All I could see were my two feet, in sandals, walking, dragging, tired, kicking up a cloud of sand sand off a dirt road. Looking up and around, the road was flanked by horizons of dry, forgotten layers of earth. Looking back at the ground, I was surprised to see another pair of feet, walking along mine. Those were barefoot, barely visible under heavy dust of clay blending them into the ground. And there was a male voice, soothing and slow .
He said “I heard you asking. I will protect you but even if I do, it will not be easy for you. Your heart will ache.” He spoke of hardship for weeks with only a few seconds of joy and contentment. These seconds would be so glorious, so deep, that all the longing would disappear, but the pain would begin to build right after. There would be a point, he said, after years of this journey that I would grow sad and have to choose again: what matters? He said: “what you want is an illusion, what matters is where you are going.” He stopped, gently touched my forehead: “Does it matter where you are going?”
Little Portion Friary Mt. Sinai L.I., NY.
So, there I was at the Bible study that would have gone on without me — but I was moved to go. First, I got there at 10 am, worried I might be late because I had no idea when it would start. Quickly I was informed the group was going to arrive later than expected — 1 pm. Being so far from anywhere, I asked if I could stay and wait, and that was welcomed. I talked hardcore political history of Nazareth, the phases of the Roman empire with brother Eric, and was invited to have lunch. As it turned out, the Bible study group got there earlier than expected and I helped the scrambling Franciscan brothers prepare desert. I walked a rather large labyrinth, eyes closed, being directed by a lovely, faithful, senior lady who kindly played along and took me through it all the way. A notorious angel was hiding in the chapel where no one was looking. He played for me. There were 4 songs, secret serenades, and dedications. There was storytelling, some of it on the Bible. There was a diverted silent game of musical chairs, then dinner. And on the way home, there was the wanting to stay together, separating sadly, with longing — yet, inspired by the whole thing.
old backyard garden
It’s okay to include technology of the self in ethics. Technology of the self is not my idea, the early Greeks had it first. Foucault pointed it out in my favorite chapter with the same title (technology of the self) in a book called Ethics (the book is about sexual ethics, in a stigmatizing way, so-French). Back to the Greeks, the idea was that in a well working democracy, the citizen had the responsibility to take care of her/him-self. Baths, courtyard gardens, and the sort were part of cultural activity — because by being happy, a citizen could better exercise her/his work and treat others better, leading to a better society. In fact, the maxim “know thyself,” is a mis-translation of “be true to thyself,” as referenced by Foucault. Merci, Foucault.
…it is discussed in semiotic circles that there is no such thing as meaning. That is, words can change meaning. Meaning is a convention we accept in the cultural form of language.
For example, due to unmitigated code switching which, if you speak two languages fluently, you know it happens, my daughter and I lived fragility of word meaning. In our case, for reasons I cannot explain with anything better than : the switching happened late at night and early in the morning — when we were tired. I code switched “bathing suit” for “pajamas.” It was a time when my daughter and I were intensely involved in serious swim team competitions. So, when it was night, we were tired from the day and it was time to go to sleep — and yes, I would ask Tally to put on her bathing suit. And obviously, she put on her pajamas. Conversely, very early in the morning as we got ready to go to the pool to start workouts, I would say: “Tally, did you put on your pajamas?” And Tally would put on her bathing suit. All was fine.
In the summer, we had 2 to 3 kids from the team who would stay with us for the month to go to swim practice and competitions. Code switching continued to happen to me, but I noticed when I asked: “come on girls, put on your bathing suits, time to sleep,” all of them put on their pajamas. The same inversion worked just fine in the morning. At the last week of the season medal ceremony, one of the parents approached me to ask if I understood why her daughter wanted to take her pajamas to the swim meets.
Language is a convention. Some of us remember when “bad” meant “good,” “fuzz” meant cops — in an oppressed time. Then, “mad” meant “very,” “word” meant “you bet.” It’s not the word that holds the meaning. It’s the need, and the convention. So I raise my glass to the puzzled swim team mothers and toast to Dr. Quine — the man who told me that in a way, there may not be such a thing a meaning.
The most talented and creative minds work in advertising. When the campaign is good and the client is ethical, the writers open wordsmithing art to the cadence of thought from overture to a conclusive catch of phrase that doesn’t end the idea — it just makes it blossom.
The downside is that the actual business of advertising is owned by 4 groups worldwide — talk about focused interest. Children 12 years of age are estimated to have spent 78% of their lives exposed to advertising. To think that advertising is designed to promote purchase; to add that there are no constraints in commercial freedom; and to ignore these points, excuse-me, is a crazy idea.
Let’s consider for a minute, the invasive and unethical advertising that reaches a fragile population such as kids. Let’s curtail and become vocal about the need of ethics in the legislation and policy for advertising. Commercial interests have the laissez faire’s card blanche to be absolutely free to appeal to emotions. They are also free to make consumers experience lack of satisfaction, leading to more consuming — which quite not-coincidently is the ultimate goal of advertising. Nonetheless, here is an example of a good commercial ad, subtle, in which the product is “think different” with the 1984 rainbow apple logo, (kinda child proof, yet appealing to the risky idea of being open minded, the kid in us) — inspiring.
Only a reflective action is free — I wish this was my conclusion, but it’s Habermas. Then free decision requires options. That is, free-will is affirmed as existing whenever there is a choice. But it is not that easy — choice becomes skewed because it directly depends on the person’s exposure to options — you cannot choose from options you do not know exist. You cannot choose from options you do not have — have access, as well. And on the horizon, determinism dawns unreservedly.
Limited options are part of a systematic problem transcending all levels between micro and macro. Society, money, exposure, emotional readiness, family support, family’s family’s support, and… There you are at the center of concentric circles determined for you. I will be watching — watching for determinism in free will.
Next: Habermas on the rocks. Danke Jürgen!
looking in between
In western society, the law divides actions in two directions: right and wrong via legal and illegal. This, as you obviously noticed, is a huge simplification of life. We do not live in a binary, dichotomized, manner. Life, in its complexity and routine, occurs between right and wrong, but we do go through the binary concepts every time we are faced with a decision — and this where we stumble into ethics.
What ethics dictate our decisions? Are they really our decisions? Is it ruled by policy? doctrine? belief? And, by the way, are our desires ours? is my desire influenced by exposure, influenced by media, family, experience, limitation? How have I developed acceptance and the infamous “blind eye?” While on the subject, how much violence do I accept in the course of the day? Why? Where is the line drawn that makes you and I step into a situation outside of our personal lives to intervene or to act differently? Where am I morally? Hard to know yet, easy to feel. Perhaps ethics and moral development happen with clinical accuracy in the gray overcast area exactly between right and wrong. (I just look up and applaud the Divine humor).