A philosopher ponders on the other history of America’s evolution over time. The question he asks is a valid, though not a quintessentially “patriotic” one: If only a refugee child were to be told about the history of violence, cruelty and systemic disenfranchisement of groups that white supremacists have successfully weakened, decimated and dominated, how would she perceive her adoptive home?
An “earthly Zen koan,” embedded in an excellent story on improvisation and empathy.
That is more than human in its dimension.
In a culture where productivity, organization, efficiency are all blindly celebrated as virtues of a “good” or “right” living, idleness and its more dynamic cousin, procrastination, is shamed into anathema. Why, procrastination verges on a disease, an abnormality, that one day could be “cured” by a big pharma product.
However, if we were to believe in multiplicities of ways to be human and normal, then we would be more fleshed out and deeper than we are as social beings in this constrictive society of ours. So, let’s revisit procrastination from a philosophical point of view, guided in this by Texas Tech philosophy professor Costica Bradatan.
In a broader context of idleness, Bradatan says the following of the procrastinator, classically, a person who defers production/action till infinity:
The procrastinator is smitten by the perfect picture of that which is yet to be born; he falls under the spell of all that purity and splendor. What he is beholding is something whole, uncorrupted by time, untainted by the workings of a messed-up world. At the same time, though, the procrastinator is fully aware that all that has to go. No sooner does he get a glimpse of the perfection that precedes actualization than he is doomed to become part of the actualization process himself, to be the one who defaces the ideal and brings into the world a precarious copy, unlike the architect who saves it by burning the plans.
In other words, the procrastinator is not a defective human being, but a person who is hesitant to give physical form to the idea, or a birth, as it were, to what he holds in his mind as an idea. The reason for the hesitation, which is also a resistance, is the belief that once in the world, or in what poet John Milton would call the “tract of time,” the idea will become tainted, ruined by the vagaries of time: decay, ageing, and finally death.
Thus, procrastinators are doers–they refuse to be agents of what they perceive as degradation.
The philosophizing of procrastination is enabled by Gnosticism, a philosophy that values the “nothingness” which precedes all actualization.
Critic Pankaj Mishra has composed an interesting essay that traces the rise of Trumpism in America, the success of the Brexit movement in Britain, and the anti-globalist trends that are taking shape in Western democracies to the anti-elitist, a.k.a. anti-cosmopolitan, philosophy of 18th century thinker, Jean-Jacque Rousseau.
Evolving intellectually, in the eye, as it were, of the 17th-18th century European Enlightenment, that valued “reason” as life’s ideal guiding principle, Rousseau balked from the Enlightenment’s cardinal principles and advocated a return to nativism and the “goodness” of the provincial life if people wanted to experience true freedom. Cosmopolitan modernity, that manifests a particular form of egalitarianism through aggressive pursuit of global trade, was according to Rousseau, a version of enslavement without the visible whips and chains.
Much as I would hate to dignify the thoughts and expressions of a Donald Trump by placing it in a history of Western backlash against globalism, I read Mishra’s analysis with interest. Indeed, Trump’s famously muddled and ultimately meaningless articulation, “I love the poorly educated,” could be a caricature of Rousseau ism, but an expression of antipathy against refined and cultured urbanity it is.
The pain of recognizing one’s vulnerability is a precondition for an ethical life. To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, the ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be sheltered.
Martha Nussbaum in an interview for the New Yorker Magazine