Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Inner Voice

Torture, torture, everywhere. How these boys do agitate themselves. Kantian Categorical Imperatives flying every which way. Pretty Lady felt so intimidated that she had to take a break. She is happy to report that the weather is preternaturally gorgeous today, and the sunny spot in the corner of the yoga studio was All Hers this afternoon.

So. Fortified by a series of pigeon poses, headstands, and a nice long soupdebadacanasana (or however you spell it), Pretty Lady pulled out her copy of Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Gracious. It has been awhile. Here we go:

This principle is therefore also its supreme law: Act always according to that maxim whose universality as a law you can at the same time will. This it the only condition under which a will can never be in conflict with itself, and such an imperative is categorical. Inasmuch as the validity of the will as a universal law for possible actions is analogous to the universal connection of the existence of things in accordance with universal laws, which is the formal aspect of nature in general, the categorical imperative can also be expressed thus: Act according to maxims whcih can at their same time have for their object as universal laws of nature. In this way there is provided the formula for an absolutely good will.
There! I hope that's clear. At any rate it was the simplest and most self-explanatory passage that Pretty Lady could glean, after a cursory overview of the text.

When Pretty Lady first studied Kant, at the tender age of nineteen, all this stuff seemed to her to be simple and obvious. Of course one acts acccording to a maxim of universal will; that's what that pesky 'do unto others' rule is about. Quibbling over 'situational ethics' was decried as a feminine, and thus flaky, argument. All right for family politics, but death on the International Stage.

Thus she has been shocked--shocked!--to notice that some allegedly male persons of her acquaintance have been arguing quite seriously for the situational use of decidedly non-universally-willed tactics, i.e. waterboarding, dismemberment, the pulling out of toenails, and other things Pretty Lady has mercifully blocked from her consciousness. The universal maxim underlying these arguments, as far as she can tell, boils down to "It's okay to do bad things to bad people." Is that correct, boys out there? Hmmm?

It seems to Pretty Lady that other sets of Kantian boys have adequately dissected the hidden falsehoods and ungrounded assumptions underlying this argument. Some persons have been convinced. Others have not. Rest assured that Pretty Lady still loves everybody, no matter which side of the debate they come down upon, and that she has no intention of dredging up past disharmonies.

What seems to Pretty Lady to be the next obvious question is, "If it is NOT okay to do bad things to bad people, what do you do then? Particularly when situational circumstances are pressing and dire?"

It is a common characteristic of pressing, dire circumstances that they do not generally allow time for the whipping out of "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals", perusal and analysis of such. The same goes for thick, legalistic documents issued forth by Congress, Holy Bibles, and the Bhagavadgita. Although she has known of some holy men who recite the entire Bhagavadgita every morning before breakfast, she feels that in general, this is an unreasonable requirement to add to the responsibilities of already-overloaded military personnel. No, dire circumstances require the ability to Think On One's Feet, in the moment.

In fact, a great many of the direst of circumstances allow, literally, no time to think at all. To further complicate matters, devotees of chaos theory will no doubt know that the most negligible of actions can have the most extreme and unpredictable of long-term consequences. Dire circumstances are, by their nature, chaotic. Not meaning to make any of you feel stressed-out or pressured in any way, of course.

So what it boils down to is this: when making ethical decisions under conditions of maximum stress, the best thing to do is consult a decision maker who knows the entire set of conditions, involving all parties concerned--past, present, and future--and the most intimate and far-reaching outcomes of all possible decisions. This decision maker should be able to think through all ramifications, select the best action to perform, and communicate this action, instantaneously. Right now. En este momento. Ya.

In other words, one must create a miracle. This may sound deeply unreasonable and feminine, but in the circumstances it is about as reasonable as Kant.

Many persons have, in the past, gotten up in arms with Pretty Lady when she claims to hold daily conversations with God. They believe that this is arrogant and delusional of her; they thump their thick moral texts and tell her to pipe down. She has been accused of sorcery, psychosis, sabotage, flakiness and liberalism. Pretty Lady freely admits that her accusers may be correct; they must judge her, as the Bible says, by her fruits. If the following of Pretty Lady's advice creates chaos, misery, and discord, then, feel free to jettison it and burn her at the stake.

Friends, it is Pretty Lady's perhaps-delusional proposition that God, or the Holy Spirit, or prana, or whatever-you-may-call it, is speaking to us all the time, if only we listen. In general, a person cannot talk and listen at the same time. It is then reasonable to assume that if one is listening for the voice of God, one might wish to shut up for a second. That includes stopping the chatter within one's mind, as this is liable to be just as audible to God as otherwise.

This is not easy. Try it for a moment.

