Moral Luck and Life

If a would-be murderer had a heart attack just as the individual was aiming the gun to kill an innocent person, then that innocent individual would be the beneficiary of tremendous moral luck.  It is the late Bernard Williams (1929-2003) who introduced the idea of moral luck.  And I regard the idea of moral luck as being an ever so fecund idea.

In particular, I am rather intrigued by the fact that it would seem that at some point in life every person can benefit in some significant way from a considerable measure of moral luck.  No one is so smart or so wealthy or so physically attractive that she or he could never in any way whatsoever benefit from an instance of moral luck.  What is more, it is simply not possible for an individual to be so perceptive that she or he thereby rules out the possibility of moral luck with respect to her or his life.  In other words, no one is so perceptive that she or he can foresee all that happens to him, whether it be good or bad.

Besides, all human beings make mistakes.  And it can be a matter of tremendous moral luck that the mistake that an individual makes does not result in the person being worse-off in some significant way.  Here is an example of such moral luck.  In March of this year (2015), I made the mistake of not noticing that there had been a substantial change in the departure time of a flight that I had been taking for years.  Instead, of the departure being the usual 9:30 a.m., the departure time was 8 a.m.  So, when I showed up at the airport around 8:15 a.m., they were just about ready to close the doors; and I had not even gone through security for international flights to the U.S.  Alas, I was the beneficiary of considerable luck because I had been taking that particular airline for countless many years and one of the airline’s supervisors was at the airport sitting at a desk that was a mere 15 feet from me and the security-flight examiner.  Well, the supervisor recognized me immediately and quickly rushed over to escort me to the gate of departure.  But for that gesture of goodwill on the part of the airline supervisor, I would have missed that flight back to the United States.  And I very much needed to leave that day so that I could teach the next day.

Another example of my having moral good luck revolves around my teaching.  Some marvelous bonds have been forged between me and students—bonds that have contributed substantially to my intellectual development.

Needless to say, I have experienced some instances of moral bad luck.  But the cases of moral good luck that I have experienced far outweigh the instances of moral bad luck that I have experienced.  And that, of course, is itself a tremendous measure of moral good luck.

A quite sublime form of moral good luck consists in having the good fortune of not being a person who is driven by bitterness or jealousy.  I will allow that from time to time an incredibly bitter and jealous person might be extremely successful.  But such instances are quite, quite rare.  Moreover, such instances typically involve inflicting horrendous forms of harm upon others.  Some may say that there is a very thin line between, on the one hand, being a person of goodwill who is driven to succeed and, on the other hand, being a person who is motivated by bitterness and jealousy in the endeavor to succeed.  Let us allow that point.  But the issue is not whether a line is thin.  Rather, the issue is whether one is at all tempted to cross that line; and from the fact that a line is thin, what does not at all follow is that one will be or should be inclined to cross it.  Indeed, a quite profound truth is that a person can be profoundly committed to not going from good to bad although doing so would be extremely easy.

As one might imagine, it is my considered view that having the capacity for considerable foresight can play a truly significant role with respect to experiencing moral good luck.  And with rare exception, it is truly owing to moral luck that a person has the capacity for tremendous foresight very early on in her or his life.  But the moral luck here is 2-tiered.  That is because having a considerable capacity for foresight is utterly incompatible with being easily given to self-deception.  And the scenarios are ever so few and far between where a person is better off being self-deceived.

I am extremely foundational in the following sense.  I hold the view that our upbringing plays a truly major role in the formation of our moral sensibilities.  If I am right, then another profound instance of moral luck is inextricably tied to having a good upbringing.  On the one hand, there is the obvious truth that no child choses her or his parents (whether we are talking biological birth or adoption).  On the other hand, there is the sublime truth few things have more of an impact upon a child than the child’s parental upbringing.  Thus, from the standpoint of moral luck, having good parents is one of the most majestic instances of moral good luck that a person can experience.  A pains me greatly that modernity takes that reality far less seriously than it should.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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The Gifts of Love and Trust

After love, there is no greater moral sentiment than trust.  Love is a most majestic form of affirmation.  And guess what?  Trust is next in line.  Most significantly, having love for another does not entail having trust in that person.  Likewise, having trust in another does not entail having love for that person.  Parents can profoundly love their child and yet have very, very good reasons not to trust their child.  And it is possible to have great trust in another without having the kind of relationship with that person that would occasion or even make love plausible.  For example, someone could marvelously trust a police officer without having any sense of love for that officer.  To be sure, the person would have a great sense of goodwill towards the officer.  But having goodwill towards another does not at all entail having love for another.  Indeed, one can show tremendous goodwill towards a complete stranger whom one will never see again.

