Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Great Moral Questions of our time

Blogging is a peculiar activity, and probably there are almost as many reasons to indulge in it as there are bloggers. I have intimated sometimes that my own particular reason is twofold: from a practical point of view I approach it as I approach weight training: something not necessarily enjoyable that I do because I get better at it through practice, and getting better at something difficult is the kernel of what I consider inherently good and endowed with merit, and doing meritorious thing is virtuous, and thus turns us in autonomous subjects worthy of being happy, irrespective of the actual amount of happiness our circumstances may allow us to achieve. From a theoretical standpoint, the best way to clarify my own stance regarding many issues is to take a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and grapple with the many nuances and potential consequences of each idea by putting them to paper (well, only no physical paper is involved, as I write directly on a PC, but I’m sure you get the idea). So I essentially blog to get better at writing and to better define my own position about the issues of the day (or of the ages).

Be it as it may, it is obvious that not all issues that one endeavors to pontificate about are equally important, or equally deserving on one’s attention, and in today’s post I wanted to consider the hierarchy of subjects we can deal with, and focus on the more elevated, more important ones (what I will call the “Great Moral Questions of Our Time”, GMQoOT for short). Starting, then, from the least to the most relevant, we can distinguish the following subject matters:

·         The abjectly trivial: dealing with the “life” of “famous” people that are entirely lacking exemplarity or moral salience. Kim Kardashian’s hairstyle, Justin Bieber’s last performance or the breakup of One Direction belong to this category, which, needless to say, constitutes 90% of the web traffic (and in general, of teh content people pays attention to)
·         The somewhat trivial: they still deal with the life circumstance of some glitzy or media-savvy figure, which makes their tribulations highly specific of our place and age, but such circumstance allows for some generalization that may be applicable to the reader’s own life. Thus the breakup between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (which I don’t have a clue if it’s a real thing or not, I just don’t pay much attention to that stuff) or the birth of the latest heir to the British throne, as both the end of sentimental liaisons or the consequences of procreation are likely to be experienced by a majority of the population, such episodes may still be approached in a way that at least pretends to hold some lesson that makes them relevant beyond the guilty pleasure of tabloid-perusal. Alternatively, posts within this category may present entirely purposeless tidbits of information like “the ten most awesome ways of tying your shoelaces”, “the seven most gorgeous movie star’s mansions” or “eleven reasons you don’t find as arousing porn sites as your coworkers” (but information is power, and you truly never know if it may end up being useful, that’s why they belong in this category and not the previous one)
·         The mildly relevant: they comment on some recent or not so recent piece of news that wouldn’t be out of place in your local TV news section (“famous people and lifestyle” sections not included) or newspaper (ditto). The mildness referred to in the description of the category refers to the fact that the particular piece of news chosen by the blogger is just not that important in the grand scheme of things, because of its highly local nature: things like some minor law passed by a regional parliament, a shooting involving less than 5 mortal victims or the discovery of a corrupt politician. Alternatively, instead of zooming in some piece of news, they can deal with some particular aspect of life of interest only for some limited section of the populace, like how to squat like a champ, how to brush one’s teeth so they look whiter or how to lose ten pounds while eating nothing but cupcakes in a month
·         The serious stuff: it may still make reference to some recent piece of news, particular as it may be, but only as an excuse to reflect about something more substantial and of general interest. If it deals with the latest unemployment figures, or the evolution of the CPI, or the GNP growth (or contraction) it is as an excuse to ponder how the global economy is heading in the wrong direction, is moving towards a jobless future or is facing a secular stagnation. If it mentions the San Bernardino shooting or the downing of a Russian plane over the Sinai peninsula it is to decry the dark side of modernity and how social media spawns the extremists’ cult of death. The predominant tone is sociological (for the left) or cultural (for the right), as every element of the economy, the business cycle or technology is a manifestation and symptom of either a troubling ideology used by dominant  groups to keep everybody else subjected or the signal of the accelerating decay of mores and traditions that is condemning us all to a new Dark Age
·         The Great Moral Questions: like the previous one, but on steroids
To give a clearer picture of what I’m talking about, I’ll provide some examples of what those GMQoOTs have been in previous ages, and how they were finally settled:

·         Who should rule? (or alternatively, wherein does authority rest?) the people (rather, some people) or the king? – final answer: the people
·         Who, within the people, should participate in that rule through their vote? – final answer: everybody above 18 years old (except in the USA, where they exclude felons, ex-convicts and, increasingly, everybody that doesn’t look too WASPy)
·         Is it admissible to have slaves? – final answer: nope, no way, truly terrible idea (it only took us 37,000 years as a species to reach that conclusion more or less unanimously, which we settled on just a bit more than a hundred years ago)
·         Is it admissible to leave the property of the means of production in private hands? – final answer: you betcha
The consensus on the latest one is still pretty recent, as just 30 years ago there were still a sizable chunk of people that would answer with a resounding “no”, so it is not surprising that there are still a good many holdouts that haven’t fully gotten the message (see most of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, plus whoever is in charge in North Korea). What are, then, the still unsettled questions of similar importance that in our own age have still not been settled? I would argue they are basically two:

·         How best to ensure prosperity is widely distributed –proposed answer: a UBI within the current capitalist system
·         Should we keep political borders, and restrict people’s ability to move and settle where they please? – proposed answer: hell, no
Now I recognize everybody has his (her) pet peeves and may consider a number of additional questions being at least as important as those two, if not more: How to regulate Greenhouse gas emissions, how to maintain biodiversity, how to ensure “reproductive rights” (whatever the questioner understands by them), how many weapons (and of what kind) should be left in the hands of the civil population (well, the last two are of importance exclusively in the USA, as the rest of the world seems to have reached a comfortable consensus around them that is not much questioned, and with which I basically agree, hence my contention that they are not that important), how to ensure religious freedom, how to prevent religion from encroaching in individual citizen’s conscience (you may notice that depending on how you frame the question you may not leave much leeway for an answer different than the one you previously considered the “right one”), how to limit the ravages of ponies (well, it seems that only popehat has that particular concern: Writ of pony and Ponies for the pony God,  but you never can tell…). As I hope the last point makes clear, I do not give those problems, urgent and serious as some of them undoubtedly are (may be the pony one not so much) the same salience as the previous two. Maybe it’s my way of saying I am working in spelling out my position in the former, while I’m neglecting the development of an opinion in the latter. Just so little time for so many subjects…

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