Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Duty and virtue

Following even distantly the modern liberal democratic political process you are stricken how decadent and corrupt we have become. The impulses of Christianity and the Enlightenment are growing ever weaker. What we mostly have left are possessions, a hedonistic drive towards more and more comfort and entertainment cynically manipulated by the blind, shortsighted elites. The most rapid descent appears to be in progress in the USA: the high enlightened principles of the American Revolution are rapidly vanishing in front of our eyes, the Bush administration has brutally effectively enlarged the realm of possibilities for rolling back the spirit of that great rebellion against the arbitrary power of the executive. This is not to say that there once was a halcyon time when virtue ruled – human governance is inevitably a corrupt process and without a certain earthy sense of pragmatism the results can be quite frightening. But you do have, you must have, countering ideals, high goals, a code of ethics, of morality, a sense of boundaries. Without this counterforce the government, the political process will rot to the core. A healthy balance is needed, but currently the social and economical structures don’t produce responsible politicians and good citizens – they don’t produze citizens at all, they produce consumers. There is no balance.

Every day on this planet is an astonishing collapse of morality. Every week die 250 000 children under the age of 10. Consider that for a moment, the reality of that description. There is a huge, an unimaginable amount of human suffering in the world that we already have the physical means to prevent. If we are lucky, if the civilizational progress will continue (rather debatable proposition at the moment) we will one day be condemned as coldblooded, callous murderers. It is a small comfort that there is a partial defence for this - namely that wickedness is an inbuilt feature of all human organization, that it is does not come from outside and is not in our current power to prevent. From a moral perspective that is no defence. We desperately need ideals, we need a sense of duty, a concept of virtue, an understanding of the necessity of ethical boundaries. Without those influences our existence will become a pointless combination of sadism and hedonism, and eventually a moral collapse will lead to a physical one. We can’t built a lasting civilization on consumption and profit.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

His dark familiar

I have been keeping quality company during my unpleasantly long work trips these last few days: a selection of Orwell's essays and journalism preceded by Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Reading Orwell's heavenly prose is not only a huge pleasure but somewhat challenging too - any personal writing seems especially wooden and clumsy in that particular comparison. There really are few things in the world to compare with good writing, nor many skills that I would rate higher. (Come to think, I can't name one.) Slaughterhouse-Five is one of those books that I have first encountered too early: I think I must have read it when I was 13 or 14. These added years have added scope and it is strange to find completely new echoes and meanings in that classic text. I don't really know any wider scope than fiction, it is the widest scope, widest, most serious view that I have encountered. Perhaps philosophy would be a contender if someone hadn't absolutely forbidden philosophers to write about the nature and structure of the immediate human experience in meaningful language. (Of course some have luckily disobeyed, like poor Friedrich, for instance.) So, even in the midst of these busy days with their scattered busy trivia I have been able to keep contact with essential matters, the long views - not a bad achievement as they go, as much as one would hope for a much more relevant, essential professional life to accompany a most relevant, essential private life.