Tuesday, March 13, 2012

the pretenses of solidarity

Photo by Thomas Merton
"The true solitary does not renounce anything that is basic and human about his relationship to other men.  He is deeply united to them -- all the more deeply because he is no longer entranced by marginal concerns.  What he renounces is the superficial imagery and the trite symbolism that pretend to make the relationship more genuine and more fruitful.  He gives up his lax self-abandonment to general diversion.  He renounces vain pretenses of solidarity that tend to substitute themselves for real solidarity, while masking an inner spirit of irresponsibility and selfishness.  He renounces illusory claims of collective achievement and fulfillment, by which society seeks to gratify and assuage the individual's need to feel that he amounts to something.

"The man who is dominated by what I have called the "social image" is one who allows himself to see and to approve in himself only that which his society prescribes as beneficial and praiseworthy in its members.  As a corollary he sees and disapproves (usually in others) mostly what his society disapproves.  And yet he congratulates himself on "thinking for himself".  In reality, this is only a game that he plays in his own mind - the game of substituting the words, slogans and concepts he has received from society, for genuine experience of his own.  Or rather - the slogans of society are felt to rise up within him as if they were his own, "spontaneous experience".  How can such a man be really "social"?  He is imprisoned in an illusion and cut off from real, living contact with his fellow man.  Yet he does not feel himself to be in any way "alone"!"

- Thomas Merton, Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude, in the book Disputed Questions (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960) pp. 186-187


  1. Hi. Quick thought on this one. I think this is all very well and insightful but also to some degree it "generally" must be lived one sided. It's a great thing to work on oneself and try to have the right mind and boundaries but so difficult to do so as an army of one. How often do we come across others that are working the same work. Where does the reciprocated effort come from to support ones own effort. Lack of it is no reason to not continue on but so hard to do at times. Not sure I'm even saying what I'm trying to say correctly. I suppose this is why one hears often that the contemplative life is a lonely road. ???

  2. I agree, Robert. It can seem pretty dark and dry at times. All I know is that there is no other way for me. But I do get little glimpses that the very honesty of being who I am is healing to me, and to others in my life.


God speaks

God speaks, and God is to be heard, not only on Sinai, not only in my own heart, but in the voice of the stranger. — Thomas Merton, Emble...