The Genesis of Despair

“At the core of our culture is the knowledge that too much of what happens to us is beyond our control, the result of economic choices or political decisions taken far away by people we will never meet nor be able to identify. Beyond the narrowing circle of the self lies a world in which we are not the makers but the made. This is the genesis of despair.”

“Against just such a backdrop, some four thousand years ago, there emerged a different conception of human life. It suggested that individuals are not powerless in the face of the impersonal. We can create families, communities, even societies, around the ideals of love and fellowship and trust. In such societies, individuals are valued not for what they own or the power they wield but for what they are. They are not immune to conflict or tragedy, but when these strike, the individual is not alone. He or she is surrounded by networks of support, extended families, friends and neighbours. These relationships do not simply happen. Much of the energy of communities such as these is dedicated to ensuring that they happen, through education, social sanction, and careful protection of human institutions. Children are habituated into virtues and rules of conduct. They learn to value the ‘We’ as well as the ‘I.’ The rewards of a moral order are great. It creates an island of interpersonal meaning in a sea of impersonal forces. It redeems individuals from solitude. Morality is civilisation’s greatest attempt to humanise fate.”

The Dignity of Difference, p. 68