Moral Osteoporosis: A Deep Psychological Pain

WITH PHYSICAL OSTEOPOROSIS the bones become fragile or brittle that a simple fall typically results in a non-trivial measure of damage. There numerous cases where I have slipped and fallen here and there. But to this day, no fall has ever resulted in a broken bone. Nothing even close to that.
It seems to me that something akin to moral osteoporosis has become more and more common place. Let me explain with an example.

I am obviously a black person. And there have been moments when I have been called a “nigger” by a black or a white person who, for example, is passing by in a car. (And yes, black people can be quite derogatory in their use of the term “nigger”.) But to continue. The simple truth of the matter is that being called a nigger by someone passing by has ever come even close to bothering me or diminishing my moral sense of worth. No such instance has come even close to causing me moral or psychological pain.

To be sure, I fully grasp the utter moral impropriety of the racial epithet “nigger”. But from that reality it hardly follows that I should be psychologically pained just because someone passing by in a car yells that racial epithet at me. Not at all. Quite simply, recognizing the wrongful behavior of venomous name calling does not entail that one must be scarred or deeply pained by the name calling.

Moral osteoporosis, then, is none other than a psychological configuration where a person is too easily damaged psychological merely by an instance of inappropriate name calling by someone passing by, where there is absolutely no physical threat at all. Lest there be any misunderstanding: If someone whom I regard as a dear friend was malicious in calling me a “nigger”, I would certainly end the friendship. But as I noted in an essay published many years ago entitled “Sexism and Racism: Some Conceptual Difference,” the unexpurgated truth is that the term “nigger” can be used—and certainly has been used—in affirming ways, as with the remark “You are my sweet nigger”. Barring some quite unusual circumstances that remark is no more negative than is the remark “You are one bad ass individual”. The latter remark does not mean that one is a morally bad and despicable person. Quite the contrary, the remark means that one is exhibiting some serious and ever so admirable instances of excellence and strength of character.

We have an analogous case with the sentence “You are one mean motherf—ker”. Of course, the literal interpretation is quite negative. But an indisputable truth is that the remark can be a tremendous instance of praise and admiration. Clearly, it most certainly has been used in that way in the past. And it still is still being used in that way nowadays.

We have moral osteoporosis, then, when a person is so fragile that she or he is hurt by the use of a term or phrase even when it is absolutely and unequivocally clear that the term or phrase was being used in an ever so positive way.

Of course, if Person Alpha perceives that Person Beta is a quite fragile individual, then Person Alpha should certainly refrain utterances that, when taken literally, mean something that is quite negative. Alas, one of the very deep, deep signs of trust between two individuals who truly great friends is their having the wherewithal to grasp the positive use of terminology. As the great sociologist (the late) Erving Goffman noted, the reality is that a person’s non-verbal behavior plays an absolutely crucial role in how her or his utterance should be understood. On the one hand, a person’s non-verbal behavior can reveal tremendous venom and a deep condescending attitude. On the other hand, a person’s non-verbal behavior can reveal truly phenomenal depth of admiration and appreciation. If a person, indeed, has a truly deep sense of moral worth, then she or he will have very little trouble (typically none at all) in correctly grasping the positive moral uptake of the utterance question. By contrast, if a person has a very fragile sense of worth, then just the opposite holds true for her or him; for she or he will often have trouble seeing the positive in what was clearly meant to be ever an ever so affirming remark.

A person’s physical bones can be tremendously fragile or the person’s bones can be ever so strong. Likewise, a person’s moral bones can be tremendously fragile or they can be phenomenally strong. Painfully, although we are making enormous progress in medicine, it would appear that moral osteoporosis is becoming far too commonplace.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Modernity, Self-Command, and Self-Reflection

Modernity is the greatest challenge thus far to human beings having a profound measure of self-command—a term that was introduced by the great philosopher and economist Adam Smith. Quite simply, having self-command constitutes having the wherewithal to do what clearly appropriate notwithstanding the significant temptation that one has to act otherwise. The very idea behind self-command is none other than the reality that it is common enough for any human being to have desires that surely she or he should not act upon, either because (a) it is morally wrong to satisfy the desire in question or (b) although no one is morally wronged, it is nonetheless the case that satisfying the desire in question will do the individual who so behaves more harm than good. There are lots of cases where (b) and only (b) holds. An obvious example is that of a single person living beyond her or his means. A person who lives beyond her or his means does not thereby harm other individuals. Yet, the person does considerable economic harm to herself or himself.

