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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 01/03/2005
Vol. 2, #154


In this, my first column of the new year, I find myself endlessly preoccupied with the enormous human tragedy resulting from the deadly tsunami on the other side of the world. Last week, I had Superman describe "doing good" as an emergent expression of one of the most active fields of our human existence.

This week, the role of doing good seems to have been transferred to the entire human population with whom, through the Web, I have been in wide, selective contact. Suddenly, "doing good" takes on a mien and character that even the mightiest of imaginative characters can never achieve.

To clarify, it's a simple fact that Superman, the comic strip character is precisely the guy to zoom in and clean things up, distribute food and purify water, stem the secondary flooding and generally help the injured, etc, etc.... In reality, as I said in my recent book, AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, Superman is us, all of us, when we're at our highest and most concentrated level of personal and group reality.

And in actual fact, I have literally been stunned by the amount of private generosity from people all over the world to this enormous tragedy that struck so suddenly between Indonesia and Africa and all the contiguous nations around the Indian Ocean. Not a soul I've contacted, and there have been many, that has not immediately and generously contributed what each could to alleviate the suffering of their fellow humans on the other side of the world. I have never experienced or shared in such an outpouring of personal generosity, to the extent that national leaders were themselves shamed into contributing far more than they had originally intended. Humanity itself spoke in such unparalleled numbers and strength that the politicians belatedly rushed in to follow the lead of their constituents.

But it still leaves me and many others contemplating in an entirely new way, whatever notions we may have formed personally to deal with what can only be called: "the mystery of human suffering." Not really a job that Superman was ever intended to consider. But we, the bulging human mass that fills this planet, have certainly been forced to do so in the course of our own tiny lives, time and again.

Many turn to religion, and believe me, the religions, especially in the west, have all the answers. Suffering is punishment for sin, or expiation for someone else's sin. They invented sin to explain suffering. But on the scale of the monster tsunami at this year's close, it strikes me that the old answers are not good enough. Sin itself, in this context, becomes a massive tangle of contradictory obligations, many of which involve rituals that are out of place in this century. I have my own glimmerings of an idea about suffering as, I suppose many persons of my years, after lots of grief-filled life experience, may also have arrived.

It is not easy to express in this small space, but, in a sense, just a few words may be more fitting than the tomes already written on it. Any effort to understand suffering must come to terms first with the idea of "consciousness" -- a truly difficult notion to conceptualize.

"The self is a relation that seeks to relate itself to itself and is transparently grounded in the power that posits it." This, for example, is one kind of answer from one of the most profound and difficult of writers on consciousness, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. But it's not only typical of such efforts in its density. It's insufficient for the rest of us who, in an act of world-wide shared consciousness, sent mountains of wealth across distant borders to distant humans from distant races and "heathenist" beliefs, because all of us knew innately that suffering is something profoundly shared and profoundly human. And we also sensed that suffering is somehow the means to an expansion of consciousness, for all of us.

I don't think I'm prepared to go much further on this subject at this time. Nevertheless, it's the most important question that confronts us in life. It has a way of making many of us superheroes, when we really transcend ourselves. Others it simply destroys. It is life's essential question.

You must have thought about this yourselves. Certainly that's the case if you're a regular reader of this column. Share those thoughts with us on the Round Table. We all need to hear them.


<< 12/27/2004 | 01/03/2005 | 01/10/2005 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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