It wouldn't have occurred to anyone to live this way prior to modernity, or before this thing called "progress" became readily discernible. In other words, if today is just like yesterday, and tomorrow will be just like today, there is absolutely no reason to hope for anything better and therefore project oneself out of the Church of What's Happening Now.
I think this attitude of now-deferral forms the essential structure of vulgar politics. Think back to the political ecstasy that accompanied the immaculation of Obama in 2008. Why the ecstasy? Because finally history was going to be righted, and things were going to change for the better: the evildoers had been vanquished and we could undertake the business of enjoying our lives. But do you see any evidence whatsoever of liberal joy over the past six years? No, it's just the same old hatred, bitterness, envy, and libel.
Life is only lived in the now. Or, as they say, it can only be understood backward but must be lived forward. What the so-called political junkie hides from himself is two principle truths, 1) that he is unable to enjoy life on its own terms, and 2) that he finds hated, bitterness, envy, and libel to be unpleasant. Thus, he does enjoy life in his own perverse way, locating the psychic bad in the now and naively projecting it into others, while displacing the good into the future.
Example? Here is something from a book called Obama's Challenge, by Robert Kuttner, published in 2008. Bear in mind that the future he prophesied six years ago is already past for us. We knew then that he "knows nothing," but now we can confirm it. For example, he writes that Obama "unmistakably possesses unusual gifts of character and leadership," and will use "his office to appeal to our best selves to change our economy, our society, and democracy for the better."
Yes, I'll pause a moment while you fetch your airsickness bag.
Obama has "the raw material to be a transformative president," what with his "exceptional skill at appealing to our better angels and a fine capacity to be president-as-teacher. He inspires, as only few presidents have done." Furthermore, he is "almost obsessed with the idea that people are sick of partisan bickering."
The writer cautions us that he himself is a sober, world-weary, and jaded journalist, "not a soft touch" or some kind of love-addled fanboy. Thus, when he looks at Obama in a coldly detached and dispassionate way, what does he see? First, "A capacity to truly move people and shift perceptions as well as bridge differences."
And second, "a principled idealist" whose wisdom is "breathtaking" and even "absurd" in its precocity. Furthermore, -- and the science is settled on this -- Obama has attained a level of moral development that "only a handful of American presidents have possessed." This is the "highest stage of moral development," "guided by near-universal ethical principles of justice..."
I don't know how this journalist could be any more detached and skeptical.
Obama's opportunistic campaign screed, The Audacity of Hope, is not some kind of opportunistic campaign screed, but rather, "subtle, complicated, and elegant." His "fervent desire to transcend difference is sincere." If anything, he's just too reasonable, too willing to be an easy-going centrist, so progressives will have to hold his feet to the fire.
Well, that sidetrack was completely unintended, but it does illustrate the extraordinary naiveté of these passionate progressives. But their credulousness is always accompanied by an equally hypertrophied projection of hatred. I won't bother you with examples from the same book, but suffice it to say that conservatives are the embodiment of all evil, which is why the past six years have been Heaven on Earth. Remember?
Back to the real world. Sugar Candy Mountain is not coming in our lifetime, because it is already here. Contrast Kuttner's now-deferral to Rush Limbaugh's healthy attitude toward his catastrophic deafness:
"I'm not complaining. I'm just trying to explain it. You adapt to it. It's miraculous. The way I look at this is, you look at the timeline of humanity... whatever number of years human beings have been on the earth, make that a 50-foot string, in your mind. And on that 50-foot string is the time we're alive. That's a speck of sand on that 50-foot string, maybe not even that big. And isn't it amazing that the time I happen to be alive on that 50-foot string also coincides with when humanity's brilliance and intelligence, technological achievement has advanced to the point of inventing the cochlear implant?
"If this had happened to me ten years before it did, it would have meant the end of my career and there wouldn't be any of this today. To think of ten years in the whole timeline, it's miraculous. So I'm describing this, not complaining at all. Don't misunderstand."
You could say that this is the opposite of John Edwards suggesting that the paralyzed Christopher Reeve would be able to walk if only you vote Democrat. Well, at least he's out of his wheelchair.
Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to show what asses liberals are, but rather, to highlight this pathological adaptation to time. In fact, Morson has a chapter devoted to temporal diseases, or what we might call chronopathologies. We implicitly think of mental illnesses as inhabiting the "space" of the mind, but what if some illnesses specifically involve distortions of time?
Morson comes at the subject in all sorts of novel ways. One problem, I think, is that the present, although it is indeed all we have, is inherently "incomplete." It is never enough. Thus, there are pathological ways of trying to make it enough, or to wring more out of it than there is in it.
Ultimately the only way to transform the vanishing nothingness of the now into something permanent is via God, an idea to which we will return shortly. But you definitely cannot redeem the now by packing it with all that future political goodness, as Kuttner does above. Nor is it healthy to escape the now into some utopian future. Rather, one has to start by facing the naked now, and acknowledging that it isn't and can never be enough.
In the book Faith Maps, Gallagher writes of the implicit connection between our freedom and our nothingness. Thus, "we come up against the basic fact that what is indispensable for a full life appears inaccessible -- at least if we rely on ourselves alone." The now is the gap in which we are alive, in which we think, in which we experience life. But the gap is by definition a gap, which is why we must "admit that left to our own devices we are incapable of fulfilling our hopes."
However, orthoparadoxically, "a confession of impotence becomes a springboard towards a greater freedom," for it entails "an openness to change... a 'death passing on to life' or 'dying that we must live.'" The chronopath essentially confuses healthy pain with a diseased state from which he must flee -- into the future, if necessary. But in reality, we should accept this "healthy and 'incurable discomfort' with the world."
This I like, and wish I had thought of when writing the Coonifesto: that is, instead of the ʘ symbol, a better pneumaticon would be an O with a smaller o inside -- like a torus or doughnut. Gallagher describes how Maurice Blondell found a similar image "to capture the core of his thought":
"He recalled that the dome of Pantheon in Rome has no keystone to hold it together. Instead there is an opening to the sky, through which light comes into the huge edifice. In similar fashion our spiritual journey reaches up, like an unfinished building, to a [vertical] gap through which divine light can shine.
"Thus the experience of incompleteness becomes positive" because "to become aware of our dissatisfaction with the finite is a pointer toward the infinite" -- and not toward another disappointingly finite and horizontal political future. But I suppose politics is the opiate of the secular masses.