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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Protesting the Trump Election. Say What ? ! ? ! ?

If Hilary Clinton had won the presidential election, and there were groups of people booing her, the individuals so behaving would be considered horrific sexists. And while not everyone has liked Barack Obama, it is very clear that booing him would have been considered none other than a horrific form of racism. So, it is mightily puzzles me that people think that booing Donald Trump is just fine. After all, it is not as if he won the election because he rigged this or that voting area of the United States. Or, it is not as if he paid people to misplace or inaccurately count the votes. Quite the contrary, there is a straightforward sense in which Trump won the election fair and square. And it utterly stupefying to me that there are lots of folks who cannot except that.

Surely, the argument can be that only individual whom someone should accept as the elected President of the United States is someone whom that individual wanted to be president.
Let’s see, I did not want Hilary Clinton for President and I did not want Donald Trump for President. Does this mean that I am justified in yelling extra loudly? Indeed, should I maintain that very system is utterly messed-up because, after all, the person I wanted to be president was not even running for the office?

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I certainly believe that protests can have their place. After all, in terms of racial equality, the United States would not have made anything like the progress that it has made had there not been protests against racial inequality. But the protests for racial equality were very much drawing attention to the quite inexcusable wrongdoing of holding that a white person is morally and intellectually superior to a black person because and only because the white person is white.
I fully grasp that there are lots of folks who preferred Clinton over Trump. But that truth does not exactly mean that there were enough folks who preferred Clinton over Trump. For if there had been the case, then she would have won.

And while I will not claim that when it comes to ethnic diversity Clinton’s moral sensibilities are lacking. But then I will not make that claim about Trump either. Just so, it would seem that in this regard there is a parallel between Clinton and Trump. Neither strikes me as a gift from the heavens in the matter of ethnic diversity. After all, it is not as if one just likely to either with a Hispanic or African-American person as one is to see either with a white person. No, the majority of either’s closest friends are white. And while I certainly think Hilary Clinton is quite intelligent, it does not at all occur to me to think that she is brilliantly insightful when it comes to matters of ethnic diversity. And guess what? I do not think that Trump is brilliantly insightful when it comes to matters of ethnic diversity.

For me, the difference between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump is that Trump is far more of a realist than she is. The wall on the southern border strikes me as a very clear case in point. There can be no question about it: Such a wall is needed.

Lest there be any confusion, my view is not at all that Trump was the best person ever to run for the presidency of the United States. Alas, I can say, though, is that I detected a realism in Trump that I did not detect in Clinton. Perhaps things would have been different had she not been the first woman to run for the office of the President of the United States. For it is clear that many supposed that her being the first woman to run for the office essentially assured her the election to the office of President of the United States. And I do understand that line of thought. Moreover, she is undoubtedly a smart person. But then Barrack Obama is also a smart person. But guess what? Being smart is hardly a sufficient condition for holding the office of President of the United States.

On the one hand, I am not under the delusion that Trump is perfect. On the other hand, I do know that there are colleges where faculty members are concerned with undoing the damage that they think that Trump will cause. All that I shall say here is that a self-made millionaire cannot possibly be all that dumb. Or, if he is dumb, then hell: I want to be just as dumb as he is ! ! ! And yes, it is very much the case that I do want to see a woman president of the United States of America. Say what? ! ? ! ?

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Donald Trump and His Haters

The venomous protests over the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States is extremely revealing. Oh, I fully agree that Donald Trump is not morally and intellectually perfect. But guess what? Hilary Clinton is not morally and intellectually perfect, either. And it is also the case that the current president of the U.S—namely Barack Obama—is not morally and intellectually perfect.

Of course, I completely understand that people can be disappointed with regards to who wins a presidential election. However, the protesting that has taken place makes sense only if there is good reason to believe that in some way Trump’s winning of the election was corrupt or that he is utterly incompetent. Well, there is not a shred of evidence that warrants the thought that Trumps winning of the presidential election was corrupt in some way or that he is incompetent.