As an aside, I am rather surprised that the use of the word “love” cannot be used simply between good friends.  After all, the case of parental love makes it unmistakably clear that there is a conception of love that has nothing at all to do with sex.  And it is obvious that the love between friends is analogous in that regard.  True, women often say to one another “love you”.  But that typically requires a voice pitch that is very unusual, and which I take to be a way of ruling out any chance of the remark being interpreted as an expression of romantic love.  However, there is no such option among males.  Two men can have an ever so close bond that is clearly not at all sexual.  Yet, there will be very, very, very few times when either will say to the other “I love you”.  And this is so even now, although masculinity has gone through some significant positive changes making masculinity a tad more mellow.  For instance, an occasional hug here and there among men seems quite acceptable nowadays, whereas that was out of the question back-in-the-day.

At any rate, the deeper point here is that love is an extraordinary gift.  And when trust accompanies love between two individuals, then we have what is truly a most marvelous bond between two individuals.

As I have already noted, having love for person Alpha does not entail having trust in Alpha.  In the other direction, though, the following is incontrovertible: We have a most sublime measure of goodwill being exercised towards Alpha if it is the case that person Gamma has a tremendous measure of love for Alpha as well as a profound measure of trust in Alpha.

Together, being loved and trusted constitute what is perhaps the most significant form of affirmation that a person can receive.  And it is a truly wonderful thing that neither love nor trust require academic degrees of any sort.  For this means, in effect, education as such has nothing whatsoever to do with love and trust.  Indeed, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that those with academic degrees either (a) have a better understanding of love and trust or (b) are more capable of love and trust.  And that is a rather sublime and ever so magnificent reality.

Alas, a most interesting fact seems to be there is a very high correlation between (i) routinely experiencing a profound measure of love and trust whilst growing up and (ii) showing a deep measure of love and trust to another.  In that regard, there is the quite interesting fact that there is a striking parallel between being fluent in a language and being psychologically configured to have love and trust with respect to another.  Both are foundational.  With rare exception tremendously fluent speakers of a language began learning that language in their youth.  Likewise, those who are capable of showing a deserving person tremendous love and trust are most certainly likely to have profoundly and regularly experienced both sentiments whilst growing up and, in particular, from their parents (be they biological or not).

Take love and trust out of the picture, and what happens is that in a quite negative way human beings turn out to be very different creatures.  Indeed, I hold that no society can be a genuinely stable society if the vast majority of its citizens lack the wherewithal to show either love or genuine trust.  There is no amount of success with respect to technology that can render otiose either love or trust.  In the other direction, it is far from obvious that technology has contributed to a rise in either love or trust.  Indeed, it is arguable that with respect to both love and trust, technology has had a negative impact because technology requires a level of self-command that is quite rare.  Now, to be sure, the case of the bullied school bus monitor Karen Klein shows that technology can be used in a marvelous way to affirm someone who has been subject to public abuse by allowing countless many people to make a monetary contribution to the individual.  There is no denying the affirmation here.  But notice that the affirmation here had nothing whatsoever to do with persons forming a personal bond of love and trust with her.  Nothing whatsoever.  Indeed, a quite self-centered person could have made a contribution.  Accordingly, the example is quite irrelevant to the argument of this essay.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Behavior is the Mirror of Our True Self

The actual saying is as follows:

Behavior is the Mirror in which Everyone Shows Their True Image

I must say that I absolutely love the above saying, which comes from the TV-show Criminal Minds.  It is very difficult for me to think of a more significant true saying than the one just articulated.  There are lots of sayings.  Here are a few: “No person is an island”; “Blood is thicker than water”; “Bite the Bullet”; “When it rains it pours”.  And the list goes on and on.  But when I think of a saying that truly speaks to the very depths of what it is like to be a human, there is no saying that strikes me more profound than the saying “Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image”.

What needs to be made explicit is that the behavior is fully voluntary.  Thus, no form of coercion or fear for well-being is involved.

