Oklahoma: Oral Sex Without Permission is OK If a Woman is Inebriated

The Court decision in Oklahoma stands as one of the incomprehensible decisions in modern times, namely that a man does not—I repeat: does not—commit a morally wrong act by engaging in vaginal oral sex with a woman who is so totally inebriated that she has essentially lost consciousness.  Hmmm.  This is one of the most incomprehensible rulings that I have ever heard about.  For in the matter of sex, it is surely the case that the moral baseline is consent—and not whether a person is in some physical or even psychological way made worse off or not.

Now to be sure, there can be non-verbal consent.  Indeed, it is very often the case that sexual intercourse with a person involves non-verbal consent.  Leslie touches Tracy in a mild erotic manner; Tracy touches back in an erotic manner; and so things continue.  But what is absolutely of the utmost importance here is the initial voluntary sexual touching is readily followed by voluntary sexual touching in return.  So although there is no verbal consent, there is a considerable amount of reciprocal voluntary touching between the two individuals, with there being an increase in the sexuality of the touching.

The asinine decision of the Oklahoma completely utterly ignored the importance of mutual voluntary touching as a fundamental form of consent.  But ignoring the importance of voluntary touching between two individuals is utterly asinine and morally inappropriate.  Indeed, in the case of sex, ignoring the importance of voluntary touching is totally despicable.  Voluntary touching between two individuals is correctly understood as a form of tacit approval.  And it is correct that tacit approval is typically how the sex act between two individuals gets underway.

On the one hand, then, the Court would be right in ruling that words are not necessary for voluntary sex between two individuals.  On the other hand, though, the Oklahoma Court is absolutely and unequivocally wrong in failing to take into account the significance of voluntary touching.  And when there is no response on the part of Leslie to the voluntary touching of Tracy, then it is absolutely and unequivocally inappropriate for Tracy to perform a sex act upon Leslie.  And in this regard, it is absolutely phenomenal just how little is needed in terms of a response.  Suppose that Tracy touches Leslie’s upper-thigh.  All that Leslie would need to do is touch Tracy’s hand in a warm manner; and that would suffice as a clear indication to Tracy that he can proceed in sexually engaging Leslie.

Alas, a person who is so inebriated that she or he is in effect unconscious simply does not have the psychological wherewithal to give consent.  Alas, only a morally callous—indeed, a morally bankrupt—person would hold the view that if a person is utterly inebriated, then consent is unnecessary.  It takes very little reflective thought in order to see that such a line of reasoning is utterly horrific.

Thus, the argument of this blog entry entails that Oklahoma judges who rendered the decision that it is alright to have oral sex with an unequivocally inebriated woman who is thereby unable to give consent have revealed themselves to be utterly callous morally speaking.  Accordingly, they do not deserve to be a judge.  It is my hope and prayer that the citizens of Oklahoma will rise up and demand the resignation of the judges who made such a morally despicable and horrific ruling.

With lots and lots of issues, there is room for disagreement between morally intelligent people of goodwill.  From what counts as an adequate salary for this or that job to whether the death penalty is morally acceptable when certain forms of quite horrific wrongs have been committed, there can be disagreement between reasonable people.  But with the ruling of the Court that a man may engage in oral sex with a woman who is unconscious on account of being utterly inebriated, there is absolutely no room for disagreement on the part of morally decent people.  The Court’s ruling is absolutely and unequivocally morally indefensible.  The indefensibility of the ruling is so obviously the case that the only reasonable conclusion to draw is that the ruling reveals a most horrific level of moral callousness on the part of the Court—so much so that it is manifestly obvious that the judges in question are unworthy of being judges.  Conservatives and Liberals may join forces here, since the truth in question mightily transcends their differences.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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The Pope’s Majestic Claim: “You Can’t Download Happiness”

There are not many times in my life when I have heard a claim made by a Pope that I found to be ever so profound and insightful.  Well, Pope Francis’s claim that it is not possible to download happiness easily stands as one of the most majestic, insightful, and appropriate claims that I have heard in recent years.  The only thing that bothers me is that he took his claim to be primarily applicable to young people; whereas I bear witness to the reality that there are numerous individuals who are well into the 40s and 50s who are quite besotted with their gadgets.  I frequently see such adult individuals texting while driving.  Worse, I have seen numerous parents with their infant in a stroller attending more to their cell phone than to their infant child.

