Where Do You Draw The Line?

Where do you draw the line, especially when black and white keep shifting/are not well-defined/blend and result in shades of grey? Drawing the line is an ethical choice. Lawrence E. Johnson [ewl, 146-155] tackles the very dry subject of the logic of ethics with fun and legal relevance–for example, ‘We must often draw the line somewhere, be it at a good somewhere, or at a bad or a mediocre somewhere…. Yet if no line can be drawn which works better than having no line at all, we may be better off not trying to enact laws…. Where no workable line is possible, wise legislators prefer to legislate as little as possible’–though it’s still pretty dry. It bears reading slowly, twice, though.

This business of line drawing has practical applications. Today is Friday, Garbage/Recycling Day. Somebody/ies had to decide on a line between what is garbage and what is recycling.  That line keeps shifting. True, eventually everything is recycled, even whole cities. But that line is hundreds, maybe millions of years away. Where do we draw the line now? Today, we watered at the community gardens, where lines demarcate what is garden and what is not. We travelled on public roads, being careful to stay off of private property. We internalize lines. Lines are our very essence, our membranes, our skin. Lines help create the illusions of the individual and self and other, from birth ’til death.

On the one hand, I’m reading Tillich’s The Eternal Now. Tillich was all about the individual and the existential aloneness he or she faces. On the other hand, I’m reading that reality may not be about individuals and their existential aloneness but about relationships, networks, fields, unity. If everything comes from a singularity, is a singularity the same as a unity, and how does duality–and lines–arise from unity? Is duality–and lines–an illusion? What if instead of lines, we think of relationships? What if the answer is ‘42‘?

We can see the distinction between lines and relationships in your mower and your lawn. Here is your mower and here is your lawn. Lines separate and create dualities. Relationships unify and create, well, unity. At first, I ignored the line; I let my lawn grow, but the neighbour frowned, and I got a notice from the bylaw officer about growing noxious weeds. So rather than use a gas mower (which pollutes both the air and sound) or an electric mower (whose distant energy source pollutes with radioactive, spent nuclear fuel rods), I chose a push mower (doesn’t pollute and bonus! I get exercise!). If we saw instead the relationship between lawn and mower, wouldn’t that choice have been easier, more obvious? I didn’t see the relationships then, so I mowed my lawn.

As a species there are lines and relationships we call ‘sustainability’. ‘The Methodist University in Sao Paulo, which has instituted a Sustainability Program which is in the process of integrating the Earth Charter into their curricula, has just created a new animated video trailer clip that was inspired by the Earth Charter.  The main character, Victor is confronted with the ethical dilemma of whether to continue to live in the ever so rapidly depleting, unsustainable world that is dark and polluted and full of destruction, or choosing to step over to the “greener,” more sustainable way of life where everybody lives in harmony with nature.’

I haven’t figured this line/relationship duality/unity thing out (yet). New science and ancient ways suggest lines and duality are illusions. But if so, they are very powerful illusions in our existence and for now must be treated carefully. Johnson says that ‘any two things can be united by one description, and can be separated by another‘ [ewl, 154], and concludes, ‘I can offer no sure-fire way to navigate our way through to right answers. I can only say be wary of the lines.’ [ewl, 155]

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One Response to Where Do You Draw The Line?

  1. Shelley Essaunce says:

    Peter you would make an awesome teacher!

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