What Do You Mostly Think About?

April 29, 2021

I had been married twenty years before I turned to my wife and asked, “What do you mostly think about?”

We had been driving around Raleigh on some errand, mostly in contemplative silence, when I decided to share with her that most of my reflection time was spent thinking about ethics, philosophy, and religion.

Now I wanted to know what mostly occupied her mind.

“While you’re having all those heady thoughts,” she answered, “I’m thinking about the hundreds of things I need to do today to keep our children happy, safe, and healthy. At least one of us cares about that!” she kidded.

Joking along I said, “Glad you got those details covered. Now I can go back to thinking about what really matters!”

It took me nearly 50 years to realize it, but I finally figured out why my mind churns over the particular things it does.

My mind is obsessed with uncovering a moral universe.

Perhaps uncovering isn’t the right word. “Building” might be a better word, but that doesn’t quite capture it either. I’m not a crusader.

I should point out that a lot of us—perhaps even most of us—are a bit obsessed with this idea that the material universe is moral. In other words, for most people who read the news, the universe is assuredly moral—it’s just the particular calibration of that morality that is being argued over. Here are a few scenarios in which that plays out:

A cop kills someone he is trying to arrest. Some people extrapolate that the police force is corrupt and uncaring. Others postulate that if only the person had followed the law in the first place and not resisted, there would be no body count.

A home is invaded and a family killed. One blogger responds by advocating for a gun in every home. A reader points out that most gun deaths are suicides, that greater availability of guns would only make that particular problem worse and, too, would allow criminals greater access to stolen guns they can later use in home invasions.

A child is run over by a drunk driver. If only the child had been better supervised, she wouldn’t have been in the street. If only the driver had had their tires shot out by a conscientious bystander before reaching the child. If only the driver had listened in church to their preacher about the sin of drunkenness.

Though all these observers argue over which actors are demonstrating morality or a lack thereof, they are in agreement that the problem was caused by someone being immoral. Someone is at fault and should bear the blame for the tragedy, which has otherwise upset a predictable world—that is, a moral world that makes perfect, even cosmic, sense.

Cozy mysteries provide their own picture of heaven in which the killer gets their just deserts; the players who are good find redemption or, at least, some comfort to get them through the day; loose ends are tied up; certainty is achieved (at least in terms of who did the crime). Within a cozy’s pages are the way many of us believe the world ought to be, even, perhaps, the way the world is.

I’m inclined most of the time to think the world generally isn’t moral in and of itself. We have to make it so. However, due to our different temperaments, we may radically disagree on how much to weight to give one moral virtue versus another. Therein lies the quandary. 

Much more on this later. For now it’s back to writing for me. 

What do you mostly think about?