Amoureax by Eve Arnold

1 Sanity: A New Order

Sanity is participation in the Kingdom of God. It is a participation characterised by certain postures, dispositions or virtues and by particular material manifestations, things which are formed by us and things by which we are formed. We will find ourselves sane in an order which is not ours - in a ’given order’ - an order within whose limits we are held in flourishing; an order we undergo. I would like to suggest that in the present we have access primarily to a ’sanity’ which is a very pale likeness of that which comes of participation in a ’given order,’ the Kingdom of God. In fact, I would like to show how this ’sanity’ which is a likeness only, actively prevents us from entering into the dynamics which might form us in the sanity of participation in the Kingdom of God. This anemic ’sanity’ is intensely supported and subsidised by the structures of modern life: technologies of diverson; 'ease' born of cheap energy; comforting consumption. It is from these subsidies and diversions that I suggest we must move to subsidise, in as much as we can, a ’given sanity’. A 'given sanity' is a sanity which cannot be manufactured, marketed or consumed - it is given to us; we undergo it. How is it then that we might in any fashion subsidise something given? My supposition is that we might work to co-create particular kinds of spaces, what I call sane spaces. Through opening spaces which possess particular characteristics, notably fecundity born of care, we may ourselves be opened by these spaces into the rhythms and patterns of the Kingdom of God: sanity.1

2 Cheap Energy and Subsidising Sanity

It takes merely a moments reflection, armed with the knowledge that many synthetic products such as plastics and fertilisers are fossil fuel based, to realise that we are intensely dependent upon cheap fossil fuel energy for most of our daily acts of living. Fossil fuels have made many things ’easier’. For example, not many of us bottle and preserve fruit and vegetables anymore. We can easily go to the supermarket and buy all the fruit we want fresh, even out of season, because it is transported vast distances according to what is ’efficient’. Apparently, it often seems more ’efficient’ for lemons to be imported from California to Perth while the lemons from many a suburban backyard tree rot on the ground. To my mind, however, this ’ease’ is the comfort of our captivity. Like the Israelites who would groan in the desert for the fleshpots of Egypt, we remain in a life which is destructive of the creation, our relationships with each other and our mental health. In response to the first, we might change our lightbulbs and recycle, to the second we might structure into our lives more social activities and ’quality time’, to the third we might get a hobby or go on holidays. Of course these are merely a few of the things we might do. I mention them by way of suggesting that most of our responses to our malaise of comfort, while helpful to a certain degree, fall short of a full Christian work. These responses remain deeply dependent upon existing energy intensive systems and do not have the liberating and celebratory element that a Christian response must have. There may be a certain liberating simplicity and ’sanity’ or ’health’ offered by these strategies but they are sometimes subtly additional stresses and sometimes merely diversions from an underlying weariness.

What I am suggesting is something hard-but-good. The kind of thing that will never be a vote-winner and so will not be proposed by any but a career-sacrificing politician. The very last thing that I want to recommend is something simply hard-but-right, something which we berate ourselves into, which we do only because we must, not because we are caught up into a joyful and creative Spirit. I expect that what I am proposing will ultimately be necessary but I think that there is more than necessity to recommend it. One of the peculiar insanities of our age is that is it structurally quite unsatisfying. Indeed, the very unsatisfying nature of the ’work’ most of us do drives us to recreate ourselves, to divert ourselves, to be amused and entertained. Of diversion, Pascal writes:

“The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us on to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death.” Pascal, Pensees, 2.171

It is just this kind of diversion that I would like to equate with the pseudo- ’sanity’ which we are so ready to subsidise with cheap fossil fuels. If we are to be able to accept the negative feedback of weariness and form ourselves for a true sanity we must proceed with discernment, lest we become weary unto death.

Something I would like to point out is that this pseudo-’sanity’ which I put in scare-quotes purports to be a kind of true sanity. It parades as something categorically similar and would fool us. This is important for, while it has the nature of what Pascal calls diversion, it is in fact a complex of coping mechanisms and techniques which help us to ’soldier on’ and give us the appearance of sanity. To come off these coping mechanisms too quickly or without something with which to replace them may place us face-to-face with realities with which we are unable to cope and send us deeper into our diversions. Jaques Ellul uses the example of a deep-sea diver who uses technological assistance to enter an environment which is otherwise hostile to human life. So it is for us. We are assisted to cope with the manifold alienations of modern life with our fossil-fueled and subsidised technologies of diversion. A deepsea diver cannot at once cast from him his industrial lungs lest he be too deep to reach the surface or risk the bends in trying. In the same way, should we attempt simply to dramatically reduce our consumption, unaccompanied by new structures of a joyful and productive life, we may find ourselves, in the difficulty of low energy life, slipping quickly back to the things that have always provided us with comfort in hardship, things which move us back into a numbed alienation. It is even more difficult to start again from here; we are more weary and so more heavily invested in our diversions.

Attempts to simply reduce consumption, I suggest, are actions born of a narrow analysis. This is a negative strategy and sees over-consumption as the primary problem, not as a symptom of deeper, structural issues. To merely ’flee-from’ overconsumption neglects to consider an alternative destination and the joyful possibility of ’fleeing-to’ something.

I am reminded at this point of Jesus’ parable of the return of the unclean spirit in Matthew 12:43-5 and Luke 11:24-6. Jesus warns that unless something new comes to reign in the ’empty’ space created by the departure of an unclean spirit, a full complement (ie. seven) of impurity will return. Some new thing must arise in an emptied house, swept and tidied. If we are not to continue in ways that offer only the cycle of ever deepening enmeshment in alienating ways, we must hear the liberating word say ’Come ye out from among them’ (Cor 6:17) - out into the promised land, a new and wholly different order. What then might constitute a gentle entry into this new order, one that is wholly committed and yet discerning? What I suggest is the creation of sane spaces.


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