Thursday, March 1, 2012

living at home

Whatever its venalities and corruptions, still I am honestly grateful to live in a country that has an adversarial legal system. Look around the world and the viciousness that goes unaddressed without such a system is really horrendous. Of course lawyers and judges can be bought and sold just like politicians, but to live in a system that stands even half a chance of redressing such wrongs ... well, I think it's pretty lucky.

Abraham Lincoln may not have thought it a wily phrase -- but I think it is -- when he invited his countrymen to exercise "the better angels of our nature." "Better" implies "worse" and to refer to both with the single word "better" is obvious and overlooked and wily, I think. Men and women are greedy and as a result "better" and "worse" are a package deal ... they come hand-in-hand and depart in the same unified way. No one without the other. It is one thing to theorize about this and make nicely-distanced intellectual observations, but it is another thing to settle the matter in the heart: Read 'em and weep: Where there is better, there is worse and to posit one without the other is a fool's errand... not a criticism, just a fool's errand.

A fool's errand and we are all fools.

Greedy critters R Us.

We try to do 'better,' to improve our 'worse,' but the two cling to each other in a desperate embrace and in the end, the same difficulties that arise in the effort to overcome what is "worse" will confront us in a world of "better." This is not an invitation to be an amoral twit. It is an invitation to see things as they are.

Judaism is founded on the law. Christianity is founded on caritas -- a word sometimes vaguely translated as kindness or love or charity. Besides putting the lie to the egregiously warming "Judeo-Christian tradition," these quite different foundations can each lay claim to "the better angels of our nature." There are concrete, human examples ... it ain't just philosophy.

But each in turn may also lay claim to whatever "the worse angels of our nature" implies. Why? My guess is that although both of these spiritual traditions may posit a god and acknowledge the role of man ... still man and god are kept as separate as "better" and "worse." This separation may make for good business within temples and philosophy parlors, but it makes for a constant uncertainty -- the kind of uncertainty that politicians seek to exert when making their constituencies afraid of one enemy or another. Separation is intellectually and emotionally kool, but it allows no peace, no actualized surcease. There is belief and there is hope, maybe, but there is no peace.

Who makes the law? Who owns "the better angels?" Whose greed rules the roost? And can this "who" be divvied up like a cherry pie?

When describing our "homes," anyone might say it has bedrooms and kitchens and bathrooms and more. But when inviting a friend to visit, no one says, "come on over to my bathroom." It's home and it's whole. It has different aspects, but still it is just "home." And in the same way that home has its kitchens and bathrooms, so it has better and worse, god and man, altruism and greed ... it's just home and coming to terms with that strikes me as being worth the price of admission. This isn't someone else's home ... this is the home where peace resides and where no one can be tricked by conversational, legalistic, altruistic separations. It may take effort and it may take a very serious revolution, but living at peace and at home ... well, uncertainty is a bitch.

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