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Nov 04, 2005

Comments

Fred K.

It seems to me that the State in Auden's poem is not simply the government, but the larger cultural situation. First, there are the experts who pontificate on every specialized dimension of life, but dismiss happiness and freedom as merely affective and not particularly interesting. I speak mainly of the psychiatric and educational professions, but this attitude is ubiquitous.

Second, I see the State in the advertising, policies, and actions of muti-national corporations -- who, by law, contract, and moral obligation must not serve the "common good," but instead produce economic value for stockholders. For these companies, happiness and freedom are marketing terms that create demand for their products.

Third, the State is the modern sensibility mentioned in line of the poem that ends in the word, "saint" (line 7). This sensibility pervades our atmosphere; as St. Paul described it, living according to "the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient" (Ephesians 2:4). This sensibility is found throughout our culture in movies, books, advertisements, policies, pedagogies, psychological and socioeconomic theory, etc. Since this sensibility also operates within me and other Christians, it is hardly a matter of blaming the State, but becoming aware of my own submission to the idol that is set before me - how I follow this sensibility instead of following reality.

The State (in this expanded sense) does not leave us alone, but constantly prods, measures, and evaluates us according to its criteria). Walker Percy talked about the semantic devaluing that happens when a six-year-old boy asks his father, "what is that?" and the father responds, "oh, that's just a sparrow.

This same process is repeated every day in classrooms when children ask about freedom or happiness and their teachers respond dismissively (imagine the absurdity of employees ask their employer these questions). It happens again when couples see their parish marriage counselor for marriage prep and the counselor dismisses concern for seeking God's will as the mark of a dreamer. If the State does not value the common good, then the State is not neutral, but inimical to happiness.

What do you think?

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