“Personal Ethical Objectivism”

“…but still, as I went away, I thought to myself: ‘I am wiser than that fellow, anyhow. Because neither of us, I dare say, knows anything of great value; but he thinks he knows a thing when he doesn’t; whereas I neither know it in fact, nor do I think that I do. At any rate, it appears that I am wiser than he in just this one small respect: if I do not know something, I do not think that I do.'”
Socrates (The Apology)

Today I’d like to talk about something that I will label as Personal Ethical Objectivism. (I write that last sentence as though I write in this thing more than once a year) This term is very loose and I suppose doesn’t really mean what it at first appears to mean, but bear with me here.

Personal Ethical Objectivism: The irrational belief that your own ethical views reflect the ideal moral framework for everyone.

With this term I am referring to the political and idealogical philosophies and agendas that are most important to me today: the social ones. Personal Ethical Objectivism is a philosophy held by conservatives most of the time it seems, although I’m sure if I thought harder about it I could think of something that liberals tout that evidences this moronic idea. I wanted to rally against the liberal anti-capital-punishment position in this writing, but it doesn’t seem that it would fit in with the rest of the things I’m going to say (or even with the term that I’m using), so unfortunately I will have to save that for another day.

When I think of this term, the two main issues that come to mind are abortion rights and gay rights. Conservatives (and, more specifically, the Christian right) seem to think that their opinion and ethical backgrounds are important, or even relevant, to the lives of everyday Americans. The argument that abortion is murder is a feasible one, but still one of opinion. No one can definitively say when life begins, because people have different religious and philosophical backgrounds that would contradict each other if one ever came to the forefront legally. (Ha ha, that was kind of a joke) The argument against gay marriage is a fairly solid one as well, considering that while marriage is not an exclusively Judeo-Christian institution, it is usually viewed as such in our society.

Before tackling abortion, I think it is important for me to lay out, morally, why I don’t think that abortion is immoral, even if it is classified as murder. In our society, we value human life above the life of other animals because of our sentience and our ability to experience emotions and the like beyond the extent of other animals. I, personally, view the murder of a human being as evil more than anything else because of the profound impact that it will have on other human beings that the murdered person affected and touched in their life. In this way, abortion cannot be considered a capital offense because no one but the fetus (and maybe the mother and her loved ones, but not really because they’re only experiencing potential) is harmed by the termination. Tack onto that the fact that there are some psycho right-wingers who actually want to ban abortion period, leaving women whose lives are in danger from the pregnancy or rape victims to carry to term.

Get this: abortion saves lives. A fetus is not a life in the same respect as the woman who is carrying it. If a woman is going to die or suffer serious emotional trauma from having to carry a fetus to term, she should have the option to terminate the pregnancy. Hell, even if the woman is going to suffer financial distress and have to take welfare she wouldn’t normally have to take she should terminate the pregnancy, or at the very least give the child up. It’s hilarious that these same far-right conservatives who want to ban abortion are probably the same people who sneer at the WIC program or think it’s okay that you can’t buy diapers with food stamps.

All of this is also on the cusp of the population crisis we have right now. I am aware that the population is expected to level off at about 11 billion in the relatively near future, but stick with me here. At our current population, we are using 38% of the resources available to us on the planet. Top off that figure with an observation about how few people in the world are living at a middle-class standard of living (by their own country’s standards as well, not ours), and doesn’t it seem ridiculous that we’re supporting people having more children. China’s already instituted mandatory abortions to families (albeit poor ones, rich parents can buy their way into a larger family) who have more than two children. (Some would argue that this isn’t fair, but it really is, because the richer a family is, the more easily they can afford to keep more children above a lower-class standard of living) I don’t think we should take it quite to that level, considering that our population density isn’t even approaching that of China, but we definitely shouldn’t be prohibiting people from terminating pregnancies that are only going to steal resources from the rest of the world. Leave it to the ideologists who denied the dangers of pollution and global warning until just a short while ago to also value a single human life over the greater good.

