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Posts Tagged ‘morals’

The following is an example of an extreme allegorical situation. In that it is an extreme, it serves only as an example scenario to examine a moral premise under more contrasting circumstances.

Imagine you are taken captive by a group of thugs. You are with someone you truly care about deeply and someone who is just a good friend. One of the more sadistic of the thugs tells his comrades to hold you at gun point and to shoot any of you if you ‘try anything funny’.
He somehow managed to figure out that you were closer to one of the people you were with than you were to the other, so he grabs the person you care deeply about and holds his gun to their head. He then reaches down to his belt with his other hand and pulls his knife out of it’s sheath and throws it to your feet. Then he commands you to slit your good friend’s throat or he is going to shoot the person you care deeply about in the head.

What made me bring this up was a combination of a number of people around me arguing in favor of pragmatic decisions combined with a quote I had on my facebook some time back:

“I have learned that I have it in me to be a prick to people who earn that treatment and deserve it, but I do not have it in me to do the ‘wrong’ thing regardless of what someone else does.”

I left the above scenario intentionally unqualified for the most part, but assuming you are well overpowered and doing anything other than what you are told is going to end up in at least the person you care about being shot in the head, and resisting or trying to fight back may well result in all of you ending up dead.

Do you pick up the knife and cut the throat of your friend?  What about if it was someone you didn’t even know well? Would that (or should it even?) make a difference in your decision?

Sometimes using an ‘extreme’ scenario puts things in better focus by drawing the contrasts more vividly between moral rights, moral wrongs, causes and effects. Let’s examine some of the things that are either specified, apparent or implied by this scenario.

  1. Regardless what you do or don’t do, you are being commanded to take a given course of action by someone who is a sadistic thug
  2. This thug wants you to kill someone, something you (should) know is morally wrong
  3. The thug is counting on you to follow his orders because he is holding something you care about ‘more’ hostage to get you to do harm to something you care less about, presumably for his own amusement.

The other thing that made me think of posting this scenario was a quote someone posted today from John Galt’s radio broadcast from the Ayn Rand book, Atlas Shrugged:

“Now that you know the truth about your world, stop supporting your own destroyers. The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it. Withdraw your sanction. Withdraw your support. Do not try to live on your enemies’ terms or to win at a game where they’re setting the rules. Do not seek the favor of those who enslaved you…theirs is a system of white blackmail devised to bleed you not by means of your sins but by means of your love for existence.” – John Galt [from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged]

The point of this analogy is to point out a very extreme case of pragmatism. The reality of the situation is that when you deal in evil or attempt to deal with the irrational, you have no reasonable expectation of a result. If you cut the throat of your friend, not only have you committed a moral wrong, but you only have a passing assurance that no further harm will come to you or the person you care about. All you have done is ‘buy a little time’ while demonstrating that under extreme enough of circumstances, you will do what you are asked to do so long as the stakes are high enough for you to not be willing to accept a potential alternative.

I’m sure most of you can guess as to the other reason I am posting this example. Some of you may think this example is too extreme to be relevant. I admit it is extreme, but only for the sake of pointing out the factors involved in more vivid detail. If a thug holds those you care about at the point of a gun, it is the thug that will bring them to harm one way or another, whether you willingly go along with their insane demands or not.

It is the thug that takes away your choice in such a situation. It is the thug that puts you at risk. It is the thug that poses the threat to the life of the one you love. It always was and it always will be — until you pick up the knife! The question is whether you become evil along with them for the sake of expedience. The question is whether you end up with blood on your hands.

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There was an old sinner in the eighteenth century who declared that, if there were no God, he would have to be invented.
– Fyodor Dostoyevski from Brother’s Karamazov

Often misattributed as “”If God does not exist, everything is permitted,” this is a contention that is either stated or implied in a lot of pro-religion arguments. Namely, that without religion as a source of positive moral values — or at least without the unseen hand of God influencing the acts of men — good things and good behavior is not possible.  That in the absence of religion, society would be incapable of doing the right thing and existence would be downright intolerable.

