One of my all-time favourite poems is Linda Pastan's poem Ethics. This article will tell you the ways I adore this poem but not before I take you on a political detour trending towards the mean of Orwellian Newspeak and partially partisan media. Prejudicial for sure, President Trump prefers all eyes on him. This we all know. The correlations may surprise you, many Americans feel that Ethics and Trump don't belong in the same sentence or at the very least they are negatively correlated. Evidently so! Depending on what political party you side with, I will show you how these two people are in fact, or in some shade thereof, somewhat related. By way of coincidence or revelation, statistical probabilities explain the former, while the latter might be of the opinion that a "latter" is something they use to hang Christmas lights. What does Revelation mean to a Christian fundamentalist? Is it profit or a prophet they are searching for? How about a pandering politician? The brutish power of the status quo is charting new territories of futurity, "WHAT THE FUCK is going to happen tomorrow? What about the next day and the day after that?" Impending doom means something different than it did in 1984 (1848) when Newspeak first broke the silence in the mind of George Orwell and the actions of Big Brother. Written in 1948, 1984 was, and still is a casus fortuitus worth writing about.
The thought experiment begins with a troubling thought. Manifest from the angst of impending doom, a meteor 2-3 times larger than the one that created the Gulf of Mexico collides with Earth. This means complete biological extinction. We are all gone!
Correlations of Eschews and the Conversation that Follows
Ethics (1980) by Linda Pastan (republished below with permission from Linda) was written from the first-person perspective of Linda's older self remembering a clever school girl self with all the answers and the patience of an unemployed doctor. This mnemonic reflection forty-seven years in the making is an ethical journey forcefully penetrating contemporary sensibilities. Let me show you the relevance. The word eschews, in the context of deflecting the burden of responsibility, is another way of saying, "that is someone else's problem.". Well-intentioned as this approach is by her younger self, the older Linda is much wiser in her valuation of value or what constitutes as the hard problem. In the philosophy of the mind, the hard problem is that of consciousness and what it means to have an ethical system of norms, beliefs and algorithms to live by. Rule-based activities are the foundation of the Stoic sensibilities that have structured much of our social and political canon. This hegemony from Ancient Greece (and to some degree Rome) persists today. So what does the wisdom of a fifty-two-year-old, now eighty-six, have to tell us about ethics and the importance of a Rembrandt? And what does it have to do with Donald Trump? If I leave this question up to you, dear reader, I wonder if you have the life experience to articulate a responsible adult response? Are you someone that shoulders a fair share of individual responsibility or do you eschew responsibility? "Passing the buck", is an odd way of expressing the deflecting of social-ethical norms, especially when the "most powerful nation of the planet", can't seem to solidify any aggregate of standardized basic social health care. This is ironic in our consumer-centric society for two reasons, firstly, money-lovers don't want to pass any bucks, and deferring individual responsibility to others makes it a social issue period, not a matter of debate or a political platform for the avoidance party. If you want to deflect risk and responsibility while at the same time maximizing profit and holding onto as many bucks as possible, the opportunities for advancement are finite. A planet killer meteor or environmental collapse does not care about your investment portfolio. What should we be doing vis-à-vis the imminent destruction of our planet? What timeline would force you to reconsider the Christmas Lights on your house or the importance of a Boxing Day date with the return checkout turnstile? Check-in, check out, so it is written and the end of days would be a sad day indeed if your precious redemption narrative ends in one big vaporized cloud of consumerism. Does God save the planet?
As I contemplated the implications and impending morality of ethics tethered to the wisdom of years, I couldn't help but think of the cliché where a fine wine only gets better with age. Just like the Rembrandt painting must be experienced later in life to appreciate the value contained within. The colours and contrasts of experience reflect on a past seen through the eyes of an old lady that is old enough to know better.
Ethics by Linda Pastan
In ethics class so many years ago
our teacher asked this question every fall:
if there were a fire in a museum which would you save, a Rembrandt painting
or an old woman who didn't have many
years left anyhow? Restless on hard chairs
caring little for pictures or old age
we'd opt one year for life, the next for art
and always half-heartedly. Sometimes
the woman borrowed my grandmother's face
leaving her usual kitchen to wander
some drafty, half-imagined museum.
One year, feeling clever, I replied
why not let the women decide herself?
Linda, the teacher would report, eschews
the burdens of responsibility,
This fall in a real museum I stand
before the real Rembrandt, old women,
or nearly so, myself. The colors
within this frame are darker than autumn,
darker even than winter - the browns of earth,
through earth's most radiant elements burn
through the canvas. I know now that women
and painting and season are almost one
and all beyond saving by children.
- There is no excuse for eschewing in a political sense, accepting responsibility and facing problems should be the prerequisite for every elected official and politician on this planet. For the younger you, the rest of society shoulders this responsibility until such time as your wiser, older and grateful self has the life experience to appreciate a classic when they feel it.
- Rembrandt Harmenzoon van Rijn (1609-1669), Greatest master of the Dutch school of painting.
- Poem published in full and with Permission from Linda Pastan, "in fact it pleases me that you find "Ethics" relevant to the catastrophes of today. (And I must admit I sometimes eschew reading the morning newspaper, not wanting to contaminate my whole day.)"