Everyday Ethics and Social Change

Everyday Ethics and Social Change: The Education of Desire

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Everyday Ethics and Social Change
    Book Description:

    Americans increasingly cite moral values as a factor in how they vote, but when we define morality simply in terms of a voter's position on gay marriage and abortion, we lose sight of the ethical decisions that guide our everyday lives. In our encounters with friends, family members, nature, and nonhuman creatures, we practice a nonutilitarian morality that makes sacrifice a rational and reasonable choice. Recognizing these everyday ethics, Anna L. Peterson argues, helps us move past the seemingly irreconcilable conflicts of culture and refocus on issues that affect real social change.

    Peterson begins by divining a "second language" for personal and political values, a vocabulary derived from the loving and mutually beneficial relationships of daily life. Even if our interactions with others are fleeting and fragmentary, they provide a viable alternative to the contractual and atomistic attitudes of mainstream culture. Everyday ethics point toward a more just, humane, and sustainable society, and to acknowledge moments of grace in our daily encounters is to realize a different way of relating to people and nonhuman nature-an alternative ethic to cynicism and rank consumerism. In redefining the parameters of morality, Peterson enables us to make fundamental problems such as the distribution of wealth, the use of public land and natural resources, labor and employment policy, and the character of political institutions the preferred focus of debate and action.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52055-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-25)

    We live in difficult times. We face social and environmental problems that are massive in scope, for which effective solutions are elusive, at best. These problems are well symbolized by global warming, which threatens nonhuman species, unique ecosystems, and human communities equally. Climate change is so disturbing that my twelve-year-old son, who is passionately interested in public affairs in general and the environment in particular, refuses to discuss it. It is too depressing, he says; he cannot see a way out; he cannot bear to think about what it means for his future. His despair breaks my heart, but I...

    (pp. 26-50)

    After more than twenty years, I remember The Good Fight and The Kiss of the Spider Woman not so much for their narrative power as for the issues they raised about the relationship between love and politics. Those questions continue to challenge me now, at a very different stage of my life. Is it possible—can one person have time and energy enough—to dedicate oneself to making the world a better place and also to have healthy, fulfilling personal relationships? If it is possible to live fully in both public and private spheres, how do the commitments, practices, and...

    (pp. 51-81)

    In family life we have the opportunity, not always realized, to enact our most important values. Like many people, I find some of my deepest joy and also some of my greatest frustration in everyday encounters with my spouse, children, and other close relatives. They are the people we know the best and care about the most. They share our living spaces and daily routines, and we see each other in unguarded moments, both tender and unlovely. We rarely reflect on the ethical and political significance of our intimate domestic relationships, and when we do, it often seems contradictory and...

    (pp. 82-109)

    One of the greatest joys of parenting is permission to play, especially outdoors: to run in the waves, fly a kite, follow butterflies, even jump in a lake. When people play, they inhabit time and space differently. They worry less about consequences, payoffs, measurable benefits, or even other people’s opinions. There may be no going back to childhood’s perspective, and many habits of childhood are not desirable for adults, but spending time with children on their terms can help adults see and act in unaccustomed ways. They help us learn and speak a second language, in which reciprocity, emotional intimacy,...

    (pp. 110-137)

    Good intentions do not always lead to good actions.¹ For countless reasons, people do things they know are not good for their own health or for the health of their families, their communities, or the planet. Almost all of us engage in behaviors that undermine what we value, as Saint Paul pointed out nearly two thousand years ago. The question of whether we can learn to enact the goods we want, then, is ancient and open-ended. Without pretending to answer it here, I want to reflect on the ways we might educate our desire in order to close, or at...

    (pp. 138-162)

    “Life is hard” asserts the title of Roger Lancaster’s ethnography of everyday life in Nicaragua during the 1980s. He takes the phrase from a letter that a Nicaraguan man living in the United States has written, after six years of silence, to the family he abandoned. Life is hard in particular ways for the absent father and husband, perhaps harder still for the loved ones he left behind, and hard in other particular ways for other people. Life is also existentially hard for every person, maybe every living creature, at least in certain moments and circumstances. It is more difficult...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 163-182)
    (pp. 183-198)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 199-202)