Pretty Lady has found, in the course of a lifetime of churchgoing, Bible reading, study of Kant, yoga, meditation, and sitting still near large bodies of water, that sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to get through. At these times, just about anything might happen. There might be a lot of light in her mind. She might suddenly, spontaneously understand French. She might find herself saying or doing any number of unpredictable things, acting on information only intuitively understood. She might get up and paint her living room a glowy yellow/brown. She might call up a friend and say 'I love you.' She might write a flippant little essay, or put her hands on someone's feet. The someone generally says, 'wow. That feels amazing.'

All this stuff, Pretty Lady thinks, is merely training. It is so that when circumstances become truly dire, she's got some practice in handing over the wheel. For as some Christian comedian says--'what's with those bumper stickers that say, "God is my co-pilot?" If God is in the car, Let. Him. Drive.'

So obviously it is completely unreasonable, ridiculous, and quixotic for Pretty Lady to tell all those stressed-out military personnel to stop torturing terrorists and let the Holy Spirit decide what to do with them. She is telling them anyway. The Holy Spirit gave orders this morning, and who is she to countermand them?


Bob said...

"If god is in the car,Let.Him.Drive."


And then see how long it takes to drive into a tree.

Pretty Lady said...

Are you saying that God was capable of creating the Universe and everything in it, but cannot steer clear of trees? Is this consistent? Is this rational?

Pretty Lady said...

BTW, Bob, there's no way you could possibly have done your homework in the time allotted. No-one is allowed to voice an opinion on this issue until they have thoroughly read and analyzed every document linked on this post.

Anonymous said...

"The universal maxim underlying these arguments, as far as she can tell, boils down to "It's okay to do bad things to bad people." Is that correct"

No, it's not correct. Information wins wars. Our lack of it is why all our wonder weapons and masturbatory high technology is of little use and we lose in the end. We don't know our enemy and vaguely know ourselves. I would rather water board a few guys to for a win than blow the fuck out of thousands for the loss. But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

God Bless you. You are my younger twin! I too studied Kant (and Augustine, and just to be fair some Nitsche, DesCarte and Hobbes and assorted other deep thinkers). I too find it helpful to sometimes re-read them now that I have a few years (nay decades) under my belt. {Aside: Try reading some Teilhard De Chardin and Descarte's "Cloud of Knowing") And I too talk with my God all the time (out-loud upon occassion, I have to watch that tendency for fear I'll be netted some day).

And upon occassion I do get a mere glimmer of a direct response, usually advising me to be more kind, loving, patient and faithful.

There is a concept called "just war" which is based upon self-defense. I do not completely accept its principles, but it does make some valid points concerning when the use of force against under humans might be the moral thing to do.

Unfortunately, black and white answers do not always readily appear, even for those whose inner compass is usually pretty steady in pointing towards moral choices. The grey-things in the world can confuse and distract even Saints, let alone Sinners.

Returning to Love, and rejecting Hate, is (I find) usually the one thing that helps. Bless you for remembering that and trying to spread the word!

Pretty Lady said...

We don't know our enemy and vaguely know ourselves.

So perhaps we could start?

And I am your miracle, me,

Bane, I have never denied it. You are my miracle. I have complete faith in you.

Terrymum, it is so lovely to be understood! Perhaps we could have tea, someday?

Anonymous said...

"So perhaps we could start?"

Absolutely! Water boarding is always the best way to start with a murderous thug who's got a secret. You can know him in less than a day. He will hold nothing back. I know that some believe that you can come to an arrangement over tea. May I suggest that those who feel that way run an experiment with a rapist.

Anonymous said...

It would be good advice, but I doubt that the types that advocate systematic torture are able to hear the Holy Spirit.

You are taking their game and saying what should happen in such and such a horrible circumstance: the child will die in an hour unless you torture their tormentor. But these days the discussion is about codifying the conditions under which we may apply what level of torment, to which level of detainee.

We'll let GWB decide. He is the decider.

Pretty Lady said...

the discussion is about codifying the conditions

You see, dear Thims, this is why I took such trouble to explode the notion that such codification could be effective, before launching into the flaky Holy Spirit part of the essay.

And I contend that anyone is able to hear the Holy Spirit, even GWB, because this is intrinsic to the very nature of the Holy Spirit.

I am quite enjoying this new habit of calling you Thims, Thims. It makes me feel such a patrician Englishlady. 'Thims, fetch my bonnet. I am going Out.'

Anonymous said...

How charming... I'll await my just revenge.

In the mean time I will simply note that this notion that the Holy Spirit is always available resonates deeply with me. The problem is that we are not always available, being distracted by our various toils.

Flaky or not, denial of the holy spirit is another level of damned, according to authorities you may not recognize...

