All true (as I have reason to know from my own family's struggles and losses). Yet there is an irony here. For most of my life, it's been precisely the white working class from whom one heard most that America is the land of opportunity, where anyone with gumption can get ahead. The same speakers tended to dismiss the chronic complaints of black Americans, who, they said, just didn't know how to make something of themselves (i.e., they are lazy). I certainly heard those sentiments often in the 1970s and 1980s; that one doesn't hear them now doesn't mean they have gone away. The so-called dog-whistles of people like Trump testify that such resentment still exists.

White despair is not solely economic. In 1960, almost 89% of the American population was white. In 2020, only 61% was. By midcentury at latest, people who identify as white will be a minority. Awareness of this decline, and realization that it is continuing, is behind both the ressentiment of disfavored whites and the increased assertiveness of minorities, especially blacks. The ground continues to shift under all of us (it's called "history," or maybe just "time"), and it affects our emotional state far more than we realize. The "despair" isn't just about being limited to low paying jobs; even more, it's about losing the old faith that this is a white man's country. While those words have been avoided for decades now, that is the psychological reality. Within recent, memory, whites could rest easy that most political power resided in them. Less so now, and much less so in the future.

The only way out is to return to the "old" idea (it goes back to the 1960s) of a multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural nation. That vision alone holds hope for the future, but of course it won't work if there are major holdouts, such as despairing whites or resentful blacks or culturally ghettoized Latinx. We either go all the way, or our internal divisions will simply widen, furnishing ever more abundant potential for demagogues.

Please note that I said "idea." The United States has always been an idea country, in the sense that what formed us was not blood or religion or even history, but a civic religion--the Constitution, our respect for the rule of law, our ideal of equality before the law, and the value we place on freedom to be who we wish to be--what the Supreme Court (long ago, when it was still a mostly nonpolitical entity) called "our system of ordered liberty." Those ideas must still form the base of any racial-cultural rapprochement, but the difficulty will be to strenuously discuss and debate the racial, ethnic and cultural strands we have and how to weave them into a new version of the United States of America. As in Lincoln's time, we must either create something new or else perish from the earth.

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I am not pro or anti abortion but, in a country where abortion “rights” or “choice” is a daily topic of most news organizations on radio and television, how can people feel hope? It is a constant bombardment of the priority of death, only by another name. What’s uplifting about that?

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I don't think your friend died from loneliness. I think your friend died from drinking Democrat Kool-Aid for too long.

That stuff is toxic!

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Excellent article.

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This is an excellent essay that actually says something profound, wise, and true. Free Press needs more like these. There is a dearth of hope and an abundance of fear and despair in America today. Wake up Bari. This country needs a charasmatic leader with a vision of the future that drives results and brings optimism and hope and realistic expectations to the people. Use your voice and your platform Bari to help America find that leader. Focus on grievances does nothing good as we know. Government give aways is not the answer either. 80 year old Presidents need to go.

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Thanks for the interesting essay. It raises many questions--not least of which, alas, is the extent to which the author's theological concerns might be subtly distorting his understanding and account of Polanyi's epistemology (I can't say, not having read Polanyi). The reactions of mine I think might interest you are as follows:

You could well find the French Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel's account of faith appealing. Marcel argues that it's a mistake to think of faith as a species of weak belief; i.e., belief without sufficient evidence. Rather, it's an orientation that allows us to proceed as if our confidence in reason and evidence had some adequate epistemological grounding in the first place.

The notion of being obliged to 'entrust ourselves' to something is central to the work of Karl Jaspers, another philosopher whose insights I respect. Jaspers explicitly says, "The historical process can be seen either as an irresistible mechanism or as an infinitely interpretable meaning which manifests itself by unexpected new events, which remains always equivocal, a meaning which, even when we entrust ourselves to it, is never known to us." That pretty much sums up my experience, all right.

Jaspers also says, "The overweening plans of rulers, based upon a supposed total knowledge of history, have always ended in catastrophe," a lesson difficult to learn, apparently.

There's an interesting echo of this in a book published a few years ago by Oxford University Press, by an author whose name I unfortunately can't remember. Her studies suggest that when it comes to routine decision-making we perform the kind of cost-benefit analysis you'd suppose would be rational, but we do something quite different in making major life decisions. For example, you might think, coming out of high school, that going to university and becoming a marine biologist would be a fun idea; but you don't yet have the data or experience to know what this actually entails, and consequently aren't in a position to make a proper cost-benefit assessment. It's only years later, when you've got your degree and are heading to graduate school, that it might occur to you to look back and say, "Thank God my instincts were correct and I made the right choice: this is absolutely the life for me, though the reasons for that were unknown to me at the time."

