Monday, April 23, 2018

Obligation

Human Rights are part legal, and part moral. Both are made up. These Rights have attached obligations. There is the stuff you have to do, and the stuff you should do. The first part is the remit of Judges and Courts of Law. The second is the remit of Priest, Imams, Rabbis, Swamis and in the Secular world... gossip. We live in a world where the majority of our success is determined by the random lottery of birth - Geography, Genetics, Hereditary Privilege, Societal Prejudice. We don't all start with the same tools. Even then, the random hand of fate throws out an infinite number of paths.

Unmet Expectation is a huge source of unhappiness. My friend Stuart and I have been Roger Federer fans for a long time. His approach to this support is to expect the worst. He assumes he will lose, as a way to offset his disappointment. I am still owed one beer a month for the rest of my life for the match where arch-nemesis Nadal lost in the second round of Wimbledon. Even when Rafa was down and out, Stu still thought he would come back just to stick it to Roger later. Rafa lost, and Stu was delighted. If Rafa had won, Stu would have been delighted - he would have had a free beer every month for the rest of his life.


If you Expect nothing, you can't be disappointed. If you gain comfort with the downside, anything positive that happens is a bonus. This is the philosophy of the Stoics. Boethius wrote the book 'Consolations of Philosophy' on fate and death in the year running up to his unfair execution in 524. Accounts vary of how it was done - clubbing, beheading or hanging.

'Consolations of Philosophy' - Boethius

The Calvinistic Philosophy of Protestantism is very much influenced by this 'expect nothing' thinking. Even in countries like England where people are increasingly not religious, there is a sense of not using the word should. No one owes you anything. Sort yourself out. This doesn't mean people aren't generous. There is just a deep soaked trigger in the word 'should'. A friend of mine says he really doesn't like people shoulding all over the place.

As a personal philosophy, this is incredibly powerful and empowering. If you expect nothing from anybody... you don't have to wait for anything. You take responsibility for living life rather than life living you.

Having said all that, it triggers me that there is so little conversation about Colonialism and the darker side of British History here in Britain. As a Soutie (one foot in England, one foot in South Africa), I don't escape that conversation. A possible cornerstone of my identity is Apartheid. I was in High School as South Africa transitioned from White Minority Rule to Democracy in 1994. I grew up in an English speaking bubble known as 'The Last Outpost'.

The Last Outpost - Natal

On the other side of a few hills from where I grew up is the township of Umlazi. With a population of about 400,000 people, it was 'out of sight'. I only went there for the first time when I was 17. I grew up aware of Apartheid, but I remember that visit as a fairly pivotal 'this is not okay' experience. We SHOULD do something about this. 

Now whether you live on the other side of a hill, or the other side of the world, I don't think it is that relevant. The bubble I lived in could easily have been in England. The world is interconnected. The food we eat, clothes we wear, the copper and steel in houses we live in, and technology we use comes from all over. The fact that our rights are determined by the country we live, doesn't mean our obligations are purely local.


Taking a should on a problem doesn't help. I agree. People don't like being the enemy, and I think we have natural defence mechanism if someone tells us what we should do. That doesn't mean it isn't valid. I have no problem with some gossip, and some discomfort.

I am however a Deep Pragmatist. The reality is, it is far easier to preach the philosophy of not shoulding to people who have won the lottery of life. When someone is down and out, it comes across really badly to say, 'Pick yourself up!'. The reality is that a cornerstone of society is Property Rights and The Rule of Law. The stuff that allows all those privileges to accumulate - borders, prejudice, hereditary wealth. If you want people to respect that... if you think they should, then there has to be some sort of acknowledgement of history. It is easy when faced with your 'Killmonger Moment' to put down arms if 'moving on' doesn't entail letting people who benefit from rights, claim amnesty from shoulds.

Killmonger Moment
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