Originary thinking is a way of hypothesizing how human language, and hence human beings as a self-conscious species, could have first emerged in this world. Our hypothesis is that this emergence of consciousness would have required that the first humans become humans by their collectively inventing (i.e. someone mysteriously discovering and then somehow sharing with the others) a way to signify, as sacred, the centre or focus of what could become a memorable and re-presentable communal, i.e. human, scene. Unlike the animal pecking order - where one-on-one relationships of dominance and submission are iterated to construct a group hierarchy in which the alpha animal need not address the pack as a whole (thus the pack's origins and history cannot be imagined in communal myths or rituals) but need only be concerned with his immediate rivals and potential mates - the creation of a specifically human scene would have ordered all of the newly human beings in a new way, according to the ways of culture and not simply of nature. (By the way, this is not to imply that our primate cousins have nothing remotely cultural about them, but only that, unlike humans, they have not had the need to leap fully into a world defined by culture as a basis for both social order and freedom.)
The new human community would have been first constituted as periphery around a sacred centre, a human periphery alienated from the centrality that everyone desired - and a sense of alienation would always remain a fundamental quality of human being. The new community took its first steps by exchanging its first sign of language around the central thing or place made sacred or untouchable by this same sign. In other words, the exchange of language emerged as a way to defer conflict over something, maybe meat, that everyone wanted to get their hands on at a moment of disorder when the pecking order was breaking down. Once the first people could all equally share in language, then they could develop new ways of dividing up and exchanging things - on the model of shared language - moving beyond the pecking order to develop a new kind of economy and society.
While this hypothetical original scene would not determine the form or content of all the countless human scenes that have followed it in a historical process of re-discovering and re-presenting the human, all the scenes that have followed share in what is minimal, original, or universal to all human scenes. I believe the goal of our blogging friend, Scenic Politics, is to better understand what is necessary to bring any such scene into existence, the better for us to renew the religious and the political scenes in which we presently take part. (The political scene, as a seculized form of the religious, is of especial interest to our friend.)
Thus Scenic Politics begins his post by reflecting on the universal sense of alienation from the sacred centre that constitutes one key element of our common or original humanity. While we are all alienated to some degree, many political actors today (mis)interpret this reality in order to reduce all human relationships to a terminology of victims (of central authority) and putative victimizers (those deemed `privileged', i.e. closer to the centre than the rest of us). Scenic Politics asks us to throw off this way of thinking, namely "white guilt", and to renew our love and respect for the centre without which we would have no human community, no politics, no exchange, and no way to represent and renew our nations:
Within the originary configuration, we are all located on the margin, sharing our love and resentment toward the center. The effect of the history of de-ritualization, grounded in the Judaic and then Christian revelations, with its unremitting resentment toward the “Big Man” who seizes the ritual center has, in modern democracy, accentuated the resentment at the expense of the love. There is a kind of “center” in contemporary politics, regulated (or perhaps fantasized) by insipid, inoffensive figures like David Gergen and David Broder, or, really, anyone in possession of the latest polling results. And doesn’t every political figure want to be there? The problem, of course, is that such a center is a mirage: sitting down with two dozen polls, and choosing all of those positions claiming majority support will yield nothing but incoherence; and any attempt to put such a “center” into practice will see it instantly evaporate. As with the second term Bill Clinton’s focus on “initiatives” like school uniforms, you hedge more and more, do less and less, and hope nothing real ever happens. But some real things have happened since then.A genuine resentment on behalf of the center! That strikes me as a pretty damned good summary of what we are trying lovingly to build here at Covenant Zone! Read the whole thing...
The prevalence of white guilt as our de facto governing philosophy aggravates this situation. For white guilt, the center is the source of pollution, not sacrality; sacrality is to be found in defending the victims of the center; and the most exemplary victims of the center are precisely those driven to extremes by the extreme violence of the center. It is in confronting white guilt that we will discover what we really need: a genuine resentment on behalf of the center. For white guilt, the center is guilty until proven innocent; and, moreover, the standard of proof is so high that it can never be met: ultimately the center’s very centrality is what is most incriminating. The fact that we can’t prove all we “know” about the center is itself the most irrefutable proof of the center’s insidious and pervasive power.