Although the Pope does not speak to the issue, a fundamental capacity of human beings is the wherewithal to be self-deceived.  No dog is running around thinking that it is a beaver.  No lion supposes that perhaps it is a monkey.  No snake thinks that it is really a spider.  And so on.  But the capacity for self-deception on the part of human beings make it possible for human beings to embrace beliefs about themselves and their behavior that are unequivocally false.  And it is my considered judgement that owing to technology self-deception has become far more commonplace than it was years ago.

Here is an interesting example of the point of the preceding paragraph.  Judging by the extent to which people go back and forth with texting nowadays, one would think that owing to technology friendship has required a depth and majesty among human beings that hitherto it lacked.  Alas, that is manifestly false.  I have not seen anything that would suggest that owing to technology friendships nowadays are better than the friendships of yesteryear.  Most poignantly, there is no respect in which this appears to be the case.  Quite the contrary, it is arguable that there has been a decline in insight.  And the explanation for that decline would seem to be none other than the reality that in far too many cases individuals seem to be far more besotted with their technological communications with one another than face-to-face communications with one another.

And let me be clear: I am not writing as some old person who barely knows how to use this and that device.  Few can do all that there is with respect to technology.  And while there certainly are students who can do with technology things that I cannot do, it is also the case that I can do things with technology things that my students cannot do.  When it comes to editing music and using Adobe Acrobat, I easily hold my own.

Yet, for all the love that I have of technology, it remains the case that nothing takes the place of the inspiration and insight that flows from a wonderful conversation with a dear friend.  In other words, no technology has occasioned a corresponding degree of insight and inspiration in my life.  None at all.

Without a doubt, technology has contributed to the richness of my life.  Just so, there is no respect in which technology has replaced the richness of human interaction.  And it is that truth that profoundly underwrites the moral significance and majesty of the claim made by Pope Francis.

Pope Francis did not disparage the use of technology.  He did not deny its many benefits.  But he is absolutely right in claiming that there is depth of happiness that human beings can achieve which simply cannot flow from the use of technology.  Trust is one of the simplest ways to see this.

There is absolutely no respect in which it can be said that the numerous devices of technology that I own have a measure of trust me.  By contrast, the trust that some individuals have shown in me (be they students or not) has been none other than a most majestic fountain of both affirmation and inspiration.

It is not owing to technology that I strive to be an upright human being.  Rather, insofar as I am so motivated, that motivation stems from the trust and affirmation that I receive from various individuals.  And the point just made very nicely speaks to Pope Francis’s claim.  It is with great joy that I have download this and that program.  But I can say without hesitation that the far greater joy has come from the ways in which I have been able to put this or that program to use in order to do something ever so pleasant for and affirming of another—be it moral or intellectual.

Words cannot do justice to just how much I love technology.  But my love of technology is inextricably tied to the good that technology has enable me to do.  For instance, technology permits me to embed a wonderful song or a significant part of a film into the syllabus that I send to my students (it being understood that the editing of either the song or the film is a function of technology).

There is an ever so profound sense in which my life would be less rich without technology.  But that is owing to the sublime truth that owing to technology, I can inspire affirmation or insight in ways that were heretofore unavailable to me.  And in that regard, I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that my gratitude for the rise of technology is without end.  For technology has contributed mightily to the self-knowledge that I have with regard to the good that I can do for others.  A fundamental aspect of my joy is anchored in that reality.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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An 840% Increase in New York: Self-Command In Today’s World

Texting while driving is said to have increased 840% in New York.  That is as clear an indication as one could have that the denizens of New York simply do not give a damn about the inappropriateness of their behavior, as is made clear by the reality that rarely does the typical text message pertain to a matter of urgency.

As an aside, there is a straightforward sense in which there are emergencies in which a text message would be ever so inappropriate.  If, for instance, I have just witnessed my friend’s spouse being shot to death, it would take a direct order from the Almighty before I would inform my friend via a text message of the horror that I have just witnessed.  Indeed, I would call my friend if and only if I could not immediately get to my friend’s home.  If I could get there in 5 minutes, there is as they an ice cube’s chance in hell that I would send my friend a text message informing her or him of the horrific lost that she or he has just suffered.

Needless to say, there is no reason whatsoever to suppose that the dramatic increase in texting while driving is owing to emergencies.  Quite the contrary, the dramatic increase in texting whilst driving is owing to none other than a despicable form of self-centeredness that is animated by moral callousness, as the following example helps to make clear.

