The Gift of Gratitude

There is so very much in my life for which I am ever so grateful. To be sure, there have been some rough moments in my life that I shall never forget. But I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that those rough moments do not all diminish the tremendous goodwill that I have experienced in life. What is more, (a) those rough moments have occasioned tremendous insight with respect to very nature of my character and (b) those rough moments have been rather like a most majestic set of lenses.
I have seen so very numerous people become riddled with bitterness. And that is most unfortunate because the evidence is overwhelming that no one is ever better off on account of becoming bitter. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I fully understand why some individuals become bitter. But among the gifts that an individual can give to herself or himself, not becoming bitter is an ever so majestic gift that an individual can give to herself or himself.

And let me be clear, there is a fundamental difference between (a) not becoming bitter and (b) forgetting the tremendous wrong done to one. Fortunately, (a) does not entail (b). And it is quite a mistake for anyone to think that it does.

Most significantly, I have never encountered a case in which a person is better off on account of having wallowed in bitterness. More precisely, it is not as if being bitter is none other than a gateway to moral healing. Not at all. Indeed, quite the contrary seems to be true, namely bitterness is a serious impediment to moral healing.

What is more, a propensity for bitterness is a major impediment to experiencing gratitude. Thus, there is a straightforward sense in which any human being is bitter-off not being bitter. And fortunately, not being bitter does not entail forgetting the wrong that one had to do endure. I shall never forget having been called mentally unstable about 10 years ago by a Syracuse University faculty member. Just so, there is no respect in which I am carrying some sense of anguish and/or psychic pain on account of that remark. Indeed, not becoming bitter does not at entail forgetting the wrong or inappropriate behavior that one had to endure at the hands of another. Not at all. And a quite wonderful truth about the psychological make-up of human beings is that (1) we can remember the wrong that we endured at the hands of another (2) without wallowing in deep psychological pain. There no logical or conceptual connection between (1) wallowing in pain and anguish. And that reality is an ever so profound moral and psychological gift that is based upon the psychological make-up of human beings. The late-Elie Wiesel is an ever so marvelous example of that reality; for he is a Holocaust survivor who went on lead a quite amazing and inspiring life rather than wallow in the pain of having to endure the Holocaust. Indeed, I have had the privilege of meeting students at Syracuse University who lead a truly wonderful life rather than wallow in this or that anguish.

Of course, gratitude is not everything. Just so, a quite sublime truth is that far more often than not the sentiment of gratitude can make a quite significant difference for the better in terms of some aspect of the life that a person lives. By contrast, bitterness is far more about getting even than not; whereas gratitude is far more about recognizing the ways in which one can flourish than wallowing in despair.

© Laurence Thomas, 2017

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Technology, Credit Cards, and Yesterday’s Attempted Thievery

AT 1:16 P.M. TODAY I CALLED TO PAY-OFF A PARTICULAR CREDIT CARD only to be told that three purchases had been made with the card yesterday evening around 10 p.m. Needless to say, that was quite a surprise. I know exactly where the card was used; for there is only one place where I had gone and used the card. Alas, I do not know who used my credit card. So I am not in the position to blame the person who did so. To be sure, it could have been the person who waited on me. But the reality is that the person who waited on me need not have been the person who used my credit card.

There is a sense in which it does not matter who used the card because the credit card company clearly grasped that the card had not been used by me. And thus I am not being charged with having made a purchase or several purchases that came to $130. That is the amount that the thief had charged to the card. In that respect I am extremely lucky. It happens often enough in life that familiarity with an individual’s pattern of behavior can provide one with considerable insight with regard to whether or not that individual is likely to behave or has behaved in a certain way or not.

Alas, the question to which I do not know the answer is who, in fact, used my credit card to make a purchase. Was it (1) the person who waited upon me? Or, was it (2) a person who saw an opportunity to take advantage of someone in an immoral way. Above all, though, there is the spending pattern that I have with the company in question; and my spending was so very, very contrary to the spending that caught the attention of officials. For I simply called that company in order to pay-off my bill for the month. Yet, within seconds after I had given my name and credit card number, the person informed me that my credit had been abused and that I will be getting a new credit card. I am so very grateful that I generally have a history of an extremely clear pattern with regard to how I use each one of my credit cards.

