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 Project.org.

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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Sex, Technology, and Moral Decency

A whopping 20% are said to answer the cell phone during sex.  I can make sense of doing that if, for instance, one is a physician on call or a family member was admitted to the emergency room many hours earlier.  Otherwise, answering the phone during sex is about as incomprehensible to me as is an ordinary swimmer jumping into a shark filled pool.  But the behavior just described is an indication of the impact of technology.  On my view, the very best indication of the impact of a new device is the use to which the ordinary user puts that device—a matter which can change with time.  Back-in-the-day, television used to be a family affair.  That ain’t so any more.  But this particular shift is not particularly problematic—not at all.

The question that I am routinely asking myself these days is the following: “Will technology get the better of human beings or will human beings get the better of technology”.  If human beings get the better of technology, then using technology for the better should be become rather routine.  Of course, what counts as “better” can be debated.  But there is absolutely enough clarity in that regard.

By contrast, if technology gets the better of human beings, then there will be increasingly many absurd stories like the one with which I began this blog entry.  Even when I become senile I shall remember the incident when a professor was talking about death and she used the death of a family member to illustrate a point that she wanted to make.  Well, in the middle of the professor’s remarks, a student, who was no more than 5 rows from the professor on stage, pulled out her I-phone and began texting.  When I have gone utterly senile, I shall still remember that example of horrendous and callous indifference on the student’s art.

As I walk the streets of the various cities in which I find myself, one thing that I am seeing over and over and over again is horrific indifference on the part of people as they occupy themselves with their gadgets.  So one thing I am absolutely clear about is the following: Technology has occasioned a level of indifference in public that would have been unthinkable a mere 2 decades ago.  And one reason why I can be confident that “indifference” is the right word here is that it is rare that anyone is attending to a life-and-death matter while walking along and fidgeting with her or his gadget.  And facial expressions mightily support that assessment.  So in effect technology has mightily increased the attitude of f-you on the part of individuals as they occupy themselves with their gadgets in public.

I can imagine some reader of this blog-entry maintaining that “LT is just an old man sounding off”.  All that I shall say in response is that I am that old man who has a very, very, very good command of technology.  I could do lots of things that my students cannot do.  And I can count on one hand and not move all 5 fingers the number of times the typical student (and thus one who is not a specialist with respect to technology) has made some move with technology that left me utterly baffled.

My considered view is that technology has contributed much more to an egotistical attitude than an altruistic attitude.  How often do any of us hear of some wonderful thing that a friend has done for someone who is a perfect stranger or a very mere acquaintance?   How often do such an act occur on the streets?  And I am not talking about some major act of goodwill; but rather a simple act of goodwill that nonetheless meant so very much to the recipient, such as a young person giving up her or his seat on a crowded subway that an elderly person has just boarded.  The answer to the question that I have just asked a sentence ago is a resounding “No”.

I am as confident as the night follows the day that owing to technology people spend significantly less time engaged in genuine self-reflection.  Since late days of childhood, reflective walks have been—and continue to be—a fundamental part of my life, with the result being that my very soul has been nourished with insight as well as a deep and abiding of measure of self-understanding.

That ain’t much happening these days.  Instead, there is a very, very poignant respect in which, owing to technology, human beings are becoming more and more like zombies.  That is, their basic moral sensibilities are declining mightily.  And the explanation is very simple: Nowadays people are way too besotted with their gadgets to be mindful of others.  Indeed, it is arguable that in sufficiently many cases what people observe with their very own eyes simply does not register.  That is surely the explanation for the fact that three young healthy men (between 19 and 24) on a Paris metro looked at a pregnant woman holding a baby standing in the entrance section of the subway; and not a single one of them offered her his seat.  They were all too busy listening to their music.  Upon looking behind me to see what had occasioned the sound that I heard, I saw the woman; and I jumped up and immediately offered her my seat.  She was grateful.  But she was also surprised.  She asked me whether I was getting of the subway; and when I said “No”, she inquired as to whether I really wanted to give her my seat.  When I was a young man, giving a pregnant woman one’s seat on a crowded public transportation vehicles was an altruistic act that had the indisputable force of a moral duty.   It is an indisputable reality that technology has mightily eliminated that moral sentiment.  Nowadays, people are marvelous at tweeting and sending text messages and engaging folks on Facebook and enjoying music while going from one place to the other that it very much looks as if the person right in front of them could faint and they would step over that individual and continue with whatever they were doing with their gadget.  I hope that the claim that I have just made is a horrific exaggeration.  But one very, very, very, very good reason to think that the claim is not a horrific exaggeration is none other than the claim with which I begin this blog entry about people answering the phone during sex.  Indeed, I can make more sense of some minor morally wrong acts than I can of individuals answering the phone during sex.  Such behavior is as clear a sign as any that at the level of our moral psyche technology may being doing us far more harm than good.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Justice, Equality, and Fitting-In

