Carol Wain: Liberalism versus Conservatism

During the Civil Rights era liberalism was none other than an extraordinary moral and social gift to black Americans. There can be no doubt about it: The Civil Rights Movement would have failed had it not been for the support of white liberals. Their support was a moral gift like none other.

Most interestingly, white liberals no longer play a supportive role in the lives of blacks. Quite the contrary, the defining feature of white liberals nowadays is none other than a horrific form of paternalism. And the case of Professor Carol Wain at Vanderbilt University mightily brings that out. To hear white liberals tell it, Professor Wain is a morally despicable and intellectually incompetent person; and that is for no other reason than the fact that she mightily embraces conservative values. I am not just speaking of Vanderbilt students here, but also of some members of the administration at Vanderbilt University.

For example, there has been moral outrage over her criticism of Islam. But it is stunning to me that there can be such outrage over her criticism of Islam, when there is virtually deafening silence over the stance of Muslim with respect to the horrific horror committed in France in the name of Islam. Have there been Muslims who have expressed their profound disapproval over what took place in France? Absolutely. But has there been a tremendous outcry on the part of Muslims across the globe? Not at all. Imagine that across the globe Muslims had gathered in the streets to protest the evil committed by various Muslims in France. The moral significance of that behavior would be off the charts. I find it rather interesting that the truth of the preceding two sentences seems to have been lost on liberals.

No doubt there are many ways to characterize the difference between contemporary liberals and contemporary conservatives. For me, the difference is that contemporary conservatism attaches tremendous importance to responsible behavior. And basic responsibility applies whether a person is rich or poor. More precisely, being poor is not ipso facto an excusing condition; for a poor person can have the wherewithal to perform various forms of just and morally decent acts. Being poor is not a barrier to a young person helping an elderly person to cross the street or calling a person’s attention to the fact that she or he dropped something. Quite specifically, being poor does not at all excuse acts of violence. After all, there is simply no respect in which committing acts of violence constitutes a form of personal social advancement in society.

As to the attitude of white liberals at Vanderbilt University towards Professor Carol Wain, my view is very simple, namely that there is a conception of white liberalism embraced by most academic institutions these days that has become horrifically paternalistic towards minorities and especially blacks. Countless many whites have more or less have embraced such paternalism, with one very untoward consequence being that minorities—blacks, in particular—are expected to show a general measure of obsequiousness to white faculty and officers of the institution.

It strikes me as obvious enough that the real problem that folks have with Carol Wain is that she is failing to show the obsequiousness that institutions of higher learning has come to expect of blacks. In other words, she has not succumbed to the prevailing attitude of paternalism towards blacks that nowadays is characteristic of so very many institutions of higher learning in the United States. And the attitude towards her op-ed essay concerning Muslims strikes me as clear proof of this. For there is an extraordinary evil that is being committed in the name of Islam by some Muslims without there being anything remotely resembling a tremendous outcry on the part of Muslims throughout the world, especially in both Europe and North America. It is utterly stupefying and ever so revealing that whites at Vanderbilt are more animated by the desire to criticize Wain for her critical op-ed essay of Islam than they are concerned by the reality it has not at all been the case that there has been widespread outrage on the part of Muslims throughout the world over the evil committed by Muslims in France.

Which is worse, (a) the criticism that Cain raised against Muslims or (b) the deafening silence on the part of so very many Muslims across the globe with regard to the horrendous wrong that was committed by Muslims in France? Notice that even if it is allowed that Cain’s critique of Muslims is wrong, it can nonetheless be ever so justifiably held that the deafening silence on the part of Muslims with regard to the wrong committed in France is surely much, much worse.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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ISSIS and the Morally Despicable Barack Obama

There times when a person is wrong yet it is all too understandable that the person the person has the concern in question. In view of the horrendous attacks by Muslims in France, it is perfectly understandable that individuals might think that 10,000 Arabs should not be allowed to immigrate to the United States without having to go through additional examination. So Obama’s venomous and horrifically hostile attitude to those who have raised that concern is utterly despicable and is indicative of inexcusable moral arrogance.

