I had to have surgery on my colon a few weeks ago; it had gotten twisted, and I now have two feet less of it than I did before. Everything went okay, but it will be a few weeks before I have my energy back, during which time I’ll have to save my energy for teaching, proposals, and my daughters. Expect light blogging.
While the doctors were doing tests on me, they found a bunch of other stuff wrong. Apparently I have very high blood pressure, and at some unknown time in the past one of my kidneys died. It’s nothing that will kill me tomorrow, but it did get me thinking, in my hospital bed, that I may not have as much time left as I had thought. Set aside for a moment practical worries about my life insurance and retirement savings. I asked myself what I really want to get for myself out of the remainder of my life. I found that the thing that I really cared about was that my children should remember me, and I wanted them to remember me as I was, being able to chase and throw them, and not just as I will be when frail and dying. They’re 5 and 2 right now, so I’ve got to hang on a while longer; I have no recollection of my paternal grandfather who died when I was 2, nor of my kindergarten teacher I had when I was 6. Interestingly, I found that I felt no urgent need to be known and remembered by grandchildren, much less by future generations in general. Nor could I work up much interest in my ambition to finally find my problem and make a big contribution to physics, which I had thought was the whole reason I’d done all that work of going through school and postdoc and getting tenure.
It was a clarifying experience; I believe I have genuinely discovered something about myself. It’s well known that humans care a great deal about things that happen after they die–their legacy, the fate of things they love that survive them–even though they will necessarily not be there to experience it. This could create problems if we let the eventual extinction of humanity impose a sense of futility on everything. Fortunately, our horizon of concern doesn’t extend nearly so far. I just need 16 years to see my daughters to adulthood. Not that I’ll then face death with any particular stoicism. The survival instinct, the terror of oblivion, stays till the end, or so I imagine. But I’ll have accomplished the real objective good (see my discussion of desires and goods in The Audacity of Natural Law) that I most want.
While I was in the hospital, the Democratic candidate for President took the unprecedented step of delivering a speech attacking illiberal internet sites. The Alt Right is naturally thrilled, and I am happy for them if also a little jealous. Religious conservatives are, one regrets to admit, now too unimportant to be worth attacking. And to think this wasn’t so a mere decade ago, back when George W. Bush, and not Donald Trump, was Hitler. I’ve learned not to let the Democrat attack machine get my hopes up. I doubt Trump is any more a principled racist than GWB was a theocrat. Nor should we imagine that the Alternative Right, which by and large has no interest in preserving Christendom or the patriarchal family, could really deliver us from the evils of the modern world, even if serious persecutions were not coming its way. Still, the spread of particularist ideas is to be welcomed, especially in Catholic circles. For too long, our intellectuals have spoken of “solidarity” as this ever-expansive force, internally driven to smash the boundaries of real, distinct communities, limited only by an antagonistic principle of “subsidiarity” that allows these defectively-solidaristic (because non-universal) communities some space to control their own functions. What these people have gotten wrong is not a failure to appreciate subsidiarity, but a failure to understand solidarity. Love of one’s family, one’s neighborhood, one’s ethnic group, one’s country, one’s religion, desire to preserve them, happiness at being immersed with fellow members of them–that’s real solidarity. Catholic social thought will not be healed until the bishops repent their condemnations of racism.
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