Lines and limitations

Lines and limitations

Time was when lines were clear. Like the lines between right and wrong, man and woman, God and the Devil. But now it is all about ambiguity, gray zone tactics, the hybrid world of virtual and real reality combined.

Where are the lines? Some are purely illusory, like the infamous 10-dash line drawn by halfwits on water. Some are in a thing called a moral compass, now assaulted by scenes of men kissing men on the mouth on mainstream media, by so-called comedians saying the f-word at every turn (perhaps thinking it makes them look badass and with-it and not shallow and shrill), by scams and scandals at every level of life, by deep fakes and by the use of big data to profile people’s innermost interests and desires. 

But one can say, when was the world any different? People would say it is not really any different, just more open and at the same time more confusing. It has remained its violent, exploitative and greedy self. From day zero, when we first took a bite of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it has been an endless struggle to return to the paradise of innocence. “Original sin is the human condition” as my Jesuit teachers said. (Smart people those. No wonder Jose Rizal respected them, among all people of the cloth.)

Where is the line between (Israeli) self-defense and genocide? Where is the line between self-expression and civility? Where is the line between stability and psychosis? Where is the line between love and hate?

Blurred or absent

When lines are blurred or absent, we can easily become captive to our basest selves.

In politics, when the left goes very far left, they descend to totalitarianism, where they meet their fascist twin, the rightists who have gone very far right. The ideological roots may be different but they bear the same fruit. Notice how totalitarian and fascist states are usually one-party states? The lines have disappeared.

Total surveillance in the name of security. State-sanctioned assassinations. Not even liberal democracies are immune to these practices. Large or small, the modern-day state is a monolith of control that can resort to extralegal means (no more lines!) to pursue its objectives.

In religion, there are the fundamentalists who think those who are not of their faith have no hope of salvation and so they can wholeheartedly obliterate those others and still enjoy a good night’s sleep.

Just as we are witness to transgressions of established lines, more lines are actually being thrown up, resulting in the culture wars and conflicts that multiculturalism and globalization engender.

There are of course people who still try to draw the line, to make judgments in the interest of justice and fairness, not on the basis of whose narrative is more pervasive. To them, the dictum “All is fair in love and war” is anathema. Because if not, the ultimate chaos that will result from a complete surrender to relativism, to total acceptance of a spectrum that accepts no guilt or innocence, no liability and no accountability will be just like saying “All is fair in the pursuit of sex and death.” (Now this is where we can put in the f-word.) 

One has to dig deep to realize we must think and behave beyond unbridled self-interest, and that not everything done in its pursuit is justified. That many people do care to still grapple with moral, ethical and practical dilemmas is comforting enough.

And so, what is my personal place in all this? 

Setting limits

During one of our lunchtime talks, I asked my son, what risky job would you absolutely not do? And what risky job would you be willing to do? Subconsciously perhaps I was trying to see his limits, to see what he would do or not do with his life. 

“Soldier or policeman,” he said in answer to the first question. “A hazmat specialist or a virologist,” he replied to the second.

Impressive! How 21st century! He doesn’t want to fight against fellow humans. He wants to keep the environment free of hazardous materials and fight against dangerous microbes instead.

For me, I said I absolutely would not want to be a deep sea diver working in the dark depths in a metal suit (reflecting my fears of confinement and tight spaces). As to a risky job I would be willing to do, I said I would want to be a combat photographer or a combat medic. 

Well, I am now too old to take on a risky job of any kind, whether in the service of truth or in the service of other people. Perhaps for me the lines, old or new, are not only blurred but have completely disappeared. I must now fight the darkness even as I walk towards it, nay, embrace it. Original sin, remember? Reaching up and getting a bite of that delicious forbidden fruit was the first line that should have never been crossed.

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