Anyway, someone on the Democratic side of things who didn’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade would be doing just what the constitution says: allowing people their individual rights, and not limiting them based on a personal moral belief. Terminating a pregnancy doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s moral beliefs, because the fetus isn’t alive. The father should have a say, but not one that is as powerful as the woman’s. Murder is illegal because it is one human being making a life-ending decision for another, and that’s not what abortion is because a fetus isn’t a human life.

Gay rights get from the conservatives an even more annoying political agenda, which is why I saved them for second. It’s terrifying, but Mike Huckabee (a candidate who actually won primaries in some states), has said, and holds I think, that homosexuality is an “aberrant … lifestyle.” He also asserted back in 1992 I believe that AIDS was a disease affecting only homosexuals and that people afflicted with the disease should be quarantined from the general population. The idea that someone like this could be respected by anyone is retarded. Less right-wing conservatives take a safer view on homosexuality than Mike Huckabee, but still, so few of them support any kind of equal rights for gay people. I’m not necessarily asserting that marriage should be granted to homosexuals, because there are parts of Leviticus that make claims that could be perceived in an anti-homosexual light, but I can’t think of a single reason why gays can’t be granted the same kind of rights in a civil union as a straight couple.

Of course, the Christian right will cite family values and the debilitating effect that being raised by two men or two women will have on a child. However, there is no scientific evidence for this view, other than the conservatives’ notice that, hey! they were raised by parents of two different genders and they turned out all right. I’d like to take a look in a few years (because I don’t think it’s been long enough yet) at some children who were raised by a gay couple so I could take note of the fact that there was no discernible developmental difference between them and normal kids. Leave it to the Republican party to decide that they can project their personal and spiritual values onto the rest of Americans even though there are Americans who are Muslim, who are Jewish, who are Pagan and even who are atheists.

What’s so disgusting about this is that unlike abortion, no one could perceive that homosexuality hurts anyone (other than the people engaging in it, if it is perceived as sin) unless they went way out on a limb and said that it hurts other people who have to observe it or the children that could potentially be raised in a gay household. But these assertions, based only on personal belief and what will hopefully be referred to at some point in the future as superstition, are at the same level of stupidity as a belief in intelligent design.

The problem by-and-large is that while the conservatives might have some ideas about what’s best for Americans as a whole, they take this idea too far and decide that they also know what’s best for Americans as individuals. Turns out that nobody is qualified to make personal decisions for other people, and that ethical objectivism isn’t real on an individual basis. While some rules might work best for a society as a whole, there is no moral foundation that is exactly right for everybody, so we have to leave openings for people to make decisions for themselves. Gay rights are individual rights to a tee, and you wouldn’t have to make too powerful an argument to convince any rational person the same about abortion.

“And what is good Phaedrus,/And what is not good-/Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”

Lately the philosophical concept that has been most prevalent on my mind seems to be context. This post is going to be incredibly stream of consciousness, but I feel like such a loser for never writing my thoughts down anymore. My God, I remember a few days ago I read this quote about context and how it was the only way to feel anything, and if I were a smarter person I would have written it down. Now my thoughts of it are so fleeting! Ah well.

Usually my thoughts on this topic are triggered by some inane, stupid event. For example, when I used to run the self-checkout at Tops, the weight on the bagscale would stay zeroed at a certain value, and the operator could reset it at any time. If something very heavy was put down (heavy things tend to have a higher average differentiation from the actual defined weight on the packaging), you could reset it to let the person using it continue. I feel like I’m tangling my participles here, but I’m not going to proofread this. Deal. And so, I started thinking about how the only context by which a difference could be observed was the set default weight on the computer. Since that’s manually altered by zeroing, it was always changing. If you sat down with a pen and paper, or if you were some kind of mathematical genius, you could probably figure out from any point on the number line that the machine was zeroed at where the weight of something would have fallen if the machine was zeroed at another point. However, it’s a detached, academic process and so much work for so little reward that few people (read: no one – I only said few people for rhetorical purposes) would ever actually bother trying to figure it out.