What a person correctly observes another’s behavior, the individual gains enormous insight into what that other individual is like as a person.  Sometimes the insight can be very simple as when we see a perfectly healthy and well-attired individual regularly eating at McDonald’s.  Sometimes the insight can tell us something significant about the person’s character as when we see a person wearing a very popular attire that either (a) clearly does not go well with the individual’s physique or (b) readily borders on inappropriate.  My favorite example of (b) is that of sagging pants.  Guys wearing sagging pants are far too concerned with fitting-in; for there is no penalty that attaches to not wearing sagging pants.  What is more, the style has a rather indecent aspect to it, since the style is very much akin to a person’s buttocks showing.  This brings out all the more that guys who wear such a style are far more interested in fitting-in than in being decent.

With regard to sagging pants, notice how profoundly relevant the quote is about behavior being a mirror that displays a person’s true sentiments.  For guys are freely choosing to wear sagging pants, though ne’er a benefit attaches to doing so.  Indeed, wearing sagging pants is not even a subtle affirmation or display of the depth of a male’s masculinity.

Alas, the sagging pants example bring us to a most interesting capacity that human beings have, namely the capacity for self-deception.  Behavior may very well be a mirror.  But a most distinctive feature about human beings is that they can be absolutely phenomenal in distorting their own conception of the very behavior that is revealed to them by that mirror.  The wherewithal of human beings to distort the mirror of their very own behavior is one of the key things that distinguishes human beings from animals.

From an evolutionary perspective the following very interesting question arises: What is the advantage of self-deception?  Why is it that human beings have the capacity to distort the very images of themselves that they behold?  Why is not self-deception a conceptual impossibility for human beings?

Well, the answer has to be that self-deception has a significant measure of survival value.  And truth tells us something both profound and disturbing about human beings, namely that human beings can distort the very image of themselves that they see.  And this brings me to the idea of courage.

If I am right, the truth of the quote with which I began this essay is fundamentally tied to individuals having a rather deep and secure measure of courage.  We correctly see ourselves, as is revealed by our behavior, only if we have the courage to acknowledge the behavior that we see whether that behavior is good or bad.  If the behavior is good, then we have the courage to underwrite that behavior.  By contrast, if the behavior is bad, then we have the courage to rid ourselves of that behavior.

Alas, a most fascinating truth is that there is nothing about evolutionary theory that puts courage at the very center of the formation of human beings.  Nothing at all.  And this means that most of us may very well lack the courage to view our behavior in precisely the way that it should be viewed.  In effect, this tells us what we already know, namely that a mirror provides a good reflection only if the mirror is not in any distorted—or at least very, very minimally distorted.  Analogously, our behavior is revealing of who we are in the way we really are only if we are not given to self-deception.

There is nothing all wrong with the quote that I love so very much.  Just so, having the wherewithal to see who we really are by reflecting upon our behavior requires courage.  And the mirror of human history shows that routinely courage is more likely than not to be in short is short supply in the life of this or that individual.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Do Black Lives Matter to Blacks?

To whom does black lives matter?  Of the course, the answer should automatically be: Black lives matter to blacks!  But a most interesting question is whether or not it is the case that black lives profoundly matter to black.  Indeed, do black lives matter to blacks significantly more than black lives matter to non-blacks—whites, in particular?  Once upon a time, the answer to the question just asked would have been a resounding “Yes”.  I am thinking of the early days of yesteryear.  Indeed, even at late as the 1950s, it could be argued that black lives mattered enormously to blacks.  I am not a historian.  But a reasonable reading of history makes it unmistakably clear that in the early 1950s, the horrendous killing of a black was invariably due to some KKK viciousness—and not some black person out to get even with another black or put a black in her or his place or trying to rob or rape a black person.

Nowadays, the lynching of a black by a white is extremely rare.  In general, the killing of a black by a white is relatively rare.  The case of Dylann Roof is extremely rare.  Indeed, the number of blacks killed by blacks is staggering, as a simple Google search under the rubric “blacks killed by blacks” will reveal.   One website reports that in the past 35 years 324,000 blacks have been killed by blacks.  That is more than a quarter of a million blacks who have been killed by blacks.

It is interesting that, by comparison, the number of Jews in the U.S. who have killed another Jew effectively amounts to 0%.  If we concede for the sake of argument that 100 Jews have been killed by Jews, it is still clear that the figure is extremely small—especially in comparison to the number of blacks who have killed blacks.

The question that mightily presents itself is the following: Do black lives matter to black people?

Let me be clear, I have no desire whatsoever to trivialize the existence of racism in the United States.  But the argument simply cannot be that the existence of racism in the United States against blacks constitutes a very powerful excusing condition for blacks killing blacks.  In this regard, it is worth noting that the Holocaust did even come close to be an excusing condition on the part of Jews to kill other Jews.

