This is the second installment of a multipart effort detailing last year’s two week road trip through the Western US. You can read the first one here.
Last time I talked briefly about Kantian ethics and the idea of Duty in the philosophy of morality. For Kant, utilitarianism (the most happiness for the most people) was insufficient as a source of morality and instead we had to rely on Categorical Imperatives, rules or maxims that are unconditional and universal. “Don’t murder” is a Categorical Imperative and for Kant, it was universal and objective. Which of course raises questions about application of the Imperative, in for instance, my current moment when the neighbor’s rooster is yet again crowing at 5:45 and I want to walk over and rip its head off and watch it run around and then fall over dead. “Always write a blog post about your family’s trip” is an imperative that isn’t Categorical because obviously, if we all had to do that, I would have had this series of essay’s completed last year to fulfill my duty to the Categorical.
Categorical Imperatives make up a deontological theory of morality where the system is based on a set of inviolable rules which is attractive to those of us who prefer to not deal with the messiness of people, i.e. engineers. However, there are some clear issues with this type of system. Do not murder means exactly that so then one has to further define what one does in a situation where one is attacked by someone intent on murder. Is it murder if you kill someone in self defense? What about war? What about preemptive war like what the US does these days with drones? When you think about it that way, maybe we could use a little more categorical imperative in our political world.
What does any of this have to do with a road trip with my little family? Nothing except that it’s things I contemplate as I look around the world and wonder about the state of it. It’s interesting to consider that at one time in the not so recent past, philosophy had large effects on the popular understanding of life. Philosophers were written about in newspapers and as recently as the 1950s and 60s, philosophy (existentialism) had a profound impact on the world. Today, it seems we lack any clear exposition of how to live our lives, how to interpret the events of the world, how to make things better. Without the guiding force of the nuclear family and with the further degradation of religion in the Western world and with nothing like a coherent philosophy of morals to replace those things, we have become largely a narcissistic ephemeral society with no larger meaning expressed in our lives. Categorical Imperatives start to sound useful in a situation like this where it seems like no imperatives at all exist in our society other than if you can yell the loudest, you get heard.
While Kant’s philosophy is probably too restrictive and has serious implications for our (overly?) liberal political world, it’s interesting to consider what the imposition of Categorical Imperatives might cause. For example “Always be fair” seems like an interesting start to me as it would refocus our narcissistic attentions away from our own little world and refocus them where it matters, on our interactions with other people. Studies show that children, from an early age, seem to deeply understand the concept of fairness though those kids haven’t chatted with my kid about who gets to play with Melmo (Elmo). So one has to wonder where things start to go wrong?
Probably enough contemplating our (lack of) moral philosophy, it’s not what you came here to read. Unless Google sent you here in search of ramblings about Kant to which I have to say I’m deeply sorry.
We left at 11 AM and I have no notes as to why the start was so late. I think we were just enjoying the mountain air and the view across the lake. In the last installment, I forgot to mention eating at Joseph’s Bar & Grill on old Route 66 in Santa Rosa, NM. One of those places that appear in idealized memories of a bygone era, Joseph’s has been around since the 50s and is a fun place to stop. It’s off the main highway but anything of value is off the highway. We met other traveler’s and talked about destinations and where we were headed. Harper got to run around with other kids and explore the gift shop.
It’s always interesting to me how some places survive the changes of technology and progress while others fade away. What are the reasons why Joseph’s is still around but other nameless places are not? How much of it is talent or work or effort and how much of it is sheer accident, contingency, luck? We hate to think about how much of our life is accidental because it seems to negate our own agency but the fact of the matter is that everything about humanity is contingent, effects building up over time of random accident. I’m glad Joseph’s survived even though others did not.
Leaving Navajo, we had a plan and that was to get to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This seemed totally doable, it’s only 161 miles from Navajo and we’d had a day of rest. Of course, as with much in life, doable plans some times go awry. This was our first day driving in the passes in Colorado and let me just tell you, dragging a trailer with a big truck on the plains of Texas is drastically different than the passes in Colorado. To this day, I’m pretty sure I still have nightmares about making a mistake and tumbling over the side into oblivion. I can’t imagine what semi drivers deal with.
The trip up to Durango and over to Silverton and Ouray was both beautiful and nerve wracking. We stopped in Silverton for lunch at the Brown Bear Cafe and wished for more time to explore this small town filled with Harley riders and tourists taking the train to Durango. But we loaded back up and headed up the Million Dollar Highway towards Ouray. This is an incredible drive, more so from the passenger seat I presume. Once you come back down out of the mountains, you head across the plains towards Montrose. If you know anything of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, this seems confusing. This park is supposed to be a magnificent canyon, one that is awe inspiring and breathtaking yet here you are driving across mostly flat plains as the GPS says 60 more minutes. Then you head east out of Montrose and start climbing up what seems to be an average hill in Colorado. As you enter the park, you still don’t really see how this could be such a big deal.
But once inside the park, this chasm, this rift in the earth suddenly appears out of nowhere. Luckily, you don’t have to drive very close to the edge and we’d already parked the trailer at our campsite. I’d had enough of near death hallucinations pulling a trailer for one day. It’s one of the most awe inspiring vistas you can see in a state with more than its share of inspiring vistas. Pictures don’t really do the place justice, at least not the pictures I took. We stayed here two days taking in the place, spending a chunk of one day down on the river learning about the crazy people who used to try to explore the entire canyon.
All along our journey, we encountered historical figures who attempted incredible feats or took these incredible risks to try and accomplish something that had never been done before. The Gunnison river was the first of these areas that drew people like moths to the light of adventure and (I suspect) fame. The Uncompahgre Valley just west of the canyon was essentially a desert before the 1920s. People living there came up with an idea to dig a tunnel from the Gunnison river through the canyon wall to the valley to provide irrigation water. I can’t imagine thinking such a thing is feasible today with the technology we have but in 1900, I would have thought it ludicrous. But of course, after four years of toil, those crazy people built the tunnel in 1909. I wonder who their JIRA admin was?
Next up, we head towards the desert and the heat and Dinosaur National Monument.