Dostoevsky at South Twin Lanes

It’s difficult to make sense of things.

When I was young I thought rationality would be the raft to carry me through choppy seas. Evidence and logic would link, and I would have a net for plumbing the depths. I’d share my catch with others, and they with me. But it turned out that the net was rent, and try as I might I could not fully mend it. We even disagreed on what we brought up wriggling from the sea.

And so I turned to hermeneutics to understand how reasonable people could so disagree. This recapitulated the problem: we now disagreed about the nature of disagreement. Relativists dominated the conversation; I was deemed a young old fogy. I was fine with ambiguity, but not with undecidability. Aristotle seemed clearly correct that we can identify what it means to flourish, at least within a wide margin. In other words, I was impressed by the things we share – the need for love, respect, and meaningful work.

My wanderings continued. The need to offer an account of disagreement led me to Buddhism and the philosophy of technology. Could it be that we miss obvious truths because we are distracted by the shiny objects twirled before our eyes? The philosophy of technology offered an account of our culture of distraction, while Buddhism described the role of untamed ego and desire in leading us astray.

These elements, combined with a lack of education, explained part of our disagreements. But questions of character remain. “Both the thinking must be correct, and the desire right, if the choice is to be good.” For Aristotle courage was the enabling virtue, the virtue that made it possible to show other virtues. Cowardice combined with just plain laziness throttled many a noble act in the cradle.

Of course, with all this, there is a residue left, tied to the particularities of each of our existence. Differences that should be honored, and promoted. But such differences should be able to exist within the framing of peace, justice, and sustainability.

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