Despite the fact that many periods in history seem to demonstrate that under one religiously influenced or empowered regime after another life has been quite intolerable indeed, you could still make a reasonable argument that in some primitive societies, religious values have served as a moral compass to help maintain order and improve behavior in such societies.  But what about modern society?

Argumentum ad Nauseum

If you have ever had the misfortune to get into a semantic debate on specific verses of the bible, you will often run into the various ‘interpretation’ arguments.

  • Was Jonah really swallowed by a fish?
  • Did Noah really have 2 of EVERY animal on earth on his ark as the ENTIRE planet was flooded?
  • Were there really giants living in Jericho?

Any semi-reasonable Christian or Hebrew will say ‘of course not!’ and point out that such lessons are allegorical or parables.

You also run into the anochronistic-relevancy type argument when addressing various rules or verses.  “Well that applied to tribal societies in the desert, not to modern life in a technological age.

The general answer that you get from people who admit to not taking the ‘entire’ bible as rote is that the stories told in the bible are often times symbolic or serve as period-specific lessons that can be related to real life, even present day scenarios.  (yet, the same people will often rely on ‘certain’ verses to the letter when addressing specific things they do not like and want to demonize or change)

But Jesus re-wrote the book!

Even if you buy into the argument that Jesus brought forth a new age via the New Testament, there are still many verses of that testament which people do not take literally or follow as absolute rules governing their behavior.

For example, you will not find many modern Christian women that abide by the verses in 1st Peter chapter 3 that tell them to be submissive to their husbands and not wear adornments such as jewelry and make-up or to style their hair.

Another example is the focus on ‘family values’ predominant in western Christianity which seems to disregard the message of Jesus to a gathering crowd in Luke 14:25-33.  He tells them that if you are to truly be a disciple of Christ, you must hate everyone else in comparison — even your own family and even your own life.

Yet another example is the complete disregard of the lessons of selflessness and altruism repeated throughout the preachings of Christ, but especially repeated in Acts and 2nd Corinthians.  Multiple passages implore the followers (of Christ) to sell all their belongings to give to the poor, often times based specifically on ‘need’.  You don’t see too many people on the religious right repeating these verses as they condemn the social redistribution policies of their political opponents on the left.

This differentiation between old testament vs. new testament dogma is just further support of the kind of thing that I am referring to.  Determining which verses are relevant and should be taken literally and which are symbolic or dated and should only serve as a metaphorical lesson are ‘choices’ — either of the individual believer or of the particular denomination or theologian.

It’s all a matter a choice

So what does this mean amidst a culture that often uses religion as a justification for banning gay marriage or effecting the healthcare decisions between a woman and her doctor?  What does it say for a society that still fights with pockets of antisemitism and a growing xenophobia toward followers of Islam? [1]  What does it say for a culture that still struggles between views of creationism and theories of evolution and natural selection?

The reality is that most people ‘will‘ tell you that verses in the bible are often symbolic or open to interpretation.  They ‘will‘ say many are allegorical in nature or speak of only references to philosophical or moral and ethical lessons and truths.  Yet, as mentioned, the religious will still cite specific references to support their arguments on various topics. Often when challenged on those topics.  And generally such notions are challenged due to a question as to the moral right or ethical good of a given behavior or philosophical view.

What I am getting at is, that when it comes to some choices regarding what the bible seems to regard as being a ‘good Christian’ — such as selling all of your possessions, disowning your family and humbling yourself before God — the ‘believer’ makes a choice to disregard those parts of the Bible that do not suit them or the culture and age in which they live. They choose to see such concepts as metaphorical.  The same person then abdicates their choice in reference to other passages, deferring to ‘the will of God’ in support of that which might not be as acceptable outside of the context of the religion.

When such a person skims through the Old Testament they choose to see the instructions to stone the infidels or to cut the throats of adulterers as ‘dated’ concepts but then call upon the lines in Deuteronomy to condemn same-sex relationships or rules in Leviticus to demonize abortion procedures and those that participate in their practice.

