Thursday, March 07, 2013
Social aloofness, Part II
This morning, as I started the day on my computer and signed on to AOL, I was “greeted” by a scare headline about North Korea’s bellicose nuclear threat against the United States, which I have written a posting about on the International Issues blog. While we live with dire threats to our lives all the time and most of them don’t materialize (and this particular pronouncement probably really is just “Howdy Doody bluster”, I realize), the idea that, despite our best intentions and efforts, catastrophe and “purification” can occur plays a bug part in our moral (and religious) thinking.
Let me say for the record, that as I approach age 70 without a lineage, I do feel there are limits. On the medical side, there are some medical situations that I could prepare for (I’ll skip the details), but others (like, for example, transplants) that I think would be inappropriate for my past history and circumstances. I am simply too socially isolated for some things to be possible (even in “Christ”). I am a bit taken back by Mehmet Oz’s idea that, to undergo his invasive heart surgery, you need to love someone and make them love you back. The idea that you love someone to get something back seems like a contradiction to me. But maybe it’s reality.
Likewise, I can imagine some catastrophes that would make my own life not worth continuing. Forget about all out thermonuclear war and “duck and cover” that we all grew up with in the 50s (and faced with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, although some historians now question how serious that really was). For example, imagine a world after an electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP) by terrorists (as in the novel “One Second After”), or maybe even North Korea. I would have absolutely nothing to offer a world that would be left. I cannot contribute anything to the world in NBC’s “Revolution” or the world of self-sufficient (and self-defensive) family cells subscribing to “Doomsday Prepper” ideology. Oh, yes, I do like to film them. That’s all. It is very relevant that tremendous damage can come to our infrastructure from space storms (which could take out major parts of the power grid for months) or superstorms associated with climate change. Some of these could end my own personal plans for media production permanently. We need to take care of our “stuff”.
This does raise a corollary moral question (that I didn’t quite get to yesterday). Is “generativity” a moral obligation? Is there an obligation, if not explicitly to have children if possible, to at least participate in raising the next generation, and particularly (as now often legally required by filial responsibility laws) the previous ones? Generally, these ideas come from religious or tribal cultures and spread through a broader moral and legal culture. But I am rather struck by the idea that we can no longer “afford” to have people think it is all right to waste future generations’ resources because there will be no consequences to them after they’re gone. That makes a lot of sense now, even though twenty years ago (in the world of “don’t ask don’t tell” as a legitimate setup) we would have brushed it aside, preferring to keep those who are “different” in their own separate, spaces, even if they offered prying views.
I’m also struck by how some of my friends in their twenties or late teens have no concept of any of this, that obligations can come upon them from the outside world, even to fend off enemies. I grew up in a world with a military draft and a deferment system that could be construed as Darwinian and as weeding people out. That did help shape my values and made me at least indifferent to those who don’t perform, as I noted in yesterday’s post. Yet I can see that if we want to “have our cake and eat it too” (on terms of physics and entropy), we need to accept the idea that some intrinsic obligations fall on all of us. We cannot prolong life indefinitely (or our parents) or give worthiness to the disabled unless the culture gets everyone to pitch in with some personal sincerity.
This could be a time to think about national service. I don’t like the idea that “the government” would run it. But it could be a useful way to meet the student debt problem, to give people a way to work it down, and it could also be an opportunity to end the practice of abusive internships (my IT Job Market blog, March 4).
Of course, the experience of people growing up today is quite varied. Some parents believe in teaching children to be responsible for younger siblings, even though the kids did not “cause” them by choice. I did not develop the capacity to feel direct affection for relatives the way some people normally do, because, as I noted yesterday, the humiliation of social competition when I was growing up. I adapted and made my own truce. But I can see that my doing so was problematical. In lower income, less culturally intact communities, young males can ponder someone like me as a parasite, and believe that there really are no rules that mean anything, and believe there is no reason not to engage in crime if they can get away with it. That can make society unsustainable. Of course, these same young people could wonder about the parasitic behavior of Wall Street.
Our moral systems certainly show more than one face.