Dying Daily #151: Duty to Society


Rejecting Duty

Continuing on with unpopular virtues and ideas derived from my reading of Stoic philosophy, though this one has a lot to do with reading about ancient cultures in general.

It’s funny to me that I am writing this, because all of the virtues we are looking at are things I openly rejected when I was younger. For a very long time I rejected them because they weren’t cool. This really just meant they interfered with my quest to blindly follow my emotions and desires and be all big and bad and uncontrollable. Once I got educated and super smart, I developed a more structured reason for refusing to adopt these antiquated notions of human behavior.

At least, I would bet I said something like that.

Duty is an odd one, and seems increasingly unpopular. We live in a culture where many of us don’t feel like we owe the social order anything at all. Maybe it’s the result of most of our needs being met. Maybe it is all the division in our society. Maybe we are just becoming lazy and narcissistic. Whatever the cause, we just don’t buy into the notion that we have a debt and a responsibility to our fellow humans anymore.

Duty as a Debt of Gratitude

The more I think about it, phrases like “It’s not my problem” make less and less sense to me. From the day we are born, we live in this web of dependence on other people. Someone took the time to carry you around in their body for 9 months. Someone took care of you after birth because human babies are completely useless. They can’t even roll over. This expands outward for the rest of lives as we live in houses that other people built, use technologies that other people invented and eat food that other people helped get to our plate. Sure, some people are more self-sufficient than others, but we are all dependent in more ways than we are independent.

Duty as Rational

In this light, and the fact that we are all sharing space, saying something is not our problem or misbehaving and wreaking havoc isn’t just uncool or annoying, it’s illogical and vaguely suicidal. It reminds me of a video I saw once where this pig is peeing in the water trough he is drinking out of.

This can be seen in many places. There are the obvious things like people committing crimes and robbing and assaulting others and taking more than their share by and using other humans as pawns, but there are subtler ways as well. Turning away from trouble. Ignoring someone in need. Not pitching in when there is a disaster. Not participating in any sort of group or social events. Throwing trash out the window of your car. Running red lights. All of these areanti-social acts, in the literal sense of the word.

What does duty look like in your life?

What do you feel your responsibility to society is?

What are the limits or boundaries on this?

Do we have any obligation to the social order?