Some of you, well one of you, asked about the new lawn. I mentioned it and the lessons it was teaching me a few weeks ago. So, how’s the new lawn? It seems to be coming along. Nice and green. Thicker in some spots than in others, but it’s coming along. Cooler weather and the soon to be winter means I won’t be doing much with the new lawn for a while. But when spring comes, I have some decisions to make. Will I tend to it myself? Maybe I should; after all, the first job given to our first father was working and keeping the garden (Genesis 2:15). Or will I outsource the mowing and the trimming? I mean, assuming the end to a pandemic, we’d like to travel and I’m not sure neighbor kids mow lawns when you’re away anymore. Plus, lawn care was included in our HOA fees in Pennsylvania so we’d have to buy a new mower and trimmer. And, yeah, I’m not getting any younger.
To outsource or insource, that is the question.
Outsourcing is what we do. We outsource the growing of crops and the grinding of grain. Most of us outsource the repair of our cars and the upkeep of our furnaces. We do more outsourcing than we used to do. We outsource the grating of our cheese and the baking of our cookies, tasks my mother, anyway, would never have thought of paying someone else to do. Some would say we’ve outsourced the raising of our children and the care of our elderly parents.
I’m reading a book recommended by a good friend. (Yes, I outsource some of my reading choices to such as Mark.) Morality (subtitle: “Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times”) is just published by Jonathan Sacks, a moral philosopher and Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2013.
Sacks argues that one of the ills affecting the western world is our outsourcing of morality. He says all cultures have three basic institutions. The economy which has to do with the creation and distribution of wealth, the state which is about the legitimization and distribution of power, and the moral system. He defines the moral system as that “which is the voice of society within the self; the “We” within the “I”; the common good that limits and directs our pursuit of private gain. It is the voice that says NO to the individual “Me” for the sake of the collective “Us.” Morality is made manifest by the choices we make and the consequences of those choices.
Sacks sees a world, the western world, anyway, where “We” is diminished and “I” is dominant. Without a sense of “we,” morality is muted and privatized, choice outsourced to the market and consequence to the state.
“I” morality is “no more than the expression of emotion, or subjective feeling, or private intuition, or autonomous choice.” The market is where I find what makes me happy. Outsourced to the market, my choices have only to do with personal gain and satisfaction, a consumer’s choice. And the consequences of my choices are outsourced to the state. I will sue someone to recoup my losses from a bad investment; the state will provide solace and compensation for “failed relationships, neglected children, wasted lives.”
Sacks is hardly a cranky libertarian. He believes in a robust state and a healthy economy, but he knows that neither can thrive without strong habits of the heart.
Morality outsourced to market and state. This past summer I began collecting Social Security. Suddenly, from an “I” morality perspective, I pay more attention to cost of living adjustments and to those articles about how long we have until the trust fund is depleted. Let me see, 2035. How old will I be and what other resources will I have? And surely the state will find a way to bail me out. Hardly a thought given to those who have no other resources or to the burden my children and grandchildren will bear for the bailout. No thought to any sacrifice for the common good I might make.
How to restore common good in a divided time? I need to tune my heart and mind to the voice of us instead of the voice of me. No more outsourcing my decisions and their consequences to the market or the state.
As to the lawn, I’m thinking I’ll outsource the mowing and the trimming.