Monday, May 14, 2012


                People should have a reasonably equal chance at succeeding in life, or maybe people should be able to do what they want to do. Or maybe people should be able to live life according to their principles without undue hardship. People should be free, except when that freedom infringes on other people’s freedom, except when their concept of free destroys the existing systems of society. There are all kinds of ways to construct a moral framework without using a traditional religion, but none of them are sufficiently perfect. No moral framework is ever perfect. Everything needs qualification.

                Let me cut to the chase: there’s no reason to construct moral frameworks. Reject them when people try to sell them to you, no matter what their intention is. Moral frameworks only create division and foster “us vs. them” thinking. Do not reject the people, do not shame those who do build frameworks, but recognize where that leads. Reject no one.

                The irony here, of course, is that I’m describing a moral framework. I’ve delineated what is good and what is bad. “Moral frameworks” are something to reject, people are something to embrace. An enlightened master in my framework is a person who accepts people and rejects their moral frameworks. So really it doesn’t mean anything. I can’t tell you how to be happy; you’re going to have to figure that one out, yeah? Live how you want. Don’t hate other people, not cause it’s “bad” or whatever, but it won’t make you happy. New moral framework here: being happy is good, being sad is not. Sad people are failing to live up to moral standards, happy people are succeeding.

                Not going to work either, happiness isn’t exactly a binary proposition. Sometimes you’re clinically incapable of being happy, sometimes your experience has created a problem where you can’t actually feasibly happy. People suffer from ptsd and depression and all kinds of things no matter whether they are trying to be happy or not. Life circumstances can cause someone to totally involuntarily hate someone. Cultural conditioning does that all the time.

                Maybe being happy isn’t right. Maybe you can just not make other people sad. But that’s another set of issues. Some people get sad over weird things. Communication is imperfect, and we’re trying to bridge a gap between people with wildly divergent social backgrounds. We’re all living drastically different realities, which is why we developed a series of social expectations in the first place. Society bridges the gap and gives everyone a reasonable expectation of how another person will behave and maybe what their motivations are. This way we’re not terribly shocked when someone jabs their open hand at us. We know it’s a gesture of friendship and meeting and we’re supposed to shake it with our hand in turn. Similarly we recognize that someone gesturing at us with an angry face and a middle finger raised means us ill will.

                Similarly, moral frameworks are intended to give us an idea of what we’re supposed to striving for. When we say something like “people are basically good” what we mean is that we’re all socialized into a certain framework of social expectations where bad people would presumably not exist because we responsibly believe that being bad would make them feel bad, especially because being bad makes us feel bad. This breaks down in the face of pathologies where people are incapable of feeling guilt or social obligation, pathologies where nearly every behavior triggers a guilt response, and rationalizations where people will mentally justify bad behaviors as actually being good and thus don’t trigger a guilt response.

                Since so many exceptions exist to this sort of thing that maybe it’s more fair to just say something like “approach each situation with an open mind.” Or “don’t prejudge any person or situation” or something like that. I’m not sure that’s fair either. Prejudgment is something that we do as a species as a way of efficiently categorizing experiences and making them useful in the future. We prejudge that fire is hot, for example, so that in the future when we see fire we know to stay away from it because it’s hot. Shutting off a structural facet of memory is much more easily said than done and probably not a great idea. I’d suggest maybe you just don’t behave like you’re prejudging them anyway, but it’s essentially impossible to entirely separate your thinking from your behavior.

                Do you see what I mean about moral frameworks? They’re slippery, imperfect things. Like fish downriver from a paper mill. Do what you want. I don’t believe in free will anyway, so you’re just going to do whatever it is you’ll do. Godspeed.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, fish UPriver from a paper mill are pretty slippery, too.