Dr. Guy McPherson believes that if humanity is measured in its ability to protect the common good, we’re failing.
Who are your friends? What is required to fulfill the responsibility of friendship? What is friendship?
When faced with such questions, I often turn to the ancients. In this case, I turn to Aristotle for my favorite definition of friendship: a relationship between people working together on a project for the common good. Without the common good, we might as well restrict friendship to drinking buddies. The distinction is as clear as that between being a citizen and being a consumer. Sadly, I suspect many Americans don’t know the difference.
In Aristotle’s definition of friendship we find traces of his teacher’s teacher, Socrates. After all, one of the six primary questions of Socrates was, “What is good?” For focusing on the common good, I suspect Socrates would have been pleased with Aristotle — and perhaps even with those of us pondering issues in this space, although I will admit it may be asking too much to expect the blessing of a long-dead Greek Cynic.
In the spirit of the ancients, I believe that our humanity is measured in our willingness to protect the common good. And, by pursuing and protecting the common good, we become friends in the Aristotelian sense. I’m willing to call the pursuit of the common good an exercise in virtue, bringing to mind another Socratic question: “What is virtue?”
Who decides what qualifies as the common good? Does it include industrial civilization, or does it extend to all humans? Does it stop at humans, or does it extend to the myriad non-human species on which we depend for our survival? If we are working toward the common good, shall we not focus on the ongoing, accelerating extinction crisis?
Have we become so addicted to smart phones and digital tablets we’re willing to trade them for a living planet? If so, why not display our true colors in the form of a bumper sticker: “Smart Phones for Genocide.”
Without the common good, and the struggle on its behalf, there can be no Aristotelian friendship. There can be no justice. And there can be no virtue.
Therefore, I am forced to conclude that: 100,000 generations into the human experience, with the end of humanity in clear view, our shared goal must be the common good. I further conclude that: As friends, we reveal our differences, we appreciate our differences, and then we set them aside, for the common good.
All the Socratic ideals are born again in the love we feel … for each other, for our families and tribes, and for the natural world. Walking a path that honors the planet and ourselves is a responsibility we share, you and I — a responsibility unlike any other in human history. And it is not just a responsibility, but also something more: It is a joy, and a privilege.
–Photo: Gerard Van der Leun/Flickr