By their fruits you shall know them…

History is full of examples where religious ideals or specific biblical passages have been and still are used to justify genocide, slavery, segregation, rape, barbarism, sexual and racial discrimination and many other concepts that are no longer considered [chosen] to be acceptable today by the majority of civilized society.

The word ‘chosen‘ is the important thing here.  People choose what they seek to identify with as as good moral behavior or good ethical decision making.  And the religious choose to see a verse as a referential lesson rather than a firm law from God.  And when they do so, they choose to instead include observations of reality as a means to determine what really is truly good and what should be deemed bad.

The important thing to observe, which is why I keep repeating it, is that the same religious people will willingly quote from their book verbatim to justify that which they do not consider to be a choice — as justification for that which might be subject to challenge by the others in the society in which they live. They defer to the bible rather than exercise the responsibility to prove their case for those questions which are most likely to be seen by others in our society as questionable.

The ‘Good’ stems from choice, the bad relies on dogma

As someone who uses reality as a compass for my moral code, I am of course going to assert that when you utilize your senses and your capacity for reason that you will arrive at more accurate premises and conclusions when it comes to moral and ethical decisions. People can and should question anything presented to them ‘as fact’, seeking proof of said fact for themselves. (especially when such things come without a basis of evidence to support them)

Thus I think it is a reasonable thing to assert, religion is not a source of good moral behavior or sound ethical lessons.  Even the Christians demonstrate that they choose what is ‘good’ for themselves.  But when it comes to ‘bad’ behavior, what better source than the Bible (or the Torah, Koran, book of the Dead, etc.) to rationalize it, justify it and make it ‘seem’ reasonable.

In other words, people ‘choose’ what they see as good, they use the ‘bible’ to justify what others know is bad.

[1] Yes, I am aware that there are sound reasons to be critical of fundamentalist Islam and even Islam as a whole for not condemning the extremists under their fold.  But what I refer to specifically is, given the history of both Christianity and Judaism, do people speaking from either of those religious perspectives have the integrity to criticize Islam for fundamentalist extremes?

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I have told some folks that I follow a ‘modified’ version of the golden rule.  It goes as follows:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…

…until they give you cause to do otherwise!

Well, I was thinking of this further today and considered the possibility of expanding upon this expansion of the traditional canon to give a suitable decorum for ‘doing’ whenever there are ‘others’ involved.  Thus I bring you:

A Modified ‘Golden Rule’ for an Enlightened Contemporary Age

  1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you — until they give you cause to do otherwise.
  2. When you do unto others, it is recommended to seek permission if what you are doing will in anyway not be a welcome act to the others that could be involved.
  3. If you desire to do in a manner that will inevitably involve others,  it is wise to only do that for which you have the proper moral or legal authority or at least sufficiently reasonable justification for any actions you may undertake.
  4. If anything you are about to do may effect others in a manner that will lead them to challenge your authority or question your justifications (especially if such complaints may be levied to anyone with the authority to do untoward things to you as a result), it is wise to give forewarning to anyone that may suffer any effects that might motivate such challenges so they have the option to avoid them.
  5. If what you plan on doing is of the nature that it does not lend itself to giving warning or seeking permission and will inevitably inspire complaints when its having been done is ultimately discovered, seek to minimize the witnesses of your actually doing it as much as possible.
    *Editor’s Note:  When doing anything ‘to someone’ as a response to something done ‘to you’, especially in the case of anything that could potentially be viewed as negative, it is a generally accepted principle that doing ‘more’ than was done to you will significantly reduce the ability to claim moral authority or reasonable justification for having done it.  Thus it is an unwritten rule of this list that:
    “When doing unto others because they have done unto you, avoid doing more than was done to you. “
  6. If  you still intend to do something that may evoke a negative response from others and either your warnings are not heeded or those who may be potentially effected are either unwilling or unable to avoid the consequences, it may be helpful to communicate very clearly to anyone involved just what you are ‘willing to do‘ in the event anyone should choose to bear false witness against you.
  7. Finally, if you are unable to adhere to the prior 6 rules but still intend to do something to others for any reason that may result in more doing unto you that you would rather not ‘have done‘, it should go without saying in any such instance: ‘Do not get caught!!!’

