Lessons from the Book of Dougs AKA what if moral choices were the easy choices?
If you're a fan of The Good Place, you already know about The Book of Dougs. For those of you unfamiliar with The Good Place, here's what you need to know. The Good Place is a show about moral philosophy. It's hilarious, profound, and so needed right now. The protagonists, including a demon architect and and an unlikely group of dead human friends, discover that no human has made enough points to enter the Good Place in 500 years.
First they blame the Bad Place. However, in an episode called, The Book of Dougs, they come to understand that when a Doug of long ago brought his grandma roses, he got a bunch of points. In contrast, a modern day Doug buys his grandma roses and he earns negative points because he is contributing to slave labor, environmental degradation, unjust international economics, and so on. The moral of the story is that in our time, making a "good" choice is near impossible because of the systems we make choices in.
What if good choices were easier, not so time consuming, against the grain, or improbable?
The equivalent in Public Health would be to design neighborhoods where healthy food was the easy choice, not one out of place, expensive, or simply didn't exist. The equivalent in education would be for learning to be the natural flow of the classroom, not hunger, trauma, or power dynamics between pupil and educator. The equivalent in parenting, would be to have a baby without contributing to the 20 billion diapers thrown into landfills every year or the equally insane amount of clothing and toys an average American baby uses for a season at best.
What if our daily choices didn't wreak havoc on every living thing on this miracle of a rock?
Think about all the choices the average Bay Area resident like me makes. I take that back. There is nothing average about me anymore. The fact that I am nearing 40, not making a six figure salary, and remember what this place was like in the 90s is a totally un-average set of numbers.
Let's pick a persona that actually is the new norm around here: a young man in his 20's making 200K a year whose mind would be blown by the idea of a SoMa so deserted a dead woman's body was found a block away from the small printing press where my dad worked.
Think of the daily inputs into his life: bulletproof coffee, avocado toast, a dozen screened devices, restaurant meals, warehouse studio square footage, alcohol, smart everything, rides at the ready, answers at the ready, services at the ready, the globe at the ready for him. Even if he only bought fair trade caffeine, cooked, biked everywhere, and shopped at Bi-rite, he's still a piece that makes machines such as gentrification, unclean energy, and NAFTA function.
Is it even possible to avoid being a modern day Doug? After I read the Confessions of an Eco-sinner a decade ago, stores like Target felt like mine fields; it was truly paralyzing to try to be a good person. Then I had kids. I tried with cloth diapers and the like, but I eventually gave way to convenience, the mantra of a working mom. The cost, though, is repression of my conscience, which builds up deposits of emotional tension, and/or disconnection with the life systems my choices harm, which leads me to live with a fragmented reality of the world so that I may continue to uphold oppression. In short, in order to keep my lifestyle, my choices are suppression or dissociation, both paths to mental illness.
So here I am with 2 kids surrounded by more plastic than I'd like, hooked on Amazon even though I despise its people and planet ethics, having travelled in 17 countries on 6 continents, and writing about my luxury moral praxis issues on a personal laptop. SOS.
As long as we can think of other alternatives, we are not lost; as long as we can consult together and plan together, we can hope. But, indeed, the shadows are lengthening; the voices of insanity are becoming louder. We are in reach of achieving a state of humanity which corresponds to the vision of our great teachers; yet we are in danger of the destruction of all civilization, or of robotization.― Erich Fromm, The Sane Society
What would a post internet, post global trade culture that made moral choices (defined here as inter-being choices) the easy choice look like anyway?