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THE REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE - VANEIGEM
Suffering - Page 19

"Since Christ's coming, we are delivered not from the evil of suffering but from the evil of suffering uselessly", writes the Jesuit father Charles. How right he is: power's problem has always been, not to abolish itself, but to give itself reasons so as not to oppress 'uselessly'. Christianity, that unhealthy therapeutic, pulled off its masterstroke when it married man to suffering, whether on the basis of divine grace or natural law. From prince to manager, from priest to expert, from father confessor to social worker, it is always the principle of useful suffering and willing sacrifice which forms the most solid base for hierarchical power. Whatever reasons it invokes -- a better world, the next world, building communism or fighting communism -- suffering accepted is always Christian, always. Today the clerical vermin have given way to the missionaries of a Christ dyed red. Everywhere official pronouncements bear in their watermark the disgusting image of the crucified man, everywhere comrades are urged to sport the stupid halo of the militant martyr. And with their blood, the kitchen-hands of the good Cause are mixing up the sausage-meat of the future: less cannon-fodder, more doctrine-fodder!

*

To begin with, bourgeois ideology seemed determined to root out suffering with as much persistence as it devoted to the pursuit of the religions that it hated. Infatuated with progress, comfort, profit, well-being, it had enough weapons -- if not real weapons, at least imaginary ones -- to convince everyone of its will to put a scientific end to the evil of suffering and the evil of faith. As we know, all it did was to invent new anaesthetics and new superstitions.

Without God, suffering became 'natural', inherent in 'human nature'; it would be overcome, but only after more suffering: the martyrs of science, the victims of progress, the lost generations. But in this very movement the idea of natural suffering betrayed its social root. When Human Nature was removed, suffering became social, inherent in social existence. But of course, revolutions demonstrated that the social evil of pain was not a metaphysical principle: that a form of society could exist from which the pain of living would be excluded. History shattered the social ontology of suffering, but suffering, far from disappearing, found new reasons for existence in the exigencies of History, which had suddenly become trapped, in its turn, in a one-way street. China prepares children for the classless society by teaching them love of their country, love of their family, and love of work. Thus historical ontology picks up the remains of all the metaphysical systems of the past: an sich, God, Nature, Man, Society. From now on, men will have to make history by fighting History itself, because History has become the last ontological earthwork of power, the last con by which it hides, behind the promise of a long weekend, its will to endure until Saturday which will never come. Beyond fetishised history, suffering is revealed as stemming from hierarchical social organization. And when the will to put an end to hierarchical power has sufficiently tickled the consciousness of men, everyone will admit that freedom in arms and weight of constraints have nothing metaphysical about them.

2

While it was placing happiness and freedom on the order of the day, technological civilization was inventing the ideology of happiness and freedom. Thus it condemned itself to creating no more than the freedom of apathy, happiness in passivity. But at least this invention, perverted though it was, had denied that suffering is inherent in the human condition, that such an inhuman condition could last forever. That is why bourgeois thought fails when it tries to provide consolation for suffering; none of its justifications are as powerful as the hope which was born from its initial bet on technology and well-being.

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