Wednesday, October 5, 2011

To Do

I am racked by the question of what I owe others.

Maybe I can tie this together cleverly. Maybe I'll just do what I've done and forcefully extrude some awkward, ill-begotten thought from my skull.

I think that a lot of us have merit backwards. Merit is popularly defined as what you deserve to get, but that's secondary. What you offer is the primary issue, right?

I see the tail-end of a Thomas Friedman interview on "The Daily Show." He's talking some liberally-well-meaning rot about making sure people have something to offer. "Everybody's good at something." Well, that's sweet-sounding. But it's got the same order as I've always heard.

Give so you can get. Offer so you can take. If you want something, what are you willing to do for it?

Well, what if I say that in order to give, I've got to get, first? Maybe we should get so we can give. It's been as likely as anything in my life. When I have a lot, I'm quite magnanimous. When desperate, I can have a real sweet side. Especially when ill, I'm kind to nurses and polite strangers. But I also don't really have much to give, let alone produce in some way Friedman and other technocrats would recognize. For example, a keystone of economy is putting up with bullshit, and when I'm hungry, tired, sick, and poor, I'm no good at that. I give what I get when I'm low.

Little parts of my brain fume. Were I religious, then I would have been given some system of ethics. What to give, what to expect. But I'm a heathen and I'm selfish and I'm desirous of connection with others and I have to decide for myself what I'm willing to give up, what I'm willing to insist upon.

What do I owe others? What do I deserve? If the answer was nothing, my life would be simple. If my answer were that I deserved nothing and others everything, or the other way around, life would be painful but again, simple. But I do not deal with nihilism very well in a personal sense. I can believe in cosmic nothingness, believe that there is no God, no universal purpose, and so on, but in terms of petty personality I lack the courage (or the purists' zeal) to say that there is no morality but what I dictate, that I can do whatever the fuck I want. I melt and wobble like one more bourgeois moral performer and talk about family and responsibility and adjustment and time. Things take time.

It has become very hard to talk about freedom and responsibility and big choices in a social sense. It is hard because I have brought these issues directly to my life. And honestly, I can do little to comment about the wars and the mass murder and the killer sky robots and the economy when I am trying to figure out what I need, how I want to be free. How much I am willing to live at others' expense, make choices that can and will hurt them. Hurt me.

With all respect to Karl, the fact is that if I go all real and talk about concrete things, there's only so much blogging to do. Because the more real I get, the more I want to walk away from this shit and actually live. But life benefits from at least a little abstraction. The abstract, the arcane, the symbolic, the artistic, provides a place where we can see our thoughts in new context.

It is a momentary and vital act of intellectual or emotional independence. Call it a secession, call it a trial separation. It is vital.

So I am living and that drags me away. But living is muddled and improvised and intellectually strangling and confused and jury-rigged and pragmatic and corrupting. Sometimes I need some kind of reminder of my strategy. It is easy to grow distracted by an endless parade of tactics.

Owe and ought. Debeo. Same word. What I owe. What I ought to do. At the risk of sounding like the esteemed Crow (whose linguistic adherence is not my continental philosophical cup of tea), old Latin studies come back to me. What do I owe? What ought I do? What is to be done? Christ, the hardest part of living like you're free isn't the acceptance of responsibility. It's figuring out what freedom is for. And maybe owing and ought-tos are an attempt to answer that question. And now I'm rolling myself up into my thought. The arcane drags me away. Time to get back to life, before it drives me crazy again.

1 comment:

  1. I think "what is to be done" is less a question to be answered and more a weathered sign post at a fork in road, the paths of which are no longer distinguishable form the surrounding environment.

    We're still asking it. The answers can only be provisional. And that's enough.