The Origins of Totalitarianism is as fiercely relevant now, as nationalism sweeps the Western world, as it was in the aftermath of WWII. But as I turn these ideas of isolation and loneliness, of community and the role of civil society in democratic life, over in my mind, it is not crowds I crave, but the solitude to think.
In her essay, "When I Was a Child I Read Books," Marilynne Robinson writes of loneliness as a value of the American West. She writes of the loneliness of open spaces and of the night sky, of summers at her grandparents' home in Idaho, when "the cows came home, and the wind came up, and Venus burned through what little remained of the atmosphere, and the dark and the emptiness stood over the old house like some unsought revelation." Yes, I thought, reading her words again. Yes, this is true. And when I closed my eyes, I savored the dark.
The loneliness of wild places, of knowing myself so small I'm hardly there at all, places me firmly in the world. It is the opposite of isolation. Can this vast, heart-filling loneliness live side by side with the small, bitter loneliness born of fear and division? Can the loneliness of poets and mystics be cousin to the loneliness of despots and ideologues?
We still live in the geometric world built by the Greeks, where the linear logic of Non Contradiction argues that if one definition is true, its opposite must be false. But string theory builds layers upon parallel layers to our reality, and even the empty spaces between the stars are now full. We need not settle for either/or. We live in a world wide enough to encompass both/and. Loneliness can be brutal and dehumanizing. In loneliness we may, at last, hear "the singing of the real world."
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