At Least Times of "Provincialism" are Over:

Now Rootless State of Cosmopolitanism & Speed

can be Integrated Part of a Liberated Life

(from “Ride the Tiger”)

The transcendent dimension may also become active in reaction to the processes responsible for a steady erosion of many ties to nature, leading to a rootless state. It is evident, for example, that the stay-at-home bourgeois lifestyle is increasingly and irreversibly affected by the progress of communication technology, opening up great expanses on land, sea, and air. Modern life takes place ever less in a protected, self-contained, qualitative, and organic environment: one is immersed in the entire world by new and rapid travel that can bring us to faraway lands and landscapes in little time. Hence, we tend toward a general cosmopolitanism as "world citizens" in a material and objective sense, not an ideological, much less a humanitarian one. At least the times of "provincialism" are over.

To see what positive effect such situations can have on the development of the differentiated and self-possessed man, it is enough to glance at the ideas of certain traditional spiritual disciplines. In them, the metaphysical idea of the transience of earthly existence and the detachment from the world have had two characteristic expressions, whether symbolic or actual: the first in hermit life, living alone in desert or forest, the second in the wandering life, going through the world without house or home. This second type has even occurred in some Western religious orders; ancient Buddhism had the characteristic concept of "departure," as the start of a non-profane existence, and in traditional Hinduism this was the last of the four stages of life. There is a significant analogy with the idea of the medieval "knight errant," to which we might add the enigmatic and sometimes disconcerting figures of "noble travelers" whose homeland was unknown, who did not have one, or must not be asked about it.

Although our case is different from that of ascetics who remove themselves from the world, the situation of the latest technological civilization might offer the incentive for commitments of this kind. In a large city, in mass society, among the almost unreal swarming of faceless beings, an essential sense of isolation or of detachment often occurs naturally, perhaps even more than in the solitude of moors and mountains. What I have hinted at concerning recent technology that annihilates distances and the planetary spread of today's horizons, feeds inner detachment, superiority, calm transcendence, while acting and moving in the vast world: one finds oneself everywhere, yet at home nowhere. In this way, the negative can again be turned into positive. The experience increasingly offered, and often imposed on our contemporaries, of going to other cities, across frontiers, even to other continents, outside the sphere of a secure existence with its peculiarities can be banal, matter-of-fact, touristic, utilitarian, and in our day almost always is. Alternatively, it can be an integrated part of a different, liberated life, with a more profound meaning in the above-mentioned terms, but only if the proper capacity of reaction is present in oneself.

Given that the speed factor has an essential role in the modern, technical mastery of distances, a passing allusion could be made to the value of the experience of speed itself. It is well known that today it is used by many men, and even women, almost like alcohol, to obtain a physical intoxication that feeds an essentially physical I, needing distraction from unpleasant thoughts and drugging itself with strong emotions.

Like the machine itself, some situations of speed in the technologized world can have a virtual, symbolic, and realizable dimension, often involving risk: the greater the speed, the more it requires a superior lucidity, bringing into play a higher type of calmness and internal immobility. In this context the intoxication of speed can even change its nature; it can pass from one plane to another and have some traits in common with the type of intoxication of which I have spoken describing the state of integrated Dionysism. If this were the proper place, I could develop this theme much further.






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