I’m trying to figure out if this is a shallow or a deep metaphor. It might seem deeper for me because it was such a realization for me when it actually happened. But anyway, obviously what I’m trying to say is that once a new “zero” is set for someone in their life, it’s very difficult for them to think about things from the viewpoint of a past context. For the purposes of this discussion, the context that I’m writing about should be thought of as a purely emotional event, at least in the moment of experience. Therefore, if someone experiences some deeply emotionally profound or powerful event, it can zero the scale for them. Unless the person is especially aware of their emotions and really knows themselves, they will likely not be able to properly compare it to past feelings without quite a bit of meditation or something of the sort.

People who know me know that I hate so to advertise my feelings, so I’m going to be as vague as humanly possible here. A few years ago I had what I thought was a life-defining experience. For the past few years, I’ve thought about this one moment as like, the greatest point that I would reach emotionally. I attributed this conviction to an emotional youth and an ignorance to the darkness of the world that has since permeated my philosophy, and to a generally happier self then. However, in light of recent events I feel like I may have been thinking about it all wrong. Living under the assumption that one point could ever be the best, while possibly realistic, is definitely self-fulfilling. Well, maybe only for someone who could be much more optimistic. Ugh, ranting.

Anyway, having that context to define my other life experiences by radically changed my view of them.

…I am so not into this right now. I left for dinner amid writing this, and I have completely lost my train of thought. I’ll finish this later.

Motives and actions…

Lately I’ve been on a Mario Puzo reading-spree, and as such I have been considering the themes that seem to be prevalent in all of his work. Along with the importance of family, he seems to emphasize the irrelevance of thought or intent when matched up against actual action. The protagonist (or so it seems, it’s sometimes hard to understand who he intends to be portrayed as evil or good, perhaps intentionally) in most of his books seems to emphasize the importance of actions above all else. There are several points in The Last Don where Don Clericuzio (the head of the last remaining large Mafia family in the book) speaks about how utterly unimportant thought and intention are when faced up against the actions that they ultimately lead to. Now, I have spent a lot of time over the last few days pondering this, and I’ve decided that it’s kind of narrow-minded bullshit.

I think one of Christianity’s most redeeming characteristics is its condemnation of even thought of “sin.” It’s important to realize that someone’s motives are what color their actions, and that no one can have an accurate picture of basically anything about anyone without at least starting to delve into the why and the how rather than the what of their actions. If snap-judgements and stereotyping are the hallmarks of assholes, then let me tell you, boy-howdy, we live in a world full of assholes. I’m not saying that I am immune to this stigma – I too make snap-judgements and use stereotypes all the time. However, I approach each of these assumptions that I make with an air of skepticism, where as some other people are far too over-confident about their intuitions.

I heard Michael Savage last night say probably the stupidest thing I have ever heard. He was talking about the Iranians and their anti-semitism and quoted the part of Leviticus 20 specifying the punishments for performing certain sexual taboos, highlighting the one about beastiality. He then goes on to argue in a completely straight manner that the reason for the Iranians’ anti-semitism is that they want to eliminate Jews so they can eliminate the Old Testament so they can have sex with animals. Seriously, this is one of the craziest intuitive leaps I have ever heard of. While I already regard Michael Savage as one of the most narrow-minded, idiotic personalities of our time, I was actually onboard with him throughout his rant (for the most part) before this point. Anti-semitism is totally fucked up, and as a super-power we should do everything within our ability to destroy any proponent of any possible genocide. However, his Leviticus argument just totally threw me off-guard. It’s like, dude, if you want to make a good point you want to try to make as few low-blows as you possibly can, and making a race-wide implication about beastiality is one of the lowest blows you can deliver.

