The venue was a magically spacious old loft, the large room above Brown and Dickson Antiquarian Booksellers (which used to be Novacks travel gear) on King St. down-town. My friends and I were dreaming about living in that space -- so much room, such a high ceiling, the old brick walls, those tall windows. I worked out where the kitchen area would be, the bathroom, the big sofas, my writing desk. And before the poetry began we were checking out what had already been installed, for instance a WW2 submarine's periscope. It pokes up through the roof. With our eyes to the lens, we could turn it around and see down Clarence Street.
The readings were wonderful. I could fully relax and listen because for once I wasn't organizing anything there. And afterwards some of us headed for a nearby cafe. Kevin Heslop was in one of his big-question moods, which is not rare when he's out with others, but now the Trump march was in the political air, and the Sanders wind down. Political anxiety led to social questions, then philosophical, scientific and so on.
At the night's next cafe, one of Kevin's questions was, "What is the true north of morality?" For some reason we didn't get around to tackling it. (There are so many ways of being distracted in a busy bar with interesting friends and beers on the table.) But as I wandered off on my hour-long walk home, my mind found its way back to that question via other things I had heard from the mouths of the youths I was following around, things about amazing people, about the astonishing things they've done.
At my age, 66 now, one of the most interesting discoveries I've made lately is that many of the seemingly ordinary things I did long ago, seem to many people here and now quite amazing. I can tell an ordinary little story from those days and people are astonished by it. So, as I flowed along over the sidewalks in the cool night air, I thought that every one of us is living a unique life, an astonishing one to others, if not now then later, by it's sheer uniqueness. Or it would or could be astonishing if people could really see it for what it is. The implication being that everyone is unique, equally, to everyone else.
Which answered, for me, the question of what true north is in terms of morality. It's equality. It's the acknowledgement that no one can be a superior person to any other. Or an inferior person. And that any other view is akin to a religious belief. Things can certainly be done better by one person than by some others, but that doesn't affect the person's absolute equality with them. Even if one person is not better at anything than other people, that person is still equal. Our political system delivers this lesson by giving everyone one vote. Science arrives at the same conclusion by understanding that each living thing, not just each person, is a separate object in the universe. It's only in the subjective world of our individual minds, housed separately inside our skulls, that we manage to see a superiority or inferiority of individuals.
And life makes it very difficult for us to see beyond those false ideas. When we were babies we had to look up to adults as gods or we wouldn't survive. As children we had to accept what they told us in order to get by in the world. As youths we spent all our time and energies, whether we believed it or not, in training to fit into the wonderful world of adults, a world still predicated on our parent's ideas of reality. And finally, at some point, we did become adults, usually after being suddenly buried in responsibilities. I think many new adults try for a long time to be accepted by others, if not as equals, then at least as inferior members of the group. Then, finally, they decide that they've had it with being put down, and with putting ourselves down. They just want to be equal members of our society. They've continually found their own feeble attempts to be superior to others ignored or scoffed at. Which is how they react to those who try to be superior to them. Eventually, as they see the new reality of equality clearly, they find that their last task is to reteach ourselves, to reteach their own bad mental habits, and their unconscious minds, which like to drag the past into the future.
Equality is the true north.
Actually, I take it one step further yet. The very truest north to me doesn't even allow for equality. Everyone, and every thing, just is. We only use the term equality as a reaction against those other more-obviously unwanted, untrue and artificial terms.