Friday, May 01, 2009

don't you forget about me

The 80's was a decade of great songs. Sure, better music has come out of other eras, but arguing "what musical era or genre is best" is like arguing any other opinionated topic -- no one is going to ultimately win.

It reminds me of the nonobjectivist approach to ethics, which states that there are no moral truths, but instead morality is simply a reflection of opinion and societal norms. For example, say you like Mozart and I like The Kinks. Instead of being able to sit down and rationally and calmly discuss the talents of either, with the intention of deciding one to be better than another, we will ultimately become inflamed and start spewing rhetoric and name calling. A.J. Ayer says that this will happen in any conversation where there is disagreement, and that ethics is therefore nothing that can be argued about as it is all opinion. "Lying is wrong" is as nonsensical to him as "Elvis is alive" or "Bread is tasty" because they're all opinions and cannot be proven as universal fact.

You know, when researching the Na of Southern China, or reading about the Ik of Central Africa, or even just considering dissenting opinions regarding abortion and same-sex marriages in our own country, it's easy to give a lot of credit to the idea that there is no moral truth and we're all arguing our opinions and feelings.

How dare you tell me that I have to agree with you because you're right and I'm wrong!! And do those that believe in abortion have any more right to say that to those that believe abortion is wrong? Do monogamous heterosexuals have the right to force their notions of morality onto sexual "deviants"? If I tell you that you are wrong for thinking that the sky is blue because in reality it is not blue but is merely reflecting blue as all other colors are being absorbed... do I have the right to force you to agree with me?

Ah, morality. How difficult it is to explain you, how impossible it is to contain you.

So maybe there are no universal truths. I mean, even "murder is wrong" is heavily debated by those that think that motive plays no part in murder, therefore even "killing" is wrong. Jainists would be among them; to them, I'm a murderer because I stepped on a cockroach and killed it. I meant to, as well, so maybe I am guilty -- universally speaking. I mean, either taking life is wrong or it is not, right?

Do I have the divine right to define what "life" is? Do I have the moral responsibility to set boundaries? Is making motive an acceptable cause and therefore exception simply making morality more comfortably fit? Just because I did not take human life, I did take life... a cockroach may not be a desirable lifeform to many of us, but we would all agree that it is indeed alive.

Does it become abominable for me to kill something because it's cute -- like a kitten? Where is the line drawn? Who gets to decide? If I accidentally kill it, because it runs out in the street and I run over it with my car, am I absolved of all moral responsibility? Aren't I surely a monster if I hack it up with an axe, however?

So if there are universal truths, then some of us must uncomfortably admit that we've done some universally morally reprehensible things, even if they weren't done to humans.

I remember a mouse I once killed in my house. I was not particularly kind to it, although it was no cold-blooded killing, but instead a rage response because I found the mouse in my cereal box that I retrieved from the cabinet to pour myself a bowl. But the circumstances notwithstanding, I took that mouse's life. The fact is, that mouse died at my hands.

It seems like something of a nicety that we only include humans in our societal ethical norms. How very Kantian of us. How ignoble. Do I have another solution? Are you kidding? I'm an amateur at this stuff.

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