Mar 6, 2023

an accounting

from the almost-sent files:

You are young still, but the question needs posing, even for you: how to account for the suffering of the world. Well, not account for it — the immensity resists all our sketched economies — but suffering begs for an answering back. An answering back for, yes, your own suffering, small as it may be, and also the historical weight of suffering at large. The utter depravity and harm that comes to innocents, and each of us caught in doing harms to others. The suffering, great or small, that we inflict with our ready consent or our willful ignorance.

How pathetically thin is the moral universe in which we say: There is no proper accounting, so I will be content with a self-regarding comparative measure of my deeds. At least I’m not that like that guy, we say, a dozen times a day. Or worse, we may ricochet between at least I’m not and its other end, the white noise of vague ambient guilt. It’s the source of a thousand ironic glances and neurotic commentary: guilt as a signifier that we like to nurse to a just-so “self-aware” degree. An inner state we can return to, occupying our attention just enough that we dig no further for the remedy.

You can, if your life is padded enough by comforts, get by on this ping-pong of self-justification and useless guilt. Or you can try and follow a serious question to its horizon. Namely: You have the shared instinctive human sense that the way things are is not the way things should be. You see your own participation in this gap — being on the brunt end of wrongdoing, and being the wrongdoer. What explanatory moral systems could ever reckon with such an existential conundrum?