There is a direct correlation between modernity and the need for self-command. This is because modernity has mightily increased the options whereby individuals can do things that are immediately satisfying, but which can become a serious impediment to growth and development if pursued too frequently. So it is whether the growth is intellectual or social or economic or some combination thereof. While some cases of (b) are about moral matters of right and wrong behavior, there are numerous cases of (b) that are not at all about morally right and wrong behavior as such, but sheer preoccupation. My favorite example of the point just made is the tremendous proclivity that people have these days to check their cellphone for messages.
I live in an area of the city of Syracuse where students frequently walk to and from the Syracuse University campus. It is absolutely mind-boggling to see countless many students who are utterly preoccupied with checking and sending messages on their cellphone—so much so that they are quite oblivious to what is going on around them. As far back as I can remember, part of what I have always liked about walking is that in the typical case doing so constituted a marvelous opportunity to engage in self-reflection. And thus I ask myself over and over and over again when do students nowadays take some serious time for self-reflection.

To be sure, there is no denying the benefits of engaging and being engaged by others via technology. But it is also the case that there is no denying the benefits of the self-reflection in which an individual engages when she or her is apart from others. In my life, I have had some ever so rewarding moments of social interaction that have contributed mightily to myself understanding. But it is also the case that while being alone I have had some ever so rewarding and sublime moments of self-reflection where the light of insight occasioned by the self-reflection was ever so bright. Indeed, one form that my self-reflection takes is none other than considerable reflection upon the social interaction in which I have engaged myself. And that, in turn, has helped me to become increasingly more clear about the ways in which self-command in my life should exhibit itself.

Quite interestingly, no philosopher or political theorist has said much about the fact that self-command rightly takes different forms depending upon, among other things, both the psychological configuration and the general style of self-presentation that is characteristic of each individual. My mode of self-presentation tends to be on the humorous side, whereas there are individuals whose mode of self-presentation tends to be much more on the serious side. Accordingly, in a very deep and important conversation with another, I need to make sure that I do not come across as being indifferent; whereas a person who whose self-presentation is on the serious side surely needs to make it clearly from time to time that she or her fully appreciated the moment of humor that had just been exhibited in her or his presence.

There is no denying the moral and public significance of self-command. However, there is a very profound respect in which the realization of self-command must be appropriate to the character and psychological configuration of a given individual. And most interestingly, there is thus a quite positive correlation between having both strength of character and self-command and

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Courage versus the Evolutionary Propensity to Fit-In

From an evolutionary perspective of human beings, it surely a very, very thing that human beings have a propensity to fit-in. Much of the cooperation between human beings is driven not so much by a sublime grasp of the significance of this or that activity. Quite the contrary. To a tremendously large measure, the cooperation between human beings is driven by none other than the tremendous desire that human beings have to fit-in. Of course, not every human being is animated by the desire to fit-in. But as the saying goes: The exception proves the rule.

Clearly, most human beings are tremendously animated by desire to fit-in. A most compelling example of the significance that human beings attach to fitting-in is the wearing of tremendously sagging pants on the part of males. There is no benefit whatsoever to wearing such sagging pants other than the affirmation that such wearers receive as a result of fitting-in. Indeed, it is rather humorous just how much attention a male wearing sagging-pants must pay to the position of his pants so as to make sure that the pants do not end up end up falling down way too far. But the additional attentiveness that males wearing-sagging pants must pay is in effect compensated for by the affirmation of fitting-in.
Needless to say, there is a tremendous difference between (1) people fitting-in because they are all independently motivated by a deep and abiding concern to do what is right and (2) people fitting-in simply because they want the affirmation that results from doing what others do. We very much have the moral platform for courage in the case of (1) but not so in the case of (2). Indeed, there is simply no evidence which warrants the view that from an evolutionary perspective (1) reflects the psychological structure of human beings much, much more so than (2) does.

