Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Third (Philosophy Thursday)

I was extremely tempted to take this week off, since my Thursday this week is busy. And yet, here I am, between engagements.

To Recap

Last week, I discussed how my system of ethics is based on the primacy of Otherness in the universe, and any action or speak attempting to negate or destroy this Otherness is, for me, wrong. I also wrote about how this is an impossible ethics, and that I will always think of other people in my own terms. So I am called to do my best, and when I figure out how I'm in the wrong and how to correct myself, to ask forgiveness and move on to more ethical dealings with the Other.

The Third Party

So far so good. I've been terrible at this when it comes to reality (as opposed to theory), however. I reaffirm my commitment to this set of ethics, but it all seems to come undone when not dealing with folks over the internet, for me. But I can at least see where it all goes wrong, and how I could make things right.

The spot in which I have even more trouble is when the situation is more complex than just one-on-one interactions. It's those situations where I overhear someone -- a stranger, friend, relative -- saying something wrong. Something bigoted, small-minded, ignorant. Violent towards otherness. And I just don't know what to do.

Maybe because when it happens, it's such a shock to the system. Maybe because the narrowness of mind required to harbour such blind hatred just does not exist in me. Maybe because the mental shearing -- the cognitive dissonance that occurs when I am yanked out of the particular cloud that I'm in and into a world of pure shittiness. I just feel that I go out into the world looking for gentle souls who will accept my particular brand of crazy (not that I can claim that I was born looking for that -- it is definitely a learned behaviour), only to come against intolerance. I don't know. All I know is that maybe because nowadays I spend as little time as I can with other humans and would rather read a book, I never expect these attitudes.

Not that any of the above is an excuse. I should be able to go some courage and put those folks in their place. I should study a playbook of how to shut such ugliness down. It is inexcusable that I cannot let them know they are in the wrong, so that they'll not take my shocked silence as tacit approval. Silence is never approval. It is a physical sign of the negation of the Other.


This is what Levinas refers to as Justice, if only on a small scale. For me, human relationships start with the one-on-one actions, that can build up (and scale up in complexity) to larger social systems like politics and economics. But the thing that I try to keep in mind is that the things I can control in terms of politics and economics are my actions: how I relate to individuals. Those actions are what matter most, for me.

And so it behooves me to act in the name of Justice in deference of the Other when these occurrences arise. Like, this is half the people in my life:

(I hope you can see that -- I guess some YouTube vids don't work with mobile. Poop.)

So how to deal with the situation? That's where I get caught up. Of course, this is just one example. Another favourite example of mine would be internet trolls. And in this example, it is obvious that I can't, alone, take on the entire internet world of trolls.

Instead, what all of this illustrates for me is that hatred is a useless feeling. Whether is it from some want to destroy Otherness, or it stems from buried sense of greed or entitlement, it is useless in my life, as well as in many other folks' lives. The best I can do is let go of that greed and that hatred in my life, and stick up the Other to whom I owe my existence.

Sticky Situations

Of course, for some people possible reading this (or for the Devil's Advocate in my head), this can become confused very quickly. It's that whole "so your tolerant up until intolerance is involved?" argument. To phrase it a simpler way, that argument against being "Politically Correct" and how that can be a shackle for free speech, et cetera.

But I'm not talking about being politically correct. I'm not talking about some lip service to inclusion. I'm not talking about tokenism, I'm not talking about being "colour blind" or whatever. I'm talking about allowing for each and every individual human being able to exercise self-determination about their own life. I'm talking about a person being able to call themselves by whatever name, by whatever label they so choose without interference. To be able to address their own needs for water, food, shelter, love, acceptance, and fulfilling employment of their skills in the manner they deem is right for them, without interference from anyone else or demands on their life from anyone else. To me this is a very obvious line. No person, organization, government, religion, family member, teacher, self-help guru, school or school of thought is going to tell me who I am and how to live my life. I am who I am and I live my life by this, my set of ethics. Why shouldn't everyone else enjoy that same self-determination?

But, of course, you say that if everyone lived their lives by their own self-determination, we'd have chaos, right? Everyone has wacky and conflicting ideas of how best to live, and some of them are illegal.

Illegal does not necessarily mean unethical. Again, I'd refer back to the fact that self-determination for me also means leading a life in which my actions respect the Other. No one can know what is best for my life or tell me that "women don't like that", so therefore I must not like it too (as a for instance). But that doesn't necessarily mean that I can do around telling other people how to live their lives -- unless that method of living involves a violence of the Other towards the Third.

And it is because of these reasons that I have made some decisions about the things I want for my life, the way I want to lead my life, and the way I want my career to evolve. All of which I will lay out for you next week!


I hope this week's post made sense to you. As I've warned, when it comes to human relationships more complex than one-on-one, I begin to get confused. I've never been good at talking politics, I've never been able to keep track of more than a few friends at a time. I've given it by best go, and next week will be back to my own actions and decisions and will be much more straightforward. Until then! :)