Thomas Merton on alienation

"Stop Watching Start Living" graffiti in Glasgow, Scotland

"Stop Watching Start Living" graffiti in Glasgow, Scotland.
Photograph by Brian Aslak Gylte.
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What is alienation, and what is an alienated person, and what are the results of alienation? Alienation is the psychological condition of somebody who is never allowed to be fully himself. For example, in the social order a slave is an alienated person because he does not belong to himself. His work is not his own. There is no real personal meaning to his life, because everything he does belongs to somebody else. Anything can be taken away at any moment.

Transfer that obvious example to a person who is never able to be himself because he is always dominated by somebody else’s ideas or somebody else’s tastes or somebody else’s saying that this is the way to act and this is the way to see things. We live in a society in which many people are alienated in that sense without realizing it. Their choices are made for them, they don’t really have ideas and desires of their own; they simply repeat what has been told them. And yet they think that they are making free choices, and to some extent maybe they are.

What happens to a person in this condition is that, without realizing it, he does not have any real respect for himself. He thinks that he has ideas and he thinks he is doing what he freely wants to do, but actually he is being pushed around, and this results in a sort of resentment, which in turn leads to hatred and violence under a cover of respectability. This is the problem of our world, psychologists tell us. People feel inner tensions and violence and hatred, and they are ready to explode at any moment because they don’t really belong to themselves.
Thomas Merton in Thomas Merton in Alaska: The Alaskan Conferences, Journals, and Letters, (New York: New Directions Publishing, 1989), p. 74.

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"What is alienation, and what is an alienated person"
Thomas Merton Posted on behalf of on Thursday, March 25th, 2010 under Quotations.

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