I am lucky in that I can easily type 120 words a minute.  But an indisputable truth is that I cannot type 120 words a minute if I am distracted.  So when I set out to do some serious typing, all distractions in my home are turned off.  Often enough that even includes turning off my phone.  I can no more type 120 words a minute and given adequate attention to a television or radio program than I can walk backwards with the grace that is constitutive of walking forward.

Texting requires a quite serious measure of attentiveness.  And there lies the rub with respect to texting and driving.  It is simply not possible for a person to give full attention to both driving and texting simultaneously.  And an indisputable truth is that the slightest distraction whilst driving can be the occasion for a serious disaster.  But the point just made is roundly ignored by countless many individuals nowadays.  On any given day, I watch numerous individuals texting whilst driving.  Quite simply, that is a horrific level of moral callousness.

By the way, my classroom experience with students makes it is clear as the night follows the day that it is extremely difficult for a person to be in the throes of texting and yet be rather attentive to what is going on around her or him.  The typical student whom I see texting in class is essentially clueless as to what I have said while she or he is in the throes of texting.  I know that because I have asked and the student responses with a most befuddled look.

The issue that mightily presents itself is whether or not as a result of technology human beings generally will lose their self-command.  Part of what it means to have self-command is that notwithstanding the desire that one has to do act in a certain way, one will refrain committing the action in question given the recognition on one’s part that it would be inappropriate to behave.  Alas, an immutable truth is that having self-command is rather like speaking a language.  If we routinely speak a language, then we will sustain our command of the language in question.  Likewise, we will sustain our self-command if and only if we routinely underwrite our self-command by exercising self-command.  In particular, we will sustain our self-command with respect to technology only if we routinely exercise wisdom with respect to our use of technology.  Alas, the evidence is overwhelming that we are not exercising much self-command with respect to technology.  And a quite fascinating indication of the truth of the preceding sentence is the amount of self-disclosure on Facebook, for example, that has become so commonplace.

To use a modification of Ronald Reagan’s famous question: Are we better off on account our routine use of technology?  Without a doubt, some individuals are.  Alas, an indisputable truth is that there are far more individuals who are worse off.  My evidence of this is none other than the writing of my students.  On the one hand, I am seeing far more grammatically bad sentences and far more sentences with painfully poor wording than I was seeing in 2005—a mere 11 years ago.  On the other hand, I am not seeing either the intellectual novelty or the creativity of students that I routinely saw 11 years ago.  There can be no doubt that nowadays students have a phenomenal familiarity with their devices.  But that very familiarity seems to have occasioned considerable intellectual passivity.

Here is an indisputable truth: If current students were as intellectually creative as they are familiar with their devices, the world would absolutely rock in terms of extraordinary intellectual progress.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

Here is the link to the article regarding the claim made in the first sentence:

http://www.wptz.com/news/tickets-for-texting-while-driving-increase-840-in-ny/38932678

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The Diversity of Love

Love admits of majestic diversity   There is parental love.  There is romantic love.  And there is the love of friendship.  On the one hand, each of these forms of love is very, very different.  On the other hand, each of these forms of love have something in common that is ever so profound, namely that each is a most profound form of affirmation.  No child can provide herself or himself the affirmation that child’s parents can provide her or him.  And no matter how much self-command and self-knowledge that an adult may have, it will never be the equal of being genuinely trusted and affirmed by another adult who is either a friend or a romantic partner.

The very psychological make-up of human beings makes parental love absolutely foundational.  Now, Aristotle made the quite fascinating claim that having a perfect friendship—or a companion friendship, as I prefer to say—is of the utmost importance to every human being having a complete and proper conception of herself or himself.  Indeed, the truth of the matter is that Aristotle placed companion friendship above romantic love.  Well, surely part of the explanation here is that when Aristotle wrote about friendship, women did not have the same standing that by and large they now have.  So, there is a straightforward sense in which during the era of Aristotle marriage could not have been seen as having the kind of mutual affirmation, between women and man, that nowadays we take to be a fundamental characteristic of marriage at its very best.

