Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch
SHOCK AND AWE OVER GAZA — Jonathan Cook reports from the West Bank on How the Media and Human Rights Groups Cover for Israel’s War Crimes; Jeffrey St. Clair on Why Israel is Losing; Nick Alexandrov on Honduras Five Years After the Coup; Joshua Frank on California’s Water Crisis; Ismael Hossein-Zadeh on Finance Capital and Inequality; Kathy Deacon on The Center for the Whole Person; Kim Nicolini on the Aesthetics of Jim Jarmusch. PLUS: Mike Whitney on the Faltering Economic Recovery; Chris Floyd on Being Trapped in a Mad World; and Kristin Kolb on Cancer Without Melodrama.
Dispatch from Apathy #3

Just be a Decent Human Being

by ANDREW SMOLSKI

Too many weeks have gone by. Too many words on paper turned to ash. Each essay incinerated, one by one. Stupid ideas and ridiculous notions piled up as too many awful topics. Who cares about Woody Allen’s oedipal driven cinema with his constant self-critique ending continuously back at the beginning? Does anyone really need a dry one act, one scene play to discuss Hillary’s hate for single mothers?

What about writing an article on Mexico’s education reform? A tantalizing topic with ongoing union protests against reforms. It surely pisses off some of my in-laws. Only the horror of the traffic resultant from human road blocks, not the tragedy of the reform. However, without being there, what I am going to offer the reader. No voices from the population. At least I could offer an analysis of rhetoric vs. reality. I started to investigate the statistics, check on the government’s argument. I realized the government’s argument “makes sense”, if only you ignore everything but the teachers as fallible human beings.

Yet, I threw this out, or I put it to the side as a work in progress. In any case, it is not here for you, the reader, to absorb. Do we need another empirical and historical account of why an argument is invalid or a policy counterproductive? Is not our very issue the lack of a decent moral and ethical institutional blueprint for our society? What should be our impulse to reoccurring discourse and action in the public realm pushing for decent policy? Demands? People-powered participatory democracy? Are we obsessed with continuous intervention of study after fruitless study as the only means to discuss societal failure?

It has become a way to push back the necessity of ethical decisions and objective morality. Just think, we must “test” ways considered immoral (at least to some) to “prove” or “demonstrate” that they are not “effective”. Just for an example, how about the War on Drugs. It was always a war on people, some of them drug users, addicts, some down trodden, many minorities, and rarely against large criminal organizations (e.g. CIA, FBI, DEA, whitey). And now we say it is a “failure”, it’s not “worth the money”, or it doesn’t get “results”. This form of discourse is the hallmark of the subjective rationalist who trots out study after study to “show” and pontificate their point.

Sadly, it will always only be a tweaking. If only social mechanism X is altered to be more in the form of Y, then possibly our real outcomes will better match the normative model we have produced. This is the tragicomic life of our prim and proper policy-makers, academics, and technocrats. A tragedy because they believe this nonsense will lead to a better society. A comedy… because they believe this nonsense will lead to a better society.

This is also part of the nastiness of post-modernism; the ever disappearing answer, solution, or part of truth. There can never be a firm position to stake out when your philosophy turns everything to air. It locks us in, but it doesn’t. We are, but we aren’t. It may be murder if we accept the idea of murder inherit in the concept as deployed in certain cultures… just shut the f*** up. No wonder this stuff comes of age during the Reagan years; a reactionary philosophy for reactionary times. A time when the symbol truly did lose all meaning, sacrificed on the altar of “whatever the hell I want it to mean”.

So, it is unimportant whether you are a “humanist” or attempting at “science”. The operation is the same; a constant putting off. We don’t know, we can’t know, we will know after we run equation W and prove there is a correlation between poverty and horrible education; it all amounts to the same. We would be better off trying to create open ethical systems with respect to both personal and group interests and desires.

This was and is, at least much of the time, my issue with atheism. Many atheists note correctly that ethics and morality are not dependent on God(s). It is at this point where they stop and the question of morality and ethics is abandoned. No alternative system is proposed. They have the rudiments to it; a reverent stance towards life, a wondrous fascination with the autopoietic élan vital of an emergent world constantly unfurling before us. The magic isn’t gone; it’s just no longer supernatural.

Contained here is the start. Life should be protected, nurtured, stewarded. Is a study needed to demonstrate this fact? No. Does that mean it is taken on faith? No. It is a moral truism; a realistic position about what is necessary for a life lived well. Being nurtured is to develop a sense of dignity, autonomy, and self-determination. You don’t need to measure it. There won’t be any exact science.

A foot, an ounce, maybe even a billion liters,

What could it be, a matter of counting,

It can’t be, won’t be, never was or is,

The fool got you to believe in an exact answer,

When all you needed to be was a decent human being

Andrew Smolski is an anarchist sociologist based in Texas. He can be reached at andrew.smolski@gmail.com