Our friendly regional Peace Corps rep visited my classes yesterday, seeking possible future recruits for one of the better options available to young people in transition, in uncertain times. (Aren’t they always?) We recently noted Voltaire’s counsel to “cultivate our garden,” a call to service the Corps answers better than anyone. They’ve come in from the Cold War, and applications are spiking since they streamlined the process. Oh to be twenty again, with a world to save!
Immanuel Kant, who I bashed a bit yesterday for his deontological cold-hearted refusal to admit our universal worthiness to be happy, deserves kudos for his “perpetual peace” campaign. “To pay men to kill or to be killed seems to entail using them as mere machines and tools in the hand of the state, and this is hardly compatible with the rights of mankind.” He’d support the Corps, to pay for peace and pay it forward. Its success is one great measure of our worthiness. War and the perpetual threat of war have been our species’ norm, at least as far back as the hypothetical state of nature. We have to initiate and establish a state of peace, and continually work to sustain it. If we’re unwilling to do that, maybe we don’t deserve happiness.
That “debate” in Boulder last night was anything but peaceful. Or worthy, or real, or generous.
Still thinking about Camus, whose Nietzschean roots I now finally grasp. In Richard Powers’ Generosity: An Enhancement, Russell Stone (get it?) is Sisyphus, striving to overcome his own inertia. As noted in Happiness last time, we’re not very good at assessing the extent of our own flourishing. But if we’ve faced down the absurd, and the threat of self-annihilation, maybe it’s true: we must imagine ourselves happy, or at least push ourselves in that direction. “Maybe happiness is like a virus,” Stone thinks. “Maybe it’s one of those bugs that sits for a long time, so we don’t even know that we are infected.” It would be nice to know.
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