In general, it is exceedingly rare for being the victim of evil to constitute an excusing condition for committing acts of evil.  There is simply no fact about the negative history of blacks in the United States that gets one to the conclusion that black-on-black crime—and in particular, murder—is somehow excusable or understandable.  And that point holds all the more so since black-on-black crime has risen substantially since the early 1950s, and so since there clearly has been a substantial decline with respect to racism in the United States.  Someone might rush to tell me that much remains to be done with respect to the full realization of black equality in the U.S.  Alas, that point is quite consistent with the reality that there has been a substantial decline with respect to racism in the United States.  But what mightily draws attention to itself is that black-on-black crime has risen although there clear has been a significant decline in racism since the 1950s.  What can explain that?

Indeed, we have a deep, deep, deep psychological tension here.  How is it that blacks can make so much fuss to whites about black lives mattering even as blacks show comparatively little evidence that black lives matter to blacks.

For any person Alpha, if person Alpha takes herself seriously, then her doing so will invariably be a major factor in other person’s taking her seriously.  The case of money shows this very well.  If we can see that Beta masterfully handles the little money that she has, then we are far more likely to trust Beta than we would be if we see that she is constantly wasting what little money that she has.

Blacks get very, very, very, very serious about making charges of racism.  But what about other aspects of life that are clearly very, very, very, very important?  The closest we get is the black church.  But I shall never understand why black churches have not started schools of excellence and major grocery stores in black communities.  Doing so is perfectly compatible with believing in the majesty and power of the Almighty.

Have I trivialized racism on the part of whites against blacks?  Absolutely not.  Indeed, I fully understand why prior to the 1950s it was difficult for blacks to be the author of their own lives.  But for all the talk to white people about black lives mattering, there is absolutely nothing that can take the place of we who are black displaying with grace and aplomb and success the reality that black lives matter to us.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Self-Knowledge, Moral Growth, and Modernity

There is nothing like self-knowledge.  What is more, only human beings are capable of having self-knowledge.  No animalnot even the chimpanzeeis capable of genuine self-knowledge.  There is no chimpanzee saying to itself “It is so unfortunate that the chimpanzee on the other side of the road has become a parent, since I clearly have more excellent parenting skills.  That consideration alone suggests that Peter Singer is quite mistaken in thinking that chimpanzee are more like human beings than not.  By the age of 10, a human child is making some quite significant comparative claims about other 10-year old children.

A most interesting question is whether self-knowledge has risen and is continuing to rise among human beings.  My answer is that while it is certainly the case that self-knowledge has mightily risen among human beings down through the millennia, it is far from obvious that self-knowledge is continuing to rise among human beings.

From a number of perspectives, human beings know more themselves nowadays than was even possible a mere 200 years ago.  For instance, even the great Immanuel Kant thought that difference in ethnicity was indicative of differences in intellectual abilities; whereas in 2015, we know that formally speaking no such thing is true.  Indeed, we know nowadays that any healthy person, regardless of ethnicity, can give blood to a human being in need.

For a while, it seemed to me that the arrow of human intellectual excellence was only pointing upwards.  Hence, human intellectual excellence would only get better and ever more majestic.  Alas, I know longer think that.

One reason why I know longer think so is that it seems to me that technology has triggered a level of self-deception on the part of individuals that would have been utterly unimaginable even in 1995a mere 20 years ago.  Indeed, I am prepared to argue that at this point in time, technology is occasioning more self-deception than it is excellence.  Indeed, I can back-off and say that the level of self-deception and excellence occasioned by technology are equal.  Needless to say, the weaker view is still very, very, very disturbing.  Technology is contributing mightily to self-deception precisely because it is allowing individuals to believe with great conviction that there is “My world” and there is the “World of others”.

Well, all that I need for the argument is that (a) intellectual growth and self-deception are rather like (b) oil and water.  In either case, they simply do not mix.

Yet, another factor is that self-deception is entirely incompatible with trust.  Indeed, there is an inverse correlation between the two, namely that as self-deception rises, the reality is that trust declines.

And guess what?  In 2015, there is substantially less trust in most societies between people than there was in 1995.  And let us be absolutely clear: less trust in a society means less social affirmation in a society.  And the very profound reality is that a simple instance of basic trust can be a majestic instance of affirmation.

Finally, in a society where there is less trust and less self-knowledge, it is also the case that there will be substantially less goodwill in that society.  And make no mistake about it: Simple gestures of goodwill throughout society are rather like a simple moral flame that is an ever present reminder of the moral power of the basic acts of moral goodness that flow from human beings.

