Without which, you’re talking nonsense


A friend of mine mentioned Pythagoras recently – as a very powerful very early example of someone who was trying to extrapolate philosophical rigour, from mathematical clarity and principles. Better still, he didn’t just sit around thinking about stuff, like some nervous academic, he and his followers actually endeavoured to live-out their philosophy as a small society of consensus-sanity, within the far more chaotic Greek culture at large. (musicians also owe Pythagoras a debt, for the theory of vibrating strings)

Just as I turn to Sufi wisdom for rare strength-in-adversity, in part because it found ways to transcend one of the greatest cultural disasters of ancient times (the Mongol invasions), I find myself in increasing sympathy with Pythagoras in the recent chaos – most especially when it comes to holding ourselves to rigorous moral reasoning, rather than mis-using that family of ideas to feel better, by creating comforting self-delusion.

Mind you – though I do use strong ideas against the natural tendency to want to explain myself (to myself) as a hero – and to keep my ideation less in my head and more in the world (always more difficult, because real-er), my other key anchor is no less clear – compassion. Outright love for others, even strangers, on-principle.

I don’t get there with religion (though I’m pleased to recognize that some still do) – for me, it’s even simpler – strangers saved my life – so post-tribalism (that is, we all of us make-it together as a family, or none of us will) doesn’t need any special explanation or justification, it’s morality presents as my clear duty – nothing less. Proper gratitude for what brought me – the whole caboodle!

Thing is, there’s almost nothing you can say now, which doesn’t come along with a whole ton of baggage brought-in from outside. Opinions strike many not as crafted arguments toward consensus-truth and clarity, but as weapons wielded in (imaginary) ‘territory’ – if the Hatfields enjoy ice cream, then as a McCoy, it’s my duty to find ice-cream immoral. The word for this nonsense is childish. It’s also no way to get anything done.

The single best way to discard tribalist thinking permanently, all at once – is to renounce it’s (admittedly addictive) benefits – by morally embracing an incredibly useful concept from law – joint and several liability.

We don’t usually think in these terms, so I’ll explain. In a situation of joint and several liability, each and every signatory to an agreement, bears one hundred percent responsibility for it’s consequences. You’d think that if you were one of ten partners, and the other nine finked-out, you’d only be on the hook for ten percent – but no – joint and several says no matter what – somebody is going to make this thing good, and if there’s only one of you left to find – you’re it!

Wait though – we aren’t actually responsible for so much of what happens, even in our own personal lives – let far alone for the great forces operating around us.

This is a common and true observation – and when used compassionately (to combat driving ourselves mad with work, or judging ourselves for harsh macro-economic conditions) it’s very helpful – but it doesn’t address real and serious concerns. There are no ‘adults’ out there, to whom we can whine, to fix things – we actually have to do it! Have-to as in imperative – or else ruin the world.

I’ll give you my simplest example – I’m not a vegetarian (though I do understand the numbers-derived position very well, and applaud it), but there are quite a few modern things which I stay away from, because I don’t like how they are made, or who would (and wouldn’t) get paid.

Do I think that gives me moral high-ground? Nope – because I believe in joint and several – right down to my core. The economy around me derives huge distributed benefit from mining operations which I object to – my objection weighs nothing – anywhere except inside my own head – whereas my benefit in the world is real and inarguable, even if it is, by my own actions, less-than it is for many others. Simply calling them out, cannot possibly by-itself make me a good guy – changes nothing whatsoever but the noise-volume in the room.

I’m absolutely ‘in’ for a solid share of the grand societal sin, until I’ve figured out a way to convince everyone around me to accept and agree that we’d all be happier doing things in a fundamentally non-suicidal way for a change. No exaggeration there, by the way – our current blind consumerist ‘always worked before’ course, is heading us directly toward extinction, so the responsibility isn’t trivial.

I would like to suggest to my friends that ‘joint and several’ is a good basic test for all sorts of political people – left and right both – to help us separate those who are serious about making principled change, from those who are just enjoying themselves spouting shite. Anyone who thinks they get to be a hero, just because they say something they don’t like is stinky – even though they continue to exist in the context it benefits, is taking a childish position which has no relation to responsibility, gratitude or reality. Waste of time to engage.

However it may seem – this sanctimonious pose is not EVER my position – I don’t seek cheap ego-elevation. Rather I am with and of the lowest of the low, only ever and always (and I do not find myself lacking for good and even holy company down here).

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