Justice and Equality are not two forms of the very same thing.  We should always want justice to be done by the members of society.  But it is just plain silly to suppose that all the members of society should be equal in all respects.  Indeed, that is simply not possible—at least not without a major invasion of human freedom.  And the point that it is silly to aim for equality in all respect applies not only to physical features, but also to intellectual abilities and talents.  Regarding talent, some people are marvelous at drawing; whereas others are marvelous at singing.  And so on.  Regarding intellectual abilities, some are brilliant writers; others are brilliant mathematicians; others are brilliant biologists; and so on.  While there might be some brilliant mathematicians and biologists who could trade places, the odds are that most cannot.  In general, it is rather out of the question for a person to exchange one phenomenal talent for another.  While there is obviously a straightforward sense in which all human beings are equally human, there is no respect at all in which it can said that all human beings are equal with respect to some talent or the other.

As is well known, the Declaration of Independence of the United States claims that “All men are created equal”.  Alas, that is not at all a claim about talent and abilities.  Rather, that is a claim about freedom and just treatment: All human beings should have basic freedoms and all human beings should be treated fairly.  While there is obviously a straightforward sense in which all human beings are equally human, there is no respect at all in which it can said that all human beings are equal with respect to some talent or the other.

A question that mightily presents itself is the following: In a truly just society, it should be the case that the differences in talent among human beings are distributed relatively equally across ethnic groups? So, an affirmative answer would entail that cultural differences between ethnic groups have no bearing on the realization of intellectual talent. Alas, an affirmative answer yields a quite disconcerting conclusion, namely the following: Rationality is not the defining feature of human beings that we would like to think that it is. That is the view that I have come to hold and recently defended in an essay: Human Survival vs the Kantian Conception of the Self. The evidence is just overwhelming that human beings are not given to anything like the level of rational behavior that Kant had in mind and defended. Of course, philosophers will go on with their theories that human beings are configured to be rational above all else. But the facts simply do not support that view. The fact that human beings are not quintessential rational creature is very much part of the explanation for why culture often dominates even when it would be far more rational for the members of the culture in question to pursue a difference course of action.  Alas, the rational argument for equality must often bow to the irrational argument for fitting-in.  And that reality explains so very much human behavior.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Moral Sensibilities and the Human Reality

Without the (right) Moral Sensibilities humanity will mightily flounder because human beings will be more like programmed machines rather than creatures who make sublime assessments of both their own behavior and the behavior of others which they witness, it being understood that the moral sensibilities are a fundamental part of social sensibilities.  There are no other creatures on the planet who are capable of seeing the implications of behavior to the extent that human beings are capable of doing.  Human being begins life entirely lacking of a conception of the self.  And they go on to acquire a level of self-knowledge with respect to social sensibilities that is surpassed only by the gods, if there be any.

However, it is not a necessary condition of being human that the social sensibilities develop.  For whether the social sensibilities develop or not is necessarily tied to the environment in which human beings primarily live.  It is my view that the social sensibilities of human beings is in the midst of such a steep decline that within the next 50 years social interaction among human beings will pretty much become a disaster.  And the cause of this tremendous decline will be what I refer to as personal use technology (PUT).

A clear sign that PUT (personal use technology) is clearly having a negative impact upon the social sensibilities of human beings is that there are countless many individuals these days who attach more importance to the number of “likes” they receive on their Facebook page than do to actually having meaningful interactions with another.  Or to take a different kind of example, nowadays people are so busy walking and texting or walking and listening to music or walking and conversing on their cellphone that it is not at all out of the question that they would fail to notice an individual who fainted right before their very eyes.  Indeed, it is increasingly the case that people do not see the implications of their own behavior.  I have received emails from students where it is so very, very, very clear they could not possibly have meant what they said in the email that they sent to me.  But the students have so relied upon auto-correct that they do not even notice the egregious error.  And yes, it has sometimes turned out that the error is quite egregious.