To conclude, the decline of basic goodwill should come as no surprise given the truth that self-deception has increased mightily in society.  For as we occupy ourselves with our gadgets, we have become ever so comfortable with the utter indifference that we show others.

In a word: There is no positive correlation at all between moral progress and technological progress.  And that, alas, is a bit of knowledge and self-knowledge that is both ever so disturbing but which we should ever so seriously.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Knowledge and the Rise of Evil

Is there a positive correlation between the increase in knowledge and the decline of evil?  Once upon a time, I would have thought it obvious that a resounding and entirely unqualified “Yes” is surely the appropriate answer to the opening question of this blog entry.  After all, there is a deep respect in which human beings, unlike any other creatures on the face of the earth, are marvelously capable of rational thought.  And in the face of decisive and indisputable knowledge that all human beings are equally human‑‑physical differences to the contrary notwithstanding—it would seem to be a foregone conclusion that human beings would surely embrace one another with an unshakable commitment to treating one another in morally appropriate ways.

For example, Aristotle explicitly states that it is natural that some people should be slaves.  Given Aristotle’s knowledge of human beings, it was simply a foregone conclusion that some groups of human beings are biologically, and therefore intellectually, superior to other groups of human beings.  And I should add here that Aristotle did not have blacks in mind in insisting upon the naturalness of slavery.

Now 2015, we know enough biology to know that Aristotle was simply wrong.  Yet, notwithstanding the indisputable knowledge that all human beings are equal (differences to the contrary notwithstanding), there is the profoundly disturbing reality that the utter viciousness that one group of human beings treat another group of human beings far surpasses the wrongful treatment of human beings that occurred during Aristotle’s era.  And this indisputably means that the level of evil that human beings are displaying towards one another nowadays is far greater than the evil that human beings displayed towards one another during Aristotle’s era.

Thus, there is the utterly indisputable and ever so disturbing truth that in terms of moral progress human beings are actually going backwards instead of forward.  Another way of putting the point just made is that, notwithstanding the profound increase in knowledge with respect to the equality of all human beings, our moral sensibilities with respect to humanity have mightily declined.  For there has been a tremendous rise in the utterly despicable behavior that human beings are committing against one another.  Conceptually and comparatively, this means that humanity is more evil in 2015 than it was in Aristotle’s era.

To be sure, the amount of lip service that is paid nowadays to the equality of all human beings far surpasses what was said once upon a time in favor equality for all.  This was so even a mere 100 years ago.  But that truth is compatible with the reality that in point of fact more evil is committed nowadays than was committed 100 years ago; though, to be sure, there have been significant changes in the types of evil behavior committed.

Given what we now know about human beings, basic moral decency should be rather like the very sunshine of humanity—and thus something that we experience no matter where we are on the planet.  But as everyone knows, that is hardly the case.  Indeed, it is not just that basic moral decency varies mightily from one part of the globe to another.  No, there is the very poignant reality that within the very same country basic decency various.  Indeed, in the very same city, it happens often enough that basic moral decency varies sharply from one neighborhood to another.

One thing that distinguishes human beings mightily from all other creatures on the face of the earth is the capacity for self-deception.  No lion is running thinking to itself “I am one kick-ass eagle”.  No whale is thinking to itself “Awesome, I can now speak 2-languages fluently”.  And so on.  Human beings, however, are capable of extraordinary self-deception.  And that reality mightily distinguishes human beings from any other creature on the planet.  Alas, it is my considered judgment that self-deception is the very handmaiden of evil.

The human capacity for imagination is at once a tremendous strength and a horrific liability.  Alas, a most poignant reality is that it does not take much for individuals to opt for using their imagination in horrific ways.  For example, there is nowadays such a concern to protect college women from rape that innocent males are essentially being thrown under bus, as they say, as a means of giving credibility to whatever charge that a female student makes against a male student.  See the site Community of the Wrongfully Accused.

Or, to take an entirely different example: In the 1950s and early 1960s, blacks generally used their imagination in ever so admirable ways.  With the non-violent sit-ins, blacks showed an absolutely stunning level of strength of character.  Countless many whites did not anticipate such a marvelous level of self-command on the part of blacks.  I am a beneficiary of blacks who so behaved.  For their strength of character, my gratitude is without end.

