Guest Post by Jing Song Ng
In less than three weeks, Cameron will be awash with bobbing blobs of blue: a stampede of hopping feet vertically propels faces encrusted with paint. Behold the enduring war cry: “GO TO HELL CAROLINA, GO TO HELL!” And golly, we feel great banishing our neighbors to the infernal pits. We gleefully rejoice when our team’s foul goes unnoticed. A twisted Tarheell ankle wrings out hoots of delight from the Crazies, even as the player’s face writhes in anguish.
Such is the ethics of parochialism: the practice of prioritizing the happiness of a select few over the happiness of the many.
For those not familiar with Cameron Crazies, check out this video of parochialism in action:
This communal frenzy is not morally bankrupt. There are three reasons why a good person could, or even must, have a parochial moral compass.
First and foremost, a good person has to be a person. As people, we thrive on our social relations, be it the narrative of an imagined community, such as America or Duke, or the biological ties which tether a father’s affection to his toddler. We cannot be shorn of special obligations. Caring for a select group of people who are an integral, inextricable part of ourselves can be construed as ethical self-regarding.
Next, what constitutes the goodness of a good person? Goodness cannot be divorced from what it means to be a person. Nourishing the social identities we have either chosen or been bestowed with forces trade offs. A dollar spent on pediatric care could have provided Malaria vaccines that would have preserved more quality/disability-adjusted life years. However, being good involves being parochially other-regarding, selectively diverting our limited time, money, and affections to those who help us meaningfully flourish as a social being.
Finally, a healthy dose of parochialism can help us make decisions. A person cannot digest all necessary information to make a utility-maximising decision in every circumstance. Thus, parochialism helps us choose and lends clarity to the consequences of ethically-knotted decisions.
But note the caveat: “a healthy dose.” Dragged to the extremes, parochialism can be unbridled racism or a callous disregard for people considered the alien “other.” The idea of a person as a social being also expands the horizons of one’s moral considerations. As we bump, rub shoulders with, and converse with the “other”, more people trickle into our social life. However, come the 13th of February, the Grand Canyon between two shades of blue remains vituperatively, and quite ethically, profound.
Jing Song Ng (T’13) is a recently graduated Public Policy and Cultural Anthropology double major. At Duke, Jing Song was a dedicated member of Duke Debate and wrote a column for The Chronicle, “Jingapore Says.”