Satisfying Our Dissatisfaction

listening to Peter Rollins talk about different philosophical ideas always makes me long to be as smart as he is. The other day I heard a lecture he gave and he was talking about being so many of us are dissatisfied. He spoke of two postures of how we address our dissatisfaction - Conservative and Revolutionary.

The conservative is dissatisfied with how life is and believes the way to satisfaction is somewhere in the past. Be it a certain decade or a time in the persons life, it sounds like the conservative is not so much a person as it is a tactic to satisfy our dissatisfaction. I act conservative sometimes when I think of how much “better” and “simpler” life was when I was in high school. Of course, there is no way for us to go back in time and so being conservative means we are trying to bring the past into the present in order to satisfy our dissatisfaction.

The revolutionary is also dissatisfied but this posture is one that believes satisfaction is not in the past but in the future. We act like the revolutionary when we believe that life will be better when we get “over there”. Be it with a different house, job, government, afterlife, or whatever, the revolutionary tries to bring the future to the present. Of course, Rollins points out, that most revolutionaries that succeed in their task are often among the first to be killed by this new reality.

Rollins’ point is not that conservative or revolutionary is better over the other, but that they are two sides of the same coin. They both believe that life is about satisfying our dissatisfaction, they just disagree on the tactics.

Rollins says there is a different posture, a different coin if you will, that both the conservative and revolutionary are suspect of - the Rebel. The rebel is not seeking to satisfy dissatisfaction but to be satisfied with dissatisfaction.

The rebel shows us that being dissatisfied is a feature and not a bug to the human condition. Dissatisfaction gives us energy and that energy, if ever satisfied, would be hellish. It may be difficult to imagine, but if your sports team won every game they played and it was a forgone conclusion they were going to win, then sports would be boring. You would loose the energy to participate in the game because you know you will win.

The rebel does not play the impossible game of trying to satisfy dissatisfaction but plays a new game all together and learns to be satisfied with dissatisfaction.

Photo by  Robert Anasch  on  Unsplash

While the religious leaders of his day wanted Jesus to look to the past to satisfy their dissatisfaction, the zealots desired Jesus to bring the future kingdom to the present. Jesus resisted the conservative and the revolutionary postures toward the dissatisfaction in the world.

Jesus was a rebel who showed us the way to address our dissatisfaction - by being satisfied with it.

Moral Foundations : Why the Other Side is Crazy

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and wonder how the heck they could say the things they are saying? Recently, I was introduced to what is called "Moral Foundations Theory" which has given me some language to better understand myself and perhaps even some of the motivations of my sisters and brothers. 

The theory argues there are values that lay the foundation for what we count as right or moral. There are at least six major foundations humans use in order to determine what is moral and what is not. The following definitions are taken from Wikipedia: 

  1. Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm.
  2. Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating.
  3. Liberty: the loathing of tyranny; opposite of oppression.
  4. Loyalty or in-group: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal.
  5. Authority or respect: obeying tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion.
  6. Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation.

Perhaps you see these and they make sense to you. Perhaps some of these foundations make more sense to you than others. Moral Foundations Theorists make the case that while most people are sensitive to the fairness foundation, conservatives are also equally sensitive to the other five foundations. However liberals are more sensitive to fairness and care than any other foundation, while libertarians are sensitive to fairness and liberty. 

Why this is important to consider is that conservatives will have more things that they deem as wrong and liberals will have fewer things they will deem as wrong. You can see this divide in the conversation around the ordination of members of the LGBT community. For conservatives the ordination of LGBT individuals may support their sense of fairness but it might also violate their sense of authority and/or sanctity. Liberals cannot understand why conservatives are not supportive of LGBT ordination since to not ordain them would violate their sense of fairness and care. 

Conservatives put more equal weight on each of the foundations while liberals put more weight on two foundations. This may be why the other side is crazy, we each have different and yet, overlapping, moral foundations.