Now, to be sure, I fully grasp that idea that having the first woman president—namely, Hilary Clinton, in this instance—seemed to have had enormous amount of appeal. Indeed, it is for precisely that reason that I thought that she would win the presidential election. But there is a respect in which we need to be extremely cautious about the idea of having the first president of this or that ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation (as will surely be the case one of the days). After all, the idea of electing the first black president of the United States—namely, Barrack Obama—had tremendous appeal. Yet, there has been tremendous disappointment with regards to how Obama has done things. When he steps down in January of 2017, I do not think that there are going to be lots and lots of folks—be they black or otherwise—running around ever so grateful that we had a black president because in so very many ways America is a much, much better nation on account having had Obama as its first black president.
Interestingly, then, it is very, very likely that having Hilary Clinton as the first woman president did not have anything like the appeal some people that thought that it would have precisely because the nation had already seen that electing its first black president did not really make America a better nation for all. For it is not as if there is some extraordinary accomplishment on the part of Hilary Clinton that fundamentally redefined for the better this or that reality, either in the United States or some other part of the world. By contrast, Donald Trump has been an extremely successful business person. And that is very much a non-trivial factor.

Lest there be any understanding, I completely understand the social significance of diversity across both gender and ethnicity. But there is a very straightforward sense in which there are times when what matters most is indisputable sheer success. For example, in the case of a person having an operation performed, surely what the person wants is a very accomplished physician performing the operation. The ethnicity and gender of the physician is completely irrelevant.

In so very many ways, the president of the United States is rather like a physician performing an operation. What matters most is someone who will be ever so successful in performing an operation—and not the ethnicity or gender of the person. And there is a straightforward sense in which President Barack Obama mightily underwrites the point being made here. No doubt countless many citizens of the United are very pleased to have elected the first-black President of the United States. And he will go down in history as the first-black president. But will he also go down in history as a president of the United States who mightily made America a better nation for all?

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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The Gift of Self-Command in a Liberal Society

Clearly human beings should aim to be just. Arguably, the very foundation of a stable society is none other than the reality that the vast majority of the citizens of that society are profoundly committed to being just. And one of the clearest signs that an individual is committed to being a just person is that the individual behaves justly even when it is manifestly obvious that the person could get away with behaving unjustly. An individual who acts justly even when it is obvious that she or he could get away with acting justly exhibit when the great philosopher and economist Adam Smith referred to has self-command in his famous work The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

It is obvious that no one is born with self-command. For one thing, an infant who has just come out of the womb is utterly clueless as to who she or he is. And it is entirely impossible to have self-command if one has no idea at all just who one is. Alas, whether an individual will come to have self-command in the course of growing up mightily depends upon how the infant is raised. On the one hand, the child needs tremendous affirmation. On the other, it is of the utmost importance that boundaries are imposed in a gracious and loving manner. There is all the difference in the world between (a) scolding and threatening a child, on the one hand, and (b) graciously and lovingly correcting a child, on the other. Graciously loving and correcting a child is absolutely and unequivocally fundamental to a child feeling ever so deeply valued by her or his parents. And that profoundly deep sense of being valued is none other than a launching pad for a child growing up with a tremendous sense of self-command.

As the term suggests, the idea behind self-command is not that a person never has any inappropriate desires. Rather, the idea is that a person behaves in the right manner given the circumstances even if the individual would very much feels like doing otherwise. The point just made should not come as a surprise. For while it is certainly very nice to always have the appropriate desires in terms of how we should behave, a most poignant reality is that there will often be cases where we desire to do one thing, however it is manifestly clear that the right thing to do is quite different.
Indeed, a defining difference between human beings and all other animals is that a human being can have the moral and psychological wherewithal to act contrary to a very intense desire that she or he is having. Indeed, what is surely true is that every morally upright person has had or will have the experience of intensely desiring to behave in one way but fully grasping that the right thing for her or him to do is to behave otherwise. And if self-command is a deep aspect of that individual’s life, then she or he will have the strength of character to do what is morally right, notwithstanding the intense desire(s) that she or he has to behave otherwise.

