic education to our children?
Here are three methods that I have tried to practice in order to deal with the overwhelming psychological and political stressors of our divided, violent and pestered 21st century:
A) Seize these moments to burst into quasi-nature or quasi-nature. Over decades of teaching here I have located several practical green lawns like the Jesusita Trail, the Tunnel Trail and the Rattlesnake Canyon – and long ago I ran with my friends Rolf Scheel and guru Franko the along local beaches at low tide, churning in the sand towards nirvana.
B) The daily and ritual expression of gratitude also promotes reflection and civic-mindedness. We celebrate Lincoln’s birthday in February to recognize his dedication and love for the US Constitution. Philosopher Byung Chul Han notes that the loss of common rituals and ceremonies undermines the essential group (village, tribe, team, community, modern society): “One of the most serious problems of our time is the lack of commitment to common symbols “.
In ancient times, these periods of slowed and required reflection were called prayer, or participation in Eucharistic rites (or other rites), and some today might call them meditation. Many of these grateful expressions would revolve around human relationships, so it is about giving thanks as a ceremony and a ritual as well as a duty (dharma in Sanskrit), or as a penance. Every day, maybe light a candle, or sit on a prayer rug in a certain spot, or take in the best natural views around you and enter them visually, or take a hike in the nearby woods.
C) The third method connects to the first through the effort to increase one’s awareness of others, including animals, and to actively render some kind of service to them, or for them, and thus also for survival and survival. health of the whole community. E.O. Wilson and Bert Holdobler note that in one species of ants, the aging workers remain on the outskirts of the colony, and they are fed, but when an enemy colony attacks, these anthills rush at them maniacally, sacrificing themselves for their ant nest ( this gives time to rest to prepare for the assault).
We can also ask whose job it is to take care of the whole tribe or the team or society as a whole. Back to effective civic education!
We are a democracy, so specific civic values include the right to vote, the right to assemble freely and to choose one’s religion, and political freedom. Civic values include the generic term ‘citizenship’, but when we become specific it also means asserting the virtues of ‘good’ behavior, as well as political practices (see 4.1.1.).
In this contrast to “civilization,” we often feel unease or ambiguity about the many wondrous techniques of our advanced society. I just had two clear plastic lenses implanted in my eyes and I can see 20/20 in one of my orbs as well. Yet the industrial pollution that overheats our planet, economic inequality, and our constant conflicts and wars are really wearing people down. It doesn’t help that Wilson claims that ants are even more deadly and even genocidal.
I walk back on a scenic path above the city, inhaling the fragrant blue ceanothus in full bloom, spotting the low golden poppies, enjoying a renewed view in many ways, and there is some inner relaxation. I will return to town ready for the fray and the many wondrous challenges therein.
» Ten civic values could include justice, liberty, equality, diversity, authority, privacy, due process, ownership, participation, truth, patriotism, human rights man, the rule of law, tolerance, mutual assistance, self-restraint and self-respect. Freud, Civilization and its Discontents (1930); the literature on teaching civics and civic virtues is huge and growing, just compare the 1619 Project and the civics material available on Real Clear Politics. Grozny: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/10/world/europe/photos-chechen-war-russia.html. BC Han, The Disappearance of Rituals (Polity 2020), p. 6 quote. B. Hölldobler and EO Wilson, Journey to the Ants (Harvard 1994). I thought my photo showed bush poppies, but J. Jamison showed me that these flowers were from a yellow mutant early California golden poppy, which flowers are usually orange/gold.
— Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone anchors in antiquity and has written extensively about the local hinterland. His latest book, Autobiography in the Anthropocene, is available at Lulu.com. He acts as steward of the archaeological site for the US Forest Service in Los Padres National Forest. He welcomes readers’ ideas for future Noozhawk columns and can be reached at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.