I suspect Polanyi would have liked this; and for all I know he probably did like and endorse Husserl's claim that in order to hear a note as Middle C there must be both a perceived sound and an intuited understanding.

These might seem terminological quibbles, but I'm uncomfortable with essay formulations like 'responsible acts claim universal validity,' and the claim that what we gain when the 'objective world speaks' are insights into 'reality.' Acts can be ethical or unethical, helpful or unhelpful, wise or foolish, etc., but only logical arguments can be valid or invalid. The contrast between objectivity and subjectivity isn't a contrast between degrees of reality; nor, for that matter, is the contrast between reason and unreason. For reason's true antithesis we should look to Schopenhauer: he's the philosopher who warned that you need to recognize when you're no longer dealing with someone's reason but his will... he simply will not understand you (we've all had too many conversations like this).

Ditto for the claim, "What is not understood cannot be said to be known." If true understanding were the test, we'd all know remarkably little. You might express puzzlement at the phenomenon of animals knowing how to do something despite never having encountered the least demonstration either of the need or the technique for doing that thing. Someone comes along and says, "Well, that's just their instinct." Swell: now you've learned how to use words like 'instinct' and 'instinctive' correctly whenever the occasion arises, and in this sense you can reasonably be said to know something about animals previously unfamiliar to you. But in terms of actually enlarging your understanding about how animals manage to accomplish this feat, you're no wiser than you were before. How often do what we're offered as 'explanations' function as mere covers for our ignorance? Yet these same explanations incontestably qualify as constituents of our knowledge base and enable us to communicate intelligibly with one another. (If you think we live in a complacent culture that's somewhat lax in its standards when it comes to knowledge base admissions criteria, I would agree with you.)

As for 'attention to particulars,' this is so habitual that it's scarcely possible for us to imagine the existence of alternative modes of perception and cognition (there's a reason why, in reference libraries organized according to the Dewey Decimal System, books on classification and categorization are found in the 000 range). If you aren't familiar with Heidegger's take on Plato, I think you'll find the following summary fascinating... presuming it can be shoehorned into the length limit for posts here:

Ah, no... I'll trying breaking it up...

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Hi Mark, thank you for your excellent and thought-provoking comments. You’re exactly right about the essay author and the weaknesses in his thinking; he doesn’t do justice to Polanyi, who is very much in harmony with your thinking and the writers and philosophers you cite. I’m a big fan of Jaspers, too.

You clearly know your subject and your comments deserve a considered response. I absolutely love the fascinating excerpt you included below and I’d like to comment further on it, too.

This forum isn’t the ideal place to continue our discussion. My email is coffman@alameda.net.au. If you’re willing to reach out to me directly I’d be very glad to continue this conversation. Very best, Chris

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Thanks for the invitation, Chris. I'll be happy to take you up on it and we can introduce ourselves to each other properly, though probably not today (I have a couple of appointments this afternoon and another tomorrow morning). I've written down your email address, so if you want to remove it from your post it might be prudent to do so.

Always nice to meet a fellow Jaspers fan (or at least so I've always presumed: if memory serves, you may actually be the first), especially one who's as full of compliments as you are.

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Sounds good Mark. BTW I don’t know if you follow the excellent Substack The Upheaval but he had an especially good post to day, and one that’s relevant to our discussion: https://open.substack.com/pub/theupheaval/p/upheaval-interview-matthew-b-crawford?r=exi3h&utm_medium=ios&utm_campaign=post

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# # #

His studies of Holderlin were not undertaken solely out of Heidegger's growing conviction, as a philosopher concerned with the problem of language, that poetry was the essential form of speech. His tie to Holderlin is closer than this. Holderlin, like Heidegger, is the enraptured Hellenist who turns his eyes back to the sunlit age of the Greeks and speaks of the modern age as "the night of the world" from which all of the gods have departed. Holderlin here is the most extreme and the most visionary of the romantic poets, all of whom were possessed by the uneasy dread that in the modern age man had come to sever himself so drastically from nature that some new and uncanny fate would fall upon him. In English poetry this uneasiness, which is something new in the history of poetry, begins with Blake and Wordsworth. It becomes a clamor of warning voices among some of our greatest contemporary poets: for Yeats this is the time of the dark of the moon, of empty objectivity and bloody violence; for Eliot (before his conversion at least, and perhaps after it too) ours is the wasteland in which the saving waters no longer flow; for Rilke (on whom Heidegger has written a perceptive study) this is the time when the lost angelic voices are no longer heard; for Robert Graves, we have lost all contact with the great Goddess, and we are "no longer at home with the lady of the house"—we are no longer at home in nature. This testimony of the poets is so extraordinary that we can hardly afford to brush it aside lightly; and a society that does so has already lost all contact with its poets and thereby confirms their prophecy. Heidegger is the thinker of what these poets seek to poetize. As the poets, from romanticism onward, warn against the severance of man from nature, Heidegger seeks to warn us of a severance of thinking from Being; and this not merely as a severance of man's instincts from the way of nature, but also as something that takes place in the very mode of his thinking.

