Location: Iowa, United States

61 years old (pretty old for a blogger) proud to be a grandpa

Thursday, January 17, 2008

This isn't my post but....

Bryan Torre posted this back in November and a bunch of us smart alecks bombarded it with sarcastic remarks (I started it). Anyway, I never thought that it got the attention it deserved so, without Bryan's permission, I'm posting it here. You can see the orignal at: http://momentsofadequacy.blogspot.com/2007/11/theres-always-something-better-you.html#comments

I'm particularly interested in pursuing the suggestion made in the last two paragraphs (ignoring for awhile Bryan's own cynical ending). Does anyone know of anyone who's actually doing this?

There's always something better you could be doing.

By “better”, I mean more moral, more helpful, more “good”.

The problem I have is that whenever someone wants you to get excited and take action about Things Of Importance (homelessness/global warming/badgers), they almost always try to make you feel guilty about some luxury; they want you to feel obligated to give that up in order to spend time or money on the thing they’re in a dither about.

Example: People tell you that you could feed a child in Africa for what you currently spend on Diet Coke. And it’s probably true. And I have no problem with them pointing that out and trying to influence you to spend your money better. (Diet Coke sucks anyway, and so does being hungry.)

The problem I have is when people get all Jello-sheriff-of-the-house about it, and try to tell other people that they’re immoral for their choices in how they spend their money or their time: “How can you justify buying a boat/snowmobile/diamond ring/pedigree lizard/whatever when people are hungry and homeless?” Etc.

But the problem is that whatever you do, you could have done something better.
· If you get a cosmetic procedure, I can tell you how you should have donated the money to pay for cleft palate surgeries for orphans.
· If you splurge at a nice restaurant, I can tell you how you could have eaten at Denny’s and spent the difference on insulin for diabetic children.
· If you eat out at all I can tell you how you could have prepared the meal yourself and donated the difference to the March of Dimes.
· If you eat any meal that cost more than $2, I can point out a way you could have eaten less/better/cheaper (or skipped a meal) and given the remainder to the homeless shelter.
· If you weed your garden, I can tell you how you could have spent the time caring for the sick.
· If you buy new shoes, or a vehicle, or a bicycle, or just about *anything*, I could tell you how you could have been more compassionate and enlightened with your choice of how to spend your money.

Even if you do “good” things, you could have done better:
· Read a book? You could have spent the time tutoring poor kids.
· Tutor some poor kids? Should concentrate on their critical health issues first.
· Mowed your neighbor’s lawn? Should have used the gas to drive poor sick people to the doctor.
· Etc.

As far as I can see, the reductio ad absurdum of “you should give to X instead of buying Y” is that no one should have a savings account, send their kids to college, have a hobby, play sports, buy a house, car, clothes, or anything else until everyone in the world is warm, fed, and clothed.

And clearly, that might be a little unworkable. Besides being unrealistic and an impossible philosophy to sell to anyone other than dreamy college students, it means that all the people in the industries that make clothes, boats, houses, etc wouldn’t have jobs, and everyone here would be poor because we sent all our money to Africa or India or Guelph, Ontario.

The fact is that healthy economies run on the idea that work is directly rewarded, that people can better their situation. If they can’t – if industriousness, innovation, and risk are NOT rewarded – you end up with Soviet Russia, where nothing worked, including the workers.

As much as the “trickle-down economy” is mocked, and even though a rising tide always seems to lift the yachts higher than the rowboats, it does work.

Now, having made the point that since you can never be perfect you might as well be Caligula, I offer another idea for your consideration: a couple years ago I read a fairly persuasive article whose point was that an income of something like 30 or 40 thousand dollars is all a person really needs in this country (USA) to have all their natural needs met and live in relative comfort (ie, not hungry, cold, or sick).

The author posited that to be truly moral we should probably live at this standard and give everything above that to a charity with an effective track record [Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, etc]. I found it kind of hard to argue with, but luckily I am free to ignore the whole thing because I’m content with being evil. *You*, on the other hand, are now responsible for living up to this standard. You’re welcome.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Good Book

I recommend that everybody read the recent book by Oliver Sachs, "Musicophilia." I've always been awed by the universal power of music to move us (what makes it happen? what good is it? how can something so abstract be so overpowering? why is it only humans experience music in this way?) Sachs addresses all of these things but doesn't answer them completely (who can?). However, he does provide some very intriguing insights into the way our brain processes music and what happens to our musical perspectives when things go wrong. The good news is that our attraction to music is almost indestructable, surviving in measure injuries, dementia, Alzheimer's, autism, etc. Although Sachs is pretty much an atheist, I finished the book feeling that music is a unique and quite literal gift.
Here's a quote from the book:
Music uniquely among the arts is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly. It needs no mediation. One does not have to know anything about Dido and Aeneas to be moved by her lament for him. [Henry Purcell’s opera, from 1689] Everyone who has ever lost someone knows what Dido is expressing. And there is, finally, a deep and mysterious paradox here, for while such music makes one experience pain and grief more intensely, it brings solace and consolation at the same time.