Returning to my original point, perhaps one of the problems with Puzo’s narrative is that he writes in a third-person limited fashion that moves between characters as the focus, whatever that specific style of writing is called. A style like this detracts from the reader’s ability to connect effectively with the characters. Wait, let me restate my point. Perhaps Puzo wrote his narrative in this way intentionally in order to further his point. Let’s examine works of literature written in the first person in order to better understand this thesis. In fact, we can examine two counterpart pieces of literature to make my point absolutely: Beowulf and Grendel.

In Beowulf, the original inspiration for Grendel, it is very clear who the protagonist and antagonist are. Beowulf is a hero and Grendel is a villian, but this of course cannot be the entire objective truth because we are only allowed to hear the thoughts of the Geats, never are we able to hear the thoughts of Grendel or his mother, because they cannot speak. However, in John Gardner’s own telling of Grendel’s story (which is a first-person narrative from the perspective of Grendel himself), it is clear that Grendel is a poor, tortured soul whose evil demeanor is only a result of humanity’s rejection of him because of his appearance. This is an important, important, important, very important thing to consider. Nobody could read Grendel without, for lack of absolving Grendel of all of his crimes, at least feeling a little bit sorry for him and saying to themselves, “Oh, maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all…” It really is quite a tragic story. Puzo argues the Sicilian point of action over intention, but when you look at it that way, it’s really a fairly weak argument (not that I don’t have Sicilian pride).

If we can feel sorry for Grendel, why can’t we feel sorry for blacks and other minorities living in the ghettoes and in the projects and in whatever other inhabitable (by our cushy, mid-to-upper middle class standards) settings for the events in their lives that transgressed and caused them to be the way they are, whether they’re drug-dealers, rapists, murderers, or just don’t know how to speak good English (which is not to say that all or even the majority or minorities fall into one of these categories)? I guarantee you the same racist who condemns minorities for the way they are as a result of events beyond their control would feel sorry for Grendel. You know what? I would even venture to argue that the same racist would feel sorry for a minority after reading his testimony if he believed he was white. Racists try to rationalize their warped opinions by pasting their generalizations on attributes that they think are common in those who they are condemning, but of course it’s all a facade. Grendel killed hundreds of Geats and I wouldn’t condemn him.

This post has nothing to do with that Peterkin guy, though. Fuck him, I hope he dies in prison.

“My heart was light with Hrothgar’s goodness, and leaden with grief at my own bloodthirsty ways.”
–Grendel (From Grendel by John C. Gardner)

Well, this is something new, isn’t it?!

Lately, I have really had no creative outlet for anything that I’ve been thinking. I used to write rather often on Xanga, but that community seems to have died along with my outset from high school into college; it’s all about that newfangled myspace now. (Improper semi-colon use? Who knows?! For once I don’t care!) However, on this myspace thing I don’t really feel that I’m afforded the prevalence of blogging on my page that I desire. Posts are hidden behind titles that are displayed in inappropriately small text on the main page of your profile. As a result of this seemingly minor gripe, I have decided to branch out into the world of this wordpress thing to write some stuff about some other stuff. However, don’t get too excited – this little obsession of mine will likely not last more than a few days. I have passing fancies like that, you see.

It would be very unbecoming of me, however, to publicly expose anything about my emotionality in any kind of relatively accessible location (I’m quite shy, haha), so I will likely only write about my feelingless, detached philosophical musings and social observations, which are, at times, rather profound. I can also be somewhat humorous at times, in a very dry way. I’ve decided (using inspiration from a half-jokingly and sleep-deprivation encouraged idea that I and a friend of mine came up with years ago) to perhaps branch out into YouTube or Google Video with a series of parodies of Air Bud placing a dog in seemingly preposterous activities that make playing sports such as basketball and volleyball look like child’s play. Race car driving and rocket science come to mind.

Anyway, if I get terribly lucky, my readership base will branch out far into the corners of the universe, and I will become an internet celebrity, likened to such recognizable people as Brad Pitt (because of my startling good looks) and Socrates (for my astute and brilliant observations) However, in the most likely scenario only about seven people will ever look at this site and they will devotedly leave me comments telling me how excellent I am.

I am quite subject to flattery, after all.