Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mobile decay

Sitting on the train, the man beside me answers his mobile and explains that he is on the train and apologizes that he may lose his signal. He continues to explain the particular business problem in detail until mercifully his signal is severed. There is no consciousness of an apology to the person who he is sitting next to, for carrying out a 'noisy conversation' and disturbing his reading. It is an apparently trivial act of 'social violence'.

Ironically his neighbour (me) is reading an essay by the American social critic, Morris Berman, on a meeting he attended at the Independent Institute in Washington to discuss how America could withdraw from Iraq. A meeting (one Saturday afternoon) at which, Berman observes, half the audience were disengaged from the speakers, occupying their own space, and texting or answering e-mail! It would never have occurred to them that this disregard for others' space in pursuit of self-enclosed interest was mimicking at a micro-level the very attitude that America was exhibiting in Iraq, an exhibition to which they were (given the particular audience) vehemently opposed!

It is for this kind of observation - that our values (often seen in the minute particulars of our lives) are precisely the building blocks out of which we construct our wider actions - for which I value Berman. It was Blake who said that the good is done in minute particulars but the converse is equally true the bad is the consequence of a wide path made of micro-decisions.

I am sure that the man sitting next me would be affronted by the thought he was, in truth, being strikingly rude (given how acceptable such behaviour has become - technology always has consequences that require (and rarely receive) moral assessment) and I too find myself noticing moments of creeping moral decay in my own behaviours that will need attention!

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