If you knew it was too late to save society, would you still try?
In prior essays for the Good Men Project, I focused on three of six questions asked by Socrates as he pursued a life of excellence: (1) What is justice? (2) What is good? (3) What is courage? The additional questions posed by Socrates are: (4) What is piety? (5) What is moderation? (6) What is virtue? The latter question is the subject of the current essay.
Merriam and Webster equate virtue with morality, the definition of which dives into the notion of right and wrong. Color me confused, either by the teleology of the linguistic pursuit or my own inimitable ignorance, but I believe right action depends completely on circumstances.
Consider, for example, the case of global climate chaos and the irreversible self-reinforcing feedback loops triggered by industrial civilization. If overwhelming evidence points toward near-term human extinction, how shall we respond? What actions are deemed virtuous in this circumstance?
Let’s start with reason. A rational world view demands truth, rather than wishful thinking, as the basis for action. As Carl Sagan said, “It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
Personally, I am profoundly committed to a life of service rooted in reason. For me, a life lived otherwise is not worth living. Indeed, as Socrates demonstrated by example, some things are worth dying for. Service to community and lifelong education certainly fill the bill, regardless how dire our straits.
I am not surprised many people fail to understand the idea that we’re all in this together. Contemporary culture has driven us apart, encouraging us to value competition over cooperation. I am not surprised many people fail to understand that, as the expression goes, divided we fall. And so we are. Our culture has promoted faux individualism instead of real collaboration. It’s all about me and my stuff, me and my success, me and my ego in this hyper-indulgent morass of American exceptionalism (and pursuit of American ideals by the civilized world).
I recognize it’s too late to save society, and industrialized society is irredeemable, regardless. Capitalism is assumed to be the best, most efficient economic system, but I think it’s better described as a pathology than an economic system. So I’ll keep moving seemingly immovable individuals beyond their comfort points. I’ll inject empathy, therefore resistance, into a sociopathic culture largely devoid of people willing to stand in opposition to the omnicidal mainstream. I’ll move individuals beyond dark thoughts and into the light of a new world. I’ll move them beyond inaction. I’ll move them beyond the oppression of industrial civilization and into the brave new world of a life that gives as well as taking.
When we fall into the abyss, first as individuals and then as a species, I’ll point out the absurdities of the way we live. Until I can’t, and we don’t.
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–Photo: RickC/Flickr, Caption:
The great mechanical civilization of the past used many “engines” such as this remnant to do all manner of work and transportation. They in turn were powered by vast underground resources of oil or “fossil fuels” that were easily mined. It was the depletion of these fuels that made that age dissapear as quickly as it came.