Late Night Thoughts (March 5, 2011)

I understand a rational person to be a person who, for the most part, sustains an intellectually honest effort to base their views and decisions on reason — that is, on the weight of logic and material or empirical evidence.

I don’t think any of us are purely rational, but I think some of us are more rational than others of us. Moreover, I think the more rational someone is, the more likely they are to — in ways both great and small — contribute to the welfare, not just of themselves, but of others too.

So far as I’ve seen, noticeably irrational people — such as drama queens, authoritarians, and the emotionally and mentally ill — are most often high maintenance.

That is, they are dependent to an unusual extent on other people and require inordinate amounts of time, effort, and resources from those other people without giving back nearly as much as they consume. It seems that a measure of rationality is more than merely desirable — it is actually required — if one is not to become an unusual burden on others.

I don’t think people always — or even perhaps very often — chose how rational they are relative to others. I’m pretty sure, for instance, that most authoritarians did not chose to be relatively irrational.

Our species seems to have a very long history of cooperative living — including a very long history of taking care of those who are less fortunate than the rest of us.  There is strong evidence, for instance, that our direct ancestors had already evolved that kind of behavior well over two million years ago.  To take care of the less fortunate is a very human thing to do.

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Three questions for Spinoza:

As I understand it, it used to be the tribe that took care of its own.  When someone fell sick or injured, the tribe looked after them.  When someone had much less than others, too little to live on, the tribe looked after them.

But the tribes were destroyed — wiped out by nation-states.

So, today, it’s the nation-state that has inherited those duties.  Spinoza saw that earlier than most, more clearly than most.

Yet, today, a lot of people in America don’t like that even one bit.  Which makes me sometimes wonder:  Are we becoming a nation of shirkers who won’t even take care of our own any longer, or are we becoming a nation of sociopaths who can’t even see why we should be taking care of our own?  Or, in fairness, is some third or fourth thing happening that I myself don’t see yet?

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The one thing — besides the camaraderie and brotherhood — that I long ago most loved about fire fighting was sometimes being seized by the reality of the fire.

When it happened, that sense of being seized by the reality of the fire was almost mystical in its intensity.  Some rock climbers here in Colorado tell me of experiencing similar feelings while hanging off cliffs hundreds of feet up mountain walls.

Once, thinking about those feelings, it occurred to me I had never yet in my life witnessed a political discussion in which the folks — myself included —  came even half close to the realism demanded of a fire fighter in knocking down a simple blaze.

On the other hand, I thought, I had routinely seen folks get orders of magnitude more “emotionally involved” in discussing politics than a fire fighter gets even when his life balances on a thread pulled taunt between fates.  Discussing politics, we humans are ever a bit like bowlers who frequently make “passionate”, but entirely useless, gestures in an attempt to control the ball — even when it is already thrown.

But I observed we are also far too often political hypocrites who fail to walk our talk, though a fire fighter unwilling to walk their talk is rare.  So, for all of those reasons, there seemed to me more than a mere whiff of bullshit present in even the cleanest political discussions.

Those thoughts then all but left me homesick for a good, honest twelve foot high wall of white flames.

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In matters of love, “surrender” can be a beautiful word, but “submission” is most often an ugly one.

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It seems unnecessary for us to believe a map is infallible in order to make cautious, but good, use of it.  But we seem to require that our preferred wisdom literature be infallible before we can feel entirely comfortable ignoring its advice.

 

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5 thoughts on “Late Night Thoughts (March 5, 2011)

  1. Are we sociopaths? Or have we become so overwhelmed by problems, which seem to have no clear solutions, that we’ve become paralyzed with inertia? And then there’s the demonization or blame finding that has driven so many people in the U.S. to believe that those with so much less deserve so much less because they got themselves that way. It can’t be that the gap between the rich and poor is now an uncrossable chasm. And remember, after all, Glenn Beck says there’s no poverty in America. He’s convinced quite a few to believe the same.

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  2. “Are we becoming a nation of shirkers who won’t even take care of our own any longer, or are we becoming a nation of sociopaths who can’t even see why we should be taking care of our own?”

    The shirkers and sociopaths make up a minority of Americans. Unfortunately, they’re a very vocal minority, and they’re been pushing this Ayn Randian agenda very aggressively.

    Don’t give up hope in your fellow countrymen (and women) just yet. There are still many people who believe in justice and community, even if they’re not loud about it.

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