Whatever respect that I had for Obama completely vanished in the face of his horrific and utterly despicable demeanor to those who have expressed a concern to submit to further examination the 10,000 Arabs schedule to migrate to the United States.

And the depth of his morally horrific attitude is revealed his invocation Crusades as an indication that perhaps we should not trust Christians. By that line of reasoning, then perhaps we profoundly mistrust bi-racial folks of his generation because after all, both their sense of self and their arrogance are both ever so morally despicable—to say nothing of their morally obnoxious condescending attitude.

There is no doubt that Barack Obama is smart. But there can no doubt whatsoever that he is animated by a morally despicable attitude of the United States. There is no interesting respect in which I think that the United States will be a better nation on account of Obama’s presidency. He has done nothing whatsoever to bring about anything positive in black-white relationships. He has done nothing to inspire blacks to more fully become the author of their own lives. Nor has he done anything to bring about greater insight with respect to interaction across ethic differences.

Quite the contrary, owing to his horrific arrogant and condescending attitude, Obama has generated a level of hostility and ill-will between ethnic groups that far exceeds anything anyone would ever have imagined.

Ironically, I never expected much from Obama. And the reason is very simply as to why I never did. For you see, Obama was the black man who attended Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s church for some 20-years. And it was Pastor Wright who exclaimed “Not God bless America, but god damn America”.  Obama left Pastor Wright’s church for one and only one reason, namely that Obama fully grasped that he would have little, if any, chance of winning the presidency if he continued attending Pastor Wright’s church. In other words, Obama fully embraced the second part of Wright’s stance, namely “ . . . god damn America”.

Invoking the language of the former President John F. Kennedy: “Is America better-off on account of Obama having been President of the United States?” I see no respect in which that is the case. None whatsoever. Most poignantly, there is no respect at all in which, whites have a greater and far deeper measure of respect for blacks as a result of Obama’s pregnancy.

Barack Obama is tremendously bitter person. And one very clear sign of that is none other than the fact that he seems to be ever so venomous towards those who disagree with him, as if his views displayed a kind of moral excellence and intellectual majesty that only an intellectual bereft or psychologically warped person could fail to see the virtuosity of the position that he—Barack Obama—embraces. Quite simply: Obama ain’t that smart or gifted or thoughtful or insightful. And if in the name of equality, white liberals feel compelled to regard Obama as none other than a gift from heaven, then either they are tremendously self-deceived or they are quite morally bereft.

John F. Kennedy famously asked “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Are Americans better off than we were since Barack Obama became President Obama? I see no evidence whatsoever that such is the case. Indeed, not even Obama’s Affordable Care Act is obviously an excellence that stands as an ever so bright star in the firmament of American life.

And if I had any doubt that Obama is a despicable human being, his stance regarding ISSIS has sufficed to put to rest whatever doubts that I had. ISSIS is composed of radical Muslims who take themselves to be acting on behalf of Allah in killing non-Muslims. Few things can be more revealing about the profound moral deficiency of Obama’s character than the reality that he cannot bring himself to articulate that ever so obvious truth about ISSIS that I have just articulated.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Islam and the Arc of Moral Callousness

The deafening silence on the part of so very many Muslims in the face of the indisputable killing of innocent people is entirely beyond anything that I am able to comprehend.  And I write not with any hostility towards Muslims.  Some of the most rewarding interactions that I have had in my life has been with Muslims, both students and non-students.  Indeed, being present at the wedding of a Muslim friend of mine in Paris meant so very, very much to him and stands as one of the great joys of my life.

But something is wrong.  Something is terribly wrong.  There is the indisputable reality that in the name of Islam countless many innocent people are being killed.  Indeed, it looks as if there are Muslims who believe that in the name of Islam they are entitled to inflict whatever harm they please upon a non-Muslim, no matter how innocent that non-Muslim might be.  What is more, I am unaware of any committed group of Muslims—be they in North America or elsewhere‑‑expressing their deep and profound disapproval of the killing of innocent people by Muslims.  I have not heard such disapproval on the part of Muslims even though the Quran (17:33) condemns the killing of innocent people.

