Monday, October 19, 2015

Morals and Transcendence

In discussion with a very intelligent friend last weekend, it occurred to me that all the talk about transcendence is great, but that no one talks about what it will be like when one eventually learns to transcend. To transcend is to be weird. Right? It is an ability to see things in a way that others don't; to remove one's self from the daily concepts to which everyone else is enslaved. Very few people learn to transcend -- to be in and not of the world...

So, not only do the transcendent become "weird," but they also become subject to all kinds of moral judgement. How, for instance, does one transcend and still fulfill his moral obligations to the rest of the people on the planet? If I decide to pick up my marbles and go home because I think the world is insane, am I not turning my back on my fellow humans?

But, in what sense am I doing that? "Global thinking," for the average person (not the average world leader) is an exercise in arrogance, as I see it.

When one says, "What can I do about the world's problems?" he is often met with some kind of saccharine platitude like, "The smallest person can make a difference." I believe that it can be true, but not in all cases, and certainly not in the sense of the problems of the globe... If I were a president, king or prime minister, then, maybe. But as a regular guy? Nah.

Am I a better person for shaking my head in sadness that girls have been abducted in Africa or does it make me better to the "Bring Back Our Girls" slogan? Which is the right move. (A lot of good that did, right? I probably just reminded you about something you had forgotten...)

JMW Turner
I have often questioned what some see as a moral obligation to "stay informed" about world issues. Why? I do believe in an obligation to my fellow humans, but I can only do so much. (And this is not a quitter's attitude. It's the truth.) Here are, as I see it, my personal social jobs, in order of priority:

1) Raise sane and well-adjusted kids so that I don't add to the mixed can of nuts that is the world's population.

2) Do the best I can as a teacher (insert your job here) to help mitigate the number of nuts in the can.

3) Help those that I can help, around me -- whether that be in a financial or in a personal sense.

If any of the things above begin to supersede the obligations directly above them, however, they become counter-productive. One should keep one's house neat and clean before one goes out to straighten up the neighborhood.

I have no right to transcend these obligations, morally, but I have every right not to waste my energies worrying about Syria. I have every right not to "play with the kids" who want to start wars. I have every right to claim my own bubble, so long as that bubble contains moral fortitude and a dedication to those I do have the means to help so long as helping them does not limit my ability to raise good children -- my most immediate and most important priority.

Of course, these priorities need to be adjusted person to person. A president has made his choices and has acquired his powers. He can do things that I cannot. But I must not sign up for the prevailing global arrogance. I simply am not important enough to claim an obligation to do my part in preventing global atrocities. In fact, I would submit that if people focused more on their own and on their children's moral and mental well-being, the global atrocities might be lessened.

So, I choose not to worry about the world bank and I choose not to burn off my mental energies by keeping up with word affairs because someone has guilted me into thinking I have an obligation to do so.

I am simply not that big of a deal and I never will be. I do, however, have an ability to be a big deal to my sons and to my students. On the ladder of social importance, we all should, from the sanitation worker up to the president, focus on those to whom we have the power to make a difference. A shoe salesman who packs his weeknights listening to political radio and who spends his weekend arguing with friends over those political issues is wasting his time. A prime minister who reads all of the world's papers every day is not.

As far as transcendence, I would never attend a party at which the guests are all insane. I would chose to remove myself from that situation; likewise, I choose to remove myself from the insanity of the world; especially from those insanities upon which I can have no effect. I have moral obligation to not transcend everything -- I must still do right by those who I can help. I do not have, however, a moral obligation to to not transcend anything. I will not participate in war and I will not bleed out my soul's blood on refugees half way around the world; not when I have autistic -- for example -- children in my neighborhood who need a coach for their softball team.

None of us normal folk, as individuals, can change the world, but we can introduce a positive influence into it. If we focus too far away and do nothing but read and fret and argue on Facebook, all we do add bluster to a hurricane. That seems like a stupid thing to be obligated to do.

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