In any case, I salute your attempt to bring compassion to this disourse. And to those that would scoff, it is more than simply obvious that some worthless jihadi would love to sever our heads. Thanks for your trivial input. We're talking about what we should do, not those clueless screwball Jihadi assholes.

And EN, as for your "intel"... I'd demand proof by trial before you're ready to give our govenment the right to indefinite detention, nevermind specific interrogation techniques... nichts var?

Anonymous said...

You are most welcome for tea (In Kansas) at any time. And perhaps something stronger if it is later in the day?

Meanwhile, while contemplating your words and those of others on this topic, I came up with my own personal diatribe, on why I hate hate.... It does nothing to solve the global situation. But on a one-on-one daily basis, it is a start. I think the Holy Spirit would approve (warning - I am verbose):

Many people who know me consider me to be a bit overly optimistic, even a Polly Anna at times. I have been accused of being naive and wearing "rose colored glasses." But no one has ever really thought I was stupid. So, it is my hope that the reader may accept that while I might have an unusually hopeful personality, they might give credence to my suggestions simply because the tests show my IQ number is above my hat size.

I read a lot of things in a day's time. News articles, blogs, letters, e-mail, etc. And I hear a lot of things. My job puts me in the center of politics on a daily basis. And has for close to 20 years. So I have a bird's eye view of what is going on in certain circles and at a fairly high level.

Over time, I have seen a trend that makes even my rose colored outlook dim. In fact, I have to fight being depressed about it some days. It is not the shift of power from one party to another. It is not the increase in technology that helps us be more efficient while it diminishes personal human contact. It is not even the embracing of immorality that seems to be approaching Roman Empire standards.

Rather, it is what I perceive as an increased lack of respect we have for one another. I think there is a growing tendency to treat other human beings, especially those whom we have never met in person, as objects (usually of scorn and often of hate), unworthy of dignity or common civil treatment.

I see this in all areas of my life. It is exhibited by the sarcasm used to diminish and dismiss not only the ideas of anyone with whom we disagree, but also their very right to breath air. The hate and venom regularly spewed is applauded and celebrated. People act mean, and they are honored and rewarded. Bullies have become our nation's heroes. Pundits and power brokers say hurtful things about others, and we admire and try to emulate them. We see enemies all around us, and while we object to the horrible treatment of those we pity or identify with, we cannot see how our own behavior contributes to an atmosphere of hate whenever we attack the person or personality of those we fear or with whom we disagree. We hate it when we are treated badly, but we can and do find ways to justify treating others badly.

The idea that all human beings are Children of God (by whatever name you call that deity) with a spark of divinity is laughed at and ridiculed as juvenile or outmoded. It is not hip or cool or wise to show a vulnerable caring side; you are seen as a chump, target, wimp. While people say they think Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a wonderful person, I see far fewer people trying to be more like her, and a lot more trying to be like Howard Dean or Ann Coulter.

Let me be clear. I am not exempting myself from this criticism. I too enjoy biting humor. I am related to several people whose sharp wit is a regular source of personal enjoyment. However, most of these dear friends spend just as much time making fun of themselves as they do pointing a bright light at the foibles of other people. That seems to even out the spite to a point where they seem open to the idea that they are just as flawed and fallible as the people they are teasing or testing. And when I am personally attacked (or my friends or family are) it is really tempting to strike back in kind, even if such a defense will not change anything or protect anyone.

I am afraid that in losing our ability to respect people with whom we do not agree, even while we poke holes in their logic or arguments or behavior, or even defend ourselves from their attacks on us, we are losing our souls.

We as a nation once held some claim to being a moral country. We had high ideals and we tried to set a good example. While we made lots of mistakes, and there have always been (and always will be) individuals who are not moral in anything they do or say, those high ideals could often best be seen in the way we as a nation and as individuals treated each other and those around us. Civility and kindness were celebrated and taught. Good manners were required in order to survive and no one was socially rewarded for being a bully or being mean. We were encouraged to build things up, not tear them down. And that included the lives and egos of other people.

Goodness and kindness are not just words. They are not character traits for the weak or the stupid. It takes strength of character and firm resolve to stand up to the crowds and do what is right. But in the end, the people who attempt that feat will not only be remembered as leaders and important. They will leave a legacy that lasts and grows.

The source of all that is evil revels in hate and hateful behaviors. I hope that the pit bull attack methods and attitude that seem to be growing stronger every day are soon seen for the dangers I believe them to be. Because otherwise I fear that the celebration and increase of hate, evidenced by the meanness now present in all facets of our life, will end in the destruction of not only America, but the whole world.

We do not treat others decently because they have earned it or deserve it. We treat them decently because "as you treat others, so shall you be treated."