The point of participating in civilization is to add value

It's an election season, so I've been having a lot of arguments about my basic philosophical positions.  (I also recently got a job, so I've had to deal with a certain amount of frustrating snark from people who live extremely close to me.)  So, I want to take a minute to spell out what kind of obligations people have to their civilization. Here are some things that aren't your obligation to civilization:

  • To make money
  • To have a job
  • To have a family
  • To practice social normative behavior

Not saying you shouldn't do any of those things.  If you want to, they are often good ideas.  But here, this next thing, is the only thing you should feel obligated to do in civilization.

  • To use the resources and opportunities your civilization provides you in a way that creates new value for the people you're sharing the world with.

Here are some ways you can do that:

  • Make money ethically, participating in useful social constructs and maintaining an economy
  • Have a morally legitimate job, that involves doing something of genuine value at a fair charge
  • Love and care about the people in your life, have a family if you want one, and generally express love and try to add value on a personal level to the world you live in
  • Support productive social norms, like kindness, honesty and good faith, and resist destructive social norms, like sexism, racism and rape culture.

There are loads more.  In fact, a lot of the things that seem like obligations to society boil down to that core, "Add value."  But the focus, if it ever was there, seems to have drifted away from that point, because the argument I often find myself having is one in which I'm defending my desire to add value to the lives of the people around me, against the position that my priority should be to extract as much value from others as possible, and give as little as I can in return.

That kind of participation in civilization -- the kind that focuses on rights but ignores responsibilities, demands that taxes never be raised and wages never be cut, insists that anything a person can squeeze out of the financial system as it exists is not only fair play but morally admirable -- it's corrosive, and it's culturally irresponsible.

Of course, I don't have the ability to reach into other people's minds and mess with the switches.  I can't stop other people believing that the highest morality is self-interest.  But I'm also not going to pretend that I agree with anyone who makes that case.

I'm sure these arguments aren't over this season.  They probably won't start to ebb until a month or two after the election.  But having this written out here will help, I think.  And that's the note I'm leaving the blog on for the weekend, I guess.