Alas, one profound problem with the propensity that human beings have to fit-in is that if this or that group of human being does not have the right leader to inspire them, then it is very, very, very unlikely that the group of human beings in question will do that which morally good on their very own. Indeed, it is very unlikely that a single member of that group will so behave.
When I reflect upon my own life, a quite poignant truth is that I did not become a fiercely independent individual after college or after graduate school. And so on. Quite the contrary; for even as a young 5-year old lad, I was animated by a tremendous streak of independence. And I shall go to my grave ever so grateful that being independent clearly manifested itself in my life even when I was a kid. The happiness and joy that is occasioned by the life I now live is so profoundly tied to the tremendous independence that was definitive of my life as I grew up.

A final and quite interesting thought is that when a person has indeed continuously experienced being the author of her or his own life, thanks to the tremendous independence that has animated that individual’s life, then she or he will have a most profound sense of security and sense of self-worth that does not even come close to resembling arrogance. And it is precisely that profound sense of security and self-worth that enables the individual to marvelously appreciate and be inspired by the excellence—indeed, the superior excellence—of another rather than feeling threatened by other’s unquestionable and ever so marvelous excellence.

The following should be manifestly obvious: It much, much, much better to be inspired by the phenomenal excellence of another rather than to be jealous of that person’s excellence. Most significantly, the moral backdrop for such inspiration is none other courage to be the author of one’s own life. Alas, the propensity to be jealous far is far greater than the propensity to be inspired.

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Kenneth Kavajecz: Being Mindful of Appearances

It is a fact about life that appearances matter. And when we have considerable public standing, we should never overlook that fact; for in that case appearances matter all the more.. Having sex is generally a part of life. But even with that immutable truth, it is important to be ever so mindful of what we say to another about our own sexual life and the sexual life of another individual. Indeed, in countless many cases, the very wise thing to do is keep our mouth shut about both our own sexual behavior and the sexual behavior of others. The very, very important point here is that even if something is not morally wrong, it can nonetheless be that the case that we should not so behave. Here is a simple example: It is perfectly ok for a professor to lunch with her/his students at, say, King David’s Restaurant on Marshall Street. However, it far less appropriate for a professor to spend the evening in a bar with her/his students, precisely because in the evening the context of a bar is such that it is far too easy for the professor’s behavior to be misinterpreted or misunderstood. A very poignant reality is that a professor who is know for his prostitute behavior would understandably make female students feel very uncomfortable meeting with the professor in his office, especially in a one-on-one context.

Kenneth Kavajecz who has been dean of the famous Martin J. Whitman of Management at Syracuse University has exhibited a horrendous lack of insightfulness in being so utterly open about his sex life. I say that not because what Kavajecs did is morally horrific. Rather, there is the issue of the social uptake of this or that behavior. What we say or do can have a quite negative social uptake even though what we are talking about is not at all morally despicable. My favorite example in this regard is “the kiss on each cheek” (faire la bise as one says in French) that is quite common between woman in France and tremendously less common among men in France.

So while there is a very straightforward sense in which the women with whom Kenneth Kavajecz has sex is no body’s business, there is nonetheless the reality of the social uptake that is occasioned by his drawing attention to the fact that he has numerous instances of sexual behavior with different women. At this point in history, a man of tremendous professional stature who in a public manner routinely speaks of his sexual encounters with women displays a measure of horrific indifference to the varieties of negative social uptake that his behavior occasions. And the question that mightily presents itself is the following: How is it possible for a person as intelligent as Kavajecz to be so utterly careless by drawing attention to his frequent sexual behavior with women.

Sheer common sense should have been sufficient for Kenneth Kavajecz to grasp that a wealth of discretion is in order even though strictly speaking he is not doing anything morally wrong. A very different kind of example readily underscores the point just made.

Most guys masturbate. Just so, it is extremely rare for guys to talk to one another about their masturbating. So it is even if they are close friends. To be sure, there can be the occasional example. But that is just the point, namely that such instances are quite rare.