And the very rich shadow of that pattern with respect to the credit card in question made it ever so clear to the official with whom I was speaking over phone that there had been an abuse of that credit card.

Indeed, the person did not even ask me whether I had been at the place in question yesterday evening. Rather, the person stated at the very outset that there had been a misuse of my credit card by someone.
From a very different direction, we must increasingly be more attentive precisely because technology is making it increasingly easier for individuals to commit acts of wrongdoing. Accordingly, the idea of self-command first put forth by the economist and philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790) is an idea that I treasure to the utmost degree. That idea has become relevant in ways that far surpasse anything that Adam Smith had in mind. Indeed, the excellence and moral significance of self-command has become relevant in ways that Adam Smith could never have even imagined. For in 2017, countless many human beings have ways of deceiving both themselves and others that would have been entirely beyond the realm of plausibility some 300 years ago–nay, even some 75 years ago. A most profound reality is that the future without tremendous strength of character on the part of a great many will be an utter disaster.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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Self-Hatred: A Most Poignant Form of Human Fragility

Perhaps nothing is more indicative of human fragility than self-hatred. After all, in order for a person to have a deep and abiding positive sense of self, it is hardly necessary for the individual to be ever so attractive physically or an intellectual giant or masterful at some sport or the other. Yet, there are individuals who truly despise themselves. Indeed, there are individual who despise themselves even though it is rather obvious that they are doing well, as the comparison to countless many others makes abundantly clear.

What strikes me as so very, very fascinating and fundamental fact about human beings is the reality that a deep and abiding sense of self-worth does not at all require being superior to others in terms of accomplishments or physical appearances. Indeed, none other than the knowledge that one is a morally decent person more than suffices to anchor an abiding sense of self-worth.

So in the case of people are plagued by a considerable sense of self-hatred, the explanation cannot be that their sentiment of self-hatred is indeed anchored in their sense of not having done well-enough in life. For it is simply not the case that in order for a person to value herself or himself, it has to be the case that the individual makes or made a recognizable contribution.

For valuing ourselves is neither formally nor conceptually tied to making some aspect of the world a better place. Rather, valuing ourselves primarily entails refraining from behaviors and associations with others that diminish ours sense of worth.

There is a very straightforward sense in which surely it is the case that no person choses to hate herself or himself. So how, then, does self-hatred come about? The answer, I believe, is that self-hatred is anchored by the systematic lack of what can be construed as meaningful affirmation. While the absence of parental love understandably comes to mind as an explanation for self-hatred on the part of an individual, I want to say that what also has to be the case is that there is no source of affirmation at all. Or, in any case, an instance of affirmation is so extremely rare that by the time the person experiences affirmation again, the individual is essentially starting all over again in terms of benefiting from affirmation rather than building upon affirmation that is a part of her or his sense of self. Needless to say, precisely what we have with such an individual is tremendous fragility.
Alas, tremendous fragility is ever so fertile psychological soil for the realization of self-hatred.

Alas, tremendous fragility is ever so fertile psychological soil for the realization of self-hatred. Thus, there is the difference in the world between (a) having considerable fragility in one context but otherwise (b) having tremendous strength of character and affirmation on a regular basis. Needless to say, (b) essentially precludes self-hatred.

I conclude with the quite disconcerting truth that a person can be tremendously self-deceived about whether or not self-hatred animates her or his life. Perhaps upon reflection that should not come as a surprise. For acknowledging one’s self-hatred would seem to require tremendous strength of character.

© Laurence Thomas

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Freedom and Self-Command

FREEDOM WITHOUT SELF-COMMAND is an absolute disaster. Following the great economist and philosopher Adam Smith: Self-command is the wherewithal to do the right thing, temptations to the contrary notwithstanding. Here are two simple examples: (1) A married person exhibits substantial self-command in not having sex with someone whom she/he finds ever so sexually attractive. (2) A person who is so well-off financially sees a $100 bill fall out of a person’s pocket, but rather than pick up the $100 bill and keep it, the person picks up the money and returns it to the individual out of whose pocket the money had fallen.

