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{Empty title} | The Nation

Mr. Schell's article has touched the tragic heart of the matter with more insight and eloquence than any other article I have read on what is happening to us. But there is more to understand about tragedy, and the "solution" to a tragic human condition, than even Mr. Schell has brought forward.

Tragedy is formally defined by Aristotle as, first, a "pattern in action and life." Not fiction, not something an artist dreamed up, but insight into the dynamic patterns in life and how individual human action affects what happens to the human collective.

But one cannot act to transform a real life "tragedy" if one does not also understand what, precisely, the tragic pattern in life is: "the human condition in which a former source of happiness suddenly dramatically reverses into the opposite" (Aristotle's formal definition of tragedy). By happiness Aristotle does not mean the ubiquitous yellow smiley faces of abject denial, but collective human well-being, what is formally called "eudaimonic" happiness.

Tragedy, then, is the pattern in life in which human actions in the pursuit of happiness (say, for example, capitalism) are caught in a dynamic, systemic pattern of continuously reversing into the opposite: the pursuit of happiness reverses into a prescription for misery, well-being reverses into toxicity and disease, and human flourishing is withering into certain extinction, because those in power are stuck on "former" eudaimonic ideals (a k a "ideology") that no longer hold true.

The tragic "flipping" pattern describes better than anything else what is happening to us. We are caught in a systemic pattern in which all the ways in which we have set up the pursuit of well-being are reversing. The former "happiness" of cheap energy reversing into the horror of global warming; the former "well-being" promised by capitalism reversing into a world choked with stuff--the list goes on.

What is the "solution" to the tragic eudaimonic flipping pattern? Comedy, of course.

Comedy is universal; every single human culture--East, West, South and North, indigene and Internet--has some form of comedy (sacred and secular). In the Western dramatic tradition, comedy in ancient Greece begins in spring fertility rites celebrating the return of life after the barren season of winter. In comedy, an ordinary person "acts like spring" to renew a deadly human condition.

Our way through our tragic global human condition is to set into motion a (hopefully) "velvet" eudaimonic revolution in which the ordinary person, "the people," of this nation and of the global civic society, are empowered to make the many (many!) "reversals" throughout our political, economic and global systems to restore the human prospect on Earth in time. In the words of the Shaker Hymn, whose melody inspired John Williams's Inaugural offering, "by turning, turning, we come round right." Ordinary people, turning and turning our economic, political, social systems around till we "come round right" and break free of the tragic flipping pattern and get human well-being back on track: that is the pattern in life that ancient, archetypal Greek comedy represents. Or, as economist David Korten calls it, "the great turning" from toxic empire-building to a salutary earth community, with (perhaps, we hope) our newly elected community organizer reshaping his leadership role as US president into global, earth community organizing. Signs are that he is doing precisely that by insisting that the way through the greed of Wall Street is to make Main Street, Green Street.

What we need is nothing less than a global eudaimonic revolution in which we suddenly and dramatically reverse the mutually assured destruction of planet and people with new systems of mutually assured vitality of persons and places.

I believe this revolution is also part of the "reality" that Mr. Schell calls upon us to face, a global eudaimonic revolution that can, I hope and pray, change reality's face from fragedy to the universally desired human comedy in which ll live, happily ever after.