I suppose that I understand to some extent the idea of a guy boasting about his sexual endeavors. But unless an individual is psychologically deranged, surely the boasting cannot possibly be the very anchor of the satisfaction that the guy realizes as a result of having sex. Sheer commonsense should more than suffice a person to keep his or her mouth shut about the matter. And Kenneth Kavajecz should have mightily exercised precisely that measure of commonsense.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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BDS versus Muslims Killing Non-Muslims

Ain’t nobody perfect. The group known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) thinks that it is unequivocally obvious that Jews are not perfect. (1) That stance on the part of BDS has to do with the control that Israel exercises with respect to Palestine. Well, let me concede for the sake of argument that BDS is right. Alas, a truth that mightily presents itself the following: (2) Muslims have committed utterly horrific acts of killing in the name of Islam.

Yet, while BDS is quick to condemn Israel, there is deafening silence on the part of BDS with respect to the horrific acts of murder committed by Muslims. At the very least, it would seem that BDS would loudly criticize both. That is, there is simply no way that BDS can maintain that Israel is wrong for occupying Palestine and not at all see that Muslims are wrong for killing innocent people.

By the way, recognizing that someone or a group has committed or is committing a horrific wrong does not preclude liking or not liking thee person or the members of the group in question. So even if BDS folks like Muslims much more than BDS folks like Jews, there is absolutely no respect in which BDS can excuse the ever so deliberate killing innocent of innocent people by Muslims. None whatsoever.
So it is painfully revealing that BDS mightily see what the groups takes to be an egregious fault on the part of Jews in Israel, but yet BDS seems to be utterly oblivious to the egregious wrongs committed by Muslims in the name of Allah. And to state what is manifestly obvious: Invoking the name of Allah no more constitutes an excuse for wrongdoing than does invoking the name of Hashem constitutes an excusing condition for wrongdoing.

I have not defended Jews any more than I have defended Muslims. Rather, my point is simply that it is utterly incomprehensible to me that we have deafening silence on the part of BDS with regard to the murder of folks in the name of Islam but horrendous outcries on the part of BDS over the occupation of a territory that is said to belong to others. There is a very straightforward sense in which BDS is its very own obstacle to being taken seriously.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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BDS: Oberlin College versus Syracuse University

Professsor Joy Karega is a black professor at Oberlin College who blames the Jews for the horrific occurrence of 9/11. The BDS at Oberlin did little if anything to protest the horrific lie that Professor Karega was putting forward. By contrast, the BDS group at Syracuse University so opposed the campus visit from Israel of Shimon Datan that his invitation was withdrawn.

Of course, there is a straightforward sense in which BDS at Oberlin and BDS at Syracuse University are certainly not identical. Just so, the very raison d’être of the BDS movement is said to be the support of Palestine and thus a vehement opposition to Israel. Nonetheless, there is a very real and incontrovertible sense in which BDS engages in quite morally horrific behavior. Surely, we have such an instance with the support that Joy Karega received from the BDS movement at Oberlin College. For it is an absolutely indisputable truth that Jews cannot at all be blamed for 9/11.

There is simply no way in which a person can be justified or excused for denying the occurrence and evil of the Holocaust. It is utterly impossible for that line of thought to have any measure of plausibility. And I am entirely unable to see how being black constitutes an excusing condition for not recognizing the reality of the Holocaust, just as I think it is conceptually absurd to maintain that American Slavery did not exist. But the BDS movement at Oberlin College did not let the indisputable facts get in the way of their support of Joy Karega who, as I have already noted, maintains the Holocaust was not a reality.

As for the opposition of BDS to the visit of Shimon Dotan from Israel: Well, surely the BDS group needs to make a difference between the views that a nation holds and the views that an individual denizen of that nation holds. Dotan was coming to coming to the international film conference entitled “The Place of Religion in Film”. Thus, opposing Dotan’s visit is simply ridiculous. Would the visit of an Israeli citizen be opposed if she or he were coming to speak at a conference on medicine or mathematics or technology?

