I am ready for the term to be over with. There are too many things I need to read and think about that I can’t do while school is in session.
Some thoughts crossed my mind, one of a zillion, while driving to work the other day. Thankfully I have downloaded a new voice memo recording program for my iPhone.
I was thinking of virtue as a philosopher. Taking a philosophy class again has reminded me, again (I keep forgetting it seems) the benefits of philosophy… that is… questioning. In this regards I am a philosopher for I am always questioning. Yet, as of the last couple of weeks, I am in another of my distant phases. I am away from people, I am disconnected to everything and everybody, and emotionally flat…. well… except for irritation at people on the street that cannot drive.
I was thinking of Socrates (rather of Plato’s depiction of Socrates) and how he always came upon someone who thought they knew something and, by use of the Socratic method, would be shown to know nothing at all. I can’t recall the specific lines of thought well enough to impress a professor, yet I do recall Socrates coming upon some military men and asking them what courage was (and, again, showing them they were ignorant).
The point here, in my mind, wasn’t that I was trying to remember what Socrates said exactly, only that there is this bias within some philosophers that the intellectual, rational understanding of things is of supreme importance. That is, to truly know what virtue is, or justice, one must be able to define one’s terms. That is, one must have a philosophy.
Now, I draw the line here that one’spersonal philosophy must be both sound and valid. These two requirements are not the same and, sadly, they are lacking in a great many of ‘philosophies’ that are spread around. Yet this isn’t a post to investigate the faults of individual outlooks on life. Instead I have a question as to my own (and by extension, others, and by such a means to render help and healing).
As I wrote, philosophers would have our outlook be of sound and valid logic. We would have our actions defined as just according to a good system of ideas. It is easy, for a variety of good reasons, why emotion ought to be distrusted in defining what justice is. That is, justice ought be have qualities and characteristics that allow us to easily define it, or understand it, in a variety of ways that might approximate universality. What is justice if it is not, at some level, universal? If our understanding of it is purely at the relativistic, what then is the superordinate drive for it? Yet can we understand justice universally? Rather, it might be more meaninful to say, can we apply justice universally? Or do we apply it specifically? This is no easy chasm to cross. It may be, I dare to say, that the problems of Christianity (or some within the sect) to be that they understand justice and mercy as universals but cannot apply them universally (for when one does one will run into problems) and that by applying them individually they believe that they lose the universality. Could it be that this is one of the mysteries of their god and that they, as Christians, ought to not try to be universal in application of such values, but instead focus on the individual opportunities? I’m no bible scholar, but I think he said that he came for the world and that you ought to love your neighbor. In other words, he’ll take care of the universals and you take care of the individual application. Of course if this were true it would be antithesis to fundamentalism… and fundamentalism (of all religions) seeks to gain and hold power. I am anti-fundamentalist.
Love your neighbor, damn it.
Back to my point. Suppose that one does approach values as a philosopher. That is, one has a system of beliefs and if there is shown evidence a point being either not sound or not valid it is redressed and fixed. However, we are not all philosophers. Truth is, most people make emotional decisions about something (people, ethical decisions, beliefs, schemas, etc…) at some deep level and this postive/negative affect bubbles upward and it meshes into our thinking. If this thinking in our forebrain doesn’t match the affect we have ‘in our bones’ our brains tweak our thinking. If the emotional load is enough we’ll jump through hoops intellectually to rationalize our thoughts to align with the emotional feelings coming up.
This is one reason why racism cannot be fought with guilt ads. It doesn’t adequately address the emotional fears against an out group. Such in-group, out-group delineations are natural and will occur. Pretending that they do not will not make them go away. It can be either IT versus Sales, Blacks vs Whites, Cubs fans versus White Sox fans, or whatever. Education helps, but it is a more complex issue and playing pattie cake and being politically correct in all things will not help us understand and move past racism, sexism, gender bias, and others.
