If the self remains in its citadel, anxious to control and heavily defended, it declines in the sources of vitality. To lay the citadel open, however, is to court danger: a danger inseparable from the enhancement of life.
-Roberto Mangabeira Unger, from “The Religion of the Future”
I am visiting my university student daughter this week, and today had the opportunity to attend one of her classes—a lecture taught by Professor Unger.
In today’s class, Professor Unger was tackling an issue we all face—how to encourage self-invention and at the same time create a healthy society. How do we maintain a sense of individuality without become narcissistic? How do we work toward a healthy society without conforming or becoming a prisoner of the thought police? The answer is that there is no one answer. A Hegelian at heart, he believes in the continual dialectic, that life is a process of constantly renewing, reinventing, rethinking ourselves and our place in society, and any religion or philosophy—he believes—that posits a utopian or all-encompassing theory fails.
It was clear from many of the questions asked in class, that the students were unsettled by Professor Unger’s lack of resolution. They wanted an answer, some sort of proof that all of this philosophizing led to something, some sort of world-view, or economic or political outlook. But, Professor Unger would not assuage their fears; instead he encouraged them to continue to ask questions.
When I was in my early twenties, listening to similar lectures at college, I also wanted answers. But now, I am much more comfortable with the questions. I recognize, as Unger’s quote states, that to lay the citadel open, however, is to court danger. This is the danger of uncertainty, of risk, of rebellion. It is the danger of not knowing or perhaps discovering something new that rocks your worldview. But this danger is what keeps us alive, keeps us growing. So actually, it doesn’t seem so dangerous; rather it seems exciting, beautiful, even sublime.