Perhaps there is the thought among Muslims that anyone who is not a Muslim is automatically a guilty individual whose life does not merit any respect at all.  But clearly that line of thought is plainly absurd.

So I am very, very, very disturbed by the deafening silence on the part of Muslims throughout the world when in the name of Islam it is the case that Muslims are slaughtering non-Muslims who are simply going about their lives.  The horrendous killings by Muslims that has just taken place in Paris (13 November 2015) so profoundly speaks to my concern.  I have not heard a single Muslim express her or his utter outrage over what transpired in Paris last night.  Not a single Muslim in North America.  Not a single Muslim anywhere on the planet.  Or so a Google search reveals.

Well, a very poignant truth is that willful silence in the face of utterly despicable wrongdoing counts as none other than a form of approval of evil behavior.  And that truth holds no matter what a person’s biological or social or religious configuration might be.  If I should learn tomorrow that a student was raped, I am going to express my utter disapproval of that wrongdoing and I shall speak out against the person who committed that wrongful behavior.  There is simply no way in which I can be a just person and not do so.  No way at all.  The only plausible excusing condition would be something akin to the reality that I have very good reason to believe that I would be killed if I expressed my opposition to the rape, and so mightily condemned it.

Is it the case that Muslims justifiably have the concern that they will be attacked if they criticize the wrongs that other Muslims commit—including the wrongs that are committed against non-Muslims?  Would Muslims be killed if they staunchly voiced their opposition to Muslim groups killing non-Muslims?  Would Muslims in some way put their lives or the lives of their family members at substantial risk if they did so?  I have asked the same question several times.  That is because from where I stand, that is essentially the only excusing condition that I deem acceptable for the deafening silence on the part of Muslims in the face of the indisputable evil that is being committed by some Muslims, with the evil that was committed by Muslims in Paris yesterday evening (13 November 2015) standing as an extremely clear example of horrendous wrongdoing.  .

I noted above that the Quran condemns the killing of innocent people.  Here is the text:

“Nor take life — which Allah has made sacred — except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand retaliation or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life, for he is helped (by the Law). [Quran 17:33].

Following the Quran, there is absolutely no way in which (1) a just cause for  killing a person can be none other than the fact that a person is not Muslim or that (2) not being Muslim automatically counts as a venomous lack of respect for Islam.  For either stance is unequivocally at odds with the passage from the Quran cited above, since that passage makes it clear that Allah has made all human life sacred.  Accordingly, there is simply no way in which the killing of innocent people who are merely going about their lives and not causing anyone any one any harm can be countenanced as a tribute to Allah merely because those innocent people being slaughtered are not Muslims.  To claim otherwise is to disrespect the Quran.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Walking and Cellphone Yacking

Few things intrigue me more than seeing two friends walking down the street together but one of them is yacking away on the cell phone with another friend.  And there is all the difference in the world between yacking away and responding to a simple inquiry by someone who has called; for a simple inquiry should take no more than a minute or two at most.  Of course, a person who is walking with a friend could be responding to a major emergency.  But given the non-verbal behavior that I witness time and time again of someone whom I see talking on the cell phone whilst walking with a friend, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the person on the cellphone is responding to an emergency.

So the question that I ask myself over and over and over again is the following: Why does not the person simply say “I am with walking with one of my friends.  Can I call you back later?”  That seems like such an obvious and decent thing to say that I cannot begin to fathom why people walking with a friend do not respond in that way to another friend who has called the cellphone.

Indeed, while no doubt it seems odd at first glance to countenance having a cell conversation with a friend whilst walking with another friend as none other than a form of despicable moral callousness that is exactly the view that I hold.  For it will remembered that we are not talking about an emergency call.

And for the record here, my attitude does not reflect an age difference; for I have three cell phones (2 for the United States and 1 for Europe); and there is a very straightforward and non-exaggerated sense in which I would never want to be without my cell phones.  But when I am walking down the street with a friend, then the friend with whom I am walking has my undivided attention.  Thus, if another friend calls, then I make it clear to the friend who called that I cannot chat now precisely because I am with another friend.