Interestingly, though, there is a respect in which Aristotle is right about companion friendship; for it is arguable that marriage at its very best is a specific kind of embodiment of the ideal of companion friendship.  Of course, we all know that sex is a major component of marriage at its very height.  But sex at its very best is rightly seen as embodying a most profound level of mutual trust, where that mutual trust is taken to be none other than the manifestation of love at its best.  And guess what?  Mutual trust is one of the defining aspects of companion friendship at its best.  Indeed, the similarity between the trust of friendship and the trust of romantic love is quite striking.  Of course, there are legal factors that are a formal aspect of the very configuration of marriage whereas no such thing holds with companion friendship.  But a quite interesting truth is that the legal matters do not underwrite the trust.  In other words: The legal matters that are a part of marriage do not make for a deeper trust or a more profound trust between a married couple.

Now, what strikes me as ever so interesting is the following: While marriage is characterized often enough as a most majestic and elevated form of friendship, no one thinks to characterize friendship as a most majestic form of marriage.  What is more, marriage is not seen as rending friendship irrelevant.  Not at all.  Wife Susan may have her close female friends; and husband Jack may have his close male friends.  Indeed, notwithstanding the marriage between Susan and Jack, many would think that something is quite wrong if Susan does not have any close female friends and Jack does not have any close male friends.   And that very truth suggests that Aristotle’s conception of companion friendship is more plausible than one might first suppose.

The very nature of companion friendship is such that friendship is always a fully voluntary relationship.  Hence, the friendship effectively ends when the affection of friendship on the part of one friend towards the other essentially dissipates.  By contrast, it happens often enough that years later two individuals stay married even though the love between them is not at all what it used to be.  The primary reason seems to be that getting a divorce would be way too much trouble.

Significantly, no one trivializes friendship or criticizes the nature of friendship because a friendship does not always last forever.  Thus, I end with a question.  Are we being more than a little self-deceived in viewing very nature of the love of marriage to be such that it should last a lifetime?  And that question has more force nowadays than it did in the past.  Why?  Because human beings are living longer and, moreover, far more options are likely to present themselves nowadays than was the case in the past.  Of course, I hardly object to romantic love between two individuals lasting a lifetime.  But is it plausible nowadays for that expectation to be a defining feature of marriage?  Indeed, in a world where self-reflection is not at all like it used to be and the grounds for contentment are not like they used to be, I ask the following question: Is substantially more harm than good done by cultivating the expectation and hope that marriage is supposed to last forever.

A most significant fact is that an analogous question does not at all rise with respect to either parental love and the love between companion friends.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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The New Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust

I grew up thinking that something like the evil of the Holocaust the very aim of which was to exterminate Jewscould never ever happen again.  In 2016, I am no longer convinced that Holocaust could never happen again.  Indeed, it is absolutely stunning just morally horrific the criticism of Jews is becoming.  And lest there be any misunderstanding, I am not at all of the opinion that Jews are perfect and, therefore, no criticism of Jews is ever appropriate.  But then there is absolutely no ethnic group that I take to be perfect.  More precisely, it simply cannot be held that when the moral character of Jews generally is compared to the moral character, generally, of some other ethnic group, it is always the case that the moral character of Jews is far more morally despicable than is the moral character of the members of that other ethnic group.

And what stuns me more than I can possibly put into the words is the rise of antisemitism at institutions of higher learning.  Indeed, while I shall refrain from mentioning any names, there are some well-known academicians who make utterly vicious comments about Jews.  Indeed, given the views of some of these academicians, it is as if Jews are none other than the very handmaiden of evil.

One reason why I am utterly stupefied by this horrific characterization of Jews is that even after one has adjusted for the difference in population size between Arabs and Jews, it being obvious that there are far more Arabs than there are Jews, it still cannot be claimed that horrific moral behavior is more characteristic of Jews generally or Israeli Jews in particular rather than Muslims.  Indeed, there is absolutely no respect in which the behavior of Jews comes even close to being on a par with the morally horrific behavior of the Islamic group known as ISIS.

There is essentially deafening silence when it comes to the horrific behavior committed by the members of the Arabic group known as ISIS.  Yet, the Jews of Israel are deemed to be horrific although the facts make it manifestly and unequivocally clear that Jews do come even close to committing the kind atrocities that are committed by ISIS.   For instance, in 2015 the newspaper The Daily Mail claimed that in about 10 years ISIS is likely to eliminate Christians from the Middle East.  No such claim can be made about Jews so behaving with respect to Christians or Muslims or any other ethnic group.  So how is it that ever so intellectually gifted and perceptive folks fail to see this very clear difference between how Jews treat others and how Muslims treat others, where it is unmistakably clear that Muslims are viciously harming innocent people?