Fast forward to the present, however, and it turns out that blacks will often destroy their very own neighborhood owing to their quite understandable anger with regard to how a black was treated by the law.  But needless to say, anger that the wrong that another has done cannot be and should never be either an excuse or a justification for doing harm to oneself.  Both of the cases are utterly despicable.  But it is at this point in the history of humanity that we are seeing utterly despicable judgements being made by the only creatures on the planet Earth who have the capacity for rational thought, namely human beings.

To end where I began, there is not at all a positive correlation between knowledge and the decline of evil.  Indeed, reality would seem to point in the opposite direction.  Needless to say, that reality does not bode well for humanity.  Not at all.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Modernity and the False Accusation of Rape

The reality of false accusations marks a concern like none other these days with respect to social interaction.  Specifically, I have in mind the false accusation rape.  Let me be clear.  I am well aware of the fact that there are genuine instances of the violation of women by men.  Such violations are absolutely despicable.  However, there is a very profound respect in which the false accusation of rape is equally despicable; for an innocent person’s reputation is horrendously tarnished for many, many years—if not for life.  Recently, one of the most famous instances of the false accusation of rape in recent years is that of false accusation of Brian Banks, who in fact served some prison time on account of having been falsely accused.  See the Brian Banks Story at California Innocent

Given that there was a time when the very idea of a woman lying about having been raped, the question that intrigues me is the following:

What has occasioned the significant increase in the false accusation of rape?

Indeed, it is typically the case that the false accusation of rape is not at all tied to a horrific pattern of horrendous mistreatment by the male; and so the false accusation of rape was simply a way of the woman getting even with respect to having been abused and mistreated over a substantial amount of time.  No, the false accusation of rape often occurs when the female and the male have recently met; and the male had every reason to think that he had the woman’s permission to make the sexual advances that he was making with her, since ne’er a word of objection was made.  Nor was there any non-verbal behavior on the woman’s part that warranted the assessment on the male’s part that she is not comfortable with him going that far.

What has changed?  The answer is that there has been a fundamental shift in the barometer of moral self-evaluation.  Indeed, modernity seems to have anointed a kind schizophrenia of the self.  A good person pays enormous lip service to high ideals.  But in terms of the person’s actual behavior, the individual is free to go all over the place.  So, on this view, lying that a person committed moral despicable behavior is hardly deemed tantamount to a morally despicable act, given that the person embraces the moral ideals in question—namely the view that rape is wrong in this case.  In effect, then, modernity has sanctioned a phenomenal measure of schizophrenia.  This is especially so if the world would be worse off if there was not tremendous lip service to the view in question.

I hold that technology has played a major role in giving rise to multiple-forms of self-identification.  As we all know, a person can be one kind of individual on Facebook and a very different kind of person in real life.  When I was on Facebook and met-up in France with the French author Tarik Yildiz, whom I first met on Facebook, one of the things that impressed us both is that we both came across in real life just as we appeared to be on Facebook.

A significant reality nowadays is that a false accusation does seem to be nearly all that bad given that in some other significant aspect of the person’s life, the person embraces the appropriate moral ideal.  Indeed, a false accusation of rape can be seen as none other than a way of underwriting the idea that rape is wrong.  Needless to say, that line of thought is ever so wrong.

I conclude with a very simple and poignant observation.  Of course, it is a very, very, very good thing that a male never commits the horrific wrong of rape.  But we cannot have it both ways.  We cannot (1) maintain that rape is a horrific wrong that bespeaks a most despicable measure of evil on the part of the male who commits that act while we nonetheless (2) excuse false accusations of rape.  For the unmitigated truth is that excusing the false accusation of rape entails that it is acceptable to horrifically malign a person’s moral character, which is also tantamount to saying that is acceptable for a woman to engage in a particular form of evil.  This is what universities are doing when they accord a female’s charge that she was raped complete credibility although the female is not able to provide a scintilla of evidence in support of her claim.  And with all the relevant changes in order, we get an analogous situation with false charges of racism.

In the matter of sustaining and underwriting fundamental moral values, the reality is that truth never outgrows its fundamental significance.  Clearly, there are folks so eager to believe otherwise that they find a way to do so.  That is called self-deception which, most unfortunately, is becoming increasingly more prominent among the members of society.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Bagelstein at 35 rue Vaugirard: A Marvelous Addition

30-Jul-15 23-21-29An absolutely marvelous bagel shop has opened up in the 6ieme arrondissement in Paris.  The bagel shop, which has an eating section in the back, is about 10 minutes walking distance from some of the most well-travelled streets in Paris, such as Boulevard St. Germain or Boulevard St. Michel or Boulevard Montparnessse.  The bagel shop is located at 35 rue de Vaugirard.

