Nov. 11th, 2013

foliumnondefluet: (Default)
I think a striving to be "a good person" often derails into rationalizing and justifying our not-so-good actions as somehow virtuous. I have the impression that often, when there is a conflict between our moral sense and some other consideration, people try to redefine their morals so as to avoid ever acting immoral in their own mind, even if such rationalisations appear blatantly self-serving to others. I think that is actually the greater evil - it's a habit that can lead people very far astray, committing atrocities that they've convinced themselves are moral.

I think the main fallacy behind this is seeing "goodness" as an attribute of a person (if we do a bad thing we're not a good person anymore) rather than a property of an action. It gets even more convoluted by bringing intentions into it - so if you do a bad deed with good intentions or a good deed with wicked intent, it's the intent that determines your "goodness". Clearly if we strive above all to be "a good person" it becomes more important to us that our intentions were "pure" than how many people were hurt by our actions. Like a Christian focus on sin, it can lead to judgmental airs of moral purity and hypocrisy - one's "stance" trumps the actual consequences of one's behavior.

I tend to think that moderation in all things (including moderation) is usually preferable to all manner of extremism. In my opinion, it is better to *not* try for "moral perfection". Because, if we think a certain course of action is "good", then being anything less than fanatical about it would mean acting less "good" than we are able to. But the moment we start investigating, the concept of absolute, objective or essential morality quickly collapses, and one is left trying to do good when "good" has no fixed meaning.

The childish answer is the negative "don't do anything bad" - don't break the rules. A more mature morality will make judgments on what a given situation requires - who will benefit, who will we harm, in which kind of world do we want to live? Even then I think perfect morality would require perfect wisdom; it's easy enough to say that, for example, minimising harm is a good thing, but it's far from easy to figure out what course of action in a given situation corresponds to minimal harm.

Since I'm only moderately wise, I think it's best if I accept that I can only be moderately moral, too. History is full of atrocities committed by people whose desire to be moral exceeded their wisdom. Or as they say; "the best is the enemy of the good." I think it's preferable to leave my morals intact even if I sometimes don't live up to them for various reasons of fallibility.

If people try to "be good" rather than "do good", they have to resolve the tension between who they are and who they think they ought to be. I think that being excessively bothered by that gap may lead one into bizarre directions. Much simpler to say that no person is "good" or "bad" as some inherent property, but rather the same people can act in ways we admire or disapprove of...


Nov. 11th, 2013 09:21 pm
foliumnondefluet: (Default)
"Things that a culture doesn't want to talk about, that culture makes it cumbersome to talk about. One mechanism for creating that cumbersomeness is to keep the vocabulary for talking about those things severely limited, so that when people try to talk about them they have to "go on and on and on," so that their listeners grow restless and start demanding that they "get to the point."
--Dr Elgin

I don't think the question here is one of arcane vocabulary or meanings negotiated specifically within the context of the conversation. The vocabulary can be very extensive and still make it cumbersome to talk about things society doesn't like to think about, by loading all variations and synonyms with the narrow accepted meaning. This makes it cumbersome for anyone to challenge the "accepted wisdom" or talk about alternatives. The vocabulary establishes a context of preconceived notions that is very hard to escape from, leading to elaborate and cumbersome qualifications and disclaimers that will often be met with disbelief. So a person will be forced to use constructions like "sodomy without connotations of divine wrath that ruins cities" or "romantic relationship where sexuality is not the main focus, no really" or "pedophilia that is not child abuse" or "feminism that recognizes the right of women to put their family before their career without being made to feel guilty about it" or "poor through no fault of their own nor lack of effort nor inherent personality flaw" and so on.
foliumnondefluet: (Default)
Erich Fromm wrote that love is the capacity to engender love in others. I'm not sure I agree with that definition; it seems facile to say "if they don't love you back then that means you don't really love them" - so Jesus didn't really love his enemies because they nailed him to a stick anyway? It also seems wrong, somehow, to insist that love must always be returned to the point of making it part of the definition of love. Then what about love for a plant or a goldfish or a fictional character or the planet or humanity in general?

"it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"

I'd be inclined to say "depending on what's meant by 'loved and lost" - for some meanings of "lost", all love relationship will be "lost" eventually; they end sooner or by death, and even then they won't stay the same. People who've been together for a long time often say they actually had a succession of different relationships with the same person.

So one take on lost is in the sense of a love relationship that was, but ended or changed into something else. In that case the statement is fairly obviously true, like saying "it's better to live and die than never live at all".

Another sense, the one I'm personally thinking of when I hear the phrase, is not about relationships, but where "to love" is when you commit a serious part of yourself to something or someone, essentially taking a risk, making a leap of faith that the effort will contribute to their happiness. And then "to lose" in that context would be when you misleap, misjudge, like when your very existence causes suffering to the one you love, and you can do nothing to change that. I think what Tennyson is trying to say is that, even if in a particular situation it might seem that it would have been better to "not have loved at all", that doesn't mean it's better to lose courage in general, to never take the risk of reaching out and being affected by someone else. At the risk of sounding woowoo, I think avoiding love is a spiritual dead end, it's as much an extreme as becoming codependent...


Nov. 11th, 2013 09:45 pm
foliumnondefluet: (Default)
You're alive. The world is alive. Life is joyous. The rest are arbitrary things we make up in our heads, and then take waaay too seriously.
-- me


foliumnondefluet: (Default)

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