McComiskey’s McCorner: MY BROTHER’S KEEPER By Gary McComiskey

I find myself, at present, with a moral dilemma.  Not a huge moral dilemma.  Or maybe it is.  I guess that’s part of the dilemma.

I get the Daily News… well…  daily.  It is the newspaper that my parents always got, so naturally it is the paper to which I secured a subscription when I got married.  As you may have seen in the news lately, the Daily News has a new owner who decided to lay off something like half of the staff.  I believe the number is up to 98 people, or somewhere in that neighborhood.  I am fairly appalled by that decision.

Now I have a decision to make.  In a capitalist society, we are told to vote with our wallets.  That is how you are supposed to express displeasure with a company, don’t give them your money.  It wouldn’t be hard to do, either.  For starters, I don’t get the chance to read the paper for which I am paying nearly so often as I used to.  Were I to cancel my subscription I would miss it, and it would take some getting used to, but it wouldn’t be a huge impact to me personally.  There is also the quality argument.  Many of the reporters fired were the longest tenured.  (And, one assumes, highest paid.)  Why pay the same price for a now-inferior product?  To say nothing of the fact that the new paperboy doesn’t deliver until almost 9am.  That’s just not cool.  But now comes the dilemma.

If I, and others like me, cancel our subscriptions, then the owner would likely fold the entire enterprise, and everyone left will be out of a job.  There is every reason to suggest that my cancellation would lead, either directly or indirectly, to the loss of people’s livelihoods.  Not to mention the loss of one more institution where reporting the truth is deemed more important than pandering to the ignorant.  We need it now more than ever.  I don’t want that on my conscience.

You may or may not have heard that Disney recently announced they will be eliminating plastic straws and shopping bags from their theme parks in an effort to be greener.  (It will also, no doubt, save them money.  Imagine that.)  Last week I was perusing a thread on a message board that I frequent in which the pros and cons of this policy were being argued.  (Don’t you judge me.)  In an effort to reach détente, I opined that while this was no doubt a PR move more than anything, and might not make a huge difference, wasn’t a small help to the environment better that a small hurt?  The very first reply was to refute my statement on the grounds that the policy could have the unintended consequence of causing people to use more plastic bottles, and could actually make things worse.

It’s an old argument by cynics, I suppose.  Don’t try to do something good because it could lead to something bad.  The road to Hell, and all that.  It’s all academic, really.  Disney isn’t going to change a policy because a handful of people on the internet don’t like it.  Nor should they.  The real concern here is with the butterfly effect of our actions.  Of my actions.  As a Catholic, (and, I hope, as a good person,) how many moves ahead do I have to look.  How far down the chain am I responsible for what I do?  If I jog across the street and a car slows down, which makes them miss that light, and they get into an accident half a mile later, is that my fault?  If I don’t tip my paperboy because he can’t deliver the paper at a decent hour, and now he can’t afford that vacation he’s been promising his kids all year, is that on me?  I don’t want to be paralyzed by choice and lock myself in a room because something could happen if I don’t.  That’s no way to live.  Besides, the pizza guy could get hit by a car crossing the street on the way to my house.

Here’s one more:  Yesterday I was playing hockey and it was very hot and humid.  My cousin basically took me out of the goal after two games because he could see I was in bad shape, physically.  I thanked him after the fact, but also made what is an old argument for me:  Namely that I never want to be the reason that we can’t play.  He countered with the argument that if I push myself too hard, something very bad could happen and that would prevent them from playing for a lot longer.  He’s not wrong.  But what if a teammate is having a bad day and was counting on that last game to redeem himself?  What if I get a complex because I can’t hang with the younger, fitter players that causes me to give up hockey and spiral into a deep depression?  That one is a longshot, I admit, but not as long as it once seemed.

I believe that we have a responsibility to do good.  I believe that we are beholden to each other.  I believe that the needs of the many usually outweigh the needs of the few.  Or the one.  (I also believe that Star Trek: Into Darkness was a terrible movie, but that is neither here nor there.)  I believe that doing a good thing and doing the right thing are usually one and the same, but what about when they aren’t?  Or worse, when they aren’t necessarily?  Because that’s the real issue.  The unintended consequences.  The could or the might.

I think what I shall have to do is just muddle through as best I can.  More specifically, I think I will have to perform triage on these situations as they come.  Make the decision that will do the most good based on what is most likely to happen, not what could happen.  When it comes down to a coin flip, err on the side of caution, I guess?  And there’s always prayer.  The road to Hell may be paved with good intentions, but the road to Heaven is paved with good works.  I have to trust that, on balance, my ledger will end up in the black.

One last thing.  Unrelated.  My uncle, who I wrote about last year and basically disowned for being an unrepentant racist, died last week.  His health was pretty bad.  There are indications that his thinking and judgement were compromised, possibly due to health factors.  It may explain some of his behavior.  I don’t think that excuses the person that he became, but I am sorry for the things that happened to him.  Goodbye Uncle Lanny.  I hope you have found peace.

Like the song says: “See you in September.”