Musings

Open Letter to my fellow Americans.

Dear fellow Americans,

Stop it, just stop. I implore you to take a moment from this world of instant gratification we live in to stop and really think about a few things. Since the presidential election, the campaigns, the scandals, and all of the organized chaos we Americans have dealt with in the past few years, it’s become glaringly obvious we need to sit down, shut up, and get back to basics. Our founding fathers are likely rolling in their graves. Currently, there are more people tuning in for Mama June’s new tv show than there are those actually taking a stand for humanity. Americans are far more interested in Kardashian’s drama and gossip than pitching in and helping out our own veterans or the hungry children in our country. Everyone’s head is so far up their own ass that they can’t see the type of culture and reality they’re creating for future generations. This stems across borders as well, the innocent children in Syria, the state of health near Fukishima for those people and animals, the melting polar ice caps, the war-torn middle east, the dwindling bee population… I digress, while all of these issues are important and worth serious discussion to find formidable solutions – my focus is on Americans. Let’s get back to the basics.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a class via Harvard University on the edX platform, Justice with Michael Sandel. This course covered moral and ethical philosophy, we studied philosophers across the board and asked deep questions, spawning an even deeper debate. It is categorically imperative that we treat other humans with… get this… humanity. Immanuel Kant said “Act as if the maxims of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature“. This goes back to the ‘golden rule’ we were all hopefully taught as children. This rule is mentioned across multiple religions and by many philosophers. While Kant dances along with deontological theroy due to the concern with duty, it stretches vastly among all types… even pagans and atheists. Let’s dive down this rabbit hole further, shall we?

Utilitarianism. Typically defined with regard to well-being for living things, animals, humans, etc. Philosopher Jeremy Bentham is the founder of utilitarianism, with ideas and thoughts stemming from consquentialism (where the consequences of actions are the defining standard of right and wrong). While consequentialism doesn’t hold enough weight, in my opinion, to stand on it’s own in modern times, it’s easy to see and recognize the truths involved. This is exactly what Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and several other philosophers have done. Utilitarianism however, unlike consequentialism and egoism, considers all interests equally. “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” – Immanuel Kant. Now, there’s plenty of room for debate on this – do we obey and carry on the rules in with we maximize utility? Should our actions be based upon the results or consequences? America these days has some of this working thought process – but it also has a whole lot of hedonistic patterns. Like Aristotle and Aristippus, happiness is viewed as the only good. Uhm, hypocritical much, America? We’re in such a world of instant gratification, selfishness, and maximizing our own happiness as the only good – don’t you realize you’re also self-sabotaging? All of the negativity and bemoaning over every little thing. The law of attraction is real and it just really sucks to see fellow citizens of the world continue to manifest negative events, poking and prodding the proverbial bear, just for some instant gratification or attention. Example, Tomi Lahren is constantly pinpointing and calling people out for being ‘snowflakes’, acknowledging and berating them for complaining… but wait… that’s all she does. America – this hypocritical stuff has got to stop, it just makes us look like a spoiled rotten little brat of a child without manners or any sort of proper upbringing. It’s time we took a step back because our current course is clearly not working. Utilitarianism has been applied to all sorts of social humanity, from the crisis of global poverty, to social welfare economics, to the ethical treatment and raising of animals for food. We’ve gone off track though, in an effort to minimize the risks to humanity via utilitarianism, it’s gone askew and morphed into such a selfish culture. Stop shooting yourselves in the foot.

Veil of ignorance. Philosopher John Rawls founded a method to determine morality, especially in regard to justice and political issues. Listen up, America. Rawls stated “No one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like.” This train of thought is specifically meant to strip away the preconceived notions and ideas that personal thoughts and outlooks are ultimately irrelevant when it comes to justice, or conversely, injustice of principles. If we all took this step behind the veil of ignorance, the objective outcome is to make choices based upon moral considerations, rather than our own self or class-interests. Politicians and lobbyists… are you listening? Spencer J Maxcy outlined this concept in his book, Ethical School Leadership. “Imagine that you have set for yourself the task of developing a totally new social contract for today’s society. How could you do so fairly? Although you could never actually eliminate all of your personal biases and prejudices, you would need to take steps at least to minimize them. Rawls suggests that you imagine yourself in an original position behind a veil of ignorance. Behind this veil, you know nothing of yourself and your natural abilities, or your position in society. You know nothing of your sex, race, nationality, or individual tastes. Behind such a veil of ignorance all individuals are simply specified as rational, free, and morally equal beings.” Now, doesn’t this seem like it could revolutionize modern day society all over again if people could take a step back and look at the big picture? Yes, I thought so too.