Most poignantly, the very reality that people will on their cell phone with one friend whilst walking with another friend speaks to a form of moral callousness that has been occasioned by technology.  I do not claim that the moral callousness that I have described is the most vicious form of moral callousness that anyone could exhibit.  That line of thought is obviously absurd.  Still, what I have described is undoubtedly an instance of moral callousness.  For one of the defining features of moral callousness is that a person is utterly indifferent to the unwarranted and obvious disadvantage that her or her behavior clearly puts another.

As should be obvious, one can exhibit moral callousness to a perfect stranger as in the case of a quite healthy person whose hands are free but yet the person does not help someone holding a child who is struggling to open the door to the building.  Indeed, the ways in which people can be morally callous are surely without limit.  Just so, there can no moral justification for basic moral callousness.  None whatsoever.  And it is not an exaggeration on my part to say that I would rather be dead than become a morally callous individual.  The performance of simple acts of kindness are a great joy for me—not because I view such simple acts as constituting some major accomplishment, but because the simple acts of kindness reflect my desire to behave with decency and thoughtfulness.

Returning to the despicable cell phone behavior of yacking on the cell phone whilst walking with a friend, it is utterly stupefying to me just how morally callous we have become as a result of our immediate access to technology.  Today, I saw a young college couple (female and male) at a restaurant booth; and both of them were going through their cell phone looking at their messages.  Neither a glance nor a simile was exhibited by each towards the other.  There is a straightforward respect in which what I witnessed was utterly incomprehensible to me.  How is it possible to be an ordinary person at a restaurant with one’s partner and to have no special professional reasons to attend to one’s cell phone messages and yet be more concerned with examining one’s cell phone messages than interacting with one’s romantic partner?  Put another way, is it really possible that either was more likely to receive a text message that could be more affirming than the affirmation that as romantic partners each could bestow upon the other?  In two words: Absolutely not.  So the fact that the couple was more interested in examining their cellphone messages than embracing the presence of one another is an unequivocally clear sign of the negative impact that technology is having upon the psychological make-up of so very many human beings. For me, death is preferable to that level of moral callousness.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Society and Moral Luck (Today’s Class Discussion)

Today’s Political Theory class was absolutely extraordinary. Students were profoundly engaged and engaging; and I was ever so inspired by the discussion that took place. The question that was raised at the outset was the following: What is the appropriate response on the part of a society when individuals are the cause of their very own bad luck? To be sure, it is not always clear when individuals are the cause of their own bad luck. But it is certainly the case that there are circumstances in which it is absolutely indisputable evident that a person failed to act responsibility with respect to her or his life.

One student, namely Mr. Cameron Taylor, whom I invited to come to the front of the room, advanced the view that when things go wrong for a person, then society always has the responsibility to help that person. The position that Mr. Taylor advanced in class is in direct opposition to the position that I advanced in class, namely the view that people can behave in such moral despicable ways that they effectively forgo their right to be a member of society. My sense is that more students in the class sided with the student than with me. And part of the explanation here is no doubt that the student’s view embodies a tremendous degree of moral considerateness. By contrast, it is arguable that there is a non-trivial degree of moral callousness that holds with respect to my view.

At any rate, here are the two questions that present themselves. (1) Are we ever justified in not giving a person a second-chance? (2) When is it morally callous not to give a person a second chance? I should like to think that the both questions can be given a reasonable answer.

Some wrongs are so egregious that I am not sure that forgiveness is ever appropriate. The example that readily occurs to me is that of a child sexual abuser. From the very outset, there is a truly horrendous degree of moral callousness on the part of each and every child sexual abuser. For it is simply not possible for an adult to fail to grasp that he (as is typically the case) is acting inappropriately in sexually abusing a child. Indeed, the discreetness with which child sexual abusers typically behave made it unquestionably clear that child sexual abusers are quite aware of the fact that they are doing what is wrong. I do not see how it can be held that child sexual abuser should be given

An analogous point holds for some kinds of defamation of character, where by definition it is the case that defamation of character involves vicious lying about a person. Ironically, the knowing false accusation that one frequently engages in the sexual abuse of children would be an unequivocal case in point. I cannot fathom how it would be possible to trust a person who made such a false accusation about one.

