I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about general philosophical and ethical topics lately. Politics, duty, civility, responsibility, and a few dozen other seemingly pointless mental noises have taken charge of my cranium, since it was being used for little besides storing gardening information. I seriously doubt I'll come up with any conclusions which will become classics of world thought, and in fact coming up with any coherent conclusions at all would be surprising to me, but I've decided to post some of my musings here. If any of the posts seem contradicatory, they probably are. Don't stress over it. I'm not planning on founding a cult.
Often when my thoughts wander from the primary question in my 61 year old life ("What do I really want to be when I grow up"), I begin browsing the various postings on facebook, Politico, reddit, etc. The political issues of the day seem more and more surreal to me. Chicken sandwiches? Really? Has the metaphor for our political culture really become packaged in that much sodium, saturated fat, and indeterminable poultry fragments? Humorless partisans on both sides can try to convince me that this sandwich is where the line in the deep fry tank has to be drawn, but I can't see the whole thing as anything more than absurd.
And it isn't just poultry-crisping-grease-tank wars, either.
I'm a fan of the 1990s British TV series Cadfael, based on Ellis Peters' series of novels about a 12th Century Monk who solves crimes. One of the more interesting things about it is the political context which forms the backdrop: the English civil war between partisans of King Stephen and those of Empress Matilda. Never heard of them? You're not alone. Yet for nearly twenty years thousands of people set about the business of hacking each other to pieces, torturing each other, and ruining each others lives in the service of one side or the other. Theological and moral justifications were developed by each side for their atrocities. Yet today, for good reason, few know or care who won.
I'm not suggesting that people not be politically engaged. Despite my overall cynicism, I'm a progressive, tend to vote for Democrats, and believe that the role of government in bringing about a fair and prosperous society is a considerable one. But despite my beliefs I view the one-to-one correspondence of my political activities and the prospects for achieving the sort of fair and prosperous society I envision as very, very, small. In a few decades most of the things I consider important will be as irrelevant as the Stephen/Matilda wars. So if you're on the other side of the wall from me, and are a fervent Tea Partier, by all means follow the little inner voices which tell you to dress up in funny costumes and rant about Obama. It's your right to do so. Just don't imagine that your activities will have any meaning ten years from now.
Which brings me to the "Duty" part of the title of my post. When I was young I believed that I had an absolute duty to change the world in a revolutionary way. These days my vision is much more limited. I vote, I speak out on specific issues as they come up, I contribute money to candidates, I recycle, and, most importantly to me, I send money to direct service organizations which have pretty good efficacy. I figure sending people food or medical supplies now has much more impact than some sort of general and hypothetical revolutionary transformation.
So if you think my observations on "duty" seem tired and cynical, wait until I tackle the second word in the title, "Blame".