Indeed, self-command can be a considerable factor as a way of making a person feel at ease. I shall always remember the instance when I walked out of my apartment rather well-dressed. Indeed, carrying my briefcase and wearing a silk vest and tie. Well, there was an older white woman walking down the very sidewalk that I was standing on and she freaked out upon seeing me, the black man. My blackness mightily trumped my attire. I could certainly have ignored her utterly unwarranted sentiment about me and her horrifically unwarranted fear that I was going to rob her. But my thought was that more good would be done if I simply walked to the pavement on the other side of the street. And that is exactly what I did. And in so behaving, I left her ever so morally puzzled; for that was the very last thing that she expected me to do.

The self-command that I exhibited in simply walking to the other side of the street produced a thoughtfulness on the woman’s part that I could not have brought about had I not done so.
As the example suggests, the very idea behind self-command is doing what is appropriate even though what one actually prefers to do is quite different. Thus, the very nature of self-command is not at all about merely acting in accordance with one’s desires. Nor it is about following what it more convenient for one. Quite the contrary, it is very, very, very often the case that an act of self-command involves both setting aside what one desires to do and doing what is less convenient for one.
And there is no respect at all in which exercising self-command constitutes a form of inferiority. Crossing to the other side of the street in order to put someone at ease does in any way entail a sense of inferiority.

A quite significant truth is the reality that on any given day there are countless many individuals who will unexpectedly find themselves in the position where a measure of self-command is necessary if they are to do the right thing. Indeed, I think that more often than not, it is the case that the need for self-command unexpectedly presents itself. On the block where I live, the last thing I expected when I walked out of my apartment was a woman who would freak out upon seeing me. I had seconds to recognize what would be the appropriate way in which to respond.

Although having freedom is surely quite majestic, it is also the case that having a deep, deep measure of self-command is also ever so majestic, it being understood the majesty of one is not at all diminished by the existence of the other. Indeed, I hold that in order to have a complete life both freedom and self-command are absolutely necessary. For it can and will happen often enough that a person must have the wherewithal to perform a certain action or to refrain from performing a certain action. We may rightly think of self-command as having both the moral and psychological wherewithal so to behave, temptations to the contrary notwithstanding.

A quite interesting question is the following: Is modernity enhancing or diminishing the depth of self-command that we have? If modernity is diminishing our self-command, then human beings may indeed become one another’s worse enemy. On the other hand, if modernity is enhancing our self-command, then human beings will achieve a moral and intellectual excellence that is ever so majestic, affirming, and psychologically rewarding.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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Liberals and Hilary Clinton versus Donald Trump

Among liberals, it is manifestly clear that Hilary Clinton was supposed to win the election for the presidency of the United States. Indeed, the thought was that she would easily beat Donald Trump. So, there is a deep, deep disappointment on the part of countless many liberals. Although I do not share that sentiment, I fully understand that Hilary Clinton supporters feel that way.

Alas, one fundamental message that the victory of Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton conveys is that we do well not to take a victory for granted. It was taken as a given by so very many people that, of course, Hilary would win over Donald. Duh ! ! ! How could it be otherwise? Alas, there is the reality that we can be so besotted with our point of view that we are oblivious to the reality that there are many do not share our view, although they make little, if any, noise to that effect. That reality reminds me of the following passage in the Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple: “A good listener listens not only to what one says but also to what one does not say”. There was an awful lot of silence with respect to Hilary Clinton being president that went entirely unnoticed precisely because way too many simply took it for granted that she would win.

Countless many individuals took it as a given that Hilary would win over Donald owing to the following reasons: (a) she had been secretary of state, (b) she is the wife of Bill Clinton, and (c) she is a woman and would thus be the first woman president of the United States. Alas, individuals were so besotted with the truth of (a)-(c) that they did not notice that many people were not at all impressed by those three factors, since neither individually nor collectively do the factors entail that she would be phenomenal as president of the United States. And then there is the reality that so very many denizens of the United States had had the experience of electing someone as president owing to his biological configuration only to find themselves rather disappointed. When Obama leaves the offices of the presidency, very few will be of the mind that having elected him to the presidency easily stands as was one of very best things that the American people did precisely because they elected a black person to the office. Against the backdrop of that reality, there was undoubtedly a level of precaution in being ever so committed to electing a woman as president simply because she is a woman.