Fortunately, there is a plethora of immoral and irresponsible behavior that is not nearly as egregious and venomous as the two cases to which I have just drawn attention. In those cases, I agree with the student: Such individuals unequivocally deserve a second chance or perhaps even a third chance. But do such individuals deserve a second chance in perpetuity? There is a very simple explanation for why I entirely reject that option, namely that it turns out that according second chances in perpetuity is tantamount to none other than abusing the goodwill of decent and law abiding citizens. And that is never excusable.

If these remarks are inappropriate, then a slight modification is in order for both the initial views of the student as well as the initial views of the instructor. I cannot exclude second chances across the board. By contrast, Mr. Cameron Taylor cannot keep the door to second chances opened in perpetuity.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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The Need for Self-Command and the Future

There were far fewer options in the past.  The preceding claim is surely true in terms of the options available more than 40 years ago.  For example, there was no YouTube or Facebook or personal computers or internet or the cellphone a mere 40 years ago.  Thus, there is a very straightforward sense in which the level of self-command required nowadays far surpasses the level of self-command that was required some 40 years ago.

To be sure, immoral and improper behavior was committed some 40-years—during the era of yesteryear, as I shall say.  But the risks of getting caught for wrongful behavior was so very much greater.  After all, it was far more difficult for a person to commit wrongful behavior back then without making herself or himself quite visible.  For example, character defamation was certainly possible in the era of yesterday but in comparison to nowadays, defamation of character was far more difficult to pull-off during the era of yesteryear.

The same point holds for acts of infidelity.  It goes without saying that acts of infidelity incurred during the era of yesteryear.  Just so, an indisputable truth is that it is far easier nowadays for a married person to hook-up with someone than it was during the era of yesteryear.  It is ever so obvious that technology—from sites like Facebook to simple email communication—has mightily facilitated the ease with which individuals, they married or not, can hook up with one another.  And this very truth mightily speaks to the importance that self-command should have in today’s world.  From both female students, on the one hand, to women whom I know owing to various societies, on the other hand, my email communication with them requires tremendous carefulness with respect to wording.

By definition, a moral person is one whom has the wherewithal to do the right thing even in the face of general temptations to engage in moral behavior.  Alas, the question that mightily presents itself is the following: Has technology so significantly changed things that precisely what has become a major issue is whether individuals generally have the wherewith all to refrain from the opportunities for wrongful or indecent behavior that—owing to technology—increasingly present themselves?  And let me be clear wrongful behavior need not be some form of criminal behavior but simply a form of basic disrespect.  For example, nowadays students think nothing of texting during the lecture that is being given by the professor whose class the students are attending.  Indeed, students have become so brazen in that regard that I am simply at a loss for words.  And then there is the issue of people answering their cellphone whilst having sex.  According to various articles, the number of people who do so is as high as 25%.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I absolutely love technology; and I have a plethora of devices which permit me to exhibit a significant level of creativity.  Just so, one of the things that I very much like about myself is that thus far I have been fortunate enough to have a sufficiently strong measure of self-command that I am fully in charge of the technology that I use—and not the other way around.  For example, if I am having a meaningful conversation with someone, then there is simply no chance that I am going to concern myself with whether or not I have received a text message on my cell phone.

I am tremendously intrigued by the extent to which folks are preoccupied with their cell phone messages.  And a most searching question that I have asked myself is the following: Is there any indication that friendships nowadays have a depth and majesty to them that heretofore they lacked?  I would that I could say that a resounding “Yes” holds for the question that I have just asked.  But I see no evidence of that.  In discussing friendship in my Ethics and Contemporary Issues, there is not a shred of evidence that students nowadays have a depth of insight regarding the significance of friendship that the students of yesteryear did not have.  Indeed, it is arguable that things are the other way around, namely that so many of my students nowadays have less of a grasp of the significance of friendship.

