Today's meetup adventure turned out not to be quite what I thought it would be; this was with a group that bills itself as a outdoor adventures group, with implications of snowboarding and skiing and the like, and by the event description I thought he had gotten permission to take us down beneath Grand Central's public areas (Which I was rather looking forward to). I assumed the fee was for that. Unfortunately, it was a group of mostly people in their mid-40s, the money was just going to support the organiser (who does this as a living), and it was just a pretty vanilla tour with some pictures he had printed off. Neat stuff, but not nearly as cool as I thought it was going to be, and I would not have gone had I known what it was ahead of time. I'm also pretty grumbly about the nature of the group; I am down with a bunch of people who loosely organise to do something and pay needed fees for that, but I am not happy with things between that and a dedicated tour guide doing this to pay the bills. Oh well. Not every meetup can be awesome. I am still thankful that there is so much going on that I have a lot of control over when I see people and do things; Pittsburgh was not very good for me on that front because the reclusive crazy side of me kept sabotaging my social efforts.
On that front, I had a more interesting subway ride home than expected; I ended up helping someone figure out what train to take, and after she said "thanks for your cogitation", I thought she's probably pretty awesome. She ended up being on the Q for a subset of my trip on it, and she's in grad school for something between public policy and psychology. Nice conversation; I doubt I'll ever see her again, but it was cool. I realised partway through the conversation that I was getting nervous and reclusive and probably sending really weird body language, and managed to mostly stop it. I need to keep an eye on that; I might not ever fully conquer the self-hatred and panic in my head (or perhaps I shall?), but if I'm careful I can keep it from ruining my life entirely. Or at least mask it long enough to build social ties that will get past the opening of social ties. I have been dealing with little fits of despair recently, but I am also having good moments of contentment as the things that stressed me out in my past life slowly snap.
Today I left the apartment with a topic to chew on; occasionally I've had to deal with, in debates of various kinds, people trying to deconstruct and then discard the public good. As a tack, it's pretty natural to attempt to pull apart concepts one is opposed to; Margaret Thatcher famously shifted the British political consciousness by doing this very deconstruction; stating that there is no public good; how can there be when there are only individuals?
My traditional answer to this is that there are no people, there are only cells. It's not a perfect answer, but it hints in the right direction; that society can be real despite being made of individuals. However, I've had a yearning for a more solid construction of some notion of the public good; how do we trace individual goods up into the good of a public, or if we don't do it that way, how do we construct it? In the ideal case, if we have a strong enough construction, a deconstructed term is intuitively reconstructed right back into itself, but that takes some philosophical legwork.
Let us first assert that humans are creatures of narratives and identities; people don't just identify with their physical body. They identify with their lover, their family, their ethnicity, their faith, and the like. They live in stories of their own construction; many stories at the same time where they play a variety of roles, all set in reality but with complicated relationships to it. Mozi notes that the less hierarchial our identity/care, the more just our society can be, but this is a difficult recipe to put into practice. When we identify with society, we do it in the context of notions of justice, notions of the values people in society hold and where society has been and where it's going. These tend to be built by cherry-picking of history (whether liberal or conservative or something else). These naunces I provide are not meant as criticism of the idea we're working towards; they are meant to be sobering but not discouraging, as without identity and values, our lives are meaningless (without any potential meaning).
The public good is not a unitary subject; like justice, it is a concept meant to be a focus of discussion more than a term of ready consensus. I suggest that a concept of the public good is one we should have, and that keeping our eyes on it helps us serve both our universalising values and our personal values well. Such a concept is as follows:
The public good is the amalgamated cause in a worldview, consisting of value-conclusions that seek to shape the narrative and facts of present and future people living in that society. Inherent in the public good is resolution of most of the conflicts between the individual interests in society, carried out through the mediation mechanisms in whatever philosophy's public good is being considered. The public good only directly relates to the stated interests of members of society to the extent that the philosophy speaking about the public good makes allowance for those specific interests.
It follows that the public good is a deeply perspective-laden concept; when people speak about the public good, they're not talking about an easily-understood, concrete term; they're talking about something similar in nature to "the good", and frequently they'll be arguing about it in terms that gloss over how divergent it is.
Like many terms of philosophy, despite being very troublesome, we can't divest of it without making very burdensome sacrifices and commonality with our fellow man; we can't say "there is no public good" any more than we can say "there is no such thing as things that are good or bad for people".
Today's lunch was pretty interesting; I had to go to a post office to mail a check, and this took me on a walk a good ways south of where I live in Flatbush; after mailing it, I wanted to get some indian food, my phone brought up a Pakistani restaurant instead, so I took another reasonable hike southwards, into what seemed to be a Afghan/Pakistani/Jewish neighbourhood; there were plenty of people who looked like they were right out of pictures I've seen of Pashtun areas of Afghanistan (and there were Afghan restaurants too; might go back to give them a go sometime). Anyhow, lunch was at Bukhari, on Coney Island Avenue. The atmosphere wasn't that great, but the food was pretty good, quite healthy, and my meal came out to be $4. The food reminded me a bit of Srees.