With regard to Donald Trump, there is the quite indisputable reality that he had some quite significant accomplishments to his credit, where the accomplishments are by and large tied to his strength of character and to his perceptivity.
Here is my poor analogy. Whom would I want to fly me from North America to Europe? Would it be () Someone who did very, very well on the pilot test? Or would it be () someone who has a wealth of phenomenal experience with respect to flying across a very, very large body of water? To me it is unequivocally obvious that the answer is ().

With respect to the presidency of the United States, the most desirable person is a morally decent individual whose history of experience indicates that she or he would be able to lead a nation. Am I mistaken in thinking that Donald Trump’s life surpasses Hilary Clinton’s life in that regard? Ironically, it seems that Barack Obama’s two-term presidency would mightily suggest that I am not mistaken. There was tremendous enthusiasm with respect to electing the first black President of the United States. Alas, I do not get the sense that 8 years later, there a is deep and ever so profound satisfaction over having done so. Rather, I sense tremendous relief that his presidency is over. Alas, I suggest that the reality of that very sentiment was undoubtedly a major factor in electing Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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Being the Author of One’s Life

Fortunately, wearing clothes has little bearing upon the significant choices that we make in life. That is to say, wearing clothes hardly inhibits human beings from being the author of their own life.

Alas, a quite interesting fact about some individuals is that they are me more interested in getting approval from others than being the author of their own life. Hence, such individuals will forgo lots and lots of things simply in order to fit-in. I am not at all talking about wearing clothes in public. To be sure, wearing clothes in public certainly constitutes a form of fitting-in. But there is the simple reality that wearing clothes in public reality inhibits individuals from being the author of their own life. Fully clothed, a person can learn how to excel at dancing or singing or painting or teaching.

As far as I can tell, the primary motivation for fitting-in is none other than the desire for approval. That points holds far more nowadays than it did a mere 100 years ago, when fitting-in was non-trivial factor in terms of surviving. And there is an absolutely fundamental difference (a) merely getting approval and (b) being in need of assistance from another. There are sufficiently many people who are not at all in need of assistance from another. Yet, there are desperate for approval from others. As far as I can tell that is a deep form of moral insecurity.

It is my considered judgment that, with rare exception, how we are raised makes all the difference in the world whether we have a deep measure of security or we are very much plagued by insecurity. To be sure, there can be exceptions. But as the saying goes: The exception proves the rule. A person like Frederick Douglass who, though born into slavery, went on to do quite remarkable things was a clear. However, it would be just plain absurd to argue that given Douglass’s success, then surely slavery was not all that bad.

If it is correct to hold that upbringing typically makes a tremendous difference with respect to whether a person has a deep sense of security or does not, two questions naturally present themselves: (1) How can it be brought about that in general individuals are raised to have a deep sense of security. (2) What is the proper way of handling or interacting with people who have a deep sense of insecurity.
Some philosophers have argued in favor licensing parents. And while that may seem obnoxious at first glance, there is a certain gravitas that holds here; for there is clearly something quite inappropriate when unfit adults bring children into the world. Of course, there is the issue of enforcing such a policy. And it is very, very clear that (A) no such enforcement procedure will be easy and that (B) any such enforcement procedure will appear to be an ever so inappropriate imposition.

But does being the author of one’s life entail the right to bring into this world another life? I shall simply say that it is far from obvious that the answer is “Yes”. Suppose at birth, all human beings were born without either the biological capacity to conceive or the biological capacity to impregnate. Requiring that those who want to have the biological capacity to bring a child into this world must to meet certain standards hardly seems inappropriate. So is it really that wrong to ask that those who have the capacity to bring a child into this world provide evidence that they have the wherewithal to exercise that capacity in an acceptable manner? I do not see that it is.

Nowadays, of course, there is the issue of enforcement. But surely the time will come when the enforcement can in effect take place prior to birth. (1) Would it be automatically wrong to exercise that power? (2) If exercising that power would yield quite wonderful results would it still be wrong to exercise that power?

I have asked the questions. I wait for the answers.

© Laurence Thomas, 2017

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The Weight Factor

The New York Times (1 December 2016) has reported that nearly have of Americans who are overweight do not realize that they are overweight. That is an extremely interesting claim. For the question that obviously presents itself is the following: How is it possible for a person not to realize that she or he is overweight? Of course, there is a non-trivial distinction between gaining a few pounds and being overweight. It is certainly possible to gain a pound or two and not realize it, since it would be extremely rare that gaining a mere 2 or even 5 pounds would hardly result in attire that used to fit no longer fitting.

