Archive for the 'Ethics' Category

Peaks and valleys are more beautiful than a plain

If you want to see a dog chasing its own tail, just wait until a society has solved its basic not-dying type problems and decides that the biggest issue is inequality. For all the social crusaders who are too spiritually lifeless to, I don’t know, go get high or make sure their kids aren’t turning into daycare-raised psychos, I guess it holds out the comforting prospect of a cause that always somehow seems important but will never be solved. Actually, I’m not quite sure what equality even means. I think for some, maybe for many, it just means everyone having certain minimum rights and having everyone’s actions judged by the same basic principles, which they like to call legal equality.

That’s all fine and good, though I don’t think it’s a very accurate descriptor. But for others it seems to mean that everyone does or should have the same amount of something, especially money, which they call economic equality. But for one thing, it’s never going to happen: some people are always going to have more money than others, for example, partly because they’re better at making it and partly because beyond a certain point some people give a shit about continuing to pile up more and some don’t. And trying to erase that fact means either depriving some people in equal measure as you’re helping others or trying to lift both sides of a see-saw.

For another thing, I really don’t quite get what notion of human homogeneity lies beneath the idea that everyone have or should have the same amount of anything important. Is it like some sort of severe myopia, where you take off your glasses and everyone looks pretty much indistinguishable? Of course, they’re all just blank colors at that level. And that’s what I feel this idea of equality is at its root: an idea for those that don’t know anything more about people than the fuzzy blobs they make out from the corner of their eyes as they hurtle by through life. Why should I humor the sycophantic delusion that the lives of swindlers and frauds are equal in any important sense to the true life-givers and redeemers, or that those that love me should be repayed by being no more privileged than those who hate or injure me unjustly? It seems to me that this comes down in the end to a swinish specist bigotry that subverts the distinction of good and evil in favor of the brute, meritless fact of existence. Whereas really we should do honor to those that make an effort to a bit of good in life, rather than considering the most important fact about them to be that they were born.

Freedom stays

Many people speak of, for example, governments or political systems as granting or denying people freedom. Which is, of course, totally false and maybe, especially in the mouths of politicians and officials, not only in the sense of being incorrect but also in the sense of being deceptive and illusory. Because freedom is a basic human capacity, and can no more be given or rescinded by others than can basic motor skills or the ability to speak. What people call freedom in these contexts is usually having an adequate number of choices to be happy with, and the ability to choose between them they call free will.

So this might seem to be nothing more than a semantic distinction, and maybe it is–but models, symbols and verbal shorthand have a way of taking over the concepts they represent, and if the at-first-perhaps-merely-verbal association of something seemingly so necessary to a good life as freedom with the transitory and ever-shifting realm of having “enough” choices, rather than with the ability to choose what is best and most worthy, which can never fade or disappear, deepens enough, a quickly disenchanted life seems near. Americans especially have a tendency to let social idealism confine them in a prison of permanent political expectations. In other words, the illusion that the choices are limitless, that you can find somewhere anything that you desire or that through political action you can “change” society to make it so. Even in a more moderate form this attitude is bound to lead to disappointment.

And that is why, despite the farce of the current and former “people’s republics,” I can imagine that a dictatorship really might be more popular than a more “democratic” regime. Because people can always content themselves with that which they can resign themselves to, whereas when they have the belief that they can control a situation, the disappointment when things don’t hold up to their individual expectations, as they almost inevitably will not in a society of millions where most people’s influence is so insignificant to the whole, can lead to greater and more unsettled discontent.

You not only can’t have everything, you can’t choose from everything, especially through politics, but the power to choose what’s best from what’s at hand always will exist. Many “liberal” minds claim that a choice between two options in an election is a perfectly adequate manifestation of political freedom, and in even the deepest totalitarian rule there are always at least two alternatives of what to do. Solzhenitsyn said that in the gulag one only has a chance at spiritual growth through not valuing one’s own life above all else, and maybe that’s not just true there. Because when power and right are totally opposed, decency is dangerous. And if no alternative to self-preservation can be considered, then one really is hedged in without escape, but not because one has no freedom.