Heidegger’s interpretations of Holderlin have thus to be seen in the context of a general interpretation of history that is also one of the remarkable products of this last phase of his thought. This view of history is very bold and sweeping, yet in a fashion typical of Heidegger it starts from a very simple and banal observation of the present. This observation is that the characteristic of the modern age in comparison with past ages is the extraordinary development of technology that has made possible the organization of men into mass societies and secured the domination by man of the whole planet. So far, nothing very new about this. But Heidegger pushes this point in a very simple-minded and persistent way: If technology is now the dominant thing in man’s life, how did this become possible? Through modern science. And where did modern science begin? In the seventeenth century, when for the sake of precision and measurement men began to apply mathematics to natural phenomena. The concurrent philosophic expression of this is the Cartesian philosophy of clear and distinct ideas. But it is quite obvious that the development of science in the seventeenth century could not have taken place without the knowledge of Greek science that had been rediscovered by the Renaissance. Our steps from the present backward lead us thus to Greek science.

But Greek science is, in its turn, the offspring of Greek philosophy, for it is out of the speculations of the Greek philosophers that science is born. The seed then of what the world is today and of what we ourselves are lies in the step taken by the Greek thinkers to detach beings as beings, objects as objects, from the environing presence of Being, and so to make possible eventually the thematic elaboration of these objects in science.

With this objectification of nature—that is, the detachment of objects as objects from the environing ground of Being—the age of metaphysics begins. This age culminates 2500 years later in modern science, where the objectification of nature is almost complete. Its final philosophic utterance is in Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power: for here, in Nietzsche, is the extreme expression of man’s drive to tear himself loose from nature and manipulate it in the interests of his own power. The process that begins with the earliest Greek philosopher, Anaximander, culminates in Nietzsche; and with a very neat, perhaps too neat, stroke of symmetry Heidegger speaks of the age from Anaximander to Nietzsche as a single unit. This age of metaphysics is now finished, says Heidegger, not in the sense the positivists would aver that metaphysics itself has become “meaningless”; on the contrary, the positivists themselves are unconscious dupes of metaphysics since they are completely captured by its spirit of objectification; no, this age is finished because it has, after Nietzsche, no further fundamental possibilities open to it. The step taken by the Greeks to distinguish clear and distinct objects was the great historical step taken by no other people (the Greeks alone among ancient people created science); but in this great step forward the sheer presence of Being as the environing context from which all objects are detached was lost and forgotten. Poets remind us of this presence. But if there is to be a genuine renewal in the perspectives of civilization, there must be a new kind of thinking (of which Heidegger would be the groping forerunner) that would seek to make us stand once again in the sheer presence of that which is.

All of this historical framework has to be kept in mind in reading Heidegger’s brief essay Plato’s Doctrine of Truth. Plato, according to Heidegger, shifts the meaning of truth from a characteristic of Being—namely the open-ness or unhiddenness of Being (the Greek word we translate as “truth,” alethia, means literally “unhiddenness”)—to a characteristic of mental concepts: their correctness or precision. Hence the Idea becomes for Plato the real reality. But Idea, in Greek, has its root in the verb for seeing: an Idea is always thus a human perspective. Thus the consequence of Plato's shift in the meaning of truth is to turn from Being itself in order to confer preeminent reality upon our own human and mental perspectives upon Being. It is a first step in that long journey that is Western philosophy toward the severance of man from Being. With this little change in words Plato has launched Western history toward the age of cerebration and computing machines.

This may look altogether pat to some readers. It would look less so, however, if all the connecting links were put in, and if Heidegger were to expound his point about Platonism in a broader and less microscopic way. He chooses instead to burrow in the words of the Greek text, and to unfold his point from those words like a man unwrapping tiny nuggets. But to each writer must be granted his own mode of expression, as to each thinker his own mode of attack; and for Heidegger it is a consecrated task to dig back to the original thinking of the Greeks as it is caught in the web of the Greek language.

