Thursday, March 01, 2007

No one deserves ridicule

People’s principles don’t match how people act in many, many cases. The internet is a constant reminder for some of these.

Morally, what’s the difference between a verbal attack and a physical attack? Practically there are big differences, but morally I don’t see one. I don’t mean criticizing someone’s words harshly, even as in calling those words immoral. Some people get criticism like that and act like they’ve been punched in the nose, but attacking one’s words or intellectual abilities is not the malicious act of a personal attack. Attacking someone with words like “kook” or “idiot” is when one’s words can only be malicious, it seems to me.

Personal attacks are immoral. I’d even say that those who condone such attacks are immoral. That takes in a lot of people. I was first online in 1998, and I haven’t seen any class of people in that time where there aren’t examples of individuals whose hatred is so undisciplined that they regularly launch personal attacks against some other group. Even my fellow liberals who preach tolerance for everyone have some individuals who make judgments against some other group, “Christofascists”, some group like that. And few people tell them it’s wrong unless they say it with obscenities, and then only a few more tell them it’s wrong.

Personal attacks are evil. They’re also juvenile, but more importantly, they’re evil. If no one in the world agrees with me, they’re still evil. Only if I’m the only one in the world who thinks so, it’s probably only worth saying this once.

I’m sure we have some innate, biological morality. Evolutionary psychologists write about why one can believe that. It’s just a matter of time before all of our genes are known well enough to know whether that’s right or wrong. Presumably we have genes that let us make mirror neurons that are involved with empathy. It’s hard to know how extensive an innate morality we have from such a process. Maybe it’s nothing more than evolution giving us a sense that it’s wrong to hurt people who are enough like us. If we violate that we feel guilty. We have an aversion to doing that just as we have biological aversions to a lot of things. Our culture will teach us whether that principle applies to all human beings, even species other than our own, or whether some human beings deserve to be hurt. It’s good for them, lazy swine. It toughens them up. They deserve being hurt. If you deprive them of that, how will they know what pathetic creatures they are?

So I can’t rely on our innate morality to prove that we shouldn’t call people names. After all, there are certainly biological obstacles and cultural obstacles to our innate morality being expressed in anyone, especially when it comes to saying no one deserves ridicule.

So what other standard of morality is there besides our innate morality? There’s reasoning like Bertrand Russell did to say that the ultimate good things are benevolence and knowledge. People are free to opt out of that. There’s God’s morality. People are free to opt out of that, too. Traditionally that freedom is lost in a judgmental afterlife, but at least in this life one is free.

So how dare I say that it’s evil to call people names, that it’s OK to anger someone by challenging him or her, but not to just call that person names. It’s an extension of that innate principle that it’s wrong to hurt people. Evolution says that is a helpful trait apparently. I trust that intellectually. Beyond that is this other component, which is either purely emotional, purely Spirit, or both. My guess is that most people feel less impressed by this last source of what’s moral than anything else. Yet that’s what I’m the most sure of.

I have a conscience, however it is that I do. I believe some of it came from biological evolution, some of it came from cultural evolution and some of it is from my personal experience that is too individual to be either of those. What about spiritual evolution? Some would say that is just mislabeled cultural evolution, the part that applies to the culture of religion. I understand that, but it might not be right.

We haven’t even made it through the genetics revolution yet to know all these genes that have separated our brains from those of apes, genes that must contribute something to our having a conscience. Who can say how cultural evolution adds to that? Maybe when we can be more concrete about the biology of it, we can be more concrete about the part that’s not biology. So did that non-biological part all come from our cultural institutions? There must be something more than that as we all have had individual personal experiences beyond some average cultural inheritance. We are unique. Some of us are more unique than others. Out of that uniqueness come values that our culture doesn’t know about. Maybe they are just us. To someone who insists that there is nothing more than the material universe that’s all they can be. But might there be something that is beyond biology, culture, and me? That’s what I’ve experienced as God, a provider of direction, strength and comfort that I can’t make sense of as any of those first three things. It’s not the traditional God. I started off thinking God should be traditionally powerful and knowledgeable, but year after year I’ve gotten farther away from that. Yet there are things in me, especially in my conscience, that don’t seem like me, biology, or culture. They seem like God. There’s nothing in me that would sound like that.

How much is from me? How much is from God? It doesn’t matter for this world. I don’t see God intervening in the evil that people do, just for those who ask for help.

I’m sure it’s evil to call people names. I think people who do that are immoral, that there is a standard that proclaims that, maybe to a limited degree in our innate morality, but to a more developed degree in God’s morality. So what is God going to do about it? Tradition says God is the great enforcer, but life seems to work differently from that. Everyone gets to decide for themselves what’s moral. Everyone gets to decide if there’s anything they want to do about immoral people beyond staying away from them. It’s not OK to be immoral in order to fight immorality. Immorality rarely requires that kind of urgency. Everyone alive today will be dead soon enough. There will be more generations that hopefully will do better than the present ones. What if that’s the best that can be done? What if both biological and cultural evolution remain beyond our culture to control for now. Lots of people talk about culture as if we can fix it. What if we can’t? What if we’re stuck with so many irrational ways that culture shapes us. I see a lot of emotions and bias at work in people who claim to be intellectual. Maybe we really are free to do whatever we want, because nothing we do will matter in the long run anyway.

Then there’s spiritual evolution. That could be beyond us, too. It might not be a matter of some individual meditating and studying his or her way into some great wisdom, but instead something in which we barely participate at all, like breathing. Whatever the truth is, I know what’s moral for me. That’s OK for a liberal to say. It’s not OK in every sense for me to say someone else is immoral. But in the case of calling people names, I will call that immoral in all competent people, and only God knows whether I have His approval in that. I have to trust how I hear Him on this without knowing for sure. From that I wrote all of this.

How much does it matter? It’s not like there’s a deadline of next Thursday for people to start acting morally, or there will be a rain of lightning bolts. It’s not like God is going to waste His vengeance in the afterlife on every little immorality on Earth. Maybe this generation is actually doing the best they can, all things considered. It would be so easy for people to do better, but it’s also so easy for people to believe they don’t need to do better, regardless of faith or lack thereof. I would rather have everything fixed today. God tells me He would, too, but He can’t. Understand that He’s not the traditional God who should be able to control all the immorality perpetrated by those who claim to follow God. Such immorality is not from God. The history of God is not defined by what people have said about him.

No one deserves ridicule. It's not because of who they are. It's because of how wrong it is to use my mouth for ridicule. Lots of people will prove today by what they say that they disagree. They’re all dead people, waiting to finish dying completely. They speak like dead people. Anyone can think that’s just my opinion. I don’t think it is.

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