I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately. It’s something I think about a lot all the time, really. I’ve been watching a Great Courses series of lectures that’s also been making me think a lot about Judeo-Christian ethics, and how some of the historical roots of our current political climate are based on ethical systems that actually can be discussed and negotiated.
The series is incredible, by the way, it’s called “Why Evil Exists” with Charles Mathewes (this is just where I find most of my Great Courses, but you can also buy it on Audible). Anyway, I often feel guilty – we all do, I think – about the things I’m not doing. Calling mom, taking the time to read every day, getting your cardio in, taking out the trash, and so on.
But it is an interesting question, like, to get all stereotypically philosophical, and to also draw attention to it like a GODDAM NERD:
So like, if I were writing a philosophy paper we’d have to address two major questions to answer that question: (1) What is best, and (2) What exactly do we mean by “using” time?
For the “best” question, we’ll probably just have to reformulate the question, since we’re obviously not asking what the single best use of time is, as we can all agree that there are a great number of things that count as “good” uses of time – many of which, if done to the exclusion of all other activities, would be considered bad ones.
Everybody’s selfish, which is why I think we worry about this so much. If you let yourself be as selfish as we all are deep down, but in practice, you’ll end up being a parasite on the social order, which is bad. This is why Kant thinks that morality is somehow connected with what we can will everyone in the same situation to do, because the tension between the personal will and the will of the species are always going to be in conflict. This, for Kant, was a way of reconciling the two – saying that we might think that what we want is just what’s good for us as individuals, but really as parts of a larger social order, we’re obligated to do what’s good for everyone because it’s also good for us, given that we, in turn, benefit from that social order.
But that doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head, which is why Kant’s maxims weren’t accepted as truth by society at large. The fact is, Nietzsche was right. Good and Evil are concepts that only carry weight if you accept the premise that the individual human life must be lived in accordance with what’s good for everyone – but if that were true, we’d all just be slaves to social structures we had no say in.
Ultimately, all morality bottoms out in immediate, personal relationships – whether or not we’re even aware they exist. For Kant, morality depended on intentions as well as consequences. But I think they’re both important in different ways. Maybe the missing link between the two is something like responsibility – the responsibility not to be willfully ignorant, to educate yourself about the societal, environmental, and personal consequences of your actions before doing the thing that causes the negative consequences.
Or maybe we have a responsibility to cultivate the personal discipline not to act selfishly and use people as a mere means (also a Kantian idea for any non-philosophy nerds reading this)… But the importance of intentions also extends the other way, in that… maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to blame people for consequences they either didn’t or couldn’t have foreseen.
Like, think about the legal consequences of “negligence.” That’s a pretty philosophically wrought term, on its own, regardless of its context. To be neglectful is to cause harm that one may or may not intend, but merely… ignores? Kant might have said that such cases require careful scrutiny of the person’s intentions – but is it really possible to prove a person’s intentions with certainty, especially in legal cases where the evidence is incomplete?
This is why thinkers like Foucault are going to be more critical of the justice system than they are of criminals… because morality, at its center, will always be legislated between two individual people. Even if that happens many times over, in cases like fraud, or what have you.
So Jordan Peterson is right when he says in his lectures that it’s worth thinking about the fact that the justice system is based on the need to make justice a feature of the social order, rather than just about individual revenge. But maybe we actually need a little more revenge, I guess, is kind of what I’m saying, even though I had no intention of getting there when I started typing this…
But the fact is… involving other parties in a dispute that’s ultimately personal can be helpful, I mean, just look at all the people Judge Judy has gotten to pay back debts they were very obviously in the wrong about – but NONE of the disputes of that kind would even be a problem if justice on the macro level already was in place. Because if the world were just, children wouldn’t die because their parents had inadequate access to healthcare. People wouldn’t fail to thrive because they couldn’t afford the latest i-Phone. People wouldn’t have to steal just to feed themselves and their families, and people wouldn’t be sent to prison for trying a drug that’s not sanctioned by an enforcement system that CLEARLY has NOTHING to do with intentions OR consequences, but merely the purported “moral purity” of those who don’t do the particular drugs deemed unacceptable by… who, exactly?
I don’t mean to be that guy. I’m not really even that guy. I’m actually pretty square and innocent and naive. But I’m also not wrong.
And if you think about the connections I’m making… I mean, I just discovered them myself (sort of, at least in a text format), but I think they’re probably worth coming back to. Because good people do do bad things, and bad people do do good things. So maybe our system of retributive justice is just… outdated. Maybe it’s time to turn the page to a new world that isn’t quite as harsh on… anyone?
[I’m going to post this upon writing but bear in mind that it’s a first draft and I’m maybe not exactly sober at this point in time. Okay. But. Please comment if you read the whole thing because I want your thoughts.]
Oh, also… yeah… uses of time? I duno, I’ll probably take this down because my ADD is showing but uh… yeah.
Even writing this feels pointless. The problem is, I spent a long time fooling myself into believing that my channel was going somewhere. I spent a long time fooling myself into thinking I had something special to share with the internet, and all that stuff.
But the truth is, it’s been over two years and I’ve given it everything I had. I sacrificed a lot. I made myself uncomfortably vulnerable over and over, and I know that it was for its inherent value to me and whoever else got anything out of it. But right now, if I could go back and not do any of it again, I would.
The thing is, famous people get to make videos about their feelings and have it be brave and be praised by people for their ability simply to be real human beings and not just fake, packaged commodities for their fans. Which, fine. I guess it’s better than not being a real person at all, I don’t know. But they’re still making money off of that vulnerability.
But I was never getting anything out of this other than human contact with people who actually cared about what I had to say. Which means a lot, don’t get me wrong. But I gave up a lot to pursue that. I gave up my safe job and the relatively cushiony future I could have had, and now… now I’m starting to think that I overestimated how much what I was doing would actually matter to other people. Or at least, whether it would matter to anyone with any actual power. Or enough people that I could make some sort of living off of it.
And I do believe that the economy is fucked up and that people should be allowed to just live and that the world shouldn’t be so fucking unforgiving, but that doesn’t change anything because I still have to figure out what to do next and I still wish with every fiber of my being that I’d just taken the easy path and stayed at my desk job. And I still… I still feel so hopeless and lost that I can barely get out of bed or think straight about anything, let alone the future. My future.
Plus, I’m not convinced that it really matters because I don’t have a lot of hope for the future of our species, either.
But anyway I guess it’s just that… you can spend two years tweeting and blogging and rambling into the void only to realize that to anyone in the actual business of, like, making money by commodifying the attention of strangers on the internet… what you’ve been doing just looks pathetic and sad. To them you might as well be talking into a vacuum, if only 15 people read your blog or a handful of people comment, or whatever.
To the people I grew up not only watching but practically idolizing… to anyone with an actual audience, not only am I small potatoes or whatever, I’m less than nothing. I’m, like. I’m a joke, and the punchline is that I actually thought this stuff could go somewhere for me enough to throw the life I had away.
Anyway. That’s the truth. Even though no one is going to read this, and if they do, it’ll just bum them out. But uh… yeah, I don’t know. It’s bumming me out, too, and I just wanted to get the thoughts out so I can stop rehashing them over and over in the prison of my own skull.