What is more, it would behoove BDS to do a little research before they oppose a visit of someone from a country that BDS takes to be unjust. Shimon Dotan is a film maker; and the Israeli-Palestinian is not at all what his films about. Not at all. Here is a paragraph about Dotan from Wikipedia:

After moving to Montreal Canada in 1991 Dotan co-founded Cinequest Films Inc. together with partner Netaya Anbar. In 1994 Dotan directed and produced Warriors, starring Macha Grenon, Gary Busey and Michael Pare. In 1996 Dotan directed and produced Coyote Run, starring Peter Greene, Macha Grenon and Michael Pare. The critically acclaimed You Can Thank Me Later (1999), was produced together with Anbar and directed by Dotan in 1999 and starred Ellen Burstyn, Genevieve Boujold, Amanda Plummer and Mary McDonnell. It was awarded Best Film at Newport Beach Film Festival, selected for the closing night at the Palm Springs Film Festival and had its opening gala at the Montreal Film Festival. In 1999-2000 Dotan produced The List (1999) with Ryan O’Neal, Rock Lafortune and Ben Gazara, Cause of Death (2000) with Maxim Roy, Patrick Bergin and Michael Ironside and Wilder (2000) with Pam Grier, Romano Orzari and Rutger Hauer. In 2001 Dotan produced Hidden Agenda with Dolph Lundgren and Maxim Roy. In 2003 Dotan co-wrote the script for Watching TV With The Red Chinese together with Netaya Anbar and in 2005 he wrote Frenzy based on a novel by David Grossman. In 2006 Dotan wrote, directed and co-produced the documentary/feature Hot House. It won the Special Jury Award for Best World Documentary at Sundance. In 2007 Dotan produced and co-directed the Canadian-Chinese coproduction Diamond Dogs with Dolph Lundgren.

To state the obvious: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the focus of Dotan’s work. Not at all. Thus, invoking that conflict as grounds for opposing his visit is quite morally indefensible and unacceptable. Simply maintaining that Shimon Dotan is despicable merely because he is Israeli is rather like blacks maintaining that a white person is despicable merely because that person is white. There are blacks who take such a stand; and in doing so, they do more harm than good. Needless to say, the point just made holds mutatis mutandis with respect to the stance on the part of BDS with respect to the citizens of Israel.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Basic Goodwill as a Moral Gift

THE CAPACITY FOR GOODWILL is one of the defining features of being a morally decent human being. And no human is ever entirely beyond the need for goodwill. And it is simple and ever so poignant truth that goodwill can take quite simple forms. For instance, suppose that person Alpha is walking behind person Beta and sees that a pen has just fallen out of Beta’s pocket. Well, person Alpha performs an act of basic goodwill by picking up the pen and informing Beta of what had just happened. That simple act of goodwill probably takes no more than 60 seconds. Yet, the gesture means so much.

That is what I find so fascinating about basic acts of goodwill. They often require very little effort. Yet, such acts can mean so very much to the person for whom the act of goodwill was performed. Indeed, if my own experience is any indication, then performing a basic of goodwill is so very affirming to the person who so behaves. Indeed, it can be rightly said that such behavior indicates a very good thing about a person’s character. This is especially so if an individual lives in a morally stable and morally decent society. For in such a society, a person rarely—if ever—has to worry about staying alive. That can be taken as a given. Likewise, a person rarely has to worry about protecting the life of a family member.

But countless are the opportunities for basic goodwill. Indeed, there is no reason whatsoever to supposed that there will such a degree of advancement in this or that society that basic goodwill will be entirely irrelevant to society.

Interestingly, there is a profound respect in which the very foundation of basic goodwill is marvelous parental upbringing. For marvelous parental upbringing is not just about parents doing their job in raising their children. Rather, it is about parents tremendously appreciating and taking delight in the developmental progress of their children. I shall take to my grave the delight that my parents displayed when I wrote my first word and when I did my first case of simple arithmetic and the first instance of my tying my shoes. And so on. Their marvelous perceptivity of my progress was the key to my being perceptive with regard to the behavior of those around me. Likewise, the very fact that their simple gestures of goodwill towards me routinely meant so very much to me made it unequivocally clear to me that it is possible to make a positive difference in small ways.