The Letter on Humanism has also to be read within the context of Heidegger’s historical vision. It is easy to misunderstand Heidegger here as anti-humanist (perhaps in the sense of anti-humane) because he does not see humanism as the essential message for our time. But this would be an entirely superficial and frivolous reading. Heidegger’s point of view is historical, and philosophy, in view of the essential temporality of man, must always take the historical point of view: Humanism was a great historical effort on the part of the Greeks, and it was necessary at that turning point of time to rescue man from his immersion in nature and to define the strictly human as distinct from the animal. The great artistic expressions of humanism are those beautiful and idealized forms of man created by the classic Greek sculptors. If the modern sculptor cannot create such idealized forms, it is not because he is anti-human or anti-humane; another vision claims him, such as the need to reintegrate man into nature, so that some of Henry Moore’s carvings, for example, exhibit the human body as a rock eroded by the sea and cast upon the shore from the waves. Man needs to preserve the inherited values of his humanity; but humanism as a doctrine is incomplete for an age when the human is threatening to overpower nature…

William Barrett and Henry D. Aiken, Philosophy in the Twentieth Century

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A terrific tour d’horizon (Heidegger reference intended!) full of gems. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, Mark. Wonderfully thought-provoking, and in this moment of the rapid emergence of AI most apposite.

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Oh MY...💔😰😓. That was SO VERY hard to read. My heart ached at every word. I'm sorry for your loss & the amount of pain he & you & your other loved ones have suffered & endured. I kept saying...surely things could have been different. There just has to be a way for lives to go & play out so very different. I saved your article in my "Important" folder, and will buy your book. It's not completely clear how I can in some way, help someone's life to be just all round "better", or at least a bit less hopeless & lonely than Mike's was; but I'm going to think hard about it, and watch for any small ways. SO SORRY...again. Thanks for your example of being a true good friend, and for writing and sharing you & Mike's story.

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Thank you for your essay.

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One of the most honest pieces of writing, I've seen in a long time. This is truly the heart of the matter. Lest we refuse to wake up, we All Deserve what's coming...ask the Prophets!

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This is a profound story and warning -- many thanks for sharing.

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So many of the problems described in this essay are cultural problems, not political problems. In some cases they're related, but even during the Great Depression people didn't die this many deaths of despair; to blame the woes (legitimate woes) of the white working class on NAFTA and free trade is too easy, as harmful as they may have been. The 1960s were a net negative for our culture and we continue to pay the price to this day with stories like this.

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A powerful tribute from a loyal friend.

Thank you for writing and contributing this and thank you, Bari, for sharing it.

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Mike was a chronic depressive. He, "hated his job", depended on a political party to rescue him, lived "the life that had been denied him", and he "didn't have the wherewithal to stick it out".

You have a choice to embrace this path and its victimhood or take another path.

Unfortunately, if you do not understand that life does not owe you a living, that life is a demanding master, it is a forced march, a slog, more often than not boring, and relentless in demanding that you shape up, then you are doomed to augment your depression.

But also life is punctuated with kindness, beauty, compassion, and good. All making life worthwhile.

Set your mind on the latter. Be kind for everyone carries a heavy burden.

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I am sorry for your loss.

Many people have suffered the same as your friend. Some have ended their lives, some have not.

You are not responsible for his death. No one, no system, no politics, no church, no company etc… is responsible.

Only your friend is responsible. I am sorry for his sorrow and yours. I do not judge. May he rest in peace.

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Mar 30, 2023·edited Mar 30, 2023

This article reads like a Bruce Springsteen song. I can certainly relate to Mike's early life experiences and parental abandonment, which affects the trajectory of your entire life. But like the author, I was blessed to have one good parent and grandparent in my life.

It seems that Mike's sad, lonely life was a product not of political policies so much as his father's selfishness, which deprived him of financial stability and a male role model in his life. Little wonder that he couldn't form a relationship with a woman.

However, this author lost me as soon as he said "Democrats are our last, best hope," and that he continues to identify as a Democrat.

What have the Democrats done for you lately, Jeff?

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"One of the only"? Only is singular. You can't be "one of" the only. You can be one of the few. I know this seems like a nit-picky comment, but having worked in print journalism and seen standards slip drastically as managers cut corners to try and make a profit, this sort of thing really irks me. The Free Press is a fresh slate for written media. Let's try and maintain standards, shall we?

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