But how is it possible to be entirely overweight to the extent of 20 or 30 pounds or even more and not realize it? For anyone who has become overweight to that degree has had to make some quite significant changes in the attire that she or he wears. What is more, becoming overweight to that degree entails some quite significant changes in the physique of the body—changes that simply cannot be missed.

To use myself as a personal example, there can be no question about it: I have gained weight. Two decades ago, I weighed a mere 140 pounds; whereas nowadays I weight a “whopping” 20 pounds more. Yes, I now weigh 160 pounds. But only as a joke can I claim that I am fat. I say that because I do not even come close to having a tremendous largess at the waistline that almost resembles being pregnant. Likewise, I do not even come close to having what might be called a double-chin. The point here is that if I had tremendous largess at the waistline or a double chin, then surely it would be ever so clear that I have or am on the verge of having a weight problem. With rare exceptions, those are the signs that a person is having a weight problem. And it is simply not possible to miss either one of those signs.

Now, if we limit ourselves to life on earth, then it turns out that the concluding sentence of the preceding paragraph speaks to a feature that is characteristic of human beings and only human beings, namely the capacity for self-deception. As far as I can tell, what it is typically at the very heart of the weight problem in the United States is none other than self-deception. No one can gain 20 pounds and not notice it. The only interesting question is whether gaining 20 pounds constitutes a weight problem or not. And with very, very rare exception, the answer to that question is obvious. In the case of particularly skinny people who are 18 years of age or older, gaining 20 pounds typically does not constitute a weight problem at all, since gaining the weight does not give them a stomach that is hanging over the belt and so on. But if gaining 20 pounds does result in the stomach hanging over the belt, then there is immutable clarity with regard to what has happened, namely it is the case that one has gained too much weight.

The idea of being substantially overweight and not realizing it is all but conceptually impossible.
Using the language of Adam Smith, one of the things that mightily distinguishes human beings from other living creatures is none other than the reality that human beings have the capacity for self-command. That is, human beings have the capacity to do what is appropriate. And so it is even when human beings have feelings and sentiments to the contrary. For example, I may very well think that Susie La Riche is one hot chick. But if I respect the fact that she is married, then I will refrain from approaching her sexually notwithstanding the sexual sentiments that I have towards her from time to time. Indeed, I will do my best to bring it about that I no longer have such sentiments. And if things proceed as they should, Susie La Riche will never know of the sexual sentiments that in the past that I had towards her (at least she will not know about that from me).

In a like manner, an overweight person can redefine her or his eating preferences so as to bring it about that she or he loses weight, which in turn constitutes significantly enhancing the person’s physical health. Given the tremendous health benefits of not being overweight, what excuse can there be for not so redefining things? Nothing comes to my mind.

Finally, it is worth noting that the desire for food is not at all like (for example) an addiction. For instance, I absolutely love Haagen-Dazs ice-cream. Indeed, some brands of ice-cream strike me as so bad that I do not eat them. But there is simply no respect at all in which I have withdrawal systems if I do not consume Haagen-Dazs ice-cream. Hence, there is no respect in which Haagen-Dazs ice-cream is tantamount or analogous to a drug. This point applies to food generally. In no respect can food be countenanced as having the psychological effects of a drug. Thus, in the typical case of being overweight, there is the power to say “No” to overeating which far surpasses the power to say no to drugs. Thus, in the typical case, there is no excuse for being obese.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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Parental Love versus Romantic Love

PARENTAL LOVE AND ROMANTIC LOVE ARE EVER SO DIFFERENT FROM ONE ANOTHER. For instance, there is the indisputable reality that a mother can start loving her child even before she has given birth to that child. By contrast, an analogous parallel simply does not exist with respect to romantic love. Indeed, the very idea of having romantic love for someone whom one has never even seen is essentially incomprehensible.

