I wrote this as a facebook rant a year ago, and both then and today received a lot of encouraging and insightful feedback about it from friends. So, I thought to throw it on here for it's second go-around -- especially as it holds just as true a year later.
I grew up believing that the mark of an intelligent and empathetic person was to always see shades of gray, to abstain from moral claims that declared themselves obvious. I did this for good reason; the negative example I had in mind was religious fundamentalists. Of course, I was also very prone to moral certitudes of my own that belied all this; but the idea of "it's complex" rang true in my mind more often than not.
I still think this is so often the case, especially when trying to make sense of one's personal life - relationships, friendships, etc. It is also necessary to understanding that evil acts do not require particularly evil people, or certain social issues like abortion. And yet the older I get, and the more exceptional comrades I meet, I also can't help but grow to appreciate a type of moral clarity that has not been clouded by the dogmas of our time; and by "our time," I mean the last few hundred years.
Because it should be obvious that you should prioritize the right of marginalized people to feel safe in public over the free speech of fascists, full-blown and proto alike. It should be obvious that the existence of homeless people is a condemnation of our civilization, that we have failed at even the most basic tasks of human society. It should be obvious that even debating whether human beings have a right to be healed when they are sick or injured -- to put this question mark next to whether we should all help each other not die, basically -- is nothing short of a parade of moral atrocities. This should be obvious, and we should declare all of it obvious. But the vast, vast majority of people talk and act as if all this was not obvious; that indeed the opposite could somehow be the correct priority.
One thing that I think materialism and postmodernism teach us, however -- that's right I'm totally about to combine these two things -- is that seeing as there is no moral order to the universe (materialism) and values are therefore constructed (postmodernism) -- although I would add that the popularity and usefulness of certain values over others cannot be entirely separated from our desires and limitations as biological, fleshly animals (materialism) -- at the end of the day, we do have to simply declare our ultimate principles and, moreover, not always on the basis of utilitarianism (because who is going to conclude what the end goal is to which we make pragmatic decisions), and hope and try to have others find them as compelling as we do; enough others to create a consensual, free society on this basis. And I think of many friends I admire and realize they are always doing this, shamelessly and without apology -- saying no, freedom of speech is not as sacred as human life, fuck you -- and no, tribalism does not have more value than valuing all of humanity equally, fuck that -- and no, I will not moderate my tone in the face of racist, sexist, and classist attacks and speech, fuck off. I see with what clarity they come to these conclusions and in contrast, everyone else seems so obviously bamboozled by the ideologies of the powerful that it's almost laughably absurd at times, like you're stuck in some terrifying carnival.
Then, of course, I remember that my enemies feel just the same, and then I just want to cry. Not because I worry that they are right and I am wrong, but because without that faith in a moral order to the universe -- I don't at all see why the moral arc of the universe has to bend towards justice -- I can't identify anything that suggests to me that those fighting for liberty, fraternity, and equality have the upper hand. Because we're more chimps than bonobos. And chimps are fucking assholes.