I have never saved a life. Thus far, no such opportunity has ever presented itself. But I have had a wealth of experience in terms of witnessing the quite positive difference that simple acts of genuine goodwill can make. Moreover, I have numerous opportunities to engage in simple acts of goodwill; and routinely I have taken tremendous delight in so behaving. Indeed, it has turned out time and time again that such behavior has been a wonderful source of moral inspiration. Thus, basic goodwill on my part has been proven to be a moral gift one kind to the recipient and the gift of a moral mirror to me.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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The Amazing Parental Love Story of Christian Buchanan

Christian Buchanan 2ndThe story of Christian Buchanan should more than suffice to remove any doubts that a person might have with regard to the extraordinary majesty and power of parental love.  Quite simply, parental love gives a child a most profound sense of worth, where having a sense of worth is not in any way to be confused with being arrogant.  Indeed, it is quite possible to be ever so arrogant and yet be utterly lacking in a sense of worth.  By contrast, a genuinely modest individual can be an ever so bright shining star in terms of the moral majesty of having a sense of worth.

As the image above to the left makes clear, he came into this world lacking some major facial features.  Even though he was lacking in significant facial features, he was just fine in terms of both his psychological formation and his intellectual abilities.  As with any newborn, the one thing that Christian unequivocally needed and ever so majestically received is parental love.  And the pictures make it so wonderfully clear that notwithstanding the deformities, Christian was growing up as a very, very happy child.  That truth so profoundly speaks to the tremendous power of parental love.

The very significance of parental love is that such brings its about that the child so loved values herself or himself.  It is fascinating, when one thinks about it, that in order for a newborn child to value herself or himself starting at birth all that the child needs is genuine parental love.  What is truly phenomenal here is that a child will naturally come to value herself or himself simply as a result of being the beneficiary of marvelous parental love.  Parental love is the necessary fuel that is ever so efficacious in starting the psychological engine of a child valuing herself or himself.  In the all the years that I have thought about parental love, I have never thought about in the way expressed in the preceding sentence.  But upon reflection it is unequivocally clear that the point made is absolutely right.  There is no substitute for parental love.  None whatsoever.Christian Buchanan 3rd  The image of Christian at the piano is such a marvelous affirmation of that truth

A most significant point here is that it does not matter at all whether the sustained parental love comes from a biological parent or not.  So from an evolutionary perspective, there is a very straightforward sense in which evolution allowed for the possibility that a newborn may receive extraordinary affirmation from an adult who is not the biological parent of that newborn.  And guess what?  All that truly matters is that the newborn receives such sustained and majestic affirmation.  In teaching, I bear witness to the point just made; for I have taught truly marvelous students of one ethnicity who were adopted by adults of a visibly different ethnicity.  Just so, it was manifestly clear that the students were marvelously loved by the parents who adopted them.

Although the individuals providing majestic parental affirmation to a child need not be the child’s biological parents: a most profound, sublime truth, and indisputable truth is that there is nothing on the face of this earth that can take the place of the majestic parental affirmation that flows from parental love.  From an evolutionary perspective, it is absolutely fascinating that all a newborn needs is systematic and sustained affirmation while growing up.  The newborn does not—I repeat: does not—need for the affirmation to come from her or his biological parents.

The Christian Buchanan story is so very inspiring precisely because it is a truly marvelous real-life illustration of the reality that a child’s defective physical features are in no way a barrier to the majestic affirming power of parental love.  From an evolutionary perspective, it is truly phenomenal that human beings are so configured biologically that parental love, as it should, be ever so mightily and majestically transcends a child’s physical features.

On the one hand, if the very idea of evolution is survival, then the fact about evolutionary theory articulated two paragraphs ago regarding the significance newborn human beings receiving deep and sustained affirmation from an adult (typically but necessarily the biological parents) speaks to just how majestic evolution can be in terms of the way in which a species is biologically configured.  On the other hand, I must confess that the extraordinary importance of parental love in a child’s life inclines me to wonder whether there is indeed a higher power.  For we do not find anything even remotely parallel among any other species on the face of the earth.  Although biologically, the fact of the matter is that apes (chimpanzees, monkeys) are the closest to human beings, the reality is that there is absolutely no denying the truth that there is a vast and morally significant difference between apes and human beings.  In a most majestic manner, Christian Buchanan is a truly sublime and morally phenomenal reminder of the truth that there is a quite substantial moral difference between human beings and apes; and that truth holds all the more so regarding the moral difference between human beings and all other creatures on the face of the earth. The majesty of parental love among human beings simply has no equal or parallel among non-human creatures.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Proper Moral Sensibilities Are a Marvelous Moral Gift

