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. downtown. 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 are, 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 side-walks 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. Or it would or could be astonishing if people could really see it for what it is. Which implies that everyone is equally unique.
And 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 others, but that doesn't affect the person's absolute equality with them. Even if one person is not better at anything than are 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 the stages of life we pass through, from babyhood to childhood to youth to adulthood, which each carry from the previous stage these false ideas, make it very difficult for us to see beyond them. And then when we do eventually dig ourselves out, we still have to deal with our bad mental habits, the unconscious world that hates change.
Equality is the true north.
Actually, I take it one step further. The truest north to me doesn't even allow for equality. Everyone, and every thing, just is. We use the term equality as a reaction against those other purely subjective terms. It wouldn't exist if they didn't.