Sunday, September 25, 2011

For Their Own Sake

Everything you need to know is in the headline:

Pregnancy Expands Vision.

Trrrrry Pregnancy! It's good for you! The inevitable demise of Social Security will cease to be a subject of concern. Your wish-fulfillment dreams will be fulfilled. You'll be able to throw out those anti-depressants and hypertension pills. Your marriage will be more stable. You won't get breast cancer. You will have visions!! see angels!!! (Oh, wait ... not that kind of vision ... ) You will create great art! (Somehow less exciting, but still kinda nice.) See, see; pregnancy is good for you!

Thus the friendly secularists. But for every righteous gentile touting the areligious social benefits of having children, there's a population control freak waiting to shake his head.

"So sad," he'll say, "treating children like things. That's just what they did in the old days—had lots of children, and put them to work on the farm. Child labor! Children as an economic advantage! So sad, treating children like things."

The irony is twofold. In the first place, liberals who level such charges are playing "heads I win, tails you lose." If a conservative dares to suggest that it might be wrong to limit family size through contraception or abortion—"My goodness! Wrong!? You can't bring morality into the picture." But if the conservative proceeds to explain how large families might be a boon for society and the individuals in it—"So sad! treating children like things." In other words, so wrong.

But the double-standard both obscures and stems from a more serious mistake on the liberal's part. Both the liberal's original attitude—that children disrupt their parent's lives—and their subsequent complaint—that any attempt to prove that the children may actually benefit their parents is disgustingly utilitarian—display a mistaken understanding of ends and means. For the liberal, everything exists only as a means to something else. The idea that a thing might have more than one use or purpose, the notion that two things could be compatible or symbiotically related, the phrase "mutual help and benefit," are alien to the liberal—and also, incidentally, to the philosophical libertarian—who sees the world as one of endless competition and conflict. One person's good cannot possibly be another's.

Meet the economics of hell.

The very idea that certain goods might be common, that the benefit for one being may not automatically be the detriment to someone else, is alien to those who've bought into the liberal mindset. Self-centered utilitarianism ("What's in it for me?") is the natural correlative of philosophical relativism ("Different strokes for different folks."). Their "good" can only mean "good for." Nothing can ever again be good in itself, just as nothing is either beautiful in itself (since Impressionism) or true in itself (since Descartes). Things are true for you, beautiful for you, and good for you. And as each for you is emphasized, the sense of the word that comes before each for you is lost. True ... beautiful ... good ... no longer exist objectively.

The more we cling to our taste, our rules, our beliefs, the less value those beliefs will ultimately have—even for us. They are only ours, after all—there is no mystery about them; we made them; how could we ever be satisfied with the shadows of ourselves? Touchstone called his Audrey "A poor thing ... but my own," as if her poverty were made almost excellent by his sole possession. The truth is that sole possession makes poverty almost inescapable. The worst goods are those desired only by one man; the next worst are those that most men desire but only a few can have, since they are not naturally able to be shared. The best goods, the only ones really worth having, are the ones that can be enjoyed in company. (If you doubt this, consider: (a) Stilton cheese, (b) gold, (c) friendship.)

This is why those who pursue their own happiness—that is, happiness in their own way—are never happy. Your shadow that you have created for pursuit is too much like yourself. Your shadow can add nothing to you, cannot change or challenge or converse with you; and so you will be lonely, and "it is not good for man to be alone." The momentary high, the feeling of exhilaration that you experience upon succeeding to your latest incarnation is just that—momentary; and the next moment another shadow appears ahead, beautiful, smiling, just out of reach. (Turn around; only turn around; if it is your shadow ahead of you, what else could be behind you but the sun?) You hunger for it—for union with it—you reach to touch it—the shadow is distorted and merges with yourself, you, who are fast becoming nothing but a compound of shadows. But you continue moving forward, pursuing the shadow, wishing, wishing you could embrace it ... that image of youself ... telling yourself you will be happy when you do ...

Narcissus starved to death, so the myth tells us. I used to think the story was a bit extravagant; his idiocy was so pronounced as to be all but incredible to my childish mind. I do not find it incredible any more.

No comments:

Post a Comment