The trolley problem. Settle in for the next little bit, we’re about to dive deeper into this rabbit hole. Dipping into neuroethics and cognitive science, let’s take a moment to delve into the trolley problem. Imagine there’s a runaway trolley… it’s barreling down the tracks and has no breaks to stop, you’re the conductor. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and completely unable to move, the trolley is headed straight for them. Inside the cab you have a lever, if you pull it the trolley will switch tracks. However, on the set of tracks the trolley will switch to if the lever is pulled, there is one person on the track. In this scenario you have two options. 1. Do nothing, the trolley continues on the main track, killing all five people. 2. Pull the lever and divert the trolley to the side track, killing the one person. What’s the most ethical choice? Touching briefly again on utilitarianism – that philosophy would dictate that killing the one over the five would be the most ethical choice. Conversely, the alternative being since a moral wrong is already in place, taking action to divert the trolley to the side track to kill the one rather than the five, then places you as a participant in the moral-wrong scenario, thus making you partially responsible for the death when otherwise no one would be responsible. Some concepts of moral obligation note that just being present in this situation with the option to make a decision that would effect the outcome, obligating you to act. Choosing to take no action would be immoral act, if you value five lives more than one. There are multiple variations of this problem, with a variety of scenarios… organ transplant, the villian loop, large man on a bridge. Each of these creates a new and deeper level of thought. What would you do?

Modern day observations. Oh, America. How did we get so off track? Under the two major political parties, to me they represent thought patterns and differing philosophical categories. They both dance among the blurred lines of modern philosophy and the way culture has evolved. The democrat party, mostly being of the utilitarian viewpoints, idealize they should achieve the greatest good for the greatest number, the good of the public before the good of the private, possible harm to a few for the greater good of the majority, whereas the ends justify the means. The republican party, mostly being on the deontologial theory viewpoints, idealize it’s about a moral obligation, about one’s own actions over outcomes (or ends), rejects acts that would harm a few for the greater good of the majority (though both parties flit in and out of this idea), opposing view of utilitarianism, and generally adopts, “do what is right, though the world should perish” mentality. Somewhere along the way, the concept of perfect duty and basic humanity has been lost. America, we’re known for our freedom, the freedom that many brave men and women sacrificed their lives for, the freedom that many brave souls still defend. Freedom – it must have an objective end. Most ends, especially today, are subjective. They’re subjective because we generally only pursue them if there’s some sort of hypothetical imperative we choose to adopt. Here’s where it gets deep… for the end to be objective, thus free, we must categorically pursue it. Rational actions must set before themselves as principles and also as an ends. To turn around and treat an end subjectively, is to deny it the possibilities of freedom, generally speaking. Immanuel Kant said, “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end”. Rational actions stem from free will, autonomous will is the only source of moral action and thereby contradicts the basis claim that a person is merely a means to some other end, rather than a mean in and of themselves. Still with me? By combining these formulations it’s recognized that we have a perfect duty not to use humanity or themselves as a means to some other end. I could continue down this route, delving further into autonomy and heteronomy, but it’d just be an even longer winded way of saying that the categorical imperative requires autonomy. There’s not really any wiggle room. Not just that you hold others to a certain standard or require something of them, but also that you hold yourself to the same requirements and standards.

Inalienable rights. These are fundamental rights we hold that cannot be taken away, denied, transferred, or stripped from us. John Locke stated in his book, the Two Treatises on Government, that “reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who would but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions.” Lock brought to light and encapsulated a rule of law: “have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man.” While portions of this notion seem archaic in modern times, the fundamental foundation still holds solid. He defended the ancient tradition that rulers or government cannot, in fact, do anything they please because there are still moral laws that apply to everyone. Now, before the Marxists get all up-in-arms, allow me to clarify. Locke, in his statement, “All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions / property.” This was not a statement inferring value of property, but rather basis of ownership. That we as humans are our own property, our own basis of ownership in ourselves. It is essential for liberty, “every man has a property in his own person. This no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.” Locke continues, “the great and chief end therefore, of mens uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the Preservation of their Property.”  Voltaire also touched on inalienable rights, “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” There are natural and legal rights / laws. The natural laws are inalienable, to which every human being holds a right. Legal rights are those bestowed by a given legal system. Voltaire stated the first natural law, “What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.” Why is this such a hard concept to follow today? Everyone is so quick to assume that everything is offensive, that everything is a personal attack on one another. This mentality that’s sadly becoming standard is flat out wrong. This false sense of entitlement society has adopted is only complicating things further, fueling the hate-fire, and is absurdly self-deprecating.

In closing, America, the rest of the world… let’s really look at things. Let’s step behind the veil of ignorance and see what we can do to create solutions, rather than continuing on self-sabotaging path we’re headed down. I can assure you that when John Locke talked about an explicit right to revolution – he didn’t mean to run around willy-nilly killing and tearing one another down, thus infringing on their own natural rights. Locke said, “whenever the legislators endeavor to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge”, Locke continues to explain, “Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption, endeavor to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; By this breach of trust they forfeit the power, the people had put into their hands, for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty.” Again, this does not give you or anybody else carte blanche power to destroy one another or to carry out hate-filled acts of violence, or infringe upon the natural rights that each one of us have. America, stop with the stupid clown crap,  knock it off with the violent protests that get people – be it civilians or law enforcement killed. Stop the needless violence, stop the hate. It’s time we rise up and go about things the moral and ethical way. It’s time for actual solutions, not empty  and unfounded selfish desire or pursuit of a personal agenda. Sit down, shut up, and act like an adult. Your narcissism is showing, just stop.

 

Ciao,

Morgan

 

 

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