Saturday, August 09, 2008

Is “Duty” A Dirty Word? by Anthony McCarthy

Or just a corrupted virtue?

In the decay of our imperial culture, words are primary aspects of the general corruption of thought and language in service of privilege. Theft and usurpation by the rich have to be called something, after all, they will not only be noticed and discussed, in order to effect them, defend them and, ultimately, to render them unillegal, words must be used. The corrupt actions have to be talked about in order to do them and to defend them but they can’t be called what they are. The malignant actions have to be glossed over if not disguised in order to make them seem to fit into the role of virtues, or at least benign entities.*

And the opposite happens too. Whatever inhibits theft and corruption can’t be called by its rightful name. Misidentification of virtues is, if anything, an even more pressing problem for the systematic and universal corruption of life. Nothing can be allowed to get in the way of acquisition and the amassing of wealth by the wealthy and nothing endangers the most successful branch of organized crime like the old-fashioned, named virtues. No words have been more vandalized and twisted by liars in service to the crooks of the ruling class than those dealing with morality. Duty is divorced from morality and turned into an opportunistic citation of conventionalized role playing. Listening to the media or the Bush regime talk about duty in the context of today’s military adventures is to experience a truly pornographic gut punch.

We live in a country in which the language of morality and moral indignation are twisted and stretched to the point where corruption is called reform and personal morality is deformed into mild guilt over eating chocolate and a highly selective, unlikely and baldly hypocritical moral indignation over the private sex lives of Democratic politicians.** And that’s only the most easily taken form of it. When given lip service at all, moral duty is transfigured into that kind of ABC-Disney film of corn sweetener that renders just about anything it covers emetic and pathogenic.

For others, outside of the military, the idea of duty seems to be particularly corrupted as has the idea of actual moral responsibility in general. On one hand, these necessities of a civil society have been mostly deformed into impossible burdens for unarmed civil servants, guaranteeing their failure. It would be interesting to consider how much of the corruption of the civil service is generated by that intentional sandbagging. On the other hand, these burdens for the highest of those, in the judiciary and elected office***have been considerably relaxed from past ethical requirements.

For the general population, duty and moral responsibility are to be seen as pathologies and harmful inhibitions to be discarded, character defects and signs of personal weakness, with the exception of those mentioned in the second paragraph above. In recent pop-psych the resultant inhibitions were held responsible for the increase in cancer rates. Those limiting the frivolous and irrational consumption of vendible junk and the borrowing to service that consumption have been suppressed until just recently. The patriotic duty to buy and borrow is a truly bizarre concept.

While there are exceptions to this, I think it is more the rule that moral duty, the obligation to put the needs of other people and living beings over our personal desires and whims, the obligation to face and tell even the unprofitable truth, the obligation to protect the weak and unable over the strong and powerful, are despised and derided in our late stage empire. Those who try to systematically practice these unfashionable virtues are seen as chumps or derided as anal retentive kill joys. On the blogs it is often met with the order to “lighten up”, or some equivalent admonition.

Any ideas on this?

* I suggested once that words used like that be called “Millerisms” after Judith Miller.

** eg. Sally Quinn on Bill Clinton’s sex life. The racial and gender differences in the definition and application of morality are ever present too and deserving of continued treatment.

*** There are few ideas as stress worn by flexing than “Conflict of interest”, especially in the context of the upper reaches of the judiciary and Senate that confirms them.

Note: This was written before the invasion of privacy in yesterday’s news. Note the difference in media handling between the Edwards scandal, involving private business, and McCain’s relationship with a lobbyist who was doing business before his committee.