1/26/2009

Angels in the Architecture

We have these adages. These base concepts that pervade our culture, our thinking and our understanding. I don't mean those penny wisdoms, those maxims that we pass out casually in the words of our day to day: birds of a feather, a penny saved, early to bed and early to rise, idle hands, if you aim at nothing and never judge a book. No, I mean those ideas that underlie our mythology. I mean the things that we consider to be fundamental truths. I mean the things that go beyond what we take for granted and that become what we take to be indispensable to our moral conceptions, the substrata of our collective lives.

Though, I wonder sometimes whether or not these things are true or whether we simply choose to believe them because because some cardinal part of our aggregate psyche needs to believe them in order to make sense of a senseless world. These are the morals of our fairy tales, the common assumptions that underly our movies. They are the things that we consider so deep seated that we are likely to forget them and often need to be reminded through apologue. Why do we never seem to question these ideas?

Are children really innocent? Does faith trump cynicism? Is balance and moderation really the path to wisdom? Is family as important as we pretend? Is honesty truly the best policy? I'm convinced that good stands, at best, an even chance against evil no matter what the storybooks say. Does human life really have intrinsic value or do we just convince ourselves that it does because the alternative is too uncomfortable or too inconvenient?

I don't know the answers and I can't pretend to but I'm inclined to think that anything believed by a large enough body of people cannot have been adequately unpacked. I wonder if these very ideas of family, honesty, good, evil, justice, duty, morality, moderation and faith have any true value as social axioms or if they are simply comfortable and convenient. It pains me that we may all be, in some small way, deluding ourselves.

I'm no nihilist. I'm just choosy about where I pin my heart.



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1 comment:

Paul Lamb said...

I suspect that all of the things that we "value" are so ingrained that we've pretty much lost the ability to scrutinize them objectively. And it's worth considering that value might be seen from one perspective yet not from another. Certain segments of our society sing the praises of the nuclear family (which has really only existed for a couple of generations), yet those on the outside (say, gay couples) may find their own social structure equally as nurturing and loving (valued). Yet those are vilified as "evil" by the value protectors of our culture.