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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Obligation

Among the animals that inhabit the earth there are many examples of mutual protection, cooperation and collaboration. While we cannot attribute this behavior to an altruistic or moral impulse it does appear that most species possess a natural impulse to preserve the herd, or at the least to protect their own offspring. The obligation of one creature to another can even be regarded as self-less, that is placing the welfare of one over the instinctive desire to protect the self. While this is certainly not universal, among higher mammals it is clearly observed in most parental relationships and intra species social behavior.


One would assume that among humans such behavior would be even more pronounced, and yet we see ample evidence that for many people any sense of obligation to one another is subordinated to an innate selfishness. As a society we honor and respect those who place themselves in harm’s way to protect others but this response is offset by an outrage at the thought of any infringement on our so-called rights to do as we please. The most obvious example of such behavior today is the unwillingness of individuals to follow a few guidelines involving the wearing of masks and social distancing in order to protect the health of others, if not themselves.


It would be hard enough to reconcile such anti-social behavior on its own but far more difficult to explain the rationalizations offered up by those who refuse to take what are barely restrictive precautions. These range from outright denial of any meaningful threat to callous disregard for the life of those who may be affected, especially the elderly or those with pre-existing health issues. Not only do the non-compliant engage in practices that place themselves and their loved ones at risk, they often feel the need to deride and denigrate those who follow or support such precautions. How do we explain this lapse in any sense of obligation to one another? Earlier I described it as selfishness, but it goes far beyond the commonplace.


Those who practice callous disregard for the life of others are not limited to passive behavior as the events of January 6, 2021 clearly attest. Few of us ever believed we would witness a mob descending on the Capitol fueled by a single man's denial of reality and desire to escape the consequences of his actions. It is a dividing line that cannot be dismissed or downplayed--though in the days to come many who have given lip service to this man and his manic supporters will now deny their association.


The need for and moral imperative to preserve the common good are the essence of human society. It is the fundamental precept of law, religion, and most of the social structures we claim to value. But it seems we can easily abandon any natural instinct or learned behavior to serve our own interests even if we place ourselves and those around us at even greater risk. It seems counter intuitive, but that is precisely what many people are doing, rejecting all evidence of risk, manufacturing groundless conspiracies and pro-actively engaging in activities that have and will continue to lead to the harm and even death of those known and unknown to them.


There are many other signs of an on-going deterioration of our mutual obligations and rejection of societal institutions, not least the willingness of those whose role it is to uphold those structures to reject long agreed upon codes of conduct and laws on the basis of assertions that remain unproven and wholly lacking substantive evidence. This behavior can only be considered rational in the contra-universe we presently occupy. A logical progression can only lead to anarchic self-destruction, and yet no heed is paid to the consequences of such actions. Many of those who swore an oath to defend our Constitution have chosen instead to swear their allegiance to a would be tyrant.


My purpose in writing this is not to add yet another voice to those who decry what has occurred much less the dissolution of our social structures, our rule of law and disregard of human life. Rather it is an appeal to those who value human life—who understand that it is only our obligation to one another that pragmatically and morally sustains human existence. There can be no centrist position, no appeasement offered to those who reject the most fundamental tenets of human society. Whether we act out of religious conviction or a humanist rationale we must resist further diminishment of our humanity. With compassion but absolute resistance we must make clear to those who follow the path of the mob that they have rejected us and therefore they are cast out from us. We will not honor their behavior or reward it—we will not acknowledge them, do business with them, or support them in any way for so long as they choose to conduct themselves apart from us.


Encourage, appeal, but resist those who place themselves outside our society. The time for wringing of hands has passed. It is not just our lives that are at grave risk, but the future of mankind.

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