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Left, right, and other fairy tales
"Unless the claims of the two brothers are evenly accommodated philosophy becomes a haunted house constantly assailed by the ghost of the maltreated brother."
First note briefly that my left and right hands are objective, whereas the left and right side of something else is always relative to some perspective. Actually the same is true of my hands; it's just that the point of perspective is fixed for one and mobile for the other. I’m not sure what all this means; so anyway, enough of that—left versus right, what does that mean? One thought is that they reflect some fundamental contrast in attitudes towards history. This idea is perhaps peculiar to our age, other ages may have rested their myth on more solid ground; for instance, eternity. Yet ours is a tripartite conception indicating forward movement on either an acclivity or declivity. Prior there was twin structure of inhale and exhale, creation and decay; today the opposition is ascent and decline.
There is a further difference that follows from this: namely, what is to be done? For those that believe the slope an acclivity, then the obvious move is to press ahead; for those that think things on the decline, then one ought to hold things as they are. This can be seen as broadly corresponding to the same basic polar relation as in the classical categories of being and becoming. Yet there is neither being without becoming nor is there becoming without being. The two must equally be accomodated; when and where these heuristics are helpfully employed will depend on the circumstances. Always we must remember they are mere metaphors. Each highlights some aspects and hides others; taken together perhaps we might see a little more.
Still it does seem to difficult to integrate these within an individual. Perhaps we are not meant to, perhaps we are meant to act out the dialogue between us. The problem is that we think this or that is the truth and hence ought be imposed on that which it seems to exclude as falsity. This is not how the world works. Here we might further introduce the concept of orientational metaphors. When you think of the future, how does it feel? One problem here is to what aspect this political valence adheres; is it to the self, history, the world? Either way, the theory might be that left is future:up and the right is future:down.
Of course, I don't really think these oppositions are quite so serious as people believe. Most of the disagreements seems more on paper than in person, though it can be tied to actuality by “materialising the theory and idealising the object.” But really, how often does the need to decide on having an abortion come up between you and your aunt? However garrulous she may be, I'm sure the answer is not all that often. These affiliations are mostly relevant in terms of the political games we like to play, a psychodrama when we enact political reality; if we just ignored all this, almost none of it would be real.
Meanwhile, and perhaps more importantly, our entire scale is off. The news is filled with horrific events in Pakistan or Italy or whatever. Thanks to television this train derailment never ends. Some horror can always be found with which to kill time; and almost always accompanied by the smug tones of what could have be done, what should be done now, etc. The goal is always to know the right things and have the right opinions; and these people assure us we do, all the most fashionable people share these opinions. This is the extent of morality today: to have the proper opinions, which really means keeping up with fashions.
Of course, this isn't a problem in itself. The problem is that it has become fashionable to care about precisely those aspects which are either impossible to alter or ultimately meaningless. Time and again popular morality emphasises only such aspects as cost nothing but social capital. There is always a background equation of whether support for might well be a fad is sound policy; it may be costly to offer support, or it may be costly not to until too late. Some people screw up the calculations, others luck out; Jordan Peterson took a funny route here.
But what I want to say is this: left and right don't matter, really. What matters is perhaps more local versus global—and I don't mean local as in domestic, I mean local as your family and friends. Why not start here? Here Kierkegaard asked that we 'come to actuality:
“To come to actuality” also means willing to exist for every person, to the extent that one is capable of doing so. ... From a Christian point of view I am not permitted existentially to ignore one single person. I am permitted to ignore an anonymous publicist, the public, and all such fantastic entities, but no actual person.
Of course, it isn't quite so glamorous as the grand abstractions we enact in our little psychodramas; and more, here it isn't nearly so easy. Where the other side of our little language games can be kept more or less mute, to come to actuality requires we engage with, you know, actual people; and here we cannot simply steamroll over them and enforce a view in which everything's fine and dandy. The task is to validate and integrate as best as possible the totality of their perspective; yet also without letting ourselves be bogged down, a complex task in which we can only pray for grace. There is no possibility of perfection. Nobody can tell us what we have done was right; at best we must commence with an earnest effort and search ourselves sincerely to ensure we are not being self-serving or otherwise ill-motivated. This is the true site of moral activity; all else is a distraction.
But enough of that, advice here is often nonsensical. The world you face is yours alone: your freedom, your responsibility, your isolation, your death, etc. Yet do not think this meaningless, a friend of mine suggested the world ought pursue a policy of ‘dignified resignation’—and indeed, such a suicidal attitude does seem today common all across the world. I cannot accept this. Here I stand instead with another that was present for this suggestion, one who here spoke humbly against all the world’s tragedies on behalf of his children and family; and here I stand also with Chesterton:
The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, … we step into a fairy-tale.