Before there was Bernie, there was Peter.


Peter Singer, an Australian-born ethical philosopher, writes in his essay, “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” that ‘wealthy’ (living beyond basic needs) people should donate to world organizations that feed the hungry so as to eradicate world hunger:

In the world as it is now, I can see no escape from the conclusion that each one of us with wealth surplus to his or her essential needs should be giving most of it to help people suffering from poverty so dire as to be life-threatening. That’s right: I’m saying that you shouldn’t buy that new car; take that cruise, redecorate the house, or get that pricey new suit. After all, a thousand-dollar suit could save five children’s lives.

He even provides in his essay a toll free number to call Oxfam with a donation.

Singer asks elsewhere (or maybe it wasn’t Singer), if every person in the developed world donated the cost of his or her third pair of shoes (Do we need three pairs?) to the world bank, which would effectively end world hunger, are we morally obligated to so donate? If morality is defined as right behavior as in doing right by another, then yes, to be considered moral, each person is morally obligated to donate.

But what if ending world hunger results in overpopulation and the disappearance of planetary resources to feed everyone like water, clean air and soil, for example? Is it then moral to donate?



Wrestling with brooding thoughts and ahimsa


So what, do the Ashley Madison hackers or “malicious crackers,” if you will, believe in some moral equivalency? Is it justified to harm unfaithful spouses because the victims of their hack are deemed by their culture to be morally bereft? Pretty easy to hide behind a screen and commit malice, not caring about the innocents in the bombing fallout, like children and unsuspecting spouses. Seems to me sociopathic, flexing God complexes by rejected social misfits, more likely. Hard to come up with a sympathetic narrative or righteous cause.

No, they cannot be blamed for subscribers’ suicides as something more goes on in the lives of suicides than fallout from exposure by affairs. Psychological destruction is already part of those poor souls’ lives. But the old but-for test could prove damning. But for the exposure by the hackers, the suicides may have not been pushed over the edge of the precipice, maybe found a way to seek help before grasping on to the no-hope ledge and sliding down.

A travesty seen up close, as well for the hackers who now can live as the hunted. That treacherous misstep or march outside the law is one in a long road into forever curtailing freedom so taken for granted like air. Even if they get away with it. Their freedom has been delivered up to forces greater than their prank, crime and self-serving “morality.” They are no Edward Snowdens. 

They remind me of the elementary school kids I grew up with who threw M80’s out of the school bus window on to the lawns of random properties along the bus path. The vandalists just wanted to stir things up, satisfy an urge in themselves to destroy something. 

Isolation and independence are an illusion, the distortion of the un-self-realized minds, like rowdy, selfish school children. The deluded hackers are learning about the laws of cause and effect in their god-i-hope-so-for-their-mothers’-sakes invisible hideouts. I am hard pressed to wish them well.



“Why I Date Married Men”


Heather L. Hughes, a freelance writer, contributes to “Why I Date Married Men” and lends light insight into her choice of dating partners, a kind of liberation for a sexual late bloomer (a virgin until 29), when she concludes:

Affairs with married men offer controlled companionship — there’s warmth and there’s space, there’s intimacy and there’s distance. I can’t control growing older. But as the other woman, I’ll always have an element of mystery, an invitation to a different narrative, like that lit-up window in the darkness.

The “lit-up window in the darkness” refers to her ignorance of and outsider status to the married man’s family life, his other life, about which she admits to being curious and even fantasizes.
The “controlled companionship” concept certainly appeals to the more introverted of us. Hughes doesn’t say so, but adding up the facts of her nerdy entertainment choices, her lack of sex and her lauding “controlled companionship” aka I love you now get out and give me my space, she is probably an introvert. Introverts need battery-recharging alone time, something marriage doesn’t always afford.

The best and worst part of any long-term relationship is the daily living together, the friction and resentment that builds up by the large and small stuff, disliking a mother in law or snoring. Space, one’s own space, could help relieve some of that tension. When my husband and I were separated, it was the first time I had ever had my own room. I was delighted, covetous of that space to call my own, clean as I wished, decorated as I wished. That ownership of space alone improved my disposition. That separateness also allowed me to see my then estranged husband when I wanted to and not when I had to, which improved our relationship. In sum, controlled companionship is not only convenient but a high recommendation to the relationship that allows for that. Of course, married couples can and do afford each other space, but unless one of the couple travels a lot, there is not that completely divided space that one owns and occupies like a room of one’s own.

I suppose the element of mystery in being the other woman that Hughes refers to is also tied into that controlled and convenient aspect of the dating a married man relationship–parts of the other are left private and unknown. A couple does not kill the mystery and one another with familiarity. How often have I heard, “I know you only too well”? That is not only a mood killer, an instant irritation, but is an accusation that the accused is a pattern predictable and boring, and can be no other way. Ironically, the accuser both desires and despises that kind of predictability that produces comfort and boredom too.

The most interesting part of Hughes statement, however, is that the other woman is “an invitation to a different narrative.” The assumption is the different refers to different from the man’s wife and family, the life he has set up in the daily display of the house he lives in, perhaps, the wife, kids and job he has, community he is part of and the like. His story. Perhaps it is the story of the suburban upper middle class man with money to buy nice cars, house and toys for himself and his family–the lucky guy who has everything story on the outside from society’s point of view, the very same one who keeps another woman on the side, immoral from society’s point of view. Perhaps that is the draw: look like a good boy while being a bad boy.

