Recovering What Makes Us Human

Barbara Ehrenreich on reclaiming collective joy, in In These Times:

The enemies of festivity have argued for centuries that festivities and ecstatic rituals are incompatible with civilization. In our own time, the incompatibility of festivity with industrialization, market economies and a complex division of labor is usually simply assumed, in the same way that Freud assumed—or posited—the incompatibility of civilization and unbridled sexual activity. In other words, if you want antibiotics and heated buildings and air travel, you must abstain from taking hold of the hands of strangers and dancing in the streets.

The presumed incompatibility of civilization and collective ecstatic traditions presents a kind of paradox: Civilization is good—right?—and builds on many fine human traits such as intelligence, self-sacrifice and technological craftiness. But ecstatic rituals are also good, and expressive of our artistic temperament and spiritual yearnings as well as our solidarity. So how can civilization be regarded as a form of progress if it precludes something as distinctively human, and deeply satisfying, as the collective joy of festivities and ecstatic rituals?

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