Monday, May 25, 2009

What You Ought To Do (And Who Can Tell You What That Is)

Short answer to the questions implied in the title: HTF would I know? (Nobody but yourself).

The long answer:

Came across an article in what sounds like one of those upright, community-spirited Canadian organs of communication. I won't go how I came across it. Long story.

N.B. I am not linking to the article or the source, because I don't want anybody to go out and give that person a hard time just because I'm using his/her words to make what I think is a very important point that isn't going to be complimentary to the writer.

Anyway, the article starts with the words "The universe is laughing at me." and ends with "Part of being a responsible adult is taking the time to participate in the democratic process that determines who gets to make the laws. Another part of being a responsible adult is taking the time to learn about the art that's being created in one's own time, to help shape the way future generations will remember the global cultural landscape of 2009." plus another short paragraph that matters not.

The bits between the beginning and the end confirm the uniopia of the writer. It is, of course, all about her. Well, no blame attaches to that, and it would do so even less of you were an Objectivist, which apparently some people are.

Sidebar: And, yes, I'm definitely going to push the the 'uniopia' related terminology. It's such a good word. 'Uniopia', 'uniopic', 'uniopism', 'uniopiate', 'uniopification'. Different categories of words revolving around the idea that someone has a point of view that only has one point of view; meaning he or she is seriously disinclined to look at the world from points of view other than the one it is being seen from. Since this is a new word, albeit a sensible and near-obvious one, we might as well define it's occurrences across the whole spectrum of applicable categories. The antoym wouldbe, of course, 'polyopic', with all the attendant variants on the theme.

But that's all by-the-by. Let's get back to the target of the cosmic joke, who, like one might expect from any staid citizen—even if she is a science-fiction aficionado; though from what it looks like, of the 'literary', meaning DAM (Deep And Meaningful) variety, which almost certainly implies condescension to those forms that don't make that grade—and that end paragraph, which attracted my real attention.

Here we have one of those statements that, to the suitably 'cultured' surely appears almost self-evidently truthful. Doesn't have to apply to Canada. This kind of utterance might have come from anybody consider him or herself 'civilized', 'educated', 'literate', 'intelligent', 'aware' and so on. And let's not forget 'responsible'. A 'responsible adult', that is. I'm quoting; check it in the excerpt.

'Responsible adult'.

The definition makes me cringe and almost want to become an Objectivist. Arrghh! Anything that can drive me to such desperate considerations, surely must be terribly objectionable in some way, or contain terrible statements or support abortion or other forms of senseless killing, or maybe even condone or excuse genocide or... Whatever.

But, no, it's nothing like that. The statement that's got me riled up is, superficially, innocuous to the n-th degree (n > some-very-big-number). You really can't beat that paragraph for expression of near-ultimate existential blandness; the kind associated with a truly civilized person, having all those qualities listed earlier. And I would like to state, with no ambiguity, that I think there's absolutely nothing wrong at all, nothing at all, with going out and educating oneself, loading one's reading schedule full of books, one of which includes dense medieval classics and the current list of Hugo Award nominations (which is how I came across it, with kind of a long way around). Nothing at all.

Reading is good. Literature is good. Being literate by and large is good. Making sure that one votes and does so informed about what one votes for, is also good. (It's the same for politics, of course, only that all you need to know there is that politicians are politicians; and if they aren't when they start, they will be so after they've been doing it for long enough. It's been that way since the dawn of 'politics'.) Going to sci-fi conventions is good; the genre can do with all the support it can lay its hands on, if only because so many people still don't 'get' it.

So, all this is perfectly OK, and is someone chooses—note the word 'choose', which is pivotal in my view of the world—to value these things and to allocate one's time doing this or that in accordance with these values, then that's perfectly OK, too. But...

