For the Expressive Individualist, Other People Are Just a Means to Self-Fulfilment

Nov. 17 2022

Surveying 25 years of Carolyn Hax’s tenure as the Washington Post’s advice columnist, Devorah Goldman considers the ethical underpinnings of her supposed wisdom. She takes as an “archetypal example” the case of a woman who finds bringing her children to visit their estranged father’s mother a tiresome chore:

Hax consistently communicates a worldview in which no one owes much of anything to anyone, except in the most transactional way. (The sole exception seems to be the duty of parents toward minor children). . . . There is no suggestion that visiting an ailing grandparent is a self-evident good: a chance to exercise compassion or to gain insight into family history, or simply to show respect and gratitude. If visiting grandma does not provide an obvious and immediate “benefit,” well then, there is no need to see her anymore.

Goldman sees in such responses a manifestation of what Robert Bellah and other sociologists dubbed “expressive individualism,” which in Hax’s hands results in all human relationships being subject to cost-benefit analysis:

Even familial bonds take on a conditional quality, resulting in adults who believe that visiting elderly relatives is worthwhile only if it “feels good” and is not “boring;” or at the very least that such visits should provide some kind of concrete insurance. Kindness and loyalty are fine choices, but they are not necessary. Self-sacrifice becomes less a moral imperative than an option; it loses its heroic sheen. This leaves us with a sensible but desiccated view. Ironically, the expressivists promised a world in which moral conventions could be cast off in favor of something more beautiful, purposeful, passionate, and true.

There are alternatives, to which Bellah nods when he sketches the influence of biblical religion in American life or points to Tocqueville’s public-spirited New England townships. It’s hard to enunciate a moral system in the West without reference to the Bible’s straightforward directive in Deuteronomy: “do that which is right and good.” The idea of doing good or being good, rather than being kind or cooperative or communicative, sounds almost anachronistic. There’s something unseemly about suggesting that people simply strive for goodness; it falls outside the therapeutic vocabulary. And goodness entails a host of innate obligations to others, including one’s elders.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Jewish ethics, Morality, Secularism

Strengthening the Abraham Accords at Sea

In an age of jet planes, high-speed trains, electric cars, and instant communication, it’s easy to forget that maritime trade is, according to Yuval Eylon, more important than ever. As a result, maritime security is also more important than ever. Eylon examines the threats, and opportunities, these realities present to Israel:

Freedom of navigation in the Middle East is challenged by Iran and its proxies, which operate in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, and recently in the Mediterranean Sea as well. . . . A bill submitted to the U.S. Congress calls for the formulation of a naval strategy that includes an alliance to combat naval terrorism in the Middle East. This proposal suggests the formation of a regional alliance in the Middle East in which the member states will support the realization of U.S. interests—even while the United States focuses its attention on other regions of the world, mainly the Far East.

Israel could play a significant role in the execution of this strategy. The Abraham Accords, along with the transition of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation from the European Command (EUCOM) to Central Command (CENTCOM), position Israel to be a key player in the establishment of a naval alliance, led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.

Collaborative maritime diplomacy and coalition building will convey a message of unity among the members of the alliance, while strengthening state commitments. The advantage of naval operations is that they enable collaboration without actually threatening the territory of any sovereign state, but rather using international waters, enhancing trust among all members.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, U.S. Foreign policy