Now to quote Dr. Laura, “Go do the right thing!”

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Originally posted on Facebook Notes

Our country is seeing a growing support of socialist (marxist) policy changes. Just about any way you cut it, such governance is taking from one that has to give to one that has not. Last time I checked, taking from someone is stealing. Progressive taxation seems to be the current method being used (taxing more the people who earn more). Are not the people who earn more the people who work harder or are the most skilled in most cases?
And when it comes to taxation, even though the connection is more subtle when applied to a people who try for the most part to abide the law of the land, the fact is taxation ultimately comes down to government taking from the governed at the point of a gun. (don’t believe me? refuse to pay your taxes, refuse to answer the summons you receive as a result and see how long it takes for someone with a badge and a gun to show up at your door)
Besides the obvious insanity of punishing achievement, how can you morally justify taking from one group and ‘redistributing’ it to another?

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Originally posted to Facebook Notes

To explain my perspective on various types of behavior I often use these definitions to define said behavior. It is important to understand the reason(s) people do the things they do, especially when framing how to respond to those behaviors or when speaking of ‘love’ and ‘hate’. (in my opinion ‘hate’ is just as legitimate and emotion as ‘love’ so long as ‘hate’ is confined to those people or actions that threaten to destroy the things or people you love) For the purposes of this discussion, I focus specifically on misguided actions or behaviors and their causes.

Ignorance: not knowing something
Ignorance by itself can be excusable. I, myself, am ignorant on a great many things. Simply not knowing something, or not knowing all there is to know about something is not an inherent ‘wrong’. We are all ignorant about a great many things.
More often than not, the relevance of ‘ignorance’ comes down to a ‘need to know’. For example, I don’t ‘need to know’ how to fix the carburetor on a car engine – as a result I am ignorant on how to fix a carburetor. I have no doubt I could learn how to fix a carburetor, but I don’t need to.

Stupidity: the inability to learn or know about something
Stupidity again is excusable. It is a lack of ability to know something. I fully admit I am stupid when it comes to interior decorating. I don’t get it, I never will get it. I have no desire to ‘be’ an interior decorator, and if I ever really desire for top-notch ‘interior design’ I can always hire someone to do it for me.

Idiocy*: being ‘ignorant’ about something but acting in spite of that ignorance. Or making a conscious choice to remain ignorant when you really should not do so.
*This one is a bit tougher, because I could not find a precise word to assign to it based on ‘denotative’ meaning. So instead I chose the term ‘idiocy’ for it’s connotative interpretation. A more accurate word would be ‘ignoramus’, but the connotative perception of ‘idiot’ works.
With that said, I describe ‘idiocy’ as someone that can or should know better, but acts in spite of their ignorance. To use the prior examples, if I really needed the use of my truck but decided to attempt to fix my carburetor myself, I would be an idiot. Similarly, if I took a job fixing carburetors but still chose not to learn how, I would also be an idiot. Or if I were to claim to know something about interior decorating, when I do not and cannot understand it, I would again be an idiot.

Incidiot*:  (Ihn-sih-dee-oht) Someone who does know better, but either feigns ignorance or tries to justify it when ignoring the facts about their course of action.
*this is a term I coined by merging the term ‘incite’ with my concept of ‘idiocy’
This term refers to someone who would seem to be behaving like the ‘idiot’ described above. Someone that acts inspite of not knowing something. However, they either do know or are in a position that it is highly likely they should know about the subject in question. i.e. a trained mechanic who intentionally fouls up a carburetor in the process of fixing it could fit this definition.
My concept of the ‘incidiot’ is therefore important to note, because someone that is feigning ignorance about a subject, and takes an action that is inherently immoral or wrong, is therefore intentionally behaving in a fashion that could be described as ‘evil’.

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