One of the defining features of moral sensibilities is the wherewithal to correctly grasp the motives with which a person behaves, given adequate exposure to the person’s behavior.  Of course, in view of the fact that human beings are rather complex creatures, it is not possible to always be correct in grasping the motives with which a person behaves.  Even a most talented and perceptive individual can be mistaken upon occasion.  Just so, when a person’s moral sensibilities are tremendously well developed, the indisputable truth is that it will be rare that the individual is mistaken in her or his assessment of another’s display of moral sensibilities.

A rather interesting question that presents itself is the following: Can it be for rational for a person to not want to have tremendous moral sensibilities?  After all, so the argument might go, there is the saying that “Ignorance is bliss”.  Clearly, ignorance is bliss when in point of fact not much turns on knowing some fact or the other.  However, in the matter of living a morally decent life, it never the case that ignorance is bliss.  Or so it is if living is understood to mean being the author of one’s very own life—as opposed to merely following orders

Of course, there are lots and lots of things about which a person does not at all need to be well-informed.  But it is also the case that these things most certainly do not play a central role in the person having the moral and psychological wherewithal to lead a meaningful life.  For example, the typical frequent-flyer is not tremendously informed about how an airplane operates.  However, there is simply no need for the typical frequent flyer to be so informed.  To put the point another way: No reasonable person could possible think knowing how operate an airplane is absolutely crucial to being able to lead a meaningful life.

With regard to the significance of having tremendous moral sensibilities, the unexpurgated truth of the matter is that such moral sensibilities play an absolutely decisive role in grasping the motivations of both the behavior and remarks of an individual.  To state the obvious: A faux pas is something that people sometimes make no matter how careful they are.  Hence, there is all the difference in the world between (i) a faux pas and (2) utterly venomous behavior or, in any case, unquestionably inappropriate behavior.  And if an individual has tremendous moral sensibilities, it will turn out that in most cases the individual can readily grasp whether a person has committed a simple faux pas or whether the person has been irresponsible to a quite significant degree.

To offer a quite interesting parallel: Having the proper moral sensibilities is rather like being fluent in a language.  In so very many cases, a fluent speaker of language can see where a speaker is going before the speaker actually gets there.

Being a truly decent person morally is tantamount to being fluent with respect to what moral sensibilities are appropriate given the circumstances that bear upon a person’s life.  Not surprisingly, this entails determining with great accuracy what counts as morally appropriate sentiments given the circumstances.

Here is an example involving, say, Leslie and Jesse, who are complete strangers to one another.  Suppose that Leslie slips on a piece of ice and while falling Leslie grabs the coat of Jesse who was just beginning to pass Leslie.  As a result of grabbing Jesse’s coat, Leslie does considerable damage to the coat but no harm at all to Jesse.

Needless to say, there is a very straightforward respect in which Jesse should not be angry with Leslie.  For it is not as if Leslie has been utterly careless while walking.  Nor is it the case that Leslie had as her intention to cause substantial damage to Leslie’s coat.  Although Leslie was the key player in damaging Jesse’s coat, it is simply not the case that Leslie was careless.  And it is certainly not the case that the damaging of Jesse’s coat was intentional.  And if Jesse is a morally decent and thoughtful person, then both of the points just made are unequivocally clear to him.  Accordingly, Jesse should not in any way be angry at Leslie.  For in terms of the formal characterization moral behavior, there is simply no respect in which Leslie’s aim was to harm Jesse or to do damage either to Jesse or to any of the pricy clothing that he was wearing.  And if Jesse is a morally decent individual, then Jesse will fully grasp that truth and act accordingly.

A final point: Part of what is involved in being a morally decent person is being quite masterful at correctly assessing what has transpired before one’s very eyes, which on countless many occasions involves an assessment of the motivations of the behavior of the person in question.  Without a doubt, there certainly can be occasions when, notwithstanding our attentiveness, we are lacking in clarity regarding the motivations with which a person has behaved.  But such cases should be the exception rather than the rule.