It is my considered judgment that one of significant downfalls of a liberal society is that the virtue of self-command is not given the moral and social weight that it deserves. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I have no trouble at all with the freedoms that bound in a liberal society. But an indisputable reality is that freedom in the absence of a tremendous measure of self-command is extremely problematic. Self-command is none other than the wherewithal—not withstanding temptations to the contrary—to refrain from acting on this or that desire because there is, indeed, good reason to believe that doing so would render one worse-off.
And it is now ever so clear to me that one of the very profound and concrete manifestations of parental love should be none other than a child is raised by her or his parents to a profoundly deep sense of self-command. Most significantly, parental love as such is not substitute at all for instilling in a child a profound sense of self-command.

It is said that one of the marks of a good theory is its explanatory power. Well, to grow up ever so bereft of a deep sense of self-command is be ever so susceptible to evil temptations. By contrast, any child who grows with a deep sense of self-command will invariably be rather magnificent in finding ways to resist the temptation to do evil.

Several years ago, I published a paper entitled “Being Moral and Handling the Truth”. If I were now writing that paper, I would draw attention the tremendous significance of the virtue of self-command. The absence of self-command constitutes none other than a quite formidable backdrop for the intrustion of morally inappropriate behavior.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

This essay is a tribute to a young person whom I saw participating in a protest in front of Planned Parenthood.

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Social Distance in the Modern World

WHEN IT COMES TO MAINTAINING SOCIAL DISTANCE FROM ANOTHER, there can be lots of good reasons for maintaining a measure distance from an individual without at all holding a negative view of the person in question. A quite simple example is that of maintaining the proper social distance from a person’s lover in order to avoid the very appearance of sexual impropriety. For example, if Susan is married to John and Susan has a wonderful friendship with Mary, it is clearly inappropriate for Mary and John to spend too much “alone time” together. And if Mary and John have sufficient self-command, then barring quite crisis like situations, they will next to no “alone time” together.

To state the obvious, precisely what makes it so inappropriate for Mary and John to spend lots of “alone time” together is that doing so could result in a loss of fidelity on John’s part to his wife Susan. Needless to say, this line of thought can apply equally to same sex couples.

To be sure, a person’s level of self-command is a non-trivial factor. And a person can have good reason to believe that she or he would never act inappropriately. But even so, there is much to be said for the idea of avoiding even the very appearance of wrongdoing. My favorite example in this regard is my having office hours at Marshall Square Mall. There is a very straightforward sense in which my deciding to do so made a phenomenal difference precisely because any and every student—regardless of ethnicity or gender—could feel so very comfortable talking to me one-on-one even if the conversation proved to be about something very personal about which the student wanted to speak to me.

It is an ever so fundamental truth that maintaining the proper social distance can put everyone at ease. And an equally profound truth is that rare exception everyone has the moral wherewithal to recognize what counts as the proper social distance and to act accordingly.
Significantly, it is arguable that that more self-command is required nowadays than was the case in the distant past precisely because there have been significant changes in what counts as socially permissible self-presentation in the public sphere.

The clearest example is the tremendous shift in what counts as acceptable attire to wear in the public space. From very tight attire for females to sagging pants for males, the indisputable reality is that either form of attire was deemed entirely unacceptable decades ago. Not only that, it would have been perfectly acceptable decades ago for there to be an explicit expression of public disapproval, especially on the part of an older person with respect to an obviously younger person. Not so nowadays. Not at all.

The concluding point of the preceding paragraph mightily raises the issue of self-command in the realm of modernity. While there can be no doubt whatsoever that the freedom of individuals to do as they please has grown considerably in recent decades. Alas, there is not a shred of evidence—none whatsoever—that would suggest that self-command has generally increased on the part of human beings. Quite the contrary, it seems quite clear that self-command has decreased considerably. And it is ever so clear that progress in the absence of considerable self-command is none other than a sheer disaster. And one form that disaster may take is phenomenal self-deception. Technology has facilitated communication between individuals to a truly phenomenal degree. Alas, there is not a shred of evidence that warrants the view that nowadays friends have a richness and depth that was essentially inconceivable to friends in the past.

So guess what? For all the communication that is taking place, there is a social distance between individuals that heretofore would have been utterly unimaginable.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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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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