On delegitimization of duty

Mark Lilla said something interesting on the Waking up with Sam Harris podcast that struck a nerve for me. He said...

We have delegitimized the notion of duty in every part of our society....

I so connect with this sentiment and this so aligns with what we see in our political, social, professional and personal lives. 

But then I also think... was "duty" ever really a part of any society? Was it ever really anything more than, for the lack of a better expression, the so-called, middle-class obsession with an artificial notion pushed down the throat of people by their choice of moral arbiter (religion, justice or natural law) to make their Sisyphean rock their "thing" to make their lives seem to have more purpose than would otherwise be observable?

 

"I strongly believe..."

When I start a sentence with "I strongly believe..." it often means I just thought of something clever that I haven't really given much thought before just this moment. 

When small talk is a big deal

I recently had the pleasure of reading Karan Mahajan's brief and brilliant article in The New Yorker on the American custom of easy small talk and how it can be confusing to downright challenging for an outsider to adopt. I am squarely in Karan's camp. I never really asked my barista how their day is going.  (And why 'my' barista anyway? why must a possessive pronoun precede everything that is implicitly mine anyway - I don't just like coffee - I like 'my' coffee, I don't just like to ride a bicycle - I like to ride 'my' bicycle.) I have never thought getting to know the person on the other side of a brief, one-off financial transaction is an obligation or even a harmless ritual worth entertaining. If anything, like Karan, I've found it needlessly patronizing and disingenuous.  

I loved the unusually short (in a good way, specially for the New Yorker) article and here are some gems from it - but go read the whole thing immediately!

American life is based on a reassurance that we like one another but won’t violate one another’s privacies

In the East, I’ve heard it said, there’s intimacy without friendship; in the West, there’s friendship without intimacy

On a day that I don’t spend money in America, I feel oddly depressed

Everything is subject to analysis until it becomes second nature to you

and finally, a quote from The Inscrutable Americans - wow - a refreshing blast from the past - a lovely little novel, a bit ahead of its time, that flirted with greatness before descending into the usual obsession with sex.