How Much is Enough? Enough is Enough

David Sirota writes in In These Times about Embracing Enough.  How much is enough?  I consider this one of the most important questions for humans to answer both for themselves and to work out a reasonable relationship with the other people on this planet.  He writes:

Of all the no-no’s in contemporary America–and there are many–none has proven more taboo than the ancient doctrine of dayenu. Translated from the original Hebrew, the word roughly means “It would have been enough.” The principle is that a certain amount of a finite resource should satisfy even the gluttons among us.

I know, I know–to even mention that notion is jarring in a nation whose consumer, epicurean and economic cultures have been respectively defined by the megastore, the Big Mac and the worship of the billionaire. Considering that, it’s amazing the word “enough” still exists in the American vernacular at all. But exist it does, and more than that–the term’s morality is actually starting to suffuse the highest-profile debates in the public square.

Observers of politics in almost any era, have probably exclaimed, “Enough is enough!”  Politics and power are prone to excess.  Resisting the ability to acquire something when someone has the power to acquire it is perhaps the most difficult human challenge.  In fact, that is the whole business of ethicsEthics by its very nature is about restraint, not doing something that we could do.  Thus the concept of “enough” is integral to defining the boundaries of one’s ethics.  I agree with the author of this article that somehow the concept of enough is viewed as anti-American.  This probably goes a long way to explain why many people are critical of America’s behavior, i.e., the immorality of it.  In political discourse, I usually see the term freedom as a code word for overrunning moral boundaries.  Ironically, it is often people of the traditionally conservative bent, who view themselves as particularly moral, that seem to espouse so-called freedom.  On close inspection, you will likely note that when they are espousing freedom, it is typically their own freedom.  This sets up a certain hypocritical aspect of freedom lovers, demanding a change or restraint in behavior in others and expecting that their own desires for freedom be respected.  It is this freedom derived from overblown individualism that eats away at the social fabric.  Certainly, a just balance of freedom requires a just balance of freedom between oneself and others.  Unfortunately, it is all too convenient to demand morality of another in lieu of the difficult task of restraining their own desires and abilities, i.e., behaving morally and ethically ourselves.  Of course, this takes us back to the concept of power.  Perhaps the great privilege of power is the ability to enforce an unjust balance of freedom.  In other words, in having greater power we have a greater ability to act unjustly, immorally, and unethically.  Thus, the truism that with greater power comes greater responsibility, being legitimately held to a higher standard.  Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, having greater power gives a greater ability to enforce a different standard for other people than ourselves.  I suspect this is why politics, the way we deal with power between people, is routinely and authentically observed as hypocritical much of the time.

Ultimately, to be free and moral, we need to define how much is enough.  We cannot outsource this responsibility to the free market.  We cannot blame it on others.  At some point we need to declare, and act in accordance with, enough is enough!

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