“It is a universal rule of nature that a man makes an ethic of whatever he sees in the mirror”—from the ‘Quotations of Chairman Joe’
A man makes an ethic of whatever he makes of himself. If he is a rich man, he makes an ethic of wealth; if he is a poor man he makes an ethic of Spartan efficiency. If he is a learned man he makes an ethic of education; if he is uneducated he makes an ethic of the school of “hard knocks”. If he is a wise man he makes an ethic of wisdom; if he is an ignorant man he makes an ethic of ignorance. If he is a civil man he makes an ethic of cultured civility; if he is a barbarian he makes an ethic of his own barbarism.
The problem with modern culture, especially American culture, is that the possibilities for “re-creating” oneself are apparently limitless. One’s freedom to assume identity, that is to “invent” oneself multiplies as the social “constants”, the social “norms” increasingly give way to the latest trends. I’m not simply speaking here of the current practice of wearing one’s baseball cap backwards, or the pant legs down over the shoes, or the practice of wearing, in the open forum, one’s pants half-way down to the knees in imitation of prison wear. The problem is deeper than that, for the social norms are now under attack by the emergence of, if you will, a perverse version of George the Greater’s “thousand points of light”.
You see there are now a thousand voices, each with its own siren song, telling tales of alternate universes. One can now choose one’s own “music” to the exclusion of all else.One can choose one’s own “religion” by simply inventing a more virulent form of existing ones, branching out to become the “branch Davidians” or another variant on the theme.One can choose one’s own education, opting-out by specializing—to the exclusion of all else-what one chooses to learn. One can choose one’s own news, one’s own editorial support, one’s own everything. You see it on the street when the young lad or lass walks in front of your car with the headphones on, listening to god-knows-what and oblivious to nearly everything around including the nearly three thousand pounds of steel about to run them down..
But what to make of this world when crisis strikes? What to make of this world when one is whipsawed by forces one has not taken the time nor made the effort to understand? Who is to connect these dots that mark the thousand points of light in this otherwise dark universe? Who will instruct us, who will impart to us what we have failed to develop in ourselves? To what mountain will we turn to find that oracle who will explain the world around us?
If you have made an ethic of ignorance, you seek the wisdom of Rush Limbaugh. Why else would one consult a man who not only flunked out of college but in the process managed to fail every class he took including Ballroom Dancing? Here is a man who has made an absolute ethic of ignorance and is now getting filthy rich appealing to that segment of society who has done the same. Or, you can turn to the deeply troubled and paranoid Glenn Beck who daily consuls the retreat to the cave as we approach the much heeded end of civilization as we know it. If you have made an ethic of barbarism you join the modern “Brown Shirts” in the Teabag movement shouting down all civil discussion. Why else would you join a movement that has made an ethic of nullification and has adopted the nihilist creed that nothing is better than everything else; that no loaf is better than any bread at all.
How do we make sense of this mess? It depends by which star in the sky one sets one’s bearings. The problem is that the lights are going out in the western sky and will not be lit again in our lifetime. Increasingly they can only be seen against a backdrop of nearly absolute darkness.