So, I’m back at it. Lately I’ve been reading a book called The Truth About Art: Reclaiming Quality by Patrick Doorly. Doorly refers to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig in very flattering ways. Persig’s book is all about quality and what it means. For Persig, quality is in the interface between things. It’s not a thing itself. As an aside, nowadays we’ve perverted the concept of quality to the point where quality only means ‘good’ or ‘high’ quality. Apparently poor quality doesn’t exist anymore. Now, when we speak of quality goods we always mean good quality goods. That’s pretty stupid, in my mind, but that’s the way language seems to evolve. Returning to my point, there is no question in my mind that quality exists in the interface between things. I, being a thing, can find another person, also a thing, either good or bad, of high quality, or of questionable character and quality. Quality is in the judgment I make about something even if that judgment is largely socially constructed. I may find a Mercedes of higher quality than a Toyota Tercel but ‘society’ has already made that judgment for me by reference to the price of the vehicles in question. The value of the vehicles, strangely enough, may have little to do with price. But I’ll leave that seeming contradiction for a discussion at another time, after I’ve finished reading Doorly and re-read Persig. Again, back to my story.
So, quality of life is partly an individual thing, a judgment about how a life is lived, but it’s also about the ‘price’ and ‘value’ of that life itself and how it can be lived. Life implies mobility. Dead things don’t move. The more we have ‘life’ in us, the more we move. In our world, personal, individual mobility is gotten by having money and good health, of course. No money, no mobility, no life. Poor health equals poor mobility. So, having money means to be alive and to be poor means to be immobilized and socially dead in the eyes of the majority of people in our world, including poor people themselves when they (generally) buy into the moral assumptions about quality and value that drive us in our daily lives. So, what is a high quality of life in our (moral) world? Well, it’s having some mobility and the ability to make choices the immobilized cannot make. The poor and unhealthy are essentially stuck, blocked and unable to move in the marketplace or in just plain physical terms. Being stuck/blocked is essentially the definition of guilt. Guilt here is a social concept, addressing just how well one ‘fits’ within the moral wall of the ‘community,’ large or small. In our world, being guilty is not being mobile, without wealth or health. We [as a pronoun here used in the broadest and most inclusive of terms] generally have no great sympathy for the poor or the ill. We speak sympathetically of the poor and the ill but culturally we have institutionalized suspicions that the poor are that way because they are morally weak and people who are ill have only themselves to blame or their families, who should look after ‘their’ ill because they are often responsible for whatever family illnesses there are. Never mind that most ‘poor’ people are that way not out of any moral weakness but because of circumstance, family history, and the fact that there are rich people in the world. ‘Poor’ people are as necessary to a ‘properly’ functioning society as wealthy people but we can’t let them think they are important or necessary. We need to make them feel guilty for not being wealthy. After all they are poor because they are morally weak. Let’s be clear about what it means to be morally upstanding in our world.
To be morally upstanding in our world is to be wealthy, healthy and male above everything else. If you aren’t those things, it’s your duty to give the best impression that you actually are those things. Drive a car you can’t afford, live in a house you can’t afford because you need to give others the impression that you are a morally upstanding member of society. It’s no surprise that most of our laws centre around private property. It lives at the core of our morality. But so does business entreprise, the factory-system, individualism, hard work and maleness to name a few. To test this view, just think of the things ‘we’ hold dear and the things ‘we’ loathe, fear, detest or for which we have little regard or esteem. Need I make a list? How about a couple of examples. In our world, individualism is a ruling moral force to such an extent that labour unions are scorned by many people even those who would benefit from their existence because they are collective organizations. We hold individualism to be of such importance these days that business corporations are now considered legal individuals. Even though corporations are made up of groups of people aligned together to produce a result, that is to make money, they are considered legal individuals. Unions are not considered legal individuals, rather they are thought to be evil because they contradictthe global love we have for individuality and it’s ideology, individualism. So, we live in a world circumscribed by a more or less well defined moral wall. Imagine a place, say an old English castle, surrounded by a high wall with the king’s residence in the middle and the rest of the people living in concentric circles around the middle depending on how close they are to the king in moral terms. You have to know where the poor live. Yes, right up against the wall and maybe even outside the wall. It’s no wonder we struggle so much trying to look wealthier or healthier than we are. We are constantly testing each other, trying to determine where we reside in our moral world. Go to a party where you don’t know a lot of people and the first question you will be asked is “So, what do you do (for a living)? If you say you’re retired then be expected to be asked “Planning any trips abroad? Our daily conversations are laced with attempts to determine where we stand in relation to others around us on the moral spectrum. How close to the king do you live?
So, to get back to my original concern here with quality of life, I have to say that quality of life is judged finally on where we ‘reside’ in our moral world. The closer we are to the king’s domain in our world, the better we think of our quality of life. But that’s not the end of the story. There is a social dimension to the quality of life and a responsibility we have as a community to respect all people who reside within our moral walls. The king could never keep his castle without the help of ‘his’ people. The wealthy in our world are the same. No poverty, no wealth. The wealthy need the poor, not only to make their lattés but to collect their garbage, repair their roads and cars and to buy the products they sell. The wealthy 1 percenters in our world would be lost without the buying power of the rest of us. Yet they have little or no respect for us. Well, why should they? The poor have no moral standing in our world. They deserve their lot in life, don’t they?