A Case for the Statue of Responsibility: What is to give light must endure burning
Last night’s Google search went like this: What is the name of the adorable actor who stars in my favorite underrated fairy tale movie, Stardust? What else has he been in? What’s “There Be Dragons“? Who was Josemaria Escriva? Who were his influential friends in psychology?
Long story short, my frantic curiosity of a hot actor led me to the discovery of a famed Austrian neurologist/psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and writer Viktor Frankl.
Frankl is the founder of logotherapy, a branch of existential analysis that at its root is based on the idea that the human spirit and life’s motivation is driven by the search for meaning, as opposed to Freud’s will to pleasure or Nietzsche’s will to power. This is good news to anyone who believes that human beings are more evolved than survival-minded animals or ideologies based on the massacre of “weaker races”. The basic tenants are that even the most miserable life has meaning and that “we have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering”. Frankl really developed this movement during his three years in a concentration camp.
Here is an excerpt of his discovery in the freedom of a meaningful life:
We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.” That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise. A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of Man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when Man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position Man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”
This is all context of why I love Viktor Frankl and you should too. The real point of this article is to introduce Frankl’s recommendation that America needs a second symbolic statue to accompany the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast.
Frankl believed that for America to reach true symbolic and actualized freedom, we must have a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast. In his own words:
Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
In this political and social climate, it’s clear to see that we have not achieved freedom. We haven’t preserved our liberty and we most certainly have not been responsible.
Where to start? We’ve create a two-party system which narrows national interest from the needs of the people to the needs of special interest groups. We’ve let our voter turn-out numbers drop abysmally as we’ve tuned out of politics and into entertainment.
We know that not everyone is free in this country. We continue to trample on Native Americans’ land and culture and act shocked when we discover the level of poverty and despair we’ve made them live in. We continuously see the xenophobic rhetoric turn into violent hate crimes- against gay people, Hispanics, and Muslims. We created an atmosphere where one’s skin color claims a prejudice before individuality. We’ve stood back and allowed Black children, families, and culture to be brutalized and oppressed. We have denied freedom every time we refused to engage in the discourse and act on righteousness.
We let slavery continue everyday in the form of human and sex trafficking. We deny justice and safety to women and children and the disenfranchised. We let children grow up in the foster care system and then scorn them if they are homeless on the streets or turned to crime.
We haven’t been economically free. We feed our poor to the dogs through predatory loans and student debt, and have the audacity to be outraged when the rich get their loopholes closed.
We don’t vote, we don’t become involved, we don’t see outside our front door. We choose our cages of ignorance. We aren’t free.
But we have that Lady Liberty to show us the light when we are in darkness, to remind us of our roots. Our freedom from Great Britain was hard-earned and every day since then, we should have worked just as hard to preserve it. If we would’ve been responsible, do you really think we’d be so close to having a Trump presidency?
The thing about statues is that sometimes they are just aesthetic. They are an image with no emotional response or a false god or an empty gesture. But statues can be aspirations. They can be reminders, inspiration, groundwork, beliefs made concrete.
We need to aspire to responsibility as well as our liberty. To be free is to achieve both of these and then maybe we can find meaning, together, hand in hand.
To find out more, visit The Responsibility Foundation.