The concluding question of the preceding paragraph is very, very poignant.  I can concede that Jews sometimes engage inappropriate behavior with respect to non-Jews.  But an indisputable truth is that the wrongs committed by Muslims against non-Muslims far, far surpasses the wrongs committed by Jews against non-Jews.  Yet, there are talented and gifted people whose political stance against Israel would suggest that it is Jews who are routinely killing innocent people; whereas Muslims are doing nothing of the sort.  There are talented and gifted people who hold the stance just articulated even though the evidence is absolutely overwhelming that just the opposite true, namely that it is Muslims—and not Jews—who routinely kill innocent people.

From where I stand, there is no better sign that the Holocaust (against Jews) could occur again than the reality articulated in the preceding paragraph, namely Jews are deemed evil notwithstanding the fact that in the name of Islam Muslims are committing far more horrific behavior against non-Muslims than Jews are committing against non-Jews.  Even if we allow the obvious, namely that Jews are no perfect: It still turns out that Muslims are committing far more horrific behavior against non-Muslims than Jews are committing against non-Jews.  Yet, it is utterly stupefying that there are so very many observant thinkers who fail to acknowledge this indisputable truth.

It is my hope and prayer that the Holocaust (against Jews) will never again occur.  But the evidence increasingly points to the painful conclusion that the world is becoming ever so ripe for the occurrence of the second occurrence of the Holocaust.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Self-Command, Technology, and Evil

When Adam Smith introduced the idea of self-command, he introduced one of the most significant concepts ever that is applies to human beings.  There is nothing—I mean absolutely nothing—that can take the place of self-command.  Indeed, for all the wonders that are characteristic of love‑‑be it the love of parents or romance or friendship—not even love can take the place of self-command.  An individual who does not have self-command is worse off in a myriad of ways even if the individual is the beneficiary of truly phenomenal love.

In a word, self-command is the wherewithal to act in the appropriate manner notwithstanding the fact that one very much desires to behave otherwise.  For example, there are times when it is understandable that a person—say, Leslie‑‑feels a measure of jealousy towards a friend—say, Tarik.  But if Leslie has self-command, then Leslie will treat Tarik with goodwill notwithstanding the feelings of jealousy that Leslie has towards Tarik.  And in behaving with goodwill towards Tarik, the result will be that Leslie’s feelings of jealousy will certainly diminish to a considerable degree, if not entirely.

Self-command reflects the profound truth that the nature of human beings is such that while human beings do not have direct control over the feelings and desires that they experience, it is nonetheless the case that human being have the wherewithal to act appropriately whatever desires and feelings that they might be experiencing.  In this regard, human beings are fundamentally different from all other living creature on the face of the earth.  No other creature on the face of the earth has that capacity.

My view is that technology is mightily destroying the capacity for self-command that has been definitive of human beings.  It is stunning to see just how besotted individuals are with their technological devices.  And this point holds all the more so in view of the fact that there is no evidence at all that there is some profound respect in which human beings have developed some phenomenal moral or intellectual excellence as a result of being so pre-occupied with their gadgets of technology.  There is not an ounce of evidence that warrants the view that generally speaking individuals are more thoughtful or more honest or more perceptive or more altruistic or more sincere or more understanding of others.  And so on.  Indeed, the evidence mightily points in the other direction.

Whether physical or mental, the truth is that no skill can be maintained without sufficient practice.  Thus, a very disconcerting truth is that with respect to having self-command human beings are in the throes of a horrendous psychological decline.  And that makes humanity tremendously ripe soil for evil.

Social perceptivity is a skill that has to be reinforced.  And technology has become a most profound impediment to the reinforcement of social perceptivity, occasioning a horrifying indifference to what is taking place in a person’s immediate surroundings.  I would be very much for the preoccupation that people have with their technological gadgets if I could see a respect in which there quite significant changes for the better.  But I do not witness greater insight on the art of individuals.  I do not see that individuals are more perceptive with respect to understanding what is taking place around them.  I do not see greater majesty of expression.  I do not see greater insight with respect to either personal or social behavior.  Quite the contrary, I see a substantial decline in all of the areas just mentioned.