Being a morally person decent does not—I repeat: does not—entail that being of help to others should be the primary concern in life.  But it does entail not letting self-interest be an excuse for failing to see that with a minimum of effort one could be of assistance to someone who has suddenly found herself or himself to be in need owing to no fault at all that she or he made.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Do Black Lives Matter to Blacks?

Imagine that black lives matter to blacks as much as blacks insist that black lives should matter to whites.  If blacks had that kind of marvelous regard for one another, all the world would have an extremely different and tremendously positive view of black Americans.  For one thing, the amount of crime in black neighborhoods would be significantly lower than it is nowadays.  My simplistic view is the following: For any ethnic group Alpha, how the members of ethnic group Alpha treat one another will bear mightily upon how individuals who are not a member of group Alpha will treat Alpha folks.

For the record, I should point out that in terms of raw numbers more people are killed by whites than by blacks.  That should not surprise anyone, since there are far more whites in the United States than there are blacks.  But the numerical difference to which I have just drawn attention is compatible with the reality that the percentage of blacks who harm blacks is higher than the percentage of whites who harm whites.

If there are only 2,000 people who are part of group Alpha whereas there are 20,000 people who are part of group Beta, it can be true that the Beta group actually kills more Beta individuals than the Alpha group kills Alpha individuals.  Just so, the percentage of the Alpha killings can be higher than the percentage Beta individuals.  Notice that whereas 10% of 20o0 equals 200, it turns out that that a mere 5% of 20,000 equals 1,000.  So a smaller group can kill a significantly higher percentage of its members than a larger group kills of its members, even though in terms of raw numbers, the smaller group actually kills fewer individuals.

So although it can be correct to think that in terms actual numbers more whites are killing whites than blacks are killing blacks, that truth is compatible with the reality that the percentage of blacks killing blacks is substantially higher than percentage of whites killing whites.  And there is the rub.  Given all the talk that goes on among blacks regarding the importance and significance of blacks identifying with one another, the reality is that the level of black-on-black crime makes it unequivocally clear that blacks are far less respectful of one another than the slogan “Black lives matter” would seem to warrant.

If the above line of reasoning is correct, then the issue of blacks tremendously commanding the respect of non-blacks becomes extremely difficult.  And let me add here that there a fundamental difference between (a) treating a person justly and (b) a person commanding one’s respect.  There is a straightforward sense in which a person should be treated justly no matter what she or he does.  But it is formally and conceptually impossible to command the respect of others no matter what one does.  So it is regardless what a person’s ethnic configuration might be.  And blacks will never be the exception to that reality.

Of course, I fully agree that it is hardly the case that issue of racism with regard to blacks has entirely disappeared.  Just so, there has been such significant progress in that regard that there is an ever so profound respect in which blacks can exhibit excellences of thought and character, as well as behavior of significant moral responsibility, that mightily commands the respect of others.  If blacks were as committed to exhibiting such excellences as they are to protesting a wrong that is committed against a black, the unmitigated truth is that blacks would ever so majestically command the respect of individuals across all other ethnic groups.

My most poignant example is that just about all of the Mom & Pop stores in the black neighborhood in Syracuse are owned by Arabs‑‑‑often Arabs who do not have a full command of English.  The question that I have asked myself over and over and over again is “Why is that blacks do not own the majority of Mom & Pop stores in their very own neighborhood?”  That would be an extremely positive factor with respect to blacks commanding the respect of non-blacks.  And the proof of this comes from what is perhaps an unexpected direction, namely Chinese Restaurants.

We have all been to a Chinese Restaurant where the owners barely speak English.  Just so, they own the restaurant.  And guess what?  Our prevailing attitude with regard to Asians is that they are very hard working people who have found a rather excellent way of being successful.  Whatever else is true nowadays, racism cannot be deemed the explanation for why blacks have not done something analogous.  For instance, suppose that 2 or 3 blacks opened a soul food restaurant in the Syracuse University area.  I am pretty confident that the owners would have lots of student customers of various ethnic backgrounds buying a fried chicken and mashed potatoes dish with sweet potato pie for dessert.  And that would be a wonderful way of underwriting the idea that black lives matter precisely because it would be a marvelous way of blacks gracefully commanding the respect of non-blacks.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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