Back to my point. As I said. I’ve been emotionally distant. It just isn’t there. Whatever walls exist within me they are pretty good. I’ve not even called my family in weeks. Yet thinking about virtue and such I noticed that what I had to go on, of late, was only philosophy. That is, only some code of conduct understood by myelf as appropriate behavior (thou shall not punch someone in the face because it isn’t considered nice in polite company, etc…). In looking at possible behaviors and such the usual gut reactions to things are not there. There is no guiding hunch that motivates one toward/away from various activities. In states such as this, it seems to me, it is no wonder that one could get into a wide array of trouble. If snorting cocaine off of a stripper’s back in a limo on its way to Vegas after calling in sick to work and spending the last money in one’s bank account were to come up… what is to stop someone from doing this their internal feelings of what is right action. Note, this scenario might be appropriate for someone else… but for myself, for a whole host of reasons, it would not be. Yet in my choosing for it not to be at this moment (supposing there is a limo of strippers outside my door at the moment) would not be because I have some drive of what is right/wrong within me (as is so strong in me at other times, even to the point where I’ll fight the world for my stance) as it is that it would be a cold calculation against a series of ideas and their weights. For example, I can’t go to Vegas ‘yet’ because I have a final exam coming up (this itself is shoddy and needs a lot of other things to shore it up… it is easily knocked over).
On to the point. Part of the culture of warriorhood is justice. We have it internalized. Many of us have these feelings, or at least some of them so that we feel a righteous anger against those that violate our norms of justice and virtue. This is emotion. If one loses, for whatever reason, the emotional compass by which one navigates ethical decision making, then the only thing left is a great philosophy that is sound and valid. This philosophy ought to be able to answer any question that comes upon it with ease and satisfaction.
Side note (because it is 2 AM and I ramble at 2 AM). The story in the Bible about King Solomon who was ‘wise’ and ‘just’ and before him came two women, each with claim to a baby. The King said that he’d cut the baby in half and give half to each woman, to which one relented, preferring that the baby live, if only with the false mother. This is touted as an example of the wisdom of the King. I say that it isn’t that at all but instead a deeper message of sacrifice of self for the benefit of another. The mother acted selflessly out of concern for the baby. We might say, in bible class, that this is an example of the wise king, but it is really a passing along of social values. King Soloman could have been wise, or lucky. What if the false mother truly loved the baby as well? What then? In the story that is passed down to us we are told that the only one mother seemed to truly love the baby (even us kids could tell at the beginning which mother was the real one). What if both women, A and B, cried terribly for the baby… sobbing and wrenching their clothing. How could you tell? Either King Soloman could tell straight away which woman was the mother and therby needed an excuse to give the baby to the other one that fit the legality of the times, or he was truly a lucky king that didn’t care at all what happened to the baby. I am inclined to believe the former.
Back to the point. Take a veteran of a war and all the things tha s/he has seen. This would, among other things, rock the notions of BJW to their foundations. BJW is for Belief in a Just World and is a psychological concept. If we lose our abilities to navigate virtously according to the feelings within us (that most people use) we must fall back on our philosophies… philosophies that have been damaged, altered, shattered, changed, or at least shifted by what we’ve done, experienced, or have been witness to. How can one have belief in a universal justice when one has seen children with great lesions across their faces, living in open sewers, and living in an an area where random car bombs blow civilians into pieces the size of marbles, or where one has, in fighting back against an enemy, caused the death of innocents?
Some people who have their philosophies and like to espouse their values from the comfort of their recliners, bar stools, and couches, while listening to some idiot on talk radio (Yes, Rush Limbaugh that is you) haven’t had to hold their philosophies up to the test of what some of our veterans have had to do and see. Can your philosophy of justice stand up to seeing children die by your own hand? Good fucking luck.
I don’t know the answer… but I’m working on a path. Right now I am deep in the jungle myself. Hell, it wouldn’t take but one stripper, a can of beer, and the nearest town for me to leave right now. Fortunately, temptation is not around and I continue to plan my demise via final exam. Yet while I am in this malaise I can ask questions, for I am still a philosopher and I am in that spot that philosophers write of with respect… loss of emotion. What good can I bring out of this?