As I have said in the past, evil is opportunistic.  Alas, the evidence is overwhelming that we are seeing a tremendous rise in evil.  The tremendous decline in social perceptivity owing to our pre-occupation with our gadgets even in the public sphere has been the moral equivalent of green light with respect to evil behavior.  And things will get much worse before they get better.

If the rise of evil does not inspire human beings to nurture their capacity for self-command, then humanity is doomed.  People are quick to point the following “Hey, I am not harming anyone by being preoccupied with my gadgets”.  And that, of course, is quite right.  But there is the other side of the coin, namely that of not noticing what is going on around one.  And the reality is that when that lack of observance holds for sufficiently many people, then evil has been accorded a tremendous advantage.

In a way that Adam Smith most certainly did not envision, self-command is ever so crucial to the survival of human beings.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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The Gift of the Smile

smiling chimpNon-verbal behavior is absolutely fascinating.  Moreover, non-verbal behavior is a defining feature of human beings.  That is, in the absence of the capacity for non-verbal behavior human beings would be fundamentally different biological creatures.  Of course, language is even more of a defining feature of human beings.   After all, lots of animals exhibit non-verbal behavior.  But guess what?  Human beings would have to be fundamentally different if they had the capacity for language but were entirely without non-verbal behavior.

The smile is perhaps the most sublime example of the reality that non-verbal behavior is of the utmost importance among human beings.  From parents caring for their infant to individuals having a wonderfully affirming conversation with one another, the smile on the part of all individuals involved is none other than a most majestic and affirming moral and social mirror.  And the term mirror is ever so appropriate precisely because the genuine smile on the part of two individuals interacting with one another is none other than a reflection of mutual approval.

So guess what?  if Leslie and Jesse are interacting with one another and only Leslie is smiling, then precisely what we know is that something is not quite right: Either (a) Jesse simply does not understand Leslie or (b) Jesse is going through something quite painful or (c) Leslie is doing or saying something (or both) that Jesse deems quite inappropriate.  And guess what, it is typically the case that within a few seconds Leslie will be able to figure out which one of the three options mentioned just mentioned is applicable.

Of course, there are situations when a smile on the part of two individuals interacting with one another is, with respect to each individual, ever so inappropriate.  Their hearing about a major tragedy that just occurred would be a case in point.  Indeed, one clear indication that a person is a morally despicable human being is that the individual smiles upon learning of a major tragedy such as the killing of hundreds of innocent people just for the sake of doing so.

From an evolutionary perspective it is absolutely amazing that (a) the smile is such a significant feature with respect to interaction among human beings and (b) there is absolutely no parallel—none at all—among other living creatures.  Of course, in the matter of smiling the creatures who are the closest to human beings are chimpanzees.  Just so the difference between chimpanzees and human beings is absolutely phenomenal.  And in large measure this is owing to the extraordinary difference between human beings and chimpanzees with respect to what counts as living a meaningful life and understanding the things that take place in the world.  When Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, human beings across the globe rejoiced.  With rare exception, merely mentioning his name was enough to occasion a smile.  Needless to say, Mandela’s freedom had no significance whatsoever to chimpanzees.

Most significantly, while it is true that the capacity for language is surely one of the most decisive difference between human beings and other living creatures on the face of the earth, a most sublime truth is that the capacity to smile is rather akin to a ray of sunshine.  Can we live without sunshine?  But an earth without sunshine would require as very different configuration.  Likewise, human beings would have differently configured if as a species they lacked the capacity to smile precisely because some of the most sublime moments of genuine affirmation are inextricably tied to the presence of a smile.

In writing these remarks, I have been very much inspired by an essay that appeared in Psychology Today (30 October 2014) entitled “The Surprising Psychology of the Smile”.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

 

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Majestic Moral Sensibilities versus Technology

Moral sensibilities are a defining of human beings.  An indisputable truth is that how a person says something can make all the difference in the world.  The words “I love you” are the simplest example of that sublime truth.  For example, there is all the difference in the world to loving parents saying “I love you” to their child and the two person saying “I love you to one another”.  Although both utterances constitute a significant form of affirmation, the very nature and character of that affirmation differs mightily.  And interestingly enough, the proof of this is that no child who is raised properly ever takes the utterance of “I love you” by her or his parents as being identical in significance to the utterance of “I love you” said by one parent to the other parent.