As is well-known, self-driving cars will certainly be a part of the not-too-distant future.  But the question that I ask myself over and over again is the following: Is the advantage of self-driving cars worth the horrendous decline in perceptivity that will occur?  I do not think so.  Does that sentiment on my part simply reveal (1) an old-school mentality on my part?  Or, does that sentiment reveal (2) a deep, deep concern over the diminution of human sensibilities?

When I consider all the gadgets that I have acquired, the view that I have an old school mentality strikes me as entirely out of the question.  There is nothing at all old school about having a commitment to maintaining abilities that are constitutive of the intellectual and psychological powers of being a human being.  If a student tells me that she or he has just received a phone call in which the student learned that her or his parent just died, I would be one morally callous bastard if I turned to some point that I had made in class or to some magnificent movie that I had recently seen or to some tremendous song that I had just heard.  And so on.

Attaching the right significance to things is one of the defining features of being a human being.  But that feature is also one that requires tremendous and sublime reinforcement precisely because, among other things, the indisputable reality is that things can be tremendously significant in quite fundamentally different ways which, in turn, makes all the difference in the world in how a person should react to what she or he has just been told.  The compassion owed to a student who has just lost a parents is not at all the same as the compassion that is owed to a student who had been raped an hour ago.

It is my considered view that increasingly technology is destroying the defining features of being a human being, among which is the ability to being perceptive in just the right ways and then to respond appropriately.  Obviously, there some individuals who have done some truly wonderful things with technology.  But they are the exception.  The norm is in a very different and tremendously less admirable direction.

An indisputable truth is that the general positive use of technology requires a significant level of self-command.  We have the biological configuration to achieve that level of self-command.  But most of us are opting-out.  Unless human beings change in that regard, the future does not look good at all.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Bill Cosby: The Man I Now Despise

I now despise the man whom I once deeply admired.  Bill Cosby is his name.  The Cosby Show was magnificent.  In so very many instances, the show was humorous in just the right ways.  Cosby always came across as a morally upright man who genuinely believed in human beings exhibiting responsible behavior.

Indeed, Cosby was once loudly criticized by the NAACP because in the speech he delivered in 2004 to the NAACP he spent more time criticizing blacks for not exercising sufficient responsibility than he did accusing whites of being racist.  I actually thought that he was right on point in holding that at that time in American history black irresponsibility was more of a problem than the racism that still existed in the United States.  Oh how I admired him for having the courage to speak what I took to be an incontrovertible truth.

If anyone had asked me back-in-the-day what I thought about Bill Cosby’s character, I would have claimed that he is very much a morally upright human being.

What is so very, very painful is that I could not have been more wrong.  For years, he was buying drugs—Quaaludes, in particular—to give to women so that he could sexually seduce them.  So we are not talking about a moment of weakness that some of the very best of people can have.  No, we are talking about an utterly horrendous form of behavior in which Cosby deliberately chose to engage time and time and time again, namely doping women so that they could not resist his sexual advances.

It is unequivocally the case that a man who, throughout many years, repeatedly dopes women so that they cannot resist his sexual advances is an evil person who is psychologically deranged.  Interestingly, his case is quite analogous to repeated child sexual offenders.  For in both cases there is a manifestly straightforward sense in which there is no symmetrical affirmation in the sex.  None at all.  A child takes no pleasure in sexual abuse.  A psychologically impaired woman takes no pleasure in sexual abuse.  So, we have a most disconcerting parallel between Cosby and the child sexual abuser.  The child sexual abuser derives considerable delight from an obvious asymmetrical sexual encounter.  And Cosby derived considerable delight from a no less obvious asymmetrical sexual encounter.

Lord Acton wrote the following: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  William Henry Cosby could be the posterchild for Lord Action’s observation.

Bill Cosby is a man whom I once tremendously admired, as did countless many others.  He is now the man whom I now ever so deeply despise.  He is unequivocally an evil person.  If there is a hell, then I should like for his very soul to burn there forever and ever and ever.  In my assessment of the matter, William Henry Cosby has joined that list of people whose soul should never, ever rest in peace.  Perhaps it is an indication of the limitations of own intellectual abilities.  But I simply cannot imagine Bill Cosby ever being worthy of forgiveness.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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