The common good

by Jon Sullivan - 2022-11-10 - Jonism

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I feel that it is a mistake to separate what is good for me from what is good for humanity. But I've yet to find balance in that ideal.

The Stoics believe that the most important thing is to live in harmony with nature. And by "nature" they mean all that is and ever was. Not just the universe, but also the thing that creates the universe - The math and logic and science that all matter and time arises from. And they believe we must be in such harmony because we are one with the universe, and thus nature, and thus all humanity.

Yes, we can mentally see ourselves as individuals, apart from everything, independent and individual. Alone with our hopes and fears and desires. But we aren't alone really. Everything we know came from someone else. Teachers, authors, parents, friends, coworkers. We can enshrine individual thought and expression, but even our most selfish thoughts are colored by the information others filtered before we go to it. Filtered by the actions and opinions of our friends and family. By the community we live in and the neighbors we must share it with. We can't separate ourselves from physics. Even if we are spiritual, we are still flesh. We can only be truly independent if we limit our perception and filter out more and more of the external. It would be nice to imagine some wise person coming up with a huge system of knowledge by their own intellect alone. But it was never that way. Science, art, religion, culture, philosophy, are all the product of incremental additions to previous work.

We can follow it back through history and through evolution and through astrophysics until we are left to conclude we are just star stuff, and eventually we'll return to star stuff. Making us one with the stars, one with nature, one with everyone who shares that nature.

Said another way.... We can fetishize our independence. We can insist we are special and more deserving than others. We can put ourselves and our team first. But only if we reject that we are one with humanity. Only if we assume our closed world is best and anything "other" is inferior. We are only an island, only truly a hermit, when we deny all the things that make that island possible.

I choose to believe that we are just brief physical collections of atoms moving through time, gaining some atoms as we go, leaving some behind. And that we, and all living things, evolve to maximize our ecological niche. As humans, that niche is to be the best rational social creatures we can be. And I choose to reject the notion that we are naturally divided into winners and losers who must fight for food and shelter and sex. I choose to believe that each of us are the best we can be when we live in harmony. Sharing rather than hoarding. Enjoying together rather than coveting alone. Accepting and fostering the happiness in others, as they foster the happy in us. Refusing to make winning depend on others suffering. I choose to believe that we're beyond "survival of the fittest".

It's a happy idea. We can all live together and be happy just by recognizing our commonality. But..... It's hard to practice when harmony is so hard to find. In 2022 America we only find harmony in the small subset of people who have the same opinions we do. We've built a version of humanity that rejects the bounty we could share, denies the ability for our vast wealth to help everyone together. It was easy for Marcus Aurelius to spend so much time focusing on the common good. He literally controlled both the resources and their distribution. While I find myself hated by many fellow Americans just for thinking wealth is bad and sharing is good. As much as I love Jesus stuff, I'll always be hated for putting my faith in helping those who have less.

What is harmony for me then? Where is the harmony I should act on when so much of humanity seems selfish and predatory? How do I turn an idea of acting for the common good into practice when so many are motivated only by greed and victory? Is true harmony even real?

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