The Karnofsky’s: Effort directed towards good
Even a vague desire to be a Karnofsky, seems good enough. Karnofsky’s are everywhere and they are messengers of Brotherhood, ruled primarily by good, but not only, as they are human like the rest of us. Their pure intentions release a small but constant influence that steer their choices, like a flickering candle in the background softly illuminating surfaces in a room.
The Karnofsky’s were a Jewish family of Lithuanian origin living in a highly segregated New Orleans, who took a fondness for little Louis Armstrong, the singer & musician the world would later come to know, when he was around seven years old. Louis was phenomenally poor like many other black kids living in the neighbourhood, and the Karnofsky’s would invite him home regularly, feed him, give him little jobs to do, and generally treated him with kindness, like one of their own. To anyone thinking that its normal to treat a child like this, with love; its not normal, and its not easy! Life gets in the way of pure intentions. People come home tired from work, they see a cute yet unfortunate looking boy, and they don’t invite him home, and they don’t feed him, and they do not give him regular care or money. The Karnofsky’s did, which had a long-lasting effect on Louis, giving him examples of unbridled kindness, as well as exposing racial segregation as a non-universally accepted version of reality.
When the Karnofsky’s brought their own baby boy into the world the entire family plus little Louis would sing Russian Lullabies to the infant, all together, in a state of joy and tranquillity, stopping only when the baby was fast asleep. The tranquillity of the house mixed with the musical experience had a profound impact on little Louis, which he credited as having shaped his soon-to-become musical style. What also shaped his musical development was the financial aid he received from the Karnofsky’s and their sponsoring of his first cornet.
The distinction between good and bad people appears artificial and overly simplistic; it’s a story the mentally tired tell their children and themselves. To miss that these dimensions are on a continuum, on a spectrum, as are most dimensions (e.g. straight-homosexual) is to fail to see reality in a nuanced way, which in turn makes extracting meaning from reality unlikely. While accepting that there must have been a whole range of questionable behaviours even in the lives of the Karnofsky’s, what is knowns of them places them distinctly on the good side of the continuum. For that reason, their warmth, care and generosity, can be the North in the compass of moral judgement that directs our production. The Karnofsky’s are a replaceable symbol, potentially substituted by any similar person, family or action performed with the same aura of universal desirability. A vague North that ultimately means very little, that seems however necessary to place.