Romantic love is fundamentally tied to the person loved being attractive in some significant way. Physical appearance is one way. Quality of character is another way. By contrast, parental love as it should be is not tied physical appearances. And while it seems possible that years later character can turn out to be a factor, it is unquestionably clear that parental love at its best most certainly does not begin with an interest in the child’s physical appearances. Indeed, while newborns are typically said to be cute, their cuteness is essentially tied to their majestic innocence and the charming expression that their innocence typically takes and not their physical appearances.

Indeed, parental love could not be the majestic psychological gift that it is if it were the case that in terms of the psychological make-up of adult human beings, the physical appearances of a newborn were a quite relevant factor with respect to the newborn’s parents being ever so majestic in their display of love for their infant. By contrast, it is manifestly obvious that appearances typically play a quite significant role with respect to romantic love. And then, too, there is the idea of a person receiving a benefit from the other. Romantic love at its best about two individuals marvelously valuing and affirming one another.

Obviously, parental love is not at all about mutual evaluation on the part of the parent and the child with respect to one another. Indeed, it is manifestly clear that a newborn infant simply does not have the psychological wherewithal to value another human being. There is, then, a straightforward sense in which parental love at its very best constitutes a quite majestic form of altruism; for genuine parental love is not at all predicated upon the idea the parents will receive some tremendous benefit in return.

Alas, while the claim of the preceding paragraph may be true, a very poignant truth is that adults can be quite self-deceived in thinking that they are displaying magnificent parental love towards their child. Or, they may be self-deceived about what constitutes genuine parental love. An example of the point just made would be the case of parents who are far more besotted with punishing their child than affirming their child. Of course, there is no about it: The punishment of a child can certainly be appropriated. But loving parents should no more get a psychological high over punishing their child than they should think it appropriate to reject their child because the child is clearly not a genius.

What I find most intriguing is that by the time a child is well into her teenage years, the child will have a very, very, very clear sense with respect to whether or not, over all, she or he has most certainly been the beneficiary of truly majestic parental love. The wording of the preceding sentence allows for the reality that even loving parents can get it wrong upon occasion. But a clear pattern of behavior that is manifestly animated by parental love is one thing; whereas a clear pattern of parental behavior that is manifestly not animated by parental love is quite another.

Alas, a quite poignant truth about human beings is that the considerable capacity that human being have for self-deception. And an ever so painful consequence of human beings having the capacity for self-deception is that there are many cases where (a) the parents fail to treat their children in the marvelous way that their children should be treated but yet (b) the parents have nonetheless convinced themselves that they are, indeed, quite good parents. I do not fully understand why human beings have the capacity for self-deception. But I have just articulated one of the unfortunate ways in which that capacity can play itself out.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Biological Malleability and the Majesty of Parental Trust

At birth, human beings are among the most vulnerable of living creatures. We enter the world without any idea whatsoever who we are. And it is equally the case that have no view at all with respect to how to live. We do not know what we need; and we do not know what we should avoid. There is a straightforward sense in which the biological configuration of human beings at birth is utterly vapid. It is only through social interaction that each and every human being comes to have a sense of who she or his is. And the feral child (namely, a child who has very little experience with a human being) is a most poignant indication of the truth of the preceding sentence.

To be sure, it is appropriate to hold that there are very few feral children. But the fact that feral children are very rare does not in any way whatsoever defeat the extraordinary importance of parental love, since it is a character feature of the feral child that the child has no sense of who she or her is. Indeed, the feral child does not have the psychological development that enables the feral child to grasp the ever so profound and sublime significance between being a human being and being an animal.
Alas, a most poignant truth is that an individual’s grasp that she or he is a human being does not at all entail that the individual also has a secure sense of moral worth.

Without a doubt, children who are raised by (human) parents clearly grasp the difference between being a human being and being a non-human being. Yet, profoundly grasping that difference does not at all entail having a deep and secure sense of moral worth. And it is with regard to having a deep and secure sense of moral worth that the way in which (human) parents raise their children makes all the difference in the world. More precisely, sustained parental love makes all the difference in the world.
With regard to the claims of the preceding paragraph, there is the reality that some children experience a phenomenal measure of moral luck. For instance, while a child’s actual parents may be quite unsatisfactory in their displaying parental love to a given child of theirs, it may turn out that the child experience truly phenomenal and profound affirmation from a different member of the family, such as an uncle or an aunt or a grandparent.