The moment one makes a statement that starts with something like "Part of being a responsible adult is..." it isn't OK anymore. That's partially because it implies that if one isn't or doesn't do whatever follows, that will make one into less of a 'responsible adult'. The way this is phrased, it's like you have this collection of attributes that make you into a 'responsible adult'. Tick off the boxes; check, check, don't check, don't check, check, check, check. Count the ticks, calculate the percentage, and you have the measure of a 'responsible adult'. It's this kind of shit that has probably always been thrown by 'responsible adults' at...well, whomever are members of the 'less than responsible adult' group. That means mostly people who either aren't 'adult' in a purely technical sense—though even that is a tough one: the 'technically' not being an 'adult'; since the word itself is kind of hard to define, excepting maybe by age—or who don't have enough boxes ticked to cross the threshold into 'responsible adulthood'.

The inoffensive, bland ordinariness of the paragraph quoted above hides the oppressiveness and intolerance of the concepts underpinning it. This is, in so many ways, what a large portion of the world of man has come to. Some will call it a good place, of course, and seen from a certain perspective it look that way. People who are 'responsible adults' and who do their civic duty and read copiously and are educated, and all that kind of thing. And this in indeed what they do, and they have no apparent urge to do anything else. Which is good for them.

The intolerance is implied in the value judgment applied to those who don't have the attributes required of 'responsible adults'. People who, say, don't vote. People who do not read or who have not the slightest shred of interest in the 'art of one's time' or how the world is going to look back one day and view the 'cultural landscape of 2009' or any damn year for that matter? They therefore become 'less-responsible adults'?

Such statements are representative of the bland, but powerful, oppressiveness and intolerance of exactly those people, whose rights to be ordinary and think they way they do were bought by the blood of many of those who probably won't have, or didn't have, many of the attributes of such 'responsible adulthood'. They are oppressive of non-adults: the ever-rebellious 'youth', who these days is looking somewhat insipid and pathetic, truth be told. Statements made by those who are condescending in their bland but ineffably superior security and self-assurance that what they are is as one should be.

And yet, these people, literate as they are, seem to have missed the dubious manner in which they use the word 'responsible'. Responsible for what? To what? To whom? To do what?

The usage of 'responsible' as an adjective without a reference gives rise to all sorts of mischief. It becomes its own definition, which mutates depending on who applies it and when. But on the whole and in most cases, 'responsible' without a reference is used as a sneaky euphemism for 'righteous'; and that word and whatever concept goes with it from time to time, has been a source of scurrilous individual and social manipulation for a long time. Now it has hidden itself under the rock of the reference-free 'responsible' and thinks it's safe it that dank place, because nobody's noticing that it's there anymore. But lift the rock and look at the low-life that lurks beneath...

Next time you hear 'responsible' being used reference-free anywhere, just substitute 'righteous' and you'll be amazed at what you'll discover as having really been said or written.

As for the real meaning of 'responsible', you might want to consider its connection to the verb 'respond' and the 'action'-noun 'response'. It is different though from being 'responsive', which implies much more a preparedness to 'respond' or actually doing the responding. It's more to do with the actual action and value-free. You don't need to have anybody else around, excepting yourself and even that could be remotely these days, in order to be 'responsive'.

But for 'responsibility' there's more; for this is a social term. If you're responsible for anything, it's because you've been charged with responding to some set of conditions by someone. That someone can be you or someone else. But it's got to do with people anyway. If it's yourself charging yourself with a responsibility, this can also be seen as a social interaction between different parts of your own psyche. One part, the one that does such obligation assigning, charges another, the one who can accept such a charge and to with it what needs to be done.

Internally, too, we are a small society of competing interests, and in that society decisions have to be made and duties assigned. And arguments and disagreements are not only common, but and essential part of being human. That's how decisions are made: in the arguments between the member part of our psyche; where one finally ends up winning and everybody else falls into lockstep with he decision...most of the time anyway...maybe...

If you come across a 'responsible adult', recognizable by any number of little signs and indicators, watch them carefully; and then choose if that what you, too, would like to be. And of you choose that you do, remember that it'll cost you.


Look at what it cost them!

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