The Story Thus Far
As I begin to pen down the end of this three-part series of what is perhaps a difficult topic, I have, with stoic, quiet conviction, brainstormed about this rather thorny issue pretty much the same as a rookie soldier would to a trench hole with a half-assed rifle and a spade: Right from the start, I have admitted, or rather resigned, to the fact that I have always been a rather reckless sort of animal, one which does not regard morals of most kinds with nary a pinch of salt.
That said, I have decided to explore this contentious issue from an atheistic point of view: I feel that morals have always been the major weapon of mass deception in history: The Church as always been quite adept at claiming the high moral ground, and to a certain extent, the Muslims have learned from their catholic/Christian parts, even though all religious arguments in the name of morality have always been myopic and one-sided.
In part I, I dealt with the sheer ludicrousness and tribal favoritism practiced by the world's religions, and in part II I tried to argue for the transcendence from inane, one-dimensional, absolutist morals to a wider ethical perspective.
The Conundrum Of Morals: A Stubborn Insistence On The Rights and The Wrongs
If one is to equate morality as an in-born, humanistic guide to aid us in perceiving the rights and the wrongs of this very treacherous existence which we have all been borne into, irrespective to our objections or agreement, then morality can be equated to a camera with faulty lenses: Not only is our sense of morality flawed, it is, in a way, an evolutionarily biased trait.
Humans have a tendency to equate everything in black and white, which in a way is a good thing: We are better off at elucidating our thoughts with black and white, in the shape of the parchment of paper and the trusty pen, than our evolutionary cousins. This tendency to see everything in black and white, with little or no disregard for the differing shades of gray, means that we will always retain this infantile instinct to imprint an explanation, then dub it as "absolute truth" to justify our juvenile claims: The Sun must be a God because it provides it provides for all life on Earth, Thor is so wrathful that he is creating a stormy havoc with his lethal hammer, along with the tumultuous fury of Poseidon in the high seas. With stubborn, stoic conviction, we refuse to accept the "maybes", "perhaps" and the "we don't knows", that we should, in all humility, accept our failure in understanding the laws of nature. And that, in a nutshell is the way religious, obstinate humans perceive morality: In black and white, and no other shades of gray in between.
History is replete with ignorance compounded chiefly as a result of religion, and with deadly results: The plague was thought to be a curse from witches and the dastardly Jews by the anti-semitic Vatican, and dying a martyr's death, it seems, can grant the "lucky" agent of terror a shot at 72, immortal and eternal virgins.
The former led to the millions of deaths of Europeans from the bubonic plague, while the latter is still inflicting untold damage in the form of crazy, suicidal Muslims armed with nothing but their own lives in the shape of strapped bombs and charred bodies.
The Truth Behind Morals: The Good, the Bad, and The Strange
Far from being a rigid codified word of God, as expounded by the Religious Right, morals are fluid, comparative values we have learned to identify with since the advent of the human species.
Under ordinary circumstances, theft, murder and other criminal, despicable acts are considered "immoral" because of its detrimental acts to society: Thievery hurts the economy of someone's pocket, murder deprives the living of a chance at life, and so on.
Under usual, "normal" circumstances, these are the values we would attribute to being negative, potentially devastating acts of the despicable. Positive, moral prepositions, on the other hand, are greeted with applause and aplomb: Donating millions to charity, helping out a man in need, sticking by your comrade in his or her time of need, etc. The world thrives on, and feeds on such "good" deeds: Millionaires hold charitable balls as a means to flaunt their "acts of kindness" (And their wealth). We help our friends and next-of-kin on the basis of human relationships.
Yet, by some perverted twist of "fate" (or sheer probability), one could easily see the lob-sidedness in such potentially feel-good comparisons. Consider the following:
1. The Hezbollah is a charitable organization: It runs hospitals, social development programs and educational facilities for the Muslim community. Therefore, donating money is a good (some would say great) charitable deed.
2. An old man, upon being kicked, punched and knocked almost senseless by his unfilial son, insists on giving money to this undeserving motherfucker, as an ultimate "act of kindness".
3. A man tries to kill you, but your quick instincts gave you an unexpected edge. In the process of the struggle, you manage to grab a knife and kill him. You are therefore a murderer and an immoral brute.
4. You are trapped in a calamitous flood. With 6 kids in tow an a small boat, all 7 of you cling on to life in that dinghy little raft. You chance upon a seven-eleven store. It has obviously been abandoned. You break into the store and rob it of its life-saving food products. You have committed an immoral act, because, by all moral and lawful accounts, you have committed a crime, even though your intentions are great and life-saving.
Notice that, in all the above-mentioned instances, I have managed to turn the tables with regards to our standard quip on morality: A beautiful act of charity to an organization of terrorism can very well amount to a direct funding of terrorism, while a supposedly criminal act of theft can somehow manage to stand out as a gift of hope and joy for beleaguered children.
As humans, we live in a planet filled with a myriad of uncertainties: We can all wake up tomorrow and find a loved one dead, or a country buried under a barrage of missiles. Our actions and reactions are a direct response to our ever-changing environment; for morals to be of any relevance to our lives, it must always be compared to the circumstances of each and every incident.
In sum, morality is the comparison of polemic, contradicting values in any given situation: Through the study of ethics, we can further elucidate and clarify some of these polemic arguments, and even then, such moral conundrums cannot be considered clear-cuts by any means.
A Thorny Scenario
Consider this: You are a commander of a truck convoy in Iraq. Standing in your way, however, isn't an armored Russian tank, nor a bunch of terrorists armed to the teeth (Ironically, an armed enemy in this case poses a far less problem) Rather, its a bunch of scrawny, playful kids, all enjoying themselves and having a good game of hopscotch, juxtaposed by a barren landscape of bombed-out buildings and blackened corpses.
Suppose that there has been a spate of terrorist bombings, all carried out by indoctrinated children under the age of 10 in this danger zone. Your choices are simple, yet overwhelmingly complicated: Drive through the kids and get your men out of the kill zone, thereby effectively killing every kid on that dank street, or get down the convoy with your men to clear the way, whereby you and your men stand a good chance of being killed by a bomb or many bombs strapped and hidden under the innocent diapers of a child. Even worst still, there may be terrorists hidden in the burning rumble who might take aim at your men, as they carelessly expose themselves to open fire, in which case your men and the kids will die. How will you choose?
Moral conundrums of this kind often drive me into a state of mental frenzy: It would help, of course, if there were other recourses to any of these "options", which seem more like a "heads-and-tails" question, seemingly capable of being answered only with a toss of a coin. Suppose the convoy could reverse, or that the kids will respond to the screams of the troops?
In this scenario, try as I might, I cannot, in good conscience, denounce anyone who chooses to kill the kids by simply driving through the crowd. There are no right and wrong absolutes in scenarios like this, and if you think this as mere rhetoric, consider the erroneous positions of many American troops in Iraq who are faced with thousands of civilians on their tours of duty. Hidden beneath a clutch of burkha-clad beauties may be a hidden terrorist, hidden and covered in a deadly shroud of pure terror. Or a policeman who approaches a stolen vehicle, not knowing whence the criminal will charge out and open fire at him/her.
We live in a world which is fraught with dangers and uncertainties, and this profound fact cannot be addressed adequately through narrow-minded, unflinching world-views which we cannot, in good conscience, live by.
Thursday, 2 August 2007
The Story Thus Far