Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An existential view of society

At the risk of committing the sin of psychological projection, I have entertained the idea that corruption exists at all levels in business and politics.  This isn't a new idea (for examples in popular culture see Moore's latest documentary "Capitalism"), and is largely accepted anyway.  It forms a large portion of media coverage.  But it is also easy to overlook since it is less transparent in some situations than others.  Just the other day I was talking with a co-worker about the TV series "Weeds" and the character of the corupt mayor came up.  It was a perfect example in fiction.

In support of this I might allude to a Hobbesian discourse on how life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," which is true some of the time, but not in all cases.  Or I could quote Orson Welles who is reputed to have said “We`re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we`re not alone.”  I think it would be a mistake to take that literally, I believe he means more of psychological isolation and aloneness experienced as a consequence of the generally, and often unintentionally, egocentric behavior of most people.  I have found it very true that only you can make your values manifest through your actions, nobody else can or will do it for you. 

Would a habit of having a cynical opinion of the motives and behavior of other people really just conceal my own desire to improve, by comparison, the regard in which I hold myself?  In other words, lift myself up by putting you down?  Would that thereby also improve my ability to justify, again by comparison, my own behavior or misbehavior?  To these questions I answer: I don't think so, as cynicism pervades all thought and the cynical person's opinion of themselves is not immune to the same skepticism directed at others.  But one benefit from recognizing the actual pervasiveness of corrupt and/or egocentric behavior is realizing that the professed standards of conduct and actual standards of conduct people (and businesses and governments) live by are two different things.  This could eliminate some of the social anxiety that can accompany a fear of not meeting the professed standards of conduct.  In reality few, if any people, ever do. 

Having written all that, I must state for the record that I think people are generally good.  Or at least we try to be.

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