However, I take issue slightly with Hughes “invitation.” The assumption, though imperceptible, is that one narrative is more legitimate than the other, i.e., the married narrative is the acceptable one and the one with the other woman is “different”, weakly argued as mysterious to make the invitation more inviting. However, invitation could be bridging the territory of its silent rhymed reminder of temptation, which, of course, suggests the illicit nature of the “affair.” Hughes takes the cautious self-repudiating approach even as she defends–lightly–her choice of lifestyle. It’s weak.

Her mention of narratives reminds me of something unacknowledged. I am reminded of an old studied philosopher from school years back, one who baffled me more than enlightened except in intermittent glimmers. But now as I am older and wider read, I realize he is a writer who has covertly influenced my way of thinking and viewing the world more than any other philosopher or writer. Jean Francois Lyotard, the French philosopher who describes the postmodern condition (post WWII) as one without universals or generalities that work any longer, lured me in with his anti-establishment thought. He exposes the overarching theories and philosophies (meta narratives) that historically govern thought and behavior since the Enlightenment, for example the notion of absolute freedom or justice, as no longer tenable to order an ethical, legal, philosophical or moral structure of societies made of individuals with such an acknowledged immeasurable degree of variety.

Lyotard argues that reality is created by and social structure consists of micro narratives that we all speak and act on, engage in on the local level in discrete situations of daily life, which show how different and diverse we all are in our beliefs, desires, and actions. So even though we may say we subscribe to the belief that all humans are born free and freedom is the ultimate right and happiness, the way we live daily from situation to situation negates that actuality. Each day I work, drive kids around, eat, sleep and speak at the dictates of others. Freedom is negotiated within the pockets of time and allowance of others, not some overarching principle that governs thought and behavior.

Extrapolating from Lyotard, the way we think and act should not be proscribed, encouraged or naturalized by broad moral banners that wave the monogamy narrative or the marriage narrative as THE narrative. It is painfully obvious that we actually operate within the language and rules of private, small group situations, and specifically with respect to Hughes’ dating: man, woman, children, other woman. What is justified behavior is applicable to and determined by each individual, i.e., this man needs newness to keep him alive and happy, while this woman needs the security of a marriage to keep her free to do what she needs to do, etc, in conjunction with another or others. The agreements and socio-ethical rules are local to the participants. And they are agreements. It’s only when we start believing the grand narratives of right or wrong for everyone is where we fall into fantasy land, wanting to believe there is one right for everyone.

Some may say this is merely relativism, which may be regarded as chaotic, unstructured and anarchy (I can hear a friend say, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything”). I don’t believe that is true. It is simply an acknowledgment that people actually operate on the level of their one on one or small group interactions relative to their lives, and their behavioral ethics are determined within that local climate.

So, Hughes, relax. This works for you. You’re different from others. Celebrate difference. It’s what we all are anyhow.

Does the Mistress’ Soul Need Chicken Soup?


Though a seeming condemnation of the mistress, Pamela Haag’s “Chicken Soup for the Mistress’ Soul” is a balanced examination of the role and plight of the mistress. As the title suggests, she offers medicine and comfort to the much maligned mistress, noting her significance in unsuspected ways: they are the scaffolding of important contributors to culture and society such as Martin Luther King, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Franz Liszt, as well as they are marriage savers for the everyday people.

The article is a few years old but is an entertaining and informative read with a creative approach. She begins: “Dear Mistress or Lover: Let’s face it. No one’s making chicken soup for your cheating soul.” She reproaches the addressed mistress or lover in the voice of the normative current (and historically recent) attitude that mistresses are immoral and unethical, thieves and masochists. However, aside from attaching them to historical greats such as those mentioned above, she also makes a simple but significant (and counterintuitive) assertion that lovers may also be marriage savers. Due to the clandestine nature of the relationship, this fact is rarely acknowledged, though certainly true, at least anecdotally to my experience and others who have confessed their stories.

I particularly like Haag’s explanation of the marriage saving function here:

Sometimes you help an ambivalent spouse escape marriage without escaping.

You help them run away without running away from the marriage entirely. You
help them manage loyalty to a marriage or to their children and parenthood
without wrecking the marriage wholesale on a serial monogamist’s dream of
romantic fulfillment elsewhere, or growing bitter on the brine of their
resentment at being “trapped” in an unfulfilling life.

In these cases, you’re not the home wrecker so much as the home’s flying
buttress: You hold it together through an ingenious force of design and
gravity, from the outside.

You create sustaining oases of pleasure and happiness in a duty-driven
marriage, or life.

The children dreamed about, planned for, often if not always, add overwhelmingly unaccountable stress that tests the marriages of the sagest most circumspect couples in their measured choice of marital partners, let alone those great numbers who lurch into the institution for good, bad or indifferent reasons in less than optimal circumstances, financially, emotionally or situationally. Many a good man or woman, untold numbers, have patched their marriages through those betwixing times with the love and support of an-other, one detached from the toils of the quotidien and strains of the impossible: lover, mother, father, provider, worker, son, daughter and friend, all at once. That resonates true. Neither a hero(ine) or villain, the mistress (and mister) supply the glue sometimes. Leave her be.