Democracy, as a highly sophisticated social virtue, has frequently been regarded as a utopian thought of peoples having the power over their lives and their choices. Here, the word “utopian” is used intentionally to emphasize the complexity of individual perception of this model and its roots. While striving for democracy as an indicator of people’s power and freedom of unity, one is unlikely to ask what are the fundamentals of human nature that make it possible in the first place. To ponder the eternal dissonance behind democracy as a state of mind rather than solely a governing system, Cornel West addresses the three pillars of human existence and reasoning. The philosopher emphasizes the idea that it is impossible to govern the world when people cannot question their own existence and feelings.
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Thus, the first pillar West mentions in the lecture are the Socratic note. When speaking briefly, this fundamental point stands for one’s ability to think critically of own actions when regarded through the prism of self-perception and perception of the world in general. During the speech, West mentions Plato’s saying about unexamined life and the lack of its worth whatsoever. Indeed, the human ability to reflect on personal actions has always been the driving force of change. To accent the point, Cornel West reflects on the history of African Americans, whose reasoning and desire to question their existence led to a revolutionary change of thousands of lives.
The second pillar, mentioned in the speech, does not appeal to one’s cognitive reasoning and critical thinking, shifting the focus towards the emotive human side. West addresses the importance of people’s emotions by saying that life cannot be perceived as a proper one when driving by the confinements of mind. Indeed, it is the ability to connect reasoning and emotion that drives people to change and fight for a life well-lived, as strong feelings serve as fuel for people’s thoughts and reflections.
While referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, West claims that being human is never about being trapped in thoughts and dogmas, it is about having the strength to manifest empathy and connecting to the other through actions. Action, according to West, is driven by one’s ability to bear prophetic witness with other’s affliction. Moreover, the true meaning of emotion and compassion might be rightfully perceived as a mess of existing in a certain moment and feeling the affliction of others in one’s bones. However, it is the mess that people find themselves in that catalyzes the real change in humanity when looking at civilization from a diachronic perspective.
Finally, a part of human nature is also able to experience the so-called “blue note,” a state of mind when no emotion or reason could come to place in order to explain what is going on. According to West, the blue note takes its place at the moment when people’s most desperate attempts to display cerebral and visceral reasoning reach a dead end. Calling it a “tragicomic note,” he explains blue note as a part of human existence that is caught up in hope and struggles not to lose at times when life fails. The “blue note” is a manifestation of holding up just to ensure that people, democratic voice in the flesh, say the last word, even if these words resemble the sound of a desperate laugh.