Even better than the convenience of the bagel shop’s location is the extraordinary quality of its food.  I stop by frequently by and purchase 4 bagels.  Alas, by the time I have arrived home, I have already eaten two of them.

As is so often the case with me finding new shop, I came upon the bagel shop by accident.  I was walking home from the store known as the FNAC, which is primarily a blend of books and various forms of technology.  Upon seeing the store, I had no choice but to try something.  And now I am a “bagel addict”—at least with respect to bagels produced by Bagelstein.

Equally lovely is the wonderful atmosphere of the store that is created by the owner and her fellow worker.  On every occasion that I have walked into the bagel shop, I have sensed a very good mood on the part both the owner and her fellow worker, as well clients who are eating lunch in the back of the eatery.  The owner and her co-worker made a great team.  And one very clear reason why that is the case is that the owner and her fellow-employee both very much enjoy what they do.

Marvelous owners, a tremendous atmosphere, and very, very good food.  That is clearly a win, win, win situation.  I met them about 2 months ago when I choose to walk into the store in order to check it out.  Boy, I am so very glad that I decided to enter the shop.  I recommend to Bagelstein at 35 Vaugirard to anyone who likes good casual food and a superb atmosphere at a quite reasonable rice.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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The Sex Offender Dilemma: Zachery Anderson

There is a sex offender dilemma that never occurred to me until I read the story of Zachery Anderson, a 19-year old, who through a dating app called Hot or Not hooked up with a 14-year old who presented on herself on Hot or Not as a 17-year old.  Well, since 16 is the age for consensual sex, Zachery Anderson has been convicted of being a sex offender.  And technically that is exactly right.  But this is one of those moments when the actual truth widely misses the mark.  Or so it does if, as it seems, Zachery Anderson had no reason at all to believe that the female was actually 14 instead of 17.  Of course, there is the precept “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”.  And I shall eventually say something about that.

The case of Zachery Anderson hooking someone one Hot or Not is one of those moments when the question that mightily presents itself is whether teenagers who hook-up through Hot or Not should provide evidence to one another that each is at least 16-yerars of age.  Interestingly, an affirmative answer to that question hardly settles the matter, since it is way too easy nowadays for a person to have false ID.  But would someone still be considered a sex offender if she or he had sex with a 14-year old that presented false ID according to which the teenager is 17-years old?  Of course, there is clearly the question of reasonableness.  After all, a 12 year old could also present false ID.  But the odds of a 12-year old passing for even a 16-year old seems to be pretty much out of the question.  But I can easily enough imagine the case, where appearance wise, a 14-year old passes for a 17-year old and the 17-year old also has fake ID.  The point here is that the moral and social backdrop of the circumstances simply do not point to 19-year old Zachery Anderson being a sexual predator.

What is more, and most significantly from a moral point of view: If we look at the matter in terms of intentionality, we do not get the scenario where Zachary Anderson intentionally set out to hook-up with a minor.  And reality mightily distinguishes Zachery Anderson’s case from the typical case of pedophilia, where the adult intentionally sets out to have sex with a minor, often engaging in acts of tremendous secrecy and duplicity in order to achieve that end.

As I noted at the outset, it is undoubtedly the case that the conviction of Zachery Anderson is tied the precept “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”.  Interestingly, though, this law does not apply to the issue of believing information that another provides one, where there is simply no reason whatsoever to question the information that the other provides one.  Absolutely none.  Much of social interaction works precisely that way.

It would be one thing if Zachery Anderson and the female met-up and there was every reason to believe that she was not at least 16 years of age.  But if there is no reason whatsoever to doubt her age, should Zachery Anderson have nonetheless asked to see some ID?  But then suppose that the ID she showed turned out to be fake.  Well, the present wording of the law with respect to pedophilia still classifies Zachary Anderson as a pedophile, as if his very intentions were to have sex with someone under the age of 16.  Clearly, this treatment of Anderson counts as unequivocally wrong.

I fully realize that I am opening the door to an honest mistake in the case of pedophilia no doubt strikes some as unacceptable.  But is that because (a) there cannot be any mistakes with respect to pedophilia or both (b1) honest mistakes are so extremely rare and (b2) it is extremely difficult to determine whether a mistake is an honest one.  I hold that the correct answer is both (b1) and (b2).  In the case of Zachery Anderson, there is not a shred of evidence that suggests that he would have pursued the 14-year old female even if he knew that she was 14-years old.