From an evolutionary perspective, the point of the preceding paragraph is absolutely fascinating. For it is very, very clear that it is the affirmation that counts the most—and not that the affirmation is provided by the biological parents. That is why an adopted child can flourish mightily if the child is wonderfully raised by the adults who marvelously love that child although it is as obvious as the night follows the day that child is not a biological offspring of the parents who are raising her or him.
If one believes in evolution, then the fact that human beings are sufficiently malleable that what matters most is that they are marvelously valued during their upbringing—and not that the valuing has to come from the biological parents—is surely a most fascinating aspect of the evolutionary configuration of human beings. Indeed, there is very profound respect in which profound abiding affirmation trumps biological ties. Alas, from the standpoint of human survival at its very best, there can be no doubt about it: Genuine affirmation mightily affirmation trumps biological ties as such.
Alas, one of the most significant forms of moral luck (to use a term that was introduced by the Bernard Williams (1929-2003) is precisely the fact that human beings are biologically configured to be ever so affirmed by majestic and sustained parental love even though such love does not come from the biological parents. That reality is a most majestic moral reality with respect to the biological configuration of human beings.

If a child has wonderful parents who are ever so affirming in just the right ways, then that child is the beneficiary of considerable moral luck. And if a child has parents who are hardly affirming of the child, but there is a family member or even a neighbor who is ever so affirming of the child as she or he grows up, then that child is also the beneficiary of considerable moral luck.
One of the ever so sublime truth that I have learnt from teaching is that there are numerous cases of the second category—far more than I had ever supposed. Alas, the most profound truth that I have come to appreciate is that what matters most is that human beings grow up the beneficiary of sustained love from a wonderful adult and it is not at all necessary that the sustained love flows from the child’s biological parents. This psychological malleability on the part of human beings is none other than a most majestic moral gift.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Courage: Evil People versus Morally Upright Individuals

Are evil people courageous? Indeed, can evil people even be courageous? What intrigues me is that it is far from obvious that the answer is absolutely and without question “Yes”, For instance, there is no doubt whatsoever that Adolf Hitler was out to destroy the Jewish people. And to that end, he exercised considerable power and determination. Yet, if someone were asked to make a list of 10 very, very, very courageous people, it is quite unlikely that he would make that list. Indeed, it is not clear that he would make any list of courageous individuals.

In the struggle for racial equality in the United States, an indisputable truth is that many blacks exhibited considerable courage. For it is well-known that many blacks put their very life on the line in the struggle for equality. But notice that we do not refer to members of the Klu Klux Klan as being courageous, although surely many of them took risks as well in expressing their opposition to the equality of blacks and in the harm that they committed against blacks, including hanging innocent blacks.

What is obvious, of course, is that in terms of the moral nature of the risks taken, there is absolutely a world of difference between the risks taken by members of the KKK and the risks taken by blacks in the struggle for equality. And that is because there is a profound moral difference between (A) making oneself publicly vulnerable in order to achieve a fundamental moral excellence and (B) engaging in sly behavior with the aim of killing another.

The profound difference between (A) and (B) brings out the sublime truth that moral excellence is a constitutive feature of courage. And the behavior of participants in the Civil Rights Movement mightily affirms the point just made; for the objective of the participants was as clear as the night follows the day. And so it was with each and every instance of civil disobedience in which folks engaged. By contrast, KKK folks have always supposed that it is perfectly acceptable for them to be horrifically perceptive in their endeavor to harm blacks.

The honesty that is definitive of being courageous sheds tremendous insight upon why it is that courage is such a deep, deep form of moral excellence; for with courage, there is no deception at all with respect to what is the objective of the moral behavior in which one engages. Whatever KKK folks might have thought about participants in the Civil Rights movement, it was not possible for the KKK folks to say that they were tremendously deceived by Civil Rights activists in the endeavor to bring about equality for blacks. Not at all. Quite the contrary; for it was manifestly clear that people were willing to put their very lives on the line in order to bring about the reality of justice for all. Thus, there is a truly profound respect in which justice was given priority over life itself.

Of course, it is certainly arguable that no one can be required to put her or his life on the line in order to bring about justice. Alas, that truth is quite compatible with the reality that there can be no greater commitment to the realization of justice than the reality that individuals are willing to put their life on the line in order to bring about that reality.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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