A similar point holds with regard to students expressing themselves.  The command of English that students display in their emails to me has not at all become richer.  Quite the contrary, it has become considerably worse.  And if that is indeed the case, then a major concern is presenting itself, namely that people—students, in particular—are not explaining themselves or presenting their ideas with the depth and clarity that they should be doing either of these things.  The point made in this paragraph and the preceding one is very, very disturbing.

One of my favorite ideas is that each individual should very much be the author of her or his life.  Alas, a profound mistakes consists in thinking that we are the author of our lives simply because we have more options with respect to how we do things.  For in and of themselves, having more options is (i) perfectly compatible with a significant decrease in the wherewithal to analyze things simply because (ii) the person is more besotted with merely using the gadget than she or he is in realizing excellence with the gadget.

With the dramatic rise in technology, a most profound truth is that the need for self-command now has an importance that heretofore was unimaginable.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Misguided Parental Love

Loving parents want the very best for their children.  And if there are any disputable truths about living, it is surely the case that one of them is the claim just made about loving parents.  The irony here is that there is a kind of mistake made in the name of parental love that parents can made that does more harm than good to their children.  And the point that I wish to make holds more so nowadays than ever before.  For it would seem that many parents nowadays are somewhat self-deceived with regard to what it means to have parental love for their children.

The attitude of parents with respect to the teachers of their children is profoundly illustrates this point.  These days teaching has become ever so precarious precisely because it is increasingly the case that parents see just about any criticism of their child by the child’s teacher as utterly misguided and, indeed, morally inappropriate.

There is all the difference in the world between malicious criticism and constructive criticism.  Alas, it has become common place for parents to conflate the distinction that I have just made and to treat constructive criticism as inappropriate and malicious criticism.  Thus, being a teacher these days has come to be rather like walking on eggshells.

But wait a minute.  What happened?  How did it turn out that constructive criticism came to be seen as a form of malicious criticism?  After all, that is a conflation that simply makes no sense.  And that is not at all how things were a mere three to four decades ago, when parents actually embraced the constructive criticism that their children received from teachers.  Moreover, the parents helped their children to make the improvements that the teacher deemed to be in order.  Surely that way of reasoning made perfectly good sense.  After all, it is essentially impossible to make sense of the validity of education if constructive criticism is deemed utterly inappropriate.  That is so very, very obvious.  So why is it that nowadays, there are so very many parents who essentially reject constructive criticism of their child?  In particular, why do parents see such behavior on their part as essentially a form of parental love?

The answer, I believe, is tied to a conception of parental love that is tied to the reality that nowadays parents spend far less time with their children than parents of yesterday did.  Nowadays, it is not at all uncommon for parents to put their child in daycare a mere six (6) months after the child’s birth.  And that reality provides us with an insight as to why so many parents these days react with to any constructive criticism that their children receive from their teacher.

What animates the parental animosity towards the teachers of their children is not at all genuine love for their children.  Quite the contrary, it is the deep recognition on the part of parents of the reality that they are not playing a major parental role in the raising of their children.  There is simply no evidence whatsoever that parents these days love their children more than the parents of several generations ago did.  None whatsoever.  Indeed, so many of the very parents who will not tolerate any criticism of their children by teachers know first-hand they were profoundly loved by their parents.  But there is one indisputable difference between present-day-parents and the parents of yesteryear, namely that the parents yesteryear spent considerably more time with their children than present-day-parents spend with their children.

So, I hold that what is animating present-day-parents in terms of being hostile with respect to any criticism of their children by a teacher is none other than a deep, deep sense of feeling inadequate with respect to their parenting.  And it is by way of tremendous self-deception that present-day-parents hide from their deep sense of inadequacy with respect to raising the children.  The self-deception mightily reveals itself in the horrendous lambasting of teachers in which such parents engage when teachers of the children of such parents constructively criticize the children of such parents.

Of course, even constructive criticism can done in an ever so vicious way.  But present-day-parents, object to constructive criticism as such—and so even when it is not at all vicious.  Indeed, objecting to constructive criticism as such is thought to be none other than a majestic manifestation of parental love.  And that is an ever so clear sign that something is terribly wrong.  And that reality underscores the profound truth that nothing can take the place of a newborn child directly and richly experiencing parental love from the moment of birth and for a number of years after birth.