Most disconcertingly, the case of Zachery Anderson reveals a deep harm that pertains to the issue of trust that is being caused by technology.  By way of technology, a person can concoct all sorts of images of herself or himself that are not true to the facts.  Preventing this would require that persons submit extremely detailed and personal information about themselves to various on-line sites.  But that move, of course, mightily increases the vulnerability of individuals.  With a brilliance that is without parallel, technology has mightily enhanced the wherewithal of individuals to present false conceptions of themselves in all sorts of ways.  And there is not an ounce of evidence that in general human beings have the self-command, as Adam Smith would say, to refrain from deep and horrendous forms of self-misrepresentation.  And that reality suggests that technology may be more akin to the handmaiden of evil than most of us would ever have imagined, with the case of Zachery Anderson being an ever poignant illustration of that reality.  A society will survive—nay, flourish—if and only trust is a deep, deep aspect, in general, of life between the members of that society.  There is not an iota of evidence that would suggest that human beings are moving in that direction, with the simple example of Zachery Anderson standing as a most poignant reminder in that regard.

Notwithstanding all the gadgets that I own, few things matter more to me than being trustworthy.  It is my hope and prayer that I can stay the course in that regard.  In that regard, the wrong that Zachery Anderson has suffered has been a catalyst like none other.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Excuses: Yours and Mine

A Good Excuse constitutes a good reason not to hold someone accountable either (a) for not doing what she or he was supposed to do or (b) for doing what would typically be the wrong to do someone.  If, for instance, I was supposed to meet you at the restaurant for diner, but I did not show up because I had been shot and severely wounded or I was helping someone who had just been shot and severely wounded, then I clearly have a very good excuse for not showing up.  Broadly put, the point of an excuse is to block moral blame with respect to the person who did not perform the action that the individual was expected to perform, either because (1) it is the individual’s responsibility to perform the action in question or (2) the individual had given everyone good reason to think that she or he could counted upon to perform the action in question.

But consider the case of killing someone versus spitting in someone’s face.  Most interestingly, it is far easier to think of cases in which a person might understandably kill someone than it is to think of cases when a person might understandably spit in someone’s face.  If, in tremendously open space, Leslie can running after Adrian with a knife, the most reasonable thing for Adrian, who is an undercover officer, might be to kill Leslie.  But what would make it reasonable for Adrian to spit in Leslie’s face?  Suppose Leslie called Adrian all sorts of despicable names.  Would that make it reasonable for Leslie to kill Adrian?  Indeed, suppose that Leslie killed Adrian’s child.  Notice that here we might perhaps understand Adrian’s killing of Leslie.  Indeed, we might even excuse Leslie’s immediate killing of Adrian.  But it is far from obvious that we understand Adrian’s spitting in Leslie’s face.  It looks for all the world as if the more damaging harm is the more understandable one.  Why is that?

Interestingly, spitting upon someone is often thought to be an expression of superiority with regard to the person spat upon.  Firing back, by contrast, is not so much about expressing superiority, if at all.  Rather, firing back is about an attempt to do harm to someone who has committed an egregious harm.  And that motivation does not at all require a sense of superiority.

Alas, the question of self-deception presents itself.  Is it the case that it is true that (A) there are more legitimate excuses to day than there were during yesteryear?  Or, are things the other way around, and (B there were legitimate excuses in the past than there are now?  Another way of framing the question is as follows: Is it more difficult to have self-command now than it was in the past?  Or, are things the other way around and acquiring self-command has become a challenge like none other, whereas that was not the case in the past.

If it is more difficult to have self-command nowadays than it was in the past, why is that the case?  Is it not the case that there are ought to be a strong positive correlation between societal progress and the acquisition of self-command?  I had always thought so.  But I do not hold that view any more.

What has brought about a change in my thinking is that, to my tremendous surprise, there seems to be a quite positive correlation between progress and the capacity for self-deception.  Owing to technology, there is a very real sense in which it has become easier for enough people to say the same.  And history shows that when enough people say the same thing amongst themselves, then the position is taken as true by the relevant group of people, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.  Most poignantly, technology has facilitated that end way beyond anything that most of us would have imagined a mere two decades ago.

I conclude with a very simple question: Are people to be excused for embracing such horrific beliefs nowadays?  And what if the explanation here is that suppleness on the part of human beings is being mightily exploited.  After all, how can people be held responsible for an impropriety that they can barely grasp, let alone actually articulate.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas


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