The Drams Reliquary
An Experiment in Elemental Maturity
Monday, May 17, 2010
Unlocking Ethic: Coining “Propulsive Morality”
I never grew attached enough to the apartment that I rent to refer to it with a tricky tongue. I don’t call it a domicile or dwelling, even in jest. I barely utter the lighter words “my place” or “home.” Attaching these ideas to my over-priced and under-modernized unit just seems too permanent, as if the words themselves could wash away all hopes of future homeownership or dreams of one day retiring to an outdoor area with greater square footage than a shoe.

That doesn’t change the fact, however, that it is this very apartment that my miraculous daughter will always know as her first home. She came to us, what seems like yesterday, more beautiful than autumn dusk and as smart as those who’d stop to ponder it, sprouting all her roots here as she instantaneously shot up to age two. And it is in this crumbling box that doubles as her perfect castle that we together might never have a fruitful dialogue on thoughts if I should fail to make time to think. What I think about today is this veritable cubicle with closets and how, while it may have perturbed me before, I dislike it anew for calling my parenthood into question.

We’ve a city. There are door locks. Ours are many, five if you total entryway and apartment. Enter the landlord with all good intensions and a Stanley screwdriver, adding a sixth lock to the storm door, free of charge and without a request to do so. Safety six, convenience zero; I can now get to the second story roof of my building more easily than I can get from my porch to my kitchen.

Pure force of habit drove me to initially overlook the new lock, leaving it unclasped more than once. And while we as a family were no less safe than the day before lock six had joined the keychain puzzle, my “mistake” somehow sanctioned a multidirectional barrage of snide commentary. “You musts,” and “Don’t forgets,” and “How could yous,” and “That’s irresponsibles” flurried down on me like my own personal ticker tape parade of shame. The neighbor, the landlord, the mother, the landlord’s spouse, the friend, the friend of the friend, the dumpster-diving passer-by; they all precipitated a collective onus in attributing an importance to that quarter inch keyhole and verbally flailing me for dismissing the same.

That ambient yapping was easy enough to ignore. I was aware of my “oversight” and actively trying to change my behavior. Plus, most of the reasons offered as to why “I must” lock the new lock sounded little more than, “Because it’s a lock. That’s what locks do.”

They weren’t thinking. I really wasn’t thinking. Had it stopped there, I’d have nothing to contribute to a blog about mature thought. Then the nightmares started.

For my part, I was soon tackling the subject solo. It doesn’t take a complex game of word association to understand how my mind went from lock to security, security to crime, crime to worst case scenario. If ever you plan to be a new parent, any parent, I suggest you take an active mental hiatus from working worst case scenarios into your thought process. The imagery your own mind can muster is horrifying enough, no less the knowledge that real life acts matching that imagery are how locks leapt onto doors in the first place, warranted or not. Yet as horrifying as those mental flashes were, nothing prepared me for what I’d thought of next.

While I believe it best never to blame oneself for another person’s misdeeds, I suddenly realized that I truly don’t know what I would do if ever horror visited our “home” after I had locked all, but that final lock. That lock could be the deterrent. That last lock could have bought time enough to make a difference. The jiggle at that lock could be the one that would wake me or the task that would re-time an intruder’s entrance to police patrols. That lock, in essence of the self, could be loosely viewed, with no crime committed, as the mindful difference between a good parent and a bad one.

So it begs the thinker’s question, where does it end? If the landlord decides to put 38 locks on the door, am I a bad parent if I only lock 37 of them? I think most people would say, “no,” but post emergency, I would know, very clearly, that I didn’t do EVERYTHING I could have to prevent disaster. I’m well aware and in full acceptance of the notion that a crook unstopped by 10 locks is unlikely to be deterred by an 11th. Yet, while that would seem to place full fault squarely upon the deviant, I ask if there wouldn’t be a small portion of that fault that would factually be my own. Perhaps that small portion is not fault, but simply contribution. I might never cognitively or emotionally reconcile my contribution of ignoring any one lock. Sure, mathematically, my contribution reads less and less with every extra lock we add to the equation, but where is the threshold? At what point can an emotionally mature individual determine through all acceptable measures that one step shy of X is prudent, but one beyond is overkill?