History reveals that so very much evil is tied to self-deception, as both the Holocaust and American Slavery make manifestly.  The kind of misguided parental behavior that I have described in this blog entry is hardly equal to either of the two evils just mentioned.  Alas, the worry is that the misguided parental behavior described may be generating ever so fertile soil for an evil that will surpass either of the two evils just mentioned in this paragraph.  I very much hope that I am wrong.  But I have no reason whatsoever to believe that I am.  The proper raising of a child is ever so important.  And it is arguable that there can be no more fertile soil for evil than a society full of children not being so raised.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas


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Friendship and Technology: Aristotle’s View

Is not technology a gift like none other to the development and maintaining of friendship?  Surely, the answer is held to be an affirmative one.  Why?  Because thanks to technology human beings can stay in touch with one another although they are separated by thousands of miles.  Moreover, they can do so just about whenever they desire to do so.  There are very, very few instances when human beings cannot use their devices to communicate with one another.  One is when they are flying in an airplane.  Or least that is how it used to be.  Another is when an individual is taking an entrance examination such as the LSAT or the GRE.  Indeed, many places will not even allow communication devices to be in the room where the examination is being administered.

Aristotle held that one of the very deep features of companion friendship (“perfect friendship” to use his language) is that they profoundly enjoy spending time together.  Well, there is a very straightforward sense in which technology allows people to spend time together although they are separated by vast distances.

A question that mightily presents itself, then, is the following: Do friendships nowadays have a richness to them that far surpasses anything that Aristotle could have envisioned?  My answer to that question will no doubt be surprising; for I believe that the answer is a resounding “No”.

It goes without saying that technology makes it possible for people to communicate with another both frequently and across vast distances.  But Aristotle held that one of the central features of a companion friendship between two individuals is that they spend a considerable amount of time together, and thus they are directly in the presence of one another or, the very least, in direct voice-to-voice communication with one another.  And no amount of text messages or “likes” on Facebook can take the place of two individuals spending such time together.

When two people are in the presence of one another, they get to witness one another’s bodily language.  And an unexpurgated truth is that body language is very, very, very informative.  Indeed, the expression “pregnant pause” comes from just the fact that a person’s hesitation in responding is often so extremely informative.  And there is no way for any two individuals to witness such a pause without either (a) being together in the same space or, at the very least, (b) conversing with one another over the phone.

But nowadays, the number of likes on a social networking sites and the frequency of text-messages are often taken as a sign of a very significant friendship.  And as I walk in the Syracuse University campus area, it is ever so fascinating to see folks walking about who are entirely in the throes of reading and sending text messages.

But have companion friendships become richer and more magnificent and more fundamental to the lives of individuals?  Painfully, there is no evidence whatsoever that companion friendships have evolved for the better.

How do I know?  Alas, the answer is both ever so simple and ever so poignant.  If it were the case that companion friendships had significantly evolved for the better, then the following would be true:

One would see a fundamentally different and positive difference in both the moral behavior and moral attitudes of individuals.

But I do not see that.  I do not see that at all.  Of course, it could be held that I am simply too old or too caught-up in the ways of the past to appreciate this moral change for the better.  But I think not.  My wherewithal to appreciate moral excellence on the part of another has not at all diminished.  Indeed, among the things for which I am ever so grateful, it is the fact that the ability to appreciate the moral excellence displayed by another stands as one of the center-pieces of my self-identity.  So it is wherever I am in the world.

As is clear, I am making a positive correlation between (1) the genuine enhancement of a friendship and (2) the increase in moral sensibilities in general.  Indeed, it is my considered judgement that that a fundamental part of the very majesty of friendship is that it provides us with insight into human beings generally.  Upon reflection, this should not be surprising precisely because friendship at its very best is about taking the other seriously in an ever so profound and affirming way.  And that knowledge carries in its wake tremendous insight with regard to human beings generally.

An immutable truth is that technology will never replace the psychological and moral significance of directly interacting with another.  And to suppose that it can is be ever so self-deceived.  I believe that Aristotle would surely agree.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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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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