In the course of human events, things change. The ebb and flow of history seems important to us when we are in the middle of things but, in the final analysis, none of those particular events are very important when measured through the lens of the historian. What seem so clear at the moment, when judged against the clarity of historical evidence and interpretation of that evidence is that that which appears important while in the heat of the moment, often disappears into obscurity when the evidence is analyzed. Furthermore, the farther back one travels in time, the more events on their own find little comfort in predicting events to come. Everything changes, nothing remains the same! Perhaps that is because the only meaningful period of time is always already in the past; this very moment and what one does with it is the true measure of ethical and moral behavior. One either acts with a sense of morality or one does not. In either case, one is responsible for one’s actions.
To my mind, this simple formula is the essence of ethical human behavior, the acceptance of response-ability for the welfare other in this very moment; the choice of being available for the other before everything else. This is a choice that embraces the uniqueness of every other human being and by doing so, recognizes the absolute uniqueness of the self. It is a choice that forbids one from interfering in the affairs of the other unless one is called by the other for assistance at this very moment. To interfere with the other, to decide in advance what the other must do in order to conform to a norm is to refuse to acknowledge that the other is absolutely unique, that one’s understanding of one’s own personal guidelines for ethical behavior is the only appropriate guideline for everyone and those who refuse to comply are somehow less than. This totalizing effect is to produce a society in which there are those who comply and those who rebel; the rebels must be squashed into oblivion rather than be allowed to participate in the normative society.
The problem, it seems, is that the norm is not static. That which was normative thousands of years ago, even hundreds of years ago, oh heck, tens of years ago and, perhaps, even yesterday are no longer normative. What is meant by compliance today is not what was meant by compliance yesterday, last decade, century, millennium and so on. To make the false assumption that simply by defining what counts as normative is grounds for the totalization of society is to create a society in which slavery, segregation, genocide and other forms of discrimination based on defined norms is appropriate.
Don’t believe me, watch a film from the 1930s or 1940s and listen to the language used by the actors. What you hear sounds just a bit off, just a little strange. It is not how we talk today. Look at a picture of your family from ten or twenty years ago and see just how much the style of dress has changed. Then look at a photograph from 50 or 100 years ago and think how you would look in that outfit. Language and fashion are merely the tip of the iceberg when thinking about totalization and a sense of suppressing one’s uniqueness for compliance. If language and fashion are so fickle, imagine how fickle normative cultural and social trends might be.
The next time you think that you live in a world that is unchanging, that the world around you is static and morality is based on some version of Truth that is accessible only by those who believe or think like you, recall what you looked like in high school and how you wouldn’t be caught dead in those clothes anymore. Perhaps that trip back in time will help you understand that your uniqueness should never be compromised as the uniqueness of every other person should be embraced.
- Modernity and Ethical Engagement (rogerpassman.wordpress.com)
- Ethics and Bare Life; Another Aporia of Modern Democracy (rogerpassman.wordpress.com)
- The Reduction of Self into the Same: Modernity Exposed (rogerpassman.wordpress.com)