Monday, November 21, 2011

For the Common Good...

We often ask, when debating over which tax bill to support or what candidate to vote for or which charity to support, what will do the most for the common good? It's an important question to ask, for the common good is critical to the health of our society. But what really is the common good? In an article published back in '92, a few Jesuit ethics students set out to examine what exactly was the common good and why we as a society have such trouble agreeing on what it is. They identify four major obstacles preventing us (Western society in this case) from achieving the common good. First, the pluralism that our society holds so dear is at some times inconsistent with a single common good. Different groups hold differing things as important and we can not put one before another without violating the liberties of some group. This problem has become more pronounced since previously oppressed groups, like women and minorities, have gained a voice. (Refer to the '60s for further evidence.) Second, you always have free-riders who take advantage of the system without contributing to it. If enough people don't help out, the systems set in place to ensure the common good collapse. Third, our tradition of individualism conflicts with the common good when our interests are not aligned with the good of the whole. Various philosophies have tried to reconcile this issue, notably capitalism, but none have done well enough for my liking at least. The final issue is that of an uneven distribution of burdens. Groups like big business might have to shoulder more weight than the urban power. This can create animosity, as we have seen with some Republican candidates complaining that a large chunk of Americans don't pay income taxes while the Democrats want to raise the tax rate on the upper brackets.
So with all these issues, why should we even focus on the common good anymore? It doesn't even seem to exist in America at this point. With the destruction of the "establishment" during the '60s, the one central force for the common good (albeit one with a rich, white, Protestant male bent) ceased to be effective. The banking institution which has replaced it lacks a certain level of...morality and as such doesn't do much for any one's common good (other than their own). The UN has the capability to be that international force for good, if only we could agree on what is actually the common good.
Is there a force in America today that is capable of sustaining a common good? What does that common good consist of? Are we ever going to agree on one?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Mist

The fog rolls in off the coast. It falls between the hills and fills up the valleys. An empty silence descends upon the landscape and the men shiver in their coats. The officers pass before the line on their horses, looking out into the void where they cannot see. They listen for the enemy, but hear only the breathing of their own horses. Fear follows the fog, seeps into coats and the men shiver again. Then the drums begin to roll out of the fog.