I refer to the elusive nature of this presumably common sense threshold in our thinker’s question as “propulsive morality.” I choose the phrase because it illustrates how the internal and external measures of ethic are stretched ever outward, like an unending and irreversible vector away from manageable criteria into the chaotically complex through a practiced compulsion to add a theoretical plus one. “Propulsive morality,” by whatever name, exists and is problematic at its core. It seems to snake through culture generationally, perhaps spurred on by litigation, politicking, propaganda, poor forensic practice, isolationism, nihilism, cognitive lock, oppression, reality television, psychological scotomata, or immaturity.

Let’s examine. “Propulsive morality” first presumes that a given situation (five locks) succeeds at an agreeable measure of ethic so long as any arguably mitigating addition to that situation (a sixth lock) remains theoretical. In this state, both parties seem to be on common ground and therefore each can be egalitarian in her/his treatment of the other. “You lock all your locks regularly. Great!” However, that mutual nicety is subject to an enormous loophole. Whereupon two or more parties start such agreement in theory, it takes only a single individual to later physically and autonomously add in the formerly theoretical next step. “We agreed on that yesterday, yes, but I just added this new lock and you should see it my way now too. You’d be wrong not to use it” Parties never require of themselves the related compromise defining a needed threshold, a distant point down the chain of their new disagreement that would once again bring them together, both acquiescing that a tiny step further would prove ridiculous or needlessly redundant. So, with that personal requirement absent, loose judgments are given license to propel and propel, ad infinitum, until a negative aspersion can be cast. As a missile can seek heat, “propulsive morality” seeks disparagement. It stretches as far as it must to reach its predestined marginalization and thereafter frames the breadth of that stretch, falsely, as an effort comparable to hard core logic.

The aspersions come from others, yes, predominantly, but can also wind their way into the psyche when one takes stock in oneself, sometimes for no other reason that the fact that, perhaps, no one has pointed out this flawed practice to the thinker.

What I, here, am calling, “propulsive morality” seems to warrant this potent a description as such disconcerting words are only a fraction of the lasting, negative impact that can be experienced each time this default “methodology” is employed. I may have simply taken note, egotistically, as I would a pet peeve, and tried to coin a phrase to describe it. Yet, I am certain there are philosophy experts, psychologists, and ethicists out there who can offer great insight on what it is that I am describing. Perhaps the practice already has a name with great study devoted to it; but try cross-referencing my meager description in a search engine or card catalog. I do not share the vocabulary of established social sciences.

Locks-wise, legally, I’m covered. Culpability aptly befalls a theoretical intruder. Ethically? I’m not exactly certain. I, myself, would judge me as a bad parent if I had regularly forced my daughter to miss just one meal a day, despite feeding her all the others. I, myself, would judge me as a bad parent if I let her stew in a dirty diaper just once a day, despite changing all the others. Why not the sixth lock? The thirty-eighth? Bars? A handgun? A shotgun? A force field? No. Until I hunt down and assimilate greater insights from those studied on the subject, all my locks get locked, all the time, no matter how plentiful, no matter how redundant or inconvenient. It serves my notions of fatherly responsibility, of course. However, that decision also thrusts me into this undefined mind game where I need play along, endlessly, despite the fact that I disagree. I’m sorry, but when do we take stock in the danger of that level of compromise? Is it more dangerous to my daughter that a sixth of six locks not get clasped on occasion, or that she might learn from me the less than artful life lesson of giving-in? I’m guessing that mature minds would view the latter as more impactful, agreeing on substance. Yet, if the latter is “in fact” more dangerous to her, why then does a good parent label get lent to the giving-in, and a bad parent label to the person who questions how far compromise should reach?

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