The significance of moral sensibilities reflects the fundamental and inescapable truth that how a person says something to an individual can make an enormous and ever so profound difference to how the individual feels about what has been said to her or him.  A fascinating example in this regard is the utterance of the phrase “love you” by one female to another.  On numerous occasions at Syracuse University’s Marshall Square Mall (where students often hangout between classes), I have heard a female make such an utterance to a female friend as they are partying ways.  The tonality of the utterance is fundamentally different from the tonality of the utterance of those words between two lovers or the utterance of those words either by a parent to a child or a child to a parent.

Although there are no courses on the moral significance of different tonalities with respect to an utterance, it is manifestly clear that a person would have to be ever so psychologically deprived not to grasp the difference in moral significance of one type of utterance of the word “I love you” versus a quite different type of utterance of those words.  A child who has been a victim of systematic child sexual abuse is one who suffer from such depravation.

For all my love of technology, my deepest worry is that technology would seem to be destroying moral sensibilities.  On an almost daily basis, I see countless many students so pre-occupied with text messages that they are utterly oblivious to what is going on around them.  And given the non-verbal behavior that I witness what is manifestly clear is the following: No substantive information is being conveyed in the text message being read.  And “yes”, I am assuming if the text message that a person was reading said “I have been kicked out of school” or “One of my parents just died” or “I just won the million-dollar lottery”, then the person’s non-verbal behavior would make it manifestly clear that the individual has just read something that is ever so significant.

Now, it might be objected that I am failing to grasp that the exchange of text messages constitutes a most profound instance of affirmation.  Well, in that regard I have one very simple thought: If the exchange of text messages is routinely that affirming and significant in the life of an individual, then that individual has a major psychological problem.  It goes without saying that a person can receive a text message that is deeply affirming or constitutes a most profound instance of self-disclosure.  But surely the following is true: (1) A text message of such magnitude would most certainly occasion a dramatic pause on the part of the person who is reading the message.  (2) As with a phone call of that significance, the fact of the matter is that a text message of that significance is ever so rare.  More generally, I have not seen a shred of evidence that suggests that owing to technology, friendships have a depth to them that heretofore was unimaginable.  To put the point another way, there is no need to re-write or dismiss Aristotle’s account of perfect friendship (or companion friendship, as I prefer to say) owing to the prevalence use of technology.

But if indeed Aristotle is right about the majesty of companion friendship, then an extremely good case can be made for the view that technology is undermining the development of companion friendship precisely because individuals are so besotted with their gadgets that (i) the appreciation for companion friendship has taken a major dive and (ii) people are failing to even grasp that such a transformation for the worse is taking place.

I teach roughly 1000 students each academic year.  And there are only three instances in recent years where I have seen among students anything that comes even close to resembling Aristotle’s account of companion friendship.  In both cases, the individuals are quite independent and they are very embracing of technology.  Yet, it is manifestly clear that they grasp the significance and value of social interaction.  Put a different way, their moral sensibilities are ever so admirable.  There can be absolutely no doubt about it: Their majestic sensibilities stand as a moral gift like none that each has given to himself and that as companion friends they give to one another.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Homage to Ilan Halimi: The French Jew Murdered in 2006

HilamiThe horrendous murder of Ilan Halimi, a Jew, will be an everlasting reminder of the horrendous evil of which people are capable; and the excuses that individuals will invoke in order to commit such evil.  Halimi was born in 1982 and viciously murdered some 24 years later in 2006.  The vicious manner in which he was treated by a group known as “The Gang of Barbarians” stands as an everlasting reminder of the horrendous evil and moral callousness of which human beings are capable.

Most—if not all—of Halimi’s attackers were Muslim.  And Muslims were claiming that whereas Jews in France were being treated well, France was not giving Muslims same measure of treatment.  Most poignantly, even if Muslims were right, the unmitigated truth is that the horrendous treatment and killing of Ilan Halmi by Muslims was morally despicable to the nth degree and absolutely unjustified.  Why?  Because it is unequivocally not the case that one is entitled to subject an innocent individual to morally objectionable behavior merely because one has been the victim of morally objectionable behavior.  To take an obvious example: In no way whatsoever am I justified in raping a person simply because I have been the victim of rape.  And that point applies equally to each and every human being.  And clearly, the view applies to all wrongful behavior that a person may suffer.

There is a tremendously profound respect in which evil is extremely transparent.  That is, it is next to impossible for a person to be clueless about the fact that she or he is engaging in evil behavior.  This should come as no surprise; for evil behavior is not just about hurting a person’s feelings.  Rather, it is about intentionally causing extreme damage to a person, where the word “intentionally” and the words “extreme damage” are of the utmost importance.

There is every reason to believe that Ilan Halimi was killed because he was a Jew.  And truth has mightily troubled me and it continues to do so.  Only a profoundly evil individual can willfully kill a human being for no other reason than the human being’s ethnicity.  The utterly horrendous evil of the killing of Ilan Halimi is underscored by the simply reality that there is no respect at all in which it could even be said that the killing of Halimi was none other than an instance of getting back him for some horrific wrong that he was done or a message to other Jews not to commit such a wrong.  For there had not been any horrific wrong that Ilan Halimi had committed.

Alas, a profound good that flows from the tragedy of Ilan Halimi’s death is the following: For so many people his death is an ever so bright moral light of the moral excellence for which we should strive and the evil that we must keep fully restrained.

© 2016 Laurence Mordekhai Thomas

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Oberlin College’s Vicious Mistreatment of Jews

If Adolf Hitler were alive, he would be rather proud of the stance taken by Oberlin College students against Jews.  For a substantial number of Oberlin College students are treating Jews as if they were the most evil people on the face of the earth.  A Google search under the rubric “Oberlin College’s violence against Jews” will turn up one article after another regarding the mistreatment of Jews by non-Jewish students at Oberlin College.

Of course, Jews are not perfect.  Not at all.  But, alas, there is not an ethnic group on the face of the earth which can justifiably claim to be perfect.  While I shall not engage in invidious comparisons, it is absolutely stunning to me that Oberlin College students can be so venomous against Jews whilst exhibiting deafening silence with regard to some of the horrific treatment committed by Muslims.  The image immediately below to the left is a painfully vivid example of Muslims killing innocent people.  killingThere has been no instance of Jews engaging in such gratuitous killing.  None at all.  And then there is case of the Irish convert to Islam who murdered his mother in the name of Islam and the case of the black male in Oklahoma who converted to Islam and then committed murder.

Once more, here is no analogous behavior on the part of individuals who convert to Judaism.

Needless to say, from the standpoint of justice, it is simply not possible to have it both ways, namely be utterly offended over the supposed evil committed by Jews all the while maintaining deafening silence with regard to the horrific evil that is being committed by Muslims.  That is how I know that the stance that various Oberlin College students are taking against Jews is utterly malicious and is way too analogous to a modern day form of Nazism.  And, of course, the point applies equally to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions)-movement.

Painfully, it has become something akin to a social fashion in the United States to criticize Jews and, in particular, Israel while maintaining a deafening silence with regard to the horrific behavior that is being committed by Muslims.  A very prominent black American scholar who has taught at Princeton and Harvard has done exactly that.  To state the obvious, few things are more revealing of an absolutely horrific moral attitude than very intelligent people who (a) can see fault at every turn with respect to one ethnic group whilst (b) utterly ignoring manifestly despicable behavior that is quite frequently committed by another ethnic group.  Let me allow for the sake of argument that Israel has been less than perfect with respect to the treatment Palestinians.  Just so, there has been no case of Israelis simply lining up innocent Palestinians and killing them just because they are Palestinians.

So guess what?  I can certainly concede that there is room for moral improvement on the part of Jews and Israelis in particular.  But needless to say, that line of thought unequivocally applies just as well to Muslims (as well as to every other ethnic and/or religious group on the face of the earth).  So it is absolutely stupefying when perceptive people‑‑who claims to be ever so committed to justice for all‑‑can see just about any and every substantial moral wrong that Jews make but somehow manage to miss the unquestionably egregious moral wrongs made by other groups, for example Muslims.  One does not have to be a genius in order to see that such a stance with respect to Jews is ever so analogous to the attitude of Nazis towards Jews.

When I reflect upon the horrendous way in which Jews at Oberlin College are being treated, I am reminded of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s book Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.  A most poignant truth is that evil survives because and only because there are people who are so willing to commit acts of evil.  What we have at Oberlin College is none other than a horrific example of that very truth.  Painfully, another truth is that Adolf Hitler would be ever so proud of the students at Oberlin College who are so utterly besotted with the idea that Jews are evil that the manifestly evil behavior of others, including the evil behavior of the students in question, is utterly irrelevant to those students tripping over themselves to criticize Jews.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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