• Posted: Oct 27, 2016 12:36:44
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Yes, ha ha. The title to this entry has been inspired by writers for Steven Colbert mocking both Melania and Donald Trump over his failure to recognize, observe, and respect boundaries of personal space surrounding women. But as upsetting as attitudes and behavior toward women can be, the issue of boundaries and prerogative to go beyond them would seem to be at heart in a great many contemporary disputes and differences of opinion across a wide variety of issues.
Take, for instance, water rights in the western United States. Not many miles from where the above images were made, fields that had been agriculturally productive lay dormant, dormant because drought over the preceding few years has lowered the water table from which local wells have always drawn water for irrigation. Some farmers have drilled those wells deeper, but others have not been able to afford the expense. Even so, with global warming, less rain, and less snow falling in the mountains to refill aqueducts, reservoirs, and replenish ground water, drilling deeper is only likely to be a temporary fix. Handmade billboards and signs in some fields fault President Obama. Yet water rights and local customs for water use were established decades before Obama was born. So, whose fault is it when some have water and others do not?
There is a concept many out in western states cling to as their heritage, as core to who they are. That concept is freedom, freedom to do as one pleases without interference, especially from government. But what happens when one person’s freedom clashes with another person’s freedom, when one person decides to take more than their fair share? Do notions of heritage or the threat of violence give one party the right, the prerogative to disregard boundaries of fairness to others?
I would like to offer a way to think about such arguments, a way born of an understanding of individual human development, of human moral development. Please consider three terms: freedom, order, and consequence. Think of them as a developmental sequence. As a very young child, one desires freedom, freedom to explore, taste, touch everything. Somewhat later, the child develops an appreciation of order. Perhaps a liking for squash, but not of peas, of milk but not coffee, of dogs but not cats, etc., etc. And later still, most children develop an appreciation of consequence, say that peeing and poohing willy-nilly is messy and smells bad, but that doing so in a toilet rather nicely disposes of the messiness and bad smells.
Now, as it happens, some folks, and even nations, mature within a culture that emphasizes freedom, while others tend to emphasize order, and still others consequence. On some level, all three concepts are important to everyone, just the emphasis is different. And that seems to be part of the reason for many of today’s conflicts. We are not recognizing and appreciating each other’s differing emphasis. It is not that we desire to quash each other’s freedoms or disrespect each other’s sense of order or heap unsavory consequence upon one another. We just want our own personal space to make sense to us and provide us with what we need to thrive.
So, how do we reconcile our differing emphasis and/or levels of moral development?
Well, listening to each other with those three concepts in mind and at least some willingness to make accommodation could help. And, choosing enlightened, instead of combative, elected representatives would also help. By my way of thinking, anyway.
No doubt there are people amongst us whose thinking places more than emphasis on one form of morality or another. To the rest of us, such thinking may seem narrow, rigid, peculiarly self-serving, even threatening. And yet, the reverse is probably just as true, that less narrow, less rigid, and more accommodating moral thought can seem just as disorientating, just as threatening to them.
Moral breakdown is without a doubt the most disruptive thing that can happen to a society. Without a commonly shared sense of what is right and wrong, good and bad, healthy and not, distrust, suspicion, and fear drive citizens apart. There is no cohesion, no moving forward toward shared goals, no effective addressing of common concerns. There need to be societal mechanisms that give people a voice in what is to happen next. There need to be forums wherein people can discuss their various concerns, where possible solutions can be presented and discussed. And, there needs to be a shared faith that solutions hit upon are an honest attempt to take all citizen’s concerns to heart, and that if in practice those solutions fail to do so, they will be reconsidered until they do. The infantile game of triumphing over the opposition just does not do that, nor does subjecting one’s self to the capricious whims of a dictator or self-proclaimed agent of God.
I say again, listening to our fellow citizens and to their concerns is both where we need to begin and where we must never leave off. Obviating fear of dire consequence accomplishes the same thing as avoiding the complete breakdown of our various societies. Only in mutual trust do all of us have the best chance of flourishing.
Election season is currently upon us. Please consider voting pro enlightenment. We do not need more escalating moral